The Thrifty 50

Rusty Canyan Golf Club in Moorpark California
Rob Brown Photography

These days fifty bucks will barely fill the gas tank in your SUV or cover a family night out at the movies. But it can still get you a round of golf at a great course near you. We polled our course-ranking panelists and a network of regional golf experts to find the 50 best courses for under $50. Course design and conditioning were factors, but the key is cost: every course in the Thrifty 50 costs less than $50 for non-residents at least four days a week in high season, walking or riding. And these aren’t twilight rates!

1. Wild Horse Golf Club
Gothenburg, Neb.
6,805 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $36.75 and up; 308-537-7700 | Profile

South-central Nebraska is a long way from anywhere, but it’s worth the trail ride to get to Wild Horse. This “Carnoustie of the Corn Belt” tumbles through windswept, treeless terrain, where half the battle is keeping the ball from trundling into links-like bunkers and tall native grasses. So complete is the test offered that Wild Horse has been described as the public version of nearby Sand Hills. That comes as no surprise: course architects Dave Proctor and Dave Axland were instrumental in helping Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw create that celebrated course.

2. Rustic Canyon Golf Course
Moorpark, Calif.
6,935 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $35 and up; 805-530-0221, | Profile

Less than an hour’s drive from downtown Los Angeles, Rustic Canyon uses Old World design challenges to achieve golf’s most delicate balance: testing top-level players while providing a hugely enjoyable experience that reminds less-skilled why they play the game. The design team of Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner and Geoff Shackelford deployed heaving fairways that lead to firm, fast greens, all protected by bold and imaginative bunkering. Washes and environmentally protected areas crisscross the routing, but most holes are wide enough to accommodate multiple means of approach. The only variables in a round here are your levels of skill and hubris: Rustic Canyon will let you thrive or perish on either one.

3. Old Works Golf Course
Anaconda, Mont.
7,705 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $39 and up; 406-563-5989, | Profile

Whenever your tree-loving kids tell you that golf is bad for the environment, tell ’em about Old Works. Thirty miles west of Butte, Jack Nicklaus capped a Federal EPA Superfund site and built a typically strong test of golf atop it. The most memorable feature is the black slag bunkers; the slag is from an old copper smelting plant, the remnants of which forms a unique backdrop to many holes.

4. Lakewood Shores Resort (Gailes Course)
Oscoda, Mich.
6,954 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $45 and up; 989-739-2075, | Profile

Just like Wild Horse, Lakewood Shores in remote northeast Michigan is another faux links that scores high in the value department. It’s all about the gales at the Gailes: the premium is on controlling your trajectory in the wind off gusts off Lake Huron. Master that and the only challenge is avoiding the deep (and often blind) bunkers and wispy fescue grasses that line the rippling fairways.

5. The Links at Hiawatha Landing
Apalachin, N.Y.
7,150 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $38.75 and up; 607-687-6952, | Profile

Hiawatha Landing has way too many trees to be confused with a links, but the gorgeous golden fescues that frame the fairways are as attractive as anything across the pond. Located about three hours northwest of New York City, just west of Binghamton, this Brian Silva/Mark Mungeam design is highlighted by jagged edge bunkers that melt into the landscape.

6. Gold Mountain Golf Complex (Olympic Course)
Bremerton, Wash.
7,140 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $38 and up; 360-415-5432, | Profile

This 10-year-old gem from designer John Harbottle III is a ray of sunshine for golfers in the perpetually rainy Pacific Northwest. Sitting just across Puget Sound, west of Seattle, the Olympic Course is routed through avenues of tall firs and was a deserving host of the 2006 USGA Amateur Public Links.

7. Willinger’s Golf Club
Northfield, Minn.
6,809 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $39 and up; 952-652-2500, | Profile

Don’t let the name deter you: this course only sounds like some guy’s backyard project. Willinger’s is 30 miles from downtown Minneapolis but sports a wild, way-out-there ambiance. The opening nine is flattish and wanders around multiple marshland areas, but the layout really comes alive on the topsy-turvy back nine that’s tucked into the trees.

