Top Places to Stay While Learning To Play Golf

There’s a special breed of energetic, overachieving American who dominates business ventures, banks, and boardrooms and yearns to do the same to a small, white dimpled ball. Some in this group have played since they could grasp a cut-down club; others saw the light later on in life. But all insist on improvement. Eventually, their thoughts turn to golf school.

To lure this desirable yet dauntingly demanding group, golf schools are fast realizing that they must transcend the venerable traditions of dormitory living and drills at dawn and offer a more attractive learning environment. For a clientele as passionate about being pampered as it is about playing, they must provide both excellent instruction and world-class perks: a cushy clubhouse for a two-star lunch, elegant guest rooms with scented linens, digital video analysis of the swing and spa treatments for the soul, at least one championship course and a generous assortment of diversions for time off the tees.

The resorts included here are destinations with enough appeal for a nongolfing spouse or even for a family getaway. They have or are affiliated with superb schools – all top names in golf – appropriate for both new and experienced players. The list includes some time-honored classics (golfers are, after all, a conservative clan), but all have been renovating and updating to keep their sheen.

Pebble Beach, California

A golfer will always manage to mention it if he or she has played Pebble Beach, that legendary course with clifftop greens over-looking the ocean, a highlight of Monterey’s Seventeen Mile Drive. The uninitiated may boggle at the thought of paying $310 per round ($245 for resort guests), but anyone who owns a set of clubs will tell you that “Pebble”- the course, the school and the resort is as good as it gets.

Courses: Pebble Beach was ranked the No. 4 course in America by Golf Digest and will host the US. Open in 2000. The resort has two other famous courses – Spyglass Hill and The Links at Spanish Bay – and those with a member introduction can also play the nearby No. 3-rated Cypress Point Club course.

Instruction: The Pebble Beach Golf Academy offers two-day programs, including short-game practice on a nine-hole course and video analysis of your swing at the high-tech Calloway Performance Center. Afternoons are spent on Pebble or Spyglass, With an instructor escort for the first rune holes.

Accommodations: Students stay at the luxurious Inn at Spanish Bay (sister to the smaller but equally soigne Lodge at Pebble Beach, which is not part of the Academy package), set between forest and ocean. The best of the 270 rooms feature gas fireplaces, whirlpool tubs, and oceanfront balconies. In keeping with Spanish Bay’s Scottish-style links, there’s an appealing Highland atmosphere at the Inn, including bagpipes at dusk and superlative single malts at the Traps bar.

Resort appeal: Eight restaurants, a beach and tennis club, and an equestrian center. A full-service spa debuts next fall.

La Quinta, California

The backing of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. has given La Quinta new life, turning a 1920s Hollywood hideaway into a sprawling resort–and a bastion of golf – for the ’90s. Big news: a comprehensive spa and wellness center debuts this summer.

Courses: La Quinta holds the 1997 record for hosting the greatest number of televised PGA Tour events. Of the four courses, the Dunes, With scenic desert surroundings, has one of the toughest holes in America (the 17th). The Mountain Course requires demanding target play. The other two are at PGA WEST, an adjoining sister property: a rugged Scottish layout called the Stadium, and the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course.

Instruction: On-site is the highly regarded Jim McLean Golf School, with a three-day program of seventeen hours of instruction and course play, including video evaluations. Five minutes away is the training center of golf guru Dave Pelz, whose well-known Short Game School has three-day programs for putting, chipping and escaping sand traps.

Accommodations: La Quinta has 640 rooms in one- and two-story casitas-some with wood-burning fireplaces, private patios, and whirlpool tubs-set in a forty-five-acre garden dotted with pools and no fewer than thirty-eight hot tubs.

Resort appeal: Five restaurants (the mega-margaritas at the Adobe Grill are very popular post-golf), riding, biking, hot-air ballooning, and a full range of fitness and beauty options, including outdoor massage.

Scottsdale, Arizona

The low desert-tan buildings, blue pools and green fairways that gleam in the desert near Camelback Mountain debuted just tell years ago, like a magical mirage. Golfers mix with spa rites in front of the soaring glass wall of the lobby lounge, a great place for tea and spectacular views of Phoenix.

The Course: One of Arizona’s most popular courses, and certainly among the most scenic. Twenty-seven holes wrap the resort, incorporating desert, mountain, and classically lush layouts.

Instruction: A half-hour away is the renowned Kostis/McCord Learning Center, founded by PGA pros and CBS golf commentators Peter Kostis and Gary McCord. October through May, three-day programs on the nine-hole teaching course include telephone consultation with a sports psychologist. While at the Phoenician, you may want to consider an interesting new clinic, “Golf Power,” offered by the resort staff since January. During the ninety-minute consultation, students swing for a digital video camera, and the footage is analyzed by both the Phoenician’s director of golf and an expert in biomechanics from the Centre for Well-Being (the spa). Additional coaching in breathing, relaxation, and visualization helps golfers build a better game with both body and mind.

Accommodations: The main house has just under 500 rooms; more than 100 additional rooms are set in garden villas. Most in demand are the new one-bedroom suites in eight-unit casitas overlooking the golf course, all with private entrances and parking. The rooms are quite large (at least 600 square feet), with vast marble bathrooms.

Resort appeal: Nine swimming pools offer something for everyone. The family version has a 165-foot water slide; a more serene adult option is lined with shimmering mother-of-pearl, for swimming laps in luxury. The spa offers both fitness classes and beauty treatments. Other diversions include tennis, croquet, archery, biking, a children’s program, activities for teenagers (including a desert jeep rally) and, for everyone, guided stargazing on Saturday nights.

