Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Orlando/Tampa Trip

Before things became crazy with the virus, I was fortunate enough to make my semi-annual trip to Central Florida.  This time, the focus was on some courses in the Orlando and Tampa area with a side trip to one of the more uniquely bad courses I have played.

The trip began just outside Orlando at the Nick Faldo and Steve Smyers designed Club at Bella Collina in Montverde, Florida.  This was my first Nick Faldo design and I was pleasantly surprised by the course.  The aerial reminded of me of a very typical Smyers course with big and bold bunkers but, when I was on the ground, the course had solid greens, and a very good mix of holes.
Bella Collina, Par four 1st Hole with 6th green on far right

Bella Collina, Par three 11th Hole
Day two of the trip began at Streamsong and the Tom Doak designed Blue course.  I always treasure the opportunity to play my second favorite golf course in the state of Florida.  We teed off right at sunrise which allowed me to get a very cool picture of the 5th Hole:
Sunrise at Streamsong
After our round at Streamsong and a very satisfying "brunch" at Waffle House, we headed to Lakeland to play the newly renovated Links at Sandpiper. 

Side note: One of the things I miss most during this virus quarantine is going to Waffle House.  I love sitting at the counter and watching my favorite foods being made.  The smells are amazing.  You better believe I'll be at Waffle House as soon as restaurants open!

The Links at Sandpiper recently undertook a renovation that involved the last five holes across the entrance road.  The renovation was done to make room for some housing going up on the original 18th hole.
Links at Sandpiper, Par four 9th Hole

Links at Sandpiper, Par three 15th Hole
The front nine was pretty solid and we were all enjoying the course, but then we crossed the road and played the last five holes.  Our experience went from "this is pretty nice" to "WTF!"  Before I get deep into this rant, let me say that I completely understand when golf courses have to take land to build houses.  You must do whatever you can to survive in this very difficult time and I get that, but if you are going to do something like this, perhaps you should at least seek out some advice from people who have done it before.  

I understand if you can't afford a real architect, but don't let your desire to keep a par 72 golf course turn your golf course into probably the dumbest closing stretch in Florida.  The closing five holes feature two Par fives, two par fours and a par three. The property available could have easily become three very good par fours and two par threes but that would make the par 70 or below so instead we get two par 5's with severe internal OB, a "driveable" par four with OB so tight you can be OB 20 feet off the green, and one decent par 3.  They also built a pond for no apparent reason where there is no place to drop the ball so they included this:
Links of Sandpiper, WTF????

I spent the third day of the trip playing some resort courses around Orlando.  First up was the New Course at Grand Cypress Resort designed by Jack Nicklaus to be a tribute to the Old Course at St. Andrews.  I was happy to see that they understood the principles of the ground game that are so important in Scotland and were able to incorporate them successfully in this design.
New Course at Grand Cypress, Par four 9th Hole
New Course at Grand Cypress, 18th green at sunrise

Up next on my Orlando Resort tour was Reunion Resort.  Reunion features courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Watson.  The Watson course and it's 200+ plus bunkers was first up on my itinerary.
Reunion Resort, Watson Course, Par four 11th Hole

Reunion Resort, Watson Course, Par three 12th Hole

After my round on the Watson, the amazing staff at Reunion got me right back out on the Palmer course.
Reunion Resort, Palmer Course, Par four 7th Hole
Reunion Resort, Palmer Course, Par three 16th Hole

Day four of the trip featured golf in the Tampa area.  I began at sunrise on the Tom Fazio designed Hunter's Green Country Club.  This early Fazio design features a solid collection of holes with bunkering that isn't quite as bold as what we would see from Fazio later in his design career.
Hunter's Green, Par three 7th Hole
Hunter's Green, Par five 12th Hole

Before I headed to the course that was the main reason for my visit to Tampa, I squeezed in nine holes at Pebble Creek Golf course, a 1967 Bill Amick design.
Pebble Creek, Par three 6th Hole

Finally I ended the day in Tampa at a course I have been trying to play for a very long time: Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club.  The original course at Palma Ceia was designed by Tom Bendelow with changes later made by Donald Ross.  I had a tee time at the course in 2014 but a new job forced me to cancel the trip.  I have been haunted by the missed opportunity ever since and it was great to finally play this gem of a golf course with a very strong set of par threes.
Palma Ceia, Par three 4th Hole
Palma Ceia, Par three 13th Hole

