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Len Ziehm On Golf

Want the best golf options in Michigan? Head to the north

Thanks to a series of expansions Crystal Mountain Resort has created the look of a village plaza.


THOMPSONVILLE, Michigan – The state of Michigan is loaded with great golf courses. That’s no secret.

With over 800 public facilities in the state, it might be challenging to find the right area for the best courses – but fear no more. Northern Michigan is that spot. You can’t go wrong there.

In 2013 course operators in that area made a bold claim, declaring their terrain “America’s Summer Golf Capital,’’ and very few have disputed it. The “Capital’’ now includes 10 resorts and 33 courses, most within 45 minutes of each other. And membership does not include nearby Arcadia Bluffs, billed by many as the state’s best course, or Arcadia South, the new companion course to the Bluffs.

“Most of the members have been pretty consistent,’’ said Brian Lawson, director of public relations at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville. “Us, Manistee National, Grand Traverse Resort, Treetops, all the Boyne resorts, LochenHeath — have been there from the beginning. A few others have been in and out, but we’re always looking to expand.’’

No. 17, a downhill par-3 on the Mountain Ridge course, may be Crystal Mountain’s most popular hole.


The “Capital’’ started as basically a website, and it still is without a headquarters location. Golf packages, however, can be booked on the website, www.americasgolfcapital.com, and Charley Olson is available as the group’s marketing administrator.

Here are the golf options provided in America’s Summer Golf Capital:

BAY HARBOR — Four courses are available in the Petoskey-Charlevoix area – Bay Harbor, The Quarry, The Links and Crooked Tree.

BOYNE HIGHLANDS — Located in Harbor Springs, this resort has 72 holes plus a par-3 course. The 18-holers are The Heather, Arthur Hills, Donald Ross Memorial and Moor. The Heather was named National Course of the Year for 2019 by the National Golf Course Owners Association.

BOYNE MOUNTAIN – Located in Boyne Falls, this resort has the Alpine and Monument layouts.

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN – Another two-course facility, this one offers Mountain Ridge, home of the Michigan Women’s Open for the last 17 years, and Betsie Valley. A lot has been happening at Crystal Mountain. We’ll get to that later.

FOREST DUNES – This well-regarded resort is Roscommon is in expansion mode. In addition to its established Tom Weiskopf-designed layout Forest Dunes has a unique reversible course, called The Loop, and a putting course. A par-3 course is under construction.

GRAND TRAVERSE – Located in Acme, this resort’s Bear, Wolverine and Spruce Run courses have been popular for years. The Bear is a Jack Nicklaus design.

A sunset view of Grand Traverse Bay from the Cherry Tree Inn is something special.


LOCHENHEATH – Steve Smyers designed the lone course at this location, which is located on Grand Traverse Bay in Williamsburg and its minutes away from downtown Traverse City.

MANISTEE NATIONAL – Canthooke Valley and Cutter’s Ridge are both par-71 layouts located in a beautiful forest setting.

SHANTY CREEK – Cedar River (Tom Weiskopf) and The Legend (Arnold Palmer) have well-known designers on this site in Bellaire. The other courses there are Schuss Mountain and Summit.

TREETOPS – The Gaylord hotspot has five courses, among them The Premier – the only Tom Fazio design in Michigan. Rick Smith designed both the Signature and Tradition courses and Robert Trent Jones Sr. provided The Masterpiece. Treetops also features Threetops – one of the best par-3 layouts in the U.S.

TULLYMORE — This resort in Stanwood has two great 18-holers – the Tullymore and St. Ives layouts.

Many of these places started as ski resorts and still thrive in the winter months because of their slopes and chairlifts. Golf, though, has been the heart of summertime activity there for over 50 years and each year there’s something new at one place or another to entice golfers.

The new rooftop bar (above) has been a big hit at Crystal Mountain this year. The view from it (below) is stunning. It showcases the fire pit and game area with the ski slopes as a backdrop.



Our latest of many trips to Northern Michigan focused on Crystal Mountain. That’s been where most of the action has the last four years. Our last visit was in 2015, and we hardly recognized the place upon our return. That’s what a $12 million expansion and the hiring of a quality course superintendent can do for a place.

Jason Farah, formerly at U.S. Open site Oakland Hills, took over superintendent’s duties in 2014 and Crystal Mountain’s Mountain Ridge and Betsie Valley courses have never looked better.

Greg Babinec, Michigan’s Golf Professional of the Year in 2018, has also factored into the golf upgrades. He spent 11 years at Arcadia Bluffs and has now been at Crystal Mountain for the last nine. In addition to serving as host professional for the resort’s biggest golf event, the Michigan Women’s Open, Babinec made a noteworthy executive decision in the last year.

The Mountain Ridge course may have been the only one in the country to have its first hole designated as the No. 1 handicap hole. Players didn’t like that, so now the No. 1 handicap hole is No. 13 – a long tough par-4 – and No. 1 has been dropped to No. 6 on the scorecard for handicap purposes.

