Golf’s 2019-2020 Ranking of the Top 100 Resorts in the World
In one of the biggest editorial projects GOLF has ever attempted, we culled the names of 243 rank-worthy resorts spread across North America. Under the expert guidance of resort industry veterans and our stable of well-heeled travel writers, we placed each resort into at least one of four experience categories: Luxury, Buddies, General Excellence and Families.
Best For Luxury
1. Pebble Beach Golf Resort
Travelogue To hear original architect Jack Neville tell it, there wasn’t much to designing what would become the great American cathedral of public golf: “All we did was cut away a few trees, install a few sprinklers and sow a little seed.” The entire ethos of Pebble Beach Resorts follows Neville’s thinking: It’s a place built for enjoying incredible natural beauty. As a result, there’s a timeless quality to the resort — and far more than just golf. Spend any time at Pebble and you’ll notice that it’s the attention to detail that sets it apart — from the unforgettable links all the way down to the chocolate strawberries.
2. The American Club Resort Hotel
Travelogue The eyes of the golf world will turn to Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup, but there is so much more to the American Club. Just 63 miles north of the Milwaukee airport, four courses are at your disposal, each aptly named for their differences (the Straits, the Irish, the Meadow Valleys, the River). Your best bet for tackling all four is the Dye-Abolical Package, named after their famed creator, Pete Dye. Each of them brings you face-to-face with the best aspects of nature in Wisconsin. Birdies on the links can cede to kayaks on the lake or fishing on the river. As you might expect from America’s plumbing experts, the Kohler Waters Spa is one of the nation’s finest. Gourmet dining is on offer at the Immigrant Restaurant, and this being Wisconsin, the cheese selection is world class.
3. Sea Island Resort
Travelogue Davis Love III grew up on Sea Island, one of coastal Georgia’s golf-rich Golden Isles. He and brother Mark, of Love Golf Design, recently completed an 18-hole putting course here, and successfully pitched ownership on a full reno of the 1998 Rees Jones redesign of Plantation. It opens this fall, before co-hosting the RSM Classic. If golf were a stock, Sea Island would be buying. The elegant Lodge recently wrapped a $30 million upgrade, and the new Golf Performance Center is peerlessly high-tech. Instruction has always been a major focus at Sea Island Resort. Little wonder, with resident Tour players including Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Harris English, Brian Harman and recent winners Keith Mitchell and J.T. Poston.
4. Four Seasons Resort Lana’i
Travelogue To experience Lana’i is to step back in time — and into bliss. The resort’s expansive, sanctuary-like entryway is open and breezy and looks out on two lagoon-style pools and Hulopoe Bay. There are a variety of gorgeous trails, including one that leads to Jack Nicklaus’s Manele course. While the most distinctive feature of the track is its stunning par-3 12th, which is bisected by a chasm that falls into the bay, the entire course meanders around lava outcroppings and offers beautiful views of the Pacific. The resort recently began hosting yoga experiences near Manele’s 18th green, adding to a list of activities that range from snorkeling to off-roading. Nine restaurants and bars are headlined by One Forty, which offers one of the most impressive breakfast buffets you’ll ever enjoy; Malibu Farms, a go-to lunch spot between the pool and the bay; and Nobu, which is as premium as you’d expect considering the quality and richness found in every inch of this resort. Nicklaus Companies and GOLF.com are affiliates of 8AM Golf.
5. Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve Resort
Travelogue An original Rockefeller resort when it opened in the ’50s, Dorado Beach partnered with Ritz-Carlton in 2018 to become the only Ritz-Carlton Reserve in the Western Hemisphere. The RTJ-designed tracks — Sugarcane and East — have long been the calling card for golf vacationers in Puerto Rico. The resort takes guest experiences to another level — an elite one. The food is exquisite, thanks to top chef Mario Pagan. And indicative of the resort’s one-of-a-kind offerings is the spa’s treehouse-like massage setting. Be sure to make time to see the five-bedroom Su Casa, an original, restored 1920s villa on the 50-acre property.
