America's weirdest golf courses

These unique - and sometimes awkward - golf courses provide an experience unlike any other.
Would you play at this golf course - a place with no grass in the fairways and allows seven-somes?

I've been lucky lately to play some of America's best golf courses.

I've also discovered some of its weirdest. I've played a golf course with virtually no grass on its fairways and another course where two different foursomes can be playing to the same green and not even realize it until they meet in an awkward moment of red-light, green-light in the fairway: Who plays next?

Just because these golf courses are "weird" doesn't mean they're bad. It just means they're different. Most golfers hate "different". The game is built on traditions that are supposed to be consistent from round to round. The funny thing is, some of my most memorable rounds have taken place on these "weird" courses. There's a place for different and unique in the game. As long as you tee it up with an open mind, these places can be just as interesting and fun as any course you've ever played.

  1. Pedernales Golf Club, Spicewood, Texas

    On the outskirts of Austin, the Pedernales Golf Club is more famously known as "Willie Nelson's Cutt-N-Putt". Although the nine-hole course adjacent to Nelson's ranch compound has lost virtually all of its fairway grass in recent years due to drought, it continues to attract of hodgepodge of customers from bargain hunters to Willie fans. These poor conditions explain the brutal GolfPass reviews, where the 3,000-yard course averages 1.7 stars.

    I won't try to convince you to try it, but I had a great time during a quick visit in October 2022. The layout is surprisingly excellent and the greens and tees were not any different from other munis I've played. The problem is those dusty, dirty, rocky fairways. Finding your tee shot is always a challenge. Random rocks in the severely sloping fairways kick the ball in every direction. I lost my best drive of the day who knows where? Hitting approach shots off of mats took some getting used to as well.

    Normally, running into a sixsome would ruin any day on the golf course. My experience at Willie's place was different: Maybe because the sign outside of the pro shop that reads "no more than 12 in your 4-some" prepared me for such shenanigans. I pulled up to the 8th tee just as an Eminem song started blasting from a radio in someone's cart. These local golfers were the only other group on the course. They were playing a friendly scramble and asked me to join. Mark, rocking a T-shirt, cowboy hat and sandals, offered me a beer. We were fast friends.

    Many golfers will hate playing the Cutt-N-Putt in its current state. Me? I'm always game for a casual round where the beer and camaraderie are more important than the score. For friendliness, I'd give the Cutt-N-Putt six stars.

    Sometimes, die-hard Nelson fans stop by hoping to catch a glimpse of the legendary folk hero and see his recording studio. Alas, Nelson, who turns 90 on April 29, doesn't play golf anymore. Buying some Willie merch in the pro shop will have to suffice. Check out this GolfChannel.com video about the Cutt-N-Putt golf experience.

    What's the weirdest golf course you've ever played? Let us know in the comments below.

  2. Gilroy Golf Course, Gilroy, Calif.

    The Gilroy Golf Course just might be the only 11-hole course on the planet. Playing it is a hoot as long as you know what you're signing up for. There are several choke points in this one-of-a-kind layout where foursomes come into conflict with one another. Essentially, golfers play the first seven holes twice on each nine, just from slightly different tee angles. That means the first hole is also the 10th, so your group could be making the turn and run into a new group playing its first hole of the day. The pro shop staff tries to manage such scenarios, but it happens.

    Where things get really interesting is the end of the front and back nines. The 8th and 9th holes climb up the left side of a big hill, while the 17th and 18th wind around the other side. Both the 9th and 18th tees deliver thrilling elevated tee shots to the same fairway and green! While my foursome was blasting away at the 264-yard finishing hole that seems like a drivable par 4 disguised as a par 3, another group was teeing off on no. 9, a 351-yard dogleg right with no line of sight to the green. Since none of my foursome hit the 18th green, we met the other group in the fairway. Talk about a surprise. Since our balls were closest to the green, we were allowed to wrap up our round first without much argument.

    I've only played Gilroy once, so I'm dying to go back and see what happens next time. I'm guessing it's always an adventure.

  3. Dannebrog Country Club, Dannebrog, Neb.
    The par-3 second hole at Dannebrog Country Club is called the "Bullpen" because it's guarded by the walls of an old grain silo.

    The nine-hole Dannebrog Country Club in rural Nebraska is a dying breed in America. As land becomes more and more valuable, courses with sand greens move closer and closer to extinction. It is one of the last remaining relics from a bygone era.

