GINELLA'S JOURNEYS

Dana Fry is bullish on a bold new course he’s building at Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, Michigan. One of the co-designers of Erin Hills, recent host of the U.S. Open, Fry is putting the finishing touches on what will look and feel a lot like the Chicago Golf Club, a C.B. Macdonald original, which was later remodeled by Seth Raynor, Macdonald’s longtime partner/protégé.

Chicago Golf Club, No. 14 on Golf Digest’s recent list of America’s 100 Greatest, is famous for the adventure of timeless design, strategic options off the tees and approaches into big and challenging green complexes, as well as several of Macdonald’s template hole concepts, including a Punchbowl, Redan and Biarritz. As for the second course at Arcadia Bluffs, Fry tells me the Chicago Golf Club was simply a template, there will be no template holes.

I recently caught up with Fry for more on what promises to make waves in the golf world, especially along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Do you have a name for the course?

It is called The South Course at Arcadia Bluffs.

How far is it exactly from Arcadia Bluffs?

It is one mile directly to the south, just off of Route 22, which is the road used to enter Arcadia Bluffs. Ours is inland, there are no views of the water.

What was the process of getting the job?

As you know, the first course is credited to Rick Smith and Warren Henderson. Warren used to work with Mike Hurdzan and I back in the early 90s. Well, a story not many people know, Rick Smith called me and wanted me to go work with him back in the early 90s. I didn’t want to leave Mike, so I referred him to Warren Henderson. Rick called Warren, and that’s how they started working together. Then, after Arcadia was built, Warren went on to work with Gary Player and Nick Price. And about seven or eight years ago, the owner of Arcadia Bluffs, Rich Postma, hired Warren to run one of his companies. We’re not talking golf, we’re talking one of his big businesses. Well, over the course of the last few winters, Warren called and had me host Rich and his buddies at Calusa Pines and Naples National. And that was it. Just a great guy and we had a lot of fun. And then last July, a little over a year ago, Warren called me and said, “We’re going to be working together real soon.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

He goes, “Rich is going to build another golf course and he decided you’re going to be the guy. He said he likes you, thinks you’ll be easy to work with, loves Calusa Pines.” And that was that. It was totally unexpected. There’s no question.

What happens next?

Well, last July, I met Rich and Warren and went out on what was the site. We walked around quite a bit of it. There’s 310 acres and probably 30 to 40 percent of it was treed, the rest was open. And I said, “Rich, have you ever been to Chicago Golf Club?” He said, “Yes.” Mind you, at this point, I wasn’t sure I had the job. He said, “It’s one of my favorite courses in the world. I play there every year.” I said, “It’s one of my favorites too. I think, if all these trees were gone, with your soil and topography, I think we could do something that has the look and feel of Chicago Golf Club.” And I think that’s what cemented the deal. He’s a member at Sand Hills, loves the Coore and Crenshaw stuff. He has seen a lot of Tom Doak and Gil Hanse stuff that he likes, because he’s a well-traveled guy. But he tended to believe a lot of the courses were looking alike, and he wanted to do something that was really different. And what we’ve done at Arcadia is really emulate the style and look of Chicago Golf Club, without copying any of the holes.

Tom Doak had been looking for years for an owner and a piece of property where he could do a reversible routing, which he found in Lew Thompson and built The Loop at Forest Dunes. Have you long been looking for an owner and a piece of property to do something like Chicago Golf Club?

I’d been to Chicago Golf Club about five or six times over the last 25 years, and I have always told people it was in my top 10 or 20 in the United States, but I never felt the urge to do something like that. But when I got on that land, which is pure sand, and the topography was similar in nature, I thought about Chicago Golf Club, which is basically one big square piece of land. And that’s what we have at Arcadia, almost a complete square. And there are parts of the golf course where you can see 16 holes just by standing in one spot. And, when you’re at Chicago Golf, as you know, you can virtually see the entire golf course from everywhere you go.

Did you go to any other Macdonald/Raynor courses as homework for what you were going to do at Arcadia?

Well, I’ve been to probably 15 Macdonald/Raynor courses, so I’ve been to quite a few, including National Golf Links of America, Fishers Island and Blue Mound. But we went to Chicago Golf Club last August and then again in September. Once with Rich and once with Warren, and Rich was bound and determined that this was what we were going to do. And then in April and May, I took the whole construction crew down—all the shapers and the project manager—and then I went seven times in April and May. I’ve become very good friends with the superintendent, Scott, who has been a big help. And a lot of it was just to see how they did their grass lines, cross bunkering and how they mowed the fairways right into the bunkers. A lot of the greens were the high point and the collars would slope down and would go right into the bunker face. The collars, in many parts of the Chicago Golf Club, are just slopes going into the bunkers and I just kept looking at that, taking a lot of pictures.

The bunkering we have is really dynamic and almost all of the backs of the greens are built up with five to ten feet of fill, which is a big Raynor trademark—where they have steep slopes on three sides—and that’s pretty much what we have, with varying degrees, on all of the golf holes. The greens are all built up in the air.

You’ve seen a few of our courses, and I’ve done a lot of different looking stuff over the years, the all-sod walls at Devil’s Paintbrush, and Calusa Pines with 50-foot fills, faces of sand that are 20-feet high, and now we’re doing steep banks and the sand is dead-flat at the bottom, but this was really done trying to emulate a feel and a style. We drain a lot of our water from the greens into the bunkers. We drain some of the fairways into the bunkers. I’ve never done that in my life. They do that at the Chicago Golf Club. Some of the collars at Chicago Golf are so steep, they almost look like you can’t mow them. When I first showed that to Jim Bluck, the superintendent at Arcadia, he thought I was crazy. So we took him down there to show him.

Any specific template holes on your course?

Rich didn’t want to copy any golf holes. The last hole we’re going to shape, they’re doing the earth work on it now, the 13th, it’s a 420-yard par 4. It’s sort of a semi-blind tee shot over a ridge. It doglegs right up a little valley and by nature it’s sort of a punchbowl setting of a green, with slopes left, back and right, and then about 20 yards short it’ll have a series of cross bunkers. And we have a variation of the thumbprint green, except it’s not straight on, but it’s on the right side of the fourth green, which is a long par 4. But there’s no Redan or Biarritz. The fifth green, a par 3, is sort of a reverse Redan looking shape, but it’s not what I consider a true Redan.

Neither Rich nor I wanted people thinking we were out just copying golf holes, because we weren’t, but we do have square greens like at Chicago Golf, where three or four of them literally look like a slice of bread. We do have some of that. The bunker style, the straight lines in the fairways, and the way they’re mowed into the bunkers, is going to look a lot like Chicago Golf.

You know what’s really weird, when you see the aerials of what we’ve done, they sort of look a little harsh. You can see it in the pictures I sent to you, but they don’t look like that from ground level. I think if people saw aerials of Chicago Golf, they almost wouldn’t believe it. The one thing we have different than Chicago Golf, we have a lot of space. We have a far bigger piece of property. And not on every hole, but we have quite a few chipping areas.

