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Modern Home Theater Lifestyle and Design:
Ten Golf Courses You Can Play

For those with the affliction, nothing says “gas up the G450” more than the golf road trip. Even if you aren’t rocking the private plane, ModernHomeTheater.com has crafted a list of the 10 best places to golf in North America where you need to play (as well as a list of the ones you’ll want to play and likely can’t).

1. Pebble Beach – Carmel, California ($495)
Purists say Spyglass Hill is better and they are likely right, but this perennial U.S. Open host is the romantic choice of golfers from all over the world. While it is possible to “walk on” as a single, it’s a lot safer to book a room, thus securing your tee times. Don’t be fooled about the difficulty of the course, as it isn’t as brutal as you might think – especially on the front nine. Expect to be justifiably nervous on the first tee (and be sure to hit an iron or rescue club, as driver is a foolish play) and enjoy the ride from there. After the famous oceanfront seventh hole (the shortest hole on the PGA tour), expect the difficulty to increase through the back nine. The finish is the best in golf from 16 through 18. I can’t think of another course where you actually get nervous and/or emotional all over again during the course of a casual round. If it is a left pin on 17, you might want to try a chip from the rough to see how you stack up with Tom Watson’s famous shot from 1982. 18 at Pebble Beach is the best finishing hole in golf from a purely historical and aesthetic level. When you are finished with 18, expect to feel a buzz that is better than any foo-foo massage. Pebble Beach is golf Mecca, a place you must play at least once before you die, if not a few times per year if your budget and schedule allow.

2. Cabo Del Sol “Ocean Course” – San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico ($250 to $350, depending on season)
If you want the perfect winter getaway that will warm you right up and help shake some of the rust off of your game, look to the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula in Mexico for Cabo Del Sol. While there are other strong contenders in Cabo – like the friendlier Palmilla courses, as well as the Cabo Real offerings – Cabo Del Sol is the true gem south of the border. A Jack Nicklaus design, this course is built on a stunning piece of land that offers you the chance (from January through March) to see gray whales spouting off a mere 300 yards from the beach. The Ocean Course at Cabo Del Sol is plenty of golf for everyone from the bogey golfer to the scratch player, as the greens can be multi-tiered, elevated and often protected. Do not miss your chance at ordering some of Cabo’s best shrimp tacos at the turn (the all-pig restaurant in the local part of San Jose has better tacos, but these ones are notably good) and if it’s late enough in the afternoon, a cold Cervesa may never have tasted better. There are some who suggest the final three holes at Cabo Del Sol’s Ocean Course are better than the last three at Pebble Beach. They are wrong, but only by a small margin. The three final holes bring you right to the beach for an exhilarating end to a beautiful round of golf, no matter what you score. Note that the less pricey Desert Course is very good as well, a little tighter and more strategic, but still packing big ocean views and some chances to make a slew of birdies if you play your cards right.

3. Pacific Dunes – Bandon, Oregon ($75 to $265, depending on season)
The goal of the Bandon golf courses was to faithfully recreate the links experience without having to travel to Scotland, England or Ireland. For years, the man behind the project looked on the East Coast but never found the plot of land he was looking for. Ultimately, he found just the location in, of all places, coastal southern Oregon. Weather is a big part of the links experience, and do they ever have weather in Bandon. A “two-club wind” is a light day. It’s not uncommon to be unable to reach a par five in four shots because the wind is blowing so hard.

Bandon Dunes was the first of the courses to open at the resort and is often ranked neck in neck with the second course, Pacific Dunes. If you are going to go to Bandon, you are going to likely play all three courses there, including the newest, Bandon Trials, which thankfully can give you a break from the howling wind, thanks to the trees. The resort at Bandon isn’t all that swanky, as the Bandon experience is more about hardcore golf than total pampering. If your wife is thinking of tagging along, you might want to discourage this, as this is more of a “guy’s trip” location, unless she is a hardcore golfer too. She would enjoy Cabo or Pebble Beach a lot better in terms of food, entertainment and spa.

Pacific Dunes is set atop a cliff more than 300 feet above an inhospitable beach. This isn’t going to be a spot where you bring a blanket and work on your tan. The course is a strategic challenge that plays a little shorter than Bandon Dunes with arguably more birdie opportunities. The native grasses and gorse will make you believe you are at Carnoustie, yet you are only a few hundred miles north of San Francisco. In terms of playability, leave your lob wedge in your bag, as the low ball is the theme. Bump and run shots will help keep your score from ballooning like a popped-up three wood into a 50 mile per hour wind. Compare with Bandon Dunes for your own personal taste test and to make conversation over dinner.

