Golfweek’s Best 2022: Top public and private courses in Iowa

The top public-access layout in Iowa promises a casual round on excellent terrain.

The top-ranked public-access golf course in Iowa, Spirit Hollow in Burlington, promises a casual experience on bold terrain with plenty of elevation changes that have proved to be a hit with Golfweek’s Best raters.

Designed by Rick Jacobson and opened in 2000, Spirit Hollow is No. 1 in the state on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for top public-access layouts around the U.S.

Golfweek’s Best offers many lists of course rankings, with the list of top public-access courses in each state among the most popular. All the courses on this list allow public access in some fashion, be it standard daily green fees, through a resort or by staying at an affiliated hotel. If there’s a will, there’s a tee time.

Also popular are the Golfweek’s Best rankings of top private courses in each state, and that list for Iowa is likewise included below.

(m): Modern course, built in or after 1960
(c): Classic course, built before 1960
Note: If there is a number in the parenthesis with the m or c, that indicates where that course ranks among Golfweek’s Best top 200 modern or classic courses.
* New to or returning to list

Hurricane Ian has wreaked havoc on numerous Florida, South Carolina courses

Flooding and downed trees closed many top-rated golf courses in Florida.

As Hurricane Ian rampaged north along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, officials and first responders in the state were focused on providing relief and rescue for the thousands of people most in need. As various local and state agencies assess possible loss of life, golf is of course a low priority for those affected by the storm that approached Category 5 strength as it roared ashore.

It’s still worth a look to see how courses in Florida might have been impacted as well as what might be in store for the second projected landfall in South Carolina as what is now a tropical storm continues north. Golf is a huge industry in both locations, with thousands of employees and hundreds of courses likely already affected – or soon to be – by the devastating storm.

As of Thursday morning, it proved impossible to obtain status updates for the courses closest to landfall near Fort Myers, Florida. Communications have been compromised, and many residents of Southwest Florida are still without power and could be for days or weeks. Golf course operators and superintendents were in the field or attempting to reach their courses to evaluate damage, reports of which will roll in slowly.

There are dozens of golf courses, public and private, around the Fort Myers area, parts of which are reported to have received winds in excess of 140 mph along with massive storm surges of coastal water and flooding. All that area’s courses likely received damage of some sort, some of it possibly disastrous. Based on past experiences with hurricanes in Florida, it’s likely most of them have trees down, with some courses losing hundreds or possibly thousands of trees. Past hurricanes of lesser strength have proved capable of rendering tree-lined fairways into jumbled messes of snapped conifers and oak trees.

Courses also might be underwater, especially those close to the Gulf of Mexico, the Intracoastal Waterway and inland bays, rivers, creeks and other waterways. In Southwest Florida, that list includes almost every course. Standing water has been reported on courses as far north as The Golden Bear Club at Keene’s Pointe just west of Orlando not far from Disney World, and damage also likely includes washed-out bunkers at many courses – in past storms, it wasn’t uncommon to see bunkers inundated or stripped completely of sand.

It could be weeks or months before some of the worst-hit courses are able to reopen. Grass can continue to grow so long as fresh water receded fairly rapidly, but the general cleanup efforts can be extensive.

Golfweek’s Best maintains a list of top courses across the state, both public-access and private. Many of the courses on these lists likely experienced some damage, with several courses in particular a cause for increased concern.

Nearest Fort Myers and landfall, the public-access Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande sits just a few miles from the initial landfall site. Likewise, the private Coral Creek Club in Placida was directly in the track of the storm. Both courses sit near saltwater, with Gasparilla Inn & Club on a barrier island. Emails and calls to that facility were understandably unanswered as relief officials and first responders continue to focus on other more pressing matters. Gasparilla Inn & Club ranks as No. 27 on Golfweek’s Best list of public-access courses in Florida, while Coral Creek Club is No. 14 on Golfweek’s Best list of private courses.