There are only two trees left on the property. Had there been more native trees, I would’ve left more, but someone had already logged it years ago. One of the coolest things about Chicago Golf is that you look around on almost any part of the property and you can see five or six greens in the distance that are popped up into the air, six to ten feet. I’m telling you, Arcadia has that in spades. And in the morning, or late afternoon, the shadowing is visually stunning.

Any preliminary feedback from other architects?

I had Mike DeVries out to Arcadia three weeks ago and we walked the whole golf course together. And his biggest comment that stuck with me, we were on the sixth green, which I think a lot of people will talk about when they see it, he said, ‘These greens are wild. They look like something I would build.” And then he wrote Rich and incredibly nice letter. And then one of the assistants at Conway Farms wrote me and said, “Mr. Fry,” because he doesn’t know me, he said, “I’m telling you, this is going to be the best course in Michigan. I’m a Michigan State grad, grew up in Michigan, and I believe the place is that good.”

I don’t know. Time will tell.

On that subject, how much time have you spent on the ground at Arcadia?

I’ve spent two or three days a week out there ever since April. I missed two weeks not being there, and one of them was the U.S. Open. It has been a real labor of love, and I think it’s going to get a lot of press because it’s a very different type of a product, and, quite frankly, Arcadia Bluffs is one of the most successful golf properties in the country. I’ve spent a lot of time out there. They’ve got a new lodge they opened this July, and Rich thinks, because the occupancy is so good, he thinks he might have to build another one depending on how much play our course gets.

When will it open?

Rich will have a soft opening next summer. He’s saying somewhere around the first of August, but the grow in has been unbelievable. We started grassing holes right after the U.S. Open, and the bentgrass on those holes, tees, greens, fairways and surrounds, is just perfect. I’ve never had a golf course grow in this good this quickly. And that has a lot to do with the sand.

It’s amazing. We started clearing trees last winter. And then finished the clearing in the spring. We started moving dirt in the middle of April and we’ll be done grassing by the middle of September. We already have 12 holes grassed as we speak. We’ll have about 50 or 60 acres of bentgrass, and then another 30 acres of rough, and then we’ll have another 130 to 150 acres of native fescue grass. The front nine greens, completed, average 9,300 square feet. They’re huge. I mean, I really studied Chicago Golf. I got the green sheets that showed the percentages of slopes. The greens at Chicago Golf have a lot of contour in them, and that would be an understatement, and we couldn’t do that for the resort play that will come to Arcadia, but we’ll have a 9,000 square-foot green where only 50% of that is pinnable. There are a lot of transition areas between pin spaces. The greens here are going to be pretty different.

Will it be walkable? Are there cart paths?

It’s an incredibly walkable golf course. But at a resort, most people take carts. I haven’t broached the subject with Rich yet, but I’m hoping he can get the high schools involved for a caddie program of some sort because it’s a true walker’s golf course. There are cart paths, but in most cases they’re in between holes, but he’s expecting most people to take carts.

Tell me more of the scorecard particulars of the course.

It’s a traditional par 72. They can stretch it close to 7,400 yards from the tips. From the next set of tees, it’s around 6,900 yards. Then it goes down to about 6,400. And then it goes down to about 5,800. And then it goes down to about 5,200.

Do you have any concerns or fears?

Not many average golfers have heard of Chicago Golf Club because it’s so private. And God rest his soul, because he was one of my favorite people on the planet, but years ago Bob Cupp did a course with geometric design. Some of the people, when I tell them what we’re doing, they say, “Well, Bob Cupp did something like that and everyone hated it.” But Bob built everything with angles, including cart paths and lakes. This is not like that. We have a lot of curvature in the rough lines and the native lines. Even the fairways have some. And not all the greens are dead straight lines. There are arcs and curves in some. So before you rush to that judgment, you got to see it. Trust me. But I wonder if the average golfer is going to understand what we were even attempting to do.

It might not matter, as long as they have fun playing it.

Yeah. And I think they will. The fairways are averaging about 52 to 55 yards wide. And then we have about 15 to 18 yards of cut rough on each side. So add that all up and you’re pushing 85 yards of cut grass, so you have a lot of space to hit it into. At Erin Hills, we probably average about 60 yards of cut grass.

Do you think you could’ve done this as a first course at Arcadia?

You know, people ask me that all the time and I’ve talked to Rich about that and I’m absolutely convinced that, on its own, without the first course already there, no.

I think golf people would’ve loved it, but would it have gotten the volume of play that they get at Arcadia? No.

And now, because they have the incredible golf at Arcadia, and they have the dining and lodging, the setting and the overall experience, he’ll be able to capture people for at least another day. Instead of two rounds of golf, they may play three or four rounds of golf. The service and atmosphere at this place is unbelievable. Some nights I’m there and there are 300 people having dinner and drinks. Every night! And everybody is taking pictures because the sunsets there are, you know, I’ve been to 109 countries, and I’d say Hawaii, Greece and Arcadia Bluffs have the best sunsets that I’ve ever seen.

Who are some key members of your crew who deserve some credit for the work being done at Arcadia?

Well, I worked with Mike Hurdzan for 24 years, and then a guy who worked with Mike and I for 17 years is Jason Straka, so the name of my company since 2012 has been Fry/Straka. Like Doak and Hanse, he’s a Cornell guy and he has known Tom and Gil since he was in college. And then Bill Kerman has done a lot of our planning. And those are the two guys who help me do a lot of the work.

Well, it has got to be exciting for you, on the heels of Erin Hills hosting an Open, it has to feel like you have some sweet momentum as an architect.

I was already starting to get a lot of work nine months before the Open, and it has picked up. The client we have in Brazil is phenomenal. The job in Vietnam is the same way. And we’ve gotten a lot of big renovations as well, so we’re real busy and very happy about it. And I think the Open has played a big part of that, there’s no question.

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.

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?

 

Pinehurst No.3
Pinehurst No.3
Coore & Crenshaw at Pinehurst in 2014
Coore & Crenshaw at Pinehurst in 2014

Even through the thickest set of his iconic round-rimmed glasses, the great Donald Ross would’ve had a hard time recognizing his favorite of an impressive and prolific portfolio. And thus, in 2010, Pinehurst made a bold move by hiring Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to turn back the clock on No. 2.

At that time, with a hobbled economy and back-to-back Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens on the horizon (2014), it seemed to be an unnecessary risk by what’s considered “The Cradle of American Golf.” And yet, as Don Padgett, who was the President of Pinehurst at that time, once said to me: “It’s a national treasure. We had to restore it.”

Needless to say, the golf world was watching through a collective set of thick glasses. And so were the locals.

Pinehurst
Pinehurst

It was Bill Coore who remembered, shortly after getting the job, being stopped in the Pinehurst parking lot by a stranger, who skipped the southern hospitality spiel. “I don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but I’ll tell you one thing,” said the stranger, “you better not mess this up. Because as this golf course goes, so too does this entire town.”

