IN THE PUBLIC EYE: St. Johns Golf & Country Club in St. Augustine, Fla.
THE LAYOUT: There are dozens of options on Florida's "Golf Coast," but for the price and experience, St. Johns is one of the best.
Architect Clyde Johnston carved a magnificent 7,236-yard track out of a pine forest that winds through natural wetlands, playing to a par of 72 with a USGA rating of 74.7 and a slope of 132.
However, only low-handicappers can play from the gold tees and must get permission in the pro shop. There are five other sets of tees, down to a 2,500-yard family layout, that make the course enjoyable for players of all abilities.
St. Johns, considered by locals to be the equal of its higher-priced neighbors near Interstate 95, has been host to the PGA Tour qualifying school in the first round five times, the 2006 PGA Level II Qualifying School and U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship local qualifying the last several years.
Before heading out onto the course, warm up on the state-of-the-art practice facility, which includes a 10,000-square-foot putting green, a double-sided driving range and several practice bunkers.
GENERAL MANAGER: Dan Zimmer.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Even though there are 63 bunkers on the course, plus several waste areas, and water comes into play to one degree or another on 14 holes, St. Johns offers wide driving areas and spacious yet challenging green complexes.
After a relatively straightforward opening hole, a 400-yard par 4 where the primary obstacles are a large oak tree and fairway bunkers on the left, Johnston challenges the golfer with a meaty 552-yard par 5. Get past the fairway bunker on the right side of this slight dogleg left and there is water along that side of the fairway all the way to a green guarded by sand and grass bunkers.
After a beautiful 210-yard par 3 with water and sand to the right, the fourth hole is a tantalizing par 4 at 382 yards from the tips, but the lake on the right comes into play off the tee and on the approach.
The front nine wraps up with two magnificent holes. The 565-yard eighth, rated as No. 1 on the card, plays through a corridor of trees, and even though the water is almost out of play on the left near the green, seven bunkers pockmark the trip home. Don't be fooled by the traps short of the green because the putting surface is actually 40 yards beyond.
If you are ever going to hit a straight drive, No. 9 is the place, with water on the left and sand on the right. Hit the fairway and more bunkers plus mounding provide a challenge on the approach to the green, but take a peek at the magnificent view of the stately clubhouse across the water behind the hole.
There is only a trace of water on the first three holes of the back nine, but the par-3 13th, which plays 194 yards from the tips, is almost completely surrounded by it. Even a breath of wind makes club selection dicey, with a single bunker protecting the front of the green.
As good as the rest of the course is, St. Johns is one of those layouts that saves the best for last, starting with the 557-yard, par-5 16th, where water is reachable on both sides of the fairway from the tee. The fairway narrows so an accurate layup shot is required, and the wraparound bunker behind the green on the left is not a bad spot compared to the water beyond.
The 212-yard par-3 17th is a dangerous beauty, with water and sand to the left, a steep slope and grass bunkers on the right. Make par and run to the final tee.
No. 18 is considered the best finishing hole in the area, other than the famous one on Pete Dye's Stadium Course at nearby TPC Sawgrass. Right is the sensible path off the tee because the lake from No. 17 runs all the way down the left side of this hole and three bunkers sit in the middle of the fairway. That's also the best angle from which to approach the green without having to carry the water, which protects the left side. Into the wind, this hole can play two or three clubs longer.
Add up your score and enjoy post-round refreshments in the Grille Room or on the back patio overlooking the ninth and 18th greens.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: St. Johns is located in what might be called the golf capital of the United States, because the headquarters of the four major golf tours in the country are nearby.
Not only that, the World Golf Village and the World Golf Hall of Fame are only a few miles away, also in St. Augustine. Located there are two championship courses, the Slammer and the Squire (designed by Robert Weed and named for Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen), and the King and the Bear (named for Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who collaborated on the design).
Right down the road in Ponte Vedra Beach is TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA, Champions and Nationwide tours. On the property are Pete Dye's Valley Course and the Stadium Course, with its infamous island 17th green, site of the Players Championship this week.
