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Best Public Golf Courses in Virginia

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Something about the state of Virginia evokes a palpable sense of historical importance and old-world ambiance the minute you step on its hallowed grounds. Knowing that it is the seat of the country’s political power, or that it’s called the “Mother of Presidents” (having given birth to and raised eight U.S. Presidents), or the fact that it’s called the “Old Dominion” (being the site of the first English colonial establishment in North America) will all do that to you.

Tucked between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains, Virginia enjoys a rich flora and fauna, a diverse landscape and outdoor-friendly weather for most of the year. Much of its socio-political landscape and geographical divisions are concentrated around the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay. The state capital is Richmond, while its largest city is Virginia Beach. The state population is approximately 8.4 million as of 2017, most of whom are concentrated in the Washington metropolitan area.

Because of its diverse terrain and lush landscape, Virginia is also a prime golfing destination. It has more than 330 courses spread all throughout the state, with a good number of them being public courses or semi-private ones that allow playing access to non-members for daily fees.
In this guide, we are going to discuss and rank the best public golf courses in Virginia covering all types, from mountain to coastal and even some links-style courses.

Best Golf Courses in Virginia

Rating: 4.91/5.0
Location: Hot Springs, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 70     Length: 6,667 yards

Be ready to get transported back to a more classical golfing era when you play at the Cascades Golf Course at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. A favorite of past Presidents William Howard Taft, Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush as well as many other luminaries, the Cascades Course simply radiates old-school ambiance with its elegant clubhouse and course layout reminiscent of a simpler yet more distinguished time. You will be tempted to get into your best Bagger Vance attire in order to maximize the experience.

Offering 36 holes comprised of two 18-hole championship courses, the Homestead Resort has been a favorite golfing destination by local players and tourists for decades. Consistently listed among the best golf courses in Virginia and recognized as Golfweek magazine’s “Best Golf Course You Can Play in Virginia” for 2015, the Cascades Course is the more popular course, compared to its older sibling - aptly named the Old Course.

With few forced carries, the Cascades is a very playable mountain course even for high handicappers although great care must be taken due to its tricky blind tee shots, elevation changes and the fact that you are playing at a higher elevation above sea level that is bound to add a few yards to your drive. You will likely overshoot your target spot if you don’t factor it into your strategy.

Designed by William S. Flynn and built in 1923, the Cascades has been the designated venue of numerous prestigious USGA and PGA Tour championships and events. With a backdrop featuring the spectacular Allegheny Mountains, it offers breath-taking views from every hole that makes your round even more memorable and exciting. The back nine scenery is especially noteworthy with views of waterfalls and the Cascades Gorge stealing your attention from the game now and again.

The great Sam Snead, raised in nearby Ashwood, was a former caddie and golf pro here before launching his legendary career from this very same course. The resort also offers a bevy of other outdoor activities, luxurious accommodations, sumptuous food and a very friendly staff which are all part of the reason why the Cascades Course has been listed by Golf Digest among “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses”. 

Rating: 4.88/5.0
Location: Providence Forge, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,480 yards

Touted as the best Irish links-style course in America, the 7,480-yard, par-72-Tradition Golf Club at Royal New Kent has a reputation of being very difficult to play on that it would be best for you to just check your ego at the door before setting foot on this rugged yet exquisitely beautiful gem of a course. This world-class course, perched on top of the hills in the middle of Chickahominy River and Diascund Creek, is recognized as one of the top 3 golf courses in Virginia and among the top 100 golf courses in the nation by prestigious golf publications.

Designed by Mike Strantz, it possesses some of his signature flourish, which means that this course is very challenging but can be extremely rewarding if you just keep an open mind. Right from the outset, you are required to bring your A-game as you are faced with opening holes that feature blind tee shots and approaches, dramatic elevation changes, and pot bunkers everywhere.

This is a very long course with a very challenging layout. There would be no shame if you move one tee forward from where you usually play. That could even spell the difference between a disastrously bad day or a reasonably fun day at the course. Because of its length and layout difficulty, five hours would actually be a very acceptable pace here.

