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Florida Destinations

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.

News and Notes from Top U.S. Golf Resorts – Part II

Forest Dunes
Forest Dunes


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.”

Summer Golf Camps for Kids


On a recent trip to Morocco, I was introduced to a grow-the-game initiative that the program’s mentors referred to as “Birdies.” Formally known as Birdies de Mogador, it’s made up of 70 kids, carefully screened as potential leadership in the country’s budding golf industry. For eight hours a week, these kids are being taught to not only play the game, but also manage the game, which includes language lessons and classes on the business of golf.

To #GrowTheGame in the United States has become a popular hashtag. And with the microscope literally and figuratively revealing the dangers of tackle football, combined with successful programs such as First Tee, Youth on Course, Drive, Chip and Putt and other evolving trends, such as TopGolf and short courses, the game’s forecast seems to be improving for decades and future generations.

And as the cloud cover lifts, it brings us to summer golf camps for kids. Where do they fit in? What are your options? And what should you, as a parent or guardian, look for?

Kate Tempesta’s Urban Golf Academy
Kate Tempesta’s Urban Golf Academy

“It starts with understanding your child,” says Kate Tempesta, founder and co-owner of Kate Tempesta’s Urban Golf Academy in New York. “I hear people say, ‘Make it fun.’ But what’s ‘fun’ is different for each age. What might be fun for an 8-year-old might not be fun for a 5-year-old.”

Tempesta started a junior camp at Montauk Downs on the eastern tip of Long Island five years ago, which ran for one week. Last year it was up to nine weeks. And this summer it will be 11 weeks. Between camps in Montauk and various locations throughout New York, Tempesta estimates her and her staff will see 1,000 kids this summer.

“I’m thrilled with the evolution of the program. Our mission statement is to empower the children and let them discover the game at their own pace.”

Kate Tempesta’s Urban Golf Academy
Kate Tempesta’s Urban Golf Academy

Urban Golf Academy works with kids, ages 4 and up. Weekly summer camps run from 9—2pm, which includes golf, and/or tennis and swimming and prices range from $145 to $180 per kid, per day, depending on when you sign up.

“We aim for joy first, then we might get technical. Which isn’t to say we can’t get to the competitive side of the golf, it’s just not our point of entry.”

Tempesta also offers “Evening Eagles,” which is two days a week, 5—8pm, and it’s $300 per child.

Kate Tempesta’s Urban Golf Academy
Kate Tempesta’s Urban Golf Academy

“In the end, do we want better golfers or better human beings? The answer is human beings, and golf is a great vehicle to get that done. That’s just me and that’s the way I teach.”

For more on Urban Golf Academy: www.ktuga.com




After speaking to Tempesta, I also solicited feedback on junior golf camps from my Twitter followers. Some notable names and brands chimed in:

David Leadbetter ‏‪@DavidLeadbetter
I heard @LGAOrlando has great junior camps.

Students ages 12-18 will be immersed in a week-long program based on Leadbetter’s famed “Holistic Approach” to golf instruction, utilizing 30+ years experience coaching juniors around the world. Leadbetter’s Holistic Approach to the golf swing has helped countless tour professionals and aspiring junior golfers reach the pinnacle of the sport, including 21 Major winners and 7 World No. 1s.” ($2,950 per student.) For more: http://davidleadbetter.com/summercamps/


Arron Oberholser ‏‪@ArronOberholser
Stanford’s camp is incredible. Been going on for years. I coached at it when I was in college.

Stanford offers half day and full day golf camps, with a focus on “introducing the game to juniors between the ages of 5 and 12 with either no experience or a couple years of instruction.”

They also offer “Traditional Camp” which is designed to cater to junior golfers (ages 8—18) from beginner to advanced. Instructors include the Stanford coaching staff and other DI/DII coaches and players. ($650—$1,800) For more, go to: stanfordgolf.activesb.net/2016_Summer_Camps.htm


@Pinehurst Resort We humbly nominate the Pinehurst Golf Academy Junior & Parent/Child Schools.

‪@thejcruz89 When he was 13, my son loved every second of the Pinehurst Golf Camp. Best $1,600 for a week you can spend.

