2019 is a big year for major championship golf. Not only is the new schedule creating four consecutive months with majors thru July, the venues comprise one the most compelling major sets ever.
That is particularly true for golf travelers because the three rotating venues are not only highly regarded but also open to the public. Former U.S. Open host Bethpage Black will debut as a PGA Championship host, and the fact it's moved to May means the rest of the summer the course will be available to the public.
Lest we forget, Pebble Beach is not only hosting the U.S. Open in June, but is also celebrating its centennial all year long.
From Monterey Peninsula to County Antrim and beyond, we've identified 10 newsworthy destinations — including, don't worry, some pretty good value picks — worth considering for your golf trip in 2019.
(Editor's note: We featured the booming golf hotbeds Cabo Del Sol and Missouri's Big Cedar Lodge in 2018.)
Pebble Beach Resorts has been building toward 2019, its centennial year, for a long time. The improvement projects completed since 2014 have readied this iconic golf destination for its sixth U.S. Open in June. The new Pebble Beach Golf Academy & Practice Facility came first in 2014. The Fairway One at the Lodge, a series of new guestrooms and two cottages adjacent to the first fairway, debuted in 2017. All 454 guestrooms around the resort have been updated, too. Expanded windows and outdoor patios and decks that have doubled in size have enhanced the views of Stillwater Cove from the Lodge. The 2019 grand opening of the Pebble Beach Visitor’s Center (a new interactive exhibit hall and souvenir store replacing two former banks) and the new Wall of Fame adjacent to the putting green have tied it all together. The course itself has been tweaked with four rebuilt greens (holes 9, 13, 14, and 17) and three renovated tees (4, 6 and 12), although most golf fans wouldn’t notice otherwise.
A trip to the Monterey Peninsula wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Pasatiempo, a revered Dr. Alister Mackenzie design in nearby Santa Cruz. It reopened in December after work restored the course’s free-flowing tees boxes to their original style. Just imagine how epic 2019 would be if you could find a way to play these two legendary courses.
The Open returns to Northern Ireland this summer for the first time since 1951. It's one of the most anticipated Open stagings in quite sometime and tour operators have enjoyed strong bookings all year long for golf trips centered around the country's two Royal alpha links: Royal County Down and The Open host Royal Portrush. This late in the year, tee times at Royal Portrush following The 119th Open (July 16-19) will be nearly impossible to come by, but singles or twosomes may have a chance. Inquire with an Ireland golf packager like Premier Golf or Carr Golf Travel about your options.
If you do go to Northern Ireland this year, either to attend the Open or not, there are lots of memorable options available in addition to Portrush and Royal County Down. And many have online tee times where you can browse availability, in particular the many courses around Belfast. Other popular but lesser-known links include Castlerock (which has a steller "relief" course in the Bann. Portstewart has 45 holes anchored by its Strand links, and Ardglass Golf Club near Royal County Down features one of the best clifftop links settings in the isles.
And even if Brexit is causing headaches for the R&A, crossing the border as a golf tourist into the Republic of Ireland is still easy. You can head into Northwest Ireland and play Ballyliffin, which hosted the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and features 36 holes of links golf, among many others.
Atlantic CityRound Trip Feature: Atlantic City is back!
When it comes to buddies trips, Atlantic City offers it all - restaurants, casino gaming, nightlife, beaches, the famed boardwalk and 19 public golf courses, most within 15-20 minutes of downtown. And now with the legalization of sports betting, eight casinos have installed large sportsbooks and you can also bet on mobile apps if inside state lines.
No destination was better represented in the Golf Advisor Top 50 for 2018 than this gaming hub near the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield, N.J., finished second in the Golf Advisor Top 50 behind only Bethpage Black, while the Bay Course at Seaview in Absecon and the Ballamor Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township ranked No. 18 and No. 21, respectively. A.C. has unique history as the birthplace of the terms "birdie" and "eagle" coined at A.C.C.C. Seaview’s Bay course boasts its own impressive past with ties to Donald Ross and the 1942 PGA Championship and is the current site of the LPGA Tour’s ShopRite Classic. A number of other top area courses – Twisted Dune, McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links, Blue Heron Pines and the Pines at Seaview – all finished among the top 20 courses in New Jersey the state according to 2018 Golf Advisor reviews, proving just how many choices there are surrounding Atlantic City.
