America's (underachieving public golf) capital

This week is the final Quicken Loans National in the Washington D.C. area before it moves onward to Detroit Golf Club, where property developer and Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert will be able to further promote his mission of urban renewal. We'll bid adieu to the D.C. collection of posh area clubs that have hosted the event in years past, from Congressional to Robert Trent Jones Golf Club and TPC Potomac at Avenel Farms.

The Beltway is certainly one of the better-stocked parts of the country for elite private clubs, which makes sense given the amount of money and influence that pours through the nation's capital. But examining the public golf scene, D.C. leaves quite a bit to be desired. Given how tourist-friendly its attractions are and how thoroughly planned out the city was, golf - or at least an accessible version of it - is pretty disappointing.

East Potomac Park is the city's most historic public facility (with an 18-hole course and two 9-hole courses) and one that has seen better days. I played it years ago and the setting is pretty surreal, with what feels like a steady stream of helicopters flying congressmen back and forth from the capitol to Reagan airport across the river, and the Washington Monument serving as an iconic backdrop. The course itself is pretty featureless at this point and regarded to get pretty swampy. It may be convenient for those in the city in need of a quick loop, but in its current state it's tough to get excited about. Langston and Rock Creek round out the muni (but owned by the National Parks Service) options in the district.

What D.C. lacks in great munis it fills the void at least partially with its Department of Defense courses, but public access to these base courses can fluctuate. Andrews Air Force Base has added online tee times in recent years to MiltaryTeeTimes.com and provides 54 holes.

Otherwise, your best bet is playing relatively new semi-private residential courses in a suburb of Virginia or Maryland. Destination Hotels' Lansdowne Resort is a fine stay-and-play option about an hour from the Capitol (but requires a resort stay).

An examination of the Top 10 courses within 30 miles of D.C. based on Golf Advisor reviews shows few standouts, but Westfields Golf Course, Little Bennett and Hampshire Greens appear to be satisfying area golfers the most at present.

Summer Swing: Favorite courses in Washington, D.C. area

Los Angeles is another city where it's tough to get too excited as a public golfer. Besides the showy Trump National and Terranea's scenic par 3 in Palos Verdes, and perhaps the chance to find a bargain Gil Hanse design at Rustic Canyon to the northwest, the rest of the public offerings are generally short courses and munis most notable for their poor pace of play.

New York City residents can hang their hat on the 90-hole Bethpage State Park complex on Long Island, but other than that there are very few golf courses in the five boroughs. (How many more landfills can be converted into park space ala Ferry Point, anyways?)

One city on the Eastern Seaboard recently announced a big step forward for public golf. Philadelphia, home to an A-list roster of privates, will turn over its historic and maligned Cobb's Creek muni to a non-profit foundation that will extensively renovate it and Karakung Golf Course.

Similar plans (complete with Congressional hyperbole) have been kicked around in D.C. for its munis, even considering creating a PGA Tour-worthy venue, but as D.C. residents know too well, the combination of federal and municipal entities in respect to funding and direction of parks or landmarks can often lead to serious logjams.

There are cities with reputations for punching above their weight with public golf. San Francisco not only has stellar golf in its core with Presidio and TPC Harding Park (and the potential of Sharp Park), but the greater Bay Area has enjoyed serious upgrades at Baylands Links and Corica Park. Chicago has a solid mix of privately-owned daily fee facilities - highlighted by 72-hole Cog Hill - plus various county-owned and municipal facilities.

Municipalities throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex have built new - or renovated courses in the last decade or so. The City of Dallas' renovation of historic Stevens Park by Colligan Golf being chief among them.

The PGA Tour has recently announced moves to Minneapolis and Detroit, two Midwest cities with an abundance of options for public golfers. The possible move of the Houston Open to Memorial Park via Houston Astros owner Jim Crane is another example of a city with plenty of affordable golf for the masses.

Meanwhile, D.C. and L.A. strike me as two metros that have among the greatest disparity between public and private golf. Given the fact undeveloped land is so sparse in both, it's tough to really see things ever changing.

But maybe one day East Potomac - or perhaps one of the three Andrews AFB courses - will get a major update and get golfers excited about golf in the capital.

Which cities do you think have seriously underachieving golf scenes? Let me know in the comments below.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.
120 Comments
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SANDY

I originally from NYC...there is about a dozen courses in the NYC...not bad for most cities...and just outside the Long Island, Westchester and NJ have so many more. The first land fill golf course in the world was built in Brooklyn...Marine Park GC...a nice track!!!

I don't think we should be building any more courses right now. We need to help the one's that are failing. I understand for a couple of years...almost a course a day closes...320 last year!

I have used my marketing skills to help private clubs stay open or to be in the black vs in the red!

Follow me at https://www.facebook.com/YourCaddie or http://whosyourcaddie.net/golf/

mike smith

Don't know, but a great city for golf is Portland, Oregon. It's one of the few pluses for this antifa breeding ground. Two great public courses are Glendoveer and Rose City. Far better than the private club i waste my time at.

