My 2011 golf travel awards part 2: Relaxing in resort paradise
Here is part II of my 2011 golf travel awards, focusing mainly on golf resorts (read the first story here). I slept on two five-star pillows - The Grand Del Mar Golf Resort in San Diego and The Wynn Las Vegas - but there were dozens of memorable golf resorts I hung my hat in 2011 (read my 2010 resort awards story here).
* Best U.S. golf resort: The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast, Calif., nudges out The Grand Del Mar Golf Resort in San Diego because its two superior courses beat out one very solid Tom Fazio track at The Grand Golf Club. Both offer over-the-top luxuries in trendy SoCal. Runner-up: The Wynn Las Vegas.
* Best International golf resort: The K Club in Ireland. Love the historic Straffan House (see photo above) and obviously, any course that hosts a Ryder Cup is a treat. Runner-up: Hard Rock Resort & Casino Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
* Best casino golf resort: The Wynn Las Vegas is a cool place with plush fairways and great caddies right on The Strip. Runners-up: Caesars Palace Las Vegas only comes in second because Cascata is about a 30-minute drive away in Boulder City. Turningstone Resort & Casino in New York offers 54 holes of solid golf.
* Biggest surprise resort: Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui was my favorite of the three Maui properties I visited in April. Runner-up: Royal St. Kitts Marriott Resort & Casino. I just loved the small-island, friendly feel. I’d love more time to explore.
* Best condo-villa accommodations: The Kapalua Villas on Maui were sprawling and luxurious with ocean views, featuring a pool and coastal walking trails right out back. Runners-up: Kä‘anapali Ali‘i in Maui. Barefoot Resort & Golf and Anderson Ocean Club & Spa in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
* Best U.S. spa: This was actually the category with the toughest competition. The Spa at La Costa, the world’s oldest destination spa, gets the sentimental nod. The Ska:na Spa at Turningstone Resort & Casino was the most unique with its Native American motifs. Runners-up: In any other year, the Spa at Doral, the Spa at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui and the Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars Palace Las Vegas would be hands-down winners. All are first class.
* Best international spa: Hard Rock Resort & Casino Punta Cana. It’s the little things you learn to love. The steam room had individual seats with shower heads on hoses.
* Best resort excursion: The Ocean kayak experience at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui wins by a mile. First off, it’s free for guests. To top it off, a sea turtle slipped under us as we paddled. Wave-surfing home ended with a bang.
* Best water excursion: Blue Water Safari on St. Kitts runs a fabulous sunset catamaran trip. Sipping the island brew, Carib, and hanging with the locals was a great introduction to island life. Runner-up: Maria Souza gave me a great lesson on standup paddle boarding in Maui.
* Best underwater excursion: The Ali‘i Nui, a world-class sailing vessel (see photo below), took my wife and I to snorkel near Molokini, a large rock and coral reef formation just a short sail from Maui. We saw loads of fish and even an octopus.
* Best in-the-air excursion: The eight ziplines of the Kä‘anapali Skyline Adventure cross valleys high above Kä‘anapali, offering stunning views of Maui and the ocean.
* Best off-property excursion: Anything in Maui. Driving the Road to Hana and to the top of Haleakala volcano were experiences of a lifetime. Runner-up: Visiting Crystal Cove beach across the street from The Resort at Pelican Hill.
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