Ask Travelin’ Joe: Where should I play on my way home from the Masters?
This week our courses and travel expert Joe Passov answers your questions on Chicagoland golf, how to nab a tee time at Pebble Beach, some swanky Hawaii tracks and more. Got a question about courses, travel or resorts? Visit our Facebook or Twitter page to send them our way.
My bachelor party will be in the Chicagoland area on Cinco de Mayo (Oh boy!) There’s 20 of us looking for a place to play. What do you got for us? — @Jonnunez630 on Instagram
First, congrats on your upcoming nuptials. Does your bride-to-be know you play golf? Either way, I wish you had been more specific about your price range, location preference and skill level of your group. The Chicago area is awash in remarkable public-access tracks. Since we’re flying a little blind in the Windy City, I’ll toss out a variety of options.
If superb service, conditions, an excellent Tom Fazio design and a terrific place to eat and drink at, the Glen Club ($100-$195; theglenclub.com) in Glenview tops the list. It’s pricey but it scores exceptionally high on the “special occasion” meter.
For serious Tour cachet — and flexibility — check out Cog Hill ($47-$155; coghillgolf.com), in the southwestern suburb of Lemont. If you and your group can handle a long, strong, brutally bunkered test, Cog Hill No. 4 puts you in famous footsteps. It was home to the Tour’s Western Open/BMW Championship 20 times from 1991 to 2011 and saw Tiger Woods win five times. The good news for you and your pals is that if No. 4 sounds too challenging and time-consuming, there are three other courses on-site that aren’t as rugged, and yet you can still bask in the glow of Tiger and the Tour.
If you are more inclined to stay close to downtown, Harborside International Golf Center ($49-$98; harborsidegolf.com) is ideal. Harborside International features two faux-links courses near the downtown loop. Both are Dick Nugent designs draped atop landfill sites that serve up breeze-fueled shotmaking challenges and outstanding views of the city skyline. The Port and Starboard courses offer near-equal experiences in challenge and scenery. The Port played host to the Champions Tour in 2002, when Ben Crenshaw compared it to Muirfield in Scotland and its par-3 sixth hole witnessed an ace by former president Bill Clinton in 2001. The Pier at Harborside will nicely handle your food and beverage cravings, and for your bachelor party buds, the club engages Windy City Limousine to assist with transportation.
We will be heading to Augusta in April to watch a round at the Masters. We are looking to set up a couple of places to play on our way home along Interstate 77 in the Columbia/Charlotte areas on our trip home to Ontario. What are your recommendations for places to stay/golf? — @Curtrob316 on Instagram
You’ve picked two fine cities to explore on your way back from Augusta. Unfortunately, neither one has mastered the art of great public golf. Columbia, S.C. may have been the stomping grounds for golf-loving football coaches Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier, but there are no Hall-of-Famers around where you can pay a green fee and tee it up. Try Northwoods ($20-$49; northwoodsgolfsc.com), a P.B. Dye creation peppered with mounds, deep bunkers and wildly undulating greens or perhaps Oak Hills ($26-$40 or $40-$75 during Masters week; oakhillsgolf.com), a hilly, wooded layout co-designed by Steve Melnyk and Davis Love III.
Charlotte boasts some outstanding private clubs, including PGA Championship and Tour venue Quail Hollow, but for public putters, pickings are slimmer. The best place to stay and play is the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge ($179-$499; theballantynehotel.com), which is home to the Golf Club at Ballantyne ($62-$82). This wooded, mounded layout zigzags through office buildings and dishes out a rugged finish, a 420-yard, par-4 dogleg left that calls for a drive over a creek, followed by an approach that flirts with a lake. This urban oasis is also home to the acclaimed Dana Rader Golf School, as well as an outstanding spa, fitness and dining experiences. A solid backup is Birkdale Golf Club ($35-$59; birkdale.com), a 7,013-yard, 1997 Arnold Palmer product.
