The Best Midwest Golf Courses to Play This Season
You might think that long winters in the Midwest would deprive the area of great golf, but it's quite the contrary. "The Great Lakes, milder temperatures that help with the cultivation of prime golf grasses, dense forests and sweeping prairie lands afford golf enthusiasts the opportunity to play many different styles of courses," says Michael O'Reilly, president of the Wisconsin PGA. In fact, about 30 percent of the top public golf courses in the U.S. are located within the region. Read on for our top picks of where to tee it up when the weather warms.
Erin Hills, Hartford, Wisconsin
You'll feel like you're setting foot on a European course as you head to the first tee at Erin Hills. True to its name, it's a hilly, challenging 18-hole course that was ranked in the top third of Golfweek's top 100 public golf courses in 2021. It's ideal for experienced golfers who like to walk (no carts allowed), and professional caddies on-site are highly recommended (and extremely helpful). Stay overnight in the on-site cozy lodge or book a four-bedroom cottage for your crew for a weekend, and don't miss the steakhouse, Irish pub and sunset-facing terrace post-round.
Related: Try Golfing for Fitness
Brickyard Crossing, Indianapolis, Indiana
Opened nearly a century ago, in 1929, Brickyard Crossing has stood the test of time with its unique setup. This 18-hole, Pete Dye-designed golf course is located adjacent the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with holes 7-10 inside the track. It's one of few courses in the country to have hosted PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments and is a perfect course for groups with varying skill levels. The par-3 hole 7, playing to a raised green, can be a doozy — but at least you have a view of Gasoline Alley (the garages for Indy 500) from the tee box.
Top of the Rock, Branson, Missouri
The game of golf has been focused on improving accessibility over the last few years, and the 9-hole Top of the Rock is a perfect example. Not only is it the first-ever par-3 course to be included in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event, it's also open to the public and easy for even beginners to play in less than 2 hours. No worries if you don't play your best round — shorter holes and lush Ozarks scenery including shimmering Table Rock Lake will still make for a beautiful day. Find plenty of options for overnights at Big Cedar Lodge, which has a total of five courses.
The Prairie Club, Valentine, Nebraska
Three links-style courses in the Sandhills make up The Prairie Club, including the Dunes and Pines courses, both spanning 18 holes and highly ranked by Golf.com, and the innovative Horse Course. The third takes the game of H.O.R.S.E. from the basketball court to the tee box, encompassing 10 holes that help you prioritize fun with your group over low scores. Put the "game" back in golf working your way around undulating greens, no tee boxes and an average hole length of less than 100 yards. Several accommodations on-site include four-bedroom cabins on the Snake River, a lodge and a rustic bunkhouse.
Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio
Named for the tire company and originally commissioned in 1929 as a park for its employees, the Firestone Country Club has three 18-hole courses to suit a range of skill levels. Opened to the public for the first time last year (with a one-night stay required to play), The South Course has hosted multiple PGA Championships. Its par-5 16th hole, nicknamed "Monster" by Arnold Palmer, is where big hitters will want to give it their best swing: It spans a whopping 667 yards. Inside the clubhouse, dormitory-style guest rooms with large windows overlooking the fairways pay homage to the club's rich history, while premium club rooms offer a more upscale stay.
Firekeeper Golf Course, Mayetta, Kansas
An economic endeavor of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Firekeeper Golf Course was designed by Notah Begay III, the first full-blooded Native American player ever to play on the PGA Tour. The 18-hole course was ranked No. 15 on Golfweek's best casino golf courses for 2021 and is full of twists and turns to keep the game interesting. For instance, holes 1 and 6 share a large green, and hole 18 has double fairways so you can choose your own adventure. Prairie Band Casino & Resort nearby offers accommodations, dining, gaming and entertainment options.
Bully Pulpit Golf Course, Medora, North Dakota
Sculpted out of the rugged terrain of the Badlands, Bully Pulpit Golf Course winds through meadows, woodlands, buttes and bluffs, culminating in a hilly, challenging round that will have you feeling thankful you opted for a cart. Give it your best shot on holes 14-16, known as the "Badlands Holes," which go through a fairway gorge. Even if you lose a ball, you'll still enjoy the spectacular views. Before or after a round, practice putting on the new Little Bully Pulpit minigolf course.
Arcadia Bluffs, Arcadia, Michigan
Caddies aren't required, but they're available to all golfers at Arcadia Bluffs' two 18-hole courses, the links-style Bluffs and treeless South Course — and they sure make navigating the tricky sod-walled bunkers and tall native grasses easier. You can still score relatively well low here, however, thanks to wide fairways and spacious greens. The incredible views of Lake Michigan help ease any pain from balls lost in the rough, too. Play one course then overnight at The Lodge, The Bluffs Lodge or The Cottages and hit the other the next day.
Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Palos Park, Illinois
Four separate courses make up the 72-hole, public Cog Hill Golf & Country Club that lies 25 miles southwest of Chicago. Its No. 4 course is the A-game-demanding Dubsdread, which has hosted several PGA events, is ranked No. 56 on Golf Digest's 2021 list of 100 greatest public courses. Dubsdread was built in 1964, and renovations over the last decade or so have upheld its original architect's commitment to abundant bunkers. Don't forget your sand wedge.
Related: Top Golf Spots in Illinois
Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin
Ranked among the top public courses in the country by Golfweek, the Pete Dye-designed Whistling Straits shined on national TV in 2021 as host of the Ryder Cup. It's hard to discern whether you're in Ireland or the Badger State as you make your way through a round on either of its two 18-hole courses. The rugged Straits is carved into the Lake Michigan shoreline, while the inland Irish is more grueling than it even appears, with streams, dunes and grasslands threatening to come after your handicap. At least a post-round visit to Kohler Waters Spa at Destination Kohler will ease the pain of your inevitable
Giant's Ridge, Biwabik, Minnesota
Golfers at Giant's Ridge, a resort destination with a duo of consistently top-ranked 18-hole courses (The Legend and The Quarry) in northeastern Minnesota, don't take themselves too seriously with the option to trade a golf cart for a Finn Cycle. Simply strap your clubs to the back of these fat-tired bikes, and you'll turn your round into even more of a workout. Adding to the fun: The Legend course has fairway sand traps resembling footprints of a giant. Hang up your golf shoes and cap at several different overnight options here, with the most charming being The Barn House.
Grand View Lodge, Nisswa, Minnesota
Get away for a true golfers' weekend to Grand View Lodge, a lakeside retreat in the central part of the state with suites, cottages, townhomes and villas located directly on the resort's two golf courses. Newer players can get their swing down inside a golf simulator or on the extensive practice facility before heading outside to the 27-holes Pines course, which is filled with trees, water hazards and picturesque greens. More experienced golfers may enjoy The Preserve, built into the wetlands and famous for its elevated tees and super-fast greens.