I want to take a golf trip. Where should I go?
When someone finds out my career choice at a dinner party or a bar that question usually comes up pretty quick.
Of course, it's an impossible question for me to answer succinctly -- at least I haven't figured out how yet. When it comes to golf trips, every destination has its appeals and shortcomings.
So for those of you who want to take a great golf trip and need some help narrowing it down, I present the main selling points -- and detractors -- from 10 of the top destinations in the United States.
Pros: We must experience the spectacular golf on every island of Hawaii all at some point in our life. Frankly, the golf culture here -- abundant, accessible to locals and breezy -- reminds me of a balmy Scotland. Courses like Mauna Kea Golf Course, Poipu Bay Golf Course, Turtle Bay, Kapalua, Wailea Golf Club and many more are all among the most spectacular in the world, yet all very different from one another.
Cons: It's pricy and remote, obviously. But what's cruel about the islands is Hawaii isn't a buddy trip destination. Everything markets to honeymooning and couples, though there are some family-friendly resorts and golf courses that cater to juniors.
Pros: The golf course variety -- about 100 of them up and down the Grand Strand of all prices and styles -- is legendary. It's top 10 stacks up with almost any other destination. Myrtle perfected the "golf package" and there are also so many beds here that it's easy to get a great stay-and-play rate. You just don't find oceanfront accommodations this cheap anywhere else. Nightlife is also plentiful, should your crew like to stay out late.
Cons: Some prefer the shady, neon-less streets of Hilton Head or Kiawah Island to Myrtle Beach's Kings Highway sensory overload. Winter weather isn't always a slam-dunk for Northerners looking for balmy January or February sunshine. Also, the low-to-middle end courses really stack up the tee sheet in the spring, which can result in slow play.
California's Monterey Peninsula
Pros: Perhaps only St. Andrews is a more coveted golf destination. Pebble Beach Golf Links is known by many as the no. 1 public course in the U.S., while the resort's other courses are also exceptional. The spectacular 17-mile drive is a must for any visitor, golfer or not. There's comfortable year-round golf weather and incredible scenery, and the food and beverage here -- thanks in part to local wineries and farms -- is second to none.
Cons: Be sure to open a new line of credit. Pebble's ability to earn $495-plus green fees means its closest peers can up their fees pretty high, too. Meals and hotel rooms aren't cheap either. Windy days on the peninsula may make the once-in-a-lifetime splurge on Pebble not as comfortable as you'd hoped, while the morning marine layer can at times all but eliminate the ocean views.
Pros: About 200 courses with an abundance of swanky and stylish resorts and a fantastic nightlife and restaurant scene. I had my own bachelor party here for all these reasons. Every Midwesterner remembers their first round on a desert course like Troon North Golf Club or The Boulders, where the scenery is surreal. Or head to the West Valley or to the south for more variety and value.
Cons: To play the best courses closest to the heart of Scottsdale in prime time (January-April), you're looking at a $200-plus round. Courses also heavily overseed here, so while October-November may be prime weather, courses are either wet from watering new rye grass (enter: cart-path only) or closed entirely. Architecture buffs will have difficultly finding notable and public historic courses to play (Arizona Biltmore or Wigwam Gold is about as good as it gets for historic public golf.)
Pros: Where do we begin? Buddies trips, couples, bachelor parties -- everyone loves Vegas. The toughest part about a trip here is making your morning tee time after a few spur-of-the-moment decisions keep you out until sunrise. But if you want to splurge, look no further than epic experiences like Shadow Creek, Cascata or the Strip's own tropically inspired Bali Hai Golf Club. Dye, Fazio, Nicklaus, Jones and more big-name architects have signature layouts here. Las Vegas Paiute offers a tremendous product to buddies trips with 54 holes void of residential development and has excellent and accommodating facilities.
Cons: Whether we're talking weekend hotel rooms, steakhouses or golf, it's a pricy destination, particularly on the weekend. If you're dead set on staying on the Strip, getting in and out can be a hassle and few courses are within a reasonable cab fare. Also, water-conscious Vegas has been proactive in removing irrigated turf in both residential communities and golf courses, so many fairways often feel a little tighter here than Phoenix or Palm Springs.