Palma Ceia, Par three 17th Hole

On my drive home from Florida, I stopped in at Sea Island Resort to check out the recently renovated Retreat Course.  I played the Seaside course fourteen years ago and hadn't had a chance to return to the resort to check out the other two courses.  I am now anxious to get back to see what Davis Love III and his design team did with the Plantation course after seeing his great work at the Retreat course.
Sea Island Resort, Retreat Course, Par four 6th Hole with Egret in foreground

Sea Island Resort, Retreat Course, Par three 16th Hole

Sea Island Resort, Retreat Course, Par four 18th Hole

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Southern California Trip


The major theme of 2019 was change and opportunity.  That theme continued in an unexpected way into 2020 with my improvised trip to Southern California.  At the end of 2019, I had planned on traveling to Houston in early 2020 but a change of events had me looking for alternative destinations.  The most obvious destination to me was Southern California, but only if I could get on a few of the bigger name courses in the Los Angeles area that I had yet to play.  Through the help of some friends and very generous golf professionals, I was able to set up some places that had been on my bucket list for a very long time.  

Before my trip even started, I was presented with a challenge that I turned into opportunity.  North Carolina was going to see a snow storm for the first time in 2 years on the day before I was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles.  The biggest course I was playing on the trip was scheduled right after I got off the plane on the first day.  A delay or cancellation would be disastrous.  I had to play that course on Friday or I wouldn't be able to play it at all.  Thankfully American Airlines gave me the opportunity to change my flight for no fee, so I flew out a day early with the blessing of my very generous boss.  This created an opportunity for me to play a course I had always wanted to check out: Saticoy Country Club in Oxnard.  Located about an hour north of Los Angeles, Saticoy is a 1960's design that has seen recent bunker work by Thad Layton.  
Saticoy, Par four 3rd Hole
Day two of my trip was in Los Angeles and began at Rancho Park's Par 3 course.  Designed in 1948 by William Johnson and Billy Bell, the par 3 is a nice compliment to the regulation course and makes great use of  a tight piece of property.
Rancho Park Par 3, 5th Hole
My day continued in the Los Angeles area at another golf course, and that's all I can say.  Here's a possibly random sign.

On the third day of my trip, I headed South to the San Diego area for a day of the best courses in the area.  My day began at the recently renovated North course at Torrey Pines.  Renovated last year by Tom Weiskopf, the North has always been the lesser of the two courses at the facility, and the major goal of the renovation was to make the course tougher.  I never saw the old version, but the locals I played with said that Weiskopf succeeded in a big way.
Torrey Pines North, Par three 8th Hole

A tremendous storm blew in as we were standing on the 15th tee, the drop-shot signature par three on the North.  The wind was blowing 30+ mph and it was raining sideways.  My playing partners sought shelter and said they were going to stop until the storm subsided.  I kept going (insert Caddyshack rain reference here) and hit 3 wood to the fringe of a downhill 170 yard par three!  I finished and, because it was still raining and no one else wanted to tee off, I was able to get right out on the South course, which gave me more time to play the third course of the day. 
Torrey Pines North, Par three 15th Hole in the driving rain and wind
I headed over to next year's US Open venue: the South course at Torrey Pines, and had to endure a few holes in the rain before I was rewarded with plentiful sunshine for the rest of the day.
Torrey Pines South, Par three 16th Hole
My third course on day three was my first Max Behr design: Rancho Santa Fe Country Club.  Despite the course being walking only and me being on my third round of the day, I managed to play most of a very enjoyable golf course.
Rancho Santa Fe, Par three 3rd Hole
My second day in the greater San Diego area began at the long time PGA tour host La Costa Resort & Spa and their Champions course.  My one memory of the course was in 1996 when Tiger and Tom Lehman faced a sudden death playoff in the rain, and Tiger hit it to a foot on the 1st playoff hole, the par three 16th Hole.
La Costa, Par four 4th Hole
The second course I played on day four was a course I had heard a lot about and was very excited to see: Goat Hill Park in Oceanside.  Goat Hill Park is a feel good story where Links Soul founder John Ashworth and many other locals saved the course from extinction.  The Park is a real community gathering place now where people can bring their dogs with them when they play and also play disc golf alongside people playing real golf.
Goat Hill Park, Par four 16th hole
The last round on day four was a bucket list round at Bel-Air Country Club.  A George Thomas design recently renovated by Tom Doak, Bel-Air is a triumph of engineering as much as golf design.  The course was routed through several canyons and requires the use of three tunnels and an elevator to play the course!  I loved everything about the design.  While not long, it is extremely challenging and forces you to place your drive in the proper spot to give you a chance at birdie.
Bel-Air, Par three 5th Hole
Here are two pictures that tell a cool story about my experience at Bel-Air.  The first picture is looking back down the 18th hole with the 17th green in the background.  Notice the tennis courts on the right side of the picture.


