STUDY: Percentage of Public Versus Private Courses in the U.S.

Where do you play golf most often? Private courses or the local tracks?

As the number suggests, golf is, at its core, still a game played by recreational golfers on public courses. According to the National Golf Foundation, in 2020, there were roughly 16,100 courses at 14,100 facilities in the U.S. Of that total, 75 percent are open to the public: 2,500 municipal and 7,900 daily-fee. That leaves approximately 4,025 courses labeled as private.


Municipal courses are owned by a city or other municipality. In general, so-called “munis” tend to be the most economically efficient option though costs can vary based on your official address of residence. Some noteworthy examples: Bethpage State Park in New York (Black Course) and Torrey Pines (San Diego).

Daily-fee courses accept public play but are generally privately owned. So long as you’re willing to pay the fee and can claim a spot on the tee sheet, you’re in like Flynn. Notable examples: Bandon Dunes, Pebble Beach.

Private courses require a membership which often includes an up-front initiation fee and monthly/annual dues. If you don’t belong to a private course, members can typically invite guests, though more exclusive courses tend to limit access to non-members. Notable examples: Augusta National, Pine Valley and the really nice country club you’re trying to justify joining this year.

That aside, we wanted to see how the national statistics measured up compared to the experiences of TheGrint members.


Quick refresher: TheGrint is an app-based handicap tracker with a multitude of on-course and community features. In addition, TheGrint’s handicap platform interfaces directly with the USGA handicap system. In fact, in many cases, maintaining an official handicap through TheGrint is cheaper than going through a local course.



The percentage breakdown between public and private courses for TheGrint members is roughly the same as the statistics provided by NGF. Specifically, 77 percent of courses played by TheGrint members are non-private.

Because data from TheGrint tends to skew towards densely populated metropolitan areas, some figures would likely be quite different if we accounted for all rounds played in a given state during 2021. For example, North Dakota (94-percent public) and Minnesota (89-percent public).


The data shows the type of courses played by TheGrint members during 2021. A topic worth exploring might be to compare the existing data with the total percentage of public and private courses in each state. In my home state of Colorado, TheGrint members report playing 22 percent of their rounds on private courses. Depending on your source, that’s a bit higher than the approximate percentage of private courses in the state (15  to 17 percent).

Plenty of possibilities to ponder but I keep coming back to whether golf is as accessible as it ought to be? Thoughts?

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