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Deal of the Week: Bring the Champion to its knees in Florida

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The weather hasn't even begun to crack yet in the Northeast, but it's still time to start thinking about booking shoulder-season deals in warm weather destinations like Florida.

PGA National Resort & Spa has five world-class courses on its Palm Beach Gardens property--including the fearsome Champion, which has hosted both the Honda Classic and the Ryder Cup. Book the Summer Escape and Play package for trips starting May 22nd and later and you can lock in huge discounts from the prime-time rate.

The package includes lodging in a terrace room, a round on the Palmer, Fazio, Squire or Estates courses, a free replay on those same courses, breakfast and 50 percent off any golf daily golf clinic for rates starting at $89.50 per person. If you do decide to take on the Champ--which famously punched players in the mouth at the 1983 Ryder Cup and 1987 PGA and was freshened last year by Jack Nicklaus--it'll cost you a $75 surcharge. That's small change considering the regular green fee is $379. 

You're probably asking yourself, Just how sweaty will I get in Florida in late May or early June?

Moderately. 

Average highs are in the high 80s, with high humidity -- nothing a cold beer and a cart can't solve. You'll wipe your brow when you're done and remember how much you hated liberating your windshield wipers with an ice pick in February, when the sun hadn't been out for three weeks.

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Have your own spring training in Myrtle Beach

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Major League baseball players spend the month of March getting ready for the rigors of the upcoming season. Just because they're making millions and you aren't doesn't mean they automatically have the right idea--but in this case, they do. 

You could ease your way into the 2015 season waiting for a few 50-degree days in March. Or, you can fly down to Myrtle Beach and do it right, with a four-day, three-night golf-and-stay package at two of South Carolina's premier properties--Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Golf Club. 

With the March Mania package, you get three nights lodging at the True Blue Resort and four rounds at either of the two clubs in any combination for $599 per person. The offer is good from March 15-31--plenty of time to tune up before your Tuesday Night League starts at home. 

The courses are adjacent to each other on Pawley's Island, an easy 20-minute drive south of the Myrtle Beach airport. The Mike Strantz-designed Caledonia is consistently ranked one of the 100 best public courses in America, and was carved from one of largest rice plantations in the antebellum South. The entrance road to the club is lined with the 150-year-old live oaks planted during the plantation's heyday in the late 1700s. Sister course True Blue, also a Strantz design, opened four years later, in 1998, on an old indigo plantation. It's longer and more challenging, with shades of Pinehurst No. 2. It's also been a staple on best-in-state and best-in-the-U.S. lists

Individual green fees for each course are in the $150-$200 range alone, making it worth your while to get out of the bustle of Myrtle Beach proper. You'll still be in range if you just have to get to a Hooters for wings and borderline sexual harassment. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Go back in time in Williamsburg

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Colonial Williamsburg is the grandaddy of all theme parks. Organized in the 1920s as a way to preserve and promote the colonial-era structures in one of Virginia's original plantation towns, it is essentially a recreation of 18th century American life, down to the actors who dress the part and perform Washington-era chores. 

It's all very charming and educational, but golfers still want modern agronomy practices--and a comfortable place to sleep. Enter the Kingsmill Resort, which features two championship courses--including the River Course, which hosts the LPGA in May--425 rooms and a completely renovated spa. 

Now, you can book an Unlimited Golf Package, which includes two nights lodging, unlimited golf (as you might expect from the name) on the River and Plantation courses, breakfast and local transportation for rates starting at $448 per person.

The River Course gets most of the attention because of the LPGA visits--off and on for going on 20 years--and its picturesque location alongside the James River. Pete Dye's design won't overpower you at just over 6,300 yards from the blue tees, and the pure greens reward a good putting stroke. Get in before the Kingsmill Championship May 14-17 and you just might see Cristie Kerr practicing. She loves the place, and is a three-time champion. The Arnold Palmer-Ed Seay Plantation Course offers a little more breathing room off the tee, and a tour of some of the historic buildings from Kingsmill's past as a working plantation in the 1700s.  

Off the course, you can visit one of the collection of three-century-old taverns in Colonial Williamsburg offering a selection of dishes George Washington would recognize. George might have more trouble with the drink menu, though. O'Doul's wasn't a thing in the 1760s, when he was serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses.  

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Two hours to paradise in Bermuda

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The Caribbean is lovely this time of year, but it's also at least a three hour flight from the Northeast. Go to Bermuda and you can shave at least an hour off that time in each direction, and sacrifice only a few degrees in temperature in the process. 

Bermuda is never cheap, but if you can pull the trigger before the end of March you can still score some of the best end-of-winter rates before peak season rolls in. It won't be beach weather, but it is ideal for golf--highs in the high 60s and low 70s and lows only two or three degrees cooler. The Fairmont Southampton sits on a prime, pink-sand beach and has arrangements with the two best courses on the Island--Mid Ocean and Port Royal. 

