The ultimate golf destination should have year-round courses, a signature course worthy of a pilgrimage and a wide variety of courses to suit scratch golfers and passionate beginners. And it should have something else to do or see, either after a round or for non-golfers.
Here are five golf vacation ideas within the continental U.S. that meet each criteria.
The St. Andrews of American Golf: Pinehurst, N.C.
Golf legend and Masters founder Bobby Jones is a huge fan of Pinehurst, N.C., where eight championship courses surround the posh Pinehurst Resort, which was named the world's best golf resort by Travel & Leisure Golf in three of the last four years. In fact, there are 43 courses within a 15-mile radius, generally open year-round, and 31 of them received four stars or better from Golf Digest magazine.
Getting there: Airports in Raleigh/Durham, Fayetteville and Greensboro are about an hour away.
Signature course: Pinehurst No. 2 ($339-$410) hosted the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens.
For non-golfers: It's not for the faint-of-wallet -- lodging is $124-$204 per person in winter, $213-$357 in spring -- but Pinehurst Resort offers a beach club, kayaking, tennis, world-class spa facilities and plenty of porch rockers.
More info: The Pinehurst area visitors' bureau lists all 43 courses, many lodging options and packages. Homeofgolf.com has in-depth course guides and tons of information.
Vegas, Baby: Las Vegas and Mesquite, Nev.
Las Vegas has everything, from the Eiffel Tower to volcanoes. Likewise, it's got a golf experience for anyone, from the Royal Links Golf Club, featuring replicas of 18 holes from the British Open course rotation, to night-time golf at the Calloway Golf Center on the Strip.
The city's surrounded by more than 55 golf courses, including those designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. For the more budget-minded traveler, the town of Mesquite, about 80 miles northeast, has become a golf destination on its own, with five distinct courses including Wolf Creek.
Signature course:Shadow Creek ($500), which Golf magazine calls "golf's Brigadoon -- a mythical place that precious few have actually laid eyes on," is open to guests of MGM Mirage (MGM)
properties, listed under
Resorts and Casinos.
For non-golfers: It's Vegas. Shows, gambling, anything: It happens here.
More info: The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority offers a list of courses and links. For Mesquite, check out visitmesquite.com.
(MGM) New Northwest Golf Mecca: Bandon, Ore.
Even if Pinehurst is America's St. Andrews, Bandon may be the closest simulation of British Isles-style golf -- complete with caddies and no golf carts. Prior to the 1998 opening of the area's first major course, this section of the southern Oregon coast looked pretty much like the rest of the state: fishing villages and stretches of sand and rocky beaches. Now, it's a destination for golfers.
(MGM) The area courses -- three at one resort, all ranked in Golf magazine's top 15 U.S. public course, plus several others -- offer incredible scenery and sweeping ocean vistas, combined with supreme links.
(MGM) Getting there: It's a 200-mile drive south from Portland International Airport.
Signature course: Pacific Dunes ($100-$275) at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort ranked No. 1 in Golf magazine's 2008 "Top 100 Places You Can Play."
For non-golfers: This still-quaint but developing area offers shoreside dining featuring local crab, plus beaches, fishing and wine tours.
More info: Between oregongolf.com, the resort Web site and the Bandon Chamber of Commerce, you'll find plenty of places to play and to stay.
(MGM) In Walt's Shadow: Orlando, Fla.
(MGM) Yes, it's America's family vacation destination -- but Orlando offers a tremendous golf trip for almost any budget. The city and surrounding areas offer more than 75 courses, including more than a dozen stay-and-play resorts, not counting the five courses on the grounds at (DIS) Walt Disney World ( DIS).
While there's no shortage of high-end courses, you can also find affordable options: During the winter, you can play highly regarded Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club for $85, and there are several more
underrated and relatively cheap options.
Signature course: Championship Course at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge (resort guests only, $350-$825 for two in February).
For non-golfers: Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World -- the list goes on and on.
More info:GolfOrlando.com is the place for details on all the courses, including packages. The Orlando/Orange County Conventions & Visitors Bureau offers itineraries, too.
Any golfer who's watched the U.S. Open from Pebble Beach -- and plenty did in 2000, when Tiger Woods whipped the field by 15 strokes -- dreams of playing there. And yes, you can play there, but it will cost you: The best way to get a tee time is to book a two-night reservation ($580 and up, per night) at one of the resort's hotels, then pay the greens fees of $495.
(MGM) (DIS) That said, the Pebble Beach Company runs three other notable courses on the peninsula. For an affordable option, consider Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Links, with impressive ocean views for $45 or less.
(MGM) (DIS) Getting there: You can fly commercial to Monterey Peninsula Airport from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver or Las Vegas. San Jose, about 90 minutes away, is the closest major airport.
Signature course: Pebble Beach Golf Links is the most famous one, hosting the U.S. Open for the fifth time in 2010.
For non-golfers: Just as the course is known for its natural beauty, the surrounding coastline is perfect for sightseeing. Try the scenic 17-mile drive, or turn to the area's world-renowned wineries.
More info: The Pebble Beach resort company has the most complete info. Check Monterey.com for information on other courses.