Well, Coore and Crenshaw delivered a successful restoration. And as the golf world watched both U.S. Opens, so too did that entire town.Rounds are up, water costs are down, and the rest could be considered history. However, I consider “the rest” of what Pinehurst is doing to be the best indicator of what’s the ongoing revolution in golf.

Pinehurst 7th Hole
Pinehurst 7th Hole

“Looking back at 2010, it was about being true to our core,” says Tom Pashley, who served as Padgett’s Executive Vice President and is the current President of Pinehurst.

Looking back, what Pinehurst did and continues to do, has an impact and ramifications on the world of golf around us.

Since 2010, Pinehurst has:

  • Added a putting course in 2011.
  • Acquired National Golf Club in 2014, which is now No. 9.
  • Renovated and greatly enhanced the porch bar in 2015.
  • Gil Hanse will renovate No. 4 in 2017.
  • But not before Kyle Franz and Kye Goalby renovate and reroute Nos. 3 and 5, making room for what will be Hanse’s 10-acre 9-hole short course, which breaks ground in May.
  • They will also relocate the putting course, surrounding the main clubhouse and epicenter of The Cradle with short, generational, beginner and buddies golf.
Short Course & Putting Green Coming Fall 2017
Short Course & Putting Green Coming Fall 2017

“What Pinehurst has done and is doing can be tied back to the first Golden Age of golf architecture,” says Hanse. “Cutting edge, sand-based land, that’s not that accessible, but very good for golf.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of courses are being renovated or restored. Municipals are magical again. Short is fun. Rules are relaxed. Young is dominant. Kids are the focus, and therefore, will be the future. Alternative forms, formats and fashion are forward and fantastic. If there’s not a TopGolf already in a city near you, there’s either one being built or there’s a stadium being converted into a makeshift TopGolf experience.

Youngscap & Keiser
Youngscap & Keiser

Most experts will agree, this revolution started in 1995 at Sand Hills in Nowhere, Nebraska, where Dick Youngscap inspired Mike Keiser to find and build remote sand-based golf in America.

Since 1999, Keiser and his various partners and minimalist architects have built 10 big courses, four short courses and one putting course in four remote destinations. From the Southwest coast of Oregon (Bandon), Keiser went to Tasmania (Barnbougle) then Nova Scotia (Cabot) and now Wisconsin (Sand Valley).

And yet, regardless of the partners or architects, his focus and goals have never changed: The focus is great golf. The goals at each remote destination are to not only to get people to make the trip, but more importantly, he wants them to come back.

“That drives everything,” says Josh Lesnik, the first General Manager at Bandon Dunes and current President of Kemper Sports, which manages Bandon Dunes and over 100 golf properties in America. “That same focus and those goals still drive us every day.”

So, if Youngscap started the trend, and Keiser ran with the trend, it’s a storied resort like Pinehurst—the original remote sand-based hub of golf in America—making moves like the ones detailed above, that transitions a trend into a revolution.

“Golf complexes are trying to appeal to a wide variety of clients, which includes shorter and faster to play courses,” says Coore, who, along with his partner Ben Crenshaw, not only restored No. 2, but built Sand Hills and at least one course at all four Keiser destinations. They’ve also built a course at Streamsong in Florida, and are now building a course at Big Cedar Lodge in Hollister, Missouri, where owner Johnny Morris built two short courses before he commissioned Coore and Crenshaw to build a second 18-hole “championship” course.

In other words, if indeed this is a revolution, Coore and Crenshaw are one of the battleground generals leading the charge.

Pinehurst No. 3
Pinehurst No. 3

“Pinehurst doesn’t change easily,” says Coore. “So when they do what they’re doing, it means they don’t see this as a passing fashion. And I agree with that. How does the saying go?” Coore asks. “The sum of the parts is greater than the whole?”

Exactly. It was Aristotle, and he said: “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

From U.S. Open golf for both men and women, all the way down to a popular porch, a putting course and now a par-3 course, the sum of Pinehurt’s parts is a whole lot of good for golf and anyone remotely interested in picking up a club.

“We are always looking for new ways to satisfy our customer,” says Pashley. “We have nine courses and over 60,000 yards of golf at Pinehurst, and yet, the idea that the addition of a nine-hole, 789-yard short course could have such an impact at a 100-year-old destination is crazy. But I guess that’s why it’s part of the revolution.”

 

Having toured 23 states, four countries on three continents, it has been another year of stories on short courses, sustainability, municipals, makeovers and effective grow-the-game initiatives.

At a place like Pinehurst, the “Cradle of American Golf,” one could argue, they’re embarking on almost all of the above: a trendy bar overlooking No. 2, a complete renovation of course No. 4, the addition of a short course and an extension of their popular putting course.

On this website, I’ve already chronicled other significant investments being made by some of the top courses and resorts in the country, which includes Bandon Dunes, Pebble Beach, American Club, Sea Island, Sea Pines, Streamsong, Sawgrass, Forest Dunes, Arcadia Bluffs, Big Cedar Lodge and the Greenbrier, among many others.

And the tent poles of golf are doing their part with continued support of First Tee, while creating their own initiatives, such as Drive, Chip and Putt and PGA Junior Leagues, which has enjoyed a 300-percent increase over the past three years and, worth mentioning, gets sponsorship for their championship from National Car Rental.

Meanwhile, Topgolf continues to sweep the country, as more people are seeing the merits of short, sustainable, accessible, affordable, non-traditional and FUN!

Go figure.

But in the past 12 months of travel, it’s the stories on lesser-known grass-roots initiatives that make me so optimistic about the future of golf.

For example, Youth on Course, which was started in 2006 by the Northern California Golf Association. The concept was simple: subsidize green fees for junior golfers. Now, 10 years later, there are 400 participating courses in 12 U.S. regions that have provided 450,000 rounds of golf for no more than $5 per round. Not to mention the addition of caddie programs, internships and college scholarships.

Credit goes to the NCGA for not only caring about the development of their junior members, but also for being so connected and supportive of other golf associations willing to adopt the program’s best practices.

And although there are similar success stories, such as the Birdies program in Morocco, which is teaching and coaching 70 kids, not only to play the game, but also the management and the business of the industry, the idea that municipals matter was never more obvious than in 2016.

The city of Austin continues to rally national and historical support for Lions Municipal, which is where desegregation was happening in golf before it was happening in the country. And it’s where a 7-year-old Ben Crenshaw won his first of many golf tournaments. If the University of Texas turns Lions Muny into more high-rises and real estate profits, they’re going to suffer the public relations blues.

Meanwhile, Goat Hill Park in Oceanside, California has extended a 30-year lease to John Ashworth and his band of lovable and loyal locals, who just facilitated the conversion from potable to reclaimed water.

And in Winter Park, Florida, Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns, two young architects with decorated portfolios, have just completed a $1.2 million restoration of a 100-year-old 9-hole course that navigates roads, train tracks, a church and a graveyard.

Also worth noting, the work that has been done at Weequahic Golf Course in Newark, New Jersey, Canal Shores in the suburbs of Chicago, and Keney Park in Hartford, Connecticut.

And then there’s Torrey Pines North in San Diego, which gets 84,000 rounds per year and just underwent $25 million in changes by Tom Weiskopf, who kept the focus on playability for the people who pay to play as opposed to those who get paid to play.

Again, go figure.

And on the heels of golf coming back to the Olympics and Tiger Woods coming back to golf, Golf Advisor published an article using a 2015 graphic and study by the Sports and Fitness Industry which shows youth sports participation up in golf by 60.4%, while baseball, basketball, soccer and football down a combined 37.4%.

I hear and see all of the counter arguments, which focus on a decrease in number of courses or the millennials’ lack of interest in the game. The fact is, not every course will make it. Nor should they. The industry has provided enough competition in various markets in which smarter and more demanding consumers seek out courses or destinations that are more proficient at meeting their needs and wants. Natural selection collides with laws of supply and demand, laws of economics, and eventually the strongest will not only survive, they will thrive.

And as for millennials, twenty-somethings have always struggled to justify the time and expense of golf while chasing careers, significant others and eventually, their offspring.

The long-term health of the game orbits around getting kids exposed to the fundamentals and fun of golf at an early age. And, eventually, when they get more time and income, they come back in their mid-30s or early 40s, as they recommit to family golf, buddies trips and couples trips.

I’m willing to bet everything I own, that investments made in 2016 will not only pay dividends in 2017, but more importantly, in 2027, and in 2037. I just hope I’m around to collect. Because, as any golfer knows, fast pay makes fast friends.

Troy Burne

One of my first journeys as a travel reporter was in 2007 and it was to The Land of 10,000 Lakes. I went to off-the-GPS-grid stops such as Biwabik, value golf stops like The Classic at Madden’s on Gull Lake, and boated around with hospitable fishing guides like Walleye Dan. Needless to say, I’ve been hooked on Minnesota ever since. 

The Classic, which is No. 63 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, can be walked on a weekend for $101. Any Top 100 for something close to $100 is worth tracking down.

Now, almost a decade later, along with the eyeballs of the collective golf world, I’m back in Minnesota for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. And although The Classic is a three-hour drive, there are plenty of options in and around the Minneapolis area. I’ve made my list and added some of your thoughts and Twitter comments (@MattGinellaGC). 


Chaska Town Course

Chaska, MN

Green fee: $50/$69

*Ryder Cup rates are $125 before 2:00; $85 after 2:00.

Distance from Hazeltine: 3 miles.

Hazeltine’s companion course for the 2006 U.S. Amateur, Chaska is famous for Billy Horschel’s 60 in the first round of stroke play. “It was just my day,” said Horschel, who hit one in the water on the 547-yard par-5 18th and still made a birdie. He went out and back in 30. One can only assume the young Gator must’ve flown the tree in the middle of the 280-yard third hole. (Pictured.)

3rd @ Chaska Town Course
3rd @ Chaska Town Course

jeremy weisberg@jeremywize
Oh the town course is LEGIT!!!

Andrew Morris ‏@atmorris8 
Town Course, great track and great people!


Legends

Prior Lake, MN

Green fee: $79

Distance from Hazeltine: 25 miles.

Not far from the highway, Legends was built on 360 acres and promises accessible rates but a “private club feel.” With water on 13 holes, it’s obvious this course is in The Land of 10,000 Lakes. Not to mention, Credit River Creek, which runs through the course.

Legends
Legends

Jake Weaver@jmweaver785
I’d add Willinger’s to that list. It’s south of Legends.

Amie Burrill@amieburrill
Great list @MattGinellaGC @legendsgolfmn is a favorite!  #OnlyinMN

Clark Averill@clark55810
The Legends is the best of the list. Strong Par 3s and plenty of risk/reward holes. Always in great condition.


Keller Golf Course (1929)

Maplewood, MN

Green fee: $43 (Drops to $33 on Oct. 3)

Distance from Hazeltine: 40 miles.

The old and classic parkland course underwent a renovation in 2014. Host of the St. Paul Open from 1930 until 1968, winners include Ray Floyd, Ken Venturi and Tommy Bolt. Keller has also hosted the PGA Championship (1932 and 1954) and the Western Open (1949), which was won by Sam Snead.

Keller
Keller

el duderino.@MN_Peter
Keller cannot be beat in terms of value.


Troy Burne

Hudson, WI

Green fee: $96. (Fall rate is $60.)

Distance from Hazeltine: 60 miles.

Tom Lehman is the golfing pride of Minnesota, but in 1999, and just across the Wisconsin border, he worked with Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry to build a popular layout on 420 acres of rolling hills. You start with a par 5, 4 & 3, which sets the tone for what will be a challenging but fair and fun day, especially if you avoid the 120 bunkers sprinkled throughout.

Troy Burne
Troy Burne

DV@ViljasteD

Troy Burne, awesome!


Meadows at Mystic Lake

Prior Lake, MN

Green fee: $60

*Ryder Cup rates are $150, which includes a cart and $30 pro-shop credit. After 2:00 it’s $100.

Distance from Hazeltine: 15 miles.

Locals speak fondly of the challenges on the course and at the casino. An assortment of hazards includes 80 bunkers, little lakes, waterfalls and a stream. I would never play in denim, but gotta love the fact they allow (nice) jeans in the spring and fall. Sidenote: The front nine closes on October 6 for bunker renovations.

Meadows at Mystic Lake
Meadows at Mystic Lake

el duderino.@MN_Peter
As a local I say great list! Baker National, Stone Ridge and Willingers could be added as well.

Forest Dunes
Forest Dunes

Streamsong

Streamsong Black
Streamsong Black

The Black Course, a Gil Hanse design and the third course at the remote Florida resort, is on schedule. Almost every hole has been seeded and the plan is for a grand opening in the fall of 2017. Select participants and media can expect a comprehensive tour of the new course during the Streamsong Invitational (Jan. 19—22), which leads into the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Hanse had access to almost the same amount of land that was used to build both the Red (Coore and Crenshaw) and Blue (Tom Doak) at Streamsong. Having walked it in various stages of development, I can only promise a wide variety and massive expanse to the corridors from beginning to the end.

There continues to be talk of the fourth course at Streamsong being an homage and almost exact replica of C.B. Macdonald’s Lido Course, but no further updates at this time. With the addition of Black, Streamsong will most likely prioritize a clubhouse, potentially more buddies-trip lodging and a short course.

Mossy Oak/Old Waverly

Mossy Oak
Mossy Oak

Congratulations to everyone involved in the building of Mossy Oak, a Gil Hanse design which is owned by George Bryan and Toxey Haas. The second course at Old Waverly and new home to Mississippi State’s golf program, Mossy Oak is a charming and rolling ride through the classic southern countryside, which opened Labor Day Weekend. Green fees are $132 for walkers, $150 includes a cart. The second course allows for extended stay-and-play packages, which will include Prairie Wildlife, the Augusta National of sporting clubs. If you love golf, guns, dogs and the great outdoors, make your way to Mossy Oak.

Forest Dunes

Forest Dunes
Forest Dunes

The Loop, Tom Doak’s reversible routing, has been open all summer for preview play. But owner, Lew Thompson, isn’t stopping there. In addition to building more eight-room cottages and fire pits, Thompson has enough land for another 18-hole course, a short course and a putting course. The putting course should be grassed before the end of the year. And with Rick Smith on site for a teaching academy, Phil Mickelson’s former instructor and architect of Three Tops, the popular par-3 course at neighboring Tree Tops Resort in Gaylord, MI, Smith seems like the obvious choice for the short course at Forest Dunes. “I want nine holes just like the bet-settling hole that we have at the end of the Weiskopf course,” said Thompson. “I have grandchildren that are 9 and 5 and they love to play golf, but they can’t really play the courses I have now. They’d have a blast on a short course.”

Names being considered for the additional 18 holes continue to be Doak, Smith, Mike DeVries and just recently, Thompson mentioned Coore and Crenshaw.

Arcadia Bluffs

Arcadia Bluffs
Arcadia Bluffs

Forest Dunes isn’t the only Michigan property making significant moves. Arcadia Bluffs has purchased over 300 acres of what was mostly an old apple orchard. It’s two miles south of Arcadia Bluffs, inland and more flat than the land they used for the first course, which overlooks Lake Michigan. “We pieced together seven parcels of land,” said Bill Schriver, Chief Operating Officer. “We hope to start pushing dirt around this winter. It will be fun, fast and less expensive than what we already have. But like everything else here, it will be top shelf.”

Michigan natives, Tom Doak and Mike DeVries, are apparently not in the running for the job. Smith was part of the team who built the first course. Schriver isn’t ready to announce the architect, but sources close to the situation are saying Arcadia’s owner has a good relationship with Dana Fry, of Hurdzan and Fry, which, along with Ron Whitten of Golf Digest, built Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

With more golf comes the demand for more lodging. On October 1, Arcadia will be adding a second lodge. It will have four levels, 20 rooms and a workout facility. It will be dropped on what is the 10th tee and will have views across the course and out to the lake.

Sand Valley

All 18 holes of the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw course opened for preview play September 1. (Green fee is $100.) They’ve opened three cottages (eight beds in each cottage), and the plan is to open a 12-bedroom cottage (24 beds) October 1. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are being served at what they call Craig’s Porch, a scenic spot overlooking the start of the Coore and Crenshaw course. “We’re also offering dinners cooked in the cottage, which is a cool concept for a buddies trip,” said Josh Lesnik, President of Kemper Sports, which also manages Sand Valley.

As for the David McLay Kidd design, six holes have been seeded and the hope is to have nine seeded by the end of the season.

The Official opening of the Coore and Crenshaw course is scheduled for June 12, and at that point, there should be six to nine holes on Kidd’s course open for preview play.

And the idea of a third course? A fourth course? A short course?

“We need to make sure the first two courses are a viable business. If that’s the case,” said Lesnik, “the sky’s the limit out there.”

Big Cedar Lodge
Big Cedar Lodge

“They” say golf is struggling.

Struggling to do what, exactly? I’ve just spent the last few days connecting with 12 of the best public golf destinations in America. The only thing they seem to be struggling with is keeping up with the enhanced demands of the avid amateur. Let’s face it, “we” are spoiled. As “we” should be. Golf remains time consuming, difficult and pricey. And in this great jump ball for our golf dollars, they should all be on their A-games.

Per my travels and as far as I can tell, the ancillary benefits of the economic bubble burst is a little natural selection, a heightened focus on pace of play, the restoration and embrace of municipal golf courses, a separation and identification of thoughtful and talented architects, a movement to simplify the rules, budding grow-the-game initiatives, smart talk of resources and sustainability, a new appreciation and development of the junior caddie and as you’ll read below, a competition at the top properties that is breeding excellence. (And continues to put pressure on private clubs.)

Pebble Beach

It’s not easy getting to No. 1. And it’s even harder to stay there. See Rory McIlroy and/or Jordan Spieth. But Pebble Beach seems poised for an extended stay as the best public course in the country.

10th Tee at Pebble Beach
10th Tee at Pebble Beach

In the midst of a five-year plan for golf course updates, the Pebble Beach Company has completed tweaks to the ninth, 17th and 14th greens. They’ve also restored an old 10th tee that hangs over the beach. And according to RJ Harper, Executive Vice President of Golf and Retail, the 13th green is next. “Right now, in championship conditions, the right side of the green is too severe,” said Harper. “We will soften that side of the green and create more pin placements.” As far as when that work will be done, Harper says they will decide by the end of the year.

Even more extensive than the work on the course, Pebble Beach just completed phase one of room renovations. “Every room to the right side of the 18th fairway has been redone,” said Harper. “Exterior. Interior. Everything. And we’re very proud of the work that’s been done there.” Those rooms reopened in April to rave reviews.

And to the left of the first fairway, work continues on Fairway 1, which is a 38-room project that will be finished in July of next year. Thirty of the rooms will be exactly like what’s on the 18th fairway. Two of the “rooms” will be four-bedroom suites with 1,000 square feet of common space. “We never had that before,” said Harper. “We will now have the lodging option for foursomes of friends or four couples.”

As for Pebble’s “little” brother, Harper says Spyglass will get a little longer. But here’s the good news: In March, the 50-year lease of the Spyglass Founders Club expired, resulting in a 30-percent increase in available tee times to the general public. Worth noting and appreciating Spyglass wouldn’t exist without the financial support of those original 250 members ($2,500 each, plus $50 in annual dues for 50 years).

No exterior changes to the Inn at Spanish Bay, but Harper says there are plans to update all rooms at one of my favorite golf hotels in America.

“When the current ownership made the purchase in ’99, their simple goal was to keep improving,” said Harper. “They’ve done nothing but fulfilled that commitment. And will continue to do so.” That ownership includes Arnold Palmer, Richard Ferris, Peter Ueberroth, Clint Eastwood, William Perocchi and GE Pension.

Pebble Beach and Spyglass will host the 2018 U.S. Amateur and Pebble Beach will host the U.S. Open in 2019 as part of their 100-year anniversary celebration.

Bandon Dunes

Doak's Course
Doak’s Course

The sixth course at Bandon Dunes should still be Tom Doak’s 11-hole par-3 course, which will meander through the dunesland near the start of Bandon Trails. From the second tee at Trails you can see at least one flagstick indicating the spot for a proposed green. “We continue to weigh various options,” said Josh Lesnik, President of Kemper Sports, “but unfortunately it doesn’t look like Tom will start building the course this winter.” Doak should break ground in the first or second quarter of 2017.

Meanwhile, Gil Hanse is everywhere. From Rio, Doral, Winged Foot, Mossy Oak and Streamsong Black, but there have also been several Gil Hanse sightings at Bandon Dunes and Pinehurst. More on Pinehurst later, but Mike Keiser has been trying to get a Hanse addition to his Oregon portfolio for over 10 years. A diligent and patient Keiser finally walked away from a decade worth of stalled negotiations with Oregon’s State Park Department and the Bureau of Land Management that would’ve allowed for at least 27 more memorable holes 20 minutes south of the resort. At that same location, Keiser in fact owns enough land for 18, and Hanse has done at least one routing, but there’s also speculation that Hanse might get a crack at some land north of the resort. Sheep Ranch? It’s possible. Either way, the Hanse-working-for-everyone-BUT-Mike Keiser phenomenon will soon come to an end.

Pinehurst

From the purchase of two courses/competitors (2011 & 2014), the gutsy restoration of No. 2 (2011) and successful back-to-back Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens (2014), Pinehurst’s fairly new President, Tom Pashley, who took over for Don Padgett in late-2014, has snuggled into The Cradle of American Golf at a time when the basinet is on the up swing. So, to keep the momentum going, Pashley just debuted The Deuce, a new open bar that extends onto the porch overlooking No. 2’s 18th green. “The post-round experience now matches the on-course experience,” said Pashley. “The Deuce was built to be the perfect place for golfers to reflect and unwind after a day on the links.”

The Deuce
The Deuce

Pinehurst will host the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, 2019 U.S. Amateur and 2024 U.S. Open. No shock if the USGA decides to go back-to-back again with the men’s and women’s major. Everyone agreed it was a strategic, competitive, logistical and financial success.

We also know Coore and Crenshaw have a routing on what once was The Pit Golf Links, which is a few miles off property and, if completed, would be Pinehurst No. 10. But lots of friends and Twitter followers are also reporting Gil Hanse sightings in the Sandhills of North Carolina. Pashley will only say that there’s a lot of potential for a guy like Hanse to help continue the aforementioned momentum of the storied resort.

Anyone for a beer at The Deuce where we can reflect on the possibilities?

Sea Island

And then there was one. Owner, that is.

In case you missed it, Sea Island has been around since 1928, owned and operated by the Jones family. Well, back in 2007, right before the economic crash, Bill Jones III pushed all in on almost $1 billion in upgrades and acquisitions.

Cut to 2010, when two teams of two partners are at an auction, bidding against each other for all that was Sea Island. They paused the auction, huddled, and decided to stop the bidding and own it together. (Among other things, they got the Cloister, Lodge, three courses and a 360-degree driving range with a prime ocean view for $212 million.) Captain Obvious: “They got a great deal.”

In June, the Anschutz family of Denver, CO., one of the four owners, bought out the three other partners and put the property into a 100-year family trust.

So after all that, Sea Island is back to being a family-owned operation with a seemingly endless future.

In April, Sea Island opened another 63 rooms to an extended wing of the Cloister. I’m told the Anschutz family, who also owns The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, will be looking to make updates and upgrades to all three courses at Sea Island: Seaside (Tom Fazio), Plantation (Rees Jones) and Retreat (Davis and Mark Love). They’re also looking at the property near the back of the range as potential for further development.

American Club, Kohler, WI

With David Kohler’s ongoing focus on addressing the needs and demands of the prototypical four- to 24-person buddies trip, Destination Kohler will break ground this month on an expansion to the Inn at Woodlake, which will include four- to six-person suites. There will be six suites with four bedrooms and four suites with two bedrooms, which will have common living space and kitchenettes. The expansion should be open for bookings later in the 2017 season.

As for the plans of a fifth Pete Dye course, the process of permitting and politics continues. “I wish I had more information,” said a Kohler spokesperson.

(So do we.)

The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, WV

As you recall, historic floods in June devastated West Virginia, causing 15 deaths in Greenbrier County and 23 statewide. The 235-year-old resort cancelled their PGA Tour event and opened its doors to flood victims. And in less than three weeks, the 710-room hotel reopened to the public. Almost all of the golf on property needed more time.

“It has been organized chaos here,” said Burt Baine, Greenbrier’s Director of Golf. “We have four courses under major construction, all within five miles of each other.” Baine noted that Kelly Schumate, the Director of Golf Course Maintenance for all four courses, hasn’t had a day off since June 23. (Which is 83 days, and counting…)

The Greenbrier Course suffered the least amount of damage and reopened in mid-July.

Old White TPC at The Greenbrier, a C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor original, will remain shut down and is undergoing a complete restoration by Keith Foster, who has previously restored prominent courses such as Philadelphia Cricket Club, Southern Hills and Eastward Ho!

“There will be no major changes,” said Baine. “But Keith’s going to uncover a lot of cool stuff out there. And the greens will get a necessary consistency.”

Blaine expects the new Old White to reopen for next year’s Greenbrier Classic (July 3—9). The Meadows course is scheduled to reopen in late-April.

The Sam Snead course, a private Tom Fazio design, was hit the hardest. The course remains closed while Fazio’s team redoes all greens, bunkers and the design of three holes.

The “Big Course,” which is being designed by Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Trevino, is underway. And although early indications were that Team Nicklaus would be doing a bulk of the design and work, that’s apparently not true. According to Baine, it has been a fairly balanced collaboration. And although Trevino might not have as much experience in architecture, he has always been a plus-six storyteller, which goes a long way to getting people to see the finished product. Trevino has been a pro-emeritus at the Greenbrier since 2015 and has already spent several months on site engaging and entertaining guests and golfers.

“One thing we’ve realized in this summer of very little golf,” said Baine, “is that, going forward, we will get focused on repositioning the Greenbrier as a golf destination. It has been very obvious the last few months that golf drives a bulk of what goes on at this resort.”

Big Cedar Lodge

Big Cedar Lodge
Big Cedar Lodge

Owner, Johnny Morris, doesn’t just keep turning sinkholes into spectacular cave tours. The founder of Bass Pro Shops is also turning the Ozarks into a golf heaven. He has an Arnold Palmer driving range, a Jack Nicklaus short course and a Tom Fazio championship course. He’s opening a Gary Player 12-hole par-3 course in 2017 and a Coore and Crenshaw 18-hole course in 2018. Morris also continues to make updates and enhancements to the resort he purchased in 1987.

“I warmed up for The Uncle Tony by spending the holiday weekend camping in Santa Cruz. I drank until 2am, woke up at 7am. Then I did it again the next day. And again the next day.”

That’s a recent email from my college roommate, who’s in training for our annual buddies trip to Bandon Dunes.

File Jul 10, 9 09 21 AMI’ve been training for this trip and building this group for life. Which is what makes it so special.

Forget about where we go, I judge a buddies trip by who I go with. And on this trip, I’ve assembled family, best friends and some of their best friends.

File Jul 10, 9 04 32 AMIt’s called the Uncle Tony Invitational in honor of my uncle, who helped teach and cultivate my love of golf. From the grip to the grind of never giving up, my mom’s only sibling has always been there to breakdown the swing or reflect on memorable moments covering such things as major championships. We talk three or four times a week and we always talk golf.

