Overlooking 12-hole Player Course
Overlooking 12-hole Player Course
Gary Player
Gary Player

Let’s make it official. Gary Player is The Most Traveled Man in Golf. Having played global golf for over 60 years, he has earned that title.

And having recently shared a plane with The Black Knight from Florida to Missouri, it’s clear he’s not stopping anytime soon. Since February and through mid-May, Player will have been to eight countries and seven states in America. “I love travel and I love people,” says Player.

I can relate. And I can listen. Which is a good thing when you sit across from a legend with a lot on his mind.

I asked if he felt the respect and appreciation from the current crop of young tour players:

“I don’t hang out with them enough to know the answer to that question,” says Player. “I’m an admirer of their manners, the dress code and the way they handle the public and the press. They owe it to them and their sponsors. When that guy DeChambeau came up to me on the practice tee at Augusta and said, ‘Thank you very much for tweeting on my victories and wishing me good luck.’ He’s a very well-mannered young man. I find them all very well-mannered. It’s a different generation. It’s a different time.”

And when I asked about the Big 3 of his time compared to the concept of a current Big 3:

“Billy Casper used to say, ‘The Big 3 and me.’ Billy Casper won two majors, man. That’s his point of view, and I accept it. And I loved Billy, but you’ll never see a Big 3 like Arnold, Jack and myself again. Not talking about playing. It would be very forward of me to say that. We won between us, at least fifty majors. I’d like to work that out exactly, because this comes up all the time. Regular and Senior majors.”

(Nicklaus, Palmer and Player won a combined 53 regular and senior major championships.)

“We won over 350 tournaments together as well. So, can any three do that? Yes, they can. But they’ll never have the life that we had. Today, they have a private jet, they finish, swoosh, they’re gone. They have business. They have outings. They have all these commitments. And they can get back to their families. We couldn’t do those things.”

Limestone overlooking the 9th green
Limestone overlooking the 9th green

Having combined the experience of the past with modern resources, Player is doing it all now. From consulting and charming business partners and clients on a regular basis, to building golf courses at the Greenbrier for Jim Justice and a 12-hole course at Big Cedar Lodge for Johnny Morris.

“I’m very excited about it,” says Player. “I told Johnny that a short course like this can grow the game and especially help introduce the concept of speed of play.”

Maybe even more spectacular than Top of The Rock, which is the nine-hole course built by Jack Nicklaus and used in the Bass Pro Shop’s Legends of Golf, Player’s short course will feature more infinity greens overlooking the tree-choked topography of the Ozarks.

“It’s such a pleasure to work with someone like Johnny,” says Player. “We’ve done courses for millionaires and they never come out. Johnny doesn’t just come out, he comes out for all the right reasons. He cares.”

Throughout the flight, Player also offered opinions on Tiger Woods:

“Let’s hope he comes back and wins. Wins majors. But man he’s got an uphill battle.”

Ben Hogan:

“The first time I played golf with Ben Hogan was a U.S. Open. We played 36 holes. He said six words to me: ‘Good mornin’, fella.’ And, ‘Well played son.’ But I loved playing with him.”

Bobby Jones:

“I once worked up the nerve to ask Mr. Jones a question about Augusta National. I was young. I had only played the Masters a few times, and I said, ‘Mr. Jones, I can’t figure out how to make a birdie on the third hole. Do you have any advice for me?’ He didn’t look up, only leaned in, and said, ‘Son, you’re not supposed to make birdie on the third hole. It’s designed for you to try to make par.”

Mark McCormack:

“Mark signed me. Then Jack. And then the Pope. The Pope! And then Pele. And then Twiggy. This guy was a genius. People think he only worked with golfers. He was signing movie stars.”

Jordan Spieth:

“Jordan Spieth, in my eyes, has a small problem in his backswing. And if he gets that rectified, let me tell you something, this guy is going to do things as well as anybody as I’ve ever seen.”

The 2016 Masters:

“McIlroy plays this year at Augusta, and he plays magnificent golf but he finishes 10th, or whatever it is. Spieth played terrible. When I say terrible, he came with a B-game, which he admitted. When are we going to learn that it’s not about striking the ball? It’s not long distance. It’s the short game! I mean, even the way he played, Jordan had a chance of winning the Masters. Remember how he finished 17 and 18 on Saturday? And then on Sunday, he drove it in the bamboo at No. 4. How the hell it came out, I don’t know. He drove it left on No. 5. Comes to No. 10 and drives it right. Drives it into the tress at 11. And you saw what happened at 12. The one thing you can’t do—the 52 times I’ve played there—I don’t ever remember knocking it into the water. I might have, but I don’t remember doing it. You play to the middle of the green. You’ve got a lead! Come on, man. At 13, his ball goes through the branches. He missed the putt on 16. And now, he comes to 17, he drives into the middle of the fairway and hits it into the bunker. So, did he really deserve to win the Masters? No. But I didn’t hear any accolades for Willett, who drove it like a bullet, he hit these beautiful iron shots and putted well, and played with big heart. We aren’t hearing much about that.”

What we have recently heard about is #SB2K16, a Bahamian adventure involving Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Smiley Kaufman and Justin Thomas.

No shock, that upon getting caught up on the wild adventures, brought to us by various forms of social media and seemingly sponsored by Casamigos Tequila, an 80-year-old Gary Player wanted a piece of next year’s action:

And on that note, a fitting thought on what will forever be The Big Three:

Matt Ginella & Gary Player
Matt Ginella & Gary Player

“Jack, Arnie and I were brothers. We wanted to beat each other. I can promise you, we were three of the fiercest and competitive players who ever lived, but when we lost, we’d look the winner in the eyes and we’d say, ‘Well done, I’ll get you next week.’”

Every golfer has one thing in common: The love of a birdie putt.

