Golf/Travel Articles

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This space has always been dedicated to the traveling golfer, those who have the time and inclination to stroll the Emerald Aisle, grab a high-quality National Rental Car vehicle and enjoy some of the finest public-access and resort facilities in the city or state under discussion.

However, there are also some four thousand private golf clubs coast-to-coast, and these are among the most desirable golf destinations in the country. The age old problem: how to access a tee time at a club that generally doesn’t allow public play? There are ways to get inside the gate, or beyond the velvet rope, so to speak. Here are a few tried and true methods to access a private club that you’ve heard about, always wanted to visit, but for whatever reason, haven’t been able to ‘crack the code.’

Play in a charity golf event. Scores of the nation’s most exclusive and desirable private clubs (not to mention a few thousand others that aren’t on that same elite level) open their doors a few times a year, sometimes more than that, for respectable charities. All in all, there are about 140,000 charity golf tournaments held annually in the United States. Keep eyes and ears open, perhaps even call the course in question to ask about their outing schedule, and donate money to a worthy cause while enjoying a worthy venue. Everybody wins.

Write a letter. This strategy comes under the time-tested maxim: “If you don’t ask, you’ll never get. If you do ask, you might.” A well-worded, respectful letter to the GM or head professional might yield an invitation to a club you’ve long admired, but never had the opportunity to visit. In fact, making that very thought the gist of the letter might pay dividends.

Augusta National

Volunteer at a tournament. This could be a professional event, or even a charity event that needs parking attendants, scorers, registration table personnel, etc. When signing up for a position, inquire if there’s an opportunity to play the course after the fact. Oftentimes there is, as it’s an incentive to attract the cadre of people needed to make the event run seamlessly. (Believe it or not, this gambit even works at the Holy Grail of private clubs–Augusta National. The problem: procuring the week-long assignment as a Masters volunteer is almost as difficult as getting tickets to the tournament itself–lots of competition!)

Ask your golf pro to make a call on your behalf. If you are a member of a private club, your head professional will often have contacts with colleagues at other private clubs. This could be one of several different clubs in a city you’re planning on visiting, or a specific club that’s on your radar. In either case, your own pro can be instrumental in opening doors on your behalf that might otherwise be closed.

Get on a rating panel. There are three major course-rating panels in existence: GOLF Magazine (very hard to crack, only one hundred golf industry ‘movers and shakers’ allowed), Golf Digest and Golfweek. The latter two have turned into minor revenue streams for the magazines. They charge a fee to join, or insist raters continue their education by attending retreats and seminars, which have an associated cost. However–for those who love golf course architecture and travel regularly, (raters are required to rate a certain number of courses annually, and in areas beyond their home city and state) this can be an effective way to gain entree to otherwise hard-to-access private clubs.

Use your network. Seems obvious, but you never know who you know that might know someone associated with a club you’ve wanted to visit. If we can believe the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory, where everyone on earth is connected within half-a-dozen points of contact, it seems logical that a friend, or worst case, a friend of a friend, will know someone at a club you’d like to play.

Join an online reciprocal program. There are websites that endeavor to match private club members with clubs they might want to visit elsewhere. There are even options for those who aren’t affiliated with a private club. There are the no-cost signup options, and then the ‘premium’ memberships, that presumably afford access to a wider range of higher-caliber courses. Visit www.boxgroove.com or www.openrounds.com to learn more about this melding of old-fashion (who you know) and newfangled (everything is just a few clicks away) techniques to visit the private club of your choice.

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Barefoot Resort
Barefoot Resort

At its apex, Myrtle Beach had more than one hundred and twenty golf courses in operation. Now there are a little more than ninety, as economic contraction, widespread housing construction and a general malaise in the golf business have siphoned a noticeable percentage of the course traffic in what’s known as “the golf capital of the world.”

However, Barefoot Resort, an upscale, four-course entrée restaurant in North Myrtle Beach, is bucking the trend. Since the quartet of courses debuted simultaneously in the spring of 2000, tee sheets remain busy, green fees remain on the upper end of the area’s spectrum, and the Barefoot buzz continue to resonate positively throughout the world of traveling golfers.

The major appeal of the golf resort is the marquee status of the four designers: Davis Love III, Greg Norman, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. Another attraction is the lack of commuting that the all-inclusive resort offers, particularly in comparison to the nonstop traffic patterns on the US 17 corridor, which is the “main drag” through Myrtle. Another plus is the totally different aesthetic of the four courses. Unlike many multi-course developments, where it’s difficult to tell one offering from the next, Barefoot Resort has truly distinct differences in the four golf offerings

The rankings help to tell the story. Of all the courses in greater Myrtle Beach, three of the four offerings at Barefoot fall within the top sixteen. (Only the Norman course is the outlier, ranked just outside the top forty.)

Love Course

Golfers love the Love Course above all. The appeal comes largely from the faux plantation ruins on the short par-4 fourth, and then again on the longer par-4 sixth. It’s a crumbling construction and a conversation starter, but it’s also a Disney-esque contrivance; all style, no substance. The Love Course has wider fairways than the other offerings and tough, turtleback greens with numerous swales and runoffs, which repel off-line shots. Speaking of aesthetics, they are compromised a bit as players take a long tunnel under highway 31 to get to the west side of the property to play holes 14-16. The remaining fifteen holes are on the east side of the roadway.

Norman Course

The Norman Course is defined by numerous waste areas and closely mown chipping and pitching areas.  Fairways are a premium. There are only sixty acres of dedicated turf, with plenty of pine straw and sand bracketing the landing zones. There are four back nine holes close by the Intracoastal waterway, which offers some wonderful visual appeal.  But there’s a greater housing presence here than elsewhere, and members often refer to the course as ‘condo alley.’

Fazio Course

The Fazio Course is a terrific test, the favorite of many members of the Barefoot Landing professional staff.  It’s a stroke harder, a par 71, with deep and very well placed fairway bunkers. It’s visually dazzling, with several petite risk/reward par-4s on the back nine. The greens on the Fazio Course are twice as large as the other offerings, and full of roll and pitch.  They may be easier to hit, but are harder to putt. Only the first two and last two holes are on the east side of the highway, the balance on the west. Unlike the Love Course, where the highway seems to always be buzzing in the background, Fazio’s effort is more tranquil. Wetlands abound, keeping the housing presence minimal.

