The top golf resorts in the country earn their standing in the rankings thanks to iconic championship layouts and luxurious accommodations. Many of them have family programs, like free golf for kids, junior tees and clinics. But not all top golf resorts are the first place to go with juniors or beginning golfers. Often times, what makes a course world class is exactly what juniors don't want: forced carries, length and severe greens.
The best kinds of golf courses for kids and beginners are usually those that are hardly architecturally significant. Instead, flat fairways, few forced carries, shallow bunkers and flat, slower greens are the appeal.
It is surprising just how many top-shelf golf resorts have multiple 18-hole courses and a massive practice area, but no short course.
Golf resorts face a tough choice: easy, less spectacular courses generally geared towards beginners and families aren't the revenue generators their signature layouts can be. Many resorts have even closed up their short and older courses over the years to build more accommodations, a spa or real estate.
But the resorts that commit to preserving their short courses deserve a lot of credit for providing a welcoming experience for new golfers. We've compiled a sampling of some of the best that have made a commitment to short and family-friendly golf courses:
Big Cedar Lodge, Top of the Rock
There are few better family destinations than Johnny Morris' Big Cedar Lodge and Top of the Rock, whether you're a family of avid golfers or you're just looking to tickle the itch a little in an outdoor wonderland in the Ozarks. Kids will have a blast shooting to greens perched beside waterfalls and on outcroppings at the one-of-a-kind driving range at Top of the Rock, while the nine-hole, par-3 course is dazzling.
Gary Player's 13-hole course, Mountain Top, also debuted this year. It's a par-3 course specifically designed with the family and more casual golf in mind.
Crystal Springs' nine-hole courses
The Crystal Springs mega golf resort in New Jersey, with six courses, appeals to families in a variety of ways. The nine-hole Cascades Course and Minerals Course are geared towards kids, even offering a four-person cart designed with families in mind. The Minerals is a par-31, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design with plenty of scenery.
The Grand Cascades Lodge has a free all-grass putting course in front of the hotel that kids love. The resort's Golf Bike and Golf Boards programs also put a fun twist on the sport.
Lansdowne Resort's Sharkbite Course
Near Washington D.C., families can take in a mix of the nation's capital and great golf at Lansdowne Resort & Spa. The resort is part of a private residential community that features 36 holes of championship golf, as well as the nine-hole Sharkbite Course. The par-32 course is very flexible, with five sets of tees between 870 and 2,319 yards.
Disney World's Oak Trail
Disney World's golf scene is a nostalgic pick for me because when I was 8 years old, my family went to Disney World and my brother and I played a twilight round on Oak Trail, a nine-hole, 2,917-yard walking course, with our parents as caddies. It wasn't until I was in high school that I graduated up to Disney's Lake Buena Vista Course, now one of three championship courses at the resort. Now, count me among the many who would rather be on one of Orlando's golf courses than at any of its theme parks, and hopefully I can convince my daughter the same. (Orlando, as you'd expect, has plenty of family-friendly short courses. Click here for more.)
Hotel Hershey's Spring Creek Course
Naturally, the land of chocolate is going to be a pretty good kid-friendly destination. Hotel Hershey, an historic getaway in Pennsylvania, has two full-length 18-hole courses, as well as Spring Creek, a nine-hole, par-33, 2,175-yard course that dates back to the 1930s. An 18-hole grass putting course is also on property at the hotel.
Oregon: Bandon Dunes, Sunriver and Eagle Crest
In Oregon, Bandon Dunes' wheelhouse is the avid golfer, but a closer look reveals they've got excellent beginner facilities, too. They opened the Punchbowl Putting Course in 2014, and also the 13-hole Bandon Preserve. Bandon Dunes' practice facility also has a casual little pitch and putt.
But for more of an overall family-friendly destination in the state, head to Eagle Crest Resort in central Oregon, which has two fun 18-hole courses, plus the 18-hole Challenge Course, a par-63, 4,175-yard layout. I played it in about two hours a few years back. The course also made our list of the 20 top-rated courses in Oregon in 2015.
