If you’re looking for information on some of the top golf destinations in the world to help plan your next golf trip, we’ve got you covered. Below is a ranking of the Best Summertime Buddies Destinations in the United States and overseas, as selected by Golf Digest’s Course Ranking panelists and members of our Places to Play Facebook group. In conjunction with our primer on how to plan the best summer golf trip you and your buddies will ever take and our tips on how to make the most of your buddies trip, you’ll be all set to have the time of your life at any of these great golf spots.
1. Oregon Coast
Bandon Dunes exerts a stronger gravitational pull than almost any place in golf not named St. Andrews. Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald all rank among Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Courses in America, and the Sheep Ranch, opening in June, could be the best of them all.
2. Carmel/Monterey Peninsula, Calif.
Before Bandon Dunes, the Monterey Peninsula was the king of public American destination golf. Pebble Beach is No. 7 on our list of America’s 100 Greatest. Spyglass Hill, the Links at Spanish Bay, Poppy Hills and even modest Pacific Grove highlight a deep bench that gets better with age.
3. Pinehurst / Southern Pines, N.C.
The “home of American golf” has experienced a major revitalization with upgrades to No. 2, the addition of the Cradle short course and a total reconstruction of No. 4. Mid Pines & Pine Needles, in Southern Pines, have also been masterfully reworked, and nearby Tobacco Road adds a theatrical element to the mix.
4. Kohler, Wis.
There’s plenty to explore among four resort courses spread across two sites. Whistling Straits (Straits Course) is the most raucous and typically gets top billing as a PGA Championship and Ryder Cup (2020) venue, but many visitors prefer Blackwolf Run’s quieter, more idyllic River Course.
5. Sand Valley / Green Lake, Wis.
Sand Valley, the latest chapter in Mike Keiser’s destination golf opus, features three stunning options cut from sandy pine forests in central Wisconsin—the original Sand Valley course, Mammoth Dunes and the quirky Sandbox. A side-trip to the Links Course at Lawsonia, a playground of 1920s architecture, is a no-brainer.
6. San Francisco / Half Moon Bay
Public golf in San Francisco runs the gamut from modest, beloved city courses like Sharp Park and Lincoln Park to the once modest but now rebranded TPC Harding Park, site of this year’s PGA Championship. Half Moon Bay, 30 miles south, brings a more luxurious approach plus golf holes peering out to the Pacific Ocean.
7. Hilton Head Island / Savannah, Ga.
Options begin with Sea pines’ classic Low Country courses (Pete Dye’s Harbour Town and Heron Point, and the remodeled Atlantic Dunes), or Palmetto Dunes’ tour of the architectural past with courses by Robert Trent Jones (’60s), George Fazio (’70s) and Arthur Hills (’80s). May River, meanwhile, is modern and mesmerizing.
8. Sea Island, Ga.
Sea Island’s Seaside course remains one of the Southeast’s grand courses, but residents Mark and Davis Love III have been busy with classical retrofits of the resort’s Retreat and Plantation layouts (reopened in 2019). They’ve also restored Brunswick Country Club (Donald Ross, 1939) and added Sanctuary Golf Club, a Seth Raynorinspired public option.
Buddies golf trips passing through Milwaukee are likely headed to Erin Hills, the vast, heaving site of the 2017 U.S. Open just 45 minutes northwest. They also might stop at one of the area’s strong public facilities like Brown Deer Park, where Tiger Woods played his first PGA Tour event as a professional, or The Bog, a countryside Arnold Palmer design with 118 bunkers.
Given Maui’s idyllic setting, bad places to play. Yet there’s only one must-play venue, the Plantation Course at Kapalua, recently revamped by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The Gold and Emerald courses at Wailea deserve consideration as well, as does King Kamehameha rising 750 feet above the island’s north shore.
11. San Diego / Carlsbad, Calif.
No golf trip to San Diego is complete without a visit to the city-owned North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, host of the 2021 U.S. Open. But more gold awaits in SoCal’s crinkled hills in the form of Omni La Costa Resort, Tom Fazio’s Rams Hill, and Barona Creek, reopening this summer after a comprehensive renovation.
