It’s been more than a century since anyone teed off at the Olympics, but that is about to change. In 2016, the Rio de Janeiro Olympics will usher in a new era for golfers all over the world. Sports that go Olympic often see a boost in both participation and funding, and you can be sure golf’s major players are preparing for that possibility.
Founded in 1894, the United States Golf Association (USGA) is the governing body for golf in the United States and Mexico. Additional amateur and professional golf organizations abound, serving millions of golf players across America, and the sport’s popularity has resulted in a dizzying array of golf courses as well. Landscape is a key factor in a golf course’s appeal, and every state and region in America has its own unique draw.
Putt the Pacific
Landscape and weather make California an easy hole-in-one for event planners, which is why the Golden State is home to some of America’s most prestigious tournaments and courses. San Mateo County, located on a 60-mile peninsula immediately south of San Francisco, offers an ideal fusion of California’s most enthralling qualities: sun, sea and … wine.
“People think they need to drive to Napa to find vineyards, but we have some of California’s best wineries right here, along with some of the best golf,” says Angelina Preza director of group sales, San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Indeed, San Mateo’s wineries have drawn the attention of wine enthusiasts worldwide, in the same way the region’s golf courses captivate players. The USGA will travel there in 2012, playing its 2012 U.S. Open at the historic Olympic Club, host to eight previous USGA championships.
The Carolina Sandhills
Fayetteville, North Carolina, called “one of the most patriotic towns in America” by Peter Greenberg, CBS News travel editor, has an equally patriotic take on golf. In Fayetteville, every golfer is endowed the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of a scratch handicap.” With 20 uncongested courses by designers including Davis Love III, Willard Byrd and Stuart Gooden, and 19 miles of beautiful fairways throughout the region, Fayetteville offers fast tee times and gorgeous Carolina Sandhills scenery.
“With Fayetteville, the history of golf is the hero, and people love the hometown feeling,” says Martin Armes, Fayetteville public relations representative. “Pinehurst, a world-renowned golf destination, is just 30 miles to the west, and Fayetteville offers the same golf-friendly topography.”
While many people travel to Fayetteville specifically to tee off, golf isn’t just a tourism draw in this town. It’s a way of life.
“North Carolina is certainly one of America’s best places to golf,” says Armes. “There are over 500 courses across the state, and the who’s who of golf architects have all made their mark in the Sandhills.”
Just beyond Beaufort, South Carolina, lies a barrier island that offers a special golf destination: Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort.
Named one of the "100 Best Golf Resorts in North America" by Links Magazine, Fripp Island gives golfers two stunning seaside courses: Ocean Point and Ocean Creek.
George Cobb, famed golf course designer and consultant to Augusta National, designed Ocean Point Golf Links, a course that takes advantage of sweeping vistas with dramatic views of the ocean or inlet on 10 of the 18 holes with the front and back nine both finishing against a backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.
Travel to the southern end of Fripp Island to play Ocean Creek, Davis Love III's first signature course. Ocean Creek offers panoramic views of the Great Salt Marsh and freshwater lakes amid four ancient rolling dune lines, as well as frequent visits by deer, snowy white egrets and great blue herons.
Home to three annual events—the Beaufort City Championships, the Beaufort Charities Tournament and a St. Patty’s Day tournament that benefits local search and sea rescue—as well as host of various other events and invitationals over the years, Fripp Island Resort specializes in flawless coordination, allowing athletes to focus on their extraordinary surroundings and their game.
“I’ve worked her for almost five years now and still when I drive out over the marsh, I think, 'I cannot believe I work here,'” says Alissa Murrie, director of marketing, Fripp Island Golf & Beach Resort.
Teeing off in the Sunshine State
In many ways, Florida is golf’s home in America, with the PGA headquartered in West Palm Beach, the LPGA headquartered in Daytona Beach and the PGA Tour headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach. Florida is also home to over 1,200 golf courses that host approximately 59 million rounds annually.
In northeast Florida, Green Cove Springs is famous for its natural sulphur springs, but it’s also part of a regional golf consortium, “Florida’s First Coast of Golf,” that offers tantalizing variety in the Florida sunshine.
“We not only market golf as a region, but also we make it incredibly easy to plan your golf trip here,” says Jackie Slaybaugh, director of tourism, Clay County. “Just fly into our international airport in Jacksonville, and then you can play all sorts of courses.”
With an average year-round temperature of 80 degrees, 1,200 local hotel rooms and Spanish-moss-dripping live oaks, Green Cove Springs offers an advantage for events seeking a cost-effective destination that’s picturesque and peaceful, but within easy reach of the city.
Just across the state on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Destin offers another of golf’s great destinations.
“Summer is our big tourist season, but from a golfing perspective, spring and fall are absolutely the absolute best times. The weather is just brilliant. Even in the winter, the courses are in great shape,” says Bill Lindsley, 2012 chairman, Destin Chamber of Commerce.
