Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus once said that if he had only one more round to play, he’d play it at Pebble Beach Golf Links. This seaside classic in California has played host to some of the finest moments in golf history over the course’s 95 years of existence. Cliffs, spectacular rock formations, ocean breezes and crashing waves accompany golfers at the site of five U.S. Opens (with a sixth coming in 2019). Ranked No. 1 on Golf Digest’s 2013-2014 list of 100 greatest public courses, the par-72 course is highlighted by the par-5 18th hole, considered one of the most famous finishing holes in the world.
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The site of Golf Digest’s third- and sixth-ranked public courses, this Oregon coastline property maximizes its natural beauty with features such as natural bunkers and rippled fairways. Wind, of course, adds to the experience. The third-ranked Pacific Dunes course rivals Pebble Beach in the minds of many, in both difficulty and beauty. “Our layout is short enough to give every golfer hope, but its rugged nature will test every facet of your game,” says architect Tom Doak of the 6,633-yard course. The Bandon Dunes course was designed by a Scotsman with orders to emulate the Scottish seaside links experience. Bandon is also ranked sixth in Golf Digest’s list of 50 most fun courses.
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The beauty of golf is that it allows fans to play the same courses as the pros, and Sea Pines Resort’s Harbour Town Golf Links is a great example of that. Located in golf-centric Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Harbour Town’s famous 18th hole closes with the iconic red and white lighthouse behind the green, a hole many PGA Tour players know well, as the RBC Heritage Open is held there annually. The resort works in tandem with several other island courses, but for incentive planners looking for an all-in-one option, Sea Pines has two additional courses on property, ensuring flexibility to customize the golfing experience for attendees.
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You must be a guest of an MGM Resorts International location to play this Las Vegas course, ranked fifth by Golf Digest, but it is worth the lodging requirement. A round begins with a limo ride from the hotel, followed by a personal greeting and escort to the locker room by the head pro. Incorporating trees, mountains, waterfalls and creeks, architect Tom Fazio succeeded in making golfers forget how close they are to the glitz and glamour of Sin City. Incentive trips to Las Vegas are always welcome, as golfers hit the fairways during the day and the blackjack tables at night.
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This 119-year-old course will host its third U.S. Open in 2014, and a week later, the U.S. Women’s Open. Jack Nicklaus says it is his favorite course from a design standpoint: “…a totally tree-lined course without a tree coming into play.” The No. 2 course, which ranked seventh on the Golf Digest list, is known for its tricky greens, natural sand bunkers and sand hills that line both sides of each fairway. The North Carolina gem is one of the hottest tee times in the country, and with eight available courses on-site, Pinehurst provides incentive planners a veritable cornucopia of options for a golf program.
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If you enjoy battling the elements, this is the course for you. South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course claims that every hole played here can be an 8-club difference, depending on the direction and strength of the wind at a course with the most seaside holes in the Northern Hemisphere. The site of the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship, the Pete Dye-designed course was No. 4 on the 2013-2014 Golf Digest list of top public courses.
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The No. 2 public course by Golf Digest standards, this Wisconsin course is distinguished by its par-3 holes, all of which border Lake Michigan. The Straits Course at Whistling Straits is similar to an Irish golfing experience, with its openness and waterside wind. Designed by Pete Dye, the course is for walkers only, but after lugging their bag nearly 8,000 yards, golfers can recover at Wisconsin’s only Forbes five-star property, The American Club Resort Hotel.
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