Golf is booming. While 2020 and 2021 have presented the world with unprecedented challenges, in the corners where people chase a little dimpled ball around for a few miles, things are going gangbusters. The lockdowns of 2020 left many people with little to do outside their homes…other than play golf.
As a result, rounds in the United States topped 500 million in 2020 after late-2010s totals trending below 450 million. And while many other activities opened back up in 2021, golf remained popular, with early indications suggesting that nationwide rounds will exceed even 2020’s gaudy total.
GolfPass has benefited from the surge as well. In 2020, we took in a record number of reviews, with more than 265,000 posted by golfers worldwide.
In 2021, we smashed that mark, with 320,000-plus reviews added to our world-class golf course database and ratings archive.
The result? An ever-clearer picture of what golfers from all corners of the game like and dislike about the places they play.
That’s what sets our Golfers’ Choice ranking apart from others. Rather than a reflection of the architecture- and conditioning-based tastes of a select few insiders, it is a snapshot of the whole golf experience.
How the Golfers' Choice Top 50 public courses were determined
You and your fellow golfers contributed to this list in unprecedented ways. A total of 3,421 publicly-accessible (including resort and semi-private) golf courses in the United States received more than 10 reviews in 2021, making them eligible for this list.
In determining the final rankings for the year, we weigh several sets of data. A course's overall rating matters, as do the six subcategories reviewers assess:
- Pace of Play
- Staff Friendliness
- Off-Course Amenities
In addition, we also factor a golfer's rating tendencies (i.e. how tough a grader he or she is) into the calculation of a particular course's final rating. Also, more active reviewers' course ratings get a little more weight, too (more reason for you to get involved and review the courses you play).
You'll notice that we provide green fee ranges with these course rankings, too. As you peruse the list, it should provide some context as to the way golfers view individual courses. Lower green fees tend to denote a more value-oriented course that consistently exceeds golfers' expectations, while the top-dollar courses on this list are resort or high-end public layouts that deliver on the promised experience.
This year’s Top 50 features an eclectic mix, from bucket-list resort layouts to hidden-gem mom-and-pop public courses and even some municipal standouts. Two college courses from perennial football-powerhouse universities also appear. Maybe your home course does, too. Or a course you’ll fall in love with on your travels this year.
You rated these 50 golf courses the best of 2021:
Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
Green Fees: $99-$149
Situated about 30 minutes east of Sarasota, Lakewood National is the cure for the common real estate development golf course. Homebuilder Lennar, which developed the 900-acre community, made the wise choice to hire Arnold Palmer Design Company to design its 36 holes, with architect Brandon Johnson taking the reins. Opened in 2017, the Commander was the club’s first course built, and Johnson took full advantage of the opportunity to turn a featureless, flat site into a thrilling 18-hole adventure that manages to be both playable for members and visitors while also hosting the Korn Ferry Tour’s LECOM Suncoast Classic since 2019.
The greens help make the Commander a course you would be glad to play regularly. With interesting contours and multiple sections, every hole can play significantly differently one day to the next. Standouts include the Punchbowl par-3 8th with its massive sunken putting surface, and the reachable par-4 13th, which provides drama from every tee box.
In addition to its fascinating layout, the Commander topped our list on the strength of high marks across every one of our categories, but especially Conditioning and Friendliness.
One note: if you’re eager to play the course, do so quickly. With the community filling up, Lakewood National will likely transition to a fully private membership model in the coming years.
What they’re saying: “Loved playing Lakewood National Commander course! Long, fair course. In beautiful shape. Amenities are top of the line and staff very friendly. Practice facility is the nicest I’ve ever seen. Cart girl always around and several water stations. Highly recommend.” - Rayslow
Green fees: $60-$115
Architects Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley laid out Copper Canyon's 27 holes in 2007. Despite being somewhat off the beaten path compared to other Phoenix/Scottsdale courses, it is clearly worth the effort to reach, thanks to a winning mix of quality conditioning, scenic views and brisk pace of play.
What they're saying: "Conditions at this course are outstanding. And I don't mean for summer conditions. Tees, fairways, and greens are superb. Probably the best sand I have ever played, very well groomed. I'm very critical of courses that let their courses go in the summer, this isn't one of them. I couldn't find anything at this course that I would complain about. Staff was extremely friendly and helpful." - kennethmccann
Green fees: $60-$125
Just outside Tucson, this semi-private club rewards visitors who snap up public-facing tee times throughout the year. The Arthur Hills design winds through desert scenery and offers spectacular views.