Pinehurst junior golf school runs through July, and includes golfers ages 11 to 17. It’s six days and nights and prices range from $1,769 to $1,869. For more: www.pinehurst.com/golf/pinehurst-golf-academy/our-schools/junior-school/


Michael Hankinson ‏‪@MPHankinson
Hi Matt! The @NTPGAJuniorTour has some of the best camps in Texas and include a starter set of clubs! For my son- it started.

For more: www.ntpgajuniorgolf.com


Chad Anderson ‏‪@KnoxAreaGolf
@Tennesseepga Jr Golf Academy – great value! Overnight camp for a week, dorm rooms, catering, par 3 course, instruction.

For more: golfhousetennessee.uschedule.com/TPGAJuniorAcademy/AbouttheAcademy.aspx


Francis O’Hara ‏‪@FOSDGLF
Can’t go wrong with @TheFirstTee

For more: www.thefirsttee.org/club/scripts/section/section.asp?NS=FL


Rollins Golf ‏‪@RollinsGolf
@PineNeedlesGolf Has a great camp. @PeggyKirkBell is in attendance!

For more: www.pineneedles-midpines.com/youth-golfari/


Inge Beeker ‏‪@ingewood
Check out @OldWaverlyGC for world class instruction from @VTROLIO and @timyelverton.  They have junior cottage setup for camp.

For more: www.hailstate.com/ViewArticle.dbml?ATCLID=205389018


Troon @Troon
We like the Summer Jr Camps at ‪@TroonNorthGC. ‪#GrowTheGame

For more: www.troonnorthgolf.com/tnjrcamp.html


Northern (Florida) Exposure

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Ocean Course Hole 18
Ocean Course Hole 18

It’s not quite sixty miles from Florida’s Ponte Vedra Beach to the sleepy town of Palm Coast. The former is well-known in the golf world, in large part because of the so-called ‘Fifth Major,’ otherwise known as The Players, recently contested at TPC Sawgrass, and also due to its status as home base of the PGA Tour. The latter has a much lower profile. However there is a wonderful one-two course combination in Palm Coast at the Hammock Beach Resort. The Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course and the Conservatory Course by Tom Watson are two of northern Florida’s finest public offerings. Grab a National Rental Car at Jacksonville International, and you’ll be at this lesser-known but highly desirable destination in little more than an hour. Or if Orlando’s airport makes for an easier connection, your National Rental Car will have you in Palm Coast in ninety minutes, just a shade under one hundred miles of easy highway driving.

There are more than three hundred rooms, suites and villas on site, and despite the proximity to places like Daytona or St. Augustine, the Hammock Beach Resort is entirely self-contained. There’s no need to leave the property, other than to visit the exceptional Conservatory Golf Course, about fifteen minutes away.  All the dining, imbibing, swimming, lounging and beaching options are close-at-hand, not to mention the comprehensive workout facility, spa, and meeting spaces. So is the Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course, one of north Florida’s truly enjoyable resort golf experiences.

Some of the game’s most notable venues use the word ‘ocean’ in their names. These include Kiawah’s Ocean Course, Mexico’s Ocean Course at Cabo Del Sol and Bermuda’s Mid Ocean Club.

Ocean Course Hole 13
Ocean Course Hole 13 via Hammock Beach

While Hammock Beach’s Ocean Course is a rung below those others, it’s still well worth a visit. It’s the only true oceanfront course to open in Florida in many decades, and this Nicklaus Signature design features six holes with views of the Atlantic, including a stellar par-4 finisher, nearly 470 yards, running parallel to the beach.

Ocean Course Hole 11
Ocean Course Hole 11 via Hammock Beach

Lakes, dunes and forests pepper the layout, which tempts longer hitters with a mix of reachable, yet hazard-laden par-5s. Fairways are generous, and rightly so, as whipping winds off the nearby Atlantic can cause tee shots to drift well offline. Accolades the Ocean Course has received over time include “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” as bequeathed by Golf Magazine and a Silver Medal by Golf Magazine.

