You can’t golf all day, every day in retirement. Or can you? Well, maybe, especially if you’re finding every fairway and green on a fun course in good company. Plenty of birdies would help, too.
No golf destination can guarantee that. But a great golf retirement destination is one that promises a challenging, entertaining mix of public and private courses, reliably good weather and a broad range of experiences to fill your time when you’re not teeing up.
Here are eight spots from east to west where the golf options match up well with a variety of off-course activities, forming a combo that will keep you as busy as you want to be in your postwork life. Population and financial data are from the AARP Livability Index and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Pinehurst, North Carolina
Wind softly whispering through tall pines is the soundtrack of south-central North Carolina, and golfers have hearkened to it for decades. The game is an essential part of the Pinehurst area’s DNA — so much so that the World Golf Hall of Fame was founded here in 1974 and is moving back after spending the past 25 years in Florida.
The centerpiece is the Pinehurst Resort, featuring nine numbered courses including the famed No. 2, which will host its fourth U.S. Open in June 2024. (A 10th layout, designed by esteemed course architect Tom Doak, is under construction.) Equally fun, and much quicker to play, are the resort’s Thistle Dhu Putting Course and the Cradle Short Course.
Want even more golf? Nearby Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club and Southern Pines Golf Club both offer championship-caliber courses. And the United States Golf Association is building a new campus in Pinehurst that will include the revamped Hall of Fame and is set to open in 2024.
Off-course: The charming Village of Pinehurst, a National Historic Landmark since 1996, is a walker’s delight with boutique shops and restaurants. A short drive away is Southern Pines, where you’ll find a growing collection of restaurants, breweries, wine bars and pubs with live music. Sandhills Community College’s Center for Personal Enrichment can help you feed your mind or pursue new passions with a host of affordable classes. Charlotte, Raleigh and Atlantic Ocean beaches are within a two-hour drive to the west, north and east, respectively.
- Population: 16,050
- Median income: $78,317
- Median home value: $338,900
- Median monthly housing cost: $1,133
- Median housing cost burden: 15.4 percent of income
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Fittingly advertised as “The Golf Island,” this ever-popular resort sports nearly two dozen public and private courses scattered across 42 square miles of marshland and maritime forest. Bluffton and other easy-to-access towns on the mainland more than double the playing field of Lowcountry layouts (and offer considerably cheaper housing).
Hilton Head’s crown jewel is Harbour Town Golf Links, where the PGA Tour’s best tee it up each April for the RBC Heritage. One of three courses at the Sea Pines Resort (alongside Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point), Harbour Town is known for its iconic, candy-cane-striped lighthouse behind the 18th green, and its clubhouse is home to the Pete Dye Room, a museum dedicated to the life and work of the renowned course architect.
On the north end of the island are the semiprivate Oyster Reef Golf Club, highlighted by its par 3 sixth hole on the magnificent Port Royal Sound, and Bear Creek Golf Club, an Audubon-certified track that weaves through the Carolina pines. For a bargain round, grab a tee time at Hilton Head National in Bluffton — its pure landscape and affordable greens fee will make you a repeat customer.
Off-course: Hilton Head’s subtropical climate, 12 miles of white-sand beaches and unspoiled Lowcountry scenery make it a haven for tennis, cycling, hiking, fishing and boating. Miles of nature trails (as well as alligators and seabirds) await at the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, a protected 605-acre habitat home to a 4,000-year-old Native American shell ring. The annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration showcases the island’s rich African American cultural heritage. State residents ages 60-plus can enroll for free classes at the University of South Carolina.
Hilton Head facts
- Population: 40,007
- Median income: $88,560
- Median home value: $520,700
- Median monthly housing cost: $1,472
- Median housing cost burden: 21.7 percent of income
Central and South Florida’s golf menu might serve a heartier selection of world-class courses, but the ribbon-thin peninsula along the Panhandle’s Emerald Coast offers a smorgasbord of top-value fairways and greens beloved by links-loving retirees.