Dye Course

Finally, the Dye Course is the most unusual and the most thought provoking of the bunch. While decidedly different in many ways, the previous trio all has that low country feel. But the Dye effort is a Myrtle-meets-Scotland sensibility, all ochre fairways, ungainly mounding, pot bunkers, odd angles and visual intimidation. The landing areas are more generous from what they appear on the tee, bracketed with waste areas. For those who know the course it’s a bit easier from the tee box, but newcomers will inevitably tighten up, and steer their pellet into the sandy maws they were so desperate to avoid when staring down from the tee box.

There is no shortage of off-course activities at Barefoot Resort. The Alabama Theatre offers live entertainment from some of music’s marquee performers, as well as seasonal and Holiday extravaganzas. Alligator Adventure is a top-notch reptile zoo, with hundreds of alligators and crocodiles, extremely rare exotic snakes, lizards, tropical birds, tortoises, albino alligators, gray wolves and flamingos. The Barefoot Princess Riverboat cruises the Intracoastal, offering sunset and dinner cruises along with unique sightseeing opportunities.

Restaurants abound, and Greg Norman’s Australian Grille is (pardon the pun) near the top of the food chain. An open kitchen and water views provide the sizzle, but the food (and extensive wine list) is the steak. Speaking of which, they are all premium black angus beef, aged nearly a month, and uniformly delicious. So is the extensive fish menu, including jumbo diver scallops and seared salmon Rockefeller.

“If it swims, we’ll catch it.” That’s the motto of the Flying Fish Public Market and Grill, another superlative dining experience at Barefoot Landing. Shrimp and Grits, Crab Cakes, and all sorts of fresh fish options, prepared in a variety of styles and with custom toppings (herb cream sauce, honey lime butter, mango salsa, tapenade, etc.), make this eatery a ‘go to’ for anyone who enjoys the bounty of the sea.

 

The Meadow Valleys at Blackwolf Run

What’s the best state for golf in America?

A question that always fosters great debate.

Hard to beat the Northeast, especially New York and New Jersey. And California is obviously loaded. Between those three states, they account for nine of the top 20 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest. Born and raised in Sonoma County, I’ve always been partial to the weather, depth of great golf and 840 miles of California coastline.

Shift the conversation to the best state for public golf in America, and although California still reigns supreme, the Northeastern states go to the back of the line. Meanwhile, the cream of the public golf offerings in the Midwest is rising. And fast.

The Straights at Whistling Straights

My current Top 5 States for Public Golf in America is as follows:

  1. California (led by Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Pasatiempo)
  2. Wisconsin (Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run’s Championship Course and Erin Hills)
  3. Oregon (Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and Bandon Dunes)
  4. North Carolina (Pinehurst No. 2, Mid-Pines and Pine Needles)
  5. South Carolina (Kiawah’s Ocean Course, Harbour Town and Caledonia)
  6. Michigan (Forest Dunes, Arcadia Bluffs and The Loop)

In tabulating the number of courses in Golf Digest list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, there’s a direct reflection of my list above: California leads the way with 10 courses on their list. Wisconsin is second with nine. Then it’s Oregon with eight, North Carolina with seven and South Carolina and Michigan both have five. Hawaii is not in my top 5, but has six courses on GD’s list.

Now, as the U.S. Open comes to Wisconsin, it’s an appropriate time to appreciate what the state has done to move up both lists in the last 30 years.

Prior to 1988, the year Herb Kohler decided he’d add the first of four Pete Dye golf courses to his offerings at the American Club, the state of Wisconsin had hosted one major, the PGA Championship at Blue Mound Golf and Country Club in 1933 (Gene Sarazen), and a Walker Cup at Milwaukee Country Club in 1969. Both are private.

Blackwolf Run

Since Blackwolf Run’s original 18 holes hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998, and counting this week’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills, the state of Wisconsin will have hosted seven men’s and women’s majors in 20 years. Plus, the U.S. Amateur was at Erin Hills in 2011 and the Ryder Cup is coming to Straits in 2020.

Safe to say, Kohler and Dye not only had the vision, they had the execution and they’ve accomplished their mission.

“When we first talked to Pete and asked him to come to Wisconsin to take a look, when he came into town the first thing he saw was a population sign on the edge of town,” says Kohler. “Population 1,923 people.”

Dye’s response: “Who’s gonna come up here and play golf?”

The dynamic duo kept building, and the golfers kept coming. And so did the major championships.

“I had determined from the beginning that our interest was majors,” Kohler told me for a Golf Channel interview I did leading into the 2015 PGA Championship. “I had determined from the beginning that our interest was majors. Not weekly tournaments. Majors. That was how we would differentiate and go to the top if we could be good enough to get majors.”

I know, I know. Just because a course hosts a major championship, and especially a Ryder Cup, doesn’t automatically make that course “great.” But what it does do is bring feet, eyeballs and necessary exposure to get played, rated and ranked. It leaves indelible images and everlasting discussions about holes, shots and champions hoisting significant hardware while impacting the opinions of all who lean into the ropes or glue themselves to their TVs.

Erin Hills

Se Ri Pak’s playoff win at Blackwolf Run inspired Korean domination on the LPGA Tour. We’re still discussing and debating what would’ve been Dustin Johnson’s first major championship in 2010 had he not “grounded” his club in a “bunker.” And who will ever forget Robert Beck of Sports Illustrated’s picture of Dash Day literally dashing into the outstretched arms of his father, who had overcome adversity and outlandish odds to become a major champion.

Sand Valley

And given Dye’s impact on the world of architecture, the setting of both Straits and Blackwolf Run, the current state of Erin Hills and the golf volcano that’s about to erupt at Sand Valley in Rome, Wisconsin, the Badger State just might be scraping and clawing it’s way into the top spot for public golf in America.

