Offering all that a golfing enthusiast could wish for, these picturesque fairways are unforgettable sporting experiences worth travelling for
It only takes one look at the professional game – imbued with youth, vigor and vitality – to recognize that golf in the post-Tiger-Woods era is still as exciting as ever, possibly even more so.
Today’s players are turning the ancient game on its head – a game that is celebrated right across the US, with courses of distinction designed by architects of repute, punctuating the multifarious American landscape from sea to shining sea.
And while many of the over-15,000 courses that speckle the country are perfectly playable and agreeable for a weekender, there are those special specimens that truly capture the imagination of the avid amateur.
Places that – whether publicly accessible or eminently private, daily fee or resort, newly unveiled or steeped in legend and lore – are synonymous with excellence and a testament to the game’s enduring popularity. Places that, to borrow from the Michelin Guide, are worthy of a detour.
Some within this rarefied roster of standouts are instantly recognizable for having hosted major championships or professional tournaments, while others may be lesser known, though no less exceptional.
We profile a quintet of notable golf destinations, each handily located a stone’s throw from a Waldorf Astoria property.
These five showcase the peerless quality, endless variety and challenging milieu that is the very hallmark of golf in the US.
PGA West La Quinta, California
Until this January’s Career Builder Challenge Golf Tournament, it had been nearly 30 years since the wider golfing public had reminisced about the iconic TPC Stadium Course at PGA West. The year was 1987 and the Pete-Dye-designed course, one of six at the legendary La Quinta Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, was, for the first time, hosting the Bob Hope Classic, a popular stop on the PGA Tour. But after more than 100 golfers petitioned the PGA Tour that the 7,300-yard course, situated in California’s breathtaking Coachella Valley, was too severe, the par-72 parcel was dropped. Of course, in the intervening years, the game and technology have changed, and having hosted the Tour’s rigorous Qualifying School six times since 2004, this stunning layout in the shadow of the Santa Rosa Mountains is, pleasingly, once again back in our collective consciousness. And demanding our attention, for golfers have an array of challenges to contend with—from enumerable pot bunkers to forced carries—saying nothing of the fact that nine holes play along the water, one has a mammoth greenside bunker and another features a knee-trembling island green surrounded by boulders. No wonder it counts among GOLF Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Courses in the World’ and is a must for any self-respecting amateur.
Streamsong Nr Tampa, Florida
It has been heralded as a superlative sand-based canvas that also ushers in a new era of developing golf on reclaimed land: 36 holes hewn from a defunct phosphate mine, 48 miles southeast of Tampa in the form of the exceptional and oft-lauded Streamsong Resort. Since opening in late 2012, the accolades have been piling up for the pair of courses—the Red and the Blue—in this links-style layout. The former is designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, a 7,148-yard bruiser with long par-fours, forced carries, roll-off areas and enormous dunes, whereas the latter boasts brutal bunkers, water carries and a myriad of strategic options on 7,176 challenging yards, courtesy of Tom Doak of Renaissance Golf Design. In their home state, Red and Blue are rated as #1 and #3 in Golf Digest’s 2015 ‘Best Public Golf Courses in Florida’ list. The same pair is ranked at #47 and #56 by GOLF Magazine in its ‘Top 100 Courses in the US’. The duo, which feel as though they’ve been in this sandy milieu for millennia, will soon be joined by the forthcoming Black course, a routing by Gil Hanse that’s been described as having “its own distinct look and feel, with panoramic views, flowing elevation with rolls, tumbles and ridges”. We can’t wait.
Bethpage Black Course, Long Island, New York
When the United States Golf Association announced that the 2002 US Open would be held at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course, it made golfing history. One of five layouts at the New-York-State facility—35 miles east of Manhattan in Farmingdale, Long Island—the long-feared Bethpage Black became the first publicly owned site to host the national championship. And it was for good reason. Long held in high esteem for its challenging A.W. Tillinghast design—for which golfers would either have to go through a rigorous lottery or sleep overnight in their cars to secure a tee-time—the course even came with an ominous first-tee admonition, which read: “WARNING: The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers”. No surprise, then, that the winner, Tiger Woods, was the lone golfer to score under-par for the championship on the hilly, wooded 7,468-yard layout. The Black Course’s tight fairways, wrist-rupturing rough and penal bunkers have since hosted another US Open, and a second iteration of The Barclays takes place this August. Along the way, the course has benefited from a pair of subtle but punishing multimillion-dollar makeovers at the hands of Rees Jones, who has made this rugged track both more striking and infinitely more demanding.
With its 1,012 bunkers, deep-set plateaued greens, acres of fescue and natural grasses, swinging doglegs and endless water views, Pete Dye’s design for Whistling Straits’ The Straits course is a rousing ode to golfing in the British Isles. Except that it happens to be located about 10 miles outside Kohler, Wisconsin, on what was once Camp Haven, a table-flat military air base. Transformed, thanks in part to 13,000 truckloads of imported sand, ordered in at the behest of resort founder Herbert V. Kohler Jr., the 7,501-yard, par-72 set-up evokes a links Lotusland. Stretching two miles along the western shoreline of Lake Michigan, it’s a lengthy and demanding walking-only (read: no golf carts) test that hosted the 2004, the infamous 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships, and is the future site of the 2020 Ryder Cup. The American Club, with which the course is affiliated, also features a gentler inland course, The Irish, which measures 7,201-yards and is routed around a quartet of meandering brooks, grassland and shallow hillocks and dunes, making for a handful of blind shots and approaches.
Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
At 6,430-yards, the par-71 Adobe Course at the Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, isn’t as lengthy as some of the others featured here, though it manages to hold its own thanks to a design that has stood the test of time. The parkland course was built in 1930 under the aegis of chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., who asked noted architect William Bell—who spearheaded two of Los Angeles’ great courses: Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades and Bel-Air Country Club—to fashion a track that would become a fine and fair test. It was and it remains so to this day, with wide manicured fairways, water features and strategic bunkering that, when built, were miles from the city centre.
Today, the city has enveloped the resort, turning it into something of an urban oasis. Framed by the picturesque Phoenix Mountain Preserve and the far-reaching southern skyline of downtown Phoenix, these scenes are memorable backdrops to bold challenges and enjoyable play for even the most demanding golfer.