Sometimes the best golf adventures are the most simple to plan — the less thinking the better. And what better way to keep it simple than by taking advantage of a tried-and-true Golf Trail?
We’ve scanned the country in search of associations and alliances that link together great courses at affordable prices, sweetened with good old-fashioned hospitality in some of America’s most scenic lands. Here’s what we found. Now it’s time for you to hit the trail (yeah, we said it).
Robert Trent Jones | www.rtjgolf.com
There simply is no other golf course project in the country with the scope of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Often mimicked, this is the original “Golf Trail,” coming to life in 1992 under the watchful eye of the legendary course designer for which it is named.
Why do so many golfers flock here?
Year-round golf on very well-conditioned courses for a fair price and, with 11 locations, 26 courses and 468 holes total, you won’t soon get bored or play them all.
With 2012 seeing the celebration of 20 years of the RTJ Trail, there’s never been a better time to visit. Especially as numerous special deals are in place to ring in the first 20 years, including $20 on 20 where golf at all Trail sites except Ross Bridge and Lakewood is just $20 on the 20th of each month this year (cart not included). — Ian Thompson
Pete Dye | www.petedyegolftrail.com
It’s about time — that’s all we have to say.
Of course master designer Pete Dye should have his own trail honoring the works of this proud Hoosier. We can’t believe it took until 2011 to get one started. But now that the Pete Dye Trail is up and running in Indiana, we can’t wait to make the trek through all seven courses in one Dyelicious vacation. We already know the relatively new course at French Lick is both beautiful and challenging, topping out at more than 8,000 yards for the truly adventurous. And Brickyard Crossing might be one of the most unique experiences anywhere in the world, combining the grandeur and excitement of auto racing with the serene, natural beauty of golf — complete with a four-hole stretch inside the legendary, century-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We’re ready to start our engines. — Darin Bunch
Maine | www.themainegolftrail.com
Maine is a big state, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that its golf trail is stuffed with close to 40 courses, one hit after another: Province Lake, Poland Spring, Boothbay Country Club, Point Sebago. Still, a no-brainer pick of the crop is Sugarloaf in Carrabassett. While it’s a major challenge — a 146 slope from the regular tees — this Robert Trent Jones Jr. track has long been the main draw of the magnetic north, with unsurpassed views throughout. But accuracy is essential here, otherwise the view will mostly be of pine and white birch trees. Sunday River in Newry is another Jones Jr. effort that’s favored by many; even the architect has called it his “mountain golf masterpiece.” Belgrade Lakes is high on many aficionados’ lists. The coastal Samoset Resort has the backdrop lure of Penobscot Bay, and Cape Arundel is a Walter Travis classic. — Tom Bedell
Central Oregon | www.centraloregongolftrail.com
Bend, Oregon, is such a rich recreational destination in so many ways — skiing at Mt. Bachelor, world-class fishing on the Deschutes and Metolius rivers, cycling and hiking and camping and on and on — that adding flat-out fantastic golf to the mix seems like piling it on. So what? If you’ve got it, flaunt it, and Central Oregon does so with a flawless 22-course mix of mountain, forest and desert golf. Pronghorn Resort, with its Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio courses, is alone worth the trip, but add in places like Tetherow (a David McLay Kidd wonder near the brewery-steeped downtown area) or any of several well-known destination resorts — Sunriver-Crosswater, Black Butte, Brasada Ranch, Eagle Crest — and never-ending views of the Cascades plus a bustling food-and-beer culture, and you’re as close to heaven as Pacific Northwest golf getaways get. — Vic Williams
Idaho | www.visitidaho.org/golf
Famous for potatoes? Sure, but the past decade has seen Idaho come on strong as a golf traveler’s dream. Any trip here should start way up in the panhandle at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, where the famed floating green only hints at Scott Miller’s perfectly manicured layout, especially after the inspired redesign of several holes a few years back. A 40-minute drive south brings you to the CDA Resort Casino and what might be the best track in the state, Gene Bates’ truly epic Circling Raven. Then it’s onto the state’s mountainous central region, specifically Sun Valley where White Clouds ranks among the nation’s great nine-holers — it’s top-of-the-world stuff — and Jug Mountain Ranch pours on the mountain-surrounded fun, too. Speaking of mountains, three resort and semi-private courses on the trail’s Eastern Loop — Pinecrest, Teton Springs and Teton Reserve — make for the perfect lead-in to a Yellowstone vacation. — VW
Red Rock | www.redrockgolftrail.com
Two things stand out at Coral Canyon: Golf that makes you smile and scenery that buckles your knees. For those of us who think golf is far more than a good walk spoiled by mandatory carts, the aesthetic is a true bonus. Welcome to the Red Rock Golf Trail, six courses in and around St. George, the looks and styles of which trend from resort-parkland to desert-austere, with all serving up the otherworldly rainbow-hued mountain-and-bluff views for which this part of the world is justly famous. Coral Canyon, Sand Hollow, Kokopelli, Sunbrook, Sky Mountain and Sunriver comprise perhaps the most compact golf trail in the land, with minutes not hours separating each. And because golf seldom occurs absent vacation, Zion National Park is only 40 miles to the east, and if you cruise in from the south you can hit Sin City, and tee it up at Coyote Springs or Conestoga on the way. — Ken Van Vechten
Central California | www.centralcoastgolftrail.com
California has an immense coast, spanning more than 800 miles from redwood headlands to bikini beaches. In geographerspeak, the central portion leaps from Monterey Bay to Point Conception west of Santa Barbara. Within that expanse of Middle California, six courses banded together, linking Paso Robles to Morro Bay to Lompoc and places between in the Central Coast Golf Trail. Like the region for which it is named, the trail takes players from the shore edge to inland valleys, which remain “coastal” owing to the breezes and cooling effects of the Pacific. From north to south, the plays are Hunter Ranch, Morro Bay, Sea Pines, Cypress Ridge, Monarch Dunes and La Purisima, and the longest run between any two is only 90 miles. Proximity to the ocean also defines this getaway destination’s signature non-golf attribute — outstanding viticulture. And the indigenous Santa Maria-style barbecue is another mouth-watering plus. — KVV
Reno-Tahoe | www.golfthehighsierra.com
Fairways + Greens got its start in Reno, Nev., gateway to some of the best high-desert and mountain golf in the United States. From late spring well into fall, upwards of 40 courses are in full swing, led by a dozen and a half must-plays, both on the Sierra’s eastern side — think Red Hawk, LakeRidge and Wolf Run in Reno and Genoa Lakes, Dayton Valley and both Silver Oak and Sunridge near Carson City — and up in the hills near and around Lake Tahoe, from Edgewood Tahoe on the south shore to Incline and Squaw Creek on the north, to Truckee’s handful of world-class circuits (Coyote Moon, Old Greenwood, Gray’s Crossing and Northstar). There’s even more mountain wonder another hour’s drive north in Plumas County, led by Whitehawk Ranch, Nakoma Resort, Plumas Pines and Grizzly Ranch. It’s easily a week’s worth of great golf, in one of the West’s most scenic natural settings. — VW
Great Lakes | www.greatlakesgolftrail.com
Whoever said “Everything’s bigger in Texas” clearly misspoke. Certainly not golf trails. In fact, the Great Lakes Golf Trail encompasses an area bigger than Texas. Befitting its name, the trail weaves its way around the Great Lakes, consisting of golf courses in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and even Canada. It’s somewhat unrealistic to say this trail could be covered in a decade, or even a century, for most of us — there are that many options. But should you be of the mind that such abundant golf equates to a diluted overall product, you’d be sorely mistaken. This trail includes many of the nation’s Top 100 public tracks, including Michigan’s Arcadia Bluffs, Minnesota’s Giant’s Ridge, both Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits and The Bull at Pinehurst Farms. It might be tough to experience the entire Great Lakes Golf Trail, but the attempt would surely be enjoyable. — Eric N Hart
New York | www.nygolftrail.com
While Long Island seems to get most of the headlines for Empire State golf, you’ve gotta get yourself Upstate to really discover how blessed in variety and value New York is to those who play for the day-to-day love of it. This is a big, rambling roundup, Great Lakes-to-Vermont in breadth and Pennsylvania-to-Canada in depth. Thanks to some enterprising Native American tribes, relatively new resort courses are worth checking out along the way, including 18-month-old Seneca Hickory Stick near Buffalo. Near Syracuse, you’ll find Jack Nicklaus’ well-regarded daily-fee design at Timber Banks. Bolt straight north up Interstate 81 toward the border and there’s Thousand Island Golf Club; go east toward New England and you’ll savor, from north to south, Sagamore (just check out that stately hotel), Saratoga National and, in the middle of the Hudson Valley just a couple hours from Manhattan, the Links at Union Vale. And don’t forget Leatherstocking at the Otesaga Resort in the baseball history haven of storied Cooperstown. — VW
The Finger Lakes | www.fingerlakesgolftrail.com
A compact quartet of courses comprise the Finger Lakes Golf Trail, an enthralling area of the Empire State teeming in viticulture, so if a round gets rained out, there are always the winery tours. In the foursome of tracks are the clubs of Ravenwood, Mill Creek, Greystone and Bristol Harbor, and naturally there are packages that includes play at all four. The Greystone in Walworth is a fine collection of Craig Schreiner-designed holes in a fairly open layout with nettlesome heather to contend with if spraying the ball. The greens, once on them, are typically large and rarely level. There are breathtaking views overlooking Canandaigua Lake at Bristol Harbour, a Robert Trent Jones design from 1972, with credit to son Rees as well. An open front nine gives way to a more memorable trip home; it’s a tighter and tougher journey made more pleasingly distracting by some spectacular vistas. — TB
Virginia | www.virginiagolftrail.com
