Golf Courses & Resorts

Play Here, Not There


Though they're less than five miles apart, Royal Hawaiian Golf Club (above) gets much less rain than the ultra-challenging Koolau Golf Club.

Have you ever seen Men’s Health magazine’s segment, “Eat This, Not That?”

It’s advice on choosing the best (or better) options on a given menu and avoiding the worst.

(For example, Burger King’s Ham Omelet Sandwich, with 290 calories, vs. its French Toast Sticks Kids Meal, with 680.)

Today, I’m launching the golf version: Play Here, Not There.

It’s not a perfect parallel, but the general idea is the same: the best golf courses to play on a given “menu” and the often regrettable ones that should be avoided.

For example, if you’re looking for an exotic golf experience on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, I’d advise you to play here: Royal Hawaiian Golf Club; not there: Ko’olau Golf Club.

While you might be tempted to play the more well-known Ko’olau (because of its history as, “the toughest golf course in the USA”) it receives more than 100 inches of rainfall per year, making for what is usually a soggy, cart-path-only affair.

Not only are balls lost to the jungle and ravines, they’re also prone to plugging in the muddy fairways. Indeed, locals say you should figure on losing one ball for every stroke of your handicap.

On the other hand, Royal Hawaiian Golf Club (formerly known as Luana Hills Country Club), is only five miles from Ko’olau, yet it receives 30 fewer inches of rain annually. This makes for markedly better playing conditions. So, this course, too, is a tough, exotic, and scenic test, but unlike Ko’olau, it’s more enjoyable than frustrating.

Here’s another example if you find yourself in New Orleans: play here: TPC Louisiana; not there: English Turn Golf & Country Club.

English Turn is the private but accessible course that previously hosted New Orleans’ annual PGA Tour stop. Unfortunately, seeing the houses of prominent socialites and celebrities such as Emeril Lagasse and Mike Ditka is the most interesting part of this dull and repetitive Jack Nicklaus design.

You’ll likely have a far more enjoyable experience at the current PGA Tour stop, TPC Louisiana, located in a suburb only 25 minutes from the French Quarter. This Pete Dye-design has many memorable holes and, as one would expect at a TPC/PGA Tour venue, the practice facilities are outstanding.

Those are just two examples to kick things off.

Do you have examples of, “play here, not there” that would be helpful to your fellow readers?

Please share your comments or read what others are saying below.


  1. Randall Barkan

    October 2, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Spyglass, not Pebble Beach. Tougher, more interesting, less crowded and a lot less expensive (especially if you have a Duke’s card — sold thru Old Del Monte — which brings the greens fee down to $185).

  2. Alan Clark

    October 2, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Royal Hawaiian vs Ko’olau – Played both courses this June, of the 2 Ko’olau is more challenging, more scenic, and wetter. There were rain showers both days I played, but neither course was too soggy to enjoy. We like to stop on Ohau for a couple of days adjustment and while there is much better golf on other islands we just can’t seem to pass up Ko’olau. The scenery is just too good to miss

  3. Rich Kupersmith

    October 2, 2012 at 11:01 am

    If you’re travelling to Ireland and staying in the Dublin area play The Island not Royal Dublin. Royal Dublin is expensive and rather forgettable. The Island which is 20 minutes outside Dublin in Malahide has some of the highest dunes I’ve ever seen on a links course. The course is quite hidden and not easily accessible but worth the effort. Its also much less expensive and more playable then the better known Dublin area courses including Portmarnock.

  4. Jeff B

    October 2, 2012 at 11:05 am

    another Hawaiian locale – Kauai. Don’t play Princeville (Prince course) play Poipu Bay or Kauai Lagoons instead. Poipu Bay and Kauai Lagoons are both more playable for the average golfer and offer scenic ocean views. The Prince course is gimmicky at times and takes driver out of your hands on many holes.

  5. TK

    October 2, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Great article Craig. My choice would be:
    Play here: Farmlinks GC in Sylacauga, AL
    Not here: Oxmoor Valley – Birmingham, AL

    FarmLinks is located about 45 minutes south of Birmingham. It is a spectacular course, plays to over 7200 yards with impeccable conditions. One fee (around $120) includes unlimited golf, lunch, cart and all snacks + beverages on the course. You are treated like family and did I mention the golf is fantastic? Cannot go wrong with this choice.

  6. Colin B.

    October 2, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Crandon Park, Not Doral.
    Brooksville CC, Not World Woods.

  7. JJ

    October 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    This is probably one of the best articles I have read from GVI. I would actually like to see a monthly or quarterly article of this style with various destination comparisons – that way those of us not in the know could get some insight.

    I actually am going to Hawaii next month (Oahu & Maui), and Ko’olau was one of the courses I was thinking about playing. As a high handicapper, if I lost that many balls it wouldnt be as enjoyable of a round.

    Thanks for the insight – and the other reader comments.

  8. Shooty

    October 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Walt Disney World courses in Orlando:
    Play Osprey Ridge, not the PGA Tour course Magnolia.

    Old Head over any other course in Southern Ireland

  9. Steve S

    October 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Great idea – and well executed. Keep these up!

    If you want my ‘play this and not that’ – Play Innisbrook Island Course over Innisbrook Copperhead. Copperhead gets the heavy play because of the Transitions PGA Tour event. While I like Copperhead, The Island is more interesting and difficult – especially from the tips. #6 is called ‘the bowling alley’ by the local – stand on the tee box and you’ll know why.

  10. 2muchclub

    October 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Another Orlando Recommendation:

    Play Championsgate (either course) or Grande Pines or Hawks Landing

    instead of Hunters Creek which is a poorly maintained, boring, cramped, dismal layout

  11. Brad

    October 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I played Royal Hawaiian back when it was Luana. While it is a beautiful, lush course, it’s got a ton of awkward uphill/downhills lies and too many blind shots. Being a first time player there, there were too many instances where I had no idea where I was supposed to hit. Just know what you’re getting into. Wish we would’ve played somewhere else.

  12. John H.

    October 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    If you come in the northern Montreal area,
    play La Bête, not Le Géant. For the same price, you’ll get better conditions, a more scenic course (with lots of deers), a better challenge and no Mickey Mouse holes.

  13. Hans Berntson

    October 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    In the Santa Fe/Albuquerque area, play Black Mesa over Paa-Ko Ridge.

  14. Wendy B.

    October 2, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    If you happen to be in The Netherlands the best courses are difficult to get on, but for good golf, play Liemeer (usually open, much better ground conditions) rather than Zegersloot (wet, wet, often over-booked or closed).

    Agree these tips are fantastic, also hints like from Steve about Copperhead or Colin re: Crandon Park. Great to know about courses that are truly better, rather than those we only know about because we have heard about them. THANKS!

  15. warren starner

    October 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    When in Wisconsin play the Irish Course at Whistling Straits not the Straits course. Same style of play, same Pete Dye design just not next to Lake Michigan and it is half the price.

  16. Gabe

    October 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Totally disagree on Ko’olau and the former Luana Hills(Royal Hawaiian). Ko’olau is a far better golf course, Luana Hills is much shorter and lacks the views of Ko’olau. I agree that Ko’olau can be wet but so is Luana Hills. If you play Ko’olau more than once or twice you will realize there are plenty of places to play it safe.

    Agree on the Island over Royal Dublin(no comparison) The dunes at the Island are awesome. Also agree on Spyglass over Pebble.

  17. Jim Collins

    October 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    English turn is a great course!

  18. Tom Hill

    October 2, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    In Palm Springs area, suggest Indian Canyons South rather than Silver Rock, or even the Stadium Course at PGA West. IC South has mountains right on top of the course and only 1 or 2 holes that have homes alongside, also less expensive and less windy. Would still recommend the Stadium Course as a must-play but almost guarantee you’ll enjoy your round at Indian canyons south more.

