Escape to the secluded woods of central Georgia, adventure to inland Florida or tee off in southern Utah’s high-desert at these three destinations with 18-hole courses that both challenge and excite golfers. The best part: Their usually sunny winters allows golfers to tee it up throughout the season.
1. Greensboro, Georgia
Location: 81 miles northwest of Atlanta
What it offers: As they do at Augusta National, host of the annual Masters Tournament, azaleas bloom by the thousands at Reynolds Lake Oconee, a luxe golf destination in the picturesque Georgia pines along Lake Oconee’s sprawling, serpentine shoreline. Four of Reynolds’ five resort courses, about an hour west of Augusta, rank among Georgia’s top courses, with each presenting a variety of architecture, topography and shot-making challenges.
The portfolio’s crown jewel: Great Waters, a Jack Nicklaus-crafted masterpiece renovated in 2019 that hosted the LPGA Drive On Championship last fall. Half of its holes are on Lake Oconee — none until No. 9 — and none better than No. 11, a drivable downhill par 4 that demands accuracy, enticing players to go for the green from the tee. From beginning to end, the back nine plays like a dream as every hole (except No. 10) hugs the water, with Nos. 14 and 17 — both par 3s — playing over coves with a gallery of boaters and swimmers cheering on golfers.
The other courses in the Reynolds lineup will impress you, too. At the National, three nine-hole layouts are painted with the ingenious brushstroke that is a Tom Fazio-stamped golf course, where tabletop greens, undulating fairways and more than 100 bunkers accentuate Georgia’s natural scenery. For another strong test of your game, the Oconee Course, adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, checks all of the boxes, especially the lake-guarded ninth hole. The Preserve offers a fun and casual six-hole alternative — called the Quick Six — where no hole tops 130 yards and rounds finish in less than an hour. And don’t overlook the Landing, Lake Oconee’s original course, which was renovated in 2013. Known for its fast greens and Scottish traits, the Bob Cupp design is forgiving off the tee and, according to Wes Forester, Reynolds’ director of golf, is the collection’s “most underrated course.”
Insider tip: Fine-tune your swing and golf equipment with a master club fitter and builder at the Kingdom at Reynolds Lake Oconee, one of only two such TaylorMade facilities in the country. The Kingdom this year added a second club-building trailer that uses the same state-of-the-art technology Tour players use.
What you’ll pay: Great Waters starts at $195 in low season. You'll pay the least, $40, at the Preserve.
Where to stay (splurge): Renovated in 2020, the 257-room Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, blends upscale living with Southern hospitality. Pamper yourself at the spa, hit its 21 miles worth of hiking trails, and imbibe in its lobby Barrel Room, manned by certified bourbon stewards. From $459
Where to stay (save, if you’re with a group): Spread across 374 miles of scenic shoreline, Reynolds Lake Oconee Cottages are ideal two-, three- and four-bedroom options for sharing during golf getaways with friends and family. From $460.
2. Bowling Green, Florida
Location: 58 miles southeast of Tampa; 86 miles southwest of Orlando
What it offers: What do you get when you pair four legendary course architects with the spoils of an old phosphate mine strewn across 16,000 sandy, inland acres in Middle of Nowhere, Florida? The Sunshine State’s choice golf destination: Streamsong Resort. Since debuting in 2012, each of the resort’s three world-class 18s have become staples on Top 100 lists, no small feat for a coastless youngster in the country’s top warm-weather golf getaway.
On the elevated first tee at the Blue Course, a Tom Doak design, you might recall the famous Dorothy Gale line from The Wizard of Oz — “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” — but instead, you won’t feel like you’re in Florida, America’s flattest state. Atop a 75-foot sand dune, the dramatic tee box provides a panoramic perch to scan the property’s wild surrounds, festooned with pristine lakes, gigantic bunkers and thrilling elevation changes. You won’t have to worry about hitting shots into backyards or screened-in porches because there are none on this au naturel Florida track: just you, the elements and the occasional train whistle to blame for a missed putt.
