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Courses & Travel

Counting Down Best of Buddies-Trip Destinations. No. 7: Palm Springs

Palm Springs isn’t the best spot for a true “buddies trip” made up of 30- or 40-somethings looking to play golf by day and walk a tightrope of trouble at night. After decades of decadence, I’d delicately say the destination suffers from a reputation of soft and squishy. (Think over-ripe banana.) Oddly, and ironically, Palm Springs does work for a couples golf trip, and it was my first choice for a family golf trip to celebrate my father’s 75th birthday. (My two older brothers completed the foursome.)
With a wide range of ages, handicaps and various levels of golf enthusiasts, the flat desert terrain, some of the forgiving fairways, idyllic weather in November and Arnold Palmer’s Steakhouse were a good fit for our needs.
Blog_LaQuinta.jpgWe stayed at La Quinta Resort & Spa, which, in 2009, was in the midst of an impressive and expensive renovation. We reserved two of the Spanish casitas, complete with lounge space, flatscreens and small pools, which would help cool competitive Ginella tempers. (I should've never had my brothers share a cart.)
After all of my travels, I still say the Mountain Course is a unique experience for the avid amateur.

Blog_Mountain.jpgThere are points within the round in which you are playing along the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains. We couldn’t resist the urge to stop, look up and around, and be in awe of what seemed to be a massive movie set.
There’s nothing incredibly unique or memorable about the Nicklaus and Norman resort courses at PGA West, but they were both good additions to our itinerary.
I’ve played the TPC Stadium Course, but not on the trip with dad and brothers. Like the ocean (and The Ocean Course at Kiawah), I respect the Stadium for what it can and has done to me physically and emotionally, but it would’ve been too much for this crew.

Blog_Stadium.jpgMy dad, who suffers from old Italian pride and aging knees, would’ve buckled under the weight of the hike, deep bunkers and testy approach shots. My brothers would’ve broken clubs (or each other) before we got to the fifth hole.
The Dunes, the fifth course the resort offers to its guests, is on the opposite end of the Stadium in terms of difficulty. It would be the late-afternoon option if you wanted to play an emergency bag-of-beers 18 with a scramble or alternate-shot format. 
If you had connections or were owed a favor by a member, I’d try to play Palmer and/or Nicklaus private courses. The Palmer is more recognizable as the course used for the final round of the Bob Hope (now Humana Challenge), but you might be more impressed by the routing and the intimacy of the Nicklaus private:

Blog_NicPrivate.jpgAs perfect as La Quinta was for our needs, my combative brothers still almost came to blows over, among other things, slow play.

The pool wasn’t cool enough to chill this sibling rivalry.
--Matty G.

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Courses & Travel

Counting Down Best of Buddies-Trip Destinations. No. 8: Scottsdale

If I were planning a buddies trip to Scottsdale, I’d go during the week of the Waste Management Phoenix Open (Jan. 28-Feb. 3). Often referred to as “the greatest show on grass,” some would argue it’s an astounding display of assets. Pack sunscreen (and a neck brace).

Blog_Scottsdale_2.jpgIf you followed my experience there last February ("Golf Can Be Cool"), you know how much I enjoyed the ancillary activities surrounding the Skybox Village overlooking the par-3 16th hole and the post-tournament concerts across the street at the Birds Nest.

Blog_Scottsdale_1.jpgIt was the rare case of something living up to the hype. Not unlike Vegas during the first week of March Madness, once you’ve been, you’ll want to run it right back.
Although my trip to Scottsdale in 2012 wasn’t a buddies trip to play golf, it could have been—and probably should have been.

Blog_Scottsdale_TSNorth.jpgI stayed at the Talking Stick Resort, which has a youthful vibe and opened less than three years ago, so it still has the general feel of clean. There’s a big pool for hot afternoons and a sprawling casino for late-night wagering. The two golf courses on the property were designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, so they’re both good, but if I had to pick one, I’d play the North (pictured above).
For two more rounds, I’d play both courses at We-Ko-Pa. I prefer Saguaro over Cholla. (The common theme of the golf: fair, fun and relatively affordable desert courses with no houses lining the fairways.)

