I eat, sleep and breathe golf. I literally spend hundreds of hours each month coordinating and/or booking golf trips for clients with Stays + Plays Travel Agency (see bio). One group leader recently asked me a question I’ve fielded no less than 1,000 times the past decade: “What are THE best group golf getaways in America?” NOT the most heavily saturated destinations. THE. BEST.
Based on my own experiences at hundreds of American resorts and courses, and the expert opinions of those in the golf travel industry I respect most, here is my Best list.
NOTE ON RANKING CRITERIA: The destination must have at least five Top Tier (B+ or Better) public golf courses within a 100-mile radius. (Note: If I left a signature course out, I either haven’t played it or didn’t like it enough. The intent is not to slight any specific resort or city…this is all about geographical reality.)
20. Minneapolis/St. Paul (Minnesota)
Courses: Troy Burne, Legend’s Club, Stoneridge, The Wilds, The Jewel
Best Kept Secret: Fox Hollow in St. Michael
Winters like this one hold Minnesota back from attaining the “golf destination” prestige locals feel it deserves. Here we are at the end of April and courses aren’t even open yet in the Twin Cities and might not even be open Up North until May. (Yikes!) That said, from May through September, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are arguably THE BEST places in the United States to play golf. The Twin Cities are loaded with really good golf, with the greatest being Troy Burne, Stoneridge and Legend’s Club. You can venture a bit southeast to find The Jewel, a bit southwest to find Dacotah Ridge, a bit northwest to find Territory Golf Club and then there are places like The Wilds, Willinger’s, Rush Creek and The Meadows at Mystic Lake in the middle. All of that without mentioning the best Minnesota course you’re (probably) never heard of: Fox Hollow in St. Michael. Fly into Minneapolis/St Paul Airport (MSP) and stay at the Best Western Plus Bloomington (Mall of America). That puts you within walking distance of nearly 300 restaurants and great late night entertainment on the MOA’s fourth floor.
19. Austin (Texas)
Courses: Omni Barton Creek (Fazio Foothills, Canyons and Palmer Lakeside), Wolfdancer, Horseshoe Bay (Ramrock, Applerock and Slick Rock)
Best Kept Secret: Vaaler Creek
Having lived in Dallas/Fort Worth for 6 years I get the appeal of Austin and why some publications rank it a lot higher as a golf getaway destination. I loved spending time in Austin for the food, music and golf. My problem is that the best golf is so concentrated between two resorts that are almost an hour drive apart. If you just stay in Austin you miss out on the great golf in Round Rock. If you stay in Round Rock the golf in Austin is a little impractical. So, I recommend dividing your trip in half as much as you can. Fly into Austin International Airport and spend equal time at the two main resorts. I listed seven great rounds for you above, and an hour the other side of Austin (west) Vaaler Creek is only a secret because the name is forgettable. Everything else about it is memorable and (more importantly) valuable.
18. Mesquite/St. George (Nevada/Utah)
Courses: Wolf Creek, Conestoga, Sand Hollow, Coyote Springs, Entrada at Snow Canyon
Best Kept Secret: Sky Mountain
What makes little Mesquite/St. George more valuable as a golf destination than The Twin Cities AND Austin? Neither the Twin Cities (population 3 million) nor Austin (population 1 million) has a “Bucket List” course. Mesquite (population 18,000) has one. St. George (population 82,000) has one. Comparatively speaking, that’s a ludicrous amount of riches. Perhaps you’ve seen Wolf Creek on the Tiger Woods video game -- the place that many have compared to golfing on Mars or the Moon. Perhaps you’ve seen the magazine covers boasting Sand Hollow’s incredible beauty, courtesy of the photographic genius of Brian Oar. You can play them both here, as they're only 55 miles apart. You should play both of them here. Las Vegas is such an easy (and typically cheap) place to fly into. Speaking from experience, go to GolfPackagePros.com and they’ll set your entire group’s trip up, putting you either at the Eureka Casino in Mesquite or a great budget stay in St. George. (Email me if you’re going there, and I’ll get you 10 percent off your GPP booking.) Aside from those two marquee courses, Conestoga is incredible. Coyote Springs is out in the middle of nowhere but well worth driving there, and Entrada at Snow Canyon as a Stay and Play combination is spectacular. Given its proximity to Vegas, Palm Springs and Phoenix/Scottsdale, there may be no more overlooked destination in America than Mesquite/St. George.
17. Jacksonville (Florida)
Courses: TPC Sawgrass (Stadium and Valley), Hammock Beach (Conservatory and Ocean), Omni Amelia Island Plantation (Oak Marsh)
Best Kept Secret: Captain’s BBQ Bait and Tackle in Palm Coast
And what makes Jacksonville with its ONE “Bucket List” course better than Mesquite/St. George for golf groups? Because if your group can afford to play TPC Sawgrass, you play it. Period. You stay at the Marriott Sawgrass and you play Dye's Valley and the Stadium Course BOTH so you don’t shortchange your $500+ dollars. The Omni Amelia Island Resort used to be my favorite Family Golf Resort in America. Now that they’ve destroyed one of their golf courses, it’s just ONE OF my favorite Family Resorts in America. If you have the kids along, you stay there or at Hammock Beach (with their great water park). And if you’re staying at Hammock Beach you play the newly renovated Ocean Course AND the extremely underrated Conservatory Course. Then you go down to Captain’s BBQ Bait and Tackle shop. You have the BBQ and at least one piece of their incredible cheesecake. But let me roll back to TPC Sawgrass. This is the home of The Players Championship. This and Augusta are where Sergio put all those balls in the water. This is the home of the most famous hole in golf: Pete and Alice Dye’s Island Green 17th. Amelia Island messing with their Ocean course really hurt this destination in my eyes. But, Sawgrass and Hammock Beach are awesome -- I can’t say that enough. If nothing else, just split your time up there.