Tiger Woods. A booming Mexico destination for jet-setters. A resort's final chapter. Celebrating a fallen legend. A showdown on the shore.
Sounds like the trailer to a blockbuster sequel that's pulling out all the stops, doesn't it? In reality, these are the highlights of the loaded 2020 golf travel calendar.
Development and investment continue to pour into golf courses and destinations around the world, and 2020 represents a climax of sorts, highlighted by the opening of the America's first public golf course designed by Tiger Woods.
Meanwhile, the hottest golf destination on the planet is south of the border. Luxury resorts and communities in Cabo are all trying to outdo one another with splashy amenities and oceanfront courses for golfers in search of lavish second clubs or a member-for-the-week splurge.
Later this summer, Lake Michigan will be rocking at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. Golf properties across Wisconsin have been engaged in an arms race of new courses and hotels leading up to this event and beyond.
And don't forget the Olympic Games in a golf-loving Asian country. 2020 is a big year for the sport on all fronts and we hope you'll partake, whether it's one of these top destinations of the year, or with your own buddies trip, golf package or Getaway.
Big Cedar Lodge
Johnny Morris' restlessness is golfers' gain at this splendidly idiosyncratic retreat just south of Branson, Missouri. But it's more about the outdoors than indoor novelty acts, as the Bass Pro Shops owner's love for his home terrain has driven him to turn it into one of America's best golf resorts. It gets even better in 2020, as the eagerly-anticipated Payne's Valley course, designed by Tiger Woods, will open as the third 18-holer (to go along with the 9-hole par-3 Top of the Rock layout and the 13-hole Mountain Top short course) at the sprawling property.
OregonExclusive: Sheep Ranch set to elevate Bandon Dunes Resort
In what has been dubbed by Mike Keiser as the final addition to Bandon Dunes, the Sheep Ranch is scheduled to fully open this spring (official open date: June 1st).
Designed by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw over land that previously held a free-form Tom Doak course, Sheep Ranch will be the fifth 18-hole course at the resort, whose offerings also include the 13-hole Preserve par-3 course and the Punchbowl putting course. Coore & Crenshaw routed a bunkerless course on what is sure to be the most exposed and windy site at the property. But it will also have the most clifftop frontage of any Bandon course and is sure to be a memorable round.
Oregon is such an ecologically diverse state, and if you've never been, you'd be wise to play golf not just on the coast but in the high desert of Central Oregon, where the weather will be more reliable. Pronghorn recently opened a brand new hotel, the Huntington Lodge, while Sunriver's Crosswater Course is a Golfers' Choice U.S. Top 50 pick to boot.
The Ryder Cup in September figures to be both a great show of international match-play drama and a tribute to Pete Dye. His four courses at Destination Kohler are all special, none more spectacular than the linksy Straits Course, home to 1,000 bunkers on Lake Michigan.
Wisconsin has matured beyond Kohler in many ways. If you want a unique tour of the state, head west along a golf trail that will include a U.S. Open venue (Erin Hills), a classic hidden gem (Lawsonia Links), a 2020 Golfers' Choice course known for its value (Wild Rock - No. 1 in the state and No. 32 nationally) and a study in modern course architecture (Sand Valley Golf Resort). Erin Hills just built a putting course called The Drumlin and opened up its caddie barn as a cool hangout for guests. Sand Valley's new Tom Doak course called Sedge Valley is in the works.
Los Cabos, Mexico
The tip of the Baja is having its moment in the sun, building courses and resorts at a frantic pace over the past several years. The only catch is all the new developments are real-estate driven, where you have to stay at the adjacent resort or buy property for access. That's the business model at Diamante, Quivira, Chileno Bay, Twin Dolphin and the newly branded Cove Club course (formerly the Ocean course) at Cabo del Sol.
The newest additions to this competitive stay-and-play game are Rancho San Lucas by Greg Norman and Costa Palmas by RTJ Jr., two completely different designs that have debuted since November 2019. Both offer the comfort stations serving free food and drink that have become part of the tradition in Cabo golf. Rancho San Lucas rides a stunning landscape across 300 feet of elevation change among dunes and desert. It visits the beach multiple times with the Pacific Ocean in constant view. Costa Palmas, located an hour north of the Cabo airport adjacent to a Four Seasons resort, is flatter and walkable (a rarity in Cabo) but plays tougher with sculpted dunescapes lining every hole.
There's talk of future courses in Cabo, but that's it for now, which is probably a good thing for a destination gone golf-mad.
2020 is a summer Olympics year, and while the 2016 Games were held in a country with very little golf, Japan is a much different story. The country is golf-obsessed and has been for nearly a century, and there are a wide variety of courses in Tokyo and throughout the country worth experiencing. While some of the most notable courses are private, some are opening their doors to overseas tourists and golf packagers in and around the games.
The most notable resort course with full public access in Japan is the Fuji Course at Kawana Hotel. For more on planning a trip to Japan and the history of the game there, check out our recent podcast with Bradley S. Klein.
