Golfing with a Challenger 300
By Ron Kroichick, Sports Columnist/Feature Writer for the San Francisco Chronicle
If there’s a common thread to the destinations on this list – ten great golf courses only accessible (or more easily accessible) by private jet – it’s probably this: An inviting, middle-of-nowhere flavor, safely removed from civilization as we know it.
I’ve covered nearly 40 major championships over the years, and countless other big events, and idle chatter among tour pros and writers often veers toward tantalizing golf escapes. The design of the course matters – it takes a deft touch to seamlessly carve a challenging layout into the land – and so does the environment, ideally a mix of invigorating scenery and welcome tranquility.
Not surprisingly, then, you will find nearly all of these 10 courses in a decidedly natural setting, blending into the landscape. (The list also attempts to achieve some geographic balance, from New York and Florida to Oregon and Northern California, plus various points in between.) This creates almost a “soulful experience” playing golf, as former PGA Tour pro Arron Oberholser put it.
“That’s really the essence of the game,” said Oberholser, now a Golf Channel analyst and winner of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2006. “These courses are in such serene, picturesque settings. It’s hard not to fall in love with them.”
It also helps that all are easily accessible via XOJET’s floating fleet of over 1,000 owned and partner aircraft. Arriving via a Challenger 300 not only places you within a short drive of the course, it also starts the unwinding process well before you step onto the first tee box.
And on to our magical 10:
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Oregon)
Photo credit: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
The variety of courses is impossible to match, from the alluring oceanfront flavor of Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes to tree-lined Bandon Trails (with a splash of sand dunes) to the newest addition, Old MacDonald. Also check out Bandon Preserve, a cool par-3 layout, and the Punchbowl, a sprawling, 100,000-square foot putting course with drink holders at every “tee” (sheer genius).
The accommodations at Bandon are modern and lavish, including three spacious, four-bedroom suites in the Lodge. Many rooms feature a view over the Pacific Ocean, never a bad way to start your day.
Bandon Dunes is a resort course, open to the public (it’s wise to plan well in advance; resort guests can reserve tee times more than the standard 21 days ahead). Private flights use Southwest Oregon Regional Airport, only 35 minutes away.
Pebble Beach Golf Links (California)
Photo credit: Bart Keagy
Nothing in golf tops the exhilaration of Nos. 4 through 10, a sweeping panorama of the Pacific alongside a memorable mix of holes. Pebble also offers incomparable history, with five U.S. Opens – including Tom Watson’s epic chip shot in 1982 and Tiger Woods’ landmark triumph in 2000 – and a sixth on tap in 2019.
Another persuasive lure is the proximity to nearby Monterey, which features a world-class aquarium among many other attractions, and ever-charming Carmel-by-the-Sea, home to numerous fine restaurants and a spectacular beach.
Pebble Beach is a resort course, exclusive but open to the public. Private flights use Monterey Regional Airport, six miles away.
Streamsong Resort (Florida)
Photo credit: Streamsong Resort
The name itself seems lyrical and serene, a suitable match for Florida’s answer to Bandon Dunes. Streamsong features another Coore/Crenshaw creation (the Red Course), plus Tom Doak’s Blue course and an impending Gil Hanse Black Course (scheduled to open in 2017). The layouts include fairways meandering through old sand dunes and lakes; walking is encouraged all year and required Jan. 1-April 15.
Tampa is 57 miles away and Orlando not much farther (86), so a golf trip could be combined with beach time in the sunshine state or a visit to Disney World with the family.
Streamsong is public and trims green fees for resort guests. Private flights use Bartow Municipal Airport, about 21 miles away.
Yellowstone Club (Montana)
Photo credit: Yellowstone Club
Everything about Big Sky country is vast, from its rugged mountains to the breathtaking vistas on this Tom Weiskopf-designed layout. The course boasts rolling fairways and majestic trees that, thankfully, are not always in play.
Yellowstone Club covers more than 13,000 acres, creating a tantalizing setting for summer activities beyond golf. Among the myriad outdoor possibilities: horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking and whitewater rafting.
Yellowstone Club is private, so securing a tee time will require a connection. Private flights often use the Yellowstone Jet Center at Bozeman International Airport, about 45 miles away.
Sand Hollow Resort (Utah)
Photo credit: Sand Hollow Resort
Here’s a hidden gem, tucked into the scenic landscape of southern Utah: red rock outcroppings, natural vegetation and stunning elevation changes. Sand Hollow shrewdly offers three options for golfers, from a championship course and links layout to the “Wee Course,” a par-3 track with holes ranging from 50 to 120 yards.