That’s just a fun detail for what’s been going on at Crystal Mountain. After a series of cottages were added a much bigger deal was the expansion of the Inn at the Mountain. Because of it a pedestrian-friendly village plaza has emerged as the centerpiece of the resort.

“We doubled the size of the Inn and added 25 new hotel suites,’’ said Lawson. A rooftop bar, which is also used for receptions, also has opened. All the rooms are themed after local or national attractions.

The bottom line is, Crystal Mountain has even more options than it had four years ago and can entice a wider variety of visitors. It now has – among other things — Michigan’s only alpine slide, a water park, a climbing wall, 14 miles of bicycle trails, the Michigan Legacy Art Park and facilities for pickleball, tennis, kayaking and Disc Golf. The Wild Tomato is great for breakfast and the Thistle Pub & Grille in Kinlochen (where the pro shop is also located) has lunch and dinner menus.

“We’re different things to different people,’’ said Lawson. “We’re a family resort, a golf resort, a spa, a ski resort. And, they almost all require separate marketing plans.’’

Want to go off-site for other attractions? There’s the Iron Fish Distillery, which is also in Thompsonville, and Mawby Sparkling winery in Suttons Bay. If you want to stay away from the resort there’s wide variety of lodging available in Traverse City. We used the Park Place Hotel and Cherry Inn & Suites on our stop.

If you’re looking for non-golf activities in Northern Michigan, David Wallace’s Iron Fish Distillery, in Thompsonville, and the Mawby Sparkling winery, in Suttons Bay, are interesting diversions.

New Yorker Welch is Myrtle Beach’s latest World Champion

William Welch of West Islip, N.Y., claimed the World Champion trophy at Barefoot Resort’s Dye Course.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — August is the biggest month of the golf season – and not just because big professional events like the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs are contested then. The PlayGolf Myrtle Beach.com World Amateur Handicap Championship was different but every bit as impressive.

Staged for the 36th time on 55 courses in this South Carolina golf mecca, the World Am wasn’t just older than any of that month’s tour events, it also had more players. Many more, in fact..

The entry count hit 3,215 from 49 states (only Alaska was missing) and 20 countries. There were 161 international participants with Canada leading with 51. The internationals traveled approximately 500,000 miles to get here. As far as the U.S. states are concerned, South Carolina led with 312 players and Florida had 307.

Though multiple courses were used, organizers claim the World Am is “the world’s largest single-site tournament’’ – the “site’’ being the general Myrtle Beach area.

The player coming the farthest was likely Steve Muller, who lives in Brisbane, Australia. Muller and his wife Karen were 24 hours in transit to get to Myrtle Beach for the first time.

Muller learned about the World Am via a Google search in January and made travel plans even before the tournament was accepting entries. He believes his home club in Australia, called Carbrook, is the only one with sharks in its ponds but Australia’s `Great White Shark,’ Greg Norman, has never played there.

Australians Steve Muller and wife Karen enjoyed their first taste of the World Am.

So, why did Muller enter?

“It’s golf, so why not?’’ he said. “Nobody from my club had heard about it but there’ll be at least four from there here next year.’’

The World Am had more winners than the August pro events, too. In addition to the 67 flight winners, there was an overall champion – William Welch of West Islip, N.Y.,’ a Gross Division winner – Christopher Reina of Frisco, TX.; and a Senior Gross Division titlist – Steve Humphrey of Ocala, FL.

Welch shot a net 69 (gross 85) to win the Flight Winners’ Playoff at the Barefoot Resort’s Dye Course. That made Welch the 2019 World Champion. Reina shot a 75 to win the Gross Division and Humphrey a 76 en route to an eight-stroke victory in the Senior Gross Division.

The World Am is never about winning, though. It’s about participation, fun and socializing, but there’s of golf played. Myrtle Beach’s biggest event consists of 72 holes on different courses for players in nine age groups, and there’s also a “Just for Fun’’ division. The handicap procedure is strictly supervised, and that’s a big reason for the event’s annual success.

Not to be forgotten regarding this event’s popularity is the World’s Largest 19th Hole, a nightly feature at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The big party featured music, food and beverages from a variety of Myrtle Beach restaurants and appearances by various Golf Channel personalities.

Tournament director Scott Tomasello called the World Am “a bucket list event for recreational golfers.’’

“It is more than just a tournament to our players,’’ said Tomasello. “It’s an event. From what happens on the course to the World’s Largest 19th Hole, the World Am becomes part of the annual calendar for our players.’’

This year’s version was blessed with great weather. Thirty-three courses hosted play each day and 55 used for at least one round. The World’s Largest 19th Hole, staged nightly in a 120,000 square foot area of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. included a 70-exhibitor golf expo and featured attractions included billiards legend Ewa Laurance.

Next playing of the World Am will be Aug. 31 through Sept. 4 of 2020.

This World Am golfer is used to playing with sharks

Australians Steve Muller and wife Karen are experiencing a new version of golf at the World Am.


MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina – This 37th Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship has 161 international players among its 3,215 entries, and Steve Muller may have come the furthest to get here.