Best For Buddies
1. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
Travelogue When Bandon Dunes opened in 1999, it was unlike anything golfers had experienced in America — the walking-only directive, the embrace of harsh coastal weather and rugged imperfections were a slap in the face to the cushy frameworks of traditional resorts. The remoteness of its central Oregon locale also raised eyebrows: would it succeed, let alone survive? It struck a chord in players’ hearts that very few knew existed. Twenty years and thousands of additional course acres later, Bandon Dunes is America’s single-greatest destination for golf-loving groups who want nothing more than to tee it up from dawn to dusk. What’s more, Bandon has inspired resorts around the world, both new and established, to rethink what it means to lure avid golfers. There are a variety of accommodations — anywhere from single-occupancy lodge rooms to four-bedroom cottages — that offer the necessary basics. And while a spa exists, it offers but two services. The spirit of the golf at Bandon, too, is rooted in basics, but don’t let that word fool you — the golf may be gritty and stripped-down at times, but the raw spirit and jaw-dropping views that envelop this place make you feel like the luckiest golfer alive.
2. Pinehurst Resort
Travelogue It’s accepted that St. Andrews is the “Home of Golf.” If that’s the case, the home of American golf is Pinehurst. For some, a trip to the Sandhills is like leaving home for college — golf college. Everything you’d want — all nine(!) courses, housing, dining — is elaborately placed around weaving roads and paths on a sprawling campus, pine straw bordering every turn. The quad in this analogy is just as delightful as your alma mater’s grassy space. It’s made up of an 18-hole putting course named Thistle Dhu that abuts a 9-hole short course named The Cradle, with a grassy perch filled with lawn chairs overlooking it all. A true Pinehurst Day involves all of them — say, 18 on Gil Hanse’s wide-open redesign of No. 4, a wedges-only loop on the short course and settling bets on the putting course. To complete the syllabus, pop in for a pint in the Ryder Cup Lounge or the new Pinehurst Brewing Co. Or, if you made birdie on any of No. 2’s par threes, a free beverage awaits in its 19th hole, the Deuce. Congratulations, graduate.
3. Cabot Links
Travelogue When the Cabot Links course opened in 2012, it was hard to imagine a second act ever upstaging Canada’s first true links layout. Then Cabot Cliffs hit the scene, earning GOLF’s choice for Best New Course in 2015. It’s magical, towering over the Gulf of St. Lawrence while taking golfers on a wild ride through pine-studded highlands, valleys and Scottish-style dunes. Cabot Links is a Rod Whitman design built atop a 200-acre sandy strip discovered by resort co-founder Ben Cowan-Dewar — the parcel was meant to house a golf course since creation. Cabot Cliffs may edge out Cabot Links in the rankings, but debates linger (never rage — this is Canada) into the night at the resort’s Public House as to the proper pecking order. The key, here, is not to get hung up on the data, but to soak up the ephemeral experience. This is accomplished by sampling both courses, relaxing in an oceanfront golf villa and savoring fresh local halibut and Nova Scotia lobster at Panorama. Departing Cabot Links, a satisfying smile does set in knowing one has played one of the best four-hole closing stretches in the world. By all accounts, holes 15 through 18 on Cabot Cliffs are the closest thing the Eastern Seaboard has to Cypress Point. Hey, debates aside, what golfer doesn’t keep score?
4. Sand Valley Golf Resort
Travelogue Developer Mike Keiser already had Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links on his résumé when he opened Sand Valley’s doors in 2017, and it could be his greatest achievement. No ocean? No problem. Nearest major airport 2.5 hours away? They will come. Nekoosa? All good — the prehistoric sand dunes of central Wisconsin rise to the occasion. Sand Valley is beautiful and fair with shot values appealing to a broad swath of players. Mammoth Dunes, in contrast, defies the space-time continuum. Its scale is other-worldly, its shot-making demands relentless. You’ll welcome the respite of the resort’s 17-hole short course, which doubles as an architecture lesson with its Biarritz, Lion’s Mouth and Redan greens. A “beer canoe” helps wash away any of the day’s losses.
5. The Resort at Diamante
Travelogue More than any new Cabo resort, Diamante best maintains the luxury and exclusivity of Cabo’s Hollywood-rich past. No expense is spared in this lavish, private enclave. The amenities are rich, but none can match the marvel that are Diamante’s two oceanside courses. Davis Love III’s Dunes course — a thoughtful links layout that meanders through massive dunes next to the Pacific — is the brains. Tiger Woods' El Cardonal is the beauty, with panoramic ocean views on almost every hole. On both, the mind boggles at how luxurious Cabo can be — and how a place like Diamante even exists.