What they're saying: "The staff were polite, friendly and wanted you to enjoy your round of golf. Course was in excellent condition, greens were true and receptive, fairways were in great shape. Needed to stay out of the rough. We would definitely play this course again." - golfer review
Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
Green fees: $99-$149
The newer of the two courses at Lakewood National, the Piper opened in 2020. Even while working with similarly flat and featureless land as he was given at the Commander, Brandon Johnson managed to give this course its own identity. Once again, the green complexes drive the action here, with a more subtle, convex approach on most putting surfaces. It makes the club one of the best 36-holers in Florida.
What they're saying: "Lakewood National Commander course gets all the accolades but Piper course is right there! A beautiful course with a great layout. In great shape and greens were fast. I think it’s more challenging than Commander. I really enjoyed playing here. Practice facility was second to none. Friendly staff. Highly recommend." - Rayslow
Las Vegas, Nev.
Green Fees: $109-$209
The first of Las Vegas Paiute’s three courses, Snow Mountain debuted in 1995. It’s regarded as a gentler test, especially by architect Pete Dye’s standards, with a back-tee Slope of a relatively tame 126. Water still comes into play on seven holes, delivering a balanced challenge.
What they’re saying: “Super nice fairways, Great Greens! The greens were on the firm side and real fast. Course played tough, it was a nice challenge with an amazing view!” – jmcalpin4
Rio Grande, P.R.
Green fees: $149-$229
Located 35 minutes east of San Juan, Bahia Beach features a Robert Trent Jones II design that opened in 2008. Reviewers enjoy its pristine conditioning, as well as two oceanfront holes.
What they're saying: "This was one of the more difficult courses I've played with a fair amount of water and narrow fairways. This course made me step up my game. Greens were FAST and more difficult than what I've played in the states. I'd play this course again in a heart beat. Staff was extremely friendly/helpful, and driving range great." - kodvody
Green Fees: $150
This historic (est. 1896) course 30 miles west of Milwaukee was in need of a facelift, and Wisconsin native architect Craig Haltom provided an all-timer, shaping some of the most inventive and over-the-top fun greens in the country. With Kohler and Sand Valley lapping up lots of hype, Lac La Belle belongs in the upper tier of the state’s accessible courses, too.
What they’re saying: “At $125 (walking - and you should definitely walk the course if you can), Lac La Belle is an incredible value when compared to the more famous courses within an hour's drive. And with 12-minute tee times, you'll enjoy a good pace of play. The Morse family has some exciting plans for the future which should raise Lac La Belle's profile even further. Make arrangements to visit as soon as you can.” – GolfPass Senior Writer Tim Gavrich
Green Fees: $64
With more than 1,000 golf courses, Florida has a number of hidden gems. Located half an hour west of Ocala, this John Sanford design on rolling terrain at the heart of a growing community is not a household name but nevertheless gets rave reviews from visitors and locals.
What they’re saying: “With it being on higher ground, it tends to drain well and the fairways actually provide some rollout even for high trajectory folks. The layout was great and routed in such a way that the vast majority of the course is without any homesites (10 and 11 are the only ones I remember with homes) making for a very peaceful and unencumbered round of golf.” - robertwest
Green fees: $175-$305
This upscale Greg Norman design near both Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels has gotten a lot of TV attention in recent years as the host of the annual PNC Championship. Broad bunkering, limited long-grass rough and subtle contouring are the hallmarks here, with a watery-fun finishing stretch.
What they're saying: "The course was in terrific shape and it’s a great design. The staff is super friendly. The practice facility is really nice, and includes a range, chipping green and putting green. The course is challenging, but has wide fairways. Pick the right tees for your skill level and the design comes alive - all the bunkers are in the right spots. The greens were fast but not ridiculous." - kruschka
Green fees: $43-$67
They're a perennial football powerhouse, but their golf program is every bit as star-studded over the years, thanks to a stately parkland course that has been crafted by the likes of Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and Davis Love III over the years. Not only is it a top college course, it's just an enjoyable publicly accessible gem an hour west of Atlanta. Go Dawgs.
