2. Oshkosh / Central Wisconsin
Courses: Sand Valley (Mammoth Dunes, Sand Valley & The Sandbox), Whistling Straits (Straits & Irish), Blackwolf Run (River & Meadow Valleys), The Bull at Pinehurst Farms, Erin Hills, SentryWorld, Lawsonia (Links)
Best Kept Secret: The Little Corporal Restaurant in Green Lake
What makes Central Wisconsin a hotter golf destination than Monterey or Bandon? The fact that very soon, it could have a comparative property to BOTH Pebble AND Bandon. It already has “a Pebble Beach” at The American Club in Kohler, and if Sand Valley adds another two courses in the next few years it would have “a Bandon.” In fact, it could even surpass Bandon Dunes as America’s Best GOLF Resort. (Both Mike Keiser properties FYI.) Many would contend that Big Cedar Lodge could make a similar lunge for supremacy (with the new Coore & Crenshaw and Tiger Woods courses), and I won’t argue against that. Wherever the chips may fall, Sand Valley IS hot on Bandon’s trail, especially with the grand opening (end of May) of what I personally believe is David McLay Kidd’s most brilliant work—Mammoth Dunes. Having it discussed head-to-head with Whistling Straits as much as it figures to be (especially not being built on Lake Michigan), will be an extreme compliment to Mr. Kidd and his course. Deservedly so. And Sand Valley is celebrating another grand opening May 1st with Coore & Crenshaw’s Sandbox — a 17-hole par-3 masterpiece. There’s so much going on in the heart of Wisconsin that some of the other big names are getting overlooked. DON’T MAKE THAT MISTAKE. You have to come up here for BOTH Sand Valley and Kohler!
Fly into Milwaukee OR Chicago. You MUST play the two Whistling Straits courses and try to make time for the duo at Blackwolf Run. (For the record: The Straits Course at Whistling Straits is one of my 10 favorite rounds EVER, and The American Club is one of my “10 Best Resorts (PERIOD) in America.”) Destination Kohler provides the most epic of Midwest stay-and-plays for both families and golfers. The Inn on Woodlake is one of my favorite hotels in America, Horse & Plow is one of my favorite restaurants, and (you heard it here second) Pete Dye’s firm is building a fifth course here soon. I mean, I could make this paragraph really long. Kohler is awesome. You have to play The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in nearby Sheboygan Falls and compare it to the Blackwolf Run duo. All three solid. There are other top-100 courses in the area like Sentryworld, Erin Hills and the Links of Lawsonia. And then there are the ice cream sandwiches at Craig’s Porch at Sand Valley. This has to be the best GolfGetaway destination in America, right? Well, it would be if it stayed open all year.
1. Phoenix/Scottsdale (Arizona)
Courses: Troon North (Pinnacle and Monument), Boulders (North and South), Grayhawk (Talon and Raptor), TPC Scottsdale (Stadium), We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro & Cholla) Wickenburg Ranch
Best Kept Secret: Gold Canyon-Dinosaur Mountain
The place that offers the MOST great golf ALL YEAR LONG. Yes, it gets freaking hot sometimes, but the quantity of quality golf courses of Phoenix/Scottsdale can’t be beat in January, May, September or November (or at least six other months). First of all, the area has one of my Top 3 Family Resorts in America at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which incidentally gives you direct access to TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course (host of the Waste Management Phoenix Open) and the Champions Course, as well as the two great courses at Grayhawk. The food at the Fairmont, the pools, the water park, cake pops, service — all of those things are amazing. I could easily spend a whole week at just the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess with those four courses and the Four Seasons Scottsdale (with the two sensational Troon North courses). But I can keep throwing names at you of places you really should play down here, well beyond the ones I listed above — Kierland, The Phoenician, Quintero (and if you can get onto Scottsdale National and Parson’s Bad Little Nine, DO IT!) I tell group leaders that a day trip out to Wickenburg Ranch is a MUST. Gold Canyon has two courses, both fun but one — Dinosaur Mountain — way better. And then there’s Ak-Chin Southern Dunes in Maricopa. Like I said, I can keep going, and that’s the kind of place you make No. 1 on a list of GolfGetaways: a place that you can take 10 consecutive years of golf trips to (or more) and always play a different itinerary.
OBVIOUSLY…all of this is open to discussion. But, from my perspective and with my research and collection of tips from other experts, this is how I order America’s 40 Greatest Golf Getaways for Groups. Stay tuned NEXT WEEK for the last article of this 5-Piece series. “The 10 Best International Golf Getaways.”