It would be better if you can manage to play with someone who already knows the course in order to help you come up with the best strategy in tackling this eccentric course. Some of the most memorable holes are the 418-yard, par-4 first hole which features a tee shot requiring an exhilarating 75-foot drop to a cavernous fairway followed by an uphill shot to a two-tiered green, and the par-3 seventh hole which requires you to carry your tee shot directly unto the opposite green over the creek and bunkers.

My favorite, however, is the par-4 18th hole with its friendlier ‘hazards’ being the picturesque water on one side and the rumbling waterfalls on the other. It’s a perfect ending to an exciting round of golf. This is a ‘must play’ course if you are in the Williamsburg area. The Tradition Golf Club at Royal New Kent certainly deserves its reputation as one of the best golf courses in Virginia.

Rating: 4.83/5.0
Location: Gordonsville, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,389 yards

Spring Creek Golf Club could be your golf course version of ‘the one that got away’ if you don’t plan on playing there anytime soon. Although it is currently open to the public, there are persistent talks going around that it will soon be converted into an exclusive private course in the next couple of years. Whether these rumors are true or not, just head on out there and catch a round or two as this is one of the courses which should be on every golfer’s bucket list anyway.

Golf Digest includes Spring Creek GC among the top 100 public courses in America. The course is always maintained in pristine condition and it’s very accessible from other major cities - being only a few minutes’ drive from Richmond and Charlottesville.

Breath-taking scenery adorns the whole length of the course while its multiple tee options make it very playable to all players with varying skill levels. They have one of the nicest and friendliest staff that I have come across. To top it all off, they have top-notch off-course amenities such as the upscale clubhouse, complimentary driving range, separate putting and chipping greens and some of the fanciest golf carts you could get your hands on.

I was pleasantly surprised after playing here. It definitely exceeded my expectations. This is one course that has been under-rated for quite some time and it’s a shame it will no longer be open to the public down the line. Move it up your list and play it as soon as you can; this is definitely one of the best golf courses in Virginia.

Quick tip: If you are looking to keep the cost down, you can avail of the club’s walking rate or just pay for a smaller cart fee to be used only on the hillier back nine. Just be sure to know the shortcuts from the green to the next tee if you decide to walk as the cart paths usually take the longer route. I personally prefer to use a cart the whole time as they actually have the most comfortable carts that I’ve ever ridden on. 

Rating: 4.77/5.0
Location: Meadows of Dan, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,053 yards

It is not the most accessible course to get to by any measure, but the 15-minute drive up to the Highland Course at Primland Resort taking in all the beautiful mountain views will build you up to a lather as you anticipate the exciting round of mountain golf you will be having in the next few minutes. The resort’s well-trained and friendly staff doesn’t disappoint as you will be well taken-cared of and pampered with attention soon as you arrive at the facility.

Located 80 miles west of Richmond, the Highland Course seamlessly blends into the natural mountainous terrain, creating one of the best golf courses in Virginia. It has been listed by Golf Magazine as among the “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” in 2016-2017. Designed by Donald Steel, Tom MacKenzie, and Martin Ebert, this 18-hole championship course exhibits breath-taking scenery from every hole while successfully creating a very challenging layout that is sure to delight players who love a tough and demanding mountain course.

Despite the difficult layout, you will be afforded several chances to come up with a good score as there are several par-5s and short par-4s that can reward you if you are able to execute great control on your drives. That said, if you miss the fairway just forget about your ball and just tee up another one. It is as good as lost when you have knee-high rough or steep mountainside drop accompanying the fairways.

Case in point: The 463-yard, par-4 10th hole demands a very accurate tee shot to successfully maneuver away from the water hazards to the right and the deep bunkers on the left. My favorite hole is the 484-yard, par-4 18th hole with a seemingly thousand-foot drop threatening your shot while you enjoy one of the most stunning mountain views that you could ever lay your eyes on. The perfect way to end an exciting round of mountain golf.

Together with all the different outdoor activities that the resort offers, this is a trip that is definitely worth taking with your friends and family for that one great weekend bonding experience. 

Rating: 4.71/5.0
Location: Radford, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,685 yards

Beginners and average golfers will love the openness of Virginia Tech’s home course, the Pete Dye River Course. Laid out on a relatively flat riverside terrain with no forced carries and hardly any trees in play, this is one of the most playable courses in the entire state.

