The pandemic sent travelers searching for wide open spaces and fresh air. During the COVID days of social distancing, golf courses were a “safe” way to get exercise and be social. The National Golf Foundation says there were 500,000 more golfers in 2020 than in 2019. That’s the largest increase the game has seen in 17 years. With golf on the upswing, there’s been a growing interest in golf vacations. It’s a perfect way for weekend golfers to take their game to new heights while enjoying some stunning scenery. To get you started, we’ve teed up a few of North America’s very best golf destinations.
Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine, Florida
The Sunshine State has over a thousand golf courses, more than any other place in the U.S. But the epicenter for Florida’s game is just south of Jacksonville in the towns of Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine, home to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Nearby TPC Sawgrass should be on every golf lover’s bucket list. Home to The Players Championship in March, and considered golf’s unofficial fifth major, its clubhouse and course are open to the public. Try your hand at the iconic island green, or just have a round of drinks or a meal at the club’s restaurant. Eighteen dollars for a burger is a bargain to be able to spend the afternoon drinking in the views of the course from the restaurant’s elegant outdoor patio. Follow up your meal with a free tour of the building or the grounds. Volunteer storytellers are happy to guide you through the club’s history.
Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is the resort of choice with two golf courses, plus a complimentary putting green and driving range for guests. This luxurious, family-friendly, beachfront resort boasts a world class spa and tennis program. Guests can stay in oceanfront lodging or in the historic inn with a view of the golf course. Larger golfing groups might opt to stay at the Island House near the course’s iconic 9th island hole. Ponte Vedra’s Surf Club, overlooking the Atlantic, features a fun bar and casual restaurant, adult lap pool and jacuzzi. Kids will love the zero depth pool and water slide. For fancier fare, the oceanfront Seahorse Grille with its eye-catching aquarium, provides a memorable evening of fine dining on steaks and seafood.
Maybe you want the sunshine and mountains? Head to the Phoenix region, known as the Valley of the Sun for its warm temperatures and average of 300 sunny days per year. The Greater Phoenix area is made up of more than 20 towns and cities, each with their own personality. But with more than 200 courses and plenty of golf resorts, the town of Scottsdale is a golf lover’s best bet.
Nestled in the foothills of Camelback Mountain, the 18-hole course at Mountain Shadows Resort offers a picturesque setting for a fun and fast round. You can play all 18 holes in less than three hours or nine holes in ninety minutes. It’s also a great lodging choice. Mid-century modern architecture and decor give it a hip vibe. Two 75-foot pools with views of the surrounding mountains are perfect for exercising or lounging. The Echo Canyon trailhead is a scenic one mile walk away through the surrounding upscale neighborhood.
If you’re looking for a restaurant to celebrate a special occasion or just a romantic night out, you can’t go wrong with elements at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort. Right down the street from Mountain Shadows, it’s where Food Network celebrity chef Beau MacMillan combines Asian infused American cuisine with breathtaking mountain views and cozy outdoor fires in the winter.
When you’re ready to take a break from the sun, Phoenix is also home to world-class cultural institutions like the Heard Museum, an expansive collection of Native American artifacts and contemporary art; and the Musical Instrument Museum, where 12,000 instruments are displayed alongside Eric Clapton and Paul Simon’s guitars, John Lennon’s piano and other priceless rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia.
Carved into the foothills of the western coastline of Montego Bay, Jamaica, Half Moon Resort’s 18-hole course sits on the site of a former sugar cane estate. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., America’s pre-eminent golf course architect, it’s a course that’s both challenging and serene, with stately palms lined up along the greens. Colorful bougainvillea frame the driveway leading up to the stately white clubhouse with its massive columns and elegant interiors. There’s a respect for tradition here. Every golfer gets a caddy who brings along a great knowledge of the course. Half Moon has hosted a number of prestigious tournaments, including the Jamaica Open Golf Championship and Dunhill Cup Final of the Americas. After enjoying your time on this legendary course, stop by the 19th Hole for a round of drinks. Besides golf, Half Moon Resort offers two miles of beautiful beaches, three restaurants, and a world-class spa. But you don’t have to be a guest at the resort to enjoy a day of golf here. Golf rates for non-guests start at $80.
Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin
Summer is serene at Whistling Straits, often called the “Pebble Beach of the Midwest.” Ranked among the top public courses in the country by Golfweek, the Pete Dye-designed course offers stunning views of Lake Michigan. Since opening in 1998, it’s hosted the Ryder Cup in 2021 and three PGA championships. Whistling Straits’ two 18-hole courses are owned by Wisconsin’s luxurious Kohler Resort and were inspired by Herb Kohler’s love of Ireland and Irish golf. Golfers will feel transported to Ireland’s rugged coastline as this course winds its way along the bluffs and dunes overlooking Lake Michigan. Caddies are required, and they make navigating this course a lot easier. Ten miles away is the Destination Kohler Resort, with its historic American Club Lodge and more secluded private cabins. A post-round visit to the luxurious Kohler Waters Spa, which specializes in hydrotherapy, is a must.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Thirty-two miles of pristine, white, powder-soft sand beaches offer a sublime backdrop to the five golf courses in the neighboring towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, just over the Florida border.
Consider playing at the Arnold Palmer-designed Craft Farms. If you’re a nature lover, make sure and play a round at Peninsula Golf Club with its wooden golf cart paths leading to piers overlooking Mobile Bay. As blue herons and egrets roam about, you’ll feel like you’re spending the day at a nature preserve. Coastal Alabama Golf can help you plan your golf trip, scoring discounts and the best tee times. All you need to decide when to visit. Summer is high season along Alabama’s Gulf Coast and spring break attracts carloads of college kids. Mild weather throughout the winter bring plenty of older snowbirds here to play golf, with temperatures usually in the 50s and low 60s. Autumn is a lovely time to visit, as the coastal waters are still warm and there are far fewer tourists.
Looking for a romantic evening out? Head to Perch at the modern, eco-friendly Lodge at Gulf State Park overlooking the water for the best sunset views. Outdoor fire pits and live music add to the ambiance. The 6,150-acre Gulf State Park sits between Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, providing two miles of public beach surrounded by sand dunes. The complimentary bikes make exploring Gulf State Park a breeze.
Another date night winner serving up sublime seafood fresh from the Gulf of Mexico is Fisher’s Upstairs. For a more casual meal, sit at one of the waterfront picnic tables at the Gulf Restaurant and admire boats sailing by in a laid-back atmosphere, toes in the sand, drink in hand.
Featured image: Kiva Dunes Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama (courtesy Kiva Dunes Resort)
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