2016 Best of Public Courses

2016 Best of Public Courses

Exactly one year ago, we were at a complete loss over what to do with our annual Best of Public rankings. 2015 was, by all accounts, a brutal year for the golf course business in the Metroplex, as Mother Nature unleashed a once-in-a-century storm that dumped record amounts of rain across North Texas (and the entire state) for most of the spring, summer and into the fall.

That year, it felt like more golf courses were closed (or turned into giant fishing ponds) than were open. Lake Lewisville, Lake Grapevine, Possum Kingdom Lake and the Trinity River burst at the seams, laying waste to any and all golf courses that laid in their path. Almost every golf course in DFW was affected, and many were hit hard, closing for months. Luckily, it seems that we are now through to the other side, and made it without too much long-term damage, but a few courses in our area were unable to open their doors until early this spring.

So, it left us in a difficult position … how could we possibly rank the courses? The answer we finally came to – as painful as it seemed – was that we could not. As much mental anguish doing these rankings each year causes us, not doing them last year was even more frustrating.

This year, however, we are back, and excited to unveil our 2016 Best of Public Rankings. As you thumb through the pages, you will notice some differences from past years’ rankings. As we began talking about the 2016 rankings a few months ago, the staff came to the realization that, after taking a year off, we had a great opportunity to re-examine the way we do these rankings and try to make them even better.

Late last December, one of the local GMs was telling us about his plans for his golf course when the waters receded, and he likened the running floodwaters to an eraser on a chalkboard. He saw the flooding as an opportunity to start fresh with his course when the waters subsided; it was a chance to make some changes to the golf course and reevaluate the experience for the player.

We thought that was a great outlook – talk about turning a negative into a positive! – and have taken the same approach with our rankings. You will notice right away that we have broken down our rankings into an “East” and a “West” Category. As large as the ever-expanding Metroplex is – and with so many great golf courses – we wanted to be able to honor more golf courses. Our dividing line is State Highway 360, with an imaginary line running North and South along that road.

There are some other smaller changes as well, which we believe make our rankings even better. We hope you enjoy this year’s rankings as much as we’ve enjoyed (and agonized over) creating them.

Best Overall Golf Club Cowboys Golf Club

cowboys

There are only so many superlatives you can use to describe Cowboys Golf Club, and in the last decade or so, we’ve probably used them all. So let’s cut with the flowery language and over-the-top jargon and get right to it – Cowboys Golf Club is the gold standard in DFW, and the total package that all other courses should strive to attain.

The interesting thing about Cowboys Golf Club is that not a lot has changed at the club since it opened in 2001. And that isn’t really a bad thing, because it was awesome when it opened, and it is still awesome today. I mean, a stunning golf course and all-you-can-eat food and drinks (good food, by the way) for the entire day? AND awesome Dallas Cowboys memorabilia to gawk at? Why would you change a thing?! You wouldn’t, and that is why Cowboys has been at the top of our rankings for so long – you don’t mess with a good thing.

You don’t mess with a good thing … unless you are making it better, however. Earlier this year, the eating area at Cowboys received a complete overhaul, from the ground up, and the new bar/restaurant/patio/eating area re-debuted as the Ring of Honor Kitchen & Bar. It was a pretty stunning renovation. The eating area and bar was completely transformed and expanded to accommodate more people, and a top-notch outdoor patio was added with fire pits and televisions for a more relaxed atmosphere, as well as to accommodate reservations, larger groups and private events.

So, if any course had thoughts of overtaking the Champ, things just got a heck of a lot harder. Now, Cowboys has a dining and entertainment experience that not only matches the quality of the golf course, but it may even exceed it. Yep, the Ring of Honor Kitchen & Bar is that impressive.

Oh, and about that golf course … the Jeff Brauer design is as good now as it was the day it opened. The 18 holes roll through the hilly terrain in Grapevine, giving players some of the most majestic views in DFW (try standing on the No. 4 tee box and claiming there is a better view in the city – there isn’t).

The service is still top of the line, from the second you arrive to the second you leave. You’ll have staff members at every turn, offering help in any way they can. It truly is an exceptional experience.

Day in and day out, Cowboys Golf Club provides the best public golf experience in the Metroplex to their customers. Cowboys has demonstrated excellence for 13 years, earning its title – the Best Overall Public Golf Club.

Top Elite Courses*
($80 and Above)

  • Old American Golf Club (East)
  • Heritage Ranch Golf & Country Club (East)
  • The Tribute Golf Club (East)
  • Bridlewood Golf Club (West)
  • Sky Creek Ranch Golf Club (West)
  • Tour 18 Golf Course (West)

The Old American Golf Club may have suffered the most AND benefited the most from the 2015 flooding. When the water receded, the staff took the opportunity to work on the course a bit (more on that later), and when it reopened, it was better than ever. Conditions are exquisite, and the holes that run along Lake Lewisville offer stunning views of the water. It is truly a must-play.

old-american

One of the best things about Heritage Ranch Golf and Country Club is the juxtaposition of the two nines. The front winds through trees and water hazards, while the back is a bit more open and longer. Combined, the two make for one incredible 18-hole facility that will leave you coming back for more. The service is also top-notch, starting with the greeters that meet you at your car, all the way to the starter on the first tee.

