Tip #2 Golf Par Excellence
Par Excellence, a worldwide tour of 18 of the best places to tee off.
Pull out your golf clubs. Winter is over and those cold garages and basements can now be entered as you sit in your living room and begin plotting a new golf season in the sun. Let’s look at our calendars, our travel budgets, and figure out how to come up with the best experiences the game has to offer. Let’s see, who owes us some golf favors on which we can now collect? I’m thinking not just the standard picks like top caddies and quaint country retreats, but also those more unexpected, off-the-radar retreats that include memorable midday feasts that have become part of the highlights at new courses or clubs, and some others as old as golf itself.
We’ll take an idyllic trip from a golfer’s daydream to well-loved memory. These are some of Flash’s faves. Maybe this is your breakout year.
Royal County Down
Newcastle, Northern Ireland
Many courses offer spectacular views, but few cast as powerful a spell as Royal County Down. It’s set within an otherworldly stretch of dunes along the Irish Sea, offering panoramas of Newcastle and its beach, the Vistorian redbrick spire of the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa and the massive Mourne Mountains. Closer in, the course is marked by the delightful color and texture of gorse and other native flora, while fairways unfurl around marram-fringed bunkers. The journey is one of constant surprise: A disorienting blind shot over a dune wall is followed by a moment of startling beauty as the fairway — and all that lies beyond — is revealed.
BATTLING THE ELEMENTS
The Ocean Course
Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina
Pete Dye is the designer of choice for those who like their golf served with a side of humble pie. While not his toughest course by the blunt measurements of slope and course rating, the home of the 2012 PGA Championship is the sternest taskmaster in his portfolio, due to one factor — wind. The Ocean Course features plenty of Dye’s signatures: forced carries over broad sweeps of sandy wasteland, water hazards barging right up against the greens. It’s a handful on a calm day, but when the Atlantic breezes tear through, the golfer is mercilessly exposed. Fortunately guests will find an elegant place to recoup in the resort’s aptly named Sanctuary Hotel.
The Links At Terranea
Terranea Resort, Palos Verdes, California
This brand new oceanfront resort brings laid-back California style to its golf offerings. This nine-hole, par-three Links At Terranea is no pushover for low-handicap adults, but the flexibility of its design makes it a fun challenge for kids. Forward tees offer benign angles into the well-bunkered greens, for example. On weekends the kids’ club even sets up a mini-course on the practice putting green.
St. Andrews, the saying goes, is every golfer’s hometown, a truth that be proven by taking a simple stroll around the ancient cathedral town. In the church-yard pilgrims pay their respects at the graves of Old and Young Tom Morris. Three generation families play over the seascape contours of the Himalayas Putting Course. Golfers of all nationalities celebrate their linksland glories over drams in the bar of the Dunvegan Hotel. Whether staying at a humble B&B — Aslar House is a gem — or the grand Old Course Hotel, everyone is there for one reason: to stand on the first tee of the Old Course and begin the walk with ghosts.
GOLFING WITH NON-GOLFERS
Non-golfers won’t mind stopping in at the North Island’s unforgettable clifftop courses at Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers when along the way they can experience the geothermal spas at Rotorua and Lake Taupo’s Huka Lodge. On the South Island, where the five-star Millbrook Resort recently added a third nine, Wellington is a good base for exploring the many wineries of the Marlborough region, where Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir flourish.
A MOVEABLE FEAST
Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers
Gold at Muirfield is a rare treat — the club’s handful of visitor tee times are so hard to come by that many spring for a day pass in order to play at the legendary links twice. But for some the main event is the clubhouse’s carvery lunch. A jacket-and-tie affair that unfolds at a long communal table, it features a colossal spread — joints of roast beef, haddock-and-potato soup, salads, casseroles and, for dessert, sinful custards and toffee puddings. Liquid fortification comes in the form of abundant helpings of kummel, a caraway-flavored digestif served ice cold. Bellies warmed, golfers head back out with their partners for what promises to be a spirited and eventful afternoon of alternate-shot match play.
TAKING THE WATERS
Kohler Waters Spa
The American Club
Golf at The American Club needs little introduction: Four Pete Dye courses, including Whistling Straits, the site of a previous PGA Championship, continue to attract players from around the world. At the club’s resort, the Kohler Waters Spa recently unveiled three renovated water treatment rooms — the RiverBath, the Harmony Room and the Acoustic Room — all of which are experienced in concert with the spa’s range of massages and exfoliating treatments. Guests can stay in the spa’s 55-room extension, the Carriage House, located next door to the main American Club hotel.
THE WOW FACTOR
Leopard Creek Country Club
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Designed by golf legend Gary Player, Leopard Creek is frequently rated the number one layout in South Africa, but what makes it worth visiting is the surreal opportunity to combine golf with wild life. The course is located at the edge of Kruger Nation Park, and the full complement of bushveld fauna — hippos and giraffes, river crocs and the eponymous leopards — competes to distract golfers from their next shot. As an exclusive private club, Leopard Creek gets very little play, but it does open its gates to guests from a number of local safari bases, including the comfortable Jock Safari Lodge just minutes away.
