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View from Europe: My favorite golf destinations throughout the world

Stephan GuertlerBy Stephan Guertler,
Makai Golf Club at St. Regis Princeville - No. 2
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The new St. Regis Princeville Resort and Makai Golf Club ranks as Kauai's most luxurious stay-and-play option. (Courtesy of Makai G.C.)

The managing editor of ExtraGolf, a golf and travel magazine in Austria, Stephan Guertler travels all over the world to play the best golf courses. He is also a member of Golfweek's Course Rater Panel. WorldGolf.com asked him about his favorite golf destinations.

For more than a decade I have been on a "mission" to play the world's best golf courses and to visit the most famous golf destinations.

During that "crusade" I have seen most of the golf destinations in the U.S., a number of European destinations and a few on other continents.

Among the destinations I have not seen but would love to visit are Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Los Cabos, the Dominican Republic, England and Wales. I presume these are all world-class golf destinations but obviously cannot comment on them, as I have never been there.

Here are my 10 favorite golf destinations, in no particular order. These are not necessarily the "best" sites ever visited, but they are the ones I enjoyed the most and that I highly recommend to all ardent golfers.

Monterey Peninsula

Robert Louis Stevenson called Pebble Beach the "most beautiful meeting of land and sea on earth." Pebble Beach Resorts could be called the "grand dame" of American golf resorts with four 18-hole golf courses and views to die for.

Pebble Beach Golf Links is a national treasure and arguably the best and most iconic public-access courses in the world. A round on these hallowed grounds is a "dream-come-to-life" for each and every passionate golfer.

Spyglass Hill has one of the best opening holes in golf and has been described as an Augusta National doppelganger by the sea. The Links at Spanish Bay, with a number of oceanfront holes, is a pseudo links that was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Tom Watson and Sandy Tatum.

Be sure to make the 45-minute drive to Santa Cruz where you will find Pasatiempo Golf Club, a timeless Dr. Alister MacKenzie classic that is considered to be among the country's finest public courses. (MacKenzie actually lived on the course.)

South Carolina Lowcountry

The "Golf Island" boasts more than 20 golf courses, another 20 plus are located in Bluffton, just off the island. Harbour Town Golf Links, a collaboration of Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, is a "modern classic" that has been ranked among the best public-access courses in the country since it opened in 1969.

Off the island you find Palmetto Bluff, a Lowcountry Jack Nicklaus design that has people raving about it. (I have not had the chance to play it yet.)

Two hours away is another "must play," the famously infamous Ocean Course at Kiawah Island that will entertain the world's best players in this year's PGA Championship.

Charleston, the most charming city of the South, is also worth a visit as the bombardment outside the city at Fort Sumter in April 1861 started the American Civil War. Savannah is within an hour's drive of Hilton Head Island and is also a picturesque, romantic and historic city. (I enjoy staying at the Westin Savannah Harbor, which offers a complimentary ferry shuttle to the waterfront that only takes five minutes.)


Every serious golfer needs to make a "pilgrimage" to the "Home of golf" at least once in his life. St. Andrews, the "Grey Auld Toon," is a shrine that is home to the "mother of all golf courses," the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Among the newer up and comers in the area are Kingsbarns Golf Links (designed by American Kyle Phillips) and the Castle Course, which are both located right on the water. About 45 minutes away is another classic, Carnoustie Golf Links, which was once dubbed "Carnasty."

East Lothian is another region that is not too far away and that is definitely worth a visit. Muirfield, which I consider to be one of the best experiences in all of golf, is open to visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (Tee-times typically have to be booked at least a year in advance.)

The private Renaissance Club, which borders Muirfield, has a tantalizing Tom Doak layout that is enjoyed by the lucky members and their guests (memberships are still being sold). North Berwick Golf Club, another classic with its famous redan hole, is a mere 10-minute drive away.

In conclusion, all top-rated courses in Scotland (except for Royal Dornoch, Machrihanish and Machrihanish Dunes) are located within a three-hour drive of St Andrews, making it maybe the best and most central golf destination in the world.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has long been overshadowed by Ireland and Scotland. Since the country has three major champions (Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, and Darren Clarke), it has become widely recognized and possibly more popular.

