March Madness: An 'Elite Eight' of Top College Golf Courses

Are you ready for "March Madness"?

If so, we've got the perfect golf travel tie-in for you.

Outside of golf, one of the best parts of the sports year is college basketball's NCAA Championship.

Out of the 68 colleges and universities in this year's field, 22 have on-campus golf courses. Not all of them are worth your time, though. Here are the eight college golf courses you need to have on your radar, with advice on other nearby courses to combine them with on a trip.

***Yale University - The Course at Yale

Okay, so Yale failed to make the NCAA Tournament this year, losing a rare Ivy League playoff to the golf course-less Harvard on Saturday. But no list of great college courses is complete without Yale's, the best in the country. Built in 1926 at the then-exhorbitant sum of $400,000 and designed by C.B. Macdonald, Yale has everything you could want in a golf course: one-of-a-kind holes, huge, wild greens, a rustic atmosphere, and a gnome carved from a tree stump on the side of the 14th hole. Access by non-Yale affiliates can be tricky during the summer; a courteous letter from the perspective of a lover of classic golf courses is our recommended course of action.

While you're in the neighborhood... The Country Club of Woodbridge is a former private course designed by Donald Ross disciple Orrin E. Smith, with interesting greens and a convivial feel. Another former private course nearby is the Tradition Golf Club at Oak Lane, a Geoffrey Cornish design with greens that are fast and steeply pitched from back to front. Apr├Ęs-golf, Frank Pepe's and Sally's are pilgrimage sites for pizza lovers.

1. University of Wisconsin - University Ridge Golf Club

The Badgers' basketball team earned a number-1 seed in the tournament, and Wisconsin students have access to a wonderful golf course to match. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., University Ridge is long but fair - perfect for both a Division-I golf team and the thousands of University students and staff who pay deeply discounted rates to play it. Golfweek ranks it seventh in the state.

While you're in the neighborhood... Erin Hills is less than 90 minutes from Madison. Or, if you want to see two of the country's most under-appreciated public courses, head about an hour and 40 minutes north to check out the Golf Courses at Lawsonia, particularly the dramatic Links Course, with its open feel, heaving fairways and imposing bunkering.

2. Ohio State University - The OSU Golf Club (Scarlet Course)

The Scarlet Course has played  host to the Web.com Tour's Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship since 2007, with that tournament being a part of the Web.com Tour Finals since 2013. The course, radically redesigned by Buckeye alum Jack Nicklaus, is similar to Wisconsin's: big, brawny but with a range of tee yardages for all.

While you're in the neighborhood... The Scarlet is not the only course at OSU; while not as interesting as its big brother, the Gray Course, at just 5,800 yards from the tips, provides more birdie opportunities. Just west of town, the Golf Club of Dublin is a Hurdzan/Fry design with a linksy look.

3. Purdue University - Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex (Kampen Course)

Pete Dye has lent his hand to a number of universities' golf facilities. Had the likes of Virginia Tech (the River Course), Michigan (Radrick Farms) or Arizona State (Karsten) made the NCAA Tournament, their courses would vie for inclusion on this list as well. Purdue's facility actually has two courses, but Kampen is the superior one, with all the Pete Dye markings: mounds, railroad ties, water and plenty of bunkers, from pots to enormous sandy wastes.

While you're in the neighborhood... Kampen's companion Ackerman Hills Course is being renovated by Pete Dye's firm, so once it reopens in 2016 there will be a much smaller quality gap between Purdue's courses. In the meantime, if you find yourself in the area, head southeast toward Indianapolis and play The Trophy Club, designed by Tim Liddy, a Dye disciple with an excellent reputation.

4. University of Georgia - University of Georgia Golf Club

UGA's golf course, originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., was redesigned by Davis Love III's Georgia-based design firm. The layout hosted a Web.com (then Nationwide) Tour event for four years, with three of the events being won by Georgia alums Russell Henley (2011), Hudson Swafford (2012) and Brendon Todd (2013). Talk about home-course advantage!

While you're in the neighborhood... Head southeast toward Lake Oconee, home to Reynolds Plantation's courses, as well as Cuscowilla, a Coore/Crenshaw layout that is one of our favorites.

5. University of Notre Dame - Warren Golf Course

Speak of the devils, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are now household names in golf course design, but their design on Notre Dame's campus came before their recent meteoric rise. Nevertheless the course is a good one - understated and strategically complicated without being overly difficult.

While you're in the neighborhood... South Bend, Indiana is a bit isolated from other stellar golf options, so we recommend heading north into Michigan, where prospects improve, starting with the Jack Nicklaus-designed Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, about 50 minutes away.

6. Duke University - Duke University Golf Club

Duke's basketball tradition is world-renowned, but its golf history is strong as well, thanks to the presence of this Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed and Rees Jones-renovated track that sits at the foot of the stately Washington Duke Inn. In fact, the hotel may be even better than the course, which winds its way through the valley below. It's not an obvious place for a golf getaway, but parlay a round at Duke with visits to two other nearby ACC courses, UNC - Finley and NC State - Lonnie Poole, and you have an interesting, affordable trip.

While you're in the neighborhood... To reiterate, we're big on the idea of a Duke-UNC-NC State road trip, especially if you're a college basketball nut. All three courses are within an hour of each other.

7. Oklahoma University - Jimmie Austin Golf Club

Todd Hamilton and Anthony Kim (remember him?!) honed their games at this track originally designed by Perry Maxwell (responsible for many of Augusta National's greens) and later modified by Bob Cupp (responsible for Liberty National in New Jersey). If your son or daughter is considering becoming a Sooner, we recommend you bring your clubs for the visit.

While you're in the neighborhood... There's little else in Norman, so your best bet is to head up the road to Oklahoma City, though while cheap, none of the public golf options stick out much.

8. University of North Carolina - Finley Golf Course

Just squeaking into our field of eight is this home of the Tar Heels that sports big greens and fairly generous fairways, with designer Tom Fazio's recognizable bunkering standing guard at every turn. Fazio's courses tend to be private, so if you're a fan of his work but don't have tons of juice, this is a handy alternative.

While you're in the neighborhood... See our entry on Duke's course. And eat some barbecue along the way.

First Four Out

As with any list, there's bound to be debate over who we left out, so here were the "bubble" courses that didn't quite make our own "Elite Eight":

- University of Virginia - Birdwood Golf Course

- North Carolina State University - Lonnie Poole Golf Course

- University of Kentucky - University Club of Kentucky (Big Blue) 

- University of Maryland - University of Maryland Golf Course

What do you think of our list? What other college and university courses are on your "must-play" list? Give us your thoughts below.

 

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor and the Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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March Madness: An 'Elite Eight' of Top College Golf Courses
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