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Georgia Destinations

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

Big Cedar Lodge
Big Cedar Lodge

“They” say golf is struggling.

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

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

Pebble Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bandon Dunes

Doak's Course
Doak’s Course

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

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


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

The Deuce
The Deuce

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

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

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

Sea Island

And then there was one. Owner, that is.

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

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

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

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

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

American Club, Kohler, WI

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

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

(So do we.)

The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, WV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Cedar Lodge

Big Cedar Lodge
Big Cedar Lodge

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

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.

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.”


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.


Tourists from all points on the compass flock to beautiful Savannah, Georgia every spring and fall, drawn by its rich and colorful past. The ‘Hostess City of the South’ is so lovely that General Sherman first spared it, and then bequeathed it as a gift to President Lincoln during the Civil War. Modern day visitors revel in the timeless beauty of the architecture and the charming individuality of the city squares, each containing fountains, statues, cannonry or the like. The varied nightlife, eclectic restaurants, cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved historic district are all part of the city’s appeal. But golf has been something of an afterthought, as the vast majority of golfers flying into Savannah’s boutique airport are bound for one of two destinations. Hilton Head Island, just a forty minute ride across the South Carolina state line, or down to Georgia’s Golden Isles, little more than an hour to the south. Things are changing though, and now there are several compelling reasons to stay and play in town.

The Club at Savannah Harbor

The golf centerpiece of the city is undoubtedly The Club at Savannah Harbor, on Hutchinson Island, a tiny spit of land on the Savannah River located midway between the Georgia and South Carolina state lines. For many years the resort served as the host venue for the Champions Tour’s Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. The majestic Savannah River Bridge serves as a backdrop to the mostly wide open fairways and generous greens. The muted cityscape is plainly visible as well, but the far eastern edge of the property is rather bucolic, nestling close to the Back River. This urban proximity is also an advantage in other ways. After golf, lively River Street, which is Savannah’s corollary to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, is just a five minute water taxi ride from the hotel complex adjacent to the golf course. City Market, the historic district and Savannah’s famous city squares are all just a short walk from there.

Sierra Exif JPEG
The Wilmington Island Club

The Wilmington Island Club is a semi-private 1927 Donald Ross design, renovated by Willard Byrd in 1966. The course features numerous specimen trees, and a good number of creeks and ponds that bisect mostly parallel fairways. Due to its age and prominence, the golf course has long been the subject of rumor. Undoubtedly the wildest of which is as the unmarked burial grounds of former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, as the course was once a hangout for members of that notorious Union.

Crosswinds Golf Club

Crosswinds Golf Club offers one of the region’s most unusual golf settings, with fairways hard by the runways of Savannah International Airport. The course is a competitively priced, user-friendly facility that compares favorably with some of the public access courses on or near Hilton Head that are almost double the cost. The property features a tree lined front nine, with a back nine reminiscent of a Scottish links, featuring liberal mounding and love grass in place of heather. At just over 6,600 yards from the back tees, Crosswinds doesn’t overwhelm with length, but there’s enough trouble lurking to keep a player’s interest, and as the name implies, the wind is a constant factor.

Off the golf course there are no shortage of worthwhile dining and drinking establishments. Infamous local chef Paula Deen has her signature Lady & Sons Restaurant. Fine dining with genteel southern charm is found at Elizabeth on 37th. On the south side of town, far from the tourist track is eclectic Toucan Cafe, where both the food and whimsical decor attract a loyal clientele. Just around the corner is Sweet Potatoes, famous for banana pudding and fried chicken in a simple, unpretentious atmosphere.

In summation, Savannah will never offer the diversity of golf experiences found on Hilton Head or the Golden Isles. But the game is becoming another attraction for the millions who visit the city every year. Savannah’s burgeoning golf scene complements the history, mystery, enduring architecture, fine dining and nightlife that enchant the millions visiting Georgia’s most beautiful city.

If you’re lucky enough to be heading to The Masters this year, it’s likely you’ll get the hankering to play a little golf yourself. After all, if a day or two wandering the pristine (and very hilly–be warned!) grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club, with the air perfumed by azaleas, the blinding white bunkers and not-a-blade-out-of-place emerald green fairways don’t get you in the mood to golf your ball, probably nothing will.
Golf options in or close to Augusta during tournament week are very expensive, and courses are crowded. A far better option is to head west about 75 miles to the tiny burgh of Greensboro, GA, and the golf riches awaiting at magnificent Reynolds Plantation, one of the southeast’s most expansive and desirable real estate communities.
The timing for this visit is superb. Normally the 8,000 acre residential
community surrounding 19,000-acre Lake Oconee is only available to members, their guests, and those who make time for an overnight or multi-day Lifestyle Package. In other words, Reynolds will welcome limited outside play, but they expect a minor commitment on the part of the visitor. One either spends a night or two, and consents to the real estate tour, or has to check in with a golf buddy in tow.

Of course, real estate is the thing at Reynolds, so take advantage of the fact that during this special week of golf in Georgia, golf comes ala carte.

However Masters Week (April 4th–12th) requires no such commitment. Traveling golfers can enjoy a round on five of the six on-site courses, and have the freedom to return to Augusta, keep traveling east to Atlanta (about 85 miles) or stay the night in any charming lakeside town they choose, and try a different course the next day.

Reynolds Plantation, Great Waters
Reynolds Plantation, Great Waters

So many courses, so little time. So how does one choose? The Jack Nicklaus-designed Great Waters would be the option for those who are one-and-done. ($262 Masters Week) The final hole on the front side provides a taste of the drama to come, and explains the course’s name. This downhill par four with an approach over the lake is a microcosm of what lies ahead. Among other waterside highlights, he thirteenth is a demanding par-4 with a downhill approach to a pin that looks to be floating in the lake. The next is a fabulous par-3 over a sliver of water. You can’t get closer to the lake without paddle or oars.


Reynolds Plantation, The National
Reynolds Plantation, The National

The National ($240) would be another fine choice, particularly as it was completely renovated in 2014. This is a 27-hole Tom Fazio-designed gem, characterized by dense forests of hardwoods, pines and dogwoods. More than 110 bunkers serve not only to protect green sites, but also frame the fairways in sharp relief from numerous elevated tee shots. A half dozen holes at National play directly on the lake, and a number of others have either ponds or insidious creeks at close range.




Reynolds Plantation, Plantation Course
Reynolds Plantation, Plantation Course

The least expensive option is the original Plantation Course ($202) This Bob Cupp design is pleasant enough, and thankfully features some of the dramatic elevation change that earmarks the entire property. It’s a treat to play a course where so many tee shots run downhill, but it can work both ways. There are some holes on the inward nine where booming drives on a couple of tricky par 4s will run out of real estate.
Of course, real estate is the thing at Reynolds, so take advantage of the fact that during this special week of golf in Georgia, golf comes ala carte.
Speaking of ala carte, dining options abound in Greensboro, Eatonton, and most every small town in the region. Fine Italian can be had at Da Corrado Ristorante. One of the favorite local haunts is Silver Moon, and for water views and occasional live music a great choice is the Bone Island Grillhouse.

Top 9 Golf Courses Near Large U.S. Airports

Business travelers often have several hours to kill before boarding a flight back home, whether a meeting ends early or flight is canceled last minute. Why rush to the airport early to sit around? Enjoy your time on the road in a different city and squeeze in a round of golf. If you play your cards right, you may just be able to write off the round as a business expense!

We’ve complied some of the countries busiest airports with top-notch golf facilities less than 12 miles away from the departure gate. Here’s where you can golf and then catch your flight with ease:

Miami International Airport – Miami, FL
Trump National Doral (4 courses) – 8.9 miles from airport
Trump National Doral - The Blue Monster
Trump National Doral – The Blue Monster

Trump National Doral – The Blue Monstor
Renowned for its rich history, the famous Blue Monster at Trump National Doral is tougher, longer and more dramatic than ever before. In mid-2014, Doral’s owner Donald Trump hired golf course architect Gil Hanse to meticulously re-sculpt every hole. The renovation proudly restored the course to its past grandeur.

Trump National Doral – The Red Tiger
The spectacular Red Tiger golf course, given its name by the late Jackie Gleason, underwent one of the most dramatic changes of any of the course renovations at Trump National Doral. Due to the talents of the Gil Hanse design team, the Red is an exciting challenge for the average golfer and also a surprising test for the more experienced player.

