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National Car Rental PGA Pro-Am Series

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You’re spending a day in one of America’s great big cities and you have time for one round, where do you play?

Let’s first address and discuss America’s great big cities. I can’t ever see changing my top 5, but there’s certainly room for debate once you get to 6 thru 10. Although I’m coming off yet another year of at least 200 days on the road, regretfully, I still haven’t spent a lot of time in Nashville or Charleston, but I’m told (often) that they are contenders. As for the golf near cities on my list, I offer a mix of courses you have to play regardless of the price (Shadow Creek in Vegas), and in some cases, I offer a course that’s simply insane value (Coronado in San Diego). Either way, I hope this list helps with future quick trips.

Bethpage Red
1. New York City – Bethpage – Black

For me, NYC is the Secretariat of cities in America. The runaway and undisputed champ. It’s the leader in culture, live entertainment, food, logistics, nightlife and breakfast spots. In terms of golf, and if you’re truly an avid golfer, you’re going to want to check Bethpage Black off the bucket list. About 45 minutes from the city, it’s an easier get from either one of the airports (JFK and LaGuardia). There are a few ways of getting tee times and there are several articles on how to do it. In the end, it’s going to be worth it. Might I suggest showing up early on a shoulder-season weekday and be willing to wait it out as a walk up. Chances are, you won’t wait long. If, for some reason, you can’t get on Black, the Red Course is an exceptional and convenient plan B.

2. San Francisco – TPC Harding Park

What might be the greatest municipal in a major city, Harding Park has it all: Location, history, aesthetics, accessibility and a short course. My plan B would be Lincoln Park, if, for no other reason, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the 17th tee.

Goat Hill Park
3. San Diego – Coronado Golf Course

Always on my list for best value golf in America, I send everyone in need of a great golf experience in San Diego to Coronado. At $35, it’s insane bang for the buck. It’s full of locals who are passionate about their golf and their course and I’ve always found them willing to share both. If I had time and a National Rental Car, I’d head north on Interstate 5 and stop in at Goat Hill Park where John Ashworth and the city of Oceanside is delivering on one of the coolest vibes and one of the most quirky and testy courses in the country. And I can’t say enough good things about the Loma Club, a 9-hole par-3 course that’s super close to the airport and is on my list of best short courses in the country.

4. Chicago – Cantigny Golf Club

I’m always so pleasantly surprised by the trips I take to Chicago: A Cubs game, Pearl Jam concert, restaurants, hockey, and basketball. Heck, even the bean is worth a quick visit. And although it sounds like the Tiger/Rolfing/Obama project is on hold for now, there’s plenty of good public golf to pick from. You can’t go wrong at Cantigny, which has 27 holes, a caddie program and just the right vibe you want from a quick round of golf. Same could be said for The Glen Club, which is a little more expensive but a super user-friendly Tom Fazio design.

5. Boston – George Wright Golf Course

Having spent some time in Boston this summer, I was reminded how little I know about the country’s history. Having now done The Freedom Trail, not to mention a tour through Harvard’s campus and a trip to Fenway Park, we left better educated on the how and why Boston is such a great city. If I were to play one round of golf, you can’t go wrong at George Wright, the blue-collar muni that was designed by Donald Ross and can be played by a non-resident for less than $50. If you’re willing to get out of the city a bit, Red Tail Golf Club always gets great reviews.

6. Austin – Lions Municipal Golf Course
Lions Municipal

One of the more compelling and ongoing stories in golf is Lions Municipal’s fight for life. On the outskirts of Austin proper, the fate of Lions Muny is in the hands of the University of Texas. And although Ben Crenshaw is a loyal Longhorn, he grew up playing at “Muny,” so Gentle Ben is dug in against his alma mater and he’s determined to save his roots. As the first golf course to desegregate in the south (1951), there’s a much deeper and more historical layer to all that’s at stake here, but for the purpose of this article, if and when you’re in Austin, go play Muny, talk to some locals and show your support. Golf, green space and this community can’t afford to lose this critical match. My Plan B in Austin would probably be Wolfdancer Golf Club at Hyatt Lost Pines.

