After all, what other sport offers the possibility of play all over the planet -- in myriad climates, landscapes and cultures, and across language barriers, too? Golf parlance, like the language of love, is universal.
And whether you’re green to the sport or working your way toward the tour, chances are you’ve dreamt of teeing up in an exotic locale. Rest assured that everywhere from a windswept course on the sublimely beautiful isle of Kauai to the lake-studded rolling countryside in northwest China, there’s a tee-time with your name all over it.
We’ve sourced some of the world’s most indulgent golf experiences -- from far-flung locales to domestic beauties -- where unparalleled surrounds and serious pampering are par for the course.
Hawaii may be a honeymoon cliché, but for challenging play in a landscape straight out of a fairytale, few green scenes can steal your heart like the lineup of golf in Kauai. Start your tour of the Garden Island with a round at Kauai Lagoons, a short cart ride from the indulgent Marriott’s Kauai Beach Club resort in Lihue. (Marriott recently bought the course, which will eventually be incorporated into a Ritz-Carlton property).
The Kiele Course here, designed by pro golfer Jack Nicklaus, combines with the Mokihana Course for 18 holes of play that take in ocean and mountain views. Nine of Kiele’s original holes are currently being revamped and will reopen in a few years, when the course will offer what’s being touted as some of the best oceanfront golf terrain in the Aloha State.
The Puakea course, a few miles away, gets off to an uninspired start, with views of The Home Depot from the first hole. But the reward follows swiftly, as your game leads you along winding paths through patches of jungle to holes where the mountains loom so close you’ll be tempted to reach out and snatch a piece of the Jurassic Park scenery.
Head to Kauai’s rugged North Shore next, where Hawaii’s most challenging course -- a Robert Trent Jones Jr. doozy -- awaits. Before tee time, check in to the super-posh Princeville resort www.princeville.com, dominating a precipice of near-sheer cliffs overlooking Hanalei Bay. The rooms are beyond decadent -- tub-to-ceiling windows in the bathroom mean you can shower while watching surfers ride the ocean swells. And breakfast on the terrace, surrounded by lush mountains and peeling waves, feels straight out of Bali Hai.
When you’re ready to golf, hit the 27-hole Makai Course, where you’ll likely spot Hawaii’s state bird -- the endangered nene goose -- gathering around the course’s lake circuit. Plan your visit during the winter months for the best shot at seeing humpback whales breaching just offshore from the course’s ocean holes. The biggest golf challenge in Hawaii awaits a few miles down the road at the Prince Course, wrought from some of the island’s most wildly undulating and sensual terrain. Giant albatross soar over the course and whales blow water spouts offshore, but you’ll need all your focus on the greens to get anywhere remotely close to par here.
Private golf privileges in a pristine Panhandle setting are the lure at WaterColor Inn, a golf-friendly resort with boutique-hotel appeal set in an anti-spring break stretch of northwest Florida. The spa facilities are world-class and all of the hotel’s rooms have oceanfront views of the sapphire-hued Gulf of Mexico. But if your color preferences tend more toward green, you’ll love how the resort addresses the luxury golf experience.
The hook here is exclusivity -- guests have access to the private Tom Fazio-designed Camp Creek Golf Course and Greg Norman’s Shark's Tooth Golf Club, two of Florida’s top-ranked courses. Both courses are big on natural beauty, with Camp Creek bathed in rolling dunescapes and Shark’s Tooth set along the shores of Lake Powell, one of the Outstanding Florida Waters.
Golf lovers will enjoy the chance to tee off at the massively impressive Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen and Dongguan, China. This golf mecca sits in lake-studded rolling countryside, with a whopping 216 holes designed by 12 legendary golfers and golf course architects -- Nicklaus, Faldo and Dye are just a sampling of who’s had a hand in the Mission Hills mix. Indeed, there’s a course to challenge every golfer.
The frills go far beyond the fairways, too. The $625 million resort complex features a luxury hotel, 5 spas and 2 high-end resort communities along with top-notch restaurants that span the international spectrum. Count on kicking back in the classy clubhouse with everyone from Hong Kong businessmen and women to international creatures of leisure who’ve journeyed to China for the sole purpose of adding Missions Hills to their life’s list of must-dos.
Bypass Spain’s played-out Costa del Sol for fewer crowds and the equally enticing natural beauty of a golf adventure in Portugal. Before making tracks to the Algarve -- Portugal’s prime golf region, with some 35 courses and counting -- sneak in a round or two near the fishing village-turned-chichi seaside escape of Cascais.
Oitavos Dunes is located in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park in the resort area of Quinta da Marinha, just 30 minutes from the hip restaurant scene and moody fado clubs of Lisbon. The romantic Albatroz Hotel, oceanfront in Cascais, makes a plush base for golfing and beachcombing as well as city itineraries in Lisbon.
And you can’t golf in Portugal without partaking in the Algarve, the country’s ridiculously scenic southern region, where cliff-clad beaches surround whitewashed villages. Make the marina city of Vilamoura your base camp and check in to the newly opened Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort & Spa -- you can get your kicks on the hotel’s tricked-out golf simulator when you’re not actually teeing off for real on the many nearby courses.