Insiders and lists of great golf in Wisconsin go beyond the four courses at Destination Kohler, Erin Hills and Sand Valley, which already includes a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design that opened earlier this year. A David McLay Kidd course will open next year. And there are at least one, probably two, and potentially three more courses to come to Nekoosa, which is even smaller and more remote than what was Kohler in 1988.

Oh by the way, they still don’t have the permitting, but Kohler and Dye have designs for a fifth course at the American Club.

“The Wisconsin vs. California comparison is an interesting one,” says Kevin Price, a friend and avid golfer who lived in Wisconsin for 10 years before moving back to Monterey, California in 2009, which is where he was raised. “What’s the most macho public trip in each place? I’d say Pebble, Spyglass, Bayonet, Pasatiempo and Harding Park is an ultimate Northern California itinerary. In Wisconsin, you’d play Erin Hills, Blackwolf Run River, Straits and eventually both new ones at Sand Valley. In that matchup, I’d take California,” says Price. “But only by a slim margin. Seriously, it’s close.”

Price and other Wisconsin insiders also swear by Lawsonia Links, SentryWorld, Lake Arrowhead, Washington County and Brown Deer.

California could counter with Torrey South, CordeValle, PGA West (Stadium) and both at Pelican Hill.

“What Sand Valley does is makes a Wisconsin trip an absolute must,” says Price. “We all know Mike Keiser is going to do it right. And with the space he has out there, the mind reels at the possibilities.”

If you shelve Wisconsin’s short season for a second (roughly April 1 thru October 31), acknowledge there’s no ocean but admit Lake Michigan is a worthy alternative and recognize that a remote course only adds to the adventures and charms of getting there, if you’re top-seeded California, you have to put the pin in on 18, remove your cap and shake hands having won this match 1-up. But down deep, you know this budding golf state they call Wisconsin is a little like a 22-year-old Jon Rahm, a favorite and my pick to win this week at Erin Hills.

Rahm and Wisconsin are already competing with the elite, and they’re both only getting better. And fast.

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Pebble Beach

Although the perception of golf as an elitist game is slowly dissipating, that long-held view by the general public is partially the fault of the USGA.

Pebble Beach

The first 71 U.S. Opens, dating from 1895 to 1971, were held at private clubs. (The Open was suspended for two years during World War One, and four years during World War Two.) That all changed in 1972, when Pebble Beach hosted the U.S. Open for the first time. (Though it’s prohibitively expensive today, with green fees north of $500, back then it cost twenty bucks to play.) Pebble played host again a decade later in 1982 (green fees—$60) and then again in 1992 (green fees—$200). Slowly over the last couple of decades, more public courses have made their way into the rotation.  Nine of the last twenty U.S. Opens will have been held at public-access facilities, including the 2017 iteration at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

Private standard-bearers like venerable Oakmont (Pittsburgh), Shinnecock  Hills (Long Island), The Country Club (Boston),  Merion (Philadelphia), Oakland Hills (Michigan) and Winged Foot (New York) will likely always be part of the rotation for this important championship. But here’s a brief look at the esteemed roll call of public courses, half-a-dozen strong, that have joined the fray in relatively recent times:

Pebble Beach is the bellwether of this select group. Not only has it held the Open five times, it will serve as host once again in 2019. Furthermore, it has crowned the most distinguished roster of champions, including Jack Nicklaus in ’72, Tom Watson (who nipped Nicklaus) in ’82, Tom Kite in ’92, Tiger Woods and his epic, record-setting fifteen shot victory in 2000, and Irishman Graeme McDowell in 2010. However, besides the frequency of play and quality of winners, Pebble is the most desirable and scenic public course in existence. It’s a heady combination of an ocean-side location on California’s Monterey Peninsula, dramatic cliffs, crashing surf, magnificent course-side mansions, and the sheer anticipation of the many thousands who visit Pebble annually, in many cases fulfilling a life-long goal in doing so. It’s the ultimate ‘bucket list’ golf course, and its status as a five-time U.S. Open venue only adds to the allure.

Pinehurst #2

Pinehurst #2, while lacking the seaside drama and illustrious roster of winners, is undoubtedly the silver medalist in this category. A three time Open venue, the late Payne Stewart won at the Open’s first iteration, in 1999. (Holding off Phil Mickelson by a slender shot, consigning Lefty to the very first of his record half-a-dozen second place finishes in our national championship.) New Zealander Michael Campbell won in 2005, and Germany’s Martin Kaymer in 2014. (It’s also worth mentioning that the following week the U.S. Women’s Open was won by American Michelle Wanoie at the same course.) Pinehurst #2 will host again in 2024. Known as the Cradle of American Golf, this venerable and traditional North Carolina resort offers nine championship courses in all, but the first among equals is old #2, the Donald Ross masterpiece from 1907. Ross tinkered with the design until his death in 1948. In 2010 Bill Coore and partner, two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, began to restore the natural and strategic characteristics that had been lost through careless mowing patterns and indifferent agronomic practices through the decades. The project included the removal of about thirty five acres of turf and the reintroduction of hardpan, natural bunker edges and native wire grasses.

Bethpage Black

Bethpage Black takes the bronze for several reasons. The first is that it’s an awesome, larger-than-life test of golf, an A.W. Tillinghast designed gauntlet with capacious bunkers, tilted greens, waving fescue, and a well deserved reputation as one of the nation’s sternest tests of golf. The famed warning sign on the first tee states that it is an extremely difficult course recommended only for highly skilled golfers. The second reason is that it’s truly an ‘everyman’s’ course, part of the massive Bethpage golf complex on Long Island, with its companion blue, green, red and yellow courses, all available at reasonable rates to the public. Thirdly, it has hosted a pair of U.S. Opens.  The inaugural version was captured by Tiger Woods in 2002.

