November 20, 2013

Best Trips: Sewailo Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz.

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Sewailo Golf Club
Credit: D Squared Productions

 

It's been four long years since a new course opened in golf-crazy Arizona. As it turns out, good things are worth waiting for. Sewailo Golf Club was built as an amenity for the Casino del Sol Resort in Tucson. In the Native American language of Yaqui, "sewailo" translates to "flower world," and this Ty Butler-Notah Begay co-design lives up to that name.

If you're looking for a cactus-lined, target-style track, you won't find it here; instead, you'll play through a kaleidoscope of year-round floral displays. White and pink roses, yellow brittlebush and purple sage from a stunning palette, while cottonwood, pine and willow trees (which are important in Pascua Yaqui tribal ceremonies) dot the course.

Still, pretty colors won't entirely ease the menace of the seven elegant yet daunting lakes and interlocking streams that dominate the layout, influencing play on half the holes. All that water makes its presence felt, most memorably on a trio of handsome but stern tests: the 145-yard par-3 third, the 620-yard, double-dogleg par-5 10th and the 390-yard par-4 18th.

Happily, it's not all punishment. Sewailo sets itself apart from its sandy competitors in town with roomy fairways and bentgrass greens, as well as a casino and mountain backdrop. Slated for a mid-December opening, Sewailo is sure to seduce parched desert-dwellers eager for a touch of the tropics.

7,282 yards, par-72; Green fees: $69-$149; (855) 765-7289; www.solcasinos.com

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November 03, 2013

Ask Travelin' Joe: From Ragin' Cajuns to Mickey Mouse

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Gray Plantation
Gray Plantation, Credit: Aidan Bradley

 

Dear Joe: I'll be taking a trip to Lake Charles, La., to visit family. I plan on playing at least one day while there. What area courses would you recommend? -- Mike Haig, Chicago, Ill.

I've got two top choices for you in Cajun country, one of my favorite places to play in the USA. First, a value-favorite: Gray Plantation ($35-$59; 337-562-1663, graywoodllc.com) is a handsome, well-treed track that features water, water everywhere. Bring an extra sleeve or two; you can lose ammo on 12 holes, including the tough par-3 sixth, which demands a shot over the Calcasieu Ship Channel to a peninsula green. If you want to roll the dice after rolling the rock, try Tom Fazio's Contraband Bayou at nearby L'Auberge Casino Resort ($39-$109; 337-395-7220, llakecharles.com). This 7,077-yard par 71 features superb Bermuda greens, Fazio's striking bunkers and eight lakes throughout the layout.

Bulle Rock
Bulle Rock, Credit: Evan Schiller

 

Hi Joe: I'll be in Annapolis for one day, flying into Baltimore, with time for a quick round. I prefer a quality layout with great conditioning. Where should I play? -- Ed Cadenas, via e-mail

Ed, cracking blue crabs is my first priority when I'm down Chesapeake way, with golf being a (very) close second. Bulle Rock ($79-$130; 888-285-5375, bullerock.com) in Havre de Grace is my first choice. True, it's an hour north of the airport, but with a ranking of No. 41 on our 2012-'13 Top 100 Courses You Can Play list, it's worth the journey. Bulle is a true bully (and it's pronounced that way, too). This danger-laden Pete Dye stunner has hosted the LPGA Championship five times, with Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Suzann Pettersen among those hoisting the trophy. Conditioning? It's kept in tournament shape all year round. If you prefer something closer to Baltimore, try Waverly Woods ($54-$84; 410-313-9182, waverlywoods.com) an Arthur Hills course just a 20-minute drive from Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Hi Joe: While my kids are at Disney World, I have time for some peace and quiet on the course. I've already played Grand Cypress, a great pick. What's next? -- Luis M. Rivera, via e-mail

I don't blame you for resisting the siren call of the Mouse -- there's plenty of golf to play. I agree with Tiger, who once called the greens at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes ($60-$180; 407-393-4900, grandelakes.com) some of the best he's ever putted. Although this Greg Norman design is runway wide and flat, it's also truly tranquil, offering just the serenity you're seeking. You might also consider Rees Jones's Waldorf Astoria Golf Club ($50-$170; 407-597-3780, waldorfastoriaorlando.com). Hewn from pristine woodlands, it's only about three miles from Disney and offers strategic resort golf at its best. Right at the park, consider Disney's Magnolia Course ($104-$165; 407-939-4653, disneyworldgolf.com). Don't let the hokey, mouse-ear-shaped bunker fool you—for 40 years, this track was tough enough to be a PGA Tour stop. At 7,500 yards, it's hardly child's play.

