To engage with any ranking, one must first understand the criteria. For my list of the Top 50 Public Courses in the U.S., my criteria starts with fun-factor. When I putt out on the 18th green, do I immediately want to go back to the first tee?
Prestige of a course plays a role in my ranking. There's a lot to be said for walking the same fairways as the game's greats. Would you rather play softball at Wrigley Field or Walter Williams Park?
I also like variety. And that especially pertains to the par 3s. I'm not a fan of a golf course that has four par 3s that all play the same yardage. I like a drivable par 4 and reachable par 5s. Certainly a variety of scenery helps. As much as I love Bandon Trails, it's hard to beat the coastal views at Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes. No one plays Pebble Beach for the inland holes. And yet -- spoiler alert -- Bethpage Black, Pinehurst No. 2, Pasatiempo and Forest Dunes are all in my top 10.
Walkability plays a role in my criteria. Courses that encourage carts, or go as far as making them mandatory, drop down or off my list. Courses that encourage walking and offer caddies move up. And as I learn more about architecture from architects who take time to devise the property's ultimate 18, I have a greater appreciation for the routing of a course.
Conditioning is a tough one. It's like assessing a course based on weather. I'm sorry if you played one of these courses on a bad day, or a week after they punched the greens, my list is based on the idea that you're playing these courses in peak season and in perfect condition.
What this list doesn't use as a component of the criteria is the green fee. I have other lists that focus on value. This is simply The Best that you can play in America. That being said, as you go through the list, it can then help you identify some of the best values by cross-referencing the ranking with their green fee. Bethpage Black and Forest Dunes, for example, based on their green fees, and where they rank among the top golf courses in the country, are relatively good value. (Still feel priced out? See my Top 10 Budget Buddies Trip Destinations or my Top 10 Hidden Gems).
Lastly, as you might imagine, the opportunity to play all of these courses has been a privilege, and I have never taken it for granted. I also appreciate a ranking is subjective and as we reveal my Top 50 over the next five days on Golf Channel's Morning Drive, I look forward to hearing about what I got wrong or what I've missed. I share pictures and anecdotes of my travels on Twitter (@mattginellagc) and Instagram (matt_ginella).
You can join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #MattsTop50. Or, click on each course page to write your own review of the course and see what your fellow golfers have to say about their rounds.
Matt Ginella's Top 50 Public Courses: 50-41
Designer: Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones Sr.
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Designer: Jeff Brauer
Designer: Gene Bates
Video: Bayonet and Blackhorse two hidden gems of the Monterey Peninsula
Designer: Bob Cupp
Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr., Rees Jones
Matt Ginella's top 50 courses: 45-41
Designer: Jack Nicklaus
Designer: Tom Fazio
Video: Austin the 5th best buddies trip destination
Designer: Rick Smith
42. True Blue
41. TPC Deere Run
Green fees are based on latest peak-season rates and are subject to change. In the case of resort courses, stay-and-play packages and specials often greatly reduce the price of the green fee. Many of these courses also offer dynamic online tee times, off-season and twilight rates that lower the green fee.