Just what is a golf resort?
Even after 20 years of visiting resorts of all shapes and sizes, I still find the definition a bit hazy. Can you call a hotel with an adjacent golf course owned by somebody else a golf resort? Sure, it offers a stay and play, but is that the lowest bar to be met? Must a golf resort have a spa or some other amenities/recreation options to be a "true" golf resort? How about a resort/hotel without a regulation golf course? Is that a golf resort?
I used to think not. However, meeting Mike Stromski in the parking lot of the Blue Rock Golf Resort on Cape Cod a few years ago provided me a little more perspective. Stromski and his two sons had been visiting Blue Rock for years to play its 18-hole, par-3 course that's only 2,868 yards long. Blue Rock might not be every golfer's cup of tea, but it was a perfect "golf resort" for the Stromski family.
Still, not everybody is sold on the concept of short courses only at "golf" resorts. After playing a round on the Short Course at Mountain Shadows at the rejuvenated Mountain Shadows Resort in Arizona, Golf Advisor user rjbarnes shared this thought in a recent review: "I’m unsure why a par 3 would be attached to a resort but go figure."
To me, the definition of a golf resort is simply this: Is the course good enough that I'm traveling with my clubs to play it? I don't care if I'm staying in a cabin, villa, townhouse, suite, hotel room or tent. I don't care if the resort is best known for its fine dining or mind-bending spa. If the course is good enough - nine holes, short course, whatever - then it's a golf resort in my book.
With this latest Deegan's Dozen, I examine the best resorts in North America (including Canada and Mexico) and the Caribbean that offer golf without a regulation course. Their resort courses come in various formats - traditional nine holes, executive courses and short courses with some par 4s. A few simple pitch-and-putts are listed in the honorable mentions category below. Some day this story may need to be updated to include Aetna Springs Golf Course, which closed in 2018, but now has a new owner looking to revive the historic resort and nine-holer in Pope Valley near Napa, Calif.
Many of these non-traditional golf resorts currently in the Deegan's Dozen are quite luxurious. That makes sense for golf's stereotypical demographic. A few are close enough to other good courses that they could easily be used as home base for a golf trip, especially for couples.
Are any of them real golf resorts? That's for you to decide. Chime in with your opinion in the comments below.
Terranea Resort, Rancho Palos Verdes, California
The glamorous Terrenea Resort overlooks the Pacific Ocean from its perch on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, site of the old Marineland of the Pacific, California's first theme park. The 582-room, 102-acre resort, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019, is a magnet for weddings, cocktails at sunset and family getaways for pool and beach bonding time. It also happens to house one of golf's most unique nine-hole par-3 courses. The Links at Terrenea, all 1,239 yards of it, serves up some great views of the Catalina Channel and Catalina Island. Todd Eckenrode of Origins Golf Design creatively maximized a small parcel of land between the road and the ocean cliffs to fit in holes ranging from 104 yards to 173 yards, a three-bay golf academy, a "Golf House" and short-game practice area.
Cheeca Lodge & Spa, Islamorada, Florida; Back Bay executive course at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, California; Grand Oasis Cancun Resort, Cancun, Mexico; Paradisus Cancun Resort, Cancun, Mexico; Saunder Cottages, Put-In-Bay, Ohio; Poco Diablo Resort, Sedona, Arizona; Woods Tall Timber Resort, New Philadelphia, Ohio; Scott's Family Resort at Oquaga Lake, Deposit, New York; Innisbrook Village Country Club & Resort, Ruidoso, New Mexico; Thousand Hills Golf Resort, Branson, Missouri; Brookside Resort, Park Rapids, Minnesota; Beaver Dam Lodge, Beaver Dam, Arizona. Harrison Resort Golf Course at Harrison Hot Springs Resort, British Columbia, Canada. Caberfae Peaks Ski and Golf Resort, Cadillac, Mich. Sea Pines, Los Osos, Calif. Wawona Hotel/Wawona Golf Course, Wawona, Calif., inside Yosemite National Park. The Course at Sewanee, Sewanee, Tenn.
