For most avid golfers in Southern Ontario, spring can’t get here fast enough. Despite what the groundhog says, the last weeks of winter drag interminably and even when it does arrive, spring weather often isn’t anything to get excited about.
The alternative is to look farther south for guaranteed warmth and available tee times. 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. Here are five options for a Spring golf getaway 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. (All prices are in US dollars.)
Sandhills Region, North Carolina
Wait a minute, you say. Isn’t that’s Pinehurst. Isn’t it 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. They have 26 courses to choose from.
In my opinion, Tobacco Road is a must but be forewarned it’s quirky and won’t suit everyone’s taste. More conventional offerings include Legacy Golf Links, Carolina Trace (36 holes) and Talamore which are particularly good. Pine Needles, 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 (short course), hang out on Thistle Dhu (the putting course) 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 locals and snowbirds soaking up the experience. It’s a lively crowd.
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.
Virginia Beach, VA
My friend Doug makes an annual trip to Virginia Beach and swears it offers the best value of any spring destination. Generally, it’s not quite beach weather but still very comfortable for golf. Virginia Golf Vacations (https://virginiagolfvacations.com/virginia-golf-destinations/virginia-beach-golf/) has eight courses in their packages and Doug always includes Bay Creek, Cypress Point and Virginia Beach National in his itinerary. He’s also played the others and says you can’t go wrong with any of them, both for price and quality of play. He usually adds, “We eat like kings the whole week too. Lots of great seafood restaurants.”
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 around $200 for the Point courses and over $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 $50-150. Charleston National is quite good while the two courses at Wild Dunes, The Harbor Course and the Links Course, while a bit pricey are both designed by Tom Fazio and spectacular. Be sure to check out Crowfield too. It’s just off Interstate 26 on the way to Charleston and a fun course at good value.
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.