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A rich golf experience does not have to be expensive.
A Donald Ross course — for $20. A deal on a bucket of balls and a bucket of booze. Finds on bags, training aids and even rooms. Our GOLF staff of editors, writers, photographers and videographers have also proven to be excellent miners. Over the past year, they have unearthed values across the game, and below are the best of their bargains. Remember, a rich golf experience does not have to be expensive.
The first Monday in December was unusually warm here in Philadelphia, where I live. I am lucky enough to belong to the Philadelphia Cricket Club, which has two 18-hole courses, but both were closed on this Monday, as they are on every Monday, pretty much. Country-club life; a first-world problem. Three friends and I were able to get a noon tee time at a celebrated public course near our homes, designed by Donald Ross and a bargain at any time of the year, but this was ridiculous: $20 per man, walking. I bought a winter hat for $15 and didn’t even need it. A four-hour round, greens so good you want to cry and rough where you can find your ball, open the face of your 6-iron and slash something back in play. A fried-egg sandwich and a tea in the halfway house might go another $10, but you want to leave more. You want to leave more, and you want to come back. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? I almost left off the name. It’s Jeffersonville. I’m conflicted about sharing it, but I should: Jeffersonville Golf Club. Sounds kind of grand. A true and excellent muni. — Michael Bamberger
From left to right: PW9 practice green, Ashbrook pitch-and-putt, Inman Golf Center.
When it comes to golf values, that old saw about good things coming in threes undoubtedly holds true in my neck of the woods. In a two-mile radius of my suburban New Jersey home, there’s a trio of public golf offerings that I like to call the Central New Jersey Triangle of Golf Bargains (actually, I’ve ever never called it that, but I might moving forward; the CNJTGB just rolls off the tongue). We begin at the Plainfield West 9, a public 9-holer across the street from the much more famous and much more private Plainfield Country Club. You can snag rates at the West 9 for less than 20 bucks, but the real value is the putting and chipping green — a beautifully conditioned sloping surface behind the first tee box that is open to all comers at no charge. You could happily while away an hour or two here with your kids (or without them); I certainly have. PW9 sits on Old Raritan Road. Take that to Inman Avenue, bare a right, and in less than 5 minutes, you’ll find the Inman Golf Center on your left, a no-frills range oozing retro charm: wooden dividers between the bays, Tommy Armour 845 irons in the loaner bin and buckets for less than 10 bucks. (If you’re into the Topgolf vibe, this is not your place.) One more stop! Hop back on Inman, back toward PW9, and take a right on Rahway and another right on Raritan — it’s a 2.2-mile trip — and you’ll come upon Ashbrook Golf Course. Ashbrook is home to an 18-hole, county-owned muni, but if it’s value you’re after, the must-play is the delightful nine-hole pitch-and-putt, which sits in the shadows of towering oaks and where weekend rates are a mere $8. Yes, you’ll hit off mats, and the greens won’t soon be mistaken for Augusta National’s, but who can complain? You’re paying less than a buck a hole! Our all-in bill: free + $10ish + $8. Let’s call it 20 bucks (we’re allowing for a cold drink). Show me a better golf deal! — Alan Bastable
I have three values I stumbled upon in the past year. My No. 1 pick that (mostly) everyone in the Midwest knows about is Lawsonia Links ($85), the Wisconsin course people rave about that I finally got to play for the first time in 2021. Value No. 2 is Montgomery National, outside of the Twin Cities suburbs. It won’t make any of our Top 100 Courses in the U.S. list, but it’s $30 to walk during the week and worth every penny. Value No. 3: alignment sticks! I bought some for $15 and use them all the time. Sometimes the smallest things provide the greatest value. — Josh Berhow
The best value in golf, bar none, is walking up to the starter’s shack at Bethpage State Park and playing the Black Course for $70, on a weekday. The second-best is up for debate, but if you made me choose, I’d say it’s 90 miles east of Bethpage, at Montauk State Park. The Downs course — first opened in the ’20s, then redesigned by Robert Trent and Rees Jones in the ’60s — is a relic of the old Montauk. The remnants of a sleepy, hippie-laden beachtown are practically dripping off the walls of the tent-shaped clubhouse. The course is quintessential Montauk, free of any lingering pretension from the Hamptons, which are just miles west. The Downs is simple, it’s challenging, and it’s fun. It’s also the perfect place for a day trip from the metro area and, in my estimation, the only hidden gem left for public golf on Long Island. — James Colgan
The very best value I found in 2021 was a free two-day pass to the La Jolla YMCA, a much-needed respite from the van I slept in the week of the U.S. Open. But that’s probably not particularly helpful to most of you, dear readers. So I’ll give you No. 2 on my list, too: the Ping Moonlite, my official new bag. It doesn’t have a stand, so if you’re into those, this isn’t the bag for you. But I carry a full set in this fella, it’s sturdy, it has a comfy strap, and I dig the look, too. Plus the clubs don’t poke out the bottom, which is exactly what was happening in the last one. A solid deal at $139. — Dylan Dethier
A deal at the University of North Florida driving range.