Moving east from landfall, Hurricane Ian will have impacted many other courses on Golfweek’s Best lists as it rolled across Central Florida toward an exit near Titusville, Merritt Island and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center about 50 miles east of Orlando. Top-ranked private courses likely to have felt the effects of the storm include Calusa Pines (No. 2 private in Florida) in Naples; Mountain Lake (No. 3) in Lake Wales; Naples National (No. 7) in Naples; Concession (tied for No. 10) in Bradenton; and the aforementioned Coral Creek Club, among possibly others.

The list is even longer for top-ranked public-access courses along the storm’s path likely to have felt impacts large or small. That includes the three courses at Streamsong (ranked No. 2 Red, No. 3 Black and No. 4 Blue) in Bowling Green; Bay Hill Club & Lodge (No. 5) in Orlando; the two courses at Hammock Beach (No. 11 Ocean and No. 12 Conservatory) in Palm Coast; Hammock Bay (No. 17) in Naples; the two courses at Orange County National (No. 20 Panther Lake and No. 24 Crooked Cat) in Winter Garden; Southern Dunes (No. 26) in Haines City; and Reunion Resort (No. 30 Watson Course) in Kissimmee, among possibly others.

Several of these and many others have reported closures of various duration on their websites and social media. Streamsong, one of the most popular golf resorts in Florida, is an example of how even inland courses not directly on the center track of the giant storm were affected to some degree. The resort hosted play through Tuesday morning as crews prepped the courses, but it announced on its website that all three courses will be closed through Sunday. That comes at a destination featuring wide-open layouts with relatively few trees in play to have blown down – the hurricane’s massive rainfall and the effects of storm surge can cause closures even miles from the coasts.

“The thing we were most concerned about was our location near the Peace River and possible storm surge, and would we have flooding?” said Craig Falanga, Streamsong’s director of sales and marketing. “But we were really fortunate, and the damage is minimal, just cosmetic really. … We plan to have it all cleaned up and reopen Monday.”

Streansong Resort
Streamsong, home to three top courses including the Blue (pictured), received light damage in Hurricane Ian but was lucky to avoid intense flooding and will reopen Monday. (Courtesy of Streamsong Resort/Laurence Lambrecht)

Anyone with plans to travel and play golf anywhere in Southwest or Central Florida in the coming days and weeks should check with the courses before embarking.

As the storm moves north, it possibly will affect TPC Sawgrass and its two ranked courses (No. 1 public-access Players Stadium and No. 18 Dye’s Valley), as well as the private Pablo Creek (No. 17) in Jacksonville. Those are just the ranked layouts in a region full of dozens of compelling courses.

The storm moved into the Atlantic Ocean late Thursday morning and made a second landfall mid-day Friday in South Carolina. The projected cone includes courses from Hilton Head and its dozens of layouts north through Charleston – a region that includes Kiawah Island Golf Resort and its highly rated Ocean Course – all the way to Myrtle Beach.

In fact, numerous courses in that area reported considerable flooding.

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Golfweek’s Best 2022: Top public and private courses in Hawaii

After a tight battle, there’s a new No. 1 among Hawaii’s public-access layouts.

It’s a tight race for the title of best public-access golf course in Hawaii, with the Four Seasons Resort’s Manele Course in Lanai having jumped ahead of Kapalua’s Plantation Course for the No. 1 spot on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list in 2022.

Built by Jack Nicklaus atop lava outcroppings and opened in 1991, the Manele Course features three holes atop cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. Besides being No. 1 among Hawaii’s public-access layouts, it ties for No. 32 among all modern courses built since 1960 in the U.S.

Golfweek’s Best offers many lists of course rankings, with the list of top public-access courses in each state among the most popular. All the courses on this list allow public access in some fashion, be it standard daily green fees, through a resort or by staying at an affiliated hotel. If there’s a will, there’s a tee time.

