The Top 5 Golf Destinations in the US (Where You Can Actually Play)Published on 03/14/2023 · 10 min readGolf expert Carson Makin shares his top five golf destinations in the US.
Photo courtesy of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
There are many ways to describe the year of 2020; my personal favorite is Dumpster Fire. The virus has put a hold on so many of the things we hold dear. The days of enjoying a beer with some friends at a brewery, going to see a killer band perform in front of a packed house, or going on your annual family vacation to your favorite resort are all starting to become foggy memories.
Those who love the game of golf have plenty of opportunities before them to make great memories, even in these troubled times. It didn’t take much tinkering to conform golf to social distancing guidelines, resulting in countless birdies, pars, and probably even more bogies being scored this year. I used this year to play a lot and made golf my reason to travel. Courses were open everywhere I went, and I was allowed to bring my buddies (as long as we all got our own cart).
Golf trips became the high point of my year, and they have inspired me to write this article for those who may want to venture out with their friends and family and make the most out of the hand that COVID-19 has dealt us. What follows are my top five golf destinations within the United States. No green jacket is required to tee off at these gorgeous settings and are all bursting with entertainment, with multiple courses and plenty of other amenities to keep everyone having a blast during and between rounds. Let the golf excursion begin!
1: Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon, Ore.
Some may say that I’m biased putting Bandon Dunes as my top golf destination in the country, seeing as Oregon is my home state. I do possess an odd sense of pride having a resort of this level of absolute golfing brilliance within a day’s drive of my home course, but Bandon Dunes has earned this right in every way and is consistently recognized as boasting some of the best golf in the world by many of the most highly-esteemed names in the industry.
Set in the small, southern coastal town from which it garners its name, the resort first opened its clubhouse doors for play in 1999. Bandon immediately broke the status quo for what it takes to make a great luxury golf resort. It embraced the harsh coastal weather and rugged landscape, held firm to a walking-only directive, and created a unique character that blended its rural roots and the gentleman’s game perfectly.
Over the past 20 years, the resort has flourished; it now has five full links-style, 18-hole courses with a sixth 13-hole par-3 course, and a 100,000 square foot putting green. The newest full course, Sheep Ranch, opened earlier this spring to rave reviews and has already joined the other four full courses in GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 rankings.
Be sure to get the most of the experience and take a caddy for the loop. Walking courses with caddies are few and far between these days, and it’s an authentic golf experience that will make any duffer feel like a tour pro. Get up early and play all day too: your second round is half-off and your third is on the house!
Rates vary wildly depending on season, replay rates, and lodging options, but there are considerable discounts for those staying at the resort. There are 186 different rooms including “The Grove” cottages that each have four bedrooms, each room with a king-size bed and its own bathroom and parlor. Between rounds, be sure to check out one of the stunning walking trails that are scattered throughout the property or go get a bite to eat at one of the six restaurants or bars. The Bunker Bar keeps its doors open late for those night owls looking to catch a buzz.
Overall, Bandon Dune is a one-of-a-kind golf experience that should be on any golfer’s bucket list. Get your way out there next summer and you may catch a glimpse of me losing some balls within its breathtaking beauty.
2. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.
It was challenging, to say the least, to not rank Pebble Beach first on my list. It’s widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and storied courses in the world. I ended up choosing Bandon as number one because I felt like it’s a more one-of-a-kind experience and it’s also much more affordable. At the original Pebble Beach course, 18-hole rounds with a cart are north of $600, and though the other courses are more affordable, they do not offer any discounted rates if you decide to get in a 36- or 54-hole day. Stay-and-play rates will hit the wallet even more, starting at $1370.
Though pricey, Pebble Beach is well worth the money for most avid golfers. Pebble Beach Golf Links on its own may be the greatest public course anywhere, and the other courses at the resort are nothing to scoff at either. When the original architect, Jack Neville, built the course, he tried to keep his alteration of the site minimal. Because of this, you really do get a sense of the fact that you are playing the game you love at one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Combine that with the painstaking attention to detail they put into every aspect of the resort and that hefty price tag quickly starts to feel a whole lot lighter.
The luxury of Pebble Beach expands far beyond golf. In addition to the five courses, there are three different hotels with over 500 rooms—some even come with cozy in-room fireplaces to relax after a long day of losing balls. There are also 15 different restaurants, a spa, fitness center, three separate pools, tennis courts, and even horseback riding. Be sure to sit by the fire pits with a cocktail at the Inn at Spanish Bay and listen to the bagpiper play every night before sunset.
3. Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, N.C.