8. Pinon Hills Golf Course
Farmington, N.M.
7,249 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $36.50 and up; 505-326-6066, | Profile

It’s not too long ago that the only reason folks drove miles out of their way to Four Corners region of the Southwest was to pose for pictures while straddling the only dot on the U.S. map where four states touch each other. Now Pinon Hills, in farthest northwestern New Mexico, gives golfers a better reason to rack up the miles. Sandstone outcroppings and deep canyons serve as handsome hazards on this Ken Dye design, but it’s the wildly undulating greens that can send scores skyward.

9. The Links of North Dakota
Ray, N.D.
7,092 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $40 and up; 701-568-2600, | Profile

New Yorker Stephen Kay was turned loose on this treeless site overlooking Lake Sakakawea in northwest North Dakota and the results is the Dornoch of the Dakotas: a near-authentic links experience with fast-running fairways, 82 ingeniously placed bunkers, and a location that will let you play until 10:00 p.m. in the height of summer. And all for $40!

10. Gray Plantation Golf Club
Lake Charles, La.
7,238 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $46 and up; 337-562-1663, | Profile

Wayward hitters will find plenty of intimidation at Gray Plantation, and not just from the water hazards that lurk on 12 holes-many of those hazards are teeming with alligators. In the heart of Cajun Country, architect Rocky Roquemore carved wide fairways from a forest of tall pines but what Rocky giveth he taketh away with the occasional forced carry to an island green.

11. Rock Hollow Golf Club
Peru, Ind.
6,944 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $49 and up
765-473-6100, | Profile

Stick a pickaxe in your bag because this dynamite layout was sculpted from a former gravel quarry mined by the father of PGA Tour player Chris Smith and the rocks that remain can ruin your round. Wetlands, trees and heaving terrain complement an inspired routing by Pete Dye protégé Tim Liddy that’s situated 70 miles north of Indianapolis.

12. Santa Ana Golf Club (Tamaya/Cheena Course)
Bernalillo, N.M.
7,239 yards, par 71; Greens fee: $32 and up
505-867-9464, | Profile

You shoulda made a toin at Albuquerque. Had you done so, and headed north for 15 miles to the Santa Ana Pueblo, you would have found its namesake golf club with its mostly flat fairways that ease past the Rio Grande. You would have also discovered some of the most consistently quick, tough-to-two-putt greens west of the Pecos, along with desert brush lining the fairways and mountains all around.

13. Callippe Preserve
Pleasanton, Calif.
6,748 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $42 and up

This 2006 addition to the Bay Area golf is scene is a welcome one, thanks to its close proximity to San Jose and San Francisco, its memorable mountain vistas and to its greens fee that won’t induce sticker shock in a locale where a mil will get you a one-bedroom cracker box. Architect Brian Costello routed the course to take full advantage of the twisting Happy Valley Creek and stuck holes 11-14 adjacent to Callippe butterfly sanctuaries.

14. Valley View Golf Course Layton, Utah
7,147 yards, par72; Greens fee: $22 and up
801-546-1630, | Profile

Fifteen miles north of Salt Lake City is the simply named layout that offers simply superb value-a scenic, true championship track for under $30. The course name refers to the Salt Lake Valley, but other attractions are the Wasatch Mountain backdrops, multiple elevated tees and a variety of sidehill lies and creek-influenced holes.

15. Capstone Club of Alabama Brookwood, Ala.
7,032 yards, par 71; Greens fee: $39 and up

Architect Gil Hanse proved he could create sophisticated, yet affordable courses with California’s Rustic Canyon and this Deep South design just east of Tuscaloosa is further proof. The layout balances thickly treed holes with more wide open ones, but always there’s something interesting going on, be it the huge variety of bunker shapes, the 120-foot drop to the fifth green or the curling stream to negotiate at the 17th.

