For the third time in six years, GOLF MAGAZINE has called upon its savviest critics -- more than 23,000 well-traveled subscribers -- to give us their unvarnished opinion of the nation's finest golf resorts. By putting our biennial survey's power of election in the hands of the paying customer, we were able to find out who really delivers what they promise.
Readers were asked to rate a maximum of six resorts they had visited between January 1 and Labor Day, 2001. GOLF Magazine began receiving back surveys shortly after the tragic events of September 11. As much as any aspect of American society, the travel and resort sector was shaken to the core. A resort is only as good as its guests, and in the aftermath, people stayed home.
But golfers have been quick to get back in the saddle and pursue a game that offers them personal challenge, companionship, even a mild escape in these trying times. The impulse to do so is not heroic, but it is practical, for golfer and resort alike. Many properties, eager to regain lost business or restore consumer confidence, are promoting value-added packages this year, which means the best may be had for less. The 22 Gold Medalists and 48 Silver Medalists on our 2001-2002 roster, featuring winners from Hawaii to New Hampshire, constitute an impressive glossary. As every American golfer knows, we live in a big, wonderful country. The high-quality choices are many. Now is the time to patronize America's best.
The American Club
Kohler, Wisconsin With the recent addition of the Irish Course at Whistling Straits, this superlative resort in the unlikeliest of locations -- a company town an hour's drive north of Milwaukee -- now offers four distinctive venues by Pete Dye. Heading the list is the walkers-only Straits Course, portions of which are routed on restored bluffs 40 feet above Lake Michigan. The hurly-burly Straits, Dye's greatest creation, is slated to host the 2004 PGA Championship: Expect the pros to kick and scream, because from the way-backs, these Straits are dire. Not to be overshadowed, the two prairie-landscaped courses at Blackwolf Run, River and Meadow Valleys, are among the finest inland designs Dye has ever built. The year-old Kohler Waters Spa, occupying two floors of the club's Tudor-style Carriage House, is about what you'd expect from the nation's premier plumbing-products manufacturer.
Bandon Dunes Resort
Bandon, Oregon By placing extraordinarily high in the categories that matter most to golfers--quality of main course, quality of additional courses, course conditions, pace of play, value, and practice facility -- this 36-hole retreat on the southern Oregon coast overcomes its shortcomings in non-golf departments to earn a Gold Medal. The resort's 21-room Lodge and [TRAVEL_TOOLS right]
multi-unit Lily Pond Cottages, while spartan in a Euro-Zen kind of way, nevertheless have an appropriate sense of place. Furnishings are simple, but the mattresses are firm. The staff is friendly and competent, but they don't wear white gloves. Spa? There's a large stainless steel hot tub in the Lodge that's ideal for reviving oneself after battling the elements on the two walkers-only courses. The Gallery dishes out simple but savory fare in generous portions, from forest mushroom pasta to Grandma Thayer's meatloaf. The Bunker, with its pool tables and local microbrews, is a perfect 19th hole. The bottom line on Bandon Dunes? No other resort has two courses ranked in GOLF Magazine's Top 100 in the World, much less two spectacular links parted through rippled dunes on headlands 100 feet above the Pacific.
Carefree, Arizona An exclusive desert hideaway north of Scottsdale, The Boulders continues to shine under the aegis of its new owner, Wyndham Luxury Resorts. A Golden Door Spa, unveiled at the property last November, is big on desert serenity and Native American influences. As part of a $16 million improvement project, all 160 adobe-style casitas, each designed to blend seamlessly into the boulder-strewn desert, were recently refreshed with new upholstery and artwork. Both the North and South courses at The Boulders are target-style layouts tightly woven through the rugged Sonoran desert. Both call for pinpoint shotmaking and a sure touch on the speedy greens.
Colorado Springs, Colorado A landmark property nestled in the foothills of the Rockies, The Broadmoor "has been a work in progress for the past 10 years, having invested over $100 million in new facilities, renovations, and improvements," according to general manager Stephen Bartolin. And still the mile-high pink stucco palace hasn't reached its lofty goal of perfection. Last October, the 700-room resort committed an additional $36 million to the restoration of its historic main building, a grand Italianate edifice once patronized by the gold barons of Cripple Creek. The two main courses, East and West, showcase the vintage design work of Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones.