A stunning scenery and the calming sound of the river will be accompanying you the entire round. Don’t let the seeming openness lull you into being complacent however. It is sometimes difficult to judge the distance towards the green on some of the holes and there are enough challenges here to satisfy even the most competitive players.

The signature 159-yard, par-3 seventh hole has a tightly guarded green with water hazard and bunkers making it very difficult to finish with even a par. The 495-yard, par-4 18th hole has a very narrow fairway on the way to a well-defended green with pot bankers that most players usually get out of there with at least a bogey.

After an exciting round of play, have some refreshments at the clubhouse which is perched on top of a stony cliff 70-feet above the river and offering an all-encompassing view of all the 18 holes of the course below. Don’t miss it if you are anywhere near the vicinity. This is the best golf course in Radford and in the entire Montgomery County. 

Rating: 4.67/5.0
Location: Cape Charles, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,417 yards(Nicklaus Course)
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,250 yards(Palmer Course)

If you are fond of coastal golf, the Bay Creek Resort & Club in Cape Charles offers two 18-hole championship courses built around the historical Chesapeake Bay and Old Plantation Creek designed by golfing greats Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Both the Nicklaus Course and the Palmer Course have received high praises and accolades from respected golf publications. Golf Digest has included both in their list of top golf courses in Virginia. The resort itself is also recognized among the best resorts in the United States by Golf World magazine.

The Nicklaus Course offers magnificent views of the nearby Chesapeake Bay and the beautiful and enigmatic Old Plantation Creek. Its debut in 2006 was well received and immediately earned the course a recognition from Golfweek Magazine as the 8th best golf course in Virginia. The course consists of the typical Nicklaus challenges like ponds as water hazards, huge waste areas and over 100 bunkers scattered in strategic locations all throughout the course.

Built earlier than the Nicklaus Course in 2001, the Palmer Course successfully integrates the Chesapeake Bay and the surrounding landscape into its layout. Four of the course’s holes are found on the bay’s coastline while eight of the holes traverse the Old Plantation Creek. It was awarded the “Best Upscale Course” in 2002 by Golf Digest. Its signature hole is the 460-yard, par-4 third hole which requires you to carry your 2nd shot across the water unto an elevated green.

Along with the resort’s other amenities and activities, be sure to check out the Bay Creek Resort and Club if you are in the area. With two courses catering to all players of varying skill levels, it is not only the best golf course in Northampton County but also in the entire state of Virginia. 

Rating: 4.60/5.0
Location: Potomac Shores, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,020 yards

The Potomac Shores Golf Club may be a new course, having been launched only in 2014, but it does not lag in any way compared to its more established counterparts. Right off the bat, it was included among the “Top 10 New Golf Courses in the Country” by Golf Digest in 2015 and the “Best Golf Course You Can Play in Virginia” by Golfweek in 2016.

The staff are very professional and friendly from the bag drop, pro shop, clubhouse, golf staff, and just pretty much everyone around. They have a beautiful clubhouse, driving range, putting and chipping greens, as well as other top-notch amenities. The best thing is that it is conveniently accessible even for those on a tight schedule as it is only a relatively short drive (about 30 miles) from Washington, DC.

Overlooking the magnificent Potomac River, this impressive 18-hole, par-72 course was designed by the great Jack Nicklaus. It shows in the way that the par-3s here are all superbly designed to strategically challenge you, which is a classic Nicklaus signature stamp easily identifiable among all his courses. He gives you several chances, however, to get back the few strokes you may have lost on those par-3s with a slew of par-5 easy birdie possibilities if you manage to play them right.

The layout flawlessly blends into the mature forest landscape making it an irresistible draw for those who appreciate a good game with an even greater scenery. With over 200-feet of frequent elevation changes, several forced carries, bunkers, water hazards, and undulating greens, this is a course which requires you to put on your thinking hat all the way until you step off the 18th green.

Do not miss the opportunity to play on this course if you are somewhere in the DC area. It is definitely one of the best golf courses in Northern Virginia.

Rating: 4.57/5.0
Location: New Kent, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,496 yards

Located just 20 miles away from downtown Richmond, the Club at Viniterra combines the idyllic landscape of the nearby New Kent vineyards, and the original wooded, rolling hills landscape to form a beautiful yet very challenging course in the New Kent area.

