Authors Posts by Joel Zuckerman

Joel Zuckerman

Veteran golf and travel writer Joel Zuckerman has played 900 golf courses in more than 40 states and 15 countries. The eight books he's written to date include two named as Book of the Year by the International Network of Golf. In addition to his books, he's also contributed to more than 100 publications, including virtually every major golf magazine. He lives in Utah and Georgia.

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Now celebrating twenty-five years of wonderful golf throughout the length and breadth of Alabama, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail remains one of the ‘must play’ golf experiences in the nation. The twenty-six courses, comprising 468 holes, spread across eleven locations across the state, ensure that there is compelling, affordable golf in virtually every corner of Alabama.

The Shoals

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, early on the focus was just on the golf experience itself, with little forethought in regards to the lodging component. Early visitors made due with chain hotels and motels, nothing too fancy, occasionally on the shabbier side. But Dr. David Bronner, the visionary and single greatest impetus behind the formation of the Trail, eventually realized that to attract the international business community to Alabama they needed to up the ante. To showcase the beauty of the landscape, friendliness and work ethic of the people, attractive tax rates and large swaths of inexpensive land for potential factories, upper-level executives wouldn’t be thrilled with the EconoLodge and Comfort Inns at their disposal.

“Frankly speaking, we needed to drastically upgrade our lodging component,” explains Bill Lang, the PR director of the Trail. “Now we have eight luxury properties from one end of the Trail to the other, including two of Golf Digest’s top golf resorts in North America. Several were historical properties that have been comprehensively refurbished, and others were built from scratch. But the bottom line is we now have lodging that is commensurate with our golf experience, and that is really saying something!”

For example, in the northwest corner of the state, the very modern Marriott Shoals in Florence, with two hundred luxurious rooms overlooking the Tennessee River, was rated the chain’s top hotel for customer satisfaction. The Fighting Joe course located there opened in August 2004 and was the first Trail course to break 8,000 yards, measuring some 8,072 yards from the purple tees. Several golf publications named Fighting Joe as one of the top new courses in 2004. However The Schoolmaster, another course on site, is considered a tougher course than Fighting Joe, with narrower fairways, difficult greens and topping out at a shade below 8,000 yards.

Magnolia Grove

By contrast, down in the southwest corner in Mobile, close to the Gulf, a refurbished hotel from 1852 called the Battle House sufficiently charmed executives visiting from Airbus to the point that in 2015 they opened a manufacturing plant nearby. (Of course, 158 million dollars in financial incentives and logistical support also helped sway them.) The executives were enamored of the hotel, and the nearby golf amenity. Magnolia Grove, which has hosted several LPGA tournaments in the past, features fifty-four holes of memorable golf. The Falls is laced with large, liberally contoured greens and massive cloverleaf bunkers. The 570-yard, par-5 tenth hole has a waterfall that cascades across steps immediately below a green that falls eight feet from front to back. The Crossing is a shot-maker’s heaven, with several pulpit greens elevated well above fairway levels. Most of the holes on their Short Course call for forced carries over marsh to liberally sloped, bulk-headed greens. (Many of the Trail stops feature epic par-3 courses, miniature versions of the wild-and-wooly nature of their ‘larger siblings.’ Suffice it to say these are never pitch-and-putts.)

There’s no way of accurately quantifying the enormous economic and social impact of the Trail throughout the state, well above the number of golfers that have visited, and projections of dollars spent. But here’s an illustrative story.

Prior to Capitol Hill opening up in central Alabama near Montgomery, the town of Prattville, according to Lang, was just another wide spot in the road, with a couple of cow pastures. But the Trail provided three 18-hole courses. The Senator is a traditional, Scottish-style layout, with more than 150 pot bunkers and mounds twenty to forty feet in height located so that the cart path or any other hole cannot be seen from a given fairway. The Legislator features huge pine trees and has been compared to some of the more famous courses in North Carolina. The Judge plays alongside the Alabama River, with a dozen water-bordering holes that provide some of the most spectacular scenery on the Trail, along with elevation drops of more than two hundred feet.

“First it was 54 holes of great golf, then a Hyundai plant opened close to town,” continues Lang. “Now there are hotels, shopping centers, restaurants, the town played host to LPGA events for nearly a decade, and it has become a much more vibrant and thriving community. It’s safe to say that without the advent of the Trail, Prattville would look much different today.”

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Now celebrating its twenty fifth year of existence, Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail has been a staggering success since its 1992 inception. The Trail has welcomed more than twelve million visitors in total, an awe-inspiring number, especially considering it came into being just as golf’s popularity was reaching its peak, and shortly before the game began its slow, inexorable decline that continues today.

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail

Golf has lost millions of players, many millions of annual rounds, and more than a thousand courses nationwide since the Trail began operation. But the Trail continues to be a resounding success, adding literally billions of tourist dollars to a state that desperately needed the influx of funds.

Bill Lang is the PR Director of the RTJ Golf Trail, a position he has held for more than a dozen years. “All of our successes, this amazing Golf Trail, with 468 holes at eleven different sites around the state, stems from a visionary named Dr. David G. Bronner, who moved to Alabama from Minnesota years ago,” explains Lang.

Dr. Bronner was a law professor and PhD, who eventually took the reins at the RSA, or Retirement Systems of Alabama, the pension fund for employees of the state. He was struck by the fact that golfers were continuously driving through Alabama to get to Florida, even though the climate was similar and ‘Bama’s terrain offered far more topographical interest. He earmarked a chunk of the five hundred million dollars then under management to fund the largest single golf course construction every undertaken, building courses throughout the state simultaneously. No Trail stop is more than two hours from the next closest destination, and all are within fifteen minutes of an interstate highway.

