19 Great Valued Golf Courses

The 1st hole on the Chimney Top nine, one of the three loops at Graysburg Hills <span class="picturesource">Ross D. Franklin</span>

Americans love getting brand names at generic prices, and nobody relishes bargains more than the budget-conscious golfer. How about a Tillinghast track for 20 bucks? Or feasting on a Robert Trent Jones I-and-II combo for a mere $43. That’s just $3 more than the average cost of a weekend round at a typical daily-fee, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Several famous architects have been bullish on public golf. “The development of municipal golf courses is the outstanding feature of the game in America today,” wrote Donald Ross in 1922. “It is the greatest step ever taken to make it the game of the people, as it should be.”

Ross would have liked this list: 19 bargain tracks — with an average greens fee of $30.58 — built by the greats of American course design, including Donald Ross.

Bethpage State Park (Red Course, Blue Course)
Farmingdale, New York
A.W. Tillinghast (1935)
Greens fees: $34-$39 (Red); $29-$34 (Blue)

Bethpage’s four other courses benefited mightily from the Black’s hosting of the 2002 U.S. Open. The Red Course is considerably less exacting than its imposing sibling, but less expensive, too. The Black Course these days costs out-of-state golfers $78; the Red Course is half the price. The Blue Course, designed by Tillinghast in 1935, was redesigned by Alfred Tull in 1960. The front nine is all Tillinghast and is as tough as any at this monument to public golf.

Buncombe County Golf Course
Asheville, North Carolina
Donald Ross (1927)
Greens fee: $20

This convivial muni may soon appear on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a period piece of Ross ingenuity, particularly the inventive, hilly back nine, which admirably stands the test of time. The stout, downhill par-3 18th hole features a wonderful sleight of hand, a greenside bunker that is almost hidden from the tee.

Cacapon Resort State Park
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
Robert Trent Jones Sr. (1974)
Greens fees: $27-$32

At Cacapon Resort you’ll discover a fine course by Trent Jones the elder amid the foothills of West Virginia’s Cacapon Mountain. This 6,827-yard layout is muscular enough to host college conference championships, and the nearby parks offer enough stay-and-play packages to delight any coupon-clipper. One design quirk: The course sports a double green that is more than 100 yards wide.

Forest Meadows Golf Resort
Murphys, California
Robert Trent Jones Jr. (1971)
Greens fees: $20-$25

The Sierra Nevada Mountains and Stanislaus River Canyon provide a rustic setting for this charming but challenging executive course. One par 5, four short par 4s and 13 par 3s — ranging from 102 to 207 yards — play around a lake, several ponds, towering pines and cedars and subtle elevation swings. Forest Meadows is living proof that a short course does not necessarily mean shortcomings.

Graysburg Hills Golf Course
Chuckey, Tennessee
Rees Jones (1978); Edward Lawrence Packard (1994)
Greens fees: $32-$38

A picturesque valley framed by two ridges in East Tennessee offered Jones a natural backdrop for his sterling contribution to this exceptional 27-hole facility. These three loops could easily command a $100-plus greens fee elsewhere. Jones designed the Knobs and Fodderstack nines; Packard did the Chimney Top loop.

Hyde Park Golf Club
Jacksonville, Florida
Donald Ross (1925)
Greens fees: $22-$36

You’ll see more trees from the tees than in the old aerial photo in the pro shop. This cozy 6,468-yard Ross layout has grown up to be a Northeast Florida favorite. Visitors will find ample reminders that length never made a golf course. The Jacksonville Open was staged here in the 1940s and ’50s, and Ben Hogan once carded an 11 at the 6th hole, a 151-yard par 3.

Kearney Hill Golf Links
Lexington, Kentucky
Pete and P.B. Dye (1989)
Greens fee: $23

The thoroughbred of Lexington’s muni system, Kearney Hill can beat up beginners. The charming countryside belies typical Dye-hard torment accentuated by rough and constant wind. Gary Player twice won Champions Tour events here.

Lyman Orchards Golf Club
Middlefield, Connecticut
Robert Trent Jones Sr. (1969)
Greens fees: $31-$45

A thousand-acre Colonial orchard offers strawberries in June, blueberries in July, peaches in August and terrific golf all season. This 36-hole complex has long been considered among Connecticut’s pay-and-play gems and is the only public RTJ Sr. facility in the state. Don’t leave without gobbling down a piece of pie — there are 28 varieties of apples grown right on the property.

