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The 3 Best Public Golf Courses in Iowa
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The 3 Best Public Golf Courses in Iowa

With weather that stays in the mid-80s throughout the summer and enough rain to keep the grass green, Iowa is a terrific golfing destination. I recently made a trip there to play three of the best public courses that the state has to offer.

Golf Course #1: Blue Top Ridge course at Riverside

The first course on my list, the Blue Top Ridge course at Riverside, is one that I have been waiting for years to play. Known around the state as one of the top public courses in the area, Blue Top Ridge lived up to its reputation with a layout that had me delighted with challenging greens and thoughtful strategy.

Located south of Cedar Rapids, the Blue Top Ridge course measures almost 7,400 yards from the tips. With a wide open layout, I was tempted to break out my driver and go launching for glory, but your patience is rewarded at the award-winning golf course.

Water plays a huge part in your decision making as lakes and creeks vivisect the playing surface on many holes. On the 10th hole, a lengthy par-4, I found out the hard way how the water can punish you when I tried to tuck a long second shot onto a green that lies against a huge pond. A swing analyzer would have been extremely useful in this scenario. 

When I didn't see water, the design of Blue Top Ridge dazzled me as doglegs that demanded precision forced me to bring my best.

As I wrapped up my round on a heavily bunkered 18th hole, I was quite taken with the immaculate grounds that I had just played. Worth the green fee and the trip to Riverside, the Blue Top Ridge has earned its spot as one of the best public golf courses in Iowa.

Golf Course #2: Tournament Club of Iowa

Next, I traveled to Polk City, a small suburb of Des Moines to play the Tournament Club of Iowa. This Arnold Palmer designed layout brings travelers from all over the United States, and after playing 18 holes there, I can certainly see why the course is so popular.

Cut through trees and sculpted with copious amounts of water and sand, the Tournament Club runs just over 7,000 yards from the tips. I shaved 500 yards off the course by playing the mid-range "Palmer" tees, and with the course's rolling hills and tight fairways, I was glad I chose that route.

This stunning course starts with a long dogleg par-5 that has the golfer hit their tee shot from an elevated box onto a huge landing zone. If that opener doesn't grab your attention, then the rest of the hole will as your second shot must navigate a narrowing fairway onto a layup area that stands roughly 80 yards from the hole.

Challenges like the first hole run throughout the Tournament Club and it is not hard to believe that Palmer had a blast designing this course because its playability shines through with each succeeding hole.

Saving the best hole for last, the 18th forces a drive over water, then a second shot to a tucked green that is encircled by water and sand. It is a breathtaking finish that had me making the mental note that I wouldn't wait very long before returning to experience the Tournament Club of Iowa again.

Golf Course #3: Spirit Hollow

My final course, Spirit Hollow, is located in the town of Burlington, about 100 miles south of Cedar Rapids. Widely believed to be one of the best courses in Iowa, Spirit Hollow is a monster that runs over 7,500 yards from the tips.

With vast bunkers and strategically positioned water, Spirit Hollow has an inspiring layout that forced me to use every club in my bag during the round. The course is full of elevation changes—the quality of your club grasp & your gloves will be tested—that lead to some of the best greens I've ever played.

My favorite hole at Spirit Hollow was the par-5 18th that becomes the ultimate risk vs. reward layout. An elevated tee gives the golfer full view of the hole's adjacent fairway that runs to the right. If you stick the drive, then you have a legitimate shot at the eagle, but if you miss the fairway and enter the thick rough, then you have my best wishes because you are in trouble.

Spirit Hollow was the perfect conclusion to my golfing trip to Iowa. Like the previous two courses, Spirit Hollow utilized the natural surroundings to cut an unbelievable layout that simultaneously tests and captivates the golfer.

If you love to travel the country to find beautiful courses that push you as a golfer like I do, then do yourself a favor and seek out these public courses. They're three of the best the state of Iowa has to offer.

Image credit: Photo by Chris Urbanowicz (

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