The Sweet 16: America’s Top College Golf Courses
We’re in the thick of March Madness right now so we thought it would be fun to name the Sweet 16 of college golf courses in the United States. There are blue bloods— courses designed by some of the most recognizable architects and at some of the biggest schools— and Cinderella stories— under the radar gems by lesser known architects at schools you may have never heard of! Another great aspect of these courses is that most are open to the public. Here is our list of top college golf courses in the U.S.:
Yale Golf Course— Yale University, New Haven, CT
C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, and Charles Banks created a course on a massive scale, and at the time, the construction resources required to build the course over this rocky terrain was unprecedented. The course has begun to look worse for wear over the decade, but Hanse Golf Course Design is scheduled to restore the course this year, likely solidifying Yale as the No. 1 overall seed for a long time.
Hole #9 at Yale has a green with a deep trench running through the middle (called a “Biarritz” green) and is a crowd favorite. Photo: Patrick Koenig
Ohio State University Golf Club (Scarlet)— Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
The Good Doctor Alister Mackenzie drew up the plans for the Scarlet course but passed away before work began. Alum Jack Nicklaus completely renovated the course in 2006, and it is now one of the best tournament venues in college golf.
Warren Golf Course— Notre Dame, South Bend, IN
The Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-designed Warren Golf Course hosted the U.S. Senior Open in 2019 and is a great example of how to build a great course from a flat piece of land. It’s been called a modern cousin to Winged Foot because of the topography and its well bunkered and highly contoured greens. We listed the Warren Course as one of the top courses in the U.S. that anyone can play for under $100 in our Bang for your Buck series.
Warren GC at Notre Dame is one of eleven public regulation courses in the U.S. designed by famed architect duo Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, and is the only one that you can play in peak season for under $100. Photo: Notre Dame
Orchards Golf Club— Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA
One of the Cinderella stories of our Sweet 16 is this charming course in Western Massachusetts that certainly goes under the radar. Legendary architect Donald Ross laid out the front nine in 1922 and the back nine in 1927. Ron Prichard, who specializes in Donald Ross restorations, brought the course back to its former glory in the early 2000s.
Palouse Ridge Golf Club—Washington State University, Pullman, WA
John Harbottle laid this course over a large, rolling canvas that is one of the most picturesque courses on this list, but when the wind picks up, it can also be the one of the most difficult! Palouse Ridge is one of many solid courses in the lesser known golfing region of Eastern Washington.
The setting does not get much better than at Palouse Ridge. Photo: Washington State University
Stanford Golf Course— Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Billy Bell Sr., who worked under George Thomas, designed Stanford’s course in 1930. The course flows through a property of live oaks and ravines. Architect Jay Blasi recently designed the Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex, one of the best practice facilities for consistently one of college golf’s top programs. Stanford Golf Course is one of the few private collegiate courses where you’ll need to befriend a student, alum, or member of the faculty to play.
Taconic Golf Club— Williams College, Williamstown, MA
Wayne Stiles might not be as well known as golden age architects like Donald Ross but this course has everything you want in a classic design— strategic layout, easy walk and a lovely setting for golf. This is a quintessential New England golf course and is only steps from the campus of Williams College.
Taconic is ranked as one of the top 100 public courses in North America by Golf Magazine. Photo: LinksGems
The Rawls Course—Texas Tech, Lubbock, TX
You’d never know that this site originally had only 0.1% of tilt from one corner of the property to the other. Tom Doak and Renaissance Golf Design, not typically known for heavy earth movement, turned this flat and barren site into one with plenty of contour and a challenge for the best collegiate players while still being playable for the students and faculty.
Karsten Creek Golf Club —Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK
A large lake is the predominant feature on the course, which also routes around streams and interesting rock features. The conditions at Karsten are arguably the best in the Sooner State, as are the practice facilities, which were recently designed by Tom Marzolf of Tom Fazio design. The course has hosted the Men’s Division I Championship three times (2003, 2011, and 2018).
