By Graylyn Loomis
With 24 courses and an annual PGA Tour event, it’s safe to say that Hilton Head Island is synonymous with golf. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be synonymous with costly. With a little searching and smart planning, the frugal golfer will find courses, accommodations, and dining options at every price point. Many of the best deals on tee times and rooms are bundled into packages offered seasonally at the properties listed. And once the round is over, you can relax and enjoy HHI’s other leading amenity, its long, gorgeous beach, which costs nothing at all. The weather is good year-round, but February and March offer pleasant temperatures and off-season prices.
Where to Play
• The Robert Trent Jones Course is the flagship of the Palmetto Dunes community, and is both the closest to the ocean and has the most water of the three layouts. The 11-mile lagoon system that meanders through the back nine is very much in play.
• The Arthur Hills Course, also in Palmetto Dunes, is much more open these days after recent hurricanes did some serious tree pruning. Even so, the corridor fairways favor accuracy. Afternoon rates offer great value.
• Originally designed by George Cobb and Willard Byrd in 1967, Robber’s Row at Port Royal Golf & Racquet Club was treated to a Pete Dye redo in 1994. A Civil War battle was fought on the site, and today historical markers are dotted throughout the round.
• Rees Jones designed Bear Creek Golf Club, which is only $59 from 2-5 p.m. and $39 after 5 p.m. seven days a week. It’s a tough bear, indeed, with a reputation for quick greens and a 74.2/139 rating and slope from the 6,800-yard tips.
• If Harbour Town, where the Tour plays, is outside your budget at $365, don’t miss its sister course, Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III, also located at Sea Pines Resort. Just a year-and-a-half old, it features fast, sloping greens and a top-notch practice facility shared with the third Sea Pines sibling, Heron Point by Pete Dye.
• Dolphin Head, a former private club now open to the public, was the first Gary Player design on Hilton Head. The course is typically in great shape with quick greens, lush fairways, and sub-$100 green fees.
Where to Eat
• For the best sushi on the island, Hinoki is a favorite spot for locals as well as the occasional PGA Tour pro.
• For breakfast, Palmetto Bay Sunrise Café next to Broad Creek marina is the perfect place to start the day with numerous variations on a breakfast benedict.
• The “Sips and Bites” deal at Michael Anthony’s, an otherwise upscale Italian restaurant, pairs three small plates with three premium wines for $20 at the bar between 5–6:30 p.m.
• Sit at the bar at Crane’s Tavern and Steakhouse (which is a good idea anyway) and a great burger and fries is just $12.
• The Quarter Deck, located in the heart of the action next to the Harbour Town lighthouse, offers live music, a bar, and a popular menu. Plus, there are few better places to enjoy the sunset.
• Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte is justifiably popular for happy-hour drink specials and a tasty bar menu.
Where to Stay
• Rooms at the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort (in Palmetto Dunes) range from very affordable to very pricey depending on proximity to the ocean and time of year. But there are usually packages that include rounds at the three courses.
• Located on the island’s north end, Hampton Inn Hilton Head makes a good home base and includes free breakfast and a nice outdoor pool.
• Despite its name, the Hilton Garden Inn Hilton Head is actually in Bluffton, S.C., located just off the island. But it’s just 10 minutes from the beach and no more than 20 minutes from any of the aforementioned courses.
By George Peper
Far away from the “other” Florida, you can find the ideal combination of good golf, good food, and great prices
Pensacola is one of the thousands of U.S. towns named after its Native American settlers. It’s also a lilting, fun sort of word, a word that trips off the tongue, impossible to mispronounce, a word that begs to have its letters shuffled and rejigged into an anagram. Dozens of Pensacola anagrams are possible, but the most fitting is surely this: No Palaces.
Let’s face it, you don’t come to the western edge of the Florida Panhandle to stay at the Ritz or play Cypress Point or dine at La Tour d’Argent. But don’t let that stop you. The truth is that Pensacola offers several engaging, first-class courses, a wide range of accommodations—both on the beach and in town—and a top tier of restaurants where the cuisine is surprisingly haute. Best of all, you can stay here for a week, play 36 holes a day, and not spend $1,000. All of which makes Pensacola a frugal golfer’s Nirvana.
Where To Play
Lost Key Golf Club
The charisma of designer Arnold Palmer is on full display at this beautiful beast that stretches across a narrow barrier island. Fairways twist left and right, some calling for heroic carries over marshland, but the enormous greens are easy to find and a joy to putt.
Perdido Bay Golf Club
For a decade it hosted the PGA Tour’s Pensacola Open. Now this resort welcomes all to fairways lined by Spanish-moss-covered oaks and menacing multi-tiered greens, just minutes from the Gulf of Mexico.
