9. Desert Willow (Firecliff), Palm Desert, Calif. -- Owned by the city of Palm Desert, Desert Willow’s Firecliff is one of the nation’s most expensive munis, but one glance at the acreage will tell you it’s money well spent. The kaleidoscope of desert flora plantings, gorgeous, sprawling Hurdzan-Fry bunkers, handsome mountain vistas and environmentally seamless meld into the landscape once landed Firecliff on the cover of Smithsonian magazine, the only course ever to do so.
3 of 10Rob Perry
8. Butterfield Trail, El Paso, Tex.
8. Butterfield Trail, El Paso, Tex. -- Situated a nuked 5-iron or so from the El Paso International Airport, this six-year-old Tom Fazio design is golf on a huge, Texas-sized scale. Wide fairways and strategic bunkering are in vogue throughout; natural sand dunes, 55 feet of elevation change and views of the Franklin, Hueco and Sierra Madre Mountains further spice the play.
4 of 10Getty Images
7. TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, Calif.
7. TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, Calif. -- The aptly named host to the 2009 Presidents Cup, this venerable 1925 muni sports fairways hemmed in by frequent fog and cypress trees, lush rough and a wild closer (the 15th during the Presidents Cup), a 475-yard, par-4 that opens with a bite-off-as-much-as-you-can-chew drive over a lake, followed by an uphill smash to a rollicking three-tier green.
5 of 10Courtesy of Wintonbury Hills
6. Wintonbury Hills, Bloomfield, Conn.
6. Wintonbury Hills, Bloomfield, Conn. -- Pete Dye (together with protégé Tim Liddy) charged the town of Bloomfield just $1 to design its municipal course in 2003. You won’t have to pay too much more than that to play a terrific, traditional, Hartford-area layout that offers up a blend of open and forested holes alongside the Tunxis Reservoir. Fast, sloping greens, 90 acres of ball-devouring wetlands and 125 bunkers make this par-70 a tough nut to crack at the Nutmeg State’s best value, but you’ll have fun trying, even from the manageable 6,700-yard back markers.
6 of 10USGA Archives
5. Olympic Course at Gold Mountain, Bremerton, Wash.
5. Olympic Course at Gold Mountain, Bremerton, Wash. -- One of the best values in the U.S. is this Seattle-area track that played host to the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur, won by Jordan Spieth. The Olympic course, a 7,104-yard, 1996 John Harbottle III design, features a flattish, forested front nine, followed by a hilly journey on the back, highlighted by the 357-yard, par-4 15th, which plays to a peninsular green at lake’s edge.
7 of 10Courtesy of TPC Scottsdale
4. TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), Scottsdale, Ariz.
4. TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), Scottsdale, Ariz. -- The circus-like atmosphere that pervades the Waste Management Phoenix Open often obscures the fact that its stage is vastly underrated, notably on the back nine. Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish infused the final nine holes with some of the greatest risk/reward fun in golf, from the reachable, island-green, par-5 15th, to the raucous 16th, to the drivable par-4 17th, all with compelling McDowell Mountain backdrops.
8 of 10Evan Schiller
3. Torrey Pines (South), La Jolla, Calif.
3. Torrey Pines (South), La Jolla, Calif. -- Torrey Pines didn’t need any more notoriety when it came time to play host to the 2008 U.S. Open. The clifftop, city-owned venue overlooking the Pacific Ocean and stretching 7,600-plus yards had already witnessed 40 years of PGA Tour events, with winners that included Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Phil Mickelson. But leave it to Tiger Woods to cement Torrey’s reputation for tournament drama. His clutch birdie putt at the par-5 72nd hole made the ’08 Open one of the most memorable ever.
9 of 10USGA Archives
2. Chambers Bay, University Place, Wash.
10 of 10Jim Krajicek
1. Bethpage State Park (Black), Farmingdale, N.Y.
1. Bethpage State Park (Black), Farmingdale, N.Y. -- In the education of a golfer, Bethpage Black is the bar exam. Ranked No. 6 in our Top 100 Courses You Can Play, the Black bullies players even before they tee off with a sign at the first tee stating: “Warning -- The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.” Among the most highly skilled were Tiger Woods and Lucas Glover, who captured the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens here, respectively. True, you may have to spend the night in your car just to sign up to play, but it’s worth the discomfort -- simply to experience more on-course.
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