It can be a tap in or a hundred feet of undulation and slippery slopes, but if it’s a birdie putt, it means you did something right to give yourself a chance at breaking par on that particular hole. Which is why I’m such a fan and advocate of short courses.

Before we get to the essence and value of a short course, a better understanding of what they are: A short course is never more than 6,000 yards, they usually have more than four par 3s, they rarely have 18 holes and they are almost always relatively affordable. You get around in closer to two hours than four hours, and even the most beginner of beginners, at some point in the round, usually has at least one putt for a birdie. There are exceptions to any one of those parameters, but I’ll now assume you’re clear as to what is the subject of this post.

I can’t help but think that if golf had a mulligan, more than 10 to 12 percent of the 5,000 or so courses built since 1990, would have been short courses. If only some of those housing developments—built around unforgiving courses thoughtlessly routed through a generic piece of land—were instead, built around short courses that had a broader park-like appeal to a community and not just a championship golf course serving an older male-centric and wealthy clientele.

Goat Hill Park
Goat Hill Park

“Short courses are important for so many reasons,” says John Ashworth, who rallied the community of Oceanside, Calif., to save Goat Hill Park, which is 18 holes, a par 65, that tips out at 4,454 yards and it’s $32 on weekends. “A short course is playable for everyone and it takes less time to get around. It costs less to build, less to maintain, less to operate, and therefore, it costs less to play.”

To Ashworth’s point, if golf is to get out from under the labels of being too hard, takes too long and it’s too expensive, then of course short courses should be celebrated, cultivated and cared for.

“Short courses are a fabulous introduction to golf,” says Bill Coore, who, along with his partner, Ben Crenshaw, has one of the most popular design portfolios of the modern era of golf architecture. “Ben and I both played golf as kids on nine-hole short courses. By eliminating physical demands of length, they appeal to all levels and ages. They’re generational and cyclical. The same place you learned how to play can be the same place you teach your kids to play, or your grandkids to play.”

Josh Lesnik, President of Kemper Sports, which manages over 100 golf courses all across the country, grew up playing Vernon Hills, a nine-hole, par 34, 2,836-yard course in a suburb of Chicago. “I think we’ll see more short courses,” says Lesnik. “It’s not going to be a crazy trend, but they’re more relevant than ever. It’s time to get more creative with the game.”

Top Golf
Top Golf

An innovative idea, such as Top Golf, which has revolutionized a trip to the driving range for all ages, shapes, sizes and skill levels, has had immeasurable success at getting a club in people’s hands. And those people, based on witnessing four-hour waits for a stall, are all having fun.

But what’s next? If those Top Golfers then accept an invite, or are inspired to go play a championship routing, and get embarrassed or discouraged, then they’re inclined to go back to Top Golf, and abandon the idea of real golf. If those same people went out to a short course, and stood over a birdie putt or two, or ten, then they might actually try real golf again. And again.

Winter Park Country Club
Winter Park Country Club

“It’s very important to us that it’s playable, accessible and affordable to everyone in the community,” says Matthew Hegarty, a colleague at the Golf Channel, who, along with the city of Winter Park, Fla., is working to restore Winter Park Country Club, a nine-hole short course that—for over 100 years—has weaved its way through town and into the hearts of the locals. “We think of it as a city park. That’s our mission statement,” says Hegarty. “Hopefully it continues to be a place where young and old and everything in between can pick up a club and play the game in not such an intimidating environment.”

To the thought leaders of the game, The Mission seems clear. And, once again, I’ll use a skiing analogy to help explain: Golf needs to continue to bridge the gap between a bunny slope (a traditional driving range) and a double diamond (an 18-hole “championship” course).  Whether that’s Top Golf, and/or some combination of short courses, it doesn’t matter. What matters is a greater appreciation and recognition that golf is hard. So what can we do to make sure anyone and everyone can get down the slopes and want to go right back to the top again?

Bandon Preserve
Bandon Preserve

A guy like Mike Keiser, who built Bandon Dunes in Oregon, understands life at the top of the mountain. In 15 years, he pieced together one of the most popular and purest golf destinations in the world. He has four championship courses at Bandon Dunes, and three short courses. “As we’ve seen with Bandon Preserve, short courses are becoming increasingly popular with a premium on fun golf in a shorter time frame,” says Keiser. “Given the economics of land availability and price, water usage and environmental concerns, I believe short or alternative courses will only become more and more popular for future golf developments. We are even thinking about building a fourth short course at Bandon Dunes as we speak.”

Mind you, Keiser’s clientele is mostly male who are avid about the game and they walk the course. (There are no carts at Bandon Dunes.) And yet, Keiser is on the verge of a 1 to 1 ratio of championship golf to short courses.

Meanwhile, at a place like Reynold’s Plantation in Georgia, where they have a clientele of predominantly couples or families, their golf portfolio consists of six championship courses. And there was talk of a seventh championship course, which would be built by Pete Dye.

Tom Pashley, President of Pinehurst, which has ten courses (counting Thistle Dhu, the putting course), admits a true short course is a hole in the glove of what’s considered The Cradle of American Golf.  “We don’t have that offering. A true short course,” says Pashley. “Courses 1 and 3 are shorter courses. And we sometimes play all of the holes on those courses as par 3s. And that’s always popular. Maybe that’s something we do more of in the future.”

And maybe. Just, maybe—this future that Pashley speaks of—is filled with more birdie putts. No one has ever complained about having too many birdie putts.


My Top 10 Public Short Courses in America

No. 10: Poxabogue, Sagaponack, NY. ($46)
A reprieve from Hampton’s pretentiousness, I usually play “The Pox” in bare feet.