All Around Excellence
1. The Broadmoor
Travelogue It says something about the majesty of the Colorado mountains that a destination as sprawling as the Broadmoor can still feel like a hideaway. Tucked into the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain, the 101-year-old, five-star resort pulls off other tricks as well. It somehow feels homey and high-class. Rugged Pikes Peak is within reach, but at every turn is polished marble and pampering service. With its 10 restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, spa, bowling alley, s’mores-friendly firepits and two gorgeously maintained courses, there’s no reason to leave the Broadmoor’s comforts. But the pull of the peaks is strong, and the resort offers many dusty adventures. Most alluring are the “wilderness experiences” at three luxe lodging outposts: Cloud Camp, Fly Fishing Camp and the Ranch at Emerald Valley. On the dastardly Ross and RTJ greens, everything runs away from the mountains. At the Broadmoor, where they get everything just right, you’ll bask in them.
2. The Greenbrier
Travelogue The iconic Greenbrier is steeped heavily in historic charm and old-fashioned elegance. The guest list of VIPs, presidents and other dignitaries is unlike anywhere else on earth — so, too, is the underground “Fall Out Bunker” designed to keep the 1,100 members and staff of the U.S. Congress safe in the event of a catastrophe. There’s outdoor recreation, a casino, spa — the 11,000 acre Greenbrier is a resort behemoth. That said, it’s the golf that makes the Greenbrier truly memorable, starting with the Greenbrier Course, host of the 1979 Ryder Cup and 1994 Solheim Cup. Jack Nicklaus revamped the original Seth Raynor design back in 1977, resulting in a venerable challenge carved out of dense wooded areas. It’s a shot-shaper’s paradise. The Old White TPC course opened in 1914, designed by C.B. Macdonald, considered the patriarch of modern American course architecture. Ironically, many of its holes are homages to classic links inventions from across the pond: the Redan green from North Berwick and the Eden green from St. Andrews. The course is also home to A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier — a player and fan-favorite event on the PGA Tour. Nicklaus Design and GOLF.com are affiliates of 8AM Golf.
3. Fairmont Banff Springs Resort
Travelogue Ever heard of Stanley Thompson? His design at Fairmont Banff Springs, just under two hours west of Calgary in Banff National Park, is a masterpiece that perfectly captures his often overlooked architectural genius. The Rundle (front) and Sulphur (back) nines both comprise exquisite holes, like the par-3 4th, famously known as the "Devil's Cauldron," and par-4 15th, a 475-yard beast that demands you carry your drive over the Bow River from an elevated tee box. Rock walls tower impossibly close over many holes here in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Keep your head up and enjoy the views. Bears, elk, deer and coyotes may be watching you from afar, so stay alert to their presence as well. The Tunnel Mountain nine, a full-size par-36 layout added in 1989, is considered by locals to be the second hardest nine (after the Sulphur nine, which is the most wind-exposed of the three) on property. The resort itself, first opened in 1888, is a massive, castle-like structure standing 11 stories high that can be glimpsed from numerous holes.
4. Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Travelogue Kiawah Island, about 20 miles from Charleston, epitomizes the beauty of South Carolina's Low Country, and the Palmetto trees and Spanish moss lend somewhat of a cinematic aesthetic to the experience. The sublime, oceanfront Sanctuary Hotel anchors five golf courses and a mix of villas and homes, with an endless supply of activities and adventures for guests to explore. The golf menu at Kiawah Island is mind-blowing: the Ocean Course by Pete Dye, Osprey Point by Tom Fazio, Turtle Point by Jack Nicklaus, Cougar Point by Gary Player and Oak Point by Clyde Johnson. The Ocean Course garners the lion's share of attention, but the other four courses have grown more popular thanks to a bevy of renovations and improvements. Play all five on your visit and you'll bag enough memories to last a lifetime.
