Great deals and white-sand beaches blow golfers away at these three US resorts
You’ve decided it’s time for a golf vacation. It's a given that the courses have to be top-notch. Now the question is where and how much. Depending on your budget and the occasion, you might opt for a condo in Myrtle Beach where you can do your own laundry and maybe cook a few meals. Perhaps you're looking for four-star digs and plenty of après-golf activities in Florida’s West Palm Beach. Or maybe it’s time to pull out all the stops and splurge on five-star luxury in Maui. I’ve test-driven these courses and resorts, and all three options deliver great value.
South Carolina bargain
The main reason swingers head down to Myrtle Beach is to golf their brains out at bargain prices. Sure the Grand Strand has become more gentrified over the last decade with sophisticated dining and terrific shopping but, for great golf at incredible prices, no place on earth rivals Myrtle.
The folks at Mystical Golf, which comprises three courses — The Witch, The Wizard and Man O’ War — have conjured up irresistible deals. Golf Digest rates all three of the Dan Maples-designed layouts from four to four-and-a-half stars.
Each of the Mystical courses has its own distinct layout. Even the clubhouses are unique: the Wizard has a castle, the Witch has a pointy roofed house and Man O’ War has a fish camp on stilts over the water.
Maples moved an astounding 1,000,000 cubic yards of earth and in doing so brought the feel of Scottish links golf to The Wizard, complete with stone bridges. At 6721 yards from the tips, this par-71 has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Don’t get too smug about your score until you’ve finished the grand finale fairways 16, 17 and 18 that include plenty of water and a couple of devious, almost-island greens.
Over at The Witch, the first nine is built in the middle of the protected Waccamaw Swamp, where not an inch of wetlands was disturbed during construction. In one of its “Best of” issues, Golf Digest gave the Witch four-and-a-half stars and applauded its tee markers that are made of cypress roots resembling shrivelled little witches.
Nearly 1330 yards of wooden bridges wind through acres of cypress forests draped with spooky Spanish moss. Alligators and plenty of other marsh critters and waterfowl create a magical and somewhat eerie sensation on the first nine. On the back nine, golfers are suddenly confronted with huge elevation changes created by natural dunes.
Prepare to do battle on Man O’ War, a watery tract rising from an 80-acre lake with back-to-back island greens. Just before the turn, the par-four ninth is probably the only hole along the Strand that features both an island fairway and green.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Murrels Inlet, dubbed the seafood capital of South Carolina. With names like Dead Dog Saloon and Bubba’s Love Shak, you would be correct in assuming that these places are big on atmosphere and devoid of pretension. For a splurge, head to Greg Norman’s Grille in North Myrtle. I recommend the cowboy steak washed down with a glass of the Shark’s own Shiraz. You will need a doggy bag.
Posh PGA in FLA
If your ideal golf getaway also includes time to shop, spa and party, the PGA National Resort & Spa in Florida’s West Palm Beach delivers on all fronts. At check-in, you’ll receive a VIP Platinum Shopping Card that entitles you to a gift bag, Starbucks coffee, valet parking and juicy discounts at The Gardens Mall, the poshest indoor shopping emporium I’ve ever seen. But pace yourself because there’s a whole lot of golf to be played here, including 90 spectacular fairways and two golf schools.
Designed by Tom and George Fazio, the Haig course underwent an extensive renovation and will reopen as the Fazio Course this November. Even though there’s plenty of water, the design is such that you don’t have to cross it and there are no forced carries. That said, it’s being extended to 7000 yards from the tips, so length can be an issue. Both the ninth and 18th holes return to the clubhouse area making a quick nine an easy option.
Karl Litten designed the Estate course with high handicappers in mind. Stray tee shots tend to be forgiven on the ample fairways. However, unlike the Haig, you’ll be challenged by plenty of forced carries and fairway bunkers.
Another Tom and George Fazio design, the Squire is short, exacting and exasperating if your aim is off. Several doglegs offer risk/reward possibilities for longer shooters.
