An honor box. I’ve seen it a few times in my travels. It's a concept that always gives me hope for humanity, and at hidden gems like Cavendish Golf Course, a nine-hole course on the Hawaiian island of Lanai, it screams head-shaking value.
There’s that word again. Value. It’s gold in the golf industry. Every course wants to be considered a great value. Every avid golfer wants to feel like they received great value. And yet, it’s a relative term. A sliding scale not only based on individual budgets, the product that is presented, but it’s also based on the competition, which could be local and/or national. I always say that I have a hard time explaining value as it relates to a golf course and overall experience, but I know it when I see it and play it.
For example, at the opposite end of the Cavendish spectrum is Bethpage Black, which has hosted several U.S. Opens and PGA Tour events and will be the Ryder Cup venue in 2024. Yet, at $150 on weekends for people who don’t live in New York, it’s still a great value. But $150 and Bethpage Black is where I’ll draw this value line, and it will be the top step on my ladder of value golf in America.
As for everything in between, there’s a Pete Dye design and several Donald Ross designs for less than $50. There’s a Dr. Alister Mackenzie design for $30, and an A.W. Tillinghast original for $60. Then there’s The Classic at Madden's in Brainerd, Minn., which was designed by the superintendent, Scott Hoffman. His portfolio of courses starts and ends at The Classic. Not a bad way to go in and out of the design business, and for anyone who pays to play it, it’s a great value.
For the most part, I used weekend peak-season prices, but in some cases I took liberties with replay rates, 36-hole specials and off-season options at a place like Bandon Dunes, where you can play in the winter months for $100. With almost 60 courses represented on this list, I’ve played all but three, which is noted in the reviews. And in one case, I solicited a course and review from my social followers. (See the Mullen Golf Club.)
If value is “one’s judgment of what’s important in life,” this list is certainly my judgment of what’s important in my golfing life, and I hope it helps yours.
Matt Ginella's ladder of value golf in the U.S.
$10 - Cavendish Golf Course, Lanai City, Hawaii
The shuttle to Lanai from Maui will cost you $60, but a quick nine at Cavendish is only $10 in an honor box.
$13 - Hershey Country Club – Spring Creek (9 holes), Hershey, Pa.
Milton Hershey was and continues to be one of the great philanthropists in American history, and what he left behind at Spring Creek is a fun and affordable generational playground.
$15 - Mullen Golf Club (9 holes), Mullen, Ne.
My “Reader’s Choice” entry comes from Mark Brenner, an Instagram follower: “This is a great little nine-hole layout. Play for $15 for nine holes, or $20 to play all day. You put your money in an honor box.”
$16 - The Loma Club (9 holes), San Diego, Calif.
At the Loma Club, ownership has a winning menu, both on and off this San Diego short course, which is only minutes from the airport.
$19 - Winter Park Golf Course (9 holes), Winter Park, Fla.
It’s over 100 years old and was losing money, then along came Keith Rhebb, Riley Johns and a $1.2 million investment into a course that winds through one of the great little cities in Florida. You’ll cross the street six times at one of the most walkable and enjoyable short courses in the country.
$19 - Kahuku Golf Course (9 holes), Kahuku, Oahu, Hawaii
On the North Shore of Oahu, just beyond the Palmer Course at Turtle Bay, Kahuku is the face of value golf in Hawaii.
$20 - Sweetens Cove (9 holes), South Pittsburg, Tenn.
One of the few I haven’t played on this list, but Sweetens Cove is so good it has put a nine-hole course and the King-Collins design team in national rankings and on the map of true value golf.
$25 - The Aiken Golf Club, Aiken, S.C.
With history dating back to 1912 and roots to a man who worked with Donald Ross, there have been several lives of the Aiken Golf Club, but one thing is for sure, to pay $25 to walk this course is a steal.
$30 - Peter Hay Golf Course (9 holes), Pebble Beach, Calif.
A lot of people complain about a $500 green fee to play Pebble Beach, but right across the street, no one complains about $30 to play Peter Hay. Kids 12 and under play free.
