Authors Posts by Joel Zuckerman

Joel Zuckerman

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Veteran golf and travel writer Joel Zuckerman has played 900 golf courses in more than 40 states and 15 countries. The eight books he's written to date include two named as Book of the Year by the International Network of Golf. In addition to his books, he's also contributed to more than 100 publications, including virtually every major golf magazine. He lives in Utah and Georgia.

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Old American Golf Club

If you’re not one of the nearly 28 million people who reside there, you might not agree with the statement, ‘It’s Better in Texas.”

However the state that gave us Hogan, Nelson, Kite, Crenshaw, Trevino and Spieth, (not to mention Kathy Whitworth and Babe Zaharias) does stake a claim for some of the nation’s finest public golf, particularly around Dallas. Here’s three courses to consider next time you’re inclined to plant a tee in ‘Big D’.

Cowboys Golf Club

Cowboys Golf Club
Cowboys Golf Club

This is undoubtedly one of the most sought-after tee times in the city, for both golfers and gourmands. We’ll discuss the former shortly, but for the price of a greens fee, this unique facility offers patrons the ability to eat-and-drink pretty much non-stop upon arrival. (Alcohol, cigars and gratuities are emphatically not included!) It’s also a treasure trove of Dallas Cowboy memorabilia, including replica Super Bowl trophies and rings, plaques at each hole with nuggets of team history, and plenty more. So it’s got the sizzle, but (pun intended) what about the steak?

This Jeffrey Brauer design dating from 2001 has myriad elements that make for a great stick-and-ball adventure. Players have to navigate around trees, waterways and natural habitats, negotiate dramatic elevation changes, forced carries, dog legs, treacherous bunkers, and deal with the frustrations endemic in contoured fairways and puzzling greens. Not to disregard the seventeen challenges preceding it, but the home hole is a beguiling par-5 with a fairway that twists and turns through a minefield of creative bunkering; half-a-dozen within a wedge’s distance of the green. It’s enough to make a player want to go marching back to the first tee to start again.

Old American Golf Club

Old American Golf Club
Old American Golf Club

Owing to the endless sprawl of the Dallas Metro-plex, many of the dozens of daily fee options available don’t allow the player to escape the urban environment. In other words, the ball might be on the grass, but the surrounding atmosphere is rife with apartment buildings, roadways and other signs of city life. Not so at Old American. This Tripp Davis design, in conjunction with twelve-time PGA Tour winner (and Dallas native) Justin Leonard, is routed by the shores of beautiful Lewisville Lake. It features waving stands of native grasses, abundant flora, and wildlife habitats throughout. Golfers might encounter wild turkey, deer, coyotes and birds, such as the Red Tail Hawk, which nests in the immense oaks to the left of the thirteenth and the right of the sixteenth hole.

However beyond the pastoral nature of the property, it’s the anachronistic, timeless feel of the course that has won so many kudos. (In other words, the course name was well chosen.) The bunkering is in a throwback style, hearkening back to the ‘Golden Age’ of course design in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Nothing uniform or ‘cookie cutter’ about them, they have an organic feel, and sometimes the lies are perfect, and other times penal. Subtle touches like a steel railroad bridge and a beautifully restored barn, both dating from the early part of the previous century, help reaffirm the throwback feel that makes Old American such a unique experience in the heart of one of the nation’s busiest cities.

Texas Star Golf Course

Texas Star Golf Course
Texas Star Golf Course

It’s a bold moniker, to be sure. However this impressive facility, not far from the airport and curiously located amidst an industrial area, lives up to its name. This Keith Foster design from 1997 isn’t a brute length-wise, it tops out at a shade over 6,900 yards. But the course is rife with challenges, including encroaching water on a trio of holes on both the outward and inward nine. Foster made wonderful use of these 275 acres of rolling terrain, featuring Hurricane Creek, hundred year old oaks and natural woodlands and tall native grasses.

Holes with names are generally the purview of courses in the UK and Ireland, stateside we are primarily subjected to numerals only. Happily, Texas Star uses more imagination, so beware of the eleventh, known as Double Barrel. It’s barely 340 yards long, but there are three bunkers surrounded by thick grass on a ridge in the middle of the fairway. The fifteenth is called Battle Cry, another modest-length par-4, with a waterfall centerpiece. Presidio follows, a picturesque, downhill par-3, featuring a stacked rock wall edging the creek on the right.

Dallas-area vegans are as rare as a hole-in-one. At least they ought to be, considering the superb barbecue at their disposal! Try Pecan Lodge, in memorably-named Deep Ellum. The handmade sausage and brisket have their ardent devotees, but some swear by the Hot Mess, featuring barbacoa, cheese, onions and butter with a jumbo sweet potato. You have to love a place like Cattleack simply for the name. It’s a real Cadillac among the myriad Fords and Chevys serving smoked meats throughout the city. No need to choose between all the delectable offerings. Just order the famed ‘Toddfather’ Sandwich, and enjoy brisket, pulled pork and a hot link simultaneously. Finally, the Lockhart Smokehouse, with their counter service and use of butcher paper, has a cult following that extends across the state, the nation and even to Europe. As they like to say, no forks, no sauce, no problem! Ribs, chops, brisket, pork; doesn’t matter. If you need a cleaver to prepare it, it’s going to be served at Lockhart’s, and it’s going to be delicious!

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Stonebridge
Stonebridge

Salt Lake City offers some of the most diverse recreation options in the nation. Most famous for its world-class skiing, the area has also become a hotbed for mountain biking, hiking, fishing, rafting and all manner of outdoor pursuits.

Park City
Park City

Springtime is certainly one of the best times to visit Utah’s capital. Winters can be mild, but the famed ‘inversion,’ where warm air settles atop colder air in the valley, can negatively affect air quality. Summers are typically dry, but can be scorching. However March and April afford the unique and delightful proposition of skiing-and-golf in the same day. The secret: Park City and the Cottonwood Canyons, while both within easy access of downtown (perhaps thirty or forty minutes after picking up your National Rental Car) are several thousand feet higher than the city itself. So skiers and snowboarders can revel in beautiful springtime temperatures that will often crest fifty degrees, while down in the valley midday temperatures will be in the seventies.

