The morning sunshine comes later and later, unveiling fairways damp with heavy dew and leaves bursting into fiery hues of red, orange, and yellow. It's all so beautiful, golf in the fall. Stunning, really, until the dew hardens into frost, the leaves turn dull and litter the tired grass, and the sun, rightfully embarrassed by its betrayal, slinks ever lower on the distant horizon.
What's an avid player to do when the golf itch simply won't go away with the arrival of winter? Curl up with a good book? An instructional tome by legendary golfer Ben Hogan, perhaps? Must be something in there to cure the ol' slice. Elbows go here. Hands go there . . . ugh! What's this other book on the shelf? The Hogan biography, and look at that, its title alone provides all the advice one really needs: Follow the Sun.
So come along on this personal tour of some of our favorite winter golf resorts, places made all the sweeter because you can literally roll out of bed, walk outside, and stroll onto the resort golf course within minutes.
Heading to Hawaii
Were Hogan on the PGA Tour today, his season would begin the first week of January on the Hawaiian island of Maui at the much-acclaimed Kapalua Resort. He'd take on its famed Plantation Course, an outstanding layout that single-handedly forged the reputation of its designers, former Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and architect Bill Coore.
Their design is unquestionably one of the fairest tests of golf anywhere. Yet, before a single swing is made, one cannot help but marvel at the vistas afforded by this course set high above the sea. The hillside of pineapple fields and lovely homes cascades to a series of scalloped bays where Alaskan humpback whales have come to calve in the warm water. Catamarans and other vessels slip across the broad channel to the pristine island of Molokai. It's important to bear in mind the location of that isle, according to local golfers, because "all putts break toward Molokai."
Once on the Plantation Course, it's easy to see why golfers of all abilities enjoy it. Lovely Bermuda fairways curve around deep ravines, swing past tall stands of Cook pine, and ramble alongside fragrant pineapple groves. Sound a bit claustrophobic? Hardly. Crenshaw and Coore have provided broad and inviting landing areas off the tees. The greater challenge lies in overcoming the trade winds and placing the ball properly on the large, flowing greens.
Another winter opportunity to "play where the pros play" is available right alongside The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona. It's the TPC of Scottsdale Stadium Course, the venue for the FBR Open (formerly the Phoenix Open). Flip on the television in late January and watch this event showcase a tremendous field of players urged on by one of the largest and most gregarious-some would say downright rowdiest-galleries on the PGA Tour.
It's not surprising, because architect Jay Moorish and former British Open champion Tom Weiskopf designed the venue to goad Tour players into taking risks. Even everyday plonkers can imagine the rambunctious crowd cajoling from behind the gallery ropes, "Go for it! Be the MAN!" This is particularly true on the finishing holes, where there's a treacherous par-3, a driveable par-4 set beside a lake, and a reachable-in-two par-5 with an island green. The thrill of taking on this course's challenges remains for a lifetime.
A bit farther north of Scottsdale is a true golf haven, The Boulders Resort in the hamlet of Carefree. It has absolutely none of the surface flash of a Scottsdale resort, preferring instead to dazzle from within. To begin with, the resort has no towering structures; all the buildings, including intimate guest casitas, are stone-colored and rounded, blending softly into the high Sonoran desert.
The resort has fashioned world-wide reputations for its golf, tennis, and spa experiences as well as its fine dining. Unlike the TPC facility back in Scottsdale, The Boulders' two courses can only be played by resort guests and club members. And what a choice they have-both the North and South courses were designed by Moorish to take golfers on a desert hike where bobcat, rabbits, coyotes, and even javelina are apt to wander out of the low brush at any time. And every hole at The Boulders is set apart, creating an exquisite sense of seclusion and peacefulness that is difficult to find in today's world of golf-factory resorts.
Desert Golf, Mexican-Style
The Los Cabos region at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula is one of Mexico's golf meccas. This 21-mile corridor between San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas offers a number of courses well worth playing. Chief among them is the 27-hole Palmilla Golf Club, which is operated by renowned Troon Golf and located beside the One & Only Palmilla Resort.
Jack Nicklaus laid out each of the three nine-hole tracks on different terrain so each-the Mountain, the Arroyo, and the Ocean-would have a character all its own. Much like the Plantation Course at Kapalua, the holes are draped over a slope that tumbles down to the sea, slipping past giant cardón cacti and outcroppings of red clay and rock. What makes Palmilla special is the fairness of the layout, assuming one selects the most appropriate of the five tees. The holes twist and turn, bringing the wind into play from different directions. The land rises and falls, forcing players to carefully weigh all factors before selecting a club and type of shot.
To be honest, the Ocean Nine is a popular choice for favorite. It provides especially captivating sights, the ball often hanging in the air against the blue sky before gently falling to the green grass below. Very satisfying.
Feel Alright . . . or Maybe Not
Those who've been to Jamaica may be familiar with the term irie, meaning everything's good. Well, your score card may not be all too irie after you navigate your way around the newly remodeled golf course at Half MoonTHC.
Originally built in 1961 by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Half Moon's golf course underwent a facelift at the hands of Roger Rulewich in 2005. Although he's a Jones protégé, Rulewich decided to break up many of the runway-style tees for which his mentor was famous. Bunkers were reshaped, repositioned, and in some cases enlarged. The course length was also increased slightly. And Trent Jones' signature 4th hole was realigned to offer more dramatic views of the Caribbean Sea from the tee box. The end result is a course that stays true to Jones' original vision, but incorporates modern touches that increase difficulty to account for improvements in golf equipment.
For those whose game is not up to the challenge of the new Half Moon course, the resort offers the only David Lettbetter Golf Academy in the Caribbean. And if you're still not feeling irie at the end of your round, you'll be happy to learn the 19th hole has been completely remodeled, too.
Snarling Golf in the DR
While there are a number of top-notch courses being built in the Dominican Republic, golf on the island still revolves around Teeth of the Dog, the signature course of Casa de CampoTHC. In fact, many would argue Pete Dye's famous Dominican creation is in a class by itself in the Caribbean.
With seven holes abutting the sea, Teeth of the Dog offers dazzling vistas that golfers of any skill level can appreciate. But it's Dye's notoriously difficult touches that make the course what it is. Elevated greens, railroad ties, pot bunkers, and peninsula tees are common; add to that the ubiquitous coral rock, often resembling dogs' teeth (thus the name) and placed uncomfortably close to many of the greens. Mixed with a generally stiff sea breeze, the results are often, well, less than what the average golfer might hope. The consolation, of course, is that there are few golf courses in the world with such beautiful, turquoise waters to lose your Titleist to.
Golf with the Gators
South Florida enjoys a bounty of good golf courses. One of its best just happens to wind its way around one of the area's finest hotels: The Diplomat Country Club & Spa.
Like Palmilla Golf Club, the Diplomat's course is managed by Troon Golf. And like Palmilla, the Joe Lee-designed Diplomat course is very playable for duffers and pros alike. With generous landing areas on most fairways, tee shots don't have to be perfect. But with water on 16 of the holes, including its signature 18th which boasts an island green, your irons had better be hot if you want your ball to stay dry.
Wherever you choose to travel this winter, make sure you allow for a day or two of fresh air, camaraderie, and maybe even a bit of teeth-gnashing on one of these spectacular resort golf courses.
For more than two decades, Ron Crowley has explored the world of golf, revealing his insight in a wide range of international publications. Andrew Thiel is Hideaways' Director of Partner Relations, and a pretty sharp weekend warrior.
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