Most golfers who visit Southern California know about the exclusive private clubs, the courses on the Pacific Ocean and certainly the courses near San Diego. But if you’re looking for affordable golf that’s also fun to play, Inland Empire golf courses are a good bet.
It’s a region that stretches from cities of western Riverside County and southwestern San Bernardino County, generally speaking. A warmer climate to be sure than the coastal areas, Inland Empire golf courses offers plenty of solid golf at a good value.
Perhaps the most golf rich of these areas is the western Riverside County area, and courses like Oak Quarry Golf Club in the city of Riverside lead the way. Oak Quarry, designed by Brian Curley, Lee Schmidt and Dr. Gil Moran, has plenty of elevated tees and elevation changes, plus terrific conditions, but it’s just the beginning. Over in Temecula, you could check out Temecula Creek Inn Golf Resort, which is set in the wine country, or the Journey at Pechanga, which not only offers a challenging Arthur Hills layout, but gaming, entertainment and lodging options as well.
Another of the top Inland Empire Golf Courses is The Country Club at Soboba Springs in San Jacinto, about 30 miles southeast of Riverside. Originally the Soboba Springs Royal Vista Golf Club, which opened in 1966, the course was designed by Desmond Muirhead. In 2005 the Luiseno Indians purchased the course and hired Cary Bickler, a disciple of Muirhead’s, to renovate the course, adding new bunkers, tees, water features and length. The course played host to the Soboba Springs Golf Classic on the Web.com Tour from 2009-’12.
Just north of The Country Club at Soboba Springs in the city of Beaumont, you’ll find three more excellent Schmidt-Curley designs. Oak Valley Golf Club is known for its excellent conditions, scenery and layout. And over at the Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon, there are two 18-hole layouts – the Legends and the Champions Course. Owned by Southern California PGA and open to guests Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa, both courses are laid out over rolling terrain with plenty of mountain scenery.
North of Riverside in San Bernardino County, there are plenty of options, too. And a good place to start would be semi-private Arrowhead Country Club in the city of San Bernardino. An original William P. Bell design, the course measures a little more than 6,600 yards, is walkable and in great condition year-round.
Just west of San Bernardino in Fontana, Sierra Lakes Golf Club in a Ted Robinson design with great views of the San Bernardino Mountains. Measuring just over 6,800 yards, the course, which features plenty of water, works its way into the foothills on the back nine.
And finally, if you head over the western part of the county, there’s Vellano Country Club and Los Serranos Golf and Country Club in Chino Hills. Both are open to the public. Opened in 2007, Vellano Country Club is a fairly difficult Greg Norman design with plenty of ravines and hills, while Los Serranos has two 18-hole layouts, both dating back to 1925. Los Serranos’ North Course, designed by John Duncan Dunn, is a little less than 6,700 yards, while the South, designed by William Eaton, plays more than 7,500 yards from the tips with a slope rating of 76.1.
New England is home to many worthwhile golf destinations, but the state of Connecticut – and particularly the capital city of Hartford – tends to get overlooked. Hartford is not on the ocean or in the mountains, but it is close to an ever-improving airport, and the best golf courses in Hartford provide excellent value.
One of the best golf courses in Hartford is Keney Park Golf Course, a historic municipal golf course that recently received a multi-million dollar restoration/renovation effort courtesy of architect Matt Dusenberry, a longtime Greg Norman associate. Dusenberry had a unique challenge in front of him at Keney: restore a long-neglected course with nines shaped in different eras and by men with very different levels of experience. Keney’s front nine was designed by Golden Age master Devereux Emmet, and its back nine was laid out a couple decades later by Robert “Jack” Ross, a Hartford city engineer. Wisely, Dusenberry chose to retain the Emmet style throughout the course, and hit an absolute home run. Now, Keney Park is not just a great municipal course, it is one of the best public courses in the Northeast. Best of all, green fees top out under $50.
But Keney Park is not the only standout Hartford golf course. Just a couple towns over in Bloomfield, Wintonbury Hills Golf Course is another superb municipal layout, designed by Pete Dye and Tim Liddy. Wintonbury Hills’ holes glide up and down rolling former farmland, and the long par-4 14th, which skirts a reservoir, is one of the area’s most memorable holes.
Another solid daily-fee option in Bloomfield is Gillette Ridge Golf Club (image above). This Arnold Palmer Signature design is a stern but fun challenge from any tee, with the drivable par-4 13th tempting players to go for the green from any tee box. The 17th, a par five, has a unique green site, with part of the putting surface located on a concrete bridge above a creek.
Whereas Wintonbury Hills and Gillette Ridge represent the more modern golf options in Hartford, there are a number of solid traditional tests as well. Manchester Country Club, just east of Hartford, boasts an interesting design history, with Tom Bendelow, Devereux Emmet and A.W. Tillinghast all having worked on the course over the years. The par-3 18th at Manchester is one of the best finishing holes around.
Many area golfers enjoy the 27-hole complex at Tunxis Country Club in Farmington, with its 18-hole Green and White courses and its sporty 9-hole Red layout. Just west of Tunxis, on the border of the towns of Farmington and New Britain lies Stanley Golf Course, a 27-hole layout that is not long but provides plenty of challenge with its small, sloping greens. A few miles south, Timberlin Golf Course is another beloved muni that is well-maintained, affordable and has a great local flavor.
Some of the most scenic holes on the Hartford golf scene can be found at Tower Ridge Country Club, a Geoffrey Cornish course in nearby Simsbury, is often considered one of the best golf courses in Hartford due to it’s beauty. The front nine climbs part of Avon Mountain and offers gorgeous views of the Farmington River Valley, especially in the fall when the leaves have changed colors. Just down the road from Tower Ridge in the town of Avon is the flatter but nevertheless engaging Blue Fox Run Golf Course, a 27-hole course with holes on either side of the Farmington River.
The best golf courses in Hartford may not be as well known as other New England golf destinations, but it is easy to get to by car or plane, and is sneaky-strong on off-course activities as well. Hiking trails, river activities (on the Farmington or the Connecticut) and an ascendant craft beer and restaurant scene and the popular minor league Hartford Yard Goats baseball team.
Scotland is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many golfers, and even they are the lucky ones. But savvy golfers, especially from around the U.K. and Europe, manage to find ways to return again and again. The trick to saving money in Scotland is to first, avoid the Open Championship courses that charge a premium to walk in the footsteps of historic champions. Links courses, rare as they are, charge a premium (anything under $100 is a pretty good bargain), so don’t be afraid to visit a few heathland or parkland courses to find some of the best value courses in Scotland.
Green fees are low at these excellent links courses, but getting there may be tricky. The first example is Machrihanish (Old) and Machrihanish Dunes. The drive down to the Mull of Kintyre can take about four hours, but when you arrive, the links are charming and sparsely played. Both courses offer competitive green fees for those who make the journey. You can add a third course that is an even deeper bargain, Dunaverty, which on certain days operates on an “honor box” basis.
Also on the west side of Scotland is one of the better parkland bargains. Doug Carrick is well known by Canadians as one of the country’s best golf course architects, but he’s a lesser-known name when compared to Old Tom Morris and James Braid. So his design at Loch Lomond, The Carrick Course (image above), punches well above its green fee with wonderful mountain and loch views.
The Kingdom of Fife is well known for St. Andrews of course, but there are so many golf courses that a player can literally name their price for a round of golf. Perhaps the best value course in Scotland is Crail Golfing Society, which has two links courses that are wonderfully scenic. It’s also a rare opportunity to play not only one of the oldest links courses in the U.K., the Balcomie Links, but also one of Gil Hanse’s earlier solo designs, the Craighead.
The two links at Fairmont St. Andrews are also worth mentioning. They are both very scenic and stay-and-play packages that include a room at this luxury hotels can sometimes run as low as $150 per person. Many Fairmonts in the U.S. charge well over $300 for a room alone. The St. Andrews Links Trust has a 3- and 7-day Links Ticket that affords unlimited golf on six of their seven courses (excluding the Old).
East Lothian is a prime area for some of the best value courses in Scotland. Craigielaw Golf Club and Kilspindie are neighbors and reward golfers looking to add on a couple rounds after playing its more heralded neighbors like Muirfield or North Berwick. Gullane’s three courses are led by the No. 1, which is a Scottish Open host, but Nos. 2 and 3 are shorter but a deeper bargain.
Gullane isn’t the only historic club with multiple courses. Royal Troon (Portland Course) and Carnoustie (Burnside and Buddon links) are examples of Open Championship venues that have additional links that can be enjoyed for less.
There are a few other ways you can save in Scotland: Look for day tickets instead of 18-hole rounds, so you can get more golf for your buck. Visitors green fees at many clubs can be more expensive on weekends (also with fewer times available) versus midweek. Caddies are great but pricy, so stick to a push cart instead. Lodging can be more affordable in the off-peak months like April, so even if the golf courses start to charge summer prices, your room may be more affordable. Some courses also offer last-minute specials and twilight rates. Keep in mind that the summer months have plenty of sunshine and you can still get in 18 holes teeing off at 6 p.m.
There are plenty more value courses in Scotland you have likely never heard of that can be played for a fraction of the top links courses. Our advice for your next trip is to save a day or two and take a chance on one. Even if it’s quirky, you may really enjoy the unique experience.
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Technology and data are only helpful if you are using them to make smarter decisions. In golf, there has been an influx of both over the past decade. Many times it can be too much, and overwhelm a golfer.
In this article I want to show you how you can effectively utilize a launch monitor like SkyTrak to make more informed decisions on your tee shots, ultimately lowering your score on each hole. This is a fun little exercise that players of all levels can do which will make you more prepared for the golf courses you are playing.
Last year I was visiting my former college golf coach Rich Mueller, who is now in charge of the program at Columbia University. We were talking about how he uses stats and launch monitor data to help his team make smarter decisions around the golf course. Mark Broadie, the inventor of the strokes gained statistic is a professor at the business school there and had a large impact on the program.
I found one technique, in particular, to be very interesting. Rich told me at the beginning of the season he put his players through a tee-shot combine on their launch monitor. His goal was for his players to prove what kind of dispersion they had with their drivers and based on that number they would plan their club selection on holes using satellite images of golf courses.
He had gotten the idea from Scott Fawcett, who is the creator of a highly popular course strategy system called DECADE. The concept seemed pretty brilliant to me, and I wanted to use a similar process with my own game. This video will you a much more in-depth discussion on how it works.
Recently I purchased a SkyTrak launch monitor to help me practice more effectively at home, and have some fun playing simulated courses. You can check out my full review here, but this is a great product that will deliver accurate metrics for a test like this.
Using the range mode I am able to track the dispersion of my tee shots and plot them visually. I had been keeping track of this over several months, but wanted to put myself “under the gun.”
So I hit 30 tee shots to get an idea of what my tendencies are. I was looking for three data points mostly:
Here are a few screenshots of my data that SkyTrak provided.
You can see that a majority of my shots were in a cluster just a little left of my target line. However, I was looking for the total dispersion from left to right, which was 68 yards. Interestingly enough, this falls in line with the formula that is used in the DECADE system. Generally speaking, Scott Fawcett uses a dispersion of about 65 – 70 yards in order to plan whether or not a player should hit driver on certain holes.
Now that I have a general idea of my numbers from working with SkyTrak, I can take this information and use it on golf courses that I play in competition (or otherwise).
A neat little trick you can do is use Google Maps or Google Earth to plot golf courses you are playing. Golf course architecture has a way of repeating itself, and you can make smarter decisions with your club and target selection off the tee before you even get to the course.
Having these decisions made beforehand, and sticking with them is the core of smart course management. You absolutely can lower your scores if you take a more formulaic approach to your course strategy.
With tee shots, your goal is to hit driver where it makes sense. Mark Broadie has shown pretty convincing data that on average when you are closer to the hole your chances of posting a lower score goes up.
At the same time, you want to avoid major hazards such as water, out of bounds, fairway bunkers, or places where your approach shot might be obstructed. The idea is to give yourself a better chance of scoring over time. It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll never hit a shot that falls outside of your general dispersion, but you are planning for what is typical of your abilities.
Now that I am confident what my dispersion is with my driver, and have my distances, I can make some decisions on strategy.
I know that I am carrying the ball about 250 yards with my driver, and usually, my total distance will be about 270-275 yards. Additionally, I will use a dispersion of 68 yards from left to right which will account for the majority of my tee shots.
This is the 12th hole at St. George’s Country Club in Setauket, NY. This hole always presents a difficult decision off the tee. It’s extremely narrow with out of bounds on the left, and a large hill on the right that is covered with deep fescue and trees.
My overall goal is to try and avoid hitting the ball out of bounds to the left – my average score on the hole will remain dramatically lower if I can accomplish that goal. I have plotted out the 68 yards dispersion at my total driving distance and it puts me well into the OB area (and in danger of hitting my friend Nick Banks’ house!). Additionally, the deep fescue, which can be equally penal is also in play with the driver.
On this hole, I think I’m best suited hitting a club less than a driver that has a more narrow dispersion and take the fescue out of play. It might make my approach shot into the green a little bit longer, but it will help reduce my chances of carding a big number by putting my driver out of bounds or getting stuck in the knee-high grass.
The next two examples are two of the greatest finishing holes I have ever played – the 18th holes at Bethpage Black and Red. Both were designed by legendary architect A.W. Tillinghast who is notorious for giving golfers complicated decisions off the tee.
I’ll start with the 18th at Red, which is a pretty imposing tee shot.
You have two large bunkers that are staggered to the left and right that are surrounded by deep grass. I have almost zero chance of clearing the bunker on the right, but on average I can clear the bunker on the left since it is an elevated tee that will add some distance to my drive.
Using my dispersion of 68 yards I can actually play a little farther to the left. My goal is to avoid the bunker on the right in most instances, and at worst still have an angle from the left rough to the green. On this hole, I think it makes sense to hit driver and aim towards the left center of the fairway. Taking anything less than driver here still exposes me to plenty of trouble and a longer approach shot.
