Monday, April 9, 2018

New Orleans Trip Review

Sometimes in life you end up taking a journey that you never planned on taking.  That was the case for me recently as I took a trip to New Orleans over Easter weekend.  I had never really planned on visiting New Orleans in my life but my family decided to do a big family trip to New Orleans so my wife and I organized a golf trip around our time in New Orleans.

Our first stop on the trip was Kiva Dunes in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Kiva Dunes is a Jerry Pate design and was the original high-end destination public course in Alabama.  I was very impressed by how Pate managed to build a course that plays big yet is on a very small piece of property.  Several holes are tightly routed right next to each other but you don't notice it as much because of the use of trees and angles.  There is more than enough room off the tee and that is also impressive because of the small site.
3rd Hole

7th Hole
18th Hole
Our second stop on day one was a course just down the road from Kiva Dunes, Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club.  Peninsula is a 27 hole course designed by Earl Stone.  I played the Lakes nine at Peninsula and while I enjoyed it, I did encounter a very strange second hole which I will break down in pictures below:

The second hole is a 414 yard dogleg left but as you can see from the picture below they have put a large tree on the right side that blocks out the entire right side of the fairway.  As somebody that plays a large pull-draw I was a little flabbergasted by this.  I certainly understand that it's always okay to ask somebody to hit a fade off the tee, especially when they are playing the back tees, but something about not allowing somebody to play a draw on a dogleg left just bothered me, especially when you see what happens if you hit a straight shot down the left side.
Tee shot on 2nd Hole with tree blocking the right side of the fairway
 The picture below shows your reward for hitting a straight shot down the left side of the fairway.  You have a shorter shot into the green, but you now have to hit the ball over a tree.  The combination of the tree blocking the right side off the tee and the tree in the fairway make this one of the more unique holes I have ever played.
View from the left side of the fairway on the 2nd Hole
Day two of the trip began with a short hour drive from Mobile to The Bridges Golf Club at Hollywood Casino.  The Bridges is an Arnold Palmer design in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi.  The reason for the name becomes obvious very quickly as there are miles of cart bridges on this course.  The site was obviously very severe and they needed the bridges to transport people to dry areas of the property between the swamps.  It is an achievement that they managed to build a course on a site like this.
4th Hole

16th Hole

17th Hole
After golf at The Bridges we made the hour drive to New Orleans.  My wife had visited New Orleans many years ago but this was my first trip to the Crescent City.  New Orleans is definitely one of the most unique cities on the planet.  If you enjoy alcohol, partying and crowds this is your type of city.  The thing I enjoyed the most was going to the world famous Cafe Du Monde at 6 am for beignets.
Cafe Du Monde
 We also visited the World War II Museum which is absolutely the most comprehensive and impressive museum I have ever seen.  They do an amazing job of taking you through every part of the war.
WWII Planes at the World War II Museum
My favorite picture my father took while walking around New Orleans
After a very interesting Easter Sunday in New Orleans I headed to the newly renovated Bayou Oaks at City Park South course on Monday morning.  The South is a Rees Jones creation.  They took 36 holes of the old City Park facility and turned it into an 18 hole Rees Jones course.  The course is your standard Rees Jones course with his signature bunkering and very pleasant golf holes.
2nd Hole

8th Hole

11th Hole
After my early morning round at Bayou Oaks my family and I did a swamp tour.  The swamp tour was more fun than I thought it would be.  Our guide was very knowledgeable about all the animals and getting up close with the alligators was a scary but enjoyable experience.

Up close with an Alligator
Really up close with an Alligator

Holding a baby Alligator
When we returned from the swamp tour, my wife and I made the six mile drive from our hotel to Audubon Park Golf Course.  Audubon Park is a community executive course in the very southern part of New Orleans.  Audubon is a par 62.  Each nine has six par 3's, two par 4's, and one par 5.  I love courses like Audubon because they bring people to the game of golf.  We need more courses like Audubon that are fun to play and not intimidating for those who are new to the game.
2nd Hole

4th Hole
18th Hole
Our final day of golf on the trip began with the number one ranked course in the state of Louisiana, The Country Club of Louisiana in Baton Rouge.  This course is a Jack Nicklaus signature design and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  The course was much more playable than a typical Nicklaus design.  I found out after the round they lost about 1200 trees during Katrina and there was a master plan about to be implemented that would put the trees back.  I really wish they wouldn't do that.  The course has plenty of challenge but is also very playable with lots of terrific angles that would be ruined by the tree re-planting.
3rd Hole