No. 9: Winter Park Country Club, Winter Park, FL. ($12)
On the heels of their 100th anniversary, Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns, who recently worked with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw at Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia, are renovating WPCC. (Cliffs debuted at No. 19 on Golf Digest’s ranking of the 100 Greatest Golf Courses in the World.)

No. 8: Peter Hay, Pebble Beach, CA. ($30)
It’s directly across the street from Pebble Beach, the No. 1 public course in America, and kids 12 and under play Peter Hay for free.

No. 7: Northwood, Monte Rio, CA. ($28)
It’s an Alister Mackenzie original. Mackenzie built Augusta National and Cypress Point. Nuff said.

No. 6: Spring Creek, Hershey, PA. ($14)
Milton Hershey built what was originally called the Juvenile Course in 1932. It was a course specifically and to scale for kids. The only way an adult could play it was as a guest of a kid. Now it’s a parade of generations and the portrait of all that’s great about short courses.

Palm Beach Par 3
Palm Beach Par 3

No. 5: Palm Beach Par 3, Palm Beach, FL. ($49)
With memorable holes and a variety of shots, mostly along the coastline, it’s no wonder Golf Digest frequently ranks the Ray Floyd design as the best Par 3 course in the country.





No. 4: Threetops, Gaylord, MI. ($38)
Made famous by the million-dollar ace by Lee Trevino on ESPN’s “Shootout” in 2001, Threetops is the perfect complement to the four other championship courses on property.




Top of the Rock
Top of the Rock

No. 3: Top of the Rock, Branson, MO. ($135)
As host of Bass Pro Shop’s Legends of Golf, built by Jack Nicklaus and with infinity vistas of the Ozark Mountains and Table Rock Lake, it’s no wonder Top of the Rock is the most expensive green fee in public short courses.




Goat Hill Park
Goat Hill Park

No. 2: Goat Hill Park, Oceanside, CA. ($25)
Goat Hill Park has been saved. Thanks to John Ashworth and the passionate and committed community of Oceanside, “The Goat” is benefitting from a $2.5 million renovation in which they removed turf and became more cost efficient and sustainable. Having reopened in February to rave reviews, Ashworth’s vision for The Goat is a lot more than just golf. As a park, Ashworth is planning on concerts, community functions, caddie programs and alternative forms of a very traditional game.


Bandon Preserve
Bandon Preserve

No. 1: Bandon Preserve, Bandon, OR. ($100)
“I don’t care how many holes you build,” said Mike Keiser, when commissioning Bill Coore to build Bandon Preserve, the 13-hole par 3 course at Bandon Dunes. “Use the land to build as many fun and interesting holes that you can find. Make them interesting enough that we could pick any one of them up and they would be worthy of being dropped into any one of the other courses on property.”


We’re hearing it a lot lately: “Grow the game.” Meanwhile, we rarely reflect on how the game has grown. And specifically, our options for great golf.


For example, “The Cradle of American Golf” added Pinehurst No. 8 in 1996, acquired No. 9 in 2014 and have plans for No. 10. And it should be noted, No. 2 has undergone a historic restoration and has hosted four major championships since 1999.

As for one of Pinehurst’s direct competitors, Kiawah built the Ocean Course (one of five courses on property) in 1991 and has hosted a Ryder Cup (1991) and a PGA Championship (2012).

And there is so much more.

Whistling Straits

The first of 11 multi-course hubs of golf—The Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama—started in 1992. American Club in Kohler, Wisc., added Whistling Straits and the Irish courses in 1998 and in a 22-year clip, what has become “Destination Kohler,” will host at least six major championships and one Ryder Cup. Arcadia Bluffs in Northern Michigan was built in 1999, while competitor Forest Dunes will open The Loop in 2017, which is a Tom Doak course that can be played in two directions.

There have also been significant golf developments in places such as Central Oregon, Nebraska, Scottsdale, Austin and San Antonio. While new courses such as Erin Hills (2006) and Chambers Bay (2007) have landed majors, and with that, major attention.

Chambers Bay

Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand added a premier two-course punch in Caledonia (1994) and True Blue (1998). Iconic destinations such as Greenbrier, Sea Island and Doral are under new and incredibly wealthy ownership, which have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into renovations and restorations, with all three now hosting PGA Tour events.

Since 1999, Mike Keiser has built, or is building, 11 courses, with at least another six in the planning or permitting process. He built five at Bandon Dunes in 15 years. And in a remote slice of Oregon’s southwestern coastline, which is already considered one of the best pure golf destinations in the world, Keiser is still trying to figure out how to add a sixth (big) course by Gil Hanse and a seventh (short) course. Best guess on designer would be Tom Doak.

Bandon Dunes

Which leads us to the two competing properties vying for the coveted label of “Bandon East.” Streamsong and Cabot Links both opened in 2012 to rave reviews. Both now have two courses. Cabot has the coastline, but Streamsong has purified sand and a lot more land (16,000 acres to be exact). Cabot started with limited lodging and has added some four-room cottages. Streamsong offers a 216-room hotel and are adding a third course by Gil Hanse, making them the only destination in America with courses by Coore & Crenshaw, Doak and Hanse—The Big 3 of modern minimalist architectural firms. Cabot offers more culture and off-course options than Streamsong, which includes the first whiskey distillery in North America, and the Cabot Trail, which is considered the “World’s Most Beautiful Drive.” Streamsong has the benefit of being in the middle of nowhere. Within a 90-minute drive of both Tampa and Orlando, the vistas and surroundings sights of sweeping dunes are anything but Floridian. Cabot has Keiser and his partner, Ben Cowan-Dewar. Streamsong has Rich Mack and the financial muscle of Mosaic, an incredibly successful and powerful fertilizer company.

