February 06, 2014

A Meaner Monster: Donald Trump teams with architect Gil Hanse to make Doral scarier than ever

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Trump National Doral Miami
A rerouted fairway and added bunkers have enhanced the strategic appeal at the 442-yard, par-4 sixth at Doral in Miami. (Courtesy of Trump National Doral)

 

What do you say to a beast that's lost its bite? If you're Doral resort owner Donald Trump, that's easy: "You're fired." In the case of the legendary Blue Monster course at Doral, a better phrase might have been, "You're tired."

The Donald announced his solution at a memorable press conference in March 2013, on the eve of the WGC–Cadillac Championship. "They're saying the course is in the best shape [it's been in] in 25 years," he said. "It's a little ironic, because we blow it up on Monday."

Indeed, the Blue Monster, which opened in 1962, was due for a makeover. "Sometimes after 20, 30 years, courses need an update, and this course will benefit from it," said reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose. "It needs to get back to living up to its reputation as the Blue Monster."

Trump agreed, bringing aboard red-hot architect Gil Hanse and associate Jim Wagner to execute his vision. The results are instantly obvious.

Once marshmallow-soft, the par-5 opener has been stretched to nearly 600 yards and features a new pond to the right of the green. The rinky-dink par-3 15th now demands a watery carry to a peninsula green. The par-4 16th remains drivable for big bashers, but a new lake guarding the left side amplifies the risk/reward drama. Hanse wisely left the par-4 18th -- one of the Tour's most dramatic, difficult closers -- virtually unchanged.

In all, liquid peril looms on 14 holes, up from six. Water, water, everywhere. Why so much? To modernize and toughen up a track that dates to the JFK administration. Mission accomplished. With newly sharpened teeth, this Monster is scarier than ever.

Trump National Doral Miami (Blue Monster), Miami, Fla. 7,450 yards, par 72; Green fees: $270-$500; (305) 592-2030; trumpgolfdoral.com

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February 05, 2014

Can't afford to play the Pebble Pro-Am? Here's five affordable seaside spreads

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Pacific Grove Golf Links
Pacific Grove Golf Links / Joann Dost

 

PACIFIC GROVE GOLF LINKS, Pacific Grove, Calif.

Locals call this 82-year-old muni the "poor man's Pebble Beach" for good reason. Instead of Pebble's $500 green fees, hoofing it weekdays at the walkable layout is $46, $52 on weekends and $25 for twilight. You get two distinct nines: a passable parklander to open, followed by a stirring seaside loop, complete with huge sand dunes, ocean views, coastal breezes and a lighthouse. My favorite is the 513-yard, par-5 12th, which boomerangs to the right around dunes. It's reachable in two, but a rumpled fairway, stern crosswinds and the ocean to the left complicate matters.

WAILUA MUNICIPAL GOLF COURSE, Kauai, Hawaii

Three times the host venue for the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, this busy muni doesn't boast the most sophisticated design, yet it proved a worthy test on each occasion. Gusts from the adjacent Pacific, trees that bracket many fairways, and a healthy 6,991 yards from the tips all add up to a serious scoring challenge for any level. What truly elevates Wailua are its wondrous ocean vistas and affordable price tag. It's just $48 for nonresidents to walk during the week, and half that for twilight play. Local seniors and juniors pay less than 10 bucks, all to tackle holes such as the 456-yard, par-4 second, the Pacific churning along the left side; and a pair of into-the-wind, well-bunkered par 3s, the 14th and 17th, both of which face the ocean.

Highland Links Golf Course
Highland Links Golf Course / Larry Lambrecht

 

HIGHLAND LINKS GOLF COURSE, Truro, Mass.

This funky 2,753-yard nine-holer on Cape Cod has so many delightful quirks it makes Prestwick look tame. Summer rates will set you back only $35, another $9 to ride. It's a small price to pay for fescue-framed holes that dip into beach canyons. Unforgettable attractions abound. The par-5 second sports a medieval granite tower honoring nineteenth-century singer Jenny Lind. And the par-3 ninth is backdropped by Cape Cod Lighthouse; dating to 1767, it's the oldest lighthouse on the Cape.