Opened only in 2009, it quickly attracted attention and was recognized as among the “Top 20 Public Courses in Virginia” by Golf Advisor in 2016. At 7,496 yards from the tips, this is a long and difficult course, so take advantage of the multiple tee options and angles to make it more manageable befitting your own skill level. You will start and end your round with a pair of formidable par-5s with bunker fairways requiring you to execute with precision if you don’t want to start or end your game on a bad note.

Golf Architects Rees Jones and Greg Muirhead incorporated a lot of nuances to make the layout as difficult as possible which can be described as challenging by seasoned players but are downright intimidating for the average players. There are numerous dramatic elevation changes, with some shots dropping 70 feet from the tee to the green. Strategically placed bunkers around the greens and even on fairways, water hazards and some narrow fairways all contribute to the complexity of this magnificent course.

I highly recommend this course when you are in the vicinity. It is one of the best golf courses in the Williamsburg or Richmond area. 

Rating: 4.52/5.0
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,120 yards(Green Course)
Holes: 18     Par: 71     Length: 6,817 yards(Gold Course)

The Golden Horseshoe Golf Club is a design showcase of the famed Jones family of golf architects Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and son Rees Jones, comprising a total of 45 holes of very challenging yet scenic landscape. Located in Williamsburg, it has two 18-hole championship courses (Green and Gold courses) and one 9-hole course called the Spotswood Executive which is ideal for a quick round of golf.

The oldest of the three courses, the Gold Course was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and opened in 1963. It has since been updated and redesigned by his son Rees Jones and re-opened in July 2017 boasting of numerous upgraded features designed to keep up with the modern game but still keeping with the design ideals of his father.

This is an extremely tough course which punishes you for every errant shot or the slightest miscalculation. Its narrow fairways and well-guarded greens are usually surrounded by water hazards and sand traps making it a very challenging course even for the most seasoned players. Notable holes are the four par-3s at the 3rd, 7th, 12th and 16th holes, all featuring forced carries over water towards the green.

The Green Course (opened in 1991) was designed by the tandem of Rees Jones and Greg Muirhead. Your round kicks off with a tough par-4 followed by a strong par-5 with a dogleg-right layout dotted with multiple fairway bunkers before even reaching the green.

With three distinct courses to choose from depending on your individual preference and skill level, the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club is a must-try destination when you are on the lookout for some of the best golf courses in the Williamsburg area.

Rating: 4.49/5.0
Location: Midlothian, Virginia
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,127 yards

The Independence Golf Club is the only public course designed by the famous Architect Tom Fazio in the state of Virginia. Located on the borders of the Piedmont region, it takes advantage of the original wetlands and mature woodlands in coming up with a course that offers a demanding layout even as it stays true to the natural contours of the original landscape.

Opened in 2001, the course features tight fairways skirted with coarse and dense areas, strategically placed bunkers, and constant elevation changes to make the course very compelling. It successfully balances the right mixture of natural aesthetic, playability, and challenge which is why it is often chosen as the venue for many prestigious tournaments that are held in the Richmond area.

The 18th hole closes a very challenging round with an uphill dogleg-left forced carry over water after you manage to avoid fairway bunkers on either side of the fairway with your tee shot. For beginners or those who want to warm up before hitting the main course, they also have a 9-hole course which is ideal for such purposes.

Try to schedule a round at the Independence Golf Club when you have the chance. It will be worth the trip as it is one of the best golf courses in the Richmond area. 

Wrap up

Between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains, Virginia is blessed with a diverse landscape and outdoor friendly weather that makes it conducive for some of the most exciting golf courses to be situated. The state has an enviable range of possible layouts ranging from mountain courses, coastal courses and Scottish-links inspired courses.

Ranking golf courses is a subjective matter. The ten that we have listed here are based on our own humble opinions and influenced by a number of factors at a time when we played the courses. It is perfectly understandable if you can come up with a list of your own that would be entirely different from what we have listed here. After a certain level of minimum requirements, golf becomes a matter of personal preference.

The important thing is that you go out there and enjoy this glorious game at your own pace and leisure.    

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