Conservatory Course
Conservatory Course via Hammock Beach

The ageless Tom Watson, a five-time British Open champion, is the architect of the resort’s second golf course. The Conservatory is located some ten miles off-site from the main resort property. This is one of the longest of the thousand-plus golf courses in the state, stretching to nearly 7,800 yards from the tips. This is an atypical Florida golf course, despite the seventy-five acres of manmade lakes, and the onsite waterfall which serves as a natural water treatment system. Befitting a player-turned-architect who found so much success on links golf courses, the Conservatory features massive and extremely undulating greens.

Capacious in scope and located on more than five hundred acres, 140 bunkers dot the landscape, an average of almost eight per hole. Millions of dollars were poured into lush landscaping, which includes nearly five hundred trees that were re-planted on the course. Live oaks, stone pines, cypress, crepe myrtle, magnolia, elm, holly, gum and maples abound, giving the course an indigenous feel, which is amplified by the dearth of housing on the property.

Appetites will be whetted after a foray to either of these golf gems, and there are excellent dining options at the resort. The Atlantic Grille’s menu has an emphasis on fresh seafood, stellar ocean views and a lively south Florida design. Delfinos specializes in rustic and regional Italian dishes done with a flair, served in an unpretentious manner. The Sushi Bar is as simple as its name, located above Delfinos, and offering mouthwatering varieties of temaki, sashimi and chirashi.

While in Palm Coast be sure to check out the European Village, an open-air dining-and-retail space with numerous lively options and a welcoming ambience. Dining highlights include Farley’s Irish Pub and the Lisbon Cafe for fine Mediterranean dining.

Golfing Georgia’s Golden Isles

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There are a dozen top-notch golf destinations throughout the Southeast, but the Golden Isles of coastal Georgia, located just north of the Florida state line, is among the most distinguished, not to mention the most accessible. Grab a National Rental Car from either the Jacksonville or Savannah airport. In either case, you’ll be just an hour-and-change from a destination that exudes class and gentility, not to mention magnificent scenery and a deep sense of history.

Some of golf’s most storied names have left their mark here over more than three quarters of a century. These include original Sea Island Golf Club course designer Walter Travis, who in the early days of the last century won the U.S. Amateur three times and the British Amateur as well. Bobby Jones once held the course record there and Sam Snead bettered Jones’ mark some thirty years later. There was LPGA pioneer Louise Suggs, who more than sixty years ago won the Sea Island Ladies Open, then went on to amass fifty five professional wins — including a pair of U.S. Opens. There’s also local boy Davis Love III, more on him a bit later.

Any discussion of Golden Isles golf begins with the Sea Island Golf Club. There are few club entrances more dramatic and inviting than the drive down the stately Avenue of the Oaks. The heart rate and anticipation factor of any avid player will rise as they make their way down the tree-lined corridor and view the sparkling guest lodge and golf complex with its colossal American flag whipping in the ever-present ocean breeze.

Sea Island Seaside Course
Image via Sea Island Golf

The club features a trio of excellent options. First and foremost is the Seaside Course, a 1999 Tom Fazio reconfiguration of the original separate nines designed by Charles Colt, Hugh Alison and Joe Lee. Seaside is at the southern tip of St. Simons Island, and is dotted with tidal creeks, dunes and salt marshes. It is located on the site of the old Retreat Plantation, with tabby ruins and an old slave cemetery clearly visible. The tees are slightly elevated, offering excellent views of the Intracoastal Waterway and St. Simons Sound. The wind whips and howls on the exposed property. Players should be prudent with their choice of tee box, lest the scorecard ruined and the golf ball compartment emptied if one bites off more than they can chew, length-wise. Length isn’t a problem for the PGA Tour players who descend for the RSM Classic, and compete on Seaside and the neighboring Plantation Course.

Sea Island Plantation Course
Image via Sea Island Golf

Speaking of the latter, “U.S. Open Doctor” Rees Jones, son of famed architect Robert Trent Jones, reshaped the work of Walter Travis and Dick Wilson into the Plantation Course in 1998. He refers to the renovation as ‘parkland by the sea,’ and there are few courses on the southern Atlantic coast as inviting as this. Super popular with guests, and lacking some of the ferocity of Seaside, Plantation offers expansive fairways, lush natural scenery, and beautiful vistas of flowering plants and hardwoods in addition to some long range ocean views.