LOS VERDES GOLF COURSE, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

A few years back I lambasted this superbly situated muni for my nearly four-hour round -- on the front nine! Since then, the pace remains leisurely but not as glacial. No wonder it's packed; green fees are under $50 every day, even if you're in a cart, with prime-time walkers during the week paying $27 for a course that's a half-hour from LAX. Los Verdes' 6,617 breezy yards prove a sufficient challenge, especially the bluff-top, 441-yard, par-4 fourth. That hole, along with many others, offers sensational views of the Pacific Ocean. Hey, everyone deserves a second chance, right?

PALM BEACH PAR-3 GOLF COURSE, Palm Beach, Fla.

In 2009, Raymond Floyd supersized this 1961 Dick Wilson/Joe Lee 18-hole par-3 charmer, making it tougher and more dramatic. As for sheer drama, nature had already taken care of that. Long a popular LPGA Pro-Am venue, nearly half of Palm Beach's holes hug the Atlantic Ocean, while the other half wind along the Intracoastal Waterway. It's a blur of sand, water and wind, but with seasonal prices as low as $20 -- and with Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers Kellie Stenzel and Scott Munroe on-site -- Palm Beach Par-3 belongs on your must-play list.

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February 04, 2014

Four Season Nevis makes cold-weather golfers offer they can't refuse: Shaun Micheel golf clinic in paradise

Posted at 9:24 AM by Mike Walker | Categories: Caribbean, Nevis

Fourseasons_course_600

The 13th hole at the Robert Trent Jones II Course with the island of St. Kitts in the distance at the Four Seasons Nevis.

Golfers take two kinds of vacations: golf vacations and vacations where they play golf. A golf vacation is a trip to Myrtle Beach, Pinehurst, Monterey, Scotland or Ireland, where you bring you clubs and your best pals, book two tees times a day and try to find out if it’s possible to ever get tired of golf. (It isn’t.) The second kind of vacation is one you take with your husband, your wife, your significant other or your entire family, and golf isn’t the primary activity but you get out for a couple rounds, and if you’re lucky, encounter a special golf course.

The Four Seasons resort in Nevis, a cozy Caribbean island accessible via ferry from nearby St. Kitts, is ideal for that second kind of vacation, and later this month, the Four Season Nevis will make cold-weather golfers an offer they can’t refuse: a vacation on a beautiful Caribbean island with golf lessons from a PGA Champion.

Shaun_micheelFrom Feb. 23 to Feb. 27, Shaun Micheel, winner of the 2003 PGA Championship [right], will lead clinics at the resort’s Robert Trent Jones II Championship course alongside the resort’s head PGA professional Bruce Wilson. The clinics will focus on a specific area of the game each day -- fundamentals, driver and long irons, short game and trouble shots, and putting -- followed by golf and then dinner with Micheel. The five-day package costs $2,750 or $625 per day. (Greens fees are included in package; the regular greens fee is $225 with $75 for club rentals. Club rentals are $55 for nine-hole play and twilight golf.)

But even when a PGA Champion isn’t on the driving range, the Four Seasons Nevis is the perfect destination for golfers who don’t want to choose between great golf and great beaches. For golf, the RTJ II course is a fun but challenging test that winds up Nevis Peak with crafty greens that require careful handling, the requisite stunning views of the coastline and nearby St. Kitts, and frequent monkey sightings. But what’s really special about the golf at the Four Seasons Nevis is how the resort embraces the spirit of the game. Every Friday afternoon, resort guests, residents and resort staffers get together and play a nine-hole scramble, followed by drinks and awards at Mango, an on-resort restaurant and bar with 101 different kinds of rum. Yes, it’s as fun as it sounds. If you’re staying at this resort and you play golf, don’t miss the Friday scramble. If you don’t play golf, learn how.

