World's 10 best golf resorts

World's 10 best golf resorts

One well-traveled golfer details his top golfing destinations
best golf resorts
A good walk ruined? Nah. A good holiday enhanced.

My criteria for choosing the world’s top 10 golf resorts have been first, golf -- quality, condition and history of the courses; second, quality and luxury of the accommodation; third, the quality of the food and drink available; and finally the quality and variety of the other facilities available.

My list begins with what is, in my opinion, the best golf resort in the world and runs down to what I think is the 10th best, although there's very little difference between them.

I make no apologies for the fact that the first four are all in the United States. They simply do things bigger and better.

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1. Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, North Carolina, United States

PinehurstTake on the greens of death to make your friends green with envy.Scorecard:

Golf: 10/10

Accommodation: 9/10

Food/drink: 10/10

Other facilities: 10/10

 

Eight superb golf courses, including the fabled No. 2 course that hosted the Ryder Cup in 1951, the U.S. Open in 1999 (where Payne Stewart's performed his victorious fist pump at the final hole) and 2005.

In 2014 the No. 2 course is due to achieve another historic moment when it becomes the first course to host the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open in consecutive weeks.

To give you an idea of the quality of the courses, Pinehurst No. 2, No. 8 and No. 4 are consistently ranked among America's best, while Nos. 1 and 3 reflect famed golf course architect Donald Ross's most original work.

The No. 2 course was also originally designed by Ross and its upturned saucer greens are renowned for deflecting approach shots into bunkers and greenside rough, and for making putting very difficult.

The resort hosts three hotels of which The Carolina is the best. Its breakfast buffet is superb and its rooms are first-class.

Eight restaurants serve mouth-watering food for lunch or dinner and a variety of bars and cafés cater for quick snacks and drinks. Add in a superb spa and fitness centre, tennis courts, and almost every other sport you can think of.

But the whole resort is mostly about golf, steeped in golf history, and everywhere you go you see photos of historical golf moments at Pinehurst, dating right back to the early 1900s.

www.pinehurst.com

 

2. Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina, United States

KiawahOne more reason to wish you were a pro golfer.Scorecard:

Golf: 10/10

Accommodation: 10/10

Food/drink: 10/10

Other facilities: 9/10

 

Some of you will have recently watched Rory McIlroy win the U.S. PGA Championship on Kiawah's magnificent, Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course, which also hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup (aka the "War on the Shore").

And the Ocean Course is the best at Kiawah, but only just. There are four more courses, designed by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Fazio, and Clyde Johnson, all of which are beautiful, challenging and always in great condition.

The Sanctuary hotel is a luxurious, oceanfront mansion that captures the history and charm of the Deep South. It hosts three restaurants, plus another six are located in the various golf clubhouses and on the island. Between them they serve a variety of superb cuisines including juicy steaks, fresh seafood, southern barbecue, tasty pizzas and pastas as well as healthy options.

In the Sanctuary Spa you can relax with customized spa treatments using botanical extracts, nourishing seaweed, mineral-rich mud and natural enzymes. And if you have any energy left Kiawah was just voted the No. 1 Tennis Resort in the world.

www.kiawahresort.com

 

3. Pebble Beach Resort, Pebble Beach, California, United States

Pebble BeachYou'll be thankful for the soothing views right about your third lost ball.Scorecard:

Golf: 10/10

Accommodation: 10/10

Food/drink: 10/10

Other facilities: 8/10

 

Home to probably the best-known golf course in the United States, the Pebble Beach Resort also has three others -- Spyglass Hill, The Links at Spanish Bay, the Del Monte course -- plus a nine-hole, par-three course.

Pebble Beach itself needs no introduction to keen golfers, having hosted five U.S. Opens as well as the annual AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the PGA Tour.

The stunning Pacific Ocean views from nearly every hole almost justify the cost of a round here (US$495) themselves. But to tread in the footsteps of Palmer, Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods is priceless.

There are three luxurious accommodation options at Pebble Beach, nine restaurants serving Californian, Hawaiian, Italian and classic American cuisine plus fresh seafood and succulent steaks, a variety of bars including a sports bar and a heavenly spa where you can get golf-specific therapies.

www.pebblebeach.com

 

4. The American Club, Kohler, Wisconsin, United States

The American ClubLocation for "The Land That Time Forgot"?Scorecard:

Golf: 10/10

Accommodation: 10/10

Food/drink: 10/10

Other facilities: 9/10

 

The American Club is home to the incredible Whistling Straits course (almost 1,000 bunkers) which hosted the 2004 and 2010 PGA Championship and which is due to host the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup.

