FEATURE STORY

The Elite Eight
Golf Destinations:
The Dream Itinerary

By Shane Sharp,
WorldGolf.com Contributing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- They are the golf destinations you mother warned you about. Some of them are posh, exclusive, and aristocratic. Others are affordable, blue collar, and accessible. Some are so hot, you’ll need to change shirts at the turn. Others are cool, even downright chilly when they want to be, and you’ll want to skip the golf cart and hoof it just to keep from freezing your soft spikes off.

Aesthetically and economically, these golf destinations can be as different as Jesper Parnevik and Scott Hoch. But they all share one commonality: obscene, ridiculous, embarrassing amounts of golf.

Geographically, the definitions of these golf destinations are as loose as Tiger Woods with a ten shot lead on Sunday. Pinehurst is a resort, Las Vegas a city, Hilton Head an island, the Grand Strand a region, Florida a state and Scotland a country. Philosophically, the message is the same: grip it and rip it.

The majority of our lives will be spent driving a couple miles down the road to play the local daily fee course, and plunking down a couple of bones to settle two dollar Nassau’s in the 19th hole afterwards. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But if the opportunity presents itself to hit the open road or the friendly skies, here’s a lineup of golf destinations that will keep you U.S. Open-rough deep in day dreaming material in between trips to the town municipal.

The Final Four

1. Palm Springs

The Basics: Frank Sinatra favored “The Springs” as he called it, and Bob Hope made one of his homes there. Gerald Ford was a regular fixture on areas golf links, and Ginger Rogers was never one to pass up a winter trip to this stark, stunning desert playground.

These days, Palm Springs attracts the likes of Alice Cooper, Amy Grant, and any other of the myriad of stars you’ll find at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic – the PGA Tour’s annual romp through the desert tracks of Palm Springs.

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Each year, thousands of golfers make the trek to Palm Springs and Palm desert, a rite of passage that lies somewhere between a golf trip to Scotland and Myrtle Beach, but can cost as much as the two combined. Seeing how one has to blow a college tuition payment and venture miles into the heart of some of the country’s most Godforsaken country, Palm Springs must have cast some powerful spell on the golfing world.

Pros: The weather. November through April, there is no better climate for golf, with the one exception being Scottsdale, Arizona. High’s in the 70’s are the norm from late November to mid March, and the sun shines day after day providing golfers with a platform for 36 holes a day and deep golf tan to match.

Quality and concentration. Pound for pound, Palm Springs may have the best collection of upscale resort courses in the country. Courses are plentiful in the Coachella Valley, and located proximity is of the essence as one track is rarely more than a 30-minute drive from the other. Most of the courses in the area sport the designer tags of Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones II variety, and are priced accordingly.

Cons: Price. You could take three trips to Myrtle Beach for the price of one Palm Springs sojourn. Accessibility. No real airport to speak of, stuck in the middle of the desert hundreds of miles from the population epicenters of the country … you get the point.

The Musts: PGA West Stadium Course, La Quinta Resort Mountain Course, Shadow Ridge Faldo Course, Mission Hills North.

2. Scottsdale/Phoenix

The Basics: With a big city feel, professional and college sports, performing arts, and more outdoor activities than you can shake a hiking stick at, Scottsdale/Phoenix might be the most functional golf destination in the world. For years, a number of PGA Tour players have called Scottsdale home, lending legitimacy to its claim as the top golf destination in the world.

Unlike Palm Springs, Scottsdale/Phoenix, you can play a set of golf courses that won’t run you two or three bills. In fact, the Valley of the Sun is home to some of the best municipal courses in the U.S. Then again, if cost isn’t an issue, you can break out the plastic and tee it up at facilities like Troon, Grayhawk, and the Boulders.

Pros: Variety. People live and work in Phoenix and its environs, and there are plenty of great golf courses for under $100. Weather. November through March, it doesn’t get any better than this. Be weary of January, which can bear a few winter storms (think Phil Mickelson chipping in from a snowy green at the Phoenix Open). Access. Sky Harbor Airport is one of the busiest ports west of the Pecos, and a well-planned freeway system can get you from one side of the Valley Floor to the other in minutes.

Cons: Big City Feel, Big City Issues. As you fly or drive into Phoenix/Scottsdale, you won’t exactly feel like you are getting away from it all. The city skyline is omnipresent whether you are in Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa, or Glendale, and endless miles of strip malls make for some disturbing urban form. No worries though. A day trip to Cave Creek, Carefree or Sedona will free you from the area’s urban trappings.

