My muni: The favorite municipal courses our staff has played
My muni had carts that were purposely slowed by the clubhouse guy so the “kids” wouldn’t go speeding around. The carts were born with average acceleration. Now? You could walk faster.
My muni also had about a dozen carts where its one-time riders wrote loving words about the clubhouse guy in scoring pencil on the roofs and steering wheels.
My muni has my wife’s wedding ring. She’d take it off to play. But one round about a decade or so ago, it slipped out of her purse, and we searched in vain for about two hours in the darkness trying to find it. We gave our numbers to another clubhouse guy in case it turned up, but we never got a call.
My muni also has a bird that may have my wife’s wedding ring. As we left that night, the clubhouse guy had a theory. “The birds like shiny objects, so he probably scooped it up and dropped it in his nest.”
My muni is Spring Lake Golf Course in Omaha, Neb.
It’s an executive nine-hole course south of downtown and just south of the zoo and old Rosenblatt Stadium, the former longtime home of the College World Series. No hole is longer than 290 yards. Its 9th, its finisher, is a 100-yard par-3 — that’s divided by a street. (There’s fencing on both sides.) Its 6th is a 127-yard par-3 that I’ve played maybe 50 times, and though I haven’t kept a record, I’m positive that I’ve hit it short and right 50 times. I’ve played it in the winter, spring, summer and fall. I’ve played it on my birthday. I played it on the morning of my wedding day.
We all have a Spring Lake, a muni where you remember the yardages, angles and breaks. A muni where you have your own clubhouse guy stories. It might be on GOLF.com’s new list of the 30 best municipal golf courses in America. Or it might not. But it’s No. 1 to you.
Below are the GOLF.com staff’s favorite munis:
Bellport Country Club, Bellport, N.Y.
My favorite muni doesn’t sound like one: the Bellport Country Club. But it’s a muni, at least for the people who live in Bellport, a small village on the South Shore of Long Island, about 65 miles from the Empire State Building. Bellport was founded as a private club but has been owned by the village forever, and anybody who lives in the village can play or join it. It’s a short, flat course credited to Seth Raynor and fixed up by Bill Love and the course’s current caretakers. It’s on a bay, the sand in the bunkers is coarse, it’s not overly manicured, the grass on the greens is thick, you can play it in three hours on a long summer day, you’ll find your ball, you can play it for score or you can gamble on it. For me, it’s where I fell in love. It’s home. — Michael Bamberger
Bethpage Black Course, Farmingdale, N.Y.
I have the distinct honor of my favorite muni doubling as my favorite course on earth: Bethpage Black. (Thanks for letting me have this one, Ashley!) I grew up not far from Bethpage but was never fortunate enough to have access to the many great private clubs also within a stone’s throw of my childhood home. For years, I resorted to “accidentally” driving through the pearly gates of those courses to check out the scene from the other side of the fence, content on securing at least a glimpse of the golf history around me. But as the years have gone by, I’ve realized that the privacy of the Long Island golf scene only serves to underscore the brilliance of “The Black.” It is one of the world’s greatest courses, and anyone with a few bucks in their pocket and a willingness to scour the online reservation system can secure a tee time tomorrow. To me, a great course has three things: accessibility, quality and affordability — and the Black Course has each in spades. There’s no challenge like it, for sure, but there’s also no accomplishment like conquering the beast. — James Colgan
Bethpage Red Course, Farmingdale, N.Y.
Growing up 15 minutes from Bethpage State Park, I would always shake my head at those who traveled from across the world to get their teeth kicked in by Bethpage Black on my way to check in for a Red Course tee time. “Baby Black” is the perfect degree of challenging and fun in ways that its bully big brother isn’t. There can be some serious pace-of-play issues on Bethpage’s other sister courses, but I rarely find that issue on Red. This is where the “People’s Country Club” members actually play. Enjoy your Black Course warning sign photo. I’ll enjoy my round on the Red Course. — Tim Reilly
Brookside Golf Club, Pasadena, Calif.