  19. Bruce

    October 2, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Really like the article and readers’ commentary, but Spyglass over Pebble? I suppose if you’re played both multiple times and you want to save a few bucks, you might come to that conclusion. I’ve played both, and would unequivocally say, if it’s your first visit there, you have to play Pebble. I couldn’t believe I would ever pay that much, but when i finished my first thought was, it was worth it and I would do it again. Spyglass is great, but there is a reason that Nicklaus said that if he could only play one last round, it would be Pebble.

  20. Scott

    October 2, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Just a couple of my personal thoughts on some popular destinations.
    Play here: We-Ko-Pa, Saguaro Course
    Not here: TPC Scottsdale
    -Saguaro is a Coore/Crenshaw design that features wide fairways and uses natural land contours for the routing. TPC Scottsdale is dead flat and only recognizable because of the Phoenix Open.

    Play here: Dormie or Pine Needles
    Not here: Pinehurst No. 2
    -Dormie is very peaceful and again uses the natural land contours, Pine Needles is just less crowded than Pinehurst but still has many classic Ross features.

  21. Rex

    October 2, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    When in the Pinehurst area play Pine Needles not Pinehurst #2. Nothing wrong with Pinehurst #2(except the price) but with all due respect Pine Needles is a great Donald Ross classic that has hosted major championships too. Plenty of history and character to each hole. Play it once and you will remember every hole. Maybe less than half the price. Great value and friendly staff.

  22. Kevin Markham

    October 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    A big thanks to Rich Kupersmith on his Ireland thoughts. I’ve been shot down in flames for saying The Island is the best links in Dublin. Portmarnock takes all the global plaudits, but for excitement you can’t beat the Island. A great test. I was there this morning and there were Americans in front and behind me and a French fourball behind them.

    Rich, if you think the dunes at the Island are big, get yourself to Carne or Enniscrone in the north west.

  23. john stachowski

    October 4, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    When in Scottland, besides the Old Course, play Kingsbarns GC instead of Carnousite. Kingsbarns has a great design where the North Sea comes into play on a couple of holes. Fairly wide fairways and one of the best finishing holes in the country. Carnastie (which many of the locals call it) has narrow fairways and poor bunker location in the fairways. The one thing that shocked me was when asking about a driving range to warm-up the pro shop directed me to two concrete hard mats and a net.

  24. Samc

    October 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    excellent article – and i would love to see more of this discussion. let me add a couple

    in pinehurst, play tobacco road, instead of any of the other courses pinehurst courses, besides #2. while pine needles is great, i don’t agree that you should skip #2 for it. but if you have time for more than one round, play #2 and then play tobacco road. it is a wild ride, designed by mike stranz, who has done some fantastic courses.

    this one is not really “instead of” – in wisconsin, play the bull at pinehurst farms, along with the whistling straits and blackwolf run courses. the bull is a very tough nicklaus design, that is a great way to start off your trip – the first 3 holes are pretty easy, but then it gets very tough. a bunch of local inns have great stay and play packages. we flew in late one nite from NY, stayed at one of the inns, had home cooked breakfast and the round of golf for $125 – a lot cheaper than any of the courses at kohler. this was a great warm up, as we then made our way over to blackwolf run

  25. Keith

    October 11, 2012 at 11:59 am

    In East Lofhian, Scotland play North Berwick West rather than Muirfield.
    Much more scenic. Holes are more distinctive. Incredible history where old and young tom Morris played epic matches.
    Yes, muirfield is better conditioned and better suited to modern championship golf. But it is very expensive and overly formal . I have played both and would play N.B twice before Muirfiekld again.

  26. Tom

    October 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    When in Southern Maine, play Old Marsh (Wells, ME), not Dunegrass (Old Orchard Beach, ME). There are no dunes at Dunegrass, nor is there any waterfront. There is grass, I suppose, but no dunegrass. It is a very ordinary course. Old Marsh is new, not old, but it is a brilliantly laid-out course with lots of hazards that must be negotiated with great care. Ultimately it is quite playable, provided that you play prudently.

  27. Wilson

    November 21, 2016 at 9:43 am

    In Scotland, disagree with John, forget Kingsbarn, more expensive than any actual Open course, and “feels American.” If you can play, “Carnastie” is tough but fair, hit some good long irons, this is Scotland!

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