We're counting down the top 10 golf destinations to visit in 2016. For destinations 10-6, as well as our criteria, click here.
No. 5: Hilton Head and Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Ocean golf on the southeast coast, Lowcountry dining and miles of beaches combined with dozens of great golf courses make the Hilton Head Island-Kiawah Island region of South Carolina one of America's must-visit golf destinations.
The big news on Hilton Head Island is the reopening of the Ocean Course at the Sea Pines Resort this fall. Coming a year after a renovation of the famed Harbour Town Golf Links at the resort, the Ocean Course is a 1962 George Cobb that was remodeled in 2001 by Mark McCumber. Before the renovation, there were limited views of the ocean, but Love Golf Design (founded by Davis Love III and brother Mark Love) is doing a complete rebuild of all the holes to bring the Atlantic more into play and view. The course is also getting all new grasses, greens and bunkers.
Additionally on Hilton Head Island, at Oyster Reef Golf Club, a terrific Rees Jones design that is part of the Heritage Golf Collection, there's the brand new LagerHead Tavern, where executive chef Michael Toscano has created a Lowcountry-inspired menu sourced from local farmers markets. Diners overlook the golf course, and there is frequently live music.
And as always, there are the three courses at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, featuring the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course, which as the name implies, has ocean views to start the back nine, but is solid throughout.
Kiawah, of course, is home to the famed Ocean Course, where the War on the Shore Ryder Cup was contested in 1991, but the other courses there aren't too shabby either, including the Jack Nicklaus-designed Turtle Point, which is undergoing a renovation and is expected to open this fall. Ranked among Golf Digest's top 100 public courses, Turtle Point is getting new greens, bunkers, tees and fairways, which will be grassed with paspalum just like Kiawah's Ocean Course, Osprey Point Course and Oak Point Course.
On your way to Kiawah, you might want to spend a night or two in Charleston, S.C., known for its shopping, dining, historical sites and one of the best beaches in America, Folly Beach.
What they're saying: "A classic design by RTG. Fair but challenging. Back nine one of the best on HHI. Play this course every time I visit HHI." -- Jkozmo on the Robert Trent Jones Ocean Course at Palmetto Dunes.
Don't miss: The arts scene on Hilton Head Island. While it might be known for its beaches, fishing and hiking, it's also been named one of the "100 Best Small Art Towns in America," featuring Broadway theater productions, an excellent symphony orchestra and a dance theater.
Stay and play: While there are plenty of vacation rentals throughout Hilton Head Island, the ultimate is to stay at the AAA four-diamond Inn at Harbour Town, which is located between the first tee at Harbour Town Golf Links and the Smith-Stearns Tennis Academy. The Inn at Harbour Town has been completely refreshed and includes a new boutique pool with spa, and is the perfect location to play all three courses at Sea Pines as well as the rest of the island.
No. 4: Southwest Michigan
Southwest Michigan is often overlooked compared to more nationally acclaimed Northern Michigan, but 2016 provides ample opportunity for the region to get some well earned ink.
While the permanent closing of the Yarrow Golf Course last fall was a blow, the Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort in Augusta, Mich. will pick up the slack with the grand opening of Stoatin Brae, a new 18-hole course designed by Tom Doak's associates at Renaissance Golf. Gull Lake's Bedford Valley Course in Kalamazoo finished no. 22 among Golf Advisor's top 50 courses in the U.S. for 2015 with the resort's West Course (no. 7) and East Course (no. 8) ranked among Michigan's top 25 courses as well. The Medalist in Marshall (no. 12), Diamond Springs in Hamilton (no. 24) and Cedar Chase in Cedar Springs (no. 25) all outperformed a number of higher profile designs in northern Michigan in the rankings of the best golf courses in Michigan, a likely result of their much lower price points.
Tournament golf is making a comeback in southwest Michigan, too. The FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship, a Symetra Tour event in its third year, will take place July 18-24 at Battle Creek Country Club. The Senior PGA Championship returns to Harbor Shores Golf Club in Benton Harbor for the third time since 2012. Colin Montgomerie won in 2014 on the scenic Jack Nicklaus course. The tournament is scheduled for May 24-29.
What they're saying: "Beautiful course. I have played it for years. Course set-up is challenging but fair. Pace of play is the best in the area." -- Charles4484435 on Bedford Valley.
Don't miss: Concerts and gambling at the FireKeepers Casino Hotel in Battle Creek have filled a void in the area's entertainment scene. Downtown Grand Rapids, honored as "Beer City USA," is a lively place for a night out to explore its breweries.
Stay and play: Besides staying at FireKeepers or Gull Lake View, the only other logical stop for golfers would be the golf villas at Island Hills Golf Club in Centreville. Two four-bedroom and one five-bedroom units are perfect for foursomes looking for space and privacy. The course by Ray Hearn offers five-, seven-, 12- and 18-hole loops.
No. 3: Phoenix/Scottsdale
There might not be a more golf-centric region in the world than the Valley of the Sun, and nothing ever stays pat here. While there aren't any new courses since Wickenburg Ranch opened in 2014, there have been plenty of renovations, all for the better, of course.