“He approached a number of well-known golf course architects,” continues Lang. “And it was Robert Trent Jones Sr. who decided to come out of semi-retirement and take on the project.”

Alabama’s tourism business was less than two billion dollars annually prior to the Trail’s creation, and now it is in excess of twelve billion dollars. (Look at it this way: If each of the twelve million visitors paid an average of just $500 for green fees, lodging, food, transportation, etc, the influx of money has been about six billion dollars. All but the most budget-conscious Trail visitors are probably spending closer to $1,000 per person with everything factored in, which means the revenues are closer to twelve billion dollars.)

Why all the success? In a nutshell, these eleven sites, comprising twenty six different golf courses spread throughout the state, are of excellent quality, and very affordable. How affordable? Green fees generally top out around $65. To paraphrase from the movie Field of Dreams, “Build it, and they will come.”

Ross Bridge

All the original sites have been renovated since their construction in the late 1980s, though the same cannot be said for the newest entry. There’s no need to burnish Ross Bridge, near Birmingham, because it maintains much of its original luster. Stretching nearly 8,200 yards in length, this is one of the longest courses in the world. The scale of the course comes into immediate focus as a player meanders down the first fairway. Greens are measured in quarter acres, and bunkers are the size of building foundations, often just as deep. It is this capaciousness that provides much of the challenge for course superintendent Josh Dyer, and his staff of nearly two dozen. “We have 170 acres of Bermuda grass here,” begins Dyer, who hails from the small town of Mccalla, Alabama, just a short distance from Ross Bridge. “I used to work at Silver Lakes, another stop on the Trail, and we have nearly as much turf on our single course here as they do on their 36 holes!”

This steady stream of golfers that converge up and down the Trail, at Ross Bridge, nearby Oxmoor Valley, Magnolia Grove, Grand National, and all the other stops, have had something of a domino effect on Alabama’s business landscape.  It’s no coincidence that since the Trail’s inception, blue-chip companies like Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Honda, Airbus, Navistar and ThyssenKrupp have all built major manufacturing plants in Alabama.

Oxmoor Valley

The lodging component along the Trail has taken some giant steps forward in recent years, and few properties on the Trail are as impressive as Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa outside Birmingham. Its impact on the community is a microcosm for what’s occurred statewide. Modeled loosely after the famed Banff Springs Resort west of Calgary, Canada, Ross Bridge is an imposing edifice, 259 guest rooms, a 12,000 square foot spa, and considered by Travel + Leisure Magazine to be among the Top 500 Hotels in the World. The on-site eateries, both fine dining (Brock’s) and casual (Clubhouse Restaurant) are superb, with first-class service. A bagpiper strolls the grounds each evening, adding even more ambience to this handsome hotel, snuggled close to the expansive golf facility just steps from the patio and pool area.

The hotel is located in a formerly-wide-spot-in-the-road called Hoover, which a generation ago was fairly remote. While the rural sensibility still exists, the fact is that an entire upscale subdivision has sprung from the earth, in part due to Ross Bridge, and its close-at-hand Trail neighbor, Oxmoor Valley, fifty four more holes of compelling golf just five minutes down the road.

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FedExCup Trophy

The PGA Tour’s Fedex Cup Playoffs are in full swing, and the end-of-season race to claim the Cup (and the cool ten million that accompanies it) help maintain the attention of golf fans as both pro and college football get down to business.

It’s not easy to sway the attention of sports fans from the NFL and CFA, not to mention the looming baseball playoffs, so pro golf does its best with a ‘race to the finish.’ Fields get winnowed week after week, and only the top thirty points-earners make it to Atlanta and the season-ending Tour Championship.

Glen Oaks Club

First up is the Northern Trust on Long Island, (fly into LaGuardia or Kennedy and grab your National Rental Car) followed by the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston, (Logan Airport’s the gateway) then the BMW Championship in Chicago, (stroll National’s Emerals Aisle at either O’Hare or Midway) then the Tour Championship at Atlanta’s famed East Lake. (Hartsfield International is just a short drive from the course.)

There have been some stellar moments in the playoffs over the first decade of its existence. (The format began in 2007, so there have been ten events held thus far.) Here are some random highlights from a decade’s worth of playoff events. It’s worth noting that when the format began it was met with a healthy dose of skepticism, but it has slowly-but-surely become ingrained in the consciousness of golf fans. Plenty keep close watch from week-to-week, hoping their favorite players survive and advance, perhaps making it to Atlanta, and claiming the ultimate prize.

East Lake Golf Club

It seems only fitting that Tiger Woods, then at the apex of his power, won the inaugural Cup in 2007. He not only won the Tour Championship, but won the week prior, and came in second the week before that. Talk about a dominating performance, and a torrid stretch of golf.

One of the single most memorable moments in Fedex Cup history was courtesy of 2010 champion Jim Furyk. He got up-and-in from a greenside bunker on the final hole of the Tour Championship to claim the Cup, but that’s not even the best part. After a wonderful bunker shot and before attempting a four-foot putt for victory, Furyk curiously turned his baseball cap around, wearing it backwards. “It was drizzling pretty hard,” recalls the 2003 U.S. Open champion. The rain was dripping off the bill of my cap, and it was distracting me, so I turned it around to make that last putt.” It might’ve looked odd, but we’d all do something somewhat out-of-character to put ten million in our pocket.

