Top 10 retirement destinations for golfers

If you're a golfer, you can't help but think about retirement. After all, that's the time when you're going to get to play every day (if you wish), so you need to be in a spot that offers a variety of quality golf in a climate conducive to playing year-round.

So after a little research, we came up with our top 10 retirement spots for golfers. All of them offer golf year-round, though some offer better winter golf than others. They also come at a variety of price points, from very affordable to very exclusive.

Here are our top selections for riding your golf cart into the sunset.

1. Sarasota/Bradenton, Florida

With a diverse selection of private and public golf courses, moderate cost of living, terrific weather and perhaps the best beach in the United States, what's not to love about Sarasota/Bradenton? And if you like to play tennis as well as golf, you've really hit the jackpot with many clubs offering both golf and Har-Tru (green clay) tennis, which is much easier on the knees. The ultimate would be to have a membership at either the Tom Fazio-designed Ritz-Carlton Members Club Sarasota or Sara Bay Country Club , a classic Donald Ross course with a great history in Bradenton. And if you're lucky enough to get a condo near the Ritz-Carlton Beach Club, you can spend the rest of your days walking Lido Beach's sugary white sand, which contrasts some of the bluest and clearest ocean water you'll ever see, and dining by the sea at Sarasota's fabulous selection of eateries.

2. Monterey Peninsula, California

If money were no object, the Monterey Peninsula would be no. 1. But alas, you'll need a substantial nest egg to retire here. Still, the selection and number of golf courses laid out along what might be the most stunning scenery on earth makes the Monterey Peninsula, with Pebble Beach, Carmel and the Carmel Valley, the bucket list of retirement spots. Ideally, you'd love to have a membership at Cypress Point Club , but the two courses at Monterey Peninsula Country Club aren't exactly slouches with their great ocean views and service. Or you could get a membership at Tehama Golf Club , The Preserve Golf Club or CordeValle Golf Club in nearby San Martin. For good measure, there's plenty of great public golf, too, like Bayonet/Blackhorse and one of my personal favorites a few miles up the coast, Pasatiempo Golf Club . My choice would be to live in Carmel, get a trusty hound and take daily walks on Carmel Beach, either before or after golf.

3. St. George, Utah

The seventh-largest city in Utah has become one of the most popular retirement communities in the country. With spectacular red rock bluffs overlooking this town of 75,000, it offers terrific golf, which is year-round due to its mild winters. There are also plenty of other recreational activities, such as hiking in nearby Zion National Park. St. George is also more religiously diverse than the rest of the state with plenty of faiths joining the strong Mormon presence. With mountain views, pristine water features and some of the best designers in the business, the sampling of the area's outstanding golf includes private Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club as well as public facilities such as Coral Canyon Golf Course , The Ledges Golf Club , SunRiver Golf Club , Sunbrook Golf Club , Sky Mountain Golf Course and the spectacular Sand Hollow Golf Resort , a John Fought design that includes a nine-hole links course. Of course, St. George is just 40 minutes from Mesquite, Nev., which also offers quite a few exceptional golf experiences.

4. Bend, Oregon

Our northernmost retirement spot is also a lot more temperate than you might think, offering golf year-round. And although there are certainly cold days in the winter, the scenery, the variety of courses and the quality of golf and life, for that matter, are too good to leave this location off the list. Bend is in central Oregon, ranked among the top 50 golf destinations in the world by Golf Digest. The area has long been known as an outdoor recreation paradise, offering activities such as skiing, rafting, fishing, hiking and cycling. Bend has more than 300 days of sunshine per year and a much drier climate than people think of when they picture Oregon. The courses run the gamut, from the very affordable Eagle Crest Resort and Aspen Lakes Golf Course to the 36 holes of renovated golf at Black Butte Ranch to Pronghorn, which offers two spectacular options: the Nicklaus Course and the Fazio Course . Sunriver Resort and Tetherow , both special in their own rights, are also close.