Sedona Golf Resort
Sedona Golf Resort, Credit: Evan Schiller

 

Dear Joe: I'm planning a trip to Scottsdale this November, but lots of courses will be overseeding. Any way around that? -- Scott Gentry, Tulsa, Okla.

If they're overseeding, head north over the hills to Sedona. The town has quaint charms that dear old Scottsdale can't match, and at 4,500 feet of elevation, there's no need to overseed; the courses have cool-season grasses. Both Sedona Golf Resort ($69-$99; 928-284-9355, sedonagolfresort.com) and Oakcreek ($79-$99; 928-284-1660, oakcreekcountryclub.com) will dazzle you with red-rock landscapes. Seven Canyons ($100-$150; 928-203-2000, sevencanyons.com) is beautiful, too, but it's only open to guests of Enchantment Resort.

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].

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October 31, 2013

Deal of the Month: The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast, Calif.

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

The Resort at Pelican Hill
Credit: Jay D. Jenks / Courtesy of The Resort at Pelican Hill

 

For most of my stay here, I simply couldn't stop smiling. Why?

Let me count the ways. The ocean views are spectacular. The service is superb. If you like celebrity-spotting, simply settle in beside the retro-cool pool. The Pelican Grill is one of the great 19th holes, and the spa is an excellent place to recover after your round. As for golf, there are two Tom Fazio layouts along the Pacific Ocean, and a Top 100 Teacher, Glenn Deck. (Thanks for the putting tip, Glenn -- it's still working!)

Come checkout time, the cost will wipe the smile off your face. Perfection is pricey. But there are ways to trim the tab. If you have a lot of rounds in mind, consider the Fazio Unlimited Package, which covers Bungalow or Villa lodging and all-you-can-play access to three courses. (There's another Fazio at nearby Oak Creek.) Carts, club rental, forecaddies and valet parking are also part of the package.

Rates start at $835 per night, with a two-night minimum stay; (888) 802-1777, pelicanhill.com

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October 29, 2013

Best Trips: The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

The Dunes Golf & Beach Club
Credit: Michael Slear / The Brandon Agency

 

In the ever-evolving meat market that is Myrtle Beach golf, the juiciest cut is The Dunes Golf & Beach Club. Of the 100-plus courses along the Grand Strand, this 1948 Robert Trent Jones Sr. original is the only true-to-its-roots classic. When it closed for renovations this summer, the course already ranked No. 47 in Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play. Now, following a sensitive retouching by Jones' son Rees, the Dunes is open again -- and better than ever.

The younger Jones stretched the tips back 185 yards, added a number of new tee boxes, rebuilt or constructed new bunkers on several holes, and widened the approaches to open up new shotmaking options. The biggest change came on the greens themselves, where the club transitioned the old bent surfaces to Champion Bermuda. That means faster, smoother conditions year-round. Fortunately, Jones left the teeth of the course largely unchanged, especially the scenic, if scary, stretch from 11 through 13, aptly named "Alligator Alley," which tangles with Singleton Lake (and its reptilian residents). The vaunted 13th, "Waterloo," now doglegs around the water at a healthy 640 yards, up from 590.

Even with the new greens and extra muscle, the Dunes' appreciation for traditional design values sets it apart from much of the Myrtle muddle. You'll still need to stay at a member hotel to access this otherwise private course, but if you're craving a classic amid the modern marvels of the Lowcountry, you gotta do the Dunes.

