The largest golf resorts in the world have an overwhelming American flavor.
The funny thing is that three of the top four are all dug into foreign soil. Forget the old saying about Texas; it seems everything's bigger in China. Mission Hills Shenzhen, home to 12 golf courses, overtook Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina in 2004 as the world's largest golf resort. Its developers then built a sister property on Hainan Island with 10 more courses. From there, however, most mega-resorts are American made.
There are inherent advantages to staying at such massive facilities with four or more courses -- more variety in choosing restaurants, course architecture and entertainment away from golf -- but it also adds a big problem: Which courses should you play if you can't hit them all?
I dug through the marketing hype to rank the courses from best to least at 29 of these 31 mega-resorts. I can't judge Big Cedar Lodge near Branson, Mo., since many of the holes haven't been built yet. Plus, the two sprawling Mission Hill properties proved to be too big to handle. Maybe someday I'll get a chance to review all 22 of those courses. Jet lag will be the least of my worries. Hello, golf fatigue.
At any rate, here's a tour of the world's biggest golf playgrounds:
31. La Manga Club Resort: 72 holes
Four courses (in order from best to last): North course, South course, West course, 18-hole Pitch and Putt.
This resort in Los Belones, Spain, reaches our threshold with an 18-hole pitch-and-putt course by the great Seve Ballesteros.
30. Big Cedar Lodge/Top of the Rock: 77 holes
Six courses: Top of the Rock Golf Course (nine-hole par 3), Buffalo Ridge Springs Golf Course, Gary Player Mountain Top Course (13-hole par 3), Ozarks National, Payne's Valley (19 holes), Tiger Woods par-3 "short course" (hole count to be determined).
With dozens of holes under construction, this hotbed of golf in Branson, Mo. isn't all there yet. The Player par 3 debuted in 2017 with Bill Coore's and Ben Crenshaw's Ozarks National following in 2018. Tiger Woods is designing his first public course called Payne’s Valley, a tribute to Payne Stewart, plus a par-3 "short" course that should be ready by 2019. With a putting course and a world-class range, owner Johnny Morris has built something for every golfer.
29. Casa de Campo: 81 holes
With the addition of the Lakes nine to the Dye Fore in 2012, this luxurious development in the Dominican Republic grew to 63 holes of demanding but scenic Pete Dye golf available to resort guests.
28. Greenbrier Resort: 72 holes
Five courses: Old White TPC, The Greenbrier (currently a nine-hole routing), The Meadows, Oakhurst Links (nine holes played with hickory clubs), The Snead at the Greenbrier Sporting Club (private)
If construction of the private Oakhurst Course ever gets back on track and opens at the Greenbrier Sporting Club and the Greenbrier course returns to 18 holes after a redesign/renovation, this historic resort in West Virginia's Alleghany Mountains will sport 99 holes, although only 63 will be open to the public.
27. Garland Lodge and Golf Resort
Four courses/72 holes: Fountains, Swampfire, Monarch, Reflections
Comment: The four courses in northern Michigan, all designed by former owner Ron Otto during Michigan's golf boom from 1987-95, all introduce something different for golfers.
26. Big Cats golf courses of Ocean Ridge Plantation: 72 holes
Four courses/72 holes: Tiger's Eye, Leopard's Chase, Panther's Run, Lion's Paw
Comment: A fifth course, Jaguar's Lair, continues to be listed on the resort Web site, but there are no plans to build anytime soon. There's already plenty of golf near the North Carolina/South Carolina border along the Grand Strand just north of Myrtle Beach, S.C.
25. Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
24. Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa
Four courses/72 holes: Fazio Foothills, Fazio Canyons, Coore Crenshaw Cliffside, Palmer Lakeside
Comment: The Palmer Course at this premier Texas Hill Country resort outside Austin sits above Lake Travis a good 45 minutes away from the main property. In 2019 the main resort recently unveiled a major expansion, doubling the amount of rooms and adding more pools and other amenities.
23. Trump National Doral Miami
Four courses/72 holes: Blue Monster, Golden Palm, Silver Fox, Red Tiger
Comment: Donald Trump hired Gil Hanse to completely renovate every course at this famous Miami resort except the Silver Fox, the only one that requires a shuttle ride to reach. The 6,395-yard Red Tiger is the only layout less than 7,000 yards.
22. Innisbrook, A Salamander Golf & Spa Resort
Four courses/72 holes: Copperhead, Island, South, North
Comment: There is a pecking order that's clear to follow at this PGA Tour stop outside of Tampa. The Copperhead is the longest track and the North is the shortest.
