Golf Advisor's Top 10 Golf Destinations to Visit in 2017
Sand Valley, plus the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, are two reasons why it's a big year for Wisconsin golf. (Matt Ginella/Golf Advisor)
We're counting down the top 10 golf destinations to visit in 2017.
The five best golf destinations to visit in 2017 are at the top of their game in different ways.
Two centennial celebrations highlight the festivities, as well as a prestigious, new No. 1 ranking, as well as domination in our own Top 50 ranking.
So start rallying the group and tallying up those credit card miles, here are the five best destinations to visit this year:
5. Ireland and Northern Ireland
The best links in Northern Ireland will hog the spotlight in 2017. The Strand links at Portstewart Golf Club will host the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open for the first time, preceding the Scottish Open in the run up to The Open. New dates, July 6-9, should help attract a stronger field.
Royal County Down is basking in the glow of being ranked the no. 1 course in the world by Golf Digest in 2016. Availability of visitor tee times is scarce. The same goes for the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club in advance of the 2019 Open Championship, its first since 1951. Visitor tee times are mostly booked, according to several tour operators, despite the fact that ongoing construction and a few temporary greens might be issues.
Elsewhere, two huge renovation projects will reopen this fall. The five-star Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort near Limerick is in the midst of restoring its gorgeous 19th-century Manor House, a "calendar house" with 365 stained glass windows for each day of the year, 52 chimneys for each week of the year, seven pillars in the lobby for each day of the week and four towers for each season. A new 42-bedroom wing will increase accommodations to a total of 104 guest rooms and add a 350-person ballroom. Guests at the existing Manor House will enjoy modern resort amenities such as a new state-of-the-art spa, pool and relaxation area, boardroom and movie theater.
Tom Fazio's renovation of Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s final design will add new drainage systems and sand-capped fairways that promote more consistent conditions. Underground wiring for power, media and telecommunications will have the course ready for a major tournament. What won't change is the parkland layout's beautiful setting on the River Maigue.
Further south, the old Skelligs Bay Golf Course will become the new Hogs Head Golf Club by Robert Trent Jones II. According to an article in the Irish Independent, RTJ Jr. has moved 250,000 cubic meters of earth and removed 8,000 meters of rock walls that hemmed in the former Ron Kirby design. The Golf Channel's Matt Ginella has reported that there will be 14 cottages with 48 rooms onsite. Its dramatic views of Ballinskelligs Bay will team with Waterville Golf Links to attract more golfers to this remote corner of southwest Ireland.
What they're saying: "The course is getting ready for the Open in 2019 and you could see a lot of activity but this never detracted from our play. There is a decent range and practice facility and a nice club house with upstairs patio to enjoy afterwards. There is a quaint little halfway house in the middle that you should make sure to visit. This is definitely a bucket list course and I am looking forward to a return." - jcech344 on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush.
Don't Miss: Northern Ireland's coastline is marked by two great marvels, the Giant's Causeway (40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption along the Irish Sea) and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
Stay and play: For rounds at Royal Portrush and Portstewart, stay at nearby Bushmills Inn, which has a great restaurant. Drinks and tours are served at the Old Bushmills Distillery. Golfers playing RCD in Newcastle can walk to the comforts of the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa.
This Midwest state might not be a household name to golf travel buffs compared to Wisconsin or Michigan, but the golf courses in the land of Pete Dye continues to receive an outsized amount of strong ratings from reviewers on Golf Advisor. In the Top 50 in 2016, five Hoosier State courses made the list, four of which made the Top 30 (only California had as many entries).
2017 is a great time to discover Indiana. The state's top golf getaway, French Lick Resort, is celebrating 100 years at its Donald Ross course (considered by many to be the best public track in the state). But there are some great courses around Indy that are spectacular values compared to Chicago's best courses, like The Fort, Brickyard Crossing, Purgatory and more. Southern Indiana's topography grows more rolling, and yields some neat courses that partner with casinos.
What they're saying: "This magnificently restored course had me wondering: How in the world did they play this course back in the day with hickory shafts and inferior golf balls." - MikeBaileyGA
Don't Miss: You can couple a golf trip to Indiana with two marquee sporting events, the Indy 500, held on Memorial Day weekend. Or attend the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and couple the trip with some of Southern Indiana's best casino courses at French Lick, Belterra Casino Resort or the Horseshoe (home to Chariot Run Golf Course).
Stay and play: The historic West Baden Hotel in French Lick is a true marvel of architecture, and is a more than suitable home base for playing one of the most complete golf resorts in the U.S. French Lick has a casino, spa and 45 holes on site, plus great dining and bars.
3. Central Florida
From Tampa to Orlando, brand new courses are colliding with restored and celebrated classics.
El Campeon at Mission Inn Resort, a favorite among Golf Advisor raters, is celebrating 100 years this season with celebratory stay-and-play packages. Meanwhile, another favorite among locals, Winter Park Golf Course, was magnificently restored with families and beginners in mind. There may be no better casual "emergency nine" in the state the whole family can enjoy.
Also worth noting, Lakewood National, an Arnold Palmer design east of Tampa, opened this winter and is already receiving plenty lot of praise from local golfers. Bucket-list seekers across the country are awaiting the third course to open at Streamsong, The Black, a big and brawny par 73 designed by Gil Hanse, which will open this fall.
What they're saying: "100 years of great!!! You can't manufacture this kind of beauty. I have played well over 100 courses and this might be the best one." - Douglas8644418 on El Campeon at Mission Inn Resort & Club.
