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.)
40. Spokane-ish (Washington)
Courses: Gamble Sands, Coeur D’Alene, Circling Raven, Palouse Ridge, Kalispel Golf and Country Club (Coming Soon: Gamble Sands 2.0)
Best Kept Secret: Hangman Valley in Spokane
Fly into Spokane International Airport (GEG). Make your group bases at the Coeur D’Alene Resort and Gamble Sands Resort. If you measure from the western city limit sign of Spokane to the gate of Gamble Sands you get 101 miles, and who wouldn’t walk that extra mile to play Gamble Sands? Exactly. With news circulating that David McLay Kidd is about to take another gamble in those marvelous sands, this “destination” is only going to rise in the rankings.
39. Huntsville (Alabama)
Courses: RTJ Golf Trail (The Shoals-Fighting Joe & The Schoolteacher and Hampton Cove-Highlands & Short Course), Gaylord Springs
Best Kept Secret: Sweetens Cove near Chattanooga, Tenn.
Fly into Huntsville International Airport (or MSL in Muscle Shoals). Spend a couple nights at the fabulous Marriott Shoals in Florence (you can get a Free Shuttle from MSL Airport) or the Gaylord Opryland Hotel if you make the Nashville run for Gaylord Springs. It’s a touch over 100 miles to the GS course itself, but my favorite public course in Nashville, for whatever that’s worth. Both the 360 (revolving restaurant) Grille and Swampers Bar & Grille at the Marriott Shoals are spectacular and there are three Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Courses at Hampton Cove in Huntsville—the Highlands is the only “Must Play.” Huntsville also has a Topgolf Facility, pretty cool for a city of only 200,000. You can’t technically say that Sweetens Cove (75 miles from Huntsville) is a “secret,” given that you’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard about it, but it’s in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee and if you know where that is you should be teaching advanced geography.
38. Chicago (Illinois)
Courses: Cantigny, The Glen Club, Harborside (Port & Starboard), Cog Hill (#4) Harbor Shores
Best Kept Secret: Stonewall Orchard
I’m always surprised that Chicago doesn’t have more great public golf. On the private side, the city is loaded with awesome, but publicly…it’s just not. That said, this is the home base of KemperSports, one of the top two golf management companies in the entire country, and they operate many of the area’s best public facilities. (Start at their website if you want to play it safe.) According to the “experts,” Chicago has the nation’s best mini-golf course at Par King, so that’s “something,” but that’s only because no decent golf architect has ever given mini-golf a legitimate take. The Glen Club is a great place to stay for golfers, or just find a local chain hotel as a base. Or…take a little trip to Harbor Shores, Mich. (99 miles away), play the Jack Nicklaus course and stay at The Inn. The good news is, there are a billion low cost flights into O’Hare or Midway each day, and once here you’re close to Wrigley Field, a lot of GOOD golf and some pretty GREAT rounds.
37. Miami (Florida)
Courses: Trump National Doral (Blue Monster & Red Tiger), PGA National (Champion), Turnberry Isle (Soffer), The Breakers (Rees Jones)
Best Kept Secret: Palm Beach par-3 course
Is the golf better in Miami than Chicago? Not really. But 9 months out of the year the weather definitely is. And with facts showing that a majority of golf travelers begin in cold states and head towards warm weather, I see no reason to buck that trend with my rankings. All the courses above are B+ or better courses, Miami is a huge and easy airport to fly into, and Doral and PGA National are great places to stay. That said…moving on.
36. Washington D.C.
Courses: Lansdowne Resort (RTJ & Norman), Potomac Shores, The Links at Gettysburg, Whiskey Creek
Best Kept Secret: Guests of the Salamander Resort have access to Creighton Farms
Does anyone think of golf when they hear Washington, D.C.? Probably not. They think of the Smithsonian Museums, the National Mall and all of its AMAZING monuments, The White House (with or without who’s in it), Arlington Cemetery…a lot of really truly memorable stops. You can easily fly into Dulles, but then what? Start at Lansdowne Resort or upgrade to Salamander Resort and play the three courses between them. Head to Gettysburg for the history and a pretty special Stay & Play opportunity with the Federal Pointe Inn. Then come back and play a Nicklaus gem at Potomac Shores that is a little bizarre but is Troon managed, took almost a decade to build, and has plenty of fun shots scattered throughout.
35. San Antonio (Texas)
Courses: TPC San Antonio (AT&T Oaks & Canyons), Brackenridge Park, La Cantera (Resort & Palmer), The Quarry
Best Kept Secret: Schilos, Blanco Café or 2M Smokehouse…too tough to call.