On a beautiful evening in early November, I had an itch to work on my golf swing, and my boyfriend, a University of North Florida graduate, suggested we go to his former campus’ driving range, which is open to the public. When we arrived, we learned of the deal. For just $20, we received two buckets — one filled with golf balls and the other filled with White Claws. We actually couldn’t believe the transaction went through as we walked out to the range — where we also spent the next two hours. As we were leaving, we wondered how we hadn’t heard of this deal before and vowed to come back regularly. In addition to having a fun time, I felt like I made my best swing improvements yet — though that could have come from the swing oil from the White Claws. — Tiffani Lynch
They say you have to spend money to make money. And that’s especially true in the case of Inside GOLF, our team’s new subscription service. If you’re tired of signing up for things, I get it. But if you scroll past what I’m going to tell you, you’re missing out on free money. For $20, you get a year’s worth of insider content online, monthly GOLF Magazines sent to your door (a $30 value), and a $20 gift card to our pro shop. The gift card literally pays for your subscription! And of course, exclusive access to our team’s golf coverage is priceless. I’m no math wizard, and I’m no financial planner. But I know a good deal when I see one. Plus, it’s the easiest holiday gift you can possibly give, especially in a world filled with last-second shopping and shipping delays. — Connor Federico
I don’t ~love~ writing about Marine Park, because I worry that too much press will ruin the appeal of the place. Alas, its value deserves to be talked about. During the week, you can loop around the links-style track (with Manhattan skyline views) for just $35. They’re always working on the course — updating bunkers, adding new tee boxes, etc. — and every time I go to play, the course is better than before. The greens are about as pure as I’ve seen at a muni track. As a bonus, I think the longest round I’ve ever had there was just four and a half hours (that’s speed golf in the city). It’s only fault is that it’s tricky to get to via public transportation. My advice? Find a friend with a car (hi, Zephyr). — Emily Haas
My actual rounds of golf were disappointingly infrequent this year, but one thing that really kept our household going was the second iteration of a 2020 lockdown purchase, this awesome backyard golf net. A really bad shank (my bad, whoops!) actually punched a hole through the seam of our first net, but at a bargain price of only $80 (and free one-day Prime shipping!), replacing it with a new version was no sweat. My husband is out there hitting shots every chance he gets, I used the net to get reps in during my GolfTec lesson series, and my two kids (ages 5 and 21 months) love using it, too. The best part? Avoid my catastrophic shank, and this thing will last and last. A smokin’ deal, if you ask me! — Jessica Marksbury
Rock Spring Golf Club in East Orange, N.J.
A friend and I try to get out to different courses here in the New York/New Jersey area, and in July, we found what felt like a steal. Rock Spring Golf Club, in West Orange, N.J., is a short skip from Manhattan, has a fantastic covered deck overlooking a few holes and a good drink menu — and, according to its website, is one of two courses designed by Seth Raynor open to the public. Raynor, of course, is the mind behind a few of the country’s finest — Fishers Island, Chicago, Shoreacres and Sleepy Hollow (and all on GOLF’s Top 100 list), to name a few — and Rock Spring, while maybe not of the pedigree, was definitely one of the more enjoyable (and challenging) tracks I teed it up on this year. And the price? It was about 75 bucks, cart included. I’ll be back next year. — Nick Piastowski
Pinehurst Resort is one of the world’s top golf destinations, and in November, I took a weekend trip down to the “home of American golf” with my dad. We had done this trip a few years back and stayed on-site at the Holly Inn, a time capsule that only adds to the Pinehurst experience. I’ve also heard great things about the Magnolia Inn, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the Carolina Hotel despite never actually staying there as a guest. It’s undergoing a winter renovation that is bound to improve what is already a landmark in the game.
You can’t go wrong with any of the Pinehurst Resort hotel options, and I highly recommend doing so if you have the means to. But golf’s boom has also led to a boom in Pinehurst visitors, and that means a room is harder to come by. So, for our most recent trip, we booked an AirBNB that overlooked a green on Pinehurst No. 3. While the view was great, the best part was its $78/night rate. We were only a five-minute drive from the resort, course and main street to go into town for food and drinks.
Expenses can add up quickly on a golf trip. Greens fees for a Top 100 Course tend to come with a high price tag, and sometimes you need to save a few bucks elsewhere to justify it. Nearby house rentals are a great way to do this. Especially at the very beginning of “offseasons.” We could have slept two more people in our condo to bring the price down to roughly $20/person.
Waking up to see the morning dew and coming home to watch the sunset on a Pinehurst green for only $78/night might have been the wisest money I spent in 2021. — Tim Reilly
Northwood Golf Club, about an hour north of San Francisco, wasn’t so much a new find for me as it was a rediscovery. I hadn’t been out there in a few years, but given the way the pandemic has warped time, it felt like decades since I’d last played it. The instant I got to the first tee, on a day-trip this past summer, the uniqueness of the place came rushing back to me. Northwood is a nine-hole, public-access Alister Mackenzie design. Those facts alone make it unusual enough. That it is cut through the redwoods, along the Russian River, in a postcard-worthy swatch of Sonoma County, makes it a unicorn of courses — one that embodies everything that’s great about the game. Walking-friendly. Filled with creative shot-making opportunities. But more than anything, an escape from the bustle, an opportunity to feel at one with nature, to put things in perspective, to get your head right. Those cliches that people often spout about golf because, well, they’re true. Northwood brings them all into relief. If you can’t find some kind of inner peace and harmony in the fresh air of a mellow, magical setting, challenging yourself on beautiful holes in the shadow of century-old trees, there’s not much hope for you anywhere. You can get all that for 29 bucks on weekdays, and $41 if you want to play 18. — Josh Sens
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