Experience the World's Best Golf Destinations Like You Never Have Before

January 9, 2019

There are a lot of great places to visit in America, but golfers have their own ideas of what defines an ideal getaway. In this article, we’re featuring our favorite golfing destinations around North America that embody everything the discerning golfer expects. From location and overall beauty, to unique design and features, right through to “wow” factor, these courses have it all.

Courses in South Carolina

There may be no golf experience more breathtaking than playing along the ocean at one of the world’s most-renowned golf facilities. This South Carolina resort near historic Charleston exemplifies all that is great about golf. Five top-rated courses designed by golf legends sprinkle the island property that also includes the luxury beachfront Sanctuary Hotel, villas and private rental homes.

Turtle Point is one of Jack Nicklaus’ early designs, and it’s rated 4.5 stars in Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play” guidebook. And if you’re at Turtle point, there are a few other award-winning courses you’ll need to play. Osprey Point, a Tom Fazio masterpiece that’s very playable — despite all of its gorgeous lakes, marshes and forests. Oak Point, sculpted by Clyde Johnston into an undulating course rated 4.5 stars by Golf Digest readers in a “Best Places to Play” poll. And Cougar Point, a Gary Player classic that was ranked “Golf Course of The Year” by the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association.

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While the courses above exceed the quality of golf at most resorts, Kiawah’s jewel remains its Ocean Course that’s served as home to many PGA events, including the Ryder Cup. This Pete Dye landmark ranks 25th on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest U.S. Golf Courses list, 4th on the publication’s Best Public Course index, and best course in South Carolina by the magazine.

Kiawah's Ocean Course
The iconic clubhouse on Kiawah's Ocean Course.

What earns it these honors is a combination of factors, including great golf, tough challenges, incredible beauty, and the fact that it keeps attracting the world’s best players. The course is perhaps best known for its sometimes-stubborn easterly and westerly ocean winds. Experts say that it’s the only course in the world outside of the United Kingdom and Ireland that’s affected as much by gusts. In fact, depending on the wind’s direction and brawn, you may experience up to an eight-club difference on shots, so if you decide to visit the course, make sure you’re playing with clubs that’ll help you play your best gameSituated on the eastern end of the island, the layout features 10 seaside holes with clear views of the Atlantic coastline. The Ocean Course also served as the setting for the 2000 film “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” 

Courses in Los Cabos

On the other side of the continent, several excellent courses populate the Los Cabos coast at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. All have unparalleled views of the Sea of Cortez and surrounding mountains. It’s truly a vacation paradise with warm water, white-sand beaches, energizing ocean breezes and magnificent — relatively new — golf. 

Cabo’s courses offer stunning desert terrain, holes adjacent to the ocean, and lush green fairways. Some of golf’s finest architects have laid out groundwork here. In fact, Jack Nicklaus and his design firm created five courses and 99 holes of golf in the region, in a 13-year span. That alone helped Cabo evolve from a sleepy fishing town into a golf vacation wonderland. Nicklaus’ first work in Cabo was Palmilla Golf Club, which opened in 1993. 

The 27-hole course in San Jose del Cabo has been rated among the 100 greatest golf resorts in the world. It features everything from towering cacti and deep arroyos to breathtaking views of the sea. This upscale layout is divided into the Arroyo, Mountain and Ocean nines. Four lakes and extreme elevation shifts make it a memorable experience.

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Club Campestre is another Nicklaus masterpiece. Positioned between rolling mountains and the sea, every hole on the course spotlights panoramic vistas. Large elevation changes and undulating greens make it a fantastic golf challenge that’s enjoyable for all skill levels, especially if they’re using the clubs designed just for them. The trademark 7th hole boasts a peninsula green.

Meanwhile, Cabo Real is part of a 3,000-acre resort with major name hotels scattered along its 3.2 miles of pristine beach property. The Robert Trent Jones II-designed course has hosted a pair of PGA Senior Slams. The striking course is known for being well-kept all throughout, as it meanders between the desert and water. The front nine is reputed to be Cabo’s toughest.

At Cabo del Sol, the Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course stretches for more than a mile along a coastline of craggy rock outcroppings and sundrenched shores. Nicklaus himself claims the course boasts the three finest finishing holes in all of golf. Its sister layout, the Tom Weiskopf-sculpted Desert Course, offers ocean views from every hole, while bringing into play natural desert-like surroundings. The course is ranked No. 6 in all of Mexico by Golf Digest, and you’ll enjoy it even more if you dial in your golf game with clubs custom designed for you.

Courses in Southern California

America may have no finer parcel of land than where The Resort at Pelican Hill resides in Newport Coast, Calif. The clubhouse and six-star hotel sit on the bluff above the Pacific, while the two Tom Fazio-designed courses — Ocean North and Ocean South — meander all the way down to the beach and back, with stunning vistas the entire way. Palladian-inspired bungalows and villas — the latter armed with butler, personal chef, private garage, and more — make you feel as if you’re in northern Italy, amid world-class restaurants in classic al fresco setting. With a luxurious spa, and an infinity pool that showcases an incredible nightly sunset and destination shopping just minutes away, it’s no wonder that this destination is known as the Pebble Beach of Southern California.