What they're saying: "Very tough but fun course! Plays long and greens are very undulating! Make sure to hit it on the right side of the pin!!" - Dnorton1992
Las Vegas, Nev.
Green fees: $550
TV viewers got an eyeful of this course - two-thirds of it, anyway - on Black Friday 2021 when Brooks Koepka dispatched Bryson DeChambeau in the latest installment of The Match. This Tom Fazio design was revived in 2019 after plans were scrapped to turn its acreage into an enormous waterpark. Now, high-rollers can still play golf right on the Strip.
What they're saying: "Sometimes in life you have to splurge. I did get the summer rate which made this a great value. The Wynn staff know how to treat customers right. The facilities are world class at the resort. Special shout out to David the caddy for our group." - Phillygolfguy13
De Motte, Ind.
Green fees: $39
True to its name, this forested Tim Nugent design 75 miles southeast of Chicago has a variety of sandy areas in play, from tiny bunkers to large waste areas. GolfPass reviewers marvel at the layout, conditioning and reasonable green fees.
What they're saying: "This course is the best layout in the area with all the amenities of a private course. The value is outstanding and conditions are great for fall golf!!! It’s a 5 star place. What a gift!" - tim9643624
Green fees: $99-$289
This Greg Norman design from 2002 hosts both the LPGA Tour's CME Group Championship and the off-season PGA Tour QBE Shootout, meaning it graces golfers' television sets repeatedly in the fall. It also delights visiting players who dig the expansive short grass and lack of formal rough, stacked-sod bunkering and immaculate conditioning.
What they're saying: "First time playing at Tib. Beautiful morning, course conditions immaculate. CME Globe and QBE coming soon so the grandstands and scoreboards were up. If you are willing to spend some serious coin for the private course experience in Naples, come to the Shark's paradise." - dadaevan
Green Fees: $120-$200
Nantucket’s casual charm brings thousands of vacationers to the island from mainland New England and beyond every year. Home to exclusive private clubs like Sankaty Head and Nantucket Golf Club, its publicly-accessible jewel is Miacomet, which dates to the 1960s and was redesigned by Howard Maurer in 2003. It co-hosted the 2021 U.S. Mid-Amateur, adding to its strong reputation.
What they’re saying: “First time with GolfNow, what a great value. The course is in superb condition. Greens are slick and fast, so be careful.” – golfer review
Green Fees: $140-$175
Often overlooked because of those big-name courses along 17 Mile Drive about 20 minutes west, Quail Lodge has been a favorite of Monterey-area golfers for decades. It received a big boost in 2015, when architect Todd Eckenrode renovated it and gave it some rustic charm.
What they’re saying: “I recently got to play Pebble, Spyglass and Spanish bay. Those courses were really awesome and the history and beauty of Pebble was indescribable. That being said- Quail Lodge was honestly the most immaculately maintained and groomed course I’ve ever played. I almost felt guilty hitting balls off the fairways as I didn’t want to damage the grass.” – golfer review
Green fees: $52-$85
Located midway between New York City and Philadelphia, Heron Glen has been one of the Garden State's top courses ever since it opened 20 years ago. Designed by Dan Schlegel, it earns praise from GolfPass reviewers on the strength of its layout, conditioning and the friendliness of its employees.
What they're saying: "Greens in best condition all year. Course in fantastic shape. Always a pleasure playing here. Kudos to the staff and crew at Heron!" - NB0901
Incline Village, Nev.
Green fees: $65-$220
Greater Lake Tahoe is one of America's best golf destinations, and Incline Village stood out from a crowded field in the opinions of reviewers in 2021. Its original Robert Trent Jones, Sr. layout was renovated by Kyle Phillips in 2003, and continues to impress nearly 20 years later.
What they're saying: "I love playing golf in Tahoe, but this was the first time I got to play Incline, and I wasn't disappointed. Everything about this course from start to finish is top notch and worth the money. Upon first glance, it appears to be like any other tree-lined mountainous course, however as you play through you begin to feel the difference. Each hole has something to it, and once you're done you feel like you've been on a real adventure." - Amisk8er
West Glacier, Mont.
