Thursday, August 14, 2008
THE AMERICAN CLUB

Kohler, Wisconsin

(800) 344-2838

Whistling Straits
Dick Durrance II
Whistling Straits

A surfeit of riches an hour's drive north of Milwaukee? Blackwolf Run, The American Club's 36-hole uber-facility, was already the nation's top-ranked resort golf club before the debut of Whistling Straits, Pete Dye's bratwurst version of Ireland's Ballybunion routed on bluffs above Lake Michigan. The stone-faced, slate-roofed clubhouse, intended to serve the Straits as well as Dye's new Irish Course due this summer, is a gilded retreat that only a Beverly Hills designer with an unlimited budget could have conceived. The American Club, a gabled Tudor edifice built in 1918 to house immigrant employees, now offers tastefully-appointed rooms with Kohler-equipped bathrooms that are, quite simply, in a class of their own. Superb fare at this stylish hotel is available in the Wisconsin Room and The Immigrant, though club guests also have access to the Lodge at River Wildlife, a rustic log cabin located within a 500-acre nature preserve, that features wild game specialties, including a pheasant BLT. Value-minded enthusiasts seeking preferred tee times at Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits can book a room in the Inn on Woodlake, which was doubled in size to 121 rooms last summer. Guests of the Inn receive complimentary continental breakfasts and access to the resort's Sports Core and Day Spa. An American original, The American Club continues to push the golf-and-hospitality envelope in exciting new directions.

Strongest: Main Golf Course, Additional Courses, Course Conditions, Lodging

Weakest: Access, Lounges/Nightlife



THE BOULDERS

Carefree, Arizona

(800) 553-1717

Chiselled into the Sonoran foothills north of Scottsdale amid fantastic rock formations, The Boulders continues to exceed guest expectations. The South Course, flagship of the 36-hole golf club, was treated to a $1 million face-lift by designer Jay Morrish last year. A few holes were tweaked, intermediate tees were added to give average players more options, and all the bunkers were rebuilt. Also, desert-savvy forecaddies are now available during peak season to enhance a player's experience. On the lodging side, The Boulders recently spent $2.3 million to enhance its already pleasing adobe-style casitas, incorporating Southwestern-themed furnishings and native American art along with technological goodies like computer hook-ups, cordless phones, and CD players. In addition to out-of-the-ordinary daytime adventures like rock climbing, desert jeep tours, glider rides, hot-air balloon ascents, and hikes to ancient cliff dwellings, The Boulders has introduced nighttime nature hikes that enable guests to observe coyotes, owls, and night-blooming cacti using night-vision equipment developed for military use. Want to take advantage of deeply discounted summer rates without expiring in the heat? The resort added misting systems to its golf carts that cool the air in and around the cart by nearly 30 degrees.

Strongest: Lodging, Service, Ambience, Practice Facility

Weakest: Access, Family Programs



THE BROADMOOR

Colorado Springs, Colorado

(800) 634-7711

A pink stucco palace in the foothills of the Rockies at 6,000 feet above sea level, The Broadmoor, which got its start as a gambling hall in 1891, has evolved into a national treasure. After spending $100 million in the mid-90s to usher the 3,000-acre property into the modern era, management spent an additional $12 million last year to refurbish additional guest rooms, attach a full-service salon to its outstanding spa, expand its mini-mall of retail shops, and completely transform the Penrose Room, its most formal restaurant, into an opulent salon featuring contemporary French cuisine. Of the resort's three golf courses, the most classic is the East, a vintage Donald Ross design (broad fairways, slick crowned greens) later tweaked by Robert Trent Jones. The West, its rolling fairways framed by firs and its topmost holes chiselled into the flanks of Cheyenne Mountain, provides the resort's toughest test. Both layouts have benefitted greatly from a new irrigation system. A third venue, the Mountain Course, is marked by slim, scrub oak-lined fairways. All three courses were certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System last year. The merriest post-round gathering spot at The Broadmoor is the Golden Bee, a 19th-century pub imported from London that offers yards of ale, steak and potato pie, English tifle, and, in the evening, a ragtime pianist (songbooks provided).

