Island golf is the best kind of golf to play in the winter.
When you leave the mainland, it's like leaving your worries and cares behind.
The palm trees are swaying. The sun is shining. The golf selfies you post on Instagram are making family and friends painfully jealous. Island golf has a way of soothing the soul.
Looking for a golf escape this winter?
Weather plays as big of a part as the courses in my latest Deegan's Dozen: A collection of 12 of the best island getaways in winter. We're in search of islands that are in their peak season when temperatures are at their highest.
For example, clearly Kiawah Island, S.C., ranks among America's best golf islands, but the wintertime isn't the best season to go due to unreliable winter warmth. Kiawah's Golf or Gourmet package offers major value for the Ocean Course, where you can stay and play for about half of what a round alone costs in the peak season.
Distance was also a factor. As much as all of us would love to hit Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania - all islands - for a dreamy winter escape, it's just not likely for North Americans without a second mortgage. For the record, Puerto Rico would normally be a popular choice. Sadly, Hurricane Irma destroyed much of the island's infrastructure, derailing golf tourism for 2018 and possibly beyond. When the island rebounds, we'll give the destination its due. Amelia Island, another strong candidate off the coast of Florida, would have made it if not for the surprise closure of the Ocean Links at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort in November.
Here's a look at my favorite islands for a warm-weather golf getaway:
12. Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Best courses: Harbour Town Golf Links, Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort. Arthur Hills Golf Course, George Fazio Golf Course and Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course at Palmetto Dunes.
Comment: Hilton Head Island sneaks into the final spot, despite a winter climate that can yield cold spells. Savvy golfers can tee off in the afternoon at any of a dozen or more nice public/resort courses to enjoy some sun and the off-season discount. Head straight to Harbour Town since Sea Pines has invested heavily in its courses and resort the past couple years. Everything's in prime shape. Palmetto Dunes delivers another solid trio. Getting away from the resort scene opens up more opportunities for bargains. Don't forget, there's a whole month's worth of great golf just off the island in Bluffton as well.
11. St. Simons Island, Ga.
Comment: Winter weather can be iffy for golf, otherwise this home base for more than a dozen PGA TOUR pros would rank higher. The three courses at Sea Island are only open to resort guests. Both the Seaside (required caddies) and Plantation courses team up to host the TOUR's RSM Classic every fall. The King and Prince is more affordable and player friendly at 6,462 yards.
10. New Providence Island, Bahamas
Comment: The Bahamas are a coveted winter getaway, but there are logistic issues for golf. To see the best courses, golfers have to island hop from resort to resort. Your best bet is a trip to Nassau, where the new Royal Blue course by Jack Nicklaus is impressing golfers. Just a short drive away is Atlantis and The Ocean Club on Paradise Island, the annual host of the LPGA Tour's season-opening event every January/February. If you do want to explore other islands, The Abaco Club on Abaco is essentially a private course associated with a real estate development, athough golfers are allowed to stay at least once to experience the tranquility and beauty of Winding Bay. Visually, Sandals Emerald Reef on Great Exuma will wow you. Trying to hit Greg Norman's narrow, hazard-laden fairways in the wind can be a nightmare, though.
9. St. Kitts & Nevis
Comment: Although St. Kitts and Nevis are two separate islands, they operate as the same country under one government. Whereas traveling between the Bohemian islands can be difficult, it's only a 20-minute water taxi from St. Kitts to Nevis. Both courses have their merits - the dramatic closing stretch on the Caribbean Sea at St. Kitts compared to the hilly terrain and panoramic ocean vistas of the Robert Trent Jones Jr. course at the Four Seasons. If several new golf course developments on St. Kitts ever move forward, this is a destination with loads of potential, as I witnessed on a trip in 2017.
Comment: Oahu gets a bad rap as Hawaii's most touristy island. It's still got an interesting and diverse golf scene with more than 20 courses. Ko Olina hosts the LPGA Tour. Surfers flock to the wild waves of the North Shore, while golfers navigate the undulating greens of Turtle Bay's Arnold Palmer course, a past host of the Champions Tour and LPGA Tour. An hour away, Ko'olau might be the hardest course in America. The 27-hole Hawaii Prince and Ewa Beach courses are essentially neighbors, sharing a dry corner of the island near Honolulu.