Bill Haas pars No.17 from the water

The degree of difficulty for the shot Bill Haas pulled off in 2011 absolutely dwarfs the relatively straightforward putt Jim Furyk made to win the year prior. In the first-ever sudden death playoff for the Cup, Haas stunned the golf world (not to mention his playoff opponent, Hunter Mahan) when he blasted a shot out of shallow water to less than a foot in the midst of their playoff. His approach shot had trickled into an adjacent greenside pond, the ball was mostly submerged, and the odds were overwhelming that Mahan would emerge victorious. But playing it much like a bunker shot, Haas blasted the ball to tap-in range, and he won the Cup on the next hole. The odds of pulling off such an unlikely shot, even for a Tour pro, were high, but Haas hit the shot of his life when he needed to most.

Henrik Stenson became the first European winner of the Cup in 2013, his win at the Tour Championship the capstone to an incandescent run of golf through the last month-and-a-half of the season. To wit: He took solo second at the Open Championship (AKA—The British Open) then tied second at the prestigious WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Then he took third at the PGA Championship, and once the Fedex Playoffs began, won the Deutsche Bank Championship before emerging victorious at the season finale at East Lake, capturing the Cup, and ten million reasons why it’s beneficial to get hot late in the season!

Billy Horschel

While many Cup winners are true blue-chippers, (Tiger twice, Vijay Singh, the aforementioned Furyk and Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, etc.) there have been some out-of-nowhere winners also. Billy Horschel is a great example. In 2014 he didn’t finish inside the top forty in any event for more than two months prior to the playoffs, and missed the cut in the Barclays, the first playoff event. Then lightning struck. He took second in the Deutsche Bank, then swept the final two events, winning both the BMW Championship, the Tour Championship, and the Cup. It’s instructive to note he’s only won one additional event in the three years since his unlikely stretch run.

Jordan Spieth

Finally, Jordan Spieth put a cherry on the sundae at the end of his magnificent 2015 campaign. He won both the Tour Championship and the Fedex Cup, but what made it a season for the ages was what transpired in the months prior. Victory at the Masters. Victory at the U.S. Open. Finishing one shot out of a playoff at the British Open. Two other Tour victories besides his pair of Majors. A record twelve million in prize money, which doesn’t even include the ten million dollar bonus he banked at season’s end. For many Fedex Cup winners hoisting that gleaming trophy is the season’s highlight. But for Jordan Spieth in 2015, it was just the final jewel in a glittering year.



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Vancouver, Canada is one of the world’s most picturesque cities. Beautiful seascapes, a sparkling and modern downtown, a cosmopolitan, multicultural population, a vibrant cultural scene and dozens upon dozens of outdoor activities to engage those lucky enough to pay a visit. It is on a very short list of ‘must visit’ cities (keeping company with places like New York, Paris, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Beijing, San Francisco, Boston and London, among others) for those intrepid travelers who like to experience the most dynamic and iconic population centers in the world.

For those who prefer to fly domestically, you can pick up a National Rental Car in Seattle, which is an easy highway drive of about 160 miles. (However crossing the border to Canada can take an hour or more.) Or you can fly directly to the Vancouver airport itself, which is not even ten miles from the city. Either choice works, and prepare to be delighted and inspired upon arrival.

Stanley Park

Before we take a quick glance at the golf, and an even more cursory look at the amazing, eclectic dining options, the first order of business is to recommend a visit to Stanley Park. Named after Lord Stanley (he of the ubiquitous Stanley Cup, the ‘Holy Grail’ chased by all NHL players,) this nearly one thousand acre park is one of North America’s most magnificent green spaces. Walk it, bike it, tread upon its infamous Seawall, but do not visit Vancouver without gamboling about its vast, open spaces.

Furry Creek Golf and Country Club

Speaking of open spaces, be sure to visit Furry Creek Golf and Country Club, located between Vancouver and Whistler Mountain, which is one of North America’s most iconic ski mountains. From the first tee, with its striking 165-foot plunge towards the tranquil waters of Howe Sound and the glacier-capped mountains in the distance, this is no run-of-the-mill public track. It may top out at little more than 6,000 yards in length, but this tiny dazzler caught the eye of Hollywood. The Adam Sandler golf-themed smash “Happy Gilmore” was partially filmed on site. In fact, the ninth hole is where Sandler had his infamous fight with TV’s Bob Barker. This is undoubtedly one of the most scenic landscapes in golf.


When it debuted in 1998, Northlands won a Best New Course award from Golf Digest. That initial acclaim has lasted, as the course provides a well-thought-out mix of challenges and vistas for various levels of play. The keyword is playability, it’s just a fun course to walk and smack the ball, with tree-lined fairways that take advantage of the location at the base of Mt. Seymour. Be sure to bring an extra sleeve of ammo, as water is omnipresent on the inward nine, with the environmentally sensitive Thomas Creek influencing play on three of the final four holes.


Fraserview is another fine choice, often touted as one of the best public golf courses in western Canada. It’s partly due to its majestic rolling greens and partly for its scenic location overlooking the Fraser River. Hidden away by a mature urban forest peppered with old growth trees, this Thomas McBroom design is a traditional, parkland style golf course. It has some notable elevation changes, spacious fairways, and looks and feels ‘old school.’

Langara Golf Course

The lyrically named Langara Golf Course is another excellent ‘muni,’ a traditional, walker-friendly layout that dates back to 1926, when it was originally commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Its petite, at just a shade over 6,200 yards, but the contoured, tree-lined fairways put a premium on ball striking. Otherwise it makes for a long day, despite the delightful walk, punching back into play from amidst the hardwoods.

Picking a few notable eateries in Vancouver is like judging the Miss Universe Contest. There’s no shortage of excellent choices, and one really cannot go wrong. It’s something of a fool’s errand, as there are hundreds of viable options. It’s akin to picking just a couple or three places to eat in New York or New Orleans.

The Jam Cafe

We’ll offer three choices, from entirely different categories. The Jam Café YVR is a hip breakfast-and-lunch spot, with lines typically out the door. But the fried chicken and biscuits? The green eggs and ham? (Made with spinach and pesto.) Both are well worth the 30-or-45 minute wait time.

The Blue Water Café is as appealing as its name. Amazing sashimi, fresh oysters, their infamous seafood tower and Dungeness crab salad are highlights on a menu with many. Finally, for Francophiles, Le Crocodile is a must-try. Formal, white linen, with a disciplined and highly knowledgeable wait staff, they feature traditional French cuisine like frog legs, escargot in pastry, and a delectable assortment of seafood, duck and lamb dishes.


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Summertime golf in Michigan is some of the nation’s finest. The variety, conditioning, topography and uncrowded tee sheets make it a Shangri-La for anyone who likes to chase a dimpled ball with stick in hand.

There is great golf throughout the length and breadth of the state, but there is a particularly notable concentration of fine courses around Traverse City and Gaylord.

St. Ives

St. Ive’s Resort is a 36-hole complex in the center of the state, about an hour north of Grand Rapids, two hours north of Detroit, halfway to the main resort areas further north, near Traverse City and Gaylord. St. Ive’s is a Jerry Matthews design, about six miles from sister course Tullymore, a Jim Engh-designed beauty. Part of the appeal of the facility is the fact that it’s that much closer to the urban areas of Detroit and Chicago. The round trip travel time is reduced by as much as four or five hours.

St. Ive’s has the more dramatic topography, with tee shots descending to crowned fairways and approach shots that climb back to the original elevation.  The on-course views include Lake Mecosta, Blue Lake and Round Lake. Tullymore features Engh’s whimsical bunker patterns, funky greens, several drive-and-pitch par 4s, and a tremendous amount of bordering wetlands—nearly half of the 800-acre property. Both courses feature impeccable conditioning that rival any top-tier private club.

Treetops Resort

Treetops Resort, all 81 holes, is owned by well-known golf instructor Rick Smith. Masterpiece, located several miles from the other courses, is a Robert Trent Jones design that opened in 1987. It features dramatic elevation changes with far-reaching views for up to thirty miles.  The Premier, created by Tom Fazio, is more user-friendly, with vast, bowl-shaped fairways to corral errant shots. Tradition, a Rick Smith design, is the newest addition to the resort. It is built on gently rolling land that is partially wooded and it boasts some of the best greens in Michigan. It has the classic look of a course that was built many years ago.  Signature, also by Smith, features plenty of natural vegetation and a variety of hardwoods and pines to create a picturesque setting for some of the most demanding holes at Treetops. Finally, Threetops has been called the finest par-3 course in the world, and offers thrilling elevation changes ranging from 90 to 170 feet.

Boyne Mountain Resort’s vast golf holdings begin about twenty miles west of Treetops. The Heather Course at Boyne Highlands is the original course at Boyne, a mid-60s, Robert Trent Jones design. It’s a pastoral, wooded routing, with some natural amphitheaters, several times the host venue for the Michigan Amateur.

The Ross Course

Another of the more notable offerings at Boyne is The Ross Course, a conversation-starter with 18 separate “tribute” holes that have been designed to mimic, at least in spirit, some of the great designer’s most enduring creations. Some of these Donald Ross replicas work better than others, but there’s at least a hint, a nuance, of his best-loved or most famous creations such as Pinehurst #2, Plainfield, Salem, Scioto, Oakland Hills and Wannamoisett, among others, imbued in the gently rolling terrain. The Arthur Hills is the newest course at Boyne, with large greens, fairways, and notable elevation changes.

The Bay Harbor Golf Club offers 27 holes, the prime eighteen a combination of an exhilarating links-like ramble, high upon the stately bluffs above the waters overlooking Lake Michigan and Little Traverse Bay. But the Quarry nine is totally different, winding through and around an immense shale quarry, complete with forty-foot gorges surrounded by stone cliffs, natural ponds and gentle waterfall. It finishes with dramatic flair down to and along the shore of Lake Michigan.

True North

True North is another stunner, a wooded gem not far from Boyne, just another beauty among the golf riches of the region, but airlifted and transplanted to one’s hometown it would immediately be conferred “must play” status. The rolling terrain and valleys at True North make it a course of exceptional quality. “The topography and sandy soils are reminiscent of the sites where golf was first played,” offers architect Jim Engh. “Add to that the dense Michigan forest, with fairways that are lined with towering strands of hardwoods and pines, more than a half-dozen ponds that mirror the essence of nearby Lake Michigan, and we had the opportunity to create something spectacular.”

The only possible knock on northern Michigan golf is the shortness of the season—an unavoidable fact of its latitude. But as for value, topography, conditioning, variety, friendliness and service, not to mention the paucity of play during certain times of the year, it’s one of the finest pure golf destinations on the continent.

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Sarasota, Florida will likely never be known as a premiere golf destination. It’s not the lack of good golf in the area, far from it. It’s just that this medium sized Gulf coast city has far too many attractions to simply be pigeonholed as a golf getaway.  The powdery beaches, the eclectic mix of restaurants, nightlife, shopping and cultural activities are just five of Sarasota’s ongoing attractions.  But there are some excellent public-access golf facilities regardless.


One of the toughest tracks in town is called Stoneybrook. This is a formidable Arthur Hills design in an area called Palmer Ranch. Playing 6560 yards from the back tees and 6130 from the middle markers, length here is less of a factor than keeping the golf ball dry. There’s water in play on every hole but one, little of it incidental. 15 holes require both a tee shot and approach steered towards terra firma, and several holes have water in play repeatedly. Beware the staunch 9th hole, 420 yards from the tips and loaded with trouble. Also the tough 12th, a par five requiring more than 200 yards of water, carry from the tips, usually playing into the breeze.  Thankfully, there’s more red stakes than white on the course, recently revamped with smooth-rolling Tifdwarf greens, so wayward shots will require the stroke but not the distance. Be thankful for small favors.

Bobcat Trail

Bob Tway has eight Tour wins including a PGA Championship, but has yet to make an indelible mark as an architect. That’s destined to change if he continues to produce courses like Bobcat Trail, south of Sarasota in North Port. Again, water is a major factor here, present on every hole but two. Large, undulating greens provide an additional challenge on this 6750-yard course. There’s a wide variety of par-4s on the property, ranging from less than 300 yards to more than 440 yards in length. Tee shots need to be shaped in both directions to avoid the strategically placed fairway bunkering. The routing is strong as well; the course commences in a counter-clockwise direction and then becomes a figure eight down the homestretch. Not to worry though, a state of the art GPS System will keep players from getting disoriented.

Waterlefe Golf and River Club

The Waterlefe Golf and River Club has one of the most spectacular settings in the area. The course begins, winds back to and concludes on a particularly beautiful section of the Manatee River, replete with wide expanses of pristine marshes and pleasant coves. This Ted McAnlis design is found in Bradenton, a bit north of Sarasota. This 6900 yard dazzler has four holes that border the river, and the island green finale on the par-5 18th is practically worth the price of admission itself.

Legacy Golf Club

Other worthwhile courses include Arnold Palmer’s Legacy at Lakewood Ranch. This course is absolutely super-sized, situated on 5,500 acres of land, which includes a 165-acre lake. Heron Creek is a fine Arthur Hills design with that rarest of Florida features, a bit of elevation change. Also check out Serenoa, a petite water-park less than 6,300 yards from the tips, with narrow ribbons of fairway separating a seemingly endless series of lagoons and ponds.

Sarasota is a wonderful town for dining, both elegant and casual. Florida is known for its prevalence of chain restaurants, both upscale and family-friendly, and Sarasota is no exception. However, leaving the national brands behind, here are a handful or recommendations of local establishments, unique to the area. Just as there are another dozen courses that could be mentioned in this travelogue, there are three dozen (or more) excellent choices for a fine meal. But we’ll limit things to just a trio.

Marcello Restaurant has a myriad of fine choices on their menu, but this wonderful Italian restaurant is known far and wide for their veal chop. For those who prefer something a bit lighter, they also have a variety of homemade pasta dishes to choose from.

The Shore Restaurant lives up to the name. They feature numerous delectable seafood dishes on their menu, including Kung Pao calamari, lump crab cakes, and a highly regarded tuna tower. Carnivores aren’t forgotten though, as ribs, a ribeye and ‘diner meatloaf’ all take their rightful place on the menu.

Lastly, the Lido Beach Grille at the Lido Beach Resort isn’t as well-known as some of Sarasota’s marquee eateries, but they do an excellent pork tenderloin, caramelized diver scallops and a pan seared red snapper.

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This state’s not often going to be the main (or should we say Maine?) choice for golfers based in or visiting New England. The other five states of the region offer myriad golf charms that are readily apparent. There’s the bucolic setting of the Massachusetts Berkshires, the seaside courses of Connecticut and Rhode Island, the homespun feeling of the mom-and-pop courses in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire, and the ski resort-centric courses that pepper southern and central Vermont. But mysterious Maine, harder to get to and further off the beaten path, offers dedicated golfers a number of compelling reasons to visit (other than spectacular coastline and ubiquitous lobster shacks).

Partially due to its relative remoteness, golf in Maine is less crowded, less expensive and more accessible than in many places. (Although, remoteness is a fluid and relative concept. Grabbing a National Rental Car at Boston’s Logan Airport and heading up to Portland, Maine is an easy drive that’s a little more than a hundred miles.) The majority of private clubs are open to the public on weekday afternoons, and even when courses get busier in the peak months, players keep moving with an alacrity that reflects the shorter golf season. In other words, no time to waste. Throw in the spectacular scenery, from the long ocean views at Samoset, to the canyons of Sunday River, and Maine has, in a truncated season, most everything a golfer could desire. Here are five great options for the traveling player:

Belgrade Lakes

Belgrade Lakes has become a Maine favorite since its 1999 debut. This Clive Clark design features exciting topography and some of the largest and most undulating greens in the state. With a 115-yard-wide double green lying well below the clubhouse, railroad ties lining many of the bunkers, massive rock piles left over from construction, and occasional long views across Great Pond, this course is a feast for the eyes. The targets here are large, but it’s easy to get out of position, especially around the greens. Favorite holes include the roller-coaster par-four first and the handsome sixteenth, which weaves around a pond, a tree, and a nest of six greenside bunkers.

