Kilmarlic’s Cottages provide a big boost to golf on the Outer Banks

 

The home hole at Kilmarlic brings golfers right up to the clubhouse.

POWELLS POINT, N.C. – Golf has been played around the Outer Banks of North Carolina since 1988 but its development was a slow one. Nags Head Links was the first to open,  and The Sound Links, The Pointe, Currituck, Carolina Club, Kilmarlic, The Pines and Scotch Hall Preserve all were taking players by 2008.

Those courses all had their followings among residents and visitors to the area, which divides the Atlantic Ocean from the Currituck Sound. The problem was keeping those players there. There wasn’t enough lodging geared to golfers.

That shortcoming was alleviated only recently when the Kilmarlic Club Cottages were built. There’s 18 of them, all named after former Masters champions. Each has two bedrooms and two baths plus a full kitchen, living room and back deck that includes a gas grill. Thirteen surround a lighted 5,000 square foot putting green and five are set near a small pond.

There’s also a four-hole short course, called The Killie.  Its holes range from 27 to 40 yards.

Bryan Sullivan, co-owner of Kilmarlic Resort and Club, saw a definite uptick in play after the cottages were completed in April of 2019.  The construction of all of them took 14 months. The pandemic forced a slow start to the 2020 season, but Sullivan reports “our best June, July, August and September we’ve ever had’’ since then.

High grass at the start of the tee boxes creates an imposing look for golfers at Kilmarlic.

“(The cottages) were a big investment,’’ said Sullivan, “but I always felt fairly confident we could get the golf rentals.  The big question was whether we could get the summertime family rentals.  As it’s turned out, those rentals have been a big hit and a big surprise.’’

It wasn’t just the golf that made them work. Other attractions – notably a water park within walking distance and the always popular Wright Brothers historic air flight museum and monument in Kitty Hawk – brought in families, too. So did the availability of watersports.

“As I like to tell guests, you can have your toes in the ocean in 10 minutes from here,’’ said Sullivan.  “After the first six cottages were completed and we saw the reaction to them, we knew we had it. It was a home run for us.’’

Bryan Sullivan has taken Outer Banks golf to a new level.

The Kilmarlic course, recognized as one of the best in not only the Outer Banks but state-wide as well, is certainly an attraction. As site of the North Carolina Open in 2004 and 2009, it’s no secret to golfers.  It’s also been the annual site of the OBX Intercollegiate, hosted by Old Dominion. At the 2019 staging of that event Michael O’Brien, of St. Joseph’s of Pennsylvania, shot a course record 61.

Sullivan, who played on both the PGA and Canadian pro tours, had shared the old record of 63, his hot round coming in the North Carolina Open.  He’s been at Kilmarlic from its beginning, when Tom Steele designed the course. Steele, a landscape architect from Virginia, designed only one other course – Nansemond River in Suffolk, VA. It opened in 1999.

Though not well known in golf architecture, Steele created a course that’s not long (6,615 yards from the back tees) and has no real signature hole.

He had 605 acres have maritime forests and wetlands wo work with and  Sullivan likes the par-5 ninth as his favorite hole.

High grass in front of most of the tees creates the illusion that the holes are longer than they really area. The par-3s are all easy on the eye and present a variety of challenges.  The par-5s all have a risk-reward look.

The course’s name came from a ship from Kilmarnock, Scotland, that sank off the shores of the Outer Banks in the mid-1600s. Apparently the ship was filled with whiskey and the area residents enjoyed a big celebration after confiscating it.

Here are scenes from Kilmarmic’s new Cottages.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:  www.PlayOBXGolf.com

 

 

 

No doubt about it: Michigan’s LochenHeath is back in the swing of things

 

LochenHeath has plenty of memorable holes, and waterfront views only make them better.

WILLIAMSBURG, Michigan – This is one of those golf feel-good stories that you don’t see often enough.

It focuses on LochenHeath Golf Club in northern Michigan, on the outskirts of Traverse City.  LochenHeath is a course that once was closed, but has since been rescued thanks to some extraordinary efforts by a few club members and some dedicated employes. Now they have one of the best public courses in this golf-rich state.

The course, designed by the well-respected Steve Smyers, has a beautiful site above East Grand Traverse Bay. Built on what had been a 300-acre cherry orchard, LochenHeath opened as a public course in 2002, went private in 2004 and then reverted to a daily fee operation in 2008. The end result of those maneuvers led to bankruptcy and a shutdown that lasted over two years

Eleven members brought the club out of foreclosure in the spring of 2011, but they did more than that. Their passion for the project made all the difference.

“Really quite a story,’’ recounted general manager Kevin O’Brien.  “The members didn’t sit by during the shutdown.  They came out and kept the course alive – mowing, weeding bunkers, whatever they could do.’’