Sand Hollow is a reasonably priced public resort and takes tee time reservations up to 60 days in advance. Private flights use St. George Municipal Airport, only 10-15 minutes away.
Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club (Colorado)
Photo credit: Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club
The website doesn’t lie, featuring several photos with gorgeous, sun-dappled clouds (yep, there’s your red sky). Much like the other courses on this list, Red Sky emits a feeling of infinite openness, with two courses (one designed by Tom Fazio, the other by Greg Norman) winding through mountainous landscape, natural vegetation and native brush.
Vail and Beaver Creek Mountain Resorts are not far away, so abundant outdoor recreation beckons.
The golf courses are private, but access is available for guests staying at a Vail Resort lodge or partner property. Private flights use Eagle County Regional Airport, about 20 minutes away.
The Mid Ocean Club (Bermuda)
Photo credit: The Mid Ocean Club
History runs deep here, stretching back nearly 100 years to the original design of noted architect Charles Blair Macdonald. Since then, Winston Churchill, Babe Ruth and Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George Bush all took their swings as guests at the exclusive club. Mid Ocean hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in 2007 and ’08.
Beyond golf, the island offers seclusion, fabulous beaches, crystal-blue waters and picturesque Tucker’s Town Cove.
The Mid Ocean Club is private, but visitors are permitted to tee off on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Private flights use L.F. Wade International Airport.
Sea Island Resort (Georgia)
Photo Credit: Sea Island Resort
As its enchanting name suggests, Sea Island sits off the coast, separated a bit from the hustle and bustle. It’s so inviting, several big-name PGA Tour pros make it their home, including Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and freshly minted Olympic medalist Matt Kuchar.
But you don’t want to visit Sea Island to gawk at golfers. You want to play on one of three championship courses, most notably Seaside, a links layout with plentiful ocean views.
Sea Island also offers a spa, world-class tennis and squash courts and other outdoor activities including fishing, boating and horseback riding.
Sea Island is a public resort. XOJET flights use Malcolm McKinnon Airport, just two miles away.
Pinehurst Resort (North Carolina)
Photo Credit: Pinehurst Resort
Pinehurst proudly bills itself as the “Cradle of American Golf.” That’s lofty chatter – and might draw dissent from other destinations on this list – but the boasting includes some compelling evidence.
Start with this: No fewer than nine championship golf courses carved into the North Carolina Sandhills. You could play 18 holes a day, every day for a week, and still not be done. Tempting, isn’t it?
Pinehurst No. 2 is the most famous track, as a three-time U.S. Open host featuring Donald Ross’ devilish, domed greens. Most memorably, Payne Stewart sank a clutch, 72nd-hole putt to beat Phil Mickelson in 1999; most recently, Martin Kaymer steamed to victory in 2014 and Michelle Wie followed by winning the Women’s Open one week later.
Also worth visiting is the quaint Village of Pinehurst, a short walk from the resort and teeming with charming shops and restaurants. It’s a stroll back in time, with a touch of Southern hospitality.
Pinehurst is a public resort. XOJET flights use Moore County Airport, only five miles away.
The Greenbrier (West Virginia)
Photo Credit: The Greenbrier
There’s something serene and intoxicating about the West Virginia landscape, full of rolling hills and rows of majestic trees. Maybe that’s why The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC instantly became one of the most picturesque courses on the PGA Tour upon its debut in 2010.
Old White, a C.B. Macdonald creation, dates to 1914 and counts as the oldest course currently used for a tour event. (This year’s tournament was cancelled in the wake of tragic flooding to ravage West Virginia.)
The Greenbrier has five courses in all, and a big-name pro emeritus in Lee Trevino; fellow Hall of Famers Sam Snead and Tom Watson previously held the position. The sprawling, 11,000-acre resort also features a spa, casino and horseback riding among myriad activities.
The public is welcome at The Greenbrier. XOJET flights use Greenbrier Valley Airport, just 15 minutes away.
By Ron Kroichick
Ron Kroichick has worked at the San Francisco Chronicle since 1995, when he came from the Sacramento Bee. He is the paper’s golf writer/columnist, writing a weekly column and covering the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and other Northern California events. He also writes features on the Golden State Warriors during the NBA season, and on various other topics – ranging from major-league baseball and the NFL to college football and basketball – the rest of the year.
Kroichick is a five-time honoree in the Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, placing first in daily news and third in daily features in 2010; earning honorable mention in daily news and daily features in 2011; and again earning honorable mention in daily features in 2013.
He also has been recognized five times by the Associated Press Sports Editors, including second place in best game story and best news story, third place in best feature, fifth place in best investigative reporting, and honorable mention in explanatory reporting (all in the over-250,000-circulation category).