It’s easy to pull off this ‘daily double.’ The ski hills typically soften up by ten, sometimes earlier depending on how the sun hits the slopes, and snow conditions retain their quality until noon or one, before deteriorating into slush, sherbet, or what’s commonly referred to as ‘mashed potatoes.’ Avid golfers will change their ski boots for soft spikes by lunchtime, head down valley, and be ambling to the first tee just as the daytime highs are reaching their apex. With daylight savings time in effect, and sunset well past seven, it’s no time crunch at all to enjoy a full eighteen after an exhilarating morning sliding on snow. Here are three worthwhile public-access courses to visit while in town:

Glendale
Glendale

Start at Glendale Golf Course, a city-owned facility that, to use a skier’s parlance, would be somewhere between a green circle and a blue square on the difficulty scale. (IE—beginner-to-intermediate.) Fairways are wide open, the greens are smooth and fast, and visitors might become so entranced with the long range mountain views they might not take note of the absence of peripheral trouble. There are occasional pockets of waving fescue grass that will wreak havoc with wayward drives, but most players will navigate the grounds with a single ball, two at most. Look for the Salt Lake City skyline and the state capitol building, both visible from the ninth green.The par-5 holes are within reach of big hitters, even those with modest length will be left with short pitches and chips after two sturdy blows. The tenth is a potentially drivable par-4, little more than 300 yards, but the finisher is stout. The 18th is 430 yards from the penultimate markers (460 from the tips) with a large pond encroaching right of the fairway.

Stonebridge
Stonebridge

If Glendale is the relative ‘bunny slope,’ nearby Stonebridge is more of a black diamond. This 27-hole, links-style layout features whipping winds, and trouble of some kind (water, wetlands, weeds, you name it) on virtually every hole on property. Despite the spot-on views of the Oquirrh Mountains west of the city, this Johnny Miller design isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as Glendale, primarily because it winds its way through a series of office parks. However the challenge of long par-4s, and devilishly sloping greens will ratchet up the intimidation factor considerably. Cynics have long opined about Miller, the outspoken NBC golf analyst and two-time Major champion, that because he suffered late-career putting woes, he doesn’t want anybody else to be able to putt either!

Bonneville
Bonneville

Lastly, Bonneville Golf Course is distinguished because of its proximity to downtown, hilly terrain, and beautiful specimen trees. Because of its prime location close to the city and the University of Utah, this is one of the most popular courses in the area. Rounds can exceed four-and-a-half hours on a busy day. But this petite (6,700 yards from the tips) venue offers some lovely vistas. The par-4 eighth looks up at the face of Mt. Olympus, particularly beguiling as day turns to dusk, bathed in the evening glow. The par-3 fifteenth has a picture-worthy view of the Salt Lake Valley. There are some parallel fairways on property, so big slices or hard-running hooks might bound into an adjacent fairway. Golfers beware.

Salt Lake City has a surprisingly eclectic and diverse dining scene. We’ll limit dozens of possible suggestions to just a pair, one for lunch and one for dinner. However be sure to visit on different days; Feldman’s is ultra-filling for lunch, and Sea Salt is so special it should be visited on an empty stomach.

Feldman’s Deli is more than two thousand miles from Manhattan, and their sandwiches, while filling and delicious, aren’t conversation pieces like the ‘big enough for two people’ sandwiches made famous at places like the Second Avenue Deli, Katz’s or Carnegie Deli in New York. That said, Feldman’s offers fantastic potato pancakes, blintzes, superb sandwiches, pickles, and most every bell-and-whistle you’ll find in ‘The City,’ minus surly waiters and with the bonus of beautiful mountain views as a backdrop.

Sea Salt is airy and elegant, featuring nouveau Italian cuisine with a lively dining room and leafy outdoor space perfect for al fresco dining. Living up to its name, Sea Salt only uses pure unadulterated sea salt and Extra Virgin Olive Oil to season its dishes. The believe in the concept of Slow Food, which is to cultivate appreciation for ecologically, sustainably, and locally grown heirloom seasonal food and wine, artisanal food production, and the preservation of cultural food heritage. Their philosophy is great, the food even better. Be sure to try their pizza (roasted artichoke is wonderful) pasta (puttanesca) or signature entrees. (Grilled Shetland Island salmon, braised lamb shank.)

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Montana is known as Big Sky Country, and if you take in the expansive landscape on any given day, views for dozens of miles in every direction, it’s easy to understand why. But the fourth largest state in the Union (edged off the podium by Alaska, Texas and California, in that order) is also known as the Last Best Place. Paying a visit to Big Sky, not far from iconic Yellowstone National Park, and the nearby city of Bozeman, underscores this heartfelt slogan that Montanans hold near and dear.

Big Sky Golf
Big Sky Golf
Big Sky Golf
Big Sky Golf

Pick up a National Rental Car in Bozeman, a short, non-stop flight from numerous western cities. In an hour’s time, after a lovely drive down the canyon, you’ll be in Big Sky. Golf at the Big Sky Resort is a small part of the recreational puzzle, but a tour of the one public-access course in town is mandatory for any avid player. At 6,500 feet above sea level, flatlanders will be pleasantly surprised with the ‘pop’ they get from a well-struck tee ball. This Arnold Palmer design features some wonderful views of iconic Lone Peak, which is the beacon of the ski resort some six or eight miles up the road. The course bumps up against the west fork of the scenic Gallatin River on several occasions, and wildlife sighting are not uncommon. While the golf course features a bit too much back-and-forth, with numerous parallel fairways, there are some holes of note. The closing stretch in particular garners much of the interest.
The 16th is a short-but-tricky par-4, with bunkers pinching the landing zone. The next is a downhill par-3 of nearly 200 yards, ringed by trouble. The finale is a sweeping dogleg par-4, trouble to the right, a small-but-round-ruining pond adjacent to the green. Finding success through this final gauntlet will make the beer in the onsite tavern known as the Bunker Bar that much tastier.

