Ask Travelin’ Joe
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I will be staying at an airport hotel in Denver. Can you recommend courses close to the airport that won’t cost an arm and a leg to get to? — Wayne S., North Dakota
There are a handful of courses that are close to the flight paths and won’t bruise your wallet. Your first option is “the Murph,” which is what locals call Murphy Creek Golf Course (golfaurora.com, 303-361-7300; $34-$56). It’s only 10 minutes from Denver International Airport down E-470 and its rustic flavor will make you quickly forget those slow-moving security lines.
Ken Kavanaugh designed Murphy Creek in 1999 in “prairie links” style, a decent euphemism for a flattish, breezy, mostly treeless tract dotted with sprawling bunkers, tall golden fescues and rusted farm implements that hearken back to the land’s days as a working ranch. Nick Faldo set the early course record of 69 and compared the course favorably to Nebraska’s Sand Hills Club. Today, scattered houses have diminished the ambiance — and ended comparisons to Sand Hills — but the 7,456-yard test has enough credibility to have earned the host role for the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
After that, try Buffalo Run Golf Course (golfexperience.com/buffalorun, 303-289-1500; $40-$61), a 1996 Keith Foster layout just west of the airport. Don’t look for a lot of shade trees here, either, but its 7,411 yards, with multiple mounds and 65 bunkers will keep things lively throughout. Trivia buffs should note that Buffalo Run will host the storied Denver Open in July, an event that was once a PGA Tour stop, won by the likes of Ben Hogan and Chi Chi Rodriguez.
A worthy third alternative is Green Valley Ranch Golf Club (gvrgolf.com, 303-371-3131; $40-$71), nine miles from DIA. Perry Dye’s 2001 design is laced with creeks, wetlands and sturdy cottonwoods and offers a sufficiently hefty challenge that it has hosted the Colorado Open. If time is short, a nine-hole par-3 course awaits, though if you’re looking simply to hone your swing, check out the on-site Mike McGetrick Golf Academy. McGetrick is a long-time member of GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers.
I go to Sandestin every year and always play the same courses, Sandestin Resort, Santa Rosa Beach and Windswept Dunes. Can you recommend other courses in the area to play? — Jeff W.
If you skipped Sandestin’s Baytowne last year, you should know it has been refurbished by architect Tom Jackson to enhance conditioning, playability and drama. It also offers free golf and rental clubs to kids 12 and under, who get their own set of tees (3,002 yards) and yardage book. Of course, Sandestin’s Raven, which this week hosts the Champions Tour’s Boeing Championship, rules the roost.
One nearby track that you ought to explore is Camp Creek Golf Club in Panama City Beach (campcreekflorida.com, 850-231-7600; $175), though you’ll need to stay at a the Watercolor or WaterSound resorts. With no homes or roads on this gorgeous Tom Fazio design, it’s worth the extra dough if you enjoy a back-to-nature experience with a quick pace of play.
For a solid combination of beauty and brawn, check out Kelly Plantation (kellyplantation.com, 850-650-7600; $130) and Regatta Bay (regattabay.com, 850-337-8080; $59-$124). Regatta Bay is a true brute from the back, with its 149 slope and a watery par-5 18th that sets the tone for the course. Fred Couples and Gene Bates sculpted Kelly Plantation along the shores of Choctawatchee Bay, but it’s the woods and wetlands that will force most of the re-loads.
Finally, if you don’t mind backtracking towards Pensacola, give The Moors (moors.com, 850-995-4653; $39-$49) a spin. The region’s best bargain is situated in Milton and its pseudo-Scottish design, complete with mounds, pot bunkers and native grasses, actually works pretty well in this part of Florida. Raymond Floyd, Gil Morgan and Lee Trevino all won Senior Tour events here.
I’m off to Maui next month for a family vacation where I will be able to play perhaps only one round of golf. If I can play just one course, am I better off playing in Wailea, where we’re staying, or is the Plantation course in Kapalua so much better that it’s worth the extra money and the drive up north? And of the courses in Wailea, which do you most recommend? — Scott H.
This is like picking your favorite Sports Illustrated swimsuit model — there’s no dog in the pound, so to speak. I’m a huge fan of Kapalua’s Plantation (kapaluamaui.com, 808-669-8044; $295 for outside guests), because it goes way beyond the typical Hawaiian track. This early Coore-Crenshaw design (1991) that hosts the pros each January is just so remarkable and different. The broad sideslopes, windy conditions and greens that require a translator aren’t for everyone, but if you want to tee it up at a course unlike anything you’ve ever played, make the effort.
On the other hand, Wailea Resort (wailea-resort.com) has made a comfortable home among GOLF Magazine’s Gold Medal resorts in recent years, so it goes without saying that the golf offerings are worth rolling out of bed for. But I’m on the fence as to which of the three courses — Blue, Emerald and Gold — you should play. The Gold (waileagolf.com, 808-875-7450; $130-$200) played host to the Senior Skins Game for several years and is the toughest track, but the Emerald ($130-$200) is the prettiest. Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed them both. If you skip Kapalua, maybe you can squeeze them both in.