Best Public Golf Courses in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania, the charming neighbor of Maryland and New York, is a Mid-Atlantic state located east of New Jersey and west of Ohio. Being one of the 13 original colonies in America, Pennsylvania is rich in historical significance. It was here that the Declaration of Independence was signed, and where President Lincoln delivered his iconic Gettysburg address a decade later.
Dubbed the “Keystone State” because of its central role in colonial history, Pennsylvania is home to famous landmarks such as the Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Betsy Ross House, where the famous Philadelphian seamstress first made the United States flag.
Pennsylvania is also the fifth most populous state with 12.8 million residents, many of whom reside in Philadelphia, the largest of all the Pennsylvanian cities. Other major cities include Harrisburg (the capital city), Pittsburgh, Allentown, and Lancaster.
The state is also abundant in cultural and educational sites that celebrate and commemorate art (like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum, and the Allentown Art Museum), science (such as the Franklin Institute, the Carnegie Science Museum, and the Da Vinci Science Center), and natural resources (Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden, the Allentown Rose Gardens, Wildwood Park, and Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park).
Some of the nation’s classic courses are also situated here. Some of which trace their origins even before the turn of the 20th century. With a diverse geographical landscape, a large population base, and a rich history it is no wonder that some of the best golf courses can be found here.
In this guide, we will list the top public golf courses in Pennsylvania, along with some semi-private clubs that allow playing privileges to non-members in exchange for daily fee rates and other charges.
Best Golf Courses in Pennsylvania
Location: Farmington, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,526 yards
Do not be intimidated by the 149 slope rating, Pete Dye’s Mystic Rock Course at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is a very engaging and playable course. With one of the highest slope ratings in the country, the resort has made it mandatory for everyone to be provided with a caddie together with the green fee to help navigate the course and ensure that everyone finishes the game with an ear-to-ear smile because they had a very satisfying round instead of leaving with a unibrow and a pout because they just had one of their most frustrating games ever.
It is every bit a resort course from start to finish with very scenic views from every hole, with some artworks even thrown in every now and then (the John Daly statue in the pond at the 5th hole was a nice touch). But it is also every bit the challenging course that you expected it to be with that Pete Dye lineage.
Situated in the Laurel Highlands of southwest Pennsylvania and designed by the legendary Pete Dye, the 7,526-yard layout is a playable and formidable course at the same time. It is also one of the most visually stunning courses the state has to offer. Featuring fairways and water landscapes with retaining walls carefully crafted from smooth stone, a magnificent cascading waterfall by the 5th hole, and the majestic panoramic view of the Allegheny Mountain Range.
Mystic Rock caters to all players from varying skill levels. While it is relatively more forgiving compared to other Pete Dye creations, the tree-lined fairways and numerous hazards still demand a certain level of control and precision to be able to finish with your typical score.
The front nine is more generous and forgiving, allowing for some nice starter holes to open the game. The back nine, on the other hand, is where the real challenge begins. The fairways become much narrower, water hazards and bunkers are suddenly everywhere, and a number of long holes come into play.
While the par-5 11th is the lengthiest hole – stretching a full 634 yards – the true test is in finishing the last five holes, with their massive bunkers, elevation changes, and severely undulating greens proving to be a tough nut to crack for even the most skilled of golfers. The most difficult test is reserved for the concluding hole, the 18th, with its dogleg left uphill fairway and strategically placed fairway bunkers easily making it one of the toughest tee shots the entire round.
Mystic Rock has been recognized by Golf Digest as among the “Top 100 Public Courses in the US” in 2015. Just 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, be sure to include this on your to-do list when you are in the area. It is definitely one of the best golf courses in Pennsylvania.
Location: Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,026 yards
Another top pick and a close second on this list is the Iron Valley Golf Club just west on the turnpike to Lebanon. A hidden gem that’s very reasonably priced for such a demanding and good-quality golfing experience. Iron Valley is quite unlike the usual Philadelphia course offerings.
This P.B. Dye showpiece features a starting nine carved from a piece of the gorgeous, tree-strewn lot perched atop a series of closed-down mine shafts, a location known as Rexmonth Mountain.
Right off the bat, your round begins with the 435-yard, par-4 first hole that diverges through the woods and then promptly moves downhill. Every hole is a delight, and some par-3s are exceedingly difficult. One par-4 in particular has a gaping chasm which you need to squeeze through on the second shot, and the par-5 fourth hole offers a panoramic view as you descend from the tee – of a small lake surrounded by structures crafted from a collapsed mine shaft, making for quite the picturesque view.
