By Dakota Diaz
Punxsutawny Phil may have seen his shadow, but that won’t stop golfers around the country from dreaming of a short winter. For those not blessed with year-round warm weather, the last few months have been cold, dark, and most notably, devoid of outdoor golf. But fear not, warm weather is on the horizon, and with it comes the opportunity to enjoy the first rounds of the year on some of the country’s best, and most importantly, publicly-available golf venues.
Here are a few destinations that should be on any golfer’s bucket list to start 2023.
While it will be a couple more months before the shores of Lake Michigan thaw out completely, the chance to experience a summertime visit to Destination Kohler is more than worth the wait. Famously home to Whistling Straits, site of the 43rd Ryder Cup in 2021 and three PGA Championships, Kohler has a variety of stay-and-play packages across four exceptional Pete Dye courses available this summer, making the coastal venue the perfect destination for an incredible, warm-weather getaway.
The Straits Course at Whistling Straits perennially ranks among the finest layouts in the world. A legendary venue in the history of North American golf, the Straits was the first resort course to host a domestic Ryder Cup in nearly 30 years. Now, golfers of all skill levels can try their best to match Bryson DeChambeau’s 418-yard drive on No. 5, or close out a friendly match with a clutch birdie on No. 18.
Just inland of The Straits course sits The Irish. By masterfully routing the course through large dunes, Dye brought a bit of the Emerald Isle to the Badger State. Named “Blind Man’s Bluff,” the 13th hole features a sunken green obscured by a large dune like the famous “Dell Hole” at Lahinch Golf Club. Both memorable and traditional, The Irish provides an excellent opportunity to experience Old World links golf a little closer to home.
Set in a river basin formed by glacial runoff and a short drive from the charming town of Kohler sits The River and Meadow Valleys courses at Blackwolf Run. The Meadow Valleys flows along the natural features of the surrounding terrain, winding through pastures and ravines. Tipping at 7,404 yards, the River is characterized by small landing areas, strategic bunkering and large undulating greens. It’s a classic risk / reward Dye design that GOLF Magazine has called “the nation’s finest public-access course of modern times.”
Accommodations include the iconic American Club, the only Forbes Five-Star hotel in Wisconsin, as well as the newly renovated Inn on Woodlake, which works exceptionally well for buddies’ trips. www.DestinationKohler.com
Known for mild summer temperatures and snow-covered forests perfect for skiing in the winter, Northern Minnesota’s beautiful landscape changes with the seasons, and a round of golf at Giants Ridge is the perfect way to experience springtime in the land of a thousand lakes.
Set in the rugged beauty of the Mesabi Iron Range, Giants Ridge boasts two layouts ranked among the best in the Gopher State, The Quarry and The Legend, the latter of which celebrated its silver anniversary in 2022.
As the name implies, The Legend offers a spectacular brand of golf that visitors don’t soon forget. Carved out of the Superior National Forest, The Legend is a true “northwoods” course featuring towering pines, giant fairways and majestic views of Wynne and Sabin Lakes. Golf architect Jeff Brauer designed The Legend in 1997, and six years later returned to build a dramatic layout to complement his first design.
The Quarry sits on the site of a former sand quarry and iron ore mine. Striking raised tees and hazards forged from reclaimed and repurposed mine land set The Quarry apart from other courses. With breathtaking views across the meandering layout, it’s no wonder why Golf Digest ranked The Quarry as the best public golf course in Minnesota.
Located an easy one-hour drive from Duluth and three hours from the Twin Cities, Giants Ridge offers overnight accommodations – from suites and villas to rustic and modern homes – perfect for golf groups and families. GOLF Magazine placed Giants Ridge 11th in the Best Resorts For Families category in the publication’s inaugural ranking of North America’s Top 100 Golf Resorts, and Golf Digest bestowed Giants Ridge its “Editor’s Choice Award” in the “Best Golf Resorts in the Midwest” category. www.giantsridge.com
Firestone Country Club
Once reserved only for PGA Tour pros and the few lucky enough to call themselves members, Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio is open for public play through its limited stay-and-play packages and offers guests the opportunity to experience one of the most historic venues in golf.
