different types of golf courses explained by tell me more golf coaches

Golf courses come in many variations which can certainly get confusing, especially for beginners. As the leader of the Golf Instructor team here at Tell Me More Golf, I will be breaking down the types of golf courses in a digestible way for golfers of any experience level. This will give even beginners confidence that you are selecting the right course for you no matter your skill level.

Different Golf Course Types

We will be covering the five main types of courses:

  1. Links
  2. Municipal
  3. Public
  4. Private
  5. Semi Private courses

Each type has unique characteristics, so choosing which type is best is largely dependent on an individual golfer’s preferences.

You can use this guide to help you decide on a course to play as you research the courses in your local area.

A links golf course is a type of course that has its origins in Scotland and is characterized by its natural coastal settings and open landscapes, often with sandy soil.

The term “links” comes from the Scottish word “hlinc,” meaning sandy hills or dunes.

Links-style golf courses are known for being built on the coast, which makes water hazards very prevalent. Golfers are also exposed to the elements, especially wind coming from the water, which makes golf club selection and accuracy especially difficult. These courses rely on water and deep bunkers as their main hazards as there are not usually many trees. Narrow fairways are also often a feature which adds to the difficulty.

The most famous examples of Links golf courses that you may have heard of are some of the most famous golf courses in the world – The Old Course (St. Andrews) in Scotland (known as the Home of Golf) and Ballybunion in Ireland are two great true Links courses. Links golf courses are often encountered in England, Scotland, and Ireland due to their geography.


What is a Municipal Golf Course?

Municipal courses are probably the courses that the beginner or average golfer will encounter the most. These are courses that are publicly owned and operated and accessible to all golfers, with no membership requirement.

Municipal courses are typically owned by the local government, and have the main purpose of making golf accessible and affordable to everyone in a local community.

Perfect for beginner golfers or anyone who wants affordable golf, municipal courses often host local golf leagues, golf tournaments, and events for the community.

Despite the public access, Municipal courses offer a variety of amenities, including practice areas, pro shops, and sometimes even golf instruction.


Municipal vs Public Golf Courses

It is crucial to understand the difference between Municipal and Public golf courses before you make a decision on where to play.

While some people use these terms interchangeably due to the fact that both are technically open to the public, there is a large difference: as mentioned above, municipal courses are owned and operated by public entities such as the government, while public golf courses can be privately owned but are still open to the public to play.

To summarize – all municipal golf courses are public, but not all public golf courses are municipal.

Both course types are open to play for the public with no membership, but ownership determines which category a course will fall into. Be sure to research the courses in your area to determine which courses fall into the category that is best for you.


What is a Public Golf Course?

As mentioned above, a public golf course is any course that is open to the public to play without a membership requirement.

These courses can be owned and operated privately or publicly, and depending on the quality of the course and amenities can have a wide range of price points.

Public courses appeal to many golfers as they do not require a membership commitment. They also often have less restrictive tee time bookings than non-public courses, which is a benefit for golfers looking for a bit more flexibility.

Public courses are great for golfers of a wide range of skill levels, from beginners all the way to scratch golfers. Be sure to read up on the course itself before booking a tee time, as public courses can have a wide range of rules and course policies for you to be aware of.


Public vs Private Golf Course

A private golf course is an exclusive course that requires a membership to play. These courses are privately owned and operated, and often have very strict membership requirements. Additionally, the membership fees are often very expensive.

On a private course, you can expect a higher level of care and attention to detail due to the high cost and exclusive nature of the course.

When you think of a private course, imagine an exclusive country club course with immaculate fairways and white sand bunkers.

Members of private courses enjoy exclusive tee times, high levels of service and amenities, and often other country club style benefits such as swimming pools and locker rooms.

While private courses offer great amenities, public courses are more accessible to a wider range of golfers . Their flexibility, lower cost, and accessibility makes them an attractive option for golfers who prefer to pay as they play rather than becoming a member of a private course.


What is a Semi Private Golf Course?

A semi-private golf course combines elements of both public and private courses. These courses offer memberships to a limited number of individuals but also allow non-members to play. This is essentially a middle ground between the exclusivity of private clubs and the accessibility of public courses, providing a versatile and appealing golfing experience.

The main appeal of semi-private courses is that they allow members and non members to play. A small number of golfers pay annual membership dues, similarly to private courses as described above. This allows them certain privileges, often including exclusive tee times and access to amenities that the general public does not have access to.

Non-member golfers are allowed to play by paying green fees or sometimes as the guest of a member golfer.

This policy allows golfers to experience the course without committing to a long-term membership and going through the (at times rigorous) process to become a member of a private course. This also serves as great advertising for the benefits of becoming a member.

Semi-private courses are an option that is growing in popularity for a range of golfers due to their mix of flexibility and quality.


Are Public Golf Courses Free?

It is a common misconception that public courses are free to play at. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. Public golf courses require golfers to pay a green fee, which is designed to cover the costs of maintaining the course such as paying staff and course maintenance.

Green fees at public courses can be a wide range of prices depending on the quality of the course, time of day and day of the week you are playing. Be sure to research the course fees or give the course a call before booking a tee time to make sure you are prepared.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are smaller golf courses called?

Smaller golf courses are usually called par 3 courses. They have shorter holes where 3 strokes is considered par. These are good for beginners and golfers looking to improve their short game.

What are flat golf courses called?

Flat golf courses are commonly called links-style courses or parkland courses. Don’t be fooled by the flat nature of these courses – parkland golf courses and links-style courses have their own set of hazards that can make them as challenging as any course.

What do you call a hilly golf course?

A hilly golf course is often called a hillside course or a rolling terrain course. These courses typically follow the area’s natural terrain and can offer a different challenge than flatter courses.

What is a golf course with no trees called?

A golf course with no trees is commonly referred to as an open course or a treeless course. The lack of trees can make for more open fairways, but golf course designers often add pot bunkers or other hazards to make up for this.

What does TPC stand for?

TPC stands for “Tournament Players Club.” These courses are a network of courses known for hosting professional golf tournaments sanctioned by the PGA Tour. The Players Championship among other tournaments is played at a TPC course.



There are many different types of golf courses around the world, built by a diverse group of golf course architects with different goals for their course in mind. The above research into different golf course types provides an essential guide for golfers of all skill levels to be able to choose the right course for them.


Patrick Corley Tell Me More Golf Instructor and Coach
Patrick Corley
From a golf scholarship to a Southern California University, to a private golf coaching career and an instructor position at a nonprofit organization, I’m here to help you get better at golf! With my 50+ years of golf experience; I bring you Tell Me More Golf. A golf coaching website that helps your game with instructional golfing content that’s ultimately geared toward making you a better golfer and having more fun!
Our golf instructor team brings it all to you, so enjoy!

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