The sweet smell of wet grass. The unmistakable thwack of a clean hit. That last glimpse of a ball as it soars long and straight down the fairway. Golf can be a beautiful game.
Of course, not every golfer wants to spend every moment on the green. Luckily, several courses pepper their 18 holes with fun distractions, ensuring that every player, from the scratch to the hacker, will have a good time.
Put Newton’s Laws of Motion to work
When you play a round at Furnace Creek, the world’s lowest golf course, at least you know the pressure -- barometrically and otherwise -- is off. In Death Valley, California, the slightly greater pull of gravity and heavier air pressure causes drives to fall short by as much as 20 yards, while chips bounce in wacky directions. Everyone racks up bad scores here. Things only get worse in the summer when temperatures top a scorching 125F.
When you are done playing 18 holes, hike the many jagged rock formations and sand dunes along the California-Nevada border, including Devil's Golf Course, a beautifully apocalyptic landscape formed by an evaporated salt lake.
Relive the adventures of the gods
Quirky course architect Desmond Muirhead was enamoured with mythology, and in 1987 he designed New Jersey’s Stone Harbor Golf Club to tell the stories of the Greek, Roman and Norse deities. The second shot of hole 3, named 'Sleeping Shepherd', for example, requires clearing a field of flowers that represents the field in which Greek goddess Diana coaxed Endymion to stop for a nap. Despite Muirhead’s poetic landscaping, critics panned the design, and the course was recently upgraded to improve play. But there are still plenty of esoteric symbols that tell the story of each hole’s namesake.
Non-golfers will enjoy that the course is set in the forested range of the New Jersey pine barrens, just inland from a beautiful stretch of the Jersey shore.
Spot arctic wildlife
At the North Star Gold Club, North America’s northernmost golf course, in Fairbanks, Alaska, ball-stealing squirrels are among the hazards. So too are the foxes, red-backed voles and coyotes that crisscross the fairways. Animals are so common that the club’s scorecard includes an animal checklist of native Alaskan species. Schedule an early morning start if you want to catch the herd of moose that frequents the back nine. Or, come in June around the summer solstice when 24 hours of daylight leaves plenty of time to golf in between spying on lounging bears.
The breathtaking wilderness of Denali National Park and its crown jewel, the magnificent Mount McKinley, are just a few hours drive south.
Hunt for dinosaur bones
Playing the Fossil Trace Golf Course in Denver, Colorado, means walking where a triceratops rambled more than 64 million years ago. Dinosaur footprints and other late-Cretaceous period flora and fauna fossils are all over the course, most notably in the striking sandstone pillars framing the fairway of hole 12. Other holes integrate the massive cranes and diggers that once mined the local clay -- the material that literally built Denver and inadvertently uncovered several major fossil pits.
Nearby, the Triceratops Trail winds for a mile around the golf course and is one of several fossil-strewn walks that make up the Parfet Prehistoric Preserve. All of this is just 15-minutes from downtown Denver and a couple of hours from the ski slopes in Vale.
Feel the power of jet engines
You will have to carefully time your swings at the Kantarat Golf Course in Bangkok, Thailand. Located between two runways at Don Muang Airport, the course was built by Royal Thai Air Force officers who needed a place to chill out between flights, and the whir of engines blades has been known to throw off even the straightest drives. You will also need to keep an eye out for planes as you walk across a taxiway to reach the back nine. This is an airport, after all, so there are some extra security measures: call ahead for a tee time so that you can get through the club gates (the club’s car will pick you up), and be prepared to open up your golf bag for an inspection.
After a few rounds, the chaos and charm of Bangkok is just a 30-minute train or taxi ride away, as are more than 20 other golf courses. Since all domestic budget airlines are in the process of being moved to Don Muang Airport, the rest of Thailand can also be reached via an inexpensive flight.
Go on safari
A sign posted at this Kruger National Park club says it all: 'Lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and buffaloes, Do not run away! ... it will be more likely to give chase.'
Built in the early 1970s as an exercise space for park employees, South Africa’s Skukuza Golf Course has become popular with park visitors who want a little adventure with their golf. The first tee sits next to Lake Panic, which teems with crocodiles and hippopotamuses. (If you hit your ball into the lake, take the free drop!). Deadly puff adders have been known to sunbathe in the warm golf cups, so look before your reach, and if that is still too boring for you, elephants have been known to charge!
For a glimpse of shyer animals, the 7,300sq-mile Kruger National Park is perfect for exploring by foot or by car. Also nearby is the recently opened Legend Golf and Safari Resort, which put the tee for its 19th hole on the 400m summit of Hanglip Mountain, accessible only by helicopter.