Golf trips to the U.S. often start with a dreamy “wish list.” Augusta National? Cypress Point? Oakmont?
Sounds great. Just one small issue. They’re private – as in REALLY private.
But surely there are some great courses open to the public. Absolutely. Pebble Beach, Pinehurst #2, Whistling Straits…
Perfect, let’s get packing! Hang on. All of these courses feature triple-digit greens fees and many require you to stay on site.
Never fear – there is hope – American designs that not only provide a great playing experience but do it at a price that won’t leave you with an empty wallet when you hit the 19th hole.
These nine (9) courses (and a dessert option to satisfy your sweet tooth) link quality design with top tier value and will not only satisfy your golfing appetite, but will leave you with some cash in your pocket.
THE MAIN COURSE …
BLACK MESA / Espanola, New Mexico
Located 20 miles northwest of Santa Fe, the state’s capital, Black Mesa is high desert golf at its finest – a credit to architect Baxter Spann. The intrinsic beauty is why New Mexico is aptly named the Land of Enchantment. Watch the majesty of the surrounding rocks change shades of color as the day progresses. However, Black Mesa is far more than just eye candy. The short 7th and 14th will test your appetite for risk and reward. The vexing greens, led by the par-5 16th, will bedevil and unravel even the surest of putting strokes. Best of all though is that Black Mesa is under $100 with cart included at peak (walking is always an option). Want to play more than 18 holes? The replay rate is just $35 with cart included. That’s two rounds at a cost less than one round at Bandon Dunes. Need a capper to your day at Black Mesa? Head back into Santa Fe and visit Bobcat Bite – just off the Old Las Vegas Highway and nosh on arguably the best hamburger you’ve ever tasted.
FOUR MILE RANCH / Canon City, Colorado
Roughly 45 minutes south of Colorado Springs – Colorado’s second largest city – is Four Mile Ranch. Architect Jim Engh excels in handling difficult sites and this is no exception. The greens are a marvelous mix of challenges and even with the added distances because of the elevation – the need for sound placement is always present. Engh adds a number of fascinating riddles when playing – driveable par-4 holes such as 8th are ripe for the taking but bite back with the slightest miscalculation. Blind shots, even on the par-3 14th and the par-5 6th, add to the challenge and the enjoyment.
There’s also a fun “stay and play” special between the club and Royal Gorge Anglers. You get a full day guided fly fishing expedition on the Arkansas River – one night at their Lodge and one 18-hole round of golf including cart. For the true sportsperson that’s a winning combination that’s hard to beat.
Weekdays are $45, weekends/holidays are $55 – with half cart included. Replays are $22 at all times. Bring a foursome and you save $20 for the group (can’t be combined with other offers). All active duty and retired military personnel receive a $5 discount, any day, any time, off the lowest rate.
WINE VALLEY / Walla Walla, Washington
The names Portland and Seattle usually come to mind when the Northwest US is discussed. However, the uniquely named community of Walla Walla – which means “many waters” in Native-American and is located in the southeast corner of Washington State – provides a winning golf option that merges quality design and superior value. Wine Valley, with its artful logo of a corkscrew attached to a flagstick, has been open only a few years, but it has elevated awareness among discerning golfers and for those who savor top tier wine.
Various “stay and play” packages are available as well as tours of some of the best vineyards in the western US. Firm and fast turf conditions with amply wide fairways are in the mix along with sweeping wind conditions providing ever changing elements from one day to the next. Sit out on the back porch wine glass in hand as the sun descends and you’ll have yet another reason to enjoy this stellar layout.
Weekdays cost $80 rising to $95 on weekend & holidays – Friday is defined as weekend (tax not included). Facility has a variety of packages – one of the best is with Marcus Whitman, where Sunday-Thursday starting at $295, you get a round of golf for two with cart, one night stay with double occupancy, complimentary drink at The Vineyard Lounge and hot breakfast buffet served each morning. Reservations can be made at (866) 826-9422.
TWISTED DUNE / Atlantic City, New Jersey Area
Situated 60 miles from Philadelphia and two hours from the metro NY area is Twisted Dune – a “links-like” layout located just outside Atlantic City. Generally, the course plays firm and fast in typical links fashion and the construction allowed for a complete isolation from surrounding clutter such as on-course homes, roads and the like. Designer Archie Struthers moved two million cubic yards of soil and the results include an endless array of mounds which vary in size, and blowout areas where sand weaves its fingers in all sorts of directions. Greens also provide sufficient contour demanding deft putting skill. Twisted Dune whisks you away from predictable ho-hum layouts that sadly dot the immediate AC area. Uncertain outcomes abound within this gambling mecca but Twisted Dune stands alone as one sure bet. Play on any Sunday through August 27, with the exception of any holiday weekend – tee off between 11 a.m. and Noon for $79; from Noon to 3 p.m. it’s $59 and after 3 it drops to $49. Copy the coupon from their website and present when paying. For package info go to GolfAC.com.
RUSTIC CANYON / Moorpark, California
Few areas of the USA can match the golf wasteland that is Southern California. Available public options abound but are as real as the breast implants one sees parading around Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Too many of them are overpriced and fail to provide anything remotely associated with quality design. A pity because so often you get stunning terrain that’s sadly inhabited with non-descript golf. One option is available and it’s a home run on all counts. An hour northwest of central Los Angeles in the Simi Valley area is Rustic Canyon. Here you have a chance to catch some bargain prices – $66 on weekends if you walk is amazing. In fact, for just over $100 you can play two rounds on weekends and holidays.
