The Best Golf Courses on the Coast
Pack your clubs and call a caddie: A golf expert shares his favorite waterfront courses and the exceptional perks that make each one memorable
Located on a remote, otherwise seldom-visited Oregon coast-line, Bandon Dunes is the "it" golf course for people who know what's up and are looking to avoid the status-conscious excess of other American courses. The setting among the high dunes was one of heartbreaking beauty but scant human use before Mike Keiser, the resort's founder and owner, arrived here in the 1990s. There are now five courses on the vast acreage: The quirky Pacific Dunes course is open to the wind and easy to play but hard to score on.
This little-town nine-holer is not exactly golf-intense, but it's pure coastal bliss, with spectacular ocean views all around and a lighthouse right in the middle. Highland Links, a 120-year-old course in the two-traffic-light town of Truro, likes to keep things simple. From various spots along the breezy, firm, fescue-grass course, you can take in 20-mile views of the vast Atlantic, ever aware of the ancient sentry beside the seventh tee: the stout, well-maintained lighthouse depicted in Edward Hopper's 1930 watercolor Highland Light, North Truro. Eighteen holes of golf for $40; 508/487-9201 or trurolinks.com.
Up and down Ireland's Atlantic coast are jagged cliffs with high dunes, interrupted by open ground that tilts and ripples to form naturally contoured fairways. The more level terrain is covered in close-cropped fescue, while the dunes are topped with thick maram grass that waves hypnotically—especially as you study it in search of an errant golf ball. "We wouldn't find that one if it were wrapped in bacon and we sent Lassie after it," says an old Irish caddie. It's been customary these past few decades for U.S. golfers to fly into Shannon airport and then hurry along the sea-front playing Waterville, Ballybunion, Enniscrone, Lahinch, and a chorus of other Irish links. Rates start at $210, 18 holes of golf for $110; 866/366-6234 or doonbeglodge.com.
The PGA, one of golf's four majors, was played here in August, cementing Kiawah's position as one of the most respected and legit of all golf communities on the Eastern Seaboard. Pete Dye's starkly pretty Ocean Course is scary-good—stunning, daring, boldly featured, and nearly impossible to play. Luckily, its shock-and-awe factor abates slightly when winds are calm, which does occasionally happen. The world's top pros competed here in 1991 and were not shy about admitting how merciful it was to be playing a Ryder Cup, which is scored by hole, as opposed to a "medal" score—it meant they could avoid the embarrassment of posting a total tally.
You can play golf the world over, but seldom will the sea treat you to as dramatic a performance as the one viewed from the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Rock formations in Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove make for noisy collisions followed by thrilling plumes of white surf. Arriving at this resort to play the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links for the first time is like meeting a movie star whose films you've long admired. Today, this course, where five U.S. Opens have been played, is more accessible, but it remains a high-ticket, bucket-list destination. Greens fees are $495; 800/654-9300 or pebblebeach.com.
Like much of this largely eco-protected island, the young yet famous golf course laid out here is crisscrossed by heaving land features, their edges softened by a prevailing wind called the "roaring forties." Seaside golf traditionally includes one compact hole that tests nothing but a player's educated hands and refined "touch"—at Barnbougle the diminutive par-3 seventh plays that role. You stand on the tee, having traveled thousands of miles to a remote, magical destination, and now you need to loft your golf ball 100-something paces to relive that pleasure of safe arrival. Rates start at $150, 18 holes of golf for $99; 61/36/356-0094 or barnbougledunes.com.
This resort put the Dominican Republic into the consciousness of the "course collecting" American golfer back in the 1970s, when trailblazing modernist architect Pete Dye designed Teeth of the Dog. The part of the course that quickens heartbeats is a stretch of surfside excitement highlighted by holes five, seven, and 16, where smooth turf grass meets coral, sand, and warm Caribbean waters. Oceanfront golf so reliably adheres to Scottish minimalism and rusticity that the glam enticements of Casa de Campo merit some celebration. Rates start at $295, 18 holes of golf for $135; 855/877-3643 or casadecampo.com.do.
Every year, golf fans can get a good look at the Plantation Course's oceanfront holes—and catch glimpses of breaching whales in the distance—during the PGA Tour's season-starting, televised event, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. The famed tandem, Coore & Crenshaw, routed Plantation Course on Kapalua along breeze-washed terrain that opens up to soul-stirring middle- and long-distance views of the endless Pacific. The challenges of this unusually long course are unrelenting. If you aren't a long hitter, you can't shoot a good score on it unless you opt to play from the upfront tee markers. Eighteen holes of golf for $218; 800/545-0018 or kapalua.com.