Because Saturday crowds at the Phoenix Open exceed 100,000 (attendance was 173,210 on Saturday in 2012), here’s my recommended itinerary:

Arrive Wednesday afternoon of tournament week, and play Talking Stick's South Course as a warm up. I’d play the North on Thursday morning before heading out to the tournament in the afternoon. (There are shuttles from Talking Stick to TPC Scottsdale, where the tournament is played. Catching a cab back was never a problem.)

Anticipate staying out late Thursday night, so don't schedule golf for Friday morning and, instead, enjoy one more day at the tournament on Friday afternoon. After that, I'd go to the concert at the Birds Nest.

Blog_Scottsdale_Saguaro.jpgWake up late Saturday morning and play We-Ko-Pa Saguaro (pictured above) in the afternoon. Then, after one last BIG night in Scottsdale, I’d fly home Sunday.
One drawback to a Scottsdale buddies golf trip during the Waste Management Phoenix Open is that you can’t play TPC Scottsdale Stadium. Any other time, the Stadium course is a lot of fun and worth considering, even with its $299 green fee. The Champions course across the street is decent, but after playing it once, I don’t feel the need to go back.
On Twitter yesterday, I asked followers where they’d stay and play in Scottsdale. Talking Stick, TPC Scottsdale Stadium and We-Ko-Pa were popular golf picks. So were both courses at Grayhawk, Troon North and Boulders South.
Their top lodging choices were the W Hotel, Fairmont Princess or renting a house. If you’re on a tight budget, @dbomaha suggests staying at the Gainey Suites.
Scottsdale is a second home to a lot of avid golfers. After a trip to all that is Waste Management, you'll know why. 

--Matty G.

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Courses & Travel

Counting Down Best of Buddies-Trip Destinations. No. 9: Hilton Head Island/Savannah

In our January issue we rank America’s 36 Best Buddies-Trip Destinations, a list we created by surveying the roughly 1,100 Golf Digest course-rating panelists who produce our biennial rankings of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses.

In my next 10 blog posts, and with the help of’s Course Finder, I’ll be sharing favorite courses near the 10 best destinations.

No. 9 is Hilton Head Island/Savannah. This is a destination that I don't know well enough to give you an accurate ranking of courses to include in a buddies trip. As one guy, traveling the country for six years, Hilton Head has somehow slipped through the cracks of my planning. (My loss.)

Blog_HiltonHead.jpgLast year colleague Max Adler wrote a travel story about staying and playing at Hilton Head. I loved this line: "Just when you thought a post-round beer couldn't taste better, the owners of Bomboras Grille make you think again." (Click here for that entire story.)

 And so, for the purpose of this blog, I asked Adler to share his thoughts on this destination:

“Don’t play 36 two days in a row,” is rule number two of five from Golf Digest Editor-in-Chief Jerry Tarde, who has engineered more buddies trips than anyone. So while the Hilton Head/Savannah area posts important top 10s in our rank of Best Courses, Best Value and Best Weather, it’s the ease of chartering a fishing boat or simply heading to the beach on a spare afternoon that makes it a top spot for good friends.

Blog_HiltonHead_Harbour.jpgNevertheless, golf is the reason you and your crew came, and you can’t come to Hilton Head without playing Harbour Town Golf Links (pictured above). Disregard that it ranks No. 21 on Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest, never mind that it hosts a PGA Tour event, and forget that you can snap a group photo at the iconic finishing hole with the lighthouse backdrop. What matters is it’s the only public course on the island where you can hire a caddie, and to stroll unburdened inhaling the ocean breeze is an experience not to be missed. Also, it takes some local knowledge to get around because the Loblolly Pines can block approaches from sides of certain fairways.