Chambers Bay
Chambers Bay

Torrey Pines, Chambers Bay and Erin Hills round out the six pack. The former two have been one-time hosts, (although Torrey gets another shot in 2021) and Erin Hills debuts in 2017. If the Bethpage complex is the preeminent municipal facility in the nation, Torrey Pines, with its famed thirty six holes of golf, set amongst cliffs, ravines and hard by the Pacific, is a close second. This San Diego landmark was the site of one of the most memorable U.S. Opens in history. In 2008, Tiger Woods on a ruined leg managed to tie journeyman Rocco Mediate with a clutch twenty-foot putt on the final hole and defeat him in a playoff the following day. It was the (presumably) last Major championship of Tiger’s magnificent, albeit truncated career. Chambers Bay, south of Tacoma, Washington, played host to the Open in 2015. It’s a wondrous links-style setting full of funky bounces and odd angles, with dazzling views of the Puget Sound. Unfortunately the championship, won by Jordan Speith after Dustin Johnson three-putted the final hole from twenty feet, was marred by bumpy and irregular putting surfaces. Finally, Erin Hills takes the spotlight in 2017. Located about thirty minutes north of Milwaukee and two hours from Chicago, this massive (six hundred acres, nearly 8,000 yards from the championship tees) windswept, virtually treeless location has very few level lies. It is a combination of humps, hollows, angles and slopes. Barring downpours, the fescue fairways insure it will play firm and fast. It is certain to test the world’s best golfers at the U.S. Open and perplex and enthrall the daily-fee players who will be drawn there in their wake.

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Now it’s known as Trump National—Doral. But back in 1962, when it was originally founded, the Doral Resort earned its name by combining the first names of founders Doris and Alfred Kaskel.

Over its fifty-five year history, the six hundred fifty room resort has waxed and waned, fallen on hard times and then resurrected. Decades ago it was an important PGA Tour stop, the start of the Florida Swing in March, leading to the Masters. Eventually, when the January and February West Coast events gained prominence, Doral’s annual event had less consequence, but then beginning in 2007 it roared back to relevance as a World Golf Championship venue.

It’s arguable that the event’s ultimate heyday was the early to middle ‘90s, when the charismatic Greg Norman won three times, and sandwiched around victories by other Hall of Fame players like Nick Faldo and Ray Floyd.  It’s rebranding as a World Golf Championship venue brought victories by luminaries such as Tiger Woods, Geoff Ogilvy, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson. However, now it’s no longer part of the PGA Tour schedule at all.

Despite its ups and downs, resort guests still beat a path to the first tee of the famed Blue Monster, and those who have the time and inclination will search for the trio of ‘supporting players’ on property. Many courses have updated their names such as the Golden Palm (formerly the Gold Course), the Red Tiger (formerly the Red Course), and the Silver Fox (formerly known as the Jim McLean Signature Course).

Blue Monster

The Blue Monster is on the top of the marquee, and is where the aforementioned tour stars captured their oversized checks and gleaming trophies. Originally designed by Dick Wilson, over the past few decades the course has been modified and updated to challenge the skill set of PGA Tour players. First, it was modernized by one of their own—three-time Doral Champion Ray Floyd. Subsequent to Floyd’s involvement, and once the Trump organization took the reins, Gil Hanse (architect of the 2016 Rio Olympics Golf Course) came on board, lengthening the course to nearly 7,600 yards. The course features a series of strategically placed deep bunkers, long flowing fairways, runway-style tee boxes, undulating greens, deep Bermuda rough and a challenging assortment of water hazards. Simply put, length of the tee and a deft short game are key ingredients to success.

Certainly one of the most memorable golf shots of the last fifteen years was authored on the Blue Monster by Australia’s Craig Parry, who holed out a 6-iron on the tournament’s final hole for an improbable eagle to capture what was then known as the Ford Championship back in 2004. With the demands of the wind, constricted fairway and ever-present water, the rest of us can only dream of making three, be happy with four and for most players, not unsatisfied with bogey five. The famous finisher, long ranked by GOLF Magazine as one of the Top Hundred Holes in the World, is that tough.

Silver Fox

The Silver Fox Course necessitates a ten minute shuttle ride from the main property, a small time intrusion in the overall scheme of things. The course presents a variety of challenges that include three of the toughest starting holes in the state, a memorable quartet of par 3s, and the feared “Bermuda Triangle” of holes 13 through 15. Five sets of tees afford plenty of playing flexibility for those who break par, those who break clubs, and all levels in between.

Golden Palm

The Golden Palm is named for the trees lining almost every fairway. It also features a very unique bunker style with tight-cut edges around the fairway at the entry point (allowing balls to easily roll in) and heavy rough around the back side of each sand cavern that presents an element of difficulty that one might find in the famous ‘Sand Belt’ of Australia. The course concludes with an island green, a much harder than average approach shot on the staunch par-4 finisher.

Red Tiger

Finally, the Red Tiger is just 6,400 yards from the tips, set on just 120 acres. However, with more than a dozen water-laden holes winding around several lakes, including the driveable par-4 fourth, it offers plenty of testy tee shots and nervy approaches. Even at its former length of 6,100 yards (prior to its slight lengthening as part of another Gil Hanse renovation), the course was staunch enough to attract the LPGA in 2001 for the Office Depot Championship.

Dining options at the resort, like the meals themselves, are plentiful. Playing the 18th at the Blue Monster is stressful, but viewing it from within BLT Prime is not. This is a classic steakhouse, with warm signature popovers and mouthwatering entrees like American Wagyu Ribeye or a 28-day dry aged Porterhouse Steak. The Champions Bar & Grill is decidedly more casual, golf attire perfectly acceptable, but offers a hearty menu nonetheless. Jumbo ‘Red Tiger’ Shrimp, ‘Chicken Lollipops,’ and an artisan meat and cheese board are great starters. Popular entrees include the burger with sirloin pulled pork, aged gruyere and mushrooms, and St. Louis ribs with a spiced rub, pork and cheddar grits and a vinegar slaw.

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Entrada
Entrada

St. George, Utah, about three hundred miles due south of Salt Lake City, located straight down Interstate 15, has morphed from a sleepy little desert town to a golf hotbed in the last couple of decades. There are at least half-a-dozen worthwhile public tracts in the vicinity, many more if a traveler continued farther south on the interstate to Mesquite, Nevada. (And the thirty minute ride from Utah to Nevada includes a sliver of highway that bisects Arizona. Such is the curious topography and seemingly indiscriminate bordering in this unique part of the world.)