4. Pinehurst Number 2 – Pinehurst, North Carolina ($295)
If you are looking for more of the U.S. Open experience and one hell of a hard golf course, book a stay at Pinehurst. There are tons of courses you can play in the area, including a host of excellent courses on property, including Pinehurst Number 7. However, the Number 2 course is the real closer for the trip. The resort is pretty swanky, loaded with Southern charm and specifically good service.

The undulating crowned greens on this Donald Ross course are enough to make you pull your hair out and normally too much for even the single-digit handicapper. Be careful not to bite off more than you can chew in terms of tees, as this tree-lined beauty is enough to break a man and feed his ego to an alligator in the lake (I don’t think there are alligators in the lakes at Pinehurst, but you get my drift). In the spirit of playing where the best players play, the 2008 U.S. Amateur and the 2014 U.S. Open will be hosted at Pinehurst Number 2.

5. Torrey Pines (South) La Jolla, California ($42 to $49 for City of San Diego Residents, $145 to $181 for Visitors)
The city of San Diego was smart realize what they have with Torrey Pines and have polished up this muni with the help of the USGA to make it into a U.S. Open course. While not always in “tour condition,” this oceanfront course offers guests the California Craftsman-style Lodge at Torrey Pines, as well as giving locals the chance to play a stunningly beautiful course that will soon test the world’s best players and often touts the PGA Tour’s highest scoring average for the relatively tame Buick Open. Absolutely leave your ego in your hotel room, as a score north of 100 is possible for even the very capable six handicap. This 7,600-yard monster states “ask permission” on the score card for those who want to play the tips. The Kikuyu grass made famous at Riviera Country Club another 125 miles up the coast in Pacific Palisades makes the rough and collar areas around Torrey Pines many times more difficult than other top courses.

6. Spyglass Hill – Carmel, California ($330)
I have no doubt in my mind that Spyglass Hill would have its own U.S. Open (and still should) if there were no Pebble Beach right down 17 Mile Drive. To the purist, the Spyglass Hill golf course, built in 1966, is “better than Pebble.” Its opening salvo is a gorgeous, long downhill par five that brings you towards the ocean. The next few holes keep you exposed to the Pacific, including a tee box view from hole three that is likely as close as you will get to Cypress Point in terms of actually playing golf on your next Pebble trip.

The first five holes at Spy are very Cypress Point and the last holes are more Pinehurst Number 2 in California, which is one hell of a golf value proposition. The course is very difficult and the white tees are recommended for even high single-digit handicaps. There are chances for birdies, but not many. The back nine offers touches of Augusta, including the par three fifteenth hole, which is a short downhill par three that has overtones of 12 at Augusta, if only slightly. The knock on Spyglass Hill is that is doesn’t finish strong, with 18 being a moderate par four that just doesn’t have the impact that 18 at Pebble Beach does. But then again, what hole anywhere in the world does? Spyglass Hill would be worth the trip to Carmel, even if there were no Pebble Beach on the property. On your Pebble trip, avoid the gimmicky Spanish Bay links course and look to Pasatiempo or Bayonet, which will not only save you some money but will also impress you with a great golf experience. Expect to debate for hours if Spy is actually “better” than Pebble – a conversation you will be glad you had.

7. Troon North Monument Course – Scottsdale, Arizona ($245 to $295 in season)
Scottsdale is one of the best places you can play golf for most of the year (avoid the summer, although Troon is nicely maintained, even when it is 120 degress with 40 percent humidity in August) and Troon North is a 36-hole world-beater poised in the high desert waiting for you to conquer it. Options for resorts in North Scottsdale are plentiful and you don’t need to stay at a specific resort to secure your Troon North tee times. The Scottsdale Princess is close by and very nice. The Phoenician is farther away, but nothing short of truly decadent in its desert opulence. Even the Hyatt at Gainey Ranch is a strong contender and offers a chance to play my second favorite, the semi-private Gainey Ranch, which is a real treat and often a boost to your ego, thanks to its wide fairways, ample greens and many birdie-able holes.

You can’t lose with either of the two 18s at Troon North, Pinnacle and Monument. Both offer forgiving landing areas, but desert looms not that far from the short grass. If you are working the big-time slice, be sure to pick a small target in the middle of the fairway and aim at that, as the premium is on keeping your white ball on green grass. The greens aren’t too difficult, unlike those you will find at Cabo Del Sol, but once you have played both, you will see why people suggest a correlation between Cabo Del Sol and Troon North.

8. TPC at Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida ($345 in season)
The Players Championship is considered to be the “fifth major” and this TPC course offers you a chance to play where the pros play. TPC at Sawgrass is an incredibly hard golf course that can make it difficult for the average player to get a round in at under 100, but its Southern style and new-school stadium seating can’t help but leave you thinking about what it would be like if 10,000 people were watching you play your round. On second thought, maybe that isn’t the best idea.