Strongest: Amenities, Lounges/Night-life, Family Programs, Environment

Weakest: Pace of Play, Practice Facility



THE CLOISTER/SEA ISLAND

Sea Island, Georgia

(800) 732-4752

Sea Island
Henebry Photography
Sea Island

To "meet the demands of the modern game," major changes for the better have been made at this quintessentially Southern resort that crowns one of Georgia's Golden Isles. After Rees Jones successfully revamped and knitted together the former Plantation and Retreat nines into the sterling "parkland by the sea" known as the Plantation Course, Tom Fazio arrived to seamlessly blend the storied Seaside and former Marshside nines into the spectacular Seaside Course that opened last October. The two courses, both of which offer uniformed caddies to the purist, now match the quality of Sea Island's Golf Learning Center, one of the nation's top golf schools. As always, The Cloister remains a bastion of refined hospitality, with accommodations available in the red-tile-roofed, Spanish-Mediterranean-style hotel; in stately suites sprinkled near the beach and throughout the beautifully landscaped grounds; and in two new Terrace Houses that evoke the resort's original design motif. Dressy evenings in The Cloister's main dining room are a cherished tradition (black tie is preferred but optional on Wednesday and Saturday nights); more casual wear (but collared shirts please!) is acceptable at the Beach Club. In an ever-changing, fast-paced world, The Cloister is a tradition-bound retreat where style and manners still count.

Strongest: Family Programs, Amenities, Practice Facility, Dining

Weakest: Access, Pace of Play



COEUR D'ALENE RESORT

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

(800) 688-5253

What's a remote resort in a state better known for potatoes than golf doing at the head of the class? Basking in the glory that the world's first and only floating island green has brought it. The green at the infamous par-three 14th, resting on foam-filled concrete honeycombs, is moved daily by a computerized cable system and anchored anywhere from 100 to 175 yards offshore to keep the challenge fresh. Coeur d'Alene's novelty green tends to steal the thunder from a flawlessly manicured, wall-to-wall bentgrass layout that features a lake view from every hole. Lavishly landscaped with junipers, geraniums, and petunias, the sporty 6,309- yard, par-71 course is contoured so that players do not see other golfers during the round. Nice touches include transportation to the course via mahogany water taxis, forecaddies (a.k.a. "concierges") equipped with laser-distance guns, and complimentary massage therapy on the driving range. Mini-suites in the resort's 18-story lakeside hotel feature separate living, sleeping, and dining areas as well as fireplaces and a private balcony. Beverly's, Coeur d'Alene's signature dining room, serves up glorious lake views and innovative Northwest cuisine with wines to match. Sunset dinner and Sunday brunch cruises on what National Geographic has called "one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world" are also available at this one-of-a-kind resort.

Strongest: Course Conditions, Pace of Play, Service, Practice Facility

Weakest: Access, Family Programs



FOUR SEASONS RESORT HUALALAI

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

(888) 340-5662

Carved from the Big Island's vast, reddish-brown and licorice-black lava fields deposited by 19th-century eruptions, Hualalai (pronounced who-wha-la-lie), home to the Senior PGA Tour MasterCard Championship, has fulfilled its gilded destiny. The beautifully groomed course, laid out by Jack Nicklaus, is a low-profile, links-style test that begins in a lush kipuka (oasis) and proceeds through the lava before drawing near the boiling sea and a group of ancient Hawaiian fish ponds at the finish. Generous landing areas, sinuous stone walls, and giant sand traps mark this fun, playable layout. The golf club is accessible to guests of the Four Seasons Resort, its one- and two-story planter's-style bungalows, enveloped by tropical greenery, arranged in half-moon crescents near the beach. All rooms have unobstructed ocean views as well as indoor and outdoor showers. Spend time with the staff cultural historian, head off in an outrigger canoe with a beachboy at the helm, indulge in a holistic spa treatment, enjoy a fabulous meal in one of two beachside restaurants, or attend the free Saturday clinic devoted to putting and short game skills.

Strongest: Course Conditions, Lodging, Dining, Practice Facility

Weakest: Additional Golf Courses, Family Programs



GRAND CYPRESS RESORT

Orlando, Florida

(800) 835-7377

Located on 1,500 acres adjacent to Disney's Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, Grand Cypress Resort is an oasis of calm in the vortex of the world's biggest family entertainment center. Its components include the 750-room Hyatt Regency, one of the nation's best-run major chain resort hotels; the elegant Villas of Grand Cypress, a Mediterranean-themed complex of spacious, beautifully-appointed cottages; and 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf. The New Course, Jack's inspired pastiche of the Old Course at St. Andrews and other fabled Scottish links courses, simulates the experience of the Auld Sod with its double greens and countless bunkers. Eminently walkable, the layout's firm, fast-running fairways promote the ground game. The original North-South 18 at Grand Cypress, marked by sharply ledged fairways, tall shaggy mounds, and tiny plateau greens perched above water or sand, is a demanding, target-style test. The sportier, more wooded East nine is the perfect place to settle a match before dinner at Hemingway's, the Hyatt Regency's Key West-themed seafood restaurant. Seeking the ultimate swing fix? The Grand Cypress Academy of Golf offers a trio of Nicklaus-designed practice holes, a comprehensive learning center, and a star-studded teaching staff.

Strongest: Access, Practice Facility, Course Conditions, Amenities

Weakest: Environment, Ambience



THE GREENBRIER

White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

(800) 624-6070

Rest on the giant, Georgian-columned laurels of its wedding-cake hotel? Not for a minute. The Greenbrier has spent nearly $150 million since 1988 to ensure that its lodging, dining, spa, and golf experiences are beyond compare. Also, its list of amenities, from French cooking classes to falconry, is more complete than ever. The Meadows Course, unveiled last spring, is Bob Cupp's brilliant makeover of the original Lakeside Course. From the tips at 6,809 yards, it may be the toughest and, with its magnificent views of White Rock Mountain, perhaps the prettiest of the three layouts at this National Historic Landmark in the Alleghenies. The Greenbrier Sam Snead Golf Academy also made its debut last spring, and the 87-year-old Slammer, the resort's resident legend and the high priest of tempo and rhythm, is still telling everyone who will listen to apply the same grip pressure to the club that they would to a live bird. He'll also direct guests to his namesake restaurant at the Golf Club, where hearty, wood-fired entrees are served to diners who can observe play on the first and finishing holes of all three courses. White-glove service and Southern hospitality are the hallmark of The Greenbrier's staff of 1,600, many of them second- and third-generation employees who honor the sobriquet, "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."

Strongest: Service, Amenities, Ambience, Dining

Weakest: Access, Pace of Play



THE INN & LINKS AT SPANISH BAY

Pebble Beach, California

(800) 654-9300

"It turns out Mother Nature had a favorite" reads the ad copy for Spanish Bay, a sister property to Pebble Beach. Given the setting, a case could be made. Nestled between a protected marine sanctuary on the Pacific shore and Del Monte Forest, the resort was built to complement the peninsula's natural wonders. Ditto the golf course, a facsimile links parted through restored sand dunes and tall Monterey pines. Walked in the company of a caddie, a thick ocean mist fastened to the fairways, Spanish Bay could pass for Scotland - especially when the kilted bagpiper skirls his notes at dusk from the Inn's stone terrace. The low-rise hotel, its stucco exterior washed in shades of sand and sage, offers superb accommodations in finely detailed rooms furnished with overstuffed sofas and chairs, a separate dressing area, gaslit fireplace, large marble bath, and either a private balcony or patio. Want to know more about the rubbery ice plant that gobbles offline shots on the links? The Inn's full-time nature concierge has all the answers. Shoreline trails at the foot of the resort are an ideal place to observe shorebirds and seals - and drink in the exquisite beauty of a place where Mother Nature went overboard.

Strongest: Additional Golf Courses, Environment, Service, Lodging

Weakest: Practice Facility, Family Programs



KAPALUA RESORT

Maui, Hawaii

(800) 367-8000

In Hawaiian, Kapalua translates as "arms embracing the sea," a reference to the lava peninsulas that form its five scalloped bays. In golf-speak, this working pineapple plantation situated between the West Maui Mountains and the sun-drenched coastline whispers one word: "Paradise." Kapalua's Plantation Course, site of the Mercedes Championships, the PGA Tour's season-opening tournament of champions, is a sprawling, grand-scale layout swept by tradewinds that fits its plunging valleys and oceanfront plateaus hand-in-glove. Tamer - but no less scenic - tests of golf are provided by the resort's Bay and Village courses. New this year is a $15 million Golf Academy designed by Hale Irwin that represents the final piece in this golf mecca's puzzle. The Kapalua Bay Hotel, the airy, terraced centerpiece of the resort, was treated to a $4 million enhancement last fall, while the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua remains the most colorful and welcoming Ritz in America. Positioned as "a sanctuary for man and nature," Kapalua, the first resort in the world certified by Audubon International, offers interpretive hikes led by naturalists into emerald green valleys and misty rain forests where rare native flora and fauna can be observed.

Strongest: Service, Environment, Main Golf Course, Lodging

Weakest: Access, Family Programs



KAUAI LAGOONS/KAUAI MARRIOTT RESORT

Kauai, Hawaii

(800) 220-2925

In the Hawaiian Islands, celebrations are marked with the making, giving, and wearing of a lei. Kauai Lagoons, a Jack Nicklaus-designed, 36-hole complex sited on former cane fields and bluffs above Nawiliwili Bay, took the tradition a step further last year, applying a new name to its Lagoons Course: Mokihana, a small, vine-like tree that produces a flower found only in Kauai. Along with the new name, the links-style course has been treated to a soft renovation: improved landscaping, more coconut palms, the addition of coral rock. Mokihana is the perfect companion to the Kiele (Hawaiian for gardenia), a blockbuster of a course that calls for thrilling carries over rain forest canopies on the front nine. The back nine brings players to the brink of lava rock cliffs high above the churning sea. Each hole on the Kiele is named for an animal, and each tee is graced by a marble statue of that animal. The 18th, naturally, is a Bear - a long par four into the wind with a forced carry over water to a peninsula green. The Kauai Marriott sports Hawaii's largest swimming pool, a fitness center, and a nice beach where a torchlighting ceremony is held nightly. Hungry golfers gravitate to Whaler's Brewpub overlooking Kiele's 13th hole for custom-brewed beers and hearty fare.

Strongest: Pace of Play, Course Conditions, Main Golf Course, Service

Weakest: Lodging, Dining



THE LODGE AT PEBBLE BEACH

Pebble Beach, California

(800) 654-9300

When all is said and done, it's still Pebble Beach. The USGA could have gone anywhere in America for the 2000 U.S. Open, which celebrates the 100th playing of the event. It is no accident that it will be contested in June on the most treasured links in the land. In the wake of a major coastal-restoration project designed to protect the finishing holes from the ocean's incessant wave action, coupled with the construction of a new fifth hole - a stunning par three routed along bluffs above Stillwater Cove - Pebble Beach is now better than ever. Course conditioning, a bugaboo in previous years, is currently an asset. The views, the best in the sport, never change. Last fall, a grand $20-million Spanish-Mediterranean villa called Casa Palmero made its debut not far from the first tee. Upper-level Estate Rooms, perched among the treetops, offer stellar views of the fairways and, beyond, the shimmering blue Pacific. Adjacent to this 24-room "resort-within-a-resort" is the newly opened Spa at Pebble Beach, an ideal place to relax, unwind, and reinvigorate. At the Lodge, the Stillwater Bar & Grill, formerly the Cypress Room, features a sleek Raw Bar as well as a full menu of fresh regional seafood. As good as the food is, and it's exceptional, the view from the two-level restaurant of Pebble's spectacular 18th hole curved along the shore of Carmel Bay is even better.

Strongest: Environment, Ambience, Additional Courses, Main Course

Weakest: Practice Facility, Pace of Play



THE LODGE AT VENTANA CANYON

Tucson, Arizona

(800) 828-5701

Canyon Course
Aidan Bradley
Canyon Course

Nestled in the foothills of the soaring Santa Catalina Mountains, the refurbished Lodge, its 49 suites featuring rich Southwestern furnishings as well as private balconies or patios, is ideal for golfers who like to relax and unwind in residential-style accommodations. Natural materials like distressed pine, fieldstone, and slate create a warm, intimate atmosphere in the public areas, as do iron chandeliers, heavy-beamed ceilings, and finely crafted wood-paneled walls. The resort's centerpiece is a 30-foot-high fireplace, hand-stacked Anasazi-style, with an ancient flat rock from the Grand Canyon at its base. Outside the back door of the Lodge is the first tee of the Tom Fazio-designed Mountain Course, one of the first environmentally sensitive desert courses ever built and still one of the best. Woven through a rugged landscape dotted with tall saguaros, the well-balanced layout is revered for its smooth bentgrass greens and for the petite par-three third, where a wee pitch of 100 yards is played over a ravine to a tiny green wedged into the rock. Lodge guests can also tee it up on the Canyon Course, a slightly more forgiving - but no less scenic - Fazio-designed spread. After the round, players can repair to the Flying V Bar & Grill opposite the Canyon's waterfall-backed 18th green for superb Southwestern fare - and a choice of 30 tequilas.

Strongest: Access, Lodging, Service, Dining

Weakest: Practice Facility, Lounges/ Nightlife



MANELE BAY HOTEL


Lanai, Hawaii


(800) 321-4666

An arid isle of toasted rock in the lee of Maui and Molokai, tiny Lanai was once famous for producing pineapples. Its claim to fame today is an exquisite seaside hotel and, beside it, The Challenge at Manele, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course that offers a thrilling test along with unencumbered views of the blue Pacific. In fact, no other course in Hawaii, or even the world, can claim more expansive ocean views from every hole. The layout's back nine, routed along 150-foot-high lava cliffs, may be the most jaw-dropping stretch of golf Jack has ever created. Want to rehearse the shots you'll need to meet The Challenge? The practice facility, occupying a plateau high above the sea, is an inspiring place to groove your swing. The opulent 236-room Manele Bay Hotel, its low-rise annexes grouped around lush gardens, just got more opulent: The resort completed a $1.3 million makeover of its accommodations last fall. Fronting the complex is Hulopo'e Bay and its crescent-shaped beach. The bay, both swimming hole and marine sanctuary, teems with friendly spinner dolphins. Ihilani, the hotel's formal restaurant, projects the aura of a grand dining room on the French Riviera, with entrees (and prices) to match. For an upcountry experience, schedule a round on Manele Bay's sister course, The Experience at Koele.

Strongest: Dining, Ambience, Pace of Play, Lodging

Weakest: Access, Family Programs



MAUNA KEA RESORT


Kohala Coast, Hawaii


(800) 882-6060

Think of Mauna Kea as a companionable twosome spanning a generation. Over a quarter century ago, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was built by visionary developer Laurance Rockefeller, its open-air spaces strewn with his priceless collection of Pacific Rim objets d'art. Then as now, the hotel is perched above Kauna'oa Beach, the most perfect crescent of palm-fringed sand in all of Polynesia. The resort's original golf course, chiseled into a prehistoric lava plain by Robert Trent Jones, is the layout that established Hawaii as a golfer's paradise. Flash forward to the early 1990s: Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay carve the links-style Hapuna Golf Course into Kohala foothills high above the sea. Later, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, modern and stylish, rises above Hapuna Beach, a dazzling expanse of powdery white sand. Taken together, this potent combo offers the best of both worlds. A typical Friday night at the resort? A Paniolo Barbecue on Hapuna's lawn, complete with the knee-slapping, hip-swinging music of the Hawaiian cowboy, followed by stargazing with a staff astronomer and a visit to Mauna Kea's torchlit shore, where giant manta rays glide beneath the surface of the water. Steeped in the tradition of Aloha, Mauna Kea projects the aura of an enduring Eden.