Sand Hollow
Sand Hollow

Two words stand preeminent in any discussion of golf in St. George. Sand Hollow. This John Fought design would be a day well spent if all eighteen of the holes on the main course (there is also an additional nine holes on property) offered the quality and strategy of the first through the tenth, and concluding trio. However those thirteen holes, solid though they may be, do not draw golfers from all corners. It’s the stupendous drama and otherworldly views offered on the eleventh though fifteenth holes that make this one of the most desirable golf venues in the southwest.

A mixture of stunning par-3s, a drivable par-4, and a long, downhill par-4 masquerading as a par-5, this stretch has one thing in common: They play through orange canyons and magnificent, massive rock outcroppings. Because these holes border the canyon rim in dramatic fashion, (in other words very little in the way of rough or vegetation buffer) any shot egregiously pulled or hooked too far left will plunge several hundred feet to the desert floor below. There’s no ball retriever on earth that will extend half-a-football field to rescue a wayward orb on this unforgettable stretch! The par-3 fifteenth is worth noting for its myriad tee boxes from all different aspects and angles. Some are elevated with direct lines to the green, others are lower down, nestled amid red rocks and built over the steep cliff face where the green is situated. It’s arguably the most unique hole on a one-of-a-kind stretch on one of the most memorable courses in Utah.

Entrada
Entrada

It requires a stay at the Inn at Entrada, (one of the best lodging options in the area, by the way) but that’s a small price to pay for access to Entrada CC. This is an otherwise-private Johnny Miller design that offers an unrelenting challenge, excellent conditioning, and a wondrous journey through fields of black lava near round’s end. The fifteenth through seventeenth snake through this vast acreage of black rock, it practically sizzles with heat in the warm weather months, and looks as though it was airlifted from Hawaii’s Big Island. Notwithstanding that memorable finish, the ninth is perhaps the best hole on the course, a 600-yard par-5 that swings hard right, with an angled tee shot over a scrub-filled expanse.

Coral Canyon
Coral Canyon

Coral Canyon is the St. George bronze medalist. Here the journey begins, strangely enough, with back-to-back par 5s. The opener is a bit less daunting, its successor offering just a narrow ribbon of fairway between a formidable desert area to the right and mountain foothills on the left. Double-tiered greens confound, players landing their approach on the wrong level will do well to two putt. Pine Mountain makes a spectacular backdrop on several front nine holes. While there are few holes abutting a residential development, most of the course is sequestered among the lovely mountain views, arroyos, and rocky desert terrain. The second nine offers a number of longer holes, a bit more width, where the driver can be used with impunity.

Dining in St. George will remind exactly no one of New Orleans, New York or San Francisco. Options abound, but only if one prefers chains, franchises, strip mall Mexican joints, or the ubiquity of the Chinese buffet. However there are at least two excellent recommendations to make, both high quality, though the town suffers greatly from lack of quantity.

Ancestor Square is, for lack of a better descriptive, the Times Square or Faneui Hall of St. George. In this small city of broad boulevards, strip centers and traffic signals, it’s the only ‘downtown’ area with a smattering of shops, services, eateries, etc, that is walker-friendly. It is within this ambulatory oasis that one will find the Painted Pony, the best restaurant in town. It’s a cozy space, different rooms emanating from the central corridor, lots of equine artwork (OK–painted ponies) decorating the walls. Bacon-wrapped duck , bone-in pork chop and New Zealand lamb are popular entrees, and despite the land-locked locale, many patrons swear by the seared ahi tuna. They offer an extensive wine list, but for those who prefer their sugar delivered by knife and fork, don’t miss their Oozy Gooey Chocolate Cake, or the White Chocolate Cheesecake Tower.

Ivins, Utah is little more than a wide spot in the road, and Aragosta is just a tiny bistro tucked into a commonplace strip mall. But Chef Imi (also the owner) concocts some wonderful dishes from this pedestrian (but not pedestrian-friendly) location. The Caesar Salad and French Onion soup are variations on the classics everyone enjoys. The lobster ravioli and risotto with prawns will sabotage any diet, and the Osso Buco and Hungarian Goulash are as hearty and delicious as they sound.

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The Harvester Golf Club
The Harvester Golf Club

There might be a few individuals who are more knowledgeable about the golf scene in Iowa than J.D. Turner, but it would be a short list. Born and raised in the little railroad burgh of Perry, a graduate of the University of Iowa and a five-time winner of the Iowa Open, Turner remembers when the Hawkeye State was peppered with simple nine-hole, mom-and-pop courses, built by the townsfolk who resided there.

“I’ve been to Scotland nearly two dozen times,” recalls the former head professional at the prestigious Des Moines Country Club, and a member of the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame. “I always enjoyed the out-of-the-way courses in the far corners of the country as much as the famous venues. Visitors were always welcome, and the locals were always proud of their town’s course. That’s how golf in Iowa used to be.”

Visitors are still welcome at Iowa’s public venues. However the game has changed over the decades, as some newer, larger, championship-caliber venues now dot the landscape. Here are a few examples:

Harvester Golf Club
Harvester Golf Club

The Harvester Golf Club, little more than thirty miles from Des Moines in the town of Rhodes, should be on the top of the list for any visiting golfer. Calling a golf course a cow pasture is normally a pejorative, but this was literally a cow pasture before architect Keith Foster transformed it into a top-quality daily fee facility. Foster has contributed work at some of the nation’s most iconic venues, including Augusta National, Southern Hills and Colonial. Here he’s incorporated some of the traditional farm equipment endemic to the area amidst a thoughtful routing taking full advantage of the topography. Golfers encounter a refurbished seeder, a manual plow, scythe, windmill, etc. as they make their way through the hills, valleys, ponds and streams. The par-3 holes are varied, the par-5 holes feature elevated tee boxes, and the pastoral feel (the course is surrounded by cornfields) makes it special. The short par-4 fifth hole and the long, downhill par-3 fourteenth are two highlights on a course with at least a dozen keepers.

