The promise of a round of golf makes players eager to attend meetings and events; the promise of more than one round is a dream come true. To give golfers a variety of options, look into the country's golf trails, courses linked together by geography, architect or both, making it easy to arrange multiple tee times at a chain of layouts -- often at a reasonable price. Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, founded 20 years ago, is the gold standard, but there are plenty more to choose from.
Robert Trent Jones Golf TrailAlabama
26 courses; 11 locations
While Alabama might not be the first state that comes to mind for great golf, it was a favored canvas for the late Robert Trent Jones Sr., the renowned course architect who put his signature on about 500 layouts around the world.
In 1992, the Retirement Systems of Alabama funded the creation of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, which links 26 public courses in 11 locations designed by the master bunker artist throughout the state. The best part: These are not budget-busting layouts. Greens fees to play the trail start at $40, and only two of the courses ever charge more than $75: Lakewood Golf Club in Point Clear (fees from $107-$125) and Ross Bridge in Birmingham ($90-$125).
Two of the RTJ Trail's courses often show up on lists of top U.S. public courses to play: Capitol Hill in Prattville (near Montgomery) and Grand National in Opelika (near Auburn). Capitol Hill is a duffer's dream, with three distinct layouts. The Senator is a Scottish links-style course, with more than 150 maddening pot bunkers; the Legislator has more of a rolling feel, marked by tall pines; and the Alabama River sculpts the Judge, with 12 holes bordering on the water.
Grand National presents two championship layouts and a short course. The Links is not a traditional British layout but still challenges with plenty of trees and water, and a tough finishing hole where the tee shot must carry the lake. Twelve holes on the Lake course are troubled by water, and the island green on the 15th is lovely and difficult to hit.
In recent years, the Retirement Systems of Alabama has invested in the construction or refurbishment of hotels near many of the courses, providing support, lodging and meeting spaces. The portfolio is called PCH Resorts, and all eight are Marriott properties, including the 405-room Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear, built in 1847 and sending guests to the Lakewood Golf Club; and the 238-room Battle House, a Renaissance Hotel in Mobile, which was built in 1852 and offers guests access to the 54 holes of golf at the trail's nearby Magnolia Grove course.
Pete Dye Golf TrailIndiana
7 courses; 5 locations
Another formidable course designer, Pete Dye, is honored in his adoptive state of Indiana. The golf architect is known for creating difficult courses that players are eager to tame with the whip of their clubs, and this includes the top pros (see Whistling Straits at the American Club in Kohler, Wis., home of the 2010 PGA Championship).
Starting up north and heading south, the Pete Dye Golf Trail begins in Culver at Mystic Hills Golf Club, an out-of-the-way spot that costs only $45 to play. The layout mixes links-style play on the front nine with traditional play on the back. Two resorts are nearby: the 80-room Culver Cove Resort and Conference Center and the 92-room Swan Lake Resort.
Next comes the Kampen Course at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex in Lafayette/West Lafayette, home of Purdue University. Among the challenges here are plenty of bunkers, native grasslands, some ponds and a natural celery bog. Stay nearby at the 192-room Purdue Union Club Hotel and Stewart Center Conference Facility.
The next four are clustered in the middle of the state: Plum Creek Golf Club in Carmel, and the Fort Golf Course, Maple Creek and Brickyard Crossing, all in Indianapolis. The best of these is Brickyard Crossing, which spends four holes wandering by the legendary Indianapolis Speedway. All levels of hotels are available nearby, including the year-old JW Marriott, with 1,004 rooms, and the 241-room Conrad Indianapolis.
Worth the drive to the south is the Pete Dye Golf Course at the French Lick Resort in French Lick. This layout is a crazy challenge of mounds, bunkers and narrow fairways, but the views of the surrounding unspoiled hills take the frustration out of the walk. The resort offers two lodging options, the stunning 243-room West Baden Springs Hotel with its domed atrium, and the 443-room French Lick Springs Hotel, whose original wing was built in 1901.