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.
40. TPC Scottsdale – Stadium (Scottsdale, Ariz.): Maybe it’s not fair to give TPC Scottsdale bonus points for intangibles like being connected to the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess and having one of the most absurdly presented (and tasty) desserts in the world — La Bomba — but I did it anyway. I had low expectations for the course itself and was pleasantly blown away by the (post-renovation) experience from curbside to the 19th hole. For those familiar with the Waste Management Phoenix Open and its signature “Stadium” hole (former host of the “caddy races”), you wouldn’t even recognize that hole during your non-tournament round. And it’s nowhere near the best hole on the course after Tom Weiskopf’s design update. (Visit Their Website)
39. Reunion Resort – Palmer (Orlando, Fl.a): Reunion is one of Florida’s best all-around golf and family resorts, with water parks and golf scattered everywhere. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson have courses here, but Orlando is golf’s “Graceland”... home of “The King.” And, this is Arnold Palmer’s best track in town. People love Bay Hill for its history, and this is no slight to that whatsoever. Arnold Palmer is my all-time favorite golfer, and this course is the most fun I’ve ever had golfing in Orlando. Just sayin’. (Visit Their Website)
38. Camp Creek (Panama City Beach, Fla.): An exclusive amenity of the Watercolor Inn means it’s not entirely public, but, since anyone can stay there, I don’t know why you’d stay elsewhere — especially given that limited-access opportunity. This could very well be Tom Fazio’s greatest design on Earth — the magnificent, fescue-lined mountains he made of Florida’s molehills are really something to be-holed. (Visit Their Website)
37. Hawktree (Bismarck, N.D.): Jim Engh doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his genius. Hawktree is a perfect example. This is North Dakota’s best golf course, even if Bully Pulpit in Medora is the state’s best “experience” (they have the Badlands there, that’s not Engh’s fault). Playing up and down steep hills and around black coal sand bunkers and lakes, this windswept property is worth a one-night detour up from Mount Rushmore on a family vacation. Play Hawktree, stay at The Rough Rider in Medora, play Bully Pulpit and come back down. Your family might not even know you were gone (mine didn’t). (Visit Their Website)
36. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (Sheboygan Falls, Wis.): The second most under-the-radar course in Wisconsin, behind only Troy Burne, The Bull is often lost in the shadows of The American Club in Kohler (and that’s a massive shadow). Their relative anonymity is no fault of ownership — two of my favorite people to talk to (two very passionate, family-first people). It’s more ignorance of golf travelers who are unsure whether The Bull is worth squeezing in. The answer is Yes, this Jack Nicklaus signature course absolutely is. I’ve been trying to make The Bull less of a national secret for years now, firm in my belief that it is Wisconsin’s third-best golf course overall. Stay at the American Club if you want (or Blue Harbor Resort if you have kids), but make sure you play here next time you’re in the area. (Visit Their Website)
35. Gold Canyon – Dinosaur Mountain (Gold Canyon, Ariz.): Talk about a roller coaster ride. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say this Ken Kavanaugh course has more signature holes than not. I do tend to like my courses “wild” (see Nevada’s Wolf Creek at No. 17) but unlike Wolf Creek, this track isn’t gimmicky. This is pure, adrenaline-fueled desert golf at a great price. (Visit Their Website)
34. Troon North – Pinnacle (Scottsdale, Ariz.): I’ve never played a better-conditioned course in my entire life than Tom Weiskopf’s Pinnacle in May 2016 — and that’s saying something. A major credit to Troon golf management in general. The Monument course (No. 55 on my list) has my favorite hole on the property, but I feel Pinnacle is hole-for-hole superior. This is my one must-play every time I’m in the Phoenix area, and its partnership with Four Seasons Scottsdale adds that much more value to the overall experience. (Visit Their Website)
33. Sand Valley – Coore-Crenshaw (Rome, Wis.): Wisconsin’s newest course is already my second-favorite in the state. But given my affinity for everything David McLay Kidd builds, I don’t expect this Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw beauty to hold its place in line. But that’s a topic to address next year. For now, let me just say that the Keiser family (of Bandon Dunes fame) knows how to build a golfdom from scratch better than anyone, and they are well on their way here in Central Wisconsin. It’s walking-only, but it’s a beautiful walk. I sincerely hope they ignore the local price-gouging trend (all signs during preview play suggest they will) and make this an experience everyone can have … and have more often. Now, if the Keisers could just figure out a way to keep Sand Valley open year round! (Visit Their Website)
32. Sand Hollow – Championship (St. George, Utah): Sand Hollow is a course I dare say I could play every day. I hope to move to St. George someday to take myself up on that dare. It’s an 18-hole course with two nines (obviously) but more importantly, two nines that don’t even feel like they’re in the same state. Look up golf photographer extraordinaire Brian Oar’s remarkable gallery of Sand Hollow at BrianOar.com to get a glimpse of the extreme beauty. That four-hole stretch on the back nine is so surreal, you’ll feel like you’re dreaming. But you’re not. (Visit Their Website)
31. Turning Stone – Atunyote (Verona, N.Y.): The “never judge a book by its cover” adage holds true in golf with “never judge a course by its name.” I still don’t think I know how to pronounce Atunyote, but I sure have told everyone I travel with about it. Turning Stone in general for that matter. The resort is in the middle of nowhere New York, which I actually ended up really loving. While I contend that Camp Creek is Tom Fazio’s best work, I have this one ranked higher for the incredible beauty he pulled out of every single hole. FYI: The Tin Rooster restaurant at the resort is five-star-fun. (Visit Their Website)
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