America's Municipal Treasures: 10 Best Municipal Golf Courses in America

By Ryan Watson

 

Municipal golf courses, often referred to a “munis”, are courses owned and maintained by a city government. While your local muni may be slightly worn, America can boast some of the world’s best municipal courses. These course are generally cheaper than other public options and many serve to bring in needed revenue to their local governments making them popular with golfers and non-golfers alike. The following are, in no particular order, America’s top 10 municipal courses.

 

Wintonbury Hills

 

206 Terry Plains Rd.
Bloomfield, CT 06002
(860) 242-1401

 

Bloomfield, a small Connecticut town outside of Hartford, boasts one of New England’s best public courses and one of the best municipal courses anywhere. The course was designed by Pete Dye with help from protege Tim Liddy, this walking course moves through both wetlands and forests and borders the town’s reservoir. The course isn’t particularly long, but the wetlands and over 125 bunkers provide more than enough challenge on a course designed to test accuracy over power.


 

Chambers Bay

 

6320 Grandview Dr. W,
University Place, WA 98467
(253) 460-4653

 

Chambers Bay is links style course maintained by University Place, Washington, that feels like a classic British course. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Chambers Bay has hosted a major tournament in the 2015 U.S. Open and it’s easy to see why. Natural bunkers and ample sand provide plenty of challenge while golfers enjoy beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Conveniently located near the Sea-Tac airport, the course is easily accessible for visitors to Seattle. Just be sure the weather looks reasonably dry before booking your tee time.


 

Harborside International

 

11001 South Doty Avenue East
Chicago, IL 60628
(312) 782-7837

 

Links golf in the middle of the country? That’s what architect Dick Nugent was challenged to do when working on America’s “third coast” in Chicago. Not only that, the course was to be built over a former landfill. Nugent saw this challenge and created a two beautiful courses, Starboard and Portside, that are evocative of classic British courses. With views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, the course offers a beautiful Chicago experience like no other. The course features numerous pot bunkers with open grasslands and deep rough, and is kept in excellent condition. A must-play on your visit to the Windy City.

 

TPC Harding Park

 

99 Harding Rd.
San Francisco, CA 94132
(415) 664-4690

 

A rare municipal course that has played host to both PGA Tour and World Golf Championship events, San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park is sure to provide a great round of golf. Named after President Warren G. Harding, the course was originally designed by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting in 1925. It enjoyed a big reputation in the the 50s and 60s, when it as home to the San Francisco Open Invitational before falling on hard times and budget cuts. The course was renovated in 2002 and now features world class amenities and has returned to hosting golf’s biggest events. Known for its tree-lined and undulating fairways, Harding Park promises golfers a championship caliber course and one of California’s best courses.

 

Bethpage State Park’s Black Course

 

99 Quaker Meeting House Rd.
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(516) 249-0700

 

This municipal course was first opened in 1936 as a solid public course. However, its inclusion on this list comes from the work Rees Jones put into updating this course in 1998, 2008, and 2015. This is a difficult course that rewards long accurate drives with a chance to hit the relative flat greens. But any mistake could find you stuck in some excellent and incredibly challenging greenside or fairway bunkers. The challenge, as well as the beauty of the course, has seen it host two U.S. Opens and it has been awarded both the 2019 PGA Championship and the 2024 Ryder Cup.


 

Butterfield Trail Golf Club

 

1858 Cottonwoods
El Paso, TX 79906
(915) 772-1038

 

This Tom Fazio designed course maximizes the West Texas landscape with this wide open course using natural sand bunkers, small pinon pines and elevation changes with beautiful vistas. The course plays long but does have wide fairways, and the difficulty of the course can change dramatically depending on which tees you are using. Definitely a course worth playing if you are ever in the area, Butterfield Trail is an excellent and quintessential Texan course.


 

TPC Scottsdale (Stadium Course)

 

8243 E Bell Rd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
(888) 400-4001

 

The TPC Scottsdale is a well known course for its raucous atmosphere during the annual Waste Management Phoenix Open, the best attended golf tournament in the world. The course was designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, and it features many interesting holes with a wide open feel. The course challenges golfers with a strategic layout that offers many risk/reward choices. With views of the McDowell Mountains in the distance, the TPC Scottsdale Stadium course is a must for fans of the PGA Tour who want their own chance to play the famous course.

 

Gold Mountain Golf Club (Olympic Course)

 

7263 W Belfair Valley Rd.
Bremerton, WA 98310
(360) 415-5432

 

Located in the greater Seattle area, the Gold Mountain Golf Club is a municipal gem in the Pacific Northwest . The John Harbottle designed Olympic course is the must-play course at Gold Mountain, featuring a beautiful layout nestled in the mountain environment. Expect beautiful trees, elevation changes, deep bunkers and tight greens. This is one of the best municipal courses on the entire West Coast with a price point to make every golfer happy.

 

Pinon Hills

 

2101 Sunrise Pkwy.
Farmington, NM 87401
(505) 326-6066

 

Pinon Hills is located in the wide open high desert of the Four Corners region of northwestern New Mexico. The course was designed by Ken Dye to use the natural topography to create a beautiful and natural course. Located at 6,000 ft above sea level, the course plays shorter than its 7,198 yards due to the thin air. Be advised, this is the most isolated course on this list at over 200 miles away from either Santa Fe or Albuquerque. However, the conditions and layout of the course coupled with the beautiful views of canyons, mesas and the La Plata Mountains and affordable green fees make the course worth the trip.

 

Torrey Pines (South Course)

 

11480 N Torrey Pines Rd.
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 452-3226

 

Long considered one of, if not the greatest municipal courses in America, Torrey Pines is easily the most prominent course in the golfer’s paradise of Southern California available to the public. Featuring two different courses, The Billy Bell designed and Rees Jones upgraded South course is the better-playing and more famous of the two. Torrey Pines is home to an annual PGA Tour event and was also the site of the famous 2008 U.S. Open sudden-death victory of Tiger Woods over Rocco Mediate. Due to its popularity, reservations should be made as far as possible in advance. Golfers will enjoy the challenging course and beautiful ocean views on one of America’s great munis.



 

About The Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.

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