Also in Central Oregon, the Sunriver Resort, home of the tough Crosswater Course, has a collection of other smaller courses. For families, they built the Caldera Links, a 9-holer developed in part by late-architect Bob Cupp. Holes range from 60-185 yards and Golfboards are also currently available. Kids can then graduate up to the Meadows or Woodlands courses.
Treetops Resort's Threetops Course
Hitting a booming drive off one of many elevated tee shots at 81-hole Treetops Resort in northern Michigan is a great way to get beginners hooked on golf. Threetops stakes a pretty good claim as one of America's most exciting par-3 courses and takes no backseat in terms of shot values compared to the championship course. The Treetops North facility also has a really fun, Himalayas-style practice green for added fun. If the kids are showing some confidence, graduate them up to the Tradition Course, which is a little easier than the other three signature layouts at this northern Michigan golf mecca.
Pebble Beach Resorts' Peter Hay Par 3 Course
Pebble Beach is a wonderful place for the family even if you don't want to splurge on a family foursome on Pebble Beach Golf Links. The Peter Hay Par 3, a fairly simple 748-yard, nine-hole pitch 'n' putt is also located on site and is normally included with most resort packages ($30 for non-resort guests). Pebble Beach also relaunched their golf academy, and their Del Monte Course is the shortest and least expensive of the four 18-hole courses at the resort. Also, around the corner is Pacific Grove, a wonderful oceanside municipal that is also on the short side, and can be played by juniors for $10-20.
Golden Horseshoe's Spotswood Course
In Williamsburg, Virginia, the Golden Horseshoe boasts 45 holes that are all walkable and void of a residential component. There are two championship, 18 holers, along with the Spotswood, a heralded nine-hole, par-31 course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. There are two different tee sets that make for a makeshift 18 holes if need be.
French Lick's Valley Links
Much is made of the supreme difficulty of the Dye Course at French Lick Resort, not to mention the steely Donald Ross Course that is certainly no cakewalk either. But there's also a neat little nine holer, the Valley Links, which was formerly an 18-hole course designed by Tom Bendelow. Today's version was designed in part with the U.S. Kids organization to ensure the loop is family friendly. Kids 12 and under play free. The two Kids sets of tees play 1,100 and 1,900 yards, while the tips can stretch out to nearly 3,500 yards.
Makai at St. Regis Princeville's Woods nine
When the decision was made to renovate the 27-hole Makai Golf Club at St. Regis Princeville on Kauai, officials determined that the facility would be better off as a championship 18-holes (with oceanfront holes on each nine) and keeping the nine-hole Woods golf course separate and meant for families and casual rounds. The walker-friendly course can play as long as 3,400 yards but there are three sets of tees playing as short as 2,829 yards. Kids under 16 play free with a paid adult at all times on the Woods. Also, closer to the south shore of Kauai is one of the great affordable, casual, nine-hole courses, Kukuio'lono.
Wilderness Resort's Woods Course at Wild Rock
The Wisconsin Dells' Wilderness Resort, with its four waterparks on 600 acres, is a big family hotspot. The Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry-designed Wild Rock Golf Club, a championship course that ranks as one of our top-rated golf courses in Wisconsin. But also at Wild Rock is the nine-hole Woods Course, a par 30 with three sets of tees that features holes as long as 325 yards.
Pinehurst Resort's Cradle
Considering Pinehurst Resort's iconic "Putter Boy," you bet Pinehurst is sure to think of junior golf. In 2017, that commitment is stronger than ever with the unveiling of The Cradle, a nine-hole short course outside the main clubhouse whose longest hole is 127 yards. Matt Ginella attended the grand opening and you can read his report here. The driving range and practice area, including the redone Thistle Dhu putting course, is also good fun for kids. (Kids 17-and-under staying at the resort play any of the courses besides No. 2 free with a paid adult.)
We're curious which golf resorts roll out the red carpet for your junior and family golf. Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @GolfAdvisor.com.
Jason Scott Deegan and Mike Bailey contributed to this report.