Bridger Creek
Bridger Creek

Owing to the fact the Big Sky Resort Course is the only public option in town, golfers hankering for a second round should check out Bridger Creek, the only public course within the city limits of Bozeman. This former farmland features a large metal silo, visible from most front nine holes, located behind the fifth green. The ninth seems to be an unassuming par-5, though Bridger Creek itself gurgles ominously to the right of the fairway. The challenge is a pair of large trees standing sentinel, perhaps a hundred yards from the green. They narrow the landing area, and add some menace to what would otherwise be a stock approach shot to the putting surface.

Big Sky Lone Peak Tram
Big Sky Lone Peak Tram

When the golf itch has been sufficiently scratched, there’s plenty to do at Big Sky Resort, and topping the list is a ride up the Lone Peak Tram. Those who tend to get queasy or are acrophobic be warned, the smallish capsule, suitable for fifteen passengers at a time (which moves slowly—this isn’t an amusement park ride) brings intrepid riders north of 11,100 feet, with magnificent views in every direction. Wandering the summit affords views of three states, two national parks, and some of the wildest, wooliest terrain in the Rockies.

Big Sky Zipline Tours
Big Sky Zipline Tours

Further down the hill, a few hours zip-lining around the resort will sate the adrenaline rush that brings many souls to the mountains. The views can’t compare to the tram summit, (what can?) But the speed, height, and deliciously dreadful anticipation as one is clipped into the zip before launch is something to savor, especially in retrospect, when one is safely ensconced at the destination platform, post-ride!

While in this wonderful area it would be a capital offense to not take in the grandeur of Yellowstone, the original, and in the minds of many, the finest national park in the country. The hot pots, (they look as cool and inviting as the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea, but the scalding temperatures make them deadly) the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the waterfalls, hiking, abundant wildlife, and of course, the world’s most famous geyser known as Old Faithful, are but half-a-dozen highlights in a park that has dozens of others. Plan to spend an entire day, if not two or three, exploring the unique beauty of this special place.

For a small burgh there are some surprisingly good restaurants in Big Sky. The real beauty is that the three named here are literally two minutes from each other, all in The Meadows area of town. Leading the way is Olive B’s, (named after the owner/chef’s young daughter.) Chalkboard specials vie with menu staples like the ribeye steak, seafood fettuccini, veal cutlet and lobster mac n’ cheese. Perhaps a hundred steps away is Michelangelo’s, with an interior so slick and cool, with wonderfully understated lighting and an uncountable number of displayed wine bottles, you’ll assume you’re in New York or L.A, not a small Montana town. As the name implies, lots of fine Italian dishes here. Antipasti and calamari as starters, various risottos and raviolis for the pasta course, and specialties like veal Ossobuco and salmon con porcini as entrees. Lastly, check out Lone Peak Brewery for a wonderful array of handcrafted beers (don’t miss those aged in bourbon barrels) and a nice selection of pub food. Bison burgers, jambalaya, grilled lamb lollipops and fish tacos are among the favorites, as is the shuffleboard set, perfect for antsy kids or adults enjoying a pint or two of made-on-the-premises beer.

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Pinehills Golf Club
Pinehills Golf Club

Cape Cod is one of the nation’s most beloved summertime destinations. Just an hour-and-change from Boston, (barring traffic, which can be considerable, depending on the time of day!) on the southeast coast of Massachusetts, generations of New Englanders have enjoyed the sand, surf, bicycle paths, clam shacks, seafood houses, and all there is to see and do on ‘The Cape.’

However a lesser-known secret is how lovely the area can be in the cooling temperatures of autumn. Crowds dissipate, humidity ebbs, leaves transform, traffic abates, and the area’s golf courses are often at their peak.

Some of the best public golf on Cape Cod isn’t actually on the Cape itself. The neighboring town of Plymouth (yes—home of ‘The Rock’) is but fifteen minutes from the Sagamore Bridge, along with the Bourne Bridge, the two main entry points to the Cape.

Historical significance aside, Plymouth is home to what many consider to be the finest 36-hole public facility in the region. Pinehills Golf Club has courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Rees Jones, and can be the centerpiece of any Cape-based golf excursion.

Andy Wade has been a golf professional at Pinehills for fourteen years. Impressive resume, considering the facility is but a year older than that. “We have about 300 pass-holders, who have year-round privileges,” explains the area native. “They account for about half our annual play, while visitors and tourists account for the other half.”

Pinehills Golf Club
Pinehills Golf Club

Whether you tee it up regularly or just get a single taste of the dual facilities, most everyone agrees that the Jones Course plays a few shots harder. The fairways are narrower than its sibling, and though the greens are sizable, there are more hazards, more elevation, and offline shots can take hard bounces away from the fairways. By contrast, the Nicklaus Course has wider fairways, making for a relaxed grip on the driver. Furthermore, containment mounding helps propel misdirected tee shots back to the short grass.

Pinehills Golf Club
Pinehills Golf Club

As the facility’s name implies, the topography features a surfeit of pine trees, surrounding fairways with notable pitch and roll. Taken as a whole, the courses are fair and playable. There’s nothing overly tricky, blind shots at a minimum. “After all,” continues Wade, “we want everyone to come back!”

Pinehills Golf Club
Pinehills Golf Club

Highlights on the Jones Course include the long par-3 14th, all carry and well-bunkered. The elevated tee shot on the succeeding hole is no trifling matter, the opening salvo must carry an intimidating swath of conservation area. Notable holes on the Nicklaus Course include the 2nd, a reachable par-5, though water-laden, that will tempt big hitters to have a go for the green with their second shot. The 12th is a downhill-then-uphill par 4, the 14th a short-but-tricky par-4 with a semi-blind shot to a funky, two-tiered green. “As the crow flies we’re only a few miles from the ocean,” explains the pro. “In the afternoon the breeze often kicks up. It can cool the course on a hot day, but makes club selection and ball-striking a bit more problematic.”

