America's 12 Best Public Courses

By Ryan Watson

Americans love golf. In fact, more than 25 million Americans golfed in the last year. Luckily, America is also on the forefront of course design and has some of the world’s best courses. While some, like Augusta National, are so exclusive that the odds of the average golfer playing are near 0, many of America’s best courses are open to the public. The following are America’s 12 greatest public courses.

Bandon Trails

57744 Round Lake Road
Bandon, OR 97411
(800) 742-0172

Designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the course that many thought would be overshadowed by Bandon Dunes Resorts other famous courses has quickly become one the best courses in America and the favorite course of many golfers. While not having the same seaside views, the layout of this course is links golf at its best. If you want to know what traditional golf feels like, this is as close as you can get without a passport. A course that demands decision making and accuracy without any gimmicks.

TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium)

110 Championship Way
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082
(904) 273-3235

The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is best known as the home course of the Players Championship, sometimes referred to as the "fifth major." The name of the course derives from its unique design that allows up to 36,000 spectators to watch the action in person. The course was designed by Pete and Alice Dye to challenge golfers by providing a balanced course that incorporated all styles of course design. The Stadium Course is also home to the famous island green on the 17th hole, providing an opportunity for amateurs to try their hand at one of golf's most iconic holes.

Spyglass Hill Golf Course

3206 Stevenson Drive
Pebble Beach, CA 93953
(831) 574-5608

Another beautiful course dotting the golfing paradise of Pebble Beach California, Spyglass Hill is a Robert Trent Jones’ beautifully designed challenge to golfers. The course begins play through sandy wastes in a run of holes often compared to Pine Valley but with the added challenge of ocean winds. The course then goes into the local Cypress trees and pines with rolling hills that immediately reminds golfers of Augusta. But Spyglass Hill is not simply a cheap imitation. Instead it is a testament to the amazing design that the best way to describe the course is through comparisons to other golf masterpieces.

Bethpage State Park - Black Course

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

The Black Course was first opened in 1936 as a solid public course at the Bethpage State Park in Upstate New York. However, its inclusion on this list comes not from the original design but 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.

Shadow Creek

3 Shadow Creek Dr.
North Las Vegas, NV 89081
(702) 399-7111

Tom Fazio was tasked with crafting a world class course in the middle of a desert landscape. With an intense vision, and $47 million dollars to back it up, Fazio reshaped a flat environment into rolling hills and canyons that form the setting of Shadow Creek golf course. Rolling green hills, and tree lined fairways are outlined by distant desert mountains as you tee on the first hole. The course feels like it was plucked from North Carolina hill country or from out of Vermont and is a favorite winter golf destination. Just be prepared to pay for, and enjoy, a luxury experience that only Las Vegas could deliver.

The Straits at Whistling Straits

N8501 Lakeshore Rd.
Sheboygan, WI 53083
(800) 618-5535

Whistling Straits are one of two complexes associated with the Kohler Company-owned American Club in Wisconsin. The Straits is a British links style course sculpted from the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The course was designed by Pete Dye and opened in 1998 to mirror the green coastlines of Ireland. Grassland and sand dune wastes coupled with deep bunkers provide the primary challenges to golfers, though the weather can also play a part depending on the day. The course has earned high accolades and has hosted 3 PGA Championships and is slated to host the 2020 Ryder Cup.

Blackwolf Run (River)

1111 W Riverside Dr.
Kohler, WI 53044
(800) 618-5535

The American Club’s second course to make the list, Blackwolf Run’s River course is another Pete Dye masterpiece. The course follows a glacial Sheboygan River through wilderness without the more common views of condos or houses that plague many resort courses. The course will challnege any golfer, demanding strong drives, accurate shots, and acute decision making. The course is not punitive, but that is little comfort if a wild shot skews into the water. A must-play for any golfer making a trip to the area, especially during Wisconsin’s mild summers.

Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course

14710 Northwood Hwy.
Arcadia, MI 49613
(231) 889-3001

Arcadia Bluffs is a natural and beautiful links course that is sometimes overshadowed by its proximity to other stellar courses, such as Whistling Straits. The course overlooks Lake Michigan and is a textbook example of a classic links course, complete with natural sand dunes. The course was built in 1999 by designers Warren Henderson and Rick Smith. The course offers numerous risk/reward shots and feature some forced carries and numerous deep bunkers ready to gobble up misplaced shots.

Pinehurt Resort's No. 2

80 Carolina Vista Drive
Pinehurst, NC 28374

Pinehurst Resort is famous for its amenities, none more famous than the golf course known simply as "No. 2". The course was designed by Donald Ross in 1907 and is noted for its difficulty and beautiful layout. Pinehurst No. 2 has hosted numerous tournament and has played host to both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open. This championship caliber is famous for its crowned greens that have been known to make or break a golfer's score. The course demands strategy from players and rewards accurate shot shaping. The course is kept in immaculate condition and golfers will appreciate the time they spend on the fairway while trying to set up an easy putt on the notoriously tricky greens.

Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes

57744 Round Lake Road
Bandon, OR 97411
(541) 347-4380

Pacific Dunes is one of the Pacific Northwest's most famous courses and the second Bandon Dunes Resort course to make the list. It is a traditional links style course designed by David Kidd that pays homage to the original Scottish courses. This course demands excellent decision making and remains deceptively open. What Bandon Dunes does so well is use expert bunker placement and the natural topography rather than gimmicks. It truly is one of the great links courses outside of Europe, and with 2 other excellent courses there at the resort, a trip to Oregon should be on every golfers’ bucket list.

Pebble Beach Golf Links

1700 17 Mile Dr.
Pebble Beach, CA 93953
(831) 574-5609

Pebble Beach is an instantly recognizable name in the world of golf. Long considered one of America’s greatest courses, it combines beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean with an outstanding design. Golfers will enjoy 9 holes that directly overlook the ocean from atop rocky cliffs. The course is oozing with history as it has hosted numerous PGA Tour events and majors. The course also features one of the great finishing holes in the game. Players tee-off to the sound of waves crashing on a par-5 dogleg that requires a forced carry over the ocean. Be sure to book tee times very far in advance as this remains one of America's most popular courses.

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island

Kiawah Island Golf Resort
One Sanctuary Beach Drive
Kiawah Island, SC 29455

A beautiful Southern experience, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Golf Resort boasts the most seaside holes in the Northern Hemisphere with 10 of its 18 holes located directly on the coastline. The course is a favorite of professionals and has hosted a Ryder Cup, PGA and Senior PGA Championship among others. In addition to the spectacular views, the course is best known for the strong and unpredictable winds which act as an ever-changing hazard. Staying at the Kiawah Island Resort will give you access to luxury amenities and multiple chances to play this amazing course.

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.