Featuring 25 courses in six Old Dominion regions, the Virginia Golf Trail attempts to package some of the state’s fine restaurants, accommodations, wineries and other recreational pursuits, as well as golf, at varied prices. Two standouts are the resorts at Primland and Keswick Hall. The former has long been a hunting reserve in the Blue Ridge Mountains that in 2006 added a fantastic Donald Steel design, the Highland course. Blend thrillingly strategic golf with consistently splendid mountain views and you get a hint of Primland’s pleasures. Thomas Jefferson called his home at Monticello “The Eden of the United States.” The elegant and luxurious Keswick Hall is minutes from Tom’s place, and out in the yard is the Keswick Club’s Arnold Palmer signature course, which looks Edenic indeed. Jefferson never played golf, but this line of his suggests he might have had the right mindset: “When angry, count 10 before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.” — TB
San Antonio | www.alamocitygolftrail.com
“Seven courses, seven different experiences” says San Antonio’s golf trail website. True that. The town known for its history, partyin’ Riverwalk and strong military-fueled economy also knows its way around a well-wrought fairway. Start with the downtown granddaddy, Brackenridge Park, recently rejuvenated to approach architect A.W. Tillinghast’s original 1930s plans, complete with square greens (that’s right, square), distinctive bunkering and old-school tree-lined fairways. Also high on the public golf hit parade are Cedar Creek, Mission Del Lago, Olmos Basin, Riverside, San Pedro and Willow Springs, but travelers should also extend their calendar to play the Quarry, Hyatt Hill Country, La Cantera (a former PGA Tour stop) and the newest resort entry, TPC San Antonio, with its 36 holes, 18 by Tom Fazio, the others by Greg Norman (and a current PGA Tour stop). — VW
Audubon | www.audubongolf.com
Louisiana’s Audubon Golf Trail traces a dog-legging track all across the “Sportsman’s Paradise,” from Shreveport down to bayou country, taking in 12 courses along the way and one hell of a lot more. It’s an apt name. John James Audubon was a great naturalist, ornithologist and illustrator. French-born not Scottish, Audubon had not succumbed to the Great Addiction before coming to America in the early 19th century, so the trail pays homage to the natural bounty of the state that so captivated him — and which is in play on every course — not his proficiency with a mashie. The trail might be best known for TPC Louisiana, a Pete Dye contrivance that serves as home to the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The trail has expanded from its original six, and during an earlier tour we found David Tom’s Carter Plantation, the Atchafalaya at Idlewild by Robert von Hagge and the historic and short Audubon Park to be get-there-somehow plays. Geaux Audubon. — KVV
Waccamaw | waccamawgolftrail.com
For variety, price and flat-out fun golf, you can’t beat Myrtle Beach. And the collection of courses known as the Waccamaw Golf Trail along the southern shores of the Grand Strand’s Hammock Coast has more than its share of must-plays, including two clever Mike Strantz tracks at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue. Then there’s Pawleys Plantation, a beautifully landscaped Jack Nicklaus design with some amazing holes played out into marshland, giving you the true feeling of lowcountry. The Tradition Club is a Ron Garl layout that’s eminently fair and always in great shape. The Tom Fazio course at TPC Myrtle Beach is a true treat — and hosted the Senior Tour Championship in 2005. But the hidden gem might just be the Heritage Club, a wonderful Dan Maples design that plunges you into a true southern coastal landscape. — Mitch Laurance
McConnell | www.mcconnellgolftrail.com
After selling his Raleigh-based health-care information management system firms in 1997 for $992.8 million, John McConnell dove headfirst into his golf passion, spurred by a belief that life is too short for people to have mediocre golf experiences. Thus, he built a “golf trail” with a wrinkle: a variety of private clubs grouped together — five in North Carolina, two in South Carolina. Beyond the golf, which always comes first, the McConnell Trail links high-service components from top-shelf lodging options and first-rate cuisine — you can even get your own private chef and a forecaddie who also serves as your driver. Clubs include The Reserve, Raleigh Country Club, TPC Wakefield Plantation, Sedgefield Country Club, Old North State Club, Cardinal Golf and Country Club, Treyburne Country Club and Musgrove Mill Club. — Matthew James Ward
Austin | www.austingolftrail.com
“Austin has a great story to tell — the golf side is simply underplayed,” says Chip Gist, who founded the Austin Golf Trail in 2010. “We have great weather here in Austin that allows year-round golf potential, but those from the outside were not getting the kind of detailed service and quality info that makes a first-rate visit happen.” Barton Creek Resort & Spa’s four golf courses — three near the central hotel — are the center point for golf-focused folks coming to Austin. Two 18s (Foothills and Canyons) were designed by Tom Fazio, while Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw teamed up for Cliffside, which opened in 1991. Hyatt Regency Lost Pines is another golf resort option on the trail, featuring the 18-hole Wolfdancer from Arthur Hills / Steve Forrest & Associates. In total, the Austin Golf Trail offers 17 courses and three resorts (Horseshoe Bay on the shores of Lake LBJ being the third), and Austin’s “Live Music Capital of the World” downtown is no more than 30 minutes away. — MJW