Cape Cod Country Club
Cape Cod Country Club

There’s nothing problematic about a visit to Cape Cod Country Club, located in the picturesque burgh of Falmouth, located about 35 miles due south from Plymouth. Located on the borders of sparkling Coonamessett Pond, this petite (less than 6,500 yards from the tips) but always-popular venue has been an area favorite for generations. Undulating fairways and tricky greens help to defend the par of 71. The course hosted the Massachusetts Open three times consecutively some sixty years ago is not only testament to its long history, but also that, despite its family-friendly nature, it can be a formidable challenge to the region’s most proficient golfers.

This is the Cape’s oldest public golf course, debuting as a nine-hole facility in 1928. It’s hillier terrain than what’s typically found in this part of the world, particularly on the inward nine. It’s the inward nine that also has the most memorable hole, and equally memorable story associated. The 14th hole is known as ‘The Volcano’ due to the elevated green. Arnold Palmer appeared in an exhibition just months after winning his first and only U.S. Open in 1960. The course owner bet him $50 he couldn’t par ‘The Volcano,’ which prompted Palmer to double the bet if he could make birdie. Three flawless shots later, ‘The King’ had a C-Note in his pocket!

There are as many worthy eateries, both casual and elegant, on the Cape as there are umbrellas on the beach. So we’ll limit the discussion to a single choice in Plymouth, and one in Falmouth. East Bay Grille in Plymouth offers lovely water views from the town wharf. Mussels, crab cakes, bacon-wrapped scallops and ahi tuna are stalwarts from the appetizer list. (And if the seafood theme isn’t evident enough, their raw bar features shrimp cocktail, crab cocktail, oysters and clams.) Entrée highlights include macadamia scallops, champagne halibut, arctic char, Asian sea bass, and for the true carnivores, wagyu burgers, sirloin steaks and filets. In Falmouth, one could do much worse than the memorably named Glass Onion. An extensive wine list complements a wide range of gustatory highlights including baked littlenecks and an Anjou pear salad as starters. Seared swordfish, Long Island duck breast, and butter poached lobster with wild white shrimp are among the entrees to note.

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417 yd par 4

There are a surfeit of reasons to visit lovely Colorado Springs, just sixty-odd miles south of Denver, on the Front Range of the Rockies. These include a temperate climate, great biking-and-hiking, wonderful scenery, fun-and-funky satellite towns like Colorado City and Manitou Springs, which are perfect for shopping, strolling and dining. There’s also the proximity to iconic Pike’s Peak, windswept and snowcapped, one of the nation’s best-known mountains. However for the traveling golfer, the best reason to visit comes down to three simple words: The Broadmoor Hotel. The 36 stirring, strategic holes on property only begin to tell the story of one of the finest full-service resorts in the nation.

Grab a National Rental Car in either Denver or Colorado Springs. The former will take about ninety minutes, the latter barely twenty. In either case, one will arrive at a Shangri-La of gentility, an oasis of fine service, excellent dining, and a dizzying array of common areas, sitting rooms and lobbies, peppered with fresh floral arrangements, noteworthy artwork, statuary and memorabilia stretching back a century. There are a dozen (even dozens) of things to do, but the golf is paramount.

The Broadmoor East Course
The Broadmoor East Course

The East Course has the imprimatur as the championship venue. The West Course has bigger views of downtown Colorado Springs and plenty of tricky, memorable holes. Taken in tandem, it’s delightful to know they both commence and conclude in the same staging area, and are just a five minute walk from the hotel. No shuttles or outside transportation necessary to access all that green grass.

The Broadmoor West Course
The Broadmoor West Course

The West is tighter off the tee, more tree trouble on the periphery than its acclaimed sibling. The strongest stretch is the course’s middle portion. The ninth is a gorgeous, over-water par-3. The tenth is an uphill par-5 with mounding helping to rebound errant tee shots back towards the fairway. The next is a downhill par-3, followed by a long, dogleg par-4. This quartet is the teeth of the course, though there are some subsequent par-4 holes playing downhill with magnificent city views that will linger in memory long after the round concludes.

The Broadmoor East Course
The Broadmoor East Course

The East will host the 2018 U.S. Senior Open, continuing a long tradition of championship play. Among other luminaries who captured their first taste of Major success, it was the site of 1959 U.S. Amateur, won by Jack Nicklaus, and the 1995 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Annika Sorenstam. Apparently they liked the feeling of victory so much they combined to win twenty-eight additional titles of the same magnitude! This Donald Ross design from 1918 was at the time the highest golf course in the nation, at 6,400 feet. Though it’s been superseded height-wise in the ensuing century, it still beguiles both resort and competitive golfers with a wonderful mixture of challenging holes which unfold seamlessly on this wonderful landscape. Short-but-tricky par-5 holes are the theme on the outward journey, as the third, seventh and ninth are all reachable in two blows by big hitters. But the true puzzle is deciphering these mystifying greens. The one-shot holes are also highlights. The third plays over water, the eight over a diabolical, ball-eating ravine. For the time-challenged golfer, the East is the singular choice, but try and make room for both rounds.

Also make room for a wonderful array of dining experiences, not the least of which is the superlative Sunday Brunch in the Terrace Dining Room. The high-end world of full-service golf resorts doesn’t cut corners come brunch-time, and places like The Homestead, The Greenbrier and others of the same ilk pull out all the stops. Nothing tops The Broadmoor however, with 150 items, including a raw bar, omelet station, carvery, crepe station, a dessert bar that would make a dentist howl, and enough gustatory pleasures to make Henry VIII blush.

Old school dining-and-dancing are the watchwords at La Taverne, which offers aged steaks and a youthful-sounding musical quartet on weekends. All the better to work off some of the dining indulgences by taking a few vigorous turns on the dance floor between courses.

Excellent Italian food is the watchword at Ristorante Del Lago, modeled after some of the fine eateries surrounding Italy’s Lake Como. Indoor and outdoor seating are available, and the fireplace keeps the chill away as evening falls. Plenty of the menu’s staples are imported from long-time suppliers in Italy (cured meats, cheeses, olive oil, etc.) and the wood-fired pizzas only begin to tell the story of a wonderful menu full of succulent choices.