Book the three-night Bermuda Golf Around Getaway and you'll get accommodations in a balcony room, breakfast, rounds at Mid-Ocean, Port Royal and your choice of a third (lesser) course for rates beginning at $749 per person. The green fee at Mid Ocean alone is $250, while Port Royal checks in at $180. You'll also get 50 percent off club rentals, should you decide to leave the sticks at home. 

Mid Ocean was built by Charles Blair McDonald, and it has the pedigree (and private club attitude) to befit its age. President Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met for an informal power summit there in 1953, and, less importantly, Jim Furyk beat Padraig Harrington in the end-of-season major champions' Grand Slam of Golf boondoggle there in 2008. 

Port Royal is on the other side of the island, but is situated on equally good waterfront terrain. Public and owned by the Bermudian government, it is the stronger test of the two. Martin Kaymer won the Grand Slam there last year. 

American, JetBlue and U.S. Airways all fly direct to L.F. Wade International, while Delta flies direct from Boston and Atlanta. None of the flights are longer than two hours and 45 minutes, and they haven't lost a plane in the Triangle for years. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Walk in the footsteps of champions in Ojai

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Maybe it's seeing PGA Tour players duke it out over Riviera's twists and turns last week. Or maybe it's just the mid-70s California weather. 

Either way, you can experience the next best thing to playing members-only Riviera -- the same Roaring 20s course architecture and weather, but at the Ojai Inn's beautiful resort course 80 miles northwest of L.A. In March, you can pick from a couple of attractive offers. A twosome can stay and play unlimited golf for $569 per night midweek, or you can simply book at least two nights and get an additional night free. 

Built in 1923 by George Thomas -- the same man who laid out Riviera and L.A. Country Club around the same time -- the Ojai Country Club is 6,200 yards of pure history. In addition to playing host to a handful of Champions Tour events in the late '80s and early '90s, the course has long been a stop for golf and Hollywood royalty. Jimmy Demaret represented the resort in the 1940s and 1950s, and played money games there with Ben Hogan throughout the 1950s.

You can even play two of Thomas' original "lost holes," rediscovered and restored to their original 1923 specifications after being plowed over during World War II, when the U.S Army and Navy took over the property.

The Inn retains all of the charm and seclusion that made it one of the most popular getaways for Hollywood stars in the 1950s. The exteriors look as they did when Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy shot Pat and Mike there in 1952, and you can sit for dinner and California wine outside, overlooking the golf course, at The Oak--one of former president Ronald Reagan's favorite spots. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Play gangster style in Hot Springs

Even mobsters need vacations, apparently. 

In the 1920s, Al Capone's destination of choice was Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he had a suite on the fourth floor of the Arlington Hotel and played his golf at Hot Springs Country Club. 

You probably don't want to follow Capone's career path, but you can walk in his footsteps. The circa-1925, twin-towered Arlington Hotel still anchors downtown Hot Springs, and the $390 golf package there offers two nights lodging, full breakfast and a round of golf for two at either of Hot Springs Country Club's layouts. 

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The original course on the property, the Park, opened in 1898. Designed by Willie Park, Jr., it was overhauled by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore in 2001. It has a little more elbow room and flatter lies than the sporty Arlington, a 1927 William Diddle design redone by Crenshaw in his pre-collaboration days. Neither are punishing for shorter hitters -- especially now, when the daytime temperatures bounce between the mid 60s and low 70s. 

No visit to Hot Springs is complete without a walk down Bathhouse Row, adjacent to the Arlington on Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs. The turn-of-the-century buildings were built directly over the natural hot springs for which the town is named, and served as medicinal spas for health tourists -- who have been coming to Hot Springs to "take the waters" since the mid 1800s. 

Of the eight historic bathhouses on the row, the Buckstaff is the last one still operating -- and you can get the same thermal mineral water treatment you would have received when it opened in 1912. For $33, you get a 20-minute whirlpool mineral bath, a trip through a Sitz bath and a high-powered needle shower. A loofah mitt will run you an extra $4.  

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Catch off-season bargains at Pinehurst

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After the freshly old-schooled Pinehurst No. 2's star turn at both the men's and women's U.S. Opens last year, you might be feeling like you want your own crack at it. 

Generally, that'll cost you--to the tune of $420 during peak season. Right now, the North Carolina Sandhills are at their coldest of the year, with daytime highs in the mid-50s. That means you can score a round on No. 2--or one of the other eight other courses at the Pinehurst Resort--for a slightly less-stiff tariff. 

Book the Evergreen Golf or Spa Escape and get a room at The Carolina Hotel, breakfast buffet and either 18 holes or a 50-minute spa treatment for $174 per person per night Sunday through Thursday. To play No 2., where Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie won on back to back weeks, you need to pay a $150 surcharge, but it's worth every penny to see Donald Ross' masterpiece, brought back to its original sandy ferocity by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. 