Then there are the beaches. In a word, they’re perfect. For a real treat, the resort rents beachside cabanas, where you can watch SportsCenter on the couch in the cabana, enjoying a fish sandwich and a local Carib beer with nothing but deep soft sand and that dazzling Caribbean turquoise water in front of you. Plus the resort faces due west so guests get a cinematic view of sun the dropping over the horizon every evening.

The best activity there is simply being in Nevis. I've been lucky enough to visit several Caribbean islands and I've never been anywhere as charming and welcoming as Nevis. With just 12,000 year-round residents, the island has a relaxed, small-town feel, and the service at the resort is outstanding. The Four Seasons Nevis has several excellent restaurants as well as the golf course and that spectacular beach, so guests can happily spend the whole week here without leaving the property, but Nevis has other charms worth exploring. In the evening, resort guests can find Caribbean music, drinks and dancing just a short walk down the beach at Lime Beach Bar and Sunshine’s Beach Bar & Grill. Nevis Peak is an active volcano -- don’t worry, there hasn’t been an eruption in recorded history -- and adventurous visitors can arrange a hike to the top through the resort. The island gets its name from the clouds that cover the top of Nevis Peak; “Nevis” comes from the Spanish “Nuestra Señora de las Nieves” (“Our Lady of the Snows”) because the first European settlers mistook those clouds for snow. Golfers tired of seeing their favorite courses covered in snow might mistake it for paradise.

Rooms start at $745 per night, with the fourth night free. Contact the Four Seasons Nevis website for details.

Photos: Course photo courtesy of Four Seasons Nevis; Micheel photo by Robert Beck/SI.

January 31, 2014

Hello, Dubai: Celebrating The Other Duel In The Desert

Posted at 4:10 PM by Mike Walker | Categories: Dubai, Travelin Joe, Travelin Joe Passov

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Emirates Golf Club
The risk-reward eighth hole is one of the memorable tests that make the Emirates Golf Club Majilis Course worth a trip, Travelin' Joe Passov says. (Landmark Media)

 

Tiger Woods is competing in the wrong desert this week. I say that practically every year. I really wish he would play in my hometown event, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he’s been absent since 2001. That said, after a recent trip to Dubai, I now at least understand Tiger’s attraction to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Sure the appeal of appearance money is undeniable, but Dubai’s enticements go well beyond the cash.

To be fair, coin of the realm is indeed what has shaped and elevated Dubai. Oil money and tourism has transformed a poker table-flat, sleepy fishing village on the Arabian Gulf into a staggering collection of skyscrapers, resort hotels, golf courses and shopping meccas. The most famous dwelling in Dubai these days is Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, 2,722 feet, with 163 floors. You might remember Tom Cruise hanging off its side in 2011’s “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol.” The elevator ascent to the top is alarmingly swift; the dizzying view from the top will buckle your knees.

The legendary Burj Al Arab hotel is worth a tour, even if you’re not holed up there for the night. That’s the joint with the helicopter landing pad from which Tiger has launched golf balls and Roger Federer and Andre Agassi have swatted tennis balls. The Burj Al Arab’s lavish, grin-inducing excesses, including an aquarium and suites fit for sultans are colorful tributes to the joys of spending—much like the Dubai Mall, a mind-boggling monument to conspicuous consumption. No less opulent is the brand new JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, the world’s tallest hotel. Kudos to the superb service, convenient central business location, and especially to two of the greatest hotel restaurants in existence, Prime 68 Steakhouse (on the 68th floor) and especially the Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar, for Indian cuisine nonpareil.

Still, I braved the 14-hour flight to Dubai not so much to eat and sleep, but to tee it up. The golf didn’t disappoint. Although Tiger’s first design went fallow before completion, recent arrivals from Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie and Ian Baker-Finch—and one on the way via Donald Trump and Gil Hanse—complement the region’s two classics, Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. Both are worth the journey.

