If you haven't yet finished sorting out your 2017 travel calendar, perhaps this listing of Golf Advisor's top 10 golf destinations of the year can help.
To determine the top 10 destinations to visit this year, we looked at several key criteria - new and renovated courses, plus marquee events that make for exciting centerpieces to a golf vacation.
We've also looked at our Golf Advisor best-of lists for 2016, including our Top 50-rated in the U.S. ranking, to determine which courses continue to gain momentum among golfers.
You'll find that these vacation spots run the gamut from well known and established destinations, to the more exotic or lesser known and value oriented. There's a destination here for every budget. With three destinations in the top 10, the Midwest rules this year.
10. Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Alabama
Lake course at Grand National
There's no understating it. Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail – which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year – changed golf travel in America. Much like Myrtle Beach, it created affordable golf trips for the everyman.
This collection of 468 holes - most of them designed by RJT Sr. or his main associate, Roger Rulewich - is spread across 11 sites throughout the state. Dr. David Bronner, the CEO of Retirement Systems of Alabama, established the trail in 1992 as a means to bolster tourism. Before the trail opened, Alabama had less than $2 billion in tourism revenue. Those revenues exceeded $12.6 billion in 2015 – much of that growth attributed to the trail.
That success spawned a bunch of copy cats – for example, the Audubon Golf Trail in Louisiana and the Tennessee Golf Trail in neighboring states. Neither could replicate the secret sauce of Alabama's version. Almost every stop in Alabama is self-sufficient with a comfortable hotel and multiple courses, including really strong short courses. The courses play tough, although their relatively low costs keep golfers happy enough to return. Most of the layouts sprawl out across secluded, natural settings unencumbered by houses. Each outpost is spaced out appropriately, between a two- to three-hour drive from one to the next. That's close enough to allow tourists to combine several stops for a weeklong trip but far enough apart that they don't compete against one another for local players (The exception is Ross Bridge and Oxmoor Valley outside Birmingham).
The trail also attracts professional tournaments to Alabama that might have gone elsewhere: Five PGA TOUR Champions events, 10 Web.com events and 25 LPGA Tour events. The 2017 Barbasol Championship – the trail's second year hosting the PGA TOUR - will be July 20-23 on the Lake course at Grand National in Auburn/Opelika. (More: Five best stops on the RTJ Trail.)
What they're saying: "The course has some amazing views and I had plenty of time to relax and enjoy them. Overall I had a great experience and will be telling all my friends that this is a must play." - Toromess on the Lake course at Grand National.
Don't miss: If you come in fall, try to pull off the ultimate two-fer: A round at Ross Bridge in the morning, followed by an afternoon or night game at the University of Alabama, preferably the Iron Bowl against Auburn. You could pull off a similar gig by playing at Grand National and then watching the Auburn War Eagles play.
Stay and play: The most unique of the eight affiliated Marriott or Renaissance resorts is The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa, a historic building smack in the middle of downtown Mobile. The Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa and the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear along the Gulf Coast tussle for the claim as the most luxurious.
Also, Farmlinks at Pursell Farms, while not on the RTJ Trail, made our Top 10 courses in 2016, and is a great buddies trip stay-and-play, home to an Orvis Shooting Grounds. If you find yourself near the gulf coast, Kiva Dunes Golf Club on the Gulf Shores ranked No. 4 in the U.S. in 2016 according to our golfer reviews.
Belvedere Golf Club
Northern Michigan remains the hub of the state's best golf resorts. There is, however, an outlier tucked in the southwest corner of the state. The Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort in tiny Augusta near Kalamazoo has always been one of the best "bang for your buck" retreats in the Midwest. Perhaps its lone weakness, though, was the lack of a signature course. That could change with Stoatin Brae, a new course designed by members of Tom Doak's Renaissance Golf design firm. Its rolling elevations and vistas are reminiscent of the memorable resort courses "Up North".