Royal County Down Golf Club is the country's shining star and might be the best links course in the world. (I am one of the people who think it might very well be.) A number of other cognoscenti have argued with me that RCD is not even the best course in Northern Ireland!

They claim that the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club (the only course in Ireland to ever host the British Open, and the venue of this year's Irish Open) is a superior course. Whichever you prefer, both are definite "must plays" in my book!

The country also has a number of "hidden gems," great courses in their own right that not too many people know about: Portstewart Golf Club, Ballycastle Golf Club, Ardlglass Golf Club, Royal Belfast Golf Club, just to cite a few.

Palm Springs

The Coachella Valley is home to about 120 golf courses, half of which are open to the public. The luxurious LaQuinta Resort & Club, with its five resort courses, gets all the attention.

The two 18-hole courses at LaQuinta are located next to the hotel and were designed by the prolific architect Pete Dye. The Dunes Course is a fairly flat resort course with a number of water hazards, while the Mountain Course plays along the base of the mountain. No. 16 is a mind-boggling, downhill par 3 with a green that is surrounded by sand.

The three public-access courses at PGA West are also part of the resort. The TPC Stadium Course is a diabolical Dye creation that is one of the world's hardest courses (the PGA Tour pros refused to play there again). The course shares a clubhouse with the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course -- both courses hosted last year's Q-School. The Greg Norman Course is a short drive away and is a target-style course where numerous native areas come into play. The Classic Club, managed by TROON Golf, is a challenging Arnold Palmer-layout that once hosted the Bob Hope Classic.

The 36-hole facilities Indian Wells Golf Resort, Westin Mission Hills Resort and Desert Willow Golf Resort and SilverRock Resort (a former host of the Chrysler Classic) are other noteworthy courses in the area.

Northern Michigan

Northern Michigan has to be considered a sleeper and a well kept secret (especially for travelers from abroad). The "Wolverine State" is home to the third most golf courses in the U.S.

Among them are a few that have to be considered among the best public-access tracks in the country. Let's start with Tullymore Golf Club, a strategic Jim Engh masterpiece with a collection of strong holes (Engh, one of my favorite contemporary architects, also designed True North in Harbor Springs, Mich.).

Arcadia Bluffs is a faux links course that is constantly ranked among the "top 100" of the U.S. It is a wild layout along the shores of Lake Michigan that features elevation changes and almost resembles Scotland and Ireland.

Bay Harbor Golf Club has 27-holes laid out by Arthur Hills; the Links and Quarry nines are the most spectacular. Treetops is home to 81 holes designed by Tom Fazio, Rick Smith and Robert Trent Jones. Many consider the Threetops par-3 course to be the best in the world of its kind!

Forest Dunes Golf & Country Club is a secluded Tom Weiskopf masterpiece that Troon Golf always keeps in immaculate shape. (It has been ranked among the "Top 100" in the country.) Northern Michigan just has too many great courses to play on one trip.


Oregon -- especially the central part of the state -- is hands down my favorite destination. I must confess that I am very biased about central Oregon as it is my favorite place in the world (the fact that I lived there for half a year might have something to do with it).

Bandon Dunes Resort, the area's raison d'etre, is a bona fide golf resort. (It's certainly my favorite as far as "pure golf" is concerned.) Owner Mike Keiser's resort with the motto "golf as it was meant to be" now has five courses. This year Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole par-3 Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw layout (which I have yet to play), was opened to complement the four 18-hole courses. The rooms might be considered Spartan, but no other resort in the world can equal the quality and variety of Bandon's courses.

Bend is a wonderful city that could serve as prototype for "small town USA." It has a quaint downtown with restaurants and bars, outstanding micro-breweries, nightlife and joie de vivre. Pronghorn Club offers luxury accommodations and is another favorite of mine. The Fazio Course is private (it can be played by extended-stay resort guests), while Pronghorn's Jack Nicklaus Course is open to the public. Both courses have mountain views, and their immaculate conditioning is unsurpassed.