Originally designed by Bert Way and re-designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., the famed South Course has long been a notable venue for championship golf. In addition to being the site of the Senior Players Championship on the PGA Tour Champions, the South Course has hosted three major championships and witnessed victories by the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlory during its time as host of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
Legends like Palmer, Nicklaus and Trevino have all walked the South Course’s hallowed fairways – and cursed them. “The King” made a triple bogey at the par-5 16th hole of the South Course. After the round, Palmer referred to the hole as “The Monster.” The name stuck and a plaque on a bridge near the 16th green honors The King and his three victories at Firestone.
Perhaps the most scenic of the three courses at Firestone, the North Course is a splendid Robert Trent Jones design that opened for member play in 1969. Marked by numerous lakes and streams, the North Course has played host to both the American Golf Classic and World Series of Golf. Now is the perfect time of year to take in the beautiful surrounds that make the North Course one of the top modern golf destinations in America.
Formerly known as the West Course, the Fazio Course completes the trio of acclaimed courses that make up Firestone Country Club. Redesigned by namesake Tom Fazio in 2001, the Fazio Course is a links-style design boasting striking views of the club and surrounding landscape. Its 18 holes wrap around the perimeter of the South Course and is the home of the Ohio Senior Open. The Fazio Course recently underwent a bunker enhancement project that removed 18 of the sand traps and renovated the remaining 51. Other renovations included improved drainage and the introduction of Best Signature 720, a beautiful white sand used on the most exclusive clubs in the U.S.
To pay homage to more than 50 years of incredible golf history, the clubhouse includes 30 dormitory-style rooms each featuring a view of all three golf courses. For a resort experience at Firestone, there are 57 golf villa rooms sprinkled throughout the property. Just down the road from Firestone sits BigShots Golf at Firestone, a tech-driven, entertainment and culinary experience that’s open year-round. Encompassing 22.500 square-feet, BigShots Golf at Firestone features a two-story tee-line with 44 climate-controlled tee boxes, a private event space and an elevated sports bar. www.firestonecountryclub.com 330.644.8441
Balsam Mountain Preserve
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Balsam Mountain Preserve may be a hidden gem for now, but it won’t stay that way for long. Featuring a stunning Arnold Palmer Signature design course set amongst the natural beauty of the Appalachian foothills, the community, as the name suggests, is a sanctuary.
The par-70 layout, which sits at 4,200 feet above sea level, boasts one of the most thrilling openers in golf. The par-4 first hole offers a scenic backdrop off the tee and a dramatic downhill approach to the green. Other majestic holes on this Palmer Signature Course include the par-5 14th and the par-3 18th … yes, Balsam Mountain Preserve ends with a striking par-3.
Balsam Mountain Preserve is a private course, but it does allow for public play under special arrangements. Each day, only 16 non-members are extended an invite to play Balsam Mountain Preserve and indulge the club’s fantastic golf amenities, which includes access to the Palmer Practice Park and its six-hole short course.
Located less than 40 miles west of Asheville, Balsam Mountain Preserve opened in 2004 and encompasses 4,400 acres. Of those 4,400 acres, 3,300 are safeguarded in a permanent land trust to protect their natural mountain habitat – and to provide an expansive natural playground for residents and their families. The property’s elevation rises to 5,400 feet above sea level, promoting summer outdoor recreation in a cooler setting.
In addition to the golf course, Balsam Mountain Preserve offers extensive equestrian facilities that include stables and riding rings. Other community highlights include the Summit House restaurant and Mine Tavern, fitness, spa, tennis, and pool facilities, a Nature Center and private campsite, 40 miles of Class A trout streams, historical gathering places and more than 40 miles of hiking and equestrian trails.
Balsam Mountain Preserve’s diverse mix of real estate includes cabin fractionals, homesteads, villages and luxury estates. Plans call for 354 homes to be created within the community. All residences adhere to the International Dark Sky Association guidelines for outdoor lighting, which fosters privacy and stargazing. www.balsammountainpreserve.com