Want to be transported to the links-style lands of Scotland or England, where golf began? Look no further than The Tribute Golf Club in The Colony. The Tribute brings you 18 of the greatest holes the United Kingdom has to offer, include St. Andrews’ famed “Road Hole,” and the “Postage Stamp” at Royal Troon. The Bentgrass greens are a treat, and the golf course is enjoyable for all skill level of players.

Topping this category among the West Courses is Bridlewood Golf Club, one of the golf courses in DFW that never lets a player down. Bridlewood is the perfect mix of high-level design and visuals with reasonable playability that doesn’t beat you down. The par-3 eighth is one of the better-looking holes in the area.

If your game favors courses that force you to hit all the shots, Sky Creek Ranch Golf Club is on your must-play list. The Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design forces you to hit a myriad of shots, and offers a great challenge for the better player. The cathedral-like clubhouse at the top of the property offers great views of the area.

If you want the chance to play some of the greatest golf holes in America without breaking the bank, head over to Tour 18 Golf Course in Flower Mound. The course has 18 holes that mirror some of the best holes in the country, including the Island Green from Sawgrass, Amen Corner from Augusta National, and holes from Southern Hills, Muirfield Village, Medina, Winged Foot and Pine Valley.

Top Luxury Courses*
($70-$79)

  • Coyote Ridge Golf Club (East)
  • Frisco Lakes Golf Club (East)
  • Texas Star Golf Club (West)
  • Tierra Verde Golf Club (West)

On the East side of town, there isn’t a golf course that personifies the word “luxury” more than Coyote Ridge Golf Club. We say it every year, and every year it is true – this place is an amenities dream. From the service when you arrive to the gigantic pro shop to the award-winning Grill 19 restaurant, everything about Coyote Ridge is the best. Oh, and don’t forget the championship golf course that only gets better as the holes progress. It is the ultimate luxury golf experience.

coyote-ridge

Making its second appearance near the top of this category is Frisco Lakes Golf Club. The course has two distinct nines that make it a joy to play, and most of the fairways funnel to the middle, making for a stress-free round. The clubhouse has one of our favorite patios in DFW, which sits out over a small, peaceful lake and overlooks the ninth green.

On the West side of town, one golf course has an iron-strong grip atop this category – Texas Star Golf Course in Euless. Texas Star has always been one of the area’s best courses, but when they put in new Bermuda greens and perfectly white bunkers in 2014, it took “the Star” to a whole new level. And after your round, enjoy a meal in the restaurant, which has a laid-back, home-style feel and serves up a chicken fried steak that is to die for.

This year, Arlington’s Tierra Verde Golf Club has stepped up into the Luxury category, and it finds the fit quite nice. It is still one of the best values in DFW, offering not only a world-class golf course amongst the trees, but also a three-hole practice course, a huge driving range and multiple short game/putting greens. If you are a range rat, you could spend an entire weekend out at Tierra Verde, which wouldn’t be a bad idea. The surrounding Audubon Signature Sanctuary makes players feel like they are miles away from everything else

Top Premium Courses*
($60-$69)

  • Tangle Ridge Golf Course (East)
  • The Trails of Frisco (East)
  • WestRidge Golf Course (East)
  • Southern Oaks Golf Club (West)
  • Wildhorse GC at Robson Ranch (West)
  • The Golf Club Fossil Creek (West)

Taking top billing among the East courses in the Premium category is Tangle Ridge Golf Course in Grand Prairie. Tangle Ridge has a bit of everything – some holes have dramatic elevation rises and falls, while others wind through dense trees, and still others traverse through streams and lakes, all giving players an extremely diverse experience.

tangle-ridge

The Trails of Frisco has established itself as a strong contender in this category. Often a favorite of the better player due to its challenging holes, Trails of Frisco also does a nice job of shielding itself from the surrounding neighborhood with thick trees and foliage. Even though the course winds through Frisco homes, for the most part you never get the feeling of playing residential golf.

Maybe the most fun and unique layout in the Metroplex lies at WestRidge Golf Course. This Jeff Brauer design employs a 6-6-6 layout, six par 3s, six par 4s and six par 5s. With six par 5s, birdies are more readily available, which always makes for a fun round. Recently, the course added an open-air pavilion next to the clubhouse, where they have yard games and do karaoke at night.

