No work & all play: GOLF’s top five retirement havens

October 15, 2016
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If your love of the game is as deep as your financial portfolio, here are the best places in the U.S. to swap out your wingtips for some Softspikes.

Yes, we’ve factored in the essential retirement criteria, such as security, proximity to quality healthcare and affordability. And we considered some trendy picks. (We see you, Asheville, North Carolina!) But when you get down to it, serious golfers entering retirement seek havens that meet four core musts: superior courses, climate that allows for year-round play (or close to it), stimulating culture and grade-A dining. Behold, the five destinations that best deliver on your retirement dream.

Pebble Beach, Calif.

You’ll need Fabergé-quality eggs lining your nest if you’re going to afford Pebble Beach (median home price: $1.4 million) or its well-to-do neighbor, Carmel-by-the-Sea ($1.1 million). That said, there’s no more glorious a setting in which to spend your money on life and golf. Cypress Point is a peerless private club and course, although its exclusivity is best expressed by Bob Hope, who said, “One year, Cypress had a big membership drive. They drove out 40 members.” In terms of quality, a remarkably worthy runner-up is Monterey Peninsula Country Club. But Pebble, the destination, is the main attraction. With its small-town feel, easy access to San Francisco and Santa Cruz, and close proximity to thriving Monterey, it spells perfection for golfers.

Top communities: Pebble Beach, Santa Lucia Preserve, Tehama
Best upscale courses you can play: Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay
Weather highlights: Moderate temperatures year-round, with average daytime highs of 60 degrees in December and January and 70 degrees in August, September and October.
Prime off-course activities: Monterey Bay Aquarium, Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row (in Monterey), shopping along Ocean Avenue and the side streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea, and wine tasting in Carmel Valley.
Three great restaurants: Passionfish pioneered sustainable, gourmet seafood in the region; the outdoor patios at Tarpy’s Roadhouse offer the area’s most atmospheric casual lunch; The Tap Room at the Lodge at Pebble Beach is golf’s greatest 19th Hole.

Hilton Head Island, S.C.

This semi-tropical barrier island is home to more than 400 golf holes, which twist through live oaks and pines and along tranquil lagoons and golden-hued marshes. Whether you’re on-island, on nearby Daufuskie Island, or off-island in understated Bluffton, the Lowcountry good life is always in evidence. You won’t see garish billboards, neon or high-rises here— just one handsome development after the next. Shopping, marinas, beaches, outstanding restaurants and a mild climate are among the attractions, with bicycling and horseback riding competing with numerous Top 100 courses for your get-in-the-swing time.

Top communities: Sea Pines, Colleton River Plantation, Palmetto Bluff, Berkeley Hall, Belfair, Long Cove Club, Spring Island
Best upscale courses you can play: Harbour Town, May River at Palmetto Bluff, Heron Point by Pete Dye, Palmetto Dunes
Weather highlights: Yes, it gets a little sticky in July and August, and can be brisk in December and January, with average highs around 59 degrees, but you can play year-round. Spring and fall are particularly ideal.
Prime off-course activities: With dozens of superb clay courts, it’s easy to see why Hilton Head is a tennis nirvana, too. Shopping and cultural options are quality over quantity, although sublimely charming Savannah is a mere 60 minutes away.
Three great restaurants: Old Fort Pub is great for sunset dining; Michael Anthony’s is tops for Italian; Links, an American Grill, is a new offering in the Harbour Town clubhouse, with a great wine selection and convenient location.

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Not that many years ago, Scottsdale was better known for its saddles and spurs than for its shopping and spas. Today, remnants of the town’s Western heritage mingle harmoniously with its treasure trove of pampering golf resorts, lively arts scene and array of clubs and restaurants. With more than 200 courses in the Greater Phoenix area, plus 300 days of sunshine and its unique desert terrain, this has long been a magnet for golf-minded retirees.