Also popular are the Golfweek’s Best rankings of top private courses in each state, and that list for Hawaii is likewise included below.

MORE: Best Modern | Best Classic | Top 200 Resort|
Top 200 Residential | Top 100 Best You Can Play

(m): Modern course, built in or after 1960
(c): Classic course, built before 1960

Note: If there is a number in the parenthesis with the m or c, that indicates where that course ranks among Golfweek’s Best top 200 modern or classic courses. Several of the private courses listed below do not qualify for those premium lists because they haven’t seen enough rater play in the past 10 years, but they are still eligible for the state-by-state lists.

* New to or returning to list

Ross Bridge on Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama suffers accidental poisoning of greens, closed indefinitely

After a chemical-application mishap, renovation of the greens at Ross Bridge will commence as early as April 2023.

Ross Bridge, one of the top-ranked golf courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, has suffered a debilitating chemical mishap that poisoned most of the greens on the layout in Hoover near Birmingham.

Much of the 18-hole course is closed indefinitely as crews attempt to save portions of the putting surfaces in hopes of operating the course at some capacity over the fall, winter and early spring.

Earlier in September, the maintenance staff mistook a 1-ton bag of herbicide and fertilizer mix for a bag of green sand that was to be applied to the putting surfaces. The herbicide was spread across the greens of Nos. 5-18, killing much of the bent grass on those surfaces. The bag of herbicide had been stored in the wrong building before the mishap, said John Cannon, chairman of Sunbelt Golf Corporation that operates the Trail’s 26 courses at 11 sites. He said the herbicide mix could appear as being green to the naked eye, similar to the mix that was supposed to be spread across the greens.

“It was just the wrong product in the wrong place, and it should never have happened,” Cannon said. “It’s pilot error, no doubt about it.”

Charcoal will be injected into the greens this week to try to form a filter layer, giving the surviving grass a better chance to spread. If that method works, the course could reopen in some capacity for this winter. In the meantime, holes 1-4 were undamaged and are open now, forming a playable loop that returns to the clubhouse. The practice facilities remain open.

Ross Bridge Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
The ninth (right) and 18th green at Ross Bridge on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail near Birmingham (Courtesy of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail/Michael Clemmer)

“Ross Bridge has very large greens, so we know we’re not going to get 100-percent coverage even in the best circumstances,” Cannon said. “It really is about seeing what progress we can make in the next month or so without having play on the golf course.”

Regardless of those efforts, the course will be renovated with new putting surfaces starting in the spring of 2023. Operators already planned to renovate the greens from bent grass to Ultradwarf Bermuda grass at Ross Bridge in 2024, and those plans have been accelerated. The greens will be cored out and regrassed, and other improvement projects such as tree clearing in key areas will commence ahead of schedule.

“We just hope to take what we have, which internally is a real tragedy, and end up 12 months from now with a better product,” Cannon said. “You have to find the bright spot somewhere when you’re going through difficult times like this.”

The timeline for the greens renovation has not been set, but work could begin in April or even earlier if the current surfaces don’t recover sufficiently after the charcoal injections. Cannon said the greens renovation would need to be completed with full grow-in before October next year to get ahead of any possible cold weather and early freezes.

Ross Bridge ranks No. 4 in Alabama on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list of public-access layouts in the U.S. It is adjacent to the AAA Four Diamond Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort and Spa, just minutes down the street from Oxmoor Valley, another Trail facility that features two full-size 18-hole courses (Ridge and Valley) with a revamped short course scheduled to come online this year.

The chemical mishap will not only affect tee times at Ross Bridge, Cannon said, it will affect bookings at the hotel and send more play to Oxmoor Valley. The accident’s total economic impact for the Trail cannot yet be projected, but it could reach into the millions of dollars. “Accelerating (the greens renovation) by a year changes the whole capital plan for the Trail for the next two years,” Cannon said.