Finkbine
Finkbine Golf Course

Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City is the University of Iowa’s championship golf course and home to the golf team. The strange moniker comes courtesy of W.O. Finkbine, who donated the land to the University. The rolling terrain is bereft of water hazards, save for the aqua-laden thirteenth, a par-3 with an honest-to-goodness island green. Anticipating the rigor of the tee shot won’t do players any good, as the hole prior, the hard dogleg twelfth, a par-4 with a large pine tree menacing the landing area, demands a player’s full attention. It’s always a good idea to stay below the hole at Finkbine because the greens tend to slope, sometimes severely, from back to front.

Amana Colonies Golf Club
Amana Colonies Golf Club

The Amana Colonies Golf Club is just one facet of a dizzying array of recreational options at this unique enclave. It’s comprised of seven different German-themed villages spread across a seventeen mile loop, equidistant from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Although the Amana Corporation (now known as Whirlpool) is the area’s largest employer, with some two thousand employees, many other residents make their living selling crafts, wine, meats, copper goods, quilts and gifts, among other items. There are inns, B&B’s, campgrounds, hotels and other lodging options to service the steady stream of visitors, many of whom take advantage of a full calendar of festivals scheduled throughout the year. There’s also an excellent golf course, winding through five hundred acres of stately white oak trees and forests. Meandering streams, rippling ponds and a preponderance of hardwoods are all features of Amana Colonies. Those who favor a draw will be more comfortable, fully half the holes bend, either sedately or severely, from right to left.

Tournament Club of Iowa
Tournament Club of Iowa

Finally, it’s worth the effort to tour the Tournament Club of Iowa, located in Polk City, some twenty miles from Des Moines. This Arnold Palmer design has a minimal housing presence. It offers a pleasant mixture of open space and forested areas highlighted by hills, bluffs, ravines, valleys, and mature hardwoods. Unlike some of the previous courses described, water is an ongoing factor here, influencing play on more than a dozen holes. The five par 3 holes are considered to be among the best, if not the best collection of one-shot holes in the state. Great separation affords the feeling of being alone on the course, and significant elevation changes provide both thrilling tee shots and majestic views throughout.

J.D. Turner, for many years one of GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 instructors, is one of Iowa’s most enduring golf figures. However he isn’t the most famous or accomplished native son. That would be Zach Johnson, the two-time Major champion, whose greatest victories were achieved on perhaps the two most iconic golf courses in the world—Augusta National and the Old Course at St. Andrews. “Playing in Iowa, whether at the small town, old-school venues or the modern championship courses, served Zach very well,” concludes Turner. “If the courses were good enough for him, they should be good enough for pretty much everyone else!’

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Firekeeper
Firekeeper

Despite serving as the birthplace of both Amelia Earhart and Dwight D. Eisenhower, very likely the person most associated with the state of Kansas is Dorothy Gale, of “Wizard of Oz” fame. (Let the record state that the bold aviator hails from Atchison, the former president from Abilene.)

Yes, the Sunflower State is to many the epitome of ‘flyover country.’ It’s known for great college basketball (‘Rock, Chalk Jayhawk’ being the operative phrase) flat topography (scientists once wasted taxpayer’s money by assiduously comparing the state’s terrain to a pancake from I-Hop.) And for its windswept plains. (Only one state has more than Kansas’ average of sixty tornadoes annually, and Dodge City is the nation’s windiest, averaging fourteen MPH.)

However there is some excellent, albeit little-known public golf to be found in Kansas. Not overly surprising, considering the great Tom Watson was born in Kansas City.

This discussion must begin with Colbert Hills in Manhattan, the home course of the Kansas State golf squad. Despite its status as the best public-access facility in the state, and the fact it is recognized as one of the nation’s finest collegiate golf courses, Colbert Hills is also a catalyst for growth, education and research, which makes it a more valuable commodity than just the eye-pleasing, rolling acreage of the course itself.

Colbert Hills Championship Course
Colbert Hills Championship Course

K-State offers a golf course management undergraduate degree program, with hundreds of graduates. The course serves as a home base for these students, and is also a living laboratory, with ongoing experimentation involving various types of turf grass, fungicide, soil agents, environmental research and pesticide use. It also serves as home of the First Tee of Manhattan, employs dozens of students, and has contributed millions to the local economy. Co-designed by former K-State football player-turned-golfer Jim Colbert, who won a handful of events on the PGA Tour, then found greater success on the Champions Tour, notching twenty wins with the over-fifty set. There are few trees, big views and lots of thoughtful bunkering on the (naturally) windswept layout, where few players will forget the trials and travails of the seventh hole. This 600-yard par 5 begins with a ninety foot drop from the tee to the fairway. The landing area is bracketed by a trio of bunkers, while the second shot must also negotiate a smattering of bunkers before players launch their third to a difficult green complex. It’s a memorable hole on one of the Midwest’s finest public facilities.

Firekeeper
Firekeeper

Firekeeper is the memorable name of a worthy course in the burgh of Mayetta, some fifteen miles north of Topeka. The brainchild of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, like most native-owned courses nationwide, this is a beautiful and pastoral journey through a natural landscape with little artifice. Designed by Native American and four-time PGA Tour winner Notah Begay, in conjunction with architect Jeffrey Brauer, the course has no housing element whatsoever. Firekeeper opens with seven holes in the prairie and finishes with eleven holes of natural Kansas creeks, rolling hills, and trees. Fairways are roomy, the driver will remain uncovered, and grateful players will swat away with impunity. The fourth hole is a 625 yard par-5 with a huge fairway bunker menacing the tee shot and a massive mounded green bordered by sand. The ninth bears a passing resemblance to the eighteenth at Augusta National, playing uphill into a prevailing breeze. The eighteenth boasts a double fairway and offers a shortcut for the big-hitting gambler on this staunch par four finisher. All in all, this is one of the most intriguing native-owned courses in the nation, and that is some heady company.

Finally, Sand Creek Station is a ‘must visit’ should a traveler find themselves in greater Wichita. While Wichita itself has a notable aviation history (currently or formerly the home of Cessna, Beachcraft, and Mooney aircraft, among others) up the road apiece in Newton, maybe 25 miles due north in a National Rental Car, there’s more of a railroad vibe.