About an hour's drive down Interstate 95 in Daytona Beach is LPGA International, home of the LPGA Tour, with the Legends Course, designed by Arthur Hills, and the Champions Course, designed by Rees Jones.
Also in the area are Royal St. Augustine Golf and Country Club, St. Augustine Shores Golf Club, the Golf Club at South Hampton in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra Golf and Country Club at Sawgrass, the Ocean Course designed by Jack Nicklaus at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Queens Harbour Yacht and Country Club in Jacksonville, Magnolia Point Golf and Country Club in Green Cove Springs, and Eagle Harbor Golf Club in Orange Park.
WHERE TO STAY: Stay and play on the grounds of the World Golf Village at the Renaissance Resort, the Comfort Suites, Laterra Resort and Spa or the Grande Villas, which all offer golf packages for the Slammer and the Squire, and the King and the Bear.
Historic St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement in the United States, first visited by Ponce de Leon in 1513, and there are numerous hotels and B&Bs in and around the city. Among the best are the Bayfront Marin House, the Casablanca Inn on the Bay, Casa Monica Hotel, the Bayfront Westcott House, St. George Inn, Our House Bed and Breakfast, Alexander Homestead Bed and Breakfast, the Pirate Haus Inn and the Carriage Way B&B.
In Ponte Vedra Beach are the Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Beach Club, Ponte Vedra Beach Inn and Club, the Lodge and Club at Ponte Vedra Beach, the Hilton Garden Inn and the Fig Tree Inn.
Golf resorts in the area include the Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast and Amelia Island Plantation.
ON THE WEB: www.stjohnsgolf.com
THE LAST RESORT: Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
THE LAYOUT: Don't be fooled by the 6,635 yards shown on the scorecard; look instead at the 145 slope from the back tees, because this scenic beauty can play like a beast.
The course, which plays to a par of 72, climbs 400 feet from the clubhouse up the slopes of Blackcomb Peak and features tight fairways, doglegs, severe drops and rises from tee to green, plus uphill, downhill and side-hill lies.
This is a resort course, so playing from the one of five tee boxes that most suits your game can bring an enjoyable and even exhilarating golf experience -- but selecting the right club is a must.
The valley views are spectacular on this course that winds through granite rock outcroppings and tall Douglas fir trees, some that are 1,300 years old, with a river and fast-running streams dissecting many holes.
Carts are required because of the steepness of the course, and don't be surprised to see a bear looking for a handout.
The course opened for the season last Saturday and will remain open through Oct. 14, weather permitting.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Gregg Lown.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: It does not take as long to reach Whistler these days because of a construction project that widened the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway to handle the traffic for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in the Vancouver area.
Workers blasted enough granite out of the mountains to fill 60,000-seat B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were held, and all of the rock was recycled into fortifying the old two-lane Highway 99.
Whistler was the site of the Alpine skiing events, and Canadians were disappointed their country did not claim a single medal at the venue, but they still celebrate the gold that Nancy Greene of British Columbia claimed in the giant slalom at Grenoble, France, in 1968.
Greene was instrumental in the development of Whistler, and the locals did not forget, naming a street located on the way from Chateau Whistler Golf Club to Nicklaus North Golf Club as Nancy Greene Drive.
The first ski run opened at Whistler in 1965, and golf did not arrive until Whistler Golf Club was created in 1982. However, the most distinctive of the four local courses opened in 1993, Chateau Whistler Golf Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones II.
After a fairly straightforward start on the 505-yard first hole, the toughest stretch of the Chateau Whistler course tests the golfer on the second through sixth holes -- the first three dramatically uphill.
No. 2 is a deceiving 326-yard par-4, with a delicate second shot from a severe uphill lie to a dramatically sloping green guarded by a rushing stream and a large bunker. The third hole plays much longer than its 399 yards from the back and requires a long tee shot in order to clear the stream and a natural hazard with the approach.
The third consecutive par 4, No. 4, is even longer at 411 yards and might be the most difficult driving hole on the course. Make sure to hit enough club on the approach because of the false front to the green.
