When you spend half the year on the road as I do, you pay attention to where you stay. Small touches can make a huge difference in how you feel, how (and whether) you sleep and how much you look forward to playing golf.
Just as a fine golf course conveys a distinct sense of style and place, an interesting hotel makes you feel as if where you are spending a day – or night – is special. It doesn’t have to be expensive. The issue here isn’t luxury; it’s sensibility, aesthetics and a certain whimsical form.
I crave older inns and hotels, even if it means putting up with some quirkiness. So here’s an idiosyncratic, not systematic, survey of my favorite boutique-y hotels – overnight accommodations that make a day or two in the field worth anticipating.
- Portland, Ore.
- Courses: Pumpkin Ridge (Ghost Creek); Langdon Farms
- Fifteen years ago, I fell in love with this 150-room hotel the second I walked into its Art Deco lobby. Actually, I was impressed before I walked in the front door. When I pulled up in a rental car and broke the key trying to open the trunk, the bellman told me to leave it there (on a busy street in the heart of Portland’s art and financial district) and he’d take care of the whole thing, which he did. I was fascinated by the library above the Tea Court Lounge – 1,500 volumes then, now up to 2,000, all of them written and signed by authors who had stayed here. With Powell’s Books, the largest bookstore in the U.S., only nine blocks away, a lot of writers stay here. Rooms start at $209. A sense of repose starts the minute you walk in.
Pine Crest Inn
- Pinehurst, N.C.
- Courses: Southern Pines; Pinehurst Resort; Pine Needles; Tobacco Road
- Donald Ross foundered as co-owner of the Pine Crest Inn in the 1920s and 1930, but that was when the town was dry. Not anymore, which explains a lot about the raucous, if friendly, scene at this ramshackle 40-room hostelry. On weekend nights, the porch is overflowing, and inside, by the piano in the lobby fronting Mr. B’s Bar, patrons chip golf balls into the fireplace. There’s not a proper right angle in the wooden building anymore, and all of the rooms are named for famous players who stayed there. The dining room is one of the best-kept secrets in town for a reasonably priced, quality meal. Golf packages start at $99.
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff
- Bluffton, S.C.
- Course: May River
- OK, so my one big indulgence.
But I love a personalized, not pre-recorded, wake-up call, along with homemade blueberry pancakes and the chance to walk through a planned, small Lowcountry town center to the Jack Nicklaus-designed May River Course. With 50 cottages and 42 homes, The Inn at Palmetto Bluff (an Auberge Resort) has a gracious, relaxed feel along an Intracoastal saltwater embayment. Rooms start at $475 and include access to kayaking, bicycling and dockside fishing, as well as evening smores that are flamed in outdoor fire pits. I’m not one who likes big, busy resorts. This place is appealing because it feels like an upscale camp.
The Bell Hotel
- Sandwich, England
- Courses: Royal St. Georges, Princes, Royal Cinque Ports
- When the British Open comes to Royal St. Georges in 2011, the place to stay will be The Bell. This downtown hostelry – where rates, championship week aside, start at $134 – is convenient and comfortable, even if its 37 rooms all seem tucked away around various catacombs of stairwells and hallways. For an inn that dates in part to 1300, they’ve done well to cater to modern sensibilities, as evidenced by a chic, unnamed bar overlooking town and wireless Internet access throughout the building.
Chalet Suzanne Restaurant and Country Inn
- Lake Wales, Fla.
- Course: Southern Dunes
- Here’s an eclectic, cottage-style place like no other I have seen: 26 rooms, each done up in a wacky decorative pastiche of Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, Italianate, French manorial and Swiss chalet. Bold pink and pastel blue proliferate, there’s tile everywhere, levels don’t seem to match quite right, and it’s all built on about 7/8ths scale – as if a Disney set for a movie about retired munchkins. It’s just charming. This offbeat inn 53 miles southwest of Orlando International Airport is on the National Register of Historic Places and sports a gourmet soup cannery on site along with a 2,100-foot airstrip. Rooms start at $169.
- Delafield, Wis.
- Course: Erin Hills
- Long before Bob Lang made a name for himself creating Erin Hills (home of the 2017 U.S. Open), he established his reputation as a visionary developer of buildings and retail centers in the lake country between Milwaukee and Madison. His work is evident in the walkable, elegant shops and restaurants of Delafield, where Lang not only planned out the retail space but also created a comfortable 38-room inn with conference meeting space and banquet rooms. The Delafield Hotel has the charm and furnishings of an English country manor, particularly evident in Andrew’s Bar & Restaurant, where the tables are nestled into small half rooms that are adorned with antique posters, paintings and maps. In-season room rates start at $169, and Erin Hills sits just 13 miles to the north.
- Bend, Ore.
- Courses: Awbrey Glen; Broken Top; Pronghorn; Tetherow
- Here’s the newest of the hotels – just opened in January – on my list. The town of Bend enjoys a reputation for its informal, upscale lifestyle, evident in its independent book shops and many coffee houses and wine bars. That kind of breezy sophistication animates the 59-room Oxford Hotel, where guests have the run of an organic restaurant, eco-friendly linens and furnishings, and a Euro-chic design that’s light, airy and uncluttered. Room rates start at $179, and preferred rates are available at the courses listed above.
- Oklahoma City, Okla.
- Courses: Seven courses that form the country’s best muni system
- Oklahoma’s first skyscraper in 1910, all of 12 stories, was an offshoot of the Louis Sullivan Chicago school of urban design. A $16 million renovation in 2006 has brought this downtown jewel into full bloom, replete with its original terra cotta molding and elegant black-and-white marble lobby. There’s a red leather settee at the foot of the main stairwell that’s perfect for reading the newspaper at 4 a.m., when you can make your own gourmet coffee – no need for fumbling with the dopey coffee maker in your room. The 10-foot-high red neon hotel sign (“Colcord”) is done up in the flowing script of founder Charles Francis Colcord’s wife’s handwriting. Rooms start at $159 and are outfitted with air purifiers and 32-inch LCD screens. Leave time to meander over to the city’s historic Bricktown section, where the steaks are thick and the beer flows after home games of the Oklahoma City RedHawks Triple-A baseball team and the NBA’s Thunder, both of whom play within blocks of the Colcord.
- Marquette, Mich.
- Course: Greywalls
- Michigan’s Upper Peninsula might seem remote for most golf travelers, but when you’re sitting seven stories up in the Landmark Inn with a dry martini in hand and looking out over Lake Superior, you know the trip was worthwhile. And with stay-and-play packages starting at $218, including breakfast and shuttle service, you’re hardly sacrificing on golf. Nor on history, thanks to a total renovation of a 1930 gem that anchors a revived lakefront arts and restaurant district. Apparently, they do a lot of fancy parties here, which is why there are elaborate staged wedding cakes in display cases by the lobby. I was less inspired by the previous guest list (Amelia Earhart, Abbott & Costello and the Rolling Stones) than by the four-poster bed with a step stool to help me up – which I needed after gazing out the window of the North Star Lounge through a second round of drinks.