USA TODAY's The Golfer's World blogger Larry Olmsted spent much of 2008 compiling a list of the top public courses in the USA. Here are some of his recommendations. Fore!
1. Pacific Dunes
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon
Towering dunes, stunning site, great coastal exposure, no houses or development, walking only, great caddies — there is nothing missing. The only criticism is a downhill footpath behind the first green, which is difficult for anyone who is long into the center of the green. Other pluses: the meatloaf at the resort's pub and its fine selection of Pacific Northwest wines, as well as cool practice holes.
2. The Links at Spanish Bay
Pebble Beach Golf Resort in California
Part of the holy triumvirate of golf that constitutes the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Resort, Spanish Bay wins on value, ease of play and ambience. It's also one of the few courses that requires every club in the bag, with par-3, 4 and 5 holes that are short, normal and long.
3. Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach Golf Resort
Pebble Beach Golf links is the course people mean when they say they "played Pebble." Some issues that affect the experience there include surly staff, ongoing construction and often mediocre conditions as the course is kept at full play. But it is hard to knock the course and its mystique. And the setting is stunning: The finish is so strong that it is hard to walk up 17 and 18 without feeling truly blessed.
4. Bandon Dunes
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
This is the original of three courses at Bandon Dunes golf resort. What's so great about it? There are towering dunes that are real, not bulldozered. (Sandy soil has traditionally made for the best golf course conditions, as it drains well, holds up year-round and grows good grass.) The coastal setting brings in the salt air and wind. It offers walking only and good caddies. For those on the West Coast, it is a taste of Ireland or Scotland much closer to home.
5. The Straits Course
Whistling Straits in Wisconsin
This course kicked off the modern retro-links phenomenon and proved that Americans could build courses that look as if they had been built centuries ago. It also reintroduced the caddie to public courses and made walking-only socially acceptable. Stunning views of Lake Michigan abound; holes are unique and memorable. It's also part of Destination Kohler Resort, arguably the best golf resort in the nation, when balancing quality of golf, lodging, facilities and food.