Green fees: $45
What this par-69 course next to Montana's Glacier National Park lacks in length (just 5,119 yards from the tips), it more than makes up in splendid scenery and pristine conditioning. It is routed through a bend in the Flathead River.
What they're saying: "This little beauty is situated adjacent to Glacier National Park and if you’re traveling with your clubs…play it. It is short but fun. I zipped around in less than 3 hours (as a single). Others golfers allowed me to play through on several holes which made this a lightning fast round. Hit it straight and you’ll be rewarded." - golfer review
Las Vegas, Nev.
Green Fees: $109-$209
Golfers enjoy a sense of seclusion at Sun Mountain, which, built in 1996, is the middle-child course at Las Vegas Paiute. The expansive landscape lends a sense of isolation to most holes, and several deep bunkers lurk by fairways and greens.
What they’re saying: “Could not have had a better experience playing golf. Friendly staff. Course in pristine conditions. Greens were fast and true. Being off the green but close can still be a challenge.” - garywint
Green fees: $80-$140
One of two courses at this upscale daily-fee facility (the other is a Nicklaus Design layout), the Rees Jones course at Pinehills gets the nod from GolfPass reviewers. With several holes routed along ravines, it is a scenic and challenging layout that consistently ranks among New England's top public courses.
What they're saying: "Very impressive from the clubhouse to the courses. I had no idea a public golf course of this caliber could be accessible to all. Difficult for beginners however perfect for a mid handicap. Can’t wait to return!" - shubauer
Green fees: $120-$225
One of three courses at this sprawling resort and community, the Palmer gets the nod here over the Watson and Nicklaus courses. Opened in 2004, this layout features undulating greens and expansive bunkering, as well as sandy waste areas bordering several holes.
What they're saying: "Excellent condition. Fairways immaculate. Greens the best you will play on. Very fast. Sand traps scattered on fairway and near greens. Course mgmt a must. Some elevation. Treat yourself." - golfer review
Green fees: $20-$39
Locatd 80 minutes west of Green Bay, Glacier Wood is a highly-regarded central Wisconsin gem laid out by Larry Packard in 1966. The distinctive property transports golfers from open meadowlands to forest and along wetlands and rock outcroppings as well, with some dramatic elevation changes in store.
What they're saying: "Haven't played G.W. in a few years and the improvements they have made were noticeable and nice. We hope they continue to offer decent pricing on Golf Now and Tee Off." - golfer review
Green fees: $18-$32
Formerly known as Kewanee Dunes, this semi-private course in rural northern Illinois is not far from the Quad Cities. Dating back to 1911, it was originally laid out by Tom Bendelow.
What they're saying: "Very nice course. It seems they are really trying to keep it cut and well groomed. Some interesting water holes and some tight fairways with many dog leg holes. Enjoyed the course...definitely coming back!" - golfer review
Palm Desert, Calif.
Green fees: $92-$177
This Hurdzan/Fry layout is one of two at this facility and features more than 100 bunkers and waste areas. Golfers who are able to look beyond the hazards find themselves amongst splendid desert scenery.
What they're saying: "I had the opportunity to play the Firecliff course on Oct 23 first round in the morning just after opening from over-seeding. Absolutely stunning course and very well manicured. 10 out of 10 experience from the time I dropped my bag off to finishing up on the 19th hole." - Couzensj
Las Vegas, Nev.
Green Fees: $109-$209
Half an hour northwest of the Las Vegas Strip sits this 54-hole complex, whose three Pete Dye designs all appear in the top half of this year’s Golfers’ Choice Top 50 list. Of them, the Wolf is the newest, built in 2001. Measuring more than 7,600 yards from the tips, it is a beast, but golfers dig it nevertheless.
What they’re saying: “Great course. Tough layout then add the wind! Will definitely play again” – golfer review
Lake Geneva, Wisc.
Green fees: $60-$130
What they're saying: "Geneva National Gem. Excellent layout and condition, both fairways and greens. Lots of risk reward shots." - simerm
Indian Wells, Calif.
Green fees: $79-$309
What they're saying: "One of the best golf courses I have ever played. A challenging layout with endless beauty on each and every hole. Course is very well kept and greens role fast and true. I would recommend this course and it is worth every penny." - Mhagen44
Green fees: The club has gone fully private.
