Top Courses You Can Play Near Major College Football Bowl Game Venues

For hoopla, pageantry, tradition, and partisan fanaticism, few sporting events anywhere stack up with college football’s major bowl games. Sure, critics chirp that there are too many bowl games these days, and that an expanded College Football Playoff system threatens to diminish the stature of these games even further. For now, however, the prospect of dueling marching bands, a meeting of high-ranked teams, and revelry-soaked tailgating remains an irresistible lure for sports fans around the holidays.

Whether you’re attending one of the games or will be in the neighborhood at some point in your travels, here are the top trophy and bargain courses you can play near the “New Year’s Six” major college football game venues.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Prudential

Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.

Trophy: Rustic Canyon Golf CourseMoorpark, Calif.

Can a golf course qualify as both a trophy layout and a top value? In Rustic Canyon’s case, the answer is yes. Located 47 miles northwest of the Rose Bowl Stadium, Rustic Canyon is a 2002 Gil Hanse/Jim Wagner/Geoff Shackelford design that engages at every turn, thanks to an easy-to-walk routing with tremendous variety that emphasizes thoughtful placements, and which allows for run-up shots galore. Creative green complexes and chipping areas are stars of the show; shaggy-fringed bunkers and sagebrush-framed fairways crisscrossed by barrancas are added highlights. Walkers can play any day, any time for well under $100; juniors and seniors can play most days for under $50.

Bargain: Brookside Golf ClubPasadena, Calif.

Though the 6,025-yard par-70 E.O. Nay course is a respectable layout, you want to play the 7,104-yard par-72 C.O. Koiner course that dates to 1928. Designed by Golden Age great William P. Bell, Brookside (Koiner) hosted the PGA Tour’s Los Angeles Open in 1968, when Billy Casper topped Arnold Palmer by three shots. The course is flat and tree-lined, with long par fours and views of the San Gabriel Mountains. It sits adjacent to the Rose Bowl, so expect unforgettable stadium views—except during the Rose Bowl and UCLA home games, when the courses are closed and used for football parking. Rates start at $39 Monday through Thursday, with carts an extra $18.

Capital One Orange Bowl

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.

Trophy:  Trump National Doral (Blue Monster)—Miami, Fla.

Whatever side of the political aisle you gravitate to, it’s undeniable that the best—and most renowned—accessible golf course in Miami is the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral. Situated 16 miles south of Hard Rock Stadium, the Blue was crafted by Dick Wilson in 1962, renovated in 2014 by Gil Hanse, and was home to the PGA Tour for 55 years, where winners included Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Phil Mickelson. The layout is typical Florida flat, with bold bunkers, expansive lakes, and swaying coconut palms, but Hanse infused the course with significantly more strategic options and imaginatively contoured greens.

Bargain: Normandy Shores Golf ClubMiami Beach, Fla.

Normandy Shores is an 82-year-old Miami Beach muni that brims with lakes, mature trees, and option-laden holes, courtesy of a 2008 Arthur Hills makeover. Located 13 miles south of Hard Rock Stadium, Normandy Shores was first designed by the legendary firm of Howard Toomey and William Flynn (Shinnecock Hills, Philadelphia Country Club, and nearby Indian Creek). Mark Mahannah redesigned the layout in the mid-1950s and eventually its fortunes ebbed until Hills’s revitalization. When the wind blows, which is often, the 6,805-yard par-71 layout tests the best, as evidenced by winners in the prestigious South Beach International Amateur, which include Kelly Kraft, Pierceson Coody, and Cole Hammer. Rates range from $103–$151 depending on time of year.

VRBO Fiesta Bowl

State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Trophy: We-Ko-Pa Golf ClubFort McDowell, Ariz.

Greater Phoenix/Scottsdale is loaded with public-access must-plays, but only We-Ko-Pa offers championship desert golf without homes framing the fairways. Situated on the outskirts of Fountain Hills, a 50-minute drive from State Farm Stadium, tribally owned We-Ko-Pa rolls out two courses, Cholla, designed by Scott Miller in 2001, and Saguaro, a 2006 Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw creation. Cholla zigzags through cactus-framed canyons, climbs atop ridges, and offers stunning views of Four Peaks Mountain and Red Mountain. Three split-fairway holes are highlights. Saguaro may lack the in-your-face design drama of its sibling, but its jaw-dropping mountain vistas are no less impressive, and its subtle strategies are superior. Rolling, tilted, walkable fairways, imaginative green contouring, and cactus-covered hillsides make for a remarkable back-to-nature experience.

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Saguaro course at We-Ko-Pa, 14th hole (photo courtesy We-Ko-Pa)

Bargain: Wigwam ResortLitchfield Park, Ariz.