The Cloister/Sea Island
Sea Island, Georgia With the debut of The Lodge at Sea Island last March, golfers now have a place of their own at this time-honored sanctuary in Georgia's Golden Isles. And what a place. The $47 million stone-and-shingle Lodge overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and St. Simons Sound. Players can roll out of bed and onto the first tee of the Plantation Course, a pleasant resort spread by Rees Jones; or the Seaside Course, a stunning Tom Fazio-designed links marked by sandy ridges and tidal inlets. The Retreat Course, the former St. Simons Island Club reworked last year by Davis Love III, provides a third option. Inside the luxurious Lodge, 40 guest rooms and two suites occupy the upper two floors, where the butler service is round-the-clock. Some players never get past the full menu and fine appointments in the men's and women's locker rooms of a clubhouse/hotel that has raised the bar for golf-themed lodging.
Coeur d'Alene Resort
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho The address of this singular getaway at the northern tip of the Idaho panhandle is a dead giveaway: Floating Green Drive. Never was a golf resort more closely defined by a single hole than this deluxe escape on the shores of pristine Lake Coeur d'Alene. The slightly-bigger-than-it-looks target at the par-three 14th, the world's first and only floating island green, is moved daily to keep the challenge fresh. The infamous island green tends to overshadow a spotless parkland layout where uniformed caddies accompany each group.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
Ka'upulehu-Kona, Hawaii This dazzling paradise, carved from the Big Island's ancient lava flows, continues to cast its spell on visitors, who laud the property for its expansive bungalow-style guest rooms. Within this corridor-free enclave are three oceanfront swimming pools, a snorkeler's "aquarium" pond stocked with 3,500 native fish, a trio of outstanding restaurants, and the torch-lit Lava Lounge, where the mai tais are a perfect accompaniment to the slack key guitars strummed by native Hawaiians. Readers also applauded the brisk pace of play at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Hualalai Golf Club. Host to a Senior PGA Tour event, this breezy, links-style layout has emerald-green fairways paved through licorice-black lava fields, with the pounding surf in play at 17 and 18.
Grand Cypress Resort
Orlando, Florida An oasis of calm in a city given over to non-stop excitement, this serene and ultra-convenient getaway is as refreshing to a serious golfer as a tall glass of fresh-squeezed OJ. Of the 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf, the firmest challenge is presented by the club's North and South nines, where ledged fairways, shaggy mounds, and tiny perched greens undercut by yawning bunkers can spell trouble. The woodsier East nine is a little friendlier, while the New Course, Jack's brilliant pastiche of the Old Course at St. Andrews, has seven double greens, a murderous little burn, even a Valley of Sin pressed into the 18th green. The resort's Academy of Golf, staffed by teaching legends, is guaranteed to get you in the groove.
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia Any discussion of the nation's finest full-service resorts usually begins with The Greenbrier, a mighty property that derives its splendor from the panoramic beauty of the surrounding mountains as well as from the grand technicolor salons within the vast Georgian hotel. Renowned for its curative waters, The Greenbrier Spa, Mineral Baths and Salon was doubled in size last year. Add three well-groomed courses and a Sam Snead Golf Academy to a near-endless list of off-course activities -- including tours of a secret Cold War bunker built nearly 800 feet beneath the hotel for the relocation of Congress -- and The Greenbrier tacks yet another Gold Medal to its "Return to Tara" palette of vibrant reds, emerald greens, and royal blues.
Hot Springs, VirginiaThomas Jefferson, the well-traveled Founding Father, pronounced the mineral-rich waters at The Homestead "of the first merit" when he visited in 1818. Two years ago, the readers of GOLF Magazine decided the resort was of the second merit, relegating the property to Silver Medal status. But now that more than $50 million has been spent to renovate and expand the resort, this National Historic Landmark has regained its stature as one of the nation's most appealing getaways. Occupying a 15,000-acre spread in the Allegheny Mountains, the sprawling red brick hotel has a refurbished spa, a lovely shopping arcade, and superb dining in the 1766 Grille overlooking the Casino lawn. The 54-hole resort's flagship track is the Cascades, a lay-of-the-land design by William Flynn that calls for all the shots.
