I'm beginning to plan a trip to St. Andrews. What do I need to know about nearby courses and things to do in the area before proceeding? — @GolfBalWackrGuy on Twitter
First off Wacker Man, decide if you want to employ a tour operator for your trip or whether you'll go it alone. For the extra coin you'll pay for a pre-arranged tour, you'll get guaranteed Old Course times, which is the foundation of any St. Andrews trip, plus knowledgeable advice, details looked after and someone to assist if anything does go sideways once you're there. Two outfits that I've worked with personally that I highly recommend are PerryGolf (PerryGolf.com) and Premier Golf (premiergolf.com). The convenience and peace of mind you get from utilizing their services can very well keep a dream trip in line with your expectations.
If, however, you're the one doing the arranging, the first order of business is calculating how much golf you want to play. If you have a group, make sure you're all on board with the itinerary, whether or not you're going 36 a day. If St. Andrews is your focus, log onto standrews.com and you can make your application to play the Old Course and can dig into all the relevant information about the other courses under the St. Andrews Links Trust umbrella. Many put the New Course (age, 122!) on their personal top 100s. I'm not quite as enamored with its design virtues, but as an experience and test of golf, it's terrific. There's much to recommend of the other Links Trust courses as well, but definitely try the Castle course, a David McLay Kidd design that has softened its rougher edges since it first opened in 2008.
Beyond St. Andrews proper, you'll then have to decide if you want a steady diet of trophy courses that dot the Top 100 lists or whether you'd prefer courses of the hidden gems variety, which many enjoy as more reflective of a true Scottish golf experience. In the former category, nearby Kingsbarns tops the list. Co-host of the European tour's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, this 1999 Kyle Phillips design seven miles from the town of St. Andrews sports a World Ranking of 64 as well as the respect of links fans everywhere who relish such holes as the 606-yard, par-5 12th, which arcs around the bay, and the 212-yard, par-3 15th that demands a carry over the sea.
Perhaps 15 minutes from St. Andrews is Crail's Balcomie Links, the seventh-oldest golf club in the world. A par 69 and a shade under 6,000 yards from the tips, Crail is short and quirky with amazing sea views. Another course to consider, especially if you need a break from coastal gusts is The Duke's. Originally a long, dull, wet slog some 10 minutes from the center of town, The Duke's fortunes changed dramatically in 2005 when Herb Kohler bought the Old Course Hotel as well as the Duke's and invested in new drainage and a redesign by former Pete Dye protégé Tim Liddy. The Duke's isn't links golf, yet its gorgeous, lacy-edged bunkers and thoughtful design make it worth the diversion from seaside play.
More good local golf revolves around the Fairmont St. Andrews, with its two linksy courses that afford terrific views of the "Auld Grey Toon;" Lundin G.C. and Leven, two early, influential links that lie adjacent to each other, Ladybank and Golf House Club, Elie. And if you're trophy hunting, make the 45-minute drive north from St. Andrews to sample the Championship course at Carnoustie, venue for the 2019 Open Championship.
If you're also budgeting time for sightseeing, and want to know more about hotels and restaurants, too, click on visitstandrews.com. Then come back to me and we'll talk specifics.
I'm going to Port St. Lucie, Florida, in March for some baseball Spring Training. Is it hard to get onto the PGA Village courses? And is there anywhere else you would recommend in the area? — Bruce on Facebook
I'll wave my pennant for the three PGA Golf Club courses at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie. I'm a fan of the quality, the value and the entire facility. Fazio's Wanamaker (formerly the South) is the classic Florida experience, chock full of handsome bunkers and water hazards, while the more rolling, Carolinas-like Ryder is nearly its equal. Still, I like the distinctive Pete Dye course here, with its mogul-framed, firm, fast fairways, vast coquina shell waste bunkers, pine straw rough and undulating greens. Special kudos to the accompanying 35-acre practice ground, which is as good as you'll find, as well as to the six-hole, family-friendly Short Course. The PGA Village courses are not hard to get onto — very welcoming, actually — but plan accordingly. It's prime season, and morning tee times will go quickly, so that baseball fans can get to afternoon Grapefruit League contests.
Another member of the PGA Village family is located across I-95 and is now known as St. Lucie Golf Trail Golf Club. It's been renamed several times over the years, and was private for much of its existence but its Jim Fazio design is compelling and is winning over more and more fans with its affordability and conditioning. Lesser known in the region, but a superb bargain for families as well, is Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie, a 27-holer that was formerly associated with Club Med. Its Sand and Piper nines form part of the original creation, while the new Bay nine features the most water.
