The List: Most unique attractions at golf resorts

One-of-a-kind golf resorts offer cave tours, trapeze and even a ferret school.
During the Cold War, The Greenbrier harbored a secret bunker under the West Virginia Wing.

The break is over.

Seems like yesterday that Rory McIlroy won a cool $15 million for the FedExCup playoffs. The boys are back again. Just two weeks after the Tour Championship, the PGA Tour's 2019-2020 wraparound schedule kicks off this weekend with A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.

Many of the world's top players will be home resting up and enjoying family time. For the guys who show up, it's a chance to jump-start a run to next fall's playoffs. The Greenbrier is known for many things - its historic hotel, multiple courses and casino - but the coolest aspect of the resort is The Bunker, an underground hideout built to house and protect America's highest government officials in case of nuclear war. It's decommissioned now but guests can tour it.

Opposite the Tour's debut is most high-profile event in women's golf: The Solheim Cup this weekend in Scotland. Host venue, Gleneagles, is much like the Greenbrier, a historic hotel with multiple courses and a wide array of entertainment besides golf. The most unique experiences at Gleneagles involve animals: I got to sample Falconry (something I mastered years earlier at Dromoland Castle in Ireland) and working with Gundogs during a great visit in 2016. Sadly, I didn't attend Ferret School, where you learn how to hold the cute little creatures, walk them on a leash and go for a simulated hunt.

In this latest version of The List, we look at unique attractions and experiences, just like The Bunker and the Ferret School, found at other top golf resorts around the world.

  1. Safari Park and Extreme 19th at Legend Golf & Safari, South Africa
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    Extreme 19th at Legend Golf & Safari Resort

    Legend is the only golf resort in the world with its own safari park home to the "Big Five": Lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and water buffalo. While I was there, I saw a giraffe, hippo, zebra and sable playing the Signature course and the Extreme 19th, the world's longest par-3 hole reachable only by helicopter. The resort, located three hours outside of Johannesburg, offers a luxurious twist to chasing exotic animals.

  2. Trapeze at Club Med Sandpiper Bay, Florida
    Kendall Deegan, 7, prepares for her first trapeze flight at the Club Med Sandpiper Bay.

    Club Med Sandpiper Bay in southeast Florida is still the family vacation my children measure all other trips against. They were young and impressionable - roughly ages 7 and 10 - but Club Med also has an energy and amenities that most other resorts - especially golf resorts - lack. Club Med properties are generally not true golf resorts, but that didn't stop me from naming Club Med Sandpiper Bay among my favorite family golf resorts. This one has its own Sandpiper Bay course, free instruction and nearby access to the PGA Golf Club's three tracks.

    I was younger, lighter and probably braver when I attempted the resort's trapeze, where wires help guests of all ages pretend, for a brief moment, they're circus material. It took guts just to climb the tiny ladder to get to the starting platform 25 feet above the netting. For the judges scoring at home, my flight was probably a 5.5 on a 10-point scale. My daughter, a gymnast and acrobat at heart, nailed a perfect score. She can't wait to go back.

    Brandon Tucker's golf trip to the Club Med Punta Cana was also memorable. When guests aren't flying on its trapeze, they can play the 27-hole La Cana or Corales, host of the Dominican Republic's PGA Tour event.

  3. Lost Canyon Cave at Big Cedar Lodge, Missouri
    The Lost Canyon Cave at Big Cedar Lodge is a natural wonder in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.

    This might be the only golf resort activity where a golf cart goes underground on purpose. The 2 1/2-mile journey of the Top of the Rock Lost Canyon and Nature Trail showcases the region's natural beauty - stunning rock formations, waterfalls and views of Table Rock Lake. There's even a halfway house of sorts, the Bat Bar, serving a fresh glass of lemonade. The hour-long tour ($30 per person) doesn't require reservations, but the driver must be older than 18.

  4. Wildlife Academy at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Pennsylvania
    A lion roars at the Wildlife Academy at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.

    Nemacolin is one of the more interesting properties in golf. Besides the two Pete Dye/Tim Liddy golf courses - Mystic Rock and the newer Shepherds Rock - there's also the Wildlife Academy created in 2006. This isn't just a petting zoo, either. Tigers, lions, wolves, buffalo and a sloth and more are housed in the habitats.

  5. Ocean wonders on Maui
    Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui, celebrates its island traditions Monday thru Friday with the Hawaiian Canoe Experience.

    Maui is a special place, no doubt. Its resorts offer more than just playing golf and lounging at the beach. Two of them host very special Hawaiian traditions free to resort guests.

    Every early evening since 1963, the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa in Ka'anapali hosts a cliff dive at Black Rock. According to Hawaii Magazine, this sunset tradition honors Chief Kahekili, an island king in the 1700s. Just don't try the 16-foot dive on your own.

    The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui, celebrates its island traditions at the beginning of the day, instead of the end, with the Hawaiian Canoe Experience. Two guides paddle four guests out into the ocean in an outrigger canoe, leaving every hour from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. They're an even better way to greet the day than a morning tee time. The stimulation from the scenery and the waves and the chanting wake up your soul as well as your body. These excursions fill up well in advance so reservations are required.

    Join us in Maui
    Experience the spectacular beaches, golf courses and resorts of Maui, as well as the remastered Kapalua Plantation Course.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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The List: Most unique attractions at golf resorts