File Jul 10, 6 15 53 AMUncle Tony Kielhofer, 75, is still grinding it out on and off the course at Bandon. He might have to take a cart and he goes to bed a little earlier than the rest, but he’s always up first, leading the weary walk to the breakfast buffet.

And to dine out on the details of another man’s buddies trip is common practice amongst avid amateurs. Where do you go? Haw many? How much do you spend?

We all share because we all care. We want the next group to have as much fun as we did.

And so, having covered over 60 buddies trips having been on more than 60 of my own, I offer the details of the Uncle Tony Invitational. (Yes, the UTI. No, not the urinary tract infection.)

At the end of select sections, I’ve also included some of your responses to a recent Instagram post in which I solicited your feedback on your buddies trips to Bandon Dunes (@matt_ginella). As always, appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

Why do I go to Bandon?

A version of this trip started as an extension of another buddies trip that I’ve been taking since I was 18. Every year I’d meet Uncle Tony and friends at Baywood Golf & Country Club in Arcata, CA., which is four hours south of Bandon, OR.

About ten years ago, after the Baywood Pro-Am, which always ends on a Tuesday, a few of us drove up to play at Bandon through the weekend.

Random_2A concept that caught on. Over time, more friends started just making the Bandon portion of the trip. Now it’s as if Bandon devoured Baywood. The torturous short course amongst the redwoods has lost out to the greatest pure golf destination in America. From eight guys, we grew to 12, and then 20. This year there will be 24, which will be the max. And the only way we can consider that group size is due to the ease of the logistics at a stay-and-play destination like Bandon Dunes.

Yes, the resort itself is not easy to get to, but unlike any trip to Scotland or Ireland, once you’re at Bandon, you’ll never need a rental car. You’re walking or shuttling to four championship courses, two short courses, a massive driving range, a two-acre putting course, multiple dining options, massage rooms and fire pits. Not to mention a solid wine menu and service with a smile.

I take personal trips to several other destinations in any given year, but the UTI, as we like to refer to it, is a major. And for this group, Bandon is the perfect fit.

Why do you go to Bandon Dunes?

@fisherjemail: “Bandon is a special place because it’s as close to going to Scotland/Ireland as you will get in the U.S. You have four championship courses that every player in your group will pick a different one as their favorite.”

@andrewpienovi: “Because it’s Disneyland for grown men. We go in January every year for the least amount of wind, best weather and best pricing.”

@cliff_robbins: “Best golf destination in the U.S. Don’t ever have to leave the property. We go end of January for best rates and weather has been spectacular three years in a row.”

@meireisj: “One of the best things about Bandon is the people who work there. You see the same people year after year and somehow they remember you every time you come back.”

How many days and how many rounds do we play?

The UTI is a five- or six-day event. Some of us arrive on Tuesday, but the official start to the tournament is on Wednesday evening. Everyone reports to the first tee of Bandon Preserve, the 13-hole par-3 course, at 5 o’clock pm. The tournament ends on Saturday night, but everyone is asked to stay until Sunday afternoon. We watch the conclusion of The Open on Sunday morning while having breakfast and bloody marys at the Tufted Puffin, the bar and grill in the main Bandon clubhouse.

Punchbowl_3If you arrive on Tuesday afternoon, which I do, the first round is late-afternoon on Bandon Dunes. We time the round so that we catch the sunset on the 16th tee. We’ll also play Wednesday morning before the first official round at Preserve later that day. We play another two rounds on Thursday. One round in the morning on Friday, and then a competitive event at the Punchbowl putting green on Friday evening. We finish with two more rounds on Saturday, which makes seven rounds on the big courses, one round on Preserve and at least one session at Punchbowl.

How many rounds do you play?

@a1excohen: “Just celebrated dad’s retirement last month…8 guys, 6 rounds in 5 days. Couldn’t ask for a better experience.”

@pechorin3: “I went to med school – very small budget. Drove from Klamath and played four rounds in one day because they get exceptionally cheaper the more you play. Last round was free but I could barely walk.”

A closer look at our itinerary

Tuesday PM: Bandon Dunes (practice round)

Wednesday AM: Pacific Dunes (practice round)

Wednesday PM: Bandon Preserve (4-man scramble teams, we play as three eightsomes).

Wednesday night: Opening ceremony, introductions and dinner in a private room.

Wednesday late night: Dice tournament in the Bunker Bar.

Thursday AM: Bandon Dunes

Thursday PM: Old Mac (optional and not included in any sidebets).

Thursday night: Upstairs at McKee’s Pub

Thursday late night: Dice tournament in the Bunker Bar.

Friday AM: Pacific Dunes

Friday PM: Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic

Friday dinner: Tufted Puffin

Friday late night: Dice tournament at the Bunker Bar.

Saturday AM: Bandon Dunes

Saturday PM: Bandon Trails

Saturday night: Trails for food and trophy ceremony.

Saturday late night: Fire pit.

Sunday AM: Tufted Puffin for bloodies and final round of The Open.

Sunday late morning: A reflective walk to the labyrinth.

Ante

Every man owes Uncle Bill (the treasurer) $350 (“cash only!”) when they get to the first tee at Bandon Preserve, which covers all the day bets and the big bet:

  • $20 for scramble game at Preserve.
  • $50 for first competitive round at Bandon Dunes.
  • $50 for second competitive round at Pacific Dunes.
  • $20 for Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic.
  • $50 for third competitive round at Bandon Dunes.
  • $50 for fourth competitive round at Bandon Trails.
  • $100 for overall bet of four competitive rounds.
  • $10 for trophy costs.
Format

A few years ago, as the UTI became bigger, more organized and a lot more competitive, I started treating this buddies trip as a member-guest. I’ve designated 11 of the core group as members, but I refer to them as “franchise owners.” Each owner gets one invite and that’s his partner for the week. After I invite my partner, and they invite their partners, we are 24 strong.

The UTI is four rounds of best ball of the twosome, full handicaps. As you can see above, the opening scramble at Preserve is competitive, but it’s not part of the official tournament. It serves as a warm up and a group ice-breaker. The Thursday afternoon round is set, but optional. (I usually sub out the round at Old Mac for an extra round at Trails, especially on a windy summer afternoon, when you benefit from being amongst the trees.) On Friday afternoon, we leave a long break between rounds for naps or massages (or both). And then we reconvene at Pacific Dunes for the Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic. Uncle Bill Salmina is Uncle Tony’s brother-in-law. (They married twins.) And on Friday at 5:00, we all meet as Uncle Bill hosts another side competition at the putting course. Based on handicaps, we divide the group into 12 A-players and 12 B-players. The A players pick their putting partners out of a hat. We putt 18 holes, best ball of the twosome, which often results in a wild and ridiculous playoff. And on Saturday, there are two more competitive rounds. The final round is at Bandon Trails where the 18th green provides an insular setting for a raucous finish. From there, and assuming we have a winner, we roll right into the restaurant at Trails for a championship dinner and more debauchery.

