Best public golf courses
Pebble Beach, TPC Sawgrass and plenty more, we explore the top courses that are open to the public and perfect for your next golf vacation.
When it comes to the best public golf courses across the US, the list is a long one.
From east to west there is an unbelievable choice that can be found in a variety of landscapes and climates. We’ve picked out a dozen must-play layouts, ten from across the US plus two stand out courses from the Dominican Republic and Los Cabos, Mexico – all of which are available for public play.
Ten of the holes are nestled against the Atlantic coastline while the other eight run parallel to those. The sea breeze is a constant factor, with lagoons, pot bunkers, huge wastelands, fast greens, steep run-off areas and an alligator or two adding to the challenge. The Ocean Course is one of the best experiences in the country, and with a good caddie by your side (the norm at Kiawah) you will have an unforgettable day of golf.
Rated as the Greatest Public Golf Course in America by Golf Digest since its rankings were established in 2003, Pebble Beach Golf Links is a must-play (at least once) for every discerning golfer. Annual host to the PGA TOUR’s AT&T Pro-Am (an event that dates back at Pebble to 1947) and a multiple U.S. Open venue, the golf course is steeped in the history of the game.
Located on California’s Monterey Peninsula, the scenery is breath-taking and only matched by the quality of the golf course, from the famous par-3 7th hole to the spectacular par-5 18th, a round at Pebble Beach Golf Links lives long in the memory.
Considered Pete Dye’s most famous creation, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was built in 1980 to become the permanent home of THE PLAYERS Championship. Described as ‘truly balanced and suiting no particular style of play’, holes vary in length, doglegs move in both directions, and the conditioning is second-to-none.
The last three holes have witnessed much drama over the years, however the par-3 17th is always the headline. Despite being just 137-yards tee-to-green, it’s feared by even the best players in the game. Initially, the water was only going to feature on the right-hand side, however Pete Dye’s wife Alice suggested they kept digging and the island green was created.
Torrey Pines is situated 15 miles north of San Diego and sits atop the cliffs looking out to the Pacific Ocean. Home to 36-holes of championship golf (the North and the South), it is the South Course that is the more famous of the two as a multiple U.S Open venue and joint host of the PGA TOUR’s Farmers Insurance Open.
Originally designed in 1957, the South has undergone renovations by architect Rees Jones to create one of the toughest and longest challenges on TOUR each year (however there are several forward teeing options for the amateur golfer). It is certainly ‘bucket-list’ material, made all the more impressive by the incredible ocean backdrop, with hang-gliders and para-gliders often seen hovering at the edge of the cliffs at the south end of the course.
Ranked 49th in Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Public Courses in 2021, this Mike Strantz layout needs to be seen (and played) to be believed. Known for pushing the boundaries in golf course design, Strantz went to the max as he cut through the sand quarries and natural terrain to create Tobacco Road.
Elevation changes, large waste areas, rolling fairways and a number of blind shots make the course intimidating to the eye, however, there is a little bit more room than expected. Visually stunning throughout and a spectacular test of golf, Tobacco Road is one for the itinerary when visiting this part of North Carolina.
Originally designed by Harry Colt in 1929, Tom Fazio has since played a huge part in the development of the Seaside Course at Sea Island. Located on the edge of the Saint Simons Sound Waterway that comes in from the Atlantic Ocean, much of the golf course has a ‘seaside’ feel and it generally plays fast and firm.
Hole 13 is a stunner with marshland all the way up the left-hand side and the approach played to a green backdropped by the Saint Simons Waterway and Sydney Lanier Bridge. As the annual home to the PGA TOUR’s RSM Classic, the Seaside Course is a favorite with professionals and amateurs alike and consistently ranks highly in the top courses to play in the US.
With water present on 9 of the 18 holes, danger is never too far away, and the final three holes are full of drama. In a similar fashion to Dye’s Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, the 16th is a risk-reward par 5 followed by an island green par-3 and a challenging par-4 18th. Probably the most famous hole is the 17th which is known as ’Alcatraz’. Large boulders surround the green giving it a similar appearance to its namesake, and a wayward tee shot often ricochets off the rocks into the water. A tough challenge but certainly one worth taking on.
Designed by Rees Jones, the Cascata Golf Club is located 20 miles southeast of the Las Vegas Strip and since its creation in 2000, it has consistently ranked as one of the best in Nevada. Cut through the rocky mountain landscape each hole is framed by canyon walls with ancient streambeds running through the course. There are some serious elevation changes during the round, with the front nine playing uphill to its peak on the ninth tee, 600 feet above the clubhouse.
Lush, manicured fairways, quick greens, lakes and streams sit amongst the contrasting desert and mountain landscape that surrounds the course. An unbelievable setting for a truly memorable round of golf.
For golfing in the summer months, Central Oregon has some unbelievable courses to choose from, and the Crosswater Course at Sunriver Resort is right at the top of that list. Sat on 600 acres of scenic woodland and preserved wetlands the course gets its name from the Big and Little Deschutes rivers that meander across the fairways on seven occasions.
Honored by Golf Digest as one of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses this traditional heathland course has hosted Champions Tour events, NCAA Championships and The PGA Professional National Championship on multiple occasions.
The Scottsdale area boasts a multitude of outstanding desert courses and the 36-holes available at Troon North are amongst its finest. Home to the Pinnacle and Monument courses, both Tom Weiskopf designs, it is very difficult to put one ahead of the other, although the back-nine on the Monument is often recognised as the finest stretch of holes in the region.
Cacti and desert wastelands hug the edge of the fairways as the courses wind through the natural ravines and foothills of Pinnacle Peak. Elevation changes, giant rock formations and unbelievable views are the norm, not to mention two immaculately manicured golf courses. A day of golf at Troon North should always be on the itinerary when visiting Scottsdale.
Opening in 2014, this Jack Nicklaus Signature design is located at the foot of Mexico’s Baja California Sur in Los Cabos. Views of the Pacific Ocean, desert cliffs, breath-taking elevation changes and white sand beaches all feature in this Nicklaus masterpiece. The course begins by the beach, in touching distance of the Pacific and works its way up to higher ground. The landscape is so varied, from cacti and arroyos to dunes and cliffs, it is an authentic experience like no other.
As signature holes go, the par-4 5th is very special… the tee box is 275 feet above the ocean, perched on the granite cliffs and the green resides 310 yards in the distance (106 feet below) hanging on the side of a cliff! With more oceanfront exposure than any other course in the Los Cabos area, Quivira is an awesome experience.
Rated the No.1 course in the Caribbean and ranked No.7 in GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play in 2020-21, Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog has been receiving the highest of accolades since it opened in 1971. It is a stunning layout set in an equally impressive location on the southern edge of the Dominican Republic.
Forced carries across the ocean waves and sharply protruding coral formations (hence the name Teeth of the Dog) are an integral part of the course, as seven of the holes play along the edge of the ocean, never more than 20 feet above the surf. Dye is famously known for giving recognition to a ‘co-designer’ on this project as he remarked “I created 11 holes and God created 7”.
Golf Vacation Specialist
Golf Vacation Specialist, I advise clients on golf courses and accommodation options for our US and overseas trips