The Annual Golf Vacation Platinum Awards — Golf vacations

 
 

 

The Golf Odyssey Annual Platinum Awards

The economy has been rocked, but with trials come opportunities.  The most popular courses struggle to fill their tee sheets, so there is no better time to stuff your name in the ballot box at the Old Course.

Likewise, who needs to pay for two nights of pricey lodging at Pebble Beach Golf Links to secure an advanced tee time when next-day tee times are likely to be had?

As is Golf Odyssey’s custom, we are pleased to highlight the best and worst from our 2008 travels and hope you find them helpful in making 2009 an adventurous new year of golf travel.

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THE AWARDS

Golf Experience of the Year

“Exhilarating,” best sums our whirlwind journey to New Zealand, highlighted by the incomparable Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers resorts, featuring Tom Doak’s sublime layout set on towering Lord of the Rings-like cliffs and David Harmon’s enchanting creation back-dropped by volcanic islands.  Rounds at four other worthy Kiwi courses, and one unforgettable night at Huka Lodge helped prove that one can visit all of New Zealand’s “must plays” while being out of the office for only a week.

Best Proof that Resorts take Golf Odyssey Seriously

In January 2007, we chided high-priced Pebble Beach Resort for nickel and diming guests, including its sly clocking of Internet charges from midnight to midnight. This summer, Pebble Beach called us to tell us that henceforth Internet access at the resort would be complimentary. Now if only Pebble Beach would do something about those $10 course guides.

Lodging Experience of the Year

Non-members can stay here only once, but even one night at Kohler’s Riverbend is guaranteed to be unforgettable. The historic Riverbend Mansion serves as a private, self-contained retreat highlighted by Kohler showplace bathrooms. What truly sets Riverbend apart, however, is the personalized service that takes Kohler’s hallmark hospitality to entirely new levels. The total Riverbend experience ranks with the best we’ve ever enjoyed.

US Course of the Year

18-month-old Chambers Bay Golf Course in Tacoma, WA has already been tapped to hold the 2015 US Open. This Robert Trent Jones, Jr. layout, an authentic but man-made links reminiscent of Ballybunion, Royal County Down, and yes, Pacific Dunes, includes at least six inarguably great holes and nary a weak or indifferent test. The heart races when playing this masterpiece.

Worst Finishing Hole

We returned to Pinehurst Resort this year in no small part to play the just-renovated Pinehurst No. 1. Always one of Pinehurst’s most popular and playable layouts, the upgraded course still finishes with an anticlimactic par three stuck on a spot of turf between the starter hut, a practice area, and the clubhouse.

Best Bonus Hole

A growing number of high-profile courses incorporate an extra hole into their routings. Just beyond the 14th hole at the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Club, a par three (it has no number) clings to the mountainside at the edge of the abyss. A spectacular panorama overlooks Victoria and Washington’s Olympic Mountains.

Photo at right courtesy of Bear Mountain Resort

Most Frustrating Golf Services

Turnberry, whose Ailsa Course will again host the Open in 2009, may boast Scotland’s greatest links, but the entire golf experience has shortcomings, due to it being part of a large resort operation. Groups, rather than individuals, receive preferential treatment. We were backed up on Ailsa from the very 1st tee, and the round dragged on as no one took action to try to speed up play. Even the quality of the caddies was uneven.

Best Lodging Alternative to Pebble Beach

Now that it may be easier than ever to walk up and play Pebble Beach, the benefits of making one of the fine inland resorts of the Carmel Valley—Bernardus Lodge, Carmel Valley Ranch, and Quail Lodge—your home-base on a Monterey Peninsula golf vacation are even more pronounced. Compared to the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel Valley tends to be significantly warmer and fog free. Prices are also far more reasonable. The golf isn’t great, but the shorter resort layouts are friendly for seniors and women.

Best Holiday Treat at Pinehurst

This past winter, a Pinehurst special provided golfers with the opportunity to enjoy one night’s lodging at the Carolina Hotel, breakfast, and a round on Pinehurst No. 2 for $252 per person, double occupancy. Considering Pinehurst was founded as a winter retreat and the normal green fee for No. 2 is $410, this deal was a steal.

Most Surprising Golf Course in Palm Beach

Formerly a poorly conditioned, cow-pasture-like layout, North Palm Beach Country Club has been transformed into a municipal gem thanks to a full-scale Jack Nicklaus redesign and devoted greens keeping. Adding to the wonder of this course is the un-Florida-like prevalence of elevation changes, the product of a natural ridge as well as prodigious earth moving.

