The great pandemic migration rolls along as many Americans are opting out of high-cost, high-density or high-tax areas for cheaper housing and a slower pace (of lifestyle, not home internet).
The proliferation of remote work is freeing up time for golfers to sneak in a few extra holes during the week and choose a residence with less or no consideration of a daily commute.
You may be considering a move yourself. And while the pandemic has caused many Americans to flee for the farms of Vermont or mountains of Montana, the draw of major metropolitan areas is still strong thanks to the airports, hospitals, culture and job opportunities. Golf has been one of the best ways for city dwellers to seek green space during the prolonged pandemic.
But not all cities are created equal when it comes to the accessibility of nearby golf. That much was clear when I looked into just how many courses - and whether they were public or private - each metro area offers its residents.
To find out which cities are the best for golfers, I chose to look at population per golf course within 30 miles of each metro area's city center. This provides a good indication of how healthy the golf market is for its residents. The more supply per resident is a good hint that green fees are competitive and within reach, especially east of the Mississippi where water is generally easier to come by and land values inside the coasts are lower. I applied a 30-mile radius for each city to find out how many residents per golf course the metro contains.
Courses within 30 miles of 56 major U.S. metro areas over 1 million residents according to the 2020 Census account for over 4,700 courses according to our GolfPass course guide. That equates to roughly 30% of the nation's inventory.
Exactly how "public" is golf in American major metros? The median percent of public-access courses according to our database is 68%.
(Editor's Note: We do our best to designate a difference between "private" and "semi-private" courses in our course guide but clubs can change back and forth between allowing public access depending on the year or even season.)
While I was generally pleased with how much golf many of these metros offer, there are some pretty frightening numbers in others. You may not be surprised to know that it's not easy scoring a tee time in New York City, where there are 170,000 residents per golf course. Per public golf course? More than 419,000 residents per course within 30 miles of the city. You've gotta really work to secure a tee time in the Big Apple.
As far as metros with a sheer lack of golf courses, the bottom of the barrel is Fresno, California. Its metro is home to more than 1 million people but just 14 golf courses, eight pf which are public. If lifestyle allows, golfers here would be much better off seeking residence north on Highway 99 in Modesto or Stockton.
But the good seems to outweigh the bad when looking at golf in America's major metro areas. After all, the country encompasses nearly half the golf course supply in the world. And with closures slowing to a crawl following a decade of contraction, the vast majority of facilities that remain appear healthy and popular.
Top 10 Big Cities for Golfers
Based on residents per golf course within 30 miles of metro areas over 1 million residents.
Population: 1.21 million | Residents per course: 15,361 | Courses within 30 miles: 79
While there may be northeast metros with more prestigious private clubs, Hartford is the clear champ in the region when it comes to accessible golf (it also has far lower home prices compared to metro NYC, Boston or Philly). Part of the reason why the residents per course is so low is that the region's population stayed flat from 2010-2020 while most other cities' grew (although the nearby city of Torrington was one of the country's top "net-in" migration areas in 2020).
Hartford is also close enough to Springfield, Mass. that many of those markets' courses like The Ranch in Southwick is in play. Hartford has 55 public-access courses within 30 miles of the city, and municipal Keney Park Golf Course, minutes from downtown, is one of the most ambitious muni renovations of the past decade. Other munis in the area like Timberlin Golf Course are affordable and popular. Highly rated nine-hole (Indian Springs) and executive courses (Portland Golf Course West) make Hartford a great golf city for all abilities and budgets.
Read Hartford Golf Course reviews by GolfPass Connecticut Local Advisor AptlyLinked
Population: 2.25 million | Residents per course: 17,098 | Courses within 30 miles: 132
Cincinnati, on the state's southern border along the Ohio River, has more golf courses within 30 miles than the much larger markets of Atlanta, Chicago and New York City. Residents also enjoy a golf season that is longer than that of upper-Midwest cities like Detroit, Milwaukee or Minneapolis. And among the three major metros in Ohio, not only does Cincy have more overall courses than Columbus and Cleveland, it also boasts a higher public access percentage as well (72%).
Area public courses are generally affordable, including six Cincinnati Recreation Commission layouts. There are some standouts like casino-affiliated Belterra, just over the border in Indiana. Top courses Stonelick Hills and Pendleton Hills each have stellar all-time overall ratings on GolfPass, both higher than 4.7/5.0.
Population: 1.04 million | Residents per course: 18,357 | Courses within 30 miles: 59
Tucson has just 59 courses compared to Phoenix-Scottsdale's 220. But with just over 1 million residents, the courses-per-capita remains noticeably lower. Tucson also has a very high percentage (79%) of public-access facilities that include its many dazzling resort properties. It may be less than two hours drive south on I-10, and yet its elevation is over 1,000 feet higher, making summertime average high temperatures around 5 degrees cooler (we'll take it).
As for home values, Zillow rates Tucson's median home value at $283k vs. $369k in Phoenix. Tucson's five-course municipal golf offering is a jewel for townies, led by the 36-hole facility Randolph Golf Complex. Stay-cation golf abounds at resorts like Westin La Paloma, Omni Tucson National, Ventana Canyon, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Hilton El Conquistador and Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain.
