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The best value golf in uncertain economic times

Steven Flanagan thought about going without a golf vacation this winter. When you work in New York, and it seems like the financial world as we know it is crashing all around you, getaway visions come with some guilt.
Circling Raven Golf Club's a reason to visit Northern Idaho.
Circling Raven Golf Club's a reason to visit Northern Idaho.Courtesy of Circling Raven
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Steven Flanagan thought about going without a golf vacation this winter. When you work in New York, and it seems like the financial world as we know it is crashing all around you, getaway visions come with some guilt.

Then Flanagan went through a particular ghoulish week at the office and realized the vacation is more essential than it first appeared.

"This may come across as a little crass — I realize a lot of people are suffering worse than I am — but my vacation ... helps keep my sanity," Flanagan said. "The truth is that my employer is paying me the same. It's not like they cut my salary, knock on wood. And I hear that there are a lot of good deals out there this year.

"Again, I don't want to sound like a jerk. But this might be a good time to take a vacation. The difference is, I'll probably only take one this year. Which means I have to get the golf and everything else I want to do into one trip."

Grant Brown, general manager at Craft Farms Golf Resort, 36 holes of Arnold Palmer golf on the Alabama Gulf Shores, saw this trend emerging even before financial bailout packages dominated the news. Golf vacationers are looking for more in their trips, for extra value, for a place that delivers more than what's expected, whether that's a luxury ocean condo for much less than you could stay in one somewhere else or good, memorable activities for those in your family or group who don't love golf quite as much as you do.

Yes, those type of folks can be hard to live with — but you still love them.

"You're seeing a lot more golf trips that have to be more than just golf trips," Brown said. "People are still taking vacations, but they're maybe only getting one big vacation a year. They want to fit a lot into that vacation and make the most they possibly can out of it."

With that in mind, has come up with five of the best value golf destinations for an uncertain economic time. Just remember, that's best value — not cheapest.

"I think value means different things to different people," said Kevin Drum, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Golf Association. "You can get great value out of a $500 per night hotel room."

And anyone who's stayed at a highway-side $39.99 per night motel knows you can also get horrible value no matter how low the price is.

So, forget focusing on the numbers for a moment. There's been more than enough obsession with figures recently. Seven hundred billion ring a bell? It's time to find the best golf values for your dollar:

Myrtle Beach and the Greater Grand Strand
We recommend the Grand Strand - but not for the reasons you think. Truth is, Myrtle Beach hasn't been that stereotypical cheap getaway of yesteryear for a long time now. Today's reality is all about playing high-end golf courses you won't forget like Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, True Blue, King's North at Myrtle Beach National, Pawleys Plantation and TPC Myrtle Beach. offers packages where you can play a selection of the top golf courses in Myrtle Beach at a discount, though. Now, for something different in a vast golf playground that keeps redefining itself, there's also the new Waccamaw Golf Trail, a collection of courses south of Myrtle Beach that play through Lowcountry scenery, many over old plantation land, a long, long vibe removed from any souvenir kitsch. All the Myrtle Beach courses that let kids under 16 play free with a paid adult any time can turn golf time into family time, too.

There's a reason so many of those New York stockbrokers who started going to Myrtle Beach before they had any money stuck with the area after they hit it big - and now plan to keep going while their portfolios plunge.

"It's still a great spot to let off some steam," Flanagan said. "And the meals out here are a whole lot cheaper than in the city."

Mississippi's Gulf Coast
Need to work a lot into one golf trip? How about 22 golf courses from big-name designers like Nicklaus, Palmer and Fazio, 11 casino resorts, 60 miles of coastline and deep sea fishing that brings out celebs as varied as former CBS newsman Dan Rather and ex-NFL quarterback Steve McNair?

The Mississippi Gulf Coast brings all that and a sense of hospitality that you just can't teach.

"Some people go on a gaming vacation," Drum said. "Some people go on a golf vacation. Some people go on a fishing vacation. But this is the only place I know of in the U.S. where you can do all three 12 months a year."

Then, there's the vast inventory of brand new luxury condos built in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that go for $100-$200 a night for three bedrooms overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

"To me, value is getting something special that would cost a lot more somewhere else," Drum said.

Alabama Gulf Shores
Close enough to the Mississippi Gulf Coast that you can easily make it a part of the same vacation, yet a world apart in vibe with its sugar-white sand beaches, the Gulf Shores boasts arguably the top golf course in Alabama — and an unexpected seaside links one — in Kiva Dunes Golf Course.

Kiva Dunes' greens fee maxes out at $82 in the fall and winter when Alabama's plenty hot. And it's the highest-priced course on the Gulf Shores. Any questions?

Williamsburg, Va.
Yes, Williamsburg. This Virginia city in the countryside an hour from Washington, D.C., offers more than just reenactments of battles of the Revolutionary War. Courses like Golden Horseshoe Golf Club's Gold Course, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that ranks 55th on Golf Magazine's "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" list, assure that.

Better yet, resorts offer stay-and-play packages at Golden Horseshoe that includes a round at either the Gold or the Rees Jones' Green Course per night and unlimited free play on Spotswood Executive, the original nine-hole course at Williamsburg Inn that's been rated one of the top nine-hole courses in the country for years. That's some extra value.

The presence of Bush Gardens amusement park, an 8-acre go-kart facility, and a mammoth water park will make the kids tout Williamsburg's value, too. For more information, call (877) 806-8163.

Northern Idaho
It's about as far off the beaten golf path as you can get, and yet there are two of the Top 100 public courses in the U.S. within 40 minutes of each other in Coeur D'Alene Resort and Circling Raven Golf Club.

Coeur D'Alene has the famous floating island green, and Circling Raven maxes out at $95, and hotel rooms can go for less than that in this American Indian casino land.

Plus, it's only a five-hour drive or a short flight to the Seattle area's 2015 U.S. Open host wonder course Chambers Bay. Playing three of the best courses in the country in two states you don't normally associate with golf?

That's value, too.