Streamsong Black

In Golf Digest’s most recent reveal of the Top 100 Courses in the World, Cabot Links was ranked No. 93 and Cabot Cliffs was No. 19. Although neither course at Streamsong made that ranking, I recently revealed my top 50 public courses in the U.S., and Streamsong Red is No. 11, while Blue is No. 28. Having walked what will be Streamsong’s Black course with Hanse, early indications are that it too will be must-see.

Cabot Links

Links land is limited in and around Inverness, but I don’t think Keiser and Cowan-Dewar will stop at two courses at Cabot. In addition to Black, Streamsong is also likely to add at least another big course, a short course and more lodging or cottages conducive to their clientele, which is often the eight to 24-man buddies trip.

So, what’s the score between the two budding eastern destinations? Cabot is 1-up at the turn, but Streamsong has a short putt on 10 (the Black Course), which would even the match.


Meanwhile, the avid amateur/golf enthusiast continues to sit back and benefit from all that is developing talent, both on the course (Spieth, McIlroy, Day, Fowler and DeChambeau), and in the development of great courses (Cabot Links, Cliffs, Streamsong Red, Blue and Black).

Grow the game, you say? I say, don’t forget to celebrate the growth of the game. Especially the growth of our options for great golf.


In terms of the quality of golf, resorts, countries and cultures, 2015 is at the top of the ten years I’ve been a “travel insider.”

With two trips to South Korea, three to Ireland, Canada, Hawaii, multiple trips to the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, 2015 was also my most traveled year. I logged over 200,000 miles of an ongoing magic carpet ride as I chase the sun at some of the best golf getaways in the world.

Pebble ($495), Pasatiempo, Portrush, Bandon, Cabot, Cypress, Sea Island, Straits, Ardglass, The Goat, Royal County Down, Waterville and Winter Park Country Club ($8 for residents), just to name of few.

And don’t think I don’t appreciate my incredibly fortunate position of being asked to review golf for a living. I say it a lot, because it’s true, but I never take it for granted. And, as it relates to helping you make the best decision for you and your group, as to where to stay and play, I take it seriously.

For the purpose of reflecting on five of my 2015 highlights, I’m excluding the two personal buddies trips—the Uncle Tony Invitational at Bandon Dunes in Oregon and the Father/Son at Waterville in Ireland. But I am considering the trip I took to Northern Ireland, where I was invited to play in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Pro-Am at Royal County Down.

“Let me think about that for a second,” I said. And I waited one second. “I am IN!”


My best friend and caddie for the week, Todd Curran.
My best friend and caddie for the week, Todd Curran, as we walked down Royal County Down’s ninth fairway. The Mountains of Mourne as a dramatic backdrop to one of the best courses in the world.

My best friend, Todd Curran, would caddie for me. And we’d plan more golf on the front and back end of the tournament. We stayed at the Culloden Estate and Spa, Slieve Donard Resort and Spa, and Ardtara, some of Ireland’s elite lodging options.

We played Holywood, home of Rory McIlroy, who treated us to a tee time and trolleys. Royal Portrush, host of the 2019 Open Championship. Portstewart, which has one of the most underrated front nines in the UK. We played Ardglass, a hidden gem and a must play on any Northern Ireland golf itinerary.


Pictures, tributes and replicas of Rory McIlroy’s major trophies are at Holywood, a small course and country club where McIlroy grew up playing golf.
Pictures, tributes and replicas of Rory McIlroy’s major trophies are at Holywood, a small course and country club where McIlroy grew up playing golf.

Off the course, we caught the tail end of a Van Morrison concert. (That part where he walks off the stage because he’s distracted and disrespected by crowd activity.)

As for the pro-am, in which I was paired with Rickie Fowler, who had just won The Players Championship, it was my most memorable round of my year. (I didn’t say “best,” I said “most memorable.”)

There was quite a crowd gathered around the first tee. Over 3,000 crazed Irish golf fans, and only about half of them were there to see Fowler. Most of them were fans of my other two playing partners, who are apparently very famous.

A.P. McCoy, I’ve since learned, is the Secretariat of jockeys in the UK. At 4,357 career wins, he has almost twice the number of wins than the guy who is second best. McCoy might’ve been more popular than Fowler.

Patrick Kielty, A.P. McCoy and Rickie Fowler
Patrick Kielty, A.P. McCoy and Rickie Fowler helped entertain an adoring crowd. Nothing could keep them safe of my errant shots.

The other amateur in the group was Patrick Kielty, a successful comedian who was born and raised in County Down. A hometown hero, of sorts.

And then there was me, who was incredibly overwhelmed and humbled by the situation. I shook. I had the sweats. Shortness of breath. And I sucked. At least until the eighth or ninth hole, when I finally started to feel my feet. I was so afraid of killing someone. There were so many people. And they were so close. And they were all in danger. Regardless, my buddy and I had a blast. All week. But don’t expect us to remember all of the details.

What I do remember is Fowler and his caddie, Joe Skovron, were gracious and engaging. The crowd was warm and supportive. The same could be said of Ireland in general. It might not be the “Home of Golf,” but a golf trip to Northern Ireland rivals any trip to St. Andrews.


Sitting down with Ben Crenshaw the week before his 44th and final Masters.
Sitting down with Ben Crenshaw the week before his 44th and final Masters.

One of the most cherished benefits of doing what I do has been getting to spend time with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who are not only successful partners in architecture, but they are two of the game’s finest gentlemen. And going into Crenshaw’s last Masters, I found out two things: That I’d be interviewing Crenshaw the week before Augusta National, and that I had an invite to his party after his final competitive round.

At Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, Crenshaw shared his emotions and state of mind as he approached his 44th Masters week. “Quite simply, I can’t play the course,” said Crenshaw. “It’s the right time. It’s part of life. I will be an encourager of the younger players from now on.”

I’ve covered eleven Masters, but this was my first time going to Augusta as a fan. My friends and I were in the massive gallery encouraging Crenshaw on Friday afternoon.