The 2nd picture below shows where my drive on 18 ended up after I snap hooked it into the 17th fairway.  185 yards away and my only option to get on the green was to hit it over the tennis courts!  My oh so helpful caddy felt the need to point out that if I pulled my shot I would hit a 15 million dollar house(top left corner of picture) with plenty of windows and lots of witnesses!  Seizing the moment, I hit 4 iron right over the tennis courts (fence to the right of the house) to about 20 feet.  A very memorable moment on a very memorable course!


After my round at Bel-Air, I headed East to the Palm Springs area.  I began my first day in the desert with the most famous course in the area: The Stadium course at PGA West.  The current final round host of the Bob Hope PGA Tour Tournament is famous for its rock encircled version of the 17th at Sawgrass, also designed by Pete Dye.
PGA West Stadium course, Iconic Par three 17th Hole

The PGA West theme continued at the Nicklaus Private course for my second round on day five.  A very bold and difficult layout, the private course really forces you to execute with precision or suffer the consequences.
PGA West Nicklaus Private Course, Par three, 7th Hole
The final round of my first day in the Palm Springs area came at the Pete Dye designed Mountain course at La Quinta Resort.  I was paired with three other singles and, though that can be a problem sometimes, we got along very well.  Thankfully none of them felt the need to move back to play my tee, which happens way too much.
La Quinta Mountain Course, Par three, 16th Hole
The last day of my trip began at the Nicklaus Tournament course at PGA West.  A little more playable than the Private course.
PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course, Par four, 8th Hole

The only thing that really didn't work out well on the trip was my second round at the PGA West Private Courses.  I made a tee time on the Palmer Private course and was very excited to play the course where David Duval eagled the 18th hole to shoot 59 at the Bob Hope.  When I arrived that morning I was told my tee time had been moved to the Nicklaus course, which I had played the day before.  I ended up getting out on the Weiskopf course but didn't get to play the Palmer.
PGA West Weiskopf Course, Par three 6th Hole

The last course I played on the trip was The Madison Club in La Quinta.  Designed by Tom Fazio, Madison is a super high end Discovery Land Property.  If you are not familiar with Discovery Land properties, they are known for their high end "comfort stations"  If you are looking for a golf course where you can get soft serve ice cream and beef jerky on the 5th hole, Discovery Land courses are the place to be!
The Madison Club, Par three, 7th Hole
The Madison Club, Par three, 17th Hole with 16th green on the far left
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So that's a wrap on my bucket list trip to Southern California.  With everything currently going on, I feel extremely fortunate I was able to have this experience when I did.  I don't even want to think what would happen if my trip were a month later.  As usual a big thanks to all those that helped make this happen.  I am very grateful for the kindness of my fellow PGA Professionals and my friends that help me make my golf dreams come true.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Florida Panhandle Trip

Our quest for warmer temperatures in the Winter took us to the Florida Panhandle in January where an unexpected cold snap brought us temperatures that were pretty normal for North Carolina in January!  We made the best of it and had a very good time visiting a part of the country that is still recovering from Hurricane Michael.

We drove on this trip so our first stop on the way down was at the Davis Love III designed Kinderlou Forest Golf Club in Valdosta, Georgia.  This former host of a Korn Ferry Tour event is a great tournament venue because of the extremely wide corridors around the course.  I was pleasantly surprised by the design.  The front nine is wide open and the back nine plays into the trees.
Kinderlou Forest, Par Five 2nd Hole
Our second stop on our first day was the highlight of the trip, Capital City Country Club in Tallahassee.  A.W. Tillinghast renovated the original nine and added nine holes to the design in the 1920's.  As usual for the architect of many of the best courses in the country, the design is very solid and is on an amazing piece of property.  The course is unlike anything in Florida and is a welcome change.
Capital City Country Club, Par four 13th Hole.  One of the best holes in Florida!
Day two of our trip began at the Hurricane ravaged Panama Country Club in Lynn Haven.  The course lost several thousand trees from Hurricane Michael and had to be rebuilt.  Unfortunately the trees were used as defining the corridors of the design and it feels a little lost without them.
Panama Country Club, Par three 7th Hole
Next up on day two was the exciting new concept from Davis Love III Design at Origins Golf Club.  The course can be played as a 10 hole par three course, a six hole regulation course, and also has footgolf.  I played both the 10 Hole DLIII course and the six hole Heritage course.  I made my second Hole in One on the 8th hole of the DLIII course.  118 yards with a Pitching Wedge.  My wife actually got to witness this one.  She was having surgery the day I got my first hole in one and insisted I go play golf instead of waiting in the hospital and driving the staff crazy.  She takes credit for that one and now she got to witness this one.
Origins Golf Club, Par three 8th Hole where I made my 2nd Hole In One!
We finished our day at the Tom Fazio designed Camp Creek Golf Club in Panama City Beach.  This beautiful course is everything you hope for in a Fazio.  Lots of width, great scenery and a course that is very satisfying to play.
Camp Creek Golf Club, Short Par Four 13th Hole
Our third day in Florida began in the Destin area at two courses that are part of the Sandestin Resort.  First up was the private Burnt Pine Golf Club designed by Rees Jones.
Burnt Pine Golf Club, Par five 5th Hole
After a wet round at Burnt Pine we headed over to the Robert Trent Jones II designed Raven Golf Club.  I really applaud the decisions made at this course.  They had forward tees that featured yardages under 100 yards for four of the five par 3's.  This is not something you see very often and my wife was delighted because she could actually hit 8 and 9 iron off the tee instead of the usual driver or 3 wood.  She made two birdies on those par 3's, something she hasn't done in a very long time.  I really wish more courses did this for forward tee players.
Raven Course at Sandestin, Par three 4th Hole
Day three continued at Shark's Tooth Golf Club in Powell.   The course was the most playable Greg Norman design I have ever seen.  I particularly enjoyed the par threes.  Though sometimes long, they were all designed to give you a place to miss while still having an opportunity to make par.
Shark's Tooth Golf Club, Par three 12th Hole
For our final day in the Panhandle we headed West to Pensacola for a round at Pensacola Country Club.  Jerry Pate completely renovated this course after it sustained significant damage from Hurricane Michael.
Pensacola Country Club, Par three 7th Hole
The Jerry Pate theme continued on day four as we traveled West to Mobile for a round at The Country Club of Mobile that just completed a major renovation by Pate.  The results were very good.  He created several new holes including a delightful short par four downhill 8th hole.
CC of Mobile, Par Five 3rd Hole in foreground, Par four 16th Hole in background

We broke up the long drive home from Mobile by stopping in Atlanta to check out the new reversible nine hole Bobby Jones golf course designed by the late Bob Cupp.  We played the clockwise Magnolia course.
Bobby Jones Golf Club, Green in 2nd for Magnolia(White Flag) and 7th for Azalea(Red Flag)
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And that's a wrap on my first trip in 2020.  Special thanks to my lovely wife for being a trooper and playing in less than ideal conditions.  We went all the way to Florida to get up and play every morning in overcast conditions with temperatures in the 40's.  She never complained and actually played very well.  In five round she made six birdies, the most I have ever seen her make on a golf trip.  I can't say this enough, if you give forward tee players proper tees, it always them to have the same opportunities for birdies as lower handicap players!

Orlando/Tampa Trip

Before things became crazy with the virus, I was fortunate enough to make my semi-annual trip to Central Florida.  This time, the focus was ...