Last week, Money published its always-excellent list of the 50 Best Places to Live in America (small-town division). For each town, the magazine examined various criteria, including jobs, affordability and quality of schools. But in our mind the ranking didn’t give enough weight to one crucial element: golf. To determine which best small towns are best for golfers, we took Money’s top 50 and applied our own criteria: quality of courses within 25 miles, favorable climate, golf affordability and overall golf vibe. When the deck was reshuffled, some towns dropped out of the top 10 (sorry, Papillion, Neb.), while others soared into it (Woodstock, Ga., leapt 44 places to No. 6). If you want to live well and play well, here are 10 small towns for you — plus a special bonus town that didn’t make Money‘s list.
10. Menomonee Falls, Wis. (Money rank: 32)
This eastern Milwaukee suburb is best known as the site of Kohl Department Stores’ corporate headquarters, but golfers will be more interested in the selection of logoed shirts and sweaters 20 miles west, at Erin Hills, the public-access venue for the 2017 U.S. Open. Also close by is Brown Deer Park, whose municipal course played host to the PGA Tour from 1994 through 2009. Tiger Woods made his professional debut here in 1996.
9. Louisville, Colo. (Money rank: 4)
Halfway between Denver and Boulder, this handsome town in the heart of the Rockies provides dozens of high-altitude experiences to golfers seeking scenery and value. Topping the list is private Cherry Hills, where Arnold Palmer mounted his greatest charge, at the 1960 U.S. Open. Bolstering Louisville’s case are Indian Peaks in nearby Boulder, a Hale Irwin design, plus affordable muni designs from Pete Dye, Tom Doak and Jim Engh.
8. Edina, Minn. (Money rank: 15)
Granted, golf is not a year-round proposition in the southwestern suburb of Minneapolis. But during the playable months Edina and its surrounds offer a rich vein of world-class golf, starting with its Interlachen Country Club, where Bobby Jones won the U.S. Open during his Grand Slam year of 1930. More than a dozen top-ranked, value-priced courses dot the regional landscape and next door to Edina sits Hazeltine National, venue for multiple majors and site of the 2016 Ryder Cup.
7. West Linn, Ore. (Money rank: 6)
Older Tour fans remember the West Linn dateline when Oregon Golf Club, a Ken Kavanaugh/Peter Jacobsen design, served as host for the Fred Meyer Challenge, a popular two-man team event from 1992-97. Elsewhere in suburban Portland lies a robust lineup of private and public-access courses including one of each at Pumpkin Ridge, where Tiger Woods won the 1996 U.S. Amateur.
6. Woodstock, Ga. (Money rank: 50)
Thirty miles north of downtown Atlanta, this Woodstock may never have hosted a massive music festival, but its golf pedigree hits a high note. The North Georgia Mountains are a compelling backdrop for local favorite Bradshaw Farms, while nearby tournament tracks include the Atlanta Athletic Club and fabled East Lake, where Bobby Jones grew up.
5. Snoqualmie, Wash. (Money rank: 5)
This gorgeous, upscale Seattle suburb is home to the Boeing Champions Tour event, played at the Jack Nicklaus-designed TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. Nearby is Sahalee, 1998 PGA Championship venue and host to the Women’s PGA in 2016, while 45 minutes south is Chambers Bay, the unforgettable 2015 U.S. Open site overlooking Puget Sound. Sure, it rains all winter, but summer temps are perfect to tackle a terrific slate of value-priced munis, including Jefferson Park, where native son Fred Couples learned the game.
4. Coppell, Tex. (Money rank: 8)
Nestled slightly north of Irvine and Las Colinas, home to the Tour’s Byron Nelson Classic since the 1980s, Coppell is surrounded by superb public and private golf in and around Dallas and Fort Worth. Dozens of Tour players and golf personalities call the region home, and near Coppell you’ll also find Nike’s equipment testing headquarters (“the Oven”), a top Jim McLean school and Hogan shrines from Shady Oaks to Colonial.
3. Sahuarita, Ariz. (Money rank: 29)
Roughly 20 easy miles via highway south of Tucson, Sahuarita sits next door to a fistful of Green Valley’s underrated, inexpensive courses. Sahuarita also has access to Tucson’s tournament-tested munis, as well as to gorgeous desert resort tracks such as Dove Mountain, former WGC-Accenture Match Play venue, Ventana Canyon, The Gallery and Omni Tucson National — all of which can be enjoyed during the area’s more than 300 days of sunshine per year.
2. Apex, N.C. (Money rank: 1)
Less than 20 miles southwest of the Research Triangle Park, Apex benefits from all of Raleigh’s business and cultural attractions, a temperate climate and a trio of outstanding public-access university courses at Duke, North Carolina State (Lonnie Poole) and University of North Carolina. It’s also ideally situated on the way to Pinehurst’s rich collection of courses and to Tobacco Road in Sanford, just before you arrive in Pinehurst.
1. Doctor Phillips, Fla. (Money rank: 26)
One of the most distinctively named small towns in the U.S., this Orlando suburb is next door to Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill and in close proximity to 140 other courses, including Isleworth, Grand Cypress and the Disney tracks, all venerable tournament hosts. With endless sunshine, a deep selection of golf, an efficient airport nearby and dozens of Tour players living in the vicinity, Doc Phillips is the ideal small town for golfers.
Bonus Small Town: Bandon, Ore.
It didn’t make Money’s top 50, but golfers know there’s only one true No. 1 in this ranking, and that’s Bandon, Ore. (pop. 3,053), home to the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. There’s not much of a downtown, or cultural attractions or buzz-worthy restaurants. The wind howls. It’s difficult to get to. And yet… Bandon has four of the top 15 public courses in the U.S., amid a dramatic coastal cliff-top setting. That’s good enough for us!