Golf and cold weather is not the ideal combination, so if you're looking to take your game to a warmer climate for a quick trip, this list of destinations from Georgia to Greece is a start
Once winter’s chill descends on golfers living in northern climes the best response comes down to one word: flee. And why not combine a golf trip to where winter sojourns really warm up? One more word: beaches.
Keeping our parameters this simple — with top-notch accommodations, food and service as givens — it’s fairly easy to devise a lengthy list of possibilities. Pebble Beach in California may be the paradigm, provided you can withstand five or more-hour rounds on the famous Pebble Beach Links course.
But here are five choices that fly slightly under the radar, sacrifice nothing in terms of luxury, but will get you around the course and back onto the beach towel in no time.
SEA ISLAND, GEORGIA
Sea Island, a genially sprawling resort on the southeastern Georgia coast, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2028. And it’s an apt enough capsule description to say a visit here is like a step back in time with the utmost in Southern hospitality and all the modern amenities. Three splendid golf courses — and the 18-hole Speedway Putting Course, three superb lodging options and 5 miles of white sand beach barely suggest the many active activities available, which also makes Sea Island an ideal family choice.
The Seaside Course is the must-play layout, site of the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic, hosted by 2022 Presidents Cup captain, Sea Island resident and Hall of Fame member Davis Love III. With a 1929 design pedigree from Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison, the course was updated by Tom Fazio in 1999. It’s a links-style course, with un-links-like salt pools, tidal creeks, live oaks and is surely the toughest of the courses. But a plethora of tee options can help visitors whittle the challenge to size.
The Golf Performance Center is one of the best in the business. If you can’t improve your game at the performance center, it can’t be improved.
WAILEA GOLF CLUB, MAUI, HAWAII
It would have been simple to just name five Hawaiian locations and be done with it, but where’s the sport in that? The 1,500-acre Wailea Resort on Maui will do nicely, though. Set up camp at the 22-acre Fairmont Kea Lani property, ponder an outrigger canoe voyage from Polo Beach, the southern shoreline right off the hotel property, and enjoy the Kō Restaurant, established by local legend (and alas, recently deceased) chef Tylun Pang.
Three courses beckon. If you can play only one, go for the Gold Course, a stout but approachable track by Robert Trent Jones Jr. that hosted the Senior Skins Game for seven years. It begins in full and glorious view of the 10,000-foot Mount Haleakala, which accounts for the frequent volcanic outcroppings on the course. But the Emerald Course, another RTJ II offering, is also a treat, and the Blue, an Arthur Jack Snyder course, remains a great local favorite.
CORALES AT PUNTACANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
A 3-mile stretch of beach, seven restaurants, a Six Senses Spa and a 1,500-acre ecological reserve is pretty good for starters, but add 45 holes of championship golf and you’re good to go at the Puntacana Resort and Club in the Dominican Republic.
The star of the show is Tom Fazio’s Corales Golf Course, home of the PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Championship. Fazio transformed land once given over to bush, cactus, and sea grapes into a dazzling green beauty, six holes dangerously flirting with the Caribbean Sea — the home hole requiring a daring carry over the rocky limestone coral of the Bay of Corales.
The late Oscar de la Renta was an investor in Corales, as was singer Julio Iglesias, who still has a home in the Corales neighborhood. It may not be possible to have Iglesias come warble a tune for you (although it’s not unthinkable), but guests can opt for the individually de la Renta-designed Tortuga Bay villas that front the beach. A 200-room Westin, the brand’s first property in the DR, is nearby on the Playa Blanca beach.
ROYAL ISABELA, PUERTO RICO
The entrance’s organic farm may reveal all one needs to know about the sustainability goals of the development at Costa Isabela, and about the abundant sunshine at this cliffside outpost along the northwest coast of Puerto Rico, 90 minutes from the San Juan airport.
But what golfers will most remember is standing on the tee box of the par-3 17th hole of the Royal Isabela Golf Links and wondering how the heck they’re going to get it to the distant green over a jungle ravine, without pulling it left into the Atlantic Ocean.
The hole is called Palo de Pollo (Chicken Tree) and one’s success or failure in negotiating the shot can be relived around a table at the elegant Restaurant La Casa, or in sumptuous recline of one’s private Casita — 21 bedroom retreats with private plunge pools and killer ocean views.
Costa Isabela may be Puerto Rico’s Bandon Dunes in the making. Royal Isabela is the first of several planned communities and golf courses within the 1,800-acre property, officially opened in October of 2012. It’s already set the bar high in terms of lifestyle and golf. The course could hardly be more dramatic, the design by former Pete Dye associate David Plaff and the Pasarell brothers, Charles and Stanley, co-owners better known in the world of tennis.
COSTA NAVARINO, GREECE
This southwest Peloponnesian outpost in the Mediterranean landscape of Messinia was dazzling enough when it opened its first course in 2010, the Dunes, a signature design by golfing great Bernhard Langer in association with lead European Golf Design architect Ross McMurray. One was likely to be blown away before finishing the second hole, a short march directly toward a sensuous blue view of the Ionian Sea. All this and a can’t-miss choice of two hotels (Westin or The Romanos).
A short distance from the hotels The Bay course quickly followed, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design (the man gets around) that moves through three areas of play — seaside, grove and canyon. The course hits a scenic high point on an elevated tee that leads down toward Navarino Bay, site of a naval battle that secured independence for Greece in 1827. It still looks toward the beckoning beachside enclave of Pylos, a city both ancient (Homer called it “sandy Pylos”) and still lively.
But this long-range project, powered by deep pockets and a vision of sustainability, didn’t stop there. In 2022 two new courses opened, The Hills and the International Olympic Academy Golf Course, both designed by José María Olazabal. A new hotel also opened in 2022, W Costa Navarino, with a summer 2023 opening expected of Mandarin Oriental villas seemingly emanating directly from the earth.