You're traveling on business, and the day's first meeting doesn't start until 10 a.m. If you tee off at 6, you've got enough time to squeeze in nine holes. But where should you go? Here are five great public courses near five major business (and vacation) destinations — courses that are tough enough to challenge any pro. If you've got just an hour to spare, check out these New York and San Francisco driving ranges.
Bethpage's Black Course
Where: Bethpage State Park, New York, a 30-minute drive from La Guardia Airport.
Big Picture: Designed in 1936 by the famed A. W. Tillinghast, in June 2002 Bethpage Black will become the first public course to host the U.S. Open. Its greens fee is cheaper than the rental-cart fee at many resorts, but don't let that fact dissuade you from discovering this gem.
High: The course's park-like character. Ancient oaks edge the fairways, the hazards reveal themselves unexpectedly, and the greens are built the old-fashioned way — on soil.
Low: The crowds. It can sometimes take five hours to play a round, so get there early in the day.
Insider's Tip: Play strategically — the fairways are wide enough to really drive the ball, but the small greens and well-placed bunkers put a premium on shot-making.
Coordinates: $10 for 9 holes on weekdays. Bethpage State Park, 516-249-0700.
PGA National Golf Club's Champion Course
Where: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, 20 minutes from West Palm Beach Airport.
Big Picture: In his 1990 redesign, Jack Nicklaus pockmarked the flat, nearly treeless landscape with big bunkers and sprawling, water-filled craters. In fact there's water on 16 holes. Site of the Senior PGA Championship.
High: Nailing a birdie on No. 17. A par 3 with water on all sides, it usually plays into the wind and there's no good spot to bail out.
Low: Bogey, bogey, bogey — many holes are fraught with peril. No. 15, dubbed "Bear Trap," typifies the course: a 179-yard par 3 with water on the right of the green and a big bunker on the left.
Insider's Tip: Unless you're a scratch golfer, play the middle or front tees. And plan ahead for all the hazards.
Coordinates: $92 for nine holes on weekdays. PGA National Golf Club, 407-627-1800.
Where: Bernardston, Massachusetts, 90 minutes from Hartford, Connecticut's Bradley International Airport.
Big Picture: A U.S. Open-caliber course surrounded by deep woods, with water on several holes and no out-of-bounds. This classically designed track is one to brag about with your golfing buddies.
High: An after-golf drink on the clubhouse's terrace, overlooking the 18th hole and the rugged Berkshire hills beyond.
Low: Losing ball after ball after ball to the encroaching forest.
Insider's Tip: Call ahead to club pro Ron Beck — he'll go out of his way to accommodate your tee-time request; he also runs one of the best-stocked pro shops in the country.
Coordinates: Crumpin-Fox, 413-648-9101.
The Links at Spanish Bay
Where: Adjacent to the Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California, minutes from the Monterey Airport.
Big Picture: One of the most panoramic courses in the world, fronting the surf off the craggy Monterey Peninsula. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Sandy Tatum, and Hall of Fame golfer Tom Watson, this is a true links course, built on soil that connects land and water.
High: Playing a running shot, just like the kind you'd find in Scotland's fabled courses.
Low: Deciding whether to play here or nearby Pebble Beach or nearby Spy Glass Hill, two other blue-chip classics.
Insider's Tip: Unlike most American golf courses, the Links' fairways and greens are firm so the ball bounces and rolls.
Coordinates: Inn at Spanish Bay, 408-647-7495.
Troon North's Monument Course
Where: Scottsdale, Arizona, 45 minutes from the Scottsdale Airport.
Big Picture: A masterpiece designed by Jay Morrish and former golf great Tom Weiskopf, where each of the 18 holes has its own character. Desert scenery and exquisite attention to detail combine to make this a worthy homage to Scotland's legendary Troon.
High: Hitting a birdie on No. 11. At 419 to 539 yards, this par 5 doglegs right around Goldie Brown Butte. Play it down the middle and you'll need three shots to make the green, tucked between a wash and a small rock outcropping.
Low: You must rent a cart, an annoying regulation that turns up at too many U.S. golf courses.
Insider's Tip: Keep the ball in the fairway. The cactus and cholla, sandy arroyos and large boulders swallow errant shots.
Coordinates: Troon North, 602-585-5300.
"Playing A Round"
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.