The Inn & Links at Spanish Bay
Pebble Beach, California For sheer glamour, Spanish Bay, a sister resort to Pebble Beach, is Hollywood in soft spikes. The ivory-stucco hotel, tucked among tall Monterey pines a few hundred yards from the rumbling Pacific, hovers near perfection. The Inn boasts two exceptional ocean-view restaurants in Roy's (Euro-Asian) and Peppoli (neo-Tuscan), while Traps, a fireside lounge, is the perfect place to sip a malt whiskey. Routed in front of and around the hotel is the golf course, a brilliant evocation of a Scottish links, its rolling, windswept fairways sprinkled with pot bunkers and flanked by heaving, sedge-covered dunes.
Maui, Hawaii Harmoniously blended into the West Maui Mountains, Kapalua, an eco-conscious 54-hole resort, is set among 23,000 acres of neatly tilled pineapple fields. And that's the backyard. Out front are three white sandy beaches ranked among America's best, as well as two protected bays where snorkelers can view the inhabitants of coral reefs. The Plantation Course, home of the PGA Tour's Mercedes Championships, is a grand test on a heaving site perched high above the Pacific. The up-in-the-clouds Village Course sports a new clubhouse, while the refurbished Bay Course is scenic and fun. Accommodations are available at the glamorous Ritz-Carlton, the open-air Kapalua Bay Hotel, or in multi-bedroom villas. Cuisine ranges from eclectic Pacific Rim to local "da kine" plate lunches.
Kauai Lagoons/Kauai Marriott Resort
Kauai, Hawaii Ideally situated above a quarter-mile stretch of Kalapaki Beach, the Kauai Marriott is nearing completion of a $5.8 million makeover of its 356-room hotel and spa, a fact not lost on our sharp-eyed surveyors. Refurbished guest rooms are the perfect place to rest up before tackling the Jack Nicklaus-designed Kiele and Mokihana courses at Kauai Lagoons. The Kiele, described by one reader as "an ideal resort course....with more flowers than Augusta," calls for dramatic carries over rain forest canopies as well as pinpoint approaches to greens perched on wave-washed lava peninsulas. The shorter, less taxing Mokihana layout nevertheless has several lagoons and numerous bunkers in play.
The Lodge at Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach, California [GOLF_COURSE_SEARCH "left"] The staging of the 100th U.S. Open in 2000 at the most coveted address in golf may seem like ancient history (except perhaps to Tiger Woods), but Pebble's commitment to excellence is unceasing. Casa Palmero, the sumptuous 24-suite villa near the first fairway of the links, could have floated over, bougainvillea and all, from Ibiza, while the adjacent Spa, like the golf course, celebrates the "harmonious meeting of forest and sea." The resort's list of superlatives is long: two Top 100 Teachers at the golf academy, sublime seafood at the Stillwater Bar & Grill, plus a Jack Nicklaus-designed one-shotter, at the fifth, that completes an uninterrupted stretch of clifftop holes from four through 10. Finally, is there any course anywhere that builds more anticipation and excitement than Pebble Beach?
Manele Bay Hotel
Lanai, Hawaii This exquisite hideaway on the sleepy isle of Lanai received low marks for accessibility, but most discerning travelers would gladly swim the distance from nearby Maui to savor the resort's world-class ambience. Flower-bedecked breezeways and bridges spanning little waterfalls connect the guest room annexes with the Asian-themed reception area. There's formal (and romantic) candlelit dining at Ihilani, though golfers gravitate to the cliffside clubhouse, its veranda a chip shot from the Challenge at Manele, a breathtaking Jack Nicklaus-designed course cut along the bias of a long volcanic slope. For sheer spectacle, the layout's signature holes -- routed along 150-foot-high red lava bluffs above boiling ocean coves -- are in a class of their own.
Mauna Lani Resort
Kohala Coast, Hawaii "A blush of softness on a moonlike lavascape" best describes this Big Island landmark, its ancient Hawaiian fish ponds, petroglyph fields, and shelter caves conspiring to create mana, or "sense of place." The resort's new spa, built to resemble a simple Hawaiian village of thatched huts, has an outdoor lava rock sauna, and more than two dozen types of body massage. The CanoeHouse, cantilevered into the sea, is a destination restaurant serving nori-wrapped tempura ahi (tuna) and other island specialties. The resort's North and South courses, rare in this day of world-beaters, are eminently enjoyable for higher handicappers. Each is a starkly beautiful spread woven through spiky blankets of lava; each swings near the sapphire-blue sea.
