Driving Range

Golf destinations within reach

One of the best ways to invigorate your golf game is to play somewhere different. Here, we’ve gathered up eight not-too-far-away courses where your drives and putts can take on a whole new perspective. After a round or two on a scenic, imaginative course with a challenging layout—plus some fun, easier holes thrown into the mix—you might just decide to sign up for another 18. After all, you’re already there.1. Payne Stewart Golf Club Branson, Mo.Greens Fees: $48 (twilight) to $81 (weekends)

No one will look at you funny if you choose to pay homage to Payne Stewart by playing a round in knickers or plus-fours and a tam o’shanter cap—plenty of folks do that here. Each hole on this course’s forested layout pays tribute to the late PGA pro (and Springfield, Mo., native), featuring a plaque with a story from Stewart’s life. The facility—which has twice been named the best course in Missouri by Golf Week—opened in 2009, with design by Chuck Smith and touring pro Bobby Clampett. Be prepared for frustrating tall grass along the way. (paynestewartgolfclub.com; (417) 337-2963)

19th Hole: Level 2 Steakhouse in the Hilton Convention Center dishes up the finest steaks in town—be sure to order the whiskey sauce on the side for a sweet-and-savory mopping elixir for that rib-eye. (hilton.com; (417) 336-5400)

Overnight: The Hilton Promenade in downtown Branson indulges its guests with stylish rooms and provides easy access to shops and restaurants. (hilton.com; (417) 336-5500)

2. Mirimichi Millington, Tenn. (near Memphis)

Green Fees: $125

Justin Timberlake (yes, that Justin Timberlake) joined with his family to transform an older course into the stunning new Mirimichi in 2009. The Cherokee word means “place of happy retreat,” and this rolling course is indeed a pleasant place to play. Native grasses and shrubs, as well as a sustainable irrigation system, earned the course environmental accolades such as the Audubon Society’s Classic Sanctuary status. And while nature is front and center along the course’s creeks and waterfalls, Mirimichi will test your game, too, with pit bunkers, elevated greens and languorous lakes. While the championship course challenges, Little Mirimichi, a nine-hole executive course, gives you a mini round. It’s also a great place to work on your short game. (mirimichi.com; (901) 259-3800)

19th Hole: After a long day on the links, tuck into Hog & Hominy for a South-meets-Italy feast. Named one of best new restaurants in the U.S. by GQ, good things come in pairs here: pizza and pig ears, beer and bocce. (hogandhominy.com; (901) 207-7396)

Overnight: The best place for a dreamy night remains the Peabody Hotel. With newly refurbished guest rooms, the grand dame of Memphis offers stylish accommodations and the best lobby bar in the South. (peabodymemphis.com; (901) 529-4000)

3. Karsten Creek Stillwater, Okla.

Green Fees: Unaccompanied guests, $300; $125 with a member ($75 replay rate for the same day)

This place will pull hard on your pocketbook, but it might just be worth it. After you’ve hit along Karsten Creek’s fairways, you’ll understand why Oklahoma State University’s golf team has such a dynasty. This meticulously kept course is arguably one of the finest college layouts in the U.S. Tom Fazio-designed cut-zoysia fairways mingle with a forest of oaks and blackjacks, then wrap around the 110-acre Lake Louise on the back nine. (karstencreek.com; (405) 743-1658)

19th Hole: If you’ve never been, the one place you have to go is Eskimo Joe’s. Most folks come for the juicy, made-fresh burgers, while others extol the wonders of the Fowl Thing sandwich (grilled chicken and pineapple). Side them with chili cheese fries, please. (eskimojoes.com; (800) 256-5637)

Overnight: Stacked stone and cedar accommodations overlook the 18th fairway of Karsten Creek. The Pickens, Sherman Smith and Karsten Creek lodges each offer six guest rooms that share a common area with fireplace, living/dining area and kitchen. (karstencreek.com; (405) 743-1658)

4. Wolfdancer Golf Club Austin, Texas

Green Fees: $149

Head down to the Live Music Capital of the World and take on a challenging Hill County layout. Part of the ritzy Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort, Wolfdancer Golf Club occupies a sprawling stretch of real estate next to a fabulous spa, horseback riding and all the culinary and artsy offerings of Austin. Adjacent to McKinney Roughs Nature Preserve, the Arthur Hills- and Steve Forrest-designed course rambles over a dramatic terrain dotted with oak, cedar, elm and pecan trees cut by the Colorado River. Make no mistake, this is not a resort course where low scores come easy, as the Bermuda-grass green complexes are challenging for all players. (wolfdancergolfclub.com; (512) 308-9653)

19th Hole: For a casual night on South Congress, the Hopdoddy Burger Bar (hopdoddy.com; (512) 243-7505) slaps locally grown bison, beef and exotic meats between buns. But if you’d rather dress it up a bit, opt for Lenoir (lenoirrestaurant.com; (512) 215- 9778), where the young chef-owners tweak French techniques on Texas ingredients for a prix-fixe menu that changes daily. Choose from dishes such as exquisite Axis venison, poached fluke or pork osso bucco. Afterwards, head to the Continental Club (continentalclub.com/austin; (512) 441-2444), a favorite performance spot for such legends as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Kinky Friedman and W.C. Clark.

