The Southwestern US is legendary for its stunning mountains and desert vistas, a perfect place for rolling the windows down, blasting some music, and driving off into the dusty sunset. It’s an ideal landscape for the ultimate road trip and has the unique quality of providing plenty to love for both golfer and non-golfer alike.
Ultimate Golf Road Trip Itinerary
I’ve put together an itinerary that’s an excellent winter getaway for the whole family. You’ll get to play some of the world’s finest golf courses while non-golfers will enjoy some of the most beautiful and entertaining destinations in the world. You can even rough it in a few places if you’re into camping, or book a room in a lodge if you’re looking for more luxurious accommodations.
First stop: Phoenix, Arizona
If you’re getting away in the winter, Phoenix is the best place to start your road trip. From the moment your plane lands, the whole city radiates heat. If you’re there in February or March, you can take in a few Cactus League MLB spring training games, getting up close and personal with big stars and top prospects in a way you can’t do during the regular season.
Golfers will want to make their way to TPC Scottsdale, the legendary home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Featuring 36 holes of stunning championship golf, including the famous rowdy par 3 16th and driveable par 4 17th, TPC Scottsdale makes for memorable rounds with both incredible architecture and stunning scenery.
The Stadium Course is the one the PGA Tour plays on, and it features surprisingly large and forgiving fairways. You pay a bit of a premium because it’s a PGA Tour course, but it’s well worth the price of admission. With gorgeous vistas of mountains looming in the background and plenty of risk/reward holes, it’s a round you’ll remember.
Next Stop: Grand Canyon
After enjoying a round at the Stadium Course and another at the Champions Course at TPC Scottsdale, pack up the car and head north to one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World: the Grand Canyon. It’s a sight everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. If you leave Phoenix early in the morning, you can make it to the Grand Canyon with plenty of time to take one of the legendary mule rides into the Canyon.
After you’ve gaped at the natural beauty of the canyon carved over the course of millenia by the Colorado River, you’ll make the 4-hour drive west to the most artificial city in the country, the iconic Las Vegas. Even non-golfers and non-gamblers will be awed by the spectacle of Sin City.
First timers should check out the High Roller at the Linq, a giant Ferris Wheel featuring a half-hour ride in a fully enclosed pod that takes you 550 feet in the air and provides incredible views of the city and surrounding landscape.
Shadow Creek Golf Course
Shadow Creek was the site of The Match between Tiger and Phil in 2018, but prior to that spotlight, it was already well established as a true bucket-list course, specifically because of the amazing fairways, where golfers would come to practice & analyze their swings. Originally an invite-only club, it’s now available Monday thru Thursday to anyone staying at a Vegas MGM resort, who’s willing to pay $500-600 to experience it. And it’s worth it. A Tom Fazio design that reportedly cost $60 million to complete, it’s a lush oasis in the middle of the desert.
It’s completely out of place, with its 21,000 imported trees, lush fairways, and babbling creeks contributing to a beautiful, surreal round of golf. It’s very non-Vegas in a very Vegas way. Yes, that makes no sense, but neither does Shadow Creek. And you’ll be glad you played it.
The classic next stop would be LA, but we’re going to postpone that in favor of looping around to Sequoia National Park to take in the majesty of California’s magnificent trees. You can spend the day driving through the park and along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, a 50-mile route that can take half a day to navigate because of its numerous incredible photo ops. It’s worth the extra time to stop and hike to the breathtaking Grizzly Falls.
You may need a breather after the madness of Vegas, so a night or two in a lodge or one of its numerous campground options is recommended. The General Sherman Tree is a must-do photo op. Measuring 275 feet high and over 36 feet in diameter, the sheer size of the historic tree is humbling. Lines for photo ops can be long, so bring a snack and some patience.
The 2 mile hike and then 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock is also well worth your time, providing mind-blowing views of the Great Western Divide at the summit.
After the breather and beauty of Sequoia National Park, Los Angeles is just a few hours due south. Golfers will drop off the non-golfers in LA for sightseeing and continue an hour south to Monarch Beach Golf Links for a gorgeous oceanside golf experience. While Monarch Beach is a bit of “a tale of two nines”, the front nine will stick in your memory for its incredible oceanfront holes. I’d love to see them swap the nines, so you play the inland nine before making the turn to a remarkable stretch of holes.
As it is, the opening 5 holes are truly great golf. The dogleg third, a short par 4 at the edge of the ocean, is a stunner. Followed by two beautiful par 3s, it’s worth the price of admission alone.
Los Angeles Activities
If you’d rather play golf closer to the city than Monarch Beach or want to save a bit of cash after the pricey Shadow Creek round, there are several quality municipal courses that shouldn’t be overlooked. Balboa at Sepulveda in Encino is the best of these, always in good condition and with enough interesting holes to keep your appetite whetted until the final stop on your road trip.
A scant two hours south of Los Angeles (assuming you don’t leave during rush hour), San Diego is home to Torrey Pines Golf Course, one of the best municipal golf destinations in the world. Home to the Farmers Insurance Open each year as well as numerous major championships (who could forget Tiger Woods’ 2008 US Open victory at Torrey Pines), Torrey Pines is one of the best public golf destinations in the world.
3 Golf Courses at Torrey Pines
Both the North and South Courses are incredible golf experiences, though the South course may have some course construction impacting your round as they prepare for the 2021 US Open. You’ll recognize both golf courses as they’re both used for the Farmers Insurance Open each year. The course is known as a get-together for senior golfers to meet & greet
The cliff top courses provide such gorgeous views that non-golfers may want to come along just for the ride. The North Course is regarded as slightly easier, but both present big challenges to the average golfer, with tight fairways and fast, complex greens. Make sure you select tee boxes that accurately reflect your skill level to get the best experience: playing the courses at too long a yardage can turn a lovely walk into a difficult slog.
The course is always in perfect condition, with lush fairways and slick greens. It’s a beautiful way to end a once-in-a-lifetime golf road trip.
San Diego Activities
But San Diego has a lot to offer beyond one of the best public golf facilities in the world! The San Diego Zoo is regarded as the best in the world. Undersea life fans can visit SeaWorld and catch the legendary killer whale shows featuring Shamu. The Mission Beach boardwalk is a beautiful oceanfront stroll with amusement parks and bars aplenty, as well as bike rentals and surfing classes. Or book an offshore experience fishing or whale-watching as the giant underwater mammals migrate in the Pacific Ocean.
But you’ll probably leave that to the non-golfers on the trip and head back to Torrey Pines for one more glorious round before you have to get back to real life.
Need more road trip ideas? Check out these unpopular road trips in America!
Guest Author: Jordan Fuller is a golf enthusiast with over 25 years of experience. On his free time, he coaches new golfers on how to best improve their swing. He’s also been passionate about travel, specifically when it plans trips to visit multiple new golf courses. His ultimate goal is to visit all Top 100 Golf Courses in the USA.