What's the secret sauce for a successful couples golf course?

When my wife first agreed to date me, she may not have fully grasped the extent of which golf would be entering her life. And I don't just mean the jostling for space in the spare closet, but how and where we spend our leisure time.

By my rusty count, this is the 10th Valentine's Day we've been together (five married, three with kids). Along the way, she's joined me on a few golf trips that many golfers would drool at.

But here's what amuses me to this day: We've teed it up at fancy resort or private courses in Maui, Dominican Republic, Lake Tahoe, Southern California and Northern Michigan among others. And do you want to know her favorite-ever round of golf?

Northwood Golf Club, that little $30 nine-holer in the redwoods of Northern California.

It's surprising at first, but looking at the experience through her eyes it makes perfect sense.

When I booked our modest Sonoma A-Frame cabin on Airbnb I didn't even realize we were literally a mile away from this mysterious Mackenzie course I'd heard so much about. One afternoon, we'd just been out on a cycling trip around area wineries and were driving back to the cabin. We'd already driven by the course a few times but on this occasion the sun was glimmering through the trees so invitingly I told my wife we had to pull over for a drink on the patio.

It took about 10 minutes of me gushing about the place, eyes glossed over from some combination of cabernets and Mackenzie mystique that my wife finally said, "Well, do you want to just go play?"

We paid about $50 for nine holes and shared a meager bag of rentals and some used balls. We were on the tee in minutes (the course was bustling but not jammed). We were still wearing sneakers and workout gear from our winery tour. No matter. On the first tee, I took a smooth swing and the head flew off my rental club down the fairway as the ball trickled a few feet. It certainly set a manageable expectation for the outing.

But here's why my wife loved the experience: Not only was the sense of place amongst the redwoods so perfect, but the short-ish nine holes was the perfect amount of golf. Then, she knocked in a couple really long putts on slow-but-smooth greens. That certainly helped. We both banged shots off these mighty trunks and the sound echoed throughout the course. It's way cooler hitting a bad shot off these trees than into a bush. Those little tree-trunk animal carvings also helped set a lighter mood.

Bear carvings at Northwood Golf Club in Sonoma.

Sure, there are couples where both partners are equally avid players. In fact, both times I've been to Bandon Dunes, I've been paired up for a round with a couple. I've also met plenty of couples on golf trips overseas in Scotland and Wales. Domestic resorts like Kiawah Island, Sea Island and Omni Barton Creek are marketing to couples hard with new dining concepts and spas bigger and more relaxing than the next.

Chances are that as a marital unit, one of you is more into the game than the other. So when I think about couples trips, I think about the places where together you might be able to catch that vibe we found at Northwood. A few ingredients are necessary, particularly if you're like us and one half of the union is a little less into the finest courses in the world than the other. Here are a few things to consider:

Don't make golf THE activity of the day: I think golf works better as a bonus activity rather than the centerpiece of your day. Better yet, at twilight, courses are less busy, not to mention the waning sunlight generally makes them prettier. Cocktails help.

You don't have to play the super expensive, PGA Tour course: Not only are you wasting your money paying for the prestige the spouse won't appreciate, but they are typically tougher for them, too. Green speeds are faster and bunkers deeper. Even onlooking maintenance workers can be intimidating.

Start at the 9-hole or short courses: 18 holes is a lot for those who don't play as much as you do. Big Cedar Lodge is leading the charge these days in offering flexible holes and length. New Orleans' Audubon Park, a par 62 right in the heart of Uptown, feels like an urban Northwood, offering a similarly superlative ambiance amongst incredible trees with an abbreviated routing.

Who you play with makes such a huge difference to beginners. They have to go out of their way to be inviting and encouraging. Ideally, find other gals to play with. They seem to have more fun when there is someone else in the group teeing off the red tees. If you know you're goint to be playing somewhere busy where you'll be paired up, mention it to the staff and they may see some members or regulars on the tee sheet they know will be accommodating.

Look for courses that offer an escape: Ditch residential community courses and instead look for a natural setting you won't find back home. Jasper Park Lodge and Stanley Thompson's National Parks courses in Canada come to mind.

If you're pretty sure your spouse isn't feeling a round, don't force anything. Let them sleep in and see if you can go out as a single first off and you can meet back up for lunch. You can go putting or to the driving range in the afternoon.

And remember, the round together isn't about your score. It's about the two of you. GHIN can wait.

For now, parenthood has descended on us and it's hard to say when my wife and I will have the time to play again together. I'm told that at some point our children won't need us as much and we may get some of our free time back. If that in fact happens, I do hope one day we'll play together more. I don't know if we'll ever go to Bandon but I think she'd dig St. Andrews. Perhaps we'll be like my grandparents who played regularly together in retirement. They were big on leagues in metro Detroit and would spend winters near Hilton Head Island. They could play rain or shine: as good as my grandma was at golf she was better at the bowling alley.

Until then, at every dinner we go to and someone asks us about my job and the best places we've been, I'll defer to her and she'll respond, "That course in the trees in Sonoma where I made those long putts." And she won't be wrong.