At one point the grass in the fairways was knee-high, and one of the bunkers required 65 man-hours of hand labor for it to survive.

Joe Ettawagiac, who had been the assistant superintendent, was brought back as the head man and another former employee, chef Joseph George, was also re-hired.  In May of 2011 those involved held a celebratory reopening.

O’Brien, who joined the effort in 2013, had worked at some other good places in Michigan.  He was in charge at the 36-hole Tullymore Resort, in Stanwood, for 20 years. While O’Brien was there architect Jim Engh created the resort’s  namesake course that was judged America’s Best New Public and Resort Course after its opening in 2002.  St. Ives, the resort’s older course, is considered one of the best for women.

After Tullymore O’Brien went to True North, in Harbor Springs.  It also had a course designed by Engh. O’Brien was there for two years until LochenHeath came calling.

“The members wanted to transition back to private, something I had done at True North,’’ said O’Brien, “but here it’s different.  It’ll take nine or 10 years. We figured it’d be a long process.’’

Architect Steve Smyers gave LochenHeath a Scottish links look.

For now O’Brien  describes LochenHeath as “a private club that invites limited outside play.’’

While the recruitment of more members may take some time, the product doesn’t seem a hard sell. Smyers, once the president of the Golf Course Architects of America, took on a site that had 85 feet of elevation changes.  That was a good start for him to make something good, and he did.

“The conditioning and golf course views are exceptional,” said O’Brien, “and there’s great movement to the land.”

More recently two spatious cottages have been built to attract national members. The outdoor practice area is also state-of-the-art and simulators are available for use indoors.

This is one of those courses that must be played from the proper set of tees to fit a player’s talent level. If that commonsense practice is followed you’ll find LochenHeath challenging, but – more than anything —  a lot of fun. If you don’t follow that guideline you won’t appreciate what LochenHeath offers.

The course measures 7,287 yards from the back tees, where the rating is 77.2 and the slope 150.  LochenHeath measures only 5,031 from the front markers, and there are seven sets of tees.

Best hole may be No. 7, a downhill par-5.  At 579 yards from the tips, it’s the longest  on the course and – with a 70-foot elevation drop – it’s the No. 1 handicap hole.  That finishing stretch, though, can break your heart.

Last of the par-3s is No. 15 which requires an uphill tee shot to a green that slopes sharply back to front. Keeping your ball from running off the front and into a deep ravine is no easy task. Then comes two of the toughest par-4s on the layout and the finisher is a tight par-5 that demands a straight tee shot.  Long hitters might be able to reach the green in two shots if the tee shot is a good one.

A PGA Tour player, Ryan Brehm, holds the course record with a 65 — and he’s also a LochenHeath member.

Pass through the gate into LochenHeath Golf Club, and you’re in for a real treat.

 

 

 

Michigan’s Forest Dunes continues to expand its facilities

 

Forest Dunes’ new Short Course has provided playing options for more types of players.

ROSCOMMON, Michigan – There was never a doubt that Forest Dunes had one of the very best golf courses in Michigan, if not the entire United States. Tom Weiskopf designed it in 2002 – the same year that Golf Digest named it Best New Course in the U.S.

That started a rivalry with nearby Arcadia Bluffs for the best public course in Michigan, and it’s been ongoing. Arcadia added a second course last year, but Forest Dunes’ first 18-holer remains on the best in the U.S. lists by Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golfweek.

No facility, however, can keep up with the expansion that Forest Dunes owner Lew Thompson, an Arkansas trucking magnate, has engineered over that last five years.

The well-received Weiskopf design brought players to this small town, but not enough of them. Lodging was needed to keep them there, and now – between a lodge, villas and nine homes scattered around the property — there are 130 beds on the 1,300-acre site.

Golfers could play more by signing up for stay-and-play packages, but then there was just that one course. That was a drawback.

Thompson’s answer was to hire of Michigan architect Tom Doak for the creation of The Loop – arguably the most unique golf course in the country.  It plays clock-wise (as the Black course)  one day and counter-clock-wise (as the Red) the next. The Loop opened in 2016 as a walking-only layout, but now carts are allowed and rounds  have increased.

Still, that wasn’t enough.

“We’ve seen, as a destination facility, that stays are getting extended a night or two,’’ said Don Helinski, Forest Dunes’ director of operations.  “But people aren’t interested in golfing themselves to death by playing 36 holes a day. They also want to get together with the people they’re with and hang out.’’

The HillTop Putting Course is more than a place to putt. It is spread over two acres.

So more building was necessary.  On Aug. 1 the new 10-hole Short Course opened, its holes ranging from 65 to 150 yards.

“We’re a pure golf facility,’’ said Helinski.  “WE have no pool, no spa, no nightlife.  We need these things to keep our people entertained.’’

