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Pros’ Picks: 7 Top U.S. Golf Destinations

Pack your clubs for these spectacular courses, from Oregon to Vermont

spinner image golfer at Coeur d’Alene Resort
Courtesy Coeur d’Alene Resort

Tee it up on these stellar layouts across the U.S. that offer a range of terrain and stunning scenery that rivals the golf.

spinner image sand valley mammoth dunes golf course
Brandon Carter, courtesy of Sand Valley

Central Wisconsin (Madison)

Location: 79 miles west of Milwaukee

What it offers: Wisconsin’s roster of public-access golf courses, especially in its midsection, rivals any other state’s collection in the country. June through September, few domestic destinations are as ideal for a summer golf trip as the Badger State’s bucolic heartland, blessed with a cornucopia of sandy soil and lakefront scenery.

To jump-start your golfing adventure, look no farther than Sand Valley Golf Resort in pint-size Nekoosa, Wisconsin, 108 miles north of Madison. Sand Valley lives on the site of an ancient glacial lake that once blanketed a great deal of central Wisconsin, laid out over about 12,000 sandy acres of dunes and pines. It’s one of the foremost golf resorts in America, no small feat for a property that just opened in 2017. 

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Both of its 18-hole layouts — Sand Valley (number 25) and Mammoth Dunes (number 29) — are staples on Golf magazine’s list of the Top 100 Courses You Can Play. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, golf design’s most in-demand duo, routed Sand Valley’s namesake track, festooned with firm fairways, blowout bunkers and multiple punch bowl greens. 

Mammoth Dunes, a player-friendly David McLay-Kidd layout, lives up to its name. A big ballpark if there ever was one, the par-73 course is marked with gigantic dunes and uber-wide fairways.

To complete the Sand Valley trifecta, you’ll want to tee it up at the Sandbox, a laid-back 17-hole short course adjacent to the clubhouse. With yardages ranging from 40 to 140, it’s the ultimate spot to settle your wagers and grab a bite and cold drink from its much-talked-about craft food truck. 

Northern Bay Golf Resort, 18.5 miles south of Sand Valley in Arkdale, treats players to one of the country’s most innovative golfing experiences. Built in 2005 on the edge of Castle Rock Lake, seven of its holes were created as detailed replicas of some of golf’s most famous holes.

Want to feel the same nerves as the pros and hit at the world’s most notorious island green? Northern Bay’s par-3 10th hole mimics number 17 at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course, host of the PGA Tour’s annual Players Championship. How about a stroll down “Amen Corner” at the Masters Tournament? The resort’s par-5 11th hole mirrors Augusta National’s 13th hole, where golfing legends chase the game’s ultimate prize each April, a green jacket. Other course holes imitate Michigan’s Oakland Hills, Pennsylvania’s Oakmont Country Club, Florida’s Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge, and Ohio’s Firestone Country Club. 

An hour north of Madison in Wisconsin Dells, Wild Rock at the Wilderness is a great bang-for-your-buck round on a U.S. Open regional qualifier course. Dana Fry and Michael Hurdzan designed this woodsy gem on the grounds of an old rock quarry, which you’ll need to carry at the par-3 15th hole. 

Before you stow your clubs in your travel bag, snag a tee time at Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s University Ridge in Madison. As the home course for the University of Wisconsin men’s and women’s golf teams, it’s widely considered one of the country’s finest campus courses.

Insider tip: At Sand Valley, be sure to grab a bite at Craig’s Porch, one of golf’s tastiest halfway houses, where the chicken tacos, pulled pork sandwich and multi-flavored ice cream sandwiches are must-orders. The best part? The prices — tacos cost just $1.50 each. 

What you’ll pay at Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes: Starting at $210. 

You’ll pay the least at University Ridge: Starting at $65. 

Where to stay (splurge): At Sand Valley, book Crenshaw’s Cabin, a luxurious king-bed abode with a screened-in porch, indoor and outdoor showers and mesmerizing views of Sand Valley’s 18th hole. You’re a hop, skip and a jump from your morning tee time. Starting at $675. 

Where to stay (save): A newly renovated double-queen sofa room at Wild Rock Lodge’s Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort — part of the 600-acre Wilderness Resort — sleeps six and offers a convenient, no-frills stay for a moderate price, starting at $139.

spinner image the eighteenth hole at pebble beach golf links
Courtesy Channing Benjamin; Pebble Beach Golf Links® and its distinctive images and hole designs are trademarks, service marks and trade dress of Pebble Beach Company. Used under license.

