Sentryworld Golf Course
Stevens Point, Wis.
Three years ago, architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. and team totally remodeled SentryWorld, a layout he designed in 1982. They ripped up every hole, re-routed four of them, added two new ones. But one hole they hardly touched was its famous par 3 with 45,000 blooming flowers encircling the green (above). It was created at the insistence of John Joanis, then-president of Sentry Insurance, which owns the course. When SentryWorld ($125 with cart) won Golf Digest's first Best New Public Course award in 1984, it was the seventh hole. Today it's the 16th. In a sense, the Flower Hole gets redesigned every year. Using petunias, snapdragons, marigolds, geraniums and other annuals grown on-site in nine greenhouses, crews replant the flower beds each spring, always in a different theme. One year it was planted in stars and stripes, another as pinwheels of pink and purple and another in an Olympics theme. The beds are treated as free drops, meaning you can stop and smell the flowers, but don't play out of them. — Ron Whitten
Bear Trace Golf Course
Harrison Bay State Park, Tenn.
Do you play golf to escape the drudgeries of everyday life? Then you've got an ally in Paul Carter, director of agronomy for the Tennessee Golf Trail. "We want you to feel you're reconnecting with nature," he says. All nine state-owned courses accomplish this, but none nails it quite like Bear Trace, north of Chattanooga. Dogwoods and azaleas abound. What really make the Jack Nicklaus-designed course ($58 with cart) stand out, though, are its native grasses. Fifty acres of unmaintained grass and assorted plant life create an appealing contrast between playable and unplayable areas. In the spring, the bright-yellow flowers known as goldenrod dominate. On top of that, the grasses are "really good movement corridors for wildlife," Carter says. Two bald eagles live in a nest just behind the 10th green. If watching them soar above the course and the surrounding area doesn't connect you with nature, what will? — Peter Finch
Tatanka And Buffalo Ridge Springs Golf Courses
Niobrara, Neb. And Hollister, Mo.
You've probably seen deer, squirrels, perhaps even a red fox while playing golf. But buffalo? At Tatanka ($65 with cart), a new course financed by the Santee Sioux Nation, buffalo are allowed to graze adjacent to golf holes. (Tatanka is the Sioux word for bison.) The big, burly beasts are close but kept separate from the course by wire fences. More bison can be found at the Tom Fazio-designed Buffalo Ridge Springs Golf Course ($110 with cart). Fenced-off empty homesites along fairways serve as pens for 45 buffalo trucked in from the nearby Dogwood Canyon wildlife preserve founded by Johnny Morris, creator of Bass Pro Shops. The bison can clean a field down to bare earth, so finding an errant ball isn't hard, but climbing those fences to get back on the course can be. Especially if there's a thundering herd bearing down on you. — Ron Whitten