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Our group is having an argument about the destination for this year's trip. Some want to do Alabama (Grand National Lake/Links, Farmlinks, Oxmoor Valley and Limestone Springs) and others are thinking about New Mexico (Paa-Ko Ridge, Black Mesa, University of New Mexico Championship, Twin Warriors). We live in Chicago, so either destination is equally convenient. My opinion is the average quality of the courses in Alabama is higher, but Paa-ko and Black Mesa are spectacular. Any guidance? Greg Roemelt
We're splitting hairs here, albeit blonde versus brunette. Do you like Cameron Diaz or Megan Fox? Point is, they're both stellar.
Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Trail is one of the greatest values in golf travel. So is New Mexico. However, I'm inclined to agree with you: The average quality of the courses in Alabama is higher, especially as you approach the second-tier courses, the ones ranked 6-15 in the market.
That said, nothing in Alabama packs the 1-2 punch of Paa-Ko Ridge and Black Mesa. Moreover, the best of the Alabama courses not only look similar to each other, but they also will look somewhat similar to your home courses, with wall-to-wall grass framed by trees. New Mexico's best are vividly memorable and completely different from anything in Chicagoland. Pass the salsa.
I have relied on your expertise for golf course guidance several times in the past. What would you recommend for a five-day trip to Austin, Texas? Our eight guys range from scratch golfers to a 22 handicap, with most of us in the low teens. We have traveled to many golf destinations, including Scotland and Ireland and are looking for some good golf in the Austin area this spring. Michael F. Kaufman
For maximum variety and quality in the Austin area, it's impossible to top Barton Creek Resort & Spa (512-329-4000, bartoncreek.com; package rates from $181 per person per night). This Silver Medalist in our recent Premier Resorts awards boasts four courses spread out across different locations and terrain.
The Fazio Canyons course, ranked No. 67 in GOLF Magazine's 2008 Top 100 Courses You Can Play, is the strongest test of the four, but the resort's earlier Tom Fazio layout, Fazio Foothills, ranked No. 71 in 2008, contains the most distinctive hole, the par-5 closer which features a second shot over an abandoned limestone bat cave. For a great first round, and pure fun for the 22 handicapper, the (Ben) Crenshaw Cliffside course features a friendly 121 slope from the tips. The fourth course, called Palmer Lakeside (for its designer, Arnold Palmer) is dotted with quirky holes, but it's a quality shotmaking venue in its own right.
Worth the side trip is the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa (512-308-1234, lostpines.hyatt.com; $120-$145), situated 20 minutes southeast of Austin. Its four-year-old Wolfdancer course is the handiwork of Chris Wilcynski of the Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest firm and sports three distinct playing landforms, from forested ridgelines to rolling prairie to a tree-studded valley. The Cliffside plunge at the par-3 12th is unforgettable.
I am taking my wife to a quilting show in Providence, RI in the middle of April. The show lasts for three or four days and I will be free to play golf while she is at the show. Thus my question: Do you know of any good/nice public or semi-private courses within a twenty-mile radius of downtown Providence that I would enjoy playing? I am 66 and carry a 15 handicap. Frank Comer
Adjacent to downtown Providence is Triggs Memorial Golf Course (401-521-8460, triggs.us; $40-$58), one of the nation's rare munis designed by the master, Donald Ross, back in 1932. Expect mediocre facilities and suspect conditions, but you'll also encounter a classic layout that opens and closes with Ross' specialty, tough par-4s with firm, fast, sloping greens.
Twenty-two miles south of Providence, in Middletown, is Newport National (401-848-9690, newportnational.com), the Ocean State's highest-ranked public course. Designed by Drew Rogers of the Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest firm in 2002, Newport National's Orchard/East course is magnificently groomed and a terrific challenge at a 138 slope from the 7,244-yard tips, not that you'll be playing it from back there. Best of all, it's only $65 to play there midweek, $75 weekend through May 6.
A word to the wise: Providence has been blasted with rain, 16.32 inches in March alone, and as of late March, flooding is widespread. Call ahead to check on current conditions before booking anything.