From a Three-Course Resort to the Lowest Course on Earth
on April 11, 2016
Every April, the azaleas bloom at Augusta National and the best golfers in the world tee it up at the Masters, signaling the unofficial start of golf season, as the northern half of the nation emerges from cold winter and gets their clubs out of the closet. For many golf fans, the best way to kick things off is with a road trip to one of the nation’s premier golf resort destinations. Here are three great ones.
Sea Island, Georgia
Rated Five Stars by the Forbes Travel Guide, Sea Island is home to The Cloister and The Lodge and is known as one of the finest luxury golf destinations in the nation. Its courses are perennially ranked among the country’s best. It’s also one of the most historic: “Before Bobby Jones helped open Augusta National, he was here setting the course record on Sea Island, a record that stood until Sam Snead came to town,” says golf journalist Michael Patrick Shiels, author of Secrets of the Great Golf Course Architects.
The first of three 18-hole championship courses was built 88 years ago, and famous architects and top players have been coming ever since. The Seaside course was initially done by the legendary Golden Age design duo of Colt and Alison, then renovated by Tom Fazio, often called the greatest living designer. The Plantation course was the work of Walter Travis, renovated by Rees Jones. And the Joe Lee-designed Retreat Course was extensively reimagined by local hero Davis Love III, who grew up here playing the course. Today Love is one of many PGA Tour pros who live on or around Sea Island, including Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
Though close to one another, the courses offer very different experiences. Seaside is a classic links-style course with 15 holes along the coast or marshes. As host of the PGA Tour’s annual RSM Classic, it’s the top choice for most visitors. Also popular Plantation is a parkland design set next to the sea, unfolding from a forest of live oak, cedar and towering pines, but with frequent ocean views. Hard-to-define Retreat is a dramatic original with a variety of fairway widths, green shapes, extensive bunkering, and six sets of tees, including new family tees, which allow every single caliber of golfer, from novice to pro, to fully enjoy the course. There are few resorts with three courses, and fewer with three this good.
For more information and reservations, visit seaisland.com/golf or call 855-714-9201.
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo.
The longest-rated Mobile Five Star, AAA Five Diamond resort in the world, the Broadmoor is steeped in history, and so are its three golf courses. Donald Ross, arguably the greatest designer in American golf history, did the original course, his first west of the Mississippi, and at the time the highest-altitude course in the nation. This was later split into two nines, each with a second nine holes by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Today these are Broadmoor East and West, interconnected and very similar parkland-style courses in the tradition of the classic US Open layouts like Firestone and Oakmont. In fact, the East Course has hosted the Women’s US Open. While it no longer has the altitude record, the Broadmoor still makes the ball fly considerably farther by about 10 percent, so many visitors gleefully enjoy the longest drives of their lives.
Winding into the foothills of the Rockies, the third course is very different, a modern layout by the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus won his very first major tournament, the 1959 US Amateur, here, and the resort has held a special spot in his heart ever since. His Mountain Course has wide fairways and large greens, and showcases mountain vistas and natural beauty. But the otherwise benign design packs plenty of challenging punch thanks to dramatic elevation changes and its length, stretching to a whopping 7,700 yards from the back tees.
For more information and reservations, visit broadmoor.com/luxury-golf-resorts or call 855-634-7711.
Furnace Creek, California
Famously below sea level (-214 feet), Furnace Creek is set in Death Valley and claims a unique title as the world’s lowest-elevation golf course. It is also one of the most challenging, ranked by Golf Digest magazine in “America’s 50 Toughest Courses.” Farmers in the region built three holes for recreation nine decades ago, but the current 18 was designed by William Bell, who most famously did US Open venue Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., and was more recently renovated by Perry Dye, Pete Dye’s son and sometimes design partner.
Surrounded by towering snowcapped peaks within a national park, it is a showcase of natural beauty, with numerous water features and surprisingly lush fairways and greens for one of the hottest spots in the nation. The course holds a coveted Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary certification for being eco- and wildlife friendly. While summer play is not as popular when temperatures in the triple digits are the daily norm, the course remains open and provides an added challenge. But all spring and fall the resort offers perfect golf weather, and thanks to the elevation, no matter when you come, you are guaranteed to enjoy your lowest round of golf ever!
For more information and reservations, visit furnacecreekresort.com/activities/golfing or call 800-236-7916.
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.