What makes an awesome golf course practice facility?
Ask 10 different people and you're likely to get 10 different answers...and none of them will necessarily be wrong.
The fact is that golfers value different characteristics in a pre-round warmup spot or post-round self-diagnosis lab.
In my own travels, I've found myself enamored of a wide range of practice facilities.
I polled my fellow avid traveling golfers, too, and their responses were surprising as well.
So without further ado, here's an eclectic selection of effective, unique and otherwise memorable practice facilities from the world of golf:
Most Over-The-Top Off-Site Facility
PGA Learning Center - Port St. Lucie, Fla.
It's only fitting that one of golf's most comprehensive practice facilities would be in the purview of the PGA of America. Indeed, the Learning Center, just a couple minutes from PGA Golf Club's three main course, is massive, with 35 acres encompassing a 360-degree full-swing range, numerous putting and short-game greens and a three-hole practice course. There are even different consistencies of bunker sand so that visitors and PGA professionals alike can learn bunker shots encountered all over the world.
Best Practice Facility Without A Full Driving Range
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club - Pawleys Island, S.C.
Caledonia stands out as perhaps the finest golf experience on the Myrtle Beach Grand Strand on the strength not just of its Mike Strantz-designed golf course, but its intimate setting. At barely over 100 acres, there simply wasn't enough room to include a full-length range, so visitors are invited to warm up their long clubs across the street at sister course True Blue Golf Club. But it's worth taking a few wedge swings at the target greens set up in the space between the eighth and ninth holes by the clubhouse, complete with live oaks and deep bunkers as obstacles. It's also ideal for post-round, bet-settling closest-to-the-pin contests.
Most Thoughtfully Massive Practice Facility
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort - Bandon, Ore.
All parts of the golf experience at Bandon are awesome, so it's no surprise that that extends to the practice facilities, which serve as a great introduction to the somewhat different grass and ground conditions found at Mike Keiser's phenomenal resort. What makes Bandon's Practice Center thoughtful is that its two ranges point in opposite directions, out of deference to the seasonally shifting winds along the Beaver State's southern coast. When you're not working on you full swing, you can dial in your distance control with the putter on Bandon's acre-large putting green, too. And there's Shorty's a free-play short course adjacent to the South Range and available Thursday through Sunday.
Most Stunning Seaside Practice Setting - U.S.
Sea Island Golf Club - St. Simons Island, Ga.
Practice facilities are often squirreled away in odd or featureless parts of an otherwise attractive property. Sea Island's which serves the resort's Seaside and Plantation Courses, is the rare exception, whetting the golfer's appetite with the long-range water views that can be expected during the round. A big, undulating putting green and solid short-game facilities ice this particular cake.
Most Stunning Seaside Practice Setting - International
Quivira Los Cabos - Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Quivira's Jack Nicklaus-designed course wanders up, down and all around a craggy hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The clubhouse is situated on the beach, so the range gets its own spectacular south-facing Pacific frontage.
Most Brightly Lit Ball-Beating Venue
Trump National Doral Resort & Spa - Miami, Fla.
If daylight hours are not sufficient for your golf practice needs, you may find what you're looking for at Trump National Doral, which touts its status as "the only LED-lighted driving range in the world," courtesy of a comprehensive array of floodlights around the perimeter of the range.
Best "Convertible" Driving Range
Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club - Maricopa, Ariz.
Ak-Chin Southern Dunes' Lee Schmidt/Brian Curley-designed course is well known both for its intriguing layout and penchant for hosting high-level tournament golf. Its practice facility matches up, and features an interesting twist: a built-in par-3 course called #miniDunes, which opens to guests every afternoon when the range closes.
Driving Range With The Coolest Targets
Top of the Rock at Big Cedar Lodge - Branson, Mo.
Top of the Rock's nine-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed par-3 course is part golf course, part rock garden, and its practice facility is a marvel as well. The range itself was designed by Arnold Palmer and features 16 target greens, protected by waterfalls, rock ledges and "bunkers" (the whole landing area is synthetic turf), as well as views of Table Rock Lake. As if that's not enough, next door sits a massive, Himalayas-style putting green designed by Tom Watson. Resort developer Johnny Morris has a flair for the dramatic, and the whole Top of the Rock complex delivers.