7. Denver – Commonground Golf Course

Home of the Colorado Golf Association and incredibly close to the city, Commonground is a Tom Doak design for less than $50 and it offers the Solich Caddie and Leadership Academy. In other words, when setting up your tee time, reserve a caddie and help shape the future of a deserving kid. My plan B in the Big D is Arrowhead Golf Club, which is a spectacular routing in and around the base of the Rocky Mountains.

8. Los Angeles – Rustic Canyon Golf Club

To be from Northern California it has always been hard to love Los Angeles, but regardless of the bias, there are too many good things about LA not to have it in my top 10. Beaches, music, scenery, seafood and movie mystique, just to name a few. Given the traffic anywhere and on any given day and time, there’s no such thing as a quick round golf, but I’d play Rancho Park for the overall experience and I’d make the drive to Rustic Canyon for an upgrade on golf and to cash in on what is serious value.

9. Miami – Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne

I like Miami, Vegas and New Orleans for the same amount of time and generally for the same social opportunities. I’m in and out in two days and never sleep at night. Hard to beat Miami’s beach scene, diverse culture, food, art, music festivals and boat shows. I’ve always loved the golf and tranquility of Cranden Park on Key Biscayne, which also serves as sweet relief from trials and tribulations of South Beach. For good value, an unexpected and impressive history, you might want to consider the Country Club of Miami. I prefer the West Course.

10. Las Vegas – Shadow Creek Golf Course

Unfortunately, there are too many courses in America that are charging north of $200 and not delivering on a memorable experience. Chances are, those courses are suffering a slow death, or they’ve been sold and they’re reworking their focus, their courses and their business models. I will say, that although Shadow Creek is barely accessible (must be staying at an MGM property and even then, tee times are only available at limited times two days a week), if you were to get one of those times, and if you’re looking for a high roller experience in the form of golf, Shadow Creek actually delivers. The service, conditioning and feeling as though you’ve flown to Florida, is a little like what you’d get at Bali Hai, but Shadow Creek is infinitely better. And I like the overall Shadow Creek experience to Cascata. I send buddies trips to Paiute, and no one has ever complained. TPC Vegas is a good option, but if I wanted to keep it simple, quick and close to The Strip, I’d take a cab to TopGolf.

There are innumerable reasons to love the Hawaiian island of Kauai. From fifty miles of beautiful beaches, which is more beach per mile than any of its sister islands, to the fact that only about 5% of the island is developed at all. No building can be taller than the tallest coconut tree, and many places on the island are only accessible by air or sea. Nicknamed the “Garden Isle,” the landscape is lush and verdant, rife with green and gold mountains, turquoise Pacific Ocean waves and waterfalls.

Wailua

Golf is a key component of the myriad recreation options available. Grab a National Rental Car at Lihue, the island’s primary airport, and in ten-minute’s time you’ll be at Wailua, regarded as one of the most beautiful municipal courses in the nation, and recently named the third-finest public course in Hawaii by Golf Channel. Built on the site of an old coconut plantation, the course’s original holes date back to the 1920’s, and in 1962 then expanded to a full eighteen under the direction of Hawaii Golf Hall of Famer Toyo Shirai. There are some ocean views, plenty of breeze, and the sticker shock will be minimal, especially considering how expensive Hawaii can be. Green fees top out at about $60. (Sounds too good to be true, until you consider residents can play for $15!)

Puakea is another fine course in very close proximity to the airport. It doesn’t have the jaw-dropping scenery or scintillating ocean views of other Kauai courses, particularly on the opening nine, which have a few holes near roadways and retail establishments.  But this course, which happens to be owned by AOL founder Steve Case, is adjacent to the actual Jurassic Park movie set at the foot of Mount Ha’upu. It has many natural streams and ravines which are lovely and provide challenging design features. The inward nine is more remote, with a series of tough par 4s, varying length par 3s and some slam-bang par 5s, the split-fairway eleventh, in particular.