Meanwhile, Doak's effort on The Loop, the reversible course at Forest Dunes in Roscommon three hours to the north, got mostly rave reviews during preview play in 2016. It's hard to engage recreational/resort golfers on flat ground with virtually no water, but Doak seems to have pulled it off without any gimmicks.
Roughly 80 miles farther north in Charlevoix, the Belvedere Golf Club is turning back the clock on its classic course. In the summer of 2016, the demolishment of an old building in Charlevoix led to the discovery of architect William Watson's original drawings of the course. A restoration by golf architect Bruce Hepner and course superintendent Rick Grunch should be ready for the 2017 season. Expanded putting surfaces, strategic tree removal, reclaimed lost fairway areas and rebuilt missing bunkers have brought back characteristics Watson originally intended. Belvedere, the 2016 course of the year by the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association, has hosted the Michigan Amateur a record 40 times. It's now ready to hold another 40 in the future, the first being in 2025.
What they're saying: - "I played the Red then the Black. Couldn't believe I was on the same course. The look of each hole changed completely from the new direction. Doak's creative genius is on display here at every turn." courser8r on The Loop at Forest Dunes.
Don't miss: Charlevoix, home of Belvedere, is one of a handful of charming Lake Michigan towns in northern Michigan that come alive in summer. Stroll through downtown on the water or drive by the mushroom houses. The Au Sable River near Forest Dunes offers some of the best canoeing and kayaking in the Midwest.
Stay and play: The villas of the Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort are more practical than luxury, but they'll do the job. With six courses at the resort, all they're needed for is eating and sleeping anyway. The Boyne Highlands Resort, a 72-hole resort in Harbor Springs, has recovered from a fire set by an arsonist during ski season. It is probably your best bet for a round at Belvedere, although "Big Fore Golf Packages" are offered with the Hamlet Village Condominiums and Trout Creek Condominium Resort.
8. New Orleans
New Orleans might not be known for its golf, but the area's golf scene is better than most people probably realize, and it's about to get a huge upgrade.
The much-anticipated city-owned Bayou Oaks Golf Course is set to open this spring, and it could be the new home of the Zurich Classic. The opening comes a dozen years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed City Park in New Orleans. The new course, designed by Rees Jones, uses land previously home to portions of the former East and West courses at City Park. The new course features a "low-profile" design style, meandering through many of the park's majestic live oak trees with several holes bordering lagoons. The course will play between 5,000 and 7,200 yards.
Rounding out a weekend golf trip, there's the TPC Louisiana at Avondale, home of the PGA Tour's Zurich Classic. It's one of the most affordable courses in the TPC Network. Designed by Pete Dye, it's sort of a Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass Lite, if you will. Tack on English Turn, former host of the Zurich, and there's a solid trio of championship-caliber golf on the bayou.
Also, New Orleans is the home to one of the most enjoyable executive courses in the world – the par-62 Audubon Park, which is across from Tulane University and the Zoo in the Garden District. It takes less than three hours to play, and is always in great shape. 27-hole Stonebridge and the wonderful Carter Plantation, created by Louisiana native David Toms, and you've got a solid golf trip that's a real value. All this comes with one of the most festive cities in the world for dining and entertainment.
What they're saying: "Blew Bayou: One thing about this relatively exposed layout south of New Orleans across the Mississippi River is that if the wind blows there is nothing to buffer it. And today the fan was on." - BrandonWebb on TPC Louisiana.
Don't miss: If you love oysters, check out Acme Oyster House, where oysters on the half shell are as large as steaks. While the French Quarter gets most of the ink, the Warehouse District, now known as the Arts District, is where you'll find quaint coffee shops, art museums, some of the best new restaurants and music venues like Howlin' Wolf and Republic, which bring legendary, as well as up-and-coming, artists that draw huge crowds for live entertainment.
