Even if you've never scaled a wall or shouted one true Hoo-rah!, you can play golf at a military base somewhere in the U.S. and around the world.
And there are many reasons why it's a bucket-list opportunity. Golf courses at military bases not only support the Department of Defense's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) fund, but many have been designed by renowned golf course architects. You can even play a military course right on the ocean.
The armed forces operate nearly 160 golf courses, most of which are in the U.S. You may be surprised to know that military golf courses are not operated using taxpayer money. Federal law mandates these facilities cannot be funded with "appropriated" Department of Defense funds intended for the military to carry out missions. Rather, golf courses are operated using a "non-appropriated" funds generated with revenue from the military's MWR (morale, welfare & recreation) activities.
So military courses have a keen interest on attracting civilian green fees in order to keep their facilities open and provide an affordable recreation opportunity to military and their families. These courses are sure to provide an environment far different from the ordinary public or resort course. Civilians usually pay a slightly higher rate that military-affiliated golfers, but most courses are usually well under $50.
"First time playing at this course on an Air Force Base," wrote Governors8 at Bay Breeze Golf Course, part of Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. "And yes golf is supposed to be quiet but it's more than acceptable when you've got cool military aircraft taking off literally a hundred yards from where you're playing."
Here are a few more frequently asked questions civilian golfers may have about playing golf at a military base:
Are military courses worth playing?
There is a long history of military courses dating back to the late-19th century. One of the highest-profile was the Presidio course built near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (the base is no longer active and the course is now part of the national park in the hands of the Presidio Trust). Many top golf course architects have designed courses at or near military bases, most notably Robert Trent Jones Sr., who built quite a few like Gordon Lakes (Georgia) and Eisenhower (Colorado). A.W. Tillinghast built a course in the 1920s at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, which now has 36 holes. Military courses can be found in many top destinations including Hawaii, San Diego, Monterey Peninsula, Hilton Head Island and throughout North Carolina. They often present a strong value alternative to higher-priced resorts and are normally core golf facilities without any type of incorporated residential or commercial development.
Are civilians welcome at military base golf courses?
Most of them do in some capacity and prior to 9/11 it was quite easy to do so. Heightened security in the aftermath of the attacks in 2001 caused many bases to block civilians from the base, even for golf. In recent years, base golf courses have gradually returned to normalcy and most are allowing public play.
"The staff could not have been nicer," wrote reviewer FBevens after their round at The Legends at Parris Island in South Carolina, a Marines facility. "Came across as really happy to have us come play there."
Who decides if the course is public or not?
While military bases have staff at a golf course that run it similar to any other public or municipal course, ultimately, all activities inside the base are at the discretion of the base's commander. If security measures are elevated, the base commander may temporarily suspend civilian access inside the base.
How do I book tee times at Military golf courses?
A growing number of military courses are offering online tee times, just like public courses in the country. The most comprehensive collection of military courses can be found at MilitaryTeeTimes.com. All verified Service members, Veterans and all Military Family receive military exclusive pricing off green fees from participating courses. Non-military affiliated golfers can also browse courses and book tee times on the site.
If you don't see the course you are looking for on MilitaryTeeTimes.com, you'll want to find their website online and get a phone number to the course. Some of these course websites are traditional without booking engines, so call the course directly to make sure you have the most current information regarding access and rates for civilians.
What do I need to bring with me to gain access to a base?
Not all military courses are inside a base, but when they are, there are some added logistics to be aware of. For domestic military bases, you need a valid government issued I.D., like a driver's license. For foreign base golf courses, bring your passport as well. It's also wise to call in advance of the tee time to make sure there are no heightened threat levels at the base, or if you need any other base sponsorship to get inside. Don't just show up to the gate without a tee time, either, or that could result in being turned away or a lengthy delay. The popular Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course on Oahu, for example, asks that you call at least three business days before your tee time for the course to set up your gate clearance. Windy Harbor at Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonville is currently asking non-military-affiliated golfers to call at least two weeks prior to their tee time to arrange for an MWR guest pass.
What is the dress code at military golf courses?
Golf courses are independently run but have pretty consistent rules when it come to dress code.
Personnel and all golfers must wear appropriate golf attire as the manufacturer intended. Shirts must be worn at all times and men must wear shirts with sleeves. Ladies may wear sleeveless shirts that provide appropriate coverage. Boots are not permitted, but on-duty soldiers may hit balls in their ACUs.
The golf courses are generally more relaxed in atmosphere compared to privates course, but treat the experience like you are attending a semi-private or private golf club. Wear a collared shirt and do not wear denim or cutoffs. Also, it's best to err on the safe side when it comes to wearing a hat inside or changing shoes in the parking lot.
Can a military family member get me onto a restricted military course?
Some military base courses are open solely to military members and their dependents (immediate family) while other require that you are sponsored (play with) a military member. Again be sure and consult directly with the course pro shop if you have any questions.
Reveille and Retreat: What civilians need to know
Reveille and Retreat are two daily ceremonies conducted each morning and evening at all U.S. military installations, and even if you're in the middle of a golf hole with no one around, you need to stop and honor each. Service members stop, face headquarters and salute the base or stand at "Parade Rest", while civilians are expected to stop and stand still. If in your car, the vehicle must come to a controlled stop until the end of the ceremony.
In the morning (usually around 08:00), everyone on the base pauses to honor Reveille, which signals the beginning of the day on the installation. The ceremony consists of raising the national flag and a short, rousing tune, "Reveille" is played on loudspeakers all over the base. Retreat is a similar ceremony lowering the flag and signals the end of the day. "Taps" is played on the loudspeakers. Depending on the base, Retreat could take place anywhere from 16:30 to sunset, so be mindful.
"F-16s and F-35s over your head, the safest course in the world! Reveille at 5pm!" wrote MrKnowItAll01 in a review of Falcon Dunes. "One of the top rated US Armed Forces courses!"
What else to ask when inquiring about a round at a military course
Check to see if your tee time is around the time of a shift change at the base. Traffic can back up at the gate and you could miss your tee time. Make sure you are going to the right gate that allows visitors, too. The military is a famously punctual culture, and you should follow suit.