Poipu Bay

For a dozen years Poipu Bay played host to one of the most exclusive professional golf tournaments in existence, so restrictive it makes the Masters look like an open audition.  For a dozen years, from 1994 through 2006, the course played host to the annual PGA Grand Slam of Golf, open only to the winners of that season’s four Major championships. Once-and-future Hall-of-Famers named Norman, Crenshaw, Els, Lehman, Mickelson, Furyk and Woods have all tasted victory at Poipu Bay, considered by Golf Digest to be among America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses. This seaside beauty sits on more than two hundred manicured acres adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, with its dramatic open-air lobby looking out to the Pacific. This Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation, set between lush mountains and rugged ocean bluffs, is one of Hawaii’s most colorful, not to mention enduring, golf venues. The resort underwent a comprehensive renovation in 2012, and now features a water playground with river pool, waterfalls and a saltwater lagoon, among other amenities.

It’s an ongoing shame that the ferocious Prince Course at Princeville Resort, on the island’s north end, remains closed. It was one of the most exciting and memorable tracks in all of Hawaii. However their eighteen-hole Makai Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is open and ready for play, and is a favorite of visitors and islanders alike. Makai offers many memorable holes, but none better than the seventh, a long par-3 over a gaping chasm, the turquoise Pacific waters churning below. It is one of the most thrilling holes on Kauai. It incorporates serene lakes and stunning ocean coastline throughout, while the adjacent nine-hole Woods Course winds through native woodlands against a backdrop of lush mountains.

Morning on the beach at Hanalei Colony

Not too far from Princeville is a unique hotel that will appeal to those who enjoy getting ‘off the grid.’ (The polar opposite of a St. Regis, or other glitzy resort hotels.) The Hanalei Colony Resort is found north of the town of Hanalei. It’s about fifteen winding minutes, and seven one-lane bridges from town. There’s no AC, no TV, but comfortable rooms, superb ocean views, the soothing sound of pounding surf, a very nice on-site restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Speaking of eateries, Kauai doesn’t offer the richness or diversity that are found on other, more populous Hawaiian Islands, but nobody’s going hungry either. One of the best bets is also one of the most cleverly-named restaurants on the island. Bar Acuda, in Hanalei, offers delightful tapas of all kinds in a very hip setting. The seared tuna and lamb chops are particular highlights, but everything they serve in this ultra-hip outdoor-and-indoor bistro is wonderful.

In busy Kapaa Town, there is a sedate, French-inspired bistro called Art Café Hemingway, which is unique in that the same space affords two separate-but-connected eateries. The original founders, Markus and Jana, run the operation Friday through Sunday, while talented protégé Jeremiah is in charge Monday through Thursday. It doesn’t matter what day one visits, because they offer delectable brunch (with vegan options) and subtle, savory dinner (fresh fish, wonderful cuts of beef, ethereal desserts, etc.) every day of the week.

Viewing the ocean from the fairway is one thing, but all visitors would be well served in getting out onto the deep blue proper, and no outfit does a better job than Holo Holo Charters, which offers a wide range of water-borne activities, including sightseeing, snorkeling, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the ‘forbidden island” of Niihau, which offers no visitor’s accommodations, and is home only to native Hawaiians. (IE—of pure Hawaiian ancestry.)

Try their Napali Sunset Tour, which brings lucky passengers up the remotely beautiful Napali coast, on the northwest side of Kauai. The amazing craggy, mountainous topography, which is characterized by sheer drops right down to the azure waters, is unforgettable. Add in the flowing bar, fine appetizers, excellent dinner service and lively music, and you have the recipe for a vacation highlight in a trip that will have plenty, both on and off the course.

There are individuals who know more about golf on Maui than Rick Castillo, but it would be a short list. Currently the head professional at the uniquely named King Kamehameha Golf Club, Castillo has been gainfully employed in the golf business on Maui since 1979, including nearly twenty years as the head professional at Wailea Golf Club.