$30 - Lions Municipal Golf Course, Austin, Texas
It was a home of desegregation in the early 1950s, it’s on the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and it’s where Ben Crenshaw grew up playing golf. And if the University of Texas tries to churn it up this Austin green space, it will be a public relations nightmare.
$30 - Northwood Golf Club (9 holes), Monte Rio, Calif.
$32 - Goat Hill Park, Oceanside, Calif.
It’s short, fast, fun and affordable. In other words, all that’s good about muny golf in America. And now they’ve added a three-hole kid’s course. John Ashworth and the city of Oceanside are getting well-deserved attention for saving Goat Hill Park and putting smiles on the faces of golfers that take on this quirky and unique routing.
$38 - Forest Hills Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
Just down the street from Augusta National, the home of Augusta University and former Donald Ross design can be played by students for $18.
$40 - Jeffersonville Golf Club, Jeffersonville, Pa.
One of the best Donald Ross designs for less than $50. And there are more of those than you think.
$40 - Peninsula Golf Resort, Lancaster, Ky.
A Pete Dye design for less than $50. There are not a lot of those.
$40 - Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club, Bremerton, Wash.
This John Harbottle design has received national recognition for its value and quality, especially if you pay $80 and include a same-day round on Gold Mountain’s Cascade course.
$42 - Coronado Golf Course, Coronado, Calif.
Enjoy the value, the locals, a quick look at “Hotel Del” and a finishing stretch along the San Diego Bay.
$42 - Keney Park Golf Club, Hartford, Conn.
A rich history, a recent renovation and some local TLC has this Hartford muny back in the short grass.
$45 - Papago Golf Course, Phoenix, Ariz.
The new home of the Arizona State University men’s and women’s golf teams is getting a massive renovation by none other than Phil Mickelson, which will include a “state-of-the-art practice facility,” restaurant and clubhouse. But will green fees stay the same? We’ll have to wait and see.
$45 - Weequahic Park Golf Course, Newark, N.J.
This is so good, I had to share it with the viewers of Morning Drive.
$45 - George Wright Golf Course, Hyde Park, Mass.
Only 30 minutes from downtown Boston, this storied muny and Donald Ross design will knock your (Red) Sox off.
$48 - Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii
One of Hawaii’s more popular military courses is a William P. Bell design. Bell Worked with George Thomas in the building of Bel-Air Country Club, Riviera Country Club and Los Angeles Country Club. Active members of the military can play unlimited golf in the afternoon for $29.
$50 - Balboa Park Golf Course, San Diego, Calif.
In the shadow of the Torrey Pines courses, Balboa Park, another William P. Bell design, might be a more popular San Diego muny for thrifty locals.
$50 - The Cradle at Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, N.C.
Pay once, but as of right now, you can play this Gil Hanse design all day.
$55 - Warren Golf Course, Notre Dame, Ind.
This has to be the least expensive course in the illustrious Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design portfolio.
$55 - Whispering Pines Golf Course, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
To say it’s the best value along Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand is all you need to know.
$58 - Bear Trace at Harrison Bay State Park, Harrison, Tenn.
If you’re planning a buddies trip to Crossville, which they call the golf capital of Tennessee, build in a round at Bear Trace.
$58 - West Course at the Country Club of Miami, Miami, Fla.
With ties to names like Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Gleason, Hope and Crosby, the West course is a trip through the history of golf in Miami.
$60 - Wailua Municipal Golf Course, Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii
Any golfer taking a trip to Kauai and not playing at least one round at Wailua is missing out on a slice of culture, non-pretentious passionate golfers and one of the best value options in the country.
$60 - Commonground Golf Course, Aurora, Colo.
Home of the Colorado Golf Association and the Solich Brothers Caddie and Leadership Academy, the Tom Doak design is yet another example of all that’s possible at a full-service and affordable golf facility that’s neighboring a big city.
$60 - Brackenridge Park Golf Course, San Antonio, Texas
“Old Brack” is a A.W. Tillinghast design that’s fun, affordable and walkable, and it’s also the home of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame, which is well worth your time.
My favorite of the 11 hubs of value golf along the RTJ Trail, this is especially attractive during the start of college football season. Both 18s are better than good, and so is the Short course.
