The eastern half of the Midwest is our sixth region having navigated about two-thirds of the country in our “American Dream Courses” series. We’ve identified dozens of interesting, affordable, welcoming golf courses, but may have hit peak “Dream Golf” here in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan…especially Michigan. Because there are so many excellent courses here, golfers can take advantage of rates so competitive they are apt to make those of us from elsewhere in the U.S. somewhat envious.
Such is the number of first-rate public layouts in fact, we failed to limit ourselves to the usual dozen. Here, then, are 15 great value venues in our delineated Midwest (East) area.
Read the other features in our “American Dream Courses” series here:
St. Germain—St. Germain, Wis.
Don Stepanik is hardly the most prolific course designer in the world, and he’s not widely known outside of Wisconsin. But what courses he has created in the Badger State are very highly thought of, and the municipal St. Germain is undoubtedly the pick of them. The course, three hours northwest of Green Bay, was cut from a dense white and red pine forest and opened with nine holes in 1993. The second nine was added in 1996. St. Germain typically closes for the winter toward the end of October, but until then you can play it for just $29. https://stgermaingolf.com/
Old Hickory—Beaver Dam, Wis.
It’s 100 years since Tom Bendelow created the first nine holes at Old Hickory GC, a 70-minute drive northwest of Milwaukee. The second nine was added in 1968 by the son of well-known Milwaukee Journal sportswriter Billy Sixty Sr. Though eagle-eyed visitors will probably be able to discern between the Bendelow and Sixty Jr. holes, the two sets blend well and the result is a very attractive test that ESPN announcer Andy North considers a “hidden treasure.” Ryan and Kelsey Stray, who bought the course in August 2019, have plans for a minor renovation that will include some tree-thinning. Play here until the snow arrives for $51. https://www.oldhickorygolfclub.com
Johnson Park—Racine, Wis.
Six miles northwest of the lakeside (Lake Michigan) city of Racine, and a half-hour drive south of Milwaukee, Johnson Park opened in 1931 and was named for Herbert Fisk Johnson, grandson of SC Johnson Company founder Samuel Curtis Johnson. Bordering the Root River, Johnson Park is a great favorite of former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel golf writer Gary D’Amato. “I’ve played it hundreds of times,” says the Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame member. “It’s been the home of some really excellent players down the years, and it’s nearly always in good condition. The pace of play is also surprisingly good for a municipal.” Just $25 to play here midweek. https://johnsonparkgc.com
Kankakee Elks—St. Anne, Ill.
When knowledgeable golfers are able to instantly recognize who designed a course because of some readily identifiable feature or other, the architect usually comes under fire for altering nature to suit his proclivities. William Langford and Theodore Moreau’s huge bunkers, raised green pads, and assortment of exaggerated landforms certainly made the Golden Age duo’s courses unmistakable, but their calling cards actually added tremendous interest, intimidation, and intrigue. Those distinguishing marks have been mostly preserved at Kankakee Els which opened alongside the Kankakee River, 90 minutes south of Chicago, in 1926. Play this historically significant course for just $22 midweek. http://www.elksgolf627.com
El Paso—El Paso, Ill.
The delightful El Paso GC, 45 minutes due east of Peoria, opened with nine holes in 1924 before Robert Bruce Harris associate William Spear added a second nine in 1990. Stately oaks and other established trees line the fairways of this former Hooter’s Tour venue (1991–1997) which measures just 6,111 yards off the back tees—not an arduous test, obviously, but a lovely walk with excellent greens and its share of water hazards. $31 for a round. http://elpasogolfclub.com
In his 2003 book Selected Golf Courses – Photos and Essays, Michael Hurdzan describes the difficulties he encountered creating Annbriar. “It wasn’t an easy site to build on because it was so steep in places and quite a bit of earthwork was required to make the land forgiving enough for golf,” he says. “It was also a difficult place to grow turf, especially in the valleys where the air doesn’t move. But those holes actually turned out very well.” Indeed, Annbriar, which opened in 1993 on farmland belonging to the Nobbe Family just half an hour south of St. Louis, has matured into one of state’s favorite courses. You can play midweek for $55. https://www.annbriar.com
Harrison Hills—Attica, Ind.
William Langford built nine typically remarkable holes that opened in 1924. Seventy years later, the course’s owner hired former Pete Dye associate Tim Liddy to add nine more and blend the two halves together as seamlessly as possible. Given Langford’s unique style and the fact the ground Liddy was given was dissimilar to that of the original nine, it was a difficult ask. Liddy did a fine job, however, despite being forced to lose Langford’s 3rd hole in an effort to have each nine return to the clubhouse. $44 is all you need for 18 holes with a cart. https://www.harrisonhills.com
Swan Lake (Black)—Plymouth, Ind.
