The Best Cities for Golf
There are many ways to enjoy the game of golf. Sprawling country club courses. Popular urban courses. Curses at vacation resorts with various themes. Courses on the shore and courses in the desert, old courses and new. You can play yourself or watch the tour professionals take their swings. Golf is a game for young and old, for the wealthy golf tourist and the local course hackers. And courses are found in every corner of the nation and in nearly every city, seasonal and year-round.
But of all of these, which are the best cities for golf in the nation? For every city that offers golfers a first tee and a 19th hole, we counted every public course and cross-referenced each with Golf Digest’s list of the top 100 public courses in the U.S. (2017-2018 ). These 10 spots are the best for golf.
What goes better together than golf and beer? Not much. The central Oregon town of Bend has plenty of both. The city of nearly 100,000 features just 13 public courses, fewer than many other cities on this list. But three of those are ranked among Golf Digest’s 70 best public courses.
The top-ranked course in Bend is Pronghorn Golf Club’s Jack Nicklaus design at No. 36. The 7,379-yard par 72 opened in 2004, but only recently became public. Pronghorn’s most famous hole is the 378-yard par 4 13th, featuring a large lake along the entire right side and a white sand bunker buffer behind the green. If you’re looking for a quiet round, this is the place. The entire Pronghorn Resort sits very isolatedly in the middle of 20,000 acres of protected high desert land. It’s separated from the nearby community by a single five-mile entrance road surrounded by nothing but desert sands.
But what to do with your foursome after you’ve finished a round? There are a plethora of 19th hole spots for post-golf beer lovers, as Bend is one of the nation’s best beer cities. Known as Beertown, U.S.A., Bend offers nearly two dozen breweries and has been an important craft beer locale for decades. Deschutes Brewery, established in 1988, Cascade Lakes Brewery in 1994 and Bend Brewing Company opened in 1995 all dating back to before the craft brew revolution. The city operates one brewery for every 4,500 Bendites.
Pinehurst is a small village in North Carolina between Charlotte and Fayetteville. The population is just 13,000. But this unassuming town in a relatively mundane forested inland region is home to one of the nation’s most renowned golf resort complexes.
And unlike most famous golf towns, one does not need to travel to the suburbs or away from the city to tee up. Pinehurst’s most celebrated courses are right in the heart of town. Most businesses, including many restaurants, bars, a shopping center and a brewery lie just outside Pinehurst Resort’s front doors.
The complex of Pinehurst Resort has nine distinct courses, numbered one through nine. The large courses take up most of the city, founded alongside the resort as a “health resort for people of modest means” in the late 1800s. In all, the resort has hosted three U.S. Opens, three U.S. Amateurs, a U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open, a PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup. The complex will present five more upcoming U.S. Opens.
The most prominent of these courses is the legendary Pinehurst No. 2. The course, just 15 minutes northwest of nearby Aberdeen, is a 7,588-yard par 70. Golf Digest ranks No. 2 as the sixth-best course in the country. Not to be outdone, Pinehurst No. 8 also ranked in the top 70. In all, the golf town features 26 public courses.
Just north of Savannah, GA, is the swampy South Carolina island of Hilton Head. The Low Country destination features a dozen miles of Atlantic beach and an abundance of natural wetlands, preserves and inlets filled with wildlife. The island is home to many species of alligators, sea turtles, dolphins and manatees.
Hilton Head is known throughout the world as a premier golf locale. The 70-square mile island is home to 51 public courses. But above them all is Harbour Town Golf Links. The Sea Pines Plantation course fills most of the island’s southern end, a 7,099-yard Par 71.
Harbour Town has hosted the PGA’s RBC Heritage invitational every year since 1969. Past winners have included Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Fuzzy Zoeller, Davis Love III and, yes, Greg “The Shark” Norman.
Tucked into the gentle cove at the south end of Monterey Bay, at the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, is beautiful Monterey, CA. Protected from the ocean by Point Pinos, ocean breezes and lagoon tides create pristine beaches, agreeable surf and placid weather.