I LOVE me some San Antonio. Yes, to the River Walk. Yes, to the BBQ and Mexican food. Yes, to…shoot…what’s that place called? Oh yeah, I remember… Yes, to The Alamo. There’s a water park in New Braunfels. There’s Six Flags. There’s Sea World. But what about the golf? Is there great golf? Yes again. The PGA Tour comes to TPC San Antonio and you can too, with a stay at the sensational JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa—THE place for golf groups to stay. From there you can get to all of the others with ease and spend as much time down town counting painted cows or hanging out at the…shoot…what was that place called again?
34. Tampa (Florida)
Courses: Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead & Island), Old Corkscrew, World Woods (Pine Barrens & Rolling Oaks), Black Diamond Ranch (Quarry)
Best Kept Secret: The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club on Sanibel Island
Tampa has an international airport. It also has a TON of great area golf. By all means, bring your golf group to STAY at Innisbrook Resort and play ALL of their courses, including the host course of the Valspar Championship that Tiger Woods ALMOST won in 2018 — Copperhead. World Woods might not be what you expect, but both courses are B+ or better. The Quarry Course at Black Diamond Ranch has some of the most astonishing golf holes in America, and you’re close to the beach. I’ll give you a fair warning that Old Corkscrew in Estero is one of the country’s hardest courses, but it’s still well worth playing, and then I’ll leave you with how close you are to Disney World and Universal Studios, in case you “have to” bring kids.
33. Madison (Wisconsin)
Courses: Erin Hills, Wilderness Resort (Wild Rock), University Ridge, Geneva National (Player & Palmer), Grand Geneva (Brute)
Best Kept Secret: Hawk’s View in Lake Geneva
I struggled with where to put Erin Hills in terms of destinations, given that it could geographically fit into both Madison and Oshkosh. I decided to put it here because it and Wild Rock make a good “one-night, two-course” trip from Madison. Stay at Wilderness Resort if you like water parks. Stay at Erin Hills if you literally have money to burn. Having played it four times in four different stages of development, Erin Hills is no Sand Valley or Kohler Course, but it’s probably the marquee of the Madison destination. On the NATIONAL golf scene, I’d say University Ridge is a pretty great secret, but locally everyone knows about it (and loves it). Fly into Chicago OR Milwaukee. Golf groups can make a full week out of just Grand Geneva and Geneva National. Stay at Grand Geneva but play all the Geneva National courses and Hawk’s View.
32. Maui (Hawaii)
Courses: Kapalua (Plantation & Bay), Wailea (Gold & Emerald), Kaanapali (Royal)
Best Kept Secret: Turtle Town at Makena Landing
How dare I not rank Maui in my top 10? Which golfer wouldn’t want to go to Hawaii on a golf trip? I mean, both questions are fair, but how many of you are in golf groups that would spend $2,500-plus per person and choose Hawaii over Monterey or Bandon? My point exactly. Maui is superb. The weather is incredible, and the resorts are almost too nice. It’s essentially heaven on earth, right? But it comes at a cost, and of the thousands of golfers I’ve connected with over the years there are just too many other places they’d go (as a group) to play for that money. There are few resorts in Maui I wouldn’t recommend. I don’t have a favorite. Golf though…Kapalua is a spectacular Troon-managed property that is about to get a huge Coore & Crenshaw renovation (they designed the course 27 years ago). You have to play Kapalua Plantation if you come here!
31. Atlanta (Georgia)
Courses: Reynolds Lake Oconee (Great Waters, Oconee, National & The Landing), University of Georgia Golf Club, Bear’s Best Atlanta, Echelon Golf Club, Cherokee Run, Legacy on Lanier
Best Kept Secret: The executive Legacy Golf Links
Atlanta has another massive and easy airport to fly into. It’s also another massive city with lots of GOOD golf. But golf travelers want better. They want GREAT. Reynolds Lake Oconee southeast of Atlanta gives just that. Four times! Use the Ritz-Carlton as your base there, or stay at a chain hotel in Atlanta and make your rounds to the other great listed courses. Visit the Coca Cola Museum if you’re really bored. It is pretty interesting. It can get pretty warm in “Hot-lanta” but the weather is part of the allure for “Snowbirds” and there are a TON of really good to maybe even great golf courses I didn’t mention. Reynolds is obviously the marquee draw, but you’re wedged between Hilton Head Island and Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail here. That speaks VOLUMES about the golf.