Now 26 years old, the Emirates Golf Club is the undisputed anchor tenant in the Dubai golf mall. Its original layout, the Majlis, a 1988 Karl Litten creation, is where Tiger is plying his trade this week. Tabbed the “desert miracle,” owing to its nothing-to-something special rise, Majlis (Arabic for “meeting place”) is a superb test that embraces a nearly unique aesthetic. The 7,301-yard layout sports mature (25-year-old) trees, scrub-covered open desert areas and an ever-changing backdrop of skyscrapers new and old. Most memorable is the 459-yard, par-4 eighth, a slight uphill dogleg right that demands a bite-off-as-much-as-you-dare drive over desert scrub, followed by an approach straight at the kind of high-rises that would challenge Superman to leap over in a single bound.

What stands out if you’re a longtime European Tour viewer is the par-5 18th. A 564-yard, risk/reward temptress, this sharp dogleg left dishes out a nervy call on the second shot: whether or not to go for the shallow, hourglass-shaped green on the other side of a massive lake. When the shadows of the television tower lengthen in the late afternoon, it can be nerve-wracking putting down the green toward the water on Sunday of the Dubai Desert Classic. The unique Bedouin tent-style clubhouse beckons after the round.

Emirates’ second course, once known as Wadi (“Valley”), was reworked in 2006 by Nick Faldo and now bears his name. The Faldo is near-equal in challenge to the Majlis, if not in character, but it is lit for night play, a huge plus when the mercury soars.

Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club
The clubhouse and ninth green at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club in the United Arab Emirates. (Getty Images)

 

Dubai Golf, the management and marketing entity that operates the Emirates Golf Club, also runs another excellent facility, Dubai Creek. Adjacent to the Park Hyatt Dubai (a luxury hotel that perfectly blends Western and Moorish influences and which sports handsome views of the marina), DubaI Creek furnishes a superior par-3 course—Rory McIlroy has sampled it—and a totally fun championship 18, more resort-y than Emirates Majlis, but no less fascinating. The finish is world-class, with the 354-yard 17th and the 421-yard 18th a pair of riveting par-4s that skirt the wide, boat-filled Dubai Creek. The daunting home hole features a backdrop of one of golf’s most distinctive clubhouses, which resembles the sails of an Arabic dhow.

Tiger, Rory, Henrik—I wish you were playing in Scottsdale this week. However, at long last, I understand why Dubai is so compelling.

January 14, 2014

Ask Travelin' Joe: Where should I play in Tucson? Savannah? Ponte Vedra Beach?

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

La Paloma Country Club
Courtesy of La Paloma Country Club

 

Hello Joe, I'm headed to Tucson for a few days of Arizona sun and scenery. What courses give the most cacti for the money? -- Lana Neighbor, Ambler, Pa.

You have to stay at the Westin to play its on-site La Paloma Country Club ($59-$179; 520-742-6000, westinlapalomaresort.com), but its three early Jack Nicklaus nines are well worth it. Saguaro cacti frame the fairways, while mountain vistas highlight this target-style spread. In nearby Marana, another Jack Nicklaus Signature design, the Golf Club at Dove Mountain ($79-$199; 520-572-3500, thegolfclubatdovemountain.com), is blanketed with exotic desert flora. The WGC–Accenture Match Play is played on the Saguaro/Tortolita combo, though Jack's favorite of the three nines is Wild Burro. And Ventana Canyon's Mountain and Canyon courses ($59-$169; 520-577-1400, thelodgeatventanacanyon.com) embrace every manner of thorny plant, notably on the Mountain's par-3 third.