Blog_HeronPoint.jpgWhile I was at Sea Pines Resort, I’d go to Heron Point if I was playing well (pictured above), but the Ocean Course if I needed to sort my swing out. The former is a pretty vicious Pete Dye design filled with hazards that slither beside the angular doglegs like snakes.

Blog_Palmetto_ArthurHills.jpgThe other all-inclusive resort with three solid courses, and which is generally less spendy, is Palmetto Dunes. The Arthur Hills layout (pictured above), is the most spectacularly situated with 10 holes along water, but the George Fazio is the better test because of small, elevated greens. The greens were switched from Bermuda to Zoysia grass in 2010, which is a heartier strand designed to thrive in high-salt, high-traffic conditions.

No matter what courses you play or where you go for apres-golf, you’ll be sure to find your beverage served in comically oversize Styrofoam cup. This is just the way of the lowcountry people, and a larger drink ration is always good for buddies-trip morale.

--Max Adler

Here's a grid which compares all the courses discussed above:


We created this grid by going to, clicking on Courses & Travel, scrolling down and clicking on Course Finder.

Type in the course names, and then click the box below each course that says “+ Compare.” After finding and clicking on all of the courses, in the bottom right of the screen, click on “Compare Now.”

Next up is destination No. 8: Scottsdale.

~Matty G.

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Courses & Travel

Matty G's Mailbag: Couples golf trip in January?

Hi Matt,
Every year, four couples (my husband and I included) take a post-holiday golf trip. It’s golf for the guys, some golf and a lot of spa time for the wives. (After all, we have to look good when the guys come in after a long hard day on the links, right?)
Anyway, I'm in charge of picking the place this year. Since everything is a competition in our group, I have to have the best place EVER, so I’m turning to a professional for advice.
We live in South Carolina and have done Pinehurst and Myrtle Beach to death. I realize that the time of the year and the weather are going to limit our choices, but I hope you have some ideas for an awesome golf experience with some awesome amenities. We usually try for 4-5 days in early January and we’re willing to travel. I have read about a couple of places that you have mentioned recently—Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links—but January probably makes those unrealistic.
Help me out, OK?
Brenda Kirk, Charleston, SC


First of all, I don’t recommend Bandon Dunes in January unless you dip yourself in Thompson’s WaterSeal and you’re willing to play through bone-chilling winds. And this spa experience you speak of, at Bandon, is best described as modest with a few massage tables.
As for Cabot Links: also a pass in January. Cabot will get real good when they complete the second course, add a spa and more amenities, which I’m not even sure is part of the grand plan.
You’ve been to Myrtle and Pinehurst, and I’m ruling out Sea Island, Kiawah and Pebble Beach because their average highs in January aren’t over 60 degrees. Hawaii is always popular in January, and if that’s what you’re looking to do, I’m a fan of Kapalua on Maui and the St. Regis on Kauai. If you want to get weird and wild and venture out of the country, I had a great winter trip to Mayakoba in Mexico.
The above are a bit more expensive and more exotic than mainland America, so I’ll offer these suggestions based on January weather and your specific needs.

KeyBiscayne.jpgKey Biscayne, Fla.
Miami is a popular destination in January, but Doral’s golf offerings don’t do it for me, which is why I prefer Key Biscayne. Less than 30 minutes from the airport and over the Rickenbacker Causeway, “the Key” has an opulent Ritz property on the water (pictured above) with multiple food choices and plenty of amenities, including world-class tennis courts and instructors. The public golf course across the street, Crandon Park, is fun, flat, affordable and void of fairways flanked by houses.
Average high in January: 75 degrees. (My story about Key Biscayne.)

