Category: Course Spy

July 25, 2013

Course Spy: Bandon Trails

Posted at 2:35 PM by Joe Passov

Coore and Crenshaw's Bandon Trails ranks 55th in our Top 100 U.S. Courses. (Credit: Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Bandon Trails
Bandon, Ore.
6,765 yards, par 71
Green fees: $75-$235

Like the course itself, it's throwback in spirit without distractions or silly frills. A warm greeting in the pro shop, a quick intro from the starter, and you're off—ideally with one of the seasoned caddies, who are key to understanding the layout's many quirks.

This is one of the few high-end resorts where you never worry about a five-hour round. Laggards, happily, are a rare breed here. If you book a trip to Bandon, you're the kind of player who understands the term "ready golf." We finished in four hours flat.

Quibblers complain that the Coore-Crenshaw creation is not on the water, and that No. 14's tabletop green is unfair. But Trails opens amid dunes, spills into meadows, and journeys through a coastal forest, making it the most varied—and perhaps most interesting—course at Bandon.

In the off-season, prices plummet below $100, so a round at Trails feels like stealing. But even during peak months, the green fees are worth paying. After all, a trek here costs only a fraction of a trip to Scotland, and you get great golf with none of the bagpipe music.

According to our rankings, this is the weakest of Bandon's four 18-hole layouts—which, of course, is damning with high praise. If you make the trip here and play this charmer, there's a great chance you'll come away thinking the course raters got it wrong.

June 25, 2013

Course Spy: Pacific Grove Golf Links

Posted at 11:58 AM by Joe Passov

Pacific Grove Golf Links

Pacific Grove, Calif.
5,727 yards, par 70
Green fees: $46-$68

Sure, the guy in the pro shop will smile at you, and the starter gives friendly waves. But this isn't nearby Pebble Beach — it's a muni, stripped of resort frills. Princely types who demand pampering should look elsewhere on the Monterey Peninsula.

Whether it's the short rough, moderate length, [under 6,000 yards], or bare-bones ethos of the place, play moves faster here than at most munis. Our spy tapped in on No. 18 at 3 hours, 45 minutes! The ocean views almost make you want to play slower.

Filled with quirky charm, the two nines are polar opposites. The tight, tree-lined front side opens with back-to-back par 3s, giving way to a back nine that sweeps through a dunescape like some ancient links. The two halves are greater than the sum of their parts.

In this upscale part of northern California, $46 can get you a tank of gas, a couple of entrees in Pebble Beach's Tap Room — or four hours of enjoyable golf and Pacific panoramas on prized real estate. This little muni is arguably the best bargain course in America.

If you're a trophy hunter trekking to this golf-rich region, Pacific Grove will hardly top your hit list. But once you've played the likes of Spyglass and Spanish Bay, you can't beat the fun and affordability of the course that's rightly called the Poor Man's Pebble.

(Photo: Joann Dost)

April 20, 2013

Course Spy: Is Wynn Las Vegas worth $500?

Posted at 11:16 AM by Joe Passov

Location, location, location. The Wynn is the only golf resort on the Strip, so our hungover spy staying at the eponymous property was thrilled to find the pro shop just steps from the luxe lobby. Once there, it was a quick shoeshine before clean-cut attendants led him to his cart.

Pace of Play
March is high season in Sin City, but the fairways were far from clogged this Saturday morning. (Hey, $500 green fees screen out the low-rollers.) A topnotch caddie kept the pace to four hours and change, shared gossipy mini-tour tales and read almost every putt perfectly.

The dual vision of Steve Wynn and Tom Fazio, the 7,042-yard, par-70 track may be compact, but it packs more fun and drama than a Cirque du Soleil show. Holes are framed by thousands of pines and shrubs, and narrow landing areas off the tee make it a thinking-golfer's course.

While dropping half a grand on golf would make Suze Orman's head spin, chances are you came to Vegas willing to stimulate the economy, so when in Rome … Bonus: A chipping lesson from our caddie on the par-3 15th ("more arms, less wrist") was still paying off weeks later!

If you can afford the splurge, give yourself a lasting Vegas memory and tee it up. Also, play has been opened to non-resort guests, giving you the option to stay at a cheaper property and still enjoy this excellent, well-conditioned course. So for wallet watchers, it's a win-Wynn!

Wynn Golf Club
Las Vegas, Nev.
7,042 yards, par 70
Green fees: $500

(Photo: John and Jeannine Henebry)

March 23, 2013

Course Spy: Capitol Hill (The Judge)

Posted at 12:24 PM by Joe Passov


"Y'all have a good time now," the starter says, sparing us the usual first-tee soliloquy about 90-degree cart rules and the like. It's a light, Southern send-off, and it perfectly sets the tone at a friendly place where the only thing they lay on thick is the Alabama drawl, y'all.

Pace of Play
This is not a wide-open course that easily forgives errant tee shots. The aptly named Judge can be penal. It's longer than War and Peace, features more than a few slender fairways, and peril awaits on 14 holes that adjoin water. Expect your round to last at least four and a half hours.

With big greens, sprawling fairway bunkers, and long, forced carries off many tees, this course is great for risk-reward-loving players who can live with punished mis-hits. And the Alabama River's beautiful backwaters give this heart-of-Dixie course a winning sense of place.

The tough but playable holes and gorgeous views make this perhaps the best deal on the RTJ Trail. Twilight rates let you play for less than $50, about what you'd shell out for a cart and a bucket of balls at many top resorts. Here, it gets you on one of the highest-rated public tracks in Alabama.

If the course was judged by a jury of its peers, some might deem it too penal for the average player. Our ruling? Play it from the right tees—hey, there's no shame in using the 5,910-yard whites—and you'll have a blast on an entertaining layout that delivers one of the best bargains in the game.

