Travelin’ Joe has played more than 1,300 golf courses, but some things never change: I’m still blown away by the sheer volume in Myrtle Beach, I still hyperventilate when I arrive in St. Andrews, and my heart rate still quickens when I turn onto 17-Mile Drive near Pebble Beach. But in my travels I’ve learned that there’s plenty of terrific golf lurking beyond the obvious trophy courses. Here are my favorite American destinations for that sublime mix of relaxed ambience and quality, affordable golf.
Most of the glory in Arizona goes to Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson, but you’ll enjoy a golf feast in the high desert of Sedona. The best course in town is Sedona Golf Resort ($59-$105; 928-284-9355, sedonagolfresort.com), a 1989 Gary Panks design that boasts the best red-rock view for your money from the tee box at the 210-yard 10th.
The aesthetic in Prescott is more refined Wild West, with a touch of Victorian thrown in. Noted for its infamous Whiskey Row, Prescott was once capital of the Arizona Territory. Today, it’s a four-season escape. You should bolt to Stoneridge Golf Course ($33-$69; 928-772-6500, stoneridgegolf.com), a Randy Heckenkemper track that boasts several memorable forced-carry par-3s.
It’s worth the 7,000-foot climb in elevation to Flagstaff, where summer daytime highs are routinely 30 degrees chillier than Phoenix. Public golf is in short supply, so I like to drive 30 minutes west to Williams (where you can catch the train to the Grand Canyon) and play Elephant Rocks ($26-$54; 928-635-4935, elephant-rocks.com), a wonderful blend of nine 80-year-old forested holes and nine modern meadow holes.
Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Two hours north of the Twin Cities lies Grand View Lodge, one of the most underrated golf destinations in the U.S. Deacon’s Lodge at Grand View Lodge ($50-$109; 218-562-6262, deaconslodge.com) in Nisswa is the region’s best public track, ranked No. 81 on our Top 100 Courses You Can Play.
But it has a ton of competition, including the Classic at Madden’s Resort in Brainerd ($99-$114; 218-829-2811, maddens.com), where sixty feet of elevation change and several “Wow!” holes along Bass Lake define the experience. For more traditional golf, there’s Madden’s Pine Beach East and West courses, Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge, and Breezy Point’s two tracks. You’ll find golf that’s plenty scenic, but that won’t beat you up.
Two unforgettable courses are Kebo Valley ($85-$110; 207-288-3000, kebovalleyclub.com) on Mount Desert Island and Northeast Harbor Golf Club ($45-$109; 207-276-5335, nehgc.com), just 5,504 yards long but with trees taller than a skyscraper.
Alabama has the RTJ Golf Trail, but for variety and affordability, Mississippi gets my nod. Set your GPS for the Azaleas Course at Dancing Rabbit ($60-$150; 601-663-0011, dancingrabbitgolf.com), a Tom Fazio/Jerry Pate design.
The Dogwoods Golf Course at Hugh White State Park ($29-$39; 662-226-4123, dogwoodsgolf.com) is memorably tranquil, but you’ll also love rably Mallard Pointe in Sardis ($33-$43; 662-487-2400, mallardpointegc.com), a Bob Cupp design that rolls over tumbling terrain.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio has the richest golf heritage in a state known for it. The best public golf in town can be found at the two courses at the Westin La Cantera ($125-$150; 800-446-5387, lacanteragolfclub.com).
I’m also a fan of the Hyatt Hill Country Resort ($135; 210-520-4040, hillcountry.hyatt.com), an Arthur Hills-designed 27-holer.