Don't miss: Emotions will be running high during Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Invitational as the longtime host is remembered. Or, if you're planning a visit this fall, TopGolf will be opening its first Orlando location near the Orange County Convention Center.
Stay and play: For true golf getaways head to Streamsong Resort or Mission Inn Resort & Club. More centrally located to Orlando, Shingle Creek renovated its golf course and is expanding the hotel. But there is no classier escape from the large Orlando resorts than Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
Home of the crazy Waste Management Open, where the 16th hole at the TPC Scottsdale is just one long, rowdy party, the Phoenix-Scottsdale area is always a great destination for golf with more than 200 courses in the area and a great variety of desert and parkland golf. Even in the summertime, it's worth checking out because you can save a ton on money on green fees and packages (just play early). Plus, there are a few new offerings.
Before we get into the new courses, though, a couple were recently renovated, including the Patriot Course at Wigwam Resort. That came right behind the longer Gold Course at Wigwam, designed by Robert Trent Jones. Like the Gold, the Patriot Course now has fewer bunkers, new grasses and better conditions on what is one of the most playable courses in the Valley. And one of the area's favorite resorts, We-Ko-Pa, just celebrated its 15th anniversary with a renovation of its original Cholla Course designed by Scott Miller. Both courses, including the Saguaro Course designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, rank among the best public courses in the Southwest.
As for brand new courses, two par-3 courses made their debuts recently, and they're both way above average. To go along with the superb championship course at Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club, 45 minutes northwest of Phoenix is the new Li'l Wick, a terrific and flexible nine-hole, par-3 course with myriad of teeing options, so the variety never ends. Plus the last four holes are lighted, meaning you can finish in the dark. The more recent par-3 course to open, though, is The Short Course at Mountain Shadows. It's 18 wonderful holes with interesting greens, located across from Camelback Mountain, and comes with a resort boutique hotel, too, perfect for couples.
A new regulation course is also new to the scene. Tom Lehman has added the Victory Course at Verrado to go with the original course, now called The Founders Course. The new course is even more generous off the tee than the original, which makes it perfect for players of all levels.
What they're saying: "One of the best public tracks, period! Got to do 36 holes on both the Cholla in the morning and the Saguaro in the afternoon. Both tracks have beautiful picturesque views as well as just about perfect course conditions. The facility is top notch from the pro shop/clubhouse to the practice range." - Douglas8644418 on We-Ko-Pa Cholla Course.
Don't miss: MLB Spring Training in March. This is very best time to play golf and enjoy baseball in the Valley with 14 major league baseball teams playing within 50 miles of each other. There's a ball park near every course.
Stay and play: There are literally more than two dozen high-end resorts in the area, and they all offer stay-and-play packages, but let's focus on the Champions Package at the TPC Scottsdale and Fairmont Princess Resort. It includes luxury accommodations, one round of golf per adult at TPC Scottsdale or Grayhawk Golf Club (subject to availability), and complimentary transportation to and from the golf courses. The Fairmont Golf Concierge is available to make all necessary arrangements. Rates start at $342 per night, double occupancy, plus resort fee.
Playing Erin Hills, site of the 2017 U.S. Open – isn't an option - at least before the U.S. Open. In an unprecedented move, they closed last year to prepare for its first major, and won't reopen until after play. That said, Wisconsin is only getting deeper with bucket-list golf. Bring your GPS to explore a few back roads for golf's version of 'American Pickers'. Central Wisconsin is set to boom as the Midwest's next hot golf destination.
In remote Nekoosa, Sand Valley Golf Resort debuts its new Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw this spring, and a David McLay Kidd course is on pace to open in 2018. In keeping with the out-of-the-way-but-worth-it theme, check out SentryWorld in Stevens Point – redesigned by original architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. and reopened in 2015 – and the celebrated Links course at Lawsonia in Green Lake. Golf Advisor users voted Wild Rock Golf Club no. 30 among the nation's top 50 courses for 2016. The Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry design in the Wisconsin Dells features a few rocky holes.
Of course, there's always The American Club, home to four special Pete Dye designs near Kohler. Nearby in Sheboygan Falls is a tough Jack Nicklaus course, the Bull at Pinehurst Farms, in case you're a glutton for more punishment.
What they're saying: "The question that I would ask is "why haven't you played Wild Rock?" The layout of the course is one killer hole after another. Awesome vistas of the Dells area are available on many of the elevated tees and greens. The conditions are as pure as you will find at any price, including the $300+ courses in WI. The service from the golf staff is on par with any of the top resort facilities in the country. They really know how to make all golfers feel welcome and ready to play. Wild Rock is a must play and well worth the drive from any distance. I can't wait to get back up there and play it again." - DrEsox on Wild Rock.
Don't Miss: You don't head to central Wisconsin without savoring the outdoors. Boating, trail hiking or riding and fishing are popular with the locals. The Dells has escapes for adults, too – three wineries, gambling at Ho-Chunk Gaming and spas.
Stay and play: Where you stay depends who you bring. The family will want to stay at Wild Rock so the children can explore the Dells' tourist traps. A buddies trip can make base camp at Sand Valley, which, as crazy as it might sound, is centrally located within an hour's drive of SentryWorld, Wild Rock/Trappers Turn and the 36-hole Lawsonia. If it's a couple's getaway, the luxury of The American Club in Kohler near Lake Michigan is in order.