Trails Mix: Take your game on the road

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Trails Mix: Take your game on the road

September 05, 2007

Asheville, North Carolina

Famed novelist Thomas Wolfe is its favorite native son. His contemporary F. Scott Fitzgerald was a regular at its only five-star hotel, The Grove Park Inn. Culture, climate -- four distinct seasons -- and a cosmopolitan flavor have made the small town of Asheville, N.C., a top tourist destination.The fact that Asheville is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains defines its golf. It's true mountain golf, from majestic vistas to wondrous waterfalls. Ever hit a pitching wedge to a 185-yard par 3 or a 5-iron to a 110-yarder? The potential is there.Donald Ross, who designed three daily-fee courses in the Asheville area, and Tom Fazio, a resident of Hendersonville, 25 miles away, are among the architects who used the terrain to create hilly, tree-lined fairways that make finding flat lies a rarity and accuracy a necessity. The Ross tracks (Linville, Asheville Municipal and Grove Park) and a number of other quality courses are within an hour's drive of Asheville.For more information from our Best Places to Play Guide, including directions, green fees and reader comments click on the course names below.4 ½ stars: Linville G.C. / Linville4 stars: Mt. Mitchell G.C. / Burnsville4 stars: Reems Creek G.C. / Weaverville4 stars: Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa / AshevilleAsheville Municipal G. Cse. / not rated3 ½ stars: Springdale C.C. / Canton3 ½ stars: Etowah Valley C.C. & G. Lodge / Etowah

Florida Panhandle

The 103-mile stretch from Panama City west to Pensacola along U.S. Highway 98 in the Florida Panhandle might be the perfect stretch of pavement for a golf road trip.There are no complicated turns or wacky directions. If you can hold the steering wheel steady for a couple of hours, you can tee off on nearly a dozen courses without having to stop and ask for directions.If you're looking for hilly, parkland-style tracks, you're in the wrong place. The courses here are virtually flat and typically framed by tall, skinny pines, wispy coastal grass and sand scrub, and a seemingly endless supply of water hazards (so bring an extra dozen balls).For more information from our Best Places to Play Guide, including directions, green fees and reader comments click on the course names below.4 stars: Bay Point Resort (Nicklaus Cse.) / Panama City Beach3 ½ stars: The Hombre G.C. (27 holes) / Panama City Beach4 ½ stars: (Burnt Pine G.C.), 4 ½ stars: (Raven G.C.), Sandestin G. and Beach Resort / Destin4 ½ stars: Kelly Plantation G.C. / Destin4 ½ stars: The Club at Hidden Creek / Navarre4 ½ stars: The Moors / Milton

Hawaii

Evaluating golf in Hawaii is different than almost anywhere else. Because it's paradise, the golf is more about the total experience than a purist's conception of classic shot values. Hawaii's best courses tend to be penal, as if the designers decided that putting the golfer as close as possible to the raw natural beauty of ocean, cliffs and rain forest was more important than playability. So be it. The spectacular stages are likely to leave you with at least one shot that you can play in your memory for the rest of your life. With that in mind, here are six courses -- covering five islands -- that cut quite a trail.For more information from our Best Places to Play Guide, including directions, green fees and reader comments click on the course names below.4½ stars: Princeville at Hanalei (Prince Cse.)4 stars: Ko'olau G.C. Oahu4 ½ stars: The Challenge at Manele Lanai4 ½ stars: Kapalua G.C. (Plantation Cse.)4 ½ stars: Hualalai G. Cse. / Big Island4 ½ stars: Mauna Lani Resort (South Cse.) Big Island

San Diego

The Mediterranean climate that seems to bathe the region in perpetual warmth is reason enough to play golf in San Diego County, and perhaps the best reason. Public courses in San Diego don't often turn up in course ranking lists -- even the South Course at Torrey Pines, site of the 2008 U.S. Open, failed to crack Golf Digest's most recent list of America's 100 Greatest -- but they do not go unappreciated, notably by professional tours. The PGA Tour's Buick Invitational is played on the North and the South courses at Torrey Pines. A combination of the two courses at La Costa Resort & Spa have hosted the Mercedes Championships and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. And Barona Creek Golf Club, a remote gem, will host the 2007 Nationwide Tour Championship. Here's a sampling of the best golf San Diego has to offer.For more information from our Best Places to Play Guide, including directions, green fees and reader comments click on the course names below.4 ½ stars: Four Seasons Resort Aviara G.C. / Carlsbad4 ½ stars: (North), 4 stars (South), La Costa Resort & Spa / Carlsbad4 ½ stars: The Grand Del Mar (The Grand G.C.*) San Diego4 ½ stars: (South), 4 stars (North), Torrey Pines G. Cse. / La Jolla4 ½ stars: Barona Creek G.C. / Lakeside4 ½ stars: Riverwalk G.C. / San DiegoCourse available to resort guests only. Resort scheduled to open in November 2007.

Twin Cities

I'd never discourage a golfer from playing the fine resort courses in Minnesota's Northwoods -- but because you fly into the Twin Cities to do so, why not sample the local courses instead?South of the airport is The Wilds in Prior Lake, a Jay Morrish/Tom Weiskopf design, No. 4 among Golf Digest's Best New Upscale Public Courses in 1996. Less than two miles away is The Meadows at Mystic Lake, a Garrett Gill-Paul Miller design that finished 10th in the same category in 2006. The pair also did Legends Club in the same community, a 10th-place Upscale finisher in 2002. Revamped Highland National features a fairway bunker shaped like Snoopy, a tribute to cartoonist Charles Schulz, who caddied on the course as a kid. Out west is Rush Creek in Maple Grove, host of the 2004 USGA Public Links, and to the east is the granddaddy of St. Paul public golf, Keller Golf Course, site of the PGA Championship in 1932 and 1954. It's classic, but not legendary, because its winners were Dutra and Harbert instead of Hagen and Hogan.For more information from our Best Places to Play Guide, including directions, green fees and reader comments click on the course names below.4 ½ stars: The Wilds G.C. / Prior LakeThe Meadows at Mystic Lake not yet rated / Prior Lake4 ½ stars: Legends C. / Prior Lake4 ½ stars: Rush Creek G.C. / Maple GroveHighland National G. Cse. / not yet rated / St. Paul4 ½ stars: Keller G. Cse. / St. Paul

Tucson

The primary destination for vacation golf in Arizona remains Scottsdale, but Tucson is surely worth a look. It has a higher elevation than Scottsdale, cooler temperatures and cleaner air. It's not quite as pricey, the courses are just as compelling, and they're probably a bit more varied.Tucson sits on the slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and you can play your way along them for a full week. Start at the 27 holes at La Paloma Country Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus early in his career. Along this path you'll also find 36 holes at Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club, Tom Fazio layouts of the same mid-1980s vintage, and Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s Arizona National Golf Club, formerly Raven at Sabino Springs. For a less-demanding alternative, there are 36 holes at Randolph Park: the 82-year-old, tree-lined Randolph North, toughened by Pete Dye, and the sleeper -- the old South Course, now called Dell Urich, a 1960s Billy Bell design remodeled by Ken Kavanaugh.For more information from our Best Places to Play Guide, including directions, green fees and reader comments click on the course names below.4 stars La Paloma C.C. / Tucson4 ½ stars: (Canyon) 4 ½ stars: (Mountain), Ventana Canyon G. & Racquet Club / Tucson4 ½ stars: Arizona National G.C. / Tucson4 stars (North) 3 ½ stars (Dell Urich), Randolph Park G. Cses. / Tucson

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