Most Overrated Links

Royal Troon’s Old Course always inspires high expectations, but as Colin Montgomerie aptly said, “it is more difficult than good.” The truth is, Troon is a mostly level, dull routing. The first six holes march straight out, the final six straight in. Only the stretch in between, which includes the fabulous one shotter, Postage Stamp, shines.

Best Southern California Classic

Earlier this decade, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, one of the best spa retreats in the US, unveiled lavish renovations that have ushered the resort into the 21st century while preserving its history and patina. The George C. Thomas, Jr. golf course is now better than ever following the restoration of two holes, arguably the most memorable of the round, which had been left out of the routing for 50 years.

Photo at right courtesy of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Most Disappointing Golf Course

Wailea’s third course, Old Blue, commits the cardinal sin of bad golf courses: It’s neither scenic nor well designed. Condominiums line this layout that has the feel of a well-groomed muni and doesn’t merit its $155 green fee.

Best Tip the Food is Not Good

There’s a certain comfort in returning to Pinehurst Resort’s Carolina Dining Room, whose long-tenured servers know the food isn’t stellar. Our waitress stopped us from ordering a chicken dish by describing it as “inedible.”

Where Walking Means Riding

Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale gained favorable press for flipping nines on its two courses and touting the routings as more “walkable.” While golfers can walk the courses, only exercise-fanatical members would ever consider it. When we asked one pro-shop assistant what “walkable” really meant for Troon North golfers, she said the course is now more walkable for everyone as they play using a cart.

Most Scenic Closing Holes in Myrtle Beach

In the northern reaches of the Myrtle Beach realm, Arnold Palmer’s Rivers Edge features seven holes—including the four finishers—that cling to the vast marsh and bluffs of the Shallotte River. Forced carries, flirtatious corner-cutting, sandy expanses, and angled greens call for supreme course management at a time when the scenic beauty is apt to disrupt your concentration.

Photo at right courtesy of Rivers Edge Golf Club

Timeliest Myrtle Beach Golf Experience

Tee times at most Myrtle Beach golf courses are spaced eight or even six minutes apart. Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach, North Carolina sends out groups every 12 minutes. The welcome spacing fits with the club’s friendly, service-oriented atmosphere.

Best Muni Alternative to Pebble Beach

Course conditions can be dicey and crowds overwhelming at Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links (PG Muni), but thanks to a back nine featuring eight seafront holes by Pebble Beach designer Jack Neville and a tidy $45 green fee, the course merits its nickname, “the poor man’s Pebble Beach.”

Best Bargain Destination in the UK

The golf cannot compete with the leading links of Scotland and Ireland, but Mid-Wales wins us over on beauty, hospitality, and affordability. Golf courses and old towns and villages dot a landscape of sheer cliffs, genuine mountains, and captivating Atlantic coastline. Many of the links are short, making them ideal for women and seniors. Tee times tend to be readily available and the greens fees more than reasonable.

 

 

If independent, in-depth and insider reports like this are what you’re looking for, join the select group of avid golf travelers who get to read them each month in the pages of:

GOLF ODYSSEY

The Insider’s Guide to Sophisticated Golf Travel

Golf Odyssey has been published for 16 years, but most people have never heard of us. We’ve circled the globe, visiting thousands of golf courses, resorts and restaurants, but most people have never seen us. The reason is that Golf Odyssey — the world’s preeminent source of golf travel intelligence — is not written for “most people.” If you’re someone who wants unbiased advice about the best places to play and stay, and whose golf vacations are too important to leave to chance, Golf Odyssey is written for you.

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As a result, our approach is unique. We travel anonymously and do not accept any advertising, discounts or “freebies” from the
properties we review, which gives us the independence to “tell it like it is,” good or bad. Plus, we share insider secrets that golf courses and resorts don’t necessarily want you to know, such as the best rooms you can reserve at standard prices; “locals’ secret” restaurants; even how to gain access to otherwise private courses.

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In essence, Golf Odyssey is like having a personal team of researchers scout a location before you arrive, finding the best places to play, stay, dine and unwind so you don’t waste time and money doing it. So, if you’re interested in reading the real stories about the world’s best golf destinations and learning the insider secrets to getting the most out of your golf vacations…

 

Photo at top courtesy of Cape Kidnappers