Pros: Home to scores of PGA Tour pros, aspiring pros, golf schools, the annual PGA Merchandise Show and plenty of golf media, Orlando can make a strong argument as America's golf capital. Courses and resorts are also run very professionally thanks to so much area talent. Orlando's 10 best resorts have great golf with some surprising variety, and there is a pretty solid daily-fee and semi-private scene if you're willing to look beyond the resorts.
Cons: The variety of courses isn't as good compared to say, Myrtle Beach or Pinehurst. Most resorts are massive, and escaping the tourist scene here, especially when school is out, is tough (for quiet, seek out a stay-and-play Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill). Playing in the warmer months usually means a thundershower delay.
Carolina Sandhills and the Village of Pinehurst
Pros: The Village of Pinehurst, from the main clubhouse to the shady village streets and historic buildings, is sublime. Pinehurst No. 2, Pine Needles and Mid Pines are awash with prestige. Meanwhile, the surrounding 40-plus courses provide more value and variety of layouts like Dormie Club, Tobacco Road and one of Golf Advisor's top-rated value courses, 7 Lakes Country Club in West End, N.C.
Cons: Before Pinehurst recently opened The Cradle, it's lack of a short course was a real crutch, but no more. Pinehurst No. 2 is one of the most expensive courses in the U.S., and the other eight (as well as Mid Pines and Pine Needles) come with a name-brand sticker price. The Aberdeen-Southern Pines-Pinehurst area can feel like one giant golf course community. Also, the ambiance of too many of many courses in the destination is lessened by homes stacked along the fairways.
Pros: You bet Northern Michigan is a top 10 U.S. golf destination. The state frequently lands as many top-100 public picks as California. The summer weather is pleasant and there are so many courses here the value and selection is phenomenal. You could come back every summer for 10 years and still discover neat new courses. What's better, there's new stuff to see, like The Loop at Forest Dunes and upcoming Fry-Straka sequel to Arcadia Bluffs.
Cons: Besides a cruelly short season (I've heard of May golf trips getting snowed out), it's not the easiest destination to get to. Traverse City Airport continues to add nonstop flights, but some of the best courses are still an hour or more away from the north's main hub. Playing the true "A list" in the destination (Bay Harbor, Arcadia Bluffs, Forest Dunes, Treetops, etc.) requires a lot of miles in the car and more than one place to stay. Some of the better courses are tough or impossible walks, a commentary on the era in which the state's golf boom hit. Also, foodies be warned, there are some culinary shortcomings (particularly beyond Petoskey or Traverse City) compared to other top golf destinations.
Pros: The darling of public golf in America, Bandon Dunes hasn't been open for 20 years and it's now a go-to destination as the only true U.S. spot for pure links golf. The all-encompassing resort is comfortable yet low key. It's a true golfer's paradise with four stellar and different championship courses, a par-3 course, putting course and incredible practice facility. The restaurants and bars are all solid. What more could you ask for?
Cons: Besides being quite a commitment to travel to, you're really only playing one "style" of golf course: fescue/poa greens and links golf (even inland Bandon Trails plays similar). The courses are walking-only with the exception of medical issues, so it can be a tiring day out there. Also, you can't really play an affordable round, unless you count discounted afternoon replays, a round on the par-3 course or nearby parkland course Bandon Crossings.
Pros: What destination has better year-round weather than San Diego? The must-plays are also excellent, thanks to Torrey Pines South and top-shelf resorts like Grand Del Mar, Aviara and La Costa, as well as standalone facilities like Maderas. San Diego is practically "Myrtle Beach West" because the county has 90-plus courses and you can virtually name your price for a round.
Cons: Many of the low-to-mid-priced golf courses are shoehorned into mountainsides and valleys. Traffic and sprawl require some added logistical prep. Downtown San Diego feels less inviting to visitors than say, Old Town Scottsdale, though La Jolla and some other tiny oceanfront communities are neat. Water quality and its scarcity at times means course conditions scores from our reviewers overall tend to not be as strong as elsewhere.