“There are three major golf resorts on Maui,” begins Castillo. There’s the three courses at Wailea, which are known as the Blue, the Gold and the Emerald. In addition, there’s Kaanapali, with two courses, and Kapalua, which also features a pair of courses.”

The Blue opened in 1972, its younger siblings in the middle ’90s. Castillo, the son of a golf professional himself, explains that the trade winds blowing in off the ocean make for challenging golf. “However we need them, because otherwise the temperatures would be too hot for most people.”

Wailea Gold

The Gold is the bellwether course at Wailea, the longest of the trio, and like the Emerald Course, a pure golf experience, unsullied by condos and roadways. The Gold played host to the Senior Skins Game for nearly a decade, and unlike other golf areas on the island, some of the wind-related challenges are mitigated by the buffering presence of Mount Haleakala, a dormant volcano that stretches to nearly 10,000 feet in elevation.

“Kapalua is probably our best-known resort,” continues Castillo, whose four siblings are also longtime members of the golf profession. “The Plantation Course is famous as the home of the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions every January. It’s a massive course, par 73, with huge greens and tilting fairways. The Bay Course is also hilly, with uneven lies, plenty of wind, and some gorgeous ocean views.”

Kaanapali is the third resort offering, and while the Royal Course is known as a terrific test of golf, beginning at sea level and climbing up into the West Maui mountain foothills, there are some roadway and highway views that detract just a bit from the ‘walk in the park’ sensibility that many golfers, particularly those on vacation, seek out. The Kaanapali Kai course is a bit shorter, and more forgiving.

“Golf on Maui offers great conditioning, consistently good courses, and strikes a wonderful balance,” concludes Castillo. “Some people find Oahu too busy, and Honolulu a very hectic city. others love Kauai, but some consider it a bit too sedate. Maui is somewhere in between.”

Hotel Wailea

There are nearly as many fine resort hotels on Maui as there are beach umbrellas stuck in the sand, but few, if any, would be superior to the exceptional Hotel Wailea. It’s the only hotel in Hawaii with the coveted Relais & Chateaux designation, not to mention being designated at the #1 hotel in Maui by Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” awards.

To put it delicately, this is a place to make the babies, not bring the babies. The hotel features seventy-two single-bedroom suites tucked amid fifteen secluded acres, just a three-minute shuttle ride to the beach, and is blissful, tranquil and a marvelous getaway. Among numerous on-site amenities, their delightful restaurant might top the list. Gorgeous ocean views, attentive service, and an emphasis on locally grown food (and amazing, fresh fish) are hallmarks of this ‘special occasion’ eatery. (And if you’re on Maui, every day is a special occasion!)

Speaking of special occasions, Mama’s Fish House, about forty minutes from Wailea in the funky, shop-lined, surfer-centric town of Paia, is one of the most memorable restaurants you will ever have the privilege to visit. Most eateries are attractive for one, or maybe two of four reasons: The food (of course) the location, the service and the ambience. Mama’s checks all the boxes. First, it’s located just steps from the crashing surf. (Some of Maui’s biggest waves are just a mile down the beach.) Second, the food is magnificent. They even credit the local fishermen, bringing in the catch or catches of the day, by name on the menu. (And the apps, entrees, meats, cocktails, desserts, etc, are equally impressive.) The service is impeccable, and the various dining rooms, (the canoe room, the deck, the lounge, etc,) are eclectic and filled with cool memorabilia from the owner’s extensive travels in the South Seas. Mama’s Fish House is expensive, understandably so, but three words suffice: Don’t miss it.

The best way to work off all that seafood might be to swim with the fish themselves. Try Maui Kayak Adventures for an exhilarating early-morning kayak-and-snorkel escapade. (And early means just that–you convene with your guide at 7 am, to be off the water by late morning before the trade winds start to blow.) The day begins with a brisk kayak excursion, maybe thirty or forty minutes, along the coast. Then participants don snorkels and fins, floating, swimming and diving near reefs and coves, observing large sea turtles, and all manner of ocean life. Once back in the kayak, it’s another forty-odd minutes back from whence you began. In its own nautical way, this is as much fun as any golf course you might care to visit–even on the magical island of Maui.