A mere eight miles west of State Farm Stadium sits the venerable Wigwam Resort, which dates to 1929. Of the Wigwam’s three golf courses, the Gold shines brightest. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1965, revised by Forrest Richardson in 2005, and most recently renovated in 2015 by Tom Lehman, the Gold stretches to 7,345 yards. Arizona’s premier parkland test, the Gold glitters with wall-to-wall grass and elevated, well-bunkered greens. It serves as the home each December to the Patriot All-American Invitational collegiate event, where notable alumni include Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, and Collin Morikawa. December rates start at $90.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Trophy: Omni PGA FriscoFrisco, Texas

Not even a year old, Omni PGA Frisco nonetheless is the ultimate public-access prize in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. Located 45 miles north of AT&T Stadium, the new home of the PGA of America delivers an Omni Resort experience spearheaded by two outstanding new golf courses, the Gil Hanse-designed Fields Ranch East and Beau Welling’s Fields Ranch West. The East served as the venue for the 2023 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, where Steve Stricker edged Padraig Harrington in a playoff, and will host the PGA Championship in 2027 and 2034.

openings 2023
Fields Ranch East, 13th hole (photo by Evan Schiller)

BargainTexas Rangers Golf ClubArlington, Texas

Did you know that Major League Baseball’s World Series champions, the Texas Rangers, have a namesake golf course? Now you know—and it’s only 2.4 miles north of AT&T Stadium. Texas Rangers Golf Club, unique as an MLB-themed layout, was designed by John Colligan and Trey Kemp in 2019. It replaced a 36-year-old muni on the site called Chester W. Ditto. This trade definitely worked. The 7,010-yard par-72 spread features wide, mildly concaved fairways, artful bunkering, and large greens. Non-resident rates range from $91.50 to $125 and include cart and range balls.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, La.

Trophy: TPC LouisianaAvondale, La.

Home to the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic since 2007, the 19-year-old, 7,425-yard par-72 TPC Louisiana is a flat but fearsome Pete Dye creation seasoned with giant par fours, 13 acres of waste bunkers, and thickets of wetlands and cypress trees. It’s not Dye’s most dramatic design, but its firm, fast conditions and risk/reward, 585-yard par-five closer are highlights. While only 13 miles southwest of the Superdome, you’ll have to cross the Mississippi River—via the Huey P. Long Bridge—to get to the TPC.

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TPC Louisiana, 9th hole (photo courtesy TPC Network)

Bargain: Golf Club at Audubon ParkNew Orleans, La.

Straddling St. Charles Avenue, the Golf Club at Audubon Park in the Garden District is likely the nation’s only course accessible by streetcar. Located 4.7 miles southwest of the Superdome, the layout dates to 1898, which means it’s loaded with enormous, moss-drenched oaks. Architect Denis Griffiths re-worked the course in 2002, transforming it into a 4,220-yard par-62; while it’s of executive length, it’s got plenty of lagoons, bunkers, and contoured greens to spice the play. A superb value, Audubon Park’s fees range from $30 to $55.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.

Trophy: Bear’s Best AtlantaSuwanee, Ga.

In 2002, Jack Nicklaus took 18 of his favorite designs and replicated them on a rolling, wooded tract in Suwanee, 37 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He called it Bear’s Best Atlanta. It could have resulted in a gimmicky mess, but the Golden Bear wisely avoided picking pure all-stars and instead chose holes that fit the land he was given. Consequently, some of the homage holes are from lesser-known tracks, such as England’s St. Mellion and the Club at Nevillewood, near Pittsburgh. Still, two of the standouts are among the most famous—and feared—the 11th (the 15th at PGA National’s Champion course) and the 6th (the 12th at Muirfield Village), two legendary, watery par threes.

Bargain: Bobby Jones Golf CourseAtlanta, Ga.

Named for Atlanta’s favorite native son and greatest golfer, Bobby Jones Golf Course had become a tired, 85-year-old muni by the time it closed on Halloween 2017. In the fall of 2018, it was reborn in stunning fashion. This Buckhead-area layout—4.3 miles north of Mercedes-Benz Stadium—benefited from a $32 million facelift that yielded a brand new, 9-hole reversible championship track, the final design project from Atlanta-based architect Bob Cupp, who passed away in 2016. Played in one direction, it’s the Azalea nine; in the other, it’s Magnolia. Fees range from $31–$60. Also included is a 9-hole “wee links,” with holes of 50–70 yards, and indoor and outdoor practice facilities.

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Bobby Jones Golf Course

Have you played any of these courses on a trip to a football game? Tell us about your experience in the comment section.

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