The Great American Golf Road Trip: This coast-to-coast expedition will thrill adventure-seekers

Are you itching for a golf adventure? PGA Tour pros aren’t the only ones who get to crisscross the country, making thrill-filled stops at world-class courses.

Anyone can do it, and without a private jet.

All it takes is a car, gas money and gumption.

So, hop in, and off we go.

We’ll start in the Sandhills of North Carolina, at Pinehurst Resort, known as the cradle of American golf. There are 10 courses here, including a par-3 layout called, yep, The Cradle. But the centerpiece of the property is Pinehurst No. 2, all sandy wastes and native grasses and greens about as daunting as any you have seen. This Donald Ross gem has hosted three U.S. Opens, a Ryder Cup, a PGA Championship and on and on. We’d have to put a long pause on our trip to run down all the history here.

First stop: Pinehurst! Among its many offerings is Pinehurst No. 4, above. courtesy

Instead, let’s beeline west toward Tennessee and Sweetens Cove, a quirky, nine-hole charmer with humpbacked greens and a huge fan club. It’s the darling of everyone from Instagram tastemakers to old-school architecture buffs.

With a tent that doubles as its clubhouse, Sweetens Cove is a barebones kind of place. Which makes it very different from Big Cedar Lodge, in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, where Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris has built one of the game’s fastest growing meccas. The five courses at Big Cedar showcase the work of such marquee names as Fazio, Nicklaus, Player, Coore and Crenshaw. The newest of the layouts has this distinction. It’s the first public-access track in the United States designed by Tiger Woods.

Because no road trip is complete without a detour, we’ll make a hard turn right, up through the cornfields of Illinois and into the heart of the Badger State, Wisconsin. Whistling Straits. Erin Hills. Lawsonia Links. So many courses, so little time. And you’ll want to set aside at least a few days for Sand Valley, with three rollicking layouts — and more to come — that make it the Bandon Dunes of the Midwest.

Erin Hills
Erin Hills is a must-play on your swing through the Midwest. Christian Hafer

Some people call this region flyover country. Nonsense, we say. Not when there’s so much to soak up on the ground. In Iowa alone, the roadside attractions include a giant garden gnome, a giant frying pan and a giant sphere that is not a golf ball. Roughly eight feet in diameter and weighing in at more than 9,000 pounds, it is — you guessed it — the largest popcorn ball in the world.

Back in the car now, and back to golf. We’re breezing through Nebraska toward the Prairie Club. It’s all open spaces here, big skies and broad fairways, like the kind that you take aim at on the Dunes Course, the most alluring of the Prairie Club’s three fine layouts. Designed by Tom Lehman, it ranks 82nd on GOLF’s new list of Top 100 Courses in the United States.

prairie club dunes course
After much time on the road, the Prairie Club is the perfect spot to stretch your legs. Brian Oar

From the prairies to the mountains, we move on to the Broadmoor, the iconic resort in the Colorado Rockies where Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Amateur in 1959 — a victory he later called the most important of his record-shattering career. Two states later, we’ll still be in thin air when we arrive at Edgewood, in Nevada, a stunning property, set hard beside Lake Tahoe, that hosts a popular celebrity pro-am. Charles Barkley shows up once a year here to horrify spectators with his swing.

Down the western flanks of the Sierras, we motor through the flatlands of California and make our way to Pebble Beach. We’ve seen this fabled course a thousand times in pictures. But it’s even prettier in person. The same is true of the route we follow next. Up seaside highway 1 to San Francisco, where we gawk at Alcatraz and the Golden Gate, then north along the craggy coastline.

Pebble Beach
What golf journey would be complete without a stop at Pebble Beach? Evan Schiller

Through redwood forests. Past ocean inlets. And on to Bandon Dunes, with five 18-holers and a sweet par-3 course — a constellation that has earned it recognition as the finest golf resort in the United States. We’re in southern Oregon, but it feels like Scotland. Rugged. Windswept. Classic linksland. Golf as it was meant to be, the Bandon slogan goes.

We could keep on driving. But it’s hard to see it getting any better than this.

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.