Category: Los Angeles


February 16, 2012

Ask Travelin' Joe: Orlando, Tucson and Riviera's best and worst holes

Posted at 12:32 PM by Joe Passov

Ocn_600If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at [email protected].

Hey Joe,
A friend and I are planning a trip to the Orlando area in late February, and we’re considering the Orange County Golf Resort. We’re looking for a moderately priced deal for three to four days of golf. Should we consider a local hotel and play individual courses or go with a package deal at one of the resorts?
Sam Coppola
Via email

I’ll leave the Disney-flavored puns out of this answer—much as it pains me—because if you’re considering Orange County National, you’re likely a no-nonsense golfer who wants straightforward info.

Orlando boasts so many terrific golf properties that it’s hard to choose just one. Bay Hill has its Arnie aura, Disney has its PGA Tour pedigree, the Waldorf-Astoria has tranquility, Reunion has variety, and the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes has those greens—well, you get the point.

However, if you’re into golf—and value—book a package at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge. Its unwieldy name manages to say it all. Its two championship courses, Crooked Cat and Panther Lake, both have served as PGA Tour Qualifying School tests and comprise two of the best bargains in the area.

If you book an Orange County National package, you’ll have access to both courses, plus free golf (cart fee extra) at Tooth, their nine-hole executive course, pre-round range balls, locker, club storage, bag tag, and discounted extra rounds. (February rates from $302 per person, based on double occupancy and a two-night minimum; 407-656-2626, ocngolf.com.)

Toss in one of the three best public-access practice ranges and short-game areas in the country and superior instruction, and you’ve got a winner. If there’s a drawback to OCN, is that it’s a tad remote, away from Orlando’s plethora of attractions and restaurants. Still, to some, that’s a plus.

Dear Joe,
I read your suggestions about places to play in Tucson. Can you recommend any condo-type accommodations similar to what I find in the Myrtle Beach area? We’re looking for a one-stop place where the group has a roof over their heads and a bunch of tee times.
Ken Gardiner
Philadelphia, PA

If Phoenix/Scottsdale were your destination, Zona Resort Suites (888-222-1059, zonascottsdale.com) would be exactly what you’re looking for. Tucson’s a different animal. It offers neither the quantity nor variety of prices available in the Valley of the Sun, and it cannot touch Myrtle Beach for maximum options—but then, no destination can.

I’ve got two solid outfits to recommend in the Old Pueblo, as Tucson is often called. First is Sonoran Suites (888-786-7848, sonoransuites.com). Though based in Phoenix, they have covered Tucson since 1997 and operate in every desert destination. February packages start at $129 per person per night, but they offer an array of options that include 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units as well as choices ranging from value courses such as Del Lago, El Conquistador and Canoa Hills, to ultra-premiums like Ventana Canyon, Omni Tucson Nation and La Paloma.

My other pick in Tucson is the Golf Villas at Oro Valley (888-904-9158, thegolfvillas.com). This is pure, perfect desert, in one of Tucson’s most desirable locales, right around the corner from top tracks such as Arizona National, Vistoso and Ventana Canyon. You’re surrounded by excellent restaurants, nightlife and the towering mountains and cactus-covered slopes that brought you to the desert in the first place. February rates for two-bedroom villas start at $239.

Riviera Country Club: the Best Hole and the Worst Hole
When the PGA Tour pros renew their love affair with Riviera Country Club this week in suburban Los Angeles, they will encounter the design skills of George Thomas, a golden age architect who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie and A.W. Tillinghast. As proof of Thomas’s magical skills, check out Riviera’s 10th hole. For years, I considered Augusta National’s par-5 13th to be the ultimate risk/reward hole that the pros see every year, but these days, that honor goes to the 315-yard, slight dogleg-to-the-right 10th at “the Riv.”

Any self-respecting pro can drive the green, but the penalties for missing are so severe, thanks to the ingenious positioning of both bunkers and putting surface, that 5s and 6s are much more common than 2s.

Jack Nicklaus has stated that the 10th presents more options than any other short hole in the world. Few have the discipline to approach the green from the proper angle, which calls for a lay-up drive to the far left side of the fairway—especially when the hole location is back-right on this shallow, diagonal green corseted by bunkers. When the pin is on the left, unprotected by a fronting bunker, the temptation is to go straight at it—even if you fall short. However, that open portion of the green slopes away to the back, making a straight-on approach that much exquisitely tougher. No matter where you approach from, the shot is an extreme test of nerve. That’s what makes it a superior short hole. There’s no water to set the pulse racing or chasm to carry, just the knowledge that you’ve got to hit two perfect shots on such a tiny hole.

The worst hole at Riviera? Some might argue that the second is suspect because it’s a par 5 converted to a par 4, with a green complex much more receptive to a short approach than a long one. Others point to the shot values lacking at the par-5 first. With its exhilarating hill-top tee box, the short par 5 really plays like a par 4. For one great player, however, the dubious distinction belongs to the 236-yard, par-3 fourth. That player is not Ben Hogan, who labeled it “the greatest par 3 in America.” No, the dissenter is another supreme shotmaker, Lee Trevino, who stated in 1985, “One famous (course) with a flaw is Riviera. You could go to Communist China and say ‘Riviera Country Club’ and some guy would say ‘It’s in Los Angeles, California.’ It’s known worldwide, but Riviera is a 17-hole golf course.

“The clinker is No. 4, the par 3. A monkey’s as good as a man playing it. It slopes away from you. It plays against the prevailing wind because the play is toward Santa Monica and the ocean, and the hole plays about 240 yards against the wind. Hell, you have to hit a driver on it. They should plow that damn hole up and start building a legitimate par 3.”

No small wonder that the Merry Mex never won at Riviera, or even finished runner-up.

(Photo: Orange County National)

May 06, 2010

Ask Travelin' Joe: Los Angeles, Prince Edward Island and Barbados

Posted at 2:11 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at [email protected].

Dear Joe,
I'm headed south from the Bay Area to attend a college graduation at Pomona, just east of L.A. I've got one round to play, but I'm still paying off student loans myself and need a bargain. Suggestions?

David Prince
San Francisco, Calif.

Dean's List scholars should matriculate to Goose Creek Golf Club ($30-$75; 951-735-3982, golfgoosecreek.com) in Mira Loma. It's a short jaunt east from Pomona on the Pomona Freeway (rt. 60), then south for a few minutes on the I-15, the Ontario Freeway. Schmidt-Curley, one of golf's most underrated design firms, crafted one of the nation's most underrated values in Goose Creek.

Attractions include large, but not especially penal bunkers, big, smooth bentgrass greens, snow-capped mountain views and three holes that edge the Santa Ana River. You can walk during the week for $37, but expect crowds, because for this kind of quality at this price tag, the recession hasn't hit here yet.

Dear Joe,
Can you recommend a high-quality golf experience in Eastern Canada? Are there any resorts with more than one track (or multiple courses within a few miles) that are not too far from whatever airport you can fly into? Thanks.

E. DeBear
Via email

I don't know how far east in Canada you had in mind, but I'll say without hesitation that the Atlantic Province of Prince Edward Island is your best match. With 10 percent of Canada's Top 100 courses, PEI is loaded with great, affordable golf courses, all pretty much within a hour's drive from each other. Situated a half-hour from the airport in Charlottetown, the island's ultimate trophy course is the Links at Crowbush Cove ($79-$99; 800-235-8909, golflinkspei.com), a brutal but beautiful 1994 Thomas McBroom design that sports frightfully quick greens, water hazards galore, an array of strategic bunkering and glimpses of coastal dunes along the island's north shore. The accompanying Rodd Crowbush Resort is the region's finest.

Just down the road is the more affordable, though nearly as strong Rodd Brudenell Resort (800-565-RODD, roddhotelsandresorts.com; two-night, two-round packages from $291 per person) with 45 holes. Two of the 18s are stellar: the rugged Dundarave layout is a 1999 Hurdzan-Fry design that stretches nearly 7,300 yards as it winds through pine forests and along the Brudenell River. The original Brudenell River course is more family friendly, though scenic and testing in its own right.

Dear Joe,
My husband and I have been taking golf vacations at the Lodge at Koele on Lanai, Hawaii. We enjoy playing the Experience at Koele because the resort golf course is rarely crowded (we usually play alone and sometimes two rounds per day) and the weather is cool and comfortable. We recently relocated from California to Florida and would like to find a new vacation spot that can be reached within a five-hour flight. Could you suggest an alternate resort and golf course with similar attributes?

Janet Min
Juno Beach, Fla.

It's almost refreshing to counsel someone looking for the best life has to offer, rather than simply the best bargains. Make no mistake: Travelin' Joe appreciates both -- but let's be honest here. White-glove, red-carpet pampering doesn't suck, and neither does an empty golf course. For an island experience, go with Sandy Lane Resort (246-444-2000, sandylane.com; 5-night golf & spa packages from $4,000) in the Barbados, West Indies. Its seclusion and emphasis on privacy and discretion borders on snobbery, but if you're looking for quiet, superior luxury, this is it. Tom Fazio's Green Monkey layout draws most of the accolades thanks to holes such as the downhill, par-3 16th, with its quarry and lake backdrop, along with the famous turf-monkey bunker. However, the sibling Country Club course, another Fazio design, was good enough to host the 2006 World Cup, won by Bernhard Langer and his partner, Marcel Siem.

June 11, 2009

Ask Travelin Joe: The Ozarks, Los Angeles and Montreal

Posted at 11:58 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at [email protected].

Dear Joe,
I am taking a trip to the Southern Missouri/Northwest Arkansas Ozarks and would like to play a few rounds of golf. I am open to all types of courses and price ranges, but usually like to get the best bang for the buck. I will be traveling with my wife, 9-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, so resorts with amenities other than golf would be great, too. Recommendations?

Loyce Smith
Junction City, Kan.

To compensate for those guilt pangs of being without the family for 6 hours, I'm sending you straight to the best course in the area, the Tom Fazio-designed Branson Creek Golf Club ($90-$99; 417-339-4653, bransoncreekgolf.com), a rolling track with lakes, hills and mountain vistas. Fortunately, Branson's myriad attractions will allow your family to forget all about you-for 6 hours, anyway.

For lodging, check out the Westgate Branson Woods Resort and Cabins (888-808-7410, wgbransonwoods.com), an affiliated partner of Branson Creek, which offers indoor and outdoor pools, a lighted playground, bike rentals and plenty more.

If you'd prefer the prices and tranquility of Arkansas, don't miss Stonebridge Meadows ($30-$54; 479-571-3673, stonebridgemeadows.com) in Fayetteville, a testing Randy Heckenkemper creation near the University of Arkansas that might be the region's top value.

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