It's the holy grail of our game.
No, not Pebble Beach or St. Andrews. I'm talking about the discovery of a great golf course that's almost unfathomably light on the wallet.
For better or worse, my job over the last decade or so has taken me to more high-end resort courses than bargain plays, but I'm as excited as any of you to discover a great golf course with a low green fee.
I've sorted through my golf course history to uncover which courses I liked the most and can still be played under $50 (on weekday mornings, walking). You'll notice most of these courses have walking rates and that's no coincidence: walk-ability equals affordability in so many ways: less maintenance, equipment and acreage.
I'm always on the hunt for the next great under-$50 round so be sure to let me know in the comments below what your favorites are, and if I'm in that neck of the woods I'll be sure to put it on my radar.
You can also view the top 20 golf courses under $50 as rated by Golf Advisor reviewers here.
Elk Ridge Golf Course, Carson, Wash. ($49 walking)
Closed in 2006 and reopened in 2011, little-known Elk Ridge Golf Course is perched high above the Columbia River just east of Portland, Ore. With practically the entire course to myself on a sunny spring morning, it was a pure joy to play with spectacular, panoramic scenery and a fun but not brutish design. Its lofty and sloping setting also lends itself to dry conditions year round.
Northwood Golf Club, Monte Rio, Calif. ($35 walking)
What a joy it was to discover the tucked-away Alister Mackenzie nine-holer Northwood during a NoCal vacation last fall. There are enough neat, subtle design touches to satisfy architecture junkies, but I was more impressed with the towering redwoods and ultra-casual atmosphere along the Russian River.
Wild Horse Golf Club, Gothenburg, Neb. ($45.50 walking)
Despite a remote location in the heart of Nebraska (although it's pretty close to I-80 if you're ever on a cross-country road trip), this may be the most well known value course in the U.S. Wild Horse G.C. is a mainstay on top 100 public lists thanks to first-class conditions and a fabulous, links-inspired design by the team of Dave Axeland & Dan Proctor. Normally the shapers for Coore-Crenshaw, you wonder why these guys don't go out on their own more often.
Delaware Springs, Burnet, Texas ($25-30 walking)
Another Axeland & Proctor special, Delaware Springs is a little too far of a drive northwest for most of Austin's population to push up green fees. The course boasts a peaceful, rural setting with great conditions and a laid-back atmosphere. On certain, tucked away parts of this muni, you feel like you're in a secluded, Hill Country private club.
The Mines, Grand Rapids, Mich. ($24-34 walking)
These days, it's rare for a privately owned course with no residential component to open near a big city, nonetheless be affordable to boot. But that's just what The Mines, opened in 2006, offers Grand Rapids residents. Designed by Mike Devries, one of America's great young and unsung golf course architects, it's a natural layout with wild bunkering and a lot of fun shots in the shadow of the downtown skyline.
Tokatee Golf Course, Blue River, Ore. ($47 walking)
Perhaps the biggest appeal to Tokatee Golf Course is its secluded mountain setting along the Mackenzie River, despite the fact it's just a short drive from the flatter, more parkland Eugene area. Tall trees frame holes and even guard some fairways on this classic Ted Robinson design that dates back to the 1960s.
EagleSticks Golf Club, Zanesville, Ohio ($46 with cart)
The Columbus area is well known for its distinguished private courses, but if you're willing to head outside the city a bit, there are some great publics. EagleSticks is a prime example; a Hurdzan-Fry design in rural Zanesville set on rolling, ever-changing terrain complete with aesthetic touches like covered bridges and gentle waterfalls.
Forest Akers West, East Lansing, Mich. ($40 walking)
Some personal nostalgia may have helped nudge Forest Akers West into the top 10, as this Michigan State facility hosted a 36-hole high school tournament in the fall that gave us a full day off of school. Walker-friendly with some very scenic woodland holes, this is an Arthur Hills championship course to the fullest and can hold its own with any course in central Michigan.
Gray Plantation, Lake Charles, La. ($49 walking)
Lake Charles, a popular getaway for Houstonians with a jones to gamble, also has a tidy collection of golf courses. Gray Plantation is a real steal, a semi-private setting, facilities and conditions to go with some scenic holes along the Calcasieu River.
Crosswinds Golf Club, Savannah, Ga. ($33-43 walking)
After a weekend golf bender in the Hilton Head area, my brother and I wanted to squeeze in one more round before flying home. Crosswinds Golf Club, right next to the Savannah airport, fit the bill. The course boasts some neat hole variety and a layout that's unique to the area. Its affordable green fee is particularly impressive compared to what most Hilton Head-area courses charge.