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Oregon 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.

All About My Annual Buddies Trip to Bandon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I go to Bandon?

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you go to Bandon Dunes?

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

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

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

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

How many days and how many rounds do we play?

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

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

How many rounds do you play?

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

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

A closer look at our itinerary

Tuesday PM: Bandon Dunes (practice round)

Wednesday AM: Pacific Dunes (practice round)

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

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

Wednesday late night: Dice tournament in the Bunker Bar.

Thursday AM: Bandon Dunes

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

Thursday night: Upstairs at McKee’s Pub

Thursday late night: Dice tournament in the Bunker Bar.

Friday AM: Pacific Dunes

Friday PM: Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic

Friday dinner: Tufted Puffin

Friday late night: Dice tournament at the Bunker Bar.

Saturday AM: Bandon Dunes

Saturday PM: Bandon Trails

Saturday night: Trails for food and trophy ceremony.

Saturday late night: Fire pit.

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

Sunday late morning: A reflective walk to the labyrinth.


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

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

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

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

What formats do you play?

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

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

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


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

$400 to winning 4-man team

$80 to second place team

All four competitive rounds (pay four teams per round)

$500 to winning 2-man team of the day

$350 to second best score of the day

$250 to third best score of the day

$100 to fourth best score of the day

Uncle Bill Punchbowl Classic (pay two teams)

$400 for winning 2-man team

$80 to second place team

Overall payouts

$1,000 to winning 2-man team

$500 to second place

$400 to third place

$300 to fourth place

$200 for fifth place

The Group

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


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

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

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


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

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

Your favorite caddies

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

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

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

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

@jpgreen3uga: “Best caddie is Michael Green!”

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


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

Your budget

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tee prizes

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

Past Champions

2014: Damon Hack/Shane Bacon

2015: Josh Lesnik/Tom Pashley

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

Handicaps and sandbagging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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.”


Bandon Dunes

Oregon’s Portland International Airport (or PDX to Road Warriors) is more than one of the country’s finest and most efficient airports. (Travel & Leisure Magazine has rated it the nation’s best for three years running.) It is also the gateway to some of the finest golf in the northwest. It’s about three hours drive down to Bend, and its abundant outdoor activities, punctuated by a surfeit of fine public and private venues. It’s less than five hours down the highways and byways to iconic Bandon Dunes Resort, on the magnificent Oregon coast.  This walking-only Mecca attracts purists the world over, wanting to test their endurance and mettle on their four championship venues.

However there are also fine playing fields to be found within half an hour of the city limits, no need to venture to distant compass points to find compelling golf. The other advantage is being able to spend the time between rounds in one of the hippest and most eclectic cities on the West Coast, featuring some of the finest and most diverse cuisine in the nation.

Reserve Vineyards and Golf Course
Reserve Vineyards and Golf Course

The Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club is a handsome 36-hole facility in the lyrically named village of Aloha, Oregon. Aloha is just a few miles from Beaverton (home of Nike) which is itself less than ten miles from Portland proper.

The two courses alternate between public and private; in other words, the public has access to the Bob Cupp-designed North Course from the first through the fifteenth of the month, and then the John Fought-designed South Course until month’s end. The club’s members have access to both courses at all times. (Proving, as those old American Express ads used to tell us, that membership has its privileges.)

Reserve Vineyards and Golf Course (North Course)
Reserve Golf Course (North Course)

The North (Cupp) at the Reserve is more open, less intimidating from the tee box, with a bit of a links feel. It has smaller greens with notable undulation. The layout is distinctive in that it features five par-3s and par-5s, and of the remaining octet of par-4 holes, the fourth, seventh and thirteenth are rather petite, offering risk/reward options. What is highly unusual is the capacious 43,000 square foot green that is shared by the first, eighth and seventeenth holes.

The South (Fought) is riddled with sand, a hundred-plus bunkers or more tightening and delineating the playing fields. Avoid the kitty litter and scoring becomes far easier. But for all but the most laser-like golfers, it’s simply a matter of when, not if, you will find yourself bunkered. The South was home for several years to a longstanding Champions Tour major known as the Tradition.

Ghost Creek
Ghost Creek

Located twenty miles west of downtown, in the town of North Plains, Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club boasts two excellent tests of golf.  The public is welcome at Ghost Creek, while its members only at sister course Witch Hollow. Carved into a mature forest of Douglas fir and native deciduous trees, the private Witch Hollow is a continuous 18-hole loop, no clubhouse return, that winds through the property’s lowlands.  It’s tighter and tougher than the public counterpart.  Ghost Creek occupies higher ground, and returns to the clubhouse at the turn in traditional fashion. After a hilly and dramatic series of opening holes, Ghost Creek moves onto open land, featuring beautiful long-range views of the Tualatin Valley.  Co-designed by Reserve Vineyards individual architects Robert Cupp and John Fought, these parkland style courses have hosted notable professional and amateur tournaments. Witch Hollow is famous as the host venue for Tiger Woods’ ‘three-peat,’ his third (and most dramatic) U.S. Amateur win in 1996. However Ghost Creek is where former world number one David Duval captured the then Nike Tour Championship in 1993, which paved the way for his very successful, albeit brief, run of dominance on the PGA Tour.

There are nearly as many great dining experiences in Portland as there are hardwoods lining the fairways of both Pumpkin Ridge and the Reserve. Southpark Seafood is amazing, as is the American Local, both serving nouveau spins on traditional American fare. Ethnic food abounds, and Yuki Sushi offer wonderful Japanese, while Verde Cocina has fresh, healthy, and more than a few vegan offerings inspired by Mexico.