Snowbird golf getaways
As fall arrives in the Capital Region and we lose golf balls among the brilliant crimson and garnet leaves, it’s a reminder that it’s time to begin planning your snowbird golf get-away. Below is a sample of some of the Capital Region’s favorite travel spots to consider when the weather turns a little chilly.
The most popular flights from Albany International Airport are those direct to Orlando, a vast entertainment and golf community. Disney heads the list for family golf adventures, with four courses and plenty of family fun. Many Capital Region residents use All Star Vacation Homes, a nice way to save while enjoying a well-appointed four to nine bedroom vacation home great for big families or large buddy golf getaways.
Reunion Resort and Club, just outside Orlando may be the best girls’ golf getaway spot with three great courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus. It is complete with wonderful restaurants including the best view in Florida atop the 11th floor of the Reunion Grande Hotel at the Eleven steakhouse. Annika Sorenstam, maybe the best ladies golfer to ever live, has her golf school here. And Valerie Melvin runs the Frankly Putting PAD, a short game and putting school. Both are very comfortable environments for ladies and men to improve their games, while enjoying life away from the upstate New York winter.
Reunion is one of three upscale resorts run by Salamander Hotels and Resorts, which also include the Innisbrook Golf Resort near Tampa and Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast. They all have 162 holes of golf that form the Legions Golf Trail, which is a great way to work your way around the Sunshine State. Outside Washington, DC, a strong sign that the tourism economy is recovering is the opening of the exclusive Salamander Resort & Spa, a 168-room luxury spa on 340 acres in the horse and wine country. Suites range from around $500 to $3,500 a night.
BBL Hospitality, a local giant in the Capital Region construction and hospitality industry, owns the Recovery Rooms Sports Bars. They also own the Homewood Suites in Port St. Lucie, home to the PGA Village, a world-class golf complex, golf training center and 54 holes of wonderful golf. There are many couples who bounce from one Homewood Suite to another throughout Florida, making friends and sharing daily travel stories over wine and dinner at the end of the day. It’s a truly interesting way to see different parts of Florida in a homey and welcoming environment. Port St. Lucie is also home to the only American-based Club Med Resort, another nice golf resort.
Died and gone to Heaven
If you are a true golfer you have to visit the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida. The centerpiece of Florida's First Coast of Golf; if the PGA has its headquarters here, it has to be a great golf community. The Renaissance World Golf Village Resort and Beach Club is walking distance from the Hall, as is the Caddyshack Restaurant owned by comedian Bill Murray. Just down the road is historic St Augustine, also a very popular winter hangout for Capital Region golfers (and non-golfers as well).
Just south of Jacksonville and the beaches is the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, one of the best known courses in the world. Home of The Players Championship and its #17 island green may be the best known individual holes on the planet. The Sawgrass Resort and Spa by Marriott is like you have died and gone to golfer’s heaven - 36 holes of world class golf, great golf school, a spa and restaurants galore.
“Fore” islands we love to golf...in the USA.
- For those Capital Region golfers who like to slow it down and escape to a barefoot pace, Amelia Island just off Jacksonville may be the answer. There are many good golf and accommodations at all price points. The Amelia Hotel at the Beach is simple, fun and has some interesting golf packages. The golf course at the Ritz Carlton is spectacular, and for a change of pace try Kayak Amelia, where little fish will jump right over your kayak.
- Midway between Jacksonville and Savannah, GA are four barrier islands, The Golden Isles of Georgia: St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. Jekyll Island is rich in history and home to the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, a very special winter getaway - 54 holes of pleasure run by legendary Pro Johnny Paulk for the last 40 years. Spend a week you will love it.
- The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort are on St. Simons Island. There are three holes at the King and Prince Golf Club that are islands so bring plenty of ammo when you play.
- Don't overlook Cape Cod for a quick getaway. Two years ago during a warm stretch, the Captains Golf Course in Brewster had over 600 rounds played in one day, IN FEBRUARY! The Cape can be a big surprise during the winter months and shoulder seasons. Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club, also in Brewster, is as good a golf course and destination as you can find in Massachusetts so keep your eye on the weather, especially since it’s a quick ride.
The changing scenes of snowbird golf
Myrtle Beach, SC, used to consist of old school hotels, cheap bars and cheaper golf – the perfect winter getaway for the guys. But the choices for luxury have really improved. True Blue Plantation, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, The Dunes Golf and Beach Club and Tidewater Golf Club are true golf experiences. Greg Norman’s Australian Grille and his wines are a perfect fun evening. John Daly’s Wicked Stick Golf Links is a blast as are the other two sister courses. There is great golf for every budget on their 100+ golf courses, including unbelievable winter golf deals to be had, such as golf, cart, breakfast, hotel for under a $100 a day in the colder months.
Scottsdale, AZ, was always a high-end golf town, and now it’s also a full-service golf paradise. The Zona Hotel & Suites in Scottsdale is a golfer’s treasure box. The resort is right next to the TPC Scottsdale golf course that we watch every year on TV.
Stays in Vegas
With direct flights from Albany, Las Vegas is another terrific family fun and winter golf destination.
Lake Las Vegas, just 25-minutes outside of the strip, is home to great golf courses and hotels like the Hilton, Westin and Vacation Villas. There is a fun little village to shop in, casinos to gamble in and spas to relax in – all at reasonable prices. Close to the action, but not too close.
Near the end of the golf season we tend to lose our passion for all things golf. Getting away can rejuvenate your spirit for all parts of your life and give you something to look forward to in the middle of an upstate New York winter season. I hope you get to the point when you don't care so much about the destination and simply enjoy the journey.
8am tee time, tomorrow... in Ireland!
Some things just seem like magic to me, like the night before Christmas. How can it be possible to leave work, board a plane at JFK, have a drink and a good meal, watch a movie, close my eyes, awake in Ireland, drive 15 minutes from the airport and make an 8am tee time near Dublin, Shannon or Belfast...? It's magic.
To play the same courses that Rory Mcllroy, Darren Clark and Graeme McDowell grew up on and still belong to. Historical courses and newer designs by Nick Faldo. Playing on famed courses like The Royal County Down Golf Club and Royal Portrush Golf Club are lifetime memories. The Slieve Donard Resort & Spa next to County Down and Europa Hotel in downtown Belfast both run by the Hastings Hotels are magical places. Golfing the top of Ireland is much easier than you think. Just grab a passport and contact North and West Coast Links golf tour operators. With this economy it may be the best time to discover the northwest coast of Ireland where many Capital Region Irish hail from.
If you only have one week to get away and you need a golf fix, check out the Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda. The four major winners this year - Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner - will all square off for big bucks at the Port Royal Golf course. Here, you can get up close and watch the best golfers in the world and play the same course as them, enjoy great food and parties. It's October 13th - 18th - check it out at The Golf Connection website.
Bill Giering is an award-winning golf writer who lives Menands. He has covered all four Majors, played on most continents and still can't putt.