Golfers dream big. We all want to play the greatest courses and stay in the most luxurious hotels and inns, and when our thoughts drift to where we might travel, we often settle on the legendary destinations with names that are synonymous with the game: Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, The Greenbrier, Sea Pines, Sea Island, The Broadmoor. These resorts are home to some of America’s greatest courses, but they are also large, complex properties with numerous golf courses and something different for every mood.
Historic resorts such as these have comprised the apex of North American golf travel for decades. They’ve also inspired 21st-century versions like Bandon Dunes on the southwest Oregon coast, The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, Streamsong in remote central Florida and Cabot Links in Nova Scotia. These modern delights have expanded the possibilities of where players are willing to travel to indulge in a multitude of golf experiences. Yet as we consider the list of properties for Golf Digest Editors' Choice awards for 2021, it occurs that some of the finest golf voyages are to smaller destinations where the singularity of the course and location are the main attraction.
As the finest Burgundian wines are expressions of small, specific plots of land, so, too, can be golf destinations. The Highland Course at Primland, with holes cut atop steep forested drop-offs, introduces visitors to mountaintop views that would otherwise not be equated to southern Virginia. Pasatiempo, one of the country’s few truly accessible Alister MacKenzie designs and brimming with Santa Cruz cool, lacks nothing because there is only one golf course. And the Jack Nicklaus-designed May River course at Montage Palmetto Bluff stands apart because it exudes the most alluring aspects of the Lowcountry while being completely unlike any other golf in the Hilton Head region.
Several of this year’s newest additions bear these same qualities. At Pursell Farms, located on a vast family estate at the tail end of the Appalachian foothills an hour southeast of Birmingham, Ala., the mood is one of Southern serenity centered around the pastoral scenes of the Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry-designed FarmLinks course that wanders from meadow to mountain to the pines and back. At The Biltmore Miami, the flavors of South Florida are unmistakable as the majestic Mediterranean-styled hotel and compact Donald Ross-designed find symbiosis with the attractive Coral Gables surrounds.
David McLay Kidd’s Gamble Sands course, set on a broad naked plateau overlooking the vast Columbia River in central Washington State, is dynamic and exciting enough that there’s no need and almost no desire for an additional course (there is a 25-acre short course and the voluminous Cascades putting course). And the reason the spectacularly scenic Cape Breton Highland Links, opened in 1941, has been one of the most beloved courses in Canada for generations is precisely because it is remote and quaint, not in spite of it.
Our Editors' Choice awards are intended to get readers to dream big. They’re also a reminder that size isn’t everything, and that the best things often come in small packages.