Written by David Gould, a former Executive Editor of Travel + Leisure Golf who has authored several books on golf history and course architecture.
One evening I stood in a tavern among a group of well-traveled golf writers, talking shop. An avid golfer who had joined the conversation floated a query: After all the years and all the trips, which course is your favorite? He seemed puzzled by the answers, likely because “favorite” wasn’t taken to be synonymous with “famous” or “award-winning.” Instead we each named a very fine course we had developed a fondness for, where we’d met great people and enjoyed experiences we wouldn’t ever forget.
Golfers who aren’t fixated on rankings and ratings can develop an instinct for golf destinations that will suit their fancy. There’s nothing wrong with prestige and awards—you just don’t want to be a slave to them. What works best is when you have a hunch you’re going to love a certain golf experience, then you set off and discover your intuition was spot-on.
This collection of a half-dozen courses along the Eastern Seaboard—each worthy of a chartered golf getaway with Tradewind Aviation—does contain greatness. Yet it’s mainly a sixth-sense kind of list, blending elements of architecture, setting, scenery, and some kind of spirit that holds it all together.
Cabot Cliffs, Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada: We’re not breaking the intuition rule by including Cabot Cliffs, despite all the acclaim it’s received since coming online two years ago. That’s because the Canadian Maritimes are physically remote and their character is unassuming—you have to feel drawn there. Of course, having a chartered private jet fixes the remote part, delivering you to a jaw-dropping golf landscape overlaid with the strategic subtleties its designers, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, specialize in. They built one hole—the cliff-to-cliff par-3 No. 16—that no golfer has ever played without first photographing it. If you take this trip there is one place to stay, the Cabot Links Lodge—well-designed, comfortable, and just right for its time and place. Time your Nova Scotia getaway for midsummer and you can see classic MGs, Austin Healys, and Triumph TR6s, plus vintage motorcycles, at the Eighth Annual British Motoring Festival, July 14-16.
Shepherd’s Rock, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Farmington, PA: You can be sure your sixth sense for sublime golf travel is working when you lock on to a course that isn’t even open yet. Beginning July 12, golf pilgrims can immerse themselves in the pure Pete Dye-ness of Shepherd’s Rock, the newest addition to this luxurious resort on 2,000 acres southeast of Pittsburgh. Modern earth-moving equipment can create landscape perfection; Dye understood this wasn’t desirable and spent a career making sure to exploit the quirks and peculiarities of natural terrain. There’s beauty throughout his courses, but never an overt glamour. Dye has a second course at Nemacolin, and the outdoor activities here are endless. For indoor enthusiasts, there’s a casino and multiple spas, plus a fine array of dining options.
Stowe Mountain Club, Stowe Resort, Stowe, VT: There’s nothing prettier than your own golf shot suspended in the air against a mountain vista on a long, downhill hole. This high-country course in the shadow of Mount Mansfield gives you several of those moments, most notably on the plunging par-3 16th. It took a design genius like Bob Cupp—he was a book illustrator and a master cabinet-maker, as well as a course architect—to wrangle this sloping, chasm-laced topography into 18 wonderfully playable holes. Lodge guests also have privileges at Stowe Country Club, built on more level ground but with wonderful views nonetheless. A summer highlight for locals and visitors is the Stoweflake Hot Air Balloon Festival, July 7-9; it’s a chance to see something almost as pretty as your golf shot, pinned against the ridgelines and peaks.
Note: Tradewind’s Ultimate Golf package can accommodate your entire trip to Stowe, thanks to a new partnership with Stowe Mountain Club. As part of a two-day getaway aboard an eight-person private charter, enjoy unlimited golf access to both Stowe Mountain Club and Stowe Country Club, luxury accommodations at Stowe Mountain Lodge with views of Mount Mansfield, group lunch at The Cottage at Stowe Mountain Club, curated gift bags, and four-packs of Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine local craft beer. For more information or to reserve, please contact email@example.com or 802-760-4703.
Full Cry, Keswick Hall, Charlottesville, VA: The classic manor-style building on high ground with a green expanse of fairways spreading out below—there’s no combination of those two elements more pleasing than what you’ll find at this stylish resort in fox-and-hounds country outside the university town of Charlottesville. Full Cry (that’s hunt-club vernacular) is an original name for a golf course, and this layout is loaded with originality and character—again courtesy of Pete Dye. Inside the beautifully restored Italianate hostelry, Keswick Hall, are just 48 guest rooms, each individually decorated. The place was in shambles until Sir Bernard Ashley, widower of design queen Laura Ashley, arrived bearing capital and good taste in 1995. Present ownership has taken it far beyond what even his lordship had achieved.
The Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC: Artsy and outdoorsy, but still with traditional Southern graces, Asheville belongs on any summertime pleasure tour. Guests at the Grove Park Inn return each year for the golf, great dining, and country hospitality. Donald Ross, a Johnny Appleseed of superior course-building, laid out the beloved Omni Grove Park Inn links in 1926, when shovels and mules were all you had to sculpt with—natural, unforced contours are the result. And while the craft beer movement and its bespoke breweries have sprouted all across the country, few cities can compete with Asheville, a suds mecca with more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. There is no end of ways to explore its malty wonders, including a half-day bus tour with many a tasting stop. Cheers.
Atlantic Dunes, The Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head, SC: The concept of the resort golf community originated with Sea Pines, which retains a vague ‘60s-era imprint even as it continually updates and renovates itself. One of the courses was recently plowed under to make way for Atlantic Dunes, which opened last year and brought yet another round of acclaim to the course design group of Davis Love III (who as a player won the PGA Tour event at Sea Pines five times). Atlantic Dunes is visually sleek and stylish, with large greens, new and restored sand dunes, and little touches like crushed coquina shells and waving seaside grasses to frame the holes. For all the dozens of trips I’ve made to this resort, I’ve not yet had a chance to experience Atlantic Dunes. And yet I know instinctively that I would have a great time playing it.
*Featured Image: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort