5 hidden gem golf destinations you’ve likely overlooked

A view of the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course in Alberta.

A view of the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course in Alberta.


Let’s play a game of word association. When we say “golf trip,” you tell us the places that first spring to mind. Monterey? Myrtle Beach? Scottsdale? Scotland? All good answers, as are Bandon, Cabot, Kohler, Streamsong and Sand Valley, among others you’ve read about in countless travel roundups. 

Now, let’s try a different prompt: Golf destinations that you’ve been overlooking. Here are five that spring to our minds.

Albuquerque, N.M.

Idea for another prequel set in this capital city: “Breaking Good”. It would open with a shot of a young Walter White, rolling putts on the beautifully contoured greens of the University of New Mexico Championship Course, one of the country’s great collegiate courses and, unlike many of the best campus layouts, open to the public (with weekend walking rates of $72, it’s a terrific value, too). It’s part of a broader Albuquerque golf scene that includes Sandia Golf Club, a pristinely conditioned track on tribal land, and Paako Ridge, which offers 27 dramatic holes etched into the shoulder of the Sandia Mountains. Paako Ridge is roughly 25 minutes from downtown. And if you’re up for a slightly longer road trip, buzz 90 minutes north to Black Mesa, a burly Baxter Spann design on heaving desert terrain. It’s a stalwart on GOLF’s roster of Top 100 Courses You Can Play.

California’s Central Coastal

Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach. Surely, you know them. Maybe you’ve played them. They’re the two most famous public-access seaside courses in California, but there is more than 400 miles between them, with lots of great golf along the way, much of it clustered on the Central Coast. Sandpiper, in Santa Barbara, is among the standouts. Same architect as Torrey Pines (William F. Bell) on similarly moody Pacific bluffs, with a charming routing that ends, quirkily, with a par-3. With Santa Barbara as your base, you’ve got other great options north and south. Forty minutes up the coast takes you to La Purisima, in Lompoc, a 2023 U.S. Open local qualifying site that is as delightful as it is demanding. Buzz the opposite direction, roughly the same distance, and you’re at the Ojai Valley Inn, where the upscale amenities include an artful 18-holer by George C. Thomas (of Riviera and Bel-Air and Los Angeles Country Club fame). If muni golf is more your thing, one of the country’s best is less than two miles from the inn. Like Sandpiper, Soule Park was designed by William F. Bell, though it sits farther inland, in a stunning, oak-studded valley, and also bears the imprint of Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner. The duo’s renovation of Soule Park was one of their early projects and helped announce them as leading talents in their field. 

An aerial view of the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.
An aerial view of the Ojai Valley Inn. Courtesy

Daufuskie Island

Daufuskie means “sharp feather” in the language of the Muscogee people, who inhabited the island for millennia before European explorers showed up in the 1500s. Some five centuries after that, John Mellencamp bought a home here. And no wonder. A barrier island with miles of unspoiled beaches and no bridges linking it to the mainland, Daufuskie is reachable only by ferry, and it has the tranquil ambience of a place trapped beautifully in time. Also: there is golf! At Haig Point, a private club that sets aside a tranche of public tee times on 29 holes that work beside the sea and along tidal marshes. Designed by Rees Jones, they’re worth looping more than once before you hop back on the ferry to the mainland, where, it just so happens, you’ll be less than 10 miles from golf-rich Hilton Head.

Northern Minnesota

Sure, maybe you’ve heard about northern Michigan as a great golf getaway — and you wouldn’t be wrong — but how about northern Minnesota? The Brainerd area in particular, two hours north of the Twin Cities, is loaded with great golf, relaxing resorts and all the summer lakefront fun any group or family getaway can handle. The best part? It’s only getting better. Grand View Lodge (45 holes) and Cragun’s (45 holes) both recently upgraded their courses — the latter courtesy of Minnesotan Tom Lehman — and just down the road is The Classic at Maddens, which some believe is the best in the area. Others might argue that the honor belongs to Deacon’s Lodge, which sits just 25 miles north. In the last couple of years the area got a new 13-hole par-3 course, too, The Gravel Pit. And if the Brainerd area isn’t enough, keep heading north and you’ll find Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn., which has two 18-hole courses and one, The Quarry, which is arguably the best public course in the state.

The 7th hole of the Blue nine at Cragun's Dutch 27,
The par-5 7th hole of the Blue nine of the Dutch 27 at Cragun’s in Brainerd, Minn. Courtesy Cragun’s

The Canadian Rockies

As the Alister MacKenzie of the Great White North, Stanley Thompson worked on an array of arresting sites in his home country, none more eye-popping than in Banff. Thompson’s project here — known today as the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course — sits in an abundant wildlife corridor of a national park, and is something of a national monument itself, with brawny fairways and grand paw-print bunkers on holes laid out between the mountains and Bow River. It’s roughly 30 minutes from Banff to another worthy stop — Canmore Golf & Curling Club — and then another 15 minutes from there to Kananaskis, where Robert Trent Jones Sr. stitched 36 fine holes through a piney canvas spliced by the Kananaskis River, with grand mountain peaks looming all around. Depending on your schedule — and your appetite for travel — you could bookend your getaway with another Thompson classic — Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course — which nudges up against Lake Beauvert and nods to its surrounds with contouring that mimics the outlines of the mountains in the backdrop. It’s a three-plus hour drive from Banff to Jasper, through scenery that could pass as a postcard.

Josh Sens

Golf.com Editor

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