There’s a reason the PGA takes off from early October to early January — conditions just aren’t that pleasant. And no matter how well you layer, a cold day on the links usually ends up an exercise in discomfort. But golfers are in luck: There are a number of destinations around the world with great weather and pristine links year round. In fact, Startle editors found five fabulous courses that play well above par in the winter.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, Maui
Like watching a highlight reel of Fred Couples’ swing, a trip to Maui’s Kapalua never gets old. Since its inception, avid golfers and critics alike have praised the resort for its lavish accommodations—the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Ritz-Carlton provides much of the wow factor, as does the Bay Course for its rolling fairways and cliff-hugging approaches. Still, it’s Kapalua’s other 18-hole masterpiece, the Plantation Course, that garners most of the attention for hosting the PGA Tour’s season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions each January. But with 6,600 yards of breezy course flow, seaside views at Holes 4 and 5, and pristine landscaping at every turn, we’re still bewitched by the Bay Course.
Streamsong Resort, Ft. Meade, Fla.
Because of its relatively remote location—about an hour from Tampa International Airport—and limited lodging (just 12 rooms in the clubhouse), Streamsong will be more of a day-trip destination when it opens its doors in late December. But for those who want a longer stay, a much larger 216-room lakeside lodge is scheduled to open fourth quarter 2013. In the meantime, those in central Florida can tee off at the sand dune-dotted Streamsong Red, designed by dynamic duo Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, or the more rugged Streamsong Blue, the brainchild of golf architect Tom Doak. Both courses will create a golfing experience unlike anything in Florida—and with the Sunshine State’s impressive portfolio of 1,250 courses, that’s saying a lot.
Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa, Maldives
Just because you can’t hit a 300-yard moonshot off the tee like Bubba Watson doesn’t mean you can’t act like a pro by staying at this Indian Ocean paradise—comprised of 132 tranquil villas, a spa village and the new palm tree-lined (and expertly maintained) Villingili Golf Course. The Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa is designed with the recreational golfer in mind, this nine-hole, 1,111-yard beauty in the Maldives won’t be confused for a stop on the PGA Tour. For one, there are no par-5 holes and only three par-4s on the stress-free layout. Golfers can ease into a round with Pinterest-worthy lagoon shots and sweeping views of the ocean that just can’t be matched elsewhere.
Apes Hill Club, Barbados
The Caribbean is ripe with gorgeous courses—Dominican Republic’s Cap Cana and Anguilla’s CuisinArt Golf Club (formerly Temenos) are impressive go-tos—but very few can duplicate the Barbadian beauty and all-around excellence at Apes Hill Club in Barbados. With December temperatures in the mid 70s, coral stone formations jutting periodically through the greens and the sounds of indigenous green monkeys in the bordering jungle, a walk along the fairways is almost surreal. The course, designed by the veteran resort visionaries at Landmark Land Company, is members-only, but book one of the airy, smartly decorated villas and you’ll get an invitation to play. When heading out, sneak a camera in your golf bag, as the view of the North Atlantic from 1,000 feet up at Hole 3 is a stunner.
Barnbougle Dunes, Tasmania, Australia
When you think about Tasmania, golf probably isn’t the first activity that comes to mind. But we’d bet a clubhouse lunch that would change if you spent time on two complementing courses this winter. Barnbougle Dunes, which annually tops the list of Australia’s finest courses, is an eight-year-old, windswept marvel that’s part nod to Mother Nature and part challenge to the mind and body. The sharp, modern on-site cottages open up to patios that overlook the course and the sea. Looking to mix it up while you’re in town? Head to neighboring Barnbougle Lost Farm—the dramatic Bill Coore course debuted in December 2010. Early accolades (it was No. 82 on Golf Magazine’s top 100 courses in the world in 2011) already hint that it’ll do its part to make Barnbougle one of the country’s premier golf escapes.
Photos Courtesy of Barnbougle DunesTags: Apes Hill Club, Barbados, Barnbougle Dunes, Ft Meade, Golf, Maldives, PGA, Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Shangri-La Villingili, Streamsong Resort, Tasmania