The Short Course has done that.  Such layouts are becoming more and more popular, and Forest Dunes’ version is somewhat of a cross between The Cradle, at Pinehurst, and Mountain Top, the Gary Player-design in the Branson, Mo., area.  Forest Dunes’ short course is more challenging than The Cradle but not as testy as Mountain Top.  Like The Cradle, the Short Course starts and finishes near an outdoor bar and that adds to the fun atmosphere of playing there.

“These courses throw out the stuffiness and standardness of golf,’’ said Helinski.  “Who says a course has to have nine or 18 holes? Who says you have to measure yourself against par? Just go out and have fun. That’s why we’re calling it a Short Course rather than a par-3 course.  It’s not about a cumulative score.  It’s all about the games you can play.’’

The No. 10 hole provides an unusual finisher at Forest Dunes’ Short Course.

Helinski says the average time for a round is 1 hour 15 minutes.  Groups of up to eight are allowed to play together and the fee per adult round is $39. Children 15 and under play free if accompanied by an adult.

Some players wear flip-flops, some play barefoot.  Some carry three clubs, while others take a full bag and ride in a cart. Some play the course with just one club (one even did it with a putter when we were there). Regardless of how you play, the Short Course provides a good introduction to golf for people of all ages.

Unlike the Weiskopf and Doak courses, the Short Course didn’t have a big-name designer. Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns were co-designers.  They had designed a similar course in Winter Park, FL., where Rhebb lives.  Johns, from Canada, worked with Doak in the creation of The Loop.

“You don’t get the chance to get super creative when designing courses,’’ said Rhebb, “but with the Short Course we really had the opportunity to have some fun with it.  Lew wanted it to be fun and always engaging, and we were able to express that in the design.’’

The Short Course went up fast. Construction took just 81 days from the time the first shovel went into the ground until seeding. It also was only two weeks between the time the first phone call was made to start the project until the start of construction.

Having the Short Course up and running also brought more attention to Forest  Dunes’ two-acre, 18-hole HillTop Putting Course.  It has some undulation and is spiced up with native grasses and pine trees.  Tee markers and scorecards are part of the ambiance. We’ve been to Forest Dunes four times and didn’t know the putting course, which opened three years ago, was there.  Now you can’t miss it.

Amazingly, Thompson most likely isn’t done building yet.

“We have enough property north of the current courses to expand the property and develop another course,’’ said Helinski.  “Several top architects have said the land for it is the best on the property, but that would also mean an investment for more lodging and other facilities.’’

Given the aggressive approach Thompson has taken to develop the property, don’t be surprised if the the building of the next course isn’t too far off.

Arthur Hills Golf Trail is up and running

 

Maumee Bay State Park’s golf villas provide great lodging for stay-and-play packages.

TOLEDO, Ohio – Arthur Hills designed more than 200 golf courses and renovated more than 150 in his long career as a course architect. Few modern day architects have come even close to those numbers.

Hills, now 90 and officially retired, spends most of his time on the east coast of Florida now but his work is being honored in the area that was his long-time home base.  Hills, working with long-time partner Steve Forrest, was based in the Toledo area and now Ohio Golf Journal publisher Fred Altvater and several club operators are developing the Arthur Hills Golf Trail.

The Trail was officially launched at the Toledo Golf Show in 2019. Pandemic issues slowed its takeoff but Altvater sees bigger days ahead. Based on the work Hills has done world-wide there’s no question he deserves his own Trail.

In addition to his American designs – the best-known of which may be Half Moon Bay in California — Hills has designed courses in Portugal, Croatia, Sweden, Mexico and Norway.

Several years ago the Pete Dye Golf Trail started on a small scale with seven courses in the late architect’s native Indiana.  Hills is Dye’s contemporary, and his trail has a similar beginning.  Altvater has lined up five courses for starters.

They include three layouts in southeast Michigan —  The Legacy by Arthur Hills, in Ottawa Hills, and Stonebridge Golf Club and Leslie Park, in Ann Arbor – and two in northwest Ohio – Stone Ridge, in Bowling Green, and Maumee Bay State Park, on the shores of Lake Erie in the town of  Oregon.

“There’s probably 10-12 good Arthur Hills designs in the Toledo area,’’ said Altvater.  “Down the road we hope to have them involved as well, but these are within 45 minutes of Toledo and have great lodging and fantastic places to eat nearby as well.’’

Altvater is also banking on other nearby attractions, like a world-class zoo and botanical gardens, to entice visitors.

Hills’ footprint in the area touches far more destinations than are represented on the present trail.  He designed nine courses in Ohio and another 17 in Michigan.  The Michigan layouts include one of his very best – the Arthur Hills Course at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs – and 27-hole Bay Harbor, a masterpiece overlooking Little Traverse Bay.

The first course Hills created was in Toledo —  Brandywine, in 1967, and he did renovation work at, among others, the historic Inverness Club in that city. He has degrees from Michigan, Michigan State and the University of Toledo, so Hills is indeed a native son of both states.

No. 12, a par-3 measuring 199 yards from the tips, has hazards on both sides of the green.

As for the five Trail courses, the toughest is Stone Ridge – the home course of the Bowling Green University golf teams and just a long tee shot from the edge of the campus. The bunkering there is one of Hills’ finest works, and the course is surrounded by rolling hills and dissected by small creeks and water hazards.

Stonebridge may be the most beautiful of the Trail layouts, with the extremely well-conditioned course blending in well with an array of pleasant homesites.  Leslie Park started as a Larry Packard design in 1967 before Hills performed major renovation work 28 years later. Leslie Park has been selected as the best municipal course in Michigan by Golf Digest.

Most enticing of the lot, though, is Maumee Bay because it offers so much more than golf.  With camping and watersports readily available, the park is ideal for family activities.  The on-site lodging is also well situated, just a short walk from the golf course.

“Arthur’s hand has touched a lot of golf courses around the area,’’ said Altvater.  “He’s a very popular designer in this part of the world, and I’m amazed at the great golf here that nobody knows about.  We can put custom-made packages together and, for double occupancy and 18 holes a day, we can do it for about $100.  And replay rounds can be less than $25.’’

For more information check out www.arthurhillsgolftrail.com or contact Altvater at fred@back9report.com.

Maumee Bay’s Lodge offers views of Lake Erie and its beaches.

 

 

 

 

 

Valley Tower’s creation brightens the outlook at Indiana’s French Lick Resort

The new Valley Sports Bar will be a happening place at French Lick.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana — Our longest golf/travel writing tour of the year – 22 days with stops in six states — ended at a most familiar place.  We’ve made at least one stop at French Lick Resort & Casino every year since 2009.

This year’s visit was a bit different than the others in that no tournament coverage was involved. At least our string of consecutive annual visits remains intact, a sharp contrast to what’s happened on the PGA Tour.  I had covered every Chicago area PGA event conducted by the Western Golf Association since 1972. That run will come to an end this week when the BMW Championship is held at Olympia Fields Country Club.

In addition to not allowing spectators at its tournaments since March 12 the PGA Tour has limited media attendance to basically just those who travel with the circuit on a weekly basis. That ruled me out, as was the case at three other previous tournaments at which I applied for a credential.

French Lick was not immune to pandemic restrictions. Pandemic concerns led to the cancelation of both the Senior LPGA Championship, slated for Oct. 9-16 on the resort’s Pete Dye Course, and the Donald Ross Classic, a Symetra Tour stop that was to be contested on the Donald Ross Course in July.

The opening of the Valley Tower increased French Lick’s lodging capabilities.

Our latest tour of golf destinations included stops in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio and Michigan before we reached Indiana. In sharp contrast to PGA tournaments, the destinations visited on our tour had no trouble welcoming golfers. Virtually all were cognizant of governmental restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Only one of our stops, in Georgia, was reluctant to push the use of masks and that stop even offered a breakfast buffet – something discouraged by the health experts.

None of the others, however, were as diligent about safety concerns as French Lick.  Masks were required  — with no exceptions anywhere – and temperature checks were made at the resort’s hotels and restaurants on a daily basis.  Those who passed were given coded bracelets to wear that day. That precaution wasn’t taken at any of the other destinations we visited.

While French Lick has had its problems like every place else, director of golf Dave Harner could find a silver lining.

“Our courses never closed,’’ he said.  “It took a pandemic to get golf going again.  Our play has been  extremely heavy on the weekends.’’

In our visits to French Lick we have seen new, positive developments of one sort or another every year.  This time it was the opening of a new hotel and restaurant – the Valley Tower and Bar. Its creation led to the conversion of the pro shop at the nine-hole Valley Links course into a convention/exhibition center.  A new pro shop was constructed closer to the first tee at the Valley Links.

While big tournaments had to be scrapped in 2020, the Senior LPGA Championship and Donald Ross Championship will return in 2021.  The Big Ten men’s championship and Indiana Amateur are also on the resort’s calendar for future years.

What’s the best course on the Georgia Golf Trail? You tell me

Architect Denis Griffiths’ finger bunkers and the Blue Ridge Mountains are trademarks at Brasstown Valley.

 Georgia may be the best state in the union for golf.  Others may have more courses, but the Peach State is the home of both the Masters and the PGA’s Tour Championship. No state has major events of that caliber on an annual basis.

And don’t forget the Georgia Golf Trail. With 20 destinations it’s one of the nation’s biggest trails. The Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama may receive more attention, but it doesn’t have the number of destinations that Georgia does.

Created by Doug Hollandsworth eight years ago, the Georgia Trail has grown to 20 destinations and you can’t beat the variety of them. Many are multi-course facilities, headed by  the six-course Reynolds Lake Oconee, in Greensboro, which features the great, Jack Nicklaus-designed and recently-renovated Great Waters layout.

Eight of the others are at state parks, such as the Wallace Adams Course – affectionately known as “Little O’’ – at Little Ocmulgee State Lodge Park in Helena. You can play this, very decent, layout for under $30.

It’d be presumptuous of me to name the best destination on the trail, since I have played only a few of them. Comparing them is a fun, stimulating exercise, however, so why not give it a shot?

For me it’s hard to imagine a trail course much nicer than the last one I visited.  That’d be Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa in Young Harris, a town with only about 1,000 residents that is but six miles from the North Carolina border.

Denis Griffiths, who lives in North Carolina, designed Brasstown Valley.  It opened in 1995 and was one of the early members of the Trail.

“We became the anchor,’’ said Steve Phelps, the resort’s director of golf the past 14 years. “The pros all wanted to see who would jump on board with this.  We’re known pretty well throughout the state and are a state-owned facility.  As soon as we got in a number of others followed.’’

The Trail has served its major purpose. It expanded interest in more parts of Georgia.

The 515-yard 15th, a par-5 that wraps around water, may be the best hole at Brasstown Valley.

“It showed our diversity,’’ said Phelps. “By playing the Trail you can see all of Georgia. Here (at Brasstown) we have the mountains. It’s too nice a place to miss.  We’re one of the marquee places, but Georgia has a pretty nice coast, too.’’

Brasstown Valley was built on 500 acres of a wildlife preserve.  The resort includes a stable, hiking trails, tennis, indoor and outdoor pools and two restaurants. In addition to its proximity to North Carolina it’s a half-hour from the Tennessee line and four states can be viewed from one high spot near the resort.

Griffiths’ course is stunning. The Blue Ridge Mountains provide an appropriate backdrop for a course dominated by finger-filled bunkers and sweeping elevation changes.  The par-5 fifteenth, which plays around a lake, may be the best hole.

One other thing to note about the well-groomed course.  Many places on it are protected wildlife areas or sacred Indian ground. There were once seven Indian villages in the area, and the popular multi-colored turtle tee markers are a tribute to Indian lore. Machinery can’t be used in those protected area so wildlife can grow as high as five feet in some spots at certain times of the year, adding to the striking nature of the layout.

Griffiths has two other designs on the Trail, at Brazell’s Creek Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park in Reidsville and the Georgia Veterans Golf Club at Lake Blackshear Resort in Cordele.

Other state park courses on the Trail are Arrowhead Pointe at Richard B. Russell State Park in Elberton;  Meadow Links at George T. Bagby State Park and Lodge in Fort Gaines; The Creek at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge; The Lakes at Laura S. Walker State Park in Hoboken; and Highland Walk at Victoria Bryant State Park in Franklin Springs.

The opening hole at the Wallace Adams Course at Little Ocmulgee is a tough dogleg left over water.

New clubhouse will also bring a stunning opening tee shot at Cherokee Valley

 

The Blue Ridge Mountains create a stunning backdrop for players at Cherokee Valley.

TRAVELER’S REST, South Carolina – Clubs — at least the lucky ones– are sometimes able to build nice, new clubhouses even in these difficult financial times.  Cherokee Valley, a 28-year old public facility 25 miles from the city of  Greenville, is one of those but there’s more to the story.

Owner Matt Jennings wanted to add a premier dining experience when he and his uncle, Ted Levine,  bought the club in 2017. They wanted a place where families, couples, individuals, business people and – of course – golfers could share a sense of community.

By November Cherokee Valley will have all of that, but it isn’t a case of a new clubhouse replacing an old one. The old clubhouse will revert back to its original use – as an events center.  The focus of the new one will be the Core 450 Restaurant, and executive chef Todd Warden is already on board to oversee the dining operation. The current golf shop will be moved to the first floor of the new building.

Making this dramatic move, however, also will necessitate a reconfiguration of the golf course – a beautiful one already, and one of the best public venues we’ve ever visited.  P.B. Dye, one of the sons of the late, great golf architecture couple of Pete and Alice Dye, was the designer.

The new clubhouse, under construction, will feature the Core 450 Restaurant and views of ninth and 18th greens.

 

For P.B., it’s more than just another credit on his resume.  He used the par-3 eighth hole, which has a 70-foot downhill drop and Glassy Mountain as a backdrop, as the site for his wedding.  P.B. and wife Jean were married on that spot shortly before Cherokee Valley opened in 1992.

With the creation of Core 450 Dye had to make changes to his original layout, one of which should stir some controversy..

The new opening hole will get players’ attention immediately.  It’s a sturdy par-4, 461 yards from the back tees, with a significant forced carry over water on the opening tee shot. In the original layout it was No. 3. The par-4 second hole becomes No. 18, which enhances viewing for those on hand at Core 450. Those viewers will be able to see the action at both the Nos. 9 and 18 holes.

In the routing  No. 1 is No. 17 and No. 2 was No. 18 The downhill par-4 third hole will be reverted to the first hole. The new configuration will create a tough finishing stretch featuring a par-5 and two lengthy par-4s in the last three holes.  They’ll measure a combined 1,404 total yards from the back tees and include the third and fifth hardest holes on the course.

While the other changes are significant, the new No. 1 will be felt the most.  Jennings says the new rotation will be a big hit with Cherokee’s players, both members and visitors alike.

“Golfers are going to love it,’’ said Jennings.  “We’ve received great feedback on the configuration. Low handicappers have readily accepted the challenging of facing two of the toughest holes on the course right at the start.’’

With a waterfall as part of the attraction, No. 5 is the signature holes at Cherokee Valley.

Bottom line is that Cherokee Valley isn’t your typical golf club.  It’s a family club in a tight-knit community, but it also has cottages – located just a short walk from the pro shop — that make it ideal for stay-and-play group outings. There’s a swimming pool as well as tennis and pickleball courts and its golf practice area is extraordinary.

While the golf carts are top-notch, the 20 Finn Cycles – motorized “golf scooters’’ – are a fun option for on-course transportation.

Regardless of the order of the holes Cherokee Valley has a great mix of challenges.  The elevation changes are dramatic in many places but the course is no killer, either.  It measures 6,728 yards from the tips with a rating of 71.4 and slope of 134.  It’s enjoyable for players of all ability levels. The course has 11 lakes and 50 strategically-placed bunkers and the current No. 5, which features a waterfall, is the designated signature hole.

These Cottages at Cherokee Valley offer visitors most comfortable lodging just a short walk from the pro shop.

`Dirty Dancing’ helped make Bald Mountain a special course

The lower green is for Bald Mountain’s No.15 and the upper one for No. 16, a site for a famous movie.

LAKE LURE, North Carolina – The Bald Mountain course at Rumbling Bald Resort hasn’t changed much since W.B. Lewis designed it in 1968.

“Actually, it hasn’t changed at all,’’ said Adam Bowles, who has headed the golf operation at the resort the last seven years. “They put in new bentgrass greens in about 2000, and the trees have grown.  That’s about it.’’

Bald Mountain, though, has a unique attraction. If you hit the green on the No. 16 hole you have – almost literally – reached “the dance floor.’’  That green was a scene in the movie “Dirty Dancing.’’ There’s a sign behind it to designate its place in the movie that has had a steady stream of followers for over 30 years.  It was released internationally in 1987.

“Everyone wants to take a picture from behind the green,’’ said Bowles.  “It’s incredible to me how many people are still attached to that movie. It has a strange attraction.  It’s funny how some movies have a cult following.’’

“Dirty Dancing,’’ which starred Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, certainly has that.  Lake Lure holds an annual Dirty Dancing Festival in September, though it won’t be held this year because of pandemic concerns.

Adam Bowles is amazed how the movie `Dirty Dancing’  has impacted one course’s popularity.

“It’s a really big deal,’’ said Bowles.  “You wouldn’t believe how many people flock to this area.  A lot of places that were in that movie have since burned down, and there’s not much remaining.  It’s really the only place where people who love that movie can go where it was made.  Pretty bizarre to me.’’

No. 16 is a pretty hole – a 160-yard par-3 over water from the back tees.  It follows a striking par-5 that is pretty special, too.  It’s downhill from tee to green with a covered bridge used to get golfers from the fairway to the putting surface. The green is blocked by a small, but troublesome, creek.

There’s some other interesting holes at Bald Mountain as well. Course designer Lewis was a protégé of George Cobb, best known for creating the par-3 course at Augusta National.

“We’ve called 16  our signature hole because there’s so much history involved,’’ said Bowles, “but players have developed a love-hate relationship about No. 15.’’  That’s the longest hole on the course at 509 yards from the back tees.

The downhill par-5 fifteenth is protected by this hazard, making it Bald Mountain’s toughest hole.

Bald Mountain, a par-72, measures only 6,233 yards from the tips, but it’s also unusual for having five par-3s and five par-5s. It’s a short, sporty layout with lots of doglegs and elevation changes. There’s a lot of steep, windy roads leading into the resort, and that suggests the elevation changes on the layout are more pronounced than they really are. Bowles says the elevation is 1,500 feet, but that’s enough to make it interesting for a wide variety of players.  The Carolina Golf Association plays between six and eight events there each year and junior events are also in abundance.

The course has been owned by its homeowners since 1992, and Bowles envisions the day when the resort connection may be dropped.

“It’ll be more attached to the community, which is really what it is – more a homeowners course,’’ he said.

Bald Mountain will soon have a partner course again.  Apply Valley, which was acquired by the resort in 1986, will re-open to the public on Aug. 24.  It has been closed since June to allow for the replacement of bentgrass by Champion Bermuda. Apple Valley was designed by Pinehurst, N.C. architect Dan Maples.  He the son of Ellis Maples, an architectural icon.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to do something in a year we didn’t expect to do anything,’’ said Bowles.  “It was a tough financial decision, but it was the smartest thing to do. We’ll be providing something for people to look forward to.”

 

 

 

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Bath Course coming to Blackwolf Run

 

Here’s a sneak preview of the new 10-hole 1,135-yard Short Course at Forest Dunes, in Roscommon, Mich. Designed by Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns, it’s scheduled to open on Aug. 1 and we’ll be among its first visitors.

Business is reportedly down aty America’s golf destinations, but you certainly can’t blame the operators of those places for that. They have taken aggressive measures to entice golfers back, even in these troublesome pandemic times.

Most notable recent example of that comes from Kohler, Wis., with an announcement only a few days after the Ryder Cup matches were called off there for 2020 and pushed back to 2021 on the fearsome Whistling Straits course.

Blackwolf Run, another Kohler facility that has 36 holes and has hosted major championships on the LPGA Tour, will offer The Baths of Blackwolf Run, a 10-hole par-3 course with a two-acre putting course, food and beverage service and special event capability. It’s scheduled to open in June of 2021, well ahead of the rescheduled Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

Chris Lutzke, a Pete Dye disciple, is the architect for the project, but Kohler executive chairman Herb Kohler is on record as the “co-designer.’’

“The par-3 and putting courses will provide a dynamic experience for our international guests and local community,’’ said Kohler. “It’s important for these courses to aid in our continuing efforts to grow the game by creating opportunities for players of all skill levels. The Baths will do it with the Kohler touch to create a unique experience.”

The new features will be built on 27 acres between the first and 11th holes of the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf. The par-3 will have holes ranging from 60 to 160 yards and they’ll have four strategic water features, called “Baths,’’ mixed in. They’ll be ideal for groups, couples and corporate events.

Here’s an artist’s rendering of what will soon be a new attraction in Kohler, Wis.

 

 

 

 

WE WILL HAVE TO  take a wait-and-see approach to The Baths, but there are some attractions available now.

For instance:

EAGLE RIDGE, Galena, IL. – The General, a premier course with stunning  elevation changes, now has a new clubhouse, pro shop, restaurant and lounge. The course also has a new look, as the nines have been flipped, allowing for a stunning view of the 18th hole for visitors at the new Highlands Restaurant and Lounge 289.

SOUTHERN PINES, North Carolina – The Donald Ross-designed Southern Pines Golf Club is under new management and will soon have new owners. Kelly Miller, president of the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, announced the lease/purchase of the course from the Southern Pines Elks Club. The Pine Needles/Mid Pines management company has taken over the operation of Southern Pines and is working toward a final sale once some infrastructure changes are made.

“I’ve always thought (Southern Pines) is a wonderful golf course,’’ said Miller. “It’s one of the best routings in the area. It has great topography and a set of par-threes that are unmatched anywhere. The club has a lot of fascinating history. It’s a perfect fit for us.’’

The Pinehurst Resort, meanwhile, is preparing to host both the boys and girls High School Golf National Invitational Aug. 3-5. Participants will come from more than 40 states for a three-round 54-hole stroke play competition. The fields are expected to number about 110 for the girls and 250 for the boys.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – The 37th playing of the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship couldn’t be stopped by the pandemic. It’ll go on as scheduled from Aug. 31 to Sept 4 with over 2,200 players already registered. The 72-hole tourney usually draws over 3,000. The only drawback to this one is that the World’s Largest 19th Hole won’t be held because of pandemic concerns.

Also at Myrtle, the area’s largest golf course group has decided to allow walking throughout the year. Founders Group International includes TPC Myrtle Beach, King’s North, Pine Lakes and Pawleys Plantation among others.

HILTON HEAD, S.C. – The three premier courses at Sea Pines Resort – Heron Point, Atlantic Dunes and Harbour Town – will host the Lighthouse Invitational, a two-person team competition for men and women amateurs from Sept. 17-20. Harbour Town has already hosted the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage Classic and was rated the No. 1 course in South Carolina in 2019.

BIG CEDAR, Missouri — The facility on the outskirts of Branson has long been a site for PGA Champions Tour events but now it will host two of them in back-to-back weeks.  Both will be 54 hole events carrying a $3 million purse and worldwide television coverage. The first will be at the Buffalo Ridge Course Aug. 19-21 and the seond at Ozarks National Aug. 24-26.  In keeping with pandemic concerns, not spectators will be allowed.