Coronado.jpgSan Diego, Calif.
It’s no secret that I love San Diego for more than those pathetic Padres. La Costa is nice, and could work for your group. The courses there are a mess in terms of routing and they’re over priced. If you’re going to spend that kind of money, I suggest staying at the Grand Del Mar. Prepare to be wined, dined and pampered. The Tom Fazio-designed course is good and secluded, and you’re close to Coronado (pictured above), which is my second favorite public facility in the country—behind Bethpage. If you want to save a little money but you’re committed to San Diego, try the Lodge at Torrey Pines, which also offers guaranteed tee times on the South Course, host of the 2008 U.S. Open (Tiger’s last major).
Average high in January: 66 degrees. (My trip to San Diego.)

Tucson.jpgTucson, AZ
I’ll start by saying Tucson is a tough town going through tougher economic times. And on the outskirts of some struggles is a pocket of serenity known as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Dove Mountain. The resort, built around two saguaro cacti entrenched in the Sonoran Desert, seamlessly blends into the setting. It’s not only easy on the eyes, but you’ll appreciate an organic respect of the Native-American culture and the luxurious lodging and snappy service typical of a Ritz property. The spa (pictured above) is tranquil and unique—and I say that having seen more than my share of copycats. And although the 27 holes of Nicklaus-designed golf gets heat from fickle tour pros who complain about severe undulations on the greens, the common golfer will be too busy enjoying Sonoran sunsets and tequila drinks to be frustrated by an abundance of three putts.
Average high in January: 64 degrees. (My trip to Tucson.)

LaQuinta.jpgLa Quinta, Calif.
If you want to guarantee yourself idyllic weather in January, head to Palm Springs and check into the casita comforts of La Quinta Resort & Spa. There are little pools attached to intimate quads of socially conducive rooms, a Jim McLean golf school, 23 pristine tennis courts, nine boutique shops, a first-class spa, seven restaurant options on property, and Arnold Palmer’s restaurant down the street. Of the five golf courses available to guests, the Mountain Course (pictured above), which runs along the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, is a fun ride for couples golf. Average age of the locals is up there, way up there, but that has never bothered me. And I’m guessing it won’t bother you, especially if you’re traveling with a good group willing to make your own fun.
Average high: 71 degrees. (My trip to La Quinta.)

I also asked this question of my Twitter followers: “Couples trip in January...good golf, obviously, and a spa is a priority...where would you go?”
Here are 10 of the responses I received:
@jasleeack: Kiawah. They'll have the beach to themselves and there is another hotel being built near the resort.
@duckhook7: The Boulders in Scottsdale or Half Moon in Montego Bay.
@dbomaha: Scottsdale. The Boulders Resort has your golf and a Golden Door Spa for the ladies. #worldclass
@starnzie: Inn at Spanish Bay, done.
@justin_essner: Waldorf Astoria Orlando.
@MRicks83: Ritz Carlton Naples, FL.
@Judd_Henry: Palmetto Bluff, top notch Nicklaus with Auberge Resort. Plus, weather in Low Country is sunny and dry in January.
@bule1101: Dove Mountain, any Ritz or Four Seasons on Hawaii, Pelican Hill, Ritz Sarasota, One & Only Bahamas, Lajitas, Aviara, Ritz Half Moon Bay.
@iGolfReviews: Casa de Campo, DR or El Conquistador, PR.

@Chip_Gaskins: Calusa Pines and @RitzCarlton Naples or Barton Creek in Austin, TX with Austin Golf Club.

 Hope some of this helps, Brenda. And let me know what you decide.
~Matty G.

Do you have a golf and travel question? Send a tweet to @Matt_Ginella, or email to (subject: Mailbag).

Photographs by: Jensen Larson (Key Biscayne), J.D. Cuban (Tucson), and Joey Terrill (La Quinta and San Diego).

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Courses & Travel

Ambush update: The Ponce is going across The Pond

Ponce.jpgThe Ponce was, and always will be, the first Ambush. It was 16 guys colliding with the courses of Sea Island, boyish camaraderie, enjoying the comforts of the Lodge, shoulder-season specials and a few bottles of wine on behalf of Golf Digest.