While one could ensconce themselves happily at The Broadmoor and never leave the grounds, there is a ‘field trip’ worth taking. Bike Pike’s Peak is an outfit that takes intrepid souls to the top of the majestic mountain via van. (There is also a railway option.) Customers are outfitted with parkas, gloves and wool hats, saddle up on sturdy mountain bikes, (the brakes are checked before, during and after) and free-wheel from the 14,000 foot summit. Look at it like this: Not five in a thousand have the fitness level or fortitude necessary to ascend Pike’s Peak via bicycle. But anyone with a sense of adventure, who enjoys an adrenaline rush and humongous, hundred-mile views, can whiz (or meander, depending on comfort level) down the mountain on a bike. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and in its own way, as memorable as a stay at The Broadmoor.

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The Classic
The Classic

Nobody is planning on changing Minnesota’s license plate slogan from the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ to the ‘Land of 10,000 Links.’ However golf is a vital part of the sporting culture in this Upper Midwestern state, home to some 450 courses.

With approximately 4.5 million residents, Minnesota has more golfers per capita than any other state in the Union, and is the only state to have held all thirteen of the different national championships sanctioned by the USGA. (The U.S Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, the U.S Amateur, Women’s Amateur, Senior Amateur, Senior Women’s Amateur, the Junior Amateur, Girls Junior, and several others.)

The Ryder Cup has never been held in Minnesota, but that will change this year as summer gives way to autumn. Hazeltine National in the Minneapolis suburb of Chaska will host the 41st iteration of these much-anticipated international matches, as the United States attempts to turn the tide. (The Europeans have won five of the last six Cups, and seven of the last nine.)

For those traveling to Minnesota to play golf, the Brainerd Lakes area of the state offers several compelling venues and lots of good lodging. Grab a National Rental Car at the Minneapolis Airport and head north. In about two-and-a-half hour (150 miles) you’ll be smack dab in the middle of one of the Midwest’s golf hotbeds.

Twenty five years ago the area was best known as a getaway for fishing, recreational boating and water sports, and home to the bigger-than-life statues of the mythical Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Legend has it that Bunyan’s giant footsteps created the area’s myriad lakes. In 1990 the landscape began a subtle shift towards golf, with the opening of The Pines at Grand View Lodge. These 18 holes, which expanded to 27 some five years later, were the region’s inaugural foray into the world of the upscale destination course. The Pines at Grandview Lodge begat a host of other dazzlers, including Arnold Palmer’s tribute to his father, Deacon, with a must-play known as Deacon’s Lodge. The Classic at Madden’s on Gull Lake is another top-tier venue, which features several other courses of varying length and difficulty, 63 holes in total. Same can be said for the 45-hole complex at Cragun’s Resort. All four facilities are exceptional, none more so than Palmer’s effort.

deacons-lodge-golf-course1
Deacon’s Lodge

Like the king in his prime, Deacon’s Lodge is muscular, bold and dramatic. With wide, sweeping fairways, many tumbling downhill from elevated tees, there’s plenty of room and reason to swat drivers all day.

slide-golf-Dutch_12_2000x450
Cragun’s

Cragun’s Resort offers Dutch Legacy as its headliner. This Audubon International certified sanctuary is one of only two dozen public courses nationwide garnering a five-star rating from Golf Digest. This Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation offers multiple tee boxes, a number of forced carries and varied approach options on a pristine piece of property. Jones Jr. also created Bobby’s Legacy, with several split fairways and a rhythmic mixture of longer and shorter holes. They also offer a unique Reversible 9 par-3 course, ideal for families, kids and novices, which changes direction daily, offering holes from 85 to 225 yards in length.

The-Classic-11a1-1800x870
The Classic

The Classic at Madden’s on Gull Lake was designed by longtime course superintendent Scott Hoffmann, who consulted with the late New England based architect Geoffrey Cornish. The first three holes of this walker-friendly knockout skirt the pristine waters of Bass Lake, and then things really get pretty with bridges, towering Minnesota conifers, and beautiful bunkering. In addition to the championship course, there is Pine Beach East, circa 1926, stretching all of 6,100 yards. Holes 14 through 16 memorably consist of two reachable par 5s and a driveable par 4. Pine Beach West is even more petite, just a shade over 5,000 yards in length, and rounding out the offerings is what’s aptly known as Madden’s Social Nine, eight par-3s with a par-4, perfect for walking-and-talking while swinging a few clubs with family and friends.

The Pines
The Pines

Finally, The Pines at Grandview Lodge, the course that begat the Brainerd Golf Boom, remains as popular as ever. The Woods, The Lakes and The Marsh are separate nine-hole ramblings that can be combined into an 18-hole round, or all 27, if so inclined. The greens are among the best in the area, and depending on the chosen routing, golfers encounter gorgeous stonework, sharp doglegs, deep forests and wonderful lake views.

Dining options go well beyond area staples such as walleye, wild rice soup, and Lutefisk, which is a local delicacy and acquired taste, a white fish cured with lye. Patrons can drive or boat to Ernie’s on Gull Lake, a lively and family-friendly eatery established nearly a century ago in 1917. Grilled Norwegian salmon and braised pork shanks are among customer’s favorites, as is their famed lobster bisque. The Classic Grill at Madden’s offers serene golf course views, and a rich variety of entrees such as Chicken Lobster Oscar, Korean Beef Short Ribs and the Risotto of the Day. Finally, the Barn is a diner as simple as its name. They feature filling breakfasts, homemade pies, and the little-known-outside-the-Midwest ‘Maid-Rite’ sandwich, (otherwise known as a ‘loose meat’ sandwich) which is a ground beef sandwich not made into a patty. Sounds odd, tastes great!

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StoneRidge Golf Club
StoneRidge Golf Club

The Ryder Cup gets underway this weekend at Hazeltine National in the Minneapolis suburb of Chaska. Suffice to say, both the U.S. side, captained by Davis Love III and touting the likes of Jordan Speith, Dustin Johnson, and Phil Mickelson, and the European side, helmed by Darren Clarke and populated by Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, and Justin Rose among others, will feature golfers capable of putting on a spectacular show.

