There was once a time when American golfing enthusiasts could count on one hand the number of exceptional resorts that catered to their whims. Today, there is no shortage of top-end destinations across the United States, each offering a vast array of courses and playing experiences.
Looking for something classic, something steeped in history? Pinehurst, Pebble Beach, and The Broadmoor (among others) will exceed your expectations. Ready for a golf trip injected with a sense of pioneering spirit? There’s a property in the eastern frontier lands of Oregon with your name on it. Perhaps you want to test your mettle on some of Pete Dye’s most challenging layouts? Getaways to Kiawah Island, The American Club, and Sea Pines Resort have you covered.
Simply put, world-class golf resorts in the United States are now as plentiful as the dimples on a golf ball; and the dozen examples that follow are certain to deliver memorable—in some cases, one-of-a-kind—experiences.
Although famous for its namesake course, Pebble Beach is home to four exceptional layouts. In fact, plenty of golf enthusiasts have declared Spyglass Hill to be better than Pebble Beach Golf Links. Nevertheless, a trip to Pebble Beach wouldn’t be complete without a round on the seaside course that has hosted six U.S. Opens; just lower your expectations for a low-scoring round. Notoriously small greens and numerous holes that play right up and alongside ocean cliffs are two attributes that elevate the difficulty of a round of golf at Pebble Beach. “Look around and keep your head up and just soak in the beauty of the area,” advises David Stivers, the president of the Pebble Beach Company. “Whether you play a good round or a bad round, you’re walking on an iconic golf course in one of the most beautiful places in the country.”
Gil Hanse’s dramatic redesign of the No. 4 course last year finally pulled some of the spotlight away from Pinehurst’s flagship layout, the No. 2 course, which was originally designed by Donald Ross and more recently restored by Coore & Crenshaw. With nine, 18-hole courses and a 9-hole short course, Pinehurst entices golf travelers to stay a while. It also encourages them to heed the urgings of the North Carolina resorts’ friendly staff, who will implore that “ya’ll come back now.” The golf-focused village of Pinehurst, and the resort’s varied courses along the region’s sand hills render return visits to be mandatory acts.
Sea Pines Resort
A visit to family-friendly Sea Pines will quickly explain why so many players on the PGA Tour choose to build out some R&R there after the resort’s Harbour Town Golf Links hosts the annual RBC Heritage tournament each April. Golfers who love the challenge of shaping shots will be in heaven on the Pete Dye-designed course; but they should also tee it up on the resort’s two other layouts. Heron Point—another Pete Dye design—delivers similar signature features as Harbour Town, albeit in a slightly more forgiving package; while Atlantic Dunes—a comprehensive redesign by Mark and Davis Love III—mixes difficulty with helpful assistance for golfers who are able to think their way around a course.
Sea Island Resort
Sea Island is home to three diverse golf layouts, perhaps the most famous of which is the Seaside Course. Originally designed by Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison as a 9-hole layout, the Seaside golfing experience, in Bobby Jones’ estimation, was among the best nine holes that he ever played. More recently, Tom Fazio renovated the course and linked it to another nine-hole layout at the resort, thereby creating a championship layout that co-hosts the RSM Classic on the PGA Tour every fall. Aside from visiting the resort for that aforementioned tournament, several PGA Tour players also consider Sea Island their primary residence (or own second homes in the area), specifically for the quality of its golfing facilities. The resort now features a brand new performance center, which allows guests to get the same quality instruction and club-fitting services as the pros.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort
For more than a decade, Kiawah Island was home to two golf courses designed by two of the sport’s biggest names—Player and Nicklaus. However, it was only after The Ocean Course opened in 1991 that the resort established itself as a not-to-be-missed golfing destination. The 1991 Ryder Cup, which was contested at The Ocean Course, contributed to that notoriety, and the course has since hosted a PGA Championship (in 2012) and will again host that major in 2021. A round of golf on The Ocean Course is a bucket-list experience for sure, but avid golfers staying at the resort will want to play the property’s other four layouts, too. Not only does each of those four courses showcase various aspects of the island’s different ecosystems, they also offer a less formidable challenge than that infamous Pete Dye creation.