16. Chickasaw Pointe Golf Resort
Kingston, Okla.
7,085 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $30 and up
580-564-2581, | Profile

OK, so Oklahoma isn’t the first place you think of for great resort golf courses, but this seven-year-old Randy Heckenkemper design could help alter that perception. With typical prairie winds, dense tree cover and 15 holes routed on hilly bluffs above Lake Texoma, near the Texas border, Chickasaw Pointe offers one of the best state park tests in golf.

17. The Rawls Course at Texas Tech University
Lubbock, Texas
7,207 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $35 and up
806-742-4653, | Profile

With its high-octane football air attack and Bobby Knight running the basketball team, Texas Tech’s three-year-old golf course might get overshadowed-except that it’s such a dynamo in its own right, it more than holds its own. Minimalist Tom Doak maxed out the dirt-moving here, converting a flat old cotton field into vast mounded fairways with greens to match that successfully accommodate the strong West Texas winds.

18. Riverdale Golf Club (Dunes Course)
Brighton, Colo.
7,067 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $35 and up
303-659-6700, | Profile

Suburban Denver is blessed with an abundance of topnotch value-priced courses and this 1985 Pete and Perry Dye design leads the way, with a plethora of water hazards, railroad ties, British links-style native roughs and pot bunkers. Wide fairways wind along the South Platte River, making for a scenic, if windy experience, especially at such holes as the lake-guarded par-3 eighth.

19. Eaglesticks Golf Club
Zanesville, Ohio
6,508 yards, par 70; Greens fee: $40 and up
800-782-4493, | Profile

Fifty-five miles east of Columbus is Zanesville, the self-proclaimed pottery capital of the U.S., and perhaps it’s not a bad idea for first-timers to this 1990 Michael Hurdzan design to grab some clay and mold it to the firm, fast putting surfaces to get them to slow down. Besides fast greens, the challenges include significant elevation change and club-twisting rough all on a compact site that lends a classical feel to the layout.

20. The Tennessean Golf Club
Paris, Tenn.
7,183 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $36 and up
866-710-4653, Profile

Paris in the spring is quite lovely, especially if you’re teeing it up at the The Tennessean, a heavily forested layout in Paris, Tennessee, 100 miles west of Nashville near the Kentucky border. It was the perfect job for architect Keith Foster, who lives in Paris, Kentucky. We’re not sure if Foster speaks French or not, but his design oozes joie de vivre in the form of severely undulating fairways and greens, rock outcroppings, chasms and creeks.

21. Texarkana Golf Ranch
Texarkana, Texas
7,370 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $23.50 and up

There can’t be a tougher golf course in the United States that costs less to play than this untamed Ranch. Hacked out of wooded terrain adjacent to Bringle Lake, this Jim Fazio Jr./Hank Haney design is so demanding, you might even pay Haney his hourly rate just to guide you around the eight dramatic shoreline holes. With holes like the 234-yard par-3 15th that plays to an island green, it’s easy to see how the Ranch earned its 76.7 rating and 149 slope.

22. Amana Colonies Golf Course
Amana, Iowa
6,824 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $45 and up
800-383-3636 | Profile

Prayer and contemplation may be in order at this 1989 Jim Spear design that’s not only situated 20 miles southwest of Cedar Rapid, but also sits within a utopian religious site that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unless you can keep it out of the white oaks that frame the hilly fairways, however, you will find no salvation in your score.

23. Aldeen Golf Club
Rockford, Ill.
7,131 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $39 and up
888-425-3336 | Profile

With all of the acclaimed public courses in the Chicagoland area, you’d have to have rocks in your head to drive 85 miles to play golf, right? Yet Chicagoans do it all the time, to get a crack at the pride of Rockford, a Dick Nugent gem that compares favorably to his Kemper Lakes layout, for a quarter of the price. High-lipped bunkers, easy-to-lose-a-ball-in rough, scattered mounding and the 203-yard island green eighth add up to trouble for wayward hitters.