The Club at Savannah Harbor
The Club at Savannah Harbor / Dick Durrance

 

Dear Joe, I'm heading to Savannah, Georgia. Know of any gems off the beaten path? -- Sam R. Blair, via e-mail

Sam, maybe it's the shrimp and grits talking, but I think Savannah is one of the most charming cities in the U.S.—and great for golf. Start with The Club at Savannah Harbor ($40-$88; 912-201-2240, theclubatsavannahharbor.com), a dramatic Bob Cupp/Sam Snead design that's hosted the Champions Tour's Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf for the last 11 years. Most memorable is the 447-yard, par-4 sixth, with its green edged by marsh and backdropped by the Talmadge Bridge. The area's top value? A wooded Rees Jones design called Southbridge ($25-$50; 912-651-5455, southbridgegolfclub.com), which turns 25 this year. Meanwhile, the award for easiest access goes to bargain-priced Crosswinds ($34-$53; 912-966-1909, crosswindsgolfclub.com), renowned for its reachable yet watery par-5 closer, and for the club's location five minutes from the airport.

Streamsong Resort
Streamsong Resort / Larry Lambrecht

 

Hey Joe, Are there any quality links-style courses to play here in Florida? -- Bill Jervis, Tampa, Fla.

That's the easiest question I've heard in eons. Streamsong Resort ($110-$235; 863-428-1000, streamsongresort.com) is less than 90 minutes from Tampa and serves up two superior firm-and-fast, dune-splashed tracks that demand thoughtful shotmaking, with an emphasis on the ground game. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw's Red is slightly more dramatic than Tom Doak's Blue, though I'm partial to the Blue for how seamlessly it hews to the terrain, and for stunners such as the all-carry par-3 seventh and the drivable par-4 13th. With the mid-January debut of the 216-room Lodge at Streamsong, there's no better time to go.

The Word Golf Village
Courtesy of The Word Golf Village

 

Travelin' Man, I'm playing the Stadium and Valley courses at TPC Sawgrass. Anywhere else I should tee it up in the Ponte Vedra Beach area? -- Mike Smith, via e-mail

Since you don't scrimp, Mike, I'll steer you to the region's trophy tracks. For a fun 36 holes, drive 45 minutes south to St. Augustine. The World Golf Village (904-201-3609, golfwgv.com) has two courses: King & Bear ($79-$169) is the only Arnold Palmer–Jack Nicklaus collaboration in existence, and the Slammer & Squire ($59-$129) is a wonderful Bobby Weed creation, with help from Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen. King & Bear's back nine winds through loblolly pines and ancient oaks, while Slammer & Squire sports lagoons, wetlands and a wet-and-wild par-4 closer. My favorite combo of golf and lodging in the area is the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club and its Ocean course ($75-$132.50; 888-839-9145, pontevedra.com), a wonderfully renovated treat that trots out cross bunkers, ocean breezes and an island green dating to the 1920s.

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at [email protected].

For more news that golfers everywhere are talking about, follow @si_golf on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube video channel.

January 06, 2014

Budget Breaks: Pop the cork on great golf deals in 2014

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Innisbrook
Credit: Courtesy of Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf and Spa Resort

 

SAVE $120: Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club Palm Harbor, Fla.

Don't get snake-bit this winter. Try Innisbrook's Tour-tested Copperhead course -- and its 54 other holes -- with the Classic Golf Package. It includes lodging, one round per golfer per night, $10 retail credit, unlimited practice and fitness facility use, and club storage. January rates start at $458 per room, per night, based on double occupancy. 888-794-8627, innisbrookgolfresort.com

SAVE $105: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail [Grand National] Opelika, Ala.

Already one of the best deals in golf, Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Trail is an even bigger bargain with its Winter Unlimited Package. Available at all sites except Lakewood and Ross Bridge [with a $10 surcharge for the Judge at Capitol Hill], the package gets you all the golf you can play in January for $75 per day. Price includes cart and unlimited range balls. 800-949-4444, rtjgolf.com

SAVE $115: Omni Amelia Island Plantation Amelia Island, Fla.

Pete Dye and protégé Bobby Weed crafted 36 holes at Amelia -- including a fistful that skirt the Atlantic Ocean. The Stay and Play Package offers ocean-view lodging and one round at $100 per person -- with a second round, rental clubs and a $40 beverage-cart credit free. January rates start at $319 per room, per night, based on double occupancy. 904-261-6161, omnihotels.com

SAVE $105: The Biltmore Hotel Coral Gables, Fla.

Its venerable Donald Ross design -- not to mention legendary swimming pool -- made the Biltmore one of Babe Ruth's favorite hangouts. See it yourself with the Hole-in-One Package, which includes lodging, unlimited golf, and practice facility use. January rates start at $589 per night, based on double occupancy. 855-311-6903, biltmorehotel.com

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December 19, 2013

Course Spy: True Blue Plantation is worth every penny

Posted at 12:31 PM by Pete Madden | Categories: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

True Blue Plantation
Credit: Michael Slear / The Brandon Agency

 

Friendly, efficient staffers greeted us as we arrived, as befits a premier Grand Strand course. Impressively, the beverage-cart girl met us on the first hole, although she didn't return until No. 13. Then again, this potent layout gives you a better buzz than any cocktail can.

PACE OF PLAY

We teed off at 9 a.m. in late August and breezed around in slightly over four hours. Multiple water holes produced minor holdups, but the personable course marshals kept play moving. That said, rounds likely take longer in prime time, given the difficulty of the hazard-filled track.

QUALITY

While Mike Strantz's brilliant design has been softened over the years, it remains one of the best in Myrtle. Holes are so interesting and varied that our spy couldn't wait to reach the next tee. The greens and fairways were smooth and well-kept throughout the entire 18.

VALUE

You'll pay a premium fee for a premium course. Our man shelled out about $100, the off-season rate at this high-end track. A few quibbles here and there (no divot mix in the plastic bottles) are forgivable. The scenery, variety and overall challenge made True Blue worth every penny.

VERDICT

You know you had a good day on the course if your biggest complaint is that the snack shop was closed. From the late, great Strantz's sublime design to the helpful staff to the tip-top course conditions, this dramatic, watery layout remains a must play in Myrtle Beach.

Pawleys Island, S.C.; 7,126 yards, par 72; Green fees: $110-$120; 888-483-6801, truebluegolf.com

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December 01, 2013

Ask Travelin' Joe: From One Fine Bay to Another

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

TPC Harding Park
TPC Harding Park / Getty Images

 

Dear Joe: I'm heading out to San Francisco and I have three days to squeeze in a couple of rounds. What are your recommendations? -- Kyle McKearney, via email

There's iconic TPC Harding Park ($155-$175; 415-664-4690, tpc.com/tpc-harding-park), the foggy, cypress-lined home of the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship (won by Tiger Woods) and the 2009 Presidents Cup. A heads up: On December 1, after it hosts the Champions Tour's season-ending Schwab Cup, Harding's greens will get a face-lift. This means you'll have 18 temporaries (along with a deep discount on green fees) through March. Until then, Presidio Golf Club ($110-$145; 415-561-4653, presidiogolf.com) is your best option. This hilly challenge is a bear to walk, but it compensates with imposing pines and some fun shotmaking challenges. And be sure to check out Lincoln Park ($38-$55; 415-221-9911, sfrecpark.org). This quaint, 5,146-yard muni is more about the postcard (as in amazing views) than the scorecard, with a dazzling glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge on the par-3 17th.

Redstone Golf Club
Redstone Golf Club / Larry Lambrecht

 

Yo Joe: I'm heading down to Houston in late November to catch a college football game. Where should I tee it up? -- Jake Davidson, Cincinnati, Ohio

There's nothing like college pigskin in the Lone Star State. After you watch your Cincinnati Bearcats battle the Houston Cougars, check out Redstone's Tournament course ($125-$175; 281-459-7800, redstonegolfclub.com) in suburban Humble. Host to the PGA Tour's Shell Houston Open, this Rees Jones creation is a bomber's paradise. It's long, wide and watery. Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan are among the recent winners. Closer to downtown (and to Rice Stadium, where you'll watch the game), you'll find Memorial Park ($39-$49; 713-559-2000, memorialparkgolf.com), a flattish, well-treed, 7,300-yarder that boasts some history of its own -- 14 Houston Opens were contested here between 1947 and 1963, with Arnold Palmer claiming the crown in 1957. It's a score either way, so why not go for two?

