Secrets to Saving Big at America's Top-10 Public Courses (Part 2)

Thanks to Chip D., Rory O., Peter I., Ken C., and everyone else who commented on Part 1.

As promised, here is Part 2 on how to play America's best public courses at deep discounts.

(In case you missed Part 1, these tips are not about catching hot, limited-time deals at the right time, but taking advantage of the standing replay, twilight, and maintenance discounts that are often bigger and better than you might think.)

Here are the courses that round out the Top-10:

Bandon Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Oregon)
Golf Digest Ranking: 6
Golf Magazine Ranking: 8
Greens Fee: $280
Discount Available: Up to 100%
The Secret to Saving: Bandon doesn't do "twilight rates," but it has a fantastic, same-day replay policy you can leverage to the max by staying on site. For example, as resort guest, you can play any of the 18-hole courses in high season for $235, then "replay" any course for just $120, then "replay" any others for free.

The Black Course at Bethpage State Park (New York)
Golf Digest Ranking: 8
Golf Magazine Ranking: 6
Greens Fee: $150
Discount Available: Up to 40%
The Secret to Saving: The Black Course is already inexpensive compared to the others in this group, but you can save even more by playing at twilight (replay rates aren't available). Beginning at 4pm, non-New York residents can play for $78/$90 (weekdays/weekends) and in-state residents can play for as little as $39/$45.

TPC Sawgrass, Stadium Course (Florida)
Golf Digest Ranking: 9
Golf Magazine Ranking: 7
Greens Fee: $410
Discount Available: Up to 76%
The Secret to Saving: Packages are normally your best bet here, but you can score a twilight rate between $175-$275 in June, July, and August. There is also a replay option for just $98, but it cannot be booked in advance, it's subject to availability, and it's a true replay -- you need to play the Stadium Course earlier in the day. Maintenance discounts are rare because the course usually closes during repairs/improvements.

Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Oregon)
Golf Magazine Ranking: 9
(Golf Digest Ranking: 12)
Greens Fee: $280
Discount Available: Up to 100%
The Secret to Saving: See Bandon Dunes above.

Spyglass Hill Golf Course at Pebble Beach Resorts (California)
Golf Magazine Ranking: 10
(Golf Digest Ranking: 11)
Greens Fee: $370
Discount Available: Up to 51%
The Secret to Saving: Replay rates and twilight fees are available here and are priced the same (between $180-$200) depending if you take a cart. Keep in mind, these rates are same-day replays subject to availability and "twilight" tee times begin at different points throughout the year, sometimes as late as 5:30pm in the summer months.

Erin Hills Golf Course (Wisconsin)
Golf Digest Ranking: 10
(Golf Magazine Ranking: 29)
Greens Fee: $200
Discount Available: Up to 100%
The Secret to Saving: The 2017 U.S. Open site doesn't extend twilight rates, but it does offer a $130 same-day replay. It also sells attractive stay-and-play packages: you can play the course on your second day for 50% off, and, if you visit in early October (just before seasonal closure) this second round is free.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine, USAToday.com, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
10 Comments
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Bob Langer

I had purchased a weekend getaway deal for TPC Sawgrass at a charity event last year. The deal included two nights at the Marriott, a round on the Stadium and a round on the Dye's Valley plus two spa treatments. We set our travel and arrived early Friday for our round on Dye's Valley. When we stepped on the first tee, we saw that the ENTIRE golf course had been heavily aerated and sanded - it literally looked like it had an inch of snow covering the course. We struggled through nine holes and walked off. Our next stop was the Director of Golf to lodge our frustration. He saw we were scheduled to play the Stadium the next day and moved us to a prime morning tee time, comp'd individual caddies for each of us, gave us a free replay round on the Stadium (which we gladly took advantage of) and gave us a replay voucher for the Dye's Valley good for a year. He knew they screwed up and could have easily moved us over to Marsh Landing or any other top notch course in the area. Moral of the story is if you feel you have been wronged, go to the top person you can find on the property, sit down and calmly lay out your issues. If it is a quality operation, they will find a way to make it up to you!
Now a few comments on the Stadium - every serious golfer needs to play this course - I'm a 4 and had to play my butt off to shoot 82!. This course is specifically built for the Pro's and if you can't hit the ball EXACTLY where the caddy tells you to, you'll have a difficult next shot. Case in point on one of the par fives with a distant tree in the fairway, he told me to go 5 yards left of the tree. I nailed a 280 yd drive but was about 10 yards left and now had an overhanging tree short of the green in my line. When i looked at my Caddy, he said "that's why i told you to only go 5 yards left of the tree!" This is a spectacular course that is also incredibly penal. By the way, hitting 9-iron to the island green on 17 (even without 5,000+ spectators hovering over you) still puckers you up! This is a great golf experience!