He is one of eight players from Australia in the tournament, and the only one from Brisbane. Oh, yes, he’s also the only golfer in the field with a home course that has shark-infested waters.

Carbrook Golf Club is located on the Logan River in a suburb of Brisbane. Sharks started surfacing there after a flood several years ago. Now there’s four or five of them.

“We’re the only golf club in the world with sharks in its lake,’’ said Muller. “If you hit it in the water at No. 15 you’re not getting the ball back, and at No. 12 you can sometimes see them up close chasing other fish.’’

Club members have embraced the sharks. They have their own version of the Shark Shootout challenge the last Wednesday of each month. The legendary “shark,’’ Greg Norman, is from Queensland, Australia.

“Our Shark Shootout is pretty awesome,’’ said Muller. “Greg hasn’t played our course yet, but he’s more than welcome to give it a go.’’

Muller, who has a 13 handicap at Carbrook, was in 16th place in Flight 9 of the 49-and-under men’s age group through two rounds. He arrived here with his Karen, his wife of 23 years. They have two children – a 21-year old son and 17-year old daughter in Australia. Karen is not playing in the tournament.

The Mullers spent 24 hours in transit to get to Myrtle Beach, thanks in part to a stopover in Los Angeles, but long-distance travel is nothing new for Steve.

“I work for an American company in Connecticut as its international sales director, so I travel the world,’’ he said. “When I travel for more than a weekend I always play golf somewhere in the world.’’

He’s in his fourth continent in a four-week stretch for the World Amateur, having been in India, Australia and Europe previously. Getting his golf fix on the road isn’t always easy. He’s a left-handed golfer and clubs aren’t always available when he needs to rent a set.

Though he lived in Cleveland from 2014-16 Muller had never heard of the Myrtle Beach World Amateur until he searched Google for tournament possibilities in February. He made travel arrangements for this one before entries were even being accepted.

“I googled `world amateur championship’ to see what would come up, and there were quite a few,’’ he said. “This one seemed the one most of the world would come to play in. No one from my golf club had heard about it, but there’ll be at least four of us here next year.’’

So, why go to all this trouble, expense and time commitment?

“It’s golf. Why not?’’ he said. “It’s all amateurs. Let’s see if an Aussie can win it.’’

He’s never played in an event remotely close to the World Am.

“The Queensland PGA runs like a mid-amateur for guys in my handicap division, but’s it’s nothing like this,’’ he said. “It’s just one golf course over two days.’’

The week-long World Am experience has been a good one for the Mullers so far, as Steve has had some ideal playing partners.

“I’ve met some fantastic guys,’’ he said. “The mates have been friendly, encouraging, supportive. I’ve exchanged numbers with a couple guys. Maybe it’s just my accent, being from Australia, but I hope not. They’re just been good blokes.’’

There are some differences between golf in Brisbane and golf in the U.S., however.

“Golf in Australia is completely different than here,’’ he said. “It’s different grasses, different layouts. Here I have to hit at least one club longer than I would back home. And we measure in meters, not yards.’’

The golf clubs are different as well.

“In Australia you have to be a member of a club to play golf.,’’ he said. “They’re all private clubs. And at mine the members own the club. That’s a little different. Plus, the men and women are integrated in the tee times.’’

Arcadia Bluffs’ new South course will attract its own devotees

Arcadia’s South course (top) and Bluffs’ layout couldn’t be more different — and that’s a good thing.


ARCADIA, Michigan — For years I had been told that Arcadia Bluffs and Forest Dunes were in a battle for best golf course in Michigan with Bluffs usually getting the nod. I’ve now played them both, and I’m not so sure about that.

The Bluffs definitely has the scenery. Its waterfront views of Lake Michigan are extraordinary and its on-course mounding and elevation changes are spectacular. I don’t know of any course, anywhere, that could top that.

As for it being “the best,’’ however, views aren’t everything in judging a golf course. Never one to give much credence to the course ratings offered by industry publications, I don’t think determining “the best’’ is very important anyway. Golf is such a subjective thing. Over the past 34-plus years I’ve had several “favorite’’ courses in Michigan — a state so extraordinary in golf options that it can defy the imagination.

For awhile my favorite Michigan course was The Bear, at Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City. Then it switched between the Tom Weiskopf-designed Cedar River course at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire, The Heather at Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs and Tullymore in Stanwood.

Deep bunkers are part of both Acadia courses, but they’re deeper and steeper at the Bluffs.


I was also intrigued by Threetops, the memorable par-3 layout at Treetops, in Gaylord.; the captivating par-3s at Island Hills, in Centreville; and Paul Albanese’s drumlin-focused design at Sage Run in Harris. There’s also fond memories of Harbor Shores, in Benton Harbor; Greywalls, in Marquette; and Crystal Mountain, in Thompsonville.

That list could go on, as the golf landscape in Michigan has gotten more impressive every year and I’ll never get to play all of that state’s great courses.

What’s intriguing in the Arcadia Bluffs-Forest Dunes scenario is what’s been happening lately. In an era where the golