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Travel Smart: Top Tips from TravelGolf.com's Tantalizing Destinations

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, NC - All golf destinations, like all golf courses, were not created equal. Weather, geography and prevailing course design philosophies combine to create a physical playing environment that differs from destination to destination.

Hot, cold, wet, and windy; one destination's money shot is another destination's pitfall.

"I find that golfers that are about to take a golf vacation do not practice shots that will be useful when they get to were they are going," says Dana Rader, GolfCarolina.com's playing editor and a Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher. "Knowing the right plays and shots for your desired destination can save you five or six strokes per round."

Now, if you could save that many strokes on your next trip to Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Orlando, or Scottsdale, wouldn't you take the time to learn a new shot or two? Good.

We picked the brains of golf instructors and superintendents from Palm Desert to West Palm Beach to get their takes on the lay of their land so you can get the most out of your next golf trip to one of TravelGolf.com's major golf destinations.

Southern Arizona (Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson)

The Skinny:Lush green fairways juxtaposed against craggy brown desert rocks is the unmistakable ambiance of golf in southern Arizona. Target golf is this destination's modus operandi, as southern Arizona's top tracks often require forced carries over desert arroyos and ravines to fairways and greens surrounded by native Sonoran desert.

Generally speaking, players with high ball flights will make out like banditos on these desert courses, while those with frozen rope trajectories better stock up on experienced balls. To improve your chances of carrying the cactus and creosote (and decrease your chances of dancing with rattlesnakes), take a fairway wood instead of a driver off the tee. A three or five wood will give you the extra loft needed to get the ball in the air. And with the higher altitudes (up to 2600 feet in Scottsdale and Tucson) and dry air, you won't lose much distance.

Parting Shots: You will find both Bermuda and bentgrass greens in southern Arizona. Most of the courses on the Valley floor in Phoenix use Bermuda because nighttime temperatures in the summer hover around 85 degrees. Courses in Tucson and Scottsdale, where temperatures dip lower at night, typically favor bentgrass. These two surfaces putt differently, so be sure to ask the proshop what you'll be rolling on.

South Carolina (Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Hilton Head)

The Skinny: Welcome to Sea Level, where flushed five irons fly a frugal 150 yards, putts roll through two quarts of dew before they get to the hole, and dark clouds of mosquitoes swarm around tee boxes like reporters on Shaquille O'Neal.

Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and Hilton Head all inhabit a region of the Carolinas known as the Low Country, and the golf courses (more often than not) fit the characteristics of the land. A number of tracks were built on the sites of old plantations while others were simply stuck on top of the land formerly known as quagmire.

The layouts are flat, wind their way through low, hulking trees, and consist of equal parts water and dry land. The key to a successful Low Country golf trip is to check your ego at the door. If you normally take 7-iron from 150 yards, take a six iron. If you take pitching wedge from 115 yards, take a nine iron. You get the idea. While the courses aren't target by definition, greens are often protected by water in front, and soggy fairways lend themselves to little or no YAC (yards after carry).

Parting Shots: Knowing how to play a ball out of pine straw could be the difference between a 95 and an 85, especially in Myrtle Beach were a majority of courses are located inland. The shot is to be played like a fairway bunker shot: pick the ball off the straw with a controlled, smooth swing. Take an extra club if needed to compensate for the decrease in swing speed.

North Carolina (Pinehurst and the Mountains)

Scottish born Donald Ross is the primary influence in the Sandhills region of the Tar Heel State, and his protégées, such as Ellis Maples, went on to design a number of layouts in the Blue Ridge and Great Smokey Mountains. The upshot is you can expect plenty of British influenced designs in which the bump-and-run shot is always an option around the greens.

Sandhills courses, with their loamy soil, drain faster than a bathtub on speed. So you can expect to get plenty of YAC and greens that don't hold approach shots as proficiently as their saturated Low Country siblings. Mountain courses sport many of the same design aspects as Sandhills tracks, but a few key differences are important to note.

First, altitudes can range anywhere from 1000 to 4800 feet, so taking less club is almost always the best play. Second, undulating mountain terrain guarantees a plethora of blind shots, uphill approaches and long carries. One of the biggest mistakes players make when shifting from a flat course to a mountain course is trying to steer the ball away from trouble. Take your usual swing and trust the results. Finally, fairways and tees on mountain courses are usually turfed with blue grass and not Bermuda, so you'll rarely find your ball sitting up on a spongy natural tee.

Parting Shot: Pinehurst Resort or Pinehurst the Village? Yes, there's a difference. Pinehurst Resort, founded by James Walker Tufts in 1895 and made famous by Ross' No. 2 Course, is a collection of eight world-class golf courses, two historic hotels, and a $13 million spa. The Village sprang into action a few years later, its winding streets and pocket parks designed by legendary landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead. A smattering of courses are actually located within incorporated Pinehurst but aren't part of the resort.

Northern Florida (Orlando, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra)

The Skinny: The Sunshine State is home to over 1200 golf courses, so its almost impossible to make any generalizations about course design. However some elements, like Bermuda greens and fairways, hordes of water hazards and omnipresent sunshine are constants from Jacksonville to Miami. The familiar designs of Nicklaus, Palmer, and Fazio are accounted for, but you will find signature courses from the likes of Dick Wilson and Joe Lee that are unique to the state.

Like South Carolina, Florida's coastal courses are flat and inundated with salty, moisture-saturated air. The state's inland courses (namely in the north) can actually take on a North Carolina or Georgia feel, replete with hardwoods and rolling hills. Lakeland based golf course architect Ron Garl has made a name for himself in this area with the recent opening of Victoria Hills in Deland.

Parting Shot: "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink," said poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But that doesn't mean you can't play out of it. Having the water shot in your arsenal is a good way to save a stroke or two in Florida (if you don't mind trashing your Dockers). If the ball is sitting with its topside out of the drink, play it like a bunker blast shot. Open the face of a sand wedge, swing steeply about an inch and a half behind the ball, and grab a towel. If the ball is submerged, just take the penalty.

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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