Happy Trails

Thursday August 14th, 2008
No. 15 at Paa-Ko Ridge, the best stop on the Santa Fe Trail.
Evan Schiller

Golf Trails are supposed to make planning your buddy trip easier: one decision reaps many rounds. But the U.S. now has almost as many trails as it does past presidents: nearly 40 collections of courses that run the gamut from master-planned marriages to ragtag unions. But even Mt. Rushmore only celebrates four of our 43 presidents, so here are our picks as the four best multi-stop shops for your next golf trip.

Idaho Golf Trail
Idaho
Stops: 8 (145 holes)
Contact: 800-84-IDAHO, idahogolftrail.com
Ambience
Challenge
Value for money
This is a golfer's gas-guzzler: The Idaho Trail has two centers of activity, one in the northwest panhandle and the other in the southwest around Boise and Sun Valley. Most of the attention is deservedly lavished on the Coeur d'Alene Resort, home of one of the greatest gimmicks in golf-course design: the floating island green on the par-3 14th. Nearby is the most underrated course on the trail, Circling Raven. The course quality dips in the southwest, but the mix of tough and tame courses, with equally erratic pricing, has its charms.
Don't miss Coeur d'Alene Resort
Don't bother Whitetail Club
Packages are tied to individual courses, all but one of which has an on-site resort with packages on offer. A typical offering at Coeur d'Alene Resort costs from $218 for a room and one round for two adults. 800-84-IDAHO.

The Santa Fe Trail
New Mexico
Stops: 8 (162 holes)
Contact: 866-465-3660, golfonthesantafetrail.com
Ambience
Challenge
Value for money
The eight stops are all within easy driving distance of each other, and include three of GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Courses You Can Play: Paa-Ko Ridge, Black Mesa and Twin Warriors. While it doesn't win for quantity, the Santa Fe Trail gets the nod for quality and memorable moments.
Don't miss Paa-Ko Ridge
Don't bother Towa Golf Resort
Customized packages are available. Twin Warriors, Towa and Sandia all have lodging on-site. Call 866-465-3660.

Audubon Golf Trail
Louisiana
Stops: 12 (255 holes)
Contact: 866-248-4652, audubontrail.com
Ambience
Challenge
Value for money
Only a common marketing strategy connects these clubs, which are scattered around the state. There's plenty to love (the absence of crowds) and even something to hate (the PGA Tour site at the TPC Louisiana, a dull slog with repetitive hazard placement that costs nearly twice what the other options do).
Don't miss Carter Plantation
Don't bother TPC Louisiana
Staff can assist with accommodations, car rental and tee times, but since the 12 courses operate independently there are no traditional specials or discounts. 866-248-4652


Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
Alabama
Stops: 10 (432 holes)
Contact: 800-949-4444, rtjgolf.com
Ambience
Challenge
Value for money
The original, and still the best value in American golf. Stops are separated by no more than a two-hour drive. Four facilities have 54 holes and three have 27 holes and a nine-hole par-3 course. Consistency is the hallmark of the RTJ Trail, from the excess of elevated tee shots, to the brutishly long layouts.
Don't miss The Lake Course at Grand National
Don't bother The River Course at Hampton Cove
Cherry-pick your trip from courses and hotels, which average ["DOLLAR"]52 per person, per night, double occupancy. The Summer Unlimited deal (May 14-Aug. 31) includes three days unlimited golf for ["DOLLAR"]135, not including lodging. 800-949-4444

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