America’s Best Public Golf Courses

Whether you’re a weekend duffer or a player with years of experience, you likely dream of taking your “A” game to the nation’s top courses. There’s certainly an abundance of them, each with its design, routing, challenge, and “personality.” To help you narrow your list of possible destinations, here are a few of America’s best public golf courses, in no particular order.

Pebble Beach (Pebble Beach, Calif.)

Ah, yes, storied Pebble Beach, a list leader for decades. One could spend hours rhapsodizing about this course, widely heralded as the most extraordinary land and sea convergence in American golf.  In fact, nine holes sit just above the Pacific’s pounding waves. Then there’s the true Amen Corner at holes six through eight. For that, you may want to first put your simulator software to use.

Pacific Dunes (Bandon, Ore.)

Built at Bandon Dunes Resort on Oregon’s coast, Pacific Dunes features sublime views and a challenging, unorthodox layout that’s also fun. The course features rumpled fairways and wavy greens that nearly undulate in places, bordered by deliciously wicked bunkers and brawny sand dunes.    

Whistling Straits (Sheboygan County, Wisconsin)

Nestled along a couple of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, “the Straits” is characterized by open, windswept terrain and impeccable views. Dotted by numerous valleys, lakes, and hills, the course can be subject to harsh weather. However, the sandy soil provides sufficient drainage. Note that the course’s routing goes back and forth and will have you pulling every club in your bag.

Shadow Creek (North Las Vegas, Nevada)

This can be an expensive course, and golfers must lodge at an MGM Resorts International hotel.  But if you can swing it, you’re in for towering waterfalls, flourishing gardens, and glistening creeks, all framed by commanding mountains. Hidden among ginormous trees, the course was sculpted from the Nevada desert and is noted for its understated elegance. You’ll find it hard to believe you’re 15 minutes from the Las Vegas strip. Site of the 2018 Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson match, Shadow Creek offers challenging play for all golfers.

Pinehurst (Pinehurst, N.C.)

Venerable, 116-year-old Pinehurst has hosted nearly every major golf tournament and offers broad fairways, bunkers with uneven edges, and no rough. Featuring majestic pines and native grasses, Pinehurst offers fast and firm conditions that will test your strategy, discipline, forbearance, and decision making.

Bandon Dunes (Bandon, OR)

Widely known as the ultimate shot maker’s course, Bandon Dunes is a good place to test your game from every aspect. A third of the course, with its wind-shaped sand dunes, sits alongside the Pacific shoreline. Bandon Dunes has a rugged layout with quick greens and holes that are routed in every compass point.   

Sheep Ranch (Bandon, OR)

Its first iteration, in the early 2000s, was as a 13-hole course with no irrigation. In recent years, it was converted into another Bandon Dunes regulation 18-hole course, this one spread over a windswept, open tableau. Sheep Ranch offers expansive fairways and putting surfaces that permit play in extremely windy conditions. Oh, and it has a miles of ocean frontage, to boot.

The Ocean Course (Kiawah Island, S.C.)

Created specifically for the 1991 Ryder Cup, the Ocean Course is noted for its innovative and quirky design. Each hole, for example, has sawgrass edges, and hard-to-finesse slopes abound. Bunkers merge with sand dunes, and fairways and greens are perched to accommodate sights of the Atlantic surf. Those lofts, though, can result in exposure to strong coastal winds.

At some point, and where possible, every golfer should set aside the familiarity of their favorite local courses and try their hand at one or two of America’s best public golf courses.

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