Scenic Hills Country Club
The only Florida course to hold a U.S. Open (the 1969 Women’s, won by Donna Caponi), this is a layout with almost no fairway bunkers but hundreds of tall pines and half a dozen water hazards that conspire with relentlessly pitching fairways to provide plenty of challenge. The back nine is particularly strong.
Tiger Point Golf Club
Local boy Jerry Pate designed this charmer where five holes play scenically along Santa Rosa Sound. Water comes into play on all but four holes so bring plenty of ammo, especially on a windy day. The risk-reward par fives are particularly fun, but the most memorable hole is the par-four 5th, which plays to an island green.
Marcus Pointe Golf Club
Unlike most area courses, this one provides some dramatic elevation changes. A tight, twisting front nine gives way to an inward half with more open, rolling fairways and steeply sloped greens. Head pro Ben Bates holds the record for most cuts made on the Web.com Tour (226).
The Club at Hidden Creek
If you’re looking to post a good score, this is your best bet, with no forced carries, most of the water hazards well to the side, lightly bunkered fairways, and relatively uncomplicated greens, all in consistently top condition.
Pensacola Country Club
This one’s ultra-private so you’ll need some ingenuity to get a tee time, but it’s the grande dame of the Panhandle (the oldest private course in Florida, founded in 1902), with gorgeous views of Pensacola Bay. A redesign by Jerry Pate has given new life to its fast, firm fairways and elusive greens.
Where To Eat
McGuire’s Irish Pub
Worth a visit just to see the thousands of $1 bills hanging everywhere. Try the Reuben eggroll.
If you’re in town on a Sunday, go for brunch when there’s live jazz and order the eggs benedict with a crab cake.
First-class menu and wine list, served in an upscale tapas bar. Get the blue-cheese stuffed filet.
A lively harborside bar and grill specializing in seafood. Best bet: the parmesan-crusted grouper.
Union Public House
A chic southern pub with terrific food—start with the gumbo, then the hangar steak. Bring a big appetite.
Where To Stay
The Cottages on the Green, recently renovated, and just steps from the Perdido Bay course, are convenient and comfortable, plus you can brag that you stayed at the same place as President Ford, Arnold Palmer, and Willie Mays. Downtown, the Residence Inn by Marriott Suites and the Pensacola Grand Hotel are at the center of everything. If you prefer a beachside locale, go for the Hilton Pensacola Beach.
By George Peper
It’s Myrtle Beach with a maple leaf. With more than two dozen golf courses, all within 45 minutes of one another and charging green fees under $100, Prince Edward Island is the Frugal Golfer’s Canadian oasis. Due east of Maine, just north of Nova Scotia, Canada’s smallest province (about twice the size of Rhode Island) can be reached relatively easily, with flights from New York starting at less than $300 (about the same as to Myrtle). But instead of a traffic-clogged strip lined with fast food joints and T-shirt shops, you’ll find spectacular scenery, miles of sandy beaches, some of the freshest seafood anywhere, and, in the charming capital city Charlottetown, a fast-growing center of culture and fine food. A couple of warnings: It’s a short season—late May through October—and you’ll need a passport. But no matter when you travel, expect a warm welcome.
Where To Play
- The Links at Crowbush Cove. Prince Edward Island’s No. 1 course, it sits on the north shore with several holes bordering the Gulf of St. Lawrence, others weaving through seaside dunes. The par-three 17th may be the hardest 100-yard teeshot in golf.
- Dundarave. Brought to you by Mike Hurdzan and Dana Fry, designers of this year’s U.S. Open site Erin Hills, this is a big, broad-shouldered test with a particularly vibrant color palette. Along with emerald fairways worthy of Ireland come dramatic red-sand bunkers, forests of deep-green pines, rough sprinkled with violets, and the blue waters of the Brudenell River.
- Brudenell River. A true walk in the park, this is Canadian golf at its bucolic best. Unconventionally, it includes six holes of each par, with the short holes the true stars, two of them playing beside the river. It’s no wonder this is Prince Edward Island’s most popular course.
- Glasgow Hills. Perched atop a hill with sensational views of the River Clyde and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it’s the course itself that will command your attention, with frequent and dramatic elevation changes. The last six holes may be the most engaging stretch on the island.
- Green Gables. The only Prince Edward Island course designed by Stanley Thompson, it sits beside the north shore home where Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the classic book Anne of Green Gables, grew up. The Jekyll-and-Hyde challenge begins in rugged woodlands before heading toward the sea for a more open and dramatic back nine. Deep bunkers, six water holes, ocean breezes, and occasionally confounding greens make for a full and memorable challenge.
Where To Eat
Charlottetown may be Canada’s hottest food scene, with new restaurants popping up every year. Among the best are Row House Lobster (try the decadent Lobster Poutine), Sims Corner Steakhouse (their Gatsby Burger is an award winner), and Claddagh Oyster House (the bartender shucks and serves). For a change of pace, drive half an hour north for a gourmet meal in an historic 19th-century inn at Dalvay by the Sea. And don’t leave Prince Edward Island without stopping for a Gooey Mooey or Wowie Cowie cone at Cow’s Ice Cream, a Charlottetown institution.
Where To Stay
You have three ways to go: hotel, B&B, or golf resort. Among the hotels, the Holman Grand and Great George are at the top of the list, while for cozy Old World charm there’s the Fairholm B&B. All are in the center of Charlottetown. A half-hour out is the conveniently located Rodd Brudenell River Resort, just a five-minute walk from the Brudenell and Dundarave courses. No matter which way you go, figure $150–200 per night. Golf packages are also available through golfpei.ca. For $400, you can purchase a card that entitles you to a free round at each of 17 Prince Edward Island courses.
No matter how well traveled the Frugal Golfer thinks he is, chances are he has yet to visit Lake Charles, La., an industrial center and gaming destination, a three-hour drive due west of New Orleans, with a handful of courses worth traveling some distance to play. But since it is fairly new to the golf-package world, arranging a trip might take a little work.
Two mega-casino resorts—Golden Nugget and L’Auberge, situated on Contraband Bayou, a mile south of the lake for which the city is named—both possess excellent golf courses but tend not to offer golf packages because golf is primarily regarded as an extra amenity for those who come to gamble. So, arrange a multi-day trip by visiting each course’s website to book tee times, then use travel sites to book your stay: We found rooms at the Golden Nugget with a rack rate of $359 going for $140 in December.
Peak season and prices are in summer when the humidity and 90-degree temperatures may be a little high for some. We recommend going in spring or fall when temps hover around 75 and green fees and room rates are similarly more comfortable.
Where to Play
• Todd Eckenrode’s Country Club at the Golden Nugget gave Lake Charles the golfer’s final stamp of approval. Officially opened in May 2016, CCGN has a number of holes on the water that have a genuine Scottish look about them. Expect to pay $250–$300 for a course this good in other parts of the country, but just $159 gets you on—$129 if you’re staying at the Golden Nugget.
• Before CCGN, the reputation of the Lake Charles golf scene relied heavily on Tom Fazio’s Contraband Bayou, which was available only to guests of L’Auberge when the casino-resort opened in May 2005. Now fully public, the course has reached its considerable potential following a 2010 renovation that finally cleared all the remaining tree stumps that Hurricane Rita left behind in 2005, upgraded the bunkers, and saw Champion Bermuda replace TifDwarf on the greens. And if you thought Golden Nugget was good value, you’ll be amazed to learn that a round at Contraband Bayou never costs more than $109: There aren’t many Fazio courses you can play on summer weekends for that.
Play three or four rounds at Golden Nugget and Contraband Bayou and you’d probably leave Lake Charles satisfied, but there are a couple more quality tracks in the area it would be a shame to miss.
• Rocky Roquemore’s highly acclaimed Gray Plantation, about six miles southwest of town, opened in 1999 and costs only $59 during summer. After a gentle start, the course comes alive at the short 6th, which borders a stretch of the Calcasieu Ship Channel. And the risk/reward par five that follows might be the most memorable hole of the trip.
• The green fee keeps dropping as you venture a few miles north to the National Golf Club of Louisiana, a grand name for a course with a $48 peak green fee. Texas architect Dave Bennett’s excellent routing on what he called a “600-acre swamp” takes you through beautiful pine woodland and around no fewer than 14 lakes.
Where to Stay
• The Golden Nugget (with 740 rooms) and even bigger L’Auberge (995 rooms) both offer luxury accommodations, plenty of amenities (save a little time to relax at the ultra-hip H2O Pool and Bar at the Golden Nugget), and several excellent restaurants. Yes, they’re big, brash, and busy. But they’re excellent and, as noted above, can be quite affordable.
Where to Eat
• With 11 restaurants in the Golden Nugget and seven in L’Auberge, you’re sure to find something you like at your hotel. But if you want to venture into the city, try the excellent 1910 Restaurant and Wine Bar on Ryan St., or enjoy what could be the finest sandwich of your life (no, seriously) at Darrell’s on West College.
Tahoe is a generic term for a 300-square-mile rectangle in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (plus Reno 30 miles to the northeast) whose centerpiece is the stunningly blue Lake Tahoe. Two thirds of the lake is in California, the rest in Nevada.