Strongest: Pace of Play, Environment, Main Golf Course, Ambience

Weakest: Access, Family Programs



MAUNA LANI RESORT


Kohala Coast, Hawaii


(800) 367-2323

Developed with malama (enlightened stewardship) on an ancient Hawaiian king's seaside retreat, perennial Gold Medalist Mauna Lani ("mountain reaching heaven") had only one place higher to go - the sun. Shortly after completing the world's largest solar hotel roof project atop the graceful Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, the resort last year installed an even larger solar system to operate its golf clubhouse, pro shop, and clubhouse restaurant. The solar-powered golf carts are a perfect fit on the sun-splashed Kohala Coast. Of the resort's two courses, the South, a scenic delight woven through a spiky blanket of obsidian lava, is the more popular. Site of the Senior Skins Game, the South hangs its hat on a pair of trans-Pacific par threes. The upcountry North, built on an older lava flow the color of distressed leather, swings past groves of feathery kiawe trees. Mauna Lani's newest gathering spot is the Honu Bar, which serves up light supper and live music in a sleek lounge kitted with cozy booths, pool tables, and a dance floor. Want to make a fresh start in the new millennium? Renew your wedding vows at the resort's historic Eva Parker Woods Cottage.

Strongest: Course Conditions, Lounges/ Nightlife, Environment, Dining

Weakest: Access, Practice Facility



PINEHURST RESORT & COUNTRY CLUB


Pinehurst, North Carolina


(800) 487-4653

With one of the most successful U.S. Opens ever staged under its belt, where does the kingpin of the Sandhills go from here? Directly to the drawing board, of course. Even before the Open served as a 72-hole advertisement for the storied No. 2 Course, Tom Fazio was hired to superimpose a new design on the site of the No. 4 Course, a Donald Ross layout that had been altered beyond recognition over the years. The new No. 4 Course, opened for limited play last December, is a brilliant test that pays homage to Ross without aping his inimitable style. According to resort president Pat Corso, the new No. 4 is "part of our effort to remain ahead of the curve in the golf-travel business. There are a lot of fine golf resorts around the country and the world. If you stand still, you get behind." Which is why the resort is thinking of building a ninth course! On the lodging side, the Victorian-era Holly Inn was treated to an $11 million, floor-to-ceiling renovation and reopened to acclaim last spring. The inn's two restaurants - the 1895 Room and the Tavern - are now among the resort's finest. The Pinehurst Golf Advantage School, with its 4-to-1 pupil-instructor ratio, is guaranteed to help golfers improve - "lower scores equal bigger smiles" is the school's credo - while the entire property continues to ride the high generated by a major championship.

Strongest: Main Golf Course, Practice Facility, Additional Courses, Course Conditions

Weakest: Access, Family Programs



PRINCEVILLE RESORT


Kauai, Hawaii


(800) 826-4400

How's this for stagecraft? Behind the green of the 13th hole of the Prince Course, an epic spread conjured up by Robert Trent Jones Jr. from rolling tableland, a waterfall cascades from a lava tube set in the middle of a cliff festooned with ferns and flowers. And that's just the window dressing. The holes themselves, including tributes to Pine Valley and Cypress Point as well as genuine originals that hopscotch verdant gorges, add up to a 390-acre work of art. You may shoot a million, but the Prince offers the balm of beauty: turquoise-blue Pacific on one side, pleated green peaks laced with waterfalls on the other. Feeling beat up after your bout with the Prince? Sign up for an oceanfront massage, cool off in the infinity-edge swimming pool, or have a go at the Prince's sportier sister, the 27-hole Makai, which promises a pleasureable outing on a well-groomed spread. The public spaces of the Princeville Hotel, which overlook the fabled peak of Bali Hai, are beginning to gleam in the wake of a major overhaul. Lead crystal "privacy windows" in the stylish guest rooms turn opaque with the flick of a switch, but it's not a likely option for guests who wish to drink in the breathtaking view of Hanalei Bay. Feeling adventurous? The hotel can arrange royak (a cross between a kayak and a canoe) excursions in the lush Hanalei River Valley.

Strongest: Pace of Play, Environment, Ambience, Main Golf Course

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