7,370 yards, par 72; Green fees: $75-$225; (843) 449-5236, thedunesclub.net

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August 06, 2013

Oak Hill Country Club's twisted design legacy

Posted at 11:21 AM by Golf.com | Categories: Donald Ross, Oak HIll

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Oak-hill-joe-passov_640
Jim Nantz closed last week's broadcast by gushing about returning to Oak Hill, the Donald Ross masterpiece, but I'm not sure Ross would recognize the place.

Undeniably, Oak Hill's East course, site of this week's PGA Championship, oozes classic design features, a stern challenge and an admirable tournament history. Cary Middlecoff never broke the par of 70 in winning the 1956 U.S. Open. When Jack Nicklaus won the PGA Championship here in 1980, he was the only player to finish at par or better. Even when Lee Trevino beat 70 in all four rounds in winning the 1968 U.S. Open, only he and Nicklaus finished at par or better for the event. We know Oak Hill East is great. Golf Magazine panelists just ranked it 32nd in the United States and 60th in the World. Yet, in many respects, this isn't quite the course Ross built. The question is, Does that matter?

Ross crafted Oak Hill in 1924 over mostly treeless terrain. A "beautification" project was begat by Dr. John Williams, an amateur tree specialist, who collected acorns from all over the world, then planted them at Oak Hill. Within 25 years, 75,000 trees had grown and were on full display at the club's first national event, the 1949 U.S. Amateur. The results were handsome, yes, but dense tree framing also equals less strategy.

In 1955, ahead of the U.S. Open the following year, "Open Doctor" Robert Trent Jones Sr. operated on Oak Hill, establishing new back tees and adding and subtracting bunkers. Ross' "masterpiece" was tampered with in the name of tournament toughness, a theme that would recur with annoying regularity over the years.

Still, it was the major surgery undertaken by George and Tom Fazio in 1976 that alienated pros and critics alike. They eliminated the well-regarded 5th and 6th holes to help with gallery flow. Bunker styles changed, as did green contours. The Fazios also created a new green at the par-3 15th, with an attractive pond positioned front-right. Later, a stone wall was built to edge the lake. The good news? The 15th is now a more beautiful hole. The bad news? It doesn't resemble a Donald Ross original.

Were the changes a good thing? Raymond Floyd wasn't a fan. At the 1980 PGA, he said, "If I owned a Rembrandt, I don't think I'd go slapping on some reds and yellows just because it was kind of dull."

Can modifications that make a course more challenging and more beautiful be considered "improvements" if they mess with a masterpiece? Not in my book. If you start with a strong design by an acknowledged Hall-of-Fame architect on naturally varied terrain, I would restore, restore, restore.

What bugs me most, however, is the use of gnarly, ligament-snapping rough to narrow fairways at the great courses in order to protect par. We saw it at Merion and saw it at Oak Hill for the 2003 PGA. Not even Shaun Micheel's astounding 7-iron at the 72nd in '03 could make me forget how boring the final round was. By narrowing fairways to 25 yards with dense rough, you eliminate the designer's intended strategies. A proper side of the fairway and a better angle into the green? Fuggettaboutit. Just hit it straight and then find the green. If you miss the fairway, you chop it out 100 yards and hope for a one-putt par. To some, this is the essence of major championship golf. For me, all I can say is wake me when the leaders get to the 72nd tee.

Don't worry about old Donald Ross, however. To experience a relevant, strategic, brilliantly restored Ross test, we only have to wait 10 months. The 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 awaits. I'll be awake early for that one.

Photo: 18th green at Oak Hill East (Montana Pritchard/Getty Images)

July 31, 2013

Five reasons Bandon Dunes is America's ultimate golf playground

Posted at 3:05 PM by Golf.com | Categories: Bandon Dunes

By JOE PASSOV

Pacific-dunes-passov_640

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but the needle, turntable and amplifier don't lie: Bandon Dunes rocks. With four courses ranked among Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play, Bandon Dunes could have coasted had it wanted to. Instead, they keep adding, keep improving, keep striving. The results are clear and convincing. Bandon Dunes is America's ultimate golf playground.

Here are five things I've learned on the trip so far.

