It’s easy, in the golf world, to spend our time and energy focused on the courses we can’t play — the ultra-private, the extra-secret, the uber-exclusive. Those clubs have dominated course rankings for decades.
But what about the courses we can play? The courses that keep the game alive, welcoming golfer after golfer to our ranks? Munis have fewer dress codes. More hot dogs. And some of them are top-notch tracks, too.
That’s part of the reason why we have released GOLF’s first-ever ranking of municipal courses. You can find that list, which includes our Top 30, here. But if you’re looking for some more insight, here are seven numbers you need to know from our list.
1. Which state has the most top munis?
If you’re going purely by representation in our top 30, California is the big winner with five courses — led by Torrey Pines South at No. 5. It’s worth noting, however, that New York has four courses on the list including three in the top six. Texas has three courses represented, too, and several other states (Washington, Florida, Ohio, Connecticut) have two each. Time to start planning trips…
2. What year did the newest Top-30 muni open?
If we’re talking brand-new courses, the new kid on the block is Corica Park’s South Course, an Australian sandbelt-style gem in Alameda, Calif. The Rees Jones design opened in 2018. The second-newest course on our list is the Jack Nicklaus-designed Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, which opened for play in 2015 — still brand-new by course architecture standards.
But those are hardly the only courses on the list with brand-new feels. Rees Jones also did a renovation at Torrey Pines’ South Course which finished up in 2019. Nicklaus headed up a facelift of North Palm Beach in Florida, which re-opened in 2019 as well. Tom Doak finished his work on Memorial Park in 2019, too, before it hosted a PGA Tour event last season. And Charleston, a 92-year-old course known locally as “The Muni,” reopened in 2020 after a radical redesign from Troy Miller.
3. What year did the oldest muni on the list open?
There are plenty of courses on the list that area approaching their 100th birthdays; Sleepy Hollow (1924), Palatka (1925) N. Palm Beach (1926), Wilmington (1926) and Keney Park (1927) are among the oldies. But the most seasoned course on the list is Brackenridge Park, which opened in 1916 and remains the pride of San Antonio today.
4. What’s the least expensive muni on the list?
It’s just $15 for residents to play Wailua in Hawaii. Shoutout, too, to Charleston Muni ($20 for locals) and Palatka ($22). And Memorial Park costs as little as $30 for local residents, unheard of for a PGA Tour host. Golf courses (and, well, most businesses) are often operated with the sole intent of making as much money as possible, so it’s refreshing to see operators (and cities) buck that trend, with the well-being of golfers in mind. Munis rule.
5. What’s the most expensive muni on the list?
Despite some bargains, the price tags on some of these courses serve as a reminder that these are premium products you’re paying for. Chambers Bay has dynamic pricing that can reach $289 for a tee time, while the going rate for non-residents can reach $252 at Torrey Pines. In either case, however, living local can knock well over $100 off your golden ticket; San Diego residents won’t pay more than $78 for a trip ’round Torrey.
6. Which architects are most represented on the list?
No surprise here: The leader in design credits is Donald Ross, with an impressive five courses on the list, led by the ever-underrated George Wright in Boston (if a course that’s No. 3 on our list can still be underrated). A.W. Tillinghast has three design credits that made the list, including Red and Black at Bethpage State Park. Rees Jones is on the list thrice, too. And so is William Bell, with credits at both Torrey Pines courses as well as Papago in Phoenix.
7. How many courses on the list have hosted PGA or LPGA Tour events?
Let’s count ’em: Bethpage Black has hosted majors and playoff events. Chambers Bay held the 2015 U.S. Open. Torrey Pines South hosts the Farmers every year, plus a particularly high-profile U.S. Open. Memorial Park just hosted its first PGA Tour event. Papago served as fill-in LPGA host in 2009. Brackenridge Park used to host the Texas Open. Torrey Pines North helps host the Farmers. And TPC Harding Park hosted last year’s PGA. That’s eight courses by my tally, although it’s possible there’s another Tour event from years gone by that slipped through the cracks.
These munis, after all, have layers to them.
You can find the complete list here.