The Trail was conceived by David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, in the 1980s as a way to boost economic growth and diversify the state’s pension fund. It has expanded in the ensuing decades as one of the most popular buddies-trip destinations in the U.S., with golfers able to bounce from site to site with consistently solid golf courses, hotels, restaurants and other amenities.

The Trail’s operators are experienced in converting original bent grass greens to Ultradwarf Bermuda, strains of which have been greatly improved in recent decades. Only four courses on the Trail, not counting Ross Bridge, still have bent grass greens, Cannon said. His team has overseen the renovation of more than a dozen courses to Bermuda greens, which he said provide a better putting surface year-round without suffering as much stress as do bent greens in Alabama’s hot summers.

“We know we can build high-quality Ultradwarf greens that our customers will appreciate all year round, and at the same time while we’re closed we have the opportunity to do some other projects,” Cannon said. “That’s our final goal in this project, and it’s not about what already happened but what we can make out of it that’s the most important to us. …

“This is the biggest accident we’ve ever had to any of the golf courses on the Trail in my 25 years, and things like this happen, but we’re going to make the most of it and we’re going to improve Ross Bridge.”

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Photos: The Lido at Sand Valley nears completion of stunning historic recreation of New York masterpiece

Strategy, difficulty and beauty on full display in these photos of Sand Valley’s new Lido course.

NEKOOSA, Wis. – You can’t let your mind wander on a single shot at the new Lido course at Sand Valley in Wisconsin. Not on a putt. Not on a chip or pitch. Not on a single approach, and certainly not on a tee shot. Every swing demands your attention, and there might be no greater compliment for a golf course.

Built as a recreation of the famed Lido on Long Island in New York that was purchased and then demolished by the U.S. Navy during World War II, the new Lido is a stunning test of every aspect of a golfer’s game, especially the mind. It’s no exaggeration to call it the most strategic course – at the very least among a handful of contenders – in the United States.

The original Lido was designed by Golden Age architects C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor, with several individual holes designed by contestants in an architecture contest that included Alister MacKenzie. It was built along the shore on soil dredged from the sea floor, then shaped by teams with horse-drawn equipment. The new reproduction and its many template holes were meticulously laid into place by Tom Doak with a giant assist by Peter Flory, a Chicago-based banker (and Golfweek’s Best course-rater ambassador) who used old photography to generate a digital replica of the New York original. Doak used those digital models to recreate the old layout as closely as possible.

Judging by two rounds this author played with Flory in early September, it’s easy to guess the hickory-equipped golfers of the 1920s had their hands full on the original.

Bunkers seemingly are everywhere. The Lido offers plenty of width, with fairways sometimes playing more than 100 yards wide as they overlap, but the traps appear to be unavoidable, especially the first time a player goes round. Woe to any golfer who gets out of line.

Sand Valley Lido during grow-in
The 11th fairway (center) of the Lido at Sand Valley is flanked on either side by No. 17 (left, in the opposite direction) and No. 2 (right, playing in same direction as 11 with the green in the upper right). With several options for avoiding all the bunkers, the 11th effectively plays more than 100 yards wide. (Golfweek)

Players must stand on each tee and plot their way to the flag. It’s an exhilarating exercise that every course designer should strive to produce, but nowhere is such strategizing more important than at the Lido. A well-struck shot on the wrong line, even one that finds short grass, might as well have found a bunker closer to the proper line. It’s an awkward moment when you realize you picked the wrong angle off the tee – you can see the flag ahead on the green, but you can’t even begin to imagine how to get close in regulation when playing into the new and bouncy putting surfaces.

But if players take the time to study the various pathways offered for the tee ball and choose wisely, then the greens open up. That flag that appears tucked from one side of the fairway probably is reasonably approachable from the opposite side. You have to play the holes backward in your mind before you ever swing.