On the West side, a new course has risen to take the lead in the Premium Category – Burleson’s Southern Oaks Golf Club. Southern Oaks has come a long way in the last few years, as the entire facility has received a nice makeover. In the last two years, the course has been softened with the removal of many bunkers and improved conditions, the driving range was redone and lights were added, and a brand new patio was built to offer a place to relax after the round.

Wildhorse Golf Club at Robson Ranch has established itself as a stalwart in this division. After rising up the rankings in 2013 with improved course conditions, Wildhorse does it again after installing new white sand bunkers that create a dazzling visual appeal and great playability.

A few years ago, we were disappointed with the conditions at The Golf Club Fossil Creek, but they have answered our challenge with vigor. The year, Fossil Creek really stepped its conditions up, making it once again one of the best courses in DFW. If they keep it up, the sky is the limit for this course.

Top Mid-Priced Courses*
($55-$59)

  • Firewheel Golf Park – Bridges Course (East)
  • The Course at Watters Creek (East)
  • Grapevine Golf Course (West)
  • Split Rail Golf Club (West)

In DFW, playing on Bentgrass greens is a rarity, especially at a great price, but you get both on the Bridges Course at Firewheel Golf Park. In a year that saw private courses really struggle with Bentgrass, Firewheel excelled, and should be commended for their commitment to excellence. Twenty-seven holes at the facility give the Bridges Course some extra cache, and the white sand bunkers make holes look visually stunning.

firewheel

It has been a few years since The Courses at Watters Creek received some much-needed TLC, especially on the last three holes, and the changes have really held up nicely. Not only is the course great, but the practice facilities may be the best in the Metroplex (and maybe in the state). Watters Creek offers the range hound and the on-course king a top-notch facility at an incredible price.

Every year we tout the great value at the West Side Mid-Price champ, and this year is no different. Grapevine Golf Course once again wows us with 27 quality golf holes and an exceptional driving range (with lights, open until 9 PM or later) at an incredible value. Each nine offers a different experience, and we love that every day, one serves as a “walk-up 9” for those of us that don’t have the time for a full 18 holes.

Making a giant move up our rankings this year is Split Rail Golf Club. The golf course has always been great, but for a while we’ve been hearing about a new clubhouse that was to be built. Well, it is finally finished and is exquisite. The course is a links-style track that plays homage to the Scottish courses on which the game was born.

Top Value Priced Courses*
(Under $50-$54)

  • Pecan Hollow Golf Course (East)
  • Riverside Golf Club (West)
  • Iron Horse Golf Club (West)

Pecan Hollow Golf Course may technically be the only East side course that falls into this price range, making it the de facto leader in the category, but it is certainly deserving. It may be a bit under golfers’ radars in DFW, but it shouldn’t be. Along with the golf course, there is a five-hole short course that is perfect for kids, as well as a new lighted driving range, a short game area with three practice bunkers, and a 14,000 sq.-ft. putting green.

Riverside Golf Club takes the title in the Value Category for the West side courses. Riverside was hit pretty hard late last year when the Trinity River flooded, but the staff and local volunteers really worked hard to bring it back, and the work has paid off. The grounds crew and Riverside may do a better job on the details around a course – edging around bunkers and cart path, mowing the rough and fridge around the greens, perfectly-aligned tee boxes, etc. – than any other crew in DFW, and it shows the second you get on the golf course.

Located along Interstate 820 near Haltom City, Iron Horse Golf Club is one of the shorter courses on this list, but it still provides a fun challenge for any player. The par 5 that runs right along the highway has a cool feel, and the multiple train cars placed around the golf course really give the facility a unique theme.

Best Renovations

  • Bear Creek Golf Complex
  • Sherrill Park No. 1
  • Cedar Crest Golf Club
  • Old American Golf Club

The changes at Bear Creek Golf Complex came in 2015, but they are worthy of attention. Bear Creek had slipped into golf course hell in 2013 and 2014, but a change in management brought new life to the course. Since new management took over, more than 500 trees have been removed across both golf courses, and the greens keeping staff has a renewed commitment to excellent course conditions. It may take a little while for Bear Creek to squash the rep it built, but the work has been put in, and everyone we’ve talked to has raved about the totally new look of Bear Creek.

The classic No. 1 Course at Sherrill Park underwent an incredible eight-month transformation at the end of 2015, where the city of Richardson spent $2.2 million to replace and reshape all the greens, overhaul every bunker, improve the irrigation system and add 113 trees across the property. While the course still maintains its classic feel, the upgrades really take it to another level.

We did not rank the city of Dallas’ Cedar Crest Golf Club this year because it was closed most of the summer for renovations, but we have seen the finished product, and it is impressive. The course received new greens and bunkers, a new grass driving range and an updated banquet facility.

cedar-crest-3

 

The changes at Old American Golf Club weren’t planned, but after the water receded, the owners decided to take the opportunity to soften up the course a little bit. Many bunkers were removed and downsized, and replaced with grassy areas, which makes many of the holes much more playable. The course is still challenging, but also much more enjoyable.

