Years ago, aspiring professional golfers used to play on mini-tour of sorts known barbecue circuits. While there was certainly hamburgers and hot dogs being barbecued at some of these events to feed the players, the tours were known more for their small purses, side bets and cutthroat competition that often took place on some marginal venues.
These days, the term barbecue circuit can certainly take on a more literal meaning. A little less stressful, the way I like to characterize the barbecue circuit in golf is a combination of two of my favorite things: fun golf courses and tasty barbecue and fixin's. Over the years, I've managed to find some pretty good examples by identifying a great barbecue joint, and then finding a quality golf course near it.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that I live in Texas, which excels in this area. But it doesn't mean I haven't appreciated the great barbecue in other parts of the country as well.
Truth is (one of the Texas' top joints is actually called Truth BBQ in Brenham) you can find great barbecue in just about every state, but there are regions that are known for their barbecue. I'm going to focus on those in this article, but we would love to get feedback from our readers on their recommendations and preferences from all over the country. (See comment section below.)
Here's a look at some of my favorite barbecue and golf experiences over the past few years:
Texas is a great place to start
If you love brisket, it doesn't get any better than Texas. The tradition of smoking meats for a half day or longer goes way back, and in almost every region of the state – Dallas-Fort Worth, the Hill Country and Houston – there's exceptional barbecue and it just keeps getting better.
The other day, I had a chance to head up to Old Town Spring, which is just north of Houston, and check out CorkScrew B-B-Q, a relatively new establishment that has already risen to no. 7 on Texas Monthly Magazine's list of best 50 barbecue places in Texas. Expectations were high, of course, and CorkScrew didn't disappoint. Not only was the smoked brisket tender and flavorful, but also the sides were perfect as well.
How do you combine this with golf? I did it by having lunch at CorkScrew, and then followed up with a tee time at 36-hole Cypresswood Golf Club in Spring. The Keith Foster-designed Tradition Course there, in particular, is one of the best public layouts in the Houston area. Or you could head a little west into Spring and play Augusta Pines, which played host to a PGA Tour Champions event from 2003-2007. In any event, the formula is to find the great barbecue and combine it with enjoyable golf.
And again, that’s not hard to do in Texas.
If you're in the Austin area, for example, you might want to check out Franklin Barbecue (ranked no. 2 by Texas Monthly) or Salt Lick BBQ – two of the region's most famous establishments -- but those are hardly your only options. A while back, Golf Advisor Managing Editor Brandon Tucker and I sampled Opie's Barbecue in Spicewood, Texas, which is fairly close to the Omni Barton Creek Resort's Lakeside Course and Horseshoe Bay. Known for its delectable butter beans on certain days, the sausage and brisket are exceptional, too, as are the desserts. Opie's makes for a great side trip for anyone playing golf at the aforementioned nearby resorts.
And finally, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has plenty of great BBQ joints as well, plus about 100 public golf courses, so it's hard to go wrong most anywhere.
One of the best is Pecan Lodge in Dallas. Bring your foursome over and you can pig out on "The ($75) Trough," which includes one beef rib, a pound of pork ribs, a pound of brisket, a half of pulled pork and three sausage links (You might want to get the fried okra as well). Who gets the beef rib might be a point of contention, but there's enough meat on it to split four ways certainly. As for the golf in the area, I'd choose one of the terrific municipal courses in the area, like Stevens Park, an affordable classic golf course renovated in 2001 to near perfection by Colligan Golf Design.
Kansas City's burnt ends justify the means
The barbecue alone in Kansas City is worth considering a trip there, especially if you've never been. The city also has a fairly robust public golf scene. And Kansas City is fairly easy to get around in, so you can pretty much play golf anywhere and find one of these BBQ venues in no time at all.
As for golf, there are a couple of exceptional munis that come to mind. Shoal Creek is a championship-level course that meanders through a beautiful piece of rolling property, with streams, ponds, hardwoods and plenty of doglegs. Swope Memorial, located right next to the Kansas City Zoo, was originally designed none other than A.W. Tillinghast. Opened in 1934, it isn't particularly long, but there's lots of elevation change and some really interesting holes. Both courses were in great shape when I played this summer and they're good values as well, which leaves plenty of money to enjoy KC BBQ.
