Singh, Fowler, Koepka had a chance — but Mitchell ruled Honda Classic

Keith Mitchell beat some of golf’s most high-profile players to nab his first PGA Tour win.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida – The stage was set for the biggest historically significant accomplishment of the 2019 PGA Tour season on Sunday. Vijay Singh, in the final pairing of the Honda Classic, was ideally positioned to become the oldest winner of a PGA Tour event and erase one of the longest-standing records in golf.

Coming off a third-round 65 on the Champions Course at PGA National Resort on Saturday, the 56-year old Singh started the final round of the $6.8 million championship just one stroke behind leader and playing partner Wyndham Clark. Clark, 32 years younger than Singh, was (and still is) winless on the PGA Tour.

There were other challengers, though, and a most unlikely one got the win. Keith Mitchell, despite opening the final round with two bogeys, nabbed his first on golf’s premier circuit thanks to a 15-foot left-to- right birdie putt on the final green.

That killed off the hopes of local stars Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka, who had finished at 8-under-par 272. Mitchell, posted a final round 67, finished at 9-under 271, earned $1,224,000 and claimed spots in seven of golf’s biggest events including the upcoming Players Championship and Masters.

“My mind started wandering a bit at the end,’’ said Mitchell, “and then I hit a great putt.’’ That said it all for this staging of the first event on the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing.

As for Singh, he was in a tie for the lead twice on the back nine and was in contention until his tee shot at No. 17 – a par-3 that concludes the fearsome stretch of holes known as the Bear Trap – came up short, with the ball partly submerged in a water hazard. That led to a bogey, and Singh finished sixth after his final round 70.

“It was awesome to see Vijay play well this week and get himself in contention,’’ said Fowler. “I’d love to be healthy and swinging and being able to compete with guys that are half my age at that point. It’s impressive stuff.’’

Mitchell was impressed, too.

“It’s so amazing what he has done at that age,’’ said Mitchell. “He’s 30 years older than me and he’s hitting more balls on the range than I am. That guy is a true testament to fitness, to health. If I’m anywhere near a golf course when I’m 56 I’m going to be excited.’’

The last of Singh’s 34 PGA Tour wins was 11 years ago but he won his first major title on PGA Tour Champions last year at the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Exmoor Country Club in suburban Chicago.

The strong showing against the young stars also came after Singh and the PGA Tour recently reached a settlement on a lawsuit that had been a distraction for both since 2013. It had started with the PGA Tour suspending Singh for use of deer antler spray, a banned substance. But the settlement means that neither side will talk about it any more – and that’s a good thing.

Mitchell’s clutch putt on the last green wasn’t such a good thing for two hometown heroes. Fowler lives in nearby Jupiter and Koepka, the reigning two-time U.S. Open champion and defending PGA champion, grew up in West Palm Beach. They were waiting for a playoff with Mitchell – a player neither knew very well. Still, both were there to congratulate Mitchell before he reached the scorer’s table.

“I know he went to Georgia,’’ said Koepka. “He was there when I was at Florida State so I knew him a little bit in amateur and junior golf. He’s a good player, strikes it really well, a powerful golf swing. Good to see him win.’’

“I’ve always heard a lot of good things about him,’’ said Fowler. “I haven’t played with him or seen him play much but you can’t fake it around this golf course. You have to go out there and earn it.’’

Mitchell did.

“It was awesome, just to have a chance coming down the stretch against Rickie and Brooks,’’ said Mitchell. “I’m just glad I could prove myself against guys like that.’’

With Thomas, Koepka and Fowler, this Honda Classic isn’t exactly without star power

With storm clouds forming during Wednesday’s pro-am, the Honda Classic could face weather issues.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida – The field for today’s start of the Honda Classic isn’t very good, no doubt about it. Only three of the top 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings are here.

Clearly this $6.8 million event that has roots on the PGA Tour going back to 1972, when it was known as the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic, is a victim of the new scheduling by the circuit. Maybe four straight weeks of tournaments in Florida in March wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Still, all is not lost for the Honda Classic, an event that has been played under its current title since 1984 and been held at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Champions Course at PGA National Resort since 2007.

Those three top-ranked players are all in the world’s top 10 – defending champion Justin Thomas (3), reigning U.S. Open and PGA champion Brooks Koepka (4) and 2017 Honda champion Rickie Fowler (9). Thomas and Fowler will play together in the first two rounds – along with Billy Horschel – and there are few more attractive pairings in golf than that one.

Fowler and Thomas are residents of nearby Jupiter. They welcomed the home game tournament, while fellow area residents Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy did not. Johnson was even photographed nearby doing a commercial shoot for a watch company on Tuesday night.

The champion of last week’s World Golf Championship event in Mexico, Johnson opted for some time off with bigger events like The Players Championship and Masters closing in. You can’t really criticize Johnson for making that decision either. I’d call it understandable.

Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman is all about Chicago-based Wilson in the Honda Classic pro-am.

Decades ago the PGA Tour made an effort to group tournament in the same geographic areas to simplify travel plans for the players. Remember the days when – in a three-week period — the Western Open, Greater Milwaukee Open and Quad Cities Classic (or whatever the now more established John Deere Classic was called back then) – came on successive weeks?