Entrada
Entrada

Golf travel can be exhilarating and exhausting concurrently. It’s always great to check out new courses and destinations (and this correspondent knows of what he speaks—more than nine hundred courses played in forty-plus states and fifteen countries), but there are tips, tricks and hints that can make the trekking a bit easier on both the body and the mind. Here are some thoughts on minimizing hassles and getting the most enjoyment out of a trip; whether with the boys, the girls, the spouse, or as couples.

  1. Bring two pairs of golf shoes, and a pair of sandals. The shoes need to be rotated daily to air out and dry out. With the evolvement of modern golf shoes, many of which look likesneakers or casualwear, often they can substitute for evening shoes in restaurants, grill rooms or pubs. The sandals are there for the off-course hours; to let your feet breathe either in transit, near the pool or in the hotel or condo.
  2. Invest in a sturdy travel bag, preferably with wheels, for ease of transport through airports. Be sure to insert a towel covered broomstick longer than the driver into the golf bag. (There is also a commercial product called the Stiff Arm which is expressly for this purpose.)This will ensure that if a ham-handed baggage handler drops the bag upside down, the broomstick or Stiff Arm, not the driver, bears the brunt of the impact.
  3. Maximize your time. Depending on how much golf the group is willing and/or able to play, by leaving early and returning late on departure day, it possibly affords the opportunity to play a full round, or maybe just nine holes, on both travel days.
  4. Shipping can be your friend. On that same subject, if there’s a tight connecting flight, consider shipping golf clubs (there are a variety of reputable services available) to the final destination, or risk arriving to the course without benefit of one’s own clubs.
  5. Cut yourself some slack on a new course after a long layoff. Instead of tying self-worth to the scorecard, consider a ‘traveler’s game.’ Divide the round into ‘good holes,’ (often pars or birdies) ‘OK holes’ (usually bogeys, and depending on the skill level in question, sometimes double bogeys.) And ‘others.’ (Doubles, triples or X’s, depending.) At round’s end see if you managed a goodly number of good’ or ‘OK’ holes, and hopefully a dearth of ‘others.’ It will help with equanimity, and lead to a more enjoyable excursion.
  6. Weather the weather. Don’t forget the umbrella (always) and rain pants. (Sometimes. But particularly in the UK, or in coastal Oregon, AKA Bandon Dunes.)
  7. Pack lighter than you think. Most golfers tend to pick up a shirt, wind vest, rain jacket, sweater, etc., while visiting a marquee destination. Leave some space for the mementos that mark your adventures on and off the course.
  8. Don’t skimp on the rental car size. Four people, with four days worth of luggage and four golf bags and covers, equals serious volume. Reserve a large SUV, even a mini-van, for maximum comfort. Golf bags and travel covers fill up the trunk of even the most capacious sedan much faster than you think!
  9. Schedule a day off, even two, if the location chosen is heretofore unexplored. This advice is primarily directed at travelers to the UK, but is equally applicable to those who plan golf-themed travel to more exotic locales. South Africa, Asia and continental Europe come immediately to mind. First off, the body can use the time off from incessant golf. Secondly, playing course after course becomes a blur, especially when indulging in links golf, as many of these courses have a similar feel and look regardless. Third and most importantly, take some time to explore the culture and the community where you’re visiting. The pubs, the castles, the museums, the wildlife, the countryside are all worthy of one’s attention. Engage some locals, and try and get a feel for the area, beyond the course or courses themselves. This advice, much like the advice in the opening paragraph, comes from hard experience. So myopic was this correspondent earlier in this golf-travel writing career, I once spent five days in greater Seattle, and never visited a coffee house or the Space Needle! Similarly, some years back I spend an equal amount of time in Chicago, and hopscotching from one course to the next, never found time to visit Rush St. or Wrigley Field. Don’t make the same mistake.