Best golf courses in the Sun Belt

RSS

butterfield golf el paso
510-yard par-4 16th at Butterfield Trail Golf Club in El Paso, Texas (Courtesy Mike Bailey)

College football fans know the best way to enjoy a game is to do more than just enjoy the game.

It's the complete experience of college football that makes it memorable. Taking a tour of the campus. Finding a great place to eat. Partaking in a local beverage – or two.

And it wouldn't hurt to bring the sticks and get in a round of golf, either.

The weather may be turning cold and dreary in many parts of the country, but in the Sun Belt college football and golf are an ideal winter daily double. So, for your benefit, here are a few places to turn your game-day experience into a two-fer:

San Diego

San Diego State University and the University of San Diego may not be college football powerhouses, but the 90-plus public golf courses more than make up for the fact you won't be watching a BCS powerhouse team on Saturday.

Start with Torrey Pines South, one of the most celebrated courses on the West Coast and host of the 2008 U.S. Open, won by some one-legged guy named Tiger Woods. Torrey Pines isn't cheap – rates range anywhere from $68 to $279 depending on the day and time – but it's one of those must-do golfing experiences.

For a cheaper and more accessible alternative, try Sycuan Resort in El Cajon, about 15 minutes inland. With 54 holes, a casino on site and green fees around $40, you'll never want to leave.

Other recommendations: Maderas Golf Club, Temecula Creek Inn in wine country and Aviara Golf Club.

Tucson, Ariz.

The University of Arizona football team has enjoyed a renaissance under Coach Mike Stoops, and so has public golf in the area.

For a little history – and a fun 18 holes – try the Dell Urich Course at Randolph G.C., located in the heart of the city and the longest of the five municipal golf courses in Tucson. Randolph served as host of an LPGA event and, in its day, the Joe Garagiola Tucson Open.

For a more upscale experience, there's the Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain, site of the Accenture Match Play Championship or the JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Golf Club.

Other recommendations: Silverbell Municipal Golf Course, a city course with nine lakes; Westin La Paloma with its 27 holes designed by Jack Nicklaus; and Tom Fazio's masterpiece at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.

Tempe, Ariz.

Okay, so the Arizona State Sun Devils aren't exactly must-see college football, given that they're headed for a third straight losing season. But the Valley is a golf mecca, so make sure you give yourself an extra couple of days to truly enjoy the vacation.

It's impossible to pick out the best public golf courses in Arizona – that would be like choosing which child you like best – but here a few recommendations:

If you don't mind a two-hour drive, get up to Seven Canyons Golf Resort in Sedona. The scenery is second to none – don't be surprised to see a deer lurking just off the fairway – and the course is spectacular both in terms of its design and beauty.

In north Scottsdale, I'd recommend Troon North – you'll feel like you're playing a private course – or one of the two golf courses at We-Ko-Pa near Fountain Hills.

For a change of pace, head south to Maricopa and play Southern Dunes Golf Club, a links-style course that is unique in the Valley.

Other recommendations: Dinosaur Mountain in Gold Canyon, Raven at South Mountain and of course TPC Scottsdale, site of the PGA Tour Waste Management Open.

El Paso, Texas

UTEP football actually has become relevant again under Mike Price, but let's be honest: It's a good thing there are some quality courses around so football isn't at the heart of your trip.

Take the Butterfield Trail Golf Club, ranked recently as the fourth best public golf course in Texas by Golfweek. The Tom Fazio design is built on the original Butterfield Trail, which dates back to 1858.

Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course, a 27-hole layout, has something you don't see in many courses in southwest Texas – rolling hills and undulating greens. Green fees in November, by the way, are ridiculously low.

Other recommendation: Lone Star Golf Club.

Houston

The Houston Cougars love to throw the ball, so it's apropos there are a few courses that don't play it safe, either.

The 36-hole Black Horse Golf Club has long been ranked in the top 10 of the country's top 100 courses under $100. The North Course at Black Horse is carved into lakes and wetlands, while the final six holes on the south course play through a sand quarry. Do yourself a favor: Start early and play both courses in a day.

The Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club hosts the PGA Tour's Shell Houston Open and is a monster, with its back tees stretching to 7,422 yards. For a less demanding track, try Memorial Park Golf Course, which hosted the Houston Open from 1951 to 1963 and was renovated in 1995.

Other recommendations: Houston National, The Woodlands Resort, Wildcat Golf Club.

Dallas

The Southern Methodist University football program is still trying to recover from the death penalty handed down by the NCAA in 1986. But golf in the Dallas area is thriving.

Dallas has six city courses, including Cedar Crest C.C., which was designed by the legendary A.W. Tillinghast and hosted the PGA Championship in 1927.

Also try the Texas Star Golf Course, which was ranked as the No. 1 municipal golf course in Dallas and likes to say it has 'the toughest darn greens in all of north Texas.'

Other recommendations: TPC Four Seasons, Stonebriar Country Club and Cowboys Golf Club, which is an ode to, you got it, the Dallas Cowboys.

New Orleans

Whether in town to see Tulane or LSU in Baton Rouge, make sure to take time to play TPC Louisiana, a Pete Dye design and host of the PGA Tour's Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

We'd recommend other courses but we're in New Orleans: We'd rather eat, drink and listen to some jazz.

– by Scott Bordow