What determines a state’s golfiness? Lots of factors.
Having more than a quarter of your residents who regularly peg it helps your cause (take a bow, Minnesota). Hosting 18 national championships puts you in good stead (nicely done, New York). Spawning Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast and Tom Doak does not go unnoticed (props, Pennsylvania). And staging a PGA Tour event that attracts half a million fans? You da man, Arizona.
But how does California stack up against North Carolina? Is North Dakota golfier than South Dakota? And which state is the golfiest of them all? You deserve answers, America, and we’ve delivered them.
Pairing National Golf Foundation data with some subjective analysis from yours truly (I've played golf in all 50 states and at more than 1,500 U.S. courses), we calculated a golfiness rating for every state in the union.
Over five days this week, we’re rolling out our ranking in groups of 10, culminating with the Top 10 Golfiest States on Friday, July 3. (You can debate the merits of our ranking at your July 4 barbecue.) Did we undervalue your state? Did we rank another state too high? Stand up and be heard! Hit us up on Facebook or Twitter, or plead your case in the comments section below.
HOW WE DID IT
We rated each state on a 0-50 scale in the following four categories. The combined score for each state determined its overall “golfiness.”
1. AVIDNESS OF GOLFERS. Using data supplied by the National Golf Foundation (NGF), we factored in Household Participation Rate (the percentage of a state’s population that plays golf) and Rounds Per Golfer (the frequency of rounds among regular players). Combining those two metrics, each state emerged with a point value of 1 to 50.
2. QUANTITY AND QUALITY OF COURSES. We gave equal emphasis to two statistics: (1) Total number of courses, and (2) Number of GOLF Magazine Top 100 courses (private and public).
3. GOLF LEGACY/VIBE. This category accounts for the caliber of a state’s native players and the prestige of its tournaments, plus its overall golf “vibe”—admittedly somewhat subjective metrics, but important nonetheless.
4. TRAVELIN’ JOE’S RATING. The final judgment was left up to me and my golf experiences in all 50 states. When I holed out at Hot Springs (Ark.) Country Club’s Park course in October 2011, I completed my quest to play golf in every state. Having now crisscrossed the country countless times, I’ve developed my own opinions of each state’s golfiness.
Did you miss states 50 to 41? You can check out that ranking here. Our ranking of states 40-31 is here.
In yet another border war rivalry between the Jayhawk State and the Show-Me State (see No. 29), Kansas loses out by a single point. Tom Watson has lived in Kansas for years. Long-bomber Gary Woodland is a proud Kansas University Jayhawk, and past Kansas State stars include Robert Streb and Jim Colbert, who co-designed the rugged campus golf course called Colbert Hills. The state’s top tournament track is linksy Prairie Dunes, site of the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open, the 2006 U.S. Senior Open and the 2014 Men’s NCAA Championship.
Tom Watson is the Show-Me State’s most famous golf export. He won four Missouri Amateur titles from 1968-71. Close behind him is Payne Stewart, who has a course named for him in the Branson area, one of the state’s great destinations. Lake of the Ozarks is another golf-rich vacation spot. One of Robert Trent Jones’ most heroic par-3s is the over-the-water shot at the Lodge of Four Seasons’ Cove course. Gary Player and Nick Price both won majors at Bellerive in suburban St. Louis. And few remember that the 1971 Ryder Cup took place at Old Warson, in the St. Louis area, when Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were the two top point-getters for the victorious U.S. squad.
The Seattle-Tacoma region basked in the spotlight earlier this year, when public-access, county-owned Chambers Bay welcomed the U.S. Open (it earned mixed reviews from the pros, but the Puget Sound views were stunning). Fred Couples grew up playing Seattle’s public tracks and Ryan Moore is another card-carrying member of the Evergreen State. Seattle’s other championship layout is Sahalee, where Vijay Singh won the 1998 PGA. In the drier eastern portion of the state are Wine Valley GC, in Walla Walla; Palouse Ridge, the home course for Washington State University; and hilly Indian Canyon, in Spokane, where avid golfer/actor Craig T. Nelson spent his youth.
Only an underwhelming Rounds Per Golfer score keeps the Old Dominion from a higher rung, because it checks every other golfiness box. Superior resorts and public courses dot the landscape, from Williamsburg’s tournament tracks—notably Kingsmill’s River course—to Virginia Beach to the venerable Homestead in the Allegheny, where Sam Snead learned the game. Two of golf’s steeliest competitors, Lanny Wadkins and Curtis Strange, are Virginians.
A major championship stronghold since Babe Zaharias won the 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Southern Hills, in Tulsa, the Sooner State remains a big-time venue. Three U.S. Opens and four PGAs have been decided at Southern Hills; Oak Tree held the 1988 PGA and the 2014 U.S. Senior Open; and Tulsa Country Club played host to the 2014 NCAA Women’s Championship. It’s best known for its college studs, including Oklahoma State players Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Scott Verplank, among many others.
Golf in the Silver State is a relatively recent phenomenon, but as Las Vegas boomed, so did affection for a game in which betting is a regular part of the fun. The PGA Tour has called Las Vegas home since the Tournament of Champions in 1953, played for years at the old Desert Inn, where the Wynn course now resides. Vegas also is home to one of golf’s “It” courses: high-roller hangout Shadow Creek. A host of Tour players call Vegas home, as does the LPGA’s Natalie Gulbis and super-teacher Butch Harmon, who plies his trade at Rio Secco. For a celebrity fix, fans flock to Edgewood Tahoe’s summer bash in Reno.
Its No. 2 ranking in the “Avidness” category proves Iowans love their golf. Further evidence was the record attendance set when the U.S. Senior Open landed at Des Moines Golf & Country Club in 1999. More Iowa magic comes from native son Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion who was born in Iowa City, raised in Cedar Rapids and schooled at Drake, in Des Moines. Before Johnson, Jack Fleck was the golfing pride of the Hawkeye State. The Davenport native upset Ben Hogan to win the 1955 U.S. Open.
Basketball always comes first in Kentucky, but there’s a sneaky-strong golfiness about the Blue Grass State. Most of its best courses, public and private, stay under the radar, but mighty Valhalla pops up every few years. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and owned by the PGA, the course has proven itself as one of the great drama-producing layouts in major championship golf. Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes, Russ Cochran and Steve Flesch all wave the Kentucky blue flag in their Tour travels.
The biggest, most raucous golf tournament crowds east of the Mississippi show up every year at Hartford’s TPC River Highlands for the Travelers Championship. Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have all won there, and locals have fond memories of the 12-year run (through 1984) when Sammy Davis Jr. lent his name to the event. Julius Boros, of Fairfield, is the Nutmeg State’s greatest player, with two U.S. Open titles and a PGA. Connecticut also is home to the country’s best college course, the C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor/Charles Banks gem at Yale University.
Stories have circulated in equal measure over the past 25 years about John Daly, the 9th alternate who improbably won the 1991 PGA at Crooked Stick, in suburban Indianapolis, and the hometown course architect, Pete Dye. The Indy area boasts some terrific, value-oriented public courses, including Dye’s redesign of Brickyard Crossing, which features four holes inside the oval at the Brickyard, site of the Indianapolis 500. Down south, French Lick Resort features courses by Dye and Donald Ross, plus casino gambling.