Derek Duncan's Favourite (Affordable and Public Play) Courses

Derek Duncan.jpg

If golf course architecture is your bag then Derek Duncan’s ‘Feed the Ball’ podcast is a must-listen. In just eighteen months Derek has established himself as one of the very best interviewers on the topic in the world. His style is warm and engaging, but anodyne he is not. He will happily voice his opinion and has the confidence to challenge the views and work of some of the biggest names in the business.

The quality of the guests on Derek’s show is incredible and you will enjoy the conversation with a shaper you have never heard of just as much as one with a big-hitter like Bill Coore or David McLay Kidd. If you are new to Feed the Ball then I would encourage you to listen to this 2018 highlights package to give you a taste of its brilliance.

It won’t surprise anyone that Derek has come up with something a little different for his list and it serve as a reminder that golf courses don’t need to be high-end and private for you to to have a blast. Enjoy!

This could easily be another compilation of star-studded, bright light, world top 50 courses. I’m going a different direction with a list of some of my favorite (mostly) affordable, public-play courses (and anyway, you can read about all those great courses on the other people’s lists).

Public golf remains the heart of the game and there’s always a need to draw special attention to courses that are not just accessible, walkable and economical but also possess that rarest of things: smart, exciting architecture.

These aren’t all 100 point, or even 90 point courses, but they are places that have made an impression on me as being authentic expressions of their location and models of what good public-access golf can and should be. Each is unique in its way and worthy of a round should your path happen to take you nearby.

Chattanooga, Tennessee – Right off the bat we’re in murky water because Black Creek is a private club. They have been known, however, to be receptive to outside play if approached nicely. Working a good site in a lovely valley, Brian Silva reproduced sharp interpretations of Seth Raynor’s template holes, plus a few originals of his own. Most golfers will never get to Shoreacres or Fishers Island, but at Black Creek they can get the full Raynor treatment, including a reverse Redan, a Biarritz, a Cape and one of the game’s great Punchbowl greens.
Black Creek Club Website, One Golfers Travels

Deltona, Florida – Bobby Weed mainlined an old lifeless course with a dazzling cocktail of visual drama and strategic intrigue by ripping out acres of coarse border rough to expose evocative play-it-as-you-find-it barrens. The property possesses gorgeous running elevations, deep sandy soils, and superb ground contour accented by big greens that bleed off at the edges. Most impressive to public consideration, the remodel work was cost effective as the sand washes demand fewer inputs and maintenance.
The Deltona Club Website, Virginia Golf Guy, Feed the Ball

Estes Park, Colorado – Sitting at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes is simple, old-style mountain golf and a wonderful walk through the thin, pine-scented air, far removed from the multi-million dollar “lodges” and international hotel conglomerates found at higher-up elevations. The holes run back and forth across a tilting property with a stimulating run of short par-4s on the second nine that have long players licking their chops, and then licking their wounds when they walk off with 4s and 5s instead of 3s. When I think of rustic, unrushed public golf, I think of Estes Park.
Estes Park Website

Canon City, Colorado – Jim Engh says he wants his designs to give players an endorphin rush. Four Mile Ranch provides a true Rocky Mountain high with climbs up into high desert foothills, opportunities to blast heroic shots over native outcroppings and no formalized bunkering. Perhaps the most underrated volume in the Engh library, this course has everything that’s good: affordability, excessive width, fast running fairways, peek-a-boo greens and topsy-turvy putting contours that feed the ball to the hole if approached with proper imagination.
Four Mile Ranch Website,

Ireland – I dream about golf courses located in the middle of towns, where golfers walk with clubs on their shoulder and, after the round, deposit them in a corner of a pub while they sip on a pint. Lahinch is this place. There’s no separation between town and fairways and the golf is one of the game’s most joyous romps. The holes bounce and bob up into the tall, rollicking dunes overlooking the sea before returning to a soft landing at the flatter 17th and 18th holes. Now, about that pint.
UK Golf Guy Review, Graylyn Loomis

Green Lake, Wisconsin – The Links Course at Lawsonia is no longer a secret. It is, however, the reigning champion in the awesome, unbelievable, this-is-as-good-as-exclusive-Golden Age-private club-golf-but-at-an-affordable-public-rate division. The 1920’s Langford & Moreau design feels just right roaming around a roomy, mostly treeless site with unique vertical shaping and steep, serious hazards. It’s at once simple and complex, thematic and enigmatic, and worthy of the status of a “must play” in the travels of any serious golfer., Lawsonia Website,

Southern Pines, North Carolina – I’d love to put Southern Pines into this spot, that raw but nifty little Donald Ross public course a few miles down the road, but Mid Pines is just too good. It stretches the budget more than the others on the list but Ross’s original design and Kyle Franz’s recent restoration work make it more than worthwhile. This is Ross at the height of his powers, the masterful routing and genius green placements serving as sensuous yin to the muscular yang of nearby (and much pricier) Pinehurst No. 2 (…and go ahead and hit Southern Pines while you’re in the neighborhood). 
Mid Pines Inn, Graylyn Loomis

Asheboro, North Carolina – Tobacco Road is Mike Strantz’s masterpiece but there’s something almost nobler about the strange, woodsy, “we somehow got this done” aura of Tot Hill Farm. Littered with rocks and boulders and ambitious up and down character, the course is a little troubled and almost doesn’t fit, but the golf is packed with all the Strantzian curlicues that you make the drive for (the par-3 13th!!!). It’s almost unfair how much excitement and bewilderment is packed into forty bucks and 6,500 yards, but how often does public golf give you a good chuckle like this? 
Tot Hill Farm Website, YouTube course feature,, The A Position

Gothenburg, Nebraska – Located amid the farmlands and forever horizons of central Nebraska, Wild Horse is the apotheosis of Plains golf. Hand built by Dave Axland and Dan Proctor, the design cuts through the native prairie grasses, hugging the rolling, sandy terrain with exceptionally broad, slick fairways that accommodate a variety of angles and the frequently vicious winds. The game escalates as the round deepens, with an extraordinary run of second nine holes that feature some of the most profound strategic bunkering found on any American public course.
Wild Horse Golf Club,,

Winter Park, Florida – It’s no small irony that the course that arguably shares the most in common with Lahinch’s town/golf symbiosis is a flat, nine-hole muni in Orlando. Winter Park’s holes roam without boundaries through a sleepy, tree-lined neighborhood like a pack of boys on bikes, crossing brick-paved streets, skirting a cemetery and nestling close to span of train tracks. The tight turf, rippled fairways and heavily contoured greens actually are reminiscent of links play, but the real charm here comes from the feeling of being at home in a place the oozes pure golf, even if you live 500 miles away.
Winter Park Website, the fried egg, Feed the Ball

Next up we have blogger, podacast host and journalist Graylyn Loomis with his 10 Favourite Courses.