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Alas, the economy has stopped posting big numbers and course construction has bumped up against flat participation rates. The ensuing ripples are being felt throughout golf. But the news isn't all bad: Some private clubs have quietly begun seeking revenue from—gasp!—outside play. Vacationing players thus have a unique chance to kick the tires at super layouts and experience the privileges of membership beyond their own clubs. Paying for fantastic lodging is a prerequisite, but then nobody said being a golfer was easy.
—Larry Olmsted

1 Red Sky Golf Club, Vail Valley, CO
Architects: Tom Fazio, 2002; Greg Norman, 2003. Yardage: 7,113 (Fazio); 7,437 (Norman). Par: 72 (both). Greens Fees: $150-$195.
THE GOLF: The new Norman course has the most dramatic Rocky Mountain views around, while the Fazio design alternates such vistas with wooded holes cut through dense aspen groves. Red Sky member Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour's commissioner, might just round out your foursome.
THE DIGS: You must stay at one of Vail Resort's lodging partners (and can play only the day's designated course). Our choice is the new Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch (800-576-5582, ritzcarlton.com), a tribute to the classic National Park lodges—with many added comforts, of course.

2 Cape Cod National Golf Club, Brewster, MA
Architect: Brian Silva, 1998. Yardage: 6,954. Par: 72. Greens Fees: $105-$126.
THE GOLF: The club has a caddie program and a neoclassic design with "eyelash" bunkers and golden-age architecture. Silva is a traditionalist in the C. B. MacDonald vein, yet someone decided the course would be improved by the addition throughout of bronze seal and hippo statues.
THE DIGS: Outside play is strictly limited to guests of the Wequassett Inn (800-225-7125, wequassett.com); weekend tee times in July and August are on a space-available basis. The waterfront Wequassett exudes New England charm, with shingled cottages housing rooms so spacious you won't kick about paying $400 to $600 per night in season.

3 Querencia, Los Cabos, Mexico
Architect: Tom Fazio, 2000. Yardage: 7,070. Par: 72. Greens Fee: $250.
THE GOLF: Tom Fazio's debut effort in Cabo is a strategic masterpiece set in the hills with sweeping ocean views, minimal play and not a home in sight—a rarity in this overbuilt region. Radical tee separations make the course fun for all abilities: The dramatic par-three eleventh plays at five different lengths from 122 to 204 yards.
THE DIGS: Querencia sometimes allows top area hotels to book guests but only has a formal deal with Las Ventanas al Paraiso (888-525-0483, lasventanas.com), which is an ultraluxe, all-suite sixty-one-room boutique resort that's not only the best in Cabo but among the finest on earth.

4 The Course at CordeValle, San Martin, CA
Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1999. Yardage: 7,169. Par: 72. Greens Fees: $155-$275.
THE GOLF: The layout plays over the rolling floor of a secluded valley, venturing into the foothills for inspiring views. Creeks, tall native grasses and a lack of real estate make it a natural beauty. The men's locker room is unrivaled, with its own full bar, pool, cigar room and hot tubs with flat-screen TVs overhead; RTJ Jr. called CordeValle "perhaps my finest creation."
THE DIGS: The Lodge (877-255-2626, cordevalle.com) is a new addition to this Silicon Valley private club; it's run by chic Auberge Resorts, with a fancy spa and forty-five rooms. You must stay here to play the course, and must take a caddie if walking or use a forecaddie if riding.

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