As we all know by now, a Pandemic is a strange time, one that gets you thinking about many things. Beyond safety, security, health, friends, and family, my mind has often wandered to the travel opportunities I have experienced in the last five decades. Many of them are golf-related, and in the last number of months I have often contemplated about whether I will ever get to see these destinations again.
So, bear with me, as I get a little self-centred and share a list of places I have enjoyed in the past. It is by no means a ranked list or the only places I would love to return to. It’s simply an agenda of locales that I hope our readers get to see at some point in their golfing lives.
St Andrews, Scotland
It’s more than the golf. While the ancient game is very much the heart of this Scottish town, playing the sport often feels secondary. Golf’s presence is spiritual in St Andrews; it is the lifeblood that binds all. And I mean all, not just the well-healed, but the kids, every women and man.
In St Andrews you have the marriage of land and water, the links where the game has been played for centuries and you can absolutely sense the reverence for it. Cyclists roll by with clubs on their back, pubs have rooms where you can drop your golf bag, and late into the Scottish summer evenings (night in fact) you will witness friends and families squeezing in another loop.
Plenty of other golf options exist near the town, be it Kingsbarns, Crail, or The Dukes, but you need not go past the Links Trust courses, all seven of them, to fill your soul. The Old Course is a must but don’t sleep on playing the New (1895) and taking a couple clubs out on the short Balgove course will make you feel like a kid all over again.
Raw, rugged, stunning. Just three of what could be a million words to describe golf in Northern Ireland where the settings are often overwhelming, and the love of golf is pervasive.
Golf is normally a hardy game in the North, one where elements often dictate your course of play, and test both your physical and mental skills. Friendlier courses like Ardglass are a little tamer for those on the meek side, while those who want to push themselves will make the necessary arrangements long in advance for a shot at Royal County Down.
Much like Scotland, the people are the glue that holds the golf scene together. Whether that is a warm welcome to a club, or open arms and an open seat at the bar afterward, you are never made to feel like a stranger.
Golf binds all here, not matter the political or religious affiliation. If you’re a golfer, you’re just that and the landscapes on which you can play in this small nation are among the best in the world. Stand along the cliff-tops at Royal Portrush or Portstewart, and gaze along the stand (beach) and you cannot tell me they are not among the most beautiful as well.
Never, ever did I conceive this Central American nation as a golf destination. One trip convinced me otherwise. They may have less than a dozen full eighteen-hole layouts but the sport is highly regarded and holds a long and rich history here just north of the Equator.
It was not lost on me that the oldest golf tournament in the country, the Panama Open, had a roster of past champions that included everyone from Sam Snead to Canada’s George Knudson. As a flew in from Miami at night, enjoying the site of ships lined up to transverse the country via its famous canal, I pondered about the attraction for them. That was answered the next morning at sunrise as I looked out over the ocean from a hotel in Panama City and was transfixed by the beauty.
The golf courses themselves were carved from dense forest and vegetation, rife with otherworldly wildlife, and presented a test I had yet to behold in my life, with dry turf that afforded links like shots but pushed your touch to the limits.
Away from the course, the food, often borne of the ocean was exquisite and the historical attributes were fascinating.
Vegas, yes, Las Vegas. As manufactured as most things can be in this Nevada enclave, the city has grown on me. It is the absolute contrast to a St Andrews, devoid of history in a classical sense, and missing the “all-natural” feel but it taps into your senses in a whole other way. It’s a playground for adults and the adventure here is yours to make, without limits.
Want to take a helicopter ride to your course…done. Want to have dinner at world class restaurants each night and sample from all ends of the earth…you got it. Choosing to fill every hour outside of golf with casino visits, entertainment, and all manners of amusements…you’ll never be short on it.
After multiple trips to Vegas I also found a love for the contrast of desert golf. The green strips of fairways between dry expanses highly define your path. It may not be the most economical place to play but every visit opens itself up to new possibilities, on and off the golf course.
Rio Secco, Bali Hai, Bear’s Best, Pauite, Wolf Creek…the list of interesting courses is expansive and like all things Las Vegas, the operators make the experiences top notch.
Kiawah Island Resort
From my first step on to Kiawah Island, in 1992, I was enamoured. Low country charm meets big and bold with multiple golf courses, crowned with the majesty of the amazing Ocean Course. Not only home to the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship, Pete Dye’s Ocean Course is often acclaimed as one of the best true links courses in North America, with the Atlantic shores close at hand. Its raw, muscular, and when you pop over a dune and see endless expanses of water, soothing.
The Osprey Point, Turtle Point, Cougar Point, and Cassique courses are additional options to complement the Ocean Course and each offers their own unique look but share the common appeal of pristine conditioning and extraordinary settings.
When golf is over, the resort offers multiple food and accommodation options, none better than The Sanctuary, an oceanside luxury hotel that has justifiably earned much praise through the years.
That is just a handful of destinations, but they are among those that often come to mind. One day I hope to visit them again but if it is not the case I’ll feel pleased that the memories from past golf trips will always be with me.
St. Andrews, Scotland
Kiawah Island Resort