Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 21, 2017

The Westin La Paloma in Tucson, Arizona, has a 27-hole signature course designed by Jack Nicklaus.

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Fairways to Heaven

Ten challenging courses whose otherworldly
beauty will put you on cloud nine

So many golf courses; so little time. Back when I began playing this addictive game, I was content to be a duffer on a local no-name course. A trip to Whistler gave me a taste of gourmet golf. Another to Pinehurst spoiled me forever. Ireland taught me the thrill of a true links experience. By the time I got to Hawaii I was a trophy hunter.

I picked these top 10, not only for the remarkable golf, scenery, flora, fauna and service, but also for the destinations themselves. More than a game, golf is a passion, a lifestyle. You come to play but you also want good hotels, great food and things to see. Rest assured that these golf destinations come with a lifetime guarantee of bragging rights.

North America and the Caribbean
The Challenge at Manele, Hawaii
A scenic 45-minute boat ride from Maui, the tiny exclusive island of Lanai is golf nirvana. Jack Nicklaus' The Challenge at Manele course is like an emerald carpet sculpted out of a roller-coaster terrain, lava boulders and jagged cliffs. With every hole offering Pacific views, you might well be distracted by frolicking whales and dolphins. Bill Gates vowed, "I do" on the cliffhanger 12th hole where the "fairway" is a surging surf 45 metres below. Rumour has it that he rented the entire resort and every available helicopter to prevent peeping paparazzi.

Once you've mastered The Challenge, you can be shuttled over to the Manele Bay's sister resort, the up-country Lodge at Koele. Designed by Greg Norman in collaboration with acclaimed designer Ted Robinson, the Experience at Koele course lures players around its pine-covered hills, seven lakes and cascading waterfalls. Nowhere are the drastic drops in elevation more memorable than on the signature 17th where your tee shot plummets to a gorge 60 metres below. Both tracts are so meticulously manicured, you'd swear someone vacuumed the fairways.

In 2003, Condé Nast Traveler magazine named Koele the Best Golf Resort in the World and ranked Manele number four in the Top 100 Golf Resorts Around the World. (800) 321-4666; www.lanai-resorts.com.

Pinehurst, North Carolina
Dubbed the home of American golf, Pinehurst Resort boasts eight courses, a golf school, a spa, three hotels (The Carolina, Holly Inn and The Manor) and a village straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Donald Ross described the famous Pinehurst Number 2 (first laid out in 1907) as "the fairest test of golf I have ever designed." Indeed, the course has been rated one of the greatest in the world and is the site of the 2005 US Open.

Donald Ross, responsible for five of the Pinehurst courses, went on to design over 400 more throughout North America and become the acknowledged patriarch and patron saint of American course architects.

Ross's design philosophy is fully apparent on Number 2. No tricks, no surprises, minimal water, generous fairways and bunkering that shows you the route. You don't need to be a super long driver but you better be able to pitch, chip and putt. You won't likely forget Ross' signature crown greens. Small by modern standards, they are sculpted like inverted saucers so that a less-than-perfect hit will roll off the edges into all sorts of dips and swales. You can take a cart but for the quintessential experience, hire a caddy. You'll be following in the footsteps of such legends as Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer.

Whether you're playing the traditional Ross courses, or the newer designs of Tom Fazio, Ellis Maples or Rees Jones, golf here is pure and unadulterated. (800) 487-4653; www.pinehurst.com.

La Paloma, Arizona
"Everything's got thorns here and if it don't sting, it bites." Those were our taxi driver's words of wisdom as he dropped us off at the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa in Tucson, where Jack Nicklaus has personally designed 27 holes of desert golf in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. There are no water hazards here but you might meet a bobcat in the bunker or have a prickly encounter with one of the many cacti.

Golf Digest named La Paloma one of the top 10 courses in Arizona and some scenes from the film Tin Cup were shot here. The elevation of 700 metres explains why rolling hills define the Hill Course while more valleys are found on the Canyon Course. One might argue that the best views of the Santa Catalina Mountains are found on the Ridge Course. You'll have to play all three to pick your favourite.

The course is exclusive to La Paloma resort guests and Country Club members. The resort prides itself on pampering guests. After 27 holes of golf head to the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa for a Desert Hot Stone massage then treat yourself to a trophy dinner at Janos, one of Arizona's highest-rated restaurants. Chef Janos Wilder serves up French-inspired southwestern dishes such as shrimp, chili and sweet corn bisque followed by lamb loin rubbed with native seeds and rum cake filled with macadamia nut mousse. A stay at La Paloma will stimulate all of your senses. (800) WESTIN-1; www.westin.com.