$66 - Cochiti Golf Club, Cochiti Lake, N.M.
I got to play it on a travel story to Santa Fe and can’t wait to go back. It’s remote with no surrounding houses and has a fun routing and some spectacular scenery.
$67 - Rustic Canyon Golf Course, Moorpark, Calif.
A Gil Hanse design, with input from Geoff Shackelford, Rustic Canyon is widely considered the best value play in the Los Angeles area.
$69 - Pilgrim’s Run Golf Club, Pierson, Mich.
Value golf in the great state of Michigan gets a lot deserving hype, but not enough goes to Pilgrim’s Run.
$71 - Pacific Grove Golf Links, Pacific Grove, Calif.
You can’t do a value list of golf in America without including Pacific Grove. Sharing the same section of California coastline with the likes of Pebble Beach and Cypress Point, Pacific Grove is where you’ll find the smart and thrifty locals.
$78 - St. John’s Golf and Country Club, St. Augustine, Fla.
When anyone asks me for a value play in the Jacksonville area, I send them to St. John’s. I’ve never had a complaint.
$78 - Aspen Lakes Golf & Country Club, Sisters, Ore.
Central Oregon is an underrated hub of great golf and outdoor activities, but if you skip a value round at Aspen Lakes, you’ll be making a big mistake.
$84 - Bandon Crossings, Bandon, Ore.
Nearly across the street from Bandon Dunes, this is where you’ll find Bandon caddies and golf’s true value-seekers.
$85 - Puakea Golf Course, Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii
Formerly a nine-hole Robin Nelson design, they expanded this old sugarcane plantation to 18 holes in 2003. It offers a wide variety of shots and views as you make your way over and through some classic Hawaiian landscape.
$93 - TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Ill.
Easily the best value in the TPC Network, you’ll want to enjoy every step as you try to slow the walk at Deere Run.
$95 - Lawsonia Links, Green Lake, Wis.
Another one of the few on this list I haven’t played, but it makes it because of the positive reviews, its reputation and my fear of loyal locals harassing me on social media.
$96 - Montauk Downs, Montauk, N.Y.
If you ever find yourself anywhere near the eastern tip of Long Island, stop off and take the clubs out of the trunk to play a Robert Trent Jones original where residents of New York pay less than $50.
$96 - Red Course at Bethpage State Park, Farmingdale, N.Y.
Forever in the shadow of the Black Course, locals will tell you they prefer the Red, not just for playability, but also for affordability.
A 36-hole complex in a remote corner of Minnesota, but it’s well worth the drive and the sense of discovery for these two distinctly different, but equally charming layouts.
$100 - Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, (Nov. 19 - January), Bandon, Ore.
A lot of people harp on the price to play great golf in America but fail to realize that in the winter months along the southwest coast of Oregon, you can catch days of no rain, temperatures in the low 60s, and golf for $100. And if you’re first out and fast, you might have time for 36, which would only cost you $150 to play two of the best courses in the country.
$110 - The Classic at Madden’s Resort, Brainerd, Minn.
I didn’t know the phrase “value golf” until I stumbled upon the Classic at Madden’s Resort. Ever since that first impression, it has shaped my value assessment of every course on and off this list.
These two Tom Fazio designs can be played in one day and on a peak season weekend for $178, which is still $32 less than what a resort guest pays for one round at Streamsong Resort.
$130 - Greywalls, Marquette, Mich.
Mike DeVries is getting national attention for the work he has done at Kingsley Club in Michigan and Cape Wickham Links in Tasmania, but you can’t mention his name without someone asking, "Have you played Greywalls?" Your answer should be, "Yes!"
It’s two courses, with Bayonet getting most of the ink and recognition, but the real value is to pay $205 and play both Bayonet and Black Horse in one day.
$150 - Black Course at Bethpage State Park, Farmingdale, N.Y.
Host of multiple U.S. Opens, tour events and a Ryder Cup in 2024, there’s a reason why people sleep in their cars to secure a tee time. The granddaddy of municipal golf in America, state residents pay $75 to play on peak-season weekends.