6th Hole

15th Hole

16th Hole
The second course on our final day was my wife's first Raynor design, Metairie Country Club in Metairie, Louisiana.  I've now played 26 courses designed by Seth Raynor.  I enjoy seeing the Raynor template holes on different sites.  Metairie is one of those courses that fall into the "good bones" category where most of the original design is gone but you can still see the traces of it.  I was told the club has talked to Jim Urbina, an expert on Raynor restoration, about doing a restoration.  I really hope it happens.
5th Hole

10th Hole

"Short" 17th Hole


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Best Course You've Never Heard of, Part 2



Next week people will flock to the Augusta area for The Masters.  The best golf option for people looking to tee it up during The Masters is always Palmetto Golf Club, the very private Mackenzie course that opens its doors to the public for one week a year.  With that being said, I would argue the second best option to play that week or really any week of the year is a course that is a mere two miles from Palmetto, Aiken Golf Club.

http://www.aikengolfclub.net/

One unfortunate trend of the last 30 or so years is the dismissal of shorter courses as unworthy.  Just because a course is under 6000 yards doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time to play.  Aiken is the ultimate example of this.  I would put Aiken right up there with Cape Arundel and Merion (West) as the best under 6000 yard golf courses in the country.
A trip to play Aiken Golf Club is a must because its good for your soul.  From the moment you arrive you feel something special in the air.  You walk into the quaint old style locker room and feel the history of the course  You take a fun tour around the putting course and you are immediately excited to tee it up.

The fantastic double green at #1 and #17 sets the tone for what is in store for you on this wonderful journey
1st and 17th greens
The brilliant short par 5 second hole is a dogleg right that requires a tee shot down the far left side of the fairway if you want a shot at reaching the green in two.  Don't let the yardage fool you.  This 446 yard par 5 is not the easy birdie that you think it is.  It makes you earn it.
2nd Hole
The brilliant routing navigates you up and down some gentle slopes.  One of the most noticeable ups is on the short par 3 fourth hole.  Only 128 yards from the middle tees, this hole has an outstanding green and emphasizes the fun that is playing at Aiken.
4th Hole
The shortish par 4 sixth hole is relatively flat and yet is one of the strongest par 4's on the course.
6th Hole
The short par 4 eighth hole features one of the most well bunkered greens on the course.  The uphill par 3 ninth is in the background.
8th Hole with par 3 9th in the background
After two outstanding short par 4's at 14 & 15, we arrive at the downhill par 3 16th hole.
16th Hole
We return to the double green with the uphill par 4 17th hole.
1st and 17th Greens, 17 on the right.
The 18th hole is a long par 3 that ends our journey around one of the most fun golf courses in the country.
18th hole with clubhouse in the background

If you ever find yourself in the Augusta area, please take the time to play Aiken Golf Club.  You will not be disappointed.

Monday, March 19, 2018

California Trip Review

After reading my recent Florida trip post a friend emailed me asking when he would see a review of my January California trip.  I hadn't thought of doing a review of that trip because it happened before I created this blog, but it's always fun to look back on wonderful golf trips.  So, I present my January trip to California.

My January trip the past few years has been to the Hilton Head area with a group of friends, but for logistical reasons I wasn't able to make that work this year so I decided to look for someplace warm to play golf in January.  The last time I was in California was in 2010.  My wonderful wife allowed me to fly to LA for a couple days of golf before we got married in Las Vegas.  On that trip my experience with LAX didn't go well and I was determined through planning to make this trip much less stressful.

My first stop right off the airplane was The North course at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach.  I was impressed with how Tom Fazio was able to make a course on a very severe site very playable.  Of course I shouldn't be surprised as that is Fazio's expertise when it comes to design.  The course has so many elevated tee shots I remember thinking "When are we going back up hill?"
9th Hole
14th Hole


17th Hole at Darkness.  This was my last hole, the pace didn't allow me to finish
The second course of the trip was Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles.  I was really looking forward to playing Wilshire.  The pictures of the recent work by Kyle Phillips looked amazing and I was excited to get out early walking with a friend I hadn't seen for a couple years.  I came away extremely impressed with Wilshire.  I would put it in the top 10 golf courses in California.  The walking culture was also very impressive.  My friend and I played behind a foursome for the first four holes, and were let through a five-some on the second nine and even with those delays, we walked the course in 2 hours and 45 minutes!
4th Hole.  Wonderful bunkering restored by Kyle Phillips
9th Hole with the Hollywood sign in the background
11th Hole
Next up on the trip was the South course at Pelican Hill.  The courses at Pelican Hill could easily be renamed Upper and Lower as the North (Upper) sits on the high part of the property and the South (Lower) is on the bottom part of the property with a few holes right on the ocean.  The South was another solid Fazio course with very aesthetically pleasing holes and lots of width.
7th Hole


