10 Best Municipal Golf Courses in the U.S. Worth Visiting

By Ryan Watson

Torrey Pines North golf course

Municipal golf courses, often referred to as “munis”, are courses owned and maintained by a city government. While your local muni may be slightly worn, America boasts some of the world’s best municipal courses. Municipal golf courses are known for being cheaper than other public options, making them popular with golfers and non-golfers alike.

10 Best Municipal Golf Courses in America

Some municipal golf courses, however, break the stereotype, providing a world-class golf experience to anybody willing to shell out a little extra cash. These are the top 10 municipal golf courses in America.

Wintonbury Hills (Bloomfield, Connecticut)

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. Wintonbury Hills was designed by Pete Dye with help from protege Tim Liddy.

Wintonbury Hills golf course

This walking course moves through both wetlands and forests and borders the town’s reservoir. The course isn’t particularly long, playing 6,623 yards from the tips, but the wetlands and more than 125 bunkers provide more than enough challenge to test your accuracy.

Chambers Bay (University Place, Washington)

Chambers Bay is links-style course maintained by University Place, Washington, to USGA-level standards. Jordan Spieth won the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay after Dustin Johnson missed putts to win and tie on the 72nd hole. Chambers Bay also hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur, 2021 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and will host the 2022 U.S. Women's Amateur.

Chambers Bay golf course

The course feels like a classic British course. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., natural bunkers and ample sand provide plenty of challenge while golfers enjoy beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Chambers Bay measures up to 7,500 yards from the longest tees. Conveniently located near the Sea-Tac airport, the course is easily accessible for Seattle visitors. Just be sure the weather looks reasonably dry before booking your tee time.

Harborside International (Chicago)

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 two beautiful courses, Starboard and Portside, that are evocative of classic British courses.

Harborside International golf course

With views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, Harborside International offers a beautiful Chicago golf experience like no other. The course plays up to 7,166 yards and 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 (San Francisco)

A rare municipal course that has played hosted major championship, PGA Tour and World Golf Championship events, San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park provides 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 50s and 60s, when it was home to the San Francisco Open Invitational before falling on hard times and budget cuts.

TPC Harding Park

The course was renovated in 2002 and now features world-class amenities and has returned to hosting golf’s biggest events. Collin Morikawa won the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park. Known for its tree-lined and undulating fairways, Harding Park promises golfers a championship-caliber course and one of California’s best courses.

Bethpage Black (Farmingdale, New York)

Famed for its "Warning" sign on the first tee that recommends only "highly skilled golfers" play it, Bethpage Black is notoriously one of the most difficult courses in the United States. Bethpage Black first opened in 1936 as a solid public course.

Rees Jones updated the Black Course in 1998, 2008, and 2015 to challenge the world's best players, which is why it hosted U.S. Open in 2002 and 2009, the PGA Championship in 2019, and will host the Ryder Cup in 2025.

Bethpage Black

Bethpage Black is a difficult course that rewards long accurate drives with a chance to hit the relatively flat greens. Any mistake could leave you stuck in some excellent and incredibly challenging greenside or fairway bunkers. The course itself isn't the coure's only difficulty, just getting a tee time at Bethpage Black comes with its own unique challenges.

The Bethpage facility includes five color-coded courses: Green, Yellow, Blue, Red, and Black.

Butterfield Trail Golf Club (El Paso, Texas)

Butterfield Trail, a Tom Fazio-designed course, maximizes the West Texas landscape with its wide-open layout using natural sand bunkers, small pinon pines, and elevation changes with beautiful vistas.

The course plays long but has wide fairways, and the difficulty can change dramatically depending on which tee box you are playing. Butterfield Trail is an excellent and quintessential Texan course, and definitely worth playing if you are ever in the area.

TPC Scottsdale (Stadium Course)

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.

TPC Scottsdale

The Stadium 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 presents many risk-reward choices. With views of the McDowell Mountains in the distance, the TPC Scottsdale Stadium course is a must-play for fans of the PGA Tour who want their own chance to play the famous course.

Gold Mountain Golf Club - Olympic Course (Bremerton, Washington)

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. At 7,035 yards, the Olympic Course is one of the best municipal courses on the entire West Coast with a price point to make every golfer happy.

Pinon Hills (Farmington, New Mexico)

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.

Pinon Hills

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)

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 courses, The Billy Bell designed and Rees Jones upgraded South course is the better-playing and more famous of the two.

Torrey Pines South Course is extremely difficult, which is why it hosts an annual PGA Tour event, the Farmers Insurance Open, and was also the site of two U.S. Opens, including the famous 2008 U.S. Open sudden-death victory of Tiger Woods over Rocco Mediate.

Torrey Pines South

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.