We're all watching our wallets these days, so this might not be the year for that big golf vacation. But it doesn't mean you and your buddies have to chain yourselves to the local muni. Now might be a good time to check out some underrated destinations that may not have the curb appeal of Pebble Beach, but still provide a great trip for a great value.
While I am not a seasoned traveler like Travelin' Joe Passov, I can safely say Columbus, Ohio is a great place for a bargain getaway.
Where to Play Full disclosure: I grew up in Columbus and visit family there at least once a year. But I'm not alone in praising Ohio's capital for its golf courses. GOLF Magazine ranked Columbus as the second-best Golf City in America -- I swear I had nothing to do with it!
The great mix of public and private golf courses, plus the tremendous value compared to other states is why Columbus was ranked so high.
Any trip to Columbus would not be complete without a round at Granville Golf Course (740-587-4653, granvillegolf.com). The Donald Ross gem is only $39 to walk on the weekends, and $54 with a cart.
Next, swing on over to Zanesville for a round at Eaglesticks ($30-$56; 800-782-4493, eaglesticks.com). At 6,508 yards from the tips, Eaglesticks won't overwhelm you off the tee, and this Michael Hurdzan design offers plenty of stunning views, elevation change and undulating greens.
If you're looking for a real test, head on over to Longaberger ($69-$99; 740-763-1100, longabergergolfclub.com). Ranked No. 57 on GOLF Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play, Longaberger offers beautiful amenities to match the course, so you'll feel like a country club regular without breaking the bank.
Other bargains to seek out are Royal American Links ($24-$49; 740-965-1215, royalamericanlinks.com), Cooks Creek ($30-$60; 800-430-4653, cookscreek.com), the Players Club at Foxfire ($32-$49; 740-983-2801, foxfiregolfclub.com), Darby Creek ($23-$48; 800-343-2729, darbycreekgolf.com) and Bent Tree ($25-$55; 740-965-5140, benttreegc.com). Also, if you know someone affiliated with The Ohio State University, see if they can get you a tee time at OSU's Scarlet Course ($30-$70; 614-459-4653, ohiostategolfclub.com). Alister MacKenzie, Perry Maxwell and former Buckeye Jack Nicklaus have all contributed to its design.Where to EatIt's not hard to find your usual menu of chain restaurants around Columbus, but fortunately there are still some great places to eat if you know where to look. If you love steak -- and who doesn't? -- loosen the belt buckle at J. Gilbert's (614-840-9090, jgilberts.com). Prime-aged, center-cut beef cooked to perfection. Need I say more?If you're in the mood for Italian, it's worth the effort to find Basi (614-294-7383, basi-italia.com). Located in an alley in the Victorian Village, Basi has a cozy atmosphere, a unique menu and plenty of fine wines to choose from.The Hickory House (614-428-7427, thehickoryhouse.com) in Gahanna is your best option for variety. Award-winning ribs, seafood, chicken and steaks are all on the menu. And when the bill comes, you won't have to whip out a calculator.Columbus also has plenty of really good pizza places. Try Plank's (614-445-7221, plankscafe.com), Morone's (614-457-7444, moronesitalianvilla.com) and Rotolo's (614-488-7934, rotolospizza.com).What to DoWith all of the bargain golf courses, you might not have much free time, but if you do, and it's football season, try to get tickets for a game at Ohio State. The Horseshoe is one of the great stadiums in all of sports, and the atmosphere before and after a game is electric. USC visits on Sept. 12 in what will be one of the games of the year in college football.While you're on campus, pay homage to the Golden Bear at the Jack Nicklaus Museum (nicklausmuseum.com). The 24,000 sq. ft. facility offers a history lesson on the game and many artifacts from Nicklaus' amazing career. If the kids are along for the ride, or even if they're not, visit the Columbus Zoo (columbuszoo.org). It's always ranked as one of the top zoos in the country, with stunning exhibits and plenty of exotic animals.
Next door to the zoo is Zoombezi Bay waterpark (zoombezibay.com). Formerly known as Wyandot Lake, the park was closed in 2007 and underwent extensive renovations. It reopened in 2008 with several new slides and attractions.
If the shopping bug hits, stop by Easton Town Center (eastontowncenter.com). In addition to indoor and outdoor shops, there are plenty of great restaurants, a movie theater and a comedy club.Photo: No. 8 at Granville Golf CourseCredit: Granville Golf Course