Sea Island Retreat Course
Image via Sea Island Golf

Rounding out the trio is the Retreat Course, executed by local product Davis Love III and his brother Mark. They reinterpreted the original Joe Lee design from the 1970s.With more than twenty PGA Tour wins, including the PGA Championship, Davis Love III is one of the more accomplished Tour pros of the modern era. His design career is on a similar trajectory, and Retreat has green complexes with plenty of slope and undulation, many of which are fortified by challenging bunkering.

Other golf options abound, as there are more than a dozen courses on Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island and Sea Island. The Hampton Club on the northern reaches of Saint Simons is worth a visit, as is Heritage Oaks, in the nearby city of Brunswick.

Post-golf, much of the action is found on Mallory Avenue on St. Simons Island, where a variety of live music venues and restaurants vie for the vacationers who haven’t expended all their energy on the course or in the ocean. There are ninety-plus eateries, so no shortage of options. Southern Soul Barbecue speaks for itself, Barbara Jean’s is renowned for crab cakes, and Tramici scores points for old-school Italian with a lively atmosphere.

Bay Hill, Orlando, Florida

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Bay Hill
Bay Hill

Arnold Palmer’s greatest hits as a course designer have come in some far-flung locales. These include Hawaii (Turtle Bay), Wyoming (Teton Pines), Minnesota (Deacon’s Lodge), and a double dip in Ireland (Tralee and the K Club).

However the course he’s most associated with is Bay Hill, in his adopted hometown of Orlando, Florida. This despite the fact that this robust test of golf was originally designed by Joe Lee.

The PGA TOUR is at Bay Hill this week, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Many of the world’s finest players will doubtlessly relish their time at Palmer’s fiefdom.

Here’s the backstory: In 1965, the same year that Walt Disney announced the purchase of over 27,000 acres of land nearby, where the Disney World Resort would soon emerge, Palmer played in (and won) a charity exhibition tournament at Bay Hill. It was love at first site; Palmer was quickly enamored with the property and told his wife that he wanted to own it. In 1970 he took a five-year lease with an option to buy, and took full ownership in 1975.

Bay Hill Lodge
Image via Bay Hill

Although much has changed, expanded and improved in forty-plus years, the ethos of Bay Hill remains much the same. Despite his worldwide acclaim and celebrity, there is still plenty of western Pennsylvania in “the King,” and his homespun simplicity is present throughout this handsome property. In other words, nothing about the 70-room facility screams “resort.” The lodge is low slung, and everything is compact; the pool, tennis, gym and spa are just steps away, several fine dining establishments (and a handsome bar) are tucked just off the lobby, with the acclaimed course but a three minute walk from the front desk.

There’s nothing showy about the golf course either, it’s just a solid, challenging, championship track, and the roster of tournament winners is a fine testament to same. Tiger Woods has won about half the time he’s shown up, but Ernie Els has won at Bay Hill more than once, and Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry have all triumphed there in the last twenty years.

Water provides much of the rigor, the view from the third tee is the first indication that massive ponds are in prime position to wreak havoc with the scorecard. The third, sixth, eleventh, thirteenth and most famously, the eighteenth, all pose danger for either an errant tee ball or approach shot.

3rd Hole
Image via Bay Hill

The golf course was redesigned in 2009, and one of the major modifications was the addition of closely mown areas around the greens to give players more options when missing the putting surfaces. It also allows mid or high handicap players to putt or bump-and-run rather than hit lofted shots around the greens. Furthermore, bunkers were moved further down the fairways, which has little effect on the modest drives hit by most amateurs and resort guests, but can wreak havoc with the tee box bombs delivered by the world’s finest golfers.

Just fifteen minutes down the road is the yin to Bay Hill’s rustic yang: The Waldorf-Astoria Golf Course. Despite the upscale polish of the ubiquitous hotel brand, despite the pampering of their well-heeled guests, (with $600 belts for sale in the pro shop, no less!) This lovely golf course can be an absolute beast. Proof: at a 2013 US Open Qualifier not a single player managed to break par.

Waldort Astoria Orlando
Image via Waldorf Astoria Orlando

The course sits on just 100 acres, compared to a typical course that sits on 150 acres. But it is so well screened, surrounded on three sides by Disney properties, and on the fourth side by Interstate-4, the course really seems much more remote than it is. Unlike a typical user-friendly resort property, the Waldorf Course has plenty of constricted fairways, bunkering both big-shouldered and bottomless, and mostly smaller greens.

