The vast majority of the more than 15,000 golf courses in America are privately owned and are funded predominantly by their members. But there are also several thousand municipal courses in the US that offer golfers something slightly different.
A municipal golf course is publicly owned and is open to the general public. As a result, muni courses tend to be cheaper than private courses, though this isn’t always the case with some premium municipal courses costing more to play on than some members-only clubs.
This post explains everything you need to know about municipal golf courses in America and introduces you to five of the very best muni courses in the States. And remember, just because they’re publicly owned, it doesn’t mean that muni courses are inferior to private courses!
Let’s begin by exploring the term ‘muni’ in a little more detail.
- What Does “Muni” Mean in Golf?
- How Many Municipal Golf Courses are there in the US?
- How Much Does it Cost to Play at a Municipal Golf Course?
- Which are the Best Municipal Golf Courses in the US?
- Do Municipal Golf Courses Make Money?
- Munciple Courses: Golf for Everyone!
What Does “Muni” Mean in Golf?
“Muni” is simply the short term given when referring to municipal golf courses. Muni courses are public, as opposed to privately owned courses, and are seen in the eyes of many as inferior to private courses.
But this is not always an accurate assumption to make.
Just because a golf course is a muni doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s of inferior quality to a private course.
One of the best examples of this logic is the fact that St. Andrews in Scotland, the undisputed home of golf, is publicly owned and technically classed as a muni course.
One of the critical features of muni courses in the US is that they tend to be cheaper to play than private courses, and they’re less concerned with handicaps and level of play.
In essence, this means that muni courses are available to a much wider player base and make the game of golf accessible to more people.
Muni courses have often emerged in urban sprawls where green spaces are at a premium and give many players their very first taste of the game.
For beginners and experienced golfers alike, muni courses offer a no-nonsense, cost-effective venue upon which to enjoy the game of golf.
How Many Municipal Golf Courses are there in the US?
The National Golf Foundation (NGF) tells us that there are just short of 2,900 golf municipal golf courses at more than 2,500 municipal golf facilities in the US.
In addition to this, NGF reveals that 75% of golf courses in America are open to everyone, regardless of whether they’re publicly or privately owned.
This is because many privately-owned golf courses welcome visitors and are not exclusive, member-only clubs.
Frankly, many privately-owned golf courses have realized the need to open up to non-members, as the green fees collected by their core members often prove to be insufficient to maintain the club to the highest of standards.
Golf.com tells us that California is the best state for municipal golf courses, including five Californian tracks in their list of top 30 muni golf courses in America.
Notable mentions are also given to Texas and New York, with each state home to some of the finest municipal courses in the country.
How Much Does it Cost to Play at a Municipal Golf Course?
The cost of playing on a municipal golf course depends on two factors which are the prestige rating of the course and the time of day you want to play. Regular, municipal golf courses that are non Championship standard are generally around $10 – $50 per round.
Muni golf is a world of extremes.
Take Torrey Pines, for instance, perhaps the most famous of all municipal courses in the US.
After hosting the 121st US Open Championship in 2021 (it’s fifth in eight years), Torrey Pines gives everyday golfers the rare opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the finest golfers on the planet.
Because it’s a muni, anyone can schedule a round at Torrey Pines and see what they would shoot on the famous south course.
But it’s certainly not cheap. Non-residents are required to pay between $202-$252 to play Torrey Pines, but San Diego residents can enjoy the course for between $63-$78.
And while you might think that’s a reasonable price to pay to try your hand at a US Open Championship course, it dispels the myth that all muni golf courses offer cheap green fees.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, almost every state in America hosts a muni course that players can enjoy for a fraction of the cost of Torrey Pines.
Muni courses of lesser prestige than the likes of Torrey Pines and Bethpage Black are likely to set you back anywhere between $10-$50 per round, making the game much more accessible for those just starting on their golfing journeys.
Which are the Best Municipal Golf Courses in the US?
Now that you know what to expect from a muni course, let’s look at five of the best courses in the US and why they’re worthy of your consideration:
Bethpage Black Golf Course, New York
When you tee off at Bethpage Black, you’re met by a curious sign that reads “only for highly skilled golfers.”
To be fair, when Tiger Woods won the 2002 US Open at the Black, he was the only golfer to break par for 72 holes, such as its exceptional difficulty in the conditions.
Needless to say, if you schedule a round at the Black, take some extra balls with you!
Rates for a round of golf at Bethpage Black Golf Course: $130-$150.
Torrey Pines South Course, California
We’ve already introduced Torrey Pines, but it would be criminal to leave it off this list.
Hanging off the San Diego cliffs and leading out to the roaring Pacific, Torrey Pines is as spectacular as it is challenging.
If you can afford the green fees, there’s little reason not to schedule a round at one of the finest tracks in the US.
Rates for a round of golf at Torrey Pines South Golf Course: $202-$252.
Buffalo Dunes Golf Course, Kansas
This mainstay of Garden City, Kansas, has basked in the glory of being the finest muni in the state for the past five decades.
In recent times, the course has been upgraded and improved and is in exceptional condition.
And for less than thirty bucks, it should be your go-to place if you’re ever looking for a round of golf while visiting Garden City
Rates for a round of golf at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course: $25-$30.
Papago Golf Course, Arizona
Chiseled out of the red rock of the Arizona desert, Papago is home to the successful Arizona State golf teams, and for a good reason.
As a parkland-style course with generous fairways and sprawling greens, playing Papago is a wonderful opportunity to score well in the heat of the desert.
Rates for a round of golf at Papago Golf Course: $60-$180.
North Palm Beach Coutry Club Course, Florida
Redesigned by Jack Nicklaus and his team in 2006 and then again in 2019, North Palm Beach is a true test of golf in the sunny state of Florida.
With substantial sand traps and lots of water in play, accuracy at North Palm Beach is not only rewarded but necessary.
Surprisingly for Florida, the course boasts some decent elevation, making it unique for the area and well worth the trip for locals looking for something a little different.
Rates for a round of golf at North Palm Beach Golf Course: $60-$140.
Do Municipal Golf Courses Make Money?
While the primary purpose of municipal golf courses is to provide accessible leisure opportunities to residents, they need to make money to survive. NGF tells us that around 67% of all public-agency golf facilities make enough revenue to cover all on-site expenses.
But, of course, as with all golf courses, it’s hard to generalize about the profitability of muni courses, mainly as they are not set up as a profit-making entity.
Still, the best way to ensure the survival of muni courses throughout the US is to use them.
While some people prefer heading out to privately owned courses to play with their buddies, there’s undoubtedly merit in playing municipal courses in different parts of the country.
And with almost 2,000 municipal golf facilities in the US, there’s little excuse not to find a top drawer muni near you to test your game.
Munciple Courses: Golf for Everyone!
It stands to reason that you should judge a golf course on its individual merit rather than on the label that it’s given.
Many muni courses are as pristine and well-manicured as privately-owned ones.
It largely depends on where the course is located and how much money is invested in course upkeep and renovations.
As the examples of Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines show, the US is home to some magnificent municipal courses, which enable you to follow in the footsteps of the finest golfers on the planet and try your hand at some of the Championship courses that they play.