The Golfczar plays more than 100 rounds of golf per year and has played more than 200 golf courses in the United States and Canada during a golfing career that spans seven decades. He’s played many 5 star golf courses, including several that are ranked in Golf Digest’s Annual Top 100 Best Public Courses. He’s also played his share of “dog tracks” so when it comes to ranking public golf courses, as the saying goes, he knows whereof one speaks.
Ranking public courses is a subjective task, but most public golf course players will agree with the criteria The Czar used to come up with his list of the top courses in our area. These criteria, in order of importance, are:
I grew up playing Caz and would love to include it on my list, but you can’t crack my top 20 if your greens run at 3 on the stimpmeter and your tee boxes are dirt patches. I want smooth, fast greens and fairways that aren’t loaded with divots.
Public course players always want the best bang for their buck. If money wasn’t an issue, we would all belong to private country clubs.
3. DESIGN VARIETY
A general term to describe the challenge from each set of tees, memorable holes, placement of hazards, different lengths of holes, shapes and contour of the greens, etc. Ironwood has a few decent holes but I can’t get beyond how most of the course looks like some fairways and greens were plopped into a cow pasture. As a result, it doesn’t make my list.
Stand on the 12th tee box at Peek ‘n Peak Upper or the 15th fairway at Byrncliff and look around – the views will take your breath away. Attention to detail, like well kept flower beds and smooth running golf carts also add pleasure to any round of golf.
Pace of play and just the general feeling of playing the course. A pretty beverage cart babe and comfortable 19th hole doesn’t hurt the experience either.
The Golfczar’s top 20 Public Golf Courses in Western New York:
20. 18 Mile Creek (formerly Hamburg)
First, a disclaimer – The Czar has been a member of the Hamburg Men’s Golf Club for 25 years so there is some bias in this selection. However, 18 Miles Creek’s well maintained greens (among the finest you will find anywhere) gives it the edge over several courses which don’t make my list, such as South Shore.
19. Chestnut Hill
Like many of you, my main exposure to this course has been playing in charity scramble golf tournaments. Course is usually in decent shape, albeit with very slow greens, and excellent value if you’ve ever had their lunch and steak dinner which is part of their standard tournament package.
18. Dande Farms
Fairways can get hard and burned out, but the greens and tee boxes are always in fine shape.
17. Buffalo Tournament Club
Huge, fast greens that both help and hurt the ranking of this course. Helps in the sense that we all love big, fast greens; but your handicap could get hurt (go down) because you will find yourself putting for birdie here instead of trying to get up and down for par from a similar distance at most other courses.
Played several WNY PUBLINKS tournaments at Deerwood and always enjoyed the experience.
15. ELMA MEADOWS
If you grew up in South Buffalo in the 60’s, you had two choices – Caz or Elma Meadows. I was one of those crazy guys who slept in my car before dawn in Elma’s parking lot in order to get an early tee time. Beautiful, traditional designed course and ranking is this low only because conditions aren’t up to the standard of the top courses in the area.
I’ve only played it once in a BDGA tournament and frankly thought it was a private course until I saw it on Mo’ Golf’s list. I do remember having a very pleasant round of golf and a wonderful meal afterwards.
As Mo’ Golf did with his list, I am considering both the Lake and Hill courses together for this list. Considered separately, each course would rank lower because each course has its share of weak holes. But together both courses have a bunch of very memorable holes.
12. Peek ‘n Peak Lower
Scratch golfers would scoff at this ranking, but it has everything for the average player. Great conditions and super friendly staff makes for an enjoyable day. I’ve been going to the Peak for a weekend in July for 30 years and the experience gets better every year.
Again, very little exposure to this course because Lockport is simply too far for me to travel to play golf (and have a couple of beers afterward). I do remember wishing it was a little closer to home when I have played it.
Call me to play when they cut down that tree on the dogleg on the first hole. Just kidding. I always envied Tonawanda residents – buy one pass and you get to play both Sheridan and Brighton.
9. Tri County
Conditioning and design are the primary reasons why I rank this course so high. However, unless you have a lot of course knowledge, it may not be a lot of fun to play. Very difficult, even from the member tees.
I loved this course when it opened. We finally had a high end public course option without traveling to Canada. But a bunch of courses have either opened or stepped up their game in recent years and dropped this course from where it would have been 10 years ago. Why do their greens look like mine fields late in the season?
Beautiful design, good conditions and aesthetics as fine as you will find anywhere. A great value as well.
6. Diamond Hawk
I love the opening three holes. They will challenge you but won’t put the fear into your heart like the opening holes of some other courses (see Sheridan).
5. Glen Oak
Value, value, value. $35 green fees before 10:00 Mon-Fri and the best GPS system I’ve ever seen.
4. Links at Ivy Ridge
It actually combines the best of a Links design with a more traditional design. Always in great shape, excellent value, friendly staff and comfortable 19th hole.
3. Seneca Hickory Stick
Value separates the top 3 on my list. As nice as Hickory Stick is, the green fees are substantially higher than Harvest Hill and Harvest Hill is every bit the equal to Hickory Stick regardless of how you measure them.
2. Harvest Hill
Another disclaimer – I’m a pass holder at Harvest Hill, so a little more bias. But I consider the investment I made with the pass this year the wisest investment I may have ever made in this game. Tremendous amount of money being invested into the course under the new owner and it will rival any private country club in this area when the work is finished, in my humble (and biased) opinion.
1. Peek ’n Peak Upper
Did I mention I’ve played more than 200 different golf courses in my life? Well, for the past 15 years (or since the upper course opened), the Peak upper has been the benchmark that I’ve measured every other course I’ve played against. I’ve played many courses that are its equal, but have yet to play one that surpasses it. Expensive, but great value when you play it as part of a stay and play package.
golfczar AT hotmail.com