Courses near big-city airports allow for golf when you’re out of town and want to play a round.
By Steve Habel
There’s little that’s more pleasurable for the traveling businessman than finishing up at work in a distant city with enough time to get in a round of golf before boarding a flight for home. With the availability of excellent-quality rental clubs at most golf courses and the proliferation of golf shoes that can be worn off the course as well as on, there’s not much thinking or planning that goes into an emergency round after a successful meeting. It is surely better to dole out a few bucks on green fees than paying the charge for changing your flight reservations. And spending time on the course is loads more fun than spending time in a dreary terminal hoping to clear your name off the standby list. With that notion in mind, here are some of the best golf-course options near five of the nation’s busiest airports.
Los Angeles (LAX): Rancho Park Golf Course
About a 15-minute drive from LAX, this 6,635-yard course is one of the most trafficked tracks in the state, a good sign it’s worth playing. It also means you’ll need to pay close attention to your watch if you’re on a short layover. Rancho Park Golf Course is an 18-hole, par-71 championship course designed by William Johnson and William P. Bell. It opened in 1949, hosting the USGA’s Public Links Championship and has since been host to 18 Los Angeles Opens, as well as numerous LPGA and Champions Tour events. The golf course is a challenging and undulating course requiring a great deal of skill. A variety of lies provides a challenge, especially on approach shots to smallish greens. Even Arnold Palmer had his trouble on the tough final hole. A plaque on number 18 commemorates The King’s 12 on that hole.
Chicago (O’Hare): White Pines Golf Club
Technically located in Bensenville, Ill., the White Pines Golf Club is only a couple miles from O’Hare’s runways, but it’s more like a 10-mile drive from the terminals. It is a 36-hole championship venue that’s been around since 1928 and the club’s two courses—the East and the West—are laid out across 240 acres in a very pleasant setting that ’s challenging for all players. Both 18-hole courses at White Pines were designed by Jack Daray Sr., a local product and golf professional who moonlighted as an architect. Daray built a number of courses in the Chicago area and was one of the charter members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, along with legendary names like Donald Ross, Bill Diddel and Robert Trent Jones. Consistently kept in outstanding condition, White Pines is highlighted by a number of well-placed water hazards, heavily wooded areas and thoughtful landscaping. Players who can keep the ball on a straight line from tee to green will have the most success here. The putting surfaces are also assorted in size, with some measuring about 5,000 square feet and many others more than four times that size.
Dallas-Fort Worth (D-FW): Cowboys Golf Club
Less than 15 minutes north of D -FW Airport in Grapevine, Cowboys Golf Club is a premium daily-fee course inspired by the Dallas Cowboys’ history, logos and memorabilia. Golf architect Jeffrey Brauer did a superb job of leveraging the natural terrain of the 159 acres that the course plays through to create a scenic, fun and challenging 18 holes. Cowboys GC is one of those courses that will throw a lot at golfers and test their game from the tee box to the cup. It’s an oasis of trees, waterways and natural habitats, dramatic elevation changes, forced carries, doglegs, huge treacherous bunkers, contoured fairways and complex greens. Fingered bunkering gives the golf course an Alister MacKenzie-like look, which goes well with the overall setting and traditional design. It’s tough, but fair, with fairways that range from wide and sweeping, to pretty tight. Miss the short grass and trouble lurks. Most of the fairways are rolling and some are mounded and heavily contoured, causing some very uneven lies.
Houston (Bush Intercontinental): Tour 18 Golf Course
The Bayou City’s collection of replicas of America’s greatest holes has become one of Harris County’s most popular golf destinations. Tour 18 takes advantage of the Southeast Texas pines, with towering trees lining every hole, and the impressive conditions that have made the course popular with the public. Two holes stand out on the front side, and they’re not the replicas of Augusta’s Amen Corner (five through seven on this track). Hole one (a tribute to the final hole at Harbour Town) is perhaps the most difficult on the course, intimidating off the tee because it is surrounded by wetlands. Bay Hill, La Costa, Inverness and Pinehurst are also modeled, but the other gr eat hole on the front is number nine, a version of TPC Sawgrass’ island hole. Colonial CC’s third hole makes a showing on number 12, and you’ll get to see what Pebble Beach might feel like on number 13. The 15th hole is a replica of Shinnecock Hills’ eighth, with a green so heavily sloped back to front that staying below the hole location is mandatory. The final hole is modeled after the closing offering at Doral and is called The Blue Monster for a reason.
San Francisco: Crystal Springs Golf Course
With its spectacular views of its eponymous reservoir, Crystal Springs Golf Course offers a unique experience in Bay Area golf. Designed by British architect W. Herbert Fowler, this San Francisco golf course lies majestically within a 32,000-acre wildlife refuge. The classic 6,628-yard, 18-hole, par-72 layout meanders along the natural contours of the v alley and offers a challenge to any level of golfer. Among the tests golfers will face are well-bunkered greens and rolling hillsides that will amaze players because of their uneven lies, as the course generally slopes downward toward the reservoir. Crystal Springs GC is also known for its wildlife; 61 different kinds of birds, mule deer and bobcat are in abundance here. Also watch for the red-tailed hawks, the American kestrel and the ever-present turkey vultures wheeling high overhead, hopefully not an indication of the way golfers are playing.