LICC

Bethpage is not within the 5 boroughs of NYC. It is about 45 minutes to 1 hour away. Ferry Point is in NYC (Bronx) and is an excellent course. The boroughs have a dozen other munis, none of which are elite and most all are very crowded, but some are pretty decent courses (Van Cortland not being one). Split Rock, Dyker Beach, South Shore, Forest Park, etc. The suburbs around NYC also have a decent mix of quality courses, nothing world-class save Bethpage but some good options (Harbor Links, Galloping Hill, Saxon Woods, etc).

Rick

Number one on the list of worst golf destinations should be Tucson, Arizona! There are a few nice courses here, but you can't afford to play them. The City Fathers have decided to force reclaimed water at ridiculous prices on all the public courses. Now, they can't make any money, so they're going out of business. With not much rainfall here, the future is dim for golf. As a whole, golf is dying everywhere because of the high cost. Young people are not playing and our older generation is too cheap to pay the price.

George

Our group went to Tucson in May. Kind of a disappointment. Courses were so so. Dove Mountain was not in good shape. I can tell immediately the condition of the course by the bunkers on the first hole. If they are not raked so goes the rest of the course. Been to better places.

Phil

Tucson is and always been a great golf destination. There are seasonal promotional rates year round. A little effort will produce favorable green fees at nice courses. City government golf course mismanagement will always be a problem. No difference in Tucson. Hopefully the Tucson Conquistadors can work some more of their magic and turn Randolph back into a PGA championship caliber track.

Kevin Grate

The San Francisco Bay Area is divided into sub-regions we have the Oakland East Bay Area and the San Jose South Bay Area. The new Corica Park is located in Alameda which is adjacent to Oakland it is a part of the Oakland East Bay Area in a 6 mile radius you have municipal golf courses in three different cities in the Oakland East Bay you have Corica Park in Alameda Metropolitan Golf Links in Oakland and Monarch Bay in San Leandro we call that the Doolittle Golf Trail Rees Jones have redesign the Corica golf course to this fabulous golf course that we have now. Johnny Miller is the architect of Metropolitan Golf Links in Oakland and John Harbottle designed Monarch Bay which is on the San Francisco Bay Shoreline and you can see views of downtown San Francisco. All three complexes are minutes away from the Oakland International Airport .

JB

DC actually has great public golf. I have played every one within 1.5 hours and my top ten (max 45 min. drive) are:
1. Whiskey Creek
2. Raspberry Falls
3. Worthington Manor
4. Laurel Hills
5. Northwest
6. Westfields
7. Twin Lakes - Oaks Course
8. Blue Mash
9. Hampshire Greens
10. Stonewall

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

Thanks for sharing. Cool list. Do you have a GA reviews account?

KC

Atlanta is pretty awful. There are at least plenty of options (although most of them are going to be 30-45+ minute drives for the vast majority of people), but very little quality. The two best public golf courses are well outside the city (the Frog and Achasta), and most of what's available is average at best.

Atlanta just really lacks any excellent public golf courses. It's almost all mediocre or worse. Quantity without quality. Bear's Best seems to be the place people THINK is great (and they certainly charge a price that indicates they also think it's something special) but it's not great. I don't think there's a single course in the metro area that would crack a top 50 list of public courses I've played.

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

What do you think about the Bobby Jones reno? Excited?

Jack Parker

I have lived and played golf all over the world including Japan, Las Vegas, Santa Maria, Fort Worth and others not note worthy. I moved to San Antonio Texas 45 years ago and without question it is the best kept golf secret in the world. The city is too busy promoting the Alamo and Riverwalk but we have the best municipal courses in the state. There are resort courses, public courses and some private courses that are available to the public. A golfer can stay for a month and play a different course every day and the rates are better than other locations mentioned by other readers responding to this survey. Our weather is also note worthy because you can play 12 months a year.

Robert Catanzaro

And what he says is true all the way up to the other side of Austin.
A great course between the two cities is Vaalar Creek, give it a play some time.

Bob Smith

Hi everyone. I’ll be in San Antonio on July 12 and I’d like to get some recommendations on places to play golf while I’m there for four days. Thank you.
Bob Smith
St. Louis, MO

Don

Play the Hyatt Hill Country

Joseph

??????????? Old Brack is an over-hyped, over-priced course of some charm BUT - the rest of it? Burnt out crapola. And yes, I have played them all.

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

Have only played Brack among the munis there but the others look pretty good too. I'll have to zip down 35 soon.

R.J. De Winter

Jack is correct. Being in golf event planning, you cannot beat this area with the Alamo Golf Trail. Entertainment and golf are unbeatable for a fantastic getaway. In thirty days a golfer can play the foothills and never play a course twice. A must go to place.

Matt

Helicopters aren’t shuttling Congressional members from the Capitol to DCA. That part of DC is a no fly zone except for Presidential helicopters, park Police and the US Coast Guard.

Pat

City of Detroit. It has let it's courses go down hill and has closed at least 2 of them. the city council almost let them all close, because they would not appoint a company to run them!

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

Fortunately there is a ton of affordable and pretty good golf all over the tri-county area.

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America's (underachieving public golf) capital
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