The best (and worst!) states for public-golf accessibilty, according to new data

golf course at sun down

Ever wondered what the best states are for public golf?

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Country-club golf has its benefits, but it’s a luxury that is not available to all golfers. For those without the funds or connections to tee it up at posh clubs, public golf courses are the go-to.

Public golf is the foundation of the game. While the private courses get most of the press, it’s the come-one-come-all variety that make up the overwhelming majority of courses in the U.S. In fact, according to new research from the National Golf Foundation, 75 percent of all golf facilities in the United States are public (i.e., daily fee or municipal).

That’s an encouraging number for the “grow-the-game” contingent, and shows that golf has plenty of avenues for access across the country. That said, golf is more accessible in some parts of the country than it is in others. Here’s what the NGF data tells us.

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Here’s how states rank in terms of golfers per public course. National Golf Foundation

Best states for public-golf accessibility

If you’re a public golfer in South Dakota, good news! According to the NGF, there are just 631 golfers per public course in the Mount Rushmore State. That number ranks lower than any other state in the country, and makes scoring a tee time in South Dakota easier than anywhere else.

In addition to a great ratio of golfers to public courses, South Dakota has one of the highest percentages of public courses in the country. According to NGF data, of South Dakota’s 118 golf facilities, 112 of them are public. With 94 percent of facilities being public access, you won’t find many states with a friendlier public-golf scene.

The other Dakota (North) is also quite friendly to public golfers with it ranking second to South Dakota in the golfer-to-public-course ratio. North Dakota is also second in the country in percentage of courses that are public, with 95 percent of facilities being open to the public.

Worst states for public-golf accessibility

While Middle America is great for public-course access, the coasts are more difficult. According to the NGF, each of the bottom three states in public-golf accessibility are on the East or West Coast, with California, Maryland and New Jersey representing the bottom three.

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New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country, has the least favorable numbers when it comes to public-golf accessibility, with 4,919 golfers per public course. The Garden State also has the highest proportion of private courses in the country, with 125 of its 267 facilities being private. With 47 percent of its courses being private, New Jersey ranks more than double the national average (23 percent) in that category.

Maryland is not far behind New Jersey in terms of demand with 4,401 golfers per public course. Maryland also has a high proportion of private courses with 37 percent of the state’s supply being private, the seventh-highest number in the country.

California rounds out the bottom three of public-course accessibility with 4,258 golfers per public course. The Golden State does have a slightly lower percentage of private courses than Maryland and New Jersey with just 33 percent of courses being private, but that is still well below the national average.

You can see the entire NGF survey here.

Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at