It's never too early to start thinking about holiday travel.
Reader Emilie Ruediger, who lives in St. Louis, found our @GolfAdvisor handle on Twitter and had a travel question.
@GolfAdvisor looking for somewhere warm to go over thanksgiving for about 3-4 days! Any advice?— emilie (@EmilieRuediger) August 7, 2014
That's a great question because, as we all know, it could be beautiful in Missouri or much of the country can be in the deep freeze by late November.
For example, in 1993, the Dallas Cowboys, as they always do, were playing football in Texas Stadium, except that year it was in sleet and snow. That same day in Houston, 250 miles south, it was 75 degrees. We played golf in the Bayou city that day, but no tee shots in Dallas. And to make matters worse for Cowboys fans, Leon Lett's famous blunder after a blocked field goal gave the Dolphins a closer shot at a field goal, which they converted to win the game 16-14.
The point is that although there are no guarantees, planning in advance, you want to head as far as south as possible. And since it's over the Thanksgiving holiday, you're probably not going to fly because that's the busiest time of the year for airlines.
With that in mind, drive down to the Gulf Coast. It's about 675 miles from St. Louis, so it'll take a while, but it's worth it, and it's also very affordable.
City of New Orleans
New Orleans is actually pretty much a straight shot down Interstate 55 from St. Louis. Of course, there's more than golf in New Orleans -- incredible oysters at Acme Oyster House, for example -- including great dining, clubs, parks and casinos. Besides the French Quarter and Garden District, I recommend heading over to the Warehouse District, where the locals tend to hang out. It's easier to park and a little less expensive.
The New Orleans area has several excellent golf choices, including one of my favorite Tournament Players Clubs, the TPC Louisiana in Avondale. It's a Pete Dye/Steve Elkington design that's similar in some respects to the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, except easier and a lot more affordable (easily a third or even less the cost). Fairways are more generous and the bunkering is not nearly as severe, and yet there's plenty of water, a semi-island green or two and a tropical feel to the place.
My other New Orleans choice is my favorite executive course in the country, the par-62 Audubon Park Golf Course. Located next to Tulane University and across from the zoo, the 4,250-yard course (12 pars 3s, four par 4s and two par 5s) is almost always in good shape, easy on the eyes and not too difficult for the higher-handicap player. The best part is that you can play it in about three hours, which leaves plenty of time to head out to Bourbon Street or the Warehouse District for some dinner and music. (There's great food and drink at the Audubon clubhouse, by the way.)
Audubon and TPC Louisiana are members of Louisiana's 12-course Audubon Golf Trail (audubongolf.com), which offers packages that include hotel and golf. For example, another great coastal option is Carter Plantation, a terrific David Toms design in Springfield, La., just west of New Orleans. Or check out any of the other nine courses throughout Louisiana that make up the trail.
A little farther east, across the Mississippi
If you're willing to drive another hour east on I-10, check out the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which has surprisingly good golf options and some pretty fair accommodations and restaurants as well.
The best of the lot is Fallen Oak Golf Club, a favorite stop on the Champions Tour. One of Tom Fazio's best designs, the only caveat is that you have to stay at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino. The course is only open to members and resort guests.
Another terrific Mississippi golf option is the Grand Bear Golf Course in Saucier, one of my favorite Jack Nicklaus designs. Or check out the Arnold Palmer-designed Bridges Golf Club in Bay St. Louis, Miss., or the Great Southern Golf Club, a 1908 Donald Ross design located in Gulfport, Miss., overlooking the sea.
More casino golf in Tunica
About halfway to New Orleans from St. Louis, you might want to stop in Tunica overnight to break up the drive and get in a little golf along the way. If you leave early enough on Wednesday, for example, you can get there by early afternoon and get in a round at any one of two excellent golf courses (There used to be three courses, but The Links of Cottonwood closed down when Harrah's shut its doors in June).
Tunica National is a Mark McCumber design with rolling terrain, plenty of water hazards and excellent conditions. River Bend Links is a fun links-like course designed by Clyde Johnston. Both can be played for less than $50 and there are very affordable packages (tunicagolfpackages.com). Of course, Tunica is about the same latitude as Dallas, so there's no guarantee that it won't be cold come Thanksgiving. So if you want to increase your odds for warm weather, stop if the weather's warm, but keep driving south if you're a fair-weather player.