1. Punch Bowl is going to be a knockout. The gigantic putting green project, modeled after the Himalayas at St. Andrews is a sprawling, heaving carpet co-designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina that is slated for a September 15 soft opening. So that the Bandon bosses can figure out how it will all work, play will be free of charge until further notice. Situated adjacent to Pacific Dunes' first tee, Punch Bowl unfolds right beneath the Pac Dunes clubhouse. What a scene this will be, with 36 holes, perhaps 18 set up at any one time, with onlookers gathered around the firepit, peering over from the second deck. Plans are to light the course for nighttime fun, not with overhead street lamps, but with ground-level illumination, possibly even including the cups themselves.

2. Put Bandon Preserve at or near the top of the list for the best par-3 courses in golf. I'm not just sayin' that because I claimed the majority of the Skins in our group, either. This little Coore-Crenshaw creation is nearly ideal. With 13 holes, you get the satisfaction of feeling like you played another entire round, which makes it the perfect complement if you're just not up to another full-size 18, either because of fatigue or cost. And, with only 13 holes, you're done pretty quickly -- not that you want to rush through it. Holes range from 63 yards to 147, but when the wind is up, you might have to pull off a headcover a time or two. The 142-yard fifth is a downhill stunner, with an ocean backdrop, but I'm equally fond of the multiple holes that play over or alongside of massive dunes. Still, my favorite might be the 142-yard 11th, which features a canyon carry and some gorgeous trees.

3. Bandon Trails is underrated. I've always appreciated its beauty, sort of a mix between Spyglass Hill and the best alpine courses in the Lake Tahoe area, but with no ocean encounters, a few design quirks and lots of calf-crunching climbs late in a (tiring) round, its impact on me has been muted. No longer. The uphill, par-4 18th has been altered, making it more fair and more fun. Elevating the tee box roughly six feet has eliminated the blind tee shot. The fairway was re-graded, so that it wouldn't shed balls to both sides. The slope leading up to the green was softened and dished out, so that short approaches on the firm, wind-blown turf no longer will come careening down 60 yards, or even right back to your feet. Finally, the green was expanded significantly and lowered perhaps six feet, creating a better amphitheater for a finisher. Additional tweaks to the right side of the second green, to the green at the par-4 15th and to the par-5 16th have enhanced playability. I still think the complex green and its green complex at the short par-4 14th borders on the ridiculous, but overall, I'm left with the idea that Bandon Trails would be a star if it were anyplace else.

4. Pacific Dunes confirmed yet again that it's worthy of its Number 1 ranking on our list of the Top 100 Courses You Can Play. Pebble Beach will always be more special to me, but Pac Dunes wins the side-by-side test. Old Macdonald might be the most fun course at Bandon Dunes, because even in a 4-club wind, it's relatively stress-free off the tee, but for pulse-quickening drama and pure variety, it's Pac, man.

5. There is no better buddies destination in golf than Bandon Dunes. Sure, it can be really tough to get to, with limited and fogged-in flights a problem, both in San Francisco and in North Bend and it's hardly dirt-cheap -- but unquestionably, it's worth the cost and the hassle factor. The testosterone level at McKee's Pub was off the charts this past Saturday night. I counted only one woman in the place who wasn't actually working there. At every table, it was one loud chorus after the next, singing the praises of heroic deeds on the ocean holes, of winning wagers and losing presses and replaying shot after shot, with the promise of doing it all again the next day. This is what we live for.

(Photo: Wood Sabold)

July 28, 2013

Bears! Mountains! The metric system! A golf adventure in Whistler

Posted at 9:34 AM by Jeff Ritter | Categories: Canada, Whistler

Fairmont-No-8In golf, and in life, it all comes down to decisions we make in tough situations. That's when we learn what we're made of. Those are the moments that change a round, and perhaps even a future.

I faced one such golf-and-life conundrum when I stood on a tee box framed by mountains and watched an adult black bear slowly emerge from a thicket of wild flowers and plop down in the grass about 40 yards in front of me.

It was a cloudy, cool Canadian summer afternoon, and there sat the bear, snacking on some daisies and other plants within paws-length, utterly oblivious to my foursome -- or so we hoped. The beast was directly between my tee box and the center of the fairway, and it was now my turn to hit a shot. I had a driver in my hand. Staring at the bear and the fairway beyond, I narrowed my next move to four options:

1) Aim my shot to the left of the large mammal and fade the ball into the fairway.

