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.
We 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.
There 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.
My 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:
As 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.
If 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.
It 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.
I 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.
Wake 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.
In my next 10 blog posts, and with the help of golfdigest.com’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.)
Last 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.
Nevertheless, 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.
While 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.
The 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.
Here's a grid which compares all the courses discussed above:
We created this grid by going to golfdigest.com, 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.
My ranking of buddies-trip destinations would look a little different, and for my money, Austin is much better than 28th-best in the country. You'll definitely agree if you visit during the Austin City Limits music festival in October.
In my next 10 blog posts, and with the help of golfdigest.com’s Course Finder, I’ll be ranking my favorite courses near the 10 best destinations.
I’ll be counting down No. 10 to No. 1, which means I'm kicking off with No. 10, Traverse City, Mich.
I love the combination of golf and value in Michigan. In or around Traverse City, Arcadia Bluffs, No. 10 on America’s 100 Greatest Public, would be the axis to any good buddies trip. Although it’s not a better course than Spyglass Hill (No. 11), Bandon Trails (No. 14) or Plantation at Kapalua (No. 17), the Warren Henderson/Rick Smith design, located on Lake Michigan, is so much fun I spontaneously played it twice before I left. Arcadia's scenic Amen Corner goes out and along the water and consists of the 594-yard 11th (pictured above), the 431-yard 12th and the 190-yard 13th.
From now on, every golf trip I make to Michigan will include a round at Forest Dunes, No. 20 on 100 Greatest Public (pictured above). It’s a tremendous walk in a remote setting, good service, an impressive clubhouse, two distinct nines and a fun finish highlighted by the drivable par-4 17th and the bet-settling 19th. The 90-minute drive from Traverse City is well worth it.
The Grand Traverse Resort, which has been ranked as high as No. 48 on our list of Top 75 Golf Resorts in North America, is a good place to stay. There are three courses, a nice restaurant, and its marketing staff gets creative with golf packages, but if I had time for only one round on the property, I’d play The Bear (pictured above). I’d also play it from a mix of blue and white tees. The Bear can be obnoxiously difficult from the blue tees (6,618 yards).
For my fourth round, I’d express interest in "joining" Kingsley Club (pictured above) and hope they’d allow me and my group to pay for a round on what's nearly a perfect private golf experience. It's so good, and relatively affordable, that I considered joining even though I live in Brooklyn.
I’ve created a grid which compares all four courses above:
I quickly created this grid by going to golfdigest.com, clicking on Courses & Travel, scrolling down and clicking on Course Finder. I typed in the course names, and then clicked the box below each course that says “+ Compare.” After finding and clicking on all four courses, in the bottom right of the screen, I hit “Compare Now.”
For more on Arcadia Bluffs, Forest Dunes, Grand Traverse Resort and other courses I’ve played in Michigan, click here.
Next up is destination No. 9: Hilton Head Island/Savannah.