What they're saying: "Wow. They are preparing for a tournament greens are slick. The course is in fantastic shape." - VanBreezy
Green fees: $40-$65
What they're saying: "Spectacular layout requiring precision and decent length off the tee. Tons of water to deal with either off the tee or approaching the green. Greens are not that demanding once you are on them but they were rolling out nicely and can get away from you if you aren't careful." - Swing2theright
Green fees: $28-$49
What they're saying: "Best Bang For You Buck In Indy Area!!!!!! This course was in excellent shape especially for the amount of recent rain we have had. Lots of blind shots and tight holes. Greens are in great shape as well as the fairways." - JBrackett23
Green fees: $100-$130
What they're saying: "Great layout and the course was in very good shape." - Hager0621
Green fees: $170-$350
What they're saying: "I have played this course about 30 times over the past 30 years. Never dissapointed. It just rocks!!! Great, great track. I suggest walking it to get the most out of it. Just seems more beautiful when I walk it." - bradwheeler
Green fees: $75-$165
What they're saying: "This course was super challenging! If you’re playing from the championship tees it will definitely test all your skills. What made my experience even better was how friendly the staff was." - Cyprian6835699
Green fees: $45 and up.
What they're saying: "Old school, hard par, easy bogey, Robert Trent Jones design. What a joy to play. Great conditioning. Can't wait to get back there." - boynestan
Newport Coast, Calif.
Green fees: $195-$385
What they're saying: "Fantastic Venue. You cannot go wrong with this fantastic facility! Enjoy the views all day long." - GLT72
Roaring Gap, N.C.
What they're saying: "It is truly a mountain course... not just foothills. Some of the holes are so interesting. The course is particularly challenging if you're unfamiliar with the course. Bring a few extra golf balls." - Donald3909043
Green fees: $45 and up
What they're saying: "The staff was amazing, food was great, and the course was in impeccable condition." - frederick4721490
Green fees: $45-$85
What they're saying: "Pace of play was awesome. The Walker course is beautiful and it was in excellent condition - no bare spots anywhere on the course." - GalCallaway
Green fees: $65-$90
What they're saying: "Feels like a private club. Truly first rate. Course design is very good, as well. Highly recommended for anyone visiting the area (Iowa City included) and looking for a special experience." - Paul5069707
Green fees: $75-$185
What they're saying: "Lay out of the course is excellent and greens are soft but fast. Fairways are well maintained. Practice facility is top notch including short game area." - Abhay3991846
Green fees: $195-$239
What they're saying: "I’ve been coming to Kauai for seven years. I’ve played the course about 10 times. It’s absolutely amazing!!" Grant3884726
Sainte Genevieve, Mo.
Green fees: $24-$42
What they're saying: "Had a great time!! The course was in excellent shape and the staff Is very friendly. Can’t wait to play there again." - golfer review
Green fees: $245-$305
What they're saying: "Excellent golf course, so beautiful, so much fun! The course was in excellent condition. The staff were very friendly and helpful." - GlenHampton
Green fees: $25-$80
What they're saying: "Perfect parkland. Sultan’s run about as good a layout as one can ask for Indiana. The course was in the best shape I’ve seen it after making the trip annually the last few years." - HoosierHacker89
Green fees: $99-$119
What they're saying: "In the 30 years I have played golf I don't even know if I can say that there has been a course that I've played that was in better shape than Independence! Perfect tee boxes, perfect fairways, perfect greens!!!" - STyson1975
Green fees: $95-$130
What they're saying: "Awesome. Course is in perfect shape! Highly recommended!!!" - Gary2688295
Green fees: $97-$249
What they're saying: "Had a fantastic day playing Southern Dunes. Having spent the last 4 days playing all over the greater Phoenix area, this course was our favorite." - Chief131
Green fees: $89-$195
What they're saying: "Course is immaculate and greens among the hardest and fastest I have ever played. Service was excellent and the warm mango scented towels and the end of the round are a nice touch." - PaulMarr
Lake Geneva, Wis.
What they're saying: "Large greens. Very good course. Have not played it in about 5 years. Still in great shape. Little brother to the Brute, but still fun to play." - tommugb
Green fees: $27-$60
What they're saying: "A must play course. Hard but extremely fun. The greens are phenomenal…you can actually be thrilled with a three put, and smile about it." - Frankk477