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My wife and I are looking for a Los Angelesarea getaway with good golf and a spa. I'm an 18-handicap. Is there a nice place to play that won't beat me up too badly? John R., La Habra, Calif
High tail it to the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a rustic charmer 75 miles northeast of downtown L.A. Pronounced "Oh-high," it has been welcoming golfers of all handicaps since 1923 with a 6,292-yard golf course that's short on length but huge on character. It was designed by George Thomas Jr. and Billy Bellwho also co-authored Riviera and Bel-Air Country Club.
More recent renovations by Jay Morrish and son Carter included the 1999 recreation of two holes that had been abandoned after World War II. Ojai is a throwback to a time when golf courses were graceful, unified playing fields, and not the carnival-style obstacle courses we see too much of today. But there's enough challenge out here for the course to have hosted the Champions Tour for seven years. There's also a 31,000-square-foot spa village with more than a dozen different massage treatments on the menu. (ojairesort.com, 805-646-1111; $79-$170)
I'm traveling to Charlotte, N.C. for some golf with my buddies and would love some advice on where to play. We don't mind spending a little more for a great course but on average, would like to spend around $30-$60. We will probably get out for five rounds. Tom S., Ontario, Canada
Charlotte might be great for NASCAR races, but it's public golf offerings lag well behind most top Southern cities. But while there may not be any trophy courses to collect here, at least what Charlotte offers is affordable.
Start with your splurge course: the Robert Trent Jones Jr. course at Rock Barn Golf & Spa (rockbarn.com, 828-459-1125; $75). This five-year-old layout sports hefty elevation changes, enormous, heaving greens, and a bevy of Bobby's artfully sculpted bunkers. It has also been a Champions Tour site since 2003. After that, try Ballantyne Resort (ballantyneresort.com, 704-248-4383; $55-$75), a wooded layout that boasts a rugged finish: a 420-yard, par-4 dogleg left that demands a drive over a creek and an approach that flirts with a lake.
Next up is Birkdale Golf Club (birkdale.com, 704-895-8038; $38-$65), a 1997 Arnold Palmer product that won't be confused with the famed British links of the same name. Working down the list, you can sample Renaissance Park Golf Course (renaissanceparkgolfcourse.com, 704-357-3373; $35-$44), a Michael Hurdzan design that doesn't play as tough as its 7,360 yards and half-dozen water holes would suggest. Some will tell you that Highland Creek Golf Club (highlandcreekgolfclub.com, 704-875-9000; $44-$67) should be in anybody's Top 5 in Charlotte, but I'll direct you to one of the earliest designs of celebrated architect Tom DoakHighland Creek Golf ClubCharlotte Golf Links (charlottegolflinks.com, 704-846-7990; $38-$60)just to experience a taste of Old world shot values on rolling piedmont terrain.
My boss and I are taking a trip to Portland, Oregon and we're going to fly into Seattle and drive down. We are looking for a course around the halfway point to play. I have tried to go through the websites to find one but I figured I would talk to you and see what you think. James D., Edmonton, Canada
Big Joe isn't big on doing anything halfway, and in this case you shouldn't either: There isn't a course halfway between Seattle and Portland that's worth getting off the interstate to play. Better you should stop in the Tacoma area, University Place to be precise, and play the most spectacular new course in the country, Chambers Bay (chambersbaygolf.com, 877-29-LINKS; $65-$150). This brand new Robert Trent Jones Jr. course may be pricey, but it will likely be unforgettable, with its stunning Puget Sound and Olympic Mountain backdrops, pulse-pounding elevation changes and creative design, that comes complete with split fairways, alternate greens and towering Scottish sandhill-style bunkers.