Top communities: Desert Mountain, Mirabel, Estancia, Desert Highlands, Silverleaf, Superstition Mountain, DC Ranch
Best upscale courses you can play: Troon North, We-Ko-Pa, TPC Scottsdale, Grayhawk, The Boulders
Weather highlights: Summer in the desert is H-O-T hot, with average highs of 100 degrees from June through September. Yet folks still tee it up— albeit early in the morning. The reward is eight remaining months of sublime climate, with warm days and cool nights.
Prime off-course activities: Pro sports abound, from the NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball (including spring training) to the largest-attended golf tournament in the world: the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Hiking options include Camelback Mountain and the Scottsdale Art Walk, where more than 100 galleries open their doors on Thursday nights.
Three great restaurants: La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval, at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, serves up gourmet Mexican fare in an elegant setting; Mastro’s Steakhouse dishes out clubby atmosphere and a 22 oz. bone-in rib eye accompanied by lobster mashed potatoes; Iron Chef America winner Beau MacMillan presides over Sanctuary on Camelback, with the accent on fresh ingredients and panoramic mountaintop views of the valley below.

Palm Beach, Fla.

The Palm Beaches, including Jupiter, Juno Beach and Hobe Sound to the north, has been one of America’s most prized retirement destinations since the invention of air conditioning. The region dazzles with robber baron–worthy homes, arts and culture, world-famous shopping, and a dizzying array of private golf experiences, including Seminole, Emerald Dunes, the Everglades Club and Trump International West Palm Beach.

Top communities: The Bear’s Club, BallenIsles, Admiral’s Cove, Trump Jupiter, Loxahatchee Club, The Medalist, Mirasol, Old Marsh, Old Palm
Best upscale courses you can play: PGA National (Champion), a private resort course; the Breakers (Rees Jones), also a private resort course
Weather highlights: If you can withstand humidity and frequent seasonal rains, the Palm Beach climate—certainly winter, spring and fall—is virtually unbeatable in the U.S. for golfers (and nearly anyone else).
Prime off-course activities: There’s no better place for shopaholics to indulge than on Worth Avenue, the gateway to credit-card heaven. At the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, you can breathe in the opulence of the Gilded Age; the industrialist’s Beaux Arts mansion includes spectacular furnishings, stunning artwork, and a private railcar. Or start a collection of your own—a seashell collection—with a walk along vast beaches.
Three great restaurants: For a happening happy-hour vibe and Italian food to match, Vic & Angelo’s succeeds brilliantly; the Flagler Steakhouse at the Breakers Hotel will satisfy the cravings of the most discriminating carnivore; no less impressive (but easier to get into) is Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill, just outside the gates of Seminole, in Juno Beach.

Austin, Tex.

The golf world got a taste of Texas’s capital city in the spring of 2016, when Austin Country Club hosted the WGC–Dell Match Play. The legacy of famed teacher Harvey Penick lives on in his Austin-based charges, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, who continue to spread the Austin golf gospel far and wide. While Austin isn’t a golf retirement haven on par with, say, Pebble and Palm Beach, its Hill Country terrain, cultural diversity, incredible eats, and peerless hipster energy make it a compelling draw for active retirees.

Top communities: Spanish Oaks, Barton Creek, Cimarron Hills
Best upscale courses you can play: Omni Barton Creek (Fazio Foothills and Fazio Canyons), Wolfdancer at Hyatt Lost Pines
Weather highlights: You won’t need a sweater in the summertime here—certainly not in July and August, when average highs are in the mid-90s. The rest of the year is ideal for golf, especially April and October.
Prime off-course activities: Don your burnt orange and partake of the offerings at the University of Texas. Renowned for its sports programs, the school is also home to the artifact-filled Harry Ransom Center (which houses the Gutenberg Bible) and the LBJ Presidential Library. Barhopping and nonstop live music attract the young and young-at-heart to SoCo (South Congress) and rollicking Sixth Street.
Three great restaurants: Bob’s Steak and Chop House serves up Texas-sized slabs of beef just blocks from the state capitol; Mandola’s Italian Market, next to UT, offers superb manicotti and a side of great vibe; the Salt Lick, a short drive west, features ribs and brisket so tasty Crenshaw provided it for one of his Masters Champions Dinners.