Getting to America's most remote golf destinations isn't easy.
Most require at least two plane rides and an hour or more of driving for those who don't live within striking distance by car.
Getting to those 12 U.S. destinations I recently profiled will feel like a breeze compared to tracking down some of the world's most remote golf destinations. First you need a passport, which the majority of Americans don't have. Then you'll need some serious cash for travel expenses (flight, hotel, rental car, etc.). Lastly, bring an adventurous spirit. Being travel savvy will keep you from stressing out when a snafu arises. Patience is a virtue when you're on the road to seemingly nowhere.
Only the most ambitious golf explorers will enjoy my latest version of Deegan's Dozen, 12 of the world's most remote golf destinations. I tried to balance how hard these destinations are to get to for Americans with how worthy they are to find. There are more remote one-off courses and resorts hidden in jungles, mountains and deserts, but these are the spots totally worth the journey. Safe travels!
United Arab Emirates
Best way to get there: Flight to Dubai half a world away (12 1/2 hours from New York and 16 from Detroit Metro Airport or Los Angeles International Airport).
I debated whether UAE belongs because you can get direct flights to Dubai from almost every major airport in the world. Then I thought, 'How weird is it that three World top 100 courses sit in the desert in the Middle East'? Oil money brought golf to the desert in 1988 when Majlis opened as the first all-grass championship course in the Middle East. It annually hosts the Dubai Desert Classic of the European Tour. Greg Norman's nearby Earth Course hosts the Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship, the conclusion of the Race to Dubai. Yas Links, designed by Kyle Phillips of Kingsbarns fame about an hour from Dubai, is marketed as the first links course in the Middle East.
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada
Best way to get there: Private aircraft can access the island via Port Hawkeskbury, which is 50 miles to Cabot Links (you can book an 11-passenger Mercedes Sprinter directly through the resort). There is no real cheat code to get to even more remote Highlands Links in Ingonish at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, but the three-hour journey by car on the Cabot Trail is one of North America's best scenic drives, so enjoy it.
Canada's first links golf destination, Cabot Links is quite similar to Bandon Dunes in that it's about a four-hour drive from the largest international airport, Halifax, while there are smaller and private options a little closer in. What awaits at the end of the scenic journey, however, is unquestionably worth it.
Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs have shot up towards the top of the best courses in Canada and is the best links-style one-two punch on the eastern seaboard. Don't miss Stanley Thompson's Highlands Links, one of the handful of sublime courses designed by the Golden Era architect in Canada's National Parks. The Cabot-Highlands combination makes for one of the best walking destinations on the continent, and the combination of modern links by Coore/Crenshaw and Canadian architect Rod Whitman to go along with the old-world stylings of Thompson makes for one of the walking trips for enthusiasts of walkable courses and architecture. After all the time on the road, you'll be eager to stretch your legs.
Best way to get there: Los Angeles and San Francisco are your only U.S. gateways to Australia. It's a 15-hour flight from LAX to Melbourne and 16 hours from SFO. Will your body clock be able to navigate the hour's drive to Royal Melbourne Golf Club?
If Alister Mackenzie could make the trip by boat a century ago, why can't you? Getting there is only half the problem. Getting on is another. The famous private clubs of Australia's Sandbelt such as Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath require a letter from your home club and are only open to visitors on weekdays. It gets harder from there. Good luck getting on ultra-exclusive Ellerston, a world Top 100 Greg Norman design. Before golfers leave Melbourne, they likely will hit Tasmania and King Island, too.
Best way to get there: A flight to Glasgow or Edinburgh airports, followed by a game of planes, boats or automobiles. A 45-minute flight from Glasgow will get you to Campbeltown at the tip of the Mull of Kintyre the fastest, but the three-hour drive (140 miles) with a rental car might be the most practical. Me? I chose the scenic route, playing the Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry Resort in South Ayrshire in 2013 before taking the car ferry across the Firth of Clyde to Campbeltown.