2) Pick a line to the right of the bear and draw it into the short grass.

3) Keep it simple and fly it straight over his furry head.

4) Scrap the whole thing, make a beeline for the clubhouse and grab some lunch before I become exactly that.

These are the kinds of decisions you may face when teeing up in Whistler, British Columbia. Choose wisely.

---

This adventure officially kicked off 48 hours earlier when my wife and I arrived in Vancouver for a weekend of relaxation and a little golf in Canada's great Northwest. We had one rule for the trip: Embrace All Things Canada, even the loathsome metric system. If you've ever tried to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit in your head, you know this wouldn't be easy.

Snacks-FinalTo prepare for the two-hour road trip from Vancouver to Whistler, we stopped at a convenience store and plunked down a few loonies (or were they toonies?) for some Canadian snacks -- easily identifiable thanks to their French product labels -- and then hit the main drag.

The road takes you across the magnificent Lions Gate suspension bridge, and over, around and through the pine-blanketed mountains. There are several stops along the highway to pull over and snap photos, and we hit several of them.

Just before wheeling into downtown Whistler, we passed a bright yellow street sign that asked-slash-warned: "PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE BEARS." Leave it to the famously nice Canadians to make the request so politely, I joked to Mrs. Ritter, who reminded me that we were Embracing All Things Canada. It was time to dial back the sarcasm for our next stop.

ScandinaveNestled in the trees just outside Whistler's town center is Scandinave Spa, a posh, eco-friendly three-acre relaxation center that overlooks the dazzling landscape. Scandinave has all the requisite trappings of a luxury spa, including saunas and message rooms, but its bread-and-butter are the outdoor Scandinavian baths (shown at right).

Here guests take a quick plunge in a cold tub, then climb out and pop into a steaming hot tub, muscles contracting and relaxing along the way. It might sound intense, but after a few hot-and-cold cycles in that fresh mountain air, my wife and I were loose and totally stress-free. (It helped that water temperatures were listed in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, so we knew what was coming.) It was a unique and enjoyable experience. In fact, if this were a Yelp review, here's what I'd write: "Scandinave is hands-down the perfect place to relax after completing a moderately long car ride and consuming half a bag of Canadian popcorn."

After rolling out of Scandinave, we checked into the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, located at the base of Blackcomb Mountain and a short walk from the gondola that takes visitors up the slopes. Most travelers already know that Fairmont is a first-rate hotel chain, but thanks to the surrounding mountains, towering pines and crisp air, the setting for this one is special. Fairmont also operates a golf course just a short shuttle ride away, the Chateau Whistler Golf Club, our next stop.

Bear-FlagThe possibility of spotting a black bear while playing golf at Chateau Whistler doesn't fully register until you take about two steps inside the course's pro shop -- that's when you'll see the screen above the main desk that plays a slide show on loop of black bears on the course. Some bears are big, some are small, and they are shown walking, sleeping and even frolicking around the fairways. There's one shot of a bear lying on the green with the flagstick bent over between his paws -- the cub vaguely resembles a human baby swatting a mobile in his crib [see right]. For a golfer about to head out and potentially grasp this same flagstick, the photo is simultaneously adorable and disturbing.

Ironically enough, the course itself features an abundance of risk-reward holes. From the opening tee shot on No. 1 -- a straightaway par-5 with a waste area cutting across the center of the fairway, you'll have to decide how much club to hit without reaching the hazard. I selected a hybrid and my tee shot settled about 30 yards short of the shmutz. No. 2 is a short dogleg left par-4 over another ravine for your approach. A round here is filled with strategy and shotmaking, and it's a fun test.

Along the way, the course winds up, down and through Blackcomb Mountain. It's easy to envision architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. having a blast while creatively using the contours of this piece of land. The course isn't expansive and forgiving -- the fairways are relatively narrow, you rarely have a flat lie, and the greens are tricky. But it's beautifully landscaped and unique.

And what you'll remember most is the gorgeous scenery. Massive Douglas firs ring the course and the Canadian Coastal Mountains are above and around you at every turn. Each of Chateau Whistler's four par 3s feature a downhill tee shot framed by mountains. The only areas in the peaks that aren't covered by pines are the spots that have been cleared for ski runs. It really is something to see.

You need to play well, but making a good score here is possible. Dave Day, a chipper Torontonian and bogey golfer who played in my foursome, shot his first career 79 that afternoon. I did not break 80 but still enjoyed the experience, including Chateau's signature par-3 eighth hole (also pictured above), where I filmed this video. As an added bonus, you'll see my most atrocious golf shot of the day. Enjoy.

This is probably going to come as a shock, but I was unable to get up-and-down from underneath the pine tree at the top of that cliff to save par. It happens.

We were a couple holes into the back nine when a course ranger named Scott buzzed over in a cart with some exciting news for our group.

"You guys just missed the bear," Ranger Scott said sadly. "He's next to the fairway on seven, just eating away."

"Who is he eating?" I said quickly. Ranger Scott assured us that the bears at Chateau Whistler are omnivores. Flowers and other plant life are the diet plan. There's really nothing to fear, he said.

It wouldn't be long before we'd find out.

I was stepping onto the tee box at the par-4 14th when that scene I mentioned earlier played out: an adult black bear emerged from a patch of tall grass, about 40 yards in front of me. My wife, always cool under pressure, filmed this iPhone video:

You remember the decision I was facing: drive the ball over or around the bear, or flee the scene. After mulling it over, I decided that because the bear seemed disinterested in ingesting an American tourist, and because I rarely hit it exactly where I'm aiming, and because I was Embracing All Things Canada, I would hit a shot.

I took a line over the bear's head, prayed that I didn't top it, and took a swing. The shot was a high slice that easily cleared the bear, carved through the air and settled deep in the pine forest right of the fairway, about 240 yards away. We hopped in our carts and took a nice, wide arc around the animal as we drove by.

A few minutes later, I emerged from the woods without my ball and had to make yet another golf-meets-life decision: Do I return to the tee, as the rules of golf dictate when a ball is lost? I glanced back up the fairway, saw that the bear was now in motion and wandering toward the tee box, and immediately ruled out that option. Instead, I dropped a ball between my shoes and played on. Some things in life are more important than the rules of golf -- like life, for example.

After the round, my wife and I returned to the Fairmont for a dinner at the Grill Room, a swanky spot right off the lobby that turned out to be one of our all-time best meals. We ordered dry-aged rib eyes and brownie-ice cream sundaes topped with a fruit-and-chocolate topping that's caramelized right there at your table. Luxurious? Check. Canadian? Check. It was the perfect way to end the trip, and it left no doubt that spending a summer weekend in Whistler was a great choice.

In fact, that was the best decision of all.

(Photos: Jeff Ritter, Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Scandinave Spa)

July 25, 2013

Ask Travelin' Joe: Where to play in Wyoming, Cleveland, San Diego and the Delaware Shore

Posted at 3:50 PM by Joe Passov | Categories: Ask Travelin' Joe

Jacksonhole
Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club offers views even more beautiful than the course itself. (Credit: Dick Durrance)

Dear Joe:
My family and I are heading to Wyoming in August. We'll have time for one round near Jackson Hole. Any thoughts?
—Sam Dostaler, via e-mail

Sam, it's a coin flip between the Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout at Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club ($65-$185; 307-733-3111, jhgtc.com) and the Arnold Palmer—designed Teton Pines ($65-$160; 307-733-1733, tetonpines.com).

Both are fun, flat tests that are slashed by water hazards and boast views of the Tetons. They're pricey, but they do offer savings after 2 p.m. (up to $65 off). With some $15 million in recent renovations, including a new clubhouse, Jackson Hole might get the nod.

If you're all about bargain golf, the region's best value is Star Valley Ranch ($18-$32; 307-883-2669, svrawy.com) in nearby Thayne. From costly to cost-friendly options, it's no wonder they call Wyoming the Equality State.

