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8 Great Places to Golf Your Way Through Retirement

Relocating for the game? These destinations run the gamut of greens, from top-rated munis to resort splurges

spinner image Cascata golf course in Boulder City, Nevada
Scenic courses like Cascata Golf Club in Boulder City, Nevada, help make the Las Vegas area an attractive destination for golfing retirees.
Could Be the Day

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. 

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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. 

Pinehurst facts

  • 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
spinner image Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, SC
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, SC
The Sea Pines Resort/Rob Tipton

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

Destin, Florida

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.

Start your buffet at the sprawling 2,400-acre Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Miramar Beach, a four-course, 30-neighborhood golf community with both Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay frontage. Three of the courses are public (but membership provides unlimited play): The Links features five holes on the bay, Baytowne dazzles with views and (rare for the Sunshine State) elevation, and Raven hosted the PGA Champions Tour in 2006 and ’07.

Closer to downtown Destin, Kelly Plantation Golf Club, a Fred Couples-designed gem, is fun and challenging, providing one of the best bang-for-your-buck rounds on the Emerald Coast. Up the road, the recently renovated Regatta Bay Golf & Yacht Club winds through wetlands before finishing at the beautiful 18th hole, a risk-reward par 5.

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Off-course: On or off the water, Destin’s headlining act is Mother Nature, with 24 miles of powder-soft, white-quartz shoreline. Henderson Beach State Park offers a peaceful respite from vacation crowds, punctuated by 30-foot-tall sand dunes that funnel towards the Gulf. Long called the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” Destin is a paradise for anglers hoping to hook a trophy catch. Florida is one of the most tax-friendly states, with no state income or estate tax. 

Destin facts

  • Population: 13,702
  • Median income: $78,833
  • Median home value: $357,400
  • Median monthly housing cost: $1,495
  • Median housing cost burden: 22 percent of income

Birmingham, Alabama

Year-round golf options abound in the Magic City, with 22 courses in town and nearly that many more within a 20-mile radius, and you’ll often find tremendous value for a top-shelf round.  

Part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, which traverses 26 courses scattered about the state, Oxmoor Valley features two distinct layouts that sweep across undulating terrain on a former U.S. Steel site minutes from downtown. Ross Bridge, the area’s other contribution to the trail, is never short on scenery and nothing short of monstrous in scale: From the tips, it can be played at 8,191 yards, making it the fifth-longest course in the world. (It’s currently closed for renovations but is scheduled to reopen this fall.)

A membership at Greystone Golf & Country Club delivers a one-stop community for well-heeled golf enthusiasts (and more than a dozen PGA Tour players as neighbors). Locals love Highland Park, Alabama’s oldest golf course and one of the country’s best munis, per Golf Magazine. With its challenging collection of par 3s, Ballantrae Golf Club in nearby Pelham is another low-cost play with big-dollar dividends.

Off-course: Set in the picturesque foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Alabama’s biggest city offers mild weather, low living costs and a bevy of outdoor and cultural adventures. Some 50 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails crisscross 11,632-acre Oak Mountain State Park. Hot summer days draw locals to the Cahaba River to fish or float. Back in town, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute recounts the city’s turbulent past, and the ornate Alabama Theatre, dubbed the “Showplace of the South,” offers first-run and revival films and concerts. Carnivores unite at Saw’s BBQ, one of the top-ranked barbecue joints in the country.

Birmingham facts

  • Population: 212,297
  • Median income: $46,222
  • Median home value: $102,900
  • Median monthly housing cost: $875
  • Median housing cost burden: 14.1 percent of income
spinner image Hole #5 at Stone Canyon Golf Club in the Oro Valley near Tucson, Arizona.
Hole #5 at Stone Canyon Golf Club in the Oro Valley near Tucson, Arizona.
Alamy Stock Photos

Tucson, Arizona 

Tucson may seem a perennial golf stepchild to Phoenix and Scottsdale a couple of hours north, but don’t underestimate how much the “Old Pueblo” has going for it on and off the courses. 

Golfers here can choose among affordable municipal layouts such as Randolph North, Randolph Dell Urich, El Rio, Fred Enke and Silverbell or splash out on the upscale resort offerings at The Lodge at Ventana Canyon, Sewailo Golf Club at Casino del Sol, JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass and Omni Tucson National, which has hosted a PGA Champions Tour event for several years. The private Stone Canyon Club, located north of downtown in Oro Valley, has unforgettable, boulder-strewn scenery.  

Off-course: The University of Arizona in Tucson offers in-person and online classes for the 50-plus crowd at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Get out of class and into the outdoors by hiking in Saguaro National Park and up 9,100-foot Mt. Lemmon, which offers skiing in the winter months and stargazing at the university’s SkyCenter. You can learn about the area’s natural history at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Tucson Botanical Gardens. A rich and tasty mix of culinary traditions, especially of the Mexican and Native American variety, earned Tucson recognition as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015. 

Tucson facts

  • Population: 541,482
  • Median income: $47,627
  • Median home value: $277,700
  • Median monthly housing cost: $928
  • Median housing cost burden: 16.2 percent of income
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Clark County, Nevada

Home to Las Vegas and blessed with 310 sunny days a year, this is a blue-skied desert oasis for retirees where every season is golf season. Throw a dart at the Clark County map and you’re bound to land at a top-tier track. 

Pete Dye makes his Sin City stamp with a three-course combo on tribal land at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, a half hour’s drive from the city center. The fairways at the Rees Jones-designed Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson roll through canyons, arroyos and desert washes at the foot of the Black Mountains. (County residents can snag a tee time for as little as $95, one of several steep discounts for locals at the area’s upper-crust courses.) 

Down in Boulder City near Lake Mead, excellent golf at an affordable price can be had at the 27-hole Boulder Creek Golf & Country Club. For a once- or twice-a-year splurge, the Cascata Golf Club offers one of the best golf experiences and backdrops in Nevada (or anywhere).

If you’re looking to improve your game, enroll in a multiday golf program at the Butch Harmon School of Golf at Rio Secco. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler have all trained with the legendary swing coach.

Off-course: There are countless perks to living in the Entertainment Capital of the World. 2023’s musical residencies include Garth Brooks, Maroon 5, Miranda Lambert and Usher. Sport fans will enjoy the buzz surrounding the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders and the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, the city’s first major-league franchises. Don’t overlook the area’s alfresco appeal: The hiking trails and 13-mile scenic drive make Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area a great day trip, and 40,000 acres of rich Aztec sandstone make Valley of Fire State Park feel like visiting Mars.

spinner image Indian Wells Celebrity Course golf course
Indian Wells Celebrity Course
Dave Sansom Photography

Clark County facts

  • Population: 2.2 million
  • Median income: $66,373
  • Median home value: $308,800
  • Median monthly housing cost: $1,255
  • Median housing cost burden: 21.3 percent of income

Palm Springs, California 

Santa Rosa Mountain views and endless days of sunshine make this Southern California golf hub sparkle for both residents and visitors. The courses are good enough to attract both the PGA Tour, which stops here every winter, and a new PGA Champions event that debuted in March.

Must-plays include PGA West (with five resort courses and four private courses), the Arnold Palmer-designed Classic Club and Desert Willow Golf Resort. Indian Wells Golf Resort, one of the country’s finest municipal facilities, has two stellar courses and a new Toptracer driving range. Don’t turn down any invites to play at private layouts such as the Vintage Club, the Madison Club, the Quarry at La Quinta or Stone Eagle Golf Club.

Off-course: Long a favored destination for celebs to escape the bright lights of L.A., the nine cities that make up the Palm Springs area offer a variety of living options. Golf isn’t the only game in town: The BNP Paribas tennis tournament draws the world’s best racketeers to Indian Wells in March; major music festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach attract throngs in April; and iconic Joshua Tree National Park is an hour away. You can escape the intense summer heat at the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Palm Springs Air Museum or make the two-hour drive to the Greater Los Angeles area or San Diego for some cooler temps near the Pacific Ocean. 

Palm Springs facts

  • Population: 47,897
  • Median income: $54,007
  • Median home value: $423,200
  • Median monthly housing cost: $1,242
  • Median housing cost burden: 19.8 percent of income

Bend, Oregon

Ever ski and play golf in the same day? It’s possible in this part of central Oregon’s High Desert region. The geography and natural environment (which you can learn about at Bend’s High Desert Museum) produce golf weather virtually year-round, even when there’s fresh powder on Mt. Bachelor just over 20 miles west. 

The pristine fairways at Pronghorn Resort (with a public Jack Nicklaus Signature course and a private Tom Fazio layout), Sunriver Resort (with three 18-hole layouts) and Tetherow Golf Club (designed by local resident David McLay Kidd, architect of the first course at Bandon Dunes on the Oregon Coast) are all must-plays. Lost Tracks Golf Club, Aspen Lakes Golf Course and Black Butte Ranch are also fun routings that ooze natural beauty and memorable mountain views. 

Off-course: Bend’s idyllic, small-town setting has drawn transplants for decades, especially outdoor enthusiasts. Miles of hiking, running and biking trails, fly-fishing on or rafting down the Deschutes River and First Friday Art Walks downtown are just some of the choices for active locals. Beer aficionados can sip their way along the Bend Ale Trail, while wine lovers can explore the 700 wineries located in the Willamette Valley, stretching from Portland to Eugene on the west side of the Cascades. 

Bend facts

  • Population: 93,917
  • Median income: $69,188
  • Median home value: $462,400
  • Median monthly housing cost: $1,401
  • Median housing cost burden: 22 percent of income

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