For the first time in what feels like forever, maybe it's time to start planning that next golf trip.
When we posted our annual "Top 10 destinations to visit" list last year, it came just a week before COVID-19 caused the world to hit the brakes. Travel planning became the last thing on any of our minds.
This spring brings optimism. Although caution still abounds, progress against the pandemic has been made and many local and state governments in the U.S. are lightening restrictions. Vaccine programs continue to ramp up and bring COVID-19 cases down from coast-to-coast.
In what's become an annual tradition, we reveal our editor's picks for the 10 best golf destinations to visit in 2021. We've determined the 10 based on new or renovated courses and big events bringing buzz to the destination. Considering many borders remain closed, it's mostly U.S.-based, but there's great variety, even perhaps close to your home. Links golf. Island golf. Ocean golf. Desert golf. Mountain Golf. Let's go play.
Are you planning to get back on the road for a golf trip in 2021? Let us know in the comments below.
There's lots brewing in a state known for its brews and moos (dairy makes cheeseheads, right?). Before the Straits Course at Whistling Straits hosts the Ryder Cup from Sept. 21-26, the new Baths par 3 will start taking tee times this summer in Kohler. The American Club can easily be combined with a round at Erin Hills, a course honored with a lofty No. 2 ranking in the 2021 Golfers' Choice. It's also fresh off a fairway renovation to transform from fine fescue to bentgrass.
In the state's midsection, the Inn at Sentryworld Inn in Stevens Point will open in July, but its celebrated Sentryworld course won't reopen until Aug. 17 following some design tweaks in advance of the 2023 U.S. Senior Open. For architecture buffs, put the new 13-hole Pioneer Pointe in Madison on the to-do list as well.
The U.S. Open returns to Torrey Pines this summer, and we all remember what happened in 2008 when Tiger Woods outlasted Rocco Mediate. The infamous South Course has since been extensively renovated once again by Rees Jones and will look a little different and presumably be even tougher for the nation's open. Torrey Pines South and North are muni must-plays in La Jolla, while up in Carlsbad, the Park Hyatt Aviara is showing off $50 million in improvements. Maderas Golf Club made our Golfers' Choice 2021 list, as did Rams Hill, a lovely and starkly different desert detour 90 minutes east of the coastline.
Charleston & Kiawah Island, S.C.
Coastal South Carolina is lined with great golf vacation options, but with the 2021 PGA Championship returning to Kiawah Island's Ocean Course (No. 21 on our 2021 Golfers' Choice Top 50 list), greater Charleston gets the nod for being on-trend this year.
Kiawah Island has four other courses to choose from to round out a quality vacation, and there are plenty of other options closer to Charleston proper. One is the Charleston Municipal Golf Course, known locally as "Muni," which is now a top-tier value course in the country. With admirable support from the local golf community and city itself, architect Troy Miller fleshed out Muni's terrific bones with an homage to the golf courses of Seth Raynor, complete with template holes like an uproarious Punchbowl green at the par-4 6th and a scenic Redan at the par-3 11th.
Elsewhere in the area, the 36-hole Wild Dunes Resort is opening its brand-new Sweetgrass Inn on March 26, adding a new hotel-style accommodations offering to guests.
No destination had more entries in our Golfers' Choice U.S. Top 50 list - determined by our community of golfers - than the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. Northwest outposts Los Caballeros and Wickenburg Ranch both wowed golfers who made the drive, while Quintero Golf Club, TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course and Devil's Claw at Whirlwind Golf Club all stood out amongst the crowded scene. Other properties have been renovating or adding amenities in this highly competitive market, and a new private club, Sterling Grove Country Club, has debuted for those of you seeking a new desert home or part of the Troon Prive network. Assuming the border reopens to Canadian-U.S. travel, expect droves of sun-starved northerners to descend back to the Valley this winter. | Read more: What's new in Phoenix-ScottsdaleFROM $217 (USD)PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE | Enjoy 3 nights' accommodations at Four Seasons at Troon North and 3 rounds of golf at Troon North Golf Club, The Boulders Resort and Quintero Golf Club.
While golf courses boomed all across the continental U.S. in 2020, the state of Hawaii imposed strict travel rules that significantly reduced the amount of visitors to the islands, causing many courses and resorts to close temporarily. Some of these properties took the downtime to enhance their porfolio. The Four Seasons Hualalai on Hawaii Island renovated its luxury hotel and Jack Nicklaus golf course. Also on the Big Island, Mauna Kea Golf Course is offering visitors unlimited golf on their famous oceanfront course.
