What determines a state’s golfiness? Lots of factors.
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.
Today, we’ll cover the States ranked 20-11. Tomorrow, the Top 10 Golfiest States on 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.
The Cornhusker State was once best known in golf circles for Omaha’s Johnny Goodman, who stunned Bobby Jones at the 1929 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, then won the 1933 U.S. Open. Today the state soars with its top-4 “Avidness” ranking, the superb Coore-Crenshaw collaboration at Sand Hills, and its impressive hosting of the 2013 U.S. Senior Open, a lively sellout at Omaha Country Club.
Pop quiz. Name the only golfer to win Player of the Year honors on the PGA Tour, Champions tour and Web.com tour. Stumped? It’s Tom Lehman, who is Minnesota born and bred and a graduate of the University of Minnesota. The North Star State exudes golfiness in so many other ways, from the nation’s second highest Household Participation Percentage, to its hosting of the U.S. Open, PGA and Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National, to Bobby Jones winning the U.S. Open at Interlachen in his Grand Slam year of 1930. Superb, affordable public courses statewide boost Minnesota’s ranking even higher.
Few states are so drenched in golf lore, which offsets the modest Participation and Rounds Per Golfer numbers it chalked up. Tales of Hogan and Nelson, Crenshaw and Kite, Spieth and Chamblee are as rich and colorful as you’ll find. The tournament pedigree is rock solid, from the Byron Nelson, in Dallas, to the Colonial, in Fort Worth, to old-timey events in Houston and San Antonio. Texas is the only southern state to host the U.S. Open, Ryder Cup and PGA.
A top-15 performer in Household Participation Percentage, the Bay State also boasts a proud golf history. Local boy Francis Ouimet put golf on the map in America when he stunned British stars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to win the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club, in the Boston suburb of Brookline. Almost as famous is the U.S. Ryder Cup rally in 1999, when Justin Leonard dropped a 45-foot bomb on the 17th. Fans pack TPC Boston for the Deutsche Bank Championship, a FedEx Cup playoff event, and tourists flock to Cape Cod for lobstah, chowdah and a banquet of quality of public courses.
Bandon Dunes! Bandon Dunes! Bandon Dunes! The golfing wonderland features four courses in the U.S. Top 15 You Can Play, including Pacific Dunes, the top-ranked public-access course in the country. Need we say more? We will. Bend offers one of the nation’s best summer climates. Portland sports affordable public golf and a private course, Pumpkin Ridge’s Witch Hollow, where members walk with pull carts, and where Nike’s Phil Knight “discovered” Tiger Woods during Tiger’s stirring 1996 U.S. Amateur win.
T15. NEW JERSEY
Any discussion of Garden State golf must begin with Pine Valley, in southern Jersey, the world’s No. 1-ranked course for the last 30 years. Further north, closer to Manhattan, you’ll find plenty more gems, like Somerset Hills; Baltusrol, host to seven U.S. Opens over three of its courses; and Plainfield, the site later this summer of the Barclays. The term “birdie” was coined in 1903 at Atlantic City Country Club on the coast. Sam Snead won a PGA at Seaview in 1942, right before he entered the Navy. And, in 2011, I won a match partnering with Donald Trump at Trump Bedminster’s Old course. God help me if we lost…
The greatest amateur of all time, Bobby Jones, grew up playing East Lake, in Atlanta. After he won the Grand Slam in 1930, he built Augusta National and started the Masters, giving the Peach State a golfing pedigree for the ages. Somewhat low participation rates keep Georgia from the top 10, but resort retreats such as coastal Sea Island and lake-edged Reynolds Plantation draw golfers from near and far.
Ranking in the top 4 in Rounds Per Golfer, the Aloha State appeals as strongly to locals as it does to tourists, who travel great distances to tee off in paradise. Swaying palms, black lava rough, ocean breezes and waves from the Pacific in view and in play on dozens of courses make for idyllic golfiness. Adding to the mix is a big-time tournament history, from 50 years of PGA Tour events at Waialae, in Honolulu, to Champions tour stops on Maui and the Big Island, to the unforgettable Tiger Woods-Ernie Els duel at Kapalua.
Serious golf is spoken here, a cold weather stronghold that somehow ranks in the top 10 for total number of courses. Home to the 2015 PGA Championship, at Kohler’s Whistling Straits, and the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills—both public courses—Wisconsin also has rich pockets of resort golf in other parts of the state. When Mike Keiser completes his intended Sand Valley project near the Wisconsin Dells, the Cheese State will merit top 10 consideration.
You could confine the Keystone State’s golf attributes solely to the historic events that have unfolded at Oakmont and Merion and it would still be one of our golfiest states. Western PA gave us Arnold Palmer. Eastern PA is a Hall of Fame of golf course design, with Top 100s from Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, William Flynn, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse and local lads George and Tom Fazio. Earning his start here was George Thomas Jr., who designed Whitemarsh Valley, before relocating to California and crafting L.A.C.C., Riviera and Bel-Air.
Check back tomorrow for the Top 10!
THE RANKINGS THUS FAR: