Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Alabama Trip

When people think of golf in Alabama, they mainly think of two things: The Robert Trent Jones Trail and Shoal Creek Country Club.  The massive Robert Trent Jones Trail currently encompasses 11 facilities that includes a total of 26 courses.  Shoal Creek Country Club is a Jack Nicklaus design that is a frequent host of major championships on the PGA, LPGA, and Champions tours.  On this trip, I learned that Alabama has a lot more to offer in terms of top quality courses in beautiful settings.  I spent several days in the golf rich area of Birmingham and a day in the Northern part of the state checking out some courses that deserve more attention.

Ironically, my Alabama trip began with a stop in Villa Rica, Georgia at The Frog Golf Club designed by Tom Fazio.  This wonderfully undulating course just off Interstate 20 West of Atlanta has some beautiful scenery and very flowing Fazio bunkering.









4th Hole

8th Hole

11th Hole
After a relaxed morning round at The Frog, I headed to Birmingham and a round at the Legacy course at Greystone Golf & Country Club.  This Rees Jones course opened in 2000 and features all the things you see in a Rees design (finger bunkers and raised greens) although on a very good piece of property.  Periodic rainfall that day meant a very good pace of play because I was the only one on the course.
3rd Hole

7th Hole

12th Hole

17th Hole
The third course on day one was the massive 8000 yard Ross Bridge Golf Club, part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.  Of the eleven courses I have played on the trail, this is by far the biggest and most ambitious.  Greens, bunkers, and surrounds are all the largest I have seen on any of the Trail courses.
2nd Hole

4th Hole

7th Hole

9th & 18th Holes
Day two took me to the Northern part of Alabama and began with a round at the Fighting Joe course at The Shoals Golf Club.  This 36-hole facility is the Northernmost site on the Robert Trent Jones Trail. Like Ross Bridge, Fighting Joe features a set of tees at 8000+ yards.  I will refrain from making you read a long editorial about what a huge waste of resources that is!
5th & 9th Holes

6th Hole

18th Hole

After my early morning round at The Shoals, I headed around to the Northern shore of the Tennessee River to play the course directly across the river from Fighting Joe: Turtle Point Golf & Yacht Club, also designed by Robert Trent Jones.  As the crow flies, Turtle Point is 1.7 miles across the Tennessee River from The Shoals, but getting from one to the other by car takes about 30 minutes! Turtle Point is a 1961 RTJ design and is as different from the Trail courses as it can be because of when they were built, 1961 versus 1990's, and his level of involvement.

8th Hole

9th Hole

18th Hole
Here's a photo collage of the very cool tee markers at Turtle Point:
Big fan of the Turtle Point Tee Markers!
I broke with the Robert Trent Jones theme for the third course on day two.  I drove to nearby Huntsville for a round at The Ledges, designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan & Dana Fry.  The course was built in 2000 on top of a large hill that overlooks Huntsville.  The drive from the entrance is quite memorable as it takes you two miles straight up the hill to the club with breathtaking views of Huntsville and the valley below. Hurdzan & Fry did a great job routing many holes along ridge lines to take advantage of the magnificent views.
2nd Hole

5th Hole

16th Hole

17th Hole
On the third day of my trip I returned to the Birmingham area.  The day began with the course widely known as being the best conditioned in the state of Alabama: Old Overton Club.  Designed by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate, the course had been aerated right before I played it so I didn't get to see the course at its peak but I still really enjoyed playing a top notch Fazio on a great piece of property.
3rd Hole

8th Hole

11th Hole
Next up on day three was my 176th Donald Ross course, Mountain Brook Club.  Typical for Ross, this course has an amazing routing that expertly uses a steep ridge that runs along most of the front nine.  A recent bunker renovation improved upon what was already a very good Ross design.
4th Hole

9th Hole

14th Hole
My last round on day three was the original Founders course at Greystone Golf & Country Club.  Built in 1991 by Bob Cupp, Founders is the current host of the Regions Tradition, a major championship on the Champions Tour.
3rd Hole
4th Hole


9th Hole
On day four, I had the pleasure of playing the recently renovated Vestavia Country Club in Birmingham.  Vestavia was very recently renovated by Lester George.  I am a big fan of Lester's work as he renovated one of the courses I worked at for several years.  Lester did a masterful job creating fun and interesting new holes including some wonderful short par-fours.
Alps Par 5 2nd Hole

Short Par 4 9th Hole

16th Hole

17th Hole
After a wonderful early morning round at the main course, I checked out the par-three course at Vestavia before I started my eight hour drive home.   This delightful short course was designed by George Cobb, who also designed the par-three course at Augusta National.  It was very impressive to see what could be done with a pretty severe site to create a fun and interesting short course.
1st Hole

4th Hole

5th & 6th Holes

SCORECARDS

 FLAGS
So that concludes another wonderful golf trip.  Even though I had to deal with lots of recently aerated and very wet courses on this trip, I still enjoyed seeing some very good golf.  Birmingham has some wonderfully undulating topography which really aids in giving the golfer endless variety in area golf courses.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Florida Spring 2019

My 2019 semi-annual trip to Florida was a little earlier in the season than in previous years.  I took advantage of this scheduling change to play PGA National, a course that I hadn't been able to play in previous years because of the PGA Tour tournament.  The experience at PGA was one of many highlights of the trip but the weather was the real star.  On my only day in Palm Beach Gardens the temperature reached 94 degrees.  Consistent temperatures in the high 70's and low 80's had me wondering why I left Florida to return home to the rain and cold.