The Musts: Troon North, Grayhawk, the Boulders, We-Ko-Pa, Gold Canyon Ranch, Whirlwind, and Thunderbirds.

3. Pinehurst, N.C.

The Basics: America’s version of St. Andrews. Established around the turn of the century by James Tufts, and adopted home of legendary golf course architect Donald Ross. The Village of Pinehurst is located smack dab in the middle of a region of the Tar Hell State known as the Sandhills. The Pinehurst Resort is widely considered one of the top three golf destinations in the world.

The resort is home to Ross’ Pinehurst No. 2, host course for the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Open’s. Also playing are seven other top-notch tracks, including Tom Fazio’s No. 8 Course and Rees Jones No. 7. Fazio recently remodeled the No. 4 course, making it one of the top layouts in the entire state.

Pros:History. One of the few golf destinations in the U.S. that actually oozes with educational opportunities. Just strolling the hallways of the Pinehurst Clubhouse is a lesson in golf history 101. Variety. Pinehurst Resort caters to the affluent, but there are 40 other courses in the area, ranging from high-end resort style to well maintained daily fee.

Cons: Scenery. Hawaii, Vail, or Nantucket Pinehurst is not. The surrounding vegetation is, as you might guess, pine trees, elevation changes are kept to a minimum, and the ocean is a solid two hours away. Access. Closest major airport is in Raleigh/Durham, about an hour and a half away. Highway access is tenuous, and even the drive from nearby Charlotte approaches two hours.

The Musts: Pinehurst Resort Courses No. 2, No. 4. No. 7, and No. 8, National Club, The Pit, Legacy, Pine Needles, Mid Pines.

4. Scotland

The Basics: The pilgrimage to the birthplace of golf is a trip that must be taken at least once by any serious golfer. The game as it was meant to be played is on full display in the motherland: pot bunkers, mammoth greens, hardpan fairways, and think strands of heather grass.

Forget golf carts, concrete cart paths, and faux modern designs. We are talking hoofing 18 holes with a caddy, and courses that are so natural they look like they’ve been there since the beginning of time. Airfares to Scotland are at an all time low, so there may not be a better time to jump the pond.

Pros: Tradition. They were playing golf here before Shakespeare hired his ghostwriter. Knowledge. From the guys at the proshop to the bartender at the local pub, everyone in Scotland seems to have a solid working knowledge and the utmost respect for the game.

Cons: Distance. Flying across the Atlantic is a little different than throwing your clubs in the back of the SUV. Weather. Those that prefer golf trips slathered sunscreen need not apply. There are a few sunny days to be had in the summer, but chances are you’ll be playing in windy, cloudy, and sometimes rainy conditions.

The Next Tier

5. Myrtle Beach/Grand Strand

With 120 courses spread over 60 miles of Atlantic Beach coastline, the Grand Strand makes a strong case for living up to its reputation as the “Golf Capital of the World.” Long considered a notch below Hilton Head and Scottsdale in the quality department, the Strand has turned it around in the past ten years with highly regarded courses such as Tidewater, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, Grande Dunes, and Barefoot Resort. The golf package phenomena, killer off season specials, and a host of second tier tracks make Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand one of the most affordable golf destinations in the world.

6. Hilton Head

You will not find a better collection of posh resort courses, high-end daily fee courses, and exclusive private courses on the east coast. Throw in Hilton Head’s scenic island setting, one of the PGA Tour’s most popular events (the MCI Heritage of Golf), and easy Interstate accessibility, and you have one of the world’s greatest golf destinations.

7. Orlando/Daytona

It is not all Donald and Mickey in Orlando, nor is it all beach parties and stock cars in Daytona. Taken together, these two metro areas located off the Interstate 4 corridor have become a formidable golf destination. The Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando is home to the North, South and East nines from the original lineup, and the New Course, a Jack Nicklaus designed track that opened back in 1988. Daytona is home to the LPGA’s Champions and Legends courses, and the venerable Halifax Plantation.

8. Las Vegas

Sin City is making a strong push towards becoming one of the world’s preeminent golf destinations. Over the past ten years, the area has experienced a golf gold rush that has included world-winning designs from Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and other top golf course architects. Vegas is accessible by airplane, and golf packages and cheap flights are bringing golfers in hand over fist.

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