My hometown in Southern California didn’t have a lot of munis, so I grew up on reasonable daily-fee courses, including my beloved home course, Calimesa Country Club, may it rest in peace. Brookside was a special-occasion course — it was an hour drive away, depending on the traffic. My dad’s brother lived in Pasadena for a long time, and we met him several times over the years for rounds at Brookside, which has 36 holes. The 1928 William P. Bell design always played long and tough, and, as longtime USC football fans, it was always a thrill to play the holes that run alongside the Rose Bowl, site of many Trojan triumphs. More than anything, though, Brookside represents great memories of exotic childhood trips to Pasadena, rounds with my dad, and post-golf meals at Hamburger Hamlet. Perfect days. — Jessica Marksbury
Cavendish Golf Course, Lanai City, Hawaii
One of my top five favorite courses of all time, muni and beyond, is Bethpage Black. But since I know one of my colleagues will rank that beautiful beast as their No. 1 muni (most of us have lived in or near New York City for some portion of our adult lives), I’ll focus instead on a muni that totally surprised me in all the right ways. There’s a nine-hole golf course in the heart of Lanai City called Cavendish. When I visited Lanai for the first time in late 2018, locals told me Cavendish was a hidden gem and free to play. One of my Instagram followers who grew up in the area told me membership costs $35 per year. My husband and I had no intention of leaving the Four Seasons Lanai during the three days we’d visited the island, but when we heard about this nine-holer, we knew we needed to experience it ourselves. We woke up at 5:30 a.m. on the day we were scheduled to leave the island, and we got to the course by 6:15 a.m. Cavendish was just a 20-minute ride from the Four Seasons Lanai, but it certainly felt like a world away. We showed up, walked to the 1st tee and played nine holes — no payment necessary, and we couldn’t even find an honor box. Along the way, we waved to the maintenance crew and couldn’t get over how much fun the course is to play. Its tree-lined fairways, smart routing and varied hole designs make it a pleasure of a walk. The locals we spoke with told us they play Cavendish often, and they feel grateful to have such a gem of a nine-hole course in their backyard. That gratefulness shines through in the condition of the course — the community that surrounds it helps maintain it beautifully. — Ashley Mayo
George Wright Golf Course, Hyde Park, Mass.
This was the muni of my high school summers, when I worked nights as a waiter and played golf early mornings. A terrific Donald Ross design from the WPA-era 1930s, blasted through a rocky landscape just outside Boston. The bones were always great, but conditioning had become an issue until superintendent Len Curtin became part of an effort to bring it back into fighting shape. Just last week, on a long-postponed trip back East, I played George Wright for the first time in more than 30 years. It’s fair to say I’m biased. But it’s also fair to say that by any muni measure, the place is looking and playing great. For $40 or thereabouts, it’s about as great a steal as there is anywhere in the country. — Josh Sens
Gold Mountain Golf Club, Bremerton, Wash.
