The old college try: My eight favorite university golf courses

One of the best places to look for great golf is on a college campus. Many of those courses, however, aren't open to outside play; some aren't even open to students. But many are available to the public, aren't expensive to play and were designed by some of the game's best architects.

Here are eight of my favorites:

The only Tom Doak-designed golf course in Texas is also the most links-like course in Texas, even though The Rawls Course at Texas Tech is hundreds of miles from the coast. Opened in 2003, it's somewhat reminiscent of another great inland Doak design, Ballyneal in Colorado, which is ranked among the world's best 100 by more than one publication. The Rawls was actually built below grade level to give the illusion that there's more elevation change than meets the eye when you first drive up. Imminently walkable, tees and greens are close together; there are a myriad shots that can be played on every approach and shots around the green and old world bunkers, uneven lies and a little water that comes into play. Best of all, Lubbock is as windy as any coastline, so depending on direction, holes can be almost unreachable or driver-wedge.

This wonderful 2009 John Harbottle design, which plays more than 7,300 yards from the tips, is a blend of parkland and links elements with views from many tee boxes as far as the eye the can see. There are a few blind shots, such as the first hole, but for the most part the golf course is right in front of you, giving players an array of options on their approaches ranging from playing the slopes to flying it to the hole. The golf course was also built with the environment in mind. Among the highlights is a geothermal heating and cooling system under the hillside of the third hole to save both power and fuel. The course's modern clubhouse is also a great spot for having a craft beer after a round out on the patio.

Formerly the home of a Tour event, the University of Georgia Golf Course is a must-play if you're in the Athens area. Opened in 1968, and originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, the 7,251-yard par 71 has played host the NCAA Women's Championship six times as well as other high profile collegiate and amateur events. Since 1990, the pine-lined course has undergone many improvements, including a renovation by architect John LaFoy, new irrigation, new tees and news greens complexes. With public green fees between $24 (nine holes on weekdays) and $70 (weekend with a cart), it's one of Georgia's best bargains.

Designed by D.J. Victor and opened in 1995, the 6,911-yard Walker was home to the 2003 NCAA champion Clemson golf team. This is a golf course that winds up and down hills and along the shores of Lake Hartwell, making it one of the more picturesque and challenging experiences in South Carolina. The last five holes are particularly good, including the signature, par-3 17th, which plays over a lake to a green surrounded by bunkers that appear to form a Clemson Tiger's paw. As a bonus, visitors can stay at the James F. Martin Inn, which features extremely comfortable accommodations at a reasonable rate.

Arguably in one of the best college settings in the country, the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame is not only accessible, but it's also one of the most affordable with green fees between $40 and $70 for the general public and even less than that during twilight. Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, this 7,000-yard parkland layout has classic square tee boxes, undulating greens and has played host to several USGA, NCAA and Western Golf Association championship events. The 250-acre layout is also a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

There are two excellent college courses in the Land of Enchantment, including the more heralded University of New Mexico Championship Course, but for day-in and day-out play, I like the one at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, just 45 minutes from El Paso, Texas. Framed by the Organ Mountains to the east and the Mesilla Valley to the west, the course is more parkland than desert. Opened in 1963, the 7,040-yard Floyd Farley design has played host to three NCAA National Championship tournaments along with a number of USGA qualifiers. In 2004, a new clubhouse was built. Other recent improvements include new bunkering, new tee boxes, improved practice facilities and concrete cart paths.

This 7,002-yard par 70 golf course is somewhat reminiscent of a Scottish links course with Pete Dye's signature pot bunkers on many holes, mounding and undulating greens mixed in with a few railroad ties here and there. Perhaps the best part about the campus course is that most of the holes are distinctively different, including some long par 4s, a couple of short risk-reward holes and nice collection of par 3s, none of which look alike. During the summer, you can play the course for under $25, which is pretty good in any market, much less Phoenix-Scottsdale. There's also the Ping Learning Center, which offers private or group lessons, video analysis and club-fitting. And you can warm up or work on your game on an expansive range, practice putting green and short-game area. The two-story clubhouse features a well stocked golf shop, casual dining and an expansive outdoor patio overlooking the course. There's also a permanent tribute to former ASU golfer Heather Farr, who died of cancer in 1993 at 28 years old.

Often overshadowed by pricey and mostly private Karsten Creek Golf Club at nearby Oklahoma State, Oklahoma University's Jimmie Austin Golf Club, is open to the public and excellent in its own right. Located just a few hundred yards away from Oklahoma Memorial Stadium right on the OU campus, this very well maintained 7,400-yard course is a terrific test in an enjoyable environment. Designed by native Oklahoman Perry Maxwell, it opened in 1951 and was renovated in 1996 by Bob Cup and has been improving ever since. Home to the OU golf teams, the course has played host to the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 2009, 2013 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship and NCAA Regional Championships in 2012 (men's) and 2013 (women's). It also has outstanding practice facilities, large golf shop and tasty clubhouse restaurant.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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The old college try: My eight favorite university golf courses
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