Golf courses

10 of the Best Public Golf Courses Within a Short Drive of St. Louis

There are many great golf courses to play near the St. Louis area. These 10 public courses are some of the best, and many of them were designed by a famous designer for his ability to create an excellent course full of challenging holes. With a few from the mid 1970s and the rest from the late 80s to mid 90s, all of these courses have been upgraded to suit today’s modern players and equipment.

For this list, keep in mind that fees vary depending on the day and time. Weekdays are the cheapest, while weekend departure times will cost a few dollars more. Some courses include Friday in their weekend rate. Twilight rates are available on most routes. We’ve also factored cart prices into the fees, unless otherwise stated.

Annbriar (1993)

Designate: Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry

Location: Waterloo, Ill.

By: 72

Footage: 6,863

Slope: 136

Costs: $39 to $70

Insight: Annbriar has been a favorite among gamers since it opened nearly 30 years ago. The opening holes give the impression of a Scottish course, as it winds through the relatively open front nine. The back nine is cut through woods, with sweeping views from multiple teeing grounds. A wide variety of strokes are needed to play well – a great test of golf.

Our favorite hole: The par-4 #11 is not just a scenic hole, but a dangerous hole. Slight dogleg to the right, a tee shot must avoid not only the woods to the right and left, but the stream that crosses the fairway. The approach should be well hit avoiding the stream to the right.

Crystal Highlands (1988)

Designate: Dr. Michael Hurdzan

Location: Festus

By: 72

Footage: 6,242

Slope: 128

Costs: $44 to $63.99

Insight: When Crystal Highlands first opened, the line of cars driving down I-55 toward the course came as a shock to many. However, after one round on the course, it was easy to see why players kept coming back. Although this was one of Dr. Hurdzan’s earliest designs, his genius was clearly visible. With so many good challenging holes, this remains a great layout for players of all skill levels.

Our favorite hole: The superb short par-4s are some of the best holes on any course, and the 290-yard par-4 #12 would fall into that category. Players must avoid the pond to the left of the green not only on their tee shot but also on the approach. While drivable to some, it’s a formidable risk-reward hole.

The Creek (1974)

Designate: Robert Trent Jones

Location: Lake Ozark (Four Seasons Lodge)

By: 72

Footage: 6,573

Slope: 139

Costs: $75 to $95

Insight: Ranked among the best resort courses in the Midwest, this Robert Trent Jones gem offers all the challenges a player could want. The initial design has undergone changes over the years to keep the course in touch with today’s modern game. Trent Jones’ designs continually test players during play, from positioning in the bunker to subtle breaks on the greens.

Our favorite hole: Par-3 #4 might be the toughest on the course. A tee shot must carry the creek to an elevated green surrounded by bunkers to the front.

Piper Glen (1996)

Designate: Bob Lohman

Location: Springfield, Ill.

By: 72

Footage: 7005

Slope: 133

Costs: $43–$55

Insight: This all-curved grass course designed by Chicago architect Bob Lohmann is considered Springfield’s finest public course. With creeks all along the course and several large ponds, multiple approaches must carry them to the greens. From start to finish, it’s a well-maintained course that requires precision from the start to avoid big rough spots.

Our favorite hole: 8, a 190-yard par-3, is both the most memorable hole and one of the most challenging on the course. From an elevated tee, the shot should carry a pond to a wide – but not deep – green that slopes back and forth. With a ravine behind the green, club selection is crucial. Once on the green, players can end up with a putt 50 feet or more across the green to the hole.

National Gateway (1992)

Designate: Keith Foster

Location: Madison, Ill.

By: 71

Footage: 7,178

Slope: 127

Costs: $40.99 to $99

Insight: Laid out in the style of links, the windswept, bentgrass course demands precision off the tee and a good iron game. Foster created strategic par-4s with his solid par-5s. However, the par 3s, if not played well, will drive you off the green at #18 thinking about what might have been.