Designed by the gifted Olympic course architect Gil Hanse, in concert with Geoff Shackelford and Jim Wagner, Rustic Canyon provides a routing with roughly 250 feet of elevation change that’s hardly noticeable in the canyon setting it occupies. Wide fairways provide clear angles to play into the challenging putting surfaces. Need another quality public option? Just minutes away in Simi Valley is Lost Canyons – a Pete Dye design with 36 holes. In an area of the country where so much is glitz – Rustic Canyon demonstrates that if you provide substance golfers will come.
THE RAWLS COURSE / Lubbock, Texas
Tom Doak is well known to course aficionados. Among his most noted layouts are Pacific Dunes in Oregon, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand and Renaissance in Scotland. Doak’s talent goes beyond the ultra-private and top ticket cost courses. At Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, Doak produced a very affordable and fun layout named The Rawls Course. Named for its benefactor Jerry Rawls, the layout was manufactured from some of the most featureless property one can imagine. Doak’s routing plays with the prevailing southwest wind in mind, however, the elasticity of the layout is quite good and can handle even those rare days when the wind blows from the opposite direction. Keep in mind, Lubbock is historically one of the windiest places in the USA – 30 mph or more gusts are not uncommon. Cart and practice range accessibility can be secured for just $34 Monday to Thursday before 11 a.m. – just mention you saw the special on their website. Even the top rate on weekends and holidays is quite a bargain; $64 includes cart and practice facility access.
WILD HORSE / Gothenburg, Nebraska
Much has been written, justifiably I might add, about the surreal splendor of Sand Hills GC in Mullen, Nebraska. Created by the talented duo of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, Sand Hills is a very private retreat and the likelihood of getting to play there is more dream than reality. Not far away is a very affordable option. Just minutes off I-80 – Wild Horse is golf the way it is supposed to be. No bag boys jumping in front of you to grab your bag. No clubhouse the size of the Taj Mahal; just straightforward golf with a quality design. The bunkers give the appearance of having always been right where they are and the routing takes advantage of ever changing wind patterns and velocities.
Architects Dan Proctor and Dave Axland emphasized a less is more style with the design and that same approach is carried forward with the rates charged. Wild Horse is in a consortium called – playthewest.com. Five western Nebraska courses make up the group and you get three (3) rounds of golf – can all be played at Wild Horse if you wish – with a two night stay at the nearby Comfort Suites along with a continental breakfast. Rates start at $200.
WORLD WOODS / Brooksville, Florida
Much of what calls itself golf in The Sunshine State can be defined in simple terms – simplistic designs with assembly-line appeal – water on one or both sides with houses cluttered like fire ants on top of each other. World Woods is a sensational complex 50 miles north of Tampa and 80 miles west of Orlando that flies in the face of that low level convention. The 36-holes are the handiwork of architect Tom Fazio and feature two different styles of golf courses.
Pine Barrens presents more of a “Pine Valley” look with waste areas to be carried and greens set like islands of oasis calling upon pinpoint approaches. Rolling Oaks is the exact flip side – more reminiscent of Augusta National – beautifully framed by oak trees with large white-sand filled bunkers and immense rolling greens. World Woods has varied pricing throughout the year so gauge what works best for your budget. There’s also an incredible practice facility. Now through October 31 greens fees are as low as $45 per round with replay rates of $27.50. Fully-equipped three-bedroom villas for up to six players can be had for as little as $217 per night.
GOLF COURSES OF LAWSONIA (Links) / Green Lake, Wisconsin
The Links Course is a step back in time – a warm embrace and hearty salute to classic architecture. The William Langford/Theodore Moreau design eschews the overkill one sees too often with modern design. No hideous waterfalls here or obvious containment mounding and the like. Instead, steep-walled bunkers and elevated greens insist upon deft approach play time after time.
The Links was recently cleared of mindless tree plantings – hats off to architect Ron Forse for bringing back to life the spacious vistas you enjoy when walking this rolling piece of terrain. Ninety bunkers dot the landscape and each is carefully placed to challenge a golfer’s decision of how bold / safe one should play. Wisconsin has a number of higher-priced layouts like Whistling Straits but the Links Course at Lawsonia proves the point that classic architecture is ageless, affordable, and oh so memorable. There are “stay and play” packages, including two days/one night at $300 which includes four rounds with cart, a meal coupon for dinner for two up to $40 at an area restaurant plus lodging. The price for weekend/holiday unlimited play is quite good at $145. Twilight rates are also outstanding – after 3 p.m. it’s just $35 to walk.
TOBACCO ROAD / Sanford, North Carolina
The sand hills area of North Carolina is renowned throughout the golfing world – much of that attention of course rests with Pinehurst CC and its renowned #2 Course. But you’ll need a very fat wallet to play there. Just 30 miles from Pinehurst is an option worth exploring. Located in Sanford, Tobacco Road, designed by the late Mike Strantz – a talented young architect who succumbed to cancer just as his career was fully blossoming – is rather unconventional and clearly a conversation starter. Strantz employed an entire array of visual distraction elements that will baffle and confuse even the most polished of players. Length is not the primary issue here, but skillful positioning is a must. Most important admonishment – never attempt to steer the long shot – as the course plays just over 6,500 yards from the tips but sports a 141 slope. Ouch indeed for any mistakes you make!
Best of all, summer and winter time frames are the best to play with “stay and play” packages from 6/18 thru 9/14 that include 3 days/2 nights lodging with golf choices of four courses for three rounds of golf. Rates are $179-$199 with certain blackout time frames.