Defining the Public Course in Golf

A public course is a golf course that is open to the general public. Simple enough. But there are several more-specific types of golf courses that fall under the "public course" term.

Some types of golf courses are private, open only to those golfers who pay to join the club. But a public course can be played by anyone*.

Public courses generally fall into two categories:

  • Municipal course: A municipal golf course is one that is open to the general public, and that is owned by a governmental agency: a city government, county government, even a state government. The local governing body owns the course as a public service and a public good, just as your city probably has some parks, tennis courts or swimming pools, too.
  • Daily fee course: A daily fee golf course is one that is open to the public, but is privately owned and operated and, generally speaking, operates at a higher price point than municipal golf courses. Municipal and daily fees are usually identical in terms of access — anyone can play.

There are two other types of golf courses that usually allow the public to play golf, and can be included under the term "public course." But they are more often thought of as their own, separate categories of golf course:

  • Resort course: Most resort courses are open to the general public, but give preferential access to guests staying at the resort. If you, not staying at the resort, want a 10 a.m. tee time while a resort guest also wants that tee time, guess who is getting it. But the general public, generally speaking, does have access to most resort golf courses. (Some resort courses, however, are available only to resort guests. So check online or call ahead before visiting.)
  • Semi-private course: There is also what is often (in the U.S.) called a semi-private course. A semi-private golf course is one that offers private memberships, but also allows members of the general public to play its golf course during specified times. A semi-private course is neither fully public nor fully private, but has elements of both arrangements.
(*This is not always fully accurate even for public golf courses. It costs money to play a golf course, after all, and some public courses a priced well above the means of many golfers. And a small percentage of public golf courses require golfers meet certain handicap levels in order to play.)

More definitions:

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