6 amazing bucket-list golf destinations, explained

View of Sand Valley Golf Resort in Wisconsin.

Evan Schiller

Welcome to GOLF’s Travel Mailbag, a series where our staff members ask your questions about courses and travel. Do you have any questions about your upcoming mailbox? Tweet us at @golf_com.

Which megagolf resort is right for me?

Usually a lot of our latest questions about golf mega-destinations. Best time to travel to Bandon? Cabot vs. Sand Valley? Pinehurst vs. Bandon? Which resorts should I go to? There are a lot of questions like this. But without knowing all the relevant details – your budget, your schedule, the composition of your group, your willingness to go to airport security lines, and so on – it is difficult to limit the answer to one proposal. So we thought of creating this handy explanation for the six resorts we get the most questions about: Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Destination Kohler, Pinehurst, Sand Valley and Streamsong. I hope this information clarifies your thinking. Now for the hardest part: deciding where to go.

And if you’re looking for even more information on potential destinations, check out GOLF’s 100 Top Resorts page here.

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, Ore.)

How to get there: The nearest commercial airport is in North Bend, about 30 minutes from the resort. But another popular option is to fly to Eugene. From there it is a longer drive to Bandon (about 2 1/2 hours) but it is also a larger airport with many more flights. The same goes for Portland, which is about a 4 1/2 hour drive away.

School: Five 18-hole courses; one 13-hole par-3 course; and a 100,000-square-foot pipe-laying field.

Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

Getty Images

Restaurants: Five on site, ranging from sophisticated to casual to grab and go.

Why you should go: No contemporary destination has changed the image of American golf more than Bandon Dunes, where Mike Keizer showed that if you build it, they would come if you build it really well. There is also no higher concentration of the top 100 courses on any property on the planet. Part of the fun of the Bandon trip is weighing the required conversation over which of the 18 holes is the top – Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, Old MacDonald or Sheep Ranch. You may even decide that the 13-hole Preserve is the one you like the most.

Insider tip: Like many top resorts, Bandon has been crowded lately. But even though each room is booked, the seats are sometimes open on a tea sheet. In other words, you may still be able to book golf, and you can rent a house nearby.

More: Visit the resort’s website here.

How to get there: The nearest commercial airport is in Halifax, less than a 4-hour drive from the resort.

School: Two 18-hole courses and a 10-hole par-3 course.

Par-3 16. At Cabot Cliffs.

Christian Hafer

Restaurants: Three dining options on the property: a pub, a bar and a sophisticated restaurant overlooking the waters.

Why you should go: Situated on the coast of a sleepy fishing village, Cabot offers great golf and a lively location. Both of its 18-hole courses, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, are on GOLF’s list of the top 100 courses in the world, although they offer some research on contrasts. Where there is understated luxury in Links, Cliffs is responsible for the striking drama of holes carved on top of the rising seaside bluffs. Together, they are among the best one or two strokes.

Insider tip: You have come this far. Go a little further and take an extra day to visit Highland Links, the public bucket-Lister of Stanley Thompson, Canadian Alister Mackenzie, the giant of Golden Age design. It is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Cabot and the scenery is already worth the trip.

More: Visit the resort’s website here.

Kohler Destination (Kohler, Wis.)

How to get there: The nearest commercial airport is Milwaukee, about an hour from the resort, although many passengers also fly to Chicago’s O’Hare, which is less than 2.5 hours away.

School: Four 18-hole courses, a 10-hole par-3 course and a two-acre putt field.

The Baths par-3 course opened this year at Destination Kohler.

Kohler’s target

Restaurants: Eleven different menu styles and settings.

Why you should go: You’ve seen it on TV, most recently at this year’s Ryder Cup. But Whistling Straits is personally even more spectacular, Pete Dye’s wild artistic and engineering work that stretches back to the once flat shoreline of Lake Michigan. Its three 18-hole siblings – the Irish Course and Blackwolf Run’s River and Meadow Valleys – are also Dye models, both dramatic and demanding. But you should also set aside time for Baths, a par-3 course that plays comfortably with a few rackets in one hand and a cold drink in the other.

