Ask Travelin' Joe: Punta Cana, St. Simons/Jekyll Island and Virginia Beach
If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dear Joe, We're traveling to Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) in February and I was curious to know what courses you would recommend. We haven't made final arrangements yet but will be doing so very shortly. FYI, I play with a handicap of 8, am 54 years old and never play the tips. I appreciate you taking time to respond and your advice is valuable in our decision making. Gene Jackson Pittsburgh, Pa. With any luck, you're staying at the Punta Cana Resort -- or else are clever enough to talk your way onto the development's two courses. The newer of the pair, Corales ($300; 888-442-2262, puntacana.com) is a 2010 Tom Fazio creation that's a seaside stunner from any set of tees. Coconut palms, sandy waste areas and a surf-filled finishing stretch to remember make it worth the tariff. Its 10-year-old sister layout, La Cana, is no slouch in the looks and challenge departments, either. However, this P.B. Dye design is more accessible to outside play and can be had for less money as well.
Elsewhere on the east side of the Dominican Republic, you might explore Bavaro (809-686-5797, barcelo.com) which despite its short length, is as tough as the namesake Giants tight end was during his playing days. Check in advance for playing conditions, as this recent P.B. Dye redesign of a jungle-strewn, 1991 Juan Manuel Gordillo layout only reopened last month.
Another worthy alternative is Cocotal Golf & Country Club ($91-$121; 809-687-4653, cocotalgolf.com), an 11-year-old 27-holer affiliated with the Sol Melia resorts. It was crafted by top Spanish architect Jose "Pepe" Gancedo, and it may be long on the scorecard, but it isn't terribly demanding, due to its wide fairways and flattish terrain.
Finally, if you can figure out a way to get onto nearby Punta Espada at Cap Cana (809-227-2262, capcana.com), the jaw-dropping Jack Nicklaus design that hosts the Champions Tour, do so. Its roomy fairways, rugged, yet gorgeous par-3s and never-ending sea views make this an unforgettable experience. Dear Joe, My wife is traveling on business to the St. Simons/Jekyll Island region of Georgia in February. I'm planning on traveling along with her to enjoy some golf. Any suggestions on where to play? Timothy Wood Scranton, Pa. Jekyll Island (912-635-2368, golf.jekyllisland.com) boasts the state's largest golf resort, with 63 holes, so if you're craving value and variety, you've come to the right place. Each of the four courses can be played for less than $50 and there are enough distinctions between the layouts to merit at least one time around. That said, none of the four courses (Pine Lakes, Indian Mound, Oleander and the nine-hole Great Dunes) are must-plays. They lack modern-day length from the tips and are maintained the way you'd imagine state park courses would be. However, they're all scenic, undisturbed by homes and are pretty enjoyable for a vacation round. Pine Lakes is my pick if you're going to do one, but for a terrific time travel trip, check out the 1926 Walter Travis-designed Great Dunes. It's funky, ancient fun.
Perhaps the best course in the region, outside of the private tracks at Sea Island, is the King and Prince Beach Golf Resort ($79-$115; 912-634-0255, kingandprince.com). Formerly known as the Hampton Club, this sporty 6,462-yard, par-72 course was renovated by Billy Fuller in 2009 and features a handful of memorable holes, notably the 561-yard, par-5 3rd, which has marsh down the entire left side and a lake on the right side near the green and the 391-yard par-4 13th, which hopscotches the marsh via islands of turf. Dear Joe, I am in Connecticut and the snow, cold and snow days are driving me batty. I cannot wait until March's trip to Myrtle Beach. I need golf now. I can do a long weekend during mid-February (3 nights). I can fly there with frequent flyer miles. I need a 55-degree location with the cheapest stay and play available. Please don't send me to Australia -- I don't have that many miles! David Williams Connecticut OK -- Australia's out. That leaves us with, well, dozens of destinations that still fit your bill. I'm not sure why you'd settle for 55 degrees, when you can have 70 or so, plus affordable golf in places such as Tucson, Arizona and a half-dozen pockets in Florida. Still, if you're looking for inexpensive lodging and golf bargains at quality courses, at a locale that's not terribly far from home, I'll suggest Virginia, specifically Virginia Beach.
In a couple of days, the average daytime high will be right at that magic 55-degree number and the course list is surprisingly strong. You can play two of the finest courses in the mid-Atlantic, the Nicklaus and Palmer courses at Bay Creek ($50-$110; 757-331-8620, baycreekresort.com) for $50 after 1 p.m. and can find heaven at Rees Jones' Hell Point ($29-$69; 757-721-3400, hellspoint.com) for less than $30 after noon.
For general information on where to stay and play in Virginia, check out the new Virginia Golf Trail (VirginiaGolfTrail.com) which pulls together the best values in golf, lodging, restaurants, wineries and cultural attractions. Oh, yes, and bring a sweater. It's still February.
(Photo: Evan Schiller)