May the Fores Be with You
The best resorts have manicured fairways, challenging designs, courses to fit every skill level, beautiful settings, and plenty to do off the course. From the rolling terrain overlooking the Pacific at Kapalua to the fairways in the cradle of American golf at Pinehurst, there is a top-end American golf resort for everyone. Worth has played them all. The courses are listed geographically from East to West.
The Sea Pines Resort, Harbour Town, Hilton Head Island, SC
Designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, this is probably the most famous of Hilton Head’s 23 championship courses. Harbour Town Golf Links hosts the RBC Heritage Golf tournament on the PGA Tour. The course focuses on finessed and careful shot-making instead of pure power. The par-71 course includes 7,099 yards of flat terrain. The highlight of the course is the infamous 18th hole, a 458-yard shot directly toward the lighthouse. Even better, The Inn and Club at Harbour Town is a luxurious treat.
Pro tips: Rent a boat to cruise around Calibogue Sound or relax on the white sandy beaches.
Reynolds Lake, Oconee, Greensboro, GA
Set along the waterfront about an hour’s drive from Atlanta, Reynolds Lake Oconee has all the amenities one would expect from a five-star resort. It has access to five challenging courses: The Landing, The Preserve, The National, the Oconee, and Great Waters. Ninety-nine holes wind through wooded areas, rolling hills, dramatic elevation changes, inlets, and tree-lined doglegs, each with spectacular vistas. The golf is second to none.
Pro tips: For a break from golf, rent a boat and spend the afternoon touring Lake Oconee and the mega-mansions dotting its 350 miles of shoreline.
The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, WV
Situated amid the breathtaking Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, the resort is a National Historic Landmark that’s been welcoming guests since 1778. Three of its four courses are close to or more than a century old. The resort, which sits on 11,000 acres, is anchored by the Greenbrier Hotel, a grand structure built in 1713, updated over the past century. Its massive white columns rise six stories against a white façade. It has 677 rooms and 33 suites, and outdoor activities include rafting, a hunt club, game preserve, and skeet shooting.
Pro tips: The Greenbrier has bowling alleys and a casino.
The American Club Resort at Destination Kohler, Kohler, WI
Along the rugged, windswept Lake Michigan shore sits one of the most famous championship courses in the U.S., The Straits Course of Whistling Straits. A companion course, The Irish, is an inland grass-and-dune layout. Accommodations abound at the resort, including the five-star American Club; the Inn on Woodlake with its beach, hiking trails, and shopping venues; or the Kohler Cabin Collection of large private cabins.
Pro tips: Test your short game on a unique and entertaining 10-hole, par-3 course known as The Baths of Blackwolf Run.
Pinehurst, Pinehurst, SC
The largest golf resort in America, its first course dates to 1897. Each of its nine courses is known by the order in which they were constructed. The most celebrated is Pinehurst #2, the site of more golf championships than any course in the country. Accommodations feature beautifully updated rooms at the century-old Holly Inn, the Four-Diamond, 230-room Carolina Hotel, or the historic Manor Inn built in 1923.
Pro tips: Drink at the Deuce, on the veranda overlooking the 18th hole on #2.
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, CO
The Grand Dame of Western Golf, the Broadmoor, opened its first course in 1918. In a unique twist in golf course design, the East Course was designed by not just one but two of America’s most distinguished designers, Donald Ross (holes 1-6 and 16-18) and Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (7-15). The West course opened in 1965 and features narrower fairways and 7,016 yards from the back tees. If you can only do one, play The East.
The Broadmoor Hotel is a classic luxury. Opened in 1918, the resort boasts a diverse collection of rooms, suites, and cottages to estate houses and brownstones. It has all the amenities, so it’s ideal for non-golfing companions. And it may be one of the most romantic resorts in the U.S.
Pro tips: Sunday brunch!
Troon North, Scottsdale, AZ
The crown jewel of desert golf, Troon North’s two championship courses, Pinnacle and Monument, set the standard by which all golf in the Sonoran Desert is measured. Built in the shadows of Pinnacle Peak with verdant fairways carved through ravines and around giant granite boulders, Troon North is visually stunning. It is just 15 minutes from downtown Scottsdale and 40 minutes from Sky Harbor Airport. On-site is the Four Seasons Resort, deluxe but casual Southwestern hospitality. For those who prefer the nightlife of Scottsdale and its great dining experiences, there are dozens of top-notch hotels and resorts nearby.
Pro Tips: If you have to choose, play The Monument. Peak season (January through April) can be pricey. Book for September-October, or May when daytime temperatures are high but rates are lower.
Pebble Beach Golf Resort, Carmel, CA
Perhaps the most famous American golf resort, Pebble Beach consists of 4 championship courses. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill, The Links at Spanish Bay, and Del Monte Golf Course. There’s also a fun short course known as The Hay, and a 20,000-square-foot putting course. It’s been the site of 6 U.S. Open championships and is scheduled to stage its first U.S. Women’s Open in 2023. The courses provide a diverse mix of golf, from seaside to sand dunes to forested fairways. If the ruggedness of Bandon Dunes is “golf as it was meant to be,” Pebble Beach is golf as refined and elegant as it can be. With luxury accommodations and dozens of fine restaurants, shopping arcades, wine shops, spa treatments, and year-round outdoor activities, the resort offers something for everyone.
Pro Tips: Rumors swirl that tee times are impossible unless booked months in advance. But if you stop by the pro shop, ask about a tee time for one. I did and got one the following day at 9:00. And if you don’t have time to play but want to see the course, ask if you can take a cart. They believe once you see the course, you’ll come back to play it!
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Bandon, OR
Bandon Dunes is one of America’s finest, most immersive, comprehensive golf experiences, with six distinct courses. Built among the dunes along Oregon’s rugged coast, any of their courses are, as their saying goes: “golf as it was meant to be.”
Despite the relatively recent vintage of the courses, they’re meant to be played the way golf was played five centuries ago. The courses are walked. Here, there are no concrete paths, no electric carts, and no beverage carts. Just the sound of the wind and the voice of a skilled and knowing caddy from the resort’s renowned training program.
The usual resort-style amenities are non-existent—no tennis courts or Olympic-sized pools. But as golf experiences go, there are none better. From the resort accommodations, guests call for a shuttle, and within minutes, one will take you to any of the many dining options, pro shops, practice areas, or courses.
For a diversion from golf, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is a short drive away, known for its wind-sculpted sand dunes towering 500 feet. There’s also Coquille River Lighthouse.
Pro tips: After your round, relive the shots of the day at McKee’s Pub overlooking the first hole on Bandon Dunes.
Kapalua Golf Resort, Lahina, HI
The first week of January, the first PGA tournament of the year is at Kapalua’s Plantation Course. (Editors’ Note: Isn’t it time to retire the “Plantation” from Course names?) The 78-degree temperature under windless blue skies and endless vistas of the Pacific remind us that paradise exists even in winter. The course stretches to nearly 7,600 yards but can be played as short as 5,100 yards. (For variety, book a tee time at the Bay Course, Kapalua’s other championship venue.) Just up the road, there are stunning accommodations at the Ritz Carlton, which offers snorkeling at nearby Kapalua Bay (named America’s best beach in 2018), and numerous other activities like ziplining, ATV tours, horse riding, hiking, and lei-making or hula lessons.
Pro tips: For the asking, the team setting you up on the golf carts will give you Kapalua logo towels to clean your clubs on the course. Take a few extras for your buddies shoveling snow back home. The course knows you’ll keep them, and it’s pretty smart marketing.