It's undeniably hip to be green nowadays — and nowhere is that more true than on golf courses, many of which are taking a leadership role in environmental stewardship. With the U.S Open scheduled to tee off next week, Joe Passov, senior editor for travel and course rankings at GOLF Magazine, shares his picks for top eco-friendly resort courses with Tim Smight for USA TODAY.
Amelia Island Plantation Amelia Island, Fla.
Bracketed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, this island resort sits just 30 miles north of Jacksonville. A master plan that dates to the resort's opening in 1971 includes protections for tidal marshes, oceanfront dunes, native grasslands and savannahs. "Amelia Island's four courses aren't long, but they're incredibly scenic," Passov says. "Aside from the great golf, guided environmental tours with staff naturalists are available to guests." 888-261-6161; aipfl.com
Barton Creek Resort & SpaAustin
This rambling, 4,000-acre spread rests in the heart of Texas Hill Country. Thanks to the resort's efforts to preserve and protect native wildlife and vegetation, all four Barton Creek golf courses are Certified Audubon Sanctuaries. "Barton Creek's back-to-nature appeal stems from a plethora of stout live oaks, tall cedars, waterfalls and rock outcroppings," Passov says. "The par-five 18th hole at the Fazio Foothills course, which plays over and around a natural limestone cave, is unforgettable." 866-572-7369; bartoncreek.com
The BroadmoorColorado Springs
Located one hour south of Denver, with a head-on view of the Rocky Mountains, the 90-year-old Broadmoor is one of the USA's grandest resort properties. In addition to a resort-wide recycling program, The Broadmoor uses innovative water-use reduction methods for its three golf courses, including drip irrigation and a high-tech rain monitoring system. "The resort has also converted 50 acres of golf turfgrass to native grasslands and wildflower areas," Passov says. 866-837-9520; broadmoor.com
Kapalua Resort Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
In the native Hawaiian language, Kapalua means "arms embracing the sea." These days, Kapalua also embraces environmental protection. "The resort's two golf courses are both Certified Audubon Sanctuaries, preserving native plants and protecting rare species of birds and animals that are found nowhere else in the world," Passov says. "And where else can a golfer spy a breaching whale while teeing off?" 800-527-2582; kapaluamaui.com
Pebble Beach Resorts Pebble Beach, Calif.
Since 1919, two of the most magical words for traveling golfers have been "Pebble " and "Beach." Put them together and you have one of the world's most exalted golf resorts. You also have one of the most environmentally sensitive. "Wastewater reclamation, protecting harbor seal nursery areas and preserving waterfowl habitat are among Pebble Beach's positive efforts," Passov says. "The golf here is legendary, but it's the small, quiet moments that linger — like a quartet of deer grazing contentedly 10 feet from where you're teeing off." 800-654-9300; pebblebeach.com
Kiawah Island Golf Resort Kiawah Island, S.C.
Situated on a protected barrier island 20 miles south of Charleston, this low-key resort is the only facility on a 10-mile stretch of beach. "Kiawah has five golf courses, all of which seamlessly blend into the natural Low Country environment," Passov says. "If you tire of the great golf, there is twilight kayaking on the Kiawah River, canoeing through the resort's labyrinth of tidal creeks, and bicycling on 30 miles of trails." 800-654-2924; kiawahresort.com
Mauna Lani ResortBig Island, Hawaii
"This lava-strewn retreat has worked since its 1981 inception to protect the unique natural and historic features that grace the area," Passov says. "The architects did an admirable job of incorporating and preserving trails, spring-fed fish ponds, rock carvings and ancient lava-tube dwellings throughout the resort's two golf courses. A three-acre photovoltaic system also allows Mauna Lani to generate the most solar electric power of any luxury resort in the world." 808-885-6655; maunalani.com
Pinehurst ResortPinehurst, N.C.
This historic property in the North Carolina Sandhills has been called "The St. Andrews of American Golf." From U.S. Opens to the Ryder Cup, Pinehurst has hosted just about every big event in the sport. "The purity of the golf experience here is unsurpassed," Passov says. "But the resort is also known for being a pioneer in the 'green golf' movement. Among other initiatives, Pinehurst established a Safe Harbor program in 1995 to protect and enhance habitat for endangered birds." 800-487-4653; pinehurst.com
Reynolds PlantationGreensboro, Ga.
Situated an hour east of Atlanta, Reynolds Plantation's four public-access courses are all Certified Audubon Sanctuaries. "The Plantation also recently earned an Outstanding Business Leadership Award from Rivers Alive, a Georgia environmental outreach program that centers on keeping waterways clean," Passov says. "Reynolds' backdrop of 19,000-acre Lake Oconee is truly compelling. Residents and golfers alike share space with eagles, owls, wild turkeys and a host of other wildlife." 888-298-3119; reynoldsplantation.com
Turning Stone Resort & Casino Verona, N.Y.
Northern New York and great golf resorts are seldom mentioned in the same sentence, but this facility 30 miles east of Syracuse has proved to be a remarkable exception, Passov says. "The Oneida Indian Nation — which built and owns Turning Stone — has long been known for treating its ancestral lands with the utmost care and respect. The resort's five beautiful golf courses all embody this strong commitment to protect the environment." 800-771-7711; turningstone.com