Image via MoonFish

There are as many good restaurants in Orlando as there are blades of grass on any Bay Hill tee box. But to toss out a single suggestion, MoonFish is a hip, visually arresting Asian-Fusion bistro with consistently fine food, featuring great seafood, sushi and steak. And the bonus is it’s not too far from Bay Hill, or for that matter, the Waldorf.

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.”


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.

Seeing All Of Sawgrass

It’s little more than thirty miles in a National Rental Car from Jacksonville International Airport to one of the best one-two punches in the resort golf world: The famed TPC Sawgrass in the beach town of Ponte Vedra, Florida.

17th at TPC Sawgrass

Everyone knows the Stadium Course, home of the infamous island green 17th, and the Players Championship. However also on premises is Dye’s Valley, considered by many to be among Florida’s top twenty layouts itself, no faint praise in a golf-saturated state with a thousand-something courses. However it can’t help but wither in the tremendous shadow of the iconic Stadium Course.  It’s the green-grass iteration of a Billy Ripken or Jim Belushi, doomed by comparison to its Hall-of-Fame sibling.

The Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course was envisioned to be “the most democratic course in the world,” according to management, testing all aspects of one’s game.  Short and long par-3s and par-4s, reachable and unreachable par-5s, holes bending both left and right, and no two consecutive holes heading in the same direction, so that a prevailing wind would always make holes play differently.

16th at TPC Sawgrass

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

The course was quickly softened after a chorus of complaints by the Tour elite, and Dye returned again to make some significant changes in 2006. During an eight-month, 60-million-dollar renovation, the fairways were scalped and a six-inch layer of fresh sand, the equivalent of sixteen football fields per fairway, was installed beneath the grass, the better to percolate and dry quickly after downpours.  Now it’s a firmer, faster golf course, where off-line shots bound more quickly toward thick rough, uneven lies, encroaching water, and other unpleasantness.

TPC Sawgrass Dye's Valley Course
2nd at TPC Sawgrass Dye’s Valley Course

The truth of the matter is that the other eighteen at TPC Sawgrass, the far-less-in-demand Dye’s Valley Course, is an outstanding test of the game.  Although there are homes throughout, several road crossings, a bit of traffic noise and some slightly tarnished sightlines due to power lines, it remains eminently worthwhile.  None of these potential distractions can alter the fact that Dye’s Valley Course is full of testing tee shots, beautifully framed fairways, and difficult pin placements.  It’s a quality course, and if it existed as a stand-alone facility elsewhere in the state, or in Alabama or Georgia, people would flock to play it.

14th at TPC Sawgrass Dye's Valley Course
14th at TPC Sawgrass Dye’s Valley Course

There are no yawners on the course, but the middle of the opening nine, the third through the seventh, is the most interesting sequence.  There are two potentially drivable par-4s for bazooka-types, and a “poor man’s island green par-3,” with water to the right and long and all sorts of shaggy mounding and bunkers, waiting to the left.  Perhaps the most solid hole on the course—the no-nonsense sixth, is a long par-4 stretching more than 460 yards from the tips, four-and-a-quarter for blue tee players.  A massive lagoon dominates the right side, with an equally sizeable waste bunker in the ideal landing zone.

Management tells the story of a certain group of repeat visitors to TPC Sawgrass.  For some twenty years, this foursome insisted on going round and round the Stadium Course exclusively.  Finally one year they deigned to check out Dye’s Valley Course. They were immediately smitten with the slightly gentler layout, making it part of their rotation going forward, and moaning about the fact they’d been missing its subtle pleasures due to their myopic focus on the Stadium Course.

Good choices abound outside the 36-hole facility when it comes to gustatory pleasures. The uniquely named Palm Valley Fish Camp serves fresh seafood within sight of the intracoastal waterway.  The restaurant is petite and can be noisy, so be warned. Poppy’s Italiano offers a quaint atmosphere with sizable portions of homemade Italian food. Barb and Wally’s Down South Barbecue, as the name implies, specializes in grilled meats.