Capitol Hill (The Judge)
Prattville, Ala.
7,813 yards, par 72
Green fees: $71-$92

(Photo: Michael Clemmer)

January 05, 2013

Course Spy: TPC Scottsdale (Stadium)

Posted at 9:24 PM by

TPC Scottsdale (Stadium)

Scottsdale, Ariz.
7,216 yards, par 71
Green fees: $63-$299

While the front is forgettable, the back nine is a blast, with that wonderful 3-hole finish.

As expected for a TPC operation, the service was excellent, from bag drop to exit. When a staffer noticed our spy carrying a shirt and slacks on a hanger, our man was escorted to the locker room — and given Bo Van Pelt's locker! Talk about being treated like a pro.

Pace of Play
Paired with a deliberate, if self-deprecating, threesome from Texas who call themselves "The Traveling Grinders," our forecaddie helped us keep our round to four hours, 30 minutes. Not too shabby for a challenging, high-end course in prime season.

While the front nine is less than memorable, the back is a blast, with lots of variety, that wonderful three-hole finish, and mountain views. And conditions were so good, they could have held the Waste Management Phoenix Open that very day.

Given the course's high profile as a Tour host, along with the exceptional service and fine conditions, our $200 fee was definitely worth the money. Just one 19th hole quibble: $15 for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc? You may want to slip your flask into your bag.

If you can spare a couple of Benjamins — or have an expense account — the Stadium course is a memorable round on an iconic Tour track. A special shout-out to our looper, who whooped it up on the par-3 16th, giving us the full Phoenix Open experience.

(Photo: Evan Schiller)

April 14, 2012

Course Spy: PGA West, TPC Stadium

Posted at 3:52 PM by Joe Passov

PgawestPGA West, TPC Stadium
La Quinta, California
7,300 yards, par 72
Green fees: $69-$255

At this premium course in a pricey corner of the California desert, expect five-star service trappings with a helpful staff and a practice area with grass impeccable enough to dine off. And it took all of our self-discipline not to fill our bag with a bunch of flawless range balls.

Pace of Play
This is a long, difficult course with more water than SeaWorld, at a resort in a region filled with plumb-bobbing retirees. It doesn't take a mathematician to know what that equation adds up to. Expect a four-and-a-half hour round, minimum, even on less than busy days.

At a time when design trends are pointing away from Pete Dye's modern stylings, the Stadium course seems almost retro-chic. Which is not to say it's dated. Like the Art Deco architecture of the surrounding region, this throwback layout has a timeless appeal.

Peak season in the winter means you'll fork over more than $200 for a top-notch experience. Happily, when the mercury rises, prices plummet, and the Stadium Course is a summer steal at less than $100. For serious players in the golf-crazy area, it's a must all year long.

When it opened 26 years ago, playing this course with balata and persimmon was like trying to tame a dragon with a rolled-up newspaper. In 2012, armed with modern weaponry, today's weekend golfers can have a shotmaking blast on the memorable Stadium course.

February 10, 2012

Course Spy: The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island

Posted at 6:45 PM by Joe Passov

Kiawah The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort
Kiawah Island, S.C.
7,356 yards, par 72
Green fees: $208-$350

What is it you require? An impeccable practice range? Five-star assistance at the bag drop? A helpful, laconic caddie who knows every wrinkle in every green? At this, the highest of high-end resort courses, your every need is attended to with detail.

Pace of Play
Tee times are spread out (10-minute intervals), but the layout is too challenging to whip through at full-throttle. On our visit, no golfers blocked our progress, and we finished in four hours. It may take you more time; don't expect it to take any less.

If you've played other marquee Pete Dye tracks (such as TPC Sawgrass) some shot requirements will ring familiar (the man enjoys his watery, late-round par 3s). Kiawah is set apart by its coastal setting, with the Atlantic lurking and the wetland grasses waving around you.

They ask a healthy price, but you get what you pay for: a pedigree layout in spit-shined shape, in a setting that's the essence of Southern elegance. Bonus points: You get to brave the watery par-3 17th, which made Calc's knees buckle in the pressure-packed climax of the 1991 Ryder Cup.

You need not be an unrepentant trophy hunter to want to add this prey—which will challenge the best at this year's PGA Championship—to your list of kills. No matter your skill level, if you love a tough test and have a sense of golf history, the Ocean Course is a must-play.

(Photo: Kiawah Island Resort)

May 14, 2011

Course Spy: Atunyote at Turning Stone

Posted at 2:49 PM by Joe Passov

Turning Atunyote at Turning Stone
Verona, New York
7,315 yards, par 72
Green fees: $200-$225

Forget "Country Club for a Day"—it's more your own personal course. Start with a gate that opens only for those with a tee time. With perhaps more staff than players, the service was top-notch, all that you would expect from an exclusive private club, not a public course.

Pace of Play
At 8:30 a.m. on a late May holiday, our spy was the second player on the course. Another teed off 45 minutes earlier; next up was a twosome an hour later. It was like having a private course. Except for dealing with some hazards, it ranks among the fastest rounds we've played.

While the design of its sister course, Shenendoah, is more interesting, this is a solid Tom Fazio layout, with a strong risk/reward finish. It's also as well-conditioned as any course we've ever played, public or private. The greens were PGA Tour-ready in late May—just perfect.

It is considerably pricier than any upstate New York courses, including the other Turning Stone tracks. But how often do you play a practically empty PGA Tour course like you owned it, complete with a Tour-level practice area and clubhouse? This is costly, but not a rip-off at all.

Turning Stone is a terrific golf resort in an unlikely spot (the central New York snowbelt) and Atunyote is its star. Most won't pay these prices more than once a season, but it's worth the splurge on special occasions, if for no other reason than to see how the casino whales live for a day.

Ask Travelin' Joe

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


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