Monterey Peninsula (Pebble Beach, California)

Location: 79 miles southwest of San Jose, California, and 120 miles south of San Francisco 

What it offers: Even nongolfers the world over are familiar with this iconic stretch of central California coastline skirting 17-Mile Drive, one of the most scenic roads on the planet. The surreal landscape, headlined by Pebble Beach Golf Links, the oft-considered top public course in America, looks like a brushstroked portrait by the golf gods. You’ll need to pony up to play the bucket-list track, but for die-hard linksters, the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage is well worth the price tag. Pebble Beach’s wow factor will leave you slack-jawed for most of your round. 

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Between Monterey and Carmel, the six-time host course of the U.S. Open men’s championship and annual venue for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am since 1947, has been called “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” The oceanside par-5 sixth hole features two fairways and almost four stories in elevation change. The par-3 seventh, backdropped by Stillwater Cove’s crashing surf and salt spray, is the picture shot of all picture shots, and the most beautiful 100 yards in the sport. Blue, gray and humpback whales often breach offshore while the endangered California sea otter loves to frolic in the waves below.

Card a circle at Pebble Beach’s par-5 18th hole, a modern-day cape hole punctuated by two Monterey cypress trees — one in the middle of the fairway and another protecting the green — and you’ll have birdied the most famous closing hole in golf. Just as well, it’s the game’s most picturesque walk from tee to green.

Also part of Pebble Beach Resorts is Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s Spyglass Hill, which delivers a stunning stretch of seaside holes before diving into Del Monte Forest. The dramatic setting is said to have inspired novelist Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. First hole to last, it’s a more challenging day on the links than its well-known sibling.

The Links at Spanish Bay and Del Monte Golf Course round out the Pebble Beach rota. Of the former, eight-time major winner Tom Watson said, “Spanish Bay is so much like Scotland, you can almost hear the bagpipes playing.” The latter holds the title of the oldest continuously operated golf course west of the Mississippi, having opened in 1897. Don’t sleep on the timeless layout’s short length (6,356 yards) as trouble can be found on plenty of its holes.

For Scottish flair and an even gentler yardage book, the 5,727-yard Pacific Grove Golf Links is the Monterey Peninsula’s clear-cut best bargain. A hair outside the gates of 17-Mile Drive, the “poor man’s Pebble Beach” earns its stripes on its homeward nine, where windswept dunes and Point Pinos Lighthouse, the West Coast’s oldest continuously operated lighthouse, evoke British Open vibes in the Golden State. Walk the course for an even better discount.

Insider tip: Pebble Beach’s best line of defense is its small, undulant greens that tilt from back to front. If you don’t stay beneath the hole, you’ll have a long day with the flatstick. 

Pro pointer: Everything breaks toward the ocean.

What you’ll pay at Pebble Beach Golf Links: $625 and up.

You’ll pay the least at: Pacific Grove, which starts at $62.

Where to stay (splurge): If you want to go all out on this dream trip, the Lodge at Pebble Beach, famed for its views, culinary program and Forbes Five-Star Award spa, tops the Monterey Peninsula list. Starting at $1,100. In the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea, L’Auberge Carmel Hotel offers a budget-friendly treat a few blocks from Carmel Beach, starting at $379. Pop in the shops and art galleries of this historic beach town before dinner at Aubergine, the property’s Michelin-starred restaurant.

Where to stay (save): Asilomar’s 313 rooms and four cottages in Pacific Grove occupy 107 acres of beachfront landscape brimming with hiking trails, bike paths, bird-watching and sunbathing opportunities. Starting at $150. 

Idaho Panhandle (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho)

Location: 30 miles east of Spokane, Washington

What it offers: The par-3 14th hole at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course, the world’s only movable, floating island green, has single-handedly pinned northern Idaho and the scenic shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene to many a golfer’s bucket list. The standard tee plays 140 to 170 yards to the 22,000-ton green, which shifts positions via an intricate, underwater cable system. If your ball manages to stay on dry land, a boat chauffeurs you to the putting surface to finish out and admire the marvel of engineering.

Its 17 other holes deserve your admiration, too, especially its five par-3s. Equally impressive are the immaculate course conditions, embellished by 25,000 hedged-out juniper bushes, 30,000 geraniums and 4,000 petunias.

The Circling Raven Golf Club, 25 minutes south at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel in Worley, consistently ranks as one of the country’s best resort courses.