Steven Birnbaum

Played Erin Hills on a Wisconsin/Kohler trip this June. It is the biggest, brawniest and in some ways nastiest course I have ever played. The design is pretty much incredible with links type conditions, few trees, deep fescue lined fairways and all in the middle of Wisconsin dairy land. Great conditions and even better service. The cottages are great. I can't wait to see the Open there in 2017. I will bet now that even par will win it. It is well worth the trip, is relatively reasonable especially when compared to Whistling Straits, and is only about 30 miles west of Milwaukee

Archer

Just got back from TPC Sawgrass, beautiful well maintained.Only problem was paired with two women who had not alot of experience and slow causing ranger to have to be rude on first three holes and took me and my son out of rythem all day. We had no control of pairing. Caddie was fantastic but situation was absolutely frustrating.

Jeff B

I just played all the Bandon Dunes courses during a trip in July and by playing 36 a day - the averaged rate makes you feel like you're getting a great deal. If you have not been to Bandon yet - put it at the top of your bucket list. It was incredible.

Bob Marshall

Rather than go all the way to Oregon (unless you live on the west coast) and pay the high "discounted" fees to play Bandon Dunes, take a look at Arcadia Bluffs in Michigan. A true links course on the shores of Lake Michigan that was in the top 10 last year, but has slipped just a couple of places. Regular fees are $180, but on Tuesdays the rate for over 55's is $90. For that you get the green fees, cart and practice on the range, practice bunkers, chipping and putting. A beautiful course and a great experience at a reasonable price.

Rob P

I agree with Bruce- rates are out of control. Even though I can afford it, it still hurts to shell out almost $600 for a round and caddy at Pebble. I will say, however, that is still one of the most enjoyable golf experiences on the planet. So, if you haven't done it yet, start saving and treat yourself at least once.
I grew up playing Bethpage- my home course in college golf. Best public golf anywhere, especially since the Open transformed it from muni status.Camp out in the parking lot the night before and get an early tee time for the true experience.
I didn't read the first part, but if they didn't mention Coeur D"Alene, it is worth the trip- first class facility and caddies- a must.

D. Ross

I feel almost wrong for sharing this secret, but here it goes. Join Pebble Beach's Duke's Club membership for an annual fee of $299, and you get twilight rates at Spyglass of $100 and twilight at Spanish Bay of $75. Or, you can book regular hour rates of $195 and $145 respectively. The major savings comes in the fact that one Duke's Club member can book up to three guests to golf along with them at the same price. When you start to do Spyglass or Spanish Bay as foursomes, this is a dramatic savings. If you are going to Pebble Beach with some buddies, one of you ought to invest in a Duke's Club membership if you do not take advantage of the replay rate.

Bruce

Are you kidding? Saving big! There are hundreds of great public golf courses all over this country that you can play under $40. Do you think a tradesman with a family is going to have the $ to travel to these places and spend that much $ to play any of these golf courses? Their family wouldn't eat for weeks. They wouldn't have gas for their vehicles. Everyone says golf is available to all. Not at these courses. They are still only for the elite, and for the most part golf is still an elitist sport. How many of the kids that have gone through first tee can afford to play even the $40 courses. Time for the golf world to wise up!

I stumbled into TPC Sawgrass after my original golf trip destination was washed out and paid full rack rate. I believe it was $375. The forecaddie assigned to our group was a dissapointment. He would give us playing lines and read putts and was just dead wrong and when you hit into trouble here it can get ugly. It was neat to play a week after the Players, but it wasn't worth it at half the rate.

Don Cwiklowski

I played Spyglass last September (at full price), and even though the course is exceptional, there was a fair amount of construction and bunker repair, and the greens had been aerated. I didn't even know I could ask for any maintenance discounts. I do now.

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Secrets to Saving Big at America's Top-10 Public Courses (Part 2)
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