Pinehurst is one of the oldest courses in the United States, and many would equate it as the St Andrews of the States. Steeped in history, Pinehurst has held many of the biggest tournaments that we look forward to every year, including three U.S. Opens, and it’s slated to hold an additional five more through 2047. If you dig golf history as much as I do, be sure to check out the Ryder Cup Lounge where you can immerse yourself in memories of golf’s past.
You would need at least three full days to make your way through Pinehurst’s courses. By full, I mean to the brim—I’m talking 54-hole days. There are NINE different 18-hole courses, all simply referred to by a number. There is also an 18-hole putting course called Thistle Dhu, and the newest addition from 2017, The Cradle, which is a 9-hole par-3 course. The Cradle has been immensely popular, as it only costs $50 to play and replays are free. If you prefer to watch, there is a grassy overlook above the course with lawn chairs to relax in. Pinehurst #2 is the resort's most famous course, designed by legendary architect Donald Ross. It is considered to be his best work. Birdie any of the courses’ par-3's and a free pint will be waiting for you at the 19th-hole: The Deuce. Stay-and-play rates for Pinehurst start at $450.
The resort offers over 350 rooms and condos, eight restaurants, and a spa. There are three championship croquet courses and the resort even employs a croquet pro full-time. To continue with the lawn game fun, there is also lawn bowling to keep you entertained after getting your holes in on the course.
4. The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo.
While the other resorts on this list are more like golf resorts with other amenities, The Broadmoor is a magnificent resort that includes some amazing golf. While golf has been present for pretty much the entirety of The Broadmoor’s existence, the resort offers so much beyond golf that you could spend many hours enjoying the various amenities it offers without ever teeing off. That being said, the golf experience is absolutely world-class and therefore it easily makes this list.
There are two courses on the resort: The East Course and The West Course. They were also designed by Donald Ross and another all-time great designer, Robert Trent Jones Sr. Both are awe-inspiring courses due to their design and mountain setting. The East Course is the more challenging of the two, having hosted many big-name tournaments. Jack Nicklaus recorded his first major tournament win there by beating out the competition for the 1959 U.S. Amateur at age 19. His design company went on to renovate the third Mountain Course in 2006, which was ultimately closed in 2016 after a landslide. Stay and play rates start at $775.
The Broadmoor does an astounding job of blending the rustic feel of its mountain setting with absolute luxury. They really do everything right. They have 784 rooms with different designs for you to choose from and so many other amenities it would be hard to list all of them. To name a few, there are ten restaurants, a spa, fitness center, two pools, and tennis courts. Be sure to also check out the bowling alley, fire pits that encourage you to become a s'mores chef, and, if you’re looking for an authentic Colorado-wilderness experience, there are three different lodging outposts that offer activities to make you feel like you were a home-grown country boy or girl.
5. Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C.
Kiawah Island is the epitome of beauty and sport that you expect when you think of a top-end golf resort. The 158 square mile island is located 25 miles southwest of Charleston and is home to just below 2,000 lucky souls. The resort is home to five superb golf courses, and like The Broadmoor it also hosts a slew of activities off the course.
The Ocean Course is the most famous of the five courses; the Pete-Dye-designed course is the home of so many PGA Tour and Ryder Cup memories that you will feel like you’re teeing off on hallowed ground. The other four courses have come into their own in recent years as renovations and improvements have been made, but improvements aside, the list of architects who brought their ideas to the island should be enough to make any one of the courses a must-play. Ocean Course by Pete Dye, Turtle Point by Jack Nicklaus, Oak Point by Clyde Johnson, Cougar Point by Gary Player, and Osprey Point by Tom Fazio. If that’s not impressive enough, stay-and-play rates start at $235. Please, let that sink in and then proceed to book your stay.
There’s no shortage of places to stay on the island. There are 242 rooms, along with 13 suites, 400 villas, and even 90 homes if you want to bring the whole extended family! In addition to the five courses, there are 15 restaurants and bars, a spa, pool, tennis courts, and fitness center. There’s never a shortage of ways to pass the time without your clubs. There’s world-class fishing provided by the Inshore Fishing Charter and over 10 miles of coastline that wins awards year in and year out if you want to get rid of that golf-polo tan line.
Someday, this virus will fade into the history books (sooner than later, I hope) and we will be able to look at it as a minor setback while we move forward as steady as ever. I know I will be celebrating by taking a golf trip with the boys: mask-free, sharing a cart, and pulling every flagstick on every green. I hope you do the same, and I hope this list has helped steer you in the direction of which resort you escape to. Bandon is right in my backyard so I know I will be making my way over there again first, but conquering every single hole and every single one of these courses is on my bucket list. If you have any questions about finding the perfect gear to hit the green, reach out to a Golf expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.