First up on the trip after an eight hour drive was the National course at ChampionsGate Resort South of Orlando.  Both courses at ChampionsGate were designed by Greg Norman with the National being a more American style course and the International being more like a links course.  I have played several Norman designs and this is by far the most playable and least aggressive design I have seen.  Norman courses usually have bold bunkering and are very difficult, but that wasn't the case at ChampionsGate.  I'm sure it was a conscious decision because the clientele at the resort is more of the higher handicap variety.
15th Hole

16th Hole
18th Hole
Day two of the trip began at the Donald Ross designed Fort Myers Country Club.  I had some concern about the course when I heard that Steve Smyers recently did a renovation.  Smyers is not a Ross restoration expert and I feared that he had gotten rid of some of the Ross features.  I was happy to discover that besides a couple holes on the back, Smyers did a great job of restoring Ross features and recapturing lost green space.
9th Hole

11th Hole

18th Hole
My day in Fort Myers continued at Cypress Lake Country Club.  This Dick Wilson design was recently renovated by Ron Forse & Jim Nagle.  I have played many courses renovated by these guys and I know they always do great work.  That was further proven the following day at Country Club of Orlando!  Cypress Lake features the bunkering Wilson is known for and has a great set of par 3's.
5th Hole

11th Hole

12th Hole
On the drive back to Lakeland from Fort Myers we stopped in at Streamsong Resort to play a quick sunset round at The Roundabout.  This unique course is an exciting seven-hole par three course designed by Gil Hanse when he designed the Black course at Streamsong.  The genius of the design at The Roundabout is that it can also serve as an alternate 9th hole on the Black course since the Black doesn't return to the clubhouse after nine.  I really wanted to play this course because 2019 is setting up to be the year of the odd numbered golf course for me.  Plans are in place to play courses with 8, 11, 12, 21, and 22 holes to add to the courses I have played with 6, 9, 10, 18, 19, and 20 holes.  Obviously I play a lot of courses so I am always on the lookout for something unique and different.
4th Hole

7th(foreground) and 1st(background) greens
The third day of the trip brought a visit to the Orlando area and began at The Country Club of Orlando. CCO is another great renovation job by the aforementioned Forse & Nagle.  They renovated the course in a Donald Ross style.  There are no plans or proof that the course was designed by Ross and research from some Ross experts implies that the course was most likely designed by Tom Bendelow.  Forse & Nagle did a magnificent job and CCO is now the best course in the Orlando area in my opinion.
1st Hole

6th Hole

13th Hole

16th Hole
My day in Orlando continued at another Tom Bendelow design, Dubsdread Golf Club.  Designed in 1924, the course was renovated in 2008 by local Florida architect Mike Dasher.  I had an enjoyable walk despite the 85 degree temperature and the group behind us hitting into us, which made for an interesting confrontation between me and the guy who hit into me.  You never want to hit into somebody early in the round on a busy day because you're going to see them on practically every tee the rest of the day!
5th Hole

10th Hole

13th(background) and 14th(foreground) holes
Day four brought a long awaited visit to PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens.  The Champion course was hosting the PGA Tour's Honda Classic ten days after I played it.  This was the first time I have ever played a course that close to a tournament.  It was a very interesting experience.  Long rough and extremely firm greens took some getting used to but I managed to play pretty well when I started hitting fairways.
14th Hole
16th Hole

One interesting little side story about my morning round at PGA National.  I was paired with a twosome, father and son.  We were the fourth tee time that day.  Directly in front of us was a twosome of members and in front of them were two foursomes.  The twosome got through both foursomes by the fifth hole.  We were constantly pushing the foursome in front of us but they refused to let us through.  I was under a little of a time crunch so when we finished the ninth hole with both foursomes on ten, I decided to skip ten and head to eleven.

I caught the twosome in a few holes and was able to relax and enjoy the Bear Trap playing behind them.  I was surprised on the 15th hole when I saw that the guys I was playing with were now right behind me.  I talked to the father and apparently after I left, both foursomes let them through since they were now a twosome.  For some reason this really bothered me because as a threesome we were playing just as fast but they wouldn't let us through.  Slower groups should ALWAYS let faster groups through, regardless of how many players are in the group!!!
17th Hole

18th Hole
 My day in the Palm Beach Gardens area continued at the 54 hole Club at Ibis and the newly renovated Legend course.  This challenging layout was originally designed and renovated by Nicklaus Design.  The three members I played with were very helpful in telling me about the renovation.  It was clear the goal was to make the course more of a championship layout.  I was very impressed by the pace, and on a very busy day our foursome played in three and a half hours.  I noticed most groups, including ours, were leaving the pin in on almost every putt.  Further proof in my mind that it really does help with pace of play if an entire group is open to leaving it in.
6th Hole

13th Hole

16th Hole
In my quest to play every course designed by Donald Ross I made a stop on the way home at Keystone Golf & Country Club in Keystone Heights.  This nine-hole course is of the mom and pop variety and has a devoted local following.  I had a very enjoyable walk across a nice piece of property.


1st Hole

7th Hole
On my seven hour drive home from Keystone the temperature dropped 32 degrees and I was welcomed to NC by sleet and freezing rain.  The forecast for the next couple days in Florida was continued sun and warmth.  I was trying to figure out why I didn't stay a few more days!  I'm starting to realize that if I want to play some of the more high profile courses in South Florida I need to visit in May when some of the members are heading North.  I'm not sure when I will be able to do that, but it's on my agenda.

FLAGS
Flags from the Trip
 SCORECARDS
Scorecards from the Trip

Alabama Trip

When people think of golf in Alabama, they mainly think of two things: The Robert Trent Jones Trail and Shoal Creek Country Club.  The massi...