5. Tucson, Arizona

Possibly a little more "authentic" than Scottsdale, Tucson is also a little more affordable, especially if you don't live in one of the more exclusive communities. Ranked among Forbes Magazine's top 25 places to retire, "The Old Pueblo" has a cost of living 4 percent below the national average with the typical home price of less than $200,000. Also a great biking location, the weather is a bit milder than it is in Phoenix because of the higher elevation. Tucson also has one of the best municipal golf course systems in the country and plenty of quality daily-fee and private club offerings, including The Gallery Golf Club , The Golf Club at Dove Mountain , Omni Tucson National Resort and the new Sewailo Golf Club .

6. Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale is a little like the Monterey Peninsula in the sense that if you're set financially, this is a great option. More expensive than Tucson, there's a great selection of condos and homes in the Scottsdale area, as well as more than 200 golf courses from which to choose. That means you can almost play a different course every day of the year, especially if you take weekends off. The list of terrific venues goes on and on, from Troon North's Pinnacle and Monument Course s to Grayhawk Golf Club to The Phoenician to We-Ko-Pa Golf Club . Ideally, you'll want a membership somewhere to avoid paying the triple-digit green fees of the resort courses during peak season, but if you live there year-round and can take the heat, summertime is a bargain. Exceptional modern shopping and dining also make Scottsdale an ideal choice for your golden years.

7. Bluffton, South Carolina

Also on Forbes' top 25 list, Bluffton is between Hilton Head, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., which means you get the golf, dining and recreational opportunities of the entire region. While Bluffton, which sits on a river bluff near the Atlantic Ocean, isn't exactly cheap, it's still a little more affordable than Hilton Head. The average cost of a home in Bluffton is right around $200,000, the climate is warm most of the year and there are plenty of other things to do -- namely fishing, boating, biking and hiking. Bluffton's most notable private clubs include Berkley Hall , Colleton River Plantation Club and Belfair Plantation , while daily fees like May River Golf Club , Old South Golf Links , Hilton Head National Golf Club , Crescent Pointe Golf Club and Eagle's Pointe Golf Club offer plenty of other quality options.

8. Hot Springs Village, Arkansas

With nine golf courses, it doesn't get any better than Hot Springs Villages for golf retirees. It's also a true retirement community, meaning this is where golfers drive off into the sunset. Hot Springs Village has a temperate climate, low cost of living, gorgeous scenery and a variety of sports clubs that also offer boating, kayaking, tennis and other activities. The courses are senior friendly, but will test good players, and the Troon Member Advantage Program keeps rates affordable. Plus, the community has teamed with other area courses in the Ouachita region as part of the Ouachita Sports Trail to offer more options.

9. Georgetown (Sun City), Texas

With 54 holes of high-end championship golf (which is also open to the public) a master-planned community, large activity centers, tennis, walking trails and beautiful scenery, Sun City in Georgetown might be the most complete of the Del Webb communities across the United States. Plus, it's close to the capital city of Austin, one of the most progressive and bustling cities in Texas, offering arts, culture and the University of Texas. The three courses at Sun City include the original Legacy Hills Golf Club , newer Cowan Creek Golf Club and Billy Casper-designed White Wing Golf Club . The only drawback is that Sun City (as well as many retirement communities) doesn't offer a par-3 or executive course, which might be much better suited for many of the community's older residents.

10. Gulf Shores, Alabama

Often overlooked, Gulf Shores has some of the finest beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, terrific dining, affordable housing right on the ocean and a collection of fine golf courses, which also includes the Pensacola area. Here you can get very affordable condos right on the beach, eat some of the finest seafood in the country and enjoy a cost of living that's well below the national average. The area offers everything from coastal links to hillier courses with elevated tees and greens. Featuring some of the best names in the business -- Arnold Palmer Design, Jerry Pate and Earl Stone, for example -- there are more than a dozen courses to choose from in the area, and it's hard to go wrong with any of them. Among the best are Pate's Kiva Dunes , Palmer's Craft Farms and Stone's TimberCreek . And for the young at heart, there's the famous Flora-Bama Lounge located on the Alabama/Florida state line, touted as being America's "Last Great Roadhouse."

Do you have a favorite retirement destination in mind? Let us know where and why in the comments below.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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