Stop me if I start sounding like a snob, but…
In general, I prefer private golf clubs to public courses.
Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of worthwhile public courses of all types, from the diamond-in-the-rough municipal track to the high-end daily fee course.
But in almost all cases, if I can get on a private club, I’m going to do my best.
One of the tried-and-true ways I can recommend is to stay in hotels that have agreements with private clubs. You get an awesome vacation experience and get treated like a member when you want to tee it up. Private clubs are less crowded, in better shape and just more peaceful than even the nicer public courses out there.
Here are five of the best private clubs I can recommend, and the corresponding hotels that will give you access:
Cape Cod National Golf Club – Brewster, Massachusetts
Cape Cod is home to a number of excellent courses, both private and public. To play Cape Cod National, designed by Brian Silva, you have three options: become a member, cozy up enough to a member to get invited or stay at the Wequassett (Wampanoas Indian for “Crescent on the water”) Inn less than two miles from the club’s entrance. The boutique hotel overlooks Pleasant Bay, with the Atlantic Ocean not far as the crow flies. www.Wequassett.com.
Prouts Neck Country Club – Scarborough, Maine
Designed by Wayne Stiles, Prouts Neck Country Club is one of New England’s best-kept golfing secrets. That’s mostly because it’s a private club, dating back to 1907. At just over 6,000 yards from the longest set of tees, it will not beat you up but it will dazzle you with several holes within sight of the Scarborough River, which empties out into the Saco Bay. The club is very low-key and very private, but it is accessible to guests of the classic, nearby Black Point Inn, which dates to 1878 and offers 25 guestrooms and suites. Nineteenth-century American painter Winslow Homer’s former studio is located nearby. www.BlackPointInn.com.
Shark’s Tooth Golf Club – Lake Powell, Florida
Located on the Florida Panhandle, the private Shark’s Tooth is regarded as one of Greg Norman’s best American designs, ranked 21st in the state by Golf Digest in 2013. Also an Audubon Silver Sanctuary, the course is home to a huge range of wildlife. The course is known for its big green complexes, many of which are surrounded by short grass in a way that echoes Norman’s nemesis, Augusta National Golf Club. Guests of the WaterColor Inn & Resort, about 18 miles up the Gulf Coast in Santa Rosa Beach, can arrange golf at Shark’s Tooth as well. www.WaterColorResort.com.
Sonoma Golf Club – Sonoma, California
Nestled in the heart of the Wine Country is the classic Sonoma Golf Club, originally laid out by Sam Whiting and more recently updated by Robert Muir Graves. The course has hosted the Champions Tour’s Charles Schwab Championship a number of times in recent years and boasts one of the nicest clubhouses we have seen, but the course is private. The only way to get on as an outsider is to take a room at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, a splendid hotel located just three miles from the club. Many travel magazines have named the Fairmont’s on-site Willow Stream Spa as among the best in the United States. We also hear the wine in the area is pretty good, too. www.Fairmont.com/Sonoma.
Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club – St. Petersburg, Florida
Open since 1992 and designed by prolific and well-respected architect Ron Garl, Renaissance Vinoy is St. Petersburg's top private club. If you don't know a member, it is still accessible if you stay at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club. A member of the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel exudes Old-World charm with its 1920s Mediterranean Revival architecture. At 6,600 yards from the tips, the course is not long but is an exacting test, with water coming into play seemingly everywhere the golfer turns.
Got any other similar suggestions for us and your fellow GVI readers? As always, be sure to hit us up in the comments!