Punta Mita, Mexico
About 40 minutes north of the Puerto Vallarta airport, The Four Seasons Punta Mita Golf Club boasts 19 holes and the world's only natural island green. To play this signature Tail of the Whale hole (3B) you must carry your drive across the Pacific Ocean (175 to 195 yards, depending on tee blocks). At low tide, if your drive hasn't become an offering to Neptune, you can walk over a rocky ocean-floor pathway to putt. At high tide, a staff member will shuttle you to the green in an amphibious golf cart.

Less adventuresome swingers can opt to play the alternate landlocked 3A. Eight holes border the pounding surf and every fairway has an ocean view. The Jack Nicklaus design takes full advantage of vistas of the surrounding Sierra Madre Mountains, white coral sand beaches and a tropical landscape of palms and bougainvillea. Just when you're feeling a bit parched, gals on carts pass by to hand out lemon-scented iced towels and chilled bottles of water.

The Punta Mita experience is designed to give guests a deeper appreciation of Mexico. At the Apuane Spa, for example, treatments are based on the traditions of the local Huichol Indians. Try the unique tequila and sage oil massage. At the resort's cultural centre, they'll also teach you some basic Spanish or take you on a hike to ancient ruins. If only they could teach me to hit that island green. (800) 819-5053; www.fourseasons.com.

Teeth of the Dog, Dominican Republic
Designed by Pete Dye, Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo was named Best Golf Course in the Caribbean and one of the top 100 in the world by Condé Nast Traveler magazine. The likes of Jean Chrétien and Bill Clinton have been known to swing here. Dye, who transformed a jagged coral reef into a masterpiece, is quick to point out that while he created 11 holes, "the Man upstairs created the other seven." Those heavenly seven are so close to the sea that you almost get your feet wet while teeing off.

Once you've mastered the Teeth, bite into 36 more holes by the same designer. The Links is an undulating interior course reminiscent of traditional British and Scottish courses, featuring small greens and lots of lagoons. Dye Fore, the resort's newest course, is set 150 metres above the Chevon River. It's guaranteed to rival the Teeth.

Casa de Campo bills itself as the most complete resort in the Caribbean. In addition to the usual water sports it offers polo and horseback riding, sailing at the new marina and yacht club, tennis and sport shooting and visits to the Altos de Chevon artists' village with its Italian-style amphitheatre, opened by the late Frank Sinatra. (800) 877-3643; www.casadcampo.com.

 

Chateau Whistler, British Columbia
Chiselled out of the benchlands of Blackcomb Mountain, this marvel of mountain engineering traverses "billy goat" steep ledges, gushing glacier-fed streams, massive granite outcroppings and mighty Douglas firs. "We listened to the land and harmonized with nature," says Chateau Whistler's creator, Robert Trent Jones Jr.

What first appears as a rugged monster is, in fact, eminently playable for target golfers. The opening and final holes are relatively gentle and straightforward par 5s, but everything in between is exhilarating. Jones' par 3s take full advantage of the savage terrain, especially the eighth hole that plays downhill to a green set off by a crystal clear lake and a massive granite cliff. The staff and service are top-notch — on nippy days you'll find blankets in the carts and the beverage cart serves hot chocolate and Baileys.

Chateau Whistler is one of four championship tracts in the area (including Nicklaus North, Big Sky and Whistler) that make up what Golf Digest rates as one of the Top 50 Greatest Golf Destinations in the World. In case your swing needs a tune-up, last summer the Chateau Whistler opened the only David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Canada. And if you want to celebrate the round of your life, the clubhouse has a bottle of Dom Perignon chilled and ready to pop. (800) WHISTLER; www.mywhistler.com.

Highlands Links, Cape Breton Island
A friend of mine who edits a golf magazine and has played all over the world has declared that he wants his ashes sprinkled over the 18th hole at Cape Breton's Highlands Links. Other editors may not go quite that far, but Golf Magazine listed Highlands Links at Ingonish Beach as one of the Top 100 Courses in the World. The course also received accolades from SCORE magazine for Best Value, Best Course to Walk, Toughest Hole (#7 Killiecrankie) and Most Scenic.

In 1939 when the late Scotsman Stanley Thompson (also famous for Banff Springs and Jasper courses) created the traditional links course, he claimed that God designed it and he merely discovered it. Each brilliant hole on Thompson's so-called "mountains and ocean" course bears a Scottish name. Heich O'Fash (Heap of Trouble) aptly describes the fourth and Tattie Bogle (Potato Pit) sums up the bumpy terrain on number 15. Highlands is ingeniously routed from rocky headlands to secluded wooded glens with fabulous mountain and sea views, brilliant bunkering and rarely a flat lie. The late George Knudson used to stroll the fairways without his clubs just to savour the scenery. Highlands Links was the first Audubon Certified Course in Atlantic Canada, so don't be surprised if you spot a bald eagle overhead or a fox takes off with your ball.

