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The Great Golf Escape

At the Gleneagles Hotel, bunkers guard the fifth green on the King’s Course, a classic example of a Scottish links course in the country where it originated

Winter is coming—time to pack your clubs and skip town to one of
RL Magazine’s favorite warm-weather golf courses

oday you may be teeing off in the warm glow of the September sun. But unless you live in a tropical paradise, the temperatures will start to drop in a month or so, the sun will set earlier and your yen to hit the links will wane. That’s not a condemnation—even professionals don’t like playing in the cold and rain. Instead, consider it a wake-up call: You need to plan a vacation.

Whether you’re green to the sport or a couple of strokes off scratch play, chances are you’ve dreamed of teeing off in some exotic destination. To turn that dream into a reality more quickly, we’ve identified some of the world’s most indulgent golf experiences, ranging from a windswept course on the sublimely beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui to one located in rough yet regal Scotland, the birthplace of golf. All offer challenging play and unparalleled scenery.

The ninth hole on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, in Hawaii, boasts challenging slopes and an unparalleled view of the Pacific Ocean


Plantation Course
Kapalua Resort, Maui, Hawaii
Hawaii has long been synonymous with winter escapes, and not just for surf bums and honeymooners. One of its best golf venues is Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, on the island of Maui. Home to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the PGA Tour’s annual season opener, this course was designed by famed architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and features a typical risk-reward layout: The bolder you play, the better you score, assuming you hit the ball true. If you don’t, your day most likely will become surreal in a hurry, says Scott Carroll, head professional at Plantation Course. “The varied playing surface includes lots of elevation changes; steep uphill climbs and downhill approaches; generous fairways; and hard, fast and huge greens,” he says. “Driving the ball isn’t a problem as long as you keep the ball in play. Chipping and putting will give you a challenge.” Professionals rave about the course’s finishing holes, particularly the 508-yard 17th and the 663-yard 18th, both of which are known for their steep, off-camber downhill approaches; crosswinds; and spectacular yet intimidating ocean views.

Par: 73
Length: 7,411 yards
Green Fee: Up to $278 per round

Palm trees dot the fairway of a slightly dogleg 14th hole at Apes Hill Club, in Barbados


Apes Hill Club
St. James Parish, Barbados
Barbados is home to a number of great golf courses, all varied, lush and luxurious. One of the most exclusive and visually stunning is Apes Hill Club, which opened in 2009, in the parish of St. James. Designed by Chris Cole and Jeff Potts, the course is situated on an old sugar plantation about 1,000 feet above sea level and affords players spectacular views of both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The layout is mostly wild, dipping and twisting through patches of thick, green jungle; an old coral rock quarry; wooded ravines; and sparkling lakes. Yet, despite its varied terrain, the course was built to satisfy all skill levels. Its fairways are wide and forgiving, and vast greens rise and fall with the lay of the land. However, veterans of the course say to avoid the strategically placed bunkers at all costs. “They can be quite deep,” says Ben Hatch, the pro at Apes Hill Club, but they aren’t crippling. “Don’t shoot for the pin,” he adds. “The greens are large enough to hit out of the bunker and still hit. Take the stroke.” When it comes to where to eat, play and stay après-golf, accommodations at the club are first class (albeit in short supply). A high-end, full-service resort is set to open on the property in 2015.

Par: 72
Length: 7,150 yards from the black tees
Green Fee: US$170 to US$280 per round

Sand traps aren’t the only obstacles on Valderrama’s 10th hole; a canopy of cork trees poses its own threat to high drives


Sotogrande, Andalusia, Spain
Located between the Sierra Blanca Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, Valderrama is Spain’s version of Augusta National Golf Club. In other words, the course is thoughtfully designed and immaculate, and its membership is super exclusive. Robert Trent Jones designed its original landscape in 1975, and 10 years later, he redesigned it to world-class standards. Today Valderrama is considered one of the best courses in Europe, as well as one of the most difficult to play, thanks to narrow fairways, small greens and deep bunkers. In addition, about 2,000 mature cork trees border the gently rolling fairways, many of which hang over the playing surface. Jones called them his “bunkers in the sky.” “Oftentimes, you must leave the driver in the bag, sacrificing distance for accuracy,” says club manager Javier Reviriego. Post-play, there are several five-star hotels at which to rest your head within a stone’s throw of the 18th green, but the Almenara Hotel, with luxurious rooms and suites overlooking its own championship golf course, is considered the region’s best.

Par: 71
Length: 7,018 yards
Green Fee: US$430 to US$475 per round

Sandwiched between an ocean and a mountain range, the Links at Fancourt is one of South Africa’s most beautiful sites


The Links at Fancourt
George, South Africa
Upon first glance, it’s hard to believe this stunning course used to be an old World War II landing strip; the allies used it to train Spitfire pilots. After the war, it was paved over and turned into George Airport, and in the late 1990s, more than 700,000 cubic meters of earth were moved to transform the lot into the lush landscape there today. Located along the country’s southwest coastline, near the Outeniqua mountain range and the Indian Ocean, and designed by the legendary Gary Player, the Links at Fancourt, with its rolling fairways lined with hollows and sand dunes, pays homage to traditional Scottish links courses. Like with any other great championship course, play is difficult, some say too much so for the average duffer. Accuracy off the tee is placed at a premium, the rough is deep and uncompromising and water hazards are prolific. Tiger Woods once called this course as strategic a test of golf as he had ever seen.

Par: 73
Length: 6,930 meters
Green Fee: US$75 to US$175 per round

The newly redesigned PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles will host the Ryder Cup in September 2014—reason enough to book your flight to Scotland


PGA Centenary Course
Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire, Scotland
One of the most famous names in the entire world of golf is Gleneagles. Located in Perthshire, Scotland, about an hour’s drive from St Andrews and Edinburgh, the resort offers three championship-grade courses, including the PGA Centenary Course, where the 2014 Ryder Cup will be played in September 2014. Designed by legendary golfer and course architect Jack Nicklaus, the PGA Centenary was initially dubbed the Monarch’s Course when it opened in 1993, but in 2001, it received its current name in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the PGA. Beginning in 2011, the course went through a two-year redesign under the guidance of Nicklaus, aka the Golden Bear, to prepare it for the 2014 Ryder Cup. The primary goal was not to change the course completely but to create a number of truly memorable holes that would provoke players into taking risks and punish those who failed to hit the required shot. Players will find that the course is long and unforgiving and the greens are fast and hard. A few stadium holes have been added—most notably the 18th, a par 5, which requires a deadly accurate second shot for those looking to make the green in 2—to provide some remarkable viewing. As far as accommodations are concerned, you’ll have to look far and wide for luxurious digs. Tropical, Scotland is not, but there’s no better place to tee off in autumn than the birthplace of the game.

Par: 73
Length: More than 7,000 yards
Green Fee: US$150 to US$385 per round


Chuck Tannert is a longtime contributor to RL Magazine. His writing has appeared in Fast Company, Popular Mechanics and Wired, among other publications.

  • Courtesy of Gleneagles Hotel
  • Courtesy of Kapalua Resort
  • Courtesy of Apes Hill Club
  • Courtesy of Valderrama Golf Club
  • Courtesy of the Links at Fancourt
  • Courtesy of Gleneagles Hotel
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