Swing into summer: Top golf destinations around the world
There’s a lot more to discover than lush courses on a great golf getaway in these global destinations. | By Larry Olmsted | July 20, 2023
Today’s golf travelers are looking to combine their playtime with deep dives into history, culture, natural beauty and delicious food. From the mountains of Japan to the Arizona desert to the Eternal City of Rome, highly ranked courses can be combined with rich travel experiences in these fascinating destinations.
Enjoy history: Putt out just steps from where Galileo once made his astronomical calculations near Rome
Feast on seafood: Some of the freshest sushi on earth is served right next to the fairways in Hokkaido
Loll on beaches: Thailand’s largest and top-ranked golf club draws visitors to Pattaya along with its stunning sands
In anticipation of the first Ryder Cup to ever be played in Italy, the suburban Marco Simone Golf & Country Club was completely rebuilt to host the event — and many visitors are expected to follow in the footsteps of the world’s best golfers. What has not changed here is the rich history, such as the medieval castle behind the fifth green, where Galileo discovered his heavenly measurements.
In contrast to other prestigious golf clubs in Europe, Marco Simone is open to outside guests and non-members. An easy day trip from the heart of Rome, it’s a perfect urban escape for an unforgettable round during a business or leisure trip. Best of all, with Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel serving as the official hotel of the Ryder Cup, you can easily hit the green and be back in time for dinner on-property at La Pergola, Rome’s only Michelin three-star restaurant.
Travelers seeking cultural highlights on their Italian getaway can marvel at the nearby Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Be sure to also make time for a visit to Trevi Fountain — legend has it that those who toss a coin into the water with their right hand over their left shoulder will someday return to Rome.
One of America’s top golf destinations, Scottsdale is the birthplace of eye-popping desert-style golf course architecture, with dozens of high-quality courses scattered across the region. The Boulders golf club (located in the aptly named town of Carefree, adjacent to Scottsdale), however, has two standout eighteens in one convenient setting. Both have won a laundry list of awards and dramatically showcase the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. The club is named for its signature giant rock formations, some 12 million years old and impossible to miss.
Designed by acclaimed architect Jay Morrish, both courses received a $4 million facelift in late 2022, including all new greens, bunkers and irrigation, and are in better shape than ever. As part of the upgrade, The Boulders also added an optional caddie program, a rare luxury among U.S. golf resorts. Complete your golfing getaway with a stay at the 1,300-acre (526-hectare) Boulders Resort & Spa, Curio Collection by Hilton, where you can also enjoy family-friendly guided stargazing, guided hikes and hourlong nature and wildlife tours.
With four courses and 81 holes under one roof, the Siam Country Club is Thailand’s top-ranked facility. A newer fifth eighteen, the satellite Bangkok course, sits off-site closer to the Thai capital. The main club has been here for more than five decades, making it one of Thailand’s oldest, and has long been the official home of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Thailand, hosting the annual Honda LPGA tournament. By global standards, the golf rates are extremely reasonable, and in Thai tradition, include caddies on all the courses.
Best of all, the country club only sits about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the world-famous sandy beaches of Pattaya, one of Thailand’s most visited cities. Rich in culinary delights, especially seafood, it’s home to several notable temples, museums and cultural attractions. Take time to explore one of the many expansive landscaped gardens for a serene spot to absorb and appreciate Thai culture and traditions.
Warm, sunny and full of charming coastal towns and beach resorts, the southern Algarve region has long been Portugal’s top golf destination — as well as the place to go for family and beach vacations.
Vilamoura is by far the largest resort community in the Algarve, with the biggest marina, a casino, restaurants, bars, shops, tennis, nightlife, Portugal’s largest spa — and six golf courses. Guests of the Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort & Spa have access to all six, but the hotel also sits immediately adjacent to the acclaimed Dom Pedro Pinhal course. The famed course was renovated by the legendary Robert Trent Jones, Sr., in 1985 and is known for the majestic mature Umbrella pine trees lining its fairways.
Off the course, local shrimp and clams are the regional stars, and the must-try meal is the cataplana, a rice-free spin on paella featuring a seafood medley cooked in the sealed butterfly-style copper pot that gives the dish its name.
Niseko Village, Hokkaido, Japan
In recent years Japan has skyrocketed in popularity as a world-class ski destination, and Niseko is the nation’s most-visited winter resort. That means golfers visiting in summer can take advantage of the tourism infrastructure, without the crowds — especially the many standout restaurants showcasing the island’s famous seafood and dairy.
The area offers a perfect deep dive into Japanese culture combined with playing golf, as summer attractions range from mountain biking and hiking to hot spring onsen baths and scenic gondola rides. Just an hour away, outside the gateway city of Sapporo, one of Japan’s finest distilleries, Nikka Yoichi, welcomes visitors to sample trendy and hard-to-find Japanese whiskies.
In a country known for hard-to-access private golf clubs, Niseko offers two high-quality public courses, one of which sits in the heart of Niseko Village. Very different from most ski resort layouts, which tend to be hilly, the Niseko Village Golf Course is relatively flat, but features surprises such as a peninsula green jutting into a mountain lake, jaw-dropping views of the iconic Mount Yotei volcano (considered Hokkaido’s Mount Fuji) and in spring, Japan’s famous cherry blossoms.
While golf is great fun to play in any of these five diverse locations, a full round typically takes just four to five hours. That leaves plenty of time to enjoy all the other attractions that lie just beyond the fairways.
Larry Olmsted is an award-winning travel writer, New York Times bestselling author and former Guinness World Record holder for golf travel. He has written on golf, food and travel for 30 years, contributing to publications including GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, LINKS, Maximum Golf, The Golf Insider and many others.