Best known as a ski destination, there’s also a lot of very good golf in Tahoe, more than 30 courses including some of the most attractive and challenging anywhere. Averaging 6,400 feet above sea level, you’ll get a few more yards off the tee, but first you must adapt to the altitude: Locals recommend deep breaths through the nose expelled through the mouth and drinking a lot of water.
The Tahoe golf season runs mid-April to late October, with the best deals on rounds and rooms early and late. The fall adds a visual bonus, the colorful foliage, and if you also ski, the cooler weather might allow that and golf on the same day.
There also are deals on twilight rounds, some with neat little tweaks. For example, at Incline Village’s short Mountain Course, after 5 p.m. you pay by the hole, two bucks per plus $5 for a cart. And members of the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) get substantial discounts at many Tahoe golf courses.
The following Tahoe golf courses are those particularly worth visiting. Yardages range from 5,500 to 7,600, with green fees from $30 to $200 depending on time of day and year. For deals on hotels, green fees, and more, visit VirtualTahoe.com.
Incline Village (Championship)
Incline Village, Nev.
When it opened in 1964, this became the icon of first-rate golf in Tahoe. Most tee shots—from high points that offer dazzling lake views—are into gracefully sweeping fairways. For a mountain layout, the greens have only moderate undulations.
It brings to mind Pebble Beach, enhanced by the white-capped High Sierras. Standing on each tee you can’t wait to play the hole. No forced carries, old-school small, smooth, fast greens. Hit the green and you’ll have a birdie chance. Site of the American Century Celebrity Championship.
Genoa Lakes (Ranch)
An inland course that looks and plays like a links. Developer issues knocked out the original first seven holes, but their replacements are worth getting through to reach 8 through 18, all visual and strategic gems.
Genoa Lakes (Lakes)
Two miles from the Ranch and on the same basic terrain, a river runs through the property and comes into play on 14 holes. It still has a links quality, but the water doesn’t allow a freewheeling driver swing. The flatness of the land makes the near-distant, snow-spackled (even in June) mountains stand out. It was a 2014 U.S. Open qualifying site.
This course has the same aura that its designer, Jack Nicklaus, projected as a great golfer—size and a singular character. Major-championship golf is written all over it from the tips, but the average golfer won’t be overwhelmed from the shorter tees, and the conditioning is pristine.
Superb mountain golf with lush, sweeping, pine-lined fairways, impressive granite outcroppings, strategically situated ponds, and tour-quality greens. In the upperprice range, but well worth it.
Off the courses you’ll find glitzy casino hotels in Reno and Stateline—Harrah’s, Hard Rock Hotel, Montbleu. Or take the opposite tack and stay in little Truckee, Calif., which evokes the area’s gold-mining past while speaking to today’s millennials with art galleries, smart clothing shops, and fine dining choices: Pianeta Ristorante is excellent; Jax is a classic American diner; and there are plenty of craft-beer hangouts.
Between these two “cultures” is the chrome-and-glass ambiance of The Squaw Valley Lodge, on the California side, where nearby Sandy’s Pub offers gourmet-style meat and potatoes and excellent seafood. Incline Village reflects the understated elegance of mid-20th-century America. There is also a B&B, the Donner Lake Inn, in Truckee, and, of course, the mainstream American hostelries such as Hampton Inn & Suites (the suites have Jacuzzi bathtubs), Hyatt Regency, and Marriott.
By Dave Seanor
Considering a golf trip to Florida’s First Coast? Be prepared to grapple with the 400-dollar gorilla in the room, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. The popularity of this Pete Dye chamber of horrors is just another piece of irrefutable evidence that golfers are masochists.
TPC Sawgrass aside, and no disrespect intended, the First Coast—the very top of northeastern Florida—suffers a bit as a golf destination because Jacksonville, its epicenter, lacks the easy availability of condo and villa rentals popular with budget-minded golf groups. However, it does offer four very good and very popular resorts—TPC Sawgrass, World Golf Village, Amelia Island Plantation, and Hammock Beach Resort—which, particularly in peak season (November through March), can be expensive.
Of course, prices fluctuate seasonally. For example, while the non-refundable green fee at TPC Sawgrass is around $500 in high season, it can dip below $200 from June through September, but you run the risk of iffy course conditions and the daily threat of afternoon thunderstorms.
There still are ways to save a few bucks. Forego alcoholic beverages; eat fast food; take Uber instead of renting a car; and resist buying any logoed apparel. You don’t need a shirt to remember the round of a lifetime.