Such scheduling concerns aren’t a factor any more. Thomas didn’t even accept the suggestion that tournaments scheduled close together might help him “get in a comfortable groove.’’

“I’m probably playing just two (of the four on this Florida Swing),’’ he said. “It’s a shame because this is such a great stretch of golf tournaments. It’s just not possible for us to play all of them.’’

The Honda may suffer the most of them all. Woods and McIlroy have already committed to next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. The Players is — in the eyes most every player – a “fifth major’’ and an event not to be missed and the Valspar Championship on a course popular with the players and dates still allowing for a two-week break before the Masters.

“I know it’s unfortunate for this event,’’ said Thomas. “With this time in the schedule it had a lot of people that always play that just can’t play this year.’’

Plus, there are no guarantees for 2020.

“There’s so many great tournaments on the PGA Tour the whole season,’’ said Thomas. “At the end of the day, although we have respect for that tournament director, that tournament, that course, that city, whatever it may be, we have to think about ourselves and our bodies. What is going to produce our best golf? That’s what everyone is doing when they’re thinking of their schedule.’’

Going from the West Coast to the East Coast is not an easy transition, given the time zone changes. It’s hard to imagine that changing a year from now.

“The hardest part is the time,’’ said Thomas. “Not that it’s ever easy to wake up at 5:30 a.m. but it was really hard to wake up this morning at 5:30 (for an early teeoff in a pro-am). You’ve got to get used to that, getting your body clock back to where it should be.’’

Thomas won last year’s Honda thanks to a great wedge shot on the last hole of regulation play. It set up a birdie that preceded a playoff victory over Luke List. Thomas hasn’t won yet in the 2018-19 season but he has four top-10s in five starts in 2019.

His only practice round on this week’s course was in Wednesday’s pro-am, and five inches of rains fell in a two-hour period the night before.

“There’s a lot more positives to take from this year than negatives,’’ he said. “I’m very, very close to going on a little bit of a run. I just need to continue to stay patient and wait for good things to happen.’’

Even after heavy rains PGA National’s Champions course is ready for another Honda Classic.

New clubhouse at Reunion’s Nicklaus Course could trigger a housing boom there

All Reunion’s Nicklaus Course needed was a clubhouse. Now the Bear’s Den is up and running.

ORLANDO, FL. – Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses are generally show pieces – the focal points for golf communities world-wide. That wasn’t the case at one of Florida’s biggest resorts, however.

Reunion Resort started with an 18-holer designed by Tom Watson, then added one designed by Arnold Palmer. The Nicklaus Course there opened eight years ago as the hardest of the trio of courses but – until last November – it didn’t even have a clubhouse. The staff and visitors operated out of either a trailer or a tent.

That’s all changed now. A most pleasant 8,500 square foot clubhouse opened in November. Other places have bigger clubhouses, but this one has a very nice outdoor events area that includes a practice facility, a more-than-adequate fitness center and a restaurant that opened to rave reviews. The views from the place are spectacular. It just took an extraordinarily long time for the facility to materialize.

The Nicklaus touch is immediately evident, at the first tee of Reunion’s prize course.

In fact, some Reunion regulars wondered if there ever would be a clubhouse to complement the high-profile golf course.

“There was a waiting period,’’ admitted Craig Williamson, who is now playing a prominent role in what’s going on there. “It wasn’t the time to do it back then, when you think about it. This is the right time for this to happen.’’

The opening of the clubhouse has triggered a big project within the Reunion community. Williamson was brought in manage sales of The Bear’s Den – a very upscale community that is being developed around the Nicklaus Course.

“At Reunion we look on this as the template for what we’ll do in more locations,’’ said Williamson, who has been on the job for 14 months.

“I had worked with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer communities all over Central America, South America and the Caribbean,’’ said Williamson. “This is typical of what I’ve been doing for 15 years.’’

But, The Bear’s Den at Reunion isn’t quite like the others. It’s the only gated community within the gates of Reunion.

“That’s the formula we’ll be using at other locations,’’ he said. “We’re looking at places like Telluride in Utah, Pinehurst (in North Carolina) and other sites in the Florida.’’

What they’ve done at Reunion is take a Jack Nicklaus golf course and a Jack Nicklaus clubhouse to create a community licensed by Jack Nicklaus. It has 52 lots. They’re all elevated about 15 feet above the course, creating more of a stadium look so that golfers won’t be looking into the homes.

Home sizes will range from 7,000 to 12,000 square feet, and they’ll be built basically around the Nos. 17 and 18 fairways. The choice homes will be along No. 18 and will start at $1.5 million. One has been priced at $4.5 million.

Home across the street from those will cost from $1 million to $1.5 million. They’ll be constructed along Golden Bear Park, a landscaped area that will be connected to the course practice area and include a big children’s play area, a dog park (with two areas, one for dogs over 30 pounds and one for dogs under 30 pounds), a sand volleyball court and a walking trail.

A third price point, in the $800,000 range, will also be available as a residential option. All are freestanding homes now, but Williamson said townhomes and condos are under consideration at other locations.

