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May 28, 2009

Ask Travelin Joe: Wisconsin, Illinois, Scottsdale and British Columbia

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

Dear Joe,
I will be spending 3-4 weeks in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northeastern Illinois in late May and June. The past few years I have enjoyed playing Thunderhawk in Beach Park, IL. Are there any courses you would recommend at a similar price point in the region?

Nick J.
Gilbert, Arizona

The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Thunderhawk ($52-$85; 847-968-4295, lcfpd.org) is pretty strong, but if you're craving variety in an area roughly one hour north of Chicago, start with Stonewall Orchard Golf Club ($70-$95; 847-740-4890, stonewallorchard.com) in Grayslake. This 7,074-yard, par-72 Arthur Hills creation, situated almost due west of Waukegan, between Libertyville and McHenry, boasts a formidable 140 slope, owing to water, wetlands and a superb set of par-3s.

Next, check out Shepherd's Crook ($42-$55; 847-872-2080, shepherdscrook.org) in Zion, an open, prairie-style Keith Foster product that sports wild, wavy greens and a wildly low price tag.

Finally, if you drift into America's Dairyland for one round, the cream of the crop in those parts -- for that price -- is Geneva National Golf Club's Gary Player course (262-245-7000, genevanationalresort.com) that overlooks Lake Como in Lake Geneva. Through May 29, it's $60-$90; after that, you'll have to tee off before 7:30 a.m. or after 2:00 p.m. to find those rates.

If you can squeeze in a visit before June 1, don't miss the aptly named Brute course at Grand Geneva Resort ($79-$99; 262-248-2556, grandgeneva.com). After that, fees soar, so consider its more affordable sibling, the Highlands.

Hi Joe,
I'm taking my wife out to Scottsdale in June, staying at the Four Seasons. My wife isn't that good. Can you recommend some courses? Do you know which 18s at each of these would be easier for a woman? I wanted to play: Troon North (Pinnacle or Monument), Grayhawk (Talon or Raptor), We-Ko-Pa (Cholla or Saguaro) and maybe Talking Stick (North or South). Any other suggestions would be appreciated.

Ron
Via email

Let's avoid the minefield here and try to help. By saying "my wife isn't that good," I'm assuming you categorize her as a golfer of modest abilities. I will steer you toward an experience guaranteed to yield domestic bliss.

First off, all eight courses you mention are among the best in Scottsdale. However, call each in advance and make sure carts are allowed into the fairways. June's usually a scorcher in the Greater Phoenix area and you don't want to be confined to the cartpaths.

Now, while I'm a fan of all eight, I would put We-Ko-Pa's Saguaro course ($75; 480-836-9000, wekopa.com) at the top of your list. This 2006 Coore-Crenshaw design, ranked No. 44 in our 2008 rankings of the Top 100 Courses You Can Play, is that rare layout that appeals to players from all over the spectrum. It's wide enough that a spray hitter will still find his or her tee shot most of the time and there are few forced carries, so a golfer who struggles getting it airborne can also enjoy. Yet, strong players will bask in the challenge of strategic bunkers, superb risk/reward decisions and cleverly contoured greens. Both you and your wife will thrill to the elevation changes and desert scenery that's untouched by homes or roads. The only drawback is that the course was designed to play firm and fast, something tougher to achieve and still keep grass alive at this time of year.

Talking Stick ($40-$60; 480-860-2221, talkingstickgolfclub.com) fits the bill nicely as well, though its flat fairways provide less drama. The South has more trees -- choose it just for the summer shade alone.

Troon North's two courses ($45-$90; 480-585-7700, troonnorthgolf.com), as well as Grayhawk's ($50-$75; 480-502-1800, grayhawkgolf.com) are both supreme tests, with terrific ambiance, desert trappings and mountain views -- but each features a lot of target golf, with a healthy number of forced carries. You'd have a blast at either facility, but expect a few more lost balls.     

Dear Joe,
I'm visiting Whistler (British Columbia, Canada) in June for my 10th wedding anniversary. For my wife's spa day and my golf day, maybe two if I'm lucky, which of the four golfwhistler.com courses would you recommend?

Joe Naber
Via email

Congrats on making it 10 years -- you deserve your splurge in one of the most beautiful summer and winter retreats I've seen. Whistler is rightly heralded as one of North America's top ski resorts, but summertime is pretty swell as well, especially with four solid courses within a short drive.

Since this is a special occasion, I would skip Whistler Golf Club (fun, flat and fair, but not hauntingly memorable). In a close call, I'd forego Big Sky as well, unless you're a higher handicap who really wants to avoid a beat-down. In other words, the Bob Cupp design is a worthy do, it's just not going to resonate with unforgettable shots like the other two.

I'm very partial to Fairmont Chateau Whistler ($70-$174 U.S., depending whether you arrive before June 26 or after; 877-938-2092, fairmontgolf.com/whistler), a 1993 Robert Trent Jones Jr. product that doles out at least a dozen spectacular shots, but mixes in a few frustrating ones as well. Hilly lies, rock outcroppings and hazards splashed everywhere is what leads to a massive 145 slope from the tips, despite running only 6,635 yards from back there.

That said, Nicklaus North ($115-$156 U.S., again with June 26 as a cutoff date; 604-938-9898, golfbc.com) is probably the better course, even if it isn't quite as exciting or exacting as Fairmont Chateau Whistler. It's no pushover, it's just a bit more forgiving, and the mountain vistas are stunning.  

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