There are no bad choices for your other rounds, from the circa-1898 No. 1 (the first one at the resort) to Tom Fazio's No. 4--generally considered to be the second-best of the group. The most fun might be had on No. 3, Donald Ross' sporty 5,800-yard short course. If offers all of the roller coaster greenside challenges as big brother No. 2, but with short iron approaches. 

If you go, reserve one evening for dinner at the Pine Crest Inn, situated in the heart of the town. Ross bought the property in 1921 and owned it until his death. Go casual and sit at the bar in Mr. B's Lounge and take in a century of Ross-centric golf memorabilia, or sit in the dining room and have the signature 22-oz. pork chop. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Be a sports junkie in Tampa

Theoretically, golf should be enough to keep you entertained on that three-day golf weekend. But there's a reason Las Vegas is a popular destination. 

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Off-course entertainment matters, and Florida's Innisbrook Resort is betting that its combination of PGA Tour-caliber golf and extracurriculars will entice groups looking for a blended experience. 

Innisbrook's Sportsman's Package offers villa lodging, a daily round on one of the four championship courses on property (including the Copperhead, home of the PGA Tour's Valspar Classic) and a choice of ticket to one of four Tampa-area sporting events -- the NFL Buccaneers, NHL Lighting, the Richard Petty Driving Experience or deep-water fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Rates start at $279 per night, per person.

Chances are you already know which ticket you'd pick. But if you're torn, consider how often you'll get the chance back home to ride along at 180 miles per hour a few feet from the wall and a certain, fiery death. If feels like your stomach is getting stapled to your spine. But in a good way.   



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Travel

Deal of the Week: Tee up in New Mexico's high desert

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New Mexico doesn't get nearly the same golf attention as its desert neighbor, Arizona--probably because Scottsdale by itself has more courses than the entire state. But the weather in New Mexico is just as good right now, with temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s, and even though there are fewer top-end destination resort choices, you can score great off-the-beaten-path bargains. 

Hyatt Regency's Tamaya Resort & Spa is situated in the high desert 30 miles north of Albuquerque and 60 miles southwest of Santa Fe. It's beautiful country--a mix of windswept dunes, mountains and surprising greenery. Gary Panks' Twin Warriors, one of Golf Digest's 100 Best Public Courses, is the signature course on the property. Threaded between sacred Tamayame historical sites, a dormant volcano, desert wash, mature Juniper trees--and even a cascading waterfall--Twin Warriors offers challenge and visual punch. You also have access to the 27-hole Santa Ana Golf Club, a self-described links course (we know, heresy...) with views of the Sandia Mountains. 

Through April 31, you can book the New Mexico Retreat Package and get three rounds of golf on your choice of the two courses, three nights lodging at the resort and breakfast and lunch, all for $900. 

If you're choosing whether to drive south to Albuquerque or northeast to Santa Fe for an off-campus excursion, opt for the slightly longer drive to Santa Fe. It is one of the finest food cities in the Southwest, with choices all along the cultural spectrum. You can stay true to Santa Fe's history as the terminus of the old El Camino Real trade route from Mexico City and have dinner at the Compound--a converted adobe home that has been serving fine Southwestern food since the 1960s. Don't ask for taquitos--they're too polite to kick you out, but you'll deserve it. Pick the grilled Angus tenderloin instead, and pair it with roasted brussels sprouts served with smoked gouda cream and bacon. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Only football teams don't want to visit Alabama in the winter

The Robert Trent Jones Trail's marketing conceit is straightforward: Promote the collection of 11 RTJ-designed courses owned in the state by Retirement Systems of Alabama and generate visits from golfers from both within and beyond the region. 

The quality of golf along the Trail is uniformly good, and you won't go wrong booking a time at any of them. But some have better deals than others over winter, when temperatures are in the high 50s and low 60s. Ross Bridge is conveniently located just outside Birmingham, and it has a 260-room Renaissance resort attached to it. 

Considering the course runs 8,100 yards from the tips, its Ketel One winter package is apropos. From now until Dec. 31, you can get two rounds of golf, a room at the resort, a gift bag filled with apparel and balls and vouchers for two Ketel One drinks for rates starting at $380. 

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Save the vodka for the bonkers ninth hole, a roller-coaster 518-yard par-4 from the tips that's protected by a lake, a waterfall and a fairway bunker magnetized to attract ProV1s. The Champions Tour last played an event here in 2010, and some of the older guys are just now finishing up on 18.

If you're looking to make a weekend out of it (assuming you still have balls left), fellow Trail member Oxmoor Valley is next door in Birmingham, and it has two championship courses of its own--the Ridge and Valley--built on mountainous former U.S. Steel property. You can book an unlimited play winter day rate of $77 at either course through February 8. 
 
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