Kansas City barbecue purveyors tend to put more emphasis on the sauces than they do in Texas, and their methods are certainly different than the Lone Star State. For a really authentic experience you might want to start with Arthur Bryant's (the original location is on Brooklyn Avenue). Around since the Harry Truman days, the portions run on the large side, and you can certainly get there what Kansas City is known for – burnt ends, the flavorful pieces of meat cut from the pointed half of a smoked brisket that are cooked further and tenderized to perfection. Arthur Bryant's is hardly the only game in town, of course. A couple of other recommendations include Joe's Barbecue in Olathe, Kansas, and Jack Stack, which has several locations around Kansas City, both of which offer burnt ends as well as Kansas City's famous ribs.
Ribs, sauce and brisket in St. Louis
On the opposite side of Missouri from Kansas City is another great barbecue scene, which differs quite a bit from Kansas City. You won't find burnt ends there for the most part; instead St. Louis is known for its ribs and sauces, and the brisket is quite good, too. Like Kansas City, no matter where you play golf, you're not too far from a great barbecue joint. For example, Sugarfire -- which sources everything locally, even its beverages -- has locations throughout the metro area. Or you could head to the heart of St. Louis and try Pappy's Smokehouse on Olive Street or Salt & Smoke on Delmar Boulevard. Pappy's, which smokes its meats over apple and cherry wood, is actually Memphis style, offering several different sweet sauces. Salt & Smoke is a little more of a sit-down restaurant than most BBQ places, offering a full menu of not only meats and sides but craft beer and bourbon as well.
As for the golf, there's plenty to choose from, however, most of the good daily fee options are in the suburbs. One of the closer options is Gateway National, a really nice Foster design that actually features views of the famous Gateway Arch. Or you could drive a little farther out on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River and check out the family-owned Annbriar Golf Course, a Michael Hurdzan-design that's one of the highest rated daily fees in the Midwest.
Carolina on your mind and palate
My final stop on my personal barbecue circuit takes us to the Tar heel State, which has a whole different take on the art from the rest of the country. In Carolina it's about the pork, the vinegar-based sauce and the slaw. That's right; in North Carolina, a pulled pork sandwich comes with all three, and they're delicious.
I've never had an opportunity to visit Lexington, N.C., which is about an hour north of Charlotte and claims to be the barbecue capital of the world, but I've had it in Charlotte and other parts of the state and can confirm that no trip to North Carolina is complete without stopping somewhere for a great pulled pork sandwich and fixin's.
Charlotte, for example, has lots of great options, including Sauceman's, which offers Lexington-style slow-cooked meat and tasty sides, including a great mustard-style potato salad. They offer a pretty unique sandwich called the Dixie Cuban, which is topped with pimento cheese and fried pickles (yes, it works). And there's plenty of good daily fee golf in the area, like Renaissance Park or the family-owned gem, Larkhaven Golf Club.
One of my most memorable highway stops ever, though, was on my way to the Outer Banks, which offers a nice array of affordable quality golf courses such as The Currituck Club, a terrific Rees Jones layout, or the quirky and very enjoyable Nags Head Golf Links, which might be the longest 6,100 yards you'll ever play.
But back to the barbecue: The Currituck BBQ Company (no relation to the golf course) in Barko, N.C., offers great pulled pork sandwiches, but it also serves up delectable pork ribs, brisket and chicken with its unique Carolina sweet and spicy sauces. I had fun simply trying a different sauce with each bite. How much did we like this place? Not only did we make a stop on our way to the Outer Banks, but we made sure we left enough time on the schedule to top their again on our way out.
Whether it's Texas, St. Louis, Kansas City, Carolina or another region of barbecue it doesn't really matter. Finding great barbecue is always a worthwhile endeavor. Combining it with golf with makes it that much better.
The above is just a personal sampling of some of my favorite spots. I could have mentioned Memphis as well as several other Southern locations, and yes, there's some great BBQ in the north, too (Famous Dave's in Minnesota comes to mind). So please feel free to share your favorite barbecue locales with our readers in the comments section below.