Meadowood Napa Valley, St. Helena, California
One of Napa Valley's most sought-after luxury escapes continues to improve. The resort's fitness and pool areas wrapped up renovations this summer to complement the new spa facilities added in 2015. Guests have many choices among the 85 rooms and suites and exploring the 250-acre private property's hiking trails, croquet lawns, tennis courts and a famed restaurant awarded three Michelin stars annually since 2010.
Meadowood's nine-hole walking-only course - consisting of eight par 3s and one par 4, totaling roughly 1,500 yards - is quite challenging thanks to small greens and the tree cover of the site's old Christmas tree farm. Hickory clubs and replica gutta-percha balls are available to rent for an authentic, old-world experience.
Fairmont Southampton Resort, Bermuda
I'd argue that if you had to choose one destination on this list to treat like a true golf resort, it would be this special Fairmont on Bermuda. Why? Because Turtle Hill, an 18-hole par 3 course with breathtaking ocean views, is super fun and challenging, and you can't come all this way without playing Mid Ocean Club, one of the world's great C.B. Macdonald treasures. Every March, Turtle Hill hosts the Grey Goose World Par-3 Championship, attracting players from numerous countries. Its 2,762-yard routing traverses hills and ponds, while the ever-shifting winds wage psychological warfare with a player's club selection. The resort will wash away the bad taste of bogeys with its beautiful pink-sand beach or a refreshing Dark and Stormy, the island's rum drink of choice.
Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
There's actually 36 holes on the largest island in the Caymans, but with such beautiful beaches and fun excursions like swimming with stingrays at the offshore Stingray City, should you really bring the clubs? The nine-hole Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, a Greg Norman design adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, is kept in better shape than the island's only full course, North Sound Golf Club, a 6,605-yard par 71. There's also another nine-holer by Nicklaus called Britannia. Tennis, spa, Seven Mile Beach and the food and drinks served in multiple restaurants and bars are reasons to stay at the 144-acre Ritz property.
Big Easy Ranch, Columbus, Texas
The new Big Easy Ranch -- located about 70 miles west of Houston, 120 miles east of San Antonio and 80 miles southeast of Austin -- features the best in hunting, fishing, dining and golf, including the Hal Sutton Golf Academy and a new, 1,570-yard par-3 course designed by Chet Williams, the same architect of the top-ranked course in Texas -- Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity. The nine-hole course, which opened in 2016, holds its own with any par-3 short course in America.
Accommodations are provided in luxury five-, four-, and two-bedroom cabins, complete with full kitchens. And guests can also enjoy the fine dining and hospitality at the 10,000-square-foot Lodge, which includes the pro shop, pool tables, shuffleboard, a locker room and a fire pit.
The Ranch at Laguna Beach, California
Tucked into the Aliso and Wood Canyons across the street from the ocean, the Ranch at Laguna Beach reopened in December 2016 after a multi-million-dollar, three-year rebranding and renovation by a new owner. The remodeling job re-imagined a getaway that has a history dating to the 1870s. The renovation updated the check-in lobby and the resort's signature farm-to-table restaurant, stripped the motel/lodge-style buildings to the core and rebuilt the 97 rooms and suites to meet the modern demands of travelers. The new Sycamore Spa, a 3,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor wellness center, offers four treatment rooms, a Techno Gym fitness center with core movement equipment and an outdoor relaxation courtyard.
The Alison Creek comes into play on at least five holes of the Ben Brown's Golf Course, named after the original resort owner from the 1950s. The par 32, maxing out at 2,241 yards, plays much tougher than the numbers suggest. It's a beautiful walk through towering canyons.