Tetherow Golf Club is a challenging and feral layout that is all fescue and that star-architect David McLay Kidd designed to be his home course. Sunriver Resort (15 miles south of Bend) has the Woodlands Course and Meadows Course and the outstanding Crosswater Club, a highly acclaimed Bob Cupp design that is open to resort guests only.

If you take the scenic three-hour drive from Bend to Klamath Falls, you can also play Running Y, a fun and underrated Arnold Palmer layout. In Portland, the Ghost Creek Course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club is a must play that I consider to be seriously underrated.


The "Aloha State" enjoys worldwide recognition as being the "paradise." The islands are diverse, but what most have in common are outstanding golf courses.

Oahu has Waikiki Beach, Turtle Bay Resort and Ko'olau Golf Club, which brands itself as "the world's hardest golf course."

The "Garden Island" of Kauai is home to three great golf courses. Kauai Lagoons Golf Club has 27 holes designed by Jack Nicklaus; the Kiele Moana Nine is the most picturesque. Poipu Bay Golf Course is an oceanfront Robert Trent Jones Jr. gem that once hosted the World Cup of Golf. Jones Jr. also designed the 27-hole Makai Golf Club and the 18-hole Prince Golf Course (which was lauded the No. 1 in Hawaii) at Princeville.

Maui is famous for the Plantation Course at Kapalua, a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw layout that has hosted the season-opening tournament of the PGA Tour for a number of years.

It is suggested to also take the ferry over to Lanai to play the Challenge at Manele (designed by Jack Nicklaus) and the Experience at Koele (designed by Greg Norman and Ted Robinson), both of which are part of luxurious Four Seasons Resorts.

The Big Island offers a variety of golf courses which includes the Jack Nicklaus-designed Hualalai Golf Club at the Four Seasons Resort. Mauna Kea Golf Course, a Robert Trent Jones classic, is probably the most famous course in Hawaii. Mauna Lani Resort has two championship courses that you should not miss.

Pinehurst, North Carolina

Pinehurst Resort is the American über-resort that is home to eight golf courses.

Pinehurst Course No. 2, which was re-opened in 2012 after getting a facelift by star-duo designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and is now supposedly better than ever. The course, which hosted the U.S. Open in 1999 and 2005 and will do so again in 2014, is the shining star, but the area has an array of outstanding golf courses.

Mid Pines and Pine Needles Resort & Golf Club are both Donald Ross classics that are local favorites.

The Dormie Club is a new semi-private Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design that will ultimately turn private. I haven't gotten the chance to play it, but I have heard nothing but rave reviews. About a 45-minute drive away is another fantastic layout, Tobacco Road Golf Club. This masterpiece of the late Mike Strantz is a fierce ride with numerous traps and a few blind shots.


The greater Phoenix area is home to a cornucopia of courses, and Scottsdale is the epicenter. Among Scottsdale's best courses are the 36-hole facilities Troon North, TPC Scottsdale, The Boulders and Grayhawk Golf Club.

I always enjoy the semi-private The Golf Club Scottsdale and Quintero Golf & Country Club, a Rees Jones course northwest of Phoenix that opened to the public at the end of last year. I have always been a fan of We Ko Pa Golf Club, a 36-hole facility sans houses in Fountain Hills.

Around two hours south of Scottsdale is Tucson, which is a fine golf destination in its own right. The best courses are the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Dove Mountain (host of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship), Arizona National Golf Club (a hilly Robert Trent II course with great vistas), the Golf Club at Vistoso (a Tom Weiskopf design) and Ventana Canyon (a luxurious resort with two 18-hole Tom Fazio courses).

More photos

Royal Portrush Golf Club - Dunluce Course - No. 14Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club - hole 17Pronghorn Golf Club in Bend

Stephan Guertler is a golf writer and a member of the Golf Writers Association of America. He is based in Vienna, Austria and travels the world to review golf courses, destinations and resorts.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Best Places in the World to Play

    Barry Cronin wrote on: Feb 13, 2013

    Ever been to Australia? If so, how do those courses stack up against the ones you've mentioned? BTW, a great list and reference. Thanks.