The Stadium Course reopened in mid-November after a six-month renovation that included reseeding the greens; redesigning hole 12 to make it a potential one-shot par four during The Players Championship; tweaks to seven holes for maintenance purposes; and a redesign of the practice area. Golf packages typically include a round at the next-door Valley Course and optional rounds at Sawgrass Country Club, Marsh Landing Country Club, or the Ocean Course at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.
• The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is the place to splurge for lodging, but several chain motels are nearby as well. Après golf, rehash your round with a beverage on the patio at Pusser’s Caribbean Grille, near the TPC entrance on U.S. A1A.
For a diverse golf and beach experience, it’s hard to beat the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort and environs. Pete Dye and Bobby Weed’s Ocean Links has five holes on the beach; stay-and-play packages also include Dye’s Oak Marsh and Tom Fazio’s Long Point. Shop early for competitive prices.
• Amelia Island Plantation is the most upscale property in this listing, also featuring marshlands, 3.5 miles of private beach, and the historic, funky town of Fernandina Beach. For sustenance, head off property and try Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen, Timoti’s Seafood Shak, Green Turtle Tavern (a fun neighborhood bar), and Halftime Sports Bar & Grill.
Hammock Beach Resort
This resort has two excellent golf courses, designed by Jack Nicklaus (Ocean Course, with six holes hard by the Atlantic) and Tom Watson (Conservatory Course). There’s also a variety of lodging options, with villas a great choice for groups.
• Hammock Beach is at least a 90-minute drive from the Jacksonville airport, so consider flying into Daytona Beach or Sanford. The latter, a hub for Allegiant Air, is a favorite of budget-minded travelers with flexible schedules. Nearby Palm Coast isn’t known for nightlife so you won’t be spending much there.
World Golf Village
This monument to PGA Tour licensing was created in the late 1990s to showcase the World Golf Hall of Fame, although it’s been more successful as a residential community owing to its comparatively remote location west of St. Augustine. Of its two courses—The Slammer & The Squire and The King & The Bear— the latter, co-designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, is more challenging. Good courses nearby include St. John’s Golf Club and South Hampton Golf Club.
• Stroll through the Hall of Fame and enjoy its interactive lessons in golf history. Also on property is Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant and bar, filled with ephemera related to the namesake movie. For more socialization, shuttle service is available between the resort and the historic town of St. Augustine.
• Truly frugal: In Jacksonville, consider Hyde Park Golf Club or Windsor Parke Golf Club. The former is a 1925 Donald Ross design where Ben Hogan famously made an 11 on the par-three 6th hole while leading the 1947 Jacksonville Open. The latter is a pleasant Arthur Hills layout and frequent qualifying venue for USGA events. Tariffs range from $20 for a late-afternoon walk at Hyde Park to $63 for a weekend morning ride at Windsor Parke.
What other courses would you recommend in northern Florida? Let us know in the comments below!
Asheville and Boone, two towns in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, owe their early growth to the spread of the railroad. Shortly after trains started coming to this beautiful corner of the country back in the late 19th century for logging and mining, visitors followed and found the fresh air, beautiful scenery, and active lifestyle to their liking. They still do, and rightly so.
Both cities offer countless examples of the traditional South banging up against modern, “keep it weird” movements. Asheville has the Vanderbilt’s famous Biltmore Estate as well as the River Arts District filled with local artisans. There’s also a burgeoning microbrewery and foodie scene.
Appalachian history runs deep in Boone’s blood, and you’ll want to search out bluegrass music and mountain storytellers. Meanwhile, new money from nearby Charlotte has discovered the area as the perfect place to escape from the hot Carolina summer.
The traditional/modern contrast carries over to the selection of outstanding golf courses open to visitors, from Ross and Raynor to Fazio and Nicklaus. Asheville and Boone offerings run the full gamut, old to new, respectable to offbeat—and all fun.
WHERE TO PLAY
Omni Grove Park Inn
The Grove Park Inn is rightfully famous for its hotel, but the Ross layout next to the grand edifice is a must play. Don’t miss capping the round with a drink on the Sunset Terrace.
The Great Smokey Mountains frame views across massive elevation changes on this course about 45 minutes from town and near the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
The Stay & Play package here is worth the hour’s drive. The Tom Fazio design sits in a valley majestically surrounded by Blue Ridge Mountains. Non-golf options include hiking and equestrian.
WHERE TO EAT
A great choice for wholesome Southern cooking located in an old home in Biltmore Village, near the Biltmore Estate. A good brunch choice every day.
This tapas bar is a local favorite, so advance reservations are a must. Fare ranges from traditional to modern and experimental. For dessert, try fried eggplant drizzled with local honey and fresh rosemary, and ask for the rosemary ice cream (it’s not on the menu).