Orange Lake Golf Resort
Courtesy of Orange Lake Golf Resort

 

Hey Joe: My wife and I are older golfers and fairly new to the game. We want to take a vacation, ideally to a moderately priced place with good instruction. Ideas? -- John and Pat Morello, via email

With December closing in faster than a one-horse sleigh, I direct you to the Sunshine State, specifically Orange Lake Golf Resort (407-239-1050, orangelake.com) in Kissimmee, just south of Orlando and three miles from Disney. If you're feeling ambitious, there are two championship 18s on-site, as well as a pair of beginner-friendly nines, first-rate practice facilities and excellent instruction (we rank the McCord Golf Academy as one of the 25 Best in the U.S.). With December lodging rates that begin at $99/night, for pure value, this Orange is very sweet.

Dear Travelin' Man: I'm taking the family to Pensacola, Fla. I'd like a break from the beach and plan to hit the links for a day. Any diamonds in the rough under $70? -- Dave Gardner, Louisville, Ky.

Value on the Emerald Coast is as prevalent as the sugary-white beaches. My top pick is Kiva Dunes ($64.50-$92; 251-540-7000, kivadunes.com) across the border in Gulf Shores, Alabama. It's a superb, linksy Jerry Pate design between Mobile Bay and the Gulf, with afternoon rates of less than $70 in December. Just one catch: It's more than an hour's drive away. If that's too much of a haul, try Tiger Point ($40-$50; 850-932-1333, tigerpointgolf.com), 12 miles from Pensacola in Gulf Breeze. Its Jerry Pate-designed East course offers water on 14 holes and views of Santa Rosa Sound. I'm also a fan of Sandestin, about an hour to the east. The Baytowne course ($54-$89; 850-267-8155, sandestin.com) charges $54-$74 during the winter and features what passes for an elevation change in the Panhandle, along with kid-friendly tees and rental clubs -- so bring the wee ones and wipe away the guilt.

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at [email protected].

For more news that golfers everywhere are talking about, follow @si_golf on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube video channel.

November 24, 2013

Deal of the Month: Royal Isabela in Puerto Rico

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Royal Isabela
Credit: Joann Dost

 

Draped atop rugged cliffs in northwest Puerto Rico, 75 miles west of San Juan, Royal Isabela dishes out a stunning (if ferocious) 7,667-yard par-73 replete with soaring Atlantic vistas. The 435-yard, par-4 12th and 200-yard, par-3 17th, which peer over the beach, are two of the hardest, most spectacular holes I've played. Pack an extra dozen balls -- and throw in another sleeve, just in case. Fortunately, Royal Isabela soothes in so many ways. On my visit, Rafael Bernaloa and his team of bartenders wiped away my double-bogey blues with a tropical-drink class, and head pro Miguel Suárez Igartúa patched up my swing at his academy. Toss in superior dining at La Casa and lodging in a huge one-bedroom casita, and you have the ultimate secluded seaside golf escape.

This month, the resort is offering a special to Travelin' Joe readers: one free round with each 3 night/4 day stay at regular rates. December rates start at $800 per casita, including breakfast for two. 855-609-5888, royalisabela.com

For more news that golfers everywhere are talking about, follow @si_golf on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube video channel.

November 22, 2013

The Ultimate Man Weekend 2013: Myrtle Beach

Posted at 6:39 PM by Jeff Ritter | Categories: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Entrance
Antebellum oak trees line the entrance to Caledonia Golf and Fish Club.


When it comes to my golf-crazed friends, there’s one fall tradition that surpasses frost, foliage and even football.

Man Weekend.