Comment: Bermuda's stunningly beautiful one-two punch of Mid Ocean and Port Royal, former hosts of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, can stand with any on this list. The caveat is its location off the coast of North Carolina brings cooler, wetter weather than the Caribbean. Turtle Hill, a scenic executive course at the Fairmont Southampton, annually attracts golfers from Europe and America for the Grey Goose World Par 3 Championship.
Comment: High prices attract a high-end crowd to Barbados. Golf is quite expensive and highly rewarding. Tiger Woods got married at the exclusive Sandy Lane, where two Tom Fazio courses dazzle. Fazio carved the Green Monkey from a rock quarry.
Comment: Flying into Montego Bay unveils the fab foursome of courses listed above. All are unique. Tryall, which has been renovated within the last year, had a good run hosting top pros in the Johnny Walker Classic. The White Witch starts with one of the scariest opening holes in golf. Cinnamon Hill takes golfers right to the shore on the front nine, while the back nine explores the jungle on higher ground, finishing with back-to-back par 5s. No. 17 features a green framed by the ruins of an aqueduct built in 1761. Half Moon, an RTJ Sr. course updated by his associate Roger Rulewich in 2005, packs a punch, despite being the least scenic.
Comment: The Plantation course at Kapalua - one of the world's rare par-73 courses - steals the show on Maui. The annual PGA Tour event broadcasts the beauty of the ocean blue surrounding the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design every January when much of America is feeling the winter blues. The Emerald and Gold courses are almost interchangeable at Wailea. A handful of lesser known, fun tracks sit at higher elevations away from the resorts near the shore. You could easily argue Maui deserves to move up on this list.
Comment: Although the Garden Isle can be wetter than other Hawaiian islands, don't let an afternoon shower deter you from experiencing its natural wonders. Seven ocean holes make the Princeville Makai a must-see. Meanwhile, the future of the Princeville at Hanalei course remains in limbo. Jack Nicklaus blessed Hokuala with one of the longest running stretches of ocean holes in the world. Tiger Woods dominated the Grand Slam of Golf at Poipu Bay, but Phil Mickelson did get a jab in, shooting 59 to win once.
2. Hawaii Island
Comment: The dry Kohala coastline - shaped by volcanic rock centuries ago - wins out as Hawaii's premier golf destination. It all started at Mauna Kea, a RTJ Sr. course that opened in 1964 with a match between Nicklaus, Palmer and Gary Player. Golfers face a tough decision at Mauna Lani: Should you play the ocean holes of the South course or tackle the more challenging and strategic North course? Hualalai hosts the PGA TOUR Seniors every winter on its Nicklaus course. Great private clubs are more prevalent on this island than any other. If you get an invitation to play the Tom Weiskopf course at Hualalai, Nanea, Hokulia, Kukio or Kohanaiki, don't miss any of them.
Comment: The Dominican Republic rules the Caribbean with more seaside golf than any other island. It also edges out Hawaii because it's slightly more affordable and the weather sparkles once fall hurricane season runs its course. A relatively new highway has connected Casa de Campo with the international airport near the Punta Cana Resort & Club, allowing golfers easy access to Pete Dye's iconic Teeth of the Dog, Fazio's Corales and Punta Espanda by Nicklaus. Somewhat overshadowed by Puerto Rico despite a better golf product, the Dominican Republic will get its moment in the sun by hosting its first PGA TOUR event, the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, next March. If you're not interesting in who's playing, tune in for the views.
HONORABLE MENTION: Puerto Rico; Kiawah Island, S.C.; Fripp Island, S.C.; New Zealand; Lanai, Hawaii; Providenciales, Turks & Caicos; Anguilla; Canouan Island, St. Vincent and The Grenadines; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; St. Lucia; Martinique; Cuba; Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Curacao; Jekyll Island, Ga.; Daufuskie Island, S.C.; Tasmania; Australia.