Thursday, January 29, 2009

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at askjoe@golf.com. Dear Joe,We're coming down to the Phoenix area to catch the FBR Open, and we're staying to play golf for a week. My group is mostly low handicappers, between 3 and 10, and we've got a few top courses lined up. We've got one free day and would like to fill it with one more round. Do you have one hidden gem -- quality and price -- that you can recommend?Sandy LairdEnglewood, Colorado The best new course you can play in Phoenix isn't new -- but it is newly public. Southern Dunes Golf Club (480-367-8949, golfsoutherndunes.com; $49-$119) in Maricopa, 25 minutes south of Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport was a private men's club for its first six years of existence, where members included major championship winners Mark Calcavecchia and Steve Jones.
Unfortunately, it's an hour from Scottsdale, on the "wrong" side of town, so the business model didn't hold up -- but the course sure did. This big, bold layout might be the very best work that Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley have done, with broad, sweeping, fescue-framed fairways, deep, artfully contoured and strategically placed bunkers and masterfully crafted undulating greens.
Toss in unobstructed mountain and desert vistas, Troon Golf management and a green fee that's less than half of some of Scottsdale's trophy courses, and you have what I consider to be Arizona's best value. Hello Joe,I live in the Seattle area and I am planning a trip at the end of January. I'm kicking around Palm Springs or the Dallas area. Is there something in either of those areas that is both nice and economical? We're a group of six and looking for a package similar to what you would find at the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama. We did that last year but ran into some unfriendly weather. However the tracks and unlimited golf were incredible. We're all low handicappers and looking for a challenge if there is one. I'm also considering Horseshoe Bay in the Austin area.Jeff JonesSeattle, Washington Intriguing options, indeed, but let's break it down. First, you won't find anything remotely resembling the Trent Jones Trail anywhere -- it's one of a kind, even among other Trails. Now, if weather is an issue and you guys are good golfers, I'd forego Dallas and Austin this time around and stick with Palm Springs. You'll find plenty of affordable, quality public golf in both Texas destinations, but in late January, you're looking at average daytime highs in the upper 50s in Dallas, lower 60s in Austin. Pay the freight and enjoy the 70- to 75-degree sunshine that Palm Springs has to offer. One option is the Golf Package at Hyatt Grand Champions Resort, Villas and Spa (760-341-1000, grandchampions.hyatt.com), which includes golf at Indian Wells Golf Resort, lodging, full breakfast, a sleeve of logo balls and yes -- a GOLF Magazine subscription. Both Indian Wells courses are once and future Skins Game hosts, and you can't go wrong picking either the Clive Clark-designed Celebrity Course or the John Fought-crafted Players Course, each a sturdy, gorgeous test. Package prices start at $331 per person, per night, through February 28th.    Dear Joe:We are going to Miami in March. Where would you recommend we play? We played Doral Blue last time.Chris KennedyOmaha, Nebraska Nothing like starting at the top and working your way down. Fortunately, it's not much of a stumble. Doral's Gold course (800-713-6725, doralresort.com; $175) features strategic bunkering, flat fairways with landing zones shrunk by March winds and water on 16 holes -- in other words, a similar experience to the Blue -- for roughly half the price. For the ultimate in pampering, check out Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club's Soffer course (305-932-6200, fairmont.com/turnberryisle; $250), complete with waterfalls, tropical vegetation and forecaddies, but you've got to stay there to play there. For something new, try Normandy Shores Golf Club (305-868-6502, normandyshoresgolfclub.com; $90-$160), a 68-year-old muni in Miami Beach basking in a 2008 Arthur Hills extreme makeover. A great location, risk/reward holes and Sunshine State scenery adds up to pure fun. 

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