When the first round of the U.S. Open kicks off on June 13, the golf world will turn its attention to Pebble Beach Golf Links in California. With its well-manicured landscape and ocean views, Pebble Beach is one of the best golf courses in America.
Although you might be itching to hit the green, many of the top-rated golf clubs are open to members only. Some, however, are open to the public. Read on to discover the costs of teeing off at some of the best private and public golf courses in the U.S., some of which could be considered the top golf courses in the world.
America’s Best Private Golf Courses
Initiation fees at some of the most exclusive golf clubs can cost well into the six-figure range — if you’re able to secure membership in the first place, that is. Here’s a look at what some of the top-rated golf clubs have to offer for members.
Augusta National Golf Club
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Location: Augusta, Georgia
No golf course in America is more steeped in history than Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters Tournament each year. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer are among the golf legends who have enjoyed historic moments during the Masters at Augusta National.
Each of the 18 holes at Augusta National has a name derived from a tree, flower or plant on the course. Some include Tea Olive, Magnolia and Holly. The 11th, 12th and 13th holes are collectively known as Amen Corner, due to the difficulty of the holes in combination with the wind in that location.
Augusta National is not only one of the best golf courses in America; it’s also one of the most exclusive. It is a members-only club, and any guest must be accompanied by a member at all times.
The club was restricted to white men from the time it opened in 1932 until it admitted its first black male member in 1990. In 2012, Augusta National admitted its first women members: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina investor Darla Moore. Augusta National’s official list of members is confidential; however, Bloomberg included CEOs and billionaires, among other high earners, in its 2015 list of the club’s verified and speculated members.
As is generally the case among the most famous golf courses in the world, the cost of initiation is steep, with reported figures varying widely. Golf.com reported in April 2019 that the initiation fee is in the ballpark of $40,000.
Pine Valley Golf Club
Location: Pine Valley, New Jersey
Consistently ranked among the top courses in the U.S., Pine Valley is set along the edge of southern New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. ESPN once described the course as the “greatest 18 holes of golf ever created by man.”
Pine Valley is among America’s most exclusive private clubs. While the membership list is confidential, The Press of Atlantic City reported that former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, actor Sean Connery and pro golf legends Ben Crenshaw and the late Arnold Palmer were all members at one time or another.
Nonmembers must receive an invitation from a member in order to play at Pine Valley. Women cannot be members of Pine Valley Golf Club and can only be invited to play on Sundays.
Every year on the last Sunday in September, Pine Valley invites the general public to watch the final round of the club’s annual George Arthur Crump Memorial Tournament, named after its founder and course designer. This is the only opportunity to explore the course without a membership or invitation.
Merion Golf Club
Location: Ardmore, Pennsylvania
Built in 1912 by course architect Hugh Wilson, Merion Golf Club has borne witness to many golf milestones. Its storied history includes Robert Tyre Jones Jr.’s Grand Slam completion in 1930 and Ben Hogan’s stunning one-iron finish on the 72nd hole in the 1950 U.S. Open. The course itself holds a historical footnote: Merion was the first club in the nation to include two 18-hole championship layouts.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus himself once said, “Acre for acre, [Merion] may be the best test of golf in the world.” The par-70 course covers nearly 7,000 yards for players to dominate, and offers a mellow atmosphere boosted by the surrounding tree line.
The private golf club reportedly boasts an impressive two-level locker room, and you might see it one day — if you can front the initiation fee. The cost of initiation starts at $70,000, and annual dues are at least another $6,000, Forbes reported in November 2018. Furthermore, even if you can afford all that, you’ll only be able to apply by member referral.
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
View this post on InstagramShinnecock Hills Golf Club receives a hat tip on #InternationalWomensDay as the first golf club in the United States to admit women as members, which occurred in 1892, 28 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote – truly ahead of its time. #internationalwomensday #womensgolf #shinnecockhills #shinnecock #shinny #shgc #cbmacdonald #sethraynor #williamflynn #stanfordwhite #hamptonsgolf #nygems #ligems #classicgems #golfcourses #golfphotos #golfcoursephotos #golfcoursephotography #golfcoursearchitecture #whyilovethisgame
Location: Southampton, New York
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, which opened in 1891, is located near the eastern end of Long Island. It was a charter club of the organization that would later become the United States Golf Association. The course has hosted five U.S. Opens — including the second ever in 1896 — with a sixth scheduled for 2026.
