Golf travel: Where to play in the United States of AmericaSeptember, 2013
For the experience of a lifetime, head to the States on your next trip – it can offer everything you could possibly desire
America is home to over half the world’s golf courses, and many of its finest. Beyond this, the attractions for UK golfers are manifold: English is spoken, direct flights are common, there’s warm weather year round and even with the pound languishing against the dollar, it still offers good value for money.
British citizens holding 10-year passports can travel to the US for up to 90 days without a visa under the Visa Waiver Programme, but must still apply to enter via the ESTA process (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) which costs £10. Passports must be valid for at least six months after the date of entry. The Department of Homeland Security is addressing its reputation for, let’s say, sternness at border controls, but once through customs nowhere on earth will give you a warmer welcome.
The sheer scale of America makes fly/drive holidays a particularly good option, especially if you are hoping to visit a few courses. Roads are excellent – wide and well signed – car rental is easy and good value, plus petrol costs around 75 per cent less than in the UK.
You must be over 25 to rent a car and will need both parts of your driving licence. Note that Sat Nav doesn’t come as standard and is worth the extra investment if you’re planning a road trip. With such diversity and a glut of courses across the country it’s difficult to narrow recommendations down, but we have chosen four distinct destinations of note.
The state of California is almost 800 miles long, ranging from the cool, forested north bordering Oregon, to the hot, hip, laid-back south where San Diego meets Mexico. The Pacific Coast Highway runs almost the length of the state, hugging the coast, and is surely one of the world’s greatest road trips. Fly into San Francisco and head south on PCH to Santa Cruz and Pasatiempo Golf Club, designed by the great Dr Alister MacKenzie. Or keep on straight to the Monterrey Peninsula, home to Cypress Point, another MacKenzie masterpiece and candidate for the title of greatest golf course in the world – although you’ll need serious connections to get on here.
Not to worry though, a stone’s throw away on scenic 17 Mile Drive is Pebble Beach, Jack Nicklaus’ favourite course, routed along craggy headlands overlooking Carmel Bay.
Playing Pebble is a rite of passage for many, but isn’t cheap. If you baulk at the $495 green fee, try neighbouring Spyglass Hill, arguably the toughest course on the Peninsula, with an army of fans who’ll swear it’s also the best.
If there’s still gas in your tank, continue south, past Los Angeles and its uber-exclusive country clubs towards San Diego and hit Pacific-pounded Torrey Pines – frequent PGA Tour fixture, two of the best municipal courses in the US (the North and South) and Tiger’s playground.
Flight Time: 11 hours
Most famous is North Carolina’s Pinehurst, the spiritual home of American golf. The No. 2 course is the 2014 US Open venue, although stay at Pinehurst and you can pick any of its eight courses to suit your level.
Arizona – and specifically the area around Scottsdale to the north east of Phoenix – is synonymous with desert golf, dramatic landscapes and mild winter climates. It is also possible to combine a trip to Arizona with Palm Springs and Las Vegas for a multi-centre holiday. For quintessential target-style desert golf, try the Cholla course at the We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, or play the undulating, boulder-strewn Pinnacle course at Troon North GC, overlooking the eponymous peak, and feel like John Wayne.
Flight Time: 11 hours
Florida is the home of resort golf. Fly direct to Orlando and you can be teeing off the same day. Disney is king in these parts and the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course is the jewel in its crown; a classic country club course that has hosted the PGA Tour.
The Magnolia Course is a true test of length for serious players and the nine-hole Oak Trail features junior tees and the chance the play with the whole family. If Mickey’s not your thing, Florida has world-class courses in Sawgrass (Jacksonville), Doral (Miami) and the Pine Barrens course at World Woods GC.
Flight Time: 9 hours
The Carolinas share both the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Range, and a meandering, unspoilt coastline where you can spot wild horses and eat shrimp and grits, served with a huge dollop of southern hospitality.
Most famous is North Carolina’s Pinehurst, the spiritual home of American golf. The No. 2 course is the 2014 US Open venue, although stay at Pinehurst and you can pick any of its eight courses to suit your level. A close second is Kiawah Island, home to five championship courses with the pick being the Ocean Course and its panoramic Atlantic views (and winds).
If your golf relies on finesse rather than strength, head for Harbour Town Golf Links at the Sea Pines Resort, or if you want to stay in one place, Myrtle Beach is the Mother Lode; you could stay for two months and not play the same course twice.
Flight Time: 9 hours