After two years of travel restrictions, Canadian golfers are eager to bust out of their self-imposed bubbles and go somewhere this year – fly, drive, mountains, desert, ocean, urban metropolis or off-the grid retreat – all the options are on the table. In a recent poll of Fairways readers however, over 30% indicated their number one destination for a golf trip was the Southern US.
Maybe it was shots of lush green fairways and sparkling white sand as the PGA Tour swung into Florida, or simply a desire for some warm weather after a long cold winter and a mountain of snow – whatever the reason, the Southern U.S. is an excellent choice with resorts and courses to fit just about any budget and perfect timing to tune up the game just before the golf season gets underway here at home.
A friend of mine has an interesting format for his Spring trip – he and his buddies leave around March 15th and only drive far enough south to get out of the snow and assure a week of decent golf weather. Most years he ends up in Virginia or the Carolinas, but he’s ventured as far as north Florida and one year only had to get south of Pittsburgh. It’s all about golf – 36-a-day – on whatever green grass is available.
While our recommendations are a bit grander than that, they’re still all about golf. A week-long stay at a five-star resort with a collection of famous courses, fine dining and any number of amenities to pamper a traveller are fine but that isn’t always in the budget. So, this year we selected five destinations for a Spring Break golf holiday that could be a long drive or a short flight – and best of all, they won’t put too much of a strain on the wallet.
Pinehurst, North Carolina
Wait a minute, you say. Isn’t Pinehurst a pretty pricey spot? Well, it can be if you stay at one of the Resorts or Lodges and have an itinerary that includes Pinehurst No.2, 4 and 8. But there are more affordable ways to play really good courses and enjoy great hospitality and terrific meals in the Sandhills region. Check out https://www.tobaccoroadtravel.com/ for accommodations and tee times. As far as courses are concerned, Tobacco Road is a must (in my opinion). Legacy Golf Links, Carolina Trace (36 holes) and Talamore are also particularly good. Mid Pines and Southern Pines will give you a glimpse of the historic nature of Donald Ross architecture from the early 1900’s. You might also try Pinehurst No. 1, 3 and 5, not nearly as pricey as their more famous siblings but very enjoyable still.
No matter where you stay, a visit to the Pinehurst Golf Club and Pinehurst Resort is a must – for history buffs especially – but play the Cradle, hang out on Thistle Dhu and enjoy the lunch buffet in the Deuce or a beer at the Ryder Cup Lounge. In the evening, wander over to The Pine Crest Inn – once owned by Donald Ross – and have a drink on the porch and talk golf with other boomers soaking up the experience. It’s a lively crowd.
Santee, South Carolina
You won’t find any Bucket List golf courses in Santee, the Michelin Guide has likely never visited the area and while Clark’s Inn does rate four stars from Trip Advisor, most of the accommodations are pretty basic chain hotels. However, what Santee does offer is tons of affordable golf on decent golf courses. This is hard core, 36-a-day territory where budget matters but not much else does as long as the golf is good. Check out https://golfsantee.com/ for course selection and accommodations. The folks there are extremely helpful and go way beyond what you would normally expect from a booking site. Lake Marion and Santee National are personal favourites and on my last trip, Wyboo Golf Club was a very pleasant surprise. Replays are available at most of the courses for just $10-15. Dining in the area is pretty limited but the aforementioned Clark’s Inn has a wonderful roast beef dinner. If you can snag one of the quad condos at Chapel Creek, that adds the option of home cooking. While it’s not part of the course selection for Golf Santee, Crowfield Golf Club is about 90 minutes away and worth a visit, especially if you’re on your way to Charleston.
Charleston, South Carolina
This is a tale of two budgets. Kiawah Island provides the Bucket List experiences including the Ocean Course, Pete Dye’s famous design that hosted the 1991 “War on the Shore” Ryder Cup and where Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship. It’s a Must Play if you can afford it and can get a tee time. Cougar Point, Osprey Point, Oak Point and Turtle Point round out the Island’s offerings and are all excellent. Rates start at US$165 for the Point courses and $300 for the Ocean Course. Lodging at Kiawah is also high end.
A more affordable option is to stay in Charleston and play some of the local public courses. Green fees range from US$40-90. Charleston National is quite good while the two courses at Wild Dunes, The Harbor Course and the Links Course, are both designed by Tom Fazio and spectacular. Charleston itself is a delightful city to explore, full of history, with shops, cafes and pubs along the harbour. For more information check out https://www.charlestongolfguide.com/
RTJ Trail, Alabama
Imagine 11 sites, 26 golf courses and 468 holes. That’s the Robert Trent Jones Trail and stretches from the northern part of Alabama down to the Gulf of Mexico. Driving there takes about 16 hours from the GTA but also takes you through Nashville if you’re so inclined. A quicker option is a flight to Atlanta and a rental car which can put you into Auburn (Grand National) or Birmingham (Oxmoor Valley and Ross Bridge) in an hour. I’ve played 11 of the 26 courses and didn’t find one yet that wasn’t enjoyable, challenging and in pristine condition. Some of the sites include a par-3 course that’s perfect for the second round in a day. Accommodations are through onsite hotels (Marriott, Renaissance). The folks at https://www.rtjgolf.com/ have all the info, can set up itineraries and even recommend local places to eat. Birmingham must be the home of southern BBQ, there’s no end of those places, while the food, ambience and amenities at Ross Bridge are incredible, as is the golf course. If you still need a side trip, Auburn University and University of Alabama are easily accessible with all the highlights a university town has to offer and while you don’t likely need any more golf, if you’re into history, check out Highland Park Golf Course ( https://www.highlandparkgolf.com/ ). It’s the oldest course in the State and worth a visit.
Never having played golf in Georgia (my invitation to Augusta seems to have gone missing), I asked our colleague Dave Daubert for some recommendations on playing in the Peach State. He suggested three golf resorts in the Atlanta region: Reynolds Lake Oconee with six golf courses including designs by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Rees Jones plus a five diamond Ritz Carlton hotel; Chateau Elan with 63 holes of golf, a Dave Pelz School, a working winery, a 16th century style chateau and a European spa; and Stone Mountain Golf Club that boasts two of the prettiest courses in the state. Read Dave’s complete article here: https://fairwaysgolf.ca/2021/09/04/travelling-to-atlanta-heres-a-trio-of-exceptional-golf-resorts/