Highway signs across Arkansas steer motorists to The Natural State Golf Trail. It’s not a single route, but rather a network of inviting courses that provides pleasures and challenges to golfers from Arkansas and other states.
Spearheaded by former Gov. Mike Beebe when he was state attorney general, the golf trail came into play in 2004 as an effort to bring more attention — and more players — to Arkansas’ top courses. All 13 that make up the trail are open to the public, although a few are semiprivate. Tee-time reservations are generally necessary and can be made online or by phone.
“These are some of the finest courses in the state,” says Christina Lecuyer, a spokesperson for the consortium and a former professional golfer. “They have solid stature because we maintain criteria for membership and a blind rating system. We pay players to rate the courses and make sure they hit the criteria we expect.”
Lecuyer has played 10 of the 13 courses. “I love them because they all have different topography and design,” she says. “I am a member in Hot Springs Village, so I may have a tiny bit of bias there.”
The golf trail, according to Travis Napper, director of Arkansas Tourism, “offers a unique opportunity for residents and visitors alike to get out and experience The Natural State. These courses are a significant economic driver for local communities because, more often than not, golfers spend money on hotels, restaurants and area shops.”
Formation of the golf trail represented a cooperative effort among the Arkansas State Golf Association; the Arkansas Hospitality Association; the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism; the Arkansas Department of Transportation; and the private sector.
To qualify for membership, a course must offer a practice facility, serve food in some capacity, have a Professional Golf Association (PGA) member on the staff and offer at least 18 holes with a minimum length of 6,220 yards. Other factors include cart paths, restrooms and slope ratings.
Consider puttering around these Natural State Golf Trail courses this summer:
Bella Vista Country Club, bellavistapoa.com, 479-855-8130
This is the oldest of the seven golf courses in Bella Vista. It is described as “a classic design that gently rolls through the valley with Little Sugar Creek often in play. While long and challenging, it has very forgiving terrain and bent-grass greens.”
Big Creek Golf & Country Club, Mountain Home, bigcreekgolf.com, 870-425-0333
Making it a premier practice venue, Big Creek maintains a three-tiered, 400-yard driving range as well as separate chipping and putting greens. The course takes pride in its white-sand bunkers and its wide variety of hole layouts.
Eagle Crest Golf Course, Alma, golfeaglecrest.com, 479-632-8857
Eagle Crest is reopening under new management after substantial improvements that include new greens. The centerpiece of the 450-acre Eagle Crest planned community, the heavily wooded course was designed in 1997 by Mark Hayes, a three-time winner of PGA tournaments.
Glenwood Country Club, glenwoodcountryclub.com, 870-356-4422
The 178-yard 15th hole is considered Glenwood’s signature. From the tee box, this challenging water shot tests golfers’ pinpoint abilities. Overnight visitors can stay at either the 12-room Fairways Lodge or the eight-room Greens Lodge. A hot tub is located for mountain views.
Harbor Oaks Golf Course, Pine Bluff, facebook.com/HarborOaksgolfandrestaurant,
The city of Pine Bluff now owns Harbor Oaks, after a 2019 flood caused significant damage to the course and its clubhouse.
Hot Springs Country Club, hotspringscc.com, 501-623-4981
Founded in 1898, Hot Springs County Club is a grande dame of Arkansas golfing. It boasts two 18-hole courses. The more challenging Arlington Course features undulating greens and steep, narrow fairways. The Park Course offers gorgeous views of surrounding lakes and mountains.
Isabella Golf Club, Hot Springs Village, explorethevillage.com/isabella-golf-club, 501-922-5505
With its 27 holes, Isabella has premier status among Hot Springs Village’s nine golf courses. Rated Arkansas’ No. 1 course by Golf Digest magazine when it opened in 2000, it features distinctive nine-hole rotations named Niña, Pinta and Santa María.
Mountain Ranch Golf Club, Fairfield Bay, tboxgolf.net, 501-884-3400
Designed by noted architect Edmond Ault, Mountain Ranch is a sister facility to Tannenbaum Golf Course in Drasco. Mountain Ranch’s 15th hole is a challenging 395-yard par 4 that many serious players consider the toughest in Arkansas.
Red Apple Inn & Country Club, Heber Springs, redappleinn.com, 501-362-3131
Fifty-seven rooms await overnight guests at the popular Red Apple Inn. The 367-yard dogleg Hole No. 2 has been ranked as one of the most scenic in Arkansas. The course’s wooded peninsula is located on Greers Ferry Lake.
The Ridges at Village Creek State Park, Wynne, arkansasstateparks.com/park/ridges-village-creek,
A forest of mixed hardwoods forms the setting for this 27-hole complex, in one of just two Arkansas state parks offering golf (the other being DeGray Lake Resort). Water hazards challenge players on 12 of the holes.
Sage Meadows Country Club, Jonesboro, sagemeadows.com, 870-932-4420
Sage Meadows carries the design imprint of Tommy Bolt, a top professional golfer of the 1950s who retired in Arkansas. A total of 37 sand bunkers supply ample frustration for players over the 18 holes. Nine holes have water hazards.
Stonebridge Meadows Country Club, Fayetteville, stonebridgemeadows.com, 479-571-3673
The site of Stonebridge Meadows is steeped in local history, having previously been the location of a Civil War hospital and then a thoroughbred horse farm. The five sets of tees offer an especially wide range of course distances, from 5,215 to 7,150 yards.
Tannenbaum Golf Club, Drasco, tboxgolf.net, 501-362-5577
Mountain Ranch’s sister club is set on a peninsula extending into Greers Ferry Lake. The website says, “Every hole is tree-lined, and elevation from tee to green changes drastically.” This is true especially at the 12th hole, “where the drop is 130 feet straight downhill to a semi-island green carved from the mountainside.”