Sand Creek Station
Sand Creek Station

Sand Creek Station plays off this history as a railway town (to this day passengers can still board trains bound for Chicago or Los Angeles.) Architect Jeffrey Brauer, a student of golf history, knows that some of Scotland’s iconic courses bordered railway stations. (Prestwick and Troon come immediately to mind.) To that end, some of the holes here pay homage to this railway sensibility, or as the Scots would say, ‘hard by the cinders.’

It’s not a replica course per se, but Sand Creek Station does pay intermittent homage to some of the finest courses both home and abroad. The 16th green is reminiscent of the putting surface at the Road Hole at St. Andrews Old Course. Another green is Redan style, mimicking the original Redan in North Berwick, Scotland. The twelfth hole reminds some players of the fourth at the National Golf Links of America, on eastern Long Island, which is one of America’s early classics. The ninth features a small platform green, again, typical of early American courses. Sand Creek Station strikes an enviable balance between modern agronomy, first-class service elements, juxtaposed with an on-course feeling of taking a step backwards in time.

Streamsong Black 9th Green
Streamsong Black 9th Green

Gil Hanse’s hits just keep on comin’…

Whether it’s via Twitter, Instagram, Morning Drive or at an airport bar, I’m always happy to answer viewer and follower questions about courses, resorts or buddies trips.

A recent Twitter question from Derek Goss requested a review of Streamsong Black, the new Gil Hanse design at the much-lauded golf destination in Bowling Green, Fla. Streamsong is 65 miles from the Tampa airport, and 85 miles from the Orlando airport.  Rent a car from National at either airport for the short drive to the resort.

In an era of almost no new courses, Hanse keeps landing dream jobs. From Castle Stuart in Scotland (2009) to the Olympic Course in Rio (2016), he is also responsible for Mossy Oak in West Point, Miss. (2016), and he will soon break ground on a short course and a new No. 4 at Pinehurst. Not to mention significant renovations and restorations to Doral, Winged Foot, host of the 2020 U.S. Open, and Los Angeles Country Club, host of the 2023 U.S. Open.

To know Hanse and the way he goes about his work is to know why he keeps getting all of those calls. He has an impeccable reputation for not only being user-friendly, his portfolio is player-friendly. Still not above doing the work himself, Hanse’s humble and awe-shucks demeanor is a nice complement to his unbridled passion for each project. He also garners appreciation and respect from the industry of architects for the way he supports and empowers his crew, especially his partner. Hanse ends every phone conversation with: “Please make sure you give Jim Wagner the credit he deserves.”

From the looks of it, Team Hanse will get the credit they deserve for the work they’ve done at Streamsong. Not only is the course massive, it’s going to be well-received by the masses.

According to Hanse, the Red and Blue courses use a combined 160 acres of maintained turf. The Black will use roughly 100 acres. But scale and the way the Black course sprawls out along the sand-based topography won’t be the only thing that differentiates Black from Red and Blue.

The grass that will be maintained will be different. Black will have Celebration Bermudagrass on the fairways. Red and Blue has Tifway 419 Bermudagrass. Greens on all three courses are MiniVerde, but Hanse will extend that grass into the chipping and collection areas around his greens.

“That will do two different things,” says Hanse. “It will create more options for how to play shots around our greens. And from approach shots, it will make the greens looks much bigger than they are.”

But the differences don’t stop at turf types and some optical deception.

The general topography of the dunesland Hanse had to work with is much different than that of Red and Blue. Where Coore, Crenshaw and Doak utilized dramatically steep and sharper dunesland, the Black course will have severe undulation changes, but they will unfold throughout the round as a slow roll. Especially through the land used for Black’s first 11 holes.

Black Bunkering
Black Bunkering

The bunkering around the Black greens will also look and play a little different than it does on Red and Blue. And Black will also have its own clubhouse, a putting course they’re calling The Gauntlet, a driving range twice the size of the one used for Red and Blue, and the Black course will have up to six extra short holes for pre- and post-round festive golf, usually involving bags of beers and lots of sidebets.

Like the first two courses, the Black will have a halfway house specializing in one type of food. Red offers barbeque, Blue offers tacos, and Black was recently testing spam sliders. They’re much better than they sound, and with the walk you’ll make to complete the Black, it will be easy to justify the aggressive caloric intake.

With a wide variety of long and short par 3s, 4s, and 5s, to play the Black will be the adventure all golfers are beginning to expect from a Hanse routing.

The Black course begins and ends with par 5s. I’m most looking forward to playing the long and treacherous 5th hole, an impressive par 3 I’d compare to 13 at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. Which is to say, long and left will be much better than short and right—a double bogey at best.

9th Green
9th Green

The ninth green is a punchbowl, not nearly as pronounced as the 14th at Cruden Bay or the fourth at Fishers Island, but I’m a fan of every punchbowl I’ve ever played. And this punchbowl green, like the 16th at the National Golf Link of America, will offer a windmill in the distance.

The 11th hole returns to the clubhouse, which is one of the highest points on the routing and will offer almost a 360-degree of the surrounding area.

Holes 12 thru 17 and parts of 18 are built in a part of the property nicknamed “The Glove.” So the story goes, that back when Bill Coore was sorting out a routing for what would ultimately become the Red course, he saw an aerial picture of the land where the dunes and sandy outcroppings in that area looked like a baseball mitt.

The holes in Hanse’s Glove are going to be a blast, and will look, feel and play a lot differently than the first 11 holes of the Black course. Like the ninth at Pacific Dunes, the 13th at Streamsong Black has two greens. If you’re playing the left/lower green, keep your tee shot to the right. If you’re playing the right/upper green, keep your tee shot to the left.

15th Green
15th Green

The 14th is a driveable par 4 to a slightly elevated and well-protected green. The 15th is a 140-yard par 3, inspired by another one of C.B. Macdonald’s template holes. Better known as The Short, the original version was the fifth at Brancaster, which is now the fourth at Royal West Norfolk Golf Club in England.

Having walked this routing with Hanse and his crew during various stages of development, you can tell they are all proud of the finished product.

“For us, it’s our most eagerly anticipated opening since the Olympic Course,” says Hanse. “There has been lots of commentary and buzz and now we’re just excited to take the veil off and let people get out and play it.”