Mountain Shadows, Scottsdale, Arizona
Mountain Shadows - both the 183-room resort and the 2,310-yard course - emerged in 2017 from a major rebirth more interesting than ever. The resort was originally built below Camelback Mountain in 1959 with a short course by Jack Snyder completed two years later. The recent $100-million tear down and rebuild modernized everything with a cool, hip vibe. That's from the guestrooms and suites and outdoor terrace to the new Short Course at Mountain Shadows, an 18-hole, par-3 routing by Forrest Richardson. Holes range from 90 yards to 195 yards with cool features such as a peninsula green, massive green slopes and a putting-only bonus hole between No. 17 and No. 18 called the "Forrest Wager", where golfers can make or settle bets. Two 75-foot resort pools, Rusty's (the golf bar) and the Hearth '61 restaurant are great places to soak up the amazing backyard views.
Vidanta Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Vidanta - Mexico's largest golf operator - has rebranded the former Manglar Golf Course by Jack Nicklaus into the Nicklaus Par Three Experience at Vidanta Riviera Maya. This enticing 18-hole executive course of 2,923 yards gets mostly four and five star reviews on Golf Advisor. "This course is fun and challenging to play. Offers even a great golfer the opportunity to feel challenged. Definitely some very difficult holes. A wonderful golf experience. Well kept. Good service. Something a little different. For a par three course it is totally beyond expectations." wrote user puddles75 in a five-star review this February.
The resort is a sprawling all-inclusive destination with five hotels to choose from, including the more affordable Mayan Palace to the opulent Grande Luxxe, where a wristband affords guests access to every other hotel's restaurants, pools and activities. If you need more golf, Cancun offers plenty of options.
Blue Rock Golf Resort, South Yarmouth, Massachusetts
I was pleasantly surprised by Blue Rock during a short stay in 2013. The accommodations (44 rooms) were clean and comfortable. The food in the Grill Room Restaurant was better than expected. Best of all: Blue Rock guests may visit several nearby beach-front properties also owned by Red Jacket Resorts, including Red Jacket Beach Resort and Riviera Beach Resort about 20 minutes away. The course took a bite out of my pride, while still remaining playable for my then 11-year-old son, Carter. With 18 holes ranging from 103 yards to 255 yards, it's not your average par 3. The ninth and 18th holes over the river would be signature holes on most regulation courses.
Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort, Panama City Beach, Florida
Vacations on Florida's Panhandle tend to be all about the beach, but there's some pretty good golf, too. Edgewater is a beach resort, first and foremost. It's geared toward families with 11 different pools, four hot tubs, a splash pad and all of its suites and villas fully equipped with a kitchen and washer/dryer. The Club at Edgewater includes the resort's par-3 course, tennis, basketball, shuffleboard, fitness center and workout studio. Although only 1,326 yards, the nine-hole routing that rings the perimeter of the resort is no pushover. User caniplaythrough gave it four stars in 2018, writing: "This is not an easy par 3. Water on every hole. Much improved over the past year."
Vidanta Los Cabos, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
The nine-hole 3,000-yard Vidanta Golf Los Cabos gets mixed reviews on Golf Advisor for a number of reasons - especially beat-up greens and narrow holes pinched tight by buildings - but if you're looking for affordable golf in an expensive destination, this is your only choice. The adjacent resort, the Grand Mayan, is more in line with the luxury that Cabo tends to deliver. Four bold new restaurants were created in collaboration with the Hakkasan Group. Relax at the Brio spa or the pool overlooking the beach.
Little River Inn, Little River, California
The 65-room Little River Inn is a golf outpost far from the well-worn cart paths of the Bay Area and the Monterey Peninsula. It is located on the Mendocino coast 165 miles north of the San Francisco Airport. Guests come to experience the Cali life at a slower pace. The Whale Watch Bar, a restaurant, day spa, tennis courts, nine holes of golf and hiking are all part of the entertainment choices. Ocean views can be found from various points on property from most rooms to the 2,775-yard course, which has two four-star reviews on Golf Advisor. "The ocean views are awesome. Wild life abounds here." wrote user geoff3813753 in his 2015 review.