But there are four courses at the American Club divided into two venues, Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. At Whistling Straits there are the flagship Straits course (the championship venue) and the Irish course, both rugged links-style courses that lie by the shores of Lake Michigan.

At Blackwolf Run there are the River and Meadow Valleys courses, highly challenging parkland courses. A composite 18 holes of these two courses hosted the U.S. Women's Open in 1998 and 2012. All four courses at the American Club were designed by Pete Dye.

The resort's main accommodation is at The American Club, a Forbes Five-Star Resort Hotel and AAA Five Diamond Resort Hotel, and the smaller Inn on Woodlake, a boutique hotel.

As befits a luxury resort, The American Club also has nine restaurants, several cozy bars, the Kohler Waters Spa and a vast array of indoor and outdoor activities. The resort's only drawback is the golf courses are closed November-March due to its northerly location.

www.americanclubresort.com

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5. The Old Course Hotel, St. Andrews, Scotland

The Old Course HotelThe home of golf, and second home to obsessed golfers.Scorecard:

Golf: 10+/10

Accommodation: 9/10

Food/drink: 9/10

Other facilities: 8/10

 

Also owned by Kohler Co. (which owns The American Club) the Old Course Hotel is perfectly situated in the home of golf, right beside the 17th hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews, to allow access to all the great courses in the St. Andrews area: the Old Course, the hotel's Duke's Course, the Kyle Phillips-designed Kingsbarns, the two great courses at the Fairmont St. Andrews and the exceptionally difficult Open Championship venue Carnoustie just 50 kilometers north.

Having breakfast overlooking the Old Course, knowing you're going to be playing it in an hour or so, must be every serious golfer's idea of heaven. Spending a week here and playing all the great courses around St. Andrews is golfing nirvana. And exploring this wonderful old town is the icing on the cake.

The rooms in the five-star hotel are luxurious, the food in the two restaurants is excellent, the pampering in the Kohler Waters Spa is blissful, and you can sample more than 200 malt whiskeys in the Road Hole Bar while watching other golfers suffer at this tricky hole.

www.oldcoursehotel.co.uk

 

6. The K Club, Straffan, Co. Kildare, Ireland

K-ClubMore than just golf.Scorecard:

Golf: 9/10

Accommodation: 10/10

Food/drink: 9/10

Other facilities: 9/10

 

Having hosted a sensational Ryder Cup in 2006, the K Club is a great place to watch the 2012 Ryder Cup while enjoying the "craic."

Both courses were designed by the great Arnold Palmer, yet they're very different. The Palmer Ryder Cup course is a beautiful parkland course with avenues of trees lining the fairways while the Smurfit course is an inland links with added water hazards and hardly a single tree in sight. Both are a delight to play.

The K Club is also a great base from which to play the other great courses in the area, notably Royal Dublin, Portmarnock, the Montgomerie and O'Meara courses at Carton House, and Pat Ruddy's magnificent The European Golf Club at Brittas Bay.

Accommodation here is at the luxurious K Club Hotel, originally built in 1832 in the style of a French chateau but now the height of modern stately elegance.

A full Irish breakfast in the River Room restaurant is great preparation for your round, the Thai and Asian cuisine at Kwan Suk a perfect ending. Pampering awaits in the K Spa and there's falconry, clay pigeon shooting, horse riding or fishing on the K Club estate if you still haven't had your fill of the outdoors.

www.kclub.ie

 

7. Sotogrande, Andalucia, Spain

AndalvuciaThe emerald in Spain's golfing crown.Scorecard:

Golf: 9/10

Accommodation: 9/10

Food/drink: 9/10

Other facilities: 9/10

 

The Sotogrande estate is home to five-and-a-half courses including the No. 1 course in Europe, Valderrama, designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior, which hosted the 1997 Ryder Cup and the first two years of the WGC-American Express Championship (now the WGC-Cadillac Championship).

The other courses on the estate are The Almenara Golf Resort, which has 27 holes all designed by former Ryder Cup player Dave Thomas, the La Canada course, with nine holes designed by Thomas and nine by Trent Jones Senior; the Real Club de Golf Sotogrande, Trent Jones Senior's first European design; and the newest course at Sotogrande, the La Reserva course, designed by Cabell Robinson and opened in 2004.

Four other great courses lie nearby; two at The San Roque Club and two at the Alcaidesa Links Golf Resort, so this area of southern Spain is a veritable paradise for golfers.

