Appeared in September/October 2007 LINKS
For traveling golfers, there are two kinds of peak golf experiences. The first type usually occurs in a place where the traditions of the game run deep, like St. Andrews, or in a new destination that gets it all just right, like Bandon Dunes. In the old-school thrill, the setting, atmosphere and company combine to create indelible golf memories.
The second could be described as more chill than thrill. A top-notch course is essential, but so are grand accommodations, great food, exquisite service and an A-list location. When you’re considering a luxury golf experience, there’s a good chance that Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton are competing for your business.
Four Seasons has 11 prime resorts with signature courses, including tropical-paradise golf resorts in Hawaii, Mexico, the Bahamas and Costa Rica, as well as several resorts where guests enjoy privileges at top nearby courses, like Troon North in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Ritz-Carlton also has 11 resorts with courses on or adjacent to the hotel, in locations like Orlando, Las Vegas, Grand Cayman and Montego Bay. Here is a breakdown of how these two luxury chains compare in three main categories: golf, accommodations and service, and the paradise factor.
Four Seasons boasts multiple courses by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman. Jack’s Challenge at Manele on Lanai has stunning ocean views and three of the world’s most dramatic cliff- top holes. There aren’t many golf courses on which you can stand atop a 150-foot lava cliff and aim for a fairway more than 200 yards across the ocean.
Shrouded in the clouds at the top of the island, Norman’s Experience at Koele is one of his best, taking great advantage of an alpine forest and major elevation changes that will test every aspect of your game. The 250-foot drop from tee to fairway on the par-4 17th is unlike any other hole you’ve played.
Four Seasons also scores for its Nicklaus designs at Hualalai on the Big Island and at Punta Mita, Mexico, where Jack’s design includes one of golf’s greatest gimmick holes, an alternate par 3 with a 200-yard carry to an island green in the Pacific. If there is golf to be had amid a lush paradise, Four Seasons will provide it.
Ritz-Carlton’s golf offering is not as heavily tilted toward tropical destinations. Sure, Norman’s design on Grand Cayman is one of the most challenging nine-holers in the world. And Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s epic Plantation course at Maui’s Kapalua may be the best layout from either chain.
If strong golf is your major consideration in choosing a resort, Ritz-Carlton provides a number of layouts in a variety of settings, from California’s Half Moon Bay overlooking the Pacific Ocean, to desert golf at Lake Las Vegas, to Reynolds Plantation on Georgia’s Lake Oconee, to a number of Florida gems, in Amelia Island, Naples and Orlando.
Each course tests your game in different ways, giving Ritz the nod when it comes to the overall quality of golf.
For both chains, repeat business and customer loyalty are what it’s all about. If your family loves one seaside Four Seasons golf resort, chances are you’ll love all the others. And what’s not to love? Inside and out, the rooms and suites are decorated more like a lavish home than a hotel room.
On average, Four Seasons’ rooms and suites have a little more elbow room and lounging space. Accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman range from 480-square-foot rooms to the 2,400-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Suite. Compare that to the Four Seasons Punta Mita, where rooms range from 645 square feet all the way up to the 13,308-square-foot Arena Suite.
At Ritz-Carlton properties, you’re more likely to be in a traditional hotel room. Although it’s likely to be an extremely nice room, you may feel like you’re on a lavish business trip instead of a soul-rejuvenating vacation. At a Four Seasons resort, you may find yourself wondering how you could make your own home look and feel a little more like your suite.
Both chains offer some of the best service in the industry. Ritz-Carlton’s staff has an uncanny knack—and database—for addressing guests by name. Four Seasons’ twice-daily housekeeping service and one-hour clothes pressing may not be that important to your golf vacation, but chilled towels on the course may rescue you on a hot day.
So will the Private Golfer’s Suite at the Four Seasons Aviara in Carlsbad, California. If you’ve had a tough round on the Arnold Palmer-designed course, this post-round experience, with a fireplace, private veranda and outdoor whirlpools delivers complete privacy and total relaxation. If the waiting cold beer and cigar don’t do the trick, the golfer’s massage will.
Luxurious amenities like these give Four Seasons the slight nod in this category.
If you’re looking for paradise, the recently remodeled Four Seasons resorts on Lanai practically define it. The white-sand beaches at the Four Seasons resorts in Costa Rica and Nevis and Great Exuma in the Bahamas are beyond compare. And the rooms and suites at all the Four Seasons tropical resorts are likely to either front the ocean or have an ocean view.
The Ritz-Carlton resorts at Kapalua and Grand Cayman offer outstanding settings, but in general, Ritz-Carlton golf properties stress elegance over location. Lake Las Vegas, Half Moon Bay and Naples may not be tropical oases, but they provide the height of fine living.
While Four Seasons comes out on top by a whisker based on our arbitrary categories, the truth is that although we are discussing chains, the decision of where to head mostly comes down to the merits of the individual properties and locations—and how they fit with your needs and preferences.
Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, for instance, has direct access to one of Southern California’s best surfing beaches. If you’re on a business trip to Dallas, Four Seasons at Las Colinas is convenient to both downtown and the airports, and features a PGA Tour-stop course.
No matter where you go, you really can’t go wrong. Because for all their differences, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton offer one quality in common: an unforgettable luxury golf resort experience.