This is among golf's indisputable truths: When you head north for a buddies trip in mid-November, you're gambling on the weather. Jake Ramirez, leader of a group that goes to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
the weekend before Thanksgiving, says they've had 60-degree days with no wind on five of their eight visits. And the other three? "The weather was pretty extreme," Ramirez concedes. "One year it snowed."
That might not sound like the ideal buddies golf trip. But Ramirez and his seven fellow travelers beg to differ. They've been to Scotland, to Ireland, to many of the top resorts in the United States. For their money—$780 a man for three nights, three rounds, two dinners and breakfasts—it doesn't get any better than Bandon.
"We love the links-style golf, and it's right here" in the States, says Ramirez, who lives in Southern California. As for those occasional foul-weather days: They don't get too worked up about it. "This trip is all about being with friends and just getting away," Ramirez says. "That's the most fun part."
Thanks to Bandon and its five exceptional courses, golfers from all over the world now recognize the greatness of Oregon's southern coast—a region that takes top honors in our new ranking of America's Best Buddies-Trip Destinations. We created this list by surveying the Golf Digest panelists, roughly 1,100 avid golfers who produce our biennial rankings of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses.
We asked them to score buddies-trip destinations they have visited on a scale of 1-10.
In addition to that ranking, we've compiled lists of the top-10 buddies-trip destinations in seven categories: Courses, Value, Weather, Food & Drink, Lodging, Nightlife, and For Couples. Want to head overseas with your group? Consult our list of the top-10 British Isles buddies destinations. Finally, if you want to take a buddies golf trip somewhere a little less well-known (and where your dollar will almost always go further), see "Planning a Buddies Trip?" sidebar (right).
and Spyglass Hill,
Nos. 1 and 11 in our ranking of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses,
deliver a one-two punch like few others. Add the Bayonet and Black Horse courses
in nearby Seaside, and the Alister Mackenzie classic Pasatiempo Golf Club
on the drive to or from the Bay Area, and you have an extremely powerful buddies-trip destination.
An obvious knock on the area is the price. A round on Pebble Beach Golf Links will set you back $495, on top of the $650 or more you'll pay for a room at the resort. But for guys like David Lambert, a retired Wall Streeter who has led a group there every September for more than 30 years, there's nothing like it. "Pebble's the granddaddy of great courses," he says. "It's very, very hard to beat those vistas."
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Jeff McIntire isn't surprised by Myrtle Beach's
strong showing in the Value category. He has been leading a group of 12 guys to Myrtle every September for the past nine years. They stay five nights and play four tournament rounds, for about $750 a person. That does not include transportation to Myrtle, but it does cover golf, their rental house on the North Carolina border, almost all food, beer and prizes.
The group books its lodging and golf through a local real-estate firm, Century 21 Thomas. Their agent helps them pick a house, then McIntire and a friend do the research to identify which courses they want to play.
When the group began to take shape a decade ago, keeping the trip cheap was important. Now most of the guys, in their 30s and early 40s, are a bit more prosperous. They've talked about visiting some other, potentially more expensive destinations. Yet there's something about Myrtle that keeps pulling them back. Says McIntire: "Myrtle Beach just makes it very easy and affordable for us."
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The classic buddies trip is a true getaway—a vacation that immerses you in a world of camaraderie, golf and sunshine. The places with the best combination of those last two are familiar to anyone who has ever looked at a weather map.
In these chiefly southern and western destinations, peak-season rates are generally high. But hey, you get what you pay for: unplayable days are rare. "There's nothing like getting off that plane and feeling the heat hit you," says Greg Ward, a Philadelphia insurance agent who has been going to Scottsdale since 1989. "It's just ... ahhhhh."
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Carmel/Monterey gets high marks for its fine dining, and rightly so. (The scenery has to count for a lot, too. Is there any better view than the one from Pebble's Stillwater Bar & Grill, overlooking No. 18 and Carmel Bay?)
Foodie golfers also give high marks to the variety in Scottsdale. "That's the really special thing," Ward says. "There's something for everyone." Among his group's favorites: spicy Tex-Mex at Los Dos Molinos, authentic Cuban at Havana Cafe, "modern American" at Cowboy Ciao, and Roaring Fork for steaks.
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What makes for great buddies-trip accommodations? It depends on the buddies, of course. Doug Kinna of Toronto will never forget his group's pre-round ritual on last year's trip to Pebble. Each morning they'd roll out of their rooms at The Lodge and head to the health club, where they ate their breakfast in the hot tubs overlooking Stillwater Cove.
