INSIDE: The 10 Best; 15 Notables; State-by-State Listings; Rare Beauties, Nice Prices
It's all right to admit it. You're not alone. Despite all the luxury-laden daily fee courses that have sprung up in the past decade (some of them true artistic triumphs), despite the ethos that considers any first-class round of golf a priceless experience, despite the nineties-driven age of excess, you still get that little surge of acid reflux whenever it's time to plop down another three-digit green fee.
Unless it's a special occasion (Pebble, Pinehurst, Turnberry) or one on the expense account, the personal decadence detector gets set off. Especially for those of us who learned the game by banging a ball around a goat track for a few bucks a day, there simply aren't enough valets, fancy locker rooms and scurrying attendants to make paying $150-plus to play eighteen holes feel comfortable. And even when the money isn't a big deal, there's a principle involved. If you're among the many who appreciate the game's egalitarian roots, it's unsettling to tacitly support what threatens to become runaway escalation.
Happily, it appears golf course operators, themselves uneasy as they rush toward the inevitable ceiling, are responding. More and more, exceptional courses are being built with a sensible tariff as a priority.
The result is that the $100 green fee has become a line of demarcation. Beyond it, you may be trafficking in extravagance. Short of it, you're doing your part to stop the madness. So, as a guide to both value and quality, we've compiled a list of the best golf in the country for a C-note or less.
There are some trends within the trend. First, most of the courses were built within the past ten or fifteen years as improvements on old munis, which before the last decade were the staples of public golf. These latest models have wonderful conditions and shot values, and the best have the charm and intimacy of their forerunners. The fact is that, in general, the new stuff is better.
Second, the best bargains are more likely to appear in the hinterlands, where cost of living indexes are lower. That said, we credited courses in high-dollar areas that offer real value.
A couple of guidelines. We used the highest fee that each course charges a walk-up customer. (In some cases that included a cart, but when it didn't, we listed the highest walking fee.) Naturally there were some wonderful values we had to skip because they exceeded our limit. Bandon Dunes, for example, can be played for less than $100 in the off-season, but its high-season green fee crossed the line. We also did not factor discounts available for hotel guests at resorts or courses that made hotel occupancy mandatory for play. Otherwise, our list is suitably eclectic (and, of course, somewhat subjective).
Two disclaimers: First, while we thoroughly researched green fees at press time, prices may since have changed. And second, while we are celebrating the spartan and pure, a great number of these places will still treat you like a king whether you like it or not, no matter what the fee.