It’s all complicated by the bunker design. Many of these fairway traps would be better described as trapdoors, with their tops even to the surrounding grades. Most modern course designers flare their bunkers into hillsides or manufactured inclines, giving the players visual clues as to where they should play and what they must avoid. Many of the fairway bunkers at the Lido, by contrast, are flat on the ground and often hidden beyond rolling terrain. It’s hard to stand there and know exactly where all the trouble waits because you can’t see half of it. If your caddie tells you to avoid an area, even if it appears safe from the tee, take that advice to heart. Flory pointed out that the best well-known example of similar bunkering is the Old Course at St. Andrews, where nasty traps often lurk just out of view.

Even those traps you can see aren’t necessarily easy to avoid, and many of the greenside bunkers in particular have fearsomely steep faces – nearly vertical and more than 8 feet high in some cases. Just the intimidating sight of such bunker faces will send some players wayward.

The trouble doesn’t end with the tee shots and bunkers. The waste areas and steep grassed banks surrounding many of these greens present incredibly difficult chips, pitches and blasts to elevated putting surfaces that feature beautiful tiers and ridges. From short and center of many greens, the flags are reasonably approachable to players with solid short games, but most attempts from pin-high or long grow exponentially more difficult. The more you challenge the course in an attempt at a low score, the more the course challenges you back.

So yes, the Lido is difficult. It’s also beautiful, fascinating and incredibly fun. It’s in no way impossible to play, so long as golfers think. As soon as a round ends, most players will want another shot at it to try different routes. A golfer could play it a dozen times and never replicate all the same routes.

Key examples are the fourth, a par-5 that offers a safer route to the left or a risky drive rightward to a small patch of fairway flanked by sandy waste areas. Players who pull off the riskier tee ball are rewarded with a reasonable chance to reach the green in two shots, but those who miss into the sand are faced with a tough second shot over water just to reach the safety of the main fairway.

Sand Valley Lido during grow-in
The tee shot at the par-5 fourth of the Lido provides for a longer, safer route to fairway on the left or a tougher, longer carry to a small patch of fairway to the right that significantly shortens the hole. (Golfweek)

The par-4 11th is another great example of width providing options. Flanked by the 17th fairway to the left and the second fairway to the right, players have a choice of vectors over, around and short of a minefield of bunkers and scrub. In our first round together, Flory went well right off the tee while I fired one off to the left just to be obstinate. We both hit solid tee shots, and our golf balls finished 118 yards apart as measured by laser rangefinder. Flory’s line paid off with a birdie 3, his first on the Lido, while I made a 7.

There are plenty of such examples, especially as the wind and its directions changes. On the wide-open, treeless expanse upon which this Lido was built, the breezes tend to be stronger than at the resort’s other two existing courses, Mammoth Dunes by David McLay Kidd and the eponymous Sand Valley by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

We wanted to share some of the photos of our two days at the Lido. Keep scrolling for those, but first the answers to several frequent questions in the days after our trip:

  • The Lido is still growing in, and the course will not officially open until the summer of 2023.
  • The resort is allowing small groups of members to play nine-hole preview rounds now while the grass is still taking hold, but many of the bunkers do not yet have sand (as you will see in the photos below). It is still very much a work in progress.
  • The Lido will accept very limited resort play. It will be a private course operated by the resort, but don’t expect to just show up as a guest and play on a weekend. Details on how to obtain a round on the Lido are still forthcoming. Plan to stay at the resort for any chance, and book earlier as excitement about the Lido builds among golf architecture fans.
  • Golfweek will present plenty of more coverage on the Lido before it opens, including Flory’s take on how it all came together. We just want to provide a sneak peak on how it all looks and plays.

Now, for those photos:

Golfweek’s Best 2022: Top public and private courses in Colorado

Red Sky offers private experiences to resort guests, and the rest of Colorado offers more great courses.

Looking for a chance to play two highly ranked private golf courses without paying an initiation fee and annual dues? Colorado might be your shot, as Red Sky Golf Club in Wolcott is for the most part a private club that allows resort guests to play its two courses on alternating days.