Don't be fooled into thinking that Sea Island is the only game in town on St. Simons Island in southern coastal Georgia. This old-line resort is indeed great and getting better, thanks to the sensational overhaul of its Plantation Course and the addition of new cottages that fit golf groups to a T.
Recent renovations to nearby Sea Palms Golf & Tennis Resort, a George Cobb design, have it looking its best, with crisp bunkering set beneath big live oaks and some sandy waste areas with artful edging. Sea Palms members benefit from The Miracle, a new 4-acre short game practice wonderland by wunderkinds Rob Collins and Tad King, of Sweetens Cove fame.
A few miles north, King & Prince Beach & Golf Resort is a sleeper in its own right (#49 on our 2020 Golfers' Choice), with a charming golf course that heads into some spectacular marshland on the back nine.
Finally, no matter where you play golf, you can't say you've really been to St. Simons until you have lunch or dinner at Southern Soul Barbecue, a favorite haunt of Davis Love III and his "Sea Island mafia" of pro golfers. Bonus points if you lead into any morning round with a few pork pops from Sweet Mama's Bakery.
Every American probably dreams of a golf trip down under. Perhaps there is no better time than now, especially for golfers, considering how good the 2019 Presidents Cup looked on TV. The bouncy, unpredictable turf of Royal Melbourne put on quite a show during the rousing American comeback.
Australia remains in full recovery mode following the deadly wildfires that raged in December and January. Your tourism dollars could help pump up the economy, which trickles down to everyday people, local causes and recovery efforts. The Melbourne Sandbelt is the bucket trip list every golfer wants to take - read about Will Gray's golf adventure after covering the Presidents Cup - but there are dozens of fine tracks you’ve never heard of throughout the country, including several highlights around Sydney like Alister MacKenzie's New South Wales. The Aussies are the best of hosts. Start planning now.
Tampa Bay area
The west coast of Florida is a hotbed of golf, from Fort Myers all the way up to the Panhandle. Just north of Tampa, Innisbrook turns 50 this year and is showing off newly renovated accommodations ahead of the PGA Tour's annual return in March.
About an hour south, in the mega-development of Lakewood Ranch, a the brand-new Piper Course has joined the original Commander layout at Lakewood National Golf Club, which made our latest Golfers Choice Top 50. Now Lakewood National boasts two creative designs by the Arnold Palmer Design Company's Brandon Johnson. Whereas the Commander challenges golfers with rugged bunkering and bold greens, the Piper is a little softer around the edges.
Those with private club access may also be able to get on at another new course in the area: Esplanade Golf & Country Club at Azario, designed by Chris Wilczynski, whose Esplanade course at Lakewood Ranch is open to the public.
GolfPass members can save on tee times to nearby Streamsong Resort. Click here to see a full lineup and travel perks.
Las Vegas - St. George
Golf looked grim for a while in Sin City with courses closing and water becoming more expensive by the day. But, like anything in this gambling town, fortunes can change in an instant. The Wynn Golf Club, shuttered for two years, has made a spectacular return, reopening last fall after a redesign by original architect Tom Fazio. The shorter routing is actually more fun to play. Down the Strip, Bali Hai upgraded its bunkers thanks to Paradigm Golf Group, a new operator that has enhanced customer service.
Shadow Creek, which has raised its rates to $750, and Cascata ($399) still rank with the Wynn ($550) among the most expensive tee times in golf, but you get what you pay for: Caddies, incredible conditions and scenic fairways to yourself. Beyond the big three, there are dozens of courses to explore. Playing the 54 holes at Paiute would be a great way to celebrate the artistry of Pete Dye.
Away from Vegas proper, the courses of Mesquite (Wolf Creek) and St. George, Utah (Sand Hollow), will inspire your Instagram followers with their red-rock scenery. A new course near St. George - Copper Rock in Hurricane - makes the two-hour drive well worth your time.
MichiganForest Dunes adds short course
Brand-new golf is hard to come by, but Michigan has two courses coming online in 2020. The 100%-new one is the 10-hole Hilltop short course at Forest Dunes resort, to go along with its Tom Weiskopf original layout and reversible Loop by Tom Doak. Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb, whose creative revitalization of Winter Park 9 near Orlando has won them fans throughout the golf world, are designing the Dunes' new digs.
Three hours southwest, a stone's throw from Lake Michigan in the town of Grand Haven, American Dunes Golf Club will open mid-year. This Jack Nicklaus redesign of a tired existing 18 will have a military theme, as its owner, Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, founded the Folds of Honor foundation, which supports families of wounded and deceased service members. Nicklaus and his team have opened the site up and will take golfers on a roller-coaster ride through lakeside forest, with plenty of exposed sand along the way.
In between these two courses, there are some an epic golf road trip possibilities. Grand Rapids is a great jumping-off point for both of these courses, and it's home to three splendid public Mike DeVries designs, including a perennial top Golf Advisor Golfers' Choice selection in Pilgrim's Run Golf Club. Between Grand Rapids and Grand Haven, The Meadows at Grand Valley State University is a solid college course.