My wife and I didn’t get to have a honeymoon. So, we’re going to plan a Pebble Beach trip. Hoping to make it out there in June. Besides Pebble, where else should we look to play in the surrounding area? — Cvogolf on Instagram
I would look for a good marital counselor if you intend on approaching Pebble Beach in such a cavalier fashion. As I’ve stated — and cautioned — before, getting onto Pebble requires some extra knowledge and extra effort. You must stay at one of the Pebble Beach Resorts properties (The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay, Casa Palmero, Fairway One at The Lodge; $790-$6,940; pebblebeach.com) to play there with advanced bookings, and you need to stay two nights to have the chance for advance booking for one round at Pebble. And I say, “have the chance,” because guests can book up to 18 months in advance at The Lodge, Fairway One and at Spanish Bay, 12 months at Casa Palmero, and prime tee times are snapped up quickly, even with the $525 green fee. If you’re playing as a single, it’s possible to join up with a group on the day you want to play. That’s much tougher to do as a twosome, so best advice is book a stay at Pebble — hey, it is your honeymoon — and lock in your golf right away.
For maximum scenery and challenge, pick Spyglass Hill ($395; pebblebeach.com) and Spanish Bay ($290; pebblebeach.com), in that order, for the best public-access golf besides Pebble. Poppy Hills ($250; poppyhillsgolf.com, home course to the Northern California Golf Association) doesn’t touch the ocean like Pebble, Spyglass and Spanish Bay, but it’s a handsome, enjoyable test that was recently renovated for the better by original architect Robert Trent Jones II.
To escape the occasional “June Gloom” a misty, persistent fog that can blanket the California coast, head inland for Carmel Valley Ranch ($95-$175; carmelvalleyranch.com) a hilly 1981 Pete Dye creation and Quail Lodge ($70-$185; quaillodge.com), a tranquil test recently tweaked by architect Todd Eckenrode.
Finally, the top bargain in the region is also one of the best values in America — Pacific Grove Golf Links ($30-$70; playpacificgrove.com). You’ll treasure the Scottish-style back nine, complete with lighthouse, that straddles the sea. Two other fairly priced area layouts are Bayonet and Blackhorse ($145; bayonetblackhorse.com) in Seaside, which feature bold bunkering and the occasional ocean view.
I have a group going out to Sedona, Arizona next month and we have the option to play Sedona Golf Resort or Oak Creek Country Club. Which should we play? — @Greg_Campbell3 on Twitter
I’m partial to both of them, even as I might be a bit biased. My dad (and mom) lived in Sedona for years and Dad took his final breath at Sedona Golf Resort in 2016, where he worked part-time as a ranger. It was awful losing him, but I had to marvel at the way he left us, playing golf with his best friend, looking out at the amazing red rock splendor that envelops the course. Sedona Golf Resort ($80-$125; sedonagolfresort.com) has a few quirky holes, a few others that are plain Janes, but also boasts a fistful of memorable, elevation-filled treats, notably the out-of-this-world par-3 10th. Oak Creek ($84-$104; oakcreekcc.com) resembles more traditional, tree-lined golf, and while the RTJ Sr./Jr. layout has no glaring weaknesses, it also doesn’t possess as many showstoppers.
Where should I play on Kauai, and what’s the best way to get my clubs there? Is there a specific travel bag for my clubs you would recommend getting? — @Nathangradyray on Instagram
Well, that’s three questions in one, but since you’re lucky enough to be heading to gorgeous Kauai, you deserve three answers. Here they are.
Wind-whipped, artfully trapped Poipu Bay ($179-$209; poipubaygolf.com) serves up an exclamation point-filled back nine, notably at the cliff-top, oceanside trio of holes 15, 16 and 17. Tiger Woods won the PGA’s Grand Slam of Golf here seven times in its 13-year-run, while Phil Mickelson once shot 59 in winning the 2004 event. One of Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s earliest and most spectacular creations, Makai at Princeville ($225-$295 [$65 to play the nine-hole Woods course]; makaigolf.com) sports risk/reward options, lush landscaping and Pacific encounters. Hokuala’s Ocean course ($136-$208; hokualakauai.com) features four consecutive oceanside holes and a Jack Nicklaus design.
If you’ve got status with the airline you’re flying, you should be pretty safe, although if you’re transferring through Honolulu, the record of timely transfers is a bit spotty, no matter what airline. If delayed clubs will cause a problem, try Ship Sticks (shipsticks.com), which offers secure, economical door-to-door service to most places on the globe.
Should you choose to check your bag, I’ll repeat what I said a few months ago: I’m a confirmed Club Glove guy ($249-$369; clubglove.com), though I’ve heard very good things about Sun Mountain’s ClubGlider ($249.99-$349.99; sunmountain.com).