The thing about watching great golf in person is it makes us want to go out and play a round or two ourselves. If you have the fortune to make the trip to Minnesota for the 41st installment of the Cup, or if you can’t make it now but want to experience the area at a later date, the good news is there are a number of excellent options in and around the Twin Cities to help you scratch that itch.

StoneRidge
StoneRidge Golf Club

StoneRidge Golf Club in the town of Stillwater is considered by many to be in the very top tier of public-access facilities in the Twin Cities. In fact Golfweek magazine rates it as the best public course in the region. This links-style layout designed by Bobby Weed features generously proportioned, rolling bent grass fairways, framed by native fescue grass. Though the highway is close at hand, the setting is serene, hearkening back to the farmland property it once was (there’s even a barn in play on the eleventh hole). The entire opening nine is visible from the first tee box, so players can get a sense of the rustic nature of the bunkering, and the undulations of the greens. The opener is a downhill, potentially drive-able par-4, setting the tone for the rousing golf experience to come.

Chaska
Chaska Town Course

Municipally-owned courses are rarely considered must-plays, but the Chaska Town Course, not even three miles from the Ryder Cup venue of Hazeltine National, is a notable exception. In fact, the course is held in such high regard it co-hosted both the National Amputee Tournament in 2003 and United States Amateur in 2006 with its more famous (and very private) neighbor. Woods, wetlands and water features abound, tricky green surrounds add intrigue and difficulty to pitching and chipping, and overall this is a delightfully bucolic golf experience. This Arthur Hills design is capacious in scope. Most courses are laid upon 150 acres, but the Chaska Town Course is nearly twice that size, sprawling over 285 acres of oak groves, open prairie and marshlands.

Keller
Keller Golf Course

Finally, Keller Golf Course in the town of Maplewood offers an antiquity not found in the other recommendations. (Both StoneRidge and the Chaska Town Course are less than twenty years old.) Dating from 1929, this municipal facility twice hosted the PGA Championship, and even a Western Open captured by Sam Snead. It has a reputation for some of the best par-3 holes in the area, including the daunting sixth, stretching more than 220 yards in length. The course was shut down in October 2012 for major renovations, so all of the greens and bunkers could be brought up to modern standards. It reopened to fine reviews in July 2014, and has reclaimed its position as one of the best (and certainly most historic) public venues in the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis doesn’t have the overt culinary reputation compared to places like New York, San Francisco or New Orleans, but there are loads of exceptional eateries. Among the notable might be Lola’s Lakehouse in Waconia, with a great lake setting and outstanding food. Stone-fired pizza is always popular, but seafood abounds, including specialties like lobster-and-shrimp pie, a cast iron seafood stewpot, Chilean sea bass, diver scallops and many more. The Strip Club in St. Paul is another choice of the cognoscenti. Cozy space, small plates, and fresh food are the watchwords at this unique eatery. Grass-fed beef is one of their calling cards, along with artisanal cocktails. It’s probably not the best choice for the non-carnivores among us, particularly as the menu clearly states, “Vegetarians regarded with benevolent amusement.”

Lastly, there must be a brief mention of a highly unusual bistro called Betty Danger’s Country Club. Billing themselves as “a country club for the 99%,” they offer a unique array of ‘Mexhampton’ food, (IE–inspired by Mexico and the posh Hamptons of Long Island.) Guacamole, fried calamari and enchiladas are among the favorites, as is their on-site miniature golf course and striking views of the city skyline. Suffice it to say eateries like this are the exception, not the norm.

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Hiddenbrooke Golf Club
Hiddenbrooke Golf Club

Pop Quiz: Who has won the most points in U.S. Ryder Cup history? No—not Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer, though they are near the top. Certainly not Phil or Tiger; their era coincides with the European dominance of recent decades, and these two leading money-winners in PGA Tour history actually have mediocre records in the biennial competition. (True Fact: Tiger and Phil have more losses than any other American players in the entire history of the Ryder Cup. Tiger with seventeen, Phil nipping at his heels with sixteen!)

The surprising answer is Billy Casper, who played in eight Ryder Cups, competed in thirty seven matches, and captured 23 ½ total points. In honor of “The Buffalo,” (the rather obscure nickname for this always-underrated player, who won three Majors and more than fifty PGA Tour events while always laboring in the shadow of Nicklaus, Palmer and Player) we present a quintet of the finest courses nationwide managed by Billy Casper Golf. (In keeping with the below-the-radar theme, most readers wouldn’t even know the company exists, despite its status as one of the largest golf-management company in the nation!)

Wintonbury Hills Golf Course
Wintonbury Hills Golf Course

It’s been rumored that World Golf Hall of Fame member Pete Dye, one of the finest course architects of the last century, designed Wintonbury Hills for a dollar. It was Dye’s way of giving back to the game he loves, and producing a high-quality municipal course in an area that was lacking. The only design he’s ever produced in the six New England states, this Bloomfield (outside of Hartford) Connecticut gem is perennially ranked among the finest municipal courses in the nation. Plenty of permitting hurdles had to be jumped, as the course wends its way through more than eighty acres of woods and wetlands. The end result is a walkable, old-school experience, with a nice balance of holes that are open and tree-lined. There are some nice water views sprinkled throughout, including the nearby Tunxis Reservoir.

Purgatory Golf Club
Purgatory Golf Club

Purgatory Golf Club is an unusual moniker for a course that has actually been blessed by a priest! Located in Noblesville, Indiana, less than an hour from Indianapolis, this is a family-owned business and one of the more popular daily-fee courses in the area surrounding the capital city. Designed by local architect Ron Kern, Purgatory can play as one of the longest (7,754 yards) courses in Indiana and features more than 125 bunkers and acres of tall native grasses. Spread across more than two hundred acres of memorable terrain, the signature hole is a mid-length, par-3 dubbed “Hell’s Half Acre” that features a green guarded by two acres of bunkers. Purgatory has been ranked amidst Golf Digest Magazine’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.”