    Like the few remaining courses with sand greens in the heartland, Dannebrog's long-term future remains uncertain. A new owner, who purchased the land last year, raised the club's rent in negotiating a new three-year lease but also promised a couple of minor improvements, according to a 2022 story in the Grand Island Independent newspaper.

    This American throwback has roots to the 1920s and deserves to be treated with historical reverence for generations to come. Count me among the golfers who want Dannebrog to last another century.

    The novelty of playing on sand greens regularly attracts curious golfers. Out-of-towners leave their green fees in a locked honesty box. Dannebrog costs $8 a day to play and $100 for locals to join.

    "People come from all over," says John Janulewicz, who has served as the club's volunteer greenskeeper since 2014 and has been playing Dannebrog with his brother since 1991. "There was a guy who was a semipro (golfer) from Grand Island. He said he read about it and had to come out and try it."

    The course is famous for the "bullpen", the nickname of its 200-yard second hole with a green that sits inside an old grain silo. The silo's waist-high walls and barbed wire surrounding several other greens protect the putting surfaces from livestock. Every August, the club hosts a tournament called the "Bullpen Open" that attracts players from far and wide.

    "This is golf in its purest form," reads a GolfPass review from 2020. "Sand greens, natural fairways, no sprinklers and used to have cattle on the course. With a slough that comes into play on the first 4 holes, it has character. If you play it in the spring or early summer when there's been enough rain, it can have U.S. Open roughs or British Open feel. The true golfer should at least once in their lives play sand greens, and this is the one."

    Putting well on sand greens is definitely an acquired skill. Each of the greens is equipped with multiple rakes. When a ball reaches the green, golfers use a roller-type rake to smooth a path for putting. After holing out, golfers pull another rake in circles, creating grooves in the sand that keep other approach shots from rolling too far when they hit the green.

    "If you can putt straight, you can make a putt. There are some guys who don't miss," Janulewicz says. "There are other times where you get up there after a rain and you putt it clear past the hole. It depends how the sand is (rolling)."

  4. Bad Little Nine at Scottsdale National Golf Club, Scottsdale, Ariz.
    A view of two holes at The Bad Little Nine from Scottsdale National Golf Club.

    While the rest of the world tries to make the game more fun and accessible for all, the extremely private Scottsdale National Golf Club is doing the polar opposite with its Bad Little Nine, which debuted in 2016. Even though it's a little longer than 1,000 yards, it's so hard and extreme that it tortures everybody who tees it up. There are bunkers nobody can escape and sloping greens that only the most perfect shot can hold. As we all know, some golfers love a challenge, even if means getting humiliated.

  5. McVeigh's Gauntlet at Silves Valley Ranch, Seneca, Ore.
    McVeigh's Gauntlet Course is a rugged seven-hole layout.

    Almost everything about Silvies Valley Ranch, a remote golf resort in eastern Oregon three hours from Bend, veers from traditional golf. The Craddock and Hankins courses combine as one of America's rare reversible golf courses. But McVeigh's Gauntlet goes truly off the rails. It was built on severe terrain with five par 3s and two ultra-short par 4s. McVeigh's Gauntlet has gained even more notoriety for its fleet of 'goat' caddies. Yes, you can actually rent a goat to carry your clubs and accompany your round. Just don't expect any advice ... good or bad.

  6. Meadows Farms Golf Course, Locust Grove, Va.
    The longest hole in the United States is at Meadows Farms in Locust Grove, Va., and it's 841 yards.

    Meadows Farms isn't your typical 27-hole course. It's home to several of the wildest and wackiest golf holes in America. A former GolfPass staff writer gave it a test drive more than a decade ago.

    The 173-yard second hole on the Waterfall nine was built to mimic a baseball field, complete with a fence featuring advertising and a warning track bunker. The green resides in centerfield with the shot playing over a pitcher's mound and second base. Then, there's the 841-yard third hole on the Longest Hole nine. Although it's the longest hole in America - and a rare par 6 - it doesn't allow golfers to swing for the fences on every shot. Golfers might be forced to lay up as they plot their way over and around a series of hazards and turns in the fairway to get home. The Island nine boasts a warm-up par 4, so it's essentially a 10-hole loop. I should have included it in my recent story profiling courses with an odd number of holes.

    Although recent reviews call into question the course's conditioning, there's no doubting the wackiness of the layout. "This is a very fun course to play (with) great landscaping and some unique hole layouts. Included with the Island 9 is a practice hole to warm-up before keeping score. The par 6 is challenging but not impossible to par with strong 2nd and 3rd shots," wrote GolfPass reviewer 'CulpeperSteve'.