Initial reaction to The Bear’s Den project was enthusiastic. Two months after the clubhouse opened there were 17 homes under contract. Williamson expects more in the very near future.

“It was tough to sell $2 million when you’re sitting in trailers,’’ he said. “Some (prospective buyers) couldn’t see what’s going to happen. Now they can. The Bear’s Den was planned for thee-four years, but this started at about the time they opened the clubhouse. In the last three months there’s been a lot of activity.’’

Over 3,000 prospective homebuyers visited in the first three months, about half of them from the U.S. and the other half international. They included celebrity types who were attracted by the privacy that The Bear’s Den offers.

Despite the quality of the course, this Nicklaus layout hasn’t hosted a significant tournament. A big event – the 54-hole Kissimmee Family Golf Classic – will be coming from June 20-23. The team scramble event also will be played on Reunion’s Watson Course and the nearby Celebration Golf Club.

Reunion is a 2,300-acre resort that also features a hotel, seven restaurants and bars, a golf academy, tennis and fitness centers, meeting space, full-service boutique spa, 10 community swimming pools and a water playground.

Bunkering like this leaves no doubt that the Nicklaus Course is Reunion’s toughest.

PGA Tour Champions rivals don’t have a prayer against Langer

There isn’t much more Bernhard Langer can accomplish as a golfer. Last week he became the career money leader on PGA Tour Champions, surpassing Hale Irwin.

Thanks to his $255,000 payday for winning the Oasis Championship on the Old Course at Broken Sound, Langer has $27,120,554 in career earnings on PGA Tour Champions. He needed just $179,050 to climb ahead of Irwin, who – at 73 – plays only a limited schedule now.

Irwin still leads Langer in wins on the 50-and-over circuit. Langer has 39 — six behind Irwin – and hopes to reduce the number by winning another Florida tournament this week. The Chubb Classic tees off on Friday at Lely Resort in Naples.

Don’t be surprised if Langer wins there, too. He already has been the champion three times in Naples – in 2011, 2013 and 2016. Broken Sound was 10 minutes from his home in Boca Raton. The Chubb site isn’t very far, either – less than a two-hour drive from Boca. Langer relishes those few home games available to globe-trotting golf stars.

His win in Boca Raton was another family affair. It came with Jackie Langer John – his married oldest offspring – as his caddie. Jackie was the last of Langer’s four children to carry the bag during one of his victories. Stefan, Christina and Jason already had experienced that thrill. Jackie also lives in Boca Raton.

“I know it meant lot to her, especially with the home crowds, lots of friends and family members around who follow us and cheer us on,’’ said Langer. “She had only caddied three times for me. We had a second, lost in a playoff and now a first – so that’s a pretty stellar record for her.’’

Talk about stellar records, consider Langer’s. He’s 61 now, and Champions Tour players usually see their games start to fade after they turn 60. Langer’s has shown no signs of that. In 11 years on the circuit he has topped the money list 10 times and been Player of the Year eight times. His latest win was one of his most impressive.

Starting the final round with a one-stroke lead Langer made birdies on five of the first seven holes and won by five strokes over Marco Dawson.

“One of my best starts ever,’’ said Langer, who didn’t cool off much after that. His 19-under-par 197 score for the 54 holes was a tournament record and he became the first player in the event’s 12-year run to win it twice.

“He lives like on the putting green here, doesn’t? Isn’t that where is house is,” chided David Toms, who also was in contention through 36 holes. “Obviously he has a lot of experience out here, and he’s a great player. He plays with confidence all the time and he’s won so many tournaments it’s kind of second nature.’’

Langer’s rivals in Boca Raton included nine members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and 17 former major champions. Some had better records on the PGA Tour than Langer, who was a late-bloomer.

Of his 113 world-wide professional victories only three came in PGA Tour events. They included his only two wins in majors, at the 1985 and 1993 Masters. He followed the first Masters win with his only other PGA Tour victory, at the Sea Pines Heritage Classic, the following week and that hot streak was a big reason he became golf’s first official No. 1-ranked player when the Official World Golf Rankings were created for the following year.

Born in Anhausen, Germany, Langer posted the bulk of his wins on the European PGA Tour. He won there 43 times, 29 of which came before his second win at the Masters.

“The key to success is a lot of things,’’ said Langer. “You’ve got to be healthy, and a lot of guys at age 61 aren’t healthy anymore. They had this operation or that operation or a hip replacement. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any major surgeries besides my thumb in 2011.’’

He believes his strong religious beliefs are a factor too. He carries a Bible verse in his pocket during many of his tournaments. That included his latest win.

“I felt very calm out there and very peaceful, and that enabled me to do the best I could,’’ said Langer. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to win every time I put a Bible verse in my pocket, but it just makes golf less important and something else more important.’’

Couples opts for one more tournament appearance at Riviera

BOCA RATON, FL. – Fred Couples, eight months away from his 60th birthday, returns to the PGA Tour this week. He wangled a spot in the Genesis Open thanks to a sponsor’s exemption, but he’s going with some reservations.

