Ask Travelin’ Joe: What are the best bargain golf courses on the Gulf Coast?

April 26, 2018

This week our courses and travel expert Joe Passov answers your questions on Gulf Coast golf, the right shoes for Bandon Dunes, golf courses near London and more. Got a question about courses, travel or resorts? Visit our Facebook or Twitter page to send them our way.

Do you recommend wearing spikes or going spikeless for Bandon Dunes in August? @Missedbirdieputt, Instagram

Metal spikes are never permitted at Bandon Dunes, but according to a longtime assistant pro at the resort, you’ve asked a good question. Non-metal spikes are obviously fine, but the advice from him is that conditions are sufficiently firm (without being concrete hard) at Bandon in August that you’re better off without spikes, even if you take a pretty hard crack at the ball. Sure, it’s inevitable that you’ll wind up in a spot or two in bunkers and dunes and sloping lies where a bit of extra traction will help. But I did have one rough early trip to Bandon that was adversely affected because of my imperfect kicks. The consensus: Better to don sneaker-type golf shoes that are more geared toward comfort. Your feet and toes will thank you.

I’m planning a guys’ trip for 12 people. Which would you choose between Bandon, Streamsong or Pinehurst? Ideally we would book a rental home nearby. @dquizzleforizzle

If you’re set on the rental home option, you’ll find many more choices in and around Pinehurst, but it’s critical to know that you must stay at a Pinehurst Resort property in order to play the courses—with limited exceptions. You can book five days out on eight of the nine Pinehurst Resort courses. On legendary No. 2, however, you can only attempt to book 24 hours in advance. Pinehurst does offer a lodging option that’s ideal for groups, the Condos at Pinehurst, which are comprised of 16 2-bedroom dwellings and 24 that have three bedrooms.

Bandon and Streamsong are both relatively isolated, so nearby rental houses are in short supply. Plus, in high season of summer, you can only book golf 21 days in advance if you’re not a Bandon Dunes hotel guest. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort’s Chrome Lake cottages are an excellent choice for a buddies group, each with four bedrooms and a central living room.

As with Bandon Dunes, Streamsong will slot your tee times as soon as you book your room and your deposit is received. Streamsong will accept reservations up to 45 days in advance if you’re not staying on property. The Streamsong Resort boasts some truly distinctive guestrooms but they’re all individual—nothing on the lodging front here that caters specifically to groups.

Three more considerations: Is your 12-some mostly physically fit? Bandon Dunes and Streamsong are pretty much all-walking, all the time, though Streamsong features riding during the summer months. In spring and fall, you can ride at Streamsong, but it’s discouraged. Pinehurst allows carts on all their courses, though Number 2 is such a wonderful walk, it’s best to leave the cart in the barn, especially as it’s cart path-only. Next, are you looking for some off-course entertainment and dining options in the evening? Pinehurst is hardly New York City or New Orleans, but there are some legitimate nearby enticements. I can’t say the same for Bandon and Streamsong. And finally—budget versus time of year. If you wish to enjoy the best weather at each of these properties, expect to pay more for the privilege. Summer is high season at Bandon Dunes, winter at Streamsong, spring and fall at Pinehurst.

If I were to plan a three-day golf trip in the fall, do you think I’m better off going to the Netherlands, Austria or just outside of London? @thomasbechsalmon, Instagram

I definitely enjoyed the two courses I played in Austria, but compared to the other destinations you’ve mentioned, fuh-gettaboutit. However, combined with scenery and cultural attractions, Austria’s dandy. The Netherlands offers a quintet of terrific courses in and around Amsterdam. World Top 100 Royal Hague, De Pan, Hilversum, Kennemer and Noordwijk are excellent tests. Royal Hague, Kennmer and De Pan feature the classic architecture of Harry Colt, expertly restored by Frank Pont and his Infinite Variety Design team and Royal Hague, Noordwijk and Kennemer play over sandy soil close to the sea, providing a Dutch links experience. All of these clubs are private, but the proper call or email will get you aboard.

Having said that, if you’re asking about these three destinations, you probably can afford the freight to play the great courses just outside of London. They’re all pricey. A few of the newer ones, such as Queenwood, Beaverbrook and The Wisley have closed doors, but there are a host of others that you can access upon inquiry, including World Top 100 stalwarts Sunningdale Old and New and Walton Heath (Old). Swinley Forest is also gettable, if a bit more challenging, there with the region’s top tournament track, Wentworth (West). Just outside of the Top 100, but close, is St. George’s Hill and the Red and Blue courses at The Berkshire—again, all private, but receptive to a tee time query. A great place to stay is The Grove, a former WGC venue, with a compelling course of its own, designed by Kyle Phillips. There are at least a half-dozen other stellar tracks to sample around suburban London that would make many all-star lists, but those are my picks in getting you started.

What are the best courses under $100 near Biloxi, Mississippi? Thomas and Emily Miles, Facebook

For all the solid values that characterize Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, perhaps “Golf Coast” is the more appropriate name. Alas, you’ll have to pay much more than a Franklin to play acclaimed PGA Tour Champions venue Fallen Oak, but three other area courses are nearly as strong—and much less expensive.

Grand Bear in Saucier, 20 miles (35 minutes) north of the beach up Rte. 49 is a 1999 Jack Nicklaus design that’s routed amid the towering pines and ball-devouring cypress wetlands of the DeSoto National Forest. Bold bunkering and utter tranquility are hallmarks of this terrific layout that’s under new ownership by VICI, the same folks who run Cascata and Rio Secco in Las Vegas. Through May 13th, it’s $109 before 1 pm, $79 after 1 pm, and starting on the 14th, prices tumble considerably.

Gorgeous, tough and affordable all describe The Preserve Golf Club in Vancleave, a half-hour’s drive east of Biloxi. Affiliated with the Palace Resort Casino, this Jerry Pate design hopscotches swamps, wetlands and bogs and closes with the visually intimidating, 462-yard, par-4 18th, which arcs around a lake, its green set right on the water. You can play today for $95—provided you tee it up after 2 p.m.

Twenty miles east of Biloxi in Gautier sits Shell Landing, a Davis Love III design that zigzags through marshes, bayous and mature pine forests in its 7,024-yard journey. Natural sandy areas and handsomely sculpted man-made bunkers lend beauty and menace. Starting April 30, rates are $75 until 1 pm, $55 after that.