The tiny village of Machrihanish and the neighboring port of Campbeltown feel lost in time. Paul McCartney fell so hard for this isolated land that he bought a home and wrote a hit song about it. Southworth Development has rejuvenated the destination by renovating the 23-room Royal Hotel in downtown Campbeltown and the 22-room Ugadale Hotel (pictured) as the centerpiece of its Village at Machrinhanish Dunes located adjacent to the Machrihanish Golf Club and the beach that straddles its famous first hole. Together, Machrihanish and Machrihanish Dunes sport some of the wildest dunes and trickiest blind shots in links golf. What a contrast. Machrihanish is a classic links dating to 12 original holes by Old Tom Morris in 1876. Mac Dunes counterpunches with a modern (2009) miracle by David McLay Kidd on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) where no machines were allowed to go. They are pure links gold.
Best way to get there: A flight to Dublin (6 1/2 hours from New York or 11 from SFO), followed by a 3 1/2-hour drive to either the Ballyliffin Golf Club (166 miles) or the Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort (161 miles).
The first time my coach driver took me to Ballyliffin he called it the "back of beyond". When Nick Faldo first visited in the 1990s, he got there by helicopter. It's isolated at the tip of the Inishowen Peninsula, but the proud club will get its moment in the sun (hopefully the sun shines) during the 2018 Irish Open, the first European Tour event in the region. Both Ballyliffin and Rosapenna serve as great hubs for a golf trip exploring the rugged northwest. They're each stocked with 36 holes of links golf, fine food and comfy accommodations (The Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel & Spa is off-site and not affiliated with the club).
If you really want to go off the grid, try getting to Carne Golf Links. It took me more than 10 trips to Ireland over 12 years to finally get to the 27-hole Carne in Belmullet. Now I'm dying to go back to play the new nine I missed. And while you're at it, don't forget the Dunes at Enniscrone Golf Club, one of my all-time favorites when paired with a stay at Mount Falcon Estate, or the Donegal Golf Club, two of the world's rare par-73 golf courses. And what about the County Sligo Golf Club, a superb links by Harry Colt? I could go on and on ...
Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate, South Africa
Best way to get there: The flight from New York to Johannesburg will take about 14 hours, followed by a two-hour flight to George, a small town on South Africa's lush "Garden Route".
I could have easily chosen other courses and resorts I visited during my whirlwind adventure in 2015 that required at least five regional flights within the country. Instead, I went with the luxury and comfort of Fancourt, where Tiger Woods and Ernie Els dueled to a legendary draw at the 2003 Presidents Cup on the Links at Fancourt. The resort, a five-hour drive (or short flight) from Cape Town, has modernized and diversified outside of golf, adding more family programming and luxurious touches. It has remodeled its original Manor House into a bastion of six-star luxury and privacy. I didn't get to Pinnacle Point, but Golf Advisor's Mike Bailey did, experiencing scenery that "rivals Pebble Beach".
If you've come this far, tack on a side trip outside of Jo-burg to the world's longest par 3, the "Extreme 19th hole", reachable only by helicopter with a green shaped like the continent of Africa. The Leopard Creek Country Club, host of the European Tour's Alfred Dunhill Championship since 2011, is another choice. It takes an extra hourlong flight from Jo-burg to the Nelspruit Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (MQP), followed by another hour-plus drive to the 12-room Jock Safari Lodge, the closest safari lodge inside Kruger National Park that allows access to the private Leopard Creek along the park's perimeter. It's a wild trip to see some really wild animals.
Best way to get there: What a shock when I Googled flights from LAX to Tasmania. If I left on a Wednesday, I'd get there on a Sunday. It was at least 19 hours in the air with one stop (either Sydney or Melbourne) and a lost couple of days due to the time change.
Courses: Barnbougle Dunes, Lost Farm, Cape Wickham Golf Course.
Only the allure of three world Top 100 courses could bring golfers to such a faraway place. Golfers who want to play Barnbougle Dunes (by Tom Doak) and Lost Farm (20 holes by Coore) can stay in any number of accommodations (lodge, cottage or villa). Cape Wickham's opening in 2015 on King Island off the coast added another travel complication to the journey. This Mike DeVries design (pictured) has quickly risen to the top of the world rankings. Eight holes run parallel to Bass Strait with two other greens and three other tees right on the ocean. The final holes starting at no. 14 play in a loop on Victoria Cove in the shadow of the Cape Wickham Lighthouse, Australia’s tallest at 157 feet.
