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With spring upon us, many minds are turning to the links. Though many rounds in 2006 will be played at your local club, it’s always good to have a few novel venues on your radar, should that unexpected “business trip” arise. Below I’ve highlighted a few noteworthy courses that have made it onto many players’ “must-play” lists. All of these courses are open to the public and promise an exhilarating golf experience — no matter what your handicap!
Bandon Trails Bandon, Ore. When Bandon Dunes opened for play, in 1999, on the remote southern Oregon coast, many had doubts: It was too far away from any population centers, too expensive, and, in a nod to Scottish tradition, golf carts wouldn’t be permitted. Suffice it to say, the naysayers have been proved wrong and the Bandon Dunes course was quickly recognized as one of America’s finest public links. When Pacific Dunes (a half-mile north of the original course) opened a few years later, enthusiasm was equally great; in fact, many cognoscenti believed that the challenge and grandeur of Pacific eclipsed that of its older brother. Last spring, Bandon’s third course, Bandon Trails, opened for play. The response has been similarly enthusiastic. Where Bandon and Pacific Dunes hug the coastline, offering ocean views on almost every hole, Bandon Trails winds inland amongst giant sand dunes, rolling meadows, and forests of fir and spruce. Co-architect Bill Coore has called an outing on Bandon Trails “a nature walk” of sorts. All in all, Bandon Trails is an excellent counterpoint to Bandon’s first two courses. (800) 345-6008 www.bandondunesgolf.com Greens fees: $185 for hotel guests during the high season; $245 for nonguests
Old Works Course Anaconda, Mont. Environmentally sound or “green” golf-course design has gained momentum in the past few decades. To conserve water and limit fertilizer use, new turf grasses such as seashore paspalum have been developed; this grass can be irrigated with salty water. Old Works, a golf course near Butte, Mont., takes the green design one step further. It rests atop a former copper smelting plant and Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. Building a golf course upon the site was the most cost-effective remedial measure available, and it would aid the town of Anaconda’s revitalization as a tourist destination. The golf-course architecture firm Jack Nicklaus Design blended elements of the old mine — old furnaces and furnace flues are evident on some fairways — with the striking topography of the surrounding Pintler Mountains to create an idiosyncratic design you won’t find anywhere else. One of the most distinctive features of the course is its black bunkers (what used to be called sand traps), which are actually filled with slag, a residue of the smelting process. 888-229-4833 www.oldworks.org Greens fees: $41
Whistling Straits Kohler, Wis. There’s a bit of Ireland two hours north of Chicago, and it’s called Whistling Straits. The recent site of a PGA Championship and the future site of a U.S. Senior Open, Whistling Straits is the result of a collaboration between Herb Kohler and Pete Dye — plumbing-fixture magnate Kohler provided the money, Pete Dye the design. Whistling Straits was conceived after Kohler accompanied Dye on a trip to Ireland to experience some true links courses firsthand; links there are marked by their seaside location, unmanicured appearance, and lack of ornamentation. Kohler was sold on Dye’s idea for a Midwestern links, and two miles of land along the bluffs of Lake Michigan were acquired. The rather flat, unspectacular land was pounded into a wildly undulating, dune-ridden, Irish-style links. A total of eight holes rest plumb against the shore, and the other 10 all offer views of the lake. Players may encounter the Straits’ unofficial greens-keeping force, a flock of Scottish Blackface sheep, nibbling on the fescue as they wander the links. Sheep (and players) step gingerly to avoid being enveloped by one of the Straits’ 500-plus bunkers. A favorite hole here, dubbed “Shipwreck,” is a 214-yard par 3 that snuggles up against the lake. A series of bunkers will protect any short shots from the drink; on the left there’s an imposing hillside, also festooned with bunkers. (866) 847-4856 www.destinationkohler.com Greens fees (with mandatory caddie): $297
The Sagamore Bolton Landing, N.Y. Situated in the Adirondack Mountains of northeastern New York, The Sagamore transports one back to an earlier time. There’s a grand hotel on Lake George, a day camp for children, and a first-rate golf course designed by one of the game’s most prolific designers, Donald Ross. Originally built in 1928, the course at The Sagamore was refurbished in 1985 by architect Geoffrey Cornish, who worked from Ross’ original blueprints. The course is set in the hills a few miles away from the resort and is routed through a thick pine forest, dotted with white birch and accented with occasional plots of heather, perhaps a nod to Ross’ youth back at Royal Dornoch in Scotland. The first hole nicely sets the stage for your outing. From the elevated tee, a fairly tight fairway opens to expose the green 415 yards in the distance, with a spectacular backdrop of Lake George and the Adirondack foothills. Like so many Ross designs, The Sagamore is not particularly long and seems rather docile in terms of hazards. Yet the trees close in more often than most players would like, and keeping the ball in play is a constant challenge. But the rewards of a comfortable bar and a great steak wait at the course’s classic 19th hole. (800) 358-3585 www.thesagamore.com Greens fees: $110
Highland Links Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of St. Lawrence and blessed with both pine-covered mountains and verdant valleys, Cape Breton is recognized as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. In addition to its natural wonders, Cape Breton is celebrated for its rich Gaelic culture, historic villages, and, of course, golf courses. Cape Breton courses include Bell Bay, Le Portage, Dundee, and Highland Links. All four venues offer water vistas of the Bras d’Or Lakes or the Atlantic and rolling, heavily wooded terrain. Highland Links goes one step further, offering a layout that’s considered by some to be Canada’s finest. Designed by famed architect Stanley Thompson (who also designed Banff Springs in Alberta) and opened in 1939, Highland Links makes the most of the mountain and ocean vistas the site affords. Fairways, which are generously wide on many holes, are marked by wild undulations, created by fieldstone that was piled in mounds and covered with topsoil when the course was built. You’ll get some funny bounces out there, but the views of Whale Island on the par-5 15th will make you forgive the course any bad breaks. (800) 441-1118 www.highlandlinksgolf.com Greens fees: $85.50 Canadian, approximately $73.59 U.S.
Chris Santella is the author of Fifty Places To Play Golf Before You Die and the soon-to-be-published Fifty Favorite Fly Fishing Tales .

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