The New Year is only a few weeks old, so any resolutions about playing new and exciting golf courses in 2017 are still fresh in our minds. There are many places to choose from around the world for a spectacular golfing experience. In fact, there are so many possibilities that no wish list of golf destinations can ever be complete.
The list in this feature is a best attempt to offer something different. These are seven magnificent courses to travel to outside of Virginia and the criteria for the choices is a sense of the unusual, not the obvious courses, but the less well-traveled. There are six across America and one in Europe—just in case you are particularly adventurous.
Black Diamond Ranch, Lecanto, Florida
Some private courses are worth the effort of finding a member to play with and Black Diamond Ranch is one of them. Fifty miles north of Tampa Bay and designed by Tom Fazio in 1987, the course was built around an old limestone quarry and contains a remarkable amount of elevation for a Florida links. The 13th to 17th holes are truly in and around the old quarries, and there are views from some of the tee boxes where stopping for a moment to admire your surroundings is a must.
This is a golf course within a gated community of about 1,000 people, but there are now stay-and-play packages that would make it an ideal destination for a few golf buddies. The service is first class, the course is rarely crowded and buying a home there might be an option if you love the course so much.
Belgrade Lakes, Maine
Maine is not one of U.S. golf’s hotbeds and yet that is no reason to dismiss hidden gems like Belgrade Lakes designed by Clive Clark, a Brit who has worked extensively in the past with Peter Alliss who is more famous as a TV commentator.
Nevertheless, Clark has delivered 18 holes that are well worth a visit. From the back tees, the course measures 6,723 yards with a 135 slope rating and most of what golfers see there is the natural habitat—no tricked-up holes, just some trees, boulders and a couple of big ponds.
On first look, Belgrade Lakes is ordinary, yet this golf course is like very few others. Don’t visit and expect a gigantic clubhouse, hotel, condos on the fairways or even a driving range because there are none of these things. This is going back to basics; it’s all about the golf course here and that’s never a bad thing.
Brickyard Crossing, Indianapolis, Indiana
Some golf courses are notable for the views from the tee boxes or the magnificent countryside they are set in—Brickyard Crossing has a NASCAR speedway track situated next to it. Of course, this is no ordinary motor speedway venue—it’s the site of the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400, and so the air here in Indiana is filled with great sporting memories.
This public course originally was laid out in 1929 and then redesigned by Pete Dye. Four of the holes are actually inside the circuit and 14 are outside. The layout is, of course, very flat but there is enough water to keep every golfer’s attention. However, don’t worry about your ball ending up on the oval race track—it’s about 200 yards away from the golf course itself.
Stadium Course, PGA Catalunya, Spain
Traveling to Europe to play golf often means a trip to Scotland which is usually everyone’s first choice, but these days there is so much more to enjoy across the Atlantic. Spain, for example, doesn’t just have many fabulous golf courses, it has also has plenty of perfect weather.
My advice is to head for Barcelona and then drive north for 45 minutes towards the historic town of Girona where you will find one of Europe’s most feared golf courses nearby.
PGA Catalunya is not just a regular venue for the Spanish Open, but it is also the annual venue for the European Tour’s Qualifying School final tournament, golf’s greatest gathering of tragedy and triumph in one place. Young men and old veterans collide for a few Tour cards at Q-School, and you can feel the tension as you play the super-tough Stadium Course. I’ve chronicled the best of these tales of terror in my book Cruel School.
Although PGA Catalunya looks so marvelous to the eye with its elevated tees, views of the nearby Pyrenees and sparkling water hazards, there are well-guarded greens and tree-lined fairways to provide a massive challenge. Bring your A game to Spain for this challenge.
Palmer Course, PGA West, La Quinta, California
I adore playing golf courses surrounded by mountains and there are few finer examples than the Palmer Course at PGA West in La Quinta. The Santa Rosa mountain range provides a backdrop for one of Arnie’s most stunning creations.
This course was the site of the Bob Hope Classic and Humana Tournament until 2015 and also where David Duval shot a 59 to win the PGA Tour event in 1999.
It’s just under 6,500 yards from the blue tees with a slope rating of 133, five lakes and an in-play canal, but it’s not cripplingly difficult and that allows you to absorb the scenery and maybe the wildlife that includes roaming mountain goats.
The Palmer Course is for members only, but work hard to get an invitation and you will be rewarded with a memorable 18 holes.
Pinehurst No. 8, North Carolina
The very name of Pinehurst is enough to whet the appetite of any golfer on the planet and the No. 2 course generally grabs all the headlines. However, if you visit this North Carolina resort and don’t play Pinehurst No. 8, then you are missing out.
This is the eighth of the nine courses at Pinehurst and was built to celebrate the resort’s 100-year anniversary. Another Tom Fazio design, No. 8 opened in 1996 and has already staged two PGA Club Pro Championships. The first tee is a five-minute drive from the main Pinehurst clubhouse, but this is still the same wetlands area as the other courses, and Fazio has put in plenty false fronts, waste bunkers and greenside swales to reference all the older links on site laid out by the great Donald Ross.
Play No. 2 for memories of the majors, but you might enjoy No. 8 even more.
Turnberry Isle Miami, Florida
If you get the urge to visit a great resort course with a massive hotel on site, shopping mall nearby and superb weather, then the Turnberry Isle Miami is hard to beat.
This is a five-star destination with two excellent courses designed by Robert Trent Jones and given a recent fluff-up by Ray Floyd. Tee boxes are many and varied while greens are large and welcoming.
In fact, the overall look of the course is picture perfect, but bring plenty of golf balls because the water here has that well-known magnetic quality for attracting the mishit. This is particularly true of the island green on the 18th at the Soffer course.
And, if you need a distraction from the golf then keep an eye out for the many swans, ducks and flamingoes that are commonly gathering around the water features. Unfortunately, they will not help you find those lake balls.
Ross Biddiscombe’s two acclaimed golf books – Cruel School, about the European Tour Qualifying School tournament, and Ryder Cup Revealed – are available in hardback, paperback or eBook formats on Amazon.