Built by Gene Bates in 2003 and owned by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the course snakes through wetlands, marshes, woodlands and native Palouse grasslands to the tune of 620 acres, more than four times the acreage of a traditional golf course. Front-nine standouts include the 7th hole (called “Hummingbird,” or "stbembm," in the tribe’s language), enriched by the tribe’s emblem painted on the green’s hillside; and the pine-framed downhill signature 8th hole (“Snow on the Mountain,” or mqhwqin), stamped by sparkling-white sand traps.

For one of the stiffest challenges in the Pacific Northwest, head to the Idaho Club in Sandpoint, 50 miles north of Coeur d’Alene on Lake Pend Oreille. Test your short game on the undulating greens at Jack Nicklaus’ only Idaho design, hemmed by some of the state’s best scenery, including gorgeous Moose Mountain.

Insider tip: Arrive early for your round at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course, where players receive complimentary massages before their round. After, watch your practice shots splash into Lake Coeur d’Alene at its water driving range.

What you’ll pay at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course: $135 and up.

You’ll pay the least at: Circling Raven Golf Club, which starts at $79 in low season.

Where to stay (splurge): At the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort in Worley, book accommodations in the Spa Tower, home to one of the region’s premier spas. The tower’s Chief Suite features floor-to-ceiling windows, multiple living areas and a cozy fireplace. Walk to the Circling Raven Golf Course, just down the road. Chief suites start at $470.

Where to stay (save): You can splurge at the Coeur d’Alene Resort on the lake in Coeur d’Alene, as well, but you can save by booking one of its North Wing rooms, which start at $199. Enjoy a variety of shops and restaurants, plus downtown accessibility.

spinner image aerial view of Edgewood Tahoe Resort
courtesy of Edgewood Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Location: Tahoe City, California, is 47 miles south of Reno, Nevada, and 116 miles east of Sacramento, California.

What it offers: The golf season on the California/Nevada border usually runs from early May to mid-October for the 44 courses spread out around Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada. Crisp mountain air and long-distance views, many including the area’s famous namesake body of water, elevate this foursome of 18-hole tracks to the must-play level.

You may have seen Edgewood Tahoe on TV thanks to its hosting of an annual celebrity golf tournament each summer since 1990. On the South Shore in Stateline, Nevada, just northeast of South Lake Tahoe, the course impresses even more in person. Three holes — 9, 17 and 18 — take you right along the lake’s edge and provide perhaps the most mesmerizing (and distracting) settings on any of the area’s golf courses. (Note: Edgewood Tahoe is temporarily closed due to nearby fires; check edgewoodtahoe.com/golf for its opening status.)  

You’ll find many more quality golf options on the less-populated North Shore. Superb course conditions are the calling card on the Championship Course at Incline Village on the Nevada side of the North Shore. The downhill tee shot on the par-4 7th hole, with Lake Tahoe visible in the distance, is the standout on a layout with eight dogleg holes.

The Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Old Greenwood, part of the Tahoe Mountain Club in Truckee, California, has hosted the PGA Tour’s Barracuda Championship the past three years (it returns July 20-23, 2023). Four lakes come into play on the layout, most notably on the dogleg left, par-5 6th hole. Coyote Moon Golf Course, also in Truckee, features plenty of elevation changes. Just avoid the granite outcroppings and soaring pines that frame fairways to fully enjoy the serene and secluded setting. 

Fancy a nine-hole layout? On the North Shore, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and their fellow Rat Packers used to frequent Old Brockway in Kings Beach and Tahoe City Golf Course back in the 1950s. Stay clear of the tall pines lining the fairways at both.

Insider tip: The area’s jaw-dropping scenery is breathtaking, but so is the altitude (6,300 feet above sea level). If you give yourself a day to acclimate and drink plenty of water, you should get approximately 10 percent more distance on your drives and approach shots.

What you’ll pay at Edgewood Tahoe: $175 and up in low season

You’ll pay the least at: Tahoe City Golf Course, where it’s $50 for nine holes ($45 for 65 and older) and $90 for 18 holes ($80 for 65 and older).

Where to stay (splurge): In Truckee, on the North Shore, the 153-guestroom Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe wows with a 17,000-square-foot spa, fine dining at Manzanita restaurant, and exclusive access to the Ritz-Carlton Lake Club, which features myriad water activities. Starting at $352.