On the other hand, the back nine sports a drastically different but no less interesting aesthetic. While the front nine is aptly named the “Mine Nine”, the back row is referred to as the “Tailings Nine”, as it utilizes deposits of the leftover silt, a gray valley of tailings, some marshes and a man-made lake as visual elements to contrast the vibrant, verdant fairways. The result is a transfixing, almost otherworldly-looking steampunk moonscape. The 10th fairway is particularly theatrical, as it streaks along the mountain peak’s edge of tailings, giving players an incredible view of the Lebanon Valley below.
The 15th and 16th holes are acknowledged as the best that the course has to offer. The former is a lengthy, uphill par-4 that willingly ascends into a treacherous green while the latter is a tight and hilly par-5 encircling a body of water.
The Iron Valley Golf Club is a one-of-a-kind, scenic track by the mountains that deserves its reputation as one of the best public golf courses in eastern Pennsylvania.
Location: Ellwood, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 70 Length: 7,103 yards
Next up on the list is the Olde Stonewall Golf Club of Ellwood City. Only 30 minutes northwest of Pittsburgh, this course is famous for its superb, high-end facilities and ostentatiously lavish appearance, which is a pleasant surprise coming from a public golf course.
Built in 1999 and designed by the award-winning Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Stonewall particularly stands out for their services and amenities. They have all the basics covered from chipping greens, putting greens, driving range, teaching pros, a golf academy, cart rentals, to other on-course as well as clubhouse amenities. No detail is too minor as far as the staff and management of the Olde Stonewall GC are concerned.
A point of particular interest is the captivating Olde Stonewall Clubhouse made to resemble a 14th-century castle. This vast stone palace comes complete with banners, tall towers, and even a knight decked out from head to toe in shining iron armor, ready to greet any and all guests who enter. There’s also a well-stocked pro shop with top-of-the-line equipment and clothing, upscale locker rooms, and a medieval-themed bar and eatery named “Shakespeare’s Restaurant & Pub”.
The course layout is challenging but fair, especially if you start from the right tees. There are plenty of dramatic elevation changes and several blind shots, which are offset by generous bentgrass fairways (consistently maintained to tournament conditions). The greens are all well-manicured and the entire layout is sprinkled with a mix of drivable par-4s, some long par-3s, and a couple of reachable par-5s.
While the front nine’s layout has a more traditional feel, the back nine is more visually appealing as it boasts of multiple high-vista holes and fantastic views of the natural setting surrounding the area. Elevation changes, strategically placed landing areas, and fairways flanked by the forest characterize most of the holes on this tastefully-made track.
Excellent course conditions that are well-maintained amidst a beautiful natural setting with an exceptional layout, Olde Stonewall claims to be “Western Pennsylvania’s Premier Golf Destination” - and they certainly deliver.
Location: Oxford, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,148 yards
This Brian Ault design ranks fourth on our list of the top golf courses hailing from the Keystone State. An 18-hole course that opened in 1993, the Wyncote Golf Club features a Heathlands-style layout with bentgrass greens and fairways, as well as four different tee placements designed to cater to golfers of all skill levels.
Wyncote is widely regarded as one of the most challenging courses in the area, with an especially difficult front nine kicking off the festivities. With its lightning fast putting surfaces, elevated greens, mounded bunkers, surrounding trees – and even the wind on most occasions – all acting as foils to your progress, it’s a tough but fair test of skill that keeps players honestly cautious.
In keeping with the Heathlands theme, there are not that many trees to distract you from your shot. But you still need to keep them straight or you will go out of bounds, or be scrambling through the tall fescue grass. You can hardly find an even lie anywhere on this course and there are several blind shots waiting for you around the corner that are sure to test your resolve.
Holes 11 to 15 are a blast, both for their exciting layout as well as the magnificent views from the tee. Try your best to stay out of the rough, which are just brutal. If your ball strays in there, just chalk it up as lost otherwise you’ll be holding up the pace of play.
Wyncote Golf Club was recognized by Golf Digest as the 3rd “Best New Public Course in the United States” in 2011. A visit here is the perfect way to enjoy a lovely day in Chester County. It is arguably the best public golf course in southeast Pennsylvania.
Location: Blakeslee, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,256 yards
Situated in the midst of a dense, natural oak forest that is perched atop the Pocono Mountains is Jack Frost National Golf Course. A consistent contender on many “Best Public Courses in Pennsylvania” lists of prestigious golf publications and a recipient of Golfweek’s “Best New U.S. Courses” in 2010, this 18-hole Terry LaGree masterpiece is a fun and straightforward course with broad fairways, distinct target areas, few uneven lies, and no blind shots.