Attending a Masters with friends and as a fan.
Attending a Masters with friends and as a fan.

Having met up with him on the 11th tee, Crenshaw saw me standing outside the ropes. He nodded, and then walked over to where I was standing. He shook hands with my friends, and then, when it was his turn to tee off, he offered me his driver. “Here,” he gestured. “You hit this. I can’t reach the fairway anymore.” The crowd laughed with him. And then Crenshaw obviously hit the shot. A high draw, slinging its way down the hill and coming to rest on the left side of the fairway. Short, but serviceable. Such a proud man and champion, and yet so decent and humble. I remember watching Crenshaw navigate the drastic decent down the 11th tee and into Amen Corner for one last time. The legend and legacy he leaves behind at Augusta National will last forever.

“I’ll be seeing a lot more of Bill Coore, my partner in architecture,” Crenshaw said to small gathering of friends and family.
“I’ll be seeing a lot more of Bill Coore, my partner in architecture,” Crenshaw said to small gathering of friends and family.

Later that night, Crenshaw gathered a small crowd into the living room of a rented house in Augusta. He stood in the middle, rotating and making eye contact with people as he talked and turned. “You can’t make it in this life without friends,” said Crenshaw. “Bobby Jones once said that friends are among life’s most cherished possessions. And he was right. We are rich with friends. I want to thank you all for your support. As for today, I don’t know how to describe it, other than I’m happy it’s over. And I’ll be seeing a lot more of this guy, my partner in architecture, Bill Coore.”


“I will love you forever,” Crenshaw said to his longtime caddie and loyal friend.
“I will love you forever,” Crenshaw said to his longtime caddie and loyal friend.

And then he called Carl Jackson to the center of the room. Jackson is Crenshaw’s longtime caddie and soulmate, and as the loyal looper took his place next to Crenshaw, the two men locking arms, Jackson was back to being the tree Crenshaw has leaned on throughout the years. The relationship so much more than just club selection and putting breaks.

“I love you until the day I die,” said Crenshaw, looking up at Jackson. And then he turned back to the crowd. “When we’d try to read a putt, I would say, ‘Carl, it looks like one cup to the right.’ And if he agreed, he’d always say to me, ‘We’re together.’ Well,” said Crenshaw, “Carl, we’re together.”

Needless to say, to have spent that time with the Crenshaws, during that week was incredibly special. And so was playing on opening day of Cabot Cliffs with Crenshaw, in which he shot a smooth 73. Coore and Crenshaw’s addition to Cabot Links will officially open in Inverness, Nova Scotia next summer. I always felt it would be in the conversation of the top 10 courses in North America. Now that it’s done, it might be in consideration for top 10 in the world.


The Jack Nicklaus Golf Club might be manufactured from landfill, but it made for great theater the week of the Presidents Cup.
The Jack Nicklaus Golf Club might be manufactured from landfill, but it made for great theater the week of the Presidents Cup.

Having made two trips to South Korea in 2015, one for a travel story, and one for a story relating to the Olympics in 2016, I was afforded an incredible opportunity to experience the Korean culture and get to know more about why they’ve emerged as such a force in the future of golf. Even though, of the two million golfers in country, only 40 percent actually play golf on one of the 500 courses. The rest go to simulators or driving ranges. (Simulator golf tournaments are televised.) To the kids, golf is not a game—even at an early age—golf is a career opportunity. The kids are trained to be machines. They are expected to be masters of a chosen craft.

Anyway, what they’re doing is working. And it was fascinating to learn more about the who, how and why.

Cheerleaders are big in Korean baseball. And they cheer from on top of the dugouts.
Cheerleaders are big in Korean baseball. And they cheer from on top of the dugouts.

Not to mention, having tea and later emailing with a real monk. I got a picture with the cheerleaders of one of the professional baseball teams. I got rototilled by some of the countries finest amateur table tennis players. Even the smallest and sweetest of my competitors heartlessly blasted ping pong balls off of my forehead. They nod and apologize, of course.

As for the Jack Nicklaus golf course at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club, which hosted the Presidents Cup, it was hard to believe you pay $1 million for a membership. The course is good, considering it’s all built on landfill, but far from great. That being said, it provided ample drama to a well-contested Cup. More proof that you don’t have to have a great course to have a compelling match play venue and event.


Tom Doak playing his reversible routing even when it was just dirt.
Tom Doak playing his reversible routing even when it was just dirt.

Having covered the history, design, development and redesigns of hundreds of courses all over the world, it’s now hard to come across something truly unique. And then I started covering Tom Doak’s design of a reversible course at Forest Dunes in Roscommon, Mich. “I like to say that I didn’t build two courses,” said Doak. “I built 18 greens that can be attacked from multiple directions.”

What Doak says is true, but those 18 greens will be consumed by the avid amateur as one course that is played one day in a clockwise order of 1 to 18. And the next day, golfers will go on a routing that is counterclockwise.

In an attempt to make Forest Dunes into more than one-course shopping, Thompson has added lodging and the reversible routing, which they are calling The Loop.
In an attempt to make Forest Dunes into more than one-course shopping, Thompson has added lodging and the reversible routing, which they are calling The Loop.

And the two routings will certainly be directly compared as though they are two different courses. Which they are. And to have been there through various stages of development, even playing a portion of the course with Doak when it was still just dirt, was priceless access and an education in advanced golf architecture.

Although the green complexes are small for such a layered concept, I do think Doak pulled it off. And I’m excited to see the feedback when the course opens for limited preview play in the summer of 2016. If successful, an efficient and sustainably smart concept like this has serious growth potential, especially as the world of golf continues to consider alternate ways of growing the game.


Herb Kohler, Pete and Alice Dye have built one of the ultimate golf getaways in the world.
Herb Kohler, Pete and Alice Dye have built one of the ultimate golf getaways in the world.