Pinehurst Resort & Country Club
Pinehurst, North Carolina It's the "Cradle of American Golf," and it's not finished rocking. Long before the U.S. Open returns to the storied No. 2 Course and its slick turtleback greens in 2005, this powerhouse of the Sandhills will have added two new layouts by Rees Jones and Jack Nicklaus, bringing its total number of venues to 10. No other resort is close, yet Pinehurst is no factory -- an air of Southern hospitality prevails. This spring, the nation's single most popular golf getaway (more than 320,000 rounds per year and counting) will debut a $12 million spa to give guests the "literal essence" of the Pinehurst experience. Couldn't get enough of the sand in the bunkers? The region's sand also turns out to be well-suited for exfoliating scrubs.
Kauai, Hawaii In resorts, as in real estate, location is everything, which is why Princeville, on the lush north coast of Kauai, is highly prized. The 252-room hotel, terraced down a cliff overlooking Hanalei Bay and the fabled peak of Bali Hai (think South Pacific), recently spent $3.5 million to capture the grandeur of the area's landforms and seascapes in its guest rooms and public spaces. Colors were inspired by local flora -- yellow hibiscus, red ohia flowers, green mokihana berries -- while frameless windows enhance the views. The resort's marquee venue is the Prince Course, a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed bruiser that breathes nearly as much fire as Pele, the volcano goddess. For holidaymakers, Princeville's 27-hole Makai Course is less penal and just as scenic.
Situated below volcanic peaks in the Cascade Range on a high desert plateau south of Bend, Sunriver has quietly evolved from an outdoor recreation mecca -- white-water rafting, world-class fly fishing, hiking in lava fields -- to a full-fledged golf destination. The king of the hill is Crosswater, a 7,683-yard behemoth with not one, but two rivers running through it. Solid resort golf is available at the updated Woodlands and neo-classic Meadows courses. Accommodations include the impressive new River Lodges and chalets in the Lodge Village complex. Within the Cascadian-style Sunriver Lodge is the window-walled Meadows restaurant, where the elk ravioli, rack of lamb, and trout tempura are exceptional.
Maui, Hawaii A surfeit of riches awaits at this incredibly successful 54-hole vacation community in south Maui, starting with the weather and beaches, both among Hawaii's finest. Wailea's Gold Course, site of the Senior Skins Game, is a brilliant design routed on the lower slopes of a dormant volcano. The landscaping -- native grasses, kiawe trees -- is basic, but the ocean views are gorgeous. By contrast, Wailea's Emerald Course realizes every snowbird's dream of a Polynesian paradise, its fairways parted through a tropical garden. On the lodging side, the elite Fairmont chain last year took over the Kea Lani, Maui's only all-suite oceanfront hotel; the Grand Wailea Resort's Spa Grande reigns as the nation's most opulent emporium of its kind; and the Four Seasons Resort at Wailea offers cutting-edge cuisine at Wolfgang Puck's new Spaga restaurant. The Shops at Wailea, a $70 million retail complex, has tenants ranging from Tommy Bahama to Louis Vuitton.
Walt Disney World Resort
Lake Buena Vista, Florida Having embarked upon its "100 Years of Magic," a year-long celebration to commemorate the centennial of its visionary founder, this 47-square-mile entertainment kingdom in central Florida continues to hone its reputation as the nation's number-one choice for a family vacation. Golfers, take heart -- there are 99 holes of golf, all of it very good to excellent, from the vintage Palm, Magnolia, and Lake Buena Vista layouts to newer designs by Tom Fazio (Osprey Ridge) and Pete Dye (Eagle Pines). There's also the family-friendly Oak Trail nine-holer. Disney's newest hotel, the Animal Kingdom Lodge, is set on a faux African savannah roamed by such exotic animals as antelope and giraffe. Disney's mind-boggling array of off-course attractions, highlighted by Cirque du Soleil's fantastic circus-drama, La Nouba, captivates the imaginations of kids of all ages.