Use at least half a club less on the 190-yard fifth hole because of the drop, but a well-struck shot will leave a chance to make birdie.
The last of this challenging fivesome is a 457-yard par 4, rated No. 1 on the card, that plays downhill from the tee and then back up to the green. Try to land your approach shot on the front of the green, which slopes toward the back.
Signature hole is No. 8, a 212-yard par 3 that plays downhill to a green with a granite wall on the right and a large lake on the left. Playing safe and hitting your tee shot off the wall sometimes will kick the ball onto the green for a birdie opportunity.
The best of the back nine is saved for the finish.
While the sound of all of the rushing water almost makes you feel if you are playing in the shower, the roar on the par-4, 444-yard 17th is the loudest, perhaps because water cuts across the fairway twice. Two precise shots are needed to safety reach the tricky green, where a large swale dominates the right side.
The 543-yard finishing hole plays downhill off the tee toward one last lake 300 yards away, with trees on the right side of the fairway but open area to the left. Try to stay below the hole on the approach because the green is banked from back to front.
Bring your kids when playing at Chateau Whistler because players under 18 golf free when accompanied by a paying adult.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Whistler Golf Club, located barely inside the town limits, was the first course in the area and the initial Arnold Palmer-designed layout in Canada. It opened in 1982 and underwent a $1.8 million renovation in 2000.
Nicklaus North Golf Course, less than a five-minute drive from Fairmont Chateau Whistler, was the first course in the world to have the name of the greatest golfer in history on it. The course brought thousands of golfers to the Whistler area when it hosted the televised Telus Canadian Skins Game in 1997, and the event returned in 2005.
Big Sky Golf and Country Club, located about 25 minutes north of Whistler, is a spectacular course designed by Robert Cupp and John Fought at the foot of Mount Currie in the Pemberton Valley. It opened in 1994 in a valley where potatoes once grew, and it features seven lakes plus several streams that bisect the course.
If you have a chance on the way up from Vancouver, stop and play Mayfair Lakes Golf and Country Club below the towering Coast Mountains in Richmond, or picturesque Furry Creek Golf and Country Club, about 30 minutes south of Whistler on the Sea-to-Ski Highway.
WHERE TO STAY: Fairmont Chateau Whistler, part of the worldwide chain that has its flagship in San Francisco, is one of several spectacular golf properties owned by the corporation in Canada.
Also included are Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club and Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course in Alberta, Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello Golf Club and Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club in Quebec, and Algonquin Golf Course and Academy in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick.
Golf can be arranged by the concierge at outstanding local courses for guests of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, the Fairmont Tremblant in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary, the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton and other Fairmont properties that do not have their own courses.
Conde Naste Traveler magazine has selected the Fairmont Chateau Whistler as the No. 1 ski resort and No. 1 golf resort in Canada. Whistler receives 46 feet of snow a year, and the Wizard chairlift right outside the back door of the resort whisks skiers up the slopes of Blackcomb Peak to 8,100 acres of skiing terrain.
After returning from the slopes and/or the links, have yourself pampered in the Vida Spa. Then enjoy exceptional cuisine in the Wildflower Restaurant, the Wine Room or the Portobello Market and Fresh Bakery, and have a drink in the Mallard Lounge. For even more exceptional service, stay on Fairmont's exclusive Gold Level.
Other winter activities include cross-country skiing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, snow-shoeing, dog-sledding, ice skating, four-wheel driving, indoor rock climbing and snowmobile riding.
During the spring and summer, guests also enjoy kayaking, wakeboarding, windsurfing, jet boating, whitewater rafting, swimming, fishing, rollerblading, mountain-biking, hiking, rock climbing and canoeing.
Other top hotels in Whistler include the Four Seasons Whistler Resort, the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler, the Whistler Alpine Chalet, the Delta Whistler Village Suites, the Crystal Lodge & Suites, the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside and the Chalet Louise B&B Inn.
ON THE WEB: www.fairmont.com/whistler; www.fairmontgolf.com/whistler