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.
30. Mauna Kea (Big Island, Hawaii): This Robert Trent Jones design is perhaps the most perplexing, in placement, of all the courses on my list. I love that the Pacific Ocean is in view on every hole on the course (watching whales swim by was pretty cool). On the other hand, the elevation changes here are a little too abundant, and too many of the greens are shaped like volcanic cones. I feel like I played a lot better than my score, and eventually gave up worrying about the score completely so I wouldn’t miss out on the incredible surrounding beauty. Does the occasional unfairness detract from the design’s general greatness? I felt like it did. That said, I love the head pro out there and would never pass up the opportunity to play it. (Visit Their Website)
29. French Lick Resort – Pete Dye (French Lick, Ind.): When I say the word “Indiana” what images come to mind? Corn? Basketball (assuming, of course, you’re old enough to remember the movie “Hoosiers”)? If you’ve never been there, I can guarantee you won’t expect what you’ll find on this French Lick mountaintop. This is the Midwest’s Mauna Kea — lots to love and a little to hate in a jaw-dropping combination. The million-mile-views here are so mind-blowing and distracting that I can’t wait to play it again. My five-hour-plus round was way too short. (Visit Their Website)
28. The Loop at Forest Dunes – Black (Roscommon, Mich.): If you’ve never yet heard of Tom Doak’s “Loop,” you should compensate for that failure by immediately booking a trip next summer to Forest Dunes in central Michigan. That’s when The Loop officially opens to all. And there’s no other course quite like it – a reversible 18 holes that can be played both ways. I played the Black Loop twice in August and loved it so much I’d have gone back out (that same day) for 18 more. Keep in mind it’s walking-only, but it’s an easy, beautiful and mesmerizing walk while you absorb the genius it took to make each hole fit so remarkably in two different directions. I did love the Red Loop more (No. 18 on my list), but that is most likely due more to shot preference than design. It’s awesome either way, but if you don’t play both directions on a trip, you’re missing out. (Visit Their Website)
27. Wickenburg Ranch (Wickenburg, Ariz.): When you drive a couple hours to a course you know nothing about, you’re really just hoping it’s worth the drive. Knowing now what I didn’t know then, I’d have driven twice as far to play Wickenburg Ranch, especially after eating on their veranda — and even more now that they’ve opened their Short Course (Li’l Wick). I mentioned earlier that Troon North Pinnacle was the one course I had to play on every trip to the Phoenix area. Wendell Pickett’s Wickenburg Ranch is right there, too. The drive does factor into scheduling, but if it were closer to the city, there’s no question it would be the most played (and perhaps even most loved) course in Arizona. (Visit Their Website)
26. Belgrade Lakes (Belgrade, Maine): Maine has some really strong golf. Sunday River and the new Boothbay Harbor are excellent, but Belgrade Lakes is otherworldly. The views from the clubhouse, putting green and and first tee are as epic as any on the East Coast (all due respect to One World Observatory in New York City). Belgrade Lakes is a combination of mountain, wilderness and forest golf with fast and very comfortable carts. You’d swear Pete Dye built it — at the very least Clive Clark had to have studied Pete’s work — because it is that impressive yet intermittently penal. There are a few quirks but none I considered as detractions. (Visit Their Website)
25. Trump Ferry Point (Bronx, N.Y.): Independent of my political preferences, I believe Trump has provided the golf world with some pretty amazing courses. This stellar Jack Nicklaus Signature links, framed by the Manhattan skyline and snugly tucked under the Whitestone Bridge, is one such gift to we stick-swingers. (Visit Their Website)
24. Conestoga (Mesquite, Nev.): Five times I drove through Mesquite and didn’t play this course. And then I found out Troon managed it. That made me stop the next time through to check it out. One five-minute peek at the property gave me the worst imaginable case of golf-drool, and I knew I had to come back as soon as possible to play it. “Talking GolfGetaways” co-host Darin Bunch and I played it on a perfect day last year — perfect until he beat me by one shot on the final hole. This Gary Panks course has a few not-so-great blind shots but so many compensatory great holes. Yes, the housing community is going to impact it over the years, but the development isn’t expected to “Rio Secco” it, and I expect Conestoga will continue to be amazing. (Visit Their Website)
23. Old Macdonald (Bandon, Ore.): This is the only Bandon course I haven’t played twice, so it’s hard to say whether that helps or hurts its status in my mind. I loved a lot about it — some of the best holes on the entire property for sure — but there were a few “ordinary” holes that didn’t seem “Bandonesque” to me, and I hated the blind tee shot on No. 3 (which happens to be one of Darin Bunch’s favorite shots in all of golf). Old Mac was the first course I played at Bandon, so I was blown away by the overall consistency in the quality of design and play (and those Pacific Ocean views). I think I’d love it more with another round under my belt, but I don’t know that. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to test the theory on a future visit in 2017 or 2018. (Visit Their Website)
22. Giants Ridge – Legend (Biwabik, Minn.): If you’re a golf rankings nerd like me, you probably think my selection of Legend over Quarry here is a typo. Nope. The Legend at Giants Ridge deserves to be on any legitimate Top 100 list and has one of Mainland USA’s “10 Most Beautiful Golf Holes” with the par-3 No. 17. It has Paul Bunyan’s bunker and a Northwoods beauty that only The Wilderness at Fortune Bay exceeds. Hole-for-hole, I see Legend as having nine signature holes to Quarry’s five. But both are brilliant Jeff Brauer designs — and scheduled together they provide Minnesota’s best 36-hole day. Be sure to check out the Green Gate Guest Houses on a visit.(Visit Their Website)
21. Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands (Farmington, Penn.): I hate the Toll Road system in both Pennsylvania and Ohio, to the point I am almost willing to drive through Florida to get to New York from Chicago, but I will put up with an insane amount of stupidity for the opportunity to spend any time whatsoever at Nemacolin Woodlands and Omni Bedford Springs in Pennsylvania. Pete Dye has been working on a new project at Nemacolin, but it will be hard for him to top Mystic Rock — at least in my heart and mind. The resort, the staff, the service, the amenities, and the golf are all worthy of being at the top of any U.S. Best List, and the place is only getting better. (Visit Their Website)
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