In 2009, the two courses reopened after being shuttered for a two-year renovation while the massive resort was being built. In that time, Fazio modified the greens to make them much more speedy, removed some Eucalyptus trees that were blocking ocean views from the hotel and clubhouse, and generally upgraded wherever he saw fit. The results are subtle, which is a positive. Don’t mess with a great thing. The two courses offer experiences that are vastly different, yet with a common thread of familiarity – think perfectly manicured conditions almost all of the time, many sand traps, and absolutely perfect panoramic Pacific views. Ocean North, which is the newer of the pair, offers some challenging tee-shot carries, rolling fairways, dramatic elevation changes, and large greens. Golfers perpetually rave about the experience.

Ocean South has matured very nicely over time, while its essence has thankfully remained intact. It’s a very forgiving layout, one in which balls straying left and right somehow find the terrain and kick back toward the middle of the fairway. That thankfully always seems to help the pace of play moving, as do the savvy forecaddies. Back-to-back par-3’s on the back nine play right along the beach, so you can play to the aura of rock-crashing waves.

Another great Southern California option is Monarch Beach Golf Links in picturesque Dana Point, where golfers come for the game but stay for the views. This location has a ton of amenities, including a PXG Rental Set program that allows golfers to play with the best clubs on the market for the day and take them home if they fall in love.

Courses in the Caribbean

Known as the Caribbean’s premier golf and beach resort destination, La Cana Golf Course is a fresh Dominican Republic jewel that now features three courses, the latest of which just opened this year. The property epitomizes all that’s right about tropical getaways, as it’s graced with elegant resort accommodations and private villas, water action, phenomenal hiking, and stunning scenery. But it’s the golf that’s creating the loudest buzz among avid players. 

La Cana Golf Course is an inland P. B. Dye design featuring incredible ocean views on 14 holes that you may even find to be a welcome distraction. Four of the holes play right at the foot of the water. La Cana’s perfectly manicured greens can test your short-game skills, as will negotiating various lakes to reach those greens. Lush, tropical landscaping includes state-of-the-art Seashore Paspalum grass that allows for maintenance with minimal environmental impact. Golf Magazine labels La Cana the best course in the Caribbean, comparing it to Pebble Beach, and thanks to one innovative club designer, enjoying your golf game at La Cana just got easier.

The Resort at Pelican Hill course in Newport Coast, CA.

Tom Fazio’s Corales Golf Course opened to rave reviews. The layout sits amid rocky cliffs, coral reefs and the Caribbean Sea. It features six oceanfront holes, scenic canyons, and plenty of great golf tests. In fact, the 18th hole requires a carry over the Bay of Corales. Best of all for the lucky golfers who get to play Corales, the course is only open to a limited number of players each day. So you’ll experience that tranquil sense that you have the course to yourself. Plus, there are exceptional spacious practice facilities – replete with PGA instruction by appointment — where you can hone your game. The upscale Hacienda Golf Course – also a Dye design – is there too. It’s the centerpiece of a new luxury home community and is already receiving high accolades. These are truly three world-class courses at one swanky resort.

Course in Lake Tahoe

How much better can it get? There may be no place more scenic than Lake Tahoe, particularly its north end in California that combines gorgeous mountains, rolling hills, greenery, crystal clear lake views, sunshine and golf-friendly ideal weather all summer long. The area is loaded with excellent restaurants, chateau-styled hotels, jaw-dropping hike and bike paths, water sports, and art and music festivals. Plus, gambling in world-class casinos is just a short ride away. In other words, there’s something for every taste. 

As for golf, there are dozens of great places to play, highlighted by sister courses The Golf Club at Gray’s Crossing and Old Greenwood, located directly across the street from one another in Truckee. The Golf Course at Gray’s Crossing is known for its fast greens and perpetual tournament conditions. Tall pines line the fairways, which make for a fun and playable challenge. The Peter Jacobsen/Jim Hardy design is a public course with a private club feel – replete with a topnotch practice facility and valet service

Old Greenwood is Tahoe’s cornerstone, a picturesque mountain gem with amazing views and even better golf. The 600-acre layout is a product of Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf, meaning it’s received Nicklaus’ highest level of personal attention. It was rated among America’s 10 Best New Public-Access Courses by Golf Magazine, fourth among America’s Finest New Upscale Public Courses by Golf Digest, and 77th in Golf Digest’s “America’s Greatest 100 Public Golf Courses”, and the best way to enjoy it like a pro is to follow this pro tip. 

Know right up front that the course can be challenging, due to its elevation changes and the way it winds through the forest. But the relaxing scenery will keep your heart rate down all the way, especially as the round moves to the serene back nine. The practice facility is fantastic and the service is attentive. Old Greenwood also plays home to a renowned 15-acre golf academy with an indoor center armed with a state-of-the-art swing analysis studio, high-tech four-camera video bay, launch monitor, putting lab, and more. The driving range spans 470 yards.

Golfers really do have their own ideas of what defines an ideal vacation, and the world-renowned golf destinations above truly have it all.