Best Outlying

  • Pine Dunes Golf Club
  • Squaw Valley Golf Club
  • The Links at Land’s End

Pine Dunes Golf Club in Frankston would probably be one of the top-ranked golf courses on our list if it was in the Metroplex. However, its location well out of town and away from any of the hustle and bustle of the city is what makes it so attractive. The golf course is phenomenal, completely cut off from civilization amongst the trees, and there are a few town homes on property that are available for rent for a golf weekend.

pine-dunes

Squaw Valley Golf Club in Glen Rose may be a bit of a hike for many Metroplex residents, but we promise you it is completely worth the trip. The facility has two wonderful golf courses – Apache Links and Comanche Lakes – that are framed by century-old Oak trees and Squaw Creek, which winds its way around the property.

The Links at Land’s End boasts 13 holes that border Lake Fork, making it one of the most scenic courses around. The wildlife is abundant, as deer, fox, alligators and even a family of bald eagles live on the golf course. Another bonus: once you are done playing, Lake Fork is one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country.

Not Ranked

  • Indian Creek (both courses)
  • Cedar Crest Golf Course

Indian Creek Golf Club was probably the DFW course that was hit the hardest by the flooding in 2015. For almost a full year, both courses – the Creeks and Lakes – were under water. In late 2015 and early 2016, many thought the courses would never open again, even after the water receded. We are glad the city of Carrollton decided otherwise, and both courses opened back up early this fall. While they weren’t open long enough this year to be in our 2016 rankings, we are sure they will be back in 2017.

We mentioned the excellent improvements to Cedar Crest Golf Course earlier in this piece, and we weren’t kidding. The course re-opened in early October, and is getting rave reviews. The length of time it was closed this summer kept us from ranking it this year, but Cedar Crest will certainly make its mark on our rankings a year from now.

 

*Courses listed are top courses in each geographic division; divisions NOT ranked against each other

THE LIST

  •  Best Yardage Markers On Range: Canyon West’s large “tombstones”
  • Best Yardage Markers on Course: Bird Houses at Cross Timbers
  • Best Cart Girls: Golf Club at Fossil Creek
  • Best Overall Food: Cowboys GC
  • Best Tee Boxes: Pecan Hollow GC
  • Best Pro Shop: Coyote Ridge GC
  • Best Range: Watters Creek GC
  • Best Eye Candy: Sharply-edged bunkers & white sand
  • Most Improved: Sherrill Park No. 1
  • Best Recovery: Old American
  • Best Clubhouse Remodel: Wildhorse GC at Robson Ranch
  • Best Course Tweak: Bear Creek’s removal of hundreds of trees
  • Best New Clubhouse: Split Rail GC
  • Most Consistent Conditions: Texas Star GC
  • Best Bermuda Greens: Tie between many. Kudos to the superintendents
  • Best Bentgrass Greens: Firewheel Bridges
  • Best Sensory Delight: Smell of Eddlemon’s BBQ at Prairie Lakes GC
  • Biggest Need: Astute marshals to police pace of play
  • Best New Trend: Courses installing awesome outdoor patios
  • Most Troubling Trend: Players bringing own food/alcohol on course
  • Best Cluster Of Courses In Short Proximity: Cowboys, Grapevine, Texas Star, Bear Creek, Riverside
  • Most Unique 18th Hole: The Bridges
  • Best Country-esque Experience: SugarTree GC
  • Tightest Fairways: Golf Club at the Resort
  • Best Mansion-Fest Viewing: Drive up to Tour 18 GC
  • Most Welcome Addition: Bunkers at Cleburne Golf Links
  • Most Convenient Access: Hidden Creek, Old Brickyard & Riverside GC
  • Best Outlying With Two Course Options: Squaw Valley GC
  • Underrated Benefit: Good short game practice area
  • Best Greeters: Heritage Ranch GC
  • All Premium-Priced Courses Should Have: Bottled water & towels in carts
  • Best Deals in Pro Shop: Tierra Verde GC
  • Best Bunker Renovation: Bridlewood GC
  • What will New Management Bring?  Sky Creek Ranch and Indian Creek
  • Biggest Enigma: What happens next at Chester Ditto
  • Most Courteous Staff: TangleRidge GC
  • Most Beloved: Frisco Lakes
  • Best Place to Walk up and Play 9: Grapevine Golf Club
  • Rewards Astute Course Management: Trails of Frisco (lots of forced carries)
  • Best Chance for an Ace on a par 4: Woodbridge Golf Club (#17)
  • Nice Eye Candy on 820: Iron Horse GC
  • Most Deceptively forgiving Fairways: Ridgeview Ranch
  • Good Local Stay and Play: GC of Champions Circle