Our staff’s 14 favorite public courses we played for the first time in 2020
From Bandon Ore., to Farmingdale, N.Y. From Nekoosa, Wis., to Scottsdale, Ariz. Left to right. Up and down.
Golfers, according to National Golf Foundation reports, didn’t just play golf in 2020. They played golf. Our staff included. We played our old favorites. And, as the hefty numbers might suggest, we played some new favorites.
Below are our staff’s 14 favorite public courses we played for the first time in 2020:
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Michael Bamberger: Jeffersonville, a muni in Jeffersonville, Pa., on the outskirts of Norristown, in the far reaches of Philadelphia. A Ross. Inexpensive. Great people. Easy to walk. Interesting greens. No pretense. Come as you are. Pure golf.
Alan Bastable: I gotta cheat, because I didn’t play any new public courses in 2020 (lean year!), but I did gain a new appreciation for one: the par-3 course at Ash Brook GC, the muni up the road from my central New Jersey home. There’s nothing fancy about this pint-sized nine-holer. The tee boxes are hitting mats, the greens tend to run either shaggy or worn, and a dilapidated starter’s shed overlooks the 1st tee. But here’s the thing: Like a reliable friend, it’s always there for you. That hasn’t been the case with many golf courses during our coast-to-coast quarantine, when golf suddenly became the cool kid with whom everyone wanted to hang. As the game’s popularity surged, tee times became to golfers what Hamilton tickets were to theatergoers: really hard to score. During the spring, summer and fall, the regulation course at Ash Brook was jammed, no doubt just as the munis and public courses in your own towns were.
But the AB Par-3? It was available (no booking required!), and, for the price of a sleeve of ProV1s, always happy to have you. When the mood struck, I’d grab three clubs, jump in the car and less than 10 minutes later, I was on the tee, knocking a wedge toward the 1st green. That my 8-year-old was usually by my side made it all the sweeter. An hour later, we’d be back in the car, with somewhere around 30 or 40 swings and strokes under our belts — and considerably more than that on the occasions when we had the place to ourselves. Fun, fast, unfussy. The best kind of golf.
Josh Berhow: I played Troon North’s Monument Course in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the first time way back in January, and I can’t wait to go back. It’s desert target golf full of elevation changes and strategic choices. Tee shots are intimidating, but don’t let that fool you — there’s more room out there than it looks. It’s a great layout with big greens and some fun, short par-4s. It also has one of the coolest photo ops you’ll find, because architects Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish simply couldn’t get the gigantic 25-foot boulder out of the way. It’s now in the middle of the par-5 3rd fairway. Don’t hit it.
James Colgan: In October, a few buddies and I scheduled our first-ever golf weekend to New York’s capital region. The first day, we played Saratoga National — a cheeky, TOUGH course set in gorgeous fall scenery. But on day 2, we stumbled into my favorite round of the year. With the help of professional golfer and GOLF senior writer Dylan Dethier, we drove over the Massachusetts border into Williamstown for a tee time at Taconic Golf Club. The course is loaded with history (in perfect New England brashness, a sign out front reads: “No preferred lies, we play golf here”), but I couldn’t get over the golf. Quirky, impeccable and undulating, Taconic is everything great about golf, without any of the manufactured pretension. I can’t wait to get back.
Kevin Cunningham: Marine Park Golf Course in Brooklyn, N.Y. I played Marine Park for the first time in 2020, and I instantly fell in love. As a resident of New York City, it’s often easy to forget you’re living in a beach town. Not so at MPGC. The windswept, linksy course may not be directly on the ocean, but an ocean channel runs along several holes, and you can hear, feel and taste the Atlantic on every hole, with NYC’s most popular beaches waiting just down the road. Pair that with a fun layout, challenging raised greens and views of the NYC skyline, and you can see there is much to love. I must have played MPGC more than a dozen times in the last few months of the year, and I plan to beat that number next year.
Dylan Dethier: I’ve dreamt of playing Chambers Bay for a half-decade, ever since its polarizing appearance as 2015 U.S. Open host threw the golf world into a tizzy, and I got a couple chances this fall to explore that beautiful golf moonscape for myself. Now I just can’t wait to go back. I played a good bit of public golf this year, though, so I should mention that Erin Hills is even better than you’d think, the Golden Horseshoe’s Gold Course in Williamsburg, Va., was my most pleasant surprise, and the University of Georgia course in Athens was the best value I saw all year.
