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.
Austin Golf TrailTexas
than creating a link through a single designer, the Austin Golf Trail
takes advantage of the number of terrific layouts that have been built
surrounding the Texas capital. The courses are no slouches, having been
created by the likes of Ben Crenshaw, Tom Fazio, Arnold Palmer and
Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Many of the layouts in this circuit are
resort courses, so it's easy to stay in one spot and step out on the tee
on-site or around the corner. Farthest out is the 349-room Horseshoe Bay Resort,
about an hour from downtown. Its three layouts, Apple Rock, Ram Rock
and Slick Rock, were designed by the esteemed Robert Trent Jones Sr.,
but each has its own personality. Apple Rock rolls along 147 acres on
the shores of Lake LBJ; Ram Rock, true to its nickname ("The
Challenger"), has narrow fairways and 62 deep bunkers; and Slick Rock is
pockmarked with hazards and features the "Million Dollar Hole," whose
winding cart path travels 35 yards through a waterfall.
Closer in on the trail is the 491-room Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa.
Its Wolfdancer Golf Club features native pecan trees and tricks played
by the Colorado River that cuts through the layout and serves as a
border for the final holes.
Just to the west of downtown are the four very different layouts at the 312-room Barton Creek Resort and Spa.
Tom Fazio designed two of them -- the Foothills, which features
dramatic elevations and finishes uphill to the resort, and the Canyons,
which also takes good advantage of the Texas Hill Country, with rolling
elevations and ball-catching creeks. Ben Crenshaw and his design
partner, Bill Coore, created Cliffside, whose signature 17th hole, a par
3, requires a tee shot over a daunting ravine. Overlooking Lake Travis
is Arnold Palmer's Lakeside course, a welcome respite for novice players
daunted by the Fazio courses' elevation changes and the tough greens on
the Crenshaw course.
Several free-standing public courses also
are part of the Austin trail, easily reached from the downtown hotels,
such as the 800-room Hilton Austin at the Austin Convention Center.
Red Rocks Golf TrailSouthern Utah
hard to decide whether to pack the golf bag with clubs or camera
equipment at these desert beauties, set in the magnificent terrain of
the far southwest of the Beehive State.
Start, and stay, at the
Sand Hollow Resort, which offers 17 condos on its 18-hole Championship
Course and also features a nine-hole links course. The 7,300-yard main
layout has five tee boxes on each hole, welcoming players of all levels
and taking advantage of the rocky terrain to create its challenges.
other four layouts on the trail are stand-alone public courses. Coral
Canyon, cut into the red sand that marks neighboring Zion National Park,
features marked ups and downs and a devilish four-hole finish.
distinct nines make up the layout at Sunbrook Golf Course, which is
owned by the city of St. George. The newest is Black Rock, three
signature holes of which are scratched out of lava rock. The views on
the Pointe are remarkable, and water hazards mark the dangers. The
biggest challenges are on the Wood Bridge nine, defined by the par-3
fourth hole's tee shot onto an island green.
The city of
Hurricane owns Sky Mountain, near Zion National Park. The length, 6,383
yards, is deceptively short. Don't be distracted by the views from the
elevated tees; concentration is needed to hit the fairway targets.
Golf Club gets its name from the Virgin River that edges the layout.
The rolling design is welcoming to the novice player but does offer its
share of desert-golf challenges unforgiving of errant shots that miss
the generous fairways.
All the Red Rock courses are within driving distance of the 94-room Red Mountain Resort and Spa,
which specializes in wellness programs, a widespread menu of services
at the Sagestone Spa and Salon, and a host of outdoor activities.