“I probably should go to Naples (the Chubb Classic in Naples, FL., on PGA Tour Champions),’’ said Couples. “Sounds like bragging, but I won Naples a couples times (2010 and 2017) and still want to play in L.A. Riviera is one of my favorite events.’’

Couples was the champion of Los Angeles’ longstanding PGA Tour stop twice, in 1990 and 1992, and was the runner-up (or tied for second) three times in the 1990s so it’s understandable why he’d like to go back to that tournament one more time.

With Couples, though, you never know where or when he’ll show up to play. That’s just the way it is.

No question his career is winding down, but Couples is still competitive with the younger guys. Last October, on the same week that he turned 59, he went back to the PGA Tour for the Safeway Classic in Napa, Calif. That week he said that tournament would be “my last PGA Tour event besides Augusta (the Masters).’’

Couples tied for 41st that week, dropping 26 places after shooting a 75 in the final round), and that came after a surprise showing in the Masters. In 2017 he skipped the site of his biggest victory (the 1992 Masters) because of back problems were too painful.

“I physically couldn’t move,’’ he said, between practice swings at the Oasis Championship. “Last year I went basically wearing a back brace. I just didn’t want to miss the Masters again, and I made the cut. It felt like I had won the tournament just by making the cut.’’

He started 2019 with two events on PGA Tour Champions – a tie for fifth in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii and a tie for eighth in the Oasis Championship in Florida. He was a late entry for the first full field event of the Champions season in Boca Raton in part because his back was feeling good. That’s obviously not always been the case.

“The process is just trying to figure it out,’’ said Couples. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I could play great one day, get in the car and drive to the hotel and get out and something could go wrong with my back. Or I can hit a driver as hard as I can and something could happen there. There’s no rhyme or reason, but I really feel pretty good at the moment and I’m planning on playing a little more this year. Twelve, fourteen events — that’s my goal.’’

He won’t predict where he’ll play after Riviera, however.

“I look at the schedule at the beginning of the year, and it’s a pipe dream,’’ he said. “I mark like 16 tournaments. I skip majors on our (Champions) tour because I don’t really feel like I should go play in them. That’s not the greatest thing, either.’’

To play, or not to play, in major championships? Being Fred Couples isn’t as easy as his classic swing looks, but he’s found a scheduling formula that has worked – at least to some extent – for almost three decades.

“I know the year. I was 32 years old when it started happening,’’ said Couples. “It was never really horrible except for the first time it happened. I was out for like seven months and thought, `Am I going to be able to play?’’’

Play again, he did, and Couples has built a resume that shows 13 PGA Tour wins (the last at Houston in 2003) and 13 Champions Tour titles (the last at the American Family Insurance Championship in 2017).

“Since I came back I’ve taken it easy because all my buddies are young kids,’’ said Couples. “I tell them, don’t worry about missing a cut or having two bad months of golf. This isn’t a sprint. This is a marathon. That’s how I really wanted to treat it. Knock on wood, I’ve lasted.’’

Calcavecchia seeks another win at home in Champions Tour teeoff

BOCA RATON, Florida — This should be Mark Calcavecchia’s time. His troublesome back problems are under control and another PGA Tour Champions season starts this week in Hawaii with the Jan. 17-19 Mitsubishi Electric Championship for last year’s tournament winners. Then Calcavecchia returns to one of his favorite courses to make the first title defense in a full-field event of the Champions’ season, the Oasis Championship.

For whatever reason, though, Calcavecchia isn’t entering this season on an optimistic note. He started the 2018 campaign with a wire-to-wire victory in what was then called the Boca Raton Championship. That win was even more special, in that it came in Palm Beach County — Calcavecchia’s long-time Florida home — with his wife Brenda on his bag.

“It meant a lot to win,’’ said Calcavecchia in a pre-tourney visit less than a month before his title defense is to begin. Now called the Oasis Championship, the tourney has a Feb. 4-10 run at the Old Course at Broken Sound. Last year Calcavecchia birdies seven of the first 10 holes, then hung on during a precarious final five holes. The couple was in tears when the last putt dropped.

“We had quite a few chances to win tournaments on the Champions Tour together, and I blew them basically,’’ said Calcavecchia. “ We did win the Wendy’s Three-Tour Challenge, the Shark Shootout and a tournament in Korea but Lanny (Wadkins, the Champions Tour analyst on Golf Channel) said some things, like maybe I would have won a few if she wasn’t caddying for me.’’

Now 58, Calcavancchia hadn’t won on PGA Tour Champions since 2015 so that win had to be special.

Revisiting the subject less than a month before his title defense, however, brought an unusual reaction from Calcavecchia on the 30-year anniversary of his biggest-ever win, at the 1989 British Open.

“I’m not as excited to play as I was last year,’’ he said. “Maybe it’s just because I’m a year older.’’

Or, maybe it’s because the 2018 season didn’t end on the high note on which it started.

“I missed the last tournament by a shot or two, and that was frustrating,’’ he said. “I didn’t touch a club for 43 days starting in November. I gained about 15 pounds, and I’ve lost about eight of those back because I worked hard the last two weeks to get stronger.

“I’m moving in the right direction, but it’s hard. I’m trying to get back in the mode of playing golf. I’ll get there, but once you stop playing it gets harder to get back going. I like doing nothing. It’s easier that way. I literally didn’t get out of my chair for a week straight. Brenda was mad at me.’’

There’s some incentive to get his act together fast beyond just keeping the peace with Brenda. The tournament on the Old Course at Broken Sound has been a strong one for the 50-and-over players, though it has had sponsorship issues. The city sponsored it last year to keep the event going and now it’ll be called the Oasis Championship. Oasis, founded in South Florida 20 years ago, specializes in providing human resource services to small and medium-sized businesses. It picked up tournament sponsorship for the next three years.

Regardless of its previous titles, the tournament has never had a repeat champion in its 13-year history. Calcavecchia could be the first, and that would mean something.

“I’ve never defended a title,’’ said Calcavecchia, who has won tournaments on either the PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions in four straight decades. “Well, maybe I did in junior golf, but that doesn’t count. I won the Argentine Open two years in a row, but didn’t go to it for a year in between, so I don’t think that counts.’’

Calcavecchia, with 13 wins on the PGA Tour and four on PGA Tour Champions, likes hometown tournaments and has a good record in them.

A South Florida resident the last 46 years, Calcavecchia went to high school in West Palm Beach and was the 1978 Florida prep champion for North Shore High School. After playing collegiately at the University of Florida he won the Honda Classic twice at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. He also has a home in Phoenix and has three PGA Tour wins there.

“That’s six home wins (five on the PGA Tour and last year’s victory at Broken Sound),’’ said Calcavecchia. “It may take the cake for home wins other than Jack (Nicklaus). How many Hondas and Dorals did he win?’

(For the record, Nicklaus won the Doral Eastern Open in 1972 and 1975 and the Inverrary Classic (the original name of what is now the Honda Classic) in 1977 and 1978).

Broken Sound and the Honda base at PGA National are both about 45 minutes from where Calcavecchia lives. He moved into the Loxahatchie Club (in Jupiter) last April but also uses Tequesta County Club as a winter practice site.

Garmany’s Hogan certainly knows what golf travel is all about

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – If you’re ready, willing and able to travel to satisfy your golf appetite you should meet Bill Hogan.

Having been hired in October, Hogan is early into his first year with Garmany Golf, which also made its first appearance at the biggest show in golf. Garmany — with offices in Austin, Texas; Los Angeles and Edinburgh, Scotland — is starting its 10th year as a luxury golf travel business.

“Bill might be a rookie with us, but he’s not a rookie in terms of traveling the world,’’ said Bud Garmany, the company’s founder and president.

Hogan is Garmany’s senior vice president of sales and – if experience means anything – he knows his stuff. Hogan has played golf in 60 countries. Initially that seemed a staggering number for a U.S.-based golf enthusiast, but the PGA Merchandise Show had exhibitors and visitors from 83 countries. That indicates how widespread this great game is.

“There’s a lot more than 60 countries where golf is played,’’ said Hogan. “I have at least two more on my bucket list that I haven’t played. I try to keep the number of countries above my age, so I’ve got to keep adding to my list.’’

Hogan began his serious traveling in 1981, when – as a 20-year old – he moved to Europe to attend a college in Austria.

“That started my wanderlust,’’ he said, “and when I went to graduate school in Germany that really got me going.’’

Hogan returned to the U.S. in 1988 and took a job with Wide World of Golf, based in California. In his first week there his boss asked Hogan if he had a passport. He answered in the affirmative and within a few days he was off on a 28-day trip.

“Obviously I’ve been to a lot more than 60 countries, but that started me playing golf on my travels,’’ said Hogan. “I’ve been to Australia and New Zealand about a dozen times, and I’ve been to Scotland and Ireland 50 times.’’

He’s also become a panelist for Golf Magazine’s ranking of the top 100 courses in the world.

“It gets in your blood,’’ he said. `I love experiencing these kinds of things. The great thing about golf is there’s a chemistry around the world. You meet people, and they know somebody, so you’re only two- or three- degrees of separation from any golfer around the world. That’s a special treat.’’

Bud Garmany, the company’s founder, evolved into the golf travel world more slowly that Hogan did.

“I grew up in East Nashville, Tenn., a tough neighborhood,’’ he said. “If you wore golf clothes there you got beat up.’’

Garmany opted for work in the solar energy business in California. He stayed there for 14 years, until he reached his mid-40s. Then he decided to look for something more fulfilling.

“I went to Scotland by myself, without an agenda,’’ he said. “My family thought I was having a mid-life crisis. I immediately had a love affair with golf, and I saved the last five days of the trip for St. Andrews – the soul of the game. Then I knew that I’d do something in golf for the rest of my life.’’

After returning to California he contemplated his golf options with a friend, who suggested entering the golf travel business.

“It was one of the worst times in the world to start a luxury golf travel business,’’ said Garmany, but he did it anyway.

In preparing for the PGA Merchandise Show Garmany and Hogan developed a Hot List for golf travel destinations in 2019. Only one U.S. destination – Wisconsin – was on it.

“You can fly to Milwaukee, stay six days and play a Ryder Cup and PGA Championship course (Whistling Straits), A U.S. Women’s Open course (Blackwolf Run) and a U.S. Open course (Erin Hills). There’s also a fine new resort (Sand Valley).’’ Said Hogan. “We’ve been looking for new places that people aren’t talking about, and people might overlook Wisconsin.’’

If they’re from America, though, they would be more likely to overlook other golf destinations on the Garmany list – places like Vietnam, South Africa, France, New Zealand, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The list also includes Northwest Ireland, Melbourne, Australia and Tasmania and South Korea.

Hogan’s bucket list for his own new travel destinations include Qatar, Laos and Cambodia.

“In Qatar they’ve built some zillion-dollar courses that not many people know about, ‘said Hogan, “but they’re off the charts. In Laos and Cambodia they’re building an infrastructure to go after the North American market. You can fly to some of these places and stay for 10 days for about half of what it’d cost to go to Ireland. You may need an adventuresome spirit to go there but the value is tremendous and the quality resorts are absolutely gorgeous.’’


VIETNAM – Vietnam takes your breath away with its beauty, history, culture and great courses. Hoiana Shores and Greg Norman’s newly-opened Kam Ranh are special.

NORTHWEST IRELAND – It’s hard to match the rumpled topography of Balllyliffin’s two courses and County Sligo, Carne, and Enniscrone are unforgettable.

WISCONSIN – Sand Valley’s two courses — the latest’s David McLay Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes – fit right in to the golf explosion that has swept through this Midwestern state in the last two decades.

FRANCE — Le Golf National, site of last year’s Ryder Cup, is just the beginning of a golf boom here. There are six world-class courses within driving distance of Paris.

SOUTH AFRICA – Links at Fancourt, Leopard Creek, St. Francis Links and Pearl Valley Golf Estate (one of Jack Nicklaus’ best designs) mix well with this country’s safari parks.

NEW ZEALAND – Heart-stopping Kauri Cliffs and Tom Doak’s cliff-top Cape Kidnappers are must-play courses in this country with a rich golf history.

DUBAI AND ABU DHABI – Yaz Links, which looks like Scotland’s Kingsbarns without the water, might be the best golf experience between the United Kingdom and Australia.

AUSTRALIA (MELBOURNE) AND TASMANIA – There may not be a better concentration of great courses anywhere in the world than around Melbourne. Kingston Heath, Metropolitan, Victoria, Yarra Yarra and Huntingdale are just some of them.

SOUTH KOREA – China and Japan may have had more attention from golfers in Asia, but Korea’s courses (particularly Nine Bridges and Whistling Rock) are incredible.

South Korean Ji wins in a unique season opener for the LPGA

Eun-Hee Ji led a one-two finish by Korean golfers in the LPGA’s season opener.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL. – The LPGA opened its season with what its organizers billed as “the most unique event in golf.’’ Well, it might well have been that.

The field for the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions did have 26 players who had won tournaments on the LPGA circuit in either 2017 or 2018. Since the circuit tried limited field Tournament of Champions events at various sites from 1994 to 2007, bringing its winners together wasn’t all that unusual.

This latest attempt again brought out the best in LPGA talent, but it didn’t spotlight their skills for an obvious reason. There were more players from other sports or entertainment areas (49) than there were LPGA players (26) competing. That’s what can happen when you try to combine a tour event with a celebrity event. It’s no a perfect mix.

South Korean Eun-Hee Ji was the best on the LPGA side, shooting a 14-under-par 272 that concluded with a 70 on Sunday, when play was conducted in 50-degree weather with wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour.

John Smoltz, the pitching great who was also a good enough golfer to qualify for last year’s U.S. Senior Open, ruled the celebrity side. It was conducted with a Stableford format, Smoltz accumulating 147 points — one more than runner-up Mark Mulder, another one-time pitching star.

The celebrity component boosted the galleries and helped get the tournament on more than just The Golf Channel (NBC also provided weekend coverage). At least the two segments got along well.

“A lot of the fans that came, they weren’t for us (the LPGA). They were for the celebrities,’’ said China’s Shanshan Feng, who tied for fourth on the LPGA side. “They weren’t for the (LPGA) players. They were for the celebrities, which is good because that brought them to the tournament.’’

“They (the LPGA players) were wonderful to us,’’ said football great Sterling Sharpe, who tied for fourth among the celebs. “The language barrier could have been a little difficult, but it wasn’t. I hope I’m back next year.’’

While the LPGA players liked the event – the first time since 2015 that the circuit has opened a season in the U.S. – there was a little something lost in the interest of innovation.

“It felt more than a normal, official tournament because in other tournaments we wouldn’t have music on the 18th tee box,’’ said Feng. And that finishing hole at the Tranquilo course at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando was a par-3. Very few significant competitions end on such a short hole.

One thing wasn’t so unusual. Koreans finished one-two in the Tournament of Champions, an immediate indication that that country’s domination of the circuit won’t end soon. Ji held off Miram Lee to take the $180,000 first prize from the $1.2 million purse offered for the LPGA players in the 72-hole no-cut event. American Nelly Korda was a shot behind Lee in third place.

Ji, 32, is by no means the best of the huge group of Korean stars on the LPGA circuit. Sunday’s win was her fifth on the circuit, to go with two victories on the Korean circuit and two more in Asia since turning pro in 2007.

Winner of the 2009 U.S. Open, Ji has $6.3 million in career winnings. She’s also had near misses in two other majors — the Women’s PGA (tie for second in 2012) and British Open (tie for third in 2008), but 12 Koreans are ahead of her in the Rolex World Rankings.

The celebs played for $500,000, with Smoltz earning $100,000. He won a celebrity event on the same course in 2014 when the LPGA wasn’t a prominent factor. This year the tournament was designated as an official LPGA event, the first of 33 tournaments on the season schedule. The next four are in Australia (two), Thailand and Singapore) before competition returns to the U.S.

LPGA looks to stars for season-opening Tournament of Champions

You’ve got to give LPGA commissioner Mike Whan credit for at least one thing: he’s not afraid to take chances. And, he has been quick to admit, “When you’re innovative you’ve got to be willing to strike out some times.’’

The LPGA begins its 69th season this week with a new, innovative event – the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions at the Tranquilo course at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando in Lake Buena Vista, FL. It tees off on Thursday (JAN 17)

This season-opener is more than just an event for LPGA players. It’s being combined with a celebrity tournament. Thirty-six winners on the LPGA circuit over the last two seasons will compete over 72 holes for a $1.2 million purse and 45 celebrity golfers will compete at the same time in a Modified Stableford format for $500,000.

Good idea or not? Time will tell. With the celebrity element, the focus won’t be just on the women’s game. That’s not so good.

Mike Flaskey, chief executive officer for Diamond Resorts, wants the celebrity component for one big reason. “The celebrity side moves the needle for TV rankings,’’ he said. No argument there, but the quality of the golf usually isn’t anything special.

Flaskey has tried other versions for the event over the previous four years. It was strictly a weekend pro-am the first year. Then, to entice TV coverage, a challenge season event dominated by players from PGA Tour Champions was created. Last year 32 touring pros competed in a Modified Stableford event and four of them – Brooke Henderson, Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang and Gerina Piller – were women. Henderson finished seventh and none of the other three could crack the top 20.

This year represents a big step forward for both the women and the event itself. The LPGA will bring more good players for a no-cut tournament. It’ll be an official event so the money earned will count in the season totals. Players had to earn the right to play in the event; they didn’t get in via invitation. And the event will take a step forward by adding a more meaningful competition and a bigger purse.

The PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions have already opened their seasons with limited field events. Now the women will, too – but with celebrities also in the mix. Flaskey has called it “the most unique golf tournament in the world.’’

The celebrity element can be a funny thing, though. Will people come, or tune in to TV coverage on The Golf Channel and/or NBC, to watch the celebrities? That’s usually determined by the name recognition of those participating in the tournament. The Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions has stars from other sports along with recording artists Lee Brice and Colt Ford.

The stars from other sports include Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholtz, Josh Donaldson, Terry Francona and Tom Glavine from baseball; Marcus Allen, Larry Fitzgerald, Brian Urlacher, Richard Dent and Mark Rypien from football; Jeremy Roenick from hockey; Ray Allen from basketball and Mardy Fish from tennis.

Whan has arranged a season opener a week earlier than last year and there won’t be another event in the U.S. until the Bank of Hope Foundation tournament in Phoenix, which runs from March 21-24. There’ll be four tournaments — played in Australia, Thailand and Singapore — in between the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and the LPGA’s first full-field event of the season in the U.S.

The second LPGA tournament, the ISPS Vic Open in Australia, is also a new event with an innovative format. Men on the Australasian and European PGA tours will compete concurrently with women from the LPGA and Australian women’s circuit. Also new to the LPGA schedule is the Aon Risk Reward Challenge. It’s a season-long competition on both the LPGA and PGA Tour with the winners on each receiving $1 million.

This LPGA campaign offers 33 official events in 12 countries plus the Solheim Cup team event. A record $70.55 million in official prize money will be on the line. The season will end where it will begin, in Florida. The season-ending CME Group Tour Championship will be played in Naples in November. It’ll have a $5 million purse with the winner getting $1.5 million – the largest single purse in the history of women’s golf.

Horseshoe Bay wants to be golf’s No. 1 resort — and not just in Texas

Horseshoe Bay’s most famous hole is this par-4 on Slick Rock. It has a 35-foot waterfall.

Golf is a little different in the Texas Lake & Hill Country — especially at Horseshoe Bay — a resort where big things are happening.

Horseshoe Bay has operated since 1971 with a relatively low profile. It has three courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. He’s the late father of today’s prominent architects Robert Trent Jones Jr. — the name attached to Alabama’s popular golf trail – and Rees Jones, who gained the moniker of “the Open Doctor’’ for his frequent callups to get courses ready to host major championships.

Jack Nicklaus designed the fourth course at Horseshoe Bay. It opened in 2012 as a private club that is rarely made available to resort guests. Nicklaus’ course is called Summit Rock. The three Jones designs are Slick Rock, Ram Rock and Apple Rock and Ram and Apple are operated together under the title of Cap Rock.