Red Sky’s Tom Fazio and Greg Norman courses are both in the top five layouts in Colorado on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for public-access courses in each state. Want to see how the rest of the state’s public courses shake out? Keep scrolling.

Golfweek’s Best offers many lists of course rankings, with the list of top public-access courses in each state among the most popular. All the courses on this list allow public access in some fashion, be it standard daily green fees, through a resort or by staying at an affiliated hotel. If there’s a will, there’s a tee time.

Also popular are the Golfweek’s Best rankings of top private courses in each state, and that list is likewise included below.

MORE COURSES: Best Modern | Best Classic | Top 200 Resort|
Top 200 Residential | Top 100 Best You Can Play

(m): Modern course, built in or after 1960
(c): Classic course, built before 1960
Note: If there is a number in the parenthesis with the m or c, that indicates where that course ranks among Golfweek’s Best top 200 modern or classic courses.

Golfweek’s Best 2022: Top public and private courses in California

Pebble Beach is an obvious No. 1, but how do the rest of California’s course rankings shake out?

California’s lineup of public-access golf courses is one of the strongest in the U.S., with more than a few that even casual golf fans will have heard of. Pebble Beach Golf Links tops that list, of course, but which layouts follow?

With so many miles of staggering coast, it’s a lock that many oceanside courses will land on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for public-access layouts in California. But it certainly isn’t a requirement. Keep scrolling to see them all.

Golfweek’s Best offers many lists of course rankings, with the list of top public-access courses in each state among the most popular. All the courses on this list allow public access in some fashion, be it standard daily green fees, through a resort or by staying at an affiliated hotel. If there’s a will, there’s a tee time.

Also popular are the Golfweek’s Best rankings of top private courses in each state, and that list is likewise included below.

MORE COURSES: Best Modern | Best Classic | Top 200 Resort|
Top 200 Residential | Top 100 Best You Can Play

(m): Modern course, built in or after 1960
(c): Classic course, built before 1960
Note: If there is a number in the parenthesis with the m or c, that indicates where that course ranks among Golfweek’s Best top 200 modern or classic courses.

Golfweek’s Best 2022: Top public and private golf courses in Arkansas

The top-rated public access course in Arkansas is nestled in the south of the state not far from Louisiana.

Arkansas features plenty of variation in terrain, with plenty of mountainous golf in the north of the state. But to find the highest-ranked public-access golf course in Natural State, head south toward the Louisiana line.

There, in El Dorado, you’ll find Mystic Creek Golf Club, a Kenneth Dye Jr. layout that opened in 2013. Mystic Creek is the top-ranked layout in Arkansas on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for public golf.

Golfweek’s Best offers many lists of course rankings, with the list of top public-access courses among the most popular. All the courses on this list allow public access in some fashion, be it standard daily green fees, through a resort or by staying at an affiliated hotel. If there’s a will, there’s a tee time.

Also popular are the Golfweek’s Best rankings of top private courses in each state, and that list is likewise included below.

MORE COURSES: Best Modern | Best Classic | Top 200 Resort|
Top 200 Residential | Top 100 Best You Can Play

Golfweek’s Best 2022: Top 40 Campus Courses

Study guide: The cheat sheet for the best Campus Courses includes Yale, Culver Academies, Williams College and Texas Tech.

Welcome to Golfweek’s Best 2022 Campus Courses in the United States. This list focuses on courses owned and/or operated by colleges or other campuses, with data pulled from Golfweek‘s massive database of course rankings.

The hundreds of members of Golfweek‘s course-ratings panel continually evaluate courses and rate them based on our 10 criteria. They also file a single, overall rating on each course. Those overall ratings on each course are averaged to produce a final rating for each that is then used to compile the Golfweek’s Best course rankings.

Listed with each course below is its average rating, location, designer(s) and whether the course is modern (m, built in or after 1960) or classic (c, built before 1960).

* New or returning to the list