Overnight: You know you’ll want to play this course twice. That’s one good reason to stay at the accompanying Hyatt Regency; the full-service resort’s amazing spa and nighttime stargazing parties are two more. (lostpines.hyatt.com; (512) 308-1234)

5. TPC Louisiana Avondale, La.

Green Fees: $89

While it may lack some of the difficulty of Florida’s storied TPC Sawgrass, TPC Louisiana has just as much sense of place. Carved out of canals near New Orleans, the course’s classic Pete Dye design lies on cypress-laden swamplands. Don’t miss a shot here, or you’ll pay for it with wet balls. An added challenge? The wildlife that hangs out on the rough. The TPC Louisiana is part of the Audubon Golf Trail and a proud member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary program—and somebody must have told the herons and egrets. (tpc.com/tpc-louisiana; (504) 436-8721)

19th Hole: Amble on over to SoBou, one of the hottest new ventures in the Quarter from the Commander’s group. Located, as the name implies, just south of Bourbon Street, the joint dishes up fun snacks like crispy cracklins with pimento cheese fondue and grilled alligator sausage, as well as burgers and a yellowfin tuna sandwich. Thirsty? The cocktails aren’t so bad, either. (sobounola.com; (504) 552-4095)

Overnight: Beat the heat in NOLA’s W Hotel with a summer package that includes luxe digs, private mixology lessons, a $50 credit at SoBou and poolside cabanas for $300 a night. (wfrenchquarter.com; (888) 627-8260)

6. Old Waverly West Point, Miss.

Green Fees: From $100 Driving from the gate to the clubhouse, you can easily imagine approaching an old plantation, and that’s what the founders of this Jerry Pate- and Bob Cupp-designed course had in mind. About 20 minutes from Columbus, Old Waverly is genteelly known as the Golf Club of Mississippi. The well-mannered public club plays out around four lakes, too many sand traps to count and greens that feel as if sprites keep them perfect with tiny scissors. The surrounding lush gardens give this course a formal atmosphere, which will keep players’ attitudes in check as they take on the difficulties of the greens. (oldwaverly.com; (662) 494-6463)

19th Hole: Zip into Columbus for a fun night at Huck’s Place ((662) 327-6500). This local favorite features steaks, nachos, crawfish and catfish in a friendly atmosphere with live music most Thursdays. If you prefer a more formal setting, stay at the resort and sample the tasteful offerings in Magnolias or in the pub at Murphy’s.

Overnight: In addition to a comfortable lodge, Old Waverly offers seven four-bedroom cottages on the shores of Lake Waverly for guests. There are also private villas, condos and complete luxury homes available to rent.

7. Oxmoor Valley on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Birmingham, Ala.

Green Fees: $65

One of the best world-class-course bargains, Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail changed the universe of public golf by matching affordability with championship design. The entire trail encompasses 468 holes at 11 sites. The Birmingham segment spreads out over a 54-hole facility on former mining land owned by U.S. Steel. Sculpted from the hills and meadows at the southern tip of the Appalachians, the courses offer forests, creeks, rock outcroppings and elevation changes that will motivate (and terrify) the average golfer. In addition to the long Ridge and Valley courses, Oxmoor Valley offers up the Short Course. Don’t be fooled by this little monster—it’s a tough collection of par 3s, and it will leave you begging for more. (rtjgolf.com/oxmoorvalley; (205) 942-1177)

19th Hole: Make it a Saturday night at the nearby Bright Star, a winner of the James Beard Classic award. It’s the best place for Greek-style snapper and steak (thebrightstar.com; (205) 424-9444). Afterward, visit one of the oldest juke joints in the South. Gip Gipson has welcomed blues musicians to his backyard parties for decades. (facebook.com/GipsPlace; (205) 913-2941)

Overnight: Only about five minutes from Oxmoor Valley, the stately Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort offers a fourth golf course, but you’ll stay here for a good night’s sleep, the best pool in the city and a fabulous spa to work out your kinks. (marriott.com; (205) 916-7677)

8. Great Waters Eatonton, Ga.

Green Fees: From $108

About halfway between Augusta National and downtown Atlanta you’ll encounter Georgia’s most pristine lake, a boating paradise surrounded by dozens of golf courses. So while you may never play the home of the fabled Green Jacket, you can drive some of the region’s finest fairways. Great Waters, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Reynolds Plantation, winds around the shores of Lake Oconee. It’s a beautiful and forgiving course, good for both low handicappers and hacks alike. Beware the nesting eagles that hang out here—they’ve been known to grab a golf ball to put in their aerie. If you fall in love with the golf here, Reynolds Plantation tempts you with another five courses, as well as the Reynolds Golf Academy. (reynoldsplantation.com; (800) 800-5250)

19th Hole: Linger Longer steakhouse is part of Lake Oconee’s Ritz-Carlton Lodge. The clubby dining room caters to members of golf groups who want a stiff martini, a juicy steak and an easy walk back to their hotel at the end of the day. (ritzcarlton.com; (706) 467-7135)

Overnight: Nicknamed “The Ritz in the Sticks,” there’s nothing backwoods about the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation, the crown jewel on Lake Oconee. Recently refurbished rooms overlook the lake, as do several cottages. This Ritz boasts arguably one of the prettiest spas in the world, inspired by local Native American customs. (ritzcarlton.com; (706) 467-0600)

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