Top courses get top dollar What it costs to play the greatest public golf courses in America

An aerial view of The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, where the PGA Championship is scheduled to return in 2021. The Ocean Course hosted the PGA Championship in 2012, when Rory McIlroy won the title.

One of the greatest draws of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is that anyone can play the same golf course where Rory McIlroy won the 2012 PGA Championship and the U.S. team beat Europe in the 1991 Ryder Cup matches forever known as the War by the Shore.

However, if you want to play the Ocean Course, it will cost you. The going rate for 18 holes on a Saturday this spring is $370, not including tip. But keep in mind you are playing on the course recently rated No. 3 in Golf Digest’s biennial list of America’s 100 greatest public golf courses. If you want to play the No. 1 public course in America — Pebble Beach — the price is $495.

When Golf Digest announced its rankings in February, we looked at the list of prestigious courses and wondered what it would cost to play them. So we called nine of the courses — the top 5 and all the South Carolina courses ranked — and asked what a round would cost on a typical Saturday in the spring.

Pebble Beach tops the list, but Pinehurst Resort No. 2 isn’t far behind. The North Carolina course, ranked fifth by Golf Digest, will set you back $450.

The Ocean Course was easily the most expensive of the ranked courses in South Carolina, followed by Hilton Head Island’s Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s Heritage Classic. The price to play Harbour Town, ranked 19th by Golf Digest, is $290. The other state courses on the list are No. 37 May River Golf Club at Palmetto Bluff (Bluffton), No. 50 Dunes Golf and Beach Club (Myrtle Beach), and No. 73 Caledonia Golf and Fish Club (Pawleys Island).

The cost to play all five Palmetto State courses is $1,344 in green fees alone. But if you love golf, it might be worth it.

1. Pebble Beach Golf Links

Pebble Beach, Calif.

Architect: Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, 1919

Par-72, 6,828 yards

Overlooking Carmel Bay and situated on dramatic cliffs alongside the Pacific Ocean, Pebble Beach is one of the best-known courses in America. In 1947 it began hosting the PGA Tour’s Bing Crosby National (now ATT&T Pebble Beach) Pro-Am. Pebble Beach has nine holes adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. The course will host its sixth U.S. Open in 2019.

Green fee: $495

2. Pacific Dunes

Bandon, Ore.

Architect: Tom Doak, 2001

Par-71, 6,633 yards

Tom Doak created a masterpiece with the second course built at Bandon Dunes Resort, routing the course to take advantage of Pacific Ocean vistas. The fourth and fifth holes play along the ocean and the 10th through 13th holes are situated to take advantage of the crashing surf. Dunes as tall as 60 feet help frame holes at Pacific Dunes.

Green fee: $220

3. The Ocean Course

Kiawah Island, S.C.

Architect: Pete and Alice Dye, 1991

Par-72, 7,356 yards

Built to host the 1991 Ryder Cup Matches, the Ocean Course immediately earned a reputation that would lead to it being called ‘America’s Toughest Golf Course’ by Golf Digest. The fairways were elevated so every hole would offer a view of the Atlantic Ocean. Dye has softened the course since that Ryder Cup, and in 2012 Rory McIlroy shot 13 under par to win the PGA Championship.

Green fee: $370

4. Whistling Straits (Straits)

Haven, Wis.

Architect: Pete Dye, 1998

Par-72, 7,790 yards

Another Pete Dye gem, Whistling Straits is built along a two-mile stretch of Lake Michigan and this August will host its third PGA Championship (the Ryder Cup will be played here in 2020). The course has approximately 1,000 bunkers but no rakes, keeping with the Irish links inspiration. Eight holes are perched high along the lakeshore.

Green fee: $385

5. Pinehurst Resort No. 2

Pinehurst, N.C.

Architect: Donald Ross, 1907

Par-72, 7,588 yards

The most famous of Pinehurst Resort’s nine courses, No. 2 has hosted a PGA Championship, Ryder Cup and most recently was the site of its third U.S. Open with the U.S. Women’s Open played the following week. Designer Donald Ross called it the fairest test of championship golf he ever built. It was redone by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore for the 2014 Opens.

Green fee: $450

19. Harbour Town Golf Links

Hilton Head Island

Architect: Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, 1969

Par-71, 7,101 yards

Pete Dye was a relative unknown architect when Sea Pines Plantation decided to build this course. So the powers that be brought in Jack Nicklaus to work with Dye. It didn’t hurt when Arnold Palmer won the first Heritage Classic, nor did it hurt that Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson would go on to win titles here.

Green fee: $290

37. May River Golf Club at Palmetto Bluff


Architect: Jack Nicklaus, 2004

Par-72, 7,171 yards

May River is the centerpiece of a 20,000-acre residential development. In routing the golf course, Jack Nicklaus had golfers playing through massive, moss-draped live oaks and then playing out to the namesake May River, offering views of the water and marsh in a distinctively Lowcountry setting. Nicklaus once said May River is a thinking man’s course.

Green fee: $280

50. The Dunes Golf and Beach Club

Myrtle Beach

Architect: Robert Trent Jones, 1949

Par-72, 7,370 yards

Noted architect Robert Trent Jones designed this course, which has one hole playing out to the Atlantic. Its national reputation was cemented, however, when in 1965 golf writer Dan Jenkins selected the course’s 640-yard, par-5 13th hole as one of the top 18 holes in America. It was the site of the 1962 U.S. Women’s Open and from 1994-99 served as the site of the Seniors (now Champions) Tour Championship.

Green fee: $205

73. Caledonia Golf and Fish Club

Pawleys Island

Architect: Mike Strantz, 1994

Par-70, 6,526 yards

Caledonia was the first solo design by the late Mike Strantz of Mount Pleasant, who came to the Charleston area while working for Tom Fazio. Strantz, who began college majoring in studio art, was challenged by the tight constraints of what once was a rice plantation. Caledonia was built on just 152 acres, a much smaller footprint than most modern-day courses.

Green fee: $199