In the past decade, Golf News Net Ratings Editor and award-winning travel journalist Eric N. Hart (aka The Mobile Golfer) has played 368 courses in 39 states and another 42 courses internationally. With that broad experience and an extensive background in golf architecture, he has compiled his list of the 50 Best Public-Access Golf Courses in the United States.
50. Capitol Hill – Judge (Prattville, Ala.): My second-favorite course on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail begins with a scenic boom — a 4-par some deem the most scenic hole in all of Alabama (though No. 5 at Farmlinks gives it a good run for its money). With water in play on 14 holes, this Capitol beauty is a veritable beast. (Visit their website)
49. Bethpage – Black (Farmingdale, N.Y.): The Black is an unforgettable experience. From the giant flashing billboards showing (very few) openings in tee times to the sign on the first tee basically telling you you’re screwed. And yet, I still wanted to play it ... and still forked over the (out-of-state) $140 to do so. As luck would have it, I played one of America’s hardest courses on the day of the New York State Open. There was only one set of tees out there — the Championship tees (at 7,366 yards) — and they told me I “had to play from the provided tees.” It was my only day on Long Island, so I couldn’t pass it up, but man-oh-man did A.W. Tillinghast’s monster eat me alive. I shot a 102, with a birdie on 18, my only birdie of the day. I can’t say I “love” Bethpage Black, but I certainly respect it. (Visit their website)
48. Sea Island – Seaside (St. Simons Island, Ga.): I would contend this Tom Fazio redesign of Harry S. Colt's and Charles Allison’s former work is the best public course in Georgia (especially after the renovation) even though it’s my second favorite place on Sea Island — behind a picnic table at Southern Soul Barbeque. (Visit their website)
47. Arcadia Bluffs (Arcadia, Mich.): Whistling Straits it is not, but 3,100 feet of stunningly beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline it still is! The view from the clubhouse is arguably the best such perspective in the Midwest, with a great row of white Adirondacks to chillax in and watch the sunset. There are some gimmicky holes here that destroy perfect tee shots (No. 16 for instance), but in a world with 20,000-plus courses, this Warren Henderson-Rick Smith gem is solidly in the top 1 percent. (Visit their website)
46. Erin Hills (Hartford, Wis.): Erin Hills is overpriced for what and where it is — the furthest thing from a high-value round — but they have to jam 12 months of golf into a six- to seven-month window, so their gouging is at least semi-logical. This course is way better than people think it would be, given the terrain, and the lodging component is exceptional. It will be a formidable U.S. Open host, and I’ve loved the course every time I’ve played it even though this place is focused a little too much on “Being No. 1” and not nearly enough on me and you. (Visit their website)
45. Pound Ridge (Pound Ridge, N.Y.): The Wolf Creek of the East Coast, this Pete Dye “rock star” is as dynamic a design as it is daunting. There are shots you have to hit here that are unique to the universe, an endearing factor to go-big-or-go-home golfers like me. Close to New York City and a great stay-and-play partner with the Delamar Greenwich Harbor, this is an East Coast must-play whether you love it or hate it (the former for me). (Visit their website)
44. Bandon Trails (Bandon, Ore.): My fifth-favorite course at my favorite golf resort, Bandon Dunes is regularly a “played all five” guest’s favorite. That’s how slim the margin of greatness is between all four championship courses (and the 13-hole Preserve). I’m amused when people (like GNN travel editor Darin Bunch) ask my why I “hate” Coore and Crenshaw’s Bandon Trails. There’s no hate here. I just happen to love 43 other public courses in America a little bit more. (Visit their website)
43. Troy Burne (Hudson, Wis.): Wisconsin’s most underrated course is so close to the Twin Cities (over the border in Minnesota) that both states claim it as “theirs.” Legendary Minnesotan Tom Lehman teamed up with Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry to deliver what I contend is in fact the Twin Cities’ best golf course, on 420 acres of rolling hills with water in play on eight holes and 120 bunkers provided in lieu of an actual beach. Holes 10-15 just might be Wisconsin’s best six-hole stretch; it’s that strong. (Visit their website)
42. Hualalai – Nicklaus (Big Island, Hawaii): No doubt some of the allure is this course’s location. With that logic, no course outside of Hawaii should really be ranked above it. However, just focusing on the course itself, Jack Nicklaus’ brilliant track is still exceptional enough to be considered among the best in the world. Host of the annual Mitsubishi Electric Championship, this lava-lined kipuka (oasis) provides quite the picturesque Pacific Ocean aloha. (Visit their website)
41. The Boulders – South (Carefree, Ariz.): People who don’t like desert golf say all desert courses are basically the same. I don’t see it that way. I confess that Jay Morrish’s Boulders South was my first true desert golf experience (perhaps that is what has endeared it to me so much), but the massive boulder mountains, cacti galleries and stark contrasts throughout are brilliantly displayed here. If you’ve never played desert golf, you can’t do “breathtakingly” much better than this. (Visit their website)
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