A Top Player Picks the 10 Best U.S. Public Golf Courses Out West and In Hawaii

The cost of just about everything is going up. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop playing golf. Across the U.S., there are outstanding public golf courses to play. The best part about public golf courses is that you don’t need to deal with the pesky membership fees and annual dues associated with private golf clubs.

A top player went through Golf Digest’s ranking of America’s top 100 public golf courses to create this custom list of the best public courses in Western America and Hawaii. Each of them has its unique characteristics, and they’re all available for public play if you’re creative enough. For example, some run on a daily fee schedule, while others require you to purchase a stay-and-play package (or reserve a tee time well in advance). 

The Best Public Golf Courses to Play in the West

From courses with unique designs, stunning coastal and mountain vistas to legendary tracks that have hosted some of the biggest tournaments in golf, you’re sure to find a course or two on this list that will get you packing your bags.

1. Pebble Beach, California

Reigning as the number 1 public golf course on Golf Digest’s ranking since 2003, Pebble Beach is truly an iconic place to play golf. With nine holes situated on the Pacific ocean, perhaps no other course features so much land and sea. Though it’s pretty, Pebble Beach isn’t just scenery. To this day, the track has been home to many U.S. Amateur Championships and six U.S. Opens. Drop by and play a round of golf at this beautiful course if you happen to be in the Pebble Beach area (and have the resources to afford the hefty green fee).

Image Courtesy: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Facebook Page. 

2. Spyglass Hill Golf Course, California

Don’t let the fact that Spyglass Hill has never hosted any significant events fool you; it may very well be Trent’s finest work. Situated next to Pebble Beach, instead of being the “Greatest Meeting of Land and Sea,” Spyglass Hill is the “Greatest Meeting of Sand and Trees.” Within the first five holes, golfers encounter the beautiful Pacific coast. Then, they are taken back into the hills where Monterey Pines and cypress trees cover the land. A combination of Pine Valley and Augusta National, Spyglass Hill is a golf course like no other (plus, it’s cheaper than its neighboring Pebble Beach)!

Image Courtesy: Pebble Beach Facebook Page. 

3. Bandon Trails, Oregon

Unlike its counterparts at Bandon Old Macdonald and Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails is not by the sea and instead offers a rolling hilly layout. Created in 2005 by famous architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Bandon Trails begins at the top of a massive dune and quickly evolves into rolling meadows. Here, you’ll want to make sure that you’re playing incredibly accurate target golf or a game of brilliant bump-and-run golf. An exciting hole to watch out for is hole 14, a short par 4 with a tricky green that will mess up even the best of players.

Image Courtesy: Bandon Dunes Facebook Page. 

4. Tetherow Golf Club, Oregon

Designed by award-winning architect David McLay Kidd, Tetherow Golf Club takes full advantage of the scenic Cascade peaks and routes golfers through a challenging (but also very pretty) round of golf. At Tetherow, you’ll find a lot of bunkers, many lumps, and more than enough lakes to keep things interesting. Add in fescue everywhere on the course and heavily contoured greens, and the result is a course that could challenge even the best of players. (Watch out for four putts if you decide to visit Tetherow Golf Club!)

Image Courtesy: Tetherow Facebook Page. 

5. Cascata, Nevada

Set in the foothills of the River Mountain Range, Cascata offers a golfing experience unlike any other golf course in the United States. When you play Cascata, the first words likely to pop into your head are “rocky mountains.” Indeed, the golf course is finely built into the hillsides Southeast of Las Vegas. However, Cascata is far from just a regular Nevada course despite being so integrated with the environment. With lush fairways, blue lakes, and running streams, you’ll wonder how it’s possible to play such a course in the desert. If you visit, check out the 3,600-foot peak at Red Mountain and the ninth tee that’s situated 600 feet above the clubhouse.

Image Courtesy: Cascata Golf Facebook Page. 

6. Grizzly Ranch (New), California

Stretching over 7,400 yards from the tips, Grizzly Ranch weaves its way through a forest and provides visitors with peaceful, getaway golf. After the round, you will feel as though you just played a beautiful golf course, but you’ll also feel refreshed and reconnected with nature. Grizzly Ranch does well not to overdo the design with a canvas full of natural beauty and serenity. As a player, you’ll naturally enjoy the trees, creeks, ravines, and boulder outcroppings perhaps more than your round of golf.

Image Courtesy: Grizzly Ranch Facebook Page. 

7. Paako Ridge Golf Club, New Mexico

Ranked as one of the best golf courses in New Mexico, Paaka Ridge Golf Club was also the Best New Affordable Public Course, according to Golf Digest in 2000. Though it is at a 6,500-foot elevation (where the ball flies further), Paako Ridge plays long because both nines run uphill for a couple of holes before routing players back down the slopes. With expansive vistas and beautiful views, Paako Ridge truly offers eye candy on every shot.

Image Courtesy: Paaka Ridge Golf Club Facebook Page. 

8. Manele Golf Course, Hawaii

Built directly on lava outcroppings, Manele Golf Course is an exciting track that offers three holes perched on cliffs that use the Pacific Ocean as a water hazard. With an iconic Jack Nicklaus design, Manele offers tons of tee shots over natural ravines and gorges that require you to be precise with your game if you’re to score well. Manele is unfortunately only playable if you are a resort guest, but if you happen to plan a trip to Hawaii, consider staying at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai to enjoy Manele’s spectacular vistas.

Image Courtesy: Hawaii Tourism Authority. 

9. Kapalua (Plantation Course), Hawaii

Long ranked the best public golf course in Hawaii, Kapalua offers incredible ocean views from nearly every hole. Situated on the slopes of the West Maui Mountains, the Plantation Course at Kapalua is the site of the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions every January. Indeed, aided by all the dramatic elevation changes and the firm fairways, you will feel like quite the pro when you hit one of the longest drives of your life onto the 18th fairway. Bonus trivia: the current golf course is irrigated by the same system used 100 years ago to water pineapples.

10. Princeville Makai Golf Club, Hawaii

The first word that comes to mind when stepping up to the tee at Princeville Makai is “adventure.” The first solo design of Robert Trent Jones Jr., Princeville Makai, overlooks Kauai’s Hanalei Bay and screams of ocean royalty. With spectacular views highlighting the ocean and mountain backdrop and a unique layout, Princeville Makai is Troon golf at its finest. The Woods 9 (which is original) reminds players of what golf used to be like fifty years ago.