You’ve been a good boy (or girl). And Santa is in a very generous mood. He’s loaded his sleigh with all sorts of goodies, starting with the most opulent golf vacations imaginable. No coal in the stocking this year. Let your dreams come true: Allow yourself to be “gifted” by one of these nine under-the-tree options.
A private jet excursion that visits the finest inns and courses in the most magical Down Under kingdom imaginable? Mark your calendar for March 11, 2013. That’s the day you hop aboard the Tiger Tour (no relation to Mr. Woods). Limited to a maximum of four couples, this incomparable nine-night program starts at Cape Kidnappers, Tom Doak’s dizzying clifftop masterpiece, heads to Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown, and loops back to Kauri Cliffs, its golf course perched above the Bay of Islands and its Lodge ranked among the finest small hotels in the Southern Hemisphere. Off-course activities range from ocean sailing and horseback riding to jet-boating and helicopter tours of Milford Sound. Never mind the cost of $24,900 per person, plus 15% N.Z. goods and services. Santa’s buying. Invite your friends.
There can’t be a more festive place for the holidays than Ireland. Skip the b & b’s this year and head to Ballyfin, a splendid 614-acre estate situated at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains 60 miles southwest of Dublin. Following a decade-long restoration, the ancestral estate has reopened as an exclusive hotel. Each of the 15 bedrooms within the lavish Regency mansion is individually decorated. French chandeliers, Chippendale mirrors and 18th-century Irish art highlight the magnificent public rooms. In addition to gourmet dining and a 5,000-volume library, Ballyfin offers room aplenty to roam its lovely grounds. Golf can be arranged at nearby Mount Juliet, a superb Jack Nicklaus design; and The K Club, site of the 2006 Ryder Cup matches. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you’ll love Ballyfin. Suites are priced at $1,760 per night.
Think of it. A floating hotel. You unpack only once. Yet get to visit many places. What a deal. Especially if you book a cruise with Kalos Golf, the industry leader for peerless cruise experiences. Scanning the firm’s itineraries for 2013, one stands out: the Riviera Golf Cruise (May 13 – 21) aboard Sea Cloud II, a majestic sailing vessel with 47 cabins on three decks, all with marble bathrooms. The two Owner’s Suites are the summit of elegance and grandeur. Expect sun-drenched beaches, sparkling marinas and plenty of joie de vivre as this stylish ship anchors in Cannes, Monte Carlo, St. Tropez and, in Italy, Montalcino, Corsica and Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda, where players can tee it up at Pevero Golf Club, a dazzling Robert Trent Jones layout that straddles a promontory high above the turquoise-green sea. Extend your stay and get your land legs back in Rome.
Bounded by golden beaches and the Indian Ocean on one side and rugged peaks in the Outeniqua Mountains on the other, the Garden Route east of Cape Town is one of South Africa’s most enchanting regions. The resort of choice is Fancourt in the historic town of George, a property that dates to 1847 and is by every measure the finest full-service resort in South Africa.The beautifully landscaped property, set below rugged mountains, offers three courses, a spa, swimming pools, squash courts, lawn bowling, luxurious accommodations and superb dining with regional wines to match. Tee it up on the Gary Player-designed Links, site of the 2003 Presidents Cup matches where local hero Ernie Els went toe-to-toe against Tiger Woods. Following your stay, visit one of South Africa’s famed game parks—or go shark cage diving.
Los Cabos, Mexico
The premier model for high-end golf in Mexico is found at the tip of the Baja peninsula in Los Cabos, a 20-mile corridor fronting the Sea of Cortez. Here and here only can you recreate in a rarified ocean/mountain/desert setting where the sun shines 350 days per year. The region’s finest resort is One&Only Palmilla, a sublime getaway originally built in 1956 by the son of a former Mexican president on an exalted shelf of rock that juts into the sea. The four-bedroom, 10,000-square-foot Villa Cortez, fashioned with the chic elegance of a modern-day hacienda and supremely located on its own private beach, is as good as it gets. Golf is played on a spectacular 27-hole layout routed by Jack Nicklaus in a box-shaped canyon backdropped by stark brown peaks. Celebrate the round with an antojito (appetizer) and artisanal tequila at the palapa-roofed Agua Bar. Too tame? Head into nearby Cabo San Lucas for serious partying.
The oldest, most fertile and arguably most beautiful island in Hawaii, Kauai is crowned at its northern tip by the St. Regis Princeville Resort. Terraced down the face of a bluff, this glamorous hotel overlooks Hanalei Bay (movie set for South Pacific) and Mt. Makana, the fabled peak of “Bali Hai.” Book the breathtaking Royal Suite, which has its own grand living salon, formal dining room and custom-built spa. Order room service, or dine at Kauai Grill, one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s “concept” restaurants. Tune up your game at the sporty 27-hole Makai Golf Club, but prepare to do battle on the resort’s Prince Course, a mammoth 7,378-yard layout routed across rolling pastureland creased by verdant gullies and framed by volcanic palisades that stream with waterfalls. Give royalty its due: the Prince will melt every piece of graphite in your bag if you’re not precise. Cap the day with a Mai Tai and a sunset catamaran cruise along Kauai’s glorious Na Pali Coast.
Newport Coast, Calif
Want to live out your very own “O.C.” fantasy? Do it at The Resort at Pelican Hill, a glamorous, Mediterranean-style hideaway set on a hill high above the surfing mecca of Newport Beach. With its balmy weather, beautiful people, Palladian-style architecture and top-rated pair of Tom Fazio-designed courses (Ocean North and Ocean South), Pelican Hill gives Pebble Beach a run for its money as California’s finest resort. Add a luxurious spa, world-class dining and a massive Coliseum Pool ringed by deluxe cabanas, and Pelican Hill presents itself as the perfect place to pretend you’re a movie star. Opt for accommodations in the Villa Club, a private enclave with multi-bedroom villas served by its own staff. Soak up the sun at Crystal Cove Beach, or join a guided hike, interpretive walk or bike excursion through Irvine Ranch Land Reserve, a 50,000-acre expanse with canyons, marshes and tide pools.
Everyone knows Scotland is the Home of Golf, but did you know a very special train runs through it? Limited to just 36 guests who overnight in private cabins, The Royal Scotsman is a luxury train that glides through the Scottish Highlands in inimitable style. This elegant, romantic throwback weaves through ever-changing landscapes of sweeping glens, towering peaks and mirror-still lochs, with an open-deck observation carriage for superior viewing. Life on board is relaxed and indulgent. Meals fit for a king (reserve a kilt for the formal dinners) are followed by whisky tastings. Local clansmen board the train to recount Braveheart-style tales that bring Scottish history alive. The seven-night Grand North Western Journey is priced at $10,960, a bargain given the opportunity to tee it up on legendary Highlands links like Royal Dornoch.