Any year is a good year to play golf at the home of the Masters, but 2019 is significant on a few fronts. The first is that 2019 will be the first full season for the new reversible Bobby Jones Course in Atlanta. Inspired by the Old Course at St, Andrews, the late Bob Cupp designed the first reversible municipal course when he took the old 18-hole Bobby Jones Course that opened in 1936 and transferred into a nine-hole reversible that plays different directions on alternating days. It also has eight different tees, which can be played according to ability, swing speed and preferences for a different experience each time you play it.
At Reynolds Lake Oconee, one of the state's top destination courses is set to reopen. The Jack Nicklaus-designed Great Waters course is getting new drainage, irrigation and grasses, including Tif-Eagle on the greens and Zeon zoysia on the fairways and tees. In addition, Nicklaus design is creating a new set of tees at 4,500 yards. The course is expected to open this fall.Golf Advisor Round Trip: Reynolds Lake Oconee
Another Peach State reopening: the Plantation Course at Sea Island. Davis Love and Scott Sherman are reconfiguring a course that Rees Jones redesigned in 1998 along more classic lines. It will be ready in October, ahead of this year's RSM Classic.
DID YOU KNOW? Members of GOLFPASS can use $100 travel credits when visiting Reynolds Lake Oconee, Sea Island and several other premier golf resorts? Click here to learn more.
Finally, Georgia will welcome a brand-new course: Old Toccoa Farm in Mineral Bluff in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northern part of the state. Designed by Dave Axland and Dan Proctor of Bunker Hill Design, Old Toccoa Farm is a gorgeous semi-private links-style course that should be fully ready this summer (nine holes are currently open) and will include a family-friendly par 3 course in addition to the 6,580-yard par 70 course. It's the first original design by Axland and Proctor in 20 years and should prove to be to most interesting with their use of the natural terrain and access to Lake Blue Ridge, Ocoee River Whitewater, the Appalachian Trail, wineries, breweries, fly fishing and a casino nearby.
Architecture aficionados will want to put Virginia on their radar in 2019. It's the year of the comeback for two Mike Strantz designs that were recently shuttered. Royal New Kent and Stonehouse are both exciting, visionary layouts that are being lovingly restored by new ownership and scheduled to be back online in April and July, respectively. The architect only built a handful of public courses before he passed away, making these two rebirths in his portfolio significant. (Read more)
Perhaps the best way to experience Virginia golf is to make it a road trip in the spring or fall when destinations to the north aren't as warm. The Commonwealth features quiet mountain retreats like The Homestead and Primland, as well as central Virginia standouts like Full Cry at Keswick and Spring Creek. Poplar Grove was also recently updated. Towards the coast, Colonial Williamsburg, Kingsmill and Virginia Beach all sport worthy and scenic options. Others like Mattaponi Springs rate highly.
The recovery from Hurricane Maria a year and a half ago has been difficult for Puerto Rico, but we visited the island in February to survey the rebuilding of the golf courses and hotels, and a lot of it is looking better than before and welcoming back tourists with open arms. Flights from the United States to San Juan are fairly cheap, the golf courses are looking better than ever before, and more hotel rooms are opening up daily.
While there are fewer than two dozen golf courses on the entire island, it's all good quality, much of it with views of the Caribbean. Among the must-plays is the TPC Dorado Beach (within 45 minutes of San Juan), which offers three courses, most notably the East Course, a Robert Trent Jones layout that was renovated in recent years by son RTJ Jr. Besides TPC Dorado Beach, there are several other courses you should put on your wish list. Royal Isabela on the northwest coast has the best ocean views of any course in Puerto Rico and now has spectacular accommodations on site. The Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club at the St. Regis in Rio Grande, about 45 minutes to the north of San Juan, has a stunning finishing stretch by the ocean. And for those looking to play a tour stop, the Tom Kite-designed Coco Beach Golf Club and Resort, home of the PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open right next door, is also open to the public.
Pair the golf with excursions into Old San Juan, hours of beach activities and the downtown nightclubs, and you'll have an unforgettable island adventure.
It's a busy year in the Austin area in 2019. Tiger Woods is healthy and eligible to compete in the WGC Dell Match Play for the first time since it moved to Austin Country Club. But for resort golfers, the two biggest area resorts, Omni Barton Creek and Horseshoe Bay Resort, are wrapping up extensive projects to their courses and resorts by April-May.