Trump National Doral – The Silver Fox
Donald J. Trump’s commitment to make epic changes at Trump National Doral is complete with the Silver Fox, the last of the incredible golf course renovations. The sensational Silver Fox course is one of the most demanding golf tests in the country. Water comes into play on 16 of 18 holes, and its striking, marble-white sand bunkers only reward well struck drives and approaches.

Trump National Doral – The Golden Palm
The new Golden Palm, named after the tree found throughout the golf course, offers another unique and challenging golf experience at Trump National Doral. Gil Hanse’s team resurrected this newly opened course with similar design elements as the famous Blue Monster.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – Atlanta, GA
Wolf Creek Golf Club (10.5 miles from airport)

Wolf Creek has earned a reputation as one of the toughest golf tracks in the Atlanta area since 2001. Located 10 minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, you will find unparalleled beauty, wildlife and excellent course conditions in a convenient location. Created by Mike Young Designs, the course incorporates low flatland holes, wetland areas and holes with dramatic vistas.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – Dallas, TX
Cowboys Golf Club
Cowboys Golf Club

Cowboys Golf Club – 6.6 miles from airport
Cowboys Golf Club is the premier resort-style, daily-fee golf course in Texas. As the world’s first NFL-themed golf course, it is the ultimate destination for business entertainment, executive meetings and special events. An innovative golf and entertainment experience awaits you at Cowboys Golf Club.

Bear Creek Golf Club – 3.8 miles from airport
Bear Creek Golf Club is an award-winning course designed by Ted Robinson. Named among the “Top 50 Resort Courses in America” by Golf Digest and one of the “10 Great Places to Golf” by The Wall Street Journal, it is a great place to get in a round. Its two distinct layouts, the West and East Courses, lend themselves to challenge, allure and shot values. Bear Creek has hosted PGA Tour Qualifiers, the Texas State Open, the AJGA National Tournament, the PGA National Golf Series and NTPGA Sectional Tournaments.

Houston IAH
Golf Club of Houston, The Tournament Course – 10 miles from airport
Golf Club of Houston, The Tournament Course
Golf Club of Houston, The Tournament Course

The Tournament Course hosts the Shell Houston Open every year where the world’s top players vie for excellence. The course has abundant native plants and wildlife, making it an enjoyable and beautiful place to play. It’s a great course for serenity and solidity just a few minutes from downtown Houston.




Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Arizona State’s Karsten Course – 5.9 miles from airport
ASU Karsten Golf Course
ASU Karsten Golf Course

Home to one of the strongest collegiate golf programs in the country, the ASU Karsten Golf Course is a classic Pete Dye, links-style course set in the shadows of ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium. Awarded 4 1/2 stars by the prestigious Golf Digest Rating Panel, this well maintained and challenging design features Dye’s signature mounding and creative bunkering – making proper club selection essential for low scoring.


El Paso International Airport – El Paso, TX
Butterfield Trail Golf Club – 7.0 miles from airport
Butterfield Trail Golf Club
Butterfield Trail Golf Club

Natural sand dunes and native flora and fauna highlight this par-72 public golf course. Butterfield Trail Golf Club features over 55 feet of elevation changes and avails itself to drama and relief with vertical transitions. Here, every hole is a “signature hole.” Offering Dominant Plus Bent grass greens, Butterfield Trail provides an unmatched golfing experience. Located just a long iron shot away from the El Paso International Airport, Butterfield Trail is an easy choice to take a golf getaway without having to venture too far off the beaten path.


Chicago O’Hare International Airport – Chicago, IL
White Pines Golf Club & Banquets – 7.5 miles from airport

White Pines Golf Club, a 36-hole championship course (East & West courses) situated on over 240 acres, has been a favorite among Chicago area golfers since 1928. White Pines is an excellent choice for players of all levels and those looking for a challenging game of golf any time of the year.

McCarran International Airport – Las Vegas, Nevada
Bali Hai Golf Club – 5.0 miles from airport
Bali Hai Golf Club
Bali Hai Golf Club

Designed by Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley in 2000, the Bali Hai Golf Club is a worthy namesake of the famous Indonesian land of enchantment. The lush surroundings include seven-acres of opulent water features, 4,000 trees and 100,000 Balinese tropical plants. Transition and out-of-play areas are accented with Augusta white sand and black volcanic rock outcroppings. The par-71 course measures 7,002 yards from the tips and affords spectacular views of the Strip mega-resorts from the fairways.