Every golfer dreams of a vacation to California's Monterey Peninsula, Hawaii or another top U.S. golf destination.
Where those dreams often go to die is the cost. Most courses in a place like Scottsdale or Palm Springs charge well into the triple digits in the heart of winter. Las Vegas and Pinehurst feature courses charging some of the most expensive green fees in America. Few things in Hawaii come cheap.
There are a few simple tricks to visit a dream destination and still keep costs down. Why not mix in a few tee times at an affordable course or two, while still hitting a headliner? Golfers looking for "value" can find it even in golf's most expensive destinations. We've taken a look at 10 of golf's priciest locales and found some bargains.
Understanding what the most expensive course in each market charges provides some perspective. What is deemed "affordable" in one destination might not be in another. Here's a look at the 10 most expensive U.S. golf destinations and a good bargain course or two to play in each.
Monterey Peninsula golf
Most expensive course: Pebble Beach Golf Links ($495).
Why not stay somewhere other than Pebble Beach Resorts to save some cash? Granted, you will be taking a chance trying to book a tee time at Pebble Beach 24 hours in advance with no guarantee of getting on. The $135 peak green fees of the Bayonet and Black Horse golf courses in nearby Seaside might seem expensive until you compare them to the prices at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill Golf Course ($385) and The Links at Spanish Bay ($270).
The ultimate value in the area remains Pacific Grove Golf Links, a municipal course with nine holes right on the Pacific Ocean that costs less than $70. The "Poor Man's Pebble Beach" -- at about 6,000 yards -- sells some quirky fun.
Most expensive course: Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, Maui ($295).
Ocean views cost cold hard cash in Hawaii, whether it's a hotel room, dinner table or tee time. Every major island, however, has at least one affordable golf option. Makalei Golf Club sits high above the dry Kona Coast on the Big Island. The hilly course, which sports a few panoramic ocean vistas, costs $79-$99 in high season. Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course occupies a scenic peninsula inside the Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Oahu. Civilian golfers who want to pay just $59 to play the 6,269-yard military course must buy a five-day "sponsor" pass for $10, allowing them access to the base. All that's needed is a valid Hawaii driver's license or a social security number.
Golf Channel travel expert Matt Ginella considers Wailua Golf Course, a muni on Kauai ($48-$60/visitors), one of America's top 10 hidden gems. Puakea Golf Course, a Robin Nelson design on Kauai, costs $105 before 11 a.m., although it's a steal for $65 afterward. Another Nelson design, Kahili Golf Course, bills itself as "Maui's best value." The $99 rack rate buys a fun course in a lofty setting on the West Maui mountainside. The recently renamed Maui Nui Golf Club (formerly Elleair Golf Club) topped Golf Advisor's weekly power rankings in October 2014 and costs between $49-$119.
Most expensive course: TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course ($299)
Papago Golf Course, a fabled municipal in the heart of Phoenix, costs $70 to walk and $84 to ride for non-residents through April 4. Most other top golf courses in the desert cost a Benjamin and change, at least in the morning. Also, Troon Golf-managed Poston Butte Golf Club in Florence can often be booked for less than $100 peak season.
Another option to strongly consider in 2015 is the new Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club. Though more than an hour's drive northwest from Phoenix, the new course is luring in golfers with a $95 green fee that, for a limited time, includes a TravisMathew polo shirt and pullover. Conditions are hardly bare, however, as it's had a seven-year grow-in period since finishing construction. Mike Bailey played the course shortly after it opened and called it one of Arizona's best.
Village of Pinehurst golf
Most expensive course: Pinehurst No. 2 at Pinehurst Resort ($450).
There's so much golf in the Sandhills that despite a collection of historic, high-end resorts, value is a part of the equation, even in the high seasons of spring and fall. The closest to Pinehurst Resort is Longleaf Golf and Country Club. The holes along Midland Road look a bit pedestrian. Hidden inside the white fences at Longleaf ($69-$99 in spring) is a strong back nine with more elevation changes. West End, roughly 10 miles from Pinehurst, has a pair of options. Semi-private Seven Lakes Country Club ($70-$110 in spring) receives high marks all year round from Golf Advisor raters, particularly for value and friendliness.
Lastly, Southern Pines Golf Club in Southern Pines ($88-$110 in spring) might deliver the best bang for the buck for a Donald Ross course in the region.
Las Vegas golf
Most expensive course: Shadow Creek ($500).
