A Top Player Picks The 10 Best Public Golf Courses in The South

When it comes to enjoying golf, there’s nothing that quite beats spending afternoons on the course with friends or family. Unfortunately, with so many private golf courses and exclusive memberships, this part of golf can turn some people off. If you’re looking not only for accessible golf courses but ones that you can play year-round, this list of public golf courses in the South is for you.

This list includes top public golf courses in states that the U.S. Census Bureau considers to be in the South. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to see Florida and South Carolina courses on the list. Florida has the most golf courses of any state in America, and South Carolina’s tourism board believes it’s the best-golfing state in the U.S.

So whether you’re in planning a family vacation or looking to plan a bucket-list trip to one of America’s iconic golf courses, here is a list of hand-picked courses that run on a daily-fee schedule or can be played by staying at their on-site resort. Regardless, none of them require you to have a pricey membership or pay annual dues to play.

Best Public Golf Courses in the South to Play

From iconic courses having hosted many tournaments to breathtaking resort-like tracks that will have you in awe on every tee box, you’re sure to find something on this list for you.

1. Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, North Carolina

Courtesy Pine Needles

Often overlooked due to its vicinity to Pinehurst No. 2, Pine Needles is a beautiful Donald Ross heritage course that John Fought has restored. Spanning over 7000 yards with rolling hills and meticulously placed fairway bunkers, Pine Needles was named the #4 golf course in North Carolina by Golf Week. Its stature isn’t ignored by tournament authorities either. So far, Pine Needles has hosted three U.S. Women’s Opens, and the USGA is bringing the U.S. Women’s Open back to Pine Needles in 2022.

2. The Ocean Course, South Carolina

Courtesy Kiawah Island Resort

Designed specifically for the 1991 Ryder Cup tournament, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island offers players a special kind of golfing experience. This links-style / lagoons type golf course requires players to be at the very top of their game to score well. Golfers can expect unreadable slopes on every green, thick sawgrass lining every hole, and bunkers that merge into the dunes. The fact that you can see the Atlantic surf on most holes also means that you need to deal with the coastal winds that rip through The Ocean Course.

3. Old Waverly Golf Club, Mississippi

Courtesy Old Waverly

Founded by the George Bryan family and 29 other generous founders in 1988, Old Waverly Golf Club is a championship course unlike any other. Since its inception, it has been named No. 3 among Best New Private Courses (1989), ranked twice among America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, and hosted the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open as well as the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur. The club was completely private until five years ago, but it has since transitioned to a semi-private membership, accepting outside play and truly becoming a country club for all.

4. TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium), Florida

Courtesy TPC Sawgrass

Home of the nerve-wracking do-or-die 17th par three island green, TPC Sawgrass’s Stadium Course is the epitome of target golf and precision striking. Almost all the greens have random lumps and hollows in them (that Dye calls his “grenade attack architecture”), and the windy Atlantic coast winds make the already tough course even more challenging.

5. Streamsong Golf Course Red, Florida

Courtesy Streamsong Resort

Initially, the site of a phosphate strip mine Streamsong Golf Course (Red), offers players a unique mix of links-style holes (where you can bump and run your approach shots up to the green) and water holes (where the only option you have is to play target golf). If you decide to visit Streamsong, don’t forget to check out its companion courses (the Blue course, ranked 26th best public course, and the black course, ranked 34th).

6. Karsten Creek Golf Club, Oklahoma

Courtesy Karsten Creek

Developed by Oklahoma State University, Karsten Creek is the winner of Golf Digest’s Best New Public Course title (1994) and one of America’s best collegiate golf courses. Developed by Tom Fazio, Karsten Creek has a surprisingly challenging layout that will challenge even the best players of the game. It’s not all golf at Karsten Creek either; if you visit, be sure to pay a visit to the beautiful clubhouse, three guest lodges, and incredible practice and teaching facilities.

7. Harbour Town Golf Links, South Carolina

public golf courses in the south
Courtesy Sea Pines Resort

Heralded as a favorite by PGA Tour players, Harbour Town Golf Links is where finesse, shot-making, and creativity win over brute strength. With some of the best par threes in golf and a finishing hole that brings even the best players to their knees, Harbour Town is an iconic public golf course that has won many awards over the years. Bonus piece of trivia: the term “waste bunker” originated from Harbour Town when Pete Dye decided to cover a massive amount of sewer sludge with acres of sand next to the par-four 16th.

8. Highland Course At Primland Resort, Virginia

public golf courses in the south
Courtesy Primland Resort

Unlike all the other tracks on this list, the Highland Course at Primland Resort is a pure mountain course. Sitting on top of a mountain plateau, the Highland Course offers golfers scenic views on every hole of the deep river below. With the help of his associates, Donald Steel created holes that followed ridges, chasms, and side slopes but always offered a safer alternative to every tough carry. For a majestic experience at one of the premier mountain courses in America, visit the Highland Course at Primland Resort.

9. Sea Island Golf Club (Seaside Golf Course), Georgia

public golf courses in the south
Courtesy Sea Island Resorts

Described by Bobby Jones as having one of the best nine holes he’s ever played, the Seaside course at Sea Island Golf Club is a Tom Fazio transformation of two nines that initially didn’t match at all. Home of the PGA TOUR’s RSM Classic, the Seaside public golf course combines the natural beauty of the oceanside with manicured greens and fairways to create a dramatic playing experience for anybody who chooses to visit it.

10. Mossy Oak Golf Club, Mississippi

public golf courses in the south
Courtesy Mossy Oak Golf Club

Home of Mississippi State University’s golf teams, Mossy Oak Golf Club cleverly uses a bold diagonal ridge that runs across the course, making it one of the most special playing experiences in all of the South. Mossy Oak public golf course is situated right on the Mississippi Black Prairie; something players are unlikely to forget as they’re immersed right into the native habitat. Mossy Oak Golf Club is the way to go for a charming golf experience filled with beautiful landscapes and compelling history.

Plan A Trip to One of The 10 Best Public Golf Courses in the South

At the heart of golf lies enjoyment with friends and family, not ridiculous membership fees and annual dues. Despite the prominent role private golf courses play in the world of golf, some public courses are excellent and provide an enjoyable round of play. Each one of these Southern public golf courses is special in its own right, and you can access any one of them if you’re creative enough.