Naples, Florida

The Ritz, with its sleek U-shaped tower and its grand gardens on the Gulf of Mexico, is considered the most desirable destination in the golf-mad state of mind called Florida, even though it doesn’t have its own course.

The Course: Ritz guests have priority tee times at the thirty-six holes of Pelican’s Nest, the finest of Naples’ fifty-plus courses, located twenty minutes away.

Instruction: The top name in golf instruction right now is David Leadbetter, whose clients include such PGA pros as Nick Price and Nick Faldo. Leadbetter operates several golf academies, one located twelve miles from the Ritz at Quail West, a private thirty-six-hole course with state-of-the-art practice facilities built five years ago. One enthusiastic Ritz guest from Germany recently signed on for two of the three-day courses, back to back.

Accommodations: All 463 rooms have water views. Many guests gravitate to the Club Floor (on the fourteenth floor), which has its own concierge (convenient for booking tee times) and five daily buffets in the private lounge, from breakfast to evening hors-d’oeuvres.

Resort appeal: Three miles of blinding white beach, with beachside food and drink service and a massage tent. Five restaurants, a pool, a fitness and beauty center, six tennis courts, a children’s program, fishing, sailing, Naples’ concert hall, exploring the Everglades.

Sea Island, Georgia

Set on a private coastal island, this family-owned and -operated resort has a timeless feel-it still hosts black-tie dinners twice a week-yet promotes some of the most progressive thinking in golf.

Courses: The Cloister’s fifty-four holes, tended by immaculately uniformed caddies, are set across a small covered bridge on neighboring St. Simons Island. The most legendary is the Seaside Nine, known for unpredictable ocean breezes.

Instruction: Classes (including parent/child sessions) are offered by the Golf Digest Learning Center, a venture of Sea Island and Golf Digest. The indoor/outdoor facility has greens and fairways to simulate every aspect of the game and is set between marshland and the Atlantic for ultra-scenic training. The Cloister’s own staff of pros-including Jack Lumpkin, a 1995 PGA Teacher of the Year-work with fitness trainers from the resort’s acclaimed spa to design personalized programs for strength and flexibility, which is why no one blinks at the sight of CEOs engaged in a ritual of stretching and breathing at the first tee.

Accommodations: The 262 rooms are set in buildings with a variety of views. The most popular are in three villas right on the beach, with private balconies or patios.

Resort appeal: A live orchestra at dinner, and dancing six nights per week. Tennis, a five-mile private beach, a spa and fitness center, riding, boating, biking, fishing, sporting clay, and instruction, as well as Friday night plantation suppers (oyster stew, pecan pie) and a bonfire, set out along the river. The chef leaves out milk and cookies at night.

The Homestead

Hot Springs, Virginia

It’s one of the most historic resorts of the South, where there’s equal reverence for Thomas Jefferson, who many believe designed the octagonal bathhouse for the hot springs in 1761, and Sam Snead, the golf legend who began his career here in 1934. Though tradition is still important, new owners (the company that revived Pinehurst, in North Carolina) have swept away the relish trays and butter girls of the Vanderbilt era. The public rooms, golf courses, and most guest rooms have already been renovated.

Courses: The Cascades, one of three courses, is considered the best mountain layout in America (and ranked No. 42 overall in the US. by Golf Digest).

Fun fact: The Old Course, established in 1892, has the oldest first tee in continuous use in America.

Instruction: Programs with two-and-a-half days of instruction are offered from April to October by the Golf Advantage School, pioneered at Pinehurst. Schooling features video analysis and supervised play on the Cascades course. There are special dates for junior players ages 11 to 17.

Accommodations: Renovation has thus far resurrected 260 of the 517 guest rooms. Quite popular are the aeries in the tower of the main house, where private balconies offer an eyeful of the Alleghenies, and rooms in the East Wing, with porches or fireplaces.

Resort appeal: The updated and expanded spa, tennis, carriage rides, canoeing, hiking, biking, fishing, riding, a 1930s movie theater, an eight-lane bowling alley. Don’t forget tea at four, served among the sixteen Corinthian columns of the Great Hall.

The Equinox

Manchester Village, Vermont

The minute the snow melts in Vermont, talk turns from skiing (and shopping) to golf (and shopping), especially at this grande dame of colonial inns, set on 2,300 wooded acres. The Green Mountain Boys met here during the Revolution, but they wouldn’t recognize the place, which has been refurbished and expanded by Equinox Resort Associates, partly owned by the Guinness family.

The Course: Thoroughly renovated in 1992 and renamed Gleneagles, after the Guinnesses’ revered resort in Scotland. It’s a great walking course (carts are available) and spectacularly beautiful in the fall when the foliage flames.

Instruction: It’s a half-hour drive to the Stratton Golf School, which runs two-day programs from May through October on especially. built greens and fairways, with classrooms and shelters for rainy days.

Accommodations: Of the resort’s 183 rooms, the most favored are the suites with full kitchens in the Charles Orvis Inn, former home of the famous fisherman, set near the main house.

Resort appeal: Three restaurants (don’t miss Sunday brunch at the Colonnade), hiking, biking, riding, a full-service spa, Manchester’s upscale outlet shopping, plus-most unusual-schools for fishing, falconry, and off-road driving.

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