21. Barefoot Resort & Golf
20. Shanty Creek Resorts: 72 holes
Four courses/72 holes: The Legend at Shanty Creek, Cedar River, Schuss Mountain, Summit
I go back and forth about which northern Michigan gem I like better -- Arnold Palmer's Legend or Tom Weiskopf's Cedar River. There's more golf across the street at The Chief and Hawk's Eye.
19. Turning Stone Resort Casino: 72 holes
Five courses: Atunyote, Shenendoah, Kaluhyat, Pleasant Knolls (nine holes), Sandstone Hollow (nine holes, par 3)
Tom Fazio's Atunyote, host of a PGA Tour event from 2006-10, delivers an exclusive feel behind an ornate front gate in upstate New York. The resort brought back original architect Rick Smith to redesign Shenendoah. With a slope of 150, Kaluhyat is one of the country's toughest courses.
18. The American Club: 72 holes
Four courses: Straits Course at Whistling Straits, River Course at Blackwolf Run, Irish Course at Whistling Straits, Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run
The fact that the Straits and Blackwolf Run have hosted multiple PGA Championships and U.S. Women's Opens -- plus a top 100 course, the Bull at Pinehurst Farms, sits three miles away from the main resort -- gives Destination Kohler in Wisconsin a major advantage over its competition.
17. PGA Golf Club at PGA Village: 78 holes
Five courses: Dye Course, Wanamaker Course, Ryder Course, St. Lucie Trail Course, PGA Short Course (6-hole par 3)
Although not technically a resort, golf packages are available at eight different hotels/accommodations just minutes from the courses in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance, a 35-acre training facility home to the PGA of America Golf Schools, could really help your game.
16. Treetops Resort: 81 holes
Five courses: Signature, Premier, Masterpiece, Smith Tradition, Threetops (nine holes, par 3)
Treetops is another northern Michigan mega-resort where the top three courses are all essentially interchangeable. Golfers can't leave without trying to ace Threetops, host of a par-3 shootout televised by ESPN in the 2000s.
15. Pebble Beach Resorts: 81 holes
Five courses: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill, The Links at Spanish Bay, Del Monte, Peter Hay ( a nine-hole par 3 reopening this fall after the 2019 U.S. Open)
Del Monte, the oldest continuous course west of the Mississippi, and Peter Hay often get overlooked by bucket-list-chasing tourists on the Monterey Peninsula.
14. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort: 85 holes
Five courses/85 holes: Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, Bandon Preserve, Old Macdonald, Bandon Preserve (13 holes, par 3)
Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes are clearly the top two courses on the Oregon coast, but in which order? The same "which is better" question applies to Bandon Preserve and Old Macdonald. The final course, The Sheep Ranch, is currently under construction with preview play slated for 2020. | Bandon Dunes Trip Planner
13. Crystal Springs Resort: 90 holes
Six courses: Ballyowen, Wild Turkey, Crystal Springs, Black Bear, Cascades (nine regulation holes), Minerals (nine holes; four par 4s, five par 3s)
Comment: Having so many courses at this golf getaway in northern New Jersey an hour from New York City allows for flexibility. Golfers can use golf bikes, golf boards, four-person family carts (on Minerals and Cascades) and play Footgolf (on Cascades only). Guests of the Grand Cascades Lodge get free access to an all-grass putting course.
12. PGA National Resort & Spa: 90 holes
11. La Quinta Resort & Club/PGA West
Five courses/90 holes: TPC Stadium Course at PGA West, La Quinta Resort Mountain Course, Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West, Greg Norman Course at PGA West, La Quinta Resort Dunes Course
Comment: The combination of a Waldorf Astoria resort and the "western home" of the PGA of America is hard to beat. The sunny winter weather warms snowbirds in California's Coachella Valley, which is surrounded by the San Bernardino and Santa Rosa Mountains.
Top 10 Largest Golf Resorts
10. Kiawah Island Golf Resort: 90 holes
Five courses: Ocean Course, Turtle Point, Osprey Point, Cougar Point, Oak Point
The five-star resort has been systematically renovating each course. Oak Point, the only course located just off the barrier island in South Carolina, reopened in 2016, while Turtle Point by Jack Nicklaus was completed in 2017. (More on Kiawah's "2.0" project).
9. The Manor House Hotel & The Ashbury Hotel: 99 holes
Six courses: Kigbeare course, Pines course, Beeches course, Oakwood course, Ashbury course (nine holes), Willows course (18-hole par 3).
