If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at email@example.com. Dear Joe,I'm going to Bonita Springs, Fla. in January. I'm having a real hard time finding public courses in the area. HELP! We are willing to drive a bit and would like to play for under $100 per round. We're looking to play three days.Steve RadfordVia email You're on the wrong coast of Florida if you're looking for public bargains. The Naples/Bonita Springs area is awash in terrific private tracks and a few pricey publics, such as Tiburon and Old Corkscrew, but there's not much depth where cheap, good golf is concerned. For value tracks in the region, start with Stoneybrook ($67.50-$105; 239-948-3933, stoneybrookgolffm.com) in Estero, four miles north of Bonita Springs. Big hitters can bust it from the 7,314-yard tips, but nearly all of the spacious fairways are edged by lakes. Until January 15, play it after 1 pm for $52.
Tried and true in the bang-for-the-buck department is Eastwood Golf Course ($40-$60; 239-321-7487, cityftmyers.com/eastwood) in Ft. Myers. This tree-lined, Devlin/Von Hagge-designed, 33-year-old muni dishes out just 6,772 yards from the tips, but a fistful of doglegs, 87 bunkers and water on more than half the holes demand precision from every class of golfer.
Worth the drive is Riverwood Golf Club ($100; 941-764-6661, riverwoodgc.com), a semi-private spread in Port Charlotte, an hour's drive north of Bonita Springs via I-75. This gorgeous Gene Bates design rolls through dense pines on the front and hopscotches salt marsh and wetlands on the back. It's a stern test from the 7,004-yard back markers, but a very playable treat from the next set at 6,472 yards. A perfect example of the beauty and flexibility is at the par-3 16th, completely isolated by marsh. It's a brutish 212 yards from all the way back, but a manageable 156 one set up. Dear Joe,Is the temperature acceptable in Albuquerque, New Mexico in mid-January for golf? If not, is there a location within a four-hour drive of Albuquerque that is?Ed Douthett Jr.Fairfax, Virginia Bring a heavy sweater and some cart mitts and you're good to go. Yes, Albuquerque is a desert destination, but its 4,900 feet of elevation also elevates the "brrrrr" factor. Mid-January sports chilly daytime highs that average in the mid-40s. Fortunately, there's not much wind and there's an 88 percent chance of sunshine, so it's not unpleasant to play if you're dressed correctly. Driving four hours in any direction isn't going to help much, as near-equal altitude and/or a lack of quality golf will dissuade such a journey.
For the best winter values in Albuquerque, try the University of New Mexico's Championship course ($21-$51.70; 505-277-4546, unmgolf.com), a rolling, high-desert delight where Phil Mickelson won the 1992 NCAA Championship and Sandia Golf Club ($35-$60; 505-798-3990, sandiagolf.com), a resort casino-affiliated layout that stretches 7,725 yards, yet has a slope of only 125, meaning there's plenty of room to play amid the handsome panoramas of the Sandia Mountains. New & NotableDoes the Hawaiian golf course Poipu Bay ring a bell? This Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed seaside stunner on Kauai was an autumn television staple when it played host to the PGA's Grand Slam of Golf for 13 years. Tiger Woods captured the event seven times, including a five-peat from 1998-2002 and Phil Mickelson scorched its greens for a 59 in winning the 2004 tournament. Its last edition took place in 2007, but its glory days are hardly over. Some might say they're just getting started.
Poipu Bay shut down in the summer of 2010 for renovations, including some bunker and tee box work, but notably for the conversion of its inconsistent Bermuda greens to Paspalum Supreme. The latest and greatest wonder grass for tropical climates, Paspalum Supreme is saltwater tolerant and less dependent on chemicals. What that translates to for golfers is faster, truer greens.
Poipu Bay reopened Dec. 16 to accolades all around. Admittedly, Kauai, as with the rest of Hawaii, California and nearly everywhere else, experienced some wild late December weather, so final verdicts aren't in, but my man in the field reported that it was "in excellent shape…the greens were perfect."
What hasn't changed are the astounding final four holes, the first three set atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific, and the finale is a sterling risk/reward par-5. It's still a hike to get to Kauai, but with Poipu Bay better than ever, the incentive is that much stronger. $85-$240; 800-858-6300, poipubaygolf.com (Photo Courtesy of Poipu Bay Golf Course)