The 18th hole at Bethpage Black presents a more interesting decision. The tee shot faces you with two sets of nasty bunkers on both sides of a pinched fairway.
From the tees I typically play this hole, it is just about 200 yards to reach the end of the widest part of the fairway, which leaves an approach shot of roughly 170 yards to the green.
If you want to take on more distance, Tillinghast begins to narrow the fairway dramatically and adds plenty of risks. Where I usually land my drives, the fairway is only 16 yards wide, and heavily guarded by bunkers and nasty rough. I can’t clear the trouble, and you can see that my driver dispersion brings almost every single bunker into play. Anyone who has ever played this hole knows that if you hit it in those bunkers your chances of reaching the green drop to almost zero.
In this instance, I think I give myself the best opportunity to post a lower score on this hole by playing a 200 yard-tee shot to the widest part of the fairway, and avoiding the bunkers altogether.
Generally speaking, the farther you hit the ball the wider your dispersion will be. For players who are driving the ball more than 250 yards, and are relatively accurate, the 65-70 yard dispersion tendency can hold true. However, if you are not hitting it that far it could mean that your total dispersion is far less, and it could make sense for you to hit driver on many holes.
If you do want to be smarter about planning your tee shots I recommend getting access to launch monitors like SkyTrak. You can benchmark your dispersion, and then use that information to make informed decisions on certain holes with your club and target selection. This is a great way to use technology to your advantage and take some of the guesswork out of golf.
Being a smart course manager is about combining the knowledge of your tendencies as a golfer and applying them to the architecture of the course. The more information you have about how far you hit each club, your dispersion patterns, and how that applies to each hole you play, will make your decisions easier.
At the end of the day, your goal is to tip the odds in your favor of shooting a lower score on each hole. You can’t completely control your golf swing, and errant shots are going to occur that will be well outside of your plan. Just keep in mind that this is a long-term strategy and singular events shouldn’t deter you from sticking with what you know is the smarter play.
Seattle is known for a lot of things – rain, traffic, coffee, tech companies Microsoft and Amazon, and the Space Needle – but golf is less so. With beautiful scenery thanks to mountains and the Puget sound, the best golf courses in Seattle are underrated and underappreciated. Part of that narrative changed with the 2015 U.S. Open held at Chambers Bay in nearby Tacoma. The faux links course by Robert Trent Jones Jr., a public course owned by Pierce County on the shores of the Puget Sound, put the region on the map. Only a few golf destinations in America feature a U.S. Open host open to the public that can anchor a golf trip. Chambers Bay has its flaws – its fescue greens are being converted to Poa annua grass after a decade of inconsistent conditions – but it’s a beautiful property where the walking-only policy and caddies add up to a unique experience.
Although the sun doesn’t always shine, the climate is mild enough that golfers can play at the best golf courses in Seattle all year round, if the cold and rain lets up in winter.
Close to Chambers Bay is The Home Course in DuPont, jointly owned by the Pacific Northwest Golf Association and the Washington State Golf Association. Sod-wall bunkering gives the RTJ Jr. design a linksy look. Golfers who don’t want to stray too far from downtown’s tourist traps – Pike Place Market, the Space Needle and Seattle Mariners/Seahawks games – can find 36 holes closer to downtown at the affordable Willows Run Golf Complex in Redmond or the scenic but pricier Golf Club at Newcastle in Newcastle. Washington National Golf Club, home of the University of Washington Huskies golf teams in Auburn, and the Druids Glen Golf Club, located in Covington in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, provide strong tests of golf.
A short ferry ride from Seattle reveals the Kitsap Peninsula, where The Olympic course at Gold Mountain in Bremerton (image above) and the Trophy Lake Golf & Casting Club in Port Orchard reside in stunning natural settings. Trophy Lake, the Golf Club at Newcastle and Washington National are all Oki Golf properties and rank as contenders as best golf courses in Seattle.
Two premier golf resorts beckon beyond the city limits if you want to explore the best golf courses in Seattle a bit further. Across the Cascade mountains from Seattle about 90 miles away is Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, one of the driest sites in the state. Both the Arnold-Palmer-designed Prospector Course and the newer Rope Rider Course by Peter Jacobsen/Jim Hardy are strong (Tom Doak’s Tumble Creek is private). Suncadia is surrounded by the Wenatchee Washington National Forest, offering hiking, biking, white-water rafting and more. Salish Cliffs Golf Club and the Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton offer similar luxury on a smaller scale. Nice restaurants, spas and comfortable accommodations are staples at both resorts.
With so many choices, there might not be a better place to play summer golf in America than the Pacific Northwest … as long as the sun is shining.