As much as we love having the opportunity to play some of the most beautiful golf courses in the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, and beyond, the experience can be very intimidating for the average golfer. For example, when I played El Camaleon in Mexico last year, the staff had just begun preparation for the PGA’s upcoming tournament, so the mere aura of the bigger spectacle haunted me as I tried to avoid some of the course’s subtle obstacles.
What I wouldn’t have given for a few pointers from an expert on that hot but beautiful September day.
In fact, it was an especially poor performance at this Mayakoba landmark that inspired me to add golf lessons to my resort itineraries whenever it is available. And it turns out that some of my favorite properties also offer some of the best pro tips I’ve ever learned.
Reynolds Lake Oconee
Anyone who is familiar with The Kingdom knows this is beyond obvious, but until you have actually experienced the expertise from the exceptional staff here you have no idea how helpful it can be. There’s never a wrong time to visit The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, but anyone who wants to get some pointers and play the incredible courses should be booking immediately, because the Blake Adams Kingdom Experience started as the best possible Father’s Day gift but will now run indefinitely.
This three-day masterclass in fixing your game begins with a club fitting at The Kingdom, and having just completed my first session here, I can say with certainty that this was the single most important thing I have done to get better at golf. (And the second was spending an hour working on my short game with instructor Sean Cain, which shaved at least 12 strokes off my recent round on The Oconee.)
Day 1 concludes with a round of shooting clays with Adams at the Reynolds Lake Oconee Sporting Grounds, and then Day 2 begins with fishing followed by a round of golf with the PGA pro. Finally, Day 3 will feature a morning round to hopefully put it all together before the family heads back home (or stays a few more days—no one will blame you).
PGA National Resort
My biggest fear when heading into my morning lesson with PGA National instructor Brad Robinson was that he would contradict or even undo the things I’d already been working on with my teacher back home. Fortunately, the best instructors are already in tune with this, and the first thing Brad asked was for a detailed list of what had already been addressed. Quite the relief.
For the next hour, instead of messing up my novice brain with a lot of new information, he worked on supplemental methods and exercises, allowing me to combine what my regular coach was teaching me with little things that would inevitably reinforce the routines that will take me from “Most Average Golfer on Earth” to “Not Being the Worthless Fourth on the Scramble Team.”
While I felt terrible about breaking the pool noodle, that session helped build confidence with my irons, which I later learned would be the key to my survival on The Champion. Still featuring professional touches from this year’s Honda Classic, that course was as mean as it could be to a novice like me, but fortunately my Takomo 101s and Brad’s tutelage were able to get me out of a lot of trouble that steamy South Florida afternoon.
Casa de Campo Resort and Villas
If you’re already planning to play the iconic Teeth of the Dog or marvelous Dye Fore courses at Casa de Campo Resort and Villas, you probably have a good idea of what you’re doing out there. Still, even the best of us needs to shed a little rust, and our scores will always benefit from time on the Trackman system. And if you are just a casual golfer enjoying a round or two in paradise, well, even a 50-minute private lesson at the Golf Learning Center is a great way to prepare for these immensely challenging designs.
What’s especially wonderful about this facility is that not only do the experts offer a variety of lessons, but they’re also comparatively affordable to instructions at your local courses. However, I have never met nor played with someone as intelligent and relatable as the pro, Parker La Pointe, who not only offered friendly, easy-to-understand advice throughout our round, but he also played more like a friend than a coach. That goes a long way in increasing the comfort level, because I have played and taken lessons from no-nonsense instructors who are more intimidating than they are helpful.
While I highly recommend the Ultimate School, which features a morning at the learning center and range before lunch and an afternoon round, no golfer can make a bad choice, even if simply opting for 50 minutes in one of the hitting bays. The pointers you’ll pick up here are way better than any souvenir in the pro shop (even though the Johnnie-O selection is astounding).
Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
Perhaps we should have started with the most important question: Just how much golf do you want on your tropical vacation? If you’re planning a huge getaway that involves passports and digital entry forms, the last thing you might want is extra baggage to lug from the carousel to the resort and everywhere in between. But if you want a little bit of everything, leave the passport at home and head to Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, in Puerto Rico, where guests are spoiled with one of the best settings on the island, as well as arguably the best experiences anywhere in the Caribbean.
While the kids are having a blast on The Watermill’s awesome slides, the golfer(s) can head to the Tournament Players Club, where the East Course boasts phenomenal ocean views and the Sugarcane Course’s larger fairways will make novices feel like they’re at the top of their games. But don’t mistake forgiving designs for a pass on lessons, because the team here can deliver one of the best souvenirs from paradise: confidence.
Have multiple golfers in the crew? The semi-private lessons are great for duos that want to knock the rust off before playing 36 holes. Otherwise, a one-hour lesson is a terrific choice for the casual golfer who wants to focus on a specific element of the game, while those of us who need to get better at the whole shebang can work with the experts to develop 5- or 10-hour personalized plans. Finally, travelers who want the whole trip to be all about the game can enroll in the two-day golf school, with sessions running from 9 am through noon and including video analysis and attention to every little aspect of our games.
Silvies Valley Ranch
Some golfers can work in a training facility, watch real-time analysis on a Trackman setup, and immediately recognize changes that need to be made. Others take that advice to the course and instantly forget it and then spend 18 holes mumbling profanity and wondering why it never works. For the latter, on-course learning is a great way for us average golfers to see the changes in action, so why not choose a uniquely stunning setting that feels like it’s thousands of miles away from the rest of the world?
Silvies Valley Ranch offers way more than golf, as it the ultimate outdoor playground for adventure-loving travelers. However, the golf at this celebrated Oregon property is always front and center in the spotlight—mainly because it’s the only place where you can play with a goat as your caddy. No, not Bones Mackay. An actual goat will carry your clubs on McVeigh’s Gauntlet, a delightful (and sometimes frustrating) 7-hole challenge course, and the selfies alone are worth the trip.
As for the lessons, golf pro Dave Lewis and his crew can host individual sessions on the range or group instruction on the courses, and plenty more in between. Again, seeing the advice in action is sometimes the only way some of us can build momentum in this mind-boggling game, so having the chance to do that on courses as beautiful and celebrated as the Craddock and Hankins will make a great vacation downright phenomenal.
Orlando World Center Marriott
When you live in or merely visit “The Golf Capital of the World,” your choices for instruction are seemingly limitless. But very few properties offer golfers the chance to get better and play a beautiful course in between visits to the best theme parks on the planet, and that’s why I always recommend Orlando World Center Marriott as arguably the friendliest Central Florida resort for families.
For starters, the brand-spanking-new waterpark is out of this world, head and shoulders above even the more luxurious resorts. As for the culinary offerings, this is a premium example of a place that has something for everyone, and even the original pool—with its own upgrades and renovations—is one of the coolest spots in all of Orlando for hanging out and enjoying a hot Florida summer day. And then there’s the golf.
Hawk’s Landing Golf Club is a fun, challenging experience for any level of player, but anyone who needs to brush up on fundamentals before teeing off can benefit from a lesson or two at the Orlando Golf Academy. Award-winning instructor Brian O’Neill and his staff excel at helping everyone from beginners to aspiring pros find their comfort zones on the course, which is a big relief to those of us with brains cluttered by years of bad lessons and terrible advice.