One of the most recent came this winter at the three-course Wigwam Resort in Goodyear. Tom Lehman renovated the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Gold Course. The parkland layout got new bunkers and had a few moved and removed to make it more fit for the modern game.
Another course that's done well is the new Grand Canyon University Golf Club on the west side of Phoenix. Formerly the historic Maryvale municipal golf course designed by William F. Bell, the course is now managed by the university.
In addition to Grand Canyon, Dove Valley Ranch, has also been well received by Golf Advisor readers after reopening following a 2015 renovation.
In other news, on the northeast side, the former Vista Verde is now Verde River Golf & Social Club, which has new ownership and will be getting a new clubhouse this year. Lehman, who lives in the area, will also being doing a redesign of that course this year. Marriott Mountain Shadows, an 18-hole par 3, is not only getting a renovation but a brand new boutique hotel to go with it.
And We-Ko-Pa, which has 36 holes and is considered among the top two or three daily fees in the region, will renovate the its Cholla Course and reopen in time for the peak fall season.
What they're saying: "I heard stories about the previous course and its playability, so I wasn't expecting much. What a treat this course is ... GCU should be extremely proud to call this their home course." -- Enchilara on the Grand Canyon University Golf Course.
Don't miss: Baseball. Most folks know the area is home to the Cactus League in the spring, but there are also fall leagues and instruction leagues in the area so there's never a shortage of games and great ball parks.
Stay and play: There are literally dozens of great resorts in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, from the fun Westin Kierland in Scottsdale (which offers the Flowrider simulator among other fun things to do) to the luxurious Phoenician, Boulders and Four Seasons at Troon North, just to name a few. But if you're looking to get off the beaten path a little, check out the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, where owner Jerry Colangelo and JDM Partners have pumped several million dollars into a total refresh on and off the golf courses.
No. 2: Cape Breton Island, Canada
Stanley Thompson's Highlands Links in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
Cape Breton has been in the news a lot lately thanks in part to its (we think) tongue-in-cheek campaign to welcome Americans who claim they'll emigrate if Donald Trump wins the U.S. presidency this fall. Don't wait for that to happen, though, to make the trip to this lovely summer spot. Not only is 2016 the first full year of operation for Cabot Cliffs, the encore to Cabot Links, but the island's first destination golf course, Stanley Thompson's Highlands Links, is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The on-site Keltic Lodge is receiving about $4 million in upgrades, thanks to new private management company GolfNorth. Improvements include 16 new two-bedroom executive suites and upgrades to the 40 rooms in the Whitebirch Inn. Tree-clearing has also been ongoing on the hotel grounds and golf course, vastly improving ocean views.
There are a handful of other lesser known, affordable courses as well. The Lakes Golf Club, also relatively new, made Golf Advisor's top 25 golf courses in Canada in 2015. And considering you'll likely fly into Halifax to get here, there's a bonus new course to play: The Links at Brunello, which opened in 2015.
What they're saying: "I felt like I was in another world ... Until you actually arrive in the grounds and walk up to the first tee, you won't know the feeling." -- BabyLama14 on Cabot Links.
Don't miss: The spectacular Cabot Trail, one of North America's great scenic drives, that links Highlands Links and Cabot.
Stay and play: Cabot has created a wonderful little golf village in Inverness, where you can walk to a variety of restaurants and bars. The accommodations overlooking the course and just steps from the first tee are also very slick, and now include spacious golf villas for groups, complete with full kitchens and ocean views.
No. 1: Scotland
We've been saying this a lot lately, but it's another big year for tournament golf in Scotland. The Open Championship returns to the Old Course at Royal Troon, which last hosted the event in 2004. The all-male club is also reviewing its policies regarding female membership (it currently has a separate women's club), which will be a hot topic leading up to the tournament. The Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open's return to Castle Stuart will conjure up memories of Phil Mickelson's magical win there in 2013. Then Carnoustie will torment the old guys at the Senior Open Championship in July, and younger pros and celebrities in October during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which will also take place on the Old Course at St. Andrews and Kingsbarns Golf Links. All this action means plenty of opportunities to plan a golf package around watching the world's best.
Down the road from Royal Troon, the Ailsa Course and the main hotel at Trump Turnberry Resort, Scotland, are scheduled to reopen later this year after millions of dollars are spent to update everything about the iconic resort. The hotel will feature refurbished guest rooms, a new spa and new ballroom. The famous links will debut three new holes along the coast near the lighthouse, home to a new two-bedroom suite and a halfway house. Also, the town of Dornoch is celebrating the 400th anniversary of golf being played in town by the Earl of Sutherland.
What they're saying: "One of the world's most famous golf destinations didn't disappoint. Outstanding golf course that everyone in our group enjoyed, from scratch to higher handicappers." -- Lefty6563 on Carnoustie.
Don't miss: Take at least half a day wandering through the shops, pubs and sites of the Auld Grey Toon, St. Andrews.
Stay and play: There are so many lavish choices: the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews; the Greywalls Hotel adjacent to Muirfield; the Marine Hotel, Troon, along Royal Troon; and the Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa next to North Berwick's West Links. Maybe the most unique and inspiring is the Ugadale Hotel and Cottages near Machrihanish Golf Club on the remote Kintyre Peninsula. The tour operators at USA.Golfbreaks.com can take you to almost any of them.