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.)
10. Springfield/Branson (Missouri)
Courses: Big Cedar Lodge (Buffalo Ridge Springs & NEW C&C Course, Mountain Top, Top of the Rock), Old Kinderhook, Branson Hills (Coming Soon: Tiger Woods Course at Big Cedar Lodge)
Best Kept Secret: Cakes-n-Creams in Branson
It’s as much what’s coming as what’s there that makes the Springfield/Branson region such an epicenter for golf. As it stands, there are five courses I consider MUST PLAYS in this area, with a sixth slated to open this Fall. Old Kinderhook is kind of a standalone, very much worth the drive and visit, but perhaps not a great place to build a group golf trip around (with little other great golf around it). You’re going to want to make your base at Big Cedar Lodge if at all possible. You can get to Branson Hills from there. But, more importantly you can play Tom Fazio’s Buffalo Ridge Springs course, Gary Player’s Mountain Top course and the sensational Jack Nicklaus nine-hole Top of the Rock course, adjacent one of the prettiest chapels on earth and the fabulous Arnie’s Barn restaurant. Your guys will all want to hit a bucket of balls on TOTR’s extremely scenic and unique driving range, and the Midwest may not have a prettier sunset view than the one from Top of the Rock over Table Rock Lake. There’s already all of this here, all of these reasons for you to make Springfield/Branson your next Golf Getaway. And there’s even more coming. Coore & Crenshaw’s NEW Ozarks National opens this fall, and Tiger Woods’s NEW Payne Valley (tribute to Payne Stewart) opens in 2019. Springfield/Branson already deserves its Top 10 Ranking, and it’s only going to get better.
9. Palm Springs (California)
Courses: PGA West (TPC Stadium), La Quinta Resort (Mountain), Indian Wells Resort (Players & Celebrity), Desert Willow (Firecliff)
Best Kept Secret: Palm Royale Country Club
The only reason Palm Springs is ahead of Springfield/Branson on my list is because it already has everything it needs. Nothing is in the works to make it better (that I know of). Depending on who you ask, there are as many as eight must-play public courses in the Palm Desert/Palm Springs/La Quinta area and that’s not counting The Journey at Pechanga in Temecula (65 miles away) and Oak Quarry Golf Club in Riverside (75 miles away). This region is one that you can make your base for a full week EASILY, and then branch out within that 100-mile limit to add more stellar rounds. At a certain point (when you get inside this Top 10), you can go up or down a few spots with ANY of these destinations -- they’re all incredible. So if you want to say this zone is good enough to be No. 6 or No. 7, I won’t argue with you. You can rank them all however you’d like. Some say PGA West Stadium is too hard. It’s also too beautiful. I’ll play it for the beauty. The KemperSports-managed Desert Willow courses (both of them) are highly underrated by most and should be played by all. I like that Palm Springs is close to San Diego, John Wayne and LAX airports (not even terrible from Vegas), so you have lots of flight options for groups coming from all over. La Quinta and Indian Wells Resorts are both fantastic bases. And Palm Royale CC earns the “best kept secret” tag as an 18-hole Par 3 course that is public access, which few seem to know or understand.