Playing where the pros play definitely has its allure.
All golfers want to play the holes they see on TV. And, true to the competitive instincts of any golfer, they want to see if they can do better than Rory or Tiger or JT, even if just for one hole.
The problem with chasing PGA Tour venues is twofold: Cost and difficulty. Do you really want to pay $350 to shoot 98? That's the reality for most of us trying to take on a water-logged TPC or a firm-and-fast classic guarded by heavy rough. It's time to adjust your perspective.
Playing the venues that host LPGA Tour and the Epson Tour, the newly sponsored minor-league circuit for the ladies, makes much more sense. They're still high-caliber layouts, but maybe with a little less fanfare and more affordable green fees. They're by no means easy, but you'll certainly have a better shot to score well enough to walk off the 18th green smiling.
The recently announced new schedule for the Epson Tour is a big breakthrough for the women's game. The 21-tournament schedule will take competitors to 13 states, offering $4.41 million in total prize money and an average purse size of $210,000. Both figures eclipse the previous all-time records ($4 million and $194,000) set in 2019 and 2021, respectively.
Another monumental milestone is the largest single-event purse in Tour history - $335,000 - at the French Lick Resort Charity Championship contested on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, which has hosted the Epson Tour since 2017 on its Donald Ross Course. The $50,000 winner’s check will amount to more than the season earnings ($47,283) of P.K. Kongkraphan in 2013, the No. 1 player in the Race for the LPGA Tour Card that year.
The 2022 season begins this week with the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic at the Country Club of Winter Haven in Winter Haven, Fla. Other than this opening-event venue, most of the tournament hosts are public courses, many of which are quite affordable.
The most expensive greens fees of the 14 public and resort golf courses hosting Epson Tour events average about $107 per round ($88 if you take out the $350 greens fee at French Lick). That cost drops significantly on weekdays and during the offseason. For some perspective, the average greens fee to play the publicly-accessible courses of the PGA Tour is likely double the cost. Here's a deeper look at the 14 Epson Tour venues:
* Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Ariz., hosts the Carlisle Arizona Women's Golf Classic March 17-20. A Ken Kavanaugh design, Longbow (4.3 star average on GolfPass) is known as a good value with lots of desert scenery considering there are no homes on the course. Green fees: $35-$168.
* Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon in Beaumont, Calif., hosts the IOA Championship Presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa March 25-27. Morongo features two courses, the tournament host Champions (3.9) and Legends (4.1). Both are early 2000s designs by Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt. Green fees: $50-$70.
* Sewailo Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz., hosts the Casino Del Sol Golf Classic March 31-April 3. Designed by Notah Begay, Sewailo (4.6) has ranked among the top dozen courses in the state according to Golfers' Choice every year since 2014, including No. 8 in 2022. Green fees: $57-$79.
* Copper Rock Golf Course in Hurricane, Utah, hosts the Copper Rock Championship April 21-23. I got the chance to play Copper Rock in 2019 right before it opened and came away stunned by its beauty and fun factor. Copper Rock (4.9) forms a formidable 1-2 punch with nearby Sand Hollow Resort for any golf getaway to the Greater Zion region. Green fees: $80-$135.
* Buffalo Dunes Golf Club in Garden City, Kansas, hosts the Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes April 29-May 1. This muni, designed by Frank Hummel in 1976, only has three reviews but they're all five stars. Green fees: $20-$45.
* Mission Inn Resort & Club's El Campeon Course in Howey-In-The-Hills, Fla., hosts the Inova Mission Inn Resort and Club Championship May 27-29. Sitting on the outskirts of Orlando, El Campeon (4.5) features hilly land on an engaging layout that's more than a century old (1917). Green fees: $69-$99.
* Sweetgrass Golf Club at the Island Resort & Casino in Harris, Mich., hosts the Island Resort Championship June 24-26. Sweetgrass (5.0), designed by Paul Albanese, is highlighted by an island green and parallel par 5s finishing each nine. Green fees: $60-$85.
* The French Lick Resort's Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind., hosts the French Lick Charity Championship August 4-7. Competing on the dangerous and difficult Pete Dye Course (5.0) will be much more exacting than the classic Donald Ross Course. Green fees: $350.
* Circling Raven Golf Club in Worley, Idaho, hosts the Circling Raven Championship August 26-28. Circling Raven (4.9) by Gene Bates has blossomed into one of the premier courses of the Mountain West. It is an amenity of the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel. Green fees: $65-$149.
* Wildhorse Golf Course in Pendleton, Ore., hosts the Wildhorse Ladies Classic Sept. 2-4. Wildhorse (4.3) by Architect John Steidel is a linksy casino resort course that some consider an oasis in northeast Oregon's desert landscape. Green fees: $35 and up.
* Capitol Hill Golf Club in Prattville, Ala., hosts the Guardian Championship Sept. 16-18. Capitol Hill is one of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail's premier facilities with 54 holes between The Judge (the tournament venue), The Senator and the Legislator courses. Green fees: $47-$86.
* Mystic Creek Golf Club in El Dorado, Ark., hosts the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout Sept. 23-25. Mystic Creek (4.9) fared extremely well in the 2022 Golfers' Choice, ranking No. 1 in the state and landing in the top 25 nationally for layout (2), off-course amenities (8), pace of play (14) and friendliest staff (19). Green fees: $40-$60.
* Ol' Colony Golf Course in Tuscaloosa, Ala., hosts a yet-to-be-named event Sept. 29-Oct. 2. Ol' Colony (4.6), a city muni, was designed by local legend Jerry Pate in 2000. Green fees: $28-$59.
* LPGA International's Jones Course in Daytona Beach, Fla., hosts the Epson Tour Championship Oct. 6-9. The Jones Course (4.5) was designed by Rees Jones in 1994 as the original course on property, predating the Hills Course (4.5) by four years. It will provide a fitting end to what should be an exciting season of competition. Green fees: $77-$108.
Which Epson Tour venues would you most like to play? Let us know in the comments below.