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  7. Cavendish Golf Course, Lanai City, Lanai, Hawaii
    A golfer rips a tee shot at Cavendish on Lanai.

    A golf course that has no clubhouse and costs nothing to play? Yeah, that's weird ... and wonderful! Welcome to Cavendish, the nine-holer in Lanai City on the Hawaiian island of Lanai that's cared for entirely by local volunteers. It's a little rough around the edges, but the 3,071-yard layout is fantastic. Its fairways climb hills while being framed by towering Cook pines. It's just a short walk from one of the best golf resorts I've ever visited - Sensei Lanai.

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  8. Lava Links, Soap Lake, Wash.

    There are multiple courses vying for the unflattering title of America's "worst" golf course - just check out what Google digs up here and here. My vote goes to Lava Links in Soap Lake, Wash. I love this King-5 TV news report of golfers attempting to play nine holes through the sagebrush, sand and basalt rocks. The locals take pride there's no grass, which means there's no water issues to worry about in today's drought climate. Lava Links looks almost as rugged and desolate as the "Devils Golf Course" in Death Valley. And, for the record, GolfPass does not feature a course guide page for either place. They're golf courses in imagination only.

    The Devils Golf Course is one of the many landmarks in Death Valley.

  9. Texas Rangers Golf Club, Arlington, Texas

    What is it with Texas? There are two golf courses outside Dallas that are dedicated to professional teams in sports other than golf - the Cowboys Golf Club (football) in Grapevine and Texas Rangers Golf Club (baseball) in Arlington. Although I think both alliances are a bit hokey, the affiliation with the Rangers really baffles me. Every athlete knows that the baseball swing ruins the golf swing and vice versa, so why marry the two sports together? Well, the Rangers do play less two miles away ...

    There is one thing I like about this gimmicky marketing ploy - an on-deck circle near the first tee where golfers can hit a few drives into the driving range as a warm-up for the opening par-5 hole. It's perfect for golfers who are running late and don't have time for any pre-game swings. Yardage markers that look like home plates are another homage to baseball laid throughout the course. Let's just hope your round doesn't take as long as a typical baseball game.

  10. The Horse Course at The Prairie Club, Valentine, Neb.
    A sunny day view of a hole on the Horse Course at the The Prairie Club.

    When the Horse Course at The Prairie Club, debuted in Valentine, Neb., in 2010, it was definitely ahead of its time. The layout consists of 10 holes, but golfers aren't supposed to play them in any sort of order. The goal of this short course of 1,175 yards was to force players to be creative by picking their next shot, similar to the game of horse in basketball. Just drop a ball, point to a green and play that "hole" as long as another group isn't in the way. Keeping score during the entire round isn't the goal. It's to play a series of hole-by-hole matches for betting purposes. Those who do it right will have a lot of fun.

    GolfPass Local Advisor 'GolferJake78' gave us a glowing review of the experience from 2022: "I am not the biggest fan of short courses, so I wasn't expecting much. However, I was blown away by how fun the course was. In fact, I had so much fun that I played it twice. As the name suggests, you play the course like you would play a game of horse. The lowest score on the prior hole picks the teeing ground and you play to the next green. This allows for a lot of variety, and a ton of fun. We created holes ranging from 46 yards to 111 yards. We took only one club with us which we also used to putt. If you visit the Prairie Club make sure you set aside some time to play the horse course. You will not be disappointed by this quick, fun, 10-hole course."

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,100 courses and written about golf destinations in 25 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
4 Comments

Was great to meet you Jason! You have an open invitation to play with the “Willie Herd” any time you want where we will exceed the maximum allowed 12 in our foursomes.

Mark

Tobacco Road in the sandhills of North Carolina is quite a zany course. Your safe play is to only land on a green surface. If you do not you are probably in a bunker, a sand dune, in sagebrush or on the side of a hill. This course is a must play to anyone who wants a very unusual golf experience. The bunkers are so large that they let you ride your cart in them. The clubhouse even charges a fee to those who just want to sight see. Google this course then play it for zany enjoyment.

I'm thinking of "The Mad Russian" near Johnstown, CO. One hole you drive across another hole's fairway to get to your tee box. One hole you "drive" over one lake and then your second shot (if you're lucky) is a short iron over another. Strictly an "over hill over dale" course with trouble brewing on every hole.

i have tee'd it up on the Bad Little Nine, lots of fun!!

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America's weirdest golf courses