Tom Fazio designed Karsten Creek in 1994, the year it won Best New Public Course by Golf Digest. Photo: Patrick Koenig
Jimmie Austin Golf Club— Oklahoma University, Norman, OK
Perry Maxwell designed the course in the early 1950s on a former Navy air station. Sooner alum (and member of the 1989 national championship team) Tripp Davis worked on the course in 2017, renovating tees and bunkers and also redesigning a few holes.
Pete Dye River Course—Virginia Tech, Radford, VA
Pete Dye built a brand new course on top of a 1990s build by Brian Ault and Tom Clark, and it is vintage Dye: a figure eight routing, bold bunkering and many heroic shots to be made. The course is laid out in a lovely, open setting along the river and is not only one of the best college courses but one of the best values in U.S. public golf. The clubhouse sits on a rock cliff 70 feet above the course affording jaw dropping views.
Bordered by over two miles of the New River, the course is aptly named. Photo: C R Lutzke Golf
Birck Boilermaker (Kampen)— Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
Purdue University has two courses designed by Pete Dye, both part of the underrated Pete Dye Golf Trail in Indiana. The Kampen course hosted the Women’s Division 1 championships in 2003 and the Men’s in 2008 and is a great way to see a championship-caliber Dye course without breaking the bank. Don’t sleep on the Ackerman-Allen course either! It was completely renovated by Dye in 2016 and provides a different look and feel than the Kampen.
University of Michigan Golf Course— University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Another Alister Mackenzie-designed college course but at Michigan, the Good Doctor (and his associate Perry Maxwell) were more involved in the project. With a proper restoration (rumors have swirled about alum Mike DeVries for years), Michigan’s course could challenge Yale for the No. 1 overall seed amongst college golf courses. There are some really cool greens here, highlighted by the boomerang green on the par-4 6th hole.
The boomerang green on the 6th hole at UM’s golf course is worth the price of admission. Photo: Patrick Koenig
The Course at Sewanee – University of the South, Sewanee, TN
Don’t underestimate the only nine-holer in the Sweet Sixteen – The Course at Sewanee is the equivalent of a small school that has great tradition and pedigree, and always seems to make a deep run in the tournament. Another member of our Bang for your Buck list, this course was redesigned by red hot architect Gil Hanse in 2013, who took inspiration from the Old Course at St. Andrews for some of the holes and features.
The Pfau Course — Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Architect Steve Smyers redesigned Indiana’s course back in 2020. It’s now one of the longest (it can stretch to nearly 8,000 yards!) and hardest (80 rating from the tips!) in college golf. Smyers trademark bunkering is the star of the show here. The Pfau course, Warren, Karsten Creek, and Taconic are the only courses on this list that are ranked in the top-100 public courses in North America by Golf Magazine.
Eisenhower Golf Course (Blue)— Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO
The Blue at Eisenhower Golf Course was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. in 1959 and is located at the base of the beautiful Pikes Peak region of the Rocky Mountains. The course sits at 6,788 feet so be prepared to hit it about 20 yards longer off the tee as we highlighted in our High Altitude courses write-up. Travel & Leisure magazine named the Blue course the top golf course in the Department of Defense.
Views of the Rocky Mountains are plentiful at the Air Force Academy’s Eisenhower Blue course. Photo: Sports Illustrated
On the Bubble
Birdwood Golf Course — University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
Duke University Golf Club— Duke University, Durham, NC
Mark Bostick Golf Course— University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Cornell University Golf Course – Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
University of New Mexico Golf Course (Championship)— University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
University Ridge Golf Course—University of Wisconsin, Verona, WI
University of Georgia Golf Course – University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Furman University Golf Club – Furman University, Greenville, SC
Lonnie Poole Golf Course – North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
UNC Finley Golf Course – University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
The Walker Course – Clemson University, Clemson, SC
Radrick Farms – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Seminole Legacy Golf Club – University of Florida, Tallahassee, FL
Keith Hills Golf Course – Campbell University, Lillington, NC
University Ridge is one of the best public courses in Wisconsin and should not be missed if given the opportunity! Photo: Patrick Koenig
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