This hotel duo in the southwest of England outside of Exeter is often overlooked because most of its courses are shorter. Only the Kigbeare (6,528 yards) and Pines (6,400 yards) are par 72s.
8. Quellness & Golf Resort Bad Griesbach: 90 holes
Five Courses plus multiple short courses: Beckenbauer, Brunnwies, Audi, Axel Lange Generali Golf Course Lederbach and St. Wolfgang Golf Course Uttlau.
The Porsche European Open of the European Tour has visited this German resort several years in a row, but this place is ideal for amateurs and growing the game. The Chervo Junior Golf Course allows kids to play on six entertaining par-3 holes between a bathtub, comic characters and small hazards. The Golfodrom, home to the Golf Academy, offers three adjacent nine-hole, par-3 golf courses and a six-hole, par-3 practice facility called the "Hackerwiese" for beginners who haven't yet earned a golf license.
7. Reynolds Lake Oconee: 117 holes
Six courses: Great Waters, The Oconee, The National, The Landing, The Plantation, The Creek Club (private)
The Landing is the only daily-fee course open to public players. The others (except the members-only Creek Club) are only open to Ritz-Carlton guests, members and their guests, and outside guests who stay in community cottages or condos.
6. Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort: 108 holes
Six courses: Stonehedge South, Bedford Valley, Stonehedge North, Gull Lake View East, Gull Lake View West, Stoatin Brae
The 2017 opening of Stoatin Brae, created by Tom Doak's design team, has added a new buzz to this budget-friendly enclave in Augusta in southwest Michigan.
5. Boyne Highlands Resort/Inn at Bay Harbor: 126 holes
Combining these two Boyne Resorts properties, located around the Little Traverse Bay from one another 15 miles apart in northern Michigan, makes perfect sense with attractively priced "Unlimited Golf" and "Great Escape Golf Vacations" golf packages. The 27-hole Bay Harbor (20th anniversary) and The Heather (50th anniversary) celebrated milestones in 2016.
4. St. Andrews Links Trust: 126 holes
Seven courses: Old Course, New Course, The Castle Course, Jubilee Course, Eden Course, Strathtyrum Course, Balgove Course
It's always tricky getting on the Old Course, but the others are certainly accessible. Don't forget the Himalayas putting course. Herb Kohler's Old Course Hotel comes into play on the famous "Road Hole" tee shot at 17.
3. Pinehurst Resort: 162 holes
Ten courses: Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst No. 4, Pinehurst No. 8, Pinehurst No. 9, Pinehurst No. 7, Pinehurst No. 6, Pinehurst No. 5, Pinehurst No. 1, Pinehurst No. 3, The Cradle
No. 3 is the shortest regulation course in North Carolina's Sandhills at 5,722 yards, followed by No. 1 at 6,089 yards. They sound simple to play until you try to hit the tiny Donald Ross greens. The resort purchased The National Golf Club and renamed the Jack Nicklaus design Pinehurst No. 9 in 2014. The new Cradle - a 789-yard, nine-hole, par-3 course by Gil Hanse - gives the resort its first short course. Read more here.
2. Mission Hills Resort Haikou: 180 holes
Ten courses: Blackstone, Sandbelt Trails, Vintage, Stepping Stone, Lava Fields, Meadow Links, Stone Quarry, Double Pin, The Preserve, Shadow Dunes
This tropical oasis on China's Hainan Island, centered around a luxury hotel tower, is a 1 1/2-hour flight from Hong Kong. Haikou features 168 hot and cold mineral spring pools, making it the "World's Largest Mineral Springs Resort" accredited by Guinness World Records. Golf Digest ranked Blackstone the seventh-best course in China in 2013-14.
1. Mission Hills Shenzhen: 216 holes
Twelve courses: Shenzhen: World Cup Course, Vijay Course, Ozaki Course, Faldo Course, Els Course, Zhang Lian Wei Course, Pete Dye Course; Dongguan: Annika Course, Rose-Poulter Course, Ledbetter Course, Olazabal Course, Norman Course
Despite the Chinese government's reluctance to embrace the game, Mission Hills appears to have staying power. Golf Digest has ranked the Olazabal and Norman courses among the top 10 in the country in the past.
Editor's Notes: Fancourt Resort in South Africa and the Dorado development in Puerto Rico used to have four courses, but each closed one. The 90 holes at Bethpage State Park, the 81 holes (63 open to the public) of the Gunsan Country Club in South Korea and the 12 regulation courses and 36 executive courses of The Villages in central Florida were not considered.