Kebo Valley

Kebo Valley is the oldest course in Maine, and in addition to the numerous ‘chocolate drop’ mounds, which wreak havoc with errant shots and showcase its antiquity, Kebo has a raw and throwback feel. The course shares a border with Acadia National Park, and there are spectacular views to go along with the deep sense of solitude. The modest length of 6,100 yards is defended by a par of 70 and a series of devilishly sloped greens which are generally kept at their practical maximum of ten on the Stimpmeter, making an approach shot which finishes under the hole a must. The deployment of Kebo Brook and Cromwell Brook, which snakes along seven, eight, and seventeen, and in front of five and nine, ratchets up the difficulty factor.

Sable Oaks

Sable Oaks is an urban oasis lodged between the mall and the airport in Portland, and this fiendish layout is the home course of many of Maine’s top players. Although the woods and the underbrush have been drastically thinned out over the years, straight shots are still a requirement for negotiating these corridors. The up-and-down site features numerous ledges and ravines which provide exciting shot values throughout, including three reachable par-five holes and the drop-shot eighth. The lush fairways and pristine bunkers are among the best in the state. The course was built in 1989 and was one of the first courses to showcase the work of Brian Silva, who has subsequently become an architect of note around New England.

Penobscot Valley

Penobscot Valley is a Donald Ross gem that will appeal to aficionados and casual golfers alike. Architecture fans will be very pleasantly surprised to find this largely untouched gem just outside of Bangor. Brilliantly laid out over wonderful terrain, the course uses every nook and cranny to maximum effect. The presence of over one hundred bunkers, recently restored by Brian Silva, help make this one of Maine’s great driving courses, where you can let it fly on all of the long holes, with varying degrees of risk and reward. The greens are similarly diverse. Some are pushed up, some are continuations of the fairway, but all of them feature a bunker (or quite a few) to gobble up errant shots. Many consider this course to be in the upper echelon of all Donald Ross-designed public courses in New England.


Finally, perhaps the best known and most acclaimed public course in the state is Sugarloaf. The broad shoulders of this Robert Trent Jones, Jr. monster have been vexing Maine golfers since 1986. The state’s first mountainside course features wide fairways that transition abruptly into the forest, creating an entertaining nexus of playable and penalizing. The front nine is an engaging trip up, down, and across the outrageous terrain, but the views and golf kick into high gear at the tenth and eleventh, which plunge a combined two hundred feet from tee to green. The Carrabassett River also enters the picture at this point, and weaves in and out of the serene finishing holes. On top off all this, the greens at Sugarloaf are among the most perplexing in the state, rolling and falling away in multiple directions.

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There are many more guitars strapped to the backs of citizens and visitors in Nashville than there are golf bags. A recent visit would peg the ratio at a hundred (maybe a thousand) to one. That’s not totally accurate–there wasn’t a single golf bag to be spied on the lively downtown streets, though it seemed every few minutes one would encounter a guitar case carried by a dreamer in the country music capital of the world.

Golf isn’t immediately evident in the hustle and bustle of the downtown area, dominated as it is by a seemingly endless array of juke joints and saloons, live music pouring out of most every doorway. There’s the charms of Vanderbilt University, the greenery and open spaces of Centennial Park, and the delightfully scenic pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River that connects the Bridgestone Arena (home of the NHL’s Predators) to Nissan Stadium (home of the NFL’s Titans).

Must-sees include the Ryman Auditorium (original home of the Grand Old Opry) and the County Music Hall of Fame. (Added bonus: these twin icons of music are some ten minutes apart by foot.)

However, if one is inclined to tear themselves away from all there is to see and do (and eat—more on that shortly) in the downtown area, there is some good golf to be found on the outskirts of town.

Grey Stone Golf Club
Grey Stone Golf Club

Perhaps thirty minutes away in the town of Dickson is the aptly named Grey Stone Golf Club, which features rock walls, and most notably, a field of very large boulders flanking the right side of the par-5 twelfth. This Mark McCumber design has more than 120 feet of elevation changes, with mile-long vistas from certain on-course vantage points. The rock walls come into play intermittently, including the tricky par-3 sixteenth, with a wall fronting a putting surface that runs away diagonally. It is the same scenario on the par-5 second, where the wall guards the green, and occasionally repels approach shots that come up a few yards short of the putting surface.

The Hermitage Golf Course
The Hermitage Golf Course


Perhaps the most notable aspect of The Hermitage Golf Course is the disparity between the two courses. The General’s Retreat and the President’s Reserve are but two minutes apart via golf cart, but first-time visitors would swear they are in two different areas of the country. Named in honor of Andrew Jackson’s plantation, which is only a mile or so away, the courses at this 36-hole facility are named after two distinct phases in Jackson’s life. He was an army general, gaining distinction for leading his troops in the War of 1812, and eventually was elected as the seventh President of the United States in 1829.

The General’s Retreat is a traditional, tree-lined course with smallish, undulating greens. Described as a shot-maker’s course, it played host to the LPGA Tour for a few years. The finisher is notable, a par-4 with water bracketing both sides of the landing area, though further afield than what appears from the tee. The approach is to a slightly elevated green, close by the clubhouse, which often insures an audience for the golfers finishing their rounds. By contrast, the President’s Reserve is routed through three hundred acres of natural wetlands and swamps. It’s a more spacious facility, with larger greens, less undulation, and feels to many visitors as though it’s been airlifted from the Carolina Lowcountry. On a course with many comely candidates, the eleventh might be the prettiest hole on the property. It’s a downhill par-4 with a nerve-wracking tee shot, which must be guided between a water hazard to the right and a bunker to the left.