Luke Kerr-Dineen: Halfway through the year, I made a resolution to play more courses around Connecticut, which is where I live, so one Friday, me and a friend drove up to Simsbury Farms Golf Course just west of Hartford. For $40, we breezed right on without any delay and walked around in under four hours. It’s a short course but undulating, which means you can hit lots of drivers with some room for forgiveness, but you’re duly punished for the really bad ones. It fulfilled all of my three criteria for whether I like a golf course — fun, authentic, not stupid — and I’d play it again in a heartbeat.
Jessica Marksbury: My little boy was born in March — a true pandemic baby! — so my time for golf has been extremely limited this year. But I did have the opportunity to sneak away for a quick 18 when my parents were in town back in October, and we played the Arizona Biltmore’s Links Course, just 20 minutes from my home in Phoenix. It was the perfect re-entry to the game after a long layoff, with hard-to-miss fairways, and was highlighted by a showstopping view of downtown Phoenix on the signature par-3 15th.
Zephyr Melton: Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y. The Black was the site of the first-ever golf tournament I attended (2009 U.S. Open), and I did so with my grandpa, who inspired my love of the game. I’d always wanted to play the course, and getting to finally test my mettle at one of the toughest courses in the world was a treat. My grandpa is long gone now, but there was something special about sharing that walk with him — even if only in spirit. It helped that I played pretty well, too. Only 80 blows to get around that brute. Not bad for a first-timer.
Nick Piastowski: Pound Ridge Golf Club in Pound Ridge, N.Y. This is a tough task. Starting at the end of June, I tried to play a different public course every week or so, including quite a few for the first time. Courses in northeast Ohio were great, and Green Mountain National in Vermont was great. But Pound Ridge was the greatest. It was playable — not too hard, not too easy. It was in fantastic condition. It was incredibly scenic. It was memorable. I’ll be back in 2021.
Tim Reilly: Christman’s Mountain Course in Windham, N.Y. After spending the first two months of quarantine barely stepping foot outside of my NYC studio apartment, the trip to Windham was my first reprieve. The Mountain Course was the first course I stretched my legs on, and the crisp, mountain air was all the more refreshing because of it. It was quiet, shaggy in the best way possible and had just enough twist, turns and elevation changes to keep you on your toes. I literally felt like I was alone on a mountain out there.
Also, I have to include its sister nine-hole course just across the street: Valley Family Course. I played nine holes nearly every day after work for a week there with my girlfriend, who is just learning the game. I couldn’t recommend it enough for beginners and anyone looking to not take the game too seriously for a little over an hour.
Josh Sens: I’ve been sidelined with a shoulder injury for six months so I haven’t gotten in much golf this year. But I did make it up to Sheep Ranch in Oregon in May, and it did not disappoint. A mile of coastline. Nine greens on the bluffs. Not a single sand bunker, but all the character and eye candy you could ask for. It was so good, it almost makes up for all the other golf I didn’t play in 2020. Almost.
Alan Shipnuck: Has to be Sheep Ranch, which feels like it could have been airlifted from Ireland and is as much fun as you can have in pleated pants. But a strong honorable mention to Forest Dunes and the Loop — what a spectacular spot and well worth the pilgrimage.
Andrew Tursky: Fun fact about me: I love par-3 and executive courses. I think they’re the perfect way to get out and play some golf without eating up the whole day. They can really help sharpen your short game and iron play. That being said, I played one of my favorite par-3 courses I’ve ever played this year: Mountain Shadows in Arizona. Wow. Great views and some really entertaining/difficult holes to keep you engaged the entire 18. It’s in great shape and really offers a country club vibe. I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.
Sean Zak: Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley in Wisconsin. The fairways are wide, but you can still miss them. The greens are mammoth, but you don’t want these 70-foot two-putts. There are a number of holes where you’re thinking off the tee: “Is it driver, 3-wood or long iron?” It has probably the best forced-carry par-3 without a water hazard that I’ve ever seen (No. 13). Can’t wait to play it again.