I've never really seen a definitive "Best Couples Courses" list. The analysis typically doesn't make it too far past the spa. I think there are elements the experience can lack - tournament yardage and conditioning. I'm not even convinced the service needs to be world class (sometimes all those people milling about can feel intimidating - same for caddies). But the atmosphere must not only be welcoming but deliver a surreal natural surroundings. Not every facility can be like Pinehurst or St. Andrews and offer quite literally everything from a putting course to a major venue. With that in mind, here are some courses that stand out as great couples picks:

I'd be curious what are the secret sauces you've discovered in your couples travel. Let us know in the comments below.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.
21 Comments
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Larry

Wonderful article, Brandon. My wife and I have been married 5 years and she had not played golf before meeting me. Slow and steady has worked; she's now an avid player. We love playing Pacific Grove Muni Links (Monterey Peninsula) and you can even play just the ocean-front back nine if you tee off prior to 8:30 am. Done in 90 minutes and off to breakfast with the full day ahead of you!

Gregg

Agree 100% with your article. I introduced my girlfriend , now my wife of 40 years, to golf when we dated; 9 holes, no scorecard, just enjoying nature. We played a beautiful public tract in Bermuda on our Honeymoon. She learned to play with older ladies in a 9 hole group, nonjudgmental, no side lessons from me, and as we raised our 3 kids, played @ 7:30 before they awakened. We’ve taken multiple golf trips together enjoying each but Bandon Dunes, and Whistling Straits are probably our favorites. Ditto to Randy on the king sized beds which require serious search in UK. Thanks.

KC

Excellent article.
My wife and I had driven to Fredericton, New Brunswick, early last summer on business and decided to swing south through Maine on our return to the Ottawa Valley. Arriving in the Carrabassett Valley at the end of May we were unable to play the famed Sugarloaf course as it does not open to public until June 1st.
We discovered a beautiful 9 hole nearby called the Diadema Golf Club. The course was manicured with pride, many holes surrounded by picturesque ponds, strategically placed traps and challenging greens. We enjoyed the first nine enough to go around again using optional tee boxes.
The restaurant served us a fabulous late-lunch that sufficed for dinner and the staff were super-friendly.
Although we did play Sugarloaf later, and really enjoyed it, we often reflect on the relaxing day of golf and great dining at Diadema.

Randy

We loved your article. So many deals and info on "buddies trips" My wife is my buddy and we want a kingsize bed and to not be punished because we dont need regular beds and shared kitchens!!!

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

haha well said. Thank you

Walter

Great article! It speaks volumes on how challenging it can be to try and make golf enjoyable for a spouse that doesn’t have the same passion and ambiance for the game. Cabot Links in Nova Scotia is my recommendation for a couples getaway.. if your loved one doesn’t appreciate that scenery..then your golfing couples day is doomed!

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

Cape Breton has a good vibe, I agree. I might start at Keltic Lodge and Highlands Links, but the digs and food at Cabot (not to mention the unreal drive between the two) is definitely worthy of a couples trip.

Joe

If she (and you) likes Lobster, your trip will be a success !

Rick

The pebble course at Cimarron Resort in Palm Springs is a great par 54 course that my wife a beginning golfer just loves to play when we are down south and it's a fair challenge from the back tees for me.

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

Looks nice and does pretty well with reviews on our site. Thanks for sharing https://www.golfadvisor.com/courses/15471-cimarron-golf-club-pebble-par-3-course

Joe

There was (still is ?) a short 9-hole course on Catalina Island that was a bit rough/raggedy but relaxing and a lot of fun on a fun Island.

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

I was researching 19th century and car-free courses recently and Catalina appears to still be open.

LAURA

My husband and I have been traveling playing golf together for over twenty years. Teeth of the Dog is my favorite but I would like to give a shout out to Dye Four. I love that course. It took playing it a time or two but it competes with TOD in my book. My disappointments have been courses at island resorts that don't consider the average woman player. For example, Emerald Bay at Sandals. Drop dead georgeous course, but with the length, very frustrating to play. If you are going to have a course where mainly couples will play, the architect's should be more mindful of how women play the game. I would play a Pete Dye everyday if I could. Thanks Alice! (God rest her soul)

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

Well said Laura. I had one of my best rounds in a long time at Dye Fore. Really awesome setting.

I agree with you about Sandals. I was really surprised a course that tough would be at a couples resort.

TimGavrichGA Staff

Laura, have you and your husband visited PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida? The first time I played its Dye course, I was paired with two ladies and the experience reinforced just how important Alice Dye was to the family's success in course design. The ladies I played with were confronted with basically zero forced carries and were able to navigate the course pretty well.

Steve

Indian Creek Golf Course is just such a gem in Hood River, OR. It’s a short 18 with great greens and spectacular views of snow-capped Mt. Hood or Mt. Adams from just about every hole. Getting there is worth the trip alone. 1 hour east of Portland, driving through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area with waterfalls everywhere.

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

I made this trip a couple years ago. I liked Elk Ridge and Resort at the Mountain a little more but all three definitely worth playing, especially for the bargain green fees and scenic drive.

Vern

As the PGA Host Professional at Northwood GC for over 20 years, I appreciate and agree with the kind words Brandon. We strive to have our public course available and welcoming to the many different 'faces' of our golfers (newbies, juniors, seniors, MacKenzie buffs, caddies, women, expert players, couples, etc). Where else can you have a walk among the redwoods with a golf club in hand? Our nine hole venue is the perfect opportunity to be a PART of your stay in beautiful Sonoma County. Thanks for mentioning us!

BrandonTuckerGA Staff

Thanks for writing Vern. I recommend Northwood often to anyone in the Bay Area, cheers.

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What's the secret sauce for a successful couples golf course?
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