Mackenzie Golf Course at Haggin Oaks
Sacramento, California
Alister Mackenzie (1932)
Greens fees: $40-$50 (includes cart)

The discovery of Mackenzie’s original plans helped guide the faithful transformation three years ago of this upscale muni near Governor Schwarzenegger’s office. Risk and reward, illusion, and an abundance of choice from tee to green are all hallmarks of this public-access reminder of Mackenzie’s genius.

Mark Twain Golf Course
Elmira, New York
Donald Ross (1939)
Greens fee: $20

This Depression-era Ross bequest near Corning could use some TLC, but its stout 6,887-yard frame remains fiendish when the greens firm up. The putting surface at the 230-yard, par-3 11th hole recently received the second tier called for in Ross’s original plans.

Mayfair Country Club
Sanford, Florida
Donald Ross (1924)
Greens fees: $28-$33 (includes cart)

Just 15 miles north of Orlando in bucolic Seminole County (no, not that Seminole), this fine layout used to be owned by the New York Giants — the baseball Giants, before the team moved to San Francisco in 1958. With its mini-Magnolia Lane, ancient oaks and Shaker simplicity, Mayfair once played host to golf’s glitterati, including Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen.

Peninsula Golf Resort
Lancaster, Kentucky
Pete Dye (1997)
Greens fees: $30-$38 (includes cart)

In the bluegrass half an hour south of Lexington, Peninsula offers enticing weekend packages and the stern challenges of a 6,600-yard, links-style track designed by Pete Dye. Most notable are its small, slippery greens and ball-swallowing bunkers.

Ridgefield Golf Course
Ridgefield, Connecticut
George and Tom Fazio (1976)
Greens fees: $45-$50

Young Tom Fazio was working for his illustrious uncle George when he co-authored this tale of two nines, perched amid wetlands, with water in play on seven holes. Generosity off the tee on the front nine flips to an exacting driving stretch on the back, with a potentially ruinous Amen Corner at holes 13 through 15.

Santa Maria Golf Course
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Robert Trent Jones Sr. (1986)
Greens fees: $23-$29

Santa Maria was a private club but went bust after only two years. The city of Baton Rouge snapped it up for a song in 1989 and made it public. With water in play on all but two holes, the course features the requisite RTJ opportunities for strategy, penalty and heroism.

Sharp Park Golf Course
Pacifica, California
Alister Mackenzie (1931)
Greens fees: $31-$35

This venerable muni track .south of San Francisco may be .no match for Mackenzie’s nearby masterpiece Cypress Point, but it remains a strong challenge. Eleven of Mackenzie’s original holes remain intact — but not, alas, the two-shotter that gave birth to his career: He entered a design-a-hole contest sponsored by Country Life magazine and won. Two similar holes were built here but have not survived the passage of time. However, Sharp Park still provides numerous echoes of his design style.

Swope Memorial Golf Course
Kansas City, Missouri
A.W. Tillinghast (1934)
Greens fees: $20-$24

“I count none but sunny hours,” reads the weathered sundial at this cherished Tillinghast creation, which will host next year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. One likely competitor, Michelle Wie, won’t be troubled by the 6,274 yards on offer, but it’s plenty challenging and has been spruced up in recent years. What it lacks in length, Swope Memorial makes up for in history. The PGA.Tour’s Kansas City Open was contested here during the 1940s. Local legend Tom Watson is said to be a fan of the rolling layout.

Sycamore Course at Eagle Creek Golf Club
Indianapolis, Indiana
Pete Dye (1974); Tim Liddy (2001)
Greens fees: $23-$25

Site of the 1982 U.S. Amateur Public Links, this mainstay of the Indy golf scene has all the trappings of a modern club. Seven of Dye’s holes were used for a second course, the Pines, while Tim Liddy crafted replacement holes for the Sycamore layout. The original’s character, variety and strong finish remain intact.

Triggs Memorial Golf Course
Providence, Rhode Island
Donald Ross (1930)
Greens fees: $33-$35

Good luck getting a tee time on this popular track in the heart of Providence. Ross was a longtime summer resident here and crafted a fine layout for his neighbors. Triggs Memorial is the lone muni ever to host the Rhode Island State Amateur. As a single you’ll stand a good chance of getting out on weekdays, but weekends are a tougher assignment between afternoon tournaments and all the members (yes, members) who vie for times through a lottery system. Make the effort and you will be rewarded with a superb test of golf.

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