With the spring renaissance comes the fervor to return to top golfing form. Hit the range, practice your drive and perfect your chip shot as you prep for long weekends at these in-demand destinations. From the Tiger Woods-designed Payne’s Valley Golf Course in the Ozarks to Destination Kohler’s Whistling Straits (home to the 2021 Ryder Cup this fall) to Vinoy Golf Club along St. Petersburg’s sunny shores, the time is now to book your getaway. To ensure a promising 18, here’s the insider advice and course secrets you need to know—straight from the pros.
The 1st hole on Payne’s Valley Golf Course, which is the first Tiger Woods-designed course open to the public.
Matt McQueary, assistant director of golf sales and marketing bigcedar.com/golf
What draws golfers to Payne’s Valley Golf Course? The first thing golfers seem to know (or learn) is that the course was designed by Tiger Woods and his design team at TGR Design with the help of Johnny Morris. It’s the first golf course done by Tiger that’s open to the public, so golfers are traveling from all over to get the chance to play it.
The view from No. 1 tee box: The view from the first tee is probably the best view of the course until the golfer gets to the 19th hole. The first tee box sits at the highest elevation point of the course, so you see the rest of the holes laid out in front of you with the rolling Ozark Mountains landscape in the background. … Your opening drive to the fairway below feels like the ball is in the air for several minutes before it finally touches down.
Most challenging hole? No. 13, hands down. It’s a gauntlet of a long, uphill par 5; 653 yards from the tips. Even Tiger, Rory [McIlroy] and JT [Justin Thomas] were hitting driver, 3 wood, 5 iron into the green. There are no water features or doglegs to the hole. It’s just a brute. Especially if the wind is in your face.
Birdie opportunities? No. 3 is a drivable par 4 with some key bunkers protecting the green. No. 4 is a reachable risk-reward par 5 with a stream and lake protecting the green for golfers trying to reach home in two. No. 12 is another drivable par 4 slopes down left of the green. No. 18 is another par 5 that can be get-able with a good drive.
What legends have played here? The course has only been open since September, but we’ve had some of the biggest names in golf play the course: Tiger Woods, for one; Justin Thomas; Rory McIlroy; Justin Rose; Jack Nicklaus; Gary Player. That’s a lot of major trophies between these guys alone.
The can’t-miss amenities? The Tom Watson Himalayan-style putting green is a nine-hole putting course with a fairway that dramatically with some massive slopes and ridges to deal with. It’s a lot of fun pre- or post-round with some buddies and a few beverages.
Hole with the most stunning backdrop? No. 19. The bonus betsettling hole is a par 3 island green about 135 yards from the tips. Behind the green is a massive 200-foot rock cliff side with a roaring waterfall right in your sightline of the flag. To the right of the tee box is a view of the course you just conquered with the Ozark Mountains in the backdrop. After the hole, the golfer takes a rugged cart trail zigzagging up the cliff side by the waterfall and through a cave. It’s pretty unforgettable.
Tips for closing the round strong? The closing stretch from No. 13 on is the hardest part of the course. Several of the holes play uphill and play into some challenging greens. The first part of the course is a little easier, so golfers might be overconfident playing the home stretch. My advice would be to not get cocky. Play aggressively through hole No. 12, then get ready to play defensive golf on the finishing stretch.
The 9th green at Vinoy Golf Club looking back on No. 7 tee box.
Chris Jones, director of club operations marriott.com/tpasr
What draws golfers to Vinoy Golf Course? The Vinoy Renaissance boasts a historic course in the heart of St. Petersburg, Fla. The course was built in 1927, so the history associated with the club draws people from near and far.
The view from No. 1 tee box: The first tee is elevated with a water feature, surrounded by palm trees that frame the first shot beautifully. It provides a view of the front nine, preparing golfers for the course ahead.
Most challenging hole? No. 7, which is a par 5 with a rare island tee sheet and island green
Birdie opportunities? No. 3, 6, 9, 10 and 14
The can’t-miss amenities? We have a few can’t-miss amenities at our golf club, including the timeless Vinoy Club Grill, the men’s locker room complete with poker tables and a pool table, the relaxing swimming pool and, finally, the indoor trackman simulator room—great for a rainy day or perfecting a swing.
Hole with the most stunning backdrop? No. 18—the final hole, which offers a view of the course’s lush greenery, tranquil waterways and Mediterranean design of the club
Tips for closing strong on 18? Keep it short of the water off the tee, bail out right with your approach shot and trust your short game.
Michael O’Reilly, PGA, director of golf operations, Destination Kohler americanclubresort.com/golf
What draws golfers to Whistling Straits? First off, the quality of the golf courses at Whistling Straits. The Straits and Irish courses are championship golf courses designed by legendary course designer Pete Dye. He took a flat piece of land and sculpted two visually stunning courses that look like they have been here for many, many years. There are views of Lake Michigan on all 18 holes on The Straits course and eight holes run adjacent to the Great Lake. Not only does this provide a level of beauty that’s tough to find anywhere else, it provides players with an intimidating backdrop for many shots.
The view from No. 1 tee box: As you walk from the starter station to the first tee of The Straits course… you cross a small stone bridge and head up a steep hill to the tee boxes. It’s at that point that you feel the grandness of Whistling Straits. The dunes, bunkers, blowing fescue grasses and the lake in the distance all make for a memorable first view of the course. It only gets better from there.
Most challenging hole? The 18th hole. A long par 4 requires an accurate tee shot that avoids a series of deep bunkers along the left-hand side. If you don’t hit the fairway, you will more than likely be forced to lay up short of Seven Mile Creek. If you do hit the fairway, you will be left with a long iron into a large, but very undulating green.
Birdie opportunities? One that comes to mind is the par 4 13th hole. The short par 4 has a wide fairway that slopes down to the green. If you hit the fairway, you will be helped by the slope and you can leave yourself with a short iron or a wedge into the green. The green is intimidating, as it sits right on the edge of Lake Michigan, but it’s actually fairly tame. If you hit the green, you’re left with a reasonable chance at birdie.
What legends have played here? Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw are some of the legends of the past. The PGA Championship was played at Whistling Straits in 2004, 2010 and 2015, and those major events included so many legendary golfers in the field like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and more.
The can’t-miss amenities? The culinary opportunities at Destination Kohler are world class. We offer elegant fine dining while also catering to the casual diner.
Hole with the most stunning backdrop? Boy… there are so many options. The 17th hole has one of the best backdrops in all of golf—a long par 3 that sits along Lake Michigan.
Tips for closing strong on 18? Don’t be upset with a bogey! The 18th hole on The Straits is very challenging. If you don’t hit the fairway off the tee, lay up so you have a chance to hit the green. Trying for the green out of a bunker will only lead to trouble. No matter what happens, enjoy the walk; it’s one of the most special walks in all of golf.
Photography by: PHOTOS COURTESY OF VENUES