Any parent who's ever taken young children out to a golf course knows the feeling: Far from being able to concentrate on your own game, you're focused on the kids' behavior to the point of distraction. Will they dig trenches in the turf with their wild swings?Will they accidentally wallop one another with a club?In a burst of exuberance or exasperation, will they shriek at such a decibel level as to disturb everyone within earshot?
So imagine how Maureen Yeager of Briarcliff Manor, New York, felt when she and several of her children were hitting balls on the practice range at Wild Dunes Resort in South Carolina and the volume started to rise. "The kids were being really loud, and I was like, 'Be quiet! Be quiet!'" Yeager recalls. But much to her surprise—and relief—instead of drawing angry glares, the family was immediately made to feel welcome. "One of the pros just smiled at me and said, 'It's okay, don't worry about the noise.'"
Making a family of six feel comfortable playing golf is no mean feat. With its time-honored emphasis on etiquette and its utter demand for hand-eye coordination, the game can be intimidating, to say the least. The challenge in introducing children to golf is to balance instruction and fun.
Wild Dunes and a host of other family-oriented resorts across the country are getting this difficult equation right. In doing so, they are leaders in a significant travel-related trend: meeting an increasing demand for resort-golf options that include instructional programs, club fitting and courses that suit shorter hitters—for Dad, Mom and the kids.
A quality family golf resort offers all that and more: a kid-friendly atmosphere; a course that's easy enough for junior golfers but well conditioned and challenging enough for adults; nongolf recreation options for kids; a good restaurant or two; and proximity to a charming city, town or other area—an amusement park, for instance—that offers activities for the whole family.
With all of these elements in mind, we present a list of several of the finest family golf resorts in the country and a look at what makes each one something special.
Grande Lakes Orlando
4000 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando, Florida; 800-682-3665 (Ritz-Carlton) or 800-682-9956 (J.W. Marriott), grandelakes.com
Big Picture: The five-hundred-acre resort features more than 1,500 rooms at Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriott hotels. A 40,000-square-foot spa, salon and fitness center has forty treatment rooms and a conservatory for simply unwinding.
The Golf: The resort's Greg Norman-designed course is 7,127 yards from the back tees but has generous fairways and two sets of forward tees—the shortest is 5,226 yards—to suit youngsters.
Family Golf: The Golf Fore Kids Etiquette Class teaches five- to twelve-year-olds the basic rules and etiquette of the game: who hits when, where to stand when someone else is hitting and, perhaps hardest of all for a child to understand, when to be quiet. To keep things fun, the pros hold contests for prizes such as hats and balls. Kids also learn swing fundamentals that they can put to use on the course. Once there, they will find great help—and parents will find great solace—from their "caddie concierges." These attendants go well beyond cleaning clubs and tending pins to offer swing advice, order food and drinks, and even make dinner reservations and spa appointments. Junior clubs are available for rent.
Other Fun Stuff: The many allures of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida are a short shuttle ride away. Children will also love the Marriott's lazy-river pool and the "dive-in" movies at the Ritz and Marriott pools. In addition, the resort offers baby-sitting, which can be arranged by the concierge.
Dining: Eleven restaurants are scattered throughout the compound. Take the kids for burgers and chicken nuggets at Fairways Pub, or go out for a romantic evening at Norman's, where acclaimed chef Norman Van Aken puts a European spin on Latin and Caribbean cuisine.
Hotel Road, Hershey, Pennsylvania; 800-437-7439, hersheypa.com
Big Picture: The company town built by chocolate king, philanthropist and golf enthusiast Milton Hershey features the historic 232-room Hotel Hershey as well as the more modern—and massive, with 665 rooms—Hershey Lodge. Then there is the candy factory, of course, and the always-popular Hersheypark.
The Golf: Guests enjoy privileges at Hershey Country Club, where Ben Hogan served as head pro from 1941 to 1950. The quirky, hilly West course was built in 1930 and still provides a stern test. The East is longer and more modern, while the Parkview course is considerably shorter than the other two, yet exactingly narrow.
Family Golf: A nine-holer called Spring Creek, a short shuttle ride away, is ideal for kids. A gentle course, it features six par fours and three par threes, one of which is 100 yards and another that is 120. The course was built expressly for kids; initially adults could play there only as guests of a child. That rule is no longer enforced, but the child-friendly emphasis remains very much intact: On any given day, kids account for half the play. The resort offers children's clubs for rent.
Other Fun Stuff: Hersheypark is synonymous with "kid heaven." The resort also runs a camplike program for children, featuring sports and arts and crafts, called the Cocoa Kids Club. For further amusement, there's ZooAmerica (zooamerica.com), an eleven-acre walk-through zoo featuring seventy-five species that started as Milton Hershey's private animal collection. The spa and indoor swimming pool at Hotel Hershey are adjacent to each other and serve as a perfect rainy-day (or any day, for that matter) family haven.
Dining: There are eleven restaurants to choose from at Hershey. The Bear's Den, a sports bar and arcade in the Lodge, is the best bet for family dining on the run.