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Great golf, great resorts: Go stargazing by visiting the rare five-star golf resorts

Jason Scott DeeganBy Jason Scott Deegan,
Senior Staff Writer
Wynn Golf Club - hole 8
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Wynn Las Vegas is one of the few Forbes Travel Guide five-star properties with an on-site golf course. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)

I'm not a star chaser.

I'm sure there are some well-heeled travelers who live and die by the star ratings of the Forbes Travel Guide, formerly Mobil Travel Guide, which was released on Nov. 15. I have a friend who's a hotel snob who cannot function on the road without a certain level of comfort and service his corporate life affords him.

I'm not like that. Just give me some clean, basic necessities, and I'm good to go. But I do still love a good pampering from a five-star joint. There aren't many of them out there. There are only 57 hotels, 30 spas and 25 restaurants in America with five-star ratings for 2012 and even fewer related to golf.

I've stayed at a handful of these luxury palaces over time. This year, I was fortunate enough to stay and play at two of them, the Grand Del Mar Golf Resort in San Diego and the Wynn Las Vegas.

The Grand Del Mar, which opened in 2007, joined the five-star ranks for the first time and is the only area hotel to ever garner the honor. The Mediterranean-themed escape also lives in rarefied air as one of just five U.S. properties home to a five-star spa and a five-star restaurant, the Addison. My wife lucked out, getting to relax at the spa while I had to go to work, playing golf on a Tom Fazio course. (Woe is me, I know). I hope to try the spa and the Addison next time I'm in town.

I'm surprised the swanky Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast, Calif., only notched four stars because the property and its two courses are all-world. Pelican Hill can claim a five-star spa, but alas, a tour was as close as I got to its healing powers this summer. At the time, the spa was just opening up an old-school barbershop for guys, complete with flat screens probably set to ESPN permanently. Who said men are afterthoughts when it comes to spas? Not in trendy SoCal.

I loved everything about the Wynn -- from the computer-controlled lights and curtains in my room to the food at the SK Steakhouse and the Wynn Country Club patio overlooking the $2 million waterfall behind the 18th green. The sister hotel, Wynn Encore, also got five stars, as did the spa at both places.

I can't wait to get back to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., the grandaddy of the five-star rating. This historic hotel -- also with a five-star restaurant and a five-star spa -- has earned five stars a record 52 straight years. During my stay a few years back, I enjoyed the meal and the live music at the Penrose Room, although I'm not big on five-star dining with a jacket and tie. I cherished my treatment at the Spa at Broadmoor much more. The panoramic view from the relaxation area seemed as if the surrounding mountains were in the room with me.

I've never stayed in the five-star main hotel at the American Club in Kohler, Wis., but that's okay. Sleeping at the nearby Inn on Woodlake was perfectly pleasant. The reality is I'd rather spend every waking minute playing Kohler's four awesome Pete Dye golf courses -- which includes the Irish Course at Whistling Straits and River at Blackwolf Run -- than worrying about if there were fresh flowers in the American Club lobby (one of the dozens of criteria necessary to be a five star). As good as the golf is, my visits to the five-star Kohler Waters Spa have always been just as fabulous without the stress of trying to get out Dye's deep bunkers.

My all-time favorite five-star, though, has to be The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. The location of this beach-side mansion overlooking the Atlantic Ocean can't be beat. Toss in a five-star spa and a six-star golf course -- the Ocean Course -- and there's few rivals. The Wynn Golf Club and The Grand Golf Club at Grand Del Mar are super layouts. It's just hard to compete against a seaside course that will host a major, the 2012 PGA Championship.

If you are into star gazing, here are a few other golf resorts that made the five-star list for 2012. I'll put these on my bucket list of places to see next. You should, too:

A golf traveler's 'bucket list' of five-star resorts

• I was surprised to see a five-star resort in Pennsylvania, considering most of the rest of the Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota) didn't have one. The Falling Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington and the resort's top restaurant, Lautrec, collected five stars. The Mystic Rock Course used to host the 84 Lumber Classic, a PGA TOUR event.

• The five-star St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point, Calif., features a five-star spa, Gaucin, and the Monarch Beach Golf Links, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. par 70 that briefly visits the shore.

• Both the Cloister Hotel and The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga., are five-star properties. The Georgian Room restaurant and the Cloister Spa reached for the stars, too. This was the fourth consecutive year all four earned the honor.

• The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka'upulehu in Kona, Hawaii, and the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea remain the only five stars on the Hawaiian Islands. I've never stayed at the Maui resort, but I can vouch for the beautiful virtues of the 54-hole Wailea Golf Club. Jack Nicklaus designed the Hualalai Golf Course in 1996.

• The famed Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., is still trying to get that fifth star back it lost during bankruptcy troubles, but the four-star hotel does include the five-star Greenbrier Spa and 54 holes of golf.

• The Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole in Wyoming, another five star, doesn't offer packages with nearby Teton Pines Country Club or the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club, but the access is still there.

• Two five-star properties in south Florida -- Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach and the the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach -- offer play at the private Atlantis Golf Club.

More photos

Grand Del Mar resort - lobbyWhistling Straights - sheepKiawah Island - Ocean Course - 18th green

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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