An Expert Guide to the Different Types of Golf CoursesPublished on 03/14/2023 · 8 min readHave you ever wondered about the different types of golf courses and which kind is the best for your experience levels? Read on to find out!
Golf course in Cary, North Carolina. Photo by Gene Gallin
Par-3 courses, public courses, private courses, links courses…there is something for everyone depending on their skillset and budget. I’m going to take you on a journey to the different types of golf courses you may encounter during your golf adventures so you can have the best experience possible. Let’s get started!
In terms of golf-course styles, the term “links” can be used very loosely from what I have experienced. Typically speaking but not always, links-style golf courses in the U.S. do not have any trees on the course. This is great for newer golfers because they won’t have to worry too much about hitting their golf balls into the trees.
However, the flip side is that some links courses can have a bit of water on them and long fescue grass (as shown in the picture below). I wouldn’t recommend hitting a golf shot from that long and thick fescue as you can injure your back (as I did in a golf tournament a few years ago).
The layout of the course depends on the designer of the golf course. Some feature lots of sand traps and long fescue, along with firm fairways and greens that make it difficult to keep the ball on the green when hitting approach shots.
The traditional links course will have uneven fairways, pot bunkers that are quite deep, possibly some water hazards, long fescue/heather, firm greens, firm fairways, and typically lots of wind. You might even need to battle out some nagging wet weather.
If you are playing a links-style golf course on a hot summer day, there won’t be any trees to retreat to. Consider using an umbrella with your pushcart, if you have one, to stay cool and protected against the sun.
Many will tell you the true links courses are located across the pond in countries like Ireland and Scotland. Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus considers St Andrews Links, known as both “The Home of Golf” and “The Old Course” in Scotland, to be the true test of golf. This is where people started playing golf back in 1552.
This year, the oldest golf tournament in the world, the Open Championship, is to be held at the St Andrews Links on July 14. Go and experience it once you are ready, but watch the Open Championship this year to get a true taste of where the game started.
When we think of wooded golf courses, they usually have a lot of trees and can feature tight fairways. This type of course can be quite scenic and could be a solid pick to host a wedding as many families do in the Midwest or even other regions for its picturesque views.
These courses may not be the best option for beginner golfers because there is a good chance they’ll spend a lot of time searching for their golf balls and hitting shots out of the trees. This is not exactly a fun experience for the casual golfer or those just starting out. They may even feel some pressure from groups behind if they are playing slowly. Keep in mind, one should only look for their golf ball for three minutes to keep up the pace of play.
Par 3 golf courses are a great option for young golfers and families new to golf who are looking for a fun, lighthearted experience without the pressure of playing a full, 18-hole course. I highly recommend this type of course for anyone starting out because a lot of new golfers are unfamiliar with playing regulation courses that are 18 holes and the challenges those courses present.
Just like the name suggests, the holes are all par 3, which means you will probably only use irons, wedges, and a putter to hit the ball in three or fewer strokes (ideally) on each hole.
You won’t need a full set of golf clubs for a par-3 golf course if you don’t want to spend the money on a complete set.
There are some great options of smaller golfer sets at budget-friendly prices if you only plan on playing casually. Playing a par-3 golf course will be more enjoyable and less frustrating because, on average, you should be able to finish a nine-hole, par-3 course in about an hour and a half. This is good for a new golfer or casual golfer who might lose their patience playing 18 holes of golf, especially if it takes them four or more hours.
Additionally, not only is it time-consuming to play a standard 18-hole course, but it is also more expensive. All in all, a par 3 course is an excellent option for casual golfers and new golfers too. Make sure to do a little research to see what is available near you and the cost of the green fees to play.
Municipal courses, aka public courses, are open to the general public. They are a great option for those who don’t want to be tied down by a private or semi-private membership and want something more budget-friendly.
This allows golfers to bounce around and play several golf courses in a given area while finding great deals on websites like GolfNow and GroupGolfer.com. Memberships at municipal golf courses are also an option and can be quite a deal depending on the course, especially if they include benefits like unlimited golf, unlimited range access, unlimited access to carts, etc. Even a driving-range membership is worth considering for those who like to practice a lot or are just starting out.
Public courses also give golfers the option to play nine holes if they’re short on time, want a less time- and energy-consuming round, or want to save a little bit of money. There are also nine-hole golf courses that feature par-3, par-4, and par-5 holes just like 18-hole golf courses.
Extra tip: If you sign up for the email list for different golf courses, they often offer a pre-sale rate if you buy a membership before the season starts. It is another great way to keep some more green inside your wallet, especially during these times!
While private golf courses require a member to accompany a non-member in order to play there, semi-private courses are possible to get on without a member. They have options like a day pass, where you get unlimited access to the range or possibly unlimited rounds. This varies from course to course so be sure to do your research. For those just looking to play a single round, keep an eye out for occasional deals on websites like GolfNow.
Being a semi-private member can bring advantages, such as having access to multiple courses included in the membership, which golfers may enjoy instead of having to play the same course over and over again. Unlike many private courses, semi-private courses don’t usually require a large initiation fee. It is an awesome option for the golfer that is looking to bounce around and not be committed to one club.
I think we all know what “private” means, but there are other ways to get on a private course besides knowing somebody. If you are scouting out different private courses, a private course might let you play there to experience the golf course and the grounds.
If you don’t want to become a member and don’t know anyone who belongs to a private course, but still want to play there, you should consider playing a tournament at that course. It may be expensive, but you can justify it if the tournament benefits a charity or a good cause, or the experience you and your friends can have.
You could also try calling the private course to see if you can play or work/volunteer for a tournament. There’s a small chance that might come with some playing benefits.
If you decide to become a member of a private course, it can bring numerous benefits if you are willing to pay the cost. There are opportunities to build new friendships, attend events, and play at other exclusive clubs through new people you might meet at your club.
If you aren’t sold on the price, it’s worth considering the benefits of being friends with a member.
Let’s say you are playing with a member of a private club. Depending on the prestige of the golf course, your member friend might pay for the round or even the caddy, if your group desires to have one. It is possible that your only cost might be the caddy.
Side note: Even if the member pays for the caddy, make sure to tip the caddy without the member seeing, even if he or she says they will take care of it. The caddy will greatly appreciate it because sometimes when a member says they will take care of the caddy, that doesn’t mean they will pay a sufficient amount. This is just a small tip from a former caddy.
Picking a Course
I strongly recommend looking for golf clinics that feature short-game practice to start building good fundamentals that can be taken to a par-3 course to continually improve one’s skills. Once you feel like you are ready, I would start playing some municipal golf courses in your area that have easier courses. Do a quick Google search in your area to see what is available! Once you get your feet wet, you should consider playing tougher courses like some wooded courses or some links-style golf courses that will give you a considerable challenge. If you have some spare money around, it might be worth it to join a private country club if you want guaranteed tee times each weekend.
I hope this information helps my fellow golfers in one way or another. Don't hesitate to reach out to me or another Golf Expert here on Curated for more tips on where to golf and the types of courses you'll have the most fun on! Happy golfing and remember to have fun!