Carmel and Indio, California
Watching the extraordinary golf session from the sidelines, one is bound to see some unusual things, like students flinging clubs downrange. Many name-brand golf schools offer a fairly standard approach: The coach provides a concept and works with students to fix faults or change their swing. Extraordinary Golf, in contrast, inverts the student-teacher relationship. “Once you realize the genius is with the students”, says instructor Evan Schiller, “it’s no longer about ‘How can I get them to do this?’ but rather about creating exercises that let them tap into what’s already there.”
THE LONG DRIVE
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
The Cabot Trail winds over and around through dense forests of balsam fir, clings to cliffsides as whales breach in the waters below. Near the trail’s southern gateway, the Bell Bay Golf Club overlook the inland sea of the Bras d’Or Lake. Further west, Cabot Links, a hotly anticipated new project from Blandon Dunes developer Mike Keiser, will have preview holes open in the summer of 2011. But the main attraction is Highland Links near the island’s north-eastern tip. A singular blend of mountain and oceanside golf, it is widely considered to be the best course in Canada.
The Carolina, Pinehurst, North Carolina
After a morning puzzling over Donald Ross’s devious greens at Pinehurst Number 2, drifting through the lobby of The Carolina in the late afternoon to find a spread of simple orange pekoe tea (hot or cold, depending on the season) and plates of freshly baked shortbread and sugar cookies always comes as something of a pleasnt surprise, even for Pinehurst regulars. Though the custom dates back more than a hundred years, it’s a tradition of Southern hospitality that still works beautifully today.
THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL
Waterville House, County Kerry, Ireland
Tucked away in the southwestern section of the Ring Of Kerry, Waterville Golf Links is one of Ireland’s great remote courses. It’s affiliated with the 12-bedroom Waterville House, a handsome manor from the 18th century set on 40 mostly open acres near the Atlantic. Though it’s snug, tastefully decorated rooms encourage the lie-in, Waterville is a place that lures visitors outdoors: The writer J.M. Synge described the air here as “like wine in one’s teeth.” Just outside the front door is Butlers Pool, a swift-running branch of the Finglas River that’s one of Ireland’s top spots for fly-fishing. Golfing guests can also hone their short games at the hotel’s extensive practice facility. And each day starts with Waterville House’s superb Irish breakfasts.
YOUR OWN PRIVATE CASTLE
Dartmoor National Park, England
Set on the vast Dartmoor National Park in England’s West Country, Bovey’s Castle’s sweeping lawns and opulent salons call to mind the romance of the Edwardian age. The manor house was acquired in the early 2000′s by developer Peter de Savary and given a thorough makeover. The result is effortless luxury. With everything from horseback riding to falconry, golf is only part of the picture at Bovey, but the course has a first-rate pedigree. Designed by the renowned J.F. Abercromby and touched up by Donald Steele as part of de Savary’s renovation, it’s a stylish parkland ramble that’s playable for holiday golfers of all skill levels.
THE NEW GRAND TOUR
The Outpost Club
For many avid golfers, the pressures of modern golf have challenged the country-club calculus of steep initiation fees and annual dues. If 50 rounds a year at the local club is out of the question, why not make every round count by instead playing a host of architecturally notable private courses around the country? This is the thinking behind The Outpost Club. As with a British golfing society, members do not have unfettered access to partner courses but rather pay guest fees and schedule rounds within the various parameters established by the clubs. The heart of Outpost will be a 12-bedroom lodge scheduled to open this spring (2011) on the grounds of the Chechessee Creek Club, near Hilton Head.
Kapalua Bay Beach
Kapalua Resort, Maui, Hawaii
Since opening in 1991, Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course has established itself as one of PGA Tour’s finest layouts. Designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, it’s a thrilling ramble across the broad, windswept slopes of a former pineapple plantation. And minutes away there’s Kapalua Bay Beach: swaying palms, sand like light-brown sugar and turquoise waters perfect for a splash or a snorkel.
OFF THE RADAR
Most think of the Dutch landscape as little more than densely populated cities and pancake-flat polder, but it has pockets of excellent golfing terrain. In the 1920′s the great English architect H.S. Colt crossed the North Sea and designed half a dozen courses. His healthland layouts at the Eindhovensche Golf Club and Utrechtse de Pan are reminiscent of the best of Surrey, and a pair of seaside links — Kennemer and Royal Hague — are two of the best in continental Europe. The country is compact enough that travelers can easily fold a little golf into a stay in Amsterdam, heading out of the city either by car or, for a day trip, by commuter train and taxi.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
On links courses like Bandon’s, where firm turf, windy conditions and complex architecture make thoughtful shot selection as important as skillful execution, a good caddie is worth his or her worth in gold. Fortunately the best loopers in the world are drawn by Bandon’s enthusiastic clientele (and unlimited playing privileges). Players and caddies generally stick together for the duration, joining forces to get the most out of the player’s game.
The Tap Room
Pebble Beach, California
The Tap Room in the lodge at Pebble Beach is basically the blueprint for the ideal apres-golf watering hole. After four-plus hours battling the course in sun, rain, and wind, low light cools everyone off. There are tasty brioche-bun burgers and cold beer, as well as an excellent wine list and a full dinner menu. The walls are covered with vintage “golfiana” — mementos from Nicklaus and Palmer, sure, but also from Hope and Crosby — from the resort’s long history as the preeminent social hub of American golf.