There are always the usual suspects – the Pebble Beaches, Pinehursts and St. Andrews of the world – places where the royal and ancient game is best known and most frequently played. But golfers sometimes need to go off the beaten track and play their games in the most improbable places, where the sheer uniqueness of the sites, and the charms and challenges they present, is as compelling as the courses themselves.
Take the Kingdom of Morocco, where Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed the magnificent Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam. Or the sand hills of northeastern Colorado, which boasts a stunning inland links course called Ballyneal that makes players feel they’re climbing the dunes of County Clare, even as Aermotor windmills and herds of cattle tell them they are in the Wild West.
Following is our collection of the best and most improbable retreats in golf around the world, where the designs are deft, the ambience is all about the game in its most traditional and appealing forms and the locales are as surprising as they often are hard to reach:
|The International Improbables, Golf-Club Crans-sur-Sierre
This scenic alpine retreat is one of the best places to play the game in Europe. And if you don’t believe us, ask PGA Tour superstars Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott, both of whom have chalet-style homes here that look as if they came right out of Heidi Another indication that Crans-sur-Sierre has strong golfing chops: It hosts the European Masters each year.
|Humewood Golf Club
(Port Elizabeth, South Africa)
Humewood is the only true links course in Africa, and one of the finest on the continent. Built in 1931 on the outskirts of the south coastal city of Port Elizabeth, it features wide and undulating fairways, big and fast greens and fierce winds off Algoa Bay that force golfers to play a traditional ground game, keeping shots low and running approaches onto the greens.
|Royal Golf Dar Es Salam
This golf club, 15 minutes from the center of the capital city of Rabat, features 45 holes, all routed through a vast cork forest by Robert Trent Jones Sr. But the best of that bunch are the 18 that make up the Red Course. Hall of Fame golfer Nick Price says it is the best Trent Jones track he has ever played, and few pros who compete in a European PGA Tour event there each year would argue.
|Varadero Golf Club
Golf is not a sport of the masses in socialist societies like Fidel Castro’s Cuba, but this island nation does have one, 18 holes on a slender peninsula 85 miles east of Havana. It’s a testy, tropical layout with several saltwater lakes on the former estate of Irenee DuPont de Nemours.
And the expansive mansion he once called his winter home – named Xanadu – serves as the clubhouse.
|Six Surprising U.S. Spots, Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club
This golfing outpost for “the golfer who prefers to walk the course” offers a superb routing and links-like design that makes good use of the austere, rolling terrain. Golfers voted it among the best new courses in the country, and also noted its utter isolation. A three-hour drive from Denver, Ballyneal evokes a pleasing yet haunting emptiness.
|Chambers Bay Golf Course
(University Place, Washington)
Opened in 2007, this Puget Sound layout is already a star, having been selected by the United States Golf Association to be the site of this year’s U.S. Amateur, and in five years the U.S. Open. Robert Trent Jones Jr. gave the nearly treeless track a delightfully linksy feel that harkens back to the game’s Scottish roots.
(San Martin, California)
Who would have thought such a charming and eminently playable golf course could be found in farmland just south of San Jose? The surprising Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed layout is set in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, just off of Highway 101, and is a favorite retreat not only for Silicon Valley bigwigs but also for golfers looking to truly get away from it all.
(Lake Wales, Florida)
863-676-3494, www.mountainlakecc.com The middle of Sunshine State is not exactly where you’d expect to find a golfing treasure. But Mountain Lake is all that, and more. Built among the expansive orange groves of this backwater burg in 1916 by Seth Raynor, chief engineer for and disciple of the great Charles Blair Macdonald, the father of the game in America, it remains a superb example of early American golf course architecture.
|Wild Horse Golf Club
About three hours northeast of Ballyneal is another frontier layout. Called Wild Horse and located near an old Pony Express trail station, its high regard (ranked 26th on Golf week’s list of the top Classic Golf Courses in America) and low price ($41 for a weekend round) make it perhaps the best deal in golf. Winds frequently buffet the layout, and the wooga grass that grows along the fairways swallows up errant shots.
|Yale Golf Cours
(New Haven, Connecticut)
Charles Blair Macdonald himself laid out this gem in 1926. It is another museum-quality golf course, revered by students of the game for its historic significance as well as its enduring quality. A round there stirs the artistic soul of the golf aficionado as it also tests the core of a player’s ability.