What formats do you play?

@roderix_ig: “Tournament services at Bandon make any format or event very special with scorecards, timing and daily match updates.”

@moosestache35: “We’re going Ryder Cup format this year (6 on 6) where the team draw will be Sunday of this year’s actual Ryder Cup.”

@mulcahben: “Started with four, now bringing 48. Ryder Cup based on daily adjusted quota. Tournament services is fantastic and the only way you can pull off a group this size.”

Payouts

Preserve’s 4-man scramble (pay two teams)

$400 to winning 4-man team

$80 to second place team

All four competitive rounds (pay four teams per round)

$500 to winning 2-man team of the day

$350 to second best score of the day

$250 to third best score of the day

$100 to fourth best score of the day

Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic (pay two teams)

$400 for winning 2-man team

$80 to second place team

Overall payouts

$1,000 to winning 2-man team

$500 to second place

$400 to third place

$300 to fourth place

$200 for fifth place

The Group

My franchise owners run the gamut. From the uncles to best friends to business associates, it’s the perfect cross section of lasting intersections of life.

Lodging

We try to get at least one group in a Grove Cottage, which we use as a central staging area for some of the social activities. (Cards, dice or watching golf.)

We also utilize the Chrome Lake rooms and lofts. (The Lily Pond rooms are the more affordable option.)

The Bunker Bar and the fire pits outside of the Grove is where we do a bulk of our evening activities.

Caddies

Most UTIers take caddies for the competitive rounds and either push or carry for the short course and optional rounds.

There are so many good caddies at Bandon, but I always ask for Bro Puckett. He’s the perfect mix of expertise and quiet energy. I usually give him between $125 and $150 per round.

Your favorite caddies

@mikebrady22: “John the Baptist is our favorite caddy!”

@jfishmna61: “Baptist McAllister, Jake Muldowney, Neil Leeser and Jason Castles are all solid guys.”

@cliff_robbins: “Joey Russell has been our looper for years and he is the best!”

@jamiewalkerartist: “I highly recommend the Clayton brothers for caddies. Danny has been there since 2006, full tie, and his brother, Andy, started in 2011.”

@jpgreen3uga: “Best caddie is Michael Green!”

@oaktownsilverbullet: “I pity the fool who decides not to take a caddie. It’s an important part of the experience. The resort can help you find a caddie based on your golf style.”

Budget

Full disclosure, I get media rates for golf and lodging, which is essentially Bandon’s winter rates. I pay for food, drinks and caddies. I’ve never paid more than $2,000 for the week, which doesn’t include airfare. Most non-golf media on the trip budget $550 per day for golf, food, lodging and drinks. Utilizing the Punchbowl and Preserve helps keep costs down. So does a push cart over caddies and lodging in the Lily Pond.

Your budget

@esqcbo: “July for the wind (nae wind, nae golf); 4 golfers. Minimum $1,000 per day per golfer. 36 a day for 6.5 days (walked 85 miles last trip).”

@kielbasasausage: “Around $2,000 with all expenses accounted for. Play all five courses.”

@btews22: “I enjoy the challenge of links golf. It’s surprisingly affordable in the winter months. I would love to play in the summer but pricing (understandably so) keeps me away for now.

Trophies

File Jul 10, 9 07 23 AMUncle Tony has always been called “Tone Dog,” or, “The Dog.” And thus, the logo on the trophy, which gets updated and remains at Bandon Dunes throughout the year. (Each individual winner also takes home their own slab of glass which is engraved with the year and logo.)

Uncle Bill will soon unveil the trophy for this year’s Punchbowl Classic. It has been his side project and I expect great things.

In addition to decent money, winners also get bottles from Trecini and Kosta Browne wineries.

Tee prizes

Franchise owners and guests are encouraged to bring small gifts for the group, but it’s not mandatory. From headcovers, mugs and Linksoul gift cards, group gifts have also run the gamut.

Past Champions

2014: Damon Hack/Shane Bacon

2015: Josh Lesnik/Tom Pashley

(We didn’t make it official and start calling it the Uncle Tony Invitational until 2014.)

Handicaps and sandbagging

Pics_4We play full handicaps and the committee of me and the uncles frown upon sandbaggers. That being said, in the spirit of this group, and given the emphasis on camaraderie over competition, it’s not something we’ve had to worry about. And if there are any clear sandbaggers in the future, they won’t be asked back. A good buddies trip isn’t afraid to cut someone for any form of grave misconduct.

Special Traditions
  • At the opening dinner/ceremony, I remind the group of why we’re all together: To honor the uncles, play great golf courses and to enjoy each other’s company. Then I introduce each franchise owner, who then introduces their partner. Although it’s “my” buddies trip, I will be meeting four new friends this year. I find the member-guest format keeps the trip fresh, especially if the new friend has never seen Bandon Dunes. It’s like meeting someone who hasn’t seen Braveheart—Can I watch you watch it?
  • The opening dinner is followed by a video of clips and pictures from the previous year(s) of the UTI.
  • For the first competitive round at Bandon Dunes the group gathers around the first tee for rules clarifications, scorecards and ceremonial tee shots by Uncle Tony and Uncle Bill. Three years ago, Uncle Tony shocked the crowd—and especially Bandon’s first-tee webcam—by dropping his drawers before taking his inaugural hack.
  • We’re all north of our 40s now, so leaving the time gap on Friday between the competitive round and the putting tournament at the Punchowl has been wildly popular.
  • The uncles are aging. Tony and Bill can only play the Preserve, the Punchbowl and one competitive round each. This year they’ve called in Uncle Lew to play the other two competitive rounds. The uncles always partner with either Jeff Simonds, Bandon’s Head Pro, or Mike Chupka, Bandon’s Director of Communications.
  • Every meal check is divided by total number of people at the table. No exceptions. Most charges go to each person’s room, which keeps things simple.
  • “If you don’t like it, start your own trip.” Complaints about anything are heard, but mostly ignored. The best buddies trips have a benevolent dictator and this trip has three.
  • Sunday morning watching the final round The Open is still developing. Last year’s weather delays at St. Andrews didn’t help the cause.
  • Lab_2That being said, the Sunday late-morning reflective walk to the Labyrinth is well-received by those who are still around. Down the trail, over the bridge, up the hill and into the spiritual little clearing in the tall trees. It’s the spot to appreciate great friends, lasting memories, and it’s where we officially start planning for next year.
Your best-kept secrets about Bandon Dunes

@meireisj: “The labyrinth is a great place to take a walk, even at night if the moon is out (take a flashlight).”

@psuphi90: “Talk to one of the older caddies and find the treasure chest to experience a unique treat.”

@albysure74: “Best secret: Night golf! But you have to special request it.”

@joemirocha: “Play Sheep Ranch. Course is yours for the day and you make your own shots/rules.”

@kosmic_ray: “Next to Trails 18th there is a private patio that you can reserve for a nice dinner as the sun is setting.”