Summer Swing: Five great Arkansas golf courses to play

Like most states, Arkansas can brag on its great private courses, none greater perhaps than the Alotian Club, an incredibly pristine layout just outside of Little Rock. Warren Stephens, a member of Augusta, who wanted to have his own version of golf paradise back home in Arkansas, created the Alotian Club. The result is a Tom Fazio-designed course with more elevation change than Augusta and arguably better conditions year-round with its perfect bentgrass greens, underground warming and cooling systems and beautiful streams and water features.

But the chances of you and I playing this course on a trip to Arkansas aren't too good, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of terrific golf in the state from where John Daly and Bill Clinton hail. This is Razorback country, where they not only love football and fishing, but golf, too, where you'll find a great variety of layouts and terrain, most of which is offered at an exceptional value compared to the rest of the country.

There are many from which to choose, but here are my top five recommendations for public, semi-private or resort courses in Arkansas:

1. Hot Springs Village, Granada Course

One of the best places to play golf in the United States is the Hot Springs area of Arkansas. With dozens of golf courses, it's certainly a great retirement spot for golfers, but lately, it's become a terrific golf vacation destination as well when you consider the entertainment, dining, gaming and natural spa opportunities in the city of Hot Springs (which is also a National Park).

Of all the courses in the area, it's tough to pick out a favorite, but I'm going with the Grenada Course at Hot Springs Village. One of nine courses at the Village, which not only serves 10,000 members but the public as well, Granada Golf Club, designed by Tom Clark and Brian Ault, is a 7,115-yard layout that truly is playable for all levels. With elevated tees, wide fairways, sparkling lakes and views of the surrounding Ouachita Mountains, there's nothing about this course that isn't enjoyable. The signature hole is particularly breathtaking, the uphill par 4 that plays alongside a creek that starts from a waterfall by the clubhouse.

Video: John Daly on golf's growth in Arkansas

2. Hot Springs Country Club, Park Course

Next on our list is Hot Springs Country Club, a semi-private facility that offers two classic championship courses. The one I'm spotlighting here is the Park Course, a Willie Park Jr. design that opened in 1898. Renovated in 2001, the Park Course is wonderful classic parkland layout. While it's only 6,850 yards, long, it's plenty challenging with fairly new bentgrass greens that are usually pretty quick. The other course at Hot Springs is a 1927 William Diddel design that was renovated by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 1994.

3. Big Creek Golf & Country Club, Mountain Home

Opened in 2000 and located in north central Arkansas, Big Creek Golf & Country Club is a beautifully maintained golf course open year round. Featuring bentgrass greens, zoysia fairways, and brilliant white sand bunkers, the course is spread out over nearly 200 acres of rolling Ozark terrain featuring four lakes and its namesake, Big Creek. The course has five sets of tee boxes ranging from 5,068 yards up to 7,320 yards, along with large greens, meaning its playable for golfers of all levels. The facility also has excellent practice facilities, including a large grass driving range, putting and chipping greens and a large practice bunker. Stay-and-play packages are also available at this resort-style property, which is located to some of the best fishing spots in the state at nearby Norfork Lake and Bull Shoals Lake as well as the famous trout-filled White River.

4. Mountain Ranch Golf Course, Fairfield Bay

Located about an hour north of Hot Springs in the Ozark Mountain, Mountain Ranch Golf Club at Fairfield Bay is an Edmund Ault design that's both beautiful and affordable. The course has played host to numerous state championships as its back nine is one of the most challenging in the state. Highlights include the par-5 15th, which played from a tee elevated 80 feet above the fairway and the uphill 395-yard 15th, regarded as one of the toughest par 4s in the state. Together with the nearby Tannenbaum Golf Course, visitors can book stay and play packages at nearby Greers Ferry Lake and Little Red River.

5. Stonebridge Meadows Golf Club

For those traveling to a University of Arkansas home football game, Stonebridge Meadows Golf Club is a convenient and enjoyable golf option. Designed by Randy Heckenkemper, the course opened in 1997. From the back tees, at 7,100 yards, it's quite a test with a course rating of 75.1. Rated 4 1/2 Stars by Golf Digest, the course features five sets of tees, bermuda fairways, and bent grass greens. Stonebridge Meadows, which is one of thirteen courses on The Natural State Golf Trail, also offers stay-and-play packages with several local hotels.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Summer Swing: Five great Arkansas golf courses to play