24. Murphy Creek Golf Course
Aurora, Colo.
7,456 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $33 and up
303-361-7300 | Profile

Ongoing home construction has diminished the Murph’s aesthetic appeal, but the Ken Kavanaugh prairie links design remains as solid as ever, dating back to the layout’s 2000 debut when Nick Faldo posted a 69, then likened the challenge to what he experienced at Sand Hills. When the USGA’s Amateur Public Links arrives here in 2008, the winner will be the guy who keeps it out of the golden fescues and away from the deep, sprawling bunkers and rusted farm implements strewn about the property.

25. Big Fish
Hayward, Wisc.
7,201 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $44 and up
715-934-4770 | Profile

Northwestern Wisconsin isn’t near anything; the closest big city is Duluth, Minnesota, so don’t plan on playing a lot of early spring golf at Big Fish. When it thaws out, however, you’ll fall hook line and sinker for this Pete Dye/Tim Liddy design that mixes open, linksy holes with hardwood-framed beauties in a well-balanced package that also features closely mown chipping areas, little mounds and big ones and Dye’s seemingly random, but ultimately strategic bunkering.

26. Old Silo Golf Club
Mt. Sterling, Ky.
6,977 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $49 and up
859-498-4697 | Profile

27. Northwood Golf Club
Rhinelander, Wisc.
6,724 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $42 and up
715-282-6565 | Profile

28. Lassing Pointe Golf Course
Union, Ky.
6,724 yards, par 71; Greens fee: $37 and up
859-384-2266 | Profile

29. Prairie Highlands Golf Course
Olathe, Kans.
7,066 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $42 and up
913-856-7235 | Profile

30. Red Hawk Run Golf Course
Findlay, Ohio
7,155 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $38 and up
877-484-3429 | Profile

31. Bear Trace at Harrison Bay
Harrison, Tenn.
7,140 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $39 and up
877-611-2327 | Profile

32. Whitefish Lake Golf Club (North Course)
Whitefish, Mont.
6,556 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $44 and up
406-862-5960 | Profile

33. Tokatee Golf Club
Blue River, Ore.
6,806 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $40 and up
541-822-3220 | Profile

34. The Moors Golf Club
Milton, Fla.
6,828 yards, par 70; Greens fee: $39 and up
800-727-1010 | Profile

35. Wailua Golf Course
Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii
6,981 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $32 and up
808-246-2793 | Profile

36. Buffalo Dunes Municipal Golf Course
Garden City, Kans.
6,774 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $20 and up
620-276-1210 | Profile

37. The Summit Golf Club
Cannon Falls, Minn.
7,022 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $37 and up
507-263-4648 | Profile

38. Piper Glen Golf Club
Springfield, Ill.
6,985 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $28 and up
217-483-6537 | Profile

39. Rochelle Ranch Golf Course
Rawlins, Wyo.
7,925 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $22 and up

40. Twisted Gun Golf Club
Wharncliffe, W.Va.
7,015 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $40 and up
304-664-9100 | Profile

41. The Golf Club at Yankee Trace
Centerville, Ohio
7,139 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $47 and up
800-438-4654 | Profile

42. Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course
Pacific Grove, Calif.
5,732 yards, par 70; Greens fee: $35 and up
831-648-5777 | Profile

43. Devil’s Thumb Golf Club
Delta, Colo.
7,176 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $35 and up
970-874-6262 | Profile

44. Draper Valley Golf Club
Draper, Va.
7,070 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $40 and up
866-980-4653 | Profile

45. Southern Hills Golf Club
Hawkinsville, Ga.
6,741 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $27 and up
478-783-0600 | Profile

46. Stonebridge Golf Club
Rome, Ga.
6,835 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $33 and up
706-236-5046 | Profile

47. The Trophy Club
Lebanon, Ind.
7,280 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $47 and up
765-482-7272 | Profile

48. Stonebridge Meadows Golf Club
Fayetteville, Ark.
7,150 yards, par 72
Green fees: $39 and up

49. Papago Municipal Golf Course
Phoenix, Ariz.
7,068 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $38 and up

50. Shennecossett Golf Course
Groton, Conn.
6,562 yards, par 71; Greens fee: $42 and up