The 13 Best Public Golf Courses in Chicago and Wisconsin

The 13 Best Public Golf Courses in Chicago and Wisconsin

Chicago, nicknamed “The Second City,” is the undisputed number one metropolitan golf mecca of the Midwest. It began in 1892 with the nation’s first 18-hole course, Chicago Golf Club, and continues 130 years later as over 200 courses grace the Chicagoland area. Over two-thirds of those layouts are public, giving players a bevy of brilliant options no matter what part of Chicago you call home.

As Senior Writer of Midwest Golfing Magazine since 2005, I have been continually impressed with the golf greatness Chicago has to offer. Below is a list of my top public facilities in the Chicagoland region plus a few bonus options for those who love traveling north to Wisconsin for a day trip or stay and play retreat.

Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Dubsdread #4, Lemont

public golf courses: Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Lemont
Photo by Joanne Dosts.

Rees Jones, the man who renovated Cog Hill’s Dubsdread #4 Course in 2007 and 2008 said it best when describing the facility’s importance, “The Jemsek family is the first family of Chicago public golf in my mind and that goes back to Frank’s father Al. It was a great experience for me to bring Cog Hill into the 21st century. We were able to keep all of Dick Wilson’s design features yet make it stronger for today’s players,” concluded Jones. As host of the Western Open and BMW Championship from 1991 to 2011 except for 2008, Dubsdread #4 is one of the most famous courses in the Midwest and a must play when in The Windy City.

Besides Dubsdread #4, Cog Hill features three other top public venues, #1, #2, and #3. Cog Hill also offers Stay and Play Packages with the nearby Marriott Burr Ridge.

The Glen Club, Glenview

public golf courses: The Glen Club, Glenview
Photo courtesy of The Glen Club.

The Glen Club is one of the finest upscale public courses in the entire Chicago area. The Tom Fazio design once again hosted a Korn Ferry event in 2022, The NV5 Invitational Presented by Old National Bank. It’s hard to imagine that this pristine piece of land used to house the Glenview Naval Air Station. By employing numerous water hazards, native areas, and fairway moguls, the Glen Club takes golfers on a four hour thrill ride that is always in immaculate condition.

Since 2001 The Glen Club has housed the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame – a lasting tribute to the largest golf contributors from the Land of Lincoln. The Glen Club also is highlighted by a majestic 48,000-square-foot clubhouse that features superb dining, tastefully appointed overnight accommodations, a grand ballroom, and the finest in corporate amenities.

Harborside International, Starboard & Port Courses, Chicago

public golf courses: Harborside International, Chicago
Photo courtesy of Harborside International.

Harborside International takes a unique concept and perfects it! Designer Dick Nugent was charged with designing two golf courses on one property with a similar look, feel, and playability rating. Harborside’s Port Course, which opened for play in 1995, features the par-3 15th hole, known for a massive bunker in the shape of an anchor. One year later, The Starboard Course opened and is currently ranked the 12th finest course in Illinois according to Golfweek Magazine.

Both courses at Harborside International feature amazing views of downtown Chicago, even though the course is a good 15 miles from the Windy City’s epicenter. The course is even closer to Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. Harborside International is buoyed by a 57-acre practice facility that includes separate areas for chipping, pitching, and sand play and a large clock for putting drills.

Mistwood Golf Club, Romeoville

public golf courses: Mistwood Golf Club, Romeoville
Photo courtesy of Mistwood Golf Club.

Expertly renovated by Ray Hearn between 2011-2013, Mistwood Golf Club is a spectacular Scottish-inspired course in the southwestern Chicago suburb of Romeoville. The three-year renovation project added 19 Scottish-style sod wall bunkers that give a distinctive style to the 7,005 yard, par-72 layout. Six holes play around a 65 acre lake (Loch St. James) and elicit stunning visuals and shot values throughout. The par-3 14th demands a near 200-yard downhill shot over water while the par-5 15th is a 90-degree dogleg left with water running down the entire left side.

Their year-round Performance Center is one the Midwest’s finest and is run by eight full-time golf professionals. If a technology has been invented to help your game, it’s a safe bet Mistwood’s Performance Center has it. Finally, their 26,000-square-foot clubhouse is an ideal location for weddings, banquets, and corporate functions.

