Golf lovers dream of playing the best courses in the world, and your next vacation could include the thrill of experiencing a round at one of them. Some of the top golf-centric resorts may even include a free round as part of their golf lovers packages, and some feature golf courses designed by the most famous course designers in the world. With their gorgeous scenery, challenging holes and rich history, including iconic PGA-played courses and newly redesigned courses open for play, you can explore and choose a stunning golf destination paired with a luxury resort for a spectacular, indulgent stay, including fine dining, spa treatments and designer shops.
Here are a few basic tips for finding the perfect golf vacation for you:
--Review current "best of" awards lists. Always base your online search on the top 2012 picks, since outdated awards lists are still posted on the Internet. You wouldn't want to choose a resort based on a 2007 survey, to find that it has fallen in quality.
--Check resorts' special golf packages on their websites, which might include a discounted round at a nearby top course.
--Don't count out resorts without courses of their own. Award-winning Caneel Bay, on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John, adds a scenic boat transfer to nearby St. Thomas for a round at Mahogany Run, designed by revered course planners George and Tom Fazio and named by Golf Digest as "an engineering marvel being carved and blasted into an area of land just less than 110 acres." With 77,000 square feet of greens and tight, winding fairways, this is target golf with beautiful views culminating in the signature holes 13, 14 and 1, known as the Devil's Triangle.
--Look at the resort itself with an eye for current, award-winning features. On Bermuda, Rosewood Tucker's Point Hotel and Spa is winning endless awards for its lavish accommodations, each with a private balcony, plantation-style hardwood furniture and Egyptian linens, and its fine dining and spa, a private beach, and Roger Rulewich-designed 18-hole golf course.
--Check to make sure golf courses are public and accessible, not private or restrictive.
--Look into the additional fees, such as golf cart rentals and fees for peak reservation times, factors that may make costs prohibitive.
--Check the destination's weather patterns to be sure you're not risking a trip during hurricane season or oppressive humidity and heat, making your round uncomfortable.
Here's where to look for the best golf vacations in the world, using the top travel and golf publications' "best of" lists as your guides:
Conde Nast Traveler just announced its 2012 Top 121 Golf Resorts in the World award results, showing the top golf resorts in various locations and their scores on a table that rates course design, challenge and clubhouse attractions. For example:
*The Top Five Arizona Golf Resorts:
1) Canyon Suites at the Phoenician, Scottsdale -- 90.5
2) Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North -- 87.6
3) Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch -- 86.5
4) The Boulders, Carefree -- 85.9
5) JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa -- 85.4
*The Top 5 Golf Resorts in Hawaii:
1) Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea -- 93.9
2) Four Seasons Resort Lana'i at Manele Bay -- 93.8
3) Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Big Island -- 93.5
4) Four Seasons Resort Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele -- 93.3
5) Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa -- 92.6
*The Top 10 Foreign Golf Resorts:
1) Steenberg Hotel, Constantia Valley, South Africa -- 96.4
2) One & Only Palmilla, Los Cabos, Mexico -- 96.3
3) The Reefs, Bermuda -- 94.8
4) Four Seasons Resort, Punta Mita, Mexico -- 92.4
5) Esperanza, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico -- 92.4
6) Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort, County Limerick, Ireland -- 92.3
7) Rosewood Tucker's Point, Bermuda -- 90.9
8) Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo -- 90.4
9) Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Canada -- 90.1
10) Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, Mexico -- 90.1
See the entire list of Conde Nast Traveler's best golf resorts at CNTraveler.com.
When you search for golf resorts, you'll find that some of your existing favorite vacation cities and islands are already home to nearby golf courses, plus the amenities you love at fabulous resorts.
Trip Advisor.com's recent best golf destination list mentions Las Vegas as one of its top picks, with several top, desert-scenic courses within a 90-minute ride from the resort-packed city. It also named the 12-mile-long island of Hilton Head, S.C., as a top golf resort destination with 22 top-rated golf courses, including Harbour Town Golf Links, less than an hour from Savannah, Ga., and Palmetto Dunes Plantation named as a top bet.
If you're looking for a budget golf vacation, BudgetTravel.com is an ideal source in locating wallet-friendly deals, plus tips on timing your getaways to off-peak times, such as spring and summer dates in ski resort towns attracting visitors when there's no snow on the ground. The experts at Budget Travel say that casino-centric regions are known for budget-friendly golfing, since greens fees, like those areas' meals and entertainment, are kept low to lure bettors and vacationers.
You'll find golf resorts offering exceptional budget deals now, given the travel and tourism industry's efforts to survive the aching economy, with added value in free spa treatments and other perks.