Hi Joe, I'm planning a trip to the UK with my wife, who grew up in England. After a lot of pleading on my part, she's agreed to head up to Scotland for a few days. Outside of the British Open courses, I'm lost. Any recommendations on two, maybe three rounds of golf on this once-in-a-lifetime trip? —Jess D. Brown, via e-mail Hold your head high, fella—you're going to St. Andrews! Now, I still say the region's two Open sites are mandatory. If you can't snare a tee time on the Old Course, at least soak up the experience by walking much of the course, or all of it on Sundays when it is closed to play. Carnoustie (£135/$220; 01144-1241-802270, carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk), the seven-time Open venue 45 minutes up the coast, is your must-play blast of brutish links golf.
Closer to town, Kingsbarns (£185/$302; 01144-1334-460860, kingsbarns.com) offers an arresting blend of old-fashioned, contour-heavy holes and modern spectacular seaside tests, such as the par-5 12th and the all-or-nothing, practically in-the-sea par-3 15th.
A dozen other enticing options await in the area, including the 116-year-old "New" course at St. Andrews (£35-£70/$57-$114; 01144-1334-466666, standrews.org.uk). For a taste of pure quirky charm, I'm partial to Crail's Balcomie Links (£57-£72/$93-$118; 01144-1333-450686, crailgolfingsociety.co.uk), which amuses with blind shots, holes that cross each other and Firth of Forth panoramas at every turn. Dear Joe, I'm heading to Columbus, Ohio for a wedding. A buddy of mine is getting married to a member at Muirfield Village, so we get to play there one day. Any other courses you'd recommend? —Matt Garretson, via e-mail Pfffffft. That's the air seeping out of your bubble, because any public course in the region will be a colossal letdown after teeing it up at Jack's Place. The only track that comes close is Longaberger ($64-$99; 740-763-1100, longabergergolfclub.com) in Nashport, a 45-mile drive east that's worth the journey. At 7,243 yards, with Tour-level (if not Muirfield-level) conditioning, this Arthur Hills design succeeds on every level, from price to shot values. Most memorable are the 563-yard, par-5 4th that plummets 15 stories from tee to green, and the watery 444-yard, par-4 8th.
Columbus's second-tier publics are pretty strong, but I'm partial to the Donald Ross-designed Granville ($28-$55; 740-587-4653, granvillegolf.com), a layout that comes with both Old World charm and bargain basement prices. Dear Joe, I'll be traveling to London this summer. I'm looking to play a seaside links course at a reasonable price that's also within reasonable driving distance. I've looked into Prince's Golf Club in Sandwich and it seems to be a good course at a good price. Do you agree with that? What other courses would you suggest? —Sam Dostaler, Plainville, Conn. At $122 midweek, a price that includes coffee, a bacon roll and a gift bag, Prince's (£75-£85/$122-$139; 01144-1304-611118, princesgolfclub.co.uk) is certainly worth the 100-mile drive from London's Gatwick Airport. However, I'm not going to crown Prince's as the value king of England's southeast coast just yet. This 27-holer is a sturdy test and dishes out memorable views of Pegwell Bay, but it's not the same layout that witnessed Gene Sarazen's 1932 British Open win. That course was obliterated in World War II. While Prince's is separated only by a boundary fence from 2011 Open venue Royal St. George's, it's a low-profile, flattish layout without the giant sand hills and memorable holes of its neighbor.
If you can't swing Royal St. George's $245 green fee, then consider Royal Cinque Ports (£125-£150/$204-$245; 01144-1304-374007, royalcinqueports.com), 15 minutes south, in Deal. This two-time Open venue (1909 and 1920) serves up links delights in abundance, with topsy-turvy terrain, plateau and punchbowl greens and an ancient Roman road that parallels the par-4 12th. Dear Joe, I have a friend who lives in San Francisco, and I'm in San Diego. We're thinking of planning a three-day, five-round weekend golf trip somewhere in the middle. Do you have any suggestions on courses between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara? We're looking for value on all parts of the trip. —Michael Lilien, San Diego, Calif. Anchor your trip around Monarch Dunes in Nipomo ($35-$95; 805-343-9459, monarchdunes.com), 70 miles north of Santa Barbara. Sandy soil, coastal dunes, artfully positioned bunkers and eucalyptus trees that swat away stray shots spice the proceedings. Don't neglect the resort's par-3 course ($19-$30), a 12-hole layout with superb one-shotters and a set of wild greens.
Also check out La Purisima ($40-$110; 805-735-8395, lapurisimagolf.com) in Lompoc, a brute (75.6/143) from the 7,105-yard tips that can be walked for $40 after 2 p.m.; and the River Course at Alisal ($45-$72; 805-688-6042, rivercourse.com), where Miles and Jack from the wine-buddy movie Sideways struck their crooked shots and cursed Merlots.