Opened in 1969 and designed by Al Humphrey, the Black Course at the Swan Lake Resort sits in a glorious parkland setting 90 miles east of Chicago and 130 north of Indianapolis. After enjoying the Black, move over to the equally pleasant and slightly shorter Silver Course, also designed by Humphrey and which opened in 1970. The midweek rate is $32. https://www.swanlakeresort.com
We’ve included a number of great Donald Ross courses in this series and Denison deserves its place on the list. Ross built the course, originally named Granville GC, for railroad and coal magnate John Sutphin Jones who wanted to offer golf to his guests at the handsome Granville Inn which opened a year before the course in 1924. The layout, half an hour east of Columbus, was later named for William S. Denison, a Baptist farmer and landowner who donated significant sums to nearby Granville College (and which subsequently became Denison University). You’ll find small, round, elevated, push-up greens common to courses of that era. $49 for 18 midweek holes. https://www.denisongolfclub.com
More Ross magic can be found 25 minutes northeast of Cleveland at Manakiki, which began life as Willowick CC in 1929 (the name changed to Manakiki Country Club the following year—Manakiki means “Forest of Maple Trees” in the Ojibwa language). The course’s owners sold it to Cleveland Metroparks for $1 in 1944, but it remained private until 1960 when it finally opened to the public. A 1990 project did much to restore the course’s character—that was 30 years ago, but Ross’s bones are still evident. A midweek round costs just $34. https://www.clevelandmetroparks.com
The Mill—Cincinnati, Ohio
The Mill Course, 20 miles north of downtown Cincinnati, opened as Winton Woods in 1951. It was designed by the largely unknown and vastly underrated Bill Diddel who created close to 100 original courses and renovated over 40 more. In 1993, Hamilton County purchased the course and hired Michael Hurdzan for a major refurb. Dr. Hurdzan extended the layout to 6,376 yards and added five lakes. $24 to play midweek. https://www.greatparks.org/recreation/golf/the-mill-course
Bedford Valley—Battle Creek, Mich.
Like Diddel (see The Mill above), Bill Mitchell was a prolific course designer whose impressive career is little talked about today. The Massachusetts native remodeled close to 200 courses and designed more than 150 originals of which Bedford Valley may have been the best. It opened in 1965 and became part of the Gull Lake View Resort in 1988 when owners Darl and Letha Scott purchased it. A classic course with large bunkers and fairways lined by mature oaks, Bedford Valley is a legitimate championship venue having hosted the Michigan Open, Michigan Senior Open, Michigan PGA Junior Championship, Michigan Public Links Championship, and an NCAA Division II Championship. $55 for a midweek round. https://www.gulllakeview.com/golf/golf-courses/bedford-valley/
Leslie Park—Ann Arbor, Mich.
Some cities have all the luck. Ann Arbor residents have access to a $25 municipal built on land that course designer Larry Packard regarded as ideal for golf. “I thought this was the perfect site on which to create a great golf course,” he said shortly after the 6,611-yard layout opened in 1967. “It had everything you could hope for, and the natural roll of the land was beautiful.” Arthur Hills renovated the course in 1995 rebuilding five greens, and it remains as popular as ever. $25 will get you a round. https://www.a2gov.org/departments/Parks-Recreation/parks-places/leslie-park/pages/default.aspx
Sage Run—Harris, Mich.
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, based at the University of Colorado Boulder, a drumlin is an elongated, teardrop-shaped hill of rock, sand, and gravel formed under moving glacier ice. And according to the majority of those that have played Sage Run GC at the northern end of Green Bay on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Paul Albanese certainly knows how to incorporate one into the design of a golf course. Barely two years old, Sage Run traverses some thrilling terrain and is an amenity of the Hannahville Indian Community-owned Island Resort & Casino. Play it, or its sister course—Sweetgrass, also designed by Albanese—for $50. https://islandresortgolf.com
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The Mines—Grand Rapids, Mich.
We can’t very well leave Michigan without including a Mike DeVries-designed course. The Michigan native, who grew up playing and working at Crystal Downs, has designed four public courses in the Wolverine State (as well as the incredible, private Kingsley Club) any one of which could have appeared here. We picked the Mines as it’s perhaps the least known of the quartet which also includes Diamond Springs, Pilgrim’s Run, and Greywalls at Marquette GC. Built on an old gypsum mine just three miles west of downtown and opened in 2005, Mines benefits from undulating, sandy terrain. $50 is all you need for a round. https://minesgolfcourse.com