Where to stay (save): Just south of Tahoe City, also on the North Shore, the family-owned Granlibakken Tahoe got its start in the late 1940s as one of the area’s first ski resorts. Its 148 accommodations feature a modern-rustic vibe and range from standard rooms to three-bedroom townhomes, all set among a 74-acre valley of trees above the lake. Starting at $159.

Manchester, Vermont

Location: 101 miles south of Burlington, Vermont; 158 miles west of Boston

What it offers: Fall is the most colorful time to visit the Green Mountain State, especially for leaf peepers interested in the changing foliage, but spring and summer aren’t too shabby for golfers, either. No matter your timing, the scenery on and around courses, especially in the greater Manchester area in the southern portion of Vermont, is unforgettable. 

You’ll find the quintessential Vermont golf experience at the Golf Club at Equinox in Manchester, a Walter Travis course redesigned by Rees Jones. The layout (which underwent a bunker renovation project in 2021) is challenging but fair with subtle breaks on the greens. Forget the scorecard and soak up the views — look back down the 13th fairway where a white church steeple peeks through the treetops and Mount Equinox rises skyward in the distance.

At Rutland Country Club, 35 miles north of Manchester in Rutland, keep your tee shots and/or approaches below the hole on the greens; many slope from back to front, most sharply on the par-3 5th hole. Thirteen miles east of Rutland, at Green Mountain National in Killington, elevated tees provide distracting views of the surrounding countryside while tall trees will quickly digest offline shots. Most of the front nine, and a swimming area known as Colton Pond, are visible from the 16th tee. In 2021, both of these courses were included in Golf magazine’s list of the Top 100 Value Courses in the U.S.

spinner image Fox Run golf course
Courtesy Fox Run

New ownership is enhancing on- and off-course amenities at Fox Run Golf Club near Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, 33 miles northeast of Manchester. A highlight of the former Okemo Valley Golf Club remains the par-3 8th hole, which drops 75 feet from tee to green.

Woodstock Country Club, set in the narrow Kedron Valley 58 miles northeast of Manchester, measures slightly more than 6,000 yards, but watch out for a creek that comes into play on many holes.

Insider tip: The peak foliage season runs from mid-September through mid-October. Bring extra golf balls: When those colorful leaves fall to the ground, they can easily camouflage shots that miss fairways. 

What you’ll pay at the Golf Club at Equinox: $89 and up in low season.

You’ll pay the least at: Fox Run Golf Club, which starts at $59 in low season.

Where to stay (splurge): The Equinox Resort in Manchester dates back to Revolutionary War times. It blends modern amenities with historic touches at the 195-room main resort, the nine-suite Orvis Inn, and the 13-room 1811 House. Starting at $399 on weekends.

Where to stay (save): Enjoy an upscale rustic vibe at the 18-room Snowed Inn in Killington, a bed and breakfast 5 miles south of Green Mountain National Golf Course, which starts at $207.

spinner image Twisted Dune
Courtesy Twisted Dune

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Location: 64 miles southeast of Philadelphia; 127 miles south of New York City; 146 miles northeast of Baltimore

What it offers: You can try your luck at the casinos overlooking the ocean in Atlantic City, but bringing your golf clubs to this part of the Jersey Shore is a safer bet. Salty sea air, breezes off the water and even a vineyard make a fivesome of stellar courses, none too far from the famous boardwalk, a very good hand to play.

The LPGA stops annually at the Seaview Golf Club in Galloway, 16 miles northwest of Atlantic City, to take on the Bay Course, a shortish (6,330 yards from the tips) layout with tricky, small greens and long-distance views of the Atlantic City skyline across Reed’s Bay. Across the street behind the Seaview Hotel sits the Pines Course, a venue that hosted the 1942 PGA Championship. Many of the Donald Ross-designed bunkers on the open, links-style Bay Course are deep, unforgiving and especially in play during windy conditions. A recent project included the renovation of all greenside bunkers, enhancement of drainage and cart paths, and overall aesthetic improvements. The secluded tree-lined fairways and sharp doglegs of the Pines Course demand a higher degree of accuracy off the tee.

The name sets the scene at Twisted Dune Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township, 14 miles west of Atlantic City. Here, more than 100 bunkers and tall, fescue-covered dunes present a formidable challenge. It was included in Golf magazine’s 2021 list of Top 100 Value Courses in the U.S.

