How would you like to play an awesome, top-100-caliber course designed by one of golf's greatest course architects (think Donald Ross, Gil Hanse, Tom Doak, Rees Jones)...
...and need no special connections in order to access it?
You can...and here's how:
Recent economic ups and downs have had a huge effect on golf courses...though it's been a bit more "down" than "up" in recent years.
The yo-yo economy of the last decade and a half has precipitated a lot of changes in the golf landscape across the world, and particularly in the United States. Very few new golf courses have opened, many have closed, and still others have had to make significant changes to the ways in which they operate in order to stay afloat.
One subset of this third group: courses that have transitioned from fully-private to semi-private or public layouts.
Why should you seek these courses out in particular? Three main reasons:
- They tend to be designed by "name" architects - either classic or modern - and as such their layouts will tend to be a little more interesting, and potentially worth playing multiple times on a trip, given that the course was originally meant to be played over and over by its members.
- They tend to have more comprehensive facilities than courses that were public from the start. A nice clubhouse with a restaurant, better practice facilities, etc.
- If a course has only recently transitioned away from being fully private, the staff (if they have been retained) is still used to and eager to provide a higher level of service than you might find at public courses, or even some resorts.
This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you think we've overlooked your favorite formerly-private course, please be sure to let us and your fellow readers know in the comments below.
Ravisloe Country Club - Homewood, Ill.
After more than a century as a private club, Ravisloe was actually shut down altogether at one point in 2008. But a local veterinary surgeon bought the struggling club, took it public, and the Donald Ross-designed course is now a splendid public golf option for Chicagoans. In a market saturated with modern courses, lovers of the classics are fiercely loyal to the revived Ravisloe.
The Knoll Country Club (West) - N.J.
Charles "Steamshovel" Banks was a highly skilled but underappreciated assistant to C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor. Banks' own courses tend to have the same "template" holes as Macdonald's and Raynor's, and are a lot of fun to play. Most of them, like Whippoorwill in New York and Tamarack in Connecticut, are private. Knoll West used to be one of them, but is now owned by the town of Parsippany, New Jersey. Though it receives most of its play from members and town residents, outsiders can play on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Berkleigh Golf Club - Kutztown, Penn.
Pennsylvania Dutch country is home to a number of underappreciated golf courses, and Berkleigh Golf Club is one of them. Originally designed by Scotsman Robert White, who would become the first president of the PGA of America, Berkleigh is now fully open to the public, and playable for $62 on weekends mornings.
Inniscrone Golf Club - Avondale, Penn.
From the beginning, Inniscrone, located in suburban Philadelphia, gave its members a glimpse of the talent that then-unknown architect Gil Hanse possessed. Hanse is a household name among golfers nowadays due to his having designed the Olympic course in Rio, Brazil. His body of work is still relatively small and largely consists of private clubs, but Inniscrone is now open to the public. It is a challenging course where a sense of humor is the best "15th club" for golfers, with some wonderfully unconventional holes. With a maximum green fee of $59 on weekend mornings, it is an excellent value.
Totteridge Golf Course - Greensburg, Penn.
Rees Jones' courses are fairly plentiful, on both the public and private side. If you find yourself drawn to his designs, and are visiting the Pittsburgh area (perhaps for the U.S. Open in a few weeks?), Totteridge should be on your list of courses to play. Its open landscape offers some of the best views around.
Spanish Peaks Mountain Club - Mont.
Montana is home to a few private golf/ski combination clubs that have histories of mixed success. Perhaps the most famous example is the Yellowstone Club, which had to be sold by original owners Tim and Edra Blixseth in the midst of a messy divorce and other court proceedings. Spanish Peaks, originally envisioned as a luxury private retreat, endured its own problems after opening. It was closed at one point in 2011, but has since reopened and its Tom Weiskopf-designed course is now accessible to non-members.
Atlantic City Country Club - Northfield, N.J.
Originally envisioned for the hoteliers and entertainment executives of Atlantic City and their high-roller guests, Atlantic City Country Club is now open to the public. Few people know that the classic course, which dates to 1897 but was renovated by Tom Doak in 1999, is one of the most historically important in America. It is recognized as the first course where the terms "birdie" and "eagle" were ever used, and it was also the site of the first Senior Tour event in 1980. Maximum high-season green fees are $225, but the course tops most lists of the best public-accessible courses in the Garden State with very good reason.
Quintero Golf Club - Sun City, Ariz.
The second Rees Jones course on this list is one of the best in the desertsurrounding the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Its somewhat remote location probably contributed to its conversion from private to public, but that does not stop avid golfers from making the trek to experience the layout, highlighted by three dramatic, drop-shot par threes.
South Shore Country Club - Hingham, Mass.
A suburban Boston private club from its 1922 inception until the town of Hingham took it over in the 1980s, South Shore was designed by Wayne Stiles, whose name often gets lost among those of the more prolific classic architects. But his courses are well worth seeking out (our favorite is Taconic Golf Club on the campus of Williams College in northwestern Massachusetts), including South Shore. The facility features a couple amenities not found at most public courses: a bank of three AboutGolf simulators and a 10-lane candlepin bowling alley.
Woodcrest Country Club - Cherry Hill, N.J.
Just as Knoll West architect Charles Banks' courses can be tough for most golfers to experience, the same is true of the designs of William Flynn, who was responsible for Shinnecock Hills in Long Island and Cherry Hills in Colorado, among other prestigious private clubs. That's why Woodcrest's transition from fully-private to semi-private should be seen as an opportunity for golf course lovers to experience the work of one of the more elusive great classic architects.
Belvedere Golf Club - Charlevoix, Mich.
Northern Michigan is a beloved summer getaway spot for residents of the Midwest and beyond, and for a long time one of its best courses, Belvedere Golf Club, was inaccessible to non-members. Now, the course designed by Willie Watson - he also was responsible for past U.S. Open host venues the Olympic Club in San Francisco and Olympia Fields in Chicago - can be accessed throughout the season for less than $100, making it an awesome value.
Loomis Trail Golf Course - Blaine, Wash.
Designed by Graham Cooke, Loomis Trail was named one to the American "Best New Private Courses" by Golf Digest when it opened in 2002. Now, it's available to all as part of Semiahmoo Resort's two-course roster. A distinctive Tudor-style clubhouse lords over the course.
Dormie Club - West End, N.C.
There's only one higher-rated non-private golf course in the Tar Heel State than Dormie Club: Pinehurst No.2. That's heady company, but it's well-deserved by this Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw layout that winds through a classic, pine-forested Sandhills landscape. While the course is open to the public, it continues to accrue members and may go private again in the future, so be sure to play it while you still can.
Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club - Quilchena, B.C., Canada
This course, developed in part by former Tour player Richard Zokol, had trouble getting off the ground as an exclusive national-membership club in its early years. The membership's loss is the public's game, as the Rod Whitman-designed layout is one of Canada's finest, named the best new course in the country by Golf Digest when it opened in 2009. It also features a fly-fishing pond as an optional back-nine pit-stop, and it has an undulating putting course that many have compared to the legendary Himalayas at St. Andrews.
What are some of your favorite formerly-private courses? Let us know below!