Travel mailbag: Where’s the best place to take your first buddies trip?

January 29, 2020

Welcome to GOLF’s Travel Mailbag, a weekly, interactive GOLF.com series in which members of our staff field your course- and travel-related queries. This week, managing editor Josh Berhow tackles the question every group of golf buddies struggles with: where to take that epic first trip.

Where’s the best place to take the first buddies trip? — @Dware1993 via Twitter

Ah, now this is a great question. So many options, so few vacation days and excuses to get away from the family. But getting the first buddies trip right is important. If it’s a hit — i.e. fun golf, good friends, affordable and convenient — then everyone is more inclined to sign up again for the next year. That’s important to keep the tradition going strong.

So while it’s difficult to pick the absolute best place for a first-time trip without knowing everyone’s location and budget, there are a handful of spots that come to mind. Based on your group some might be better than others. So let’s get to it. Here are my picks.

Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Myrtle Beach is the first place that comes to mind. There are lots of lodging options — both Airbnbs and resorts — and hundreds of golf courses. It’s one of the most budget-friendly places around, too, since you can play expensive bucket-list courses as well as more affordable tracks (plus everything in between). There’s also all the nightlife you crave when it’s time to celebrate that birdie-birdie finish. Myrtle Beach has its own airport, but you can check around for prices and find plenty of other cities — Columbia, Charleston, Charlotte, etc. — that are less than a four-hour drive away.

One course to play: Caledonia Golf & Fish Club

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in in Pawleys Island, S.C.
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in in Pawleys Island, S.C.
Courtesy Photo

Pinehurst, N.C.

If you are reading this post, chances are you’ve heard of Pinehurst. The small village in central North Carolina has long been a golf mecca. Pinehurst Resort has hosted major championships and U.S. Amateurs, but it also has nine courses to choose from. That’s not even counting its new nine-hole short course, The Cradle, which is just $50 for unlimited play all day. The resort also has all the lodging, restaurants (including a new brewery) and amenities you need. There’s tons of great golf outside of the resort, too, at places like Pine Needles, the Dormie Club and Tobacco Road, to name a few.

One course to play: Pinehurst No. 2

Pinehurst No. 2 at Pinehurst Resort.
Pinehurst No. 2 at Pinehurst Resort.
Joann Dost

Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Phoenix/Scottsdale area needs little introduction as a golf destination. It’s got the weather Northerners crave and public golf aplenty. I should know, I was just there two weeks ago. We played Troon North, We-Ko-Pa and Papago, the latter a muni that’s just four miles from the airport and perfect for fly-in and fly-out days (it also hosts the ASU golf team). There are plenty other courses to choose from, though, and there’s something for everyone’s budget. If you plan it right you can also check out some Spring Training baseball.

One course to play: Troon North Pinnacle

Troon North's Pinnacle Course in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Troon North's Pinnacle Course in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Josh Berhow

Bandon Dunes, Bandon, Ore.

If your group consists of die-hard golfers who want to get in as many holes as possible — weather be damned — then Bandon Dunes is worth checking out. It’s a little bit of a trek to get there — you can fly into North Bend, Eugene or Portland and then drive — but once you are on site it’s pure golf heaven. Bring at least two pairs of golf shoes, play 36 a day, eat hearty meals and make sure to carve out time to have some drinks and putt for money with your pals on The Punchbowl, the resort’s 100,000-square-foot putting course. Bandon Dunes has four courses and a fifth, the Sheep Ranch, is opening this summer. There’s also a 13-hole short course called the Bandon Preserve, which is the best par-3 course I’ve ever played.

One course to play: Pacific Dunes

Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Evan Schiller

Orlando, Fla.

Florida obviously has lots of great golf options — like Jacksonville, Naples and others — but I landed on Orlando due to the airport accessibility, numerous golf courses and, if your game gets really bad and you need something else to do, Walt Disney World. (And if your group wants to spend a few extra bucks, head 85 miles southwest to Streamsong.)

One course to play: Grand Cypress Resort

Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, Florida.
Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, Florida.
Tim Reilly

Big Cedar Lodge, Ozarks, Mo.

If you’re looking for a Midwest trip you might consider Big Cedar Lodge, the mega-resort created by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. It already has some amazing golf courses, a dynamite Jack Nicklaus-designed par-3 and views — not to mention a ton of other amenities to keep busy — and it’s getting yet another highly anticipated track this year in Tiger Woods’ Payne’s Valley.

One course to play: Ozarks National

Ozarks National, a Coore/Crenshaw design, at Big Cedar Lodge.
Ozarks National, a Coore/Crenshaw design, at Big Cedar Lodge.
Courtesy Photo

Wisconsin

As a Minnesotan (you’ll read more about that below), it pains me to say something nice about Wisconsin, but the public golf there is just spectacular. Obviously for this heading I made it quite vague, because I think the key is to fly into Milwaukee, hop in a rental car and pick the direction of your choosing. There’s expensive major venues like Whistling Straits and Erin Hills, but there are tons of other great courses scattered across the state like Blackwolf Run, Sand Valley, SentryWorld and Lawsonia. Find the courses you want to play, plan your route and pick your hotels — like I did for this Wisconsin golf trip — and it’s worth every penny.

One course to play: Lawsonia Links

Lawsonia Links in Green Lake, Wisconsin.
Lawsonia Links in Green Lake, Wisconsin.
Courtesy Photo

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail

With almost a dozen sites and nearly 500 golf holes, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama has a little bit of everything and can appease golfers of all skill levels. Two of the courses — the Senator at Capitol Hill and the Crossings at Magnolia Grove — hosted LPGA events up until a few years ago, so you’re able to tee it up where the pros played.

One course to play: The Judge at Capitol Hill

The Judge at Capitol Hill on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama.
The Judge at Capitol Hill on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama.
Courtesy Photo

Brainerd, Minn.

OK, you might know by now that I’m a Minnesota native, so I’m going to be a little biased and throw in this underrated gem. Brainerd is a couple of hours north of Minneapolis and is flooded with great golf courses, beautiful lakes and outdoor activities. With so many resorts in the area you can find a place perfect for your budget. I wrote about Brainerd golf a few years ago here. Just don’t steal too many tee times from Minnesotans, because they probably don’t want this place uncovered by out-of-staters just yet.

One course to play: Bobby’s Legacy

Bobby's Legacy in Brainerd, Minnesota.
Bobby's Legacy in Brainerd, Minnesota.
Josh Berhow

Dealer’s choice!

So here’s what I mean by dealer’s choice. You don’t need a place that’s just oozing with golf courses or that’s ranked on every golf website’s best buddies destinations. You can find a few nice courses in an area that’s close, lock down a few cool things to do at night and all of a sudden you have your trip. I went to Kansas City a few years ago, and while KC might not be the most well-known golf destination, it worked great for us. It was a six-hour drive so we still felt like it was a “trip,” we played three different and fun courses, we spent one night at the casino and we stayed downtown, where we could walk to restaurants and bars every night. There are great locations like that speckled all over the U.S.

Editor’s Note: Looking for more buddies trip options? Check out GOLF’s Top 100 Resorts for buddies trips.

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