13th Hole

18th Hole
Fourth course on the trip was a quick early bird warm up nine at Oaks North Golf Club in Rancho Bernardo.  My tee time at the next course was eight a.m. and I didn't want to waste a couple good hours of daylight so I played nine at this executive course with three nines.  I had a memorable exchange with the starter when I told him about my next tee time and said I would walk the nine holes in about 35 minutes.  He told me that was impossible.  I said we'll see and I walked it in 31 minutes.  I resisted the temptation to find him and ask him what time it was when I finished.
4th Hole

7th Hole

9th Hole
After the warm up nine I made the short drive to Maderas Golf Club in Poway.  Maderas was my second Johnny Miller design.  Johnny must like challenging the average golfer as the greens were very difficult.  The three locals I played with said the cardinal rule was "never get above the hole" as most putts coming from above fail to stop within ten feet of the cup because of the severity of the greens.
3rd Hole looking back

4th Hole

9th Hole
The next course on this day involved a gorgeous drive over a mountain to get to Borrego Springs and Ram's Hill Golf Club.  Ram's Hill was one of the best Fazio courses I've ever played.  I was impressed with the creativity, the bunkering, and the interesting greens.  I found out a few days later that the course is actually a Jackson/Kahn design under the Fazio name, which explains a lot about why I liked it so much.
5th Hole
6th Hole

10th Hole
17th Hole
Day four of the trip began with Tradition Golf Club in La Quinta, California.  Tradition is an Arnold Palmer design and Palmer was a part time resident for many years.  The golf course may be Palmer's best design with several stand out holes and excellent use of the property right up against the mountains.
10th Hole
Rams on the 16th Hole

15th Hole

17th Hole
The Par 3 Course at Tradition was the next course on the trip.  I really admire what the club did with creating the Par 3 course.  It doesn't take up much land, the holes are all short and fun, and it is easily walked.  My caddie at Tradition told me a great story about Arnold Palmer and the Par 3 course.  Palmer's house was to the right of the second tee of the Par 3.  He would sit out on his back porch and watch people play.  He wouldn't hesitate to yell "great shot" to somebody.  You'd look over to see who said it and there he was.  Lots of people would go over to say hi and then all of a sudden you'd be having a five minute conversation with one of the greatest human beings to walk the earth!
4th Hole
8th Hole
9th Hole
The next course on the trip was the one I was looking forward to the most because it was designed by my favorite modern designer, Tom Doak.  Stone Eagle Golf Club sits up on a hill in Palm Desert.  Doak, traditionally a minimalist designer, had to move more earth than at any golf course he designed previously.  The way Doak used the site was amazing.  He used the elevation changes to build world class holes without sacrificing width.  The greens were as usual for Doak-fun, interesting and wild.
14th Hole

15th Hole

18th Hole
19th Hole
The final day of the trip began with a dew sweeping round at Strawberry Farms Golf Club in Irvine.  Again, not wanting to waste valuable daylight before my nine am round, I took advantage of the proximity and played the scenic back nine at Strawberry Farms, a Jim Lipe design.
10th Hole just after sunrise

14th Hole

17th Hole
After the warm up at Strawberry, I made the short drive over to Shady Canyon Golf Club.  Shady Canyon is a high-end private Tom Fazio course.  Similar to my experiences at Pelican Hill, Fazio took a beautiful but challenging piece of property and created a very pleasant golf course.
4th Hole

7th Hole

17th Hole
The last round of the trip was at Santa Ana Country Club.  Santa Ana was recently renovated by Jay Blasi.  Jay did an incredible job of transforming a bland course on a tight piece of property into one of the most fun and interesting golf courses in California.  Jay added many classic architecture templates like the Biarritz and Punchbowl.
6th Hole

8th Hole with Biarritz Green

11th Hole





New Orleans Trip Review

Sometimes in life you end up taking a journey that you never planned on taking.  That was the case for me recently as I took a trip to New O...