8 Top Family Golf Resorts - My Family Travels

You can golf and bring the kids, too, at these resorts in Hawaii, Mexico, Florida and British Columbia.

Despite popular belief, you can be in golfer’s heaven and enjoy a family vacation, too. The key is finding a family-friendly destination, a comprehensive kids’ program, and activities everyone can enjoy. Here are a few packages my family has sampled at resorts with great golf and cool kids’ programs.

Hawai’i – The Big Island

The big island of Hawai’i is noted for its top-rated courses; two are found at the Hilton Waikoloa Village ( 800/HILTONS, 808/886-1234). The par-72 Kings Course, ranked among the top 25 resort courses in North America by Golf Digest, unfurls over the ancient lava landscape with 83 sand traps to challenge your play. Its signature fifth hole is a driveable par-4 surrounded by a giant sand trap that runs alongside the length of the fairway. In addition, the resort also features the smaller Beach Course. The 12th hole of this course is a favorite because not only is it one of the more challenging, but during the winter months it is also a great location for whale watching.

A morning tee time coincides nicely with the Hilton’s full-day children’s program, Camp Menehune, for ages 5-12. Running from 9am to 4pm daily, with night camps on weekends, this program features such varied activities as animal encounters, sports, dress-ups and lessons about Hawaiian culture. To get back to your room, you take a monorail or canal boat (our son liked the transportation so much, it was hard to pry him off!) A vast Disneyesque fantasy-land, this resort sprawls over 62 acres of tropical gardens interlaced with winding waterways.

For kids, the key attraction (apart from the 176-foot waterslide) is a shallow water Dolphin Encounter with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins living in the Hilton’s lagoon. Each group of children and trainer gets their own dolphin to feed, pet, and play ball with. There is also a “Dolphin Family and Friends Encounter” for age-varied groups of six. This 45-minute package ranges around $1,300 for the entire family. Try to reserve as early as possible because spaces fill up quickly. For the whole family, a visit to Volcanoes National Park, where live red lava bubbles into the sea, is a must. The resort’s Golf Package offers unlimited golf for two and a room that comes equipped with one king-size bed and a twin sofa pull-out; the Perfect Family Vacation Package offers daily breakfast and a round on the putting course for the kids. The Hilton offers a myriad of packages (rates $$$); when booking make sure you inquire about which ones are applicable to the time you are planning to stay as each is offered during varying times of year.

Golf is huge on the Big Island. At the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (888/9-PRINCE or 808/882-7222), the Unlimited Golf Package ($$$$$) includes endless golf and breakfast for two. There are also various Family Packages offered throughout the year which usually include a second room for half price, free kids’ meals in the summer and a special welcome kit with age-appropriate gifts from sand pails to crayons (check the website for specific details, dates and rates). For a daily fee, kids 5-12 can participate in the children’s program and go swimming, make crafts, or go on a scavenger hunt. The Mauna Kea adjoins both the Hapuna Golf Course and the fabulous Mauna Kea Golf Course. The latter has amazing views from lava beds to ocean surf to a snow-capped mountain, with dramatic changes in elevation over 18 holes. The PGA Instruction Program and the 19th Hole Restaurant are additional draws. Similar golf opportunities, packages, and children’s programs are available at other Prince Resorts Properties in Hapuna, Maui and Waikiki; check the website for rates as each since they change often.

The Mauna Lani Resort (800/367-2323 or 808/885-6622) also has some great neighboring golf courses, and there’s an Unlimited Golf Package for two, with one day on the greens for every night’s stay. In addition to the Golf Enhancement Program and adult lessons, junior golf clinics are available for instruction. At the resort itself, kids ages 5-12 explore tidal pools and prehistoric caves at Camp Mauna Lani. There’s even the new Keiki Program for 3 and 4-year-olds to get in on the fun as well. This resort is popular with FTF members for its suites and ‘bungalow’ rooms that are extra spacious and posh; check their website for rates (often high) and their low season specials.

Hawai’i – Maui

The PGA-event Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort (800/527-2582) in Maui is a shotmaker’s dream, perhaps the reason Kapalua was voted among the “Top 10 Golf Courses in the US” and “No. 1 Golf Course in Hawaii” in the recent Travel + Leisure reader polls. You need imagination — and every club in your bag — to play this spectacular course. But don’t worry — a more relaxed game can be played at Kapalua’s other course, the Bay Course which winds along the ocean’s edge and was designed by Arnold Palmer.

Accommodation choices at the 23,000-acre planned resort community include luxury homes, condos, the Kapalua Villas, which welcome families with their generous size, and the new Kapalua Gold Villas, recently established to make luxury villas with top caliber decor and amenities available on a rental basis. Activities organized by the Kapalua Villas include hiking, biking, horseback riding and helicopter tours of the spectacular Haleakala Crater. Seasonal children’s programs feature outdoor excursions, swimming and Hawai’ian crafts. Also, from 11am-1:30pm, kids can golf nine holes for free, with a paying adult. In addition to added space at the Villas, families will enjoy free long-distance and international calling privileges, high speed Internet, daily maid and turndown service, robes and slippers, daily newspaper delivery and concierge service — sounds like a five-star hotel, doesn’t it?

And Kapalua certainly has that: the glitzier Ritz-Carlton Kapalua (808/669-6200) perches dramatically on a hill above a wild and windy beach and offers anything that any family — or golfer — could need. Please note, however, that since June 2007, the Ritz-Carlton has been undergoing $125 million worth of renovations. The resort is scheduled to reopen in early January 2008 and will feature 445 newly transformed guestrooms and suites. The resort’s free Ritz-Kids program (ages 5-12) was known for its unique ecological and cultural approach, offering activities like hula dancing and nature walks. Following the renovation, the Ritz Carlton plans to revamp their activities, promising a new and improved kids program which includes an Environmental Education Program and even a new kid’s pool. And then there’s the golden arc of beach at Kapalua Bay — America’s best beach according to the University of Maryland’s Coastal Research Lab — with gentle water for swimming and good snorkeling.

