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US Golf Destinations Thriving through the Pandemic

Golf rounds were up nearly 50 percent following March of last year

Despite much of the world being shut down in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, some industries managed to not just survive but thrive. One of those that benefited the most was golf, as 2020 gave the sport a much-needed jolt to life.

Though universal shutdowns initially cratered business’ bottom lines (March 2021 showed golf rounds up a staggering 45% from March 2020), golfers across the U.S. logged 14%—or 60 million—more rounds in 2020 than 2019, according to a National Golf Foundation study tracking the effects of the coronavirus on the industry. Weekday play in particular, and late-afternoon course use specifically, saw a massive jump in 2020, due in part to schedule flexibility as more people worked remotely, avoided daily commutes, and sought outdoor activities close to home. Nine-hole games also saw a marked increase, as casual golf saw a swell in popularity.

Curated used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to compile a list of 10 golf destinations with the most courses per capita. The metros are ranked by how many golf courses and country club establishments are located in the metro per 100,000 people. To be included in this list, an establishment must primarily be in the business of running a golf course (except for miniature golf) or running a golf course in addition to dining and recreational facilities (country clubs). 

Keep reading to discover where you can find the best access in the country for your pick of courses, the unique terrain that lends itself to world-class golf, and what makes select clubs noteworthy.

#10. St. Cloud, MN

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 7.9
– Establishments located in metro: 16
– Metro population: 201,964

There are 16 golf courses within 20 miles of St. Cloud, and all but one are open to the public, making it an incredibly golf-friendly area. The major downside is the weather: Warm temperatures are in short supply and extreme winters plentiful, rendering nearly half the year off-limits. During peak season, however, it’s some of the best golf in the region. Territory Golf Club (formerly The Fairways) right in St. Cloud offers a unique layout of forest-lined and links-style holes, with challenging pin placements and elevation changes to keep things interesting. The exclusive St. Cloud Country Club’s private championship course has limited membership that translates to pristine course conditions and a faster pace of play. The club, founded in 1920, was built alongside the Mississippi River and also features forested land and rolling hills. In addition to golf, members can enjoy top-of-the-line tennis and swimming facilities.

#9. Syracuse, NY

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 8.2
– Establishments located in metro: 53
– Metro population: 648,593

Another top destination with a short season is Syracuse, New York, where you’ll find diverse terrain and challenging courses for the most seasoned golfers. You can play one of the oldest courses in the United States at Onondaga Golf and Country Club, which was designed in 1898. A more contemporary choice is the Timber Banks Golf Club, which features a Jack Nicklaus design and opened in 2009. That course plays 7,300 yards from the tips and is famous for its undulating, quick greens and cavernous bunkers.

#8. Duluth, MN-WI (Twin Ports)

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 8.3
– Establishments located in metro: 24
– Metro population: 288,732

Twin Ports offers some idyllic golf courses—but make sure to hit them straight, as you’ll likely get wind off the lakes and unforgiving weather conditions. Northland Country Club is one of the most iconic courses in Minnesota; founded in 1899, it features a Donald Ross course design and in 2020 was ranked among the top 200 classic golf courses by Golfweek. It’s tough to beat the views at Enger Park Golf Course, with 27 holes overlooking Duluth Harbor. Three layout styles range from 3,169 to 3,350 yards and routing that will take you through picturesque ponds and tightly packed trees.

#7. Port St. Lucie, FL

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 9.6
– Establishments located in metro: 47
– Metro population: 489,297

Port St. Lucie is located in Central Florida, a state that features more golf courses than anywhere else in the country. PGA Golf Club is hands-down one of the best places to work on your game—known by many as the ultimate golf destination, featuring 54 holes of championship golf holes designed by legends Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. The Short Course offers holes 35-60 yards in length and is the ideal place to practice your wedges and chip shots. The Saints at Port St. Lucie Golf Course, developed in 1961 and run by the city of Port St. Lucie, hosts the popular City Golf Championship every November and features a forgiving 18-hole championship course.

#6. Utica-Rome, NY

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 10.7
– Establishments located in metro: 31
– Metro population: 289,990

Most courses in the Utica-Rome metro in the foothills of the Adirondacks in upstate New York are public and steeped in history. Rome Country Club offers a playable, public course with a four-star rating from Golf Digest and a parkland style layout with tree-lined fairways. If it’s amenities you’re after, the Teugega Country Club is a private club that offers a championship course designed by Donald Ross along with a pool, tennis facilities, and waterfront access to the gorgeous Delta Lake.

#5. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 10.8
– Establishments located in metro: 83
– Metro population: 770,577

The Fort Myers metro area, located along the Caloosahatchee River on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast, offers year-round course options to match any skill level. Among the most popular golf courses in the area is the Cape Royal Golf Club, a Troon-managed property with 27 holes of championship golf and casual dining at the Caloosa Club. The Fort Myers Country Club (or “The Fort”) was designed in 1916 by Donald Ross and ranks among the most historic golf facilities in western Florida. That course, along with Eastwood Golf Course, are owned and operated by the City of Fort Myers.

#4. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC (The Grand Strand)

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 13.9
– Establishments located in metro: 69
– Metro population: 496,901

Myrtle Beach offers a diverse array of courses, including the iconic Dunes Club that opened in 1949 and is widely considered to be the best of all famed architect Robert Trent Jones’ designs. The routing takes players along Singleton Swash, with Waterloo, a dogleg-right par 5, standing as the signature hole on the course. The course has hosted PGA and LPGA Tour events and is constantly ranked in the top 100 courses by major golf publications. Another challenging, public course is TPC Myrtle Beach, designed by Tom Fazio, featuring water hazards on nearly every hole, including the 18th par 5 that plays the No. 2 most difficult hole on the course. 

#3. Barnstable, MA (Cape Cod)

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 14.1
– Establishments located in metro: 30
– Metro population: 212,990

Cape Cod boasts myriad courses of varying difficulty, including the beloved Olde Barnstable Golf Course. The 18-hole course in Marstons Mills features a gorgeous, walking-friendly layout that stretches for 6,479 yards for a par of 71. Come early to warm up at the 55-station practice range and two putting greens. Highland Links boasts a rare links layout situated along bluffs on the Atlantic Ocean. The coastal terrain includes dunes, rocks, and grasses, while the unpredictable winds are sure to provide challenging conditions for even scratch golfers.

#2. Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 15.3
– Establishments located in metro: 34
– Metro population: 222,195

Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is home to the RBC Heritage PGA Tour event at the Harbour Town Golf Links course. The course, designed by Pete Dye, has a tight layout and requires precise play from tee to green. The area is a golf resort paradise, featuring eight courses on Golf Digest’s list of 35 best golf courses in South Carolina for the 2020–21 year and three in the top 10, including Harbour Town, Long Cove Club, and Secession. 

#1. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL

– Golf courses and country club establishments per 100,000 people: 17.9
– Establishments located in metro: 69
– Metro population: 384,902

With perfect weather year-round, you can’t go wrong with the golf paradise that is the Naples region in Florida. Tiburon is a stand-out golf course here, with 36 holes designed by Greg Norman and plays host to an LPGA and PGA Tour event each year. The Tiburon courses feature no rough and play fast, making it a top-20 ranked Florida golf facility by Golf Magazine and Golf Digest. Another stand out is TPC Treviso Bay, a private club that started welcoming public play in 2011. The Arthur Hills-designed course completed a $3 million renovation in 2020 and offers a fun, demanding layout that will challenge every handicap.