Travelin’ Joe’s Guide to Family-Friendly Golf Resorts

October 1, 2009

Buddy trips, corporate retreats and couples escapes are pretty much self-explanatory. However, the classic family vacation is harder to define. We’ve all learned the painful lessons of sticking together 24/7, courtesy of Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” so perhaps the perfect parent/kid getaway is one that allows mom and dad their alone time while still offering tons of activities to share as a group, including golf. Flexibility and breathing room are keys to achieving family harmony — and good weather will help, too. Here are 10 golf resorts across the U.S. that offer myriad enticements for the whole gang.

1. Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Fla.; 407-939-6244,
With a staggering array of resorts to fit every budget and taste and 81 holes of golf, including the Magnolia, which hosts the PGA Tour’s Children’s Miracle Network Classic, the Disney experience is as magical for grown-ups as it is for kids. Check out the Mickey Mouse-shaped bunker that guards the front-right of the green at Magnolia’s par-3 6th, but don’t miss the 9-hole Oak Trail course, a family-friendly, walking-only layout. A stroll around Oak Trail is the perfect respite from the endless energy that blankets the theme parks.

2. Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa, Maui, Hawaii; 800-888-6100,
The Wailea Canyon Activity Pool has waterslides, rapids, caves and rope-swings, and Camp Grande is a mini-resort for kids 5 to 12 years old. And then there’s the golf, four scenic courses that make Grand Wailea a haven for all ages. Families will embrace the Blue course, the oldest and gentlest of the Wailea offerings, but for the Maui-wow factor, try the Emerald or the Gold. Both sparkle, but the Emerald bursts with stunning flowers, shrubs and ocean views, while the Gold is the supreme test of golf. The resort also offers a video arcade, Nintendo game room, movie theater and whale watching.

3. Hershey Resorts, Hershey, Pa.; 800-HERSHEY,
How do you define sweetness for families? How about chocolate-factory tours, an amusement park next door and four courses that range from the West, site of the 1940 PGA Championship, to Spring Creek, a par-33 nine-holer. Built in the early 1930s, Spring Creek was originally known as Juvenile Country Club, the first course in the U.S. built specifically for juniors. Don’t worry about packing on extra calories — you’ll burn them off at the spa, or via HersheyPark, with its 11 roller coasters, 20 kids rides and countless water-play attractions.

4. Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C.; 800-654-2924,
Pete Dye’s brutal, beautiful Ocean Course is for mature family members only, but the other four layouts, 10 miles of private beach, 30 miles of walking and biking trails — plus history and sightseeing in nearby Charleston — are pure fun for all. Kayaking, nature tours, some of the nation’s best tennis and Kamp Kiawah for the younger set round out the offerings.

5. Amelia Island Plantation, Amelia Island, Fla.; 888-261-6161,
Four 18-hole courses, including two Pete Dye/Bobby Weed tracks and a semi-private Tom Fazio spread, make this northeast Florida retreat perfect for serious golfers, but the courses are friendly enough that you can definitely add them to the kids’ activities menu, the shortish Ocean Links in particular. Still, with the Atlantic Ocean to the resort’s east side and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west, you’ll spend much of your time in water — swimming, boating, fishing or simply staring while your kids frolic and you finish your beach novel.

6. Kingsmill Resort & Spa, Williamsburg, Va.; 800-832-5665,
A new Marina, $6 golf for juniors at the par-3 Bray’s Links (including clubs) and free shuttles to Busch Gardens amusement park, Colonial Williamsburg and Water Country USA only tell part of the story. Three stout layouts, paced by Pete Dye’s River course, a long-time PGA and LPGA Tour site, complete the other part, but the scenic, historical fun you’ll have along the James River is unmatched.

7. Palmetto Dunes Resort, Hilton Head Island, S.C.; 800-327-3006,
Oceanside Marriott and Hilton hotels, roomy rental homes and villas, superb beaches, lagoon-exploring kayaks and outstanding shopping and dining at Shelter Cove Marina get the family fun started. Access to five courses is another plus, including the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course, whose par-5 10th hole overlooks the Atlantic. It’s 7,000 yards from the tips, but a special set of black tees up front allows your young ones to tee it up at 2,625 yards. If the golf doesn’t grab your kids, maybe sport crabbing alongside the salt marshes will.

8. Sunriver Resort, Sunriver, Ore.; 800-801-8765,
Sunriver’s hard to beat. Fort Funnigan features themed daily activities for ages 3-10, older kids can go on guided adventures, and other activities include flyfishing, soaring, biking, whitewater rafting and horseback riding. The resort has three championship courses, including Crosswater, host to a Champions Tour major, and Caldera Links, a Bob Cupp-designed 9-holer with yardages ranging from 70-150. It’s the Pacific Northwest’s ultimate family golf vacation.

9. Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, Ariz.; 800-354-5892,
Multiple pools, a 110-foot-long water slide and a 900-foot-long Lazy River float will cool you off at this family-friendly desert resort that’s in the heart of North Scottsdale’s best shopping and dining. Kids get a special check-in, a special activities list and special tees and fees on the Mesquite nine, one of three Scott Miller-designed nines at Kierland Golf Club next door. A block away is CrackerJax, with miniature golf, go-karts, batting cages and bumper boats.

10. The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo.; 719-577-5775,
This legendary 90-year-old Rockies resort boasts a stellar three-course lineup, featuring layouts by Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Nicklaus Design (the East course hosted the 2008 U.S. Senior Open and will host the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open). But the family attractions are even more impressive. Begin with a movie theater, horseback trail rides, bicycle and paddleboat rentals and the Slide Mountain waterslide. Top it off with the Bee Bunch Camp for ages 3-12, an actual zoo next door and a ride up the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to a 14,000-foot summit.

Know of any other golf resorts that are perfect for family vacations? Leave your suggestions in the comments area below.