Several five-star hotels dot the estate, but the Almenara Hotel with its luxurious rooms and suites, with sloping ceilings and wooden beams, terracotta floors, African motifs in the bathroom and bedroom and patios overlooking the Almenara golf course or hotel grounds, is the best.

Other facilities include the Elysium Spa, huge gym, swimming pools, horse riding and tennis.

If you get tired of Sotogrande you can visit San Roque, check out the old churches and museums or even visit Gibraltar.

www.sotogrande.com

 

8. Mission Hills, Haikou, Hainan Island, China

Mission HillsChina's attempt to become Asia's golfing center.Scorecard:

Golf: 10/10

Accommodation: 10/10

Food/drink: 9/10

Other facilities: 9/10

 

The problem with Mission Hills is that there are two of them; magnificent golf resorts with some of the finest courses in the world.

The original, spread over Guangdong Province, has 12 courses designed by some of the greatest names in golf but, because the newest Mission Hills Resort on Hainan Island now hosts the Omega Mission Hills World Cup of Golf, I've chosen to go with this one.

Held on the Blackstone course, one of 10 superb and varied courses designed by the Schmidt-Curley design company, the tournament draws two of the best players from each of the world's golfing nations to compete as a country to be world champions.

The resorts has been designed for the whole family, so while dad (and/or mom) hacks around one of the courses, there are also spas, swimming areas, shops and a huge complex of around 140 mineral pools for non-golfers. Kids are also catered for with large play areas and activities, including golf lessons.

Amazing resort. I could easily spend a month here.

www.missionhillschina.com

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9. Fancourt, George, South Africa

FancourtThe golf is just one of many great adventures to be had.Scorecard:

Golf: 9/10

Accommodation: 9/10

Food/drink: 9/10

Other facilities: 10/10

 

This is Africa's leading golf resort and the site of the 2003 Presidents Cup, an alternative Ryder Cup which sees teams from the United States and the Rest of the World (except Europe) compete against each other in non-Ryder Cup years.

Fancourt has three great courses -- the Links, Montagu and Outeniqua -- the best of which is the Links (Presidents Cup course), ranked 30th best course in the world outside the United States by Golf Digest magazine.

In addition to the Presidents Cup, the Links course has hosted many other tournaments including the South African Open and the Volvo Golf Champions tournament, both on the European Tour.

Accommodation is luxurious, either in the Fancourt Hotel or the boutique Manor House. Dining is in three modern restaurants or the fine dining experience of Henry White's.

Non-golf activities include a top-class spa, gym and tennis, and also the chance to go on safari and see the "Big Five" -- lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.

Fancourt is also on South Africa's Garden Route and thus at the heart of South Africa's wine-growing region.

www.fancourt.co.za

 

10. Quinta do Lago, Almancil, Portugal

Quinta do Lago Golf ClubRyder Cup contender?Scorecard:

Golf: 9.5/10

Accommodation: 9/10

Food/drink: 9/10

Other facilities: 9/10

 

Quinta do Lago has the golf course that I think should be the first Portuguese golf course to host the Ryder Cup, perhaps in 2022, the next time it's up for grabs in Europe. It's the Laranjal course, Europe's answer to Augusta, perfect in every way, challenging and a pure joy to play.

Quinta also has San Lorenzo, another stunning golf course that plays right beside the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve and the Atlantic Ocean. It also has the Quinta do Lago North and South courses, two further 18s that will test and enchant golfers. Another 15 first-class courses lie with a 30-kilometer radius of the resort.

In short, it's golfers' heaven.

For accommodation, choose from the ultra-luxurious Hotel Quinta do Lago, the elegantly modern Monte da Quinta Club or a host of rental apartments and villas including the Four Seasons Fairways Club.

When hunger strikes you can dine on pizzas and pastas at Koko Lane, the finest fresh seafood at Casa do Lago, traditional golfers' fare at the various clubhouses, or enjoy a romantic dinner for two on the beach at Gigi's or atop a hill overlooking the Atlantic at Casa Velha.

Just about every sport known to man, designer shops, spas, bars and nightclubs round out the package. And there are a lot of residential properties for sale right on the fairways in case you want to stay here for ever.

www.quintadolago.com

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Which are your favorite golf resorts? Tell us in the comments

Tony Smart is a lifelong golf fanatic and journalist who's been lucky enough to play golf all over the world. He has written for a wide variety of magazines including Golf Digest Ireland, Golf World, Golf Monthly, Golf International, The Robb Report, Asian Golf Monthly, Golf Vacations and The Peak.

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