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April 23, 2009

Ask Travelin Joe: Florida Panhandle, Scottsdale stay-and-plays, and Charlotte

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at [email protected].

Dear Joe,
Are there any must-plays in the Florida Panhandle?

Dave S.
Via email

I'm a big fan of the whole Sandestin set-up, whether for family stays or buddies trips, and that includes the golf, which boasts tremendous variety, including a couple of all-stars in the Raven and Burnt Pine. Frankly, the whole region boasts a surprising number of worth-your-while layouts. However, the feeble economy has rendered two "can't-plays" into two "must-plays."

Shark's Tooth ($90-$150, 850-534-5000, sharkstoothgolfclub.com) in Lake Powell and Camp Creek ($125-$145, 850-231-7600, campcreekgolfclub.com) near Panama City Beach are two dynamic St. Joe-owned layouts that have dropped their "private" status in recent months. Shark's Tooth is a pristine, low-profile Greg Norman design with minimal rough, with some unforgettable back nine holes that skirt the vast Lake Powell.

Camp Creek is an equally tranquil Tom Fazio test with wide fairways, massive, undulating greens and an abundance of hazards that drive the back tee slope to a whopping 152. You shouldn't miss either of them if you're in the region.

Hi Joe,
We're trying to squeeze in a quick trip to Scottsdale before triple-digit temperatures take over, but we don't want to break the bank. Any advice on stay-and-plays?

Peter W. Ryan
Via email

Make your plans in a hurry -- the Valley of the Sun has earned its nickname by topping 100 degrees the past few days, but "normal" for late April is high-80s, where temperatures will return by the weekend. Honestly, these days, you can find bargains no matter who you call, as occupancies are low and tee sheets have gaping holes.

For one-stop shopping, however, I'd go with Xona Resort Suites Scottsdale (888-222-1059, xonaresort.com; rates from $134). Following a multi-million dollar makeover in 2008, the property once known as Resort Suites truly shines. Start with an enviable location in the heart of North Scottsdale, adjacent to the Fairmont Princess, toss in a handsome new lobby, plus enhancements to rooms, public spaces and restaurants and finish it off with the hotel's "Golf Experts," on-site golf concierges who make course recommendations and set up tee times and you've got an exceptional package. OK, you won't get the pampering you might at some of Scottsdale's five-star jewels, but in my opinion, Xona Resort Suites is the area's best value for vacationing golfers.  

Hi Joe,
I've been a subscriber for 10 years and have always enjoyed your travel articles. I'm visiting friends in the Charlotte, N.C. area next month and will probably play three rounds. Any recommendations?

Don Rice
Port Washington, N.Y.

For a city of Charlotte's attributes -- pro football, great airport, amazing growth in the past 25 years -- it's a virtual wasteland when it comes to public golf. I'm not saying there's nowhere to play, it's just surprising that for such a strong modern metropolis, it lacks any course that even sniffs our Top 100 You Can Play.

That said, start with the Golf Club at Ballantyne Resort ($75; 704-248-4383, ballantyneresort.com), a rolling, leafy track that's attractive and playable and boasts one of the best golf schools in the South, run by Dana Rader.

In the northern reaches of Charlotte is Rock Barn Golf & Spa ($59-$85, 828-459-9279, rockbarn.com), whose seven-year-old Robert Trent Jones II course has played host to the Champions Tour since 2003. Its roomy, tree-lined layout is dappled with typically splashy Trent Jones bunkering and water hazards.

Finally, some will tell you that Renaissance Park, Birkdale and Highland Creek might be better, but I'm sending you to Charlotte Golf Links ($47-$62; 704-846-7991, charlottegolf.com), just so you can get a look at an early Tom Doak design, circa 1993. It hardly stacks up with Doak's Pacific Dunes, Cape Kidnappers or Ballyneal, but the rippled fairways peppered with a variety of bunkers make for an entertaining day. 

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