Hiddenbrooke Golf Club
Hiddenbrooke Golf Club

Hiddenbrooke Golf Club is located in Vallejo, California, some forty minutes north of San Francisco. Designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay about twenty years ago, Hiddenbrooke is considered by many to be one of California’s most entertaining public layouts. It ranked Top Ten in Golf World’s “Readers’ Choice Awards,” in large part because it treats and challenges golfers with undulating fairways, plenty of elevation change and difficult par-3 holes set against a backdrop of hills and native vegetation. Though it has but a fraction of the name recognition of its counterparts on the Monterey Peninsula, the only pair of public-access courses that are consistently ranked higher than Hiddenbrooke in a state with more than 1,100 courses are Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. That’s the level of quality that this underrated facility offers a grateful public.

Magnolia Green Golf Club
Magnolia Green Golf Club

Moseley, Virginia, located west of Richmond, is the site of Magnolia Green Golf Club, the centerpiece of a resort-style, planned community of 3,000 homes. Named among Golf Digest’s “Top 10 Best New Courses for 2015,” this is a Jack Nicklaus Design in association with Tom Clark. This area of central Virginia features abundant wildlife, and golfers share space with a good representation from the animal kingdom. Streams have been fully-restored and lined with native shrubs and grasses to create the natural and environmentally sound course. Bermuda-grass fairways offer generous driving corridors, though the round’s conclusion is stirring. The finale is a mid-length par-4 with a demanding tee shot and nerve-tingling downhill approach to a heavily protected green.

Whisper Creek Golf Club
Whisper Creek Golf Club

One of the most prestigious private clubs in the nation is Whisper Rock, in Scottsdale, Arizona. But the traveling golfer would be well-served visiting the similarly-named Whisper Creek, in Huntley, Illinois, some thirty-five miles west of Chicago. Designed by Billy Casper himself, in consultation with Greg H. Nash, Whisper Creek Golf Club opened in 2000. Measuring 7,103 yards from the back tees, the course features bent grass fairways and greens, wispy fescue grass, protected wetland environments, notable rock formations and cascading waterfalls. It’s one of the most picturesque layouts you can play in the Chicagoland area. Added bonus: They offer GolfBoards for rent, which is a surfboard-meets-scooter mechanism to tool around the grounds. Less taxing than walking, more exciting than a golf cart, a GolfBoard is meant to appeal to Millennial golfers, or anyone else wanting to inject a bit more excitement into their amble-through-the-meadow.

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Vermont is one of the most picturesque states in the Union, chock full of verdant pastures, red barns, tiny hamlets and quaint villages, set among the lovely background of the Green Mountains. It’s also, despite a relatively short season, a wonderful place for the traveling golfer to chase the ball-through-the-meadow. Unlike maple trees, for one example, there aren’t many significant airports in Vermont. Burlington in the upper reaches, or Bradley International, actually outside of Hartford, Connecticut, are the two best bets. In either case, grab a National Rental Car, and enjoy an hour-or-two drive heading either north or south, depending, to some of the best mountain golf in New England.

The hamlet of Quechee, a wide place in the road about half an hour from the Killington ski area in the state’s central region, is as good a place as any to start. This little burgh is postcard Vermont: meandering streams, lovely waterfalls and wagon wheels, punctuated by a downtown area endemic to many tourist-centric Green Mountain communities. There isn’t a single necessity to be found in the Main Street shops. It’s all scented soaps, soft linens, garish tee-shirts and all manner of blown glass, figurines and a wide array of things one might want, but not necessarily need.

The Quechee Club
The Quechee Club

However golfers need to tour one of the finest 36-hole complexes in Northern New England. The Quechee Club was designed by the late Geoffrey Cornish, a gentleman, scholar and fine architect best known in New England for modestly budgeted projects with minimal flair. Cornish, who died in 2012 just a few years short of his hundredth birthday, proved at Quechee that you can be as good as your topography though, as his Highland and Lakeland courses are both aesthetically pleasing and formidable. As the name implies, Lakeland winds liberally around Lake Pineo, and the highlight at Highland are a pair of dramatic back nine par 3s that require heroic shots, both uphill and down, over a plunging ravine.

The Quechee Club
The Quechee Club

The sparkling Ottaquechee River winds throughout the property, influencing play directly or indirectly on a dozen of the 36 holes. A manicured course in Vermont is as rare as a country store without maple syrup, but Quechee is the exception, with numerous plantings and flower gardens adding charm and beauty. It has recovered nicely from a couple of horrendous years not too long ago where the courses were in rough shape after brutal winters and severe flooding. It should be noted that the Quechee Club is a private facility, but allows outside play for guests of a select number of local inns. These include the Quechee Inn, Woodstock Inn, Norwich, Hanover, and several other reputable lodging establishments.

Woodstock Country Club
Woodstock Country Club

Founded in 1895, Woodstock Country Club is one of the oldest golf course in New England. When Robert Trent Jones Sr. redesigned the original playing corridors, he enhanced the already-panoramic views of the lush Kedron Valley. Named one of the Top 100 golf resorts in the nation by Golf Magazine, it also happens to be the home town course of 2011 PGA Champion and Ryder Cup stalwart Keegan Bradley, who grew up in Woodstock. Keegan used to jump off the school bus each day with clubs in hand ready to play, and still comes back yearly to host the annual Keegan Bradley Charity Classic every August.

Green Mountain National
Green Mountain National

Green Mountain National in the town of Killington is certainly worth a visit. This is an alpine thrill ride, with deep forests, meandering streams, and sparkling ponds throughout. The fairways curve, the greens undulate, and the long-range views will induce wobbling concentration. It takes more than one tour of duty to puzzle out the best way to play the course, and time permitting, most players will want to march right back to the first tee at round’s end to give it another go. There’s no higher praise for a golf course than the desire to head right back out and give it another shot.

Stratton Mountain
Stratton Mountain

Stratton Mountain will always be known as a ski area first and foremost, but interested golfers should check out some or all of the 27 holes at Stratton Country Club, located south of Manchester. Like the aforementioned Quechee, this is another Geoff Cornish creation, three distinct nines known as Mountain, Forest and Lake. This former LPGA Tour stop is a quintessential alpine design, somewhat shaggy and unkempt, with the requisite plunging, twisting fairways, dizzying tee boxes, and rocky outcroppings.