No U.S. destination has as many $300-plus green fees as Las Vegas. Those who don't want to pay the premiums at Wynn Golf Club, Shadow Creek and Cascata can skip the caddies and lush conditions for slightly less green pastures. When Golf Digest ranked the top 25 golf courses in Las Vegas in 2011, the 27-hole Boulder Creek Golf Club in Boulder City, 25 miles southeast of the Vegas Strip, was deemed the best value. A morning tee time for non-residents costs $110 these days.
As for the ultimate value, perhaps it's the 45-minute drive south to Primm Valley's Desert and Lakes Courses. These two Tom Fazio designs are top-10 courses on the Golf Digest list and cost between $79-$99 through mid-March before higher peak season rates kick in.
Orlando, Fla. golf
Most expensive course: The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes ($215).
The closest bargain to downtown is Dubsdread Golf Course, a historic 6,153-yard municipal course five miles north of Orlando, where walking ($38-$50) or riding ($49-$61) even in the dead of winter (February) is affordable, and the shady fairways are quite charming.
Closer toward Disney World, a round at Royal St. Cloud Golf Links (near Kissimmee) costs $29-$41 until April 2015 and includes range balls. It's one of the better-rated bargain plays in central Florida on Golf Advisor.
If you're willing to head northwest of Orlando about 40 minutes, another surprisingly historic course awaits: El Campeon at Mission Inn Resort & Club. The course made GolfAdvisor's Top 25 courses in Florida in 2014, and green fees can often be had in the $50-75 range.
Hilton Head Island, S.C. golf
Most expensive course: Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort ($305).
Value only comes to Hilton Head in summer and winter when it's too hot or too cold to play golf. Island prices apply in spring and fall. I can vouch that Golden Bear Golf Club at Indigo Run is a solid play for the cost. The best way to save some coin is to cross the bridge for the more affordable courses in Bluffton. Of the five local courses owned/operated by Brown Golf, Eagle's Pointe Golf Club ($52 until March) might be the best price for the course you get.
Lake Tahoe golf
Most expensive course: Edgewood Tahoe ($220).
Green fees vary greatly depending on which side of the High Sierras you're on. In the more arid Carson Valley and Reno, which have long golf seasons, there are plenty of affordable options, including the 36-hole Red Hawk Golf and Resort in Sparks, Nev. The Hills Course and Lakes Course cost $65-$75 in high season.
Around Lake Tahoe, where the real estate is pricy and the golf season is painfully short, there are some relative bargains compared to Edgewood and the higher-priced resorts and semi-private courses around Truckee. Lake Tahoe Golf Course in South Lake Tahoe ($87) has some nice character with lots of water holes, while the nine-hole Old Brockway Golf Course ($70/18 holes) on the north shore is a similarly classic design oozing with history. For more modern mountain golf, The Links at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, is more affordable for resort guests ($79) but still a solid play for the general public ($99).
Miami and Naples, Fla. golf
Finding value in south Florida is no problem eight months of the year. January through April? Good luck. Naples in southwest Florida nearly bursts at the seams when the snowbirds flock into town. The only way to find a morning tee time $99 or less is to play middle-class tracks like Arrowhead Golf Club or the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. For the same price, I'd rather drive to Panther Run Golf Club, a playable Troon Golf-managed course with great greens in Ave Maria 30 minutes inland.
On the Atlantic Ocean side of the state, sample a 36-hole municipal course where golf legends have played. The 36-hole Country Club of Miami, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. ($55 peak rate), used to host what is now known as the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Southern California (Palm Springs and San Diego)
Municipal courses play a key role around San Diego. Torrey Pines South in La Jolla hosts the PGA Tour and U.S. Open and is affordable for county residents. Meanwhile, Coronado Golf Course and Balboa Park Golf Course -- two classic gems that cost no more than $40 for anybody -- are the city's best golf bargains. The flat, 6,590-yard Coronado layout finishes with four holes along the water. Balboa Park is shorter (6,281 yards) and older (1915), but easier to get to from downtown.
As for Palm Springs, the demand in winter keeps prices so high that any round costing less than $100 should be considered a bargain. GolfAdvisor users give a handful of courses a "value" rating of 4.5 or higher (out of 5.0), such as Mountain Vista Golf Club in Palm Desert ($87 peak rate).
At the higher end of the scale, check out the Boulder Course at Cimarron Golf Resort, a 6,782-yard design in Cathedral City. If your wallet is bone dry, shorter courses like Cimarron's Pebble Course and Oasis Country Club in Palm Desert can still keep you on the Coachella Valley fairways.