Population: 2.11 million | Residents per course: 18,357 | Courses within 30 miles: 115
In terms of golf course rankings, Columbus and Chicago's private clubs often earn the most recognition. But in between Illinois and Ohio, the Circle City's public access trumps both. Indy residents can enjoy a wide range of public Pete Dye designs from The Fort to Brickyard Crossing, or seek out a Crooked Stick invitation. Green fees at Indianapolis' best courses like Bear Slide or Purgatory are in the neighborhood of $50-75, making it a rather affordable top shelf. Neighboring college towns West Lafayette and Bloomington also have some of the best public-access collegiate courses in the Midwest.
Population: 3.69 million | Residents per course: 18,360 | Courses within 30 miles: 201
Besides the shorter golf season, Minneapolis-St. Paul checks just about every box in terms of being a golfer's paradise. Despite being the 16th largest metro in the U.S., the courses per capita rating remains exceptional with better access than Chicago and Milwaukee and a virtual dead-heat with Indianapolis. Only Phoenix has more courses (220).
Public golfers can rejoice as well; more than 83% of courses have public access, second only to tourist-centric Orlando. The PGA of America loves bringing majors and Ryder Cups to Hazeltine, while the nearby Chaska Town Course is one of the most popular public facilities.
Population: 1.26 million | Residents per course: 18,630 | Courses within 30 miles: 69
Is Louisville Valhalla for golfers? Maybe so. While the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup venue gobbles up most of the national eyeballs, residents are spoiled with a lot of affordable choices among 48 public-access courses within 30 miles. A big reason why is the city's 10 municipal courses. Those golfers who want a step up can find a collection of more upscale daily-fee courses led by Heritage Hill and Nevel Meade. Fuzzy Zoeller even owns a couple daily-fees, Champions Pointe and Covered Bridge, that are area favorites. Chariot Run is a top casino-affiliated course just southwest of town near the Ohio River and a multiple-time Golfers' Choice Top 50 selection.
Population: 1.08 million | Residents per course: 18,752 | Courses within 30 miles: 58
The Grand Rapids metro area grew by over 9% between 2010 and 2020 census and is now home to more than 1 million residents. Formerly known as the furniture capital of the Midwest, the city has transformed into a medical, education and tech hotbed, and its microbrewery scene is among the nation's best. G.R. is also the place to go for public and affordable Mike Devries-designed courses. His Pilgrim's Run, The Mines and Diamond Springs are all considered among the best value courses in the Midwest. Kent County's L. E. Kaufman Golf Course is popular, as is the city's Indian Springs, while The Meadows at Grand Valley State is one of the top-rated public college courses in the Midwest. | Trip Dispatch: Golf in Grand Rapids
Population: 1.09 million | Residents per course: 19,821 | Courses within 30 miles: 55
Rochester and New York's Finger Lakes have an illustrious history in the sport as the birthplace of Walter Hagen and architect Robert Trent Jones Sr., while Oak Hill is the city's prized major championship venue. So it's nice to see that in 2021, the city's golf is abundant for all. With 76% of its 55 courses offering public tee times, the city is 8th in terms of public-access golf. The modern Ravenwood Golf Club is considered by many the pre-eminent daily-fee facility, while Mill Creek features an 18-hole and par-3 course open to the public. The county also operates three 18-hole courses, including an RTJ design at Durand Eastman and a 19th century course, Genesee Valley Park, founded in 1899.
St. Louis, Missouri
Population: 2.82 million | Residents per course: 20,891 | Courses within 30 miles: 135
St. Louis only grew by 2% from 2010-2020, helping lower its per capita number when it comes to golf courses, and its 135 courses within 30 miles is 7th most in the U.S. It's also a highly affordable metro area to live in ($161k median home value per Zillow) with a long golf season as long as you can handle warm spells in the summertime. Compared to Kansas City, St. Louis has a slightly lower public-access percentage (70%) but slightly more options per capita. PGA Championship host Bellerive Country Club is the best-known private club, while there are some historic public courses like Forest Park in the heart of the city, as well as Normandie Golf Course, which was established in 1901 and is set to be renovated by Jack Nicklaus. Other favorites include Gateway National in the shadow of the famous Arch and Annbriar Golf Course across the Mississippi in Illinois.
Check out St. Louis course reviews from GolfPass Local Advisor CharlesEmerson
Population: 1.67 million | Residents per course: 20,957 | Courses within 30 miles: 80
Here's another sneaky, "little big city" in the northeast with more golf access than you might think. Providence has plenty of golf to sample both within state lines down south in Newport, as well and east or north of the border in Massachusetts towns like Rehoboth and Bellingham. It's also a market with many small and historic courses like Agawam Hunt and the Donald Ross-designed Triggs Memorial that is under $50 walking on weekends. Its public-access percentage of 67% is middle-of-the-road but some private standouts in the area have been known to post public tee times online during certain weeks. The metro's median home value of $314k via Zillow is less than half that of Boston's ($697k). Only 90 miles separate the No. 1 big city on this list from the 10th. New England remains prime golf territory.
Editor's Note: We excluded Buffalo, N.Y. from this list because despite having a strong courses per capita number, over 30 courses in the metro area are across the border in Canada.