Hi, Joe:
My wife and I are looking for a nice golf-and-spa resort that's a reasonable drive from Cleveland, Ohio. Ideas?
—Alex Chiu, Tucson, Ariz.

I was born and raised in the great city of Cleveland, but your best bet is to take a mini road trip.

Three hours southeast is Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (724-329-8555, nemacolin.com) in Farmington, Pa., which features a terrific spa and Tour-quality golf.

Pete Dye's Mystic Rock ($85-$159) is a beautiful brute in the Laurel Highlands that used to host the PGA Tour's 84 Lumber Classic.

Nemacolin's Links course ($45-$65) is not as striking, but it's value-priced and hardly a pushover.

Closer to Cleveland is the Inn Walden (888-808-5003, yourwalden.com), Ohio's only AAA 5-Diamond hotel. Situated in the leafy eastern suburb of Aurora, the Inn has a gorgeous spa and a handsome 7,200-yard golf course ($95-$118) redesigned by Craig Schreiner in 2001.

Hey, Joe:
Big buddies trip to San Diego! We want to stay somewhere central, and prefer value courses—with one high-end track thrown in. Your thoughts?
—Dave Baldwin, Helena, Mont.

For buddies trips, I'm partial to La Costa ($185-$240; 800-854-5000, lacosta.com). In spring and summer, the weather is fog-free and near-perfect.

There are two top courses with a great Tour pedigree right on property (Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson all boast multiple wins on the Champions Course), and it's only about a mile off of I-5, making it convenient to get to any of the area's coastal courses. La Costa isn't inexpensive, but packages bring the prices down.

Another option on San Diego's northernmost fringes is Pechanga Resort & Casino (888-732-4264, pechanga.com) in Temecula, which dishes out casino gaming and an Arthur Hills–designed thrill ride called the Journey at Pechanga ($89-$129; 951-770-8210, pechanga.com) next door.

Packages start at $219 per night, and there are plenty of other courses nearby.

Dear Joe:
The family is headed to the Delaware Shore near Rehoboth Beach, and I've got a green light for one—and only one—round. What are your must-plays?
—Brad Schiller, Upper Saddle River, N.J.

For every class of golfer, Baywood Greens ($35-$129; 302-947-9800, baywoodgreens.com) tops my list. It's a strong test from the tips — well-bunkered, with water and wetlands in play — but any handicap will delight in the kaleidoscopic flower arrangements and superb clubhouse.

If you're a serious stick and want a Bear-size challenge, the Jack Nicklaus–designed Bayside Resort ($85-$179; 302-436-3400, golfbayside.com) will satisfy, with many forced carries and stirring views of Assawoman Bay.

And the Rookery South ($35-$70; 302-684-3000, rookerygolf.com) has some standout holes and a friendly price tag, making it a good, wallet-friendly option.

Deal of the Month: The Grove Park Inn

Posted at 2:58 PM by Joe Passov | Categories: North Carolina, Travel Deals

Grovepark

Few resorts get to celebrate their 100th anniversary, and this year venerable Grove Park Inn will blow out a whole lot of candles.

Perched high above Asheville in the mountains of western North Carolina, Grove Park Inn has hosted such names as Ford, Rockefeller and Edison. Ten U.S. presidents, including golfer-in-chief Barack Obama, have put their heads in these beds, and the likes of Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus have teed it up here as well.

As a birthday present to itself, the Grove Park Inn has unveiled a $25 million renovation, along with specials such as the old-fashioned Hickory Sticks Golf Tournament and a variety of golf packages.

My pick is the Stay & Play Getaway package, which includes lodging, one round of golf (with cart) on the Inn's excellent Donald Ross layout, and one cocktail per person in The Great Hall Bar. August rates start at $409 per night, based on double occupancy.

800-438-5800, groveparkinn.com

Course Spy: Bandon Trails

Posted at 2:35 PM by Joe Passov | Categories: Bandon Dunes, Course Spy

Bandon-trails
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
800-742-0172, bandondunesgolf.com

SERVICE
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.

PACE OF PLAY
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.

QUALITY
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.

VALUE
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.

VERDICT
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.

Ask Travelin' Joe



 

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