By contrast, the rooms at Bandon Dunes might be "a little Spartan," but they're "perfect for buddies trips," says Jake Ramirez. "They have everything guys need: a fireplace, ample closet space, enough room for your clubs if you want, and free Wi-Fi."
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If it weren't for Las Vegas' legendary nightlife, Jim Rayburn's annual buddies trip might not have survived. For a couple of years, Rayburn organized a January trip to Mesquite, Nev., about a four-hour drive from his home 40 minutes south of Salt Lake City. "But we had a problem," he says. "There's not a lot to do in Mesquite after golf, other than drink and gamble, so guys were getting drunk and angry because some of them ran out of money on the first day."
The group always figured Las Vegas,
another hour away, would be too expensive. But in the early 2000s, Rayburn approached a few hotels and courses and asked if he could get discounts for bringing 40-50 guys. The offers he got made it cost about the same as the Mesquite trip. That is, around $560 for 99 holes of golf and four nights' lodging. On top of that, there's so much more to do when the sun goes down—from the piano bar at New York-New York to comedy shows to bowling to night golf—that the guys waste less of their money gambling. "Vegas might not want to hear that," Rayburn says, "but it's made the trip more affordable for most of our guys."
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When Doug Kinna and his buddies arrived at Pebble Beach and got a look around, they had a thought: We'd better not tell our wives too much about this! he remembers with a laugh. The fact is, many top buddies-trip destinations make for excellent couples trips, even if only one partner plays golf.
Our second-leading vote-getter in this category, the Hawaiian island of Maui, is "very romantic," observes Brian Ciccozzi, a Vancouver retiree who has been coming to the island every year since 1989. He cites its "wide-open spaces, gorgeous gardens and fabulous restaurants."
His partner, Angela Pirozzi, especially loves the two courses at Wailea Golf Club, on the island's south side. "They're so beautiful, and the people who work there are so accommodating and nice, it just makes you want to come back again and again," she says.
Which, when you think about it, is just what you want in a buddies-trip destination.
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"I'd love to go on a buddies trip, but I can't afford it." If that's you, I'd argue it's not true. Having been on more than 60 domestic buddies trips, as a participant and an observer, I'm always amazed at what you can get for so little. You can't afford it? Life is short. I'd say you can't afford not to take a golf trip with your friends. Here are my favorite less-obvious buddies-trip destinations, which also happen to be great values. —Matt Ginella
1. Brainerd, Minn.
One of the best summer spots anywhere, Madden's on Gull Lake
features endless water activities, a spa, and 63 holes, including The Classic,
No. T-53 on America's 100 Greatest Public. $$
2. Hershey, Pa.
A three-hour drive from New York City, this sweet little town gets more than six million visitors a year. They come for a theme park, a four-diamond resort, 10 new cottages, a spa and 63 holes of golf full of rich history. $$
3. Tacoma, Wash.
One thing fueling Tacoma's comeback is good golf. Stay at Hotel Murano and take day trips to play Chambers Bay
(host of the 2015 U.S. Open) and both courses at Gold Mountain. $$
4. Brooksville, Fla.
An hour north of Tampa Bay, World Woods
has two 4½- star courses, a 360-degree range and world-class fishing. The Chassahowitzka Hotel offers two rounds, two nights and all meals for $365 per person. __$$ __
5. Crossville, Tenn.
The state's "golf capital" offers 10 solid public courses within 30 miles of each other, all of which can be played on weekends during peak season for less than $70. $
6. Canandaigua, N.Y.
35 miles from Rochester, features a Robert Trent Jones course overlooking the scenic Canandaigua Lake, a 31-room lodge, a spa, good food and friendly service. Stay two nights and three rounds for $169-$409 per person. $
7. Gulf Shores, Ala.
The RTJ Trail gets a lot of deserved attention, but don't forget about Gulf Shores, along the southwestern tip of the state. There's The Wharf, nine courses and incomparable value.__ $$__
8. St. George, Utah
Only two hours from Vegas, this hub of golf and value might not offer the nightlife of Sin City, but I ambushed a group of guys who enjoyed six rounds, four nights, food, transportation and side bets for $1,000 per man. $
9. Lewiston, Mich.
Only 90 minutes from Traverse City, the Garland Lodge & Resort
has four decent courses, golf cottages conducive to buddies-trip behavior, affordable rates and a hospitable attitude. $
10. Lancaster, Ky.
45 minutes from Lexington, you can stay three nights in golf villas and play three rounds on a Pete Dye design for less than $300 per person (carts and homemade breakfast included). BYOB, because it's a dry county. $
* $ TO $$$$: LOW TO HIGH BASED ON RELATIVE EXPENSE FOR AREA GREEN FEES AND ACCOMMODATIONS.