Ideal weather isn’t Destin’s only bonus. The full roster of tournaments and events proves Destin offers the full package. “We host lots of groups, from colleges to college reunion groups, amateur events and we even hosted a Champions Tour Event, the Boeing Championship at Sandestin, for several years,” says Lindsley. “We were ranked one of the favorite events on the tour by the players’ wives because there’s so much to do here beyond just amazing golf.”
Destin is home to one of America’s most acclaimed beaches, the Emerald Coast, as well as world-class shopping, exceptional dining options and the largest commercial charter fishing fleet on the entire Gulf Coast.
Also on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Hernando County has 17 golf courses, including two of the Top 100 Golf Courses in the nation: World Woods Golf Club, which includes Tom Fazio's Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks Golf Courses, renovated just about a year ago.
World Woods, host of the PGA Tour Qualifying School as well as the 2001 U.S. Open Qualifying Round, is Florida’s only five-star public course. Additionally, each year World Woods hosts The Envirotron, a tournament that benefits the study of turf grass.
Located in the rolling hills of Florida, Hernando County includes what is known as the Brooksville Ridge, offering hilly terrain and golf challenges not found in other areas of Florida.
A Mid-Atlantic Ace
One of golf’s greatest moments each year is the U.S. Open Championships, and in 2011, they called Maryland’s Congressional Country Club home. In 2004, the USGA chose Congressional for its most prestigious competition of 2011, as well as the 2009 U.S. Amateur. It’s a relationship built on experience: Congressional, designed by Devereux Emmett in 1924 and renovated by Rees Jones in 1990, has been the site of five previous USGA championships.
“Congressional is an outstanding course, and it’s one of just many in Maryland. I could list twenty or thirty courses in our state that could rival courses all across the country,” says Terry Hasseltine, executive director, Maryland Sports. “It’s because golf is absolutely ideal in Maryland. We have some of the best courses in the Mid-Atlantic, even in the world.”
Those courses, along with Maryland’s event management expertise, certainly draw high-profile events.
“The Nationwide Tour is bringing the Neediest Kids Championship presented by Under Armour to TPC at Avenel Farm this October, and the AT&T National, which went to Philly while we hosted the U.S. Open, is coming back,” says Kelly Groff, director, Conference and Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County. “We’ve been fortunate to be the centerpiece for some exciting golf. We’ve got a lot of experience hosting these events, and the big piece is that the people who run these events prefer to bring them to the courses they like to play on themselves.”
Empire State Excellence
Golf might not be a year-round sport in the northern climes, but that hasn’t stopped Binghamton, New York, from creating a dozen public courses with a variety of landscapes to keep any golfer happy for weeks.
“Even though we’re in an area that’s considered snowy, we’re actually protected by the mountains, so our season opens early. We’re normally playing golf Easter through Thanksgiving,” says Judi Hess, tourism and special events manager, Greater Binghamton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Also, our topography’s natural rolling hills provide a variety of landscapes, including links-style courses.”
Binghamton’s golf courses have earned accolades to boot, including multiple 4+ star ratings from Golf Digest and nods from many of the sport’s other key publications. But what makes Binghamton really stand out to thousands of golfers who travel there each year is the destination’s golf package.
“The really nice thing is that there are always several courses and hotels in the package, and one call does it all,” says Hess. “You make one call to book all your tee times, dinner and hotel reservations, whatever you need.”
Round Rock, Texas, just outside the state’s capital of Austin, is a town virtually surrounded by golf. Multiple courses, including Forest Creek, Teravista, White Wing, Legacy Hills, Blackhawk and Avery Ranch, circle this sports-centric city, which calls itself the Sports Capital of Texas.
“We’re centrally located in Texas, but I think it’s the beautiful courses that really bring people here. They come and make a long weekend of it, and it’s fun because you get so much variety. I played a course yesterday that actually has canyons. You hit just to the right, and you’re gone,” says Nancy Yawn, director of the Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Great weather is certainly on Round Rock’s side, but so is the availability of excellent accommodations and attractions, including many options for one of golfers’ favorite post-game activities: spas.
“Golf is big in Michigan,” says Mike Guswiler, executive director, West Michigan Sports Commission. “Per capita, we’re third in the country for golf courses, and they’re terrific courses.”*
Michigan has so many golf courses, in fact, that talks are underway for a golf trail across the state. Also in the works: the Transplant Games of America.
“It’s a fun event that has a very important underlying meaning, promoting organ donation,” says Guswiler. “A local organ recipient came to us, worried that the games were in danger of being suspended, so we decided to bring them to West Michigan.”
Golf is just one of the games’ multiple events, but it’s one West Michigan will certainly master. Home of the USGA Junior Amateur for boys in 2010, as well as a past Senior PGA tour stop, West Michigan is accustomed to executing golf events that succeed.
The Transplant Games’ golf competition will tee off on the Division II Grand Valley State University on-campus course, a regular host of both men’s and women’s Division II golf championships. The community is getting involved, too, combining that golf competition with a local tradition, the Jamie Hale Memorial Tournament, held annually in honor of a son of the community and organ donor.