Cantigny Golf Club, Wheaton

public golf courses: Cantigny Golf Club, Wheaton
Photo courtesy of Cantigny Golf Club.

Cantigny Golf Club’s picturesque 27-hole layout is divided into three nines, the Woodside, Lakeside and Hillside. All three weave their way through native oak, maple and hickory trees and over and around lakes and streams. Honestly, Cantigny takes golfers on a journey through part golf course, part arboretum, and part national park all-in-one!

Cantigny is further distinguished by the Cantigny Golf Academy. Opened in 2008, the Academy is the region’s first year-round practice and learning center of its kind. It offers all the essential components of golf performance under one roof, including climate-controlled hitting bays, expert club fitting and professional golf fitness training. The Academy welcomes beginners and expert players alike. Cantigny’s golf legacy was immediately cemented as it received “Golf Digest’s Best New Public Golf Course in America” in 1989, the first year it was open to the public. As Cantigny’s popularity soared, major Illinois tournaments were landed, including multiple State Amateur Championships. The 2022 edition of the prestigious event is back at Cantigny and slated for July 16-18th.

The Preserve at Oak Meadows, Addison

public golf courses: The Preserve at Oak Meadows, Addison
Photo courtesy of Charles Cherney Photography.

In the shadows of O’Hare Airport resides the newest property to be included on my unofficial “Best in Chicago Course List,” The Preserve at Oak Meadows. Architect Greg Martin multi-year project merged 27 holes into 18 and more importantly fixed a constant summer flooding problem. The result, a part parkland, part links layout that won two major awards upon completion.

Golf Inc. named The Preserve at Oak Meadows the 2018 Renovation of the Year, while Golfweek Magazine named the 7,089-yard, par-72 track on their “2018 Best Courses You Can Play” list. The course is a member of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County so their green fees present a remarkable value, ranging between $59-$80 with cart.

Ruffled Feathers Golf Club, Lemont

public golf courses: Ruffled Feathers Golf Club, Lemont
Photo courtesy of Ruffled Feathers Golf Club.

Ruffled Feathers GC has the distinction of being the only Pete Dye designed property in the Chicago area. Everything at Ruffled Leathers is geared towards a private club experience at a public facility. Plus, Ruffled Feathers has developed a reputation of being one of Chicagoland’s finest wedding and banquet facilities. The property is also buoyed by an outstanding PGA Professional staff that specialize in individual or group lessons.

As the name indicates, the 6,900-yard, par-72 layout might grind your gears due to its intimidating shot values and multiple water features, but Pete Dye designs are always ones you’ll want to play multiple times per year.

Stonewall Orchard Golf Club, Grayslake

public golf courses: Stonewall Orchard Golf Club, Grayslake
Photo courtesy of Stonewall Orchard Golf Club.

The northern suburbs are filled with outstanding courses (Thunderhawk & Shepherd’s Crook in Zion, plus Pine Meadow in Mundelein) by my personal favorite is Stonewall Orchard Golf Club, a thoughtful Arthur Hills design. The 7,124-yard, par-72 layout is so highly thought of by the USGA, that they have held multiple U.S. Open Qualifiers since 2003.

If getting away from it all is your number one golf goal, then Stonewall Orchard’s naturalness is to be coveted. More than 65,000 fully mature pine and oak trees combine with acres of rolling hills and wetlands to form a serene golf experience that is unmatched. Stonewall Orchard is what I like to call a “public country club,” based upon their spectacular amenities and immaculate course conditions.

Wisconsin’s Best Golf Destinations

Whistling Straits & Blackwolf Run, Kohler

public golf courses: Whistling Straits
Photo courtesy of Destination Kohler.

Conveniently located less than two hours north on I-43, Destination Kohler is comprised of four championship courses and one five-diamond resort, The American Club. Whistling Straits is recognized around the world, thanks to hosting three PGA Championships (2004, 2010, 2015) and the 2020 Ryder Cup, played in 2021. My recommendation, take advantage of their To Dye Four Stay and Play Package that includes rounds on all four properties (Blackwolf Run River, Meadow Valleys, The Irish Course at Whistling Straits and the aforementioned Whistling Straits) combined with a three-night stay. In 2021, Blackwolf Run debuted The Baths of Blackwolf – a 10-hole, par-3 course and two-acre putting courses.

Sand Valley Golf Resort, Rome

public golf courses: Sand Valley Golf Resort, Rome, Wisconsin
Photo courtesy of Sand Valley Golf Resort.

The newest addition to the high-end public resort golf scene in the Midwest is Sand Valley Golf Resort, located four hours north of Chicago in tiny Rome, Wisconsin. Chicago native Mike Keiser, the same man who brought us Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links, has struck gold with his latest walking-only, multi-course destination. It began in 2017 with the opening of Sand Valley, a stunning Crenshaw/Coore design that is highlighted by massive sand blowouts and 360-degree vistas. Mammoth Dunes, a David McLay Kidd masterpiece, and the ultra-cool 17-hole par-3 course dubbed The Sandbox, both opened in May of 2018, and converged to form Golf’s Next Big Thing. Now in 2022, a resort expansion was just announced to include Sedge Valley, a Tom Doak stunner, and The Lido, which pays homage to a lost course on Long Island dating back to pre-World War II.

Multiple modest lodging options are available (similar to Bandon Dunes) as Sand Valley Golf Resort is meant to be enjoyed with your favorite golf group. Plus, you can add on rounds at the adjacent Lake Arrowhead or nearby SentryWorld in Stevens Point, two top Wisconsin tracks worthy of a visit

Erin Hills, Erin

public golf courses: Erin Hills, Erin
Photo courtesy of Erin Hills.

Erin Hills captured the attention of the golf world in 2017 when it hosted the 117th U.S. Open won by Brooks Koepka. Since then, the Michael Hurzan/Dana Fry design is implementing a series of cool promotions to keep them in the forefront. Some of my favorites included the Kettle Loop, a five hole rotation played from different tee boxes and yardages than the Championship layout and their remarkable lighted putting course. Overnight guests also have access to their ultra-cool caddie barn, complete with dart boards and ping pong and pool tables. Talk about an exclusive behind-the-scenes experience you can’t find anywhere else.

Erin Hills is walking-only facility and features five on-site cottages that are ideal for buddy trips thanks to the above amenities and stellar dining options. Plus it is only 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, so Chicagoans can plan their golf trip around when the Cubs or White Sox play the Brewers next

Destination Geneva National, Lake Geneva

public golf courses: Geneva National Resort, Lake Geneva
Photo courtesy of Geneva National Resort.

The re-branded Destination Geneva National is home to a collection of arguably the most iconic signature courses in the Midwest. Three 18-hole championship layouts grace the 1,600-acre property, one each designed by Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Lee Trevino. Another facet that makes Destination Geneva National so unique is the fact it’s both a private and public facility at the same time. Having a three course rotation allows members to always have one private course while the public is allowed to play the other two on any given day.

A buddies or couples trip became more memorable thanks to creation of The Suites and The Cottages at Destination Geneva National a few years ago. Now guests can take advantage of an all-inclusive Stay and Play experience while never leaving the property.

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva

public golf courses: Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva
Photo courtesy of Grand Geneva Resort & Spa.

The 1,310-acre facility is highlighted by two stunning designs, The Brute and The Highlands. In fact, The Highlands is the only course in the state to be co-designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus and is a tribute to the great inland links style courses of Scotland. The Brute is aptly named as 68 monstrous bunkers and massive, undulating greens dot the 7,200-yard track. The 600+ room Grand Geneva Resort & Spa was recently renovated and is replete with a full-service spa, five on-site restaurants, and their adjacent Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark.

How to Help:

Charity golf tournaments are a great way to play a great course and support a wonderful cause. Check out two of the Chicago area’s biggest charity tournaments this summer, the Annual Golf Classic benefitting Ronald McDonald House and the Chicago Select Golf Invitational benefitting the American Cancer Society.

More from Better:

Glen TurkGlen Turk is a Wisconsin native who has been the Senior Writer/Editor of Midwest Golfing Magazine since 2005. Glen’s ultimate golf goal is to play in all 50 states and currently he is more than two-thirds the way there. Glen and his wife have a rescue German Shepherd dog and are passionate supporters of their local humane society. Glen also enjoys participating in charity golf tournaments such as those benefitting Special Olympics. You can read all of Glen’s previous works at by clicking on the “Past Issues” tab within the main menu.

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