Silvies Valley Ranch
Normally, a resort’s short course is a fairly benign affair. Not at Silvies Valley Ranch, where on many of the holes of the McVeigh’s Gauntlet course, architect Dan Hixson cleared out areas only for greens and tee boxes, leaving the rest of the site’s sage brush undisturbed. The boutique resort, set on a 140,000-acre working cattle ranch, also features a reversible 18-hole championship course that boasts wide fairways and large, firm greens with plenty of contours. It’s a combination of features that gives everyday amateurs a chance to post low scores, but they’ll still need to hit mostly good shots to do it.
For golfers, a visit to The Greenbrier is akin to taking an 88-mph spin in a Delorean outfitted with a flux capacitor that’s powered by plutonium. The West Virginia resort embraces and promotes its history—a backstory defined by courses that first opened for play during the second decade of the 20th century. At its core, The Greenbrier golfing experience is centered on The Old White TPC Course, a layout originally designed by Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor, two course architects who incorporated into it iconic design features from historic Scottish courses, such as Prestwick, North Berwick, and the Old Course in St. Andrews.
Big Cedar Lodge
When you start with a resort owner who loves dramatic views of nature, then add a commitment to build numerous championship-quality golf courses along with a few unique and pristine short courses, the end result is Big Cedar Lodge. The resort recently opened Ozarks National, the first Coore & Crenshaw course in Missouri, and one that introduces elements of early American golf architecture to the southern Midwest. Later this year, Big Cedar will unveil Payne’s Valley, the first public course designed by Tiger Woods and only the second Woods-designed layout to open in the United States.
The American Club
Golf travelers who make the trek to Kohler, Wisconsin, do so to play Whistling Straits—a world-famous, Pete Dye course that has hosted three PGA Championships, a US Senior Open, and will soon play host to the Ryder Cup in 2020. Yet, avid golfers would be remiss if they did not also tee it up at the resort’s three additional Pete Dye layouts—The Irish, The River, and The Meadow Valleys. While the latter two parkland courses traverse idyllic, pastoral landscapes—and offer several opportunities to swing away off the tee—the other two courses often require players to battle strong gusts of wind off of Lake Michigan and, in the case of Whistling Straits, to skirt almost 1,000 bunkers. Because of that, a round of golf on that revered, lakeside layout will always be memorable . . . and sometimes an exercise in survival.
Princeville Resort Kauai
While there are several exceptional golf destinations on the island of Kauai, the Princeville Resort stands out for two key reasons. First, its location on the north shore of the island, overlooking Hanalei Bay, delivers views that are as majestic as any vista on the island. Second, its Princeville Makai Golf Club, which was designed in the early 1970s by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., was built before the entire Princeville community was developed, which means some of the most dramatic, oceanfront real estate was reserved for fairways and greens. It’s a key reason why the course earned its name, since makai in Hawaiian means “toward the ocean.”
Playing golf at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is to experience two of the game’s golden eras. The resort’s two courses are a marriage of holes designed by Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones, Sr. In 1918, Ross created an 18-hole course at the resort; however, that course was parceled and pieced together with two additional nine-hole layouts designed by Jones, Sr. in 1964. The East Course, for example, features a middle nine-hole stretch designed by Jones, Sr., and delivers incredible mountain views and challenging terrain from the first hole to the eighteenth—it was also the site of Jack Nicklaus’ first national title at the US Amateur Championship in 1959. The West Course also features a middle section of holes designed by Jones, Sr., and is defined by tight fairways and plenty of dogleg layouts with spectacular approach shots.
La Quinta Resort & Club
This Waldorf Astoria Resort property uses the tagline “play where legends played,” and it’s not hyperbole. The resort has hosted an annual PGA Tour event since 1960—first called the Palm Springs Golf Classic and now known as the Desert Classic presented by Workday—and its multi-day pro-am event has drawn some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Burt Lancaster (not to mention former US Presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush). With five courses—three designed by Pete Dye, as well as layouts created by Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman—La Quinta Resort & Club offers a plethora of golfing options. The Stadium Course may be the resort’s top billing, but like so many of Dye’s championship layouts, it’s a serious test of golf. In fact, the revered course architect has said of that particular course, “love and hate can be found here.”