There’s a lot of Rocks, to be sure, and nobody could quite explain why. What was explained in detail by Holder and director of agronomy Ken Gorzycki was the ambitious plans the resort ownership has for the future. That future isn’t far away, either. Holder said the golf aspects of an overall $70 million renovation should be completed by July of 2019.

“Our goal is to be the No. 1 golf resort in the state of Texas, and eventually expanding that to the nation,’’ said Anthony Holder, the resort’s director of golf. “With that comes the updating of your facilities, making sure we can deliver. Our ownership has put a wad of money into all the touching points.’’

Holder grew up in Dallas before spending 14 years at prominent California destinations Mission Hills, Indian Wells and PGA West. He’s been at Horseshoe Bay just a year but is already caught up in the enthusiasm for what’s been happening there.

Horseshoe Bay has basically had just two owners. Norman Hurd and his cousin, Wayne, got the resort started in 1971. Morris D. Jaffe has been the owner since the mid-1990s and he more recently has gotten an investment partner, IBC Bank. That enabled all the upgrades to be tackled in relatively short order.

Slick Rock, which opened in 1971, is the most user-friendly and most heavily played of the courses. It also has the resort’s most famous hole – the par-4 14th which plays anywhere from 236 to 361 yards. This eye-catcher is called “the Million Dollar Hole’’ because of the elaborate 35-yard waterfall that greets players at the tee. They have to clear the waterfall with their drives, then get to see the attraction up close when they drive to their approach shots.

The renovation of Slick Rock was completed in the spring of 2016. The renovation of Ram Rock, the second course to open at the resort in 1981, was a $3 million project and required the most work. It was completed in May of 2018.

“It was our least-desired golf course because it was so hard, the greens were small and it was heavily bunkered,’’ said Gorzycki. “It was considered as the hardest golf course in the state, and we made changes to make it more playable for higher handicap players. Those changes have been extremely well received.’’

The Bermuda grass on the greens was replaced by 007 bentgrass and diamond zoysia collars were installed around the greens to keep Bermuda from creeping into the bentgrass. The practice was part of all three renovations. So was the extension of cart paths.

Because of the invasion of the Bermuda on the greens at both Ram Rock and Apple Rock had been shrinking dramatically.

“A lot of greens had no hole locations left,’’ said Gorzycki.

While the greens were being expanded the bunkers were restored to the size and appearance that Jones had originally created. To make sure of that Robert Trent Jones Jr. – son of the original architect – was involved in the renovation.

“He helped us with the process to maintain the integrity of his Dad’s designs,’’ said Gorzycki. Austin design consultant Mark Voss was also involved in that process.

Jones Sr. was an architect well ahead of his time. His work at Horseshoe Bay is a testament to that.

Apple Rock, the prettiest of the Jones courses, opened in 1986 and has the best water views. Lake LBJ impacts the layout at the 11th and 12th holes. The in-process renovation a $2.5 million project that is to be completed by May 1.

Like Ram Rock, the putting surfaces were extended. When the renovation began the course had less than 65,000 square feet of greens. When it re-opens it’ll have up to 87,000 – which is slightly more than Ram Rock’s 84,000.

When Apple Rock opened it was selected the No. 1 new resort course in the nation by Golf Digest. That came in the heart of the golf boom, so the accomplishment was particularly noteworthy. (Summit was similarly honored but the boom had subsided by then and only two or three other courses were considered for the honor).

As part of the renovation work the bunkers on those courses received new drainage and the sand area became 40 percent less than what it had been.

Horseshoe Bay also has the most impressive 18-hole Whitewater Putting Course, which surrounds 360 Sports Bar. It’s all grass and is set apart from other such courses in that the scorecards gives measurements to each hole in yards, not feet. The whole course is 1,712 yards so obviously some putts are really long ones.

“The ownership sees the potential of this area and wanted to sink its teeth into it, to see how far it can go,’’ said Holder. “Not a lot of properties can offer the array of amenities that we can. This opportunity has a lot of upside, and they have seen a return on their investment so far.’’

The recent financial support has also led to the building of two clubhouses. It’s not all done yet, but the end is near. The clubhouses need just a few more months and Apple Rock is the last course to get renovated. The work there is scheduled to be done by May 1, 2019.

When all is said and done Apple Rock and Ram Rock will share a new clubhouse, pool, cabana, pro shop, pavilion and indoor-outdoor addition to their practice range. A new clubhouse will also be built at Summit Rock. Hotel room are also being upgraded.



Location: Horseshoe Bay, TX., near Marble Falls.

Phone: For general information, 877-611-0112; For Apple Rock and Ram Rock courses, 830-598-6561; for Slick Rock course, 830-598, 2561; Whitewater Putting Course, 830-598-3909.

Golf Policy: Only resort guests can play at Apple Rock, Ram Rock and Slick Rock. The private Summit Rock is occasionally available for resort guests. Green fees vary by the season but the basic prime time rate is $150.

Website: For questions,

Facebook: @Horseshoe Bay Resort

Twitter: @hsbresort

Instagram: #horseshoebayresort