12. Traverse City, Mich.
Traverse City is central to an abundance of fine resort golf. Arcadia Bluffs (Bluffs and South courses) is an hour southwest. Forest Dunes (Forest Dunes and The Loop, plus a new 10-hole short course) is 90 minutes east. And Boyne Highlands, with four 18-hole courses, is within a two-hour drive north.
13. Phoenix / Scottsdale
The biggest challenge facing participants on a buddies trip to the Phoenix area is how to narrow the choices, and how to fit it all in. The Valley of the Sun offers endless combinations of multi-round golf days, including We-Ko-Pa, Troon North, Grayhawk, Talking Stick, Wickenburg Ranch, TPC Scottsdale and the remodeled Papago Municipal.
14. Napa Valley, Calif.
Mornings swinging clubs at Silverado Resort, Chardonnay Golf Club, Eagle Vines or nearby Hiddenbrooke can lead to afternoons swirling wine at dozens of tasting rooms throughout Napa Valley, where the moderate climate and off-course attractions are as much of a reason to come as the golf.
A trip here can go several directions: Innisbrook Golf Resort and the famed Copperhead Course are 45 minutes north of the Tampa airport; Tom Fazio’s World Woods is another 30 minutes north, and Black Diamond Ranch is just beyond that; an hour southeast are the Red, Blue and Black at Streamsong, all among Golf Digest’s top-rated public courses.
1. St. Andrews, Scotland
A pilgrimage to the Home of Golf could simply consist of playing the seven courses of the St. Andrews Links Trust (the Old Course, the Castle Course, the New, etc.). However, short excursions to nearby authentic links like Crail, Elie and Lundin should be on any itinerary, and Gleneagles and Carnoustie are each about an hour’s drive away.
2. Republic of Ireland / Northern Ireland
Portrush’s popularity is soaring after the 2019 Open Championship, bookending a Northern Ireland trip opposite Golf Digest World No. 1 Royal County Down. Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville highlight Ireland’s southwest coast, and Carne, Enniscrone and Rosapenna await in the wild dunes of the northwest.
3. Aberdeen / Inverness, Scotland
Golf in Northeast Scotland, beginning above Inverness at Brora and Royal Dornoch, is great and wonderfully uncrowded. Castle Stuart, just south, kicks off a stellar road trip of new and old links that stretches through Nairn, south to the incomparable Cruden Bay, then onto Royal Aberdeen and its neighbor Murcar.
4. East Lothian, Scotland
North Berwick and Muirfield headline the golf-centric region surrounding Edinburgh, but other venerable links abound, including Dunbar, Kilspindie, Luffness, the three courses at Gullane, and the original nine holes inside the Musselburgh racetrack, among the oldest courses in the world.
5. Ayrshire, Scotland
Ayrshire—Scotland’s southwest coast—is home to bucket-list courses like Royal Troon, Turnberry and Prestwick, where the first 11 Open Championships were played. It can also be the launching point for more far-flung excursions out to Machrihanish, The Machrie, Shiskine and, for the most adventurous, the Outer Hebrides and Askernish.
6. Nova Scotia, Canada
It might be odd to suggest an add-on drive two and a half hours beyond the destination, but travelers to Cabot Links (home of Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, both in Golf Digest’s World top 35, and a new short course opening this summer) would be remiss not to visit Cape Breton Highlands Links, one of the great scenic walks in golf.
7. New Zealand
Most of the golf that international groups play is located on the North Island, notably Cape Kidnappers, Kauri Cliffs, Jack Nicklaus’ Kinloch Club, Alister MacKenzie’s redesign at Titarangi and Paraparaumu Beach. While here, why not take a shot at getting on Tara Iti, the private retreat ranked Golf Digest’s second-best international course?
Melbourne’s Sand Belt courses (Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Metropolitan, Victoria, etc.) deserve their own special trip, but so do places like St. Andrews Beach and the National Golf Club. And other top 100 courses, including Cape Wickham and Barnbougle Dunes, are just a short plane ride away.