The state is cautiously reopening and their COVID-19 travel program is bringing visitors back who are willing to produce a negative test before they depart the mainland, and flights to Hawaii as of now are quite affordable. Travelers arriving now are discovering quiet beaches, relatively open tee sheets and a grateful tourism industry.
Big Cedar Lodge & Branson, Missouri
Long known as a place for old-timey music shows and other kitschy entertainment, Branson has been recast as an sporting paradise over the last decade. The lionshare of the credit for this backwoods renaissance goes to Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris, whose Big Cedar Lodge resort has become a national-scale destination for golfers, anglers and outdoorsy types of all stripes. In September, Morris opened Payne's Valley, his resort's third "big" golf course (to go along with two stunning par-3 layouts), designed by Tiger Woods. The resort repurposed an existing hotel into its new Bass Pro Shops Anglers Lodge with a new sports bar called Tall Tales, open as of March 10, and will offer the Buffalo Ridge cottages overlooking Payne's Valley by Memorial Day, making a stay-and-play more convenient for golfers.FROM $287 (USD)BRANSON, MO | Enjoy 2 nights’ accommodations at choice between two Hilton hotels, 2 rounds of golf at Big Cedar Lodge, and 1 round of golf at Branson Hills.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas has been on a hot streak on the greens. Not the tables; we're talking golf. Shadow Creek has emerged from, um, the shadows to become a major player in the pro scene, hosting its first PGA Tour event, the CJ Cup, last October. Its first LPGA Tour event, the Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play, is on tap May 26-30. Shadow Creek is always must-see TV.
If you can't afford Shadow Creek's $750 price tag, you can still play where the pros play at Las Vegas Paiute, a fantastic 54-hole facility that will host its first Korn Ferry tournament, the MGM Resorts Championship at Paiute, on April 15-18 on the Sun Mountain Course. Both Sun Mountain and the Wolf courses made our 2021 Golfers' Choice Top 50 (again!).
Elsewhere in town, both the Wynn Golf Club (11th in Golfers' Choice) on the Strip and Rio Secco (25th) in Henderson showcase the incredible depth of area courses. The lofty rating seems to imply that golfers have embraced the new Wynn course since its reopening in 2019.
As we reported earlier this year, most bucket-list links are booked for 2021 and already getting jammed for 2022. That leaves links lovers shopping for alternatives. It doesn't get better than this, especially with the heralded summer arrival of two new links designed by Tom Doak and Gil Hanse. Doak's St. Patrick's Links at Rosapenna will open June 26, replacing a 36-hole links that's been dormant for years. Rosapenna was already very good with the Sandy Hills Links by Pat Ruddy and the Old Tom Morris Links. This takes the beachfront resort over the top.
Hanse's redesign at Narin & Portnoo will put another tiny outpost on the map. Coupled with Enniscrone, County Sligo, Donegal, Portsalon, Carne Golf Links and the 36 holes at Ballyliffin, which just added a new 9-hole Pollan Links short course, you've got plenty of choices in this under-appreciated corner of the Emerald Isle.
Bermuda is a tiny, isolated island in the Middle of the Atlantic Ocean that punches above its weight for quality golf. The fishhook-shaped isle is anchored by the sublime, historic Mid Ocean Club and the scenic Port Royal Golf Club. After hosting the now-defunct PGA Grand Slam of Golf in the 2000s, Port Royal got its first full-field PGA Tour event last year, earning positive reviews.
On the other end of the island, the new Five Forts Golf Course has been built from the bones of a former layout and debuts May 22 alongsite a new St. Regis resort. The Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design is a hilly par 62 that should give a pleasantly compressed challenge to visitors.
As the marketing slogan goes, Virginia is for lovers. It's for golf lovers, too. The redesigned Birdwood Golf Course at the Boar's Head Resort in Charlottesville has been well received since opening last July. It is the new home of the University of Virginia men's and women's golf teams. In May, a potentially even more impactful redesign will debut. The Belmont Golf Course, host of the 1949 PGA Championship, has been re-imagined by Davis Love III into a 12-hole course, coupled with a six-hole par-3 course and a putting course, for the First Tee - Greater Richmond, which takes over the county-owned muni with a long-term lease. No doubt it will be great for the kids, but how will the playing (and paying) public react to a 12-hole experience? It's worth checking out. If you've got private club connections, maybe you can get on a third new course, Cutalong, a private golf community and course set to tee off in July in Lake Anna 65 miles north of Richmond. Or, if you'd rather stick to the time-honored classics, Williamsburg - home to Kingsmill Resort and the Williamsburg Lodge - is only an hour south.