Our favorite hole: Standing on the middle tees at par-3 No 12 – the course’s shortest hole at just 131 yards – players face a tiered green surrounded by water short left and behind. Club selection is crucial here in order to find the safe middle of the green amid the swirling winds.

Old Kinderhook (1999)

Designate: Tom Weiskopf

Location: Camdenton

By: 71

Footage: 6,726

Slope: 133

Costs: $59 to $104

Insight: Weiskopf made excellent use of the natural elements on the course, including a free-flowing stream, ponds, tree-lined fairways, wetlands and dramatic elevation changes. Well-positioned bunkers, both off the tee and around the green, make tee shots and approaches difficult. Although most holes offer generous landing areas, playing from the right teeing ground will make the game more enjoyable.

Our favorite hole: On one of the most scenic holes on the course, the 416-yard par-4 #8, Weiskopf took advantage of the natural elevation to set the tee about 100 feet above the fairway. A good run is important, with trees to the left and right of the tee and a stream to the right. A bunker and water guard the left side of the green, which slopes right to left, making this beauty one of the most challenging on the course.

Missouri Cliffs (1995)

Designate: Tom Fazio

Location: St. Charles

By: 71

Footage: 7,047

Slope: 131

Costs: $52 to $92

Insight: Tom Fazio has a reputation for designing solid layouts, the Bluffs are one of them. Top-down fairways require players to play a variety of shots as they approach, while par-3s, many of which are elevated with shots above water, allow players to check out the changing winds between the trees in hopes of finding the putting surface.

Our favorite hole: With the teeing ground high above the fairway to that dogleg right, the 529-yard par-5 #15 offers a memorable view. Three solid shots to the long, narrow uphill green will have players hoping they’ve picked the right yardage on the approach. Otherwise, they could face a very long putt for a birdie try.

The Rail (1974)

Designate: Robert Trent Jones

Location: Springfield, Ill.

By: 72

Footage: 6630

Costs: $32 to $39

Trolleys: $17

Insight: This RTJ beauty has been a favorite with Midwestern golfers since it opened. Site of the LPGA Rail Classic from 1976 to 2006, it crowned many great champions. It features a typical Jones design, with long lane tees, excellent bunkering – there are 82 of them across the five lakes, and challenging greens. There are two par-3s and a short par-4 with water guarding each green.

Our favorite hole: The 158-yard par-3 #5 requires a tee shot that must carry a large water hazard to the green, which runs diagonally from left to right. There are few bailout areas, with two bunkers to the left and one behind the green.

Stone Wolf (1996)

Designate: Signature of Jack Nicklaus

Location: Fairview Heights, IL

By: 72

Footage: 6,943

Slope: 137

Costs: $39.99 to $54.99

Insight: When Stonewolf opened in 1996, everyone knew it would be great. As a Jack Nicklaus Signature design, it was rated #2 Best New Audience when it opened. Nicklaus’ design has terrific holes, with great views and excellent routing. The course winds through a development of houses, and Nicklaus has made good use of a large lake and small ponds arranged around the course.

Our favorite hole: The 160-yard par-3 No. 6 is memorable. It has players hitting from an elevated tee to a green located about 30 feet below them and guarded by water on the left side.

Tapawingo National (1994)

Designate: Gary Player

Location: sunset hills

By: 72

Footage: 7,151

Slope: 141

Costs: $55 to $77

Insight: Gary Player’s goal was to take the natural terrain along the Meramec River Valley and use it to create 18 challenging holes. The Prairie Nine sits on the plains, meandering around four lakes and a creek to create a links-style design. The new Woodlands is cut through the thick woods that rise above the river, with terrific elevation changes and scenic views. There is also a third nine, Meramec, which combines with another nine for an 18-hole round.

Our favorite hole: Perhaps the most memorable hole is the 190-yard par-3 #3 hole on the Woodlands nine. The green is set in front of a wide rocky bottom, with a large lake spanning the distance from the tee to the green complex.