For the past several autumns, I’ve met up with the same group of guys for a weekend of golf, drinks and good times. Last month, we convened in Myrtle Beach for our fifth edition. Astute readers may remember that this rollicking affair [past editions found here, here and here] once produced what this website boldly dubbed “The Worst Golf Shot in America.” This group is capable of making history at any moment.

CaledoniaTee-2As time has passed, our annual trips have slowly grown shorter as family and career obligations intercede. Most of us are now in our mid-30s, and life looks a lot different than it did five years ago. Thanks to an office meeting and flight snafu, I wasn’t able to join the band in Myrtle until Saturday morning, when less than 36 holes remained in the trip. A few guys had to blow out of town that night. One guy bailed on the trip at the last minute, leaving us with an awkward seven-man group instead of a perfect eight for foursomes. All told, the entire unit was together for a total of about 10 hours.

We made the most of it.

Recently in Golf.com’s PGA Tour Confidential, we kicked around our dream 36-hole day and, because one should never miss a chance to be sarcastic dazzle readers with dry wit, I said that a perfect 36 holes in 24 hours would be Augusta National followed by Royal Melbourne. Good luck with that. But there are more than 100 courses in the Grand Strand, and I’d put the duo of Caledonia Golf and Fish Club and True Blue Plantation up against any other pair in Myrtle Beach. That was our two-course lineup for the day.

Caledonia’s Southern charm is apparent from the moment your car tires hit the driveway -- that path is lined by antebellum oaks (pictured above) and calls to mind, of all places, Magnolia Lane at Augusta National. That’s right: wheeling into Caledonia makes me feel like I’m about to play the Masters. I consider this a good way to start a round.

18thpicCaledonia was built on a Southern rice plantation, and the immaculate course is a staple on Golf Magazine's list of Top 100 Courses You Can Play. (I mean, look at that grass on the tee box above.) I’ve been fortunate enough to hit Caledonia a few times, and after each round I come away with a new favorite hole. This time the honor goes to the par-5 eighth, and its risk-reward second shot over a pond which fronts a green that’s severely sloped from back to front. My buddy Stuart, the biggest hitter of the group, eagled it. I birdied it. Others made 8s. Holes like this are a blast, especially in match play.

The par-4 18th [shown at right] has historically eaten my lunch. A large pond runs along the right side of the narrow fairway, and it takes a precise hybrid or mid-iron to stay in play off the tee. Then you need to hit one more pure shot that flies the pond and carries all the way to the green. The putting surface slopes toward the water, so, yeah, good luck. I think my best score on this hole entering Man Weekend was a 6. Here’s my tee shot from this year’s event. Spoiler alert: it stunk.

For our second round of the day, we hopped across Kings River Road to play True Blue, Caledonia’s sister property. While Caledonia is exacting off the tee, the Blue is more open and forgiving. Massive waste bunkers line many of the fairways, and the greens were still running quick, even in late October. The opening hole is a long, dogleg-left par-5 that kicks you in the teeth right out of the gate (It’s the No. 1 handicap) but the wide fairways were a welcome sight for our group as fatigue (and, in some cases, alcohol) began affecting our swings.

On the quaint little par-4 sixth, Stuart, a lefty who regularly busts drives over 300 yards, hopped out of his cart, flipped a right-handed club on its side and ripped this shot 330. You probably had to be there to fully appreciate it, but here it is:

We staggered home from there, mixing in a few good golf shots with more drinks and unprintable insults. True Blue's home hole, with water left, trees right and the stately clubhouse dead ahead, was memorable, and a great cap to a long afternoon on the course. We finished our day with a fresh seafood dinner at the excellent Flying Fish Public Market and Grill (Slogan: “If it swims, we’ll catch it!”) and basked in the glow of another weekend that was well worth the trip.

Can't wait to tee it up again next year.

Group-photo
Jeff Ritter, Stuart Johnson, Mark Phillips, Kevin Bray, Jose Alea, Brian Hutcherson and Luke Simpson.

(Photos: Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, Jeff Ritter, Jose Alea)

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