The draw at Sawgrass is the very famous seventeenth hole, a relatively short par three to an island green. When the pressure is high on Sunday and the greens are cooked, it’s not uncommon to see the pros plunk one or two (or three) in the drink. For my two cents, it only makes the pros more lovable in showing their human side as we all smile while they make an eight on a par three. You don’t have to tell us what you made on 17, but you do need to play there.

9 . Whistling Straits – Kohler, Wisconsin ($330 + $60 for required caddie)
This host of the 1996 PGA Championship is another ultimate destination location for the traveling golfer. Kohler, Wisconsin isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis, but it now sports a trendy spa that is seemingly a proving ground for the out-of-the-box plumbing fixture company also based in Kohler.

Like the Bandon courses, wind is a big issue at Kohler, although somehow the pros got off the hook during the PGA Championship. I am sure they will be back to Kohler at some point, and the next time won’t likely be so easy for the big boys. Sand is everywhere and the visual drama is off the charts at Whistling Straits. The sister course, Blackwolf Run, is argued to be even better than Whistling Straits. Once again, this is up for debate as you luxuriate post-round on your next ultimate golf trip to Kohler.

10. Bethpage Black – Farmingdale, New York ($50 to $60 for residents, $100 to $120 for non-residents)
This is the course that started the muni-Open trend with the USGA and is one of the organization’s most resounding successes, which allows regular people to affordably play where Tiger, Phil and the boys play. Much like Torrey, it helps to be a local to get a tee time, as it is not uncommon for people to sleep in their cars to secure weekend times. Unless you have friends at Winged Foot, this might be the closest you get to an A.W. Tillinghast course and, with a few crafty moves, you will be in for a big-time treat.

Unlike Torrey Pines, there is no resort on the property at Bethpage Black, but there is a sign that says that the golf course is for “extremely skilled golfers” only. I have seen “no mulligan” signs on the first tee of tough courses, but this warning is even more foreboding. Note that there are other, less challenging courses to play on the property if you aren’t in the mood to get the U.S. Open beat-down.

In terms of accommodations, stay in Manhattan at the Mandarin Oriental, which starts at the forty-second floor of the new Warner Center and is about as impressive a hotel as you will ever experience. Take a sedan to Bethpage at an off-peak time and prepare yourself, as this is one of the most difficult courses you will ever play. Also similar to Torrey Pines, Bethpage isn’t kept at the incredible levels of condition you will often find at other courses on this list. For that matter, Pebble isn’t perfect most days of the year either, but it’s still worth your time to play all of the courses on this list.

Courses You Likely Can’t Play (but want to – badly)

1. Augusta National: Augusta, Georgia
– You need to know a member and, even if you do, there are some strict rules about who gets to play when. Augusta is closed much of the year, which only makes it that much more desirable to get invited to play.

2. Pine Valley: Clementon, New Jersey – Consistently ranked the number one golf course in the world, they reportedly will kick out any member (or guest) who lights a cigarette in the fragile Pine Barrens located in South Jersey.

3. Cypress Point: Carmel, California – While it’s hard to feel bad for anyone playing Pebble and Spy on their trip, adding Cypress in as one of the Pebble trip courses means you have arrived. The property is nothing short of off-the-charts, yet nobody ever plays. A good back-up plan is Monterey Peninsula Country club, which has a brand new, ocean front links course and a killer “old course” that also gets to the ocean.

4. Los Angeles Country Club: Los Angeles, California – Wanna talk about exclusive, this came-over-on-the-Mayflower-type club is located on some of the most valuable land in the world, right next door to Beverly Hills. Oil barrens are encouraged to join. Celebrities are not and that is the way it always has been. LACC could have a U.S. Open, but doesn’t want one. Now, that is exclusive.

5. The Olympic Club: San Francisco, California – Five U.S. Amateurs, going on five U.S. Opens and a few PGAs only start to describe this incredibly hard golf course. The Monterey pines swing gently in the breeze, just waiting to maliciously smack your booming drive to the rough as if they were Shaq rejecting an incoming shot from a midget.

6. Oakmont: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – You need to pull some serious favors in western Pennsylvania to get an invite to play this U.S. Open course and its famous “church pew” bunkers.

7. Merion East: Upper Darby, Pennsylvania – A classic U.S. Open course outside of Philadelphia only adds to the city’s impressive resume of courses in the city of brotherly love. Native grasses in the bunkers and basket-flags are on this hard-to-get-on course.

8. Medinah: Chicago – This PGA course is a challenge to get out on, but it is worth the effort.




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