A silent beeper summons you from the driving range. Your golf cart sports a complimentary bottle of designer water. Grey Poupon? Just ask. You're at an upscale public course where you needn't be a member to be a big shot.
Club men may scorn them as rent-a-clubs, but top-notch public courses "fill a need," says USGA executive director David Fay, who championed the selection of Bethpage Black, a public course, for the 2002 U.S. Open. "Many people want the feeling of a private club without having to dedicate their assets to it."
The phenomenon caught fire in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Grayhawk and Troon North made millions by charging snowbirds $100 or more for a round. Today, expensive public tracks are a booming business that has wrought a change in design philosophy. Architects must build courses that can compete aesthetically with Augusta and Pebble Beach without frustrating affluent duffers.
Designer Brian Silva sprinkled Waverly Oaks in Plymouth, Mass., with hazards that give the illusion of a treacherous passage. Yet the course has four sets of forward tees, and fairways wide enough to give the worst hacker a chance. "We might drop a bunker in the middle of the fairway," says Silva, "but we'll leave a fairway-width landing area on either side of the bunker. There are a couple of ways to get to the green, rather than one royal road."
Waverly's owner, Mark Ridder, grew up filling divots on his father's golf-course-cum-dairy-farm in Whitman, Mass. Young Mark dreamed bigger, and when his 22,000-square-foot clubhouse is finished, he will have spent more than $10 million to realize his champagne dream of a public course. "This is it, the big leagues, the real deal," Ridder says, looking around at his 242 acres of pearl-white bunkers, manicured bentgrass, full-coverage irrigation—and not a single cow.