The ultraexclusive Shinnecock Hills keeps quiet about its initiation fees and dues. If you know a member, you can be invited to the course as a guest, but guest tee times usually fill up months in advance. If you ever make it to the club as a guest, you’ll pay a $350 green fee, Golf.com reported in June 2018.
Oakmont Country Club
Location: Oakmont, Pennsylvania
Oakmont Country Club hosted its ninth U.S. Open in 2016, with Dustin Johnson conquering the course’s notoriously fast greens to claim his first major victory. A 10th U.S. Open is scheduled for Oakmont in 2025. The club has also hosted five U.S. Amateurs and two U.S. Women’s Opens.
You must be invited to become a member at Oakmont Country Club; however, members reportedly bring guests to the club often to try their hand at the infamously difficult course — but that could be because they enjoy watching their guests struggle.
America’s Best Public Golf Courses
You don’t have to be a highly paid professional golfer or even a member to play at some of the best golf courses America has to offer. The following quality courses are open to the public.
Pebble Beach Golf Links
Location: Pebble Beach, California
Few natural settings for golf match Pebble Beach Golf Links, located on the Monterey Peninsula, where golfers can enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean along the course. The 2019 U.S. Open marks the course’s sixth time hosting the championship. Pebble Beach is also slated to host its first U.S. Women’s Open in 2023.
Since it first opened in 1919, Pebble Beach has built a reputation as a standout golf destination. It is ranked No. 1 on Golf Digest’s 2019 list of America’s 100 greatest public courses, and it holds the No. 1 spot on Golfweek’s 2019 list of the top 200 resort golf courses.
The green fee costs $550, but golfers who are not staying at Pebble Beach as resort guests will also have to pay for a cart.
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Location: Bandon, Oregon
Pacific Dunes, a resort course in Bandon, Oregon, is located adjacent to waves crashing into the rocky coast.
The signature hole at Pacific Dunes is the 11th, a 148-yard, par-3 hole. While coastal winds often wreak havoc on golfers’ shots, the hole is among golf’s most picturesque. Golf Course Gurus, a website that offers course reviews, called it “the definition of a postcard hole.”
If you’re a resort guest, the green fees at the year-round course range from $100 to $285. If you’re a day guest, fees range from $135 to $335, though reduced rates are available for Oregon residents.
Pinehurst No. 2
Location: Pinehurst, North Carolina
The No. 2 course at Pinehurst Resort is steeped in history. The course, which opened in 1907, was first designed by Donald Ross, who worked on improving it until his death in 1948. The most recent renovations in 2010 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored many of the original design elements.
Pinehurst No. 2 has hosted the 1936 PGA Championship, the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens and both the men’s and women’s 2014 U.S. Opens. It will also serve as the site of the 2024 U.S. Open.
While there are many package options to combine a stay at the Pinehurst Resort with rounds of golf, they still cost over $1,000 per person.
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Location: Sheboygan, Wisconsin
What was once a U.S. Army anti-aircraft training facility was transformed into The Straits at Whistling Straits in 1998. Built along two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, the links-style course is among the top golf destinations.
The Straits course has hosted three PGA Championships over a relatively short span — 2004, 2010 and 2015 — as well as the 2007 U.S. Senior Open. The Ryder Cup will be played on the course in 2020.
Eight of the 18 holes on the Straits course are played along Lake Michigan. Golfers who play the course have to keep an eye out for the sheep that freely roam about.
A round of golf on the Straits course will run over $410, Golf.com reported in 2017. It’s a walking-only course, and a caddie — which costs $65 with a recommended gratuity of $50 per bag — is required.
Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was designed in 1982 by celebrated course architect Pete Dye.
The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most famous in all of golf. The 137-yard, par-3 hole features an iconic island green that is surrounded by water. A thin bridge is a golfer’s only access to the green.
The cost of playing on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass varies at different times of the year. Replay rates start at $300 per player through early September.
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Sean Dennison contributed to the reporting for this article.