With a 139 slope rating, this is not a pushover course by any standard, but it is fairly playable to make it enjoyable for players across a varied spectrum of talents. The front nine is comparatively easier compared to the back nine, where the elevation changes are more evident. There are several two-tier greens, which means that there is a probability that you will be closing some holes with potential 3-putts.
No mountain course would be complete without the requisite breath-taking vistas and captivating scenery, and Jack Frost National GC does not disappoint in that regard. It’s carefully carved out from the natural contours of the mountainous terrain, preserving the wooded valleys of vibrant greens and the wildlife that abound in the area. You will have a sense of complete isolation as the holes are completely secluded from one another.
To top it off, Jack Frost also comes furnished with amenities such as a Kentucky Blue Grass driving range, a state-of-the-art practice area to hone your short game consisting of a putting green, a chipping green with bunker, a well-stocked pro shop, and a full-service restaurant for guests to enjoy their getaway to the Poconos. It’s definitely worth the trip.
Location: Mount Wolf, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 6,962 yards
Designed by architect Timothy Freeland with the Old Course at St Andrews and the Royal Lytham in mind, the Royal Manchester Golf Links is an 18-hole links-style championship course stationed along Susquehanna River in northern York County. A relatively new golf course opened only in 2010, Royal Manchester has a clear layout with wide fairways and large greens highlighted by several water attractions. A beautiful blue waterfall cascading into a sparkling pond awaits all players at the final hole of the track.
Royal Manchester may be the course that is best suited for beginners out of this entire list, but that does not mean that it doesn’t have its fair share of challenges. A well-positioned drive off the tee is critical in navigating your way through the mid-length par-4s, and while the fairways are broad they’re also slightly elevated. The 9th and 18th greens are fronted by water hazards with bunkers at the back, so you will be needing precision and ball control to avoid them yet be able to hold your shot on the green.
The greens are smooth and fast, while the fairways are closely cropped that you can expect to gain a few yards on your drive. Despite the lack of trees, Royal Manchester makes up for it with plenty of fescue and mounds integrated into every hole, reminiscent of the original Scottish links.
The Royal Manchester Golf Links is an absolute must-play course if you are an avid golfer. It’s definitely one of the best golf courses in southeast Pennsylvania.
Location: Bedford, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 6,785 yards
Tucked away in an idyllic countryside location that’s just a two-hour drive west of Pittsburgh is our strong and steady No. 7, the Old Course at Omni Bedford Springs Resort. With origins dating back before the turn of the 20th century, the layout is officially credited to the legendary classical golf architects A.W. Tillinghast (1916) and Donald Ross (1924), with a recent restoration and renovation work done by Ron Forse in 2007.
The Old Course is an absolute blast to play with its assortment of exciting par-3s and grueling par-5s, and two-tiered lightning quick greens. It has a straightforward layout that is suitable for players of all skill sets, but those long par-5s at the 3rd, 5th, 13th, and 16th are particularly difficult. The course measures at a very walkable 6,785 yards, with many features nodding back to the classical times of golf architecture with pieces such as the “doughnut” bunker, a “volcano” pushed-up par-3, cross bunkers, and grassy mounds called “alps”.
With its well-maintained conditions, an old-school layout, world-class amenities, and historical significance, the Old Course at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort should be on every serious golfer’s bucket list. It has stood the test of time to prove its worth as one of the best public golf courses in Pennsylvania.
Location: Avondale, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 70 Length: 6,561 yards
Perhaps the best bargain on this list is the Inniscrone Golf Club in Avondale, an upscale 18-hole championship golf course at a reasonable price range. This Gil Hanse design initially opened as a private golf course in 1998 but subsequently opened its doors to the public. Managed by the Heathland Hospitality Group and owned by the London Grove Township, Inniscrone Golf Club has a chock full of things to make golfers happy: beautiful sights, plenty of elevation changes, challenging greens, and strategically placed bunkers, to name a few.
All the holes are placed a considerable distance from each other to impart a more secluded feel, as well as to provide each one with a more visually distinct character. The back nine is a definite departure from the front nine in terms of difficulty, but both have the same underlying design concepts. The front is wider and more open, offering players with better chances at a good score, and some easy par-4s to open the round. The second and third holes may be your best chances to snag a birdie.