Now I can see why Geoff Shackelford made fun of my Ambush videos:

Anyway, I've kept in contact with both planners of The Ponce, Michael Palmore and Neil Thomson, and as they prep for their 10th annual buddies trip, I received this email from Thomson:

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Courses & Travel

This winner of the Major Championship Challenge is going to Ireland

If there’s an easier way to win a $9,000 all-expenses-paid golf trip to Ireland, we haven’t heard about it.

“I was in shock!”

That was Brendan Fehr’s reaction when he found out he was the winner of an all-expenses-paid golf trip for two to Ireland thanks to his entry in Golf Digest’s Major Championship Challenge.

“I’ve subscribed to Golf Digest long enough to know that it’s owned by Conde Nast, so when Conde Nast came up on my caller ID, I answered the phone.”

Brendan.jpgFehr, 35, of West Valley, Ariz., picked Bubba Watson to win the Masters. “I love Bubba,” says Fehr. “He’s an amazing person. He has such imagination around the golf course, and that’s the reason he won.”

Fehr was one of 953 who entered the first leg of Golf Digest’s Major Championship Challenge, a fantasy golf competition based on the “five majors.” (We’re counting the Players Championship as the fifth major.)

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Courses & Travel

Trip Report: Ireland

Roger Schiffman, managing editor of Golf Digest, was on vacation playing golf in Ireland last week. When he got back, I put him to work, managing the following pictures and captions for this blog.

Here's Schiffman's trip report:

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Courses & Travel

Trip Report: The East Course at Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico

Colleague Mike Johnson is back from a recent trip to Puerto Rico. I asked for his thoughts on the East Course at Dorado Beach, so he filed this report:

Dorado.jpgThere are few things better than a buddies golf weekend in Puerto Rico. Unless it’s a buddies golf weekend in Puerto Rico that includes playing Dorado East. (Pictured: fourth hole.) Re-opened in November after an extensive renovation that included removing a massive amount of trees and vegetation allowing for views of the ocean on 14 holes, Dorado is worthy for the quality of its layout and conditioning as much as its views.

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Courses & Travel

Idaho’s Circling Bargain

When I visited the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort two summers ago, I came away thinking it was one of the better bargains around, with peak-season green fees maxing out at $95 on its Circling Raven Golf Course.

Circling Raven.jpgManagement has announced a new deal that makes it even more attractive, in my view. Its All Inclusive Stay and Play Package costs $299 a person (double occupancy) for two nights, a round of golf each, a $50 per person spa credit, $25 a person dining credit and $15 of “casino cash.” Pretty good deal!
Or if you’re just interested in golf, basic stay-and-play packages start at $99 a person double occupancy. That includes a round of golf each on the Gene Bates-designed course, plus use of a GPS-equipped cart and the course’s expansive practice area.
I’ll admit I wasn’t DAZZLED by the casino’s accommodations when I was last there; I preferred staying at the more upscale Coeur d’Alene Resort just up the road (it’s the one with the famous island green). The casino was busily adding 100 higher-end hotel rooms, known as the Spa Tower, during my visit. They’re finished now and, on the website at least, they look like an improvement. This is where you stay as part of that All Inclusive deal.
The resort’s web site doesn’t have a lot of details about the All Inclusive Stay and Play deal as of this writing, but you can call 208-769-2600 and they’ll know what you’re talking about.

--Peter Finch

(Follow Pete on Twitter @Pete_Finch; follow me @Matt_Ginella.)

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Courses & Travel

Notes & Best of Booth Babes from the PGA Show

Yes, I had a good show.

Back from my second PGA Show in Orlando, it's not unlike most conventions: meetings, meals and martinis. There were no beverage cart girls, but I did make a few minutes for the best of the booth babes.

My notebook (and iPhone) dump:

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