17th Green
17th Green

Hanse and Rusty Mercer, the czar of agronomy at Streamsong, are both pleased with the grow in. And unlike Mike Keiser, Rich Mack of Mosaic, the parent company of Streamsong, doesn’t subscribe to the idea of preview play. Mack prefers one opening day, which should be in late-September or early-October. Rates on Oct. 1 for all three courses is $205 for public and $155 for resort guests.

“It’s our most important new course to date,” says Hanse. “Because of the quality

18th Hole
18th Hole

of land we had to work with, Streamsong’s reputation, and because it sits next to the two firms we respect the most in the business.”

Streamsong will be the first golf destination in the world to offer courses by Coore & Crenshaw, Tom Doak and Gil Hanse, arguably the three leading architectural firms in an ongoing era of modern minimalists, as well as specialists in preserving the best of the Golden Era.

So, Derek…see you on Opening Day?

 

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Ocean Course
Ocean Course

While Pete Dye’s influence as an architect is felt around the nation and well beyond our borders, it’s arguable that his work around the southeast coast, in proximity to the Jacksonville-Hilton Head-Kiawah Island corridor, is the most concentrated area of his finest creations.

Dye is the only living architect in the World Golf Hall of Fame. It’s less than two hundred miles from the St. Augustine-located golf shrine (in northern Florida) to Kiawah Island, (in South Carolina) home of the Ocean Course. Yet within that easy drive up I-95, a trio of his most beloved public courses are reasonably close at hand.

One would need an empty tee sheet, a jet helicopter and the stamina of an ultra-marathoner to complete these three ‘bucket list’ courses in the same day. But grabbing a National Rental Car in either Jacksonville, Savannah, Hilton Head or Charleston, the avid and ambitious player can manage to complete a pair of Dye aces among TPC Sawgrass-Stadium, Harbour Town, and the aforementioned Ocean Course in a single day, assuming sunset didn’t roll around until 8 PM and they were not stymied by traffic. Let’s face it: Two out of three ain’t bad! (But of course; the best course of action is to savor them one at a time.)

TPC Sawgrass Stadium
TPC Sawgrass Stadium

Working from south to north, the first stop would be TPC Sawgrass-Stadium, in the town of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Designed to test the Tour’s elite, the Stadium Course was supposed to be the most democratic course in the world, testing all aspects of one’s game. Dye created short and long par-3s and par-4s, reachable and unreachable par-5s, holes bending both left and right, and no two consecutive holes heading in the same direction, so that a prevailing wind would always make holes play differently.

“Democratic” might have been the idea. “Demonic” was the end result. How tough was Pete Dye’s initial effort? The Tournament Players Championship was first conducted on the grounds in 1982, and featured names like Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Miller, Wadkins and Sutton–35 Majors won among them. They all missed the cut!

At the insistence of the disgruntled Tour elite, Pete Dye quickly smoothed, widened, buffed, and softened some of the Stadium Course’s rough edges. Leveled with so much criticism, he also leveled the heavily contoured greens. Over time, the course became more popular with the pros convening annually for what is now known as the Players. This so-called “Fifth Major” attracts the strongest field of the year, with nearly all of the world’s top echelon in attendance. So while the Stadium Course has an incredible legacy, it’s the layout itself that keeps the tee sheet filled in perpetuity, and the course firmly ensconced in the worldwide top 100. It has always been phenomenally trendy with the pay-to-play crowd, eager to calm their butterflies as they try to hold onto the short iron, then hold the island green 17th. Keep it on terra firma all the way down the final fairway, as water hugs the entire left side. Resort guests and vacationers enjoy this 18-hole thrill ride from opening tee shot to final putt. And a large part of the appeal, from the get-go, is that sink-or-swim little tee shot near round’s end, lurking in every player’s mind. The island green 17th, though short in length, stays long in the memory of all who step to the tee box.

Harbour Town Golf Links
Harbour Town Golf Links

The island green is Dye’s most famous hole, but a close second would be the final hole at Harbour Town Golf Links, up the road apiece on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The choppy waters of Calibogue Sound lurk to the player’s left, waving marsh grasses fronting the tee box wreak havoc with wayward drives, and the candy-striped lighthouse stands sentinel behind the green, a clear target for both drive and approach. It’s an epic conclusion to one of the most beguiling courses in the modern game.

The quartet of par-3s is one of the finest collections in the game. Two are menaced by water, one surrounded by sand, the last requiring a tee shot into the prevailing breezes with wetlands and marsh grasses close at hand. It’s hard to recollect any other world-class course that has the proliferation of houses and condos that are seen at the southern end of the island’s Sea Pines Resort, so it’s a testament to Dye’s acumen that a round here isn’t like a typical ride through a neighborhood subdivision, which is so often the case in the Southeast.  The strategy required on each shot and the omnipresence of the fabulous hardwoods defining and influencing the line of play draw the attention. To find success at Harbour Town a player must not only find the fairway, but often must land on the proper side of the fairway in order to reach the green safely.

Ocean Course
Ocean Course

Lastly, the wild, windswept Ocean Course in the crown jewel of Kiawah Island, and the most anticipated (and feared) course in the golf-rich state of South Carolina. What makes the Ocean Course so mesmerizing, so memorable? It’s the once-in-a-lifetime location. It’s the dazzling views and the omnipresent ocean winds, which seem to come from everywhere at once, buffeting both player and ball, then dying away in an instant. It’s the prospect of disaster lurking on virtually every shot–a favorite saying among staffers is: “we don’t sell golf balls, we rent them.” The minimal housing presence adds to the wild and woolly landscape. The dedicated turf on the course is just 55 acres, but the vistas, seascape, wetlands, sand, and ball-eating vegetation occupy an area six or eight times that size. Brawny as the golf course appears, with generous fairways, oversized greens, and cavernous bunkers, it’s dwarfed by the majestic natural panorama: the sea, sky and sand that surround it. Like the two world-beaters mentioned above, the Ocean Course is no stranger to hosting the world’s best. It was the site of the 1991 Ryder Cup, the 2012 PGA Championship, won by Rory McIlroy, which as the first of golf’s professional Majors to be contested in South Carolina, and will have an encore as host of the PGA Championship once again in 2021.