Golf is a game of the people—open for players of any age, class or skill level. Still, in its grandest locations, tee boxes are reserved for a select few.
Most of the world’s greatest golf courses are private or open to the public under very specific circumstances. They break down into three unofficial categories: very private (no way, unless you buy in or know somebody), semiprivate (guests can occasionally play for a price on special occasions) and resort private (if you’re staying in the right digs, you can pay to play). And if you’re ready to make the effort, here are courses with appealing new upgrades.
Very Private Kohanaiki (Kona, Hawaii)
Easily one of the most exclusive real estate developments among all the Hawaiian Islands, Kohanaiki is a 450-acre community offering luxury homes, a clubhouse and spa, an indoor-outdoor fitness center, two restaurants, a theater, a recreation center and marine adventure guides.
Rees Jones designed the immaculate 7,329-yard Kohanaiki golf course, and it’s only open to Kohanaiki homeowners and members of the invitation-only Hale Club. Those lucky folks now get to enjoy the unofficially christened comfort stations of the gods—three recently completed oases arranged along the seaside track offering everything from gourmet sorbet and self-serve cocktails to freshly dried fruit and every snack known to humankind.
Garzón Tajamares Golf Club (Maldonado Department, Uruguay)
The newest 18 holes in this elite list, Garzón Tajamares is the work of Argentine billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni. Part of a regional development about 100 miles north of Montevideo, the golf course neighbors up with the Colinas de Garzón olive oil mill, the Bodega Garzón Winery and its elite Garzón Club community.
Tajamares was designed by former Masters champion Angel Cabrera and offers 7,000 yards of friendly golf holes winding through 10,000 acres of private lakes, groves, fields and the occasional family of capybaras. Memberships are on sale now for the region’s well-heeled denizens.
SemiPrivate Reserve Club (Indian Wells, Calif.)
Tucked away in a valley surrounded by four mountain ranges, the Reserve Club is one of the California desert’s most exclusive golf communities. Seven- and eight-figure homes line meticulously maintained fairways designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. While homeowners can stroll out onto the links at their leisure, area residents from outside the gates can purchase club memberships.
The clubhouse is newly remodeled to the tune of $10 million. There’s also a lakeside dining area to soak up the sun in season.
Champions Retreat (Augusta, Ga.)
The 27 holes at Champions Retreat became famous in the golf world this spring when the high-end club hosted the first 36 holes of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament. The final round of that three-day event was the first-ever round of tournament golf played by women at Augusta National, home of the Masters.
During Masters week every April, Champions Retreat opens its luxurious cottages to guests from around the world who pay top dollar to play its three beautiful nine-hole courses—one each designed by legends Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
Resort Private LaPlaya Golf Club (Naples, Fla.)
Tucked into one of the most affluent areas of Florida’s Gulf Coast, the newly remodeled La Playa Resort and Golf Club offers memberships for frequent resort guests and locals looking for a country club experience. There’s been a golf course in the neighborhood since 1958, but designer Bob Copp redesigned it in 2002 into the manicured, friendly 18 holes awaiting members and guests today.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (Waimea, Hawaii)
We end where we began and head back to the Big Island for the sprawling, idyllic resort at Mauna Kea. Open to hotel guests, the championship course was designed in 1964 by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and runs through a preserved field of black lava rock. A recently restored Number 3 Restaurant (named after the course’s signature ocean hole) offers elevated course-side dining.
After wrapping up their round of golf, Mauna Kea guests enjoy the property’s beach activities, gourmet dining and night diving with 20-foot manta rays.