Golf travel has changed, but it’s still fun — especially in the Pinehurst area

The massive double green, serving Mid South’s Nos. 9 and 18 holes, is great for spectators.

SOUTHERN PINES, North Carolina – Traveling to golf destinations has had a big impact on our lifestyle for 10 years. Make no mistake, though. The pandemic affected us big-time, just as it has everyone else.

For eight months we didn’t leave Florida, our home for nearly four years now. We didn’t forget how nice it was to drive around the country in search of golf destinations, however, and that urge sent us on our way to the Carolinas in mid-June. We are among the very first to report on the golf travel beat because we were more than mildly curious about how things had changed.

When we began our 11th year of road trips we targeted familiar destinations. Our journeys in the past had ranged from a couple days to over a month, all of them made by car. This first one of 2020 lasted only nine days. We made the decision to shorten it a few days while already on the road because a couple of our planned destinations reported that not all of their courses were ready for play.

Still, we found that golf vacations are very much doable in the Carolinas – just as they were when the pandemic impact hit full-force on March 12 and shut down the PGA Tour. The destinations that we visited never shut down their courses, but they all suffered from the lack of overnight guests.

We enjoyed eight straight days of golf – three courses in Santee, one in Camden and one in Cheraw in South Carolina and three more in the Pinehurst area of North Carolina. The golf offered at these places was almost like it was pre-pandemic. There was no one-player-per-cart policy and driving ranges and putting greens were in full operation. Tee times were standard and plenty of players took advantage of that.

Pot bunkers were part of the recent renovation that created a new look on what is now The New Course at Talamore.

Sponge or styrofoam donuts were in most all the cups to keep players from reaching into the holes. Most courses still kept rakes out of the bunkers, but one dispensed with that policy and had three in most of its bunkers. While flagsticks were to remain in the holes, one foursome that played in front of us had a money game going and pulled the pin on every hole. That wasn’t smart and slowed down play, but the ranger on duty didn’t protest.

In short, everyone was having a good time – at least on the golf courses where social distancing was no problem.

Off the courses it wasn’t quite the same. Lodging was just starting to pick up and the dining establishments weren’t nearly as busy as they had been in those good old days four months ago. On the way home we were stopped by state police at the Georgia-Florida line and asked where we had been. In our case, at least, that was good enough for them to cheerfully send us on our way.

Our goal on this trip was to portray what golf travel is like in this “new normal’’ period, and we didn’t find it bad at all. We suspect more people will be heading to smaller communities, seeing them as a better alternative to big cities health-wise. We’re seeing more golfers walking on their rounds, and that’s a good thing.

Pine Needles’ No.13 is a downhill par-3 that plays 208 yards from the tips to an undulating green.

The key to having a successful, fun golf trip is in the planning. Lodging can’t be made spur-of-the-moment. Even the bigger hotel chains aren’t operating at full capacity. Buffet lines for breakfast were not allowed. Each diner was served by hotel personnel. Restaurants were available in all locations, but not all were open. Virtually everyone was diligent about sanitizing everything, from the menus in the restaurants to the luggage racks in the hotels.

Strangely, it seemed, clubhouses at the courses were not catering to diners. They mainly provided just beverage service.

As for the overall experience, we saved the best for last. It shouldn’t surprise any traveling golfer that the Pinehurst area was clearly the most prepared for these troubling times. We played lots of courses that were aerating their greens at the start of the trip, but that wasn’t the case at either Talamore Golf Resort or Pine Needles – long-time Pinehurst area favorites.

The two Talamore courses had undergone renovations since our last visit. The original Rees Jones-designed Talamore, which opened in 1991 and drew nationwide attention for have llama caddies, is now called The New Course at Talamore. The llamas are still there – at least we saw two of them headquartered near the No. 14 tee. A good photo op, even though llamas have no duties on the course anymore.

Construction on the Mid South Club, the other course at the Talamore Resort, started in 1988 but the course didn’t open until 1993. An Arnold Palmer design, it was acquired by Talamore in 2004.

Mid South also had its greens converted from bentgrass to champion bermuda. The spectacular double green for holes 9 and 18 is still the biggest eye-catcher on the property but clearly the work done on both layouts as well as in the accompanying villas represent a major upgrade.

The concluding round on our trip was at Pine Needles. It’s always a treat to play there.

Pine Needles is the first course to be awarded four U.S. Women’s Opens by the U.S. Golf Association. The fourth U.S. Women’s Open will be played at Pine Needles in 2022. Previous ones were in 1996, 2001 and 2007.

A covered driving range is a unique feature at Pine Needles, which will host a record fourth U.S. Women’s Open in 2022.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.TalamoreGolfResort.com, PineNeedlesLodge.com, HomeofGolf.com.