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Irish pubs, warthogs, Mississippi BBQ and largemouth bass: Travel advice from a golf trekker

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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Skukuza Golf Course
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Warthogs find the fairways inviting at the Skukuza Golf Course in South Africa. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

From playing golf in South Africa at Skukuza Golf Club, drinking at the Brazen Head pub in Dublin and settling down at Reynolds Plantation in Georgia, Tim McDonald offers the highlights of his years traveling the globe as a golf writer.

THE WORLD - As I grow older and increasingly start to look like Gandhi, I find more and more people come to me for sage advice on subjects like sex, life, golf and barbecue.

So here are some random thoughts, tips and observations on years of traveling the golf globe ...

Best golf trip: South Africa

South Africa has to be one of the strangest and most fascinating places on earth, a huge, ruggedly beautiful country where a relatively short drive will take you from posh shopping malls in ultra-modern cities to primitive African bush where lions and leopards roam free to hunt antelope and golfers.

You can play any number of first-rate, even spectacular South Africa golf courses, but if you can, travel to the unbelievable Kruger National Park and play Skukuza Golf Club, with warthogs in the fairways and hippos in the water hazards. It isn't unheard of for lions, leopards and elephants to show up. You have to sign an indemnity form before you tee off.

Second-best golf trip: Georgia state parks

I'm a guy who enjoys a core golf experience, and you'll never find any condos or houses on the Georgia state park golf system. They pride themselves on conditioning. Arrowhead Pointe on Lake Russell is one of the prettiest golf courses anywhere.

Best golf clubs

I've tested a ton of equipment. To date, I think MacGregor makes the best irons. The best driver I've hit is the TaylorMade Burner.

Best pub in Dublin: the Brazen Head

Yeah, I know, the Brazen Head is in all the tourist brochures, advertising itself as the oldest pub in Dublin, dating back to 1198. Robin Hood reportedly got sloshed there and did some things that would cause Maid Marian to blush.

The best thing about the Brazen Head, to me, is the live music and particularly the jam sessions on Sundays. Locals periodically jump in with the band, singing sad, Irish folk ballads, and when you look around, you see Irish people looking down, wise and saddened with their bloody history, spilling tears in their beers. Classic.

Tell that old, red-haired drunk who kept trying to cadge beers off me to kiss my blarney stone.

Best barbecue

The Shed in Gautier, Mississippi, and Taylor's in Jacksonville, Florida.

Best remote golf courses in Ireland

If I had to pick two off-the-beaten-track gems in Ireland, it would be Woodenbridge Golf Club and Powerscourt.

Woodenbridge is in Arklow. If you were to take an Irish golf dream, sprinkle it with some Guinness stout and a dose of fine mist from the Irish Sea, you might come up with something like the Woodenbridge. Actually, that's hedging a bit. The Irish Sea never actually comes into play or view at Woodenbridge. But nearly every other stock character in the storied Irish landscape does.

Powerscourt is in Enniskerry. You half expect a horn to blow, sounding that the foxhunt is on. The beauty of Ireland never lets up on this course.

"It always reminds me of some storybook fable," said Col Kelthy. And this guy is an Irishman.

Unknown Scottish gems: Dunkeld and Birnam, Duff House Royal

If I had to pick two unknown diamonds in Scotland, it would be the Dunkeld and Birnam Golf Club and the Duff House Royal Golf Course.

The Dunkeld and Birnam course sits high over the Scottish fairytale town of the same name, with ancient castles, a soaring cathedral and a town center that anyone in his right mind would associate with the words charming and quaint.

The Duff House is in Banff, hard by the icy North Sea, which chases a lot of Yanks away. You should go, however, if you get the chance. The River Deveron comes roaring by several holes, and there are times you can watch seals swimming up the river snatching great bites of salmon for their lunch.

Most livable golf resort: Reynolds Plantation

If I were forced at gunpoint to live at a golf resort the rest of my life, it would be the Reynolds Plantation in Georgia.

Best place to stay in Vietnam: Dalat Palace

If you ever go to Vietnam, stay at the Dalat Palace, in the highlands out of the humidity. There's a good golf course there.

Wildest ride

Careening across Vietnam in the sidecar of a motorcycle.

Best fishing/golf trip: Punta Gorda

The best fishing/golf trip I've come across is probably Punta Gorda and Charlotte County in Florida. It's like weather, wildlife and some of the nation's great bodies of water met up in southwest Florida, between Tampa to the north and Fort Myers to the south, and said, hey, this looks like a good spot. Let's give them something to talk about. You got your freshwater fishing and your saltwater fishing. Largemouth bass or tarpon today, sir?

Best minor golf destination: Santee

I don't care what anybody says, I like Santee, S.C., as a minor golf destination.

Best golf course in Italy

Italy isn't much of a golf country, but if you find yourself in the northeast, try the Golf Club Trieste, which sits atop the Carso plateau rising above the seaport town of Trieste, looking like what a beautiful, seaside Italian city should look like. Also, the Golf and Country Club Tarvisio is located on the Austrian and Slovenian borders with terrific views of the Alps.

Best musical act I've seen on the road

Roy Rogers Jr. when I was playing golf in Branson, Mo.

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Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

 
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