Insider tip: Kohler Swing Studio Bar. For guests staying at the Inn on Woodlake, the Kohler Swing Studio Bar is the perfect place to end the day with a drink on the lake or sample Topgolf simulators. Great fun with the gang.

More: Visit the resort’s website here.

Pinehurst Resort (Pinehurst, NC)

How to get there: The nearest commercial airport is in Raleigh-Durham, about a 90-minute drive from the resort. Charlotte is also just two hours away.

School: Nine 18-hole courses, a par-3 course and a putting track.

Aerial view of Pinehurst No. 4.

Christian Hafer

Restaurants: Nine properties ranging from white tablecloth dining to a casual brewery pub and barbecue area.

Why you should go: For many travelers, the number one reason is No. 2, a masterpiece by Donald Ross and the center of the resort, which has hosted more elite championships than any course in the United States. History is deep here. But to say that the past is always present does not mean that the property is trapped in an amber. There are plenty of updates and fresh additions to Pinehurst No. 4’s Gil Hansen’s redesign for The Cradle’s opening, a nifty par-3 course and a putting course called Thistle Dhu. Perhaps more than any other resort in the country, Pinehurst finds a balance between the sepia-toned tradition and the cool currents of today.

Insider tip: Whether you’re spending tea time at number 2 or not, book an hour for a drink or a snack on The Deuce’s massive porch, which overlooks No. 18’s green. It’s the perfect gathering place to relax, summarize your tour and see how poor souls try to get up and down to save the couple.

More: Visit the resort’s website here.

Sand Valley Golf Resort (Nekoosa, Wis.)

How to get there: Most passengers from outside the area fly to Chicago, Milwaukee or Minneapolis. Of these, Milwaukee is the nearest (about 2 1/2 hours) and Chicago is the furthest (about four hours). The drive from Minneapolis is about three hours.

School: Two 18-hole courses and a 17-hole par-3 course.

Aerial view of Sand Valley in Wisconsin.

Christian Hafer

Restaurants: Four options on the property, ranging from farm to table fine dining to a food car parked next to the sandbox, par-3 course.

Why you should go: Picture Bandon Dunes, transferred to Badger State. Sure, Sand Valley has no sea and fewer golf holes. But the Keizer family owns it, and its courses, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw as well as David McLay Kidd (all of whom also worked in Bandon), reflect a similar modern-minimalist aesthetic with an emphasis on creative soil. game fun.

Insider tip: In addition to its bikes, Sand Valley has 15 grass tennis courts, miles of hiking and biking trails, and free strength and stretching lessons. There is also a culinary garden, which is a key part of the resort’s first-class food and beverage program.

More: Visit the resort’s website here.

Streamsong Resort (Bowling Green, FL)

How to get there: The resort is approximately equidistant from Tampa and Orlando airports. It is about a 90 minute drive from each.

School: Three 18-hole courses, a 7-hole short course and a 1.2-acre putt field.

Red Course in Streamsong.

Courtesy of Streamsong Resort

Restaurants: Four properties and three bars and lounges.

Why you should go: Jump through all the stereotypes of Florida golf – flat, lush, water-laden – and then imagine the opposite. In the middle of the dunes of a former phosphate mine, Streamsong offers the rampant golf fans have come to expect from Gil Hansen, Tom Doak and a couple of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the architects behind Black, respectively. Blue and red courses here. In keeping with its golfing style, the resort requires taking a caddy and recommends walking, although carts are also available.

Insider tip: Can’t find the fairways? The resort has other targeted activities such as archery and sports clays.

More: Visit the resort’s website here.

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Josh Sens is a golf, food and travel writer and has been a writer for GOLF magazine since 2004 and now works on all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He has also co-authored with Sammy Hagar, Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.