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Show Bin Laden Who's Boss and Take that Winter Golf Trip

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The headlines read that this war on terrorism is going to run a lot longer than originally predicted. Eradicating these evil extremists from their caves, caverns and crannies takes the type of patience, precision, planning and plotting that can only be executed over the course of months, or perhaps even years.

And boy is it surreal to wake up in the morning and read stories about Anthrax, a disease that was made to sound so devastating during the cold war that it could wipe out the entire U.S. population if unleashed by bioterrorists.

Make no mistake - we've seen better days in this country.

But anyone that was alive during Vietnam, Korea, or World War I or II will remind you that it could be worse.

Our freedom and our sanctuary were violated on Sept. 11 like never before. It appears that from a travel standpoint, however, that we've repaired most the chinks in the armor.

Air travel is safer than at anytime in the past 20 years. Cars are searched before they enter short-term parking. Competent people appear to be employed at a majority of the terminal gates. Screaming deals are available from most airlines to major golf destinations like Scottsdale, Las Vegas and Palm Desert.

But for those that need a little more coaxing, here are a few more reasons to book that winter golf trip.

From cactus comes catharsis

If you feel the urge to purge, hit the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona this winter. Towering cactus, lush green overseeded fairways, bentgrass greens, temperatures in the 70's, jagged mountains and some of the best layouts in the country should help to cure any last symptoms of "travelitis."

The Valley of the Sun is home to the greatest concentration of golf courses west of the Mississippi, and options run from the $200 plus rounds of Troon North, Grayhawk and the Boulders to the affordable $50 - $75 plays at courses like the Sidewinder at Dinosaur Mountain, the Bear Creek Golf Club in Chandler, or the TPC Desert Course in Scottsdale.

In between golf, you'll have little trouble keeping yourself occupied. Take an afternoon to walk around downtown Tempe, home of Arizona State University and some of the Valley's best pubs and stores. Or check out downtown Phoenix, which has actually evolved into a can't miss attraction anchored by Bank One Ball Park, America West Arena, and the prestigious Heard Museum.

Chances are the Suns, the Valley's NBA team, will be in town for a quick homestand so pick up a ducket and enjoy the show. Need more? Shopping in downtown Scottsdale is as popular as ever, and this elegant burg is a great place to burn off the strip on your credit card.

Take a dip in the strip

Memo to Phoenix: That golf destination known as Las Vegas is no longer willing to bow down and kiss the ring. Sin City has arrived on the scene as a full-on stay and play rival to the Valley of the Sun.

Airfare to Las Vegas from most major cities is either comparable, or cheaper than tickets to Phoenix, and hotel rooms and golf packages make the entire trip feasible for those on a budget.

Unlike the Phoenix area, however, you won't find many courses to play under $100. The best course designers in the industry have found their way into Vegas over the past five years and they are charging accordingly.

Pete Dye has put his stamp on Clark County with the Snow and Sun Mountain Courses at Las Vegas Paiute Resort, the Golden Bear has designed a breathtaking, challenging layout at Reflection Bay, and Tom Fazio is well represented at Shadow Creek.

Grand Stranding

Still not ready to hop back in an airplane? Myrtle Beach feels your pain. The 120 odd courses of the Grand Strand represent the largest drive market golf destination in the United States with over 11 million annual visitors. Charlotte, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and hordes of other metropolitan areas lie within a half day or day's drive of the beach.

Unlike Scottsdale and Las Vegas, winter is the offseason in Myrtle Beach. If you can deal with highs in the low to mid 60's and some morning lows in the 40's, you can pull off a golf trip including some of the area's best tracks for under $100 per person, per day, including room and board.

If you want to keep it on a shoestring budget, the Strand has a glut of affordable, well-conditioned courses and golf packages that range from $40 to $70 a day, per person.

Until next week, happy trip planning.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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