5. Sea Pines Resort
Travelogue Hilton Head Island has long been one of the most in-demand golf destinations around, and no tee time is more sought after than Harbour Town, the Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus collaboration and the crown jewel of Sea Pines Resort. It’s hosted the PGA Tour since 1969, when Arnold Palmer won the inaugural event, and it’s GOLF’s ninth-ranked public course in the U.S. With tight fairways, pesky overhanging branches and small greens, the charming course’s emphasis has always been on ball-striking. The dramatic 18th plays alongside the water and back toward the iconic red-and-white striped Harbour Town Light-house, a memorable way to end any round. The two other courses — Heron Point (Pete Dye) and Atlantic Dunes (Davis Love III) — are also a blast. Nicklaus Design and GOLF.com are affiliates of 8AM Golf.
Best For Families
1. Big Cedar Lodge
Travelogue Big Cedar is a wilderness resort through and through, chockful of outdoor activities primed for any Bass Pro Shop or Cabela’s acolyte. Situated about 10 miles from Branson, the young resort has quickly become one of the country’s preeminent golf destinations. In addition to the courses and amenities that already carry such name associations as Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson, Player, Fazio, and Coore/Crenshaw, Tiger will join that illustrious group when his Payne’s Valley course opens in 2020. Also good for: Buddies
2. Colonial Williamsburg Resort
Travelogue History is what they’re selling at Colonial Williamsburg, but as you’re learning about one of America’s first colonies, you can create your own. There’s a huge variety of lodging choices, ranging from Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star, AAA Five Diamond luxury guests rooms to authentic colonial homes that accommodate every budget. Families and couples alike will delight in the many amenities on offer (tennis, a relaxing spa, and guided tours, to name a few), and of course, there's also an abundance of great golf. The Colonial Williamsburg Resort's Golden Horseshoe Golf Club features two 18-hole Jones family-designed courses: The Green (Rees Jones, 1991) and the Gold (Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1963; renovated by Rees in 2017). For family fun, you can take a spin around the short nine-holer, Spotswood, also designed by Jones Sr. After your round, indulge your inner history buff (and entertain the kids!) with over 20 guided and self-guided tours of Colonial Williamsburg, including art museums and spooky “Ghost Walks.” And don’t forget to cap the experience with a leisurely 18th century-style horse-drawn carriage or ox wagon ride.
3. The Retreat, Links and Spa at Silvies Valley Ranch
Travelogue Don’t call it a dude ranch. It’s a working ranch, where the goats need herding, the horses need feeding and the cattle require someone to round them up. This being frontier Oregon, in the state’s eastern reaches, those duties fall to seasoned ranch hands, who are more than happy to have your help. Expect to get a little dusty if you saddle up for one of the resort’s immersive western-style adventures. Hixson’s ingenious reversible track is an adventure in itself, as are the pair of sweet par-3 tracks. You don’t need caddies on the latter, but you’ll want them, since those caddies are American Range Goats, born and raised on the property. With harnesses strapped across their backs to carry clubs and beer, these four-legged loopers make sure-footed and useful companions. Many of their siblings serve a different purpose at Silvies: In the lodge restaurant, they turn up on the menu.
4. French Lick Resort
Travelogue Like lots of great resorts, this isn’t the easiest place to get to, but once you’ve given your GPS a workout, you will be glad you did. Historic and lavish lodging is offered at two hotels: West Baden Springs and French Lick Springs. Plus gambling and golf. What’s not to like about that trifecta? If you’ve never played the Pete Dye Course, you’ll be hugely impressed by the site of the ’15 Senior PGA Championship. Truly great work by the Indiana native on this dramatic piece of Southern Indiana territory. The Donald Ross Course has been on the property for more than 100 years, and while it’s not as dramatic, it’s a stirring test by one of the game’s master architectures. Golf, gambling, good times. A journey to French Lick is well worth taking.
5. Omni Mount Washington Resort
Travelogue Like a favorite old uncle with a haircut and fashionable new duds, the Mount Washington Resort, which has welcomed generations of New England travelers, has benefited greatly from a sprucing up — and the millions new owner Omni has pumped into it. The venue, first opened in 1902, still maintains its old-world charm — particularly in the ornate dining room, where live music is performed nightly. Also featured is an upgraded spa and a fine 18-hole Donald Ross original (1915). The resort’s spectacular wrap-around porch allows the scenery to stream in. And as New Hampshire’s largest ski area, skiing is the name of the game in the wintertime The new eight-passenger gondola debuts this season.