The muni is an American embodiment of democracy, like the library and the public park: a golf course run by the city. And, like in our institutions of knowledge and recreation, there’s a broad spectrum of greatness. All municipal courses have equal access, but not all are created equal. If you’ve had bad experiences with one or several, take a minute and clear the bad memories of crappy courses past. Abandon your resentment of those pock-marked and bumpy greens. Forgive the gods for mystifying, undistinguished fairway-rough barriers. Dismiss the painful visual of the divot-laden tee box. We bring you only top-rate, championship-level munis — courses with low(ish) prices that offer some of the best rounds in the USA. It’s the apex of the American way: golf and democracy at their absolute finest.
365 days of green fairways can’t be wrong.
Location: University Place, WA
Course Designer: Robert Trent Jones II
Greens Fees*: $239
What Will Bring You Back: It’s a well-known traditional links-style course that gives a St. Andrews experience on the West Coast, and it’s playing host to the 2015 US Open. The course sits open to the winds and vistas of the Puget Sound, providing equal parts challenge and beauty. It’s like your best ex-girlfriend — difficult, stormy, disastrous and unforgettable.
*A Note on Rates: We went with the highest posted price. These are weekend rates in peak season for non-residents. Play in shoulder seasons or dig for deals, and you’ll be rewarded with discounts.
Torrey Pines (South)
Location: La Jolla, CA
Course Designers: William F. Bell, remodel Rees Jones
Greens Fees: $183
What Will Bring You Back: Perched atop ocean bluffs, Torrey Pines boasts 7,607 yards of tight waterfront fairways and unforgiving, tangled rough. It’s a golfer’s paradise and a hacker’s nightmare. Residents get it good with $61 greens fees and priority tee times, but non-residents can play the course with some proper planning (or some good luck).
Incline Village (Championship)
Location: Incline Village, NV
Course Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Greens Fees: $179
What Will Bring You Back: The mountain oasis of Lake Tahoe has gaggles of great courses with locks on their gates (read: private communities). Incline Village, on the Nevada side of the lake, opens it doors to the public and gives an equally illustrious experience without the mortgage-sized member fees. And panoramic views of the lake and plenty of elevation change keep things fresh on the crisp alpine course.
Desert Willow (Firecliff)
Location: Palm Desert, CA
Course Designers: Hurdzan & Fry
Greens Fees: $155
What Will Bring You Back: LA’s little sand box to the east magically sprouts enough lush fairways to attract golfers from all over the globe. In the winter, when the heat’s turned to low, Desert Willow’s Firecliff course gives golfers 7,056 yards of ground to cover, where they can expect the expected: wide, long fairways bordered by buckets of sand (there’s over 100 bunkers).
TPC Harding Park
Location: San Francisco, CA
Course Designer: Willie Watson & Sam Whiting
Greens Fees: $175
What Will Bring You Back: The most illustrious club in SF is the Olympic Club (host of the 2012 US Open). Across the lake is its equally formidable public brother — TPC Harding Park. Blanketed in fog and splitting the cypress trees, the course takes on top golf talent, challenging the locals and hosting a slew of visiting PGA pros. It also recently completed a year-long greens restoration, so the roll is currently top notch.