Bulgaria's Black Sea
Best way to get there: A flight to the Varna International Airport (a 1 1/2-hour flight from Vienna or Prague), followed by a drive of 35 miles north.
None of the former Eastern Bloc countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Hungary, Romania, etc. attract many golf travelers. Bulgaria is attempting to change that. Gary Player cut Thracian Cliffs from steep cliffs overlooking the Black Sea. Graeme McDowell won the 2013 Volvo World Match Play Championship there, the first European Tour event ever held in the country. The National Club Golfer named Thracian Cliffs the second-most scenic course in the world behind New Zealand's Cape Kidnappers (which also happens to be on our list). The nearby BlackSeaRama, another Player design, lies on flatter, more manageable ground, yet still delivers those great sea views.
Cape Kidnappers, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Best way to get there: I made the journey in 2013 by flying to Auckland from LAX (13 hours), followed by a 50-minute flight to Taupo. After spending the night and playing two rounds of golf, a 2 1/2-hour drive led to Hawkes Bay. I could have taken the hour-flight from Auckland into Napier to make the drive much easier, but then I would have missed the experiences around Lake Taupo.
Getting to the Top 100 Kauri Cliffs is less of a problem, since it's a four-hour drive (184 miles) from the Auckland International Airport (or a short flight to the Bay of Islands Airport Kerikeri). Adding the second flight and long drive made the trek to Cape Kidnappers feel more arduous to me. Life is rewarding, though, on The Farm, the rustic lodge overlooking Doak's crowning achievement. The lodge looks like a cluster of farm buildings from the outside. Its silo is actually a circular sitting room called the "snug." Playing the holes at Cape Kidnappers that ride the cliff-top peninsulas jutting into the ocean (nos. 12-16 pictured above) will remain forever etched in my mind.
Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada
Best way to get there: You can do a south to north loop, flying into Calgary and out of Edmonton, or vice versa. When I visited in 2009, I flew into Calgary (92 miles east of the Fairmont Banff Springs), rode in a luxury coach bus up the famed Icefield Parkway to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (160 miles away) and then finished at the Edmonton airport (239 miles east). Heading back to Calgary for a flight home would have added another hour or more on the road.
Now's the time to plan a trip for the summer of 2018. The two courses at Kananaskis will be reopening, revived by architect Gary Browning after the devastating flood of 2013. Plan a couple days at the nearby Delta Hotels Kananaskis Lodge. It's nice, but nothing in Canada compares to the uniquely different but equally awesome Fairmonts in Banff and Jasper. The picture above shows why the 764-room Fairmont Banff Springs is called the "Castle in the Rockies." The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge almost looks like a camping retreat with all its cedar chalets and luxury cabins on the shores of Lac Beauvert. The Stanley Thompson designs at each resort are timeless treasures I could play every day for the rest of my life.
Hainan Island, China
Best way to get there: Flight to Hong Kong International Airport (13 hours from the LAX), then an 1 1/2-hour flight to the island.
Courses: Too many to list. Mission Hills Haikou Blackstone Course pictured above.
This golf destination has exploded onto the scene in the last decade, despite the Chinese government's hot and cold relationship with the game. Twenty-six courses are located on China's version of Hawaii. The Mission Hills Resort Haikou, home to 10 courses, is the second-largest golf resort in the world behind only its sister resort, Mission Hills Shenzhen, home to 12 courses north of Hong Kong. Too bad the island's only private club - Shanqin Bay, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw - also happens to be its only world top 100 track.
Costa Navarino, Greece
Best way to get there: The closest airport, Kalamata (KLX) is about 30 minutes from Costa Navarino but very limited with seasonal service. More than likely you'll fly into Athens and make the 3.5-hour drive through curvy and mountainous Greece countryside (though a freeway has been expanded in recent years).
There isn't much of a golf culture in Greece. The Troon-managed Costa Navarino and the Starwood Resort ensure the 36 holes, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. (Bay) and Bernhard Langer (Dunes), are worth the trip when combined with the stellar cuisine and scenery of this Mediterranean Sea escape. The view from nearby Voidokilia Beach is marvelous, while the courses wind along the coast through thousands of olive trees and tip-toe past ancient archeological sites.
Brandon Tucker contributed to this report.