Best-Sounding (and Best-Tasting) Range
Diamante Cabo San Lucas - Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Diamante is nominally private, but it is possible (and recommended) to arrange a visit on a stay-and-play basis. Make sure to arrive earlier than usual for your tee time in order to indulge in one of the most fun pre-round rituals we've seen: a range with private "grotto" hitting areas, and a chef and mixologist on hand to serve up sliders, tacos and cocktails.
Practice Facility With The Best Short-Game Area - East
World Woods Golf Club - Brooksville, Fla.
World Woods' entire practice facility has been lauded for years, but its offerings for golfers wanting to work on shots inside of 100 yards is tremendous. Its three practice holes' green complexes vary nicely, beckoning players to hit a few extra shots after holing out. And the adjacent 36-hole, two-acre putting course simulates the undulations golfers experience on the Tom Fazio-designed Rolling Oaks and Pine Barrens courses.
Practice Facility With The Best Short-Game Area - West
Pebble Beach Golf Links - Pebble Beach, Calif.
In addition to one of the most beautiful and historic places for golf in the world, visitors to Pebble Beach get the pleasure of one of the most-improved practice facilities anywhere, renovated in 2014 and earning rave reviews ever since. It's especially handy for those wanting ample opportunity to prepare themselves for the course's famously pitched, tiny greens, as there are two well-bunkered putting surfaces with a healthy swath of fairway in between. For further short game tests, there's the charming Peter Hay Golf Course adjacent to the practice area.
Here's a rapid-fire list of other practice facilities we think highly of:
Pinehurst Resort - Pinehurst, N.C.
Thistle Dhu, Pinehurst's Himalayas-inspired putting course, adds to an already expansive practice facility meant to accommodate golfers playing the resort's five main-campus courses.
SentryWorld - Stevens Point, Wisc.
SentryWorld's range has multiple directions' worth of full-swing tee areas, a solid short-game area and a big, centrally-located putting green just steps from one of the better golf course restaurants we've encountered. You could do worse than a brat, a beer and a bucket of balls here.
TPC San Antonio - San Antonio, Texas
It's a safe bet that any resort that also hosts the PGA Tour is going to have some great practice facilities, and TPC San Antonio is no exception. In addition to a spacious range, there distinctly different short game areas, shaped and bunkered to mimic the resort's two distinct courses.
Tetherow - Bend, Ore.
The distinctive bunkering and contouring style that David McLay Kidd deployed at Tetherow can be quite different from what a visitor is used to seeing, so the fact that the practice range has its own bunkering and mounding helps give players an idea of what to expect for their next 18 holes.
Bay Creek Resort - Cape Charles, Va.
With challenging courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, it's important to make sure one's game is firing on all cylinders. And with a broad, double-ended range and large practice green that works for both putting and chipping and bunker play, it offers all a visitor needs to warm up or put in some productive practice time.
Sea Pines Resort - Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Our preferred practice facility of the two on offer here is actually the one that serves the Heron Point and Atlantic Dunes courses: a large, curved practice tee and plenty of spots for putting, chipping and bunker practice. The plantation-style clubhouse adds an air of stateliness to the scene.
TPC Sawgrass - Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Along similar lines as TPC San Antonio, it's no surprise that the home of the PLAYERS Championship is an incredible place to sharpen one's game. When you're there, you shouldn't be surprised to see well-known pros digging it out of the dirt. They do have their own dedicated practice areas, but what's available to us mortals is more than sufficient.
St. Andrews Links - St. Andrews, Scotland, U.K.
The Home of Golf gets its due for the on-site golf courses - not just The Old Course, but the new, Eden and Jubilee - but it's an excellent place to tune up one's game, too. The range has both open tee area and sheltered hitting bays, the latter of which can come in handy on days of rough weather. Also, the short-game practice green is flanked by pot bunkers of the sort you're likely to encounter on the courses. What's more, the famed Himalayas putting course is nearby, though we consider it more of a course unto itself than grounds for practice.
What are some of your favorite practice facilities in golf? Be sure to share your nominations with us and your fellow Golf Vacation Insider readers below!