The back nine, on the other hand, will likely require you to pull out all the clubs in your bag. The 402-yard, par-4 13th hole with a dogleg left fairway asks that you carry a wide waste area off the tee while avoiding the fairway bunkers. From there it’s a manageable approach to the green with just a hazard positioned slightly on the left to consider. But the green is quite small, miscalculate it and you’ll be waving your chances of a birdie goodbye.
The Inniscrone Golf Club definitely plays longer than its published yardage of 6,561 yards due to numerous uphill shots and some tournament-type holes which require precision and length if you play from the tips. To better enjoy this course, consider moving to the green tees which has a more manageable 5,790 yards.
If you happen to be either in Philadelphia or Wilmington, Delaware or anywhere in between, do not miss the opportunity to play at the Inniscrone Golf Club. With their friendly staff, great amenities, and excellent course conditions you are bound to have an enjoyable experience with an un-muni like atmosphere at one of Pennsylvania’s premier golfing destinations.
Location: Glen Mills, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 71 Length: 6,646 yards
Designed by the perennially underrated Bobby Weed (the man behind gems like the Hilton Head National in South Carolina and TPC River Highlands in Connecticut), the Golf Course at Glen Mills is an East Coast dream course out in the countryside that’s a mere 45 minutes southwest of Philadelphia. After years of being the right-hand man to Pete Dye, the Florida-based architect Weed wasted no time flaunting what he’s learned and embellishing his own personal flair on this course.
Since it first opened in 2000, the Golf Course at Glen Mills has been awarded no. 5 on Golf Magazine’s “Top Ten You Can Play in Pennsylvania” in 2002 and also ranked 7th in Golf Digest’s “New Upscale Courses” in the entire United States in 2001.
The 18-hole layout itself is an absolute blast to play. With fairways of bent grass and immaculate greens that roll quick and true, the Golf Course at Glen Mills showcases a fantastic assortment of creatively designed holes with a sprinkling of perilous par-4s and 5s. This parkland course also puts a premium on players’ accuracy and creativity, even if the layout was designed to accommodate various playing styles and strategies. By law of averages, you’re bound to stumble into at least one hazard as there are so many of them at Glen Mills (almost 170 in fact) – the most notable of which are the pot bunkers that were deliberately put in there to capture the ambiance at St. Andrews.
The front nine opens in a meadow and eventually traverses into the woods for a change of scenery and elevation. Most of the par-5s are complicated by the presence of obstacles on the dogleg corners. There are numerous tee shots that are played either uphill, downhill, or across the water.
My favorite hole was the scenic double dogleg 572-yard, par 5 Hole No. 4 which features a 235-foot carry over a quarry on the second shot. A close 2nd is the 325-yard, par-4 Hole No. 4 where the green is reachable in two especially if you draw your shot from the tee.
Location: Pottstown, Pennsylvania
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 6,835 yards
Concluding our list is the Montgomery County marvel called the Raven’s Claw. Perched atop the rolling hills and woodlands of southeastern Pennsylvania, this 18-hole layout is composed of narrow fairways, lush, rolling greens, and heaps of rough. It also boasts of beautiful countryside views and several peaceful streams incorporated in the layout.
Designed by Ed Shearon and first built in 2005, Raven’s Claw has exceptional hole diversity that will draw out your entire shot-making arsenal. Your resolve will also be tested by several risk/reward holes. Two par-3s particularly stand out: the 14th, a plunge leading into an angled green flanked by a bunker and a creek, with trees strewn along the back for added difficulty; and the 17th, a 242-yard, uphill par-3 with a frustratingly narrow fairway.
Raven's Claw is designed to satisfy a wide demographic of players with its accommodating layout, excellent course condition, and beautiful setting. A formidable layout, fast but fair greens, and divot free fairways are just some of the things that you can expect when playing here, not to mention a spirited game of golf.
Raven’s Claw also has a recently opened clubhouse, a restaurant and pub, a well-stocked pro shop, a driving range and practice greens to deliver a complete golfing experience to all guests. If you are serious about your game, include this one on your must-play list when you are in the area. It is one of the best public golf courses in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Though Pennsylvania has a lot to offer to both tourists and locals in terms of history, culture, and natural attractions, those looking to satisfy their golfing fix will be more than pleased with what they find here, starting with our top picks.
Because the state has such an abundance of golfing destinations – an impressive 500 public-access courses and more than 700 overall – there’s guaranteed to be a course in Pennsylvania that will fit the bill for every golfer in terms of skill level, price range, and layout preferences.
Listed above are our top ten picks for the best public golf courses in Pennsylvania, but rest assured, there are still plenty of wonderful courses out there waiting to be discovered.