Off the Beaten Cart Path -- Exotic Golf Holidays

Every golfer knows the pilgrimage destinations (St. Andrews, Pebble Beach) and the golf marathon package tour trips (Myrtle Beach, Phoenix, Florida).

But maybe you're just looking for something different in a golf holiday. Or, you simply prefer not to rush to a different golf Mecca every day for a week -- and besides, you (or your family) would like to enjoy other diversions as well.

Here is a brief guide to North American and overseas destinations that are scenic, relatively undiscovered, and boast first-rate play, put together with the help of Jim Moriarity, Golf Digest Contributing Writer and Photographer, and Dan Friedman, editor of Golf Travel newsletter.

For superb scenery, head for the hills: The Canadian Rockies play very well during the summer months -- the 800-room Banff Springs Hotel (the Banff Tourist Bureau number is 403-762-3777), located within Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, has its own highly-recommended course set in a magnificent river valley -- and nearby is Kananaskis Country Club, a Robert Trent Jones course rated a Super Value in Golf Digest's "Places to Play" guide. The drive north from Banff north to Jasper is one of the great routes in North America, and once you get there, the Jasper Park Lodge course is outstanding.

Knowledgeable travelers have found plenty of first-rate courses in the Pacific Northwest (summer only). Central Oregon is a worthy destination: the small town of Bend and further south, the Sunriver resort, are two well-kept golf secrets. Big Meadow and Widgi Creek are two esteemed Robert Muir Graves designs in the area, (call Black Butte Ranch, 503-595-6211) but there are a dozen other courses to be found, and many are bargains.

Seattle has two fine courses on Puget Sound: Semiahmoo and Port Ludlow. North of the border, there are fine golf courses around Vancouver: the outstanding Chateau Whistler hotel (604-938-2010) has its own highly-rated Robert Trent Jones course, and there are many other outdoor activities (hiking, fishing, windsurfing) to be enjoyed.

Something about island getaways seems to attract golf -- maybe it's the game's British Isles genes. The least-known Hawaiian golf destination is Kauai (pronounced koo-EYE), the easternmost of the larger islands; Moriarity pronounces it "far and away my favorite of the Hawaiian islands." Kauai has no less than four Robert Trent Jones, Jr. courses and a pair of Nicklaus tracts: phone the Hawaii Visitor's Bureau (212-947-0717) for information.

To the east, Sea Island, Georgia is not exactly a secret, but its antebellum charm has won over many tourists, thanks to the golf school as well as the courses. The horseback riding, tennis, skeetshooting, boating, bicycle riding, and shopping are all exceptional at Sea Island (800-732-4752). Nevis in the Caribbean is a swell spot (Princess Di visits each December): the Four Seasons resort there is built aside an old volcano which provides hot baths, it isn't cheap ($585 a night) but no one complains (800-332-3442).

A word of advice: if you are traveling domestically and want to play, always pack Golf Digest's Places to Play for an informative guide to regional courses.

For the serious golf itinerant, an indispensable reference is the Golf Travel newsletter -- particularly for overseas travel. Candid (editors Dan Friedman and T. Sieg always check in pseudonymously), literate (if occasionally at a loss for superlatives), and discerning, the eight-page monthly is the best guide we've seen to resorts around the world ($79/year, $135/two years; for subscriptions and back issues call 1-800-225-7825). Emphasis is on fine golf and all aspects of the good life.

The Aberdeen coast of Scotland is comparatively remote, but the courses at Cruden Bay, Carnoustie, and Murcar make it an outstanding destination: the Marcliffe at Pitfodels, a fine hotel, will book tee-times for you (011-44-224-861000; fax 011- 44-224-868860).

Each European nation seems to have added its own particular character to the game, and no surprise that French golf is both expensive and exquisite. Friedman recommends a three-part tour: around Paris, Chantilly and St. Germain-en-Laye are exceptional private clubs which will allow qualified players (there's also a world-class turf race track in Chantilly). In the Loire Valley, Les Bordes (54-87-72-13) is a one-of-a-kind golf resort ("an unparalleled aesthetic adventure," in Friedman's words), and of course all the charms and delights of the Loire are at hand. Finally, if anything is left in your budget, make for Biarritz on the Gascony coast. The sister city of Augusta, Georgia, Biarritz is the unchallenged capital of French golf; the staff at the Hotel du Palais (011-33-59-24-09-40) can arrange tee-times.

The Iberian Peninsula of course boasts resorts -- Lisbon boasts Penha Longha and a few others, and the Algarve resort on the southern coast features several outstanding courses (the Quinta do Lago hotel in Arlgarve is 351-089-396666).

Finally, a caution: if you're planning a golfing trip to Europe, remember to it bring a current handicap card -- if yours is over 18 you may have trouble getting on some courses -- a letter of introduction from your golf professional is frequently necessary as well.