If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hi, Joe: We would like to plan our yearly golf trip around the Kentucky Derby, the first week of May. Could you recommend a home base/resort within two hours with at least 36 holes and some solid tracks to play close by? —Mark Johnston, Ayr, Ontario, Canada Gallop off to French Lick, Indiana, 60 miles from Louisville. The French Lick Resort (888-936-9360, frenchlickresort.com; May packages from $319) sports two handsomely restored hotels, the French Lick Springs and the amazing, domed West Baden Springs, plus casino gaming, spa and 45 holes. Most prominent is the two-year-old Pete Dye course, a ridge-top, 8,100-yard beautiful brute that will slap you silly if you're hitting it crooked.
More soothing, except on the wildly sloping greens, is the Donald Ross course, a 94-year-old layout expertly restored by Lee Schmidt that hosted the 1924 PGA Championship, won by Walter Hagen. An ancient nine-holer, the Valley Links, completes the offerings. Dear Joe: I just ordered tickets to the 2011 Players Championship. Where can we play some golf in the Ponte Vedra area wthout having to spend a fortune? —Karl Smith, via e-mail Public-access tracks in the vicinity of a big-time event typically jack up their rates during tournament week. The Arthur Hills-designed Windsor Parke (904-223-4653, windsorparke.com) in Jacksonville is an affordable exception. Its Players Week rates won't be established until one month out, but the club says it won't be much higher than the posted fees, which are $55 weekdays, $70 weekends. And it's conveniently located between downtown Jacksonville and the beaches.
For a splurge, pay the $199 premium to play the Slammer & Squire Course at World Golf Village (normally $49-$169; 904-940-6088, golfwgv.com). Both the Slammer & Squire (designed by Bobby Weed, with Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen) and the King & Bear (a Palmer/Nicklaus collaboration) are among the region's best. Then you can tour the World Golf Hall of Fame after your round. Dear Joe, What courses would you recommend in the Cape Cod, Massachusetts area? I've booked a trip in May and wondered if you would pick any of the courses I chose. —Bryan Rhoads, via e-mail It's hard tearing Travelin' Joe away from a platter of Ipswich whole belly fried clams when he's out on the Cape, but 18 holes on a breezy spring day just might do it. Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club ($115-$145; 508-896-9000, oceanedge.com) in Brewster is a favorite since the Nicklaus Design makeover in 2008, but you have to stay there if you want to play it.
Among the public plays, Cranberry Valley ($38-$84; 508-430-5234, cranberrygolfcourse.com) in Harwich is more sweet than tart, with holes that melt into the terrain, but the tree-lined, gently bunkered Geoffrey Cornish design will make you pucker at the 18th, a 575-yard double-dogleg par-5.
Technically not on Cape Cod, but worth the ferry ride to Martha's Vineyard, is Farm Neck ($50-$150; 508-693-3057, farmneck.net), a presidential hangout for good reason—plenty of privacy and lots of jaw-dropping views of Nantucket Sound. Dear Joe, Our group is looking for a course to play on a Sunday morning in early May that's relatively close to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. We're already playing the Boulders, Talking Stick, Grayhawk and Troon North on Wednesday through Saturday, and we're considering either the Legacy Golf Resort or Raven at South Mountain for Sunday. Which would you recommend? —Jim Esdale, Birmingham, Ala. It's pretty to hard to go wrong with either of the Sunday choices that you've mentioned. Both Legacy ($39-$159; 602-305-5550, legacygolfphoenix.com) and Raven ($49-$150; 602-243-3636, ravenatsouthmountain.com) are Gary Panks designs that are blanketed with mature vegetation. Raven's the marginally tougher and longer choice, while Legacy is slightly closer to the airport, although both are 15 minutes or less. With everything else being equal, I would say that you should probably give the nod to the Raven, which will have a $79 rack rate on a Sunday morning in May, versus $109 at Legacy.
(Photo: Brian Walters/Links Imaging)