The Palmer course winds through undulating terrain giving you lots of opportunity to practise those uneven lie shots. The 18th is a scenic par-five with an almost-island green.
Host of the Honda Classic every March, the Champion course, redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 1990, is famed for its vicious series of holes 15 through 17, dubbed the Bear Trap. During the PGA Tour’s 2011 Honda Classic, the three holes swallowed up 150 balls — the most ever recorded at the event.
The PGA is the world’s only resort with both a David Leadbetter Academy for full game instruction and a David Pelz Scoring School where they’ll fine-tune your short game.
The party scene is just 15 minutes away in West Palm Beach where you’re within walking distance of plenty of bars and eateries. At Gratify, a gastro pub, make a meal of appetizers such as bacon-truffle mac and cheese, or mains like sage-seared pork chops with sweet potato puree.
When you’re in need of a soothing soak, relax in the Spa’s Waters of the World, a series of outdoor mineral pools. Another recommended antidote is the Muscle Melt body wrap using a herbal liniment blended with aloe followed by a Swedish massage with rosemary-infused oil.
Wowie in Maui
Fuchsia sunsets, crashing surf, swaying palms and powdery beaches — Maui’s got them all, plus a winning scorecard. The Wailea Golf Club encompasses two clubhouses, a 12-acre training facility and three 18-hole layouts — the Blue, Emerald and Gold Courses. Both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine named Wailea one of the nation’s finest golf resorts, recognizing not only the quality of the courses but also the caliber of the destination.
The Blue is your quintessential Hawaiian layout with wide, manicured fairways that flow with the natural undulations of the volcanic foothills, interrupted by coral sand bunkers, lakes, fountains and fragrant plumeria trees.
The ocean vistas, exotic birds and rivers of lava all vie for your concentration here. I was taking my practice swing on the elevated tees of the first fairway of Wailea’s Gold course when a majestic whale suddenly leapt into the air in front of the Molokini Crater. Accuracy and finesse triumph over brawn on the superb 7078-yard design by Robert Trent Jones II. The Gold blends classic design with rugged natural topography, including 70-yard elevation changes with lava rock walls, tall native grasses and 93 bunkers to add to the awe factor.
The Emerald Course is another multi-faceted jewel with softer visual appeal. There are fewer forced carries and more genial landing areas. Here you’ll get an occasional whiff of an exotic plumeria and plenty of ocean vistas. The Emerald has often been applauded for its female-friendly design, but don’t let the beauty fool you, there’s plenty of challenge for both sexes and all handicaps on this 6825-yard siren.
One of Maui’s top chefs, Bev Gannon recently opened Gannon’s in the Wailea clubhouse with a spectacular view of the first fairway of the Emerald course. Try her barbeque ribs, homemade chili or “Cubawaiian” pork wrap.
Across the road from the Wailea Courses the Fairmont Kea Lani, a confection of Moorish and Mediterranean architecture sits amid vast tropical gardens and pools leading to the white sands of Polo Beach. This is Hawaii’s only all-suite and villa oceanside luxury resort.
Most mornings, guests can join the hotel’s free Hawaiian Canoe Experience to learn the basics of paddling and the significance of the outrigger to Hawaiians. After all, it was via outrigger and celestial navigation that Polynesians voyaged to these islands. Your guides share songs and chants as you paddle through the clear waters and snorkel with sea turtles.
My favourite time on Maui is around sunset when the sky turns tangerine and magenta and the traditional torch-lighting ceremony ushers in a magical evening. This is prime time to indulge in more Hawaiian culture with a couple’s rhythmic Lomi Lomi massage in a private outdoor cabana.
Fairmont’s new poolside Kō restaurant, run by award-winning chef Tylun Pang, features a menu inspired by Hawaii’s sugarcane era when the cuisines of plantation workers of many nationalities became a melting pot of Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese influences. The variety and quality of fish and seafood on Maui is astounding. If you haven’t tried monchong, butterfish or opah, this is the place. As the saying goes, “Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi,” (Maui is the best.)
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.