Along with maritime hospitality, ceilidhs (Celtic for gathering, which translates as "party" in Cape Breton) and succulent seafood, there's plenty more golf on Cape Breton. The Fab Fore package includes rounds on Highlands Links, Bell Bay in Baddeck, Le Portage in Cheticamp and Dundee overlooking the Bras d'Or Lakes in Dundee. (866) 404-3224; www.golfcapebreton.com.

Europe
Château des Vigiers, France
Tucked into the famous vineyards between Bordeaux and Bergerac, Château des Vigiers will wow you from the first glimpse. A white swan presides on a lake beside the 18th green. Behind looms the grand 16th-century château, nicknamed Le Petit Versailles. You know you're in the heart of the Dordogne, famous for its foie gras, wine and truffles, when you see tins of goose liver and bottles of Château des Vigiers wine on sale in the pro shop. If ever a nation has mastered the art of living well it's France, so it's no surprise that this philosophy extends to a golf vacation here.

Donald Steel, considered one of Europe's best "natural" golf-course architects, designed the layout to radiate amongst the plum orchards, vineyards and oak forests, using the dramatic red-roofed Château and lake as the centrepiece. Hit an errant slice on the first hole and you'll be searching for your Pro V in a plum orchard. When Golf World magazine asked Steel (who worked on St. Andrews' courses) to name the favourite hole among all his designs, the finishing hole at des Vigiers was his answer.

From the elevated 18th tee, gravity becomes your friend on this dogleg left, winding around a lake to a green tucked beneath the Château stairs. With a limited number of members and Château guests, the course is blissfully uncrowded and the golf unlimited. How about a couple of holes before your evening apéritifs? Après-golf activities could include a massage, wine tastings in nearby Saint-Émilion and a gourmet dinner accompanied by estate wines back at the Château.

France Golf Tours can make all your golf, château and transportation arrangements. (011-33) 1-3475-2049; www.francegolftours.com. Or contact Château des Vigiers. (011-33) 5-5361-5000; www.vigiers.com.

Royal Portrush, Ireland
There are only about 150 genuine links courses in the world and Ireland possesses almost 40 percent of them. How's that for the luck of the Irish? Some of the finest are located on Northern Ireland's rugged Causeway Coast. Golf Magazine rates Royal Portrush Golf Club, founded in 1888, the 12th in the world. Warm up on the Valley Course, then prepare for the challenge of a lifetime on the Dunluce Course with its breathtaking views of the Antrim Coast. The most celebrated holes here are the 14th Calamity Corner requiring a precise drive over an enormous ravine, followed by Purgatory, where you aim for a striped pole and pray. On number 17 try to avoid the bunker of all bunkers, aptly named Big Nellie. I played Dunluce with three pros and even they found it to be a "spectacular ego humbler." The elegant clubhouse is full of polished trophies and pictures of past champions. You'll also want to play Royal Portstewart and Ballyliffen's Old Links in nearby Donegal. The legendary Royal County Down, nestled into huge sand dunes beside the town of Newcastle, where the Mountains of Mourne really do sweep down to the sea is also a must-play. The Bushmills Inn, close to all of the north-coast courses and attractions, is full of cosy nooks and crannies.

Power carts are available at some clubs, but most golfers walk the course or hire a push trolley. Hiring a caddy is recommended, if only to pick up some local knowledge. Contact the Irish Tourist Board. (800) 223-6470; www.tourismireland.com.

Royal St. David's, Wales
The International Association of Golf Tour Operators selected Wales as the undiscovered golf destination for 2003. Greens fees are a bargain and the scenery is grand. Royal St. David's on the northwest coast, founded in 1894, lies in the shadow of towering Harlech Castle.

Only twice do successive fairways proceed in the same direction so the wind invariably becomes a major factor. The last five holes form a loop through the imposing dunes for one of golf's finest finishes. Many professionals agree that St. David's is the world's toughest par 69 but you don't have to be Merlin the Magician to enjoy it.

At Penard, perched high on a cliff near Swansea, try not to be distracted by the wild horses, a crumbling castle ruin and spectacular seaside views. The smell and sight of the sea are with you on every hole at Royal Porthcawl on the south coast. Aim to be on the 18th beachside green at sunset. As the slogan goes, in Wales it's golf as it should be — unhurried, relaxed and with a warm welcome. (011-44) 8701-211-251; www.golfasitshouldbe.com.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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