Rates vary according to season but there are often good Golf Packages that vigilant website surfing or a good travel agent can ferret out for you. The Kapalua Villas offer several packages, including accommodations, golf, and a rental car.

Florida – Tampa Bay

In Palm Harbor near Tampa, Florida, the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club (727/942-2000, 800/456-2000) offers world-class golf with four championship courses crossing rolling hills, cypress trees, lakes — and gators. Golfers are warned not to forage for balls anywhere near water. These prehistoric reptiles slither across the greens as the sun starts to set, lending an extra shiver of anticipation to your play. The most taxing course is the 7,340-yard Copperhead Course, home to the Chrysler Championship. To hone your skills, Innisbrook’s Golf Institute (727/942-5283) offers intensive, year-round instruction. After breakfasting with the pros, both beginners and scratch golfers hit the teaching course at 9am for drills, exercises and video analysis. Then, later on in the day, you test your strategy and course management by playing one of the courses with a pro until sundown. The student to teacher ratio is 4:1 (or better) and the service, which includes complimentary Band-Aids and sunscreen, is excellent.

In late 2006, the Innisbrook ceased being a Westin resort and added a supervised Kids Club. Although only available in the warmer months (May-September), the Camp Innisbrook program offers a different theme and new activities every day. Kids ages 4-12 are taken care of from 7am to 6pm; full day with lunch and half-day packages are offered. The Kids Clubs also provides an evening program every Friday and Saturday night from 6-10pm for only $10 per child and that includes dinner and entertainment! And feel free to bring more than one of your children, because additional siblings receive discounts as well.

Innisbrook’s deluxe one- and two-bedroom suites all have kitchens and are clustered around the six pools. Reasonable rates at the Innisbrook Resort come in the form of package perks to make your golfing trip more enjoyable, including full breakfast, unlimited usage of their driving range, and scheduled tee times. Kids always stay free when sharing a room with adults.

Mexico – Los Cabos

For a pricier but more exotic location at the south end of the Baja Peninsula, The One and Only Palmilla Resort (866/829-2977, 52/624-146-7000) could be just the ticket. Families rave about the resort’s combination of a complimentary children’s program and excellent golf. The 27-hole Jack Nicklaus signature golf course has been rated in the top 100 by Great Golf Resorts of the World. With 24 hours’ notice, kids can join a golf or tennis pro for a lesson themselves, or partake in other KidsOnly Club activities like Spanish lessons, piñata making, origami, yoga, sports, cooking classes, or a dip in the children’s pool. The club runs everyday from 9am to 5pm and is for children aged 4-11. However, if you have a child under the age of 4 who would like to participate, that is fine, as long as you join in the fun too. If you have a baby or toddler and you need to hit the greens, never fear, the Palmilla has babysitters on staff as well.

Accommodations at the Palmilla radiate luxury–because of the resort’s interesting location between ocean and desert, every room has an ocean view from its patio or balcony. Every room also has its own butler to provide service during the duration of your stay. You may not be spending much time in your room, though, with all the golfing to be done, or the trips to the spa or Charlie Trotter’s “C” restaurant during down time.

Kids 11 and under always stay free at the Palmilla. The Tea to Dream package ($$$$$+) per night for accommodations, a round of golf for two including cart and rentals, and breakfast and dinner. The Classic Golf Package offers a more extended splurge with three days of unlimited golf for two, carts, rentals, shirts, visors, golf balls, daily breakfast and dinner, and private airport transfers in addition to accommodations, starting in 2007 at $2,780.

Canada – Vancouver BC

Closer to my home, the Chateau Whistler Golf Course in B.C. still lives up to the excitement of its 1993 opening season when Golf Digest rated it the “Best New Canadian Course;” it’s still rated one of the “Top 15 Golf Courses in North America” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. Fringed by purple and yellow wildflowers for much of its April to October season, the mountain course climbs 300 feet up the front nine holes, and offers sweeping views of Whistler Village below as you zigzag back down.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler (604/938-8000; 800/257-7544) itself does not offer organized children’s programs, but there are plenty in the nearby, well-developed, year-round pedestrian village at the famed Whistler/Blackcomb ski resort. Whistler Summer Kids is a daily drop-in program for children from 18-months to 14-years where your game won’t be interrupted because the kids are busy; hiking, canoeing, windsurfing, rock climbing, or participating in wildlife and nature discussions. Other programs to try are Whistler Kids, which runs daily throughout most of the summer (call 604/932-3434 for more details), and the Nanny Network for private babysitting.

A great family activity is biking or rollerblading the miles of nearby paved trails that meander past luxurious chalets to pretty lakes and parks. Then, under a colorful patio umbrella back in the village square, you celebrate that great-to-be-alive feeling with cold drinks while being entertained by street performers. The Chateau Whistler course offers access to the highly regarded David Leadbetter Golf Academy, which has seasonal discounts for children who want to learn the sport, too. In addition to Golf packages, since 2005, the Fairmont has extended the privilege of complimentary, unlimited rounds of play to its guests on the day following their paid round of golf (a two-for-one deal so to speak), plus free use of the Practice & Learning Center and one game of free golf for kids aged 10-18 per paying adult. Keep in mind though, because of the much cooler climate, the course is only open from May until early-mid October.

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