Gaylord Springs
Gaylord Springs

Gaylord Springs is another good bet. This Larry Nelson design is close to the Cumberland River, and while there are trees on the periphery, the playing fields themselves are generally wide open and windswept. The opening nine features a couple of reachable par-5 holes, where big hitters might find themselves staring down an eagle putt. The course features plenty of limestone bluffs and hundreds of acres of protected wetlands, so in combination this makes it one of the most serene golf venues in the greater Nashville area.

There aren’t as many great eateries in Nashville as there are juke joints, not even close. That said, Nashville is as far from a food desert as you can imagine. Etch is one of many fine restaurants in town. Try their roasted cauliflower or a Peruvian tuna ceviche as light appetizers, before diving into hearty entrees like pork tenderloin or seared scallops. 5th & Taylor is another handsome bistro catering to the elite gourmands (or Vandy parents, pretty much the same thing) who descend upon ‘Music City.’ There is a bit more southern flavor here, with appetizers like sausage cheddar biscuits and fried pickles. Favored entrees include halibut, bison meatloaf and beer can chicken.

Lastly, speaking of chicken, one of the city’s favored dishes is known simply as ‘hot chicken,’ and one would be well served heading to Hattie B’s Hot Chicken (several locations around town) and turn up the spice level to individual preference. (Only the boldest will opt for ‘shut the cluck up,’ otherwise referred to as ‘burn notice.’) All chicken-lovers can cool down with classic peach cobbler or banana pudding after their main course.

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The British Open (officially known as the Open Championship) hasn’t seen too many actual Brits hosting the famed Claret Jug in recent years. There has been some UK representation of late (Rory McIlroy in 2014, Darren Clarke in 2012—both hailing from Northern Ireland.) But the last Englishman to win was Nick Faldo in 1992.

The Royal Birkdale Golf Club

This year’s iteration is at famed Royal Birkdale in northwest England. While the public is always welcome to play (as is the case nearly universally throughout the UK, even at their finest and most prestigious courses) we will confine our discussion to public-access courses stateside.

Here are a smattering of exceptional open-to-the-public facilities that hold a special place in the hearts of the last five Champion Golfers of the Year. (The super-cool moniker given to the winner of the Open Championship.)

Ernie Els (2012), Phil Mickelson (2013), Rory McIlroy (2014), Zach Johnson (2015), and Henrik Stenson (2016) have combined for ninety-one wins on the PGA Tour, and sixteen major championships. They have also won, in most cases multiple times, on venues that welcome the paying public. Below are some of the highlights:

The Stadium Course

TPC Sawgrass—Stadium Course

Both Mickelson and Stenson have captured the so-called ‘Fifth Major,’ (Phil in 2007, Henrik a couple years later in 2009). The Stadium Course was to be “the most democratic course in the world,” according to management, testing all aspects of one’s game. It was to have 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. Though it serves as the flagship event on the PGA Tour, and annually attracts the single strongest field in professional golf, it is even more famous as a public-access venue. Eager patrons from all over the globe fill the tee sheet, waiting for their crack at the island green 17th, hoping to flip their short iron over water and onto terra firma. Splashing the tee shot can ruin an otherwise good round, or conversely, a ball that finds green-grass safety can put a smile on the face of a golfer who had been struggling to that point.

Bay Hill

Bay Hill

Ernie Els won there twice, and Mickelson also captured Arnold Palmer’s ‘home game.’ Water provides much of the rigor at this Orlando institution, the view from the third tee is the first indication that massive ponds are in prime position to wreak intermittent havoc with the scorecard. The third, sixth, eleventh, thirteenth and most famously, the eighteenth, all pose danger for either an errant tee ball or approach shot.


Champion Course at PGA National

Champion Course at PGA National

Home of the Honda Classic, which has been captured by both Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy, this is the marquee facility of the quintet of courses found in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (The Fazio, The Squire, The Palmer and The Estate round out their other offerings.) The course has a championship pedigree, having played host to the 1983 Ryder Cup, and the 1987 PGA Championship. The course is best known for a tough three hole stretch near round’s end. The par-3 15th, par-4 16th, and par-3 17th holes are known as ‘The Bear Trap,’ named after the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, who redesigned the course some twenty years after inception.

Pebble Beach 

Pebble Beach

Phil Mickelson has a stranglehold on this most-desired public venue. The other Open winners under discussion have never tasted victory on the Monterey peninsula, but Phil has won there on four separate occasions. (1998, 2005, 2007 and 2012 for those scoring at home.) Phil knows as well as anyone (other than perhaps Mark O’Meara, also a four-time champ at Pebble and a British Open winner) the majestic beauty and valiant shot-making challenges that make this the single most sought-after tee time in the world of public-access golf. From the flip wedge (or perhaps seven iron, depending on the wind direction) of the magnificent par-3 seventh, to the heroic approach over a chasm of the roiling pacific on the eighth, to the nervy, seaside tee shot on the par-5 finale, no one fortunate enough to play Pebble ever forgets its myriad charms and challenges.

Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course 

Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course 

This is where Rory took home the first of his two PGA Championships in 2012. (He also triumphed at Kentucky’s Valhalla Golf Club in 2014.) Although it will always be most closely associated with the 1991 Ryder Cup, which came down to the very last putt of the final match on the final day, The Ocean Course is slated to hold the PGA Championship once again in 2021. Visitors, even hardened Tour pros, are always amazed at the scale of the golf course, which is absolutely massive. It’s fairly narrow, and always in close proximity to the beach, but stretches almost three miles in length. But the fact is that the dedicated turf on the course is just 55 acres. The vistas, seascape, wetlands, sand and trouble occupy an area six or eight times that size. Brawny as the golf course appears, with generous fairways and oversized greens, it’s dwarfed by the majestic natural panorama that envelops it.

Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort

Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort

Everyone loves Hawaii, and Zach Johnson (2014), Ernie Els (2003) and Phil Mickelson (1994, 1998) are no exception. Their ‘working vacations’ included hard-fought triumphs at the PGA Tour traditional season opener, the Tournament of Champions, only open to those who won an officially sanctioned event the season prior. This Maui must-play features panoramic ocean and mountain views, and the final few holes are almost as steep as an intermediate ski run. The only par-73 on the PGA Tour, the Plantation Course has seven holes longer than 500 yards, but also six par-4s under 400 yards. It’s a beguiling mixture of power and finesse in one of the loveliest golf settings on the planet.


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The John Deere Classic is a mid-summer staple on the PGA Tour. Although it doesn’t tend to attract the game’s leading lights on a regular basis, (many saving their energy for the British Open, or Open Championship, which follows close at hand) there have been some notable entries and distinguished champions. Jordan Speith won two out of three years, including his inaugural PGA Tour win in 2013. Steve Stricker pulled off a hat trick, winning three times consecutively in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Of further interest, Michelle Wie played there at age fifteen in 2005, missing the cut by a scant two strokes.

However, the focus of this travelogue is not to showcase the leading and lesser lights who make the annual pilgrimage to Silvis, Illinois to test their skills on the TPC at Deere Run, but to shine the spotlight on some of the many hundreds of golf courses nationwide that have the word ‘deer’ in their name. It’s no short list, and the first entry goes to another long-time PGA Tour venue, Brown Deer Park Golf Course, one of the jewels of Milwaukee’s public golf scene.

Brown Deer Park Golf Course

Brown Deer Park hosted the Tour for fifteen years, from 1994 to 2009, when the tournament was discontinued. Its ‘brush with greatness’ came in 1996, when Tiger Woods, fresh off his third consecutive win in the U.S. Amateur, made his professional debut. He has subsequently made more than a hundred million on the course alone (endorsements aside) but the first twenty five hundred bucks he ever made came courtesy of a sixtieth place finish that fateful week at Brown Deer Park.


The vast majority of the other ‘deer’ courses nationwide make no such claim to fame. They are mostly simple and pleasant tests of golf where visitors and regulars plunk down their green fee and enjoy a day on the course. There is no way to accurately gauge how many ‘deer’ courses there might be in the nation, but here’s a ‘starter set’ of eight. Suffice it to say this is just the very tip of the iceberg, or might we say antler?

Running Deer Golf Club

Running Deer Golf Club in leafy Pittsgrove, New Jersey, is worth a visit for a few reasons. First is it’s a serene walk through the forest, and second, perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of owner Ron Jaworski. The former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and highly regarded TV analyst owns a small stable of courses, and Running Deer is considered one of the finest in his holdings.



Deer Valley

Deer Valley is in Hummelstown, PA, just a few short miles from Hershey and Harrisburg. The course features large elevated greens, massive multi-tiered tees and unique hybrid, dwarf bluegrass fairways. From different vantage points during the round there are beautiful views and vistas of Hershey and the surrounding Blue Mountains.




King’s Deer Golf Course

King’s Deer Golf Club in Monument, CO sits at an elevation of 7,400 feet, making it the highest course along the Front Range. Located high atop the Palmer Divide, the course offers incredible views of Pike’s Peak and Mount Herman, as well as Bald Mountain and True Mountain to the north. The playing fields meander through rolling Colorado grasslands, with the front nine more target golf, requiring accuracy off the tee to avoid the native fescue.  The back nine is longer and requires bolder tee shots to insure tenable distances for one’s approach shot.



Deer Creek Golf Club

Deer Creek Golf Club in Deerfield, Florida offers rolling topography and undulating greens that are not usually found in south Florida. The golf market between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton is saturated, but this golf course has always received much-deserved accolades for conditioning and service, keeping it in the top tier of public-access venues in the area.



White Deer Run

White Deer Run on Chicago’s North Shore is a popular destination with the area’s public golfers. There are loads of high-end private clubs in the vicinity, but White Deer Run attracts steady play, in part due to its unique location on the famed Cuneo Estate in Vernon Hills.




Deer Ridge Golf Club

Deer Ridge Golf Club in Brentwood, CA, not far from the San Francisco Bay Area, is set among the picturesque foothills of Mount Diablo. The golf course hugs the contours of Mount Diablo and winds its way through majestic oaks, with sharp contrasts of color and terrain. Consistent conditioning and excellent greens make this one of the East Bay’s most popular golf courses.


Deerwood Country Club

Deerwood Country Club may be located in Mount Holly, New Jersey. However, the course has the look and feel of something found in the Carolina Lowcountry. This links-style course is surrounded by woods and wetlands, and though the ‘tips’ are just a chip shot beyond 6,200 yards, with only a single par-4 beyond 400 yards, this par-70 offers plenty of challenge with its water-laden fairways and tricky greens.



Deer Island Country Club

Finally, Deer Island Country Club is one of the more notable courses in central Florida. It’s located on the secluded four hundred acre Deer Island, amidst the Harris Chain of Lakes, which is part of Oklawaha River Basin in Tavares, Florida. This Joe Lee design features magnificent views of Lake Dora and Lake Beauclaire, and the panoramic nature of the property allows players to view a wide range of wildlife as they make their way around the course.