So you're packing up the car, and heading off to see one of the great natural wonders of North America? Remember to bring your golf clubs. After all, where there is beautiful scenery, whether it's at a national park or other spectacular attraction, golf can't be far away.
Not so fast, though. While that is generally true, great golf is not always close by, but it's always close enough. Even in the case of the Grand Canyon, which stretches hundreds of miles, there's great golf within two hours or so. In other cases, golf may be right on property.
Here is a look at 10 of the best natural attractions in North America, from spectacular bodies of water to national parks, and where you can tee it up on your trip.
The great Niagara Falls, which divides Ontario, Canada and New York is made up of the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls and the Horseshoe Falls, which produce the highest flow rate of any waterfall on earth. The destination offers up plenty of terrific golf. In fact, on the Canadian side, packages are very affordable, about $160, which includes golf and nearby accommodations from Niagara Parks Golf. Dramatically situated next to the mighty Niagara Whirlpool or bordering the historic grounds of the 1814 Battle of Chippewa, Niagara Parks Golf courses like the 45 holes at The Legends on The Niagara Course, designed by Douglas Carrick and Thomas McBroom, and the Whirlpool Course was designed by the legendary Stanley Thompson. The Canadian side, doesn't lack for golf either, of course. There's Thundering Waters, a pristine public course credited to John Daly, and Peninsula Lakes, a 27-hole layout located in Fenwick, Ontario.
One of the most pristine and deepest natural lakes in the world, Lake Tahoe, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, provides a setting for exceptional golf. Most notably, the George Fazio-designed Edgewood Tahoe Course is a classic with the last few holes along the lake's edge. It's a setting that provides the backdrop for the annual American Century Championship, a televised celebrity event that draws thousands of fans to the area, including those who choose to watch it from boats in the water along the par-3 17th. Another option is Lake Tahoe Golf Course, which is one of the better munis in California, as well as the Championship Course at Incline Village, located along the quieter north shore of the lake.
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
Northern Michigan is replete with great golf, but also one of the great natural attractions in the country as well, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Visitors to this northwest part of Michigan near Traverse City can book a golf package at The Homestead Resort, where they can also play the nine-hole Mountain Flowers, a par-3 course with great views. The resort recently added Arnold Palmer designed Manitou Passage Golf Club. The course takes advantage of the hilly terrain and the 8th tee box shows long views of Lake Michigan and Manitou Island.
Of course, venture out a little farther to Traverse City and the rest of northern Michigan, particularly towards Harbor Springs, and the list of terrific golf courses is deep.
Located near Keystone, South Dakota near the Wyoming and Nebraska border, Mount Rushmore National Memorial features the busts of four U.S. Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. And while there are no public golf courses with views of the monument, there are nearly 20 golf courses within easy driving distance. The top public course in the area is the Golf Club at Red Rock, one of the best in the state. Located in Rapid City about 30 miles or so from the monument, this 7,103-yard par 72, which opened in 2003, is laid out among the beautiful rolling Black Hills of South Dakota. Other courses Rapid City that you can play include Fountain Springs Golf Course, Hart Ranch Golf Course, nine-hole LaCroix Links, and Meadowbrook Golf Course which played host to the 1984 USGA Women's Public Links.
Yes, there is a golf course in Death Valley, and it's better than you might think. In fact, if you play it in the winter time, it's quite pleasant, but in the summer (when rates are cut in half), temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. At 214 feet below sea level, Furnace Creek Golf Course is the world's lowest golf course. Part of the wonderful Furnace Creek Inn & Resort (star gazing is amazing there), the course was redesigned in 1997 by Perry Dye, who added subtle mounding and recontoured greens to make this more than just a golf course on the one of the harshest sites on earth. The course has also been designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
Yosemite National Park
Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite, located along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California, is recognized around the world for its waterfalls, granite cliffs, giant sequoias, lakes, mountains and wildlife. And yes, there is actually golf in or just outside the park. Big Trees Golf Course is a nine-hole Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Course that's been around since 1918. No pesticides are used on the course, and only reclaimed water is used for irrigation. Formerly just known as the Wawona Hotel Course, it was built along the Merced River near the rustic Wawona Hotel, a national historical monument that dates back to 1856. Despite it being just nine holes, the par 35 course has some very challenging holes. Another nine hole option is River Creek about 25 miles south. Accommodations are available at both the Wawona Hotel and Big Tree Lodge as well as other lodges and RV campsites inside the park.
Yellowstone National Park
Covering parts of three states, Yellowstone National Park is known for its geothermal features including Old Faithful Geyser as well as its incredible ecosystems and wildlife. While the golf isn't close, it is accessible. In Wyoming about 60 miles south of Yellowstone, there's the highly-ranked Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club, an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Sr. course that borders Grand Teton National Park (right next to Yellowstone). Or over in Idaho, there's Teton Reserve, an excellent Hale Irwin design (just $35 with a cart), located a couple of hours or so west. And if you head north in Montana, there's the Big Sky Golf Club & Summer Resort, where you can play the Arnold Palmer designed 6,800-yard layout at the resort one day and head to Yellowstone on another.
Alberta's Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies are one of the most majestic mountain ranges in the world, which makes for a great summer trip that has to include golf at two of the most storied Stanley Thompson designs in Canada, both built in the 1920s. The Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge are separated by a three-hour drive along the glacier-laden Icefields Parkway. Banff Springs' chateau-style hotel sits above Banff Springs Golf Course, which has one of the world's most famous par 3s, the "Devil's Cauldron." The course at Jasper Park Lodge, which isn't too far from Edmonton, is truly a work of art as Thompson managed to frame each hole with the mountain backdrops. If you book a package at either Fairmont resort, it comes with discounts on green fees.
Zion National Park
There are three national parks in southern Utah -- Bryce, Arches and Zion – but the one that's closest to the most golf would be Zion, known for its red cliffs, forest trails and the Virgin River, which runs to the Emerald Pools and its waterfalls and hanging gardens. Zion is just 45 minutes from St. George, Utah, home to several exceptional golf courses. Among them is the Sand Hollow Resort, where the Sand Hollow Championship Course, designed by John Fought, actually resembles the Arches (4 hours east) more than Zion with its magnificent views and rock formations. Sand Hollow also has the nine-hole Links Course at Sand Hollow (well worth playing) as well as its Wee Links. Other worthwhile plays in the area include Coral Canyon Golf Club and The Ledges Golf Club.
Last, but certainly not least, there's the Grand Canyon. It's 277 miles long and attracts nearly 3 million visitors each year. And while there's no golf right along the rims, you can certainly hunker down in Flagstaff a couple of hours south. The only public course in Flagstaff is Continental Country Club, built in 1960 and designed by Bob Baldlock. At 7,000 feet above sea level (like many of the courses near national parks), you'll hit some of the longest tee shots of your life. A little farther south, however, you'll find more public golf in Sedona. The landscape is totally different from the pines of Flagstaff and so are the courses. For example, there's Sedona Golf Resort, a 1988 Gary Panks design that winds through a rugged old west landscape and includes one of the most picturesque par 3s in the country. Or you can play the highly rated semiprivate Oakcreek Country Club, an RTJ Sr., design with two distinctly different nines. Other terrific Sedona options include picturesque Seven Canyons at the Four Seasons Resortas well as the Jack Snyder-designed Poco Diablo Resort.