Stay and play: The best way to experience New Orleans and its golf courses is probably to book your own hotel and courses individually to personally customize it for yourself. But if you're looking for a little help, TPC Louisiana, Carter Plantation and Audubon Park are all part of the Audubon Golf Trail, which offers a variety of value-priced packages for any combination of the dozen courses on the Trail.
7. San Diego
North course at Torrey Pines
Healthy winter rains, plus a sizable snowpack in the High Sierra mountains, has golf courses feeling optimistic for the summer months in Southern California. In fact, one golf course superintendent in the area said that for courses that use reclaimed water, the rain helps flush soils and ultimately yield much better playing conditions for the summer months. That bodes well for scores of area courses whose turf quality has suffered during the multi-year drought.
Mother Nature aside, Torrey Pines North is back open after a major renovation project from Tom Weiskopf, and is one of the great value courses that overlook the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, in the far eastern reaches of San Diego County, the latest chapter in the comeback story at Rams Hill, which reopened in 2014 after being closed several years, is being named Golf Advisor's No. 1 course in 2016. Early reviews in 2017 show they're continuing to impress.
What they're saying: "Since Rams Hill is really the only show in town in Borrego Springs, one is a captive audience. But it's like being captured by a tribe of beautiful amazons. You don't mind a bit." - chazgriz on Rams Hill Golf Club.
Don't miss: Be sure to pay a visit to the beach at some point, some of the best are in La Jolla and Del Mar. San Diego is also one of the best craft beer destinations in the world, so be sure to ask for the local stuff (seemingly everywhere, from beverage carts to fine restaurants, have plenty of locals to choose from).
Stay and play: If you've got the coin, nothing beats the experience at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar (which also gains you access to private, Tom-Fazio designed The Grand Golf Club. If you're on (relative) budget, the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa offers competitively priced golf packages and two courses on-site to choose from, plus a location in Carlsbad that makes for a good home base to play lal the area's best courses.
Video: Matt Ginella and Tom Weiskopf tour the new Torrey Pines North
6. The Greenbrier Resort
Despite devastating floods in West Virginia that not only wiped out The Greenbrier Classic and some of the golf courses, the historic Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs might be better than ever now. The century-old Old White TPC Course, designed by Charles Blair McDonald, has been renovated and restored by architect Keith Foster. This top 100 course includes new greens and is ready to go for this year's event, the week of July 3-9. And while the golf is classic, the experience at America's oldest golf resort is even more so. The Greenbrier has been around since 1787, attracting visitors who wanted to bathe in the curative waters of its sulfur springs. Early presidents were among the guests, and today there's exquisite dining, a spa, a casino, horseback riding and even falconry available.
On to the new: One of the other courses guests can play is the Greenbrier Course, designed by Seth Raynor and later updated by Jack Nicklaus. Also devastated by the floods, only 12 holes are open, but they will close in July when the course undergoes a renovation. Opened in 1924, the course played host to the 1979 Ryder Cup and 1994 Solheim Cup. Phil Mickelson, who is the Greenbrier's new PGA Tour player ambassador, is overseeing much of the renovation as design adviser.
What they're saying: "The course has all the charm and strategic challenges you'd expect from an American classic. You'll use every club in your bag, negotiate big undulating greens and wind through the rolling tree-lined topography of White Sulphur Springs." - MattGinellaGA on Old White TPC.
Don't miss: If you stay at the Greenbrier, you have to take the tour of the Cold War bunker under the resort. It was Dwight D. Eisenhower, a close friend of former Greenbrier Pro Emeritus Sammy Snead, who ordered the construction of the 112,544-square-foot bunker built 720 feet into the hillside under The Greenbrier's West Virginia Wing as a secure fortress during the Cold War for federal leaders and Congress.
Stay and play: Visitors who want to check out the Greenbrier Classic and play Old White TPC under tournament conditions can enjoy the Sunday round of the tournament, then play the course the next day. Two-night packages start at $900 per golfer. Click here for details.