Stratton is a grassy funhouse, and selective perception is required to enjoy it to the fullest. Enjoy the exhilaration of a towering tee ball that hangs suspended over the tree line, or an uphill approach that clears a rushing stream and finds the putting surface. Ignore the occasional goofy hole, or the potential of a soggy fairway that would get a superintendent reprimanded in the flatland. It’s worth noting that for those who wish they were better players (IE—100% of all golfers who ever picked up a club) Stratton’s Golf School is one of the nation’s most established group programs, now more than 45 years old, and generally offers a 4-to-1 teacher/ student ratio for personal attention.

Personal attention are hallmarks at some of the area’s eateries, dependent as they are on the tourist trade. Elixir Restaurant in White River Junction is just such a place, benefitting from the hands-on attention of ownership. Baked figs and chicken liver mousse are go-to starters, while entrees such as the cocoa-dusted petit filet, seared scallops and eggplant Moussaka have won consistent raves from both tourists and regulars alike. You’re under lots of pressure when naming your establishment the Tip Top Café, but management is up to the task. This airy bistro, also in White River Junction, offers legendary fries with aioli sauce, a flash-grilled Caesar salad and a sampling of Vermont-made cheeses as popular starters. Main courses include squash dumplings, sesame pork and ginger meatloaf and baked flounder, among other eclectic items.

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Mighty Michigan is on the short list of top-notch summertime golf destinations. For decades its growing prominence was something of a secret, known mostly by state residents. But in the past twenty years the northern reaches of this upper Midwest state has reached the upper strata of public-access golf. Combine the quality of their myriad courses with the serenity and drive-ability of the highways and byways crisscrossing the landscape, the sunny days, cool evenings and friendly Michiganders who are so pleased to show off their state’s many natural assets, and it’s easy to see why tens of thousands of avid golfers make a pilgrimage to the region on a regular basis.

Shanty Creek
Shanty Creek – Cedar River

Shanty Creek is as good a place as any to start. This full-service resort facility resides in the town of Bellaire, just thirty-five miles from Traverse City. There are four courses on property, none more compelling than Cedar River, the most popular of the four. This Tom Weiskopf design features roomy fairways, plenty of elevation changes and deep stands of massive hardwoods on the periphery. Lots of mounding help contain errant drives, and players can run the ball up onto most greens as there aren’t many forced carries. If you can make it through the first half-dozen holes intact you can score well, but the course starts off with a bang. The namesake river itself comes into play midway through the back nine on a potentially drivable par-4, and the drop shot par-3 that follows. It’s the most memorable stretch of the course.

Shanty Creek - The Legend
Shanty Creek – The Legend

Also be sure to check out The Legend, an Arnold Palmer design with wonderful views of Lake Bellaire. The Summit Golf Course is extremely family friendly, perfect for neophytes, with par-3 options on every hole, and fifteen-inch cups in addition to traditional cups on every green.

Treetops, in the town of Gaylord, is owned by well-known golf instructor Rick Smith. This is an 81-hole venue, well worthy of a weeklong, or certainly long weekend excursion.

Treetops
Treetops

Masterpiece, located several miles from the other courses, is a Robert Trent Jones design that opened in 1987. It features dramatic elevation changes with far-reaching views for up to thirty miles. The Premier, created by Tom Fazio, is more user-friendly, with vast, bowl-shaped fairways to corral errant shots. Tradition, a Rick Smith design, is the newest addition to the resort. It is built on gently rolling land that is partially wooded and it boasts some of the best greens in Michigan. It has the classic look of a course that was built many years ago. Signature, also by Smith, features plenty of natural vegetation and a variety of hardwoods and pines to create a picturesque setting for some of the most demanding holes at Treetops. Finally, Threetops has been called the finest par-3 course in the world, and offers thrilling elevation changes throughout. Built for a Billy goat, the terrain changes on this 9-hole curiosity range from 70 to 190 feet, some with severely sloping greens. Threetops is an absolute “must-play” at Treetops, along with the additional 72 holes of full-scale, IE–driver friendly golf.

Forest Dunes
Forest Dunes

Forest Dunes, in the tiny burgh of Roscommon, is a far-from-common experience, undoubtedly worthy of an overnight visit. This is another Tom Weiskopf design, playing firm and fast, with thoughtful bunkering and a serene location. The front nine is more of a parkland setting, set through the woods. The back nine is more exposed, with numerous sand blowouts, and the conditioning on this housing-free facility is impeccable. Forest Dunes features a number of intriguing challenges including wide-open meadows, hardwoods, century old red and jack pines, rugged native dunes, scruffy sand areas and water features.

Forest Dunes has recently doubled the fun, opening an honest-to-goodness reversible golf course called The Loop. Designed by native Michigander Tom Doak, players begin on the first hole and conclude on the eighteenth one day, while the next they begin on eighteen, and play ‘backwards,’ to the first.

Forest Dunes
Forest Dunes

Forest Dunes is the epitome of destination golf, that fact becomes apparent on the miles-long, meandering drive off the county road that takes you to the facility. It’s a full five-or-more minutes of anticipation as you circuitously close in on the 4,500 acre property. The course is top notch, but so is the handsome and welcoming clubhouse, the bar/restaurant, and well-appointed lodge with fourteen rooms, sleeping 26 in total. Add in the half-dozen nearby cottages, and the total capacity for onsite accommodations is just below seventy. Once you park the car everything you need for a total golf (and as dusk falls, bocce ball) immersion is within fifty or a hundred yards.

Traverse City has many good dining options, including Red Ginger, specializing in sushi and Thai food in a modern, welcoming atmosphere. Slabtown Café and Burgers is more of a down-home option. This memorably-named eatery impresses with succulent burgers and an array of local soda pop flavors that will appeal to kids, and the kid that resides in all of us. Finally, The Filling Station has a unique ambience in an old train station. Wood-fired pizza and craft beer are the primary attractions at one of the area’s most popular establishments.