The 50 best golf courses in the Midwest: Ranking the Heartland’s best designs

sand hills

Sand Hills is one of golf's most stunning and eminently playable tests.

Larry Lambrecht

GOLF Magazine recently unveiled its 2020/2021 Top 100 Courses in the United States, and to showcase the country’s geographic diversity, GOLF has, for the first time, broken the country into four regions and ranked the top 50 in each. Each region is shockingly diverse — and overflowing with exquisite golf. To introduce each region, we called upon a star architect to help.

The Appeal of Golf in the Heartland | By Kye Goalby

The American Heartland inspires images of open spaces and farmland filled with hardworking, blue-collar folks — an abstract ideal of what America is, and can be. But when you get past the beer-commercial version of the Heartland, what you find is a place much more varied and diverse. 

The Heartland’s golf courses exemplify this. While there are many small-town courses laid out on flat, forgettable land, the best courses of this region defy stereotype. Take Sand Hills, in Nebraska. No great design is more rural or feels more American than Sand Hills, and it literally started a new era in golf design. 

There are also plenty of great Golden Age courses in the region that showcase the diversity of the land and styles of golf. Chicago Golf Club somehow imbues a flat piece of prairie land with an unforgettable golf experience, while Crystal Downs, in Michigan, provides an artistic, roller-coaster ride of MacKenzie and Maxwell’s genius. The public-access Lawsonia, in Wisconsin, with its bold design and ingenious greens, created by a long forgotten Midwesterner William Langford, may be the perfect example of Heartland golf. 

Boring? These courses, and all the others on the list below, illustrate that golf in the middle of the country is anything but.

  The 50 best golf courses in the Midwest

1. Sand Hills — Mullen, Neb. (Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw, 1994)

Sand Hills finds itself ranked the top course in the Midwest — and firmly in the conversation for Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s design opus.

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2. Chicago — Wheaton, Ill. (C.B. Macdonald, 1895/Seth Raynor, 1923)

3. Crystal Downs — Frankfort, Mich (Alister Mackenzie/Perry Maxwell, 1932)

4. Prairie Dunes — Hutchinson, Kan. (Perry Maxwell, 1937/Press Maxwell, 1957)

Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kans., is an hour’s drive from Wichita.

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5. Shoreacres — Lake Bluff, Ill. (Seth Raynor, 1921)

6. Camargo — Cincinnati, Ohio (Seth Raynor, 1926)

7. Southern Hills — Tulsa, Okla. (Perry Maxwell, 1936)

8. Inverness — Toledo, Ohio (Donald Ross, 1919/Andrew Green, 2017)

9. Oakland Hills (South) — Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (Donald Ross, 1917/Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1950)

10. The Golf Club — New Albany, Ohio (Pete Dye, 1967)

11. Whistling Straits (Straits) — Haven, Wis. (Pete Dye, 1998)

The host of the 2021 Ryder Cup, Whistling Straits.

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12. Muirfield Village — Dublin, Ohio (Jack Nicklaus/Desmond Muirhead, 1974)

Jack Nicklaus’ latest Muirfield redesign is set to take shape in time for the 2021 Memorial Tournament.

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13. Moraine — Kettering, Ohio (Alex Campbell, 1930)

14. Milwaukee — River Hills, Wis. (H.S. Colt/C.H. Alison, 1929)

15. White Bear Yacht Club — White Bear Lake, Minn. (William Watson, 1915)

White Bear Yacht Club’s rolling hills and gorgeous scenery more than make up for its shortened length.

Patrick Koenig

16 St. Louis — St. Louis, Mo. (C.B. Macdonald, 1914)

17. Kingsley — Kingsley, Mi. (Mike Devries, 2001)

18. Prairie Club (Dunes) — Valentine, Neb. (Tom Lehman/Chris Brands, 2010)

19. Lawsonia (Links) — Green Lake, Wis. (Bill Langford/Ted Moreau, 1930)

20. Wolf Point — La Hood, Texas (Mike Nuzzo, 2008)

21. Sand Valley (Sand Valley)  — Nekoosa, Wis. (Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw, 2017)

The two Sand Valley courses underscore the subtle brilliance of their architects, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s namesake course and David McLay Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes.

Christian Hafer

22. Sand Valley (Mammoth Dunes)  — Nekoosa, WI (David McLay Kidd, 2018)

23. Interlachen — Minneapolis, Minn.

24. Scioto — Columbus, Ohio

25. Dismal River (Red) — Mullen, Neb.

26. Cedar Rapids — Cedar Rapids, Iowa

27. Davenport — Pleasant Valley, Iowa

28. Erin Hills — Erin, Wis.

The host of the 2017 U.S. Open and some of the U.S.’s best golf terrain, Erin Hills.

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29. Beverly — Chicago, Ill.

30. Kirtland — Willoughby, Ohio

31. Olympia Fields (North) — Olympia Fields, IIl.

32. Forest Dunes (Loop-Red/Black) — Roscommon, Mich.

33. Whispering Pines — Trinity, Texas

34. Omaha — Omaha, Neb.

35. Crooked Stick — Carmel, Ind.

36. Medinah (No. 3) — Medinah, Ill.

37. Blackwolf Run (River) — Kohler, Wis.

38. Old Elm — Highland Park, Ill.

39. Colonial — Ft. Worth, Texas

Colonial’s idyllic fairways and rolling greens make one of Texas’ finest tests.

Courtesy Colonial Country Club

40. Meadowbrook — Northville, Mich.

41. Trinity Forest — Dallas, Texas

42. Harvester — Rhodes, Iowa

43. Northland — Duluth, Minn.

44. Canterbury — Beachwood, Ohio

45. Orchard Lake — Orchard Lake, Mich.

46. The Country Club — Pepper Pike, Ohio

The Country Club in Ohio — an apt name for a stunning track.

Patrick Koenig

47. Victoria National — Newburgh, Ind.

48. Brookside — Canton, Ohio

49. Sutton Bay — Agar, S.D.

50.  Hazeltine National — Chaska, Minn.

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