My trip there came on recommendation from the golf staff at Chambers Bay. Real recognize real. Gold Mountain is where Jordan Spieth won one of his U.S. Junior Amateur titles, and there are plenty of relics from that victory inside the clubhouse. Tall pines flank every hole at Gold Mountain — all 36 holes, that is — and the commute from Seattle is a piece of cake. The Bremerton Ferry will have you on the tee in under 90 minutes, and the best part is the place won’t drag down your wallet. You could have played it on Friday ,June 11th for $71 in the morning, and just $30 after 3 p.m. There might not be a better deal in golf. — Sean Zak
Interbay Golf Center, Seattle
Interbay Golf Center in Seattle. It’s three minutes from my apartment and has something for everybody. A nine-hole, fun-sized course consisting of one 275-yard par-4 and eight par-3s. A mini-golf course with a top-notch soundtrack blaring from the middle. A two-story driving range fully equipped with Toptracer games. If I go early in the morning, I can play nine and be back at my front door in just over an hour. If I go in the afternoon, there’s no shortage of fellow golf-lovers of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and abilities to join in on the fun. Plus the hot dogs are reasonably priced. — Dylan Dethier
Kahuku Golf Course, Kahuku, Hawaii
My favorite munis are usually the cheapest, scrappiest and quirkiest. The ones that are a little rough around the edges, that exist as a kind of hybrid between a golf course and a regular patch of grass. The epitome of that is Kahuku Golf Course in Hawaii, a nine-holer sitting on some intensely beautiful (and valuable) land on northwest Oahu. You tee off next to a graveyard on the 2nd hole, navigate an Augusta-style tier on the 3rd green, tee off mats on the short par-3 4th hole and chip toward a green 100 feet downhill, then begin looping back around for the closing stretch directly on the ocean. It’s exactly what municipal golf is supposed to be: A place where every kind of golfer can show up, play quickly and not take anything too seriously. — Luke Kerr-Dineen
Kahuku Golf Course, Kahuku, Hawaii
Kahuku Golf Course sits alone atop the list of most beautiful muni golf courses I’ve ever played. With a slope of 112 and a USGA rating of 34.5, the nine-hole layout itself could never be confused with a championship setup, but the property sits adjacent to the Pacific Ocean — and almost every shot has an ocean view, and the beach is just steps away throughout most of the round. The blustery ocean winds are the course’s only true defense, but the entire experience is what muni golf is all about. The clubhouse is bare bones, the drinks are served out of vending machines, and they offer used golf balls for free to be returned after the round (provided you don’t lose them in the ocean). There’s no dress code, and greens fees will run you around $16-33 depending on time and day. If you want to play oceanfront golf in Hawai’i without paying resort prices, Kahuku is a wonderfully unique, no-frills experience. — Andrew Tursky
Lions Municipal Golf Course, Austin, Texas
Lions — or, as it’s affectionately known to the locals, Muny — is oozing with history. If the trees lining the fairways could talk, the stories they’d have would be endless. It was the first course south of the Mason-Dixon Line to desegregate. It was the course where Ben Crenshaw learned the game (and eventually bought his trusty Wilson 8802 putter). And it’s where my passion for golf and reporting finally intersected in college. The future is uncertain at Muny, as I detailed in this ode last spring, but the vibrance of the course will never fade. As they say in Austin, “Forever Green. Save Muny.” — Zephyr Melton
Marine Park Golf Course, Brooklyn, N.Y.
As an avid NYC muni-goer, this was a very exciting prompt, but the more I thought about it, the tougher it became to narrow down. Van Cortlandt Park is by no means my favorite golf course, but there is something unique and special about hopping on the 1 train with my clubs and playing a six-hour round with strangers. (Maybe I’m just a masochist …?) I knew the Long Island boys of GOLF would cover Bethpage Black and Red (my personal fave of the two). So, that leaves me with a course I have selfishly refrained from writing about up until this point as I play it most often and have yet to make the loop in more than four hours: Marine Park. For just $35, it’s far and away the best-value muni in NYC. The links-style track has distant city views, challenging greens, and is always in great shape. The one hold up? You can’t get there via public transportation, so it does require a friend with a car (shout-out Zephyr Melton). — Emily Haas
Papago Golf Club, Phoenix
My list of munis I want to check out is long, but my favorite I’ve ever played that isn’t called Bethpage Black is Papago in Phoenix, which GOLF ranked 15th on our 30 Best Munis compilation. It’s great for locals and the ideal course for travelers since it’s just a few miles from the airport, making it the perfect spot for fly-in/fly-out days. The course was renovated in 2008, and they went in and re-turfed the greens, fairways and rough, reshaped bunkers and removed trees. It’s a fun test that’s not going to cause you as much heartburn as some other nearby resort courses. What makes the experience even better is Lou’s Bar & Grill, which opened in September 2018 and is a perfect spot to hang after your round. — Josh Berhow