Dear Joe: In April, my buddies and I are heading to Phoenix for our annual golf trip. We've played the Scottsdale trophy courses, so this year we want to add an undiscovered gem that's also a good value, and we'll drive up to an hour. Any ideas? —Roger McManus, Surrey, B.C.
The Valley of the Sun is full of terrific second-tier tracks that deliver top-tier value. Southern Dunes ($49-$199; 480-367-8949, golfsoutherndunes.com), a Schmidt-Curley creation (with Fred Couples consulting) in Maricopa, 30 minutes south of the Phoenix airport, is a muscular 2002 design with sprawling bunkers, fescue-framed fairways and nary a weak hole. Once private, it's now a public-access amenity of the nearby Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino.
A 45-minute westward haul is Quintero ($75-$225; 928-501-1500, quinterogolf.com), a potent Rees Jones design that stimulates the senses with dramatic climbs and drops and a pristine desert environment (Pictured).
I also enjoy Gold Canyon's Dinosaur Mountain ($49-$199; 480-982-9090, gcgr.com), a Ken Kavanaugh product 50 minutes east of Phoenix in the heart of the Superstition Mountains.
Hi Joe: My husband and I are looking for a golf resort and spa in the San Francisco area. Do you have a favorite? —Lois Bauer, Shaker Heights, Ohio
From resorts to crackers, I love anything with "Ritz" in the name. Along with superb service, the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay (650-712-7000, ritzcarlton.com/halfmoonbay), 45 minutes south of downtown, has the Ocean Course ($160-$205, 650-726-1800, halfmoonbaygolf.com), a Pebble-like layout along the Pacific.
For a warmer, inland splurge just 90 minutes from San Francisco, try CordeValle, a Rosewood Resort (408-695-4500, cordevalle.com). The hilly, vineyard setting is a sublime backdrop for the property's Robert Trent Jones Jr. design ($195-$225, plus caddie fee), which hosts the PGA Tour's Frys.com Open.
Hey Joe: What are the "can't-miss" courses in the greater Tampa area? We're eight guys, and we prefer tough courses. Bring it on! —Ed Schultz, Reading, Pa.
While many quality layouts await on the Gulf side of central Florida, "can't miss" implies something more memorable. Start with Innisbrook's Copperhead ($140-$245; 727-942-2000, innisbrookgolfresort.com). It has unusual (for Florida) elevation changes, towering Carolina-style pines and propped-up greens fortified by sand and water. It's stern but fair. Its watery sibling, the Island, was a strong enough test to host the 1990 NCAA Championship, won by Phil Mickelson. Add two more respectable 18s and a resort that's perfect for buddy trips and you've got an ideal spot.
If you're up for a day trip, drive 90 minutes north to World Woods ($69-$79 for April; $39 twilight); 352-796-5500, worldwoods.com) or 90 minutes east to Streamsong ($115-$225; 863-354-6980, streamsongresort.com), two of the greatest 36-hole public complexes in the country.
Dear Joe: I'm planning a long weekend getaway with the family. Priorities? Great golf for me and fun distractions for the kids. I'd prefer a half-day drive or less. What say you? —John Tucker, Greensboro, N.C.
John, I say this: Take thy brood to Williamsburg, Va., roughly a four-hour drive from Greensboro. The Gold course at Colonial Williamsburg's Golden Horseshoe Golf Club ($65-$169; 757-220-7696, colonialwilliamsburg.com), which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2013, serves up four simply fantastic par 3s from Robert Trent Jones Sr., while Jones's Spotswood at Golden Horseshoe, a nine-hole, par-31 delight, is a terrific value at $39.
Next door, your kids can experience the unparalleled history experience that is Colonial Williamsburg, amid cobblestone streets, 18th-century taverns, and artisans and character interpreters clothed in period dress.
Minutes away is Kingsmill Resort, which was home to the PGA Tour for more than 20 years. Three excellent courses await, including the Pete Dye–designed River course ($70-$190; 800-832-5665, kingsmill.com). You're also next to Busch Gardens, a 383-acre amusement park with more than 100 rides and attractions.
(Photo: Courtesy of Quintero)