Wine has been produced for more than 150 years at Renault Winery Resort in Egg Harbor City, 19 miles northwest of Atlantic City, but it wasn’t until 2007 that a golf course with very generous fairways started flowing through parts of the 10-acre vineyard (hence the layout’s name: Vineyard National at Renault). You drive through the vines after the 6th hole and tee off among (but above) the grapes on the dogleg left, par-4 No. 7. Celebrate the low round with an on-site tasting of a Renault Winery red or white wine, or even blueberry champagne.

Insider tip: At Seaview Golf Club, the plaque at the 16th tee on the Pines Course commemorates Sam Snead’s chip-in for birdie on the hole, clinching his win in the 1942 PGA Championship. That was the first of three career PGA titles and seven overall majors for Snead, a World Golf Hall of Fame member.

What you’ll pay at the Seaview Golf Club$189 and up in high season.

You’ll pay the least at: Twisted Dune Golf Club, where it’s $49 and up in low season, and the peak summer rate is $115.

Where to stay (splurge): When you’re not out on the area’s fairways, you’ll find plenty to do at the 1,860-room Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City. Pamper yourself in its 40,000-square-foot spa (named the state’s best in 2020 and 2021 by Spas of America), catch a concert at Ovation Hall, or work on your game in one of seven hitting bays at the TopGolf Swing Suite. Weekend rates start at $329 (weekday rates can be lower).

Where to stay (save): Through the decades, many dignitaries and celebrities (many shown on a Wall of Fame just off the lobby) have stayed at the 296-room Seaview Hotel in Galloway, which underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2019. Both courses at Seaview Golf Club are short cart rides away from the golf shop inside the resort. Starting at $199.

spinner image Tetherow Resort
Courtesy Tetherow Resort

Central Oregon (Bend)

Location: 162 miles southwest of Portland, Oregon

What it offers: Most visitors to the outdoor mecca of Bend, high in the Cascades of central Oregon, come to hike, bike, climb, fish, kayak and ski. Unbeknownst to many, in and around this high-desert town on the Deschutes River are quite possibly the country’s most underrated golf courses.

At Tetherow Golf Club in Bend, Scotsman David McLay-Kidd designed a links-style masterpiece that feels like Scottsdale-meets-Scotland sans the cacti and coastline. Undulating and quick to punish, every tee shot demands your attention; greenside, putting requires imagination and use of the sloped greens as a backboard to access pin placements. Miss your spot and the ball might roll back to your feet.

The dogleg-right 11th hole brings towering pines into play and a risk-reward option to cut the distance by aiming over the treeline. A sea of sand and vibrant yellow bitterbrush ring the par-3 17th (“the Quarry Hole”), one of the most photographed holes in golf.

Also in Bend, the stunning Pronghorn Resort, the first site to offer a Tom Fazio Championship Golf Course and Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course side by side, splays out across a 1,000-year-old juniper forest. The par-3 8th hole on the Fazio course includes a 45-foot canyon and a petrified lava tube for players to shoot over. Nicklaus’ side of the property is a stout test in its own right and the Golden Bear at his finest.

In Sunriver, 20 minutes southwest of Bend, Sunriver Resort delivers three distinct 18s and the family-friendly Caldera Links, a nine-hole par 3. Its headliner, the Bob Cupp-designed Crosswater Club, a heathland-style course at the confluence of the Deschutes and Little Deschutes rivers, tips out at more than 7,600 yards. The left-swinging par-5 12th hole, aptly named “Endless,” is a true three-shotter, and another one of the region’s most scenic holes. Crosswater will open for summer play July 1 while it completes a bunker renovation.

Architect John Fought took cues from the classic American courses of the 1920s and ’30s when he designed the Meadows Course; think timeless routing and strategic fore-bunkerings. Seven holes hug the Deschutes River. Lava outcroppings and deep bunkers mark the Woodlands Course, a forest layout.

What you’ll pay at Tetherow Golf Club: $125 and up in low season.

You’ll pay the least at: Meadows and Woodlands, starting at $85 in low season.

Where to stay (splurge): The seven Cairn Cottages at Tetherow, two-bedroom, two-bath accommodations in the heart of the resort, are perfect for groups and come with an outdoor firepit and private hot tub. Starting at $499.

Where to stay (save): Expect amenities aplenty at the Sunriver Resort, a 3,300-acre riverside retreat with more than 10 restaurants, 45 miles of biking trails and an on-site observatory. Each of the 211 rooms at the homey Lodge Village features a private deck and 65-inch TV. Starting at $159.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 8, 2022. It has been updated to reflect new information. 

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