Adjacent to the Blue Course is Streamsong Red, a clever Coore & Crenshaw creation that feels as if it was discovered, not designed. The brilliance of golf’s greatest architectural duo is on full display at the jaw-dropping 16th hole. Playing over water into a nearly 70-yard green split by a swale, the lengthy par 3 mimics the Biarritz design concept, aimed to test a player’s ability to hit long shots.
Last October, Streamsong’s Red and Blue courses became the first to pilot a new strain of Bermuda turf called Mach 1 on their greens, resulting in firm, fast and flawless putting surfaces. Be sure to pack your short game with your camera and sunscreen.
Streamsong Black, a mile south of the Blue and Red courses, bears a striking resemblance to the Australian Sandbelt courses. The bold Gil Hanse layout plays to an atypical par 73, featuring five par 5s and plenty of birdie opportunities. After your round, square off your bets at the Roundabout, an entertaining seven-hole short course bordering Streamsong Black. Still tied? Grab a cocktail at the newly opened Glove Bar and your flat stick and head to the Gauntlet, a 2-acre putting course steps from the Black’s clubhouse.
Insider tip: “Play the ball on the ground around the greens,” advises Scott Wilson, Streamsong’s director of golf. “Whether it be a putter, hybrid or 7-iron, play it back of center and allow for the roll, rather than attempting to pick the shot clean with a lob wedge.”
What you’ll pay: From $105 in low season. Caddies are recommended, with group caddie rates starting at $25 and walking caddie rates starting at $90. Gratuity not included.
Where to stay (splurge): Given its remote location, it’s best to stay on-site at Streamsong Lodge or the Streamsong Red and Blue clubhouses, which offer a combined 228 rooms. From $199
Where to stay (save): A complimentary full breakfast comes with a stay at the 43-room Best Western Heritage Inn & Suites. From $115
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3. Southern Utah
Location: In the St. George vicinity, 130 miles northeast of Las Vegas
What it offers: The stunning beauty of national parks such as Bryce Canyon and Zion have long attracted visitors to Southwestern Utah, but the region is now emerging as a must-play destination for golfers. Using St. George as a base, you can play multiple layouts that maximize the local geographic beauty.
The undisputed rock star: Sand Hollow Resort, 14 miles west of St. George in Hurricane, Utah. Its Championship Course is ranked No. 1 on Golfweek’s “Best Courses You Can Play in Utah.” Especially jaw-dropping are holes 11 through 15, which run along an elevated ridgeline. Don’t overlook the resort’s nine-hole, par 36 Links Course, either; it’s full of rumpled fairway fun.
Plenty more fun (and challenges) await at other area courses. Ten miles east of Sand Hollow, the Copper Rock Golf Course just opened in 2020 but already hosted a LPGA Symetra Tour event in April, a testament to its appeal. Seven miles northwest of St. George, architect McLay Kidd is injecting new life into the private course at Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club (Inn at Entrada guests can play the course) via a thorough renovation. The front nine holes’ new look is expected to be unveiled in late October with the back nine slated to open next March. A public Tom Weiskopf-designed layout is also scheduled to debut at nearby Black Desert Resort in late 2022.
Insider tip: The wide-open setting of the region’s courses often means playing into the wind, so keep your ball flight low by moving your ball position slightly behind center, taking a narrower stance than usual and tilting the club’s shaft forward slightly when you start your swing.
What you’ll pay: From $70 in low season at San Hollow’s Championship Course. You’ll pay the least at Sand Hollow’s 9-Hole Links Course, which starts at $30.
Tom Mackin is a former senior editor at Golf magazine who’s based in Scottsdale, Arizona; he’s teed it up in 20 countries across North America, Australia/Oceania, Asia and Europe. T.J. Olwig is a St. Louis-based travel writer who’s penned stories for BBC Travel, Delta Sky, Missouri Life and Virtuoso Life.