The sweet marriage of golf and luxury consummated itself very early on in the game’s existence in America. Resorts where the country’s gentry had been vacationing long before golf was part of the American sports landscape quickly aligned themselves with the noble game imported from Scotland in the late 1800s.
Golf was being played by 1892 at The Homestead, the classic American resort that grew up around the healing natural springs in the Virginia mountains. Three years later the game landed at the Bedford Springs resort in south-central Pennsylvania. Pinehurst, the American resort now most associated with golf, unveiled its first course in 1898. Once the ball was rolling – pun intended – there was no stopping it.
Today, golf intermingles with luxury at resorts across the country, and whether you’re traveling to the beach, the mountains or the heartland, you can find a luxury resort where you can escape the daily grind and enjoy a holistic spa, a relaxing soak in a mineral spring, a good wine list with a hearty cut of beef and, oh yes, a fine game of golf.
Since 1788, The Greenbrier in the West Virginia mountains has hosted the world’s dignitaries and America’s aristocrats. It is the standard by which golf resorts are measured. The Greenbrier hosted the 1979 Ryder Cup on its Greenbrier Course and now holds an annual PGA Tour event on its first course, built in 1914, the Old White TPC course. Old White was recently renovated to restore the characteristics – punch bowl greens, imaginative bunkering and random mounds in the rough that create artificial hazards – of original designer C.B. Macdonald. The resort’s third course, The Meadows Course, has been changed many times to accommodate growth at the resort and while it doesn’t have the smooth flow of the other 2, it is a very friendly course for higher handicaps. Still, But it is the resort’s vast amenities the resort offers that make it the best – the impeccable accommodations, the world-class spa, the extravagant dining and even a casino.
The world recognizes Pinehurst Resort as home to the internationally acclaimed Pinehurst No. 2, which has hosted 2 of the last 14 U.S. Open championships. There are 7 more courses ranging from the newly renovated but still friendly No. 1 to the long and very difficult No. 4 to the Tom Fazio-designed No. 8, which shows the true geographic characteristics of the North Carolina Sandhills. The resort is far more than golf, offering 7 more courses and the majestic Carolina Hotel, which is now more than a century old yet retains the elegance of its old-world charm, as well as several other inns. After golf, lawn sports like croquet and lawn bowling are the most prevalent activity, although the spa has gained acclaim even though it is just a few years old.
The Pacific Ocean has carved a rugged series of cliffs that define the California coastline of the Monterey Peninsula. But both the ocean and the ruggedness ends there. The peninsula itself is all about luxury golf. The oceanfront Lodge at Pebble Beach, the flagship of 3 resorts along the peninsula’s famous 17-Mile Drive, is the epitome of golf luxury. World-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links, with its barrage of 9 dramatic ocean side holes, is just outside the door. Inside, the cuisine, spa, luxury accommodations and elegant shopping lend a modern flare to classic luxury.
This year’s U.S. Women’s Open will be played on the Broadmoor East Course, which was also the site of Jack Nicklaus’ 1959 U.S. Amateur victory. The resort in Colorado Springs is at 6,400 feet above sea level and includes the mammoth, 7,637-yard Mountain Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, but it is the famous East Course , designed by Donald Ross, where The Broadmoor’s biggest championships are held. The West Course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., giving the resort courses by three of the games greatest designers. A few years ago, Nicklaus returned to the Broadmoor to design the resort’s third course, the mammoth 7,637-yard Mountain Course. The resort in Colorado Springs is 6,400 feet above sea level, but don’t worry, if the golf or the altitude is too much foryou, the Broadmoor is pure, classic luxury. The resort began as a hotel and casino in 1918, but through a succession of owners has become one of the classiest and most luxurious golf resorts in the country, being named a Forbes Five-Star hotel for 50 consecutive years.
The world’s most recognizable name in luxury hotels reaches into golf in Naples, FL. The resort in southwest Florida is home to the stunning Tiburón Golf Club, with two immaculate courses designed by Greg Norman. The courses, similar in style, feature the Scottish-style stacked-sod bunker walls, little traditional rough and plenty of crushed-shell (coquina) waste areas. The Mediterranean-style hotel has the traditional luxury amenities – fine dining, a world-class spa and luxury accommodations all wrapped up in a tropical beach environment.
So whether you’re up for a beach vacation, a mountain vacation retreat orf something lakeside – the combination of luxury and golf isn't always accessible.
As proof you can find luxury golf in all sorts of places these days, travel 60 minutes north of Milwaukee, WI, where the farmland suddenly gives way to what might be mistaken for Ireland. The American Club resort’s 36-hole Whistling Straits facility on the western shore of Lake Michigan serves a giant helping of Irish links golf, which on a windy day will be more than you can handle. But that’s ok, The resort, owned by Kohler Company – yes, the huge kitchen and bath fixture company – pampers its guests with an array of fine restaurants and the Kohler Waters Spa where a vast menu of treatments will rejuvenate your body and soul.
Jeff Thoreson is a Washington, D.C.-based golf and travel writer who has seen his share of luxury golf resorts – and hopes to see many more.