Omni Barton Creek has entirely gutted and expanded its hotel and will now feature a second hotel tower adding 200 rooms, plus expanded pools, spa and dining concepts. The Crenshaw Cliffside and Fazio Foothills courses are sporting facelifts too.
Meanwhile, an hour west of Austin, Horseshoe Bay is finishing up work at Apple Rock and the Cap Rock clubhouse to go along with extensive resort improvements and rehabs to the other two RTJ Sr. designs onsite.
Tangentially in the region, Forest Creek Golf Club, located just north of Austin recently polished off an extensive renovation, while the brand new Kissing Tree Golf Club opened last fall in San Marcos.
Collegiate golf facilities are having a big year in the Hoosier State in 2019. The U.S. Senior Open takes place at Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course in South Bend June 27-30. It's one of the more affordable golf courses in the Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw portfolio (the duo extensively renovated the original layout). Meanwhile, south of Indianapolis, a brand new golf course at Indiana University in Bloomington should take some of the sting out of the Hoosier basketball team's total implosion this season. The new layout, slated to open by the fall comes at the hands of Steve Smyers and is expected to rival the Big Ten's best.
This would also be an appropriate year to celebrate the life and works of Alice Dye, who passed away earlier this year. Indiana is one of the best places to pay tribute to the Dyes' portfolio, full of gems of all price points to do so, from the exclusive Crooked Stick or lavish Dye Course at French Lick to affordable designs around Indy. Visit Hamilton County features a three-course Pete Dye Golf Trail including Brickyard Crossing, Plum Creek, and The Fort, which was our top-rated golf course layout in 2018 based on Golf Advisor reviews. West Lafayette's Purdue University also features two 18s built by Dye, the Kampen and Ackerman-Allen courses.
Victoria - Melbourne, Australia
The Presidents Cup returns this December to Royal Melbourne, site of the International team’s only win in the matches all the way back in 1998. It will be appointment viewing. For architectural and competitive pedigree, it is hard to beat Royal Melbourne, whose two courses (the pros will play a composite routing of the East and West courses) were laid out by Alister MacKenzie in the 1920s. Like many of the UK and Ireland’s best courses, it is open to visitor play, and anchors an incredible collection of golf courses that comprise the “Sandbelt” in and around Melbourne. About an hour south, more golf beckons on the Mornington Peninsula at clubs like recent European Tour/LPGA Tour joint host Thirteenth Beach, St. Andrews Beach and the National Golf Club. It’s a long way from the U.S., but we’ve yet to encounter any avid golfer who has not had a great time playing golf Down Under.Golf Advisor Round Trip: Melbourne
Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast
Texas' Gulf Coast is lesser known to golfers compared to Gulf Shores or Biloxi or Sandestin. But there's a lot of it - over 200 courses- and it's been improving, especially on the public and municipal front. One of the more significant renovations was completed late last year with the reopening of Houston's Gus Wortham Park Golf Course, a 100-plus year-old course that was once Houston Country Club. Redone by Baxter Spann, this uniquely hilly course has all new grasses and raised greens complexes.
Gus will be joined later this year by an even more significant renovation. Tom Doak is renovating historic Memorial Park, a former Houston Open site that's looking to get the tournament again in 2020 if all goes well (Brooks Koepka is player consulting on the project). Doak will undoubtedly put his signature touches on this project, which is being funded by the Houston Astros Golf Foundation, which has also taken over the administration of the Houston Open.
In addition, a unique course is opening this summer in Cleveland, Texas, about 45 minutes northeast of Houston. The new Nine Grand at Grand Oaks Reserve, incorporates three nine-hole courses – one of regulation length, another a par 3, and the other a putting course. It could serve as a model for future golf courses as the sport looks to attract new players.
And finally, a little farther down the coast, Palmilla Beach Resort has taken the opportunity to create something different after rebuilding from 2017's Hurricane Harvey. Instead of simply restoring the original 18 holes there, the development is instead, much like Grand Nine, reducing the original golf course to nine regulation holes of links style golf, while adding what it calls The Playground at Palmilla Beach, which will include a nine-hole putting course and three-hole short course. The idea is to provide an easier entry into golf for novices as well as have a great place to practice and play for experienced players.