All of that combines to make Monterey a perfect golf location. The city of 30,000 has just five public golf courses, but they make the best of it. Pebble Beach Golf Links is one of the most famous and known as one of the most beautiful courses in the world. The 7,000-yard Par 72 course has hosted six U.S. Opens, a PGA Championship and is a yearly stop of the PGA and senior tours.
Pebble Beach is, of course, ranked as Golf Digest’s top golf course. But that’s not the only game in town. The Pebble Beach Company also manages Spyglass Hill Golf Course, ranked at No. 11. The course is the yearly site of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
There’s more to Monterey than bunkers and chip shots. The converted factories of formerly gritty Cannery Row downtown now house tourist shops, seafood restaurants and bars. Nearby are the Monterey Museum of Art and Salvador Dali Museum. Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular tourist destination and the Monterey Jazz Festival is the world’s longest-running jazzfest.
The city of Palm Desert, CA, is rather accurately named. It’s a gateway between the San Jacintos’ sunny green forest and the Joshua Tree desert. Its position at the heart of Coachella Valley along I-10 makes its weather perfect for outdoor recreation. Particularly golf.
Palm Desert has been hosting golf tourists for 70 years. The 27-square mile city has a population of 54,000 and nearly 90 public golf courses. The city’s municipal golf complex is Desert Willow Golf Resort, featuring two championship courses. One of these, Firecliff, ranks the second-best course in the state by golfers.
While Palm Desert is a vacation and resort destination for city dwellers from around California, many visitors and snowbirds eventually become “full-timers.” The city offers a popular combination zoo and botanical garden, as well as a number of heritage pride events. Throughout the year, Palm Desert has festivals celebrating Italian, Greek, Armenian, Canadian and Scottish backgrounds. It’s known for its mix of both high-end and affordable housing. Even the largest employer in town is the Marriott Desert Springs Golf Resort.
Beautiful Myrtle Beach, SC, is a sandy, oceanside resort city attractive to beachgoers, outdoor enthusiasts, spring breakers, club hoppers and retirees alike. The jewel of the Grand Strand attracts 20 million visitors yearly to its nearly 2,000 restaurants, 425 hotels, dozen theaters and top-ranked boardwalk. Little wonder it is continuously one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country.
But what the city might be best known for is golf. Tiger Woods himself declared the city, “the mecca of golf.” Myrtle Beach offers 74 public courses and has hosted a record 4.2 million yearly rounds. This includes at the 54th best course on Golf Digest’s list, The Dunes Golf and Beach Club. The premiere course has hosted the PGA Senior Tour, USGA Women’s Open and many other prominent tournaments.
Is that not enough? Myrtle Beach features over 50 miniature golf courses, as well. Many are found along the beachfront. The sandy strip has an award-winning boardwalk, arcades, shore food, Family Kingdom amusement park and SkyWheel, the nation’s sixth-tallest Ferris wheel.
When you think of golf paradises, Sheboygan, WI, isn’t usually the spot that comes to mind. Even less likely, take a short four-mile jog to the west and you wind up in the village of Kohler. Kohler is a small company town — home to the well-known plumbing corporation — with a population of just 2,100. And this company town has just two public golf complexes, with two courses each.
Despite its size and the small number of holes, Kohler still ranks as the No. 1 top-best golf city in the Midwest. That’s thanks to two significant names: Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits. Each complex has two high-level courses. All four — Blackwolf’s Meadow Highlands and River courses, and Whistling’s Straits Irish and Straights courses — rank among Golf Digest’s top 60. Whistling’s Straits Straights course is, in fact, the fourth-best in the U.S. It played host to last year’s Ryder Cup, as well as several past PGA Championships and a U.S. Senior Open.
Both complexes and all four courses are part of Kohler’s American Club resort. The company also runs the Old Course Golf Resort & Spa in St Andrews, Scotland, the birthplace of golf itself.