From Coore and Crenshaw at Cabot, to Doak at Forest Dunes, Robert Trent Jones Jr., at Chambers Bay, David McLay Kidd at Sand Valley, Tom Weiskopf at TPC Scottsdale, Tom Fazio at Waterville, Gil Hanse at Streamsong, Jim Wagner at Mossy Oak and Keith Rhebb at Winter Park Country Club, I learned a lot about architecture in 2015. But one of the more memorable moments was interviewing Herb Kohler and Pete Dye about the development of Blackwolf Run, Whistling Straits and how they brought multiple majors to one remote Midwestern destination.

Dye has built all four courses at Destination Kohler. And there are ongoing talks of a fifth course. “We better do it quick,” said Kohler. “While Pete is still alive.” Both men laughed. (Dye celebrated his 90th birthday on Dec. 29, 2015.)

Just one of the wild sunsets during the week of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
Just one of the wild sunsets during the week of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

In doing that interview, as well as touring and sampling all of what the resort has to offer, I was reminded why it is one of the ultimate golf getaways in the world.

The Straits is my favorite of all Pete Dye public designs. Service is exceptional. The food options, culinary culture and other off-course amenities are tirelessly held to five-star standards. I also had the opportunity to sit down with David Kohler, who has recently taken over a bulk of the leadership responsibility on behalf of his father.

The younger Kohler has worked his way up to the top of the company, and it’s obvious he has an appreciation and respect for all that has been created within the family brand. David is sharp, articulate, thoughtful and demanding. Kohler Company is in good hands, which is more good news for the avid amateur.

From subsidized caddie academies and junior green fees, water conservation and redesigns, reversible routings and the ongoing growth of short courses, foot golf and Top Golf, I’m looking forward to shining the light on more of what’s right with golf in 2016.


Pete Dye’s 90th birthday is Dec. 29, 2015. Just back from the Dominican Republic, the family is prepping for a worthy celebration. The World Golf Hall of Famer of 2008 didn’t start building courses until his mid-30s, and yet, he has the most respected and prestigious portfolio of the modern era of architecture (1949—2008). And he did it all from a rental car.

Whistling Straits
Whistling Straits

A few of Dye’s best—Whistling Straits, TPC Sawgrass (Stadium), Kiawah’s Ocean Course, Crooked Stick and Harbour Town—are frequent hosts of Major Championships, Ryder Cups and PGA Tour events. Dye has managed to remain busy and relevant in what is now an era of minimalists, in which the architects who do the least to the ground they’re provided, get hired to do more. The rest are out of work, or they’re being hired to either fix their mistakes, or fix the mistakes of their peers.


Pete and Alice
Pete and Alice

“The key is to do it for a little less than everyone else,” says Dye, who believes “designer” is a curse word. To Dye, that’s an architect who sketches plans on paper, then has someone else do the work for them. Dye is a builder. He wears boots to his “office,” and leaves them on the front step every night, covered in mud. “By being there, it’s better,” says Dye. “And it’s quicker.”

Reflecting on his career at 90, Dye is also quick to offer credit to his wife, Alice, an accomplished golfer—winner of nine Indiana state amateur championships—who has had significant impact on most of Dye’s 90-course portfolio. “She’s not just a good golfer,” says Pete, “she keeps up with all golf and golfers, younger and older. We talk about it a lot.”

TPC Sawgrass
TPC Sawgrass

For a guy who likes to mess with the minds of the professionals, but also claims to cater to his clientele, it has been paramount to Dye’s success that he stays current with the bifurcated trends of the game. It was Dye who foresaw the distance boom of the modern game, and it drastically influenced his style. In order to continue to test the best, which he is often hired to do, by both the PGA Tour and developers chasing tour events and/or majors, Dye stretched the playing surface, and he added more risks while eliminating rewards.

Blackwolf Run
Blackwolf Run

He’s now known for courses with high-degrees of difficulty, island greens, and he likes to finish his routings with a three-hole combination of a par 3, 4 and 5. He’s a master at drainage and is often hired to build courses on land that sits below sea level. “Before I start a course, I get to know the membership or the customer,” says Dye. “You build to suit their needs.”

Harbour Town
Harbour Town

Pete and Alice Dye both say that there’s a distinct difference between the courses they built for resorts, and the courses they built for private memberships. “At a resort,” says Alice, “you’re building a course for someone who will probably only play the course once or twice. It can be more dramatic and less forgiving.” “But a private course,” says Pete, “has a membership that will play the course over and over again. And you build them a course based on the average age and playing level.”

Makes sense. And for Dye, given his 50-year career (and counting), so is renting cars. “I haven’t owned a car in over 40 years,” says Dye. “I’m on the road all the time. We either rent or lease.” Dye suspects he’s National Car Rental’s No. 1 customer. “For whatever reason, I’ve only rented from National. It has always been the most convenient, and they’ve always been available everywhere I went. And they’re usually a little less than everyone else.”  Bobby Weed, a former Dye associate, affirms, “He’d rent National cars for a year at a time. He rented National cars so much he talked about them like a brand of car…as in Chevy or Ford. I’d need to get something out of his car in the parking lot. I’d ask him, ‘What kind of car do you have?’ He’d say, ‘National.'”

Pete and Alice
Pete and Alice

With six projects in the finishing stages, and at least six more on the horizon, including a fifth course at Destination Kohler in Wisconsin, Dye is driving his way into his 90s. Although he does admit, most of his clients now send him a jet to get to and from their developments. “It’s nice.” He laughs, as if he can’t believe his luck. “They come pick me up?!”

When asked if he could imagine building courses until he was 100 years old, Dye laughed again. “It has to end sooner or later. The ones I’m going to start building now will take me at least two or three years. So, that gets me almost there.”


My Top 5 Pete Dye Courses in the U.S. (that you can play)

1 – Whistling Straits – 2004, ’10 and ’15 PGA Championships, ‘07 U.S. Senior Open and ‘20 Ryder Cup.

2 – Kiawah (Ocean) – 1991 Ryder Cup and 2012 and ‘21 PGA Championships.

3 – Harbour Town – RBC Heritage Classic since 1969.

4 – Blackwolf Run (Championship Routing) – 1998 and 2012 U.S. Women’s Open.

5 – TPC Sawgrass (Stadium) – Players Championship since 1982.

My Top 5 Pete Dye Courses in the U.S. (that you can afford)

1 – Peninsula Golf Course, Lancaster, KY.

2 – Rum Pointe Seaside Golf Links, Berlin, MD.

3 – Prestwick Country Club, Myrtle Beach, SC.

4 – Fowler’s Mill Golf Course, Chesterland, OH.

5 – The Fort Golf Course, Indianapolis, IN.

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According to the latest power rankings, fall golf and football knows no rival. But what’s the best NFL city for public golf?

In order to answer the question, we must first be clear on a few particulars.

There are several teams with broad-based geographical references, and for the purpose of this exercise, need definition.

  • New England Patriots = Boston
  • New York Jets and Giants = Manhattan
  • San Francisco = San Francisco, not Santa Clara, which is the address of Levi’s Stadium
  • Carolina Panthers = Charlotte, NC
  • Phoenix = Phoenix and Scottsdale

It should also be noted, that in order to establish this ranking, I considered all public courses within a one-hour drive of the city center, or, in some cases, major airports. A mix of prestige—rich history and/or frequent host of major events—as well as perceived value for locals, were key ingredients to my criteria.

With that being said, I grant 49ers’ fans (guilty!) a small slice of salvation in yet another season of mediocrity.


No. 1: San Francisco

It’s not a stretch to include Pasatiempo, an Alister Mackenzie design, to the roster that is public golf in and around San Francisco. Built by the same guy who gave us Augusta National, Cypress Point, Crystal Downs and Royal Melbourne, Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz is only a few minutes more than an hour from the San Francisco airport. Add TPC Harding Park, both courses at Half Moon Bay Golf Links, Presidio and the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the 17th tee at Lincoln Park, and you have quite an itinerary.


TPC Scottsdale
TPC Scottsdale

No. 2: Arizona

Admittedly, the Phoenix and Scottsdale area was No. 1 on my list until I granted San Francisco an extension of measuring distance to Pasatiempo from the airport. Having grown up an hour north of San Francisco might have also factored into my ultimate analysis. Regardless, with courses such as TPC Scottsdale, both at We-Ko-Pa, both at Talking Stick, both at Troon North, Quintero and the saddle fairways of Westin Kierland, the NFC West is dominating this list for a reason.

Whistling Straits
Whistling Straits

No. 3: Green Bay

Like Pasatiempo to San Francisco, with drive time a little over an hour, I’m giving Green Bay all four courses at Destination Kohler, which incudes Whistling Straits, Irish and both at Blackwolf Run. Add the Bull at Pinehurst farms, Wander Springs, Mid-Vallee (Blue) and Brown County (muni), and it’s hard to think there are two better NFL cities for golf. Especially given the additional roll on anything deemed “frozen tundra.”


Bethpage Black

No. 4: New York

I had Tampa Bay fifth on this list, but in the end, I think the combination of Bethpage Black and Red is better than Streamsong Red and Blue. But it’s close. To the New York itinerary, I’m adding Ferry Point, Harbor Links and Ballyowen, which is in New Jersey. I’d also add Patriot Hills and the gritty charms of Dyker Beach, Van Cortland Park, Clearview and Pelham Bay/Split Rock.


Chambers Bay
Chambers Bay

No. 5: Seattle

It still bothers me, the way the USGA presented Chambers Bay to the masses. I had toured the course two weeks before the U.S. Open and conditions were impeccable. And not only is Chambers Bay a compelling narrative—gravel pit to major championship—it’s an impressive anchor to public golf in and around Seattle. The value golf at Gold Mountain is some of the best in the country. Home course, Washington National and Druids Glen are also formidable forces in what has quietly become a strong consideration for future buddies trips.


By way of Twitter (@mattginellagc) and Instagram (@matt_ginella), I also solicited your feedback.

@josephnikolai: “San Diego with Torrey, Balboa, Maderas, Arrowhead, Coronado, Barona, Goat Hill, Temecula Creek Inn—all public.”

M. Ginella: San Diego would be in my Top 10 on this list.

@along3593: “Green Bay to Whistling Straits is about an hour. Amazing NFL area and a heavenly golf course.

@almostheavengolf: “Charlotte with Tobacco Road and all the Pinehurst courses nearby.”

M. Ginella: Charlotte to Pinehurst is over two hours, but I agree, Carolina is a contender.

@troysenanigans: “Co-sign Seattle. Chambers, Gold Mt, Semiahmoo, Home Course, WA National, Allenmore (classic), Trophy Lake and Avalon.”

@hoepf24: “Phoenix/Scottsdale…a golfer’s paradise and fantastic weather year round.”

@marcbabyar: “San Fran, San Diego, Jacksonville, Green Bay, Arizona…my opinion.”

@parrotheadgolfer74: “Tampa is solid with Orlando area courses just up the road and Streamsong close by too.”

@jtarble: “I’ll throw out Indianapolis. The Colts may suck right now, but we have the Fort, Brickyard, Trophy Club, Prairie View and several other great options.”

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“September.” It’s the most common answer to the question of avid amateurs all over the world: “What’s your favorite month of the year to play golf?” October isn’t bad either. And there have been Novembers to remember. Which leads me to a short list of my favorite destinations for fall getaway.

The criteria isn’t complicated: Walkable courses where the backdrop is trees, showcasing colorful leaves. Throw in thoughtful architecture, good conditioning, snappy service and sensible shoulder-season value, and that’s how I arrived at these five.

Leatherneck Golf Course
Leatherstocking Golf Course

1. Leatherstocking in Cooperstown, NY.

On a fall Friday, back when I lived in New York, my parents came for a visit. My dad’s a golfer and my mom is a traveler. Both appreciate baseball. So we loaded up clubs and a few friends and made the scenic four-hour drive to Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Stay at the Otesaga Resort Hotel, which overlooks Otsego Lake and the Leatherstocking Golf Course. Designed in 1909 by Devereux Emmet, it’s known for its fun finish—a long par 3 over water, and a reachable par 5 that flanks the water from tee to green. Before or after your round, you’ll need a half a day for a good tour of the Hall of Fame ($23 for adults, $12 for children, active or retired military and kids six and under are free). You’ll come back enriched on the history of America’s favorite pastime, a personalized bat or two, a phone full of golf pics and a new appreciation for the fall colors in the Northeast.

Fall special: $485 per night (based on double occupancy and a two-night minimum) gets you breakfast, cart and unlimited golf for both guests.


Top Of The Rock, Table Lake Rock
Top Of The Rock, Table Lake Rock

2. Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, MO.

Johnny Morris started Bass Pro Shops selling bait out of the corner of his father’s liquor store. With his fast fortune, Morris is reinvesting into all that he loves about the Ozarks. High above Table Rock Lake, Morris is piecing together the ultimate golf getaway. With Top of The Rock, the dramatic par-3 course designed by Jack Nicklaus, to Buffalo Ridge, designed by Tom Fazio, both of which are used in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf (usually in April), there’s already a nice mix of challenges for any level of golfer. But Morris is adding a Gary Player family course, and the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are getting started on another championship routing. It’s the setting, amenities, fishing and family atmosphere surrounding the Big Cedar Lodge that separates it from the rest. And it’s only getting better.

Fall special: $550 per person includes three nights, breakfast each day, two rounds of golf, carts and a cave tour.


Barton Creek - No. 10 Foothills Course
Barton Creek – No. 10 Foothills Course

3. Barton Creek in Austin, TX.

It’s never a bad idea to take advantage of the Texas hill country in the fall—especially as the college football season is in full swing and the Sixth Street district in downtown Austin is teaming with collegiate energy and enthusiasm. In Barton Creek, there is plenty of lodging options, four courses and countless menus full of authentic Tex Mex. The two Fazio courses both feature dramatic elevation changes from tee to green. No shock that you’ll need to putt like Ben to score on the Crenshaw course, which has some undulating greens. And if you’re willing to take a short drive or shuttle ride, the (Arnold) Palmer course is about thirty minutes off property. I always look to go to Barton Creek in conjunction with Austin City Limits, a popular music festival that runs for two weekends in October (Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 9-11). Headliners this year: Foo Fighters, Hozier, Alabama Shakes, Modest Mouse and Florence + The Machine, just to name a few.

Fall special: $500 per person, per night, includes lodging, breakfast, unlimited golf and cart.


Madden's on the Lake
Madden’s on Gull Lake

4. Madden’s on Gull Lake in Brainerd, MN.

It was love at first sight. From the simple and cozy cottage on the water, to the Classic, one of the most underrated courses in the country, I can’t say enough about all this resort has to offer any golf getaway, but especially one in the fall. Although I say underrated, the Classic is actually rated No. 63 on Golf Digest’s list of Best Public Courses in America, but I’d put it even higher than that. And it’s not necessarily for what it is, I like it for what it’s not, which is a clash with its surroundings. Superintendent and designer, Scott Hoffman, moved very little dirt to peel back and deftly design a perfectly charming walk through the red oak trees. There are babbling brooks, big lakes and subtle breaks throughout your round at the Classic. From doglegs, cattails and tap-in birdies, there’s no better place to recap fall golf than sitting around a fire pit, which is on the Classic’s back deck, looking out to the ninth and 18th greens. And with 45 other holes, all catering to various skill sets, Madden’s is a must for a lot of Midwesterners.

Fall special: $495 per night includes a two-bedroom cabin on Gull Lake, breakfast and golf on the Classic.


5th Hole, Cabot Links
Cabot Links – 5th Hole

5. Cabot Links in Inverness, Nova Scotia.

Most people know Mike Keiser because he built Bandon Dunes, which can be good value (and weather) in November. But in the fall, I’d suggest Cabot Links, Keiser’s East Coast creation. It’s a four-hour drive from Halifax, and the leaves in this part of the world are so electric, it’s as though you’re making your way through a cartoon. It’s no wonder there’s the annual Celtic Colors International Festival, or “Festival of Colors,” which runs for two weeks in October and includes food, music and artisans from all over the country (Oct. 9-17). As for the golf, Cabot Links, built by Rod Whitman, is already one of Canada’s most popular courses. This summer, Keiser and his partner at Cabot, Ben Cowan-Dewar, opened the Cliffs course, a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design that continues to exceed lofty hype and expectations. With at least ten holes cut along a dramatic mile-and-a-half of Nova Scotian coastline, it’s hard to think it won’t be in the conversation as one of the best courses in North America.

Fall special: $492 per night gets you lodging and 36 holes of golf. (Note: Cabot Cliffs opened for limited preview play this summer. Will officially open in 2016.)

For more of my favorite spots for fall golf, also consider:

  • American Club in Kohler, WI
  • Sunriver in Bend, OR
  • Grand National in Auburn-Opelika, AL
  • Forest Dunes, Arcadia Bluffs and Treetops in Northern MI
  • Greenbrier in White Sulpher Springs, WV