I'm planning a bachelor party for my buddy next summer, and we want to play a few nice rounds. Where is a good spot where we can get great golf but also don't have to walk on eggshells if we have a cocktail or two while on the links? — Jordan on Facebook
It would be helpful if I knew where you lived, and if you had a budget in mind. Oh, and are you and your pals physically fit enough to handle warm-weather golf? If so, I'll recommend my two favorite bachelor party golf destinations where you can indulge on and off the course. The first is Las Vegas. Affordability, lodging options, destination accessibility, bountiful nightlife and (seasonally) good weather are the Big 5 for bachelor parties. For that combination, nothing can touch Las Vegas. Sin City boasts unlimited lodging options and caddie companions that read, rake and coo appreciatively during your round. I'm a big fan of OB Sports' Angel Park, which offers night-lighted par-3 golf on its 12-hole Cloud 9 layout, two big 18s, an all-grass putting course, great food and drink and GolfBoards to ride.
My next choice for kick-back bachelor party golf is Los Cabos, the twin cities of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. It delivers on value, perfect seaside/desert weather, unforgettable golf and the kind of nightclubs that caused Van Halen's members to want to open their own back in the early 1990s. Eddie and Sammy's joint, Cabo Wabo is still rockin' it (it's Sammy's alone now — and he plays there on his birthday in October), as is Squid Roe, the Giggling Marlin and the Nowhere Bar. Cabo del Sol's Ocean course and Quivira are your splurges, Club Campestre will work for budget-minded golfers.
Going to Disney with my family in February. What are the courses to play for me to sneak in some alone time? — Joe on Instagram
Disney golf for grown-ups starts with Tranquilo Golf Club at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. Formerly known as Osprey Ridge, this Tom Fazio design has been renovated and rebranded and will serve as home to the celebrity-laden 2018 Diamond Resorts Invitational. A fantastic option for a quick fix is the resort's seven-hole option, which gets you around the course in less than 77 minutes. Disney itself (disneygolf.com) sports four courses, Magnolia, Palm and Lake Buena Vista — PGA Tour venues for more than 25 years — and the nine-hole walking layout, Oak Trail that's perfect for all ages. Right outside the Disney gates are a slew of top-drawer tracks, notably the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, a pristine Rees Jones creation that's surrounded on three sides by Disney, yet feels worlds away.
I do a yearly golf trip with some friends from college. We prefer to stay on the East Coast as we all live in the mid-Atlantic region. The last few years have been at Myrtle Beach, Ocean City and Pinehurst. Where should we look at next? — Matt on Instagram
Certainly consider going back to any of the three destinations you've visited, because there's a whole lot of terrific courses to sample that you didn't have time for during your first go-round. Having said that, I don't know what time of year you favor, nor what an acceptable price tag is for your group. If you would consider a bit of a drive to the southeast, I'd tell you to try the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, with its superior value, Hilton Head Island, S.C. for its outstanding scenery and PGA Tour history and New Orleans because, well, because it's New Orleans. PGA Tour cachet, open beverages in the streets, diet-busting cuisine — very appealing.
If you want to stick closer to home, I'll vouch for Williamsburg, Virginia. True, it's one of the great family destinations in the U.S., with its Colonial history foundations and recreations, plus an outstanding theme park, Busch Gardens, nearby, but the golf there is so strong, it's worth bringing the lads along.
Golden Horseshoe's Gold course remains my favorite. A 1963 creation from Robert Trent Jones Sr., the topsy-turvy, wooded terrain yields one of golf's best par-3 quartets. The downhill 16th, its banana-shaped green jutting out island-style into a lake, is unforgettable. Trent's son Rees tweaked the design earlier in 2017 to enhance playability and to improve conditions, so what you'll find are re-grassed greens and refurbished bunkers, in addition to superb scenery. Rees Jones' Green course is the Gold's near-equal at Colonial Willamsburg for tranquility and challenge, while the par-32 Spotswood layout is a blast for that late-in-the-day buddies retreat. Next up is Kingsmill's River course, an early Pete Dye masterwork that I played alongside former World No. 1 Jiyai Shin at the 2012 LPGA Kingsmill Championship Pro-Am. The superb closing trio of holes is highlighted by the par-3 17th which soars above the James River. You have to stay at Kingsmill to play there, but with years of PGA Tour history as well, it's worth the splurge. Kiskiack, Williamsburg National, with its Jamestown and Yorktown courses, and especially the once-private Club at Viniterra are the best outside the Colonial area. Be wary about two superb Mike Strantz designs, the Tradition Golf Club at Royal New Kent and the Tradition Golf Club at Stonehouse. Both have suffered severe conditioning woes in recent times and are rumored to be closing.
Hey Joe, I'm looking for a weekend getaway for the whole crew next year (brothers, their wives, kids, the whole nine yards). Where is a place where we can get great golf and have other things for the non-golfers to do? We also don't want to break the bank. — Billy on Instagram
Two words: Myrtle Beach.