The most public golf courses of any city in the west belong to the desert city of Scottsdale, AZ. The fifth-largest city in the state features 133 public golf courses. Some are traditional green fairway courses lined with sod or non-native grass, and some feature acres of tricky dirt and sand as rough. Many feature unique designs built into the Sonoran Desert and McDowell Mountains landscape.
Golf has been played in Arizona since 1900. And it wasn’t long until the first courses were built in Scottsdale. Cattle ranches, which dominated the city in the 19th century, were easily transformed into country clubs, which operated resorts and introduced desert golfing. And as the Valley of the Sun’s population boomed since the 1990s, so did the number of golf courses.
The most well-known course in the city is TPC Scottsdale. For over 35 years, the public course has been home to the Phoenix Open, nicknamed the “Greatest Show on Grass.” Its par 3 16th is the only fully-enclosed hole on the entire PGA tour, with surrounding grandstands that hold 20,000 enthusiastic spectators.
Scottsdale isn’t exclusively a golf community or a retirement home. Unlike many other golf cities, a majority of the population is under 50 years old. Downtown Scottsdale is a nightlife hub tailored to younger demographics, akin to Atlanta’s Buckhead or Ybor City Tampa. The New York Times once boasted, “Downtown Scottsdale is turning into a desert version of Miami’s South Beach. No ocean, of course, but plenty of late-night partying and a buzzing hotel scene.”
If it’s a variety you’re looking for, look no further than Naples, FL. The name of the game in this gulf coast city is volume. For a population of just 20,000, the city offers 155 courses, the most for any city overall. It’s no wonder that Naples bills itself as the “Golf Capital of the World.”
Naples has the environment one would expect for a city rife with golf courses. It’s a well-to-do city, with the sixth-highest average income in the nation and some of the world’s highest real estate prices. It’s also extremely popular for retirees, with a median age of 66 years old.
The city’s most renowned golf course is the Gold Course at Tiburón Golf Club, a semi-public course. Every year since 2012, it’s been the site of the LPGA’s CME Group Tour Championship. The event is traditionally the final tournament of the year and offers the largest purse of any women’s golf event.
Aside from golf, Naples is known as a tourist favorite. It offers pristine beaches, upscale shopping along 5th Avenue and proximity to the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands. It’s also a popular wellness and yoga retreat. Naples residents report low levels of stress and depression along with healthy eating habits. Little surprise it’s been named the “Happiest and Healthiest” city in the country.
Looking for the No. 1 golf destination in the country? The hole-in-one city for golf is the Oregon coastal town of Bandon. The isolated town lies about a half-hour south of Coos Bay and 90 miles north of the California border along the 101.
The city of just over 3,000 residents offers seven full courses. Six of these lie just north of the center of town at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Four of the Dunes courses are Championship level and each ranks in Golf Digest’s top 15 best public courses in the nation. Pacific Dunes ranks second in the U.S., with Bandon Dunes, the site of the 2020 U.S. Amateur Championship, coming in seventh.
Bandon’s location is a big part of its golf superiority. The Pacific Northwest rains and ocean breezes grow tall vegetation in the roughs and keep the turf firm. The fairways and bunkers are primarily shaped by the choppy weather and nature.
Known as Bandon-by-the-Sea, the city is a tourist favorite. Each September, the Annual Cranberry Festival is held to celebrate the cranberry harvest. It also has a long history in the cheesemaking industry. Today, the Face Rock Creamery offers handcraft gourmet cheeses and a popular tour.
The 50 best golf cities in America
When you expand the list of best cities for golf, the top 50 cities cover 16 different states from New York to Hawaii. And with 11 spots on the list, Florida is the top state for golf. That’s followed by California with seven and Texas with five. Find the best cities for golf near you.
Cities were ranked based on the number of golf courses and the position of each course on Golf Digest’s 2017/2018 list of the top 100 public golf courses in the United States when applicable.
Data for the number of golf courses are from commercially licensed business listings.