Welcome to GOLF’s Travel Mailbag, a series in which members of our staff field your course- and travel-related queries. Have a question for a future mailbag? Tweet us at @golf_com.
What are the most underrated golf courses in the USA for a golf trip? —@rexygolf via Instagram
A good question! To help, we asked three GOLF.com staffers for their picks. And if you’re still looking for even more options (albeit some aren’t “under the radar”), check out our best resorts for buddies trips here.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer: Underrated golf destination? Ooh boy, I’m glad you asked. This August I trekked to Portland, Maine, with colleagues Sean Zak and Claire Rogers to explore whether America’s northeast corner could be considered a worthy recommendation. Good news: The answer was an unanimous “yes!”
Some golf destinations will bathe you in all golf, all the time — and that’s awesome. Others boast PGA Tour-worthy courses. Maine does neither. Instead it delivers courses with history, character, grit, quirk and epic scenery. There are elite courses on the ocean, courses in the mountains, others still overlooking inland lakes. But the best part of a golf trip to Portland is everything else. There’s a reason they call it Vacationland: There are boats, beaches and breweries in ridiculous supply. Portland’s food scene is really good — and not just for lobster rolls.
In other words, Portland is an awesome destination for a well-rounded golf trip. Golf plus other things. Stay in Portland or just south in Kennebunkport and play Cape Arundel. Stay in local hotspot Freeport and play nearby Belgrade Lakes, Brunswick or take the ferry over to the unforgettable Great Chebeague.
You can make Maine your own! Just keep an open mind. You can read more about our trip here or watch the video below.
James Colgan, assistant editor: I had never heard of Traverse City, Mich., until I booked my return flight from there in June. It was Saturday at the Memorial Tournament, and I was about to pinch-hit my way into an all-time work trip from the press center at Muirfield Village.
Beloved podcast hosts and fellow GOLF co-workers Dylan Dethier and Sean Zak were about to trek up to Northern Michigan for a few days at Forest Dunes resort when they called me. Sean was feeling under the weather, they said, and since I was just a short drive away, would I be interested in joining?
Two days later, I screeched out of the parking lot of a Dublin Marriott in my rental Toyota Corolla and embarked on a six-hour journey into the Great Lake State.
I arrived to find golf summer camp — a tiny, friendly, escapist resort tucked a dozen miles into the middle of the woods. Dylan, Sean, our host Tyler Tabor and I played The Loop, Tom Doak’s now-famous reversible design — a wide-open, wildly friendly and endlessly quirky track. Then we played the Bootlegger, a short course named for the brothers of a certain Sicilian fraternal organization who once owned the resort property. Then came the Dunes Course, the resort’s slice of parkland bliss. We completed our trip, naturally, by playing The Loop again from the other direction — sending our tee shots on our first hole up what was the 18th fairway the previous day.
Our time was stupidly fun. Our golf was stupidly good. Our location was stupidly beautiful. I wish I could go back again if only to play Arcadia Bluffs, another brilliant course that’s only a short drive down the road.
If you’d like to get away from it all (like, really, truly get away), zip your way up to Michigan and thank me later. You’ll be glad you did.
Josh Berhow, managing editor: Good picks above. I’ll stick with the northern trend and pick the Brainerd, Minn., area. First of all, it’s worth noting I live in Minnesota and am very familiar with that spot, and I actually tried pretty hard to name something out of state, but alas, I didn’t really have a great under-the-radar destination I’ve visited myself over the last few years worth mentioning. So Brainerd is the perfect pick! And I’ll defend and recommend this here forever. Here’s why.
The Brainerd Lakes region is loaded with great golf courses, top-notch resorts, sparkling lakes and glorious vacation fun. Grand View Lodge, one of our Top 100 Resorts, has 18 holes at The Preserve (with an epic 19th-hole view) and three different nines at The Pines, not to mention all the awesome resort goodies (spa, restaurants, beach, boating, etc.) to complete any stay. Madden’s Resort has two 18-hole courses that are cheaper alternatives than some of the others in the area, but it also has what many believe to be the top area course in The Classic, which is one of the best-conditioned and highest-rated public courses in the state. There’s also Cragun’s Resort, which already had two awesome courses but has started on a massive renovation and will soon have three different nines at The Dutch Legacy and a brand new Lehman Legacy, named after the man in charge of the redesign, Minnesotan Tom Lehman. And then there’s Deacon’s Lodge, an awesome Arnold Palmer design at Breezy Point Resort.
And those are the just the courses I’ve played (there’s more to check out), and they are all within 30 minutes of each other. What’s great about Brainerd is that whole region is just a superb vacation spot in the gorgeous Northwoods. Besides the golf there’s great beaches, lake activities, restaurants, shopping, mini golf, water views, amusement parks and more. So it doesn’t even have to be a buddies trip; it’s just as great as a family-trip option. It’s 2 1/2 hours from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, so not even a terrible drive for out-of-staters.
What’s more is the area just keeps getting better. For example, The Gravel Pit, a 13-hole par-3 course that also has a 13-hole extreme putting course, is set to open in Brainerd in the spring.