Travel mailbag: 6 amazing bucket-list golf destinations, explained

Sand Valley golf resort in wisconsin

A view of Sand Valley Golf Resort in Wisconsin.

Evan Schiller

Welcome to GOLF’s Travel Mailbag, a series in which members of our staff field your course- and travel-related queries. Have a question for a future mailbag? Tweet us at @golf_com.

Which mega golf resort is right for me?

Per usual, a ton of our most recent batch of questions asked about golf’s mega resorts. The best time to go to Bandon? Cabot vs. Sand Valley? Pinehurst vs. Bandon? What resorts should I go to? These types of questions come in a lot. But without knowing all the relevant details — your budget, your schedule, the makeup of your group, your appetite for airport security lines, and so forth — it’s tough to narrow a response to a single suggestion. So we figured we’d create this handy explainer about the six resorts we receive the most questions about: Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Destination Kohler, Pinehurst, Sand Valley and Streamsong. Here’s hoping these details help clarify your thinking. Now the tough part: deciding where to go.

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

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, Ore.)

How to get there: The closest commercial airport is in North Bend, about 30 minutes from the resort. But another popular option is to fly into Eugene. It’s a longer drive from there to Bandon (about 2 1/2 hours), but it’s also a bigger airport, with a far greater number of flights. Same goes for Portland, which is about a 4 1/2-hour drive.

Courses: Five 18-hole courses; one 13-hole par-3 course; and a 100,000-square foot putting course.

Pacific Dunes
Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Getty Images

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

Why you should go: No destination in the modern era has done more to change the image of American golf than Bandon Dunes, where Mike Keiser proved that if you built it, they would come, provided that you built it really well. Nor does any property on the planet have a greater concentration of Top 100 Courses. Part of the fun of a trip to Bandon is weighing in on the requisite debate over which of the 18-holers reigns supreme — Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails, Old MacDonald, or Sheep Ranch. You may even decide that the 13-hole Preserve is the one you love the best.

Insider’s tip: Like many top resorts, Bandon has been jam-packed of late. But even when every room is taken, slots are sometimes open on the tee sheet. In other words, you might still be able to book golf, with the option of renting a house nearby.

More: Visit the resort website here.

How to get there: The closest commercial airport is in Halifax, a little more than a 3-hour drive from the resort. J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport is closer — about a two-hour drive — but offers fewer flights.

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

the 16th hole at cabot cliffs.
The par-3 16th at Cabot Cliffs. Christian Hafer

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

Why you should go: Tucked along the coast of a sleepy fishing village, Cabot offers great golf with a vivid sense of place. Both its 18-hole courses, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, are on GOLF’s list of Top 100 Courses in the World, though they offer something of a study in contrasts. Where Links is a layout of understated grace, Cliffs lives up to its billing with the eye-popping drama of holes etched atop towering seaside bluffs. Together, they rank among the finest one-two punches anywhere.

Insider’s tip: You’ve come this far. Go a little bit farther, taking an extra day to visit Highland Links, a public-access bucket-lister by Stanley Thompson, Canada’s Alister Mackenzie, a giant of Golden Age design. It’s about a 2 1/2-hour drive from Cabot, and the scenery alone is worth the trip.

More: Visit the resort website here.

Destination Kohler (Kohler, Wis.)

How to get there: The closest commercial airport is Milwaukee, about an hour from the resort, though many travelers also fly into Chicago’s O’Hare, which is just under 2 1/2 hours away.

Courses: Four 18-hole courses, a 10-hole par-3 course, and a two-acre putting course.

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

Restaurants: Eleven, with varied 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 even more spectacular in person, a wild work of artistry and engineering by Pete Dye, stretched along a once-flat expanse of Lake Michigan shoreline. Its three 18-hole siblings — the Irish Course, and the River and Meadow Valleys at Blackwolf Run — are also Dye designs and dramatic and demanding as well. But you’ll also want to make time for the Baths, a par-3 course that plays nicely with a few clubs in one hand and a cold drink in the other.

Insider’s tip: The Kohler Swing Studio bar. For guests staying at the Inn on Woodlake, the Kohler Swing Studio Bar is a perfect spot to finish out the day with a beverage overlooking the lake or while smacking shots on Topgolf simulators. Great fun with a group.

More: Visit the resort website here.

Pinehurst Resort (Pinehurst, N.C.)

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

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

Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C.
An aerial view of Pinehurst No. 4. Christian Hafer

Restaurants: Nine on property, ranging from white-tablecloth dining to a casual brewpub and barbecue joint.

Why you should go: For many travelers, the number-one reason is No. 2, the Donald Ross masterpiece and resort centerpiece that has hosted more elite championships than any course in the United States. History runs deep here. But to say the past is ever-present doesn’t mean the property is trapped in amber. Updates and fresh additions abound, from the Gil Hanse redesign of Pinehurst No. 4 to the opening of The Cradle, a nifty par-3 course, and a putting course called Thistle Dhu. Maybe more than any resort in the country, Pinehurst strikes a balance between sepia-toned tradition and currents of contemporary cool.

Insider’s tip: Whether you snag a tee time at No. 2 or not, carve out an hour to have a drink or bite on the massive porch of The Deuce, which overlooks the 18th green of No. 2. It’s the perfect gathering spot to unwind, recap your round and watch the poor souls try to get up and down to save par.

More: Visit the resort website here.

Sand Valley Golf Resort (Nekoosa, Wis.)

How to get there: Most travelers from outside the region fly into Chicago, Milwaukee or Minneapolis. Of those, Milwaukee is closest (about 2 1/2hours) and Chicago is the farthest (about four hours). The drive from Minneapolis is about three hours.

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

An aerial view of Sand Valley in Wisconsin. Christian Hafer

Restaurants: Four options on property, ranging from farm-to-table fine dining to a food truck, which parks by the Sandbox, the par-3 course.

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

Insider’s tip: In addition to its courses, Sand Valley has 15 grass tennis courts, miles of hiking and fat-tire biking trails, and complimentary strength and stretching classes. It also has a culinary garden, a key component of the resort’s first-rate food and beverage program.

More: Visit the resort website here.

Streamsong Resort (Bowling Green, Fla.)

How to get there: The resort is roughly equidistant from the Tampa and Orlando airports. It’s about a 90-minute drive from each.

Courses: Three 18-hole courses, a 7-hole short course and a 1.2-acre putting course.

The Red Course at Streamsong Resort in
The Red Course at Streamsong. Courtesy of Streamsong Resort

Restaurants: Four on property, plus three bars and lounges.

Why you should go: Conjure every stereotype of Florida golf — flat, lush, water-laden — and then imagine the opposite. Set amid the heaving dunes of a former phosphate mine, Streamsong offers the kind of rollicking golf that fans have come to expect from Gil Hanse, Tom Doak, and the duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the architects, respectively, behind the Black, Blue and Red Courses here. In keeping with its style of golf, the resort requires that you take a caddie and highly recommends that you walk, though carts are also available.

Insider’s tip: Can’t find the fairways? The resort has other target-based activities, including archery and sporting clays.

More: Visit the resort website here.

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Josh Sens 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.