England’s King Henry VIII once said, “Hops are a wicked and pernicious weed.” This microbrewery strongly disagrees. Have a pint of Pernicious, their flagship IPA.
WHERE TO STAY
The “Escape and Save” offer at the Omni Grove Park Inn provides 10 percent off stays of two or more nights. Alternatively, the boutique Aloft Hotel in the heart of downtown Asheville offers brewery and culinary packages for weekend visits.
WHERE TO PLAY
Boone Golf Club
A recent renovation of this enjoyable, yet challenging, Ellis Maples design changed the routing and added a new par three. It’s the home course for Appalachian State University’s golf team.
Not to be confused with the private Mountain Air, this municipal course in West Jefferson has extreme views and elevation changes that put a huge smile on your face. The 200-foot drop from tee to green on the 3rd hole is a sign of what’s to come.
Linville Golf Club
This 1924 Donald Ross design showcases many of the master’s classic green complexes. Play available only to those staying at the nearby
Eseeola Lodge, 30 minutes from Boone.
WHERE TO EAT
Dan’l Boone Inn
Country ham, biscuits, fried chicken, and every other Southern delicacy served all-you-can-eat style. Come hungry.
Just up the road in Blowing Rock, come here to sample local beers, good food, and breathtaking views across the mountains all the way into Tennessee.
One of the area’s best joints for N.C.-style BBQ (using a tasty vinegar-based sauce). Go for the chicken wings and ribs. It’s always packed, so get there early, particularly on evenings with live music.
WHERE TO STAY
Avoid “leafer season” (autumn) to secure the best rates and ensure availability at hotels. The Eseeola Lodge’s golf package includes a round at Linville Golf Club, with breakfast and dinner, starting at $295 per person (double occupancy) in the spring and $350 in the fall. The budget-minded won’t miss out by staying in any of the chain hotels in Boone. Spend the money saved on playing Boone Golf Club again.
By Craig Dolch
Finding a place to play quality golf in Palm Beach County is easier than a tap-in. With more than 160 golf courses, there’s a reason it’s known as the “Golf Capital of the World.” But finding good public Palm Beach golf without spending plenty during the prime winter season can be trickier than a fried-egg in a bunker.
Having lived in the county for more than 30 years, I’ve learned to look at the not-so-obvious places. While PGA Boulevard remains the epicenter of all things golf—the Honda Classic at PGA National has become one of the PGA Tour’s more popular stops—my advice is to head southeast and concentrate your activity around Lake Worth.
Rates are highest during the winter months, when there is less daylight and more snowbirds and tourists. The best deals are in the summer, when the heat and usual afternoon rain bring out the hardiest of golfers. I’ve always enjoyed the shoulder seasons—October to December, April to early June—when the weather is still enjoyable and the tee sheet not so filled. At most of the courses that follow, you won’t pay more than $50 for any round, with afternoon deals that can cut that fee in half.
Where To Play
• Two of my favorite courses are within three Bubba Watson drives of each other. Palm Beach Par 3 is not your typical short course, not with six holes on the Atlantic Ocean and six more on the Intracoastal Waterway. You can use almost every club in your bag on this course. The Al Fresco restaurant in the new clubhouse overlooks the water.
• Across the Intracoastal, Lake Worth Golf Club also offers amazing views. The par-70 course has some stout par fours and several solid par threes on a 6,184-yard layout that plays longer than it looks. But its best hole may be the 19th: The Beach Club has one of the best Happy Hours in the area, with a host of $5 tasty appetizers and discounted drinks.
• The remodeled West Palm Beach Golf Course is a Dick Wilson-designed test, made over by Mark McCumber in 2009, that was once rated among the nation’s top public tracks. Rare for Florida, it has no water hazards, but there are plenty of bunkers and waste areas. The PGA Tour used to hold sanctioned events here in the 1950s and early 1960s.
• A little farther south, Delray Beach Golf Club is a Donald Ross-designed gem that many of the LPGA Tour pros who used to live in the area practiced on to get ready for the new season. It has been around for almost a century—it opened in 1926—and has that classic Ross feel (i.e., you usually need to keep the ball below the hole).
• The most affordable option is Lone Pine Golf Club, a par-62 executive course on N. Military Trail in northern West Palm Beach. It has a sizable practice area and range, and don’t be fooled by the par. The course allows you to swing the driver.
• When you want to splurge, PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens is the place. In addition to the Jack Nicklaus-designed, Tour-hosting Champion Course, there are three other top layouts on property, and another one nearby. This must-play destination is perfect for buddy trips.
Where To Eat
• Among the favorite eateries on PGA Boulevard are Mexican-themed Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar, Spotos Oyster Bar, and Saito’s Japanese Steakhouse. There’s a good chance you will see a famous golfer or two dining alongside.
• Also check out Tiger Woods’s new restaurant, The Woods Jupiter, situated at the northeast tip of the county at Harbourside Place. Not cheap, but worth a look.
Where To Stay
• PGA Boulevard is lined with every chain hotel imaginable. But for something different and a little away from the scene, Sabal Palm House, across the street from Lake Worth Golf Club, is a bed-and-breakfast that offers affordable suites and includes breakfast and afternoon tea.
By Rich Hayes
The only thing the Frugal Golfer in Nashville likes more than cash saved on green fees is Johnny Cash, and in “Music City,” you can experience both. The recently opened Johnny Cash Museum downtown is a few blocks from the Country Music Hall of Fame and the rowdy honkytonks of Lower Broadway. Within easy striking distance of these sights and sounds is a super group of affordable golf courses where hometown hero Brandt Snedeker honed his game.
The city’s municipal courses offer playability and value: Weekend rounds top out at $28 on foot; add $12 for a riding cart. Even Nashville’s high-end public courses are relative bargains at less than $80 even at prime times. Less than an hour from town are some lesser-known courses that offer even more bang for the buck.
While the weather in Nashville varies greatly by the season, greens fees don’t fluctuate enough to make cost the deciding factor on when to visit. However, popular events like the CMA Music Festival send hotel prices soaring, and they sell out.
WHERE TO PLAY
Harpeth Hills Golf Course is the grande dame of the city-run courses and a solid test at nearly 6,900 yards from the blue tees. What it lacks in frills it makes up for in rolling hills and small greens with false fronts.
McCabe Golf Course, a 27-hole layout with generous fairways and little trouble, is the city’s most played course. Request the more interesting north nine when you book.
Ted Rhodes Golf Course, near the Tennessee Titans practice facility in north Nashville, is named after the pioneering African-American golfer from the area. Forced carries on approach shots and risk-reward par fives make this is the thinking golfer’s muni.
Further from town is Champions Run Golf Course, which offers an authentic country vibe on former farmland. Stretch your legs on this flat, well-maintained layout.
Trade in wild nightlife for natural wildlife at beautiful Montgomery Bell Golf Course, a 35-mile drive from downtown. Lush fairways cut through forests of a state park on this wallet-friendly track.
After playing Montgomery Bell in the morning, consider adding another 18 at nearby Greystone Golf Club, a challenging and scenic Mark McCumber design in Dickson, Tenn. The pace of play on weekends is swift, even if you find yourself in the nasty rough.
Golfers wanting an upscale experience have two options: Gaylord Springs Golf Links or Hermitage Golf Course. Gaylord Springs, designed by U.S. Open Champion Larry Nelson, is five minutes from Opryland in Nashville’s northeast suburbs. Grassy mounds line holes that lead to slick, undulating greens. Hermitage has two 18-hole courses east of town near the museum and former home of one of the nation’s most controversial presidents, Andrew Jackson. The President’s Reserve layout is one of Tennessee’s best public courses. Memorable holes with plenty of bunkers and water meander through wetlands of the Cumberland River. Hermitage’s other course, General’s Retreat, once hosted the LPGA Sara Lee Classic.
WHERE TO EAT
While barbeque abounds, the city takes more pride in its “hot chicken,” a variety of fried chicken with escalating temperatures of savory spices. Adventurous eaters should brave the long wait—and firey flavors—at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. Hattie B’s is a tasty hot chicken alternative closer to downtown.
If a trip to Tennessee feels incomplete without ribs and pulled pork, the two locations of Edley’s Bar-B-Que are go-to for locals.
The pub grub at Bluebird Café is passable, but the singer-songwriters are world class. Purchase tickets in advance to guarantee seats.
Mas Tacos, a food truck turned hole-in-the wall, has garnered national attention for its authentic Mexican food. The tortilla soup and cast iron chicken tacos are standouts. Other eateries attesting to Nashville’s new claim to fame as a destination for foodies include Etch, Husk, and Margot Café & Bar. All will dip into your budget, but are worth it.
WHERE TO STAY
Nashville is booming as both a tourist and convention destination, and a rush of new hotels is going up to meet the demand. Downtown options, such as the Omni and Sheraton, can be pricey. Cheaper rooms near the airport and in surrounding towns, meanwhile, put you too far away from the action. As a result, Airbnb has become a leading choice for budget-conscious travelers who want to experience the beating heart of Music City. Affordable rooms, apartments, and houses can be found throughout the city. Start your search in the hip 12South neighborhood or eclectic East Nashville near Five Points. In a totally different direction, the Gaylord Opryland Resort And Convention Center is a world unto itself—part Vegas sprawl, part Biosphere 2. The hotel also offers golf packages that combining rooming with rounds at the aforementioned Gaylord Springs Golf Links.
Frugal is a relative term in Naples. After all, this southernmost enclave on Florida’s Gulf Coast offers a winter respite for many of the wealthiest people in America. Collier County claims to have more golf courses per capita than anywhere else in the world, but most of them are private. Some are more guest friendly than others, but wherever you manage to score a tee time during the high season (November through March), count on guest green fees of $250 or more.
Of course, the Frugal Golfer isn’t necessarily cheap. Rather, wise with his/her allocation of dollars. Which makes the off-season (i.e., summer) the ideal time to enjoy many of the same courses, accommodations, beaches, and other amenities for which the one percenters pay exorbitant prices when they flee cold climes.
“During the off-season, you can get on almost any course in town if you’re shrewd enough,” says Jack Welsh, who works at the PGA Tour Superstore in Naples.
Procuring a South Florida PGA Players Club membership or Shark Pass is a smart starting point. The SFPGA deal costs $50 and includes discount coupons for more than 40 courses in the Naples area, good from May through October. The 2015 Shark Pass, offered by Greg Norman’s Franklin Templeton Shootout for $110, has discount coupons at fewer courses, but they’re among the best in town. Plus, the Shark Pass has multiple same-course coupons, meaning you can treat the rest of your foursome to discounts at the Ritz-Carlton’s Tiburon Golf Club, and includes less steeply discounted coupons for November and December.
Tip: Off-season is maintenance time. Before booking a tee time, call and ask if greens are being punched or any renovation projects are underway. Many facilities are reluctant to volunteer that information, so don’t leave yourself open to surprise.
With roughly 80 courses of repute in the Naples area, choices abound. The following candidates will deliver either good bang for the buck, a unique experience, or a stiff test of skill.
WHERE TO PLAY
Esplanade Golf & Country Club of Naples has earned rave reviews from locals since it opened in 2014. It’s the handiwork of up-and-coming architect Chris Wilczynski, who created a gentle, golfer-friendly layout that still demands strategic thinking and a deft touch around the greens.
La Playa Golf Club is a sporty Bob Cupp design affiliated with the 180-room LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort on the gulf. All 18 greens were rebuilt during the 2015 off-season, a major project that figures to elevate LaPlaya’s status among the elite clubs in town.
Valencia Golf & Country Club is an anomaly in Naples—a well-maintained daily fee with a spacious public practice facility. Tee times are available on Golf Now.
The semi-private Panther Run Golf Club is off the beaten path and noteworthy for its bucolic setting in Ave Maria, a planned Roman Catholic community east of Naples at the edge of the Everglades.
Lely Resort Golf & Country Club has layouts designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. (Flamingo Island) and Lee Trevino (Mustang). Both courses are popular with year-round residents.
At the higher end of the spectrum, the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa has two affiliated courses, Hammock Bay and The Rookery, both designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy.
The Gasparilla Inn & Club is an old-world alternative to glitzy Naples, featuring a circa 1913 hotel and Pete Dye-designed golf course. While not easy to get to—it’s on Gasparilla Island in Boca Grande (where the Bush family has a retreat)—Gasparilla is worth the two-hour drive from Naples if you enjoy throw-back experiences.
Old Corkscrew Golf Club in Estero, a Jack Nicklaus design, is arguably the most difficult course in the Naples area, playing to a 74.0 rating/146 slope from its 6,617-yard blue tees—one set forward from the tips.
WHERE TO EAT
Mansion’s Pizzeria Okay, I’m biased; the owner is from my hometown in Pennsylvania. Located midway between LaPlaya and Esplanade, just off Immokalee Road, Mangino’s features a blue-collar, authentic Italian menu that includes its signature stuffed meatball loaf and cannolis (stuffed on order, so they aren’t mushy).
For a notch more formal yet equally traditional Italian dinner experience, go to Parmesan Pete’s.
Masa features upscale Mexican fare.
The Counter is a build-your-own burger and milkshake joint that caters to Paleos, vegetarians and vegans, as well as demanding carnivores.
For Asian cuisine, locals recommend AZN.
WHERE TO STAY
Naples is an excellent place to cash in hotel rewards points and AAA or AARP discounts; you name the chain, it’s represented. Off-season stay-and-play packages start at $350 per night at the Marco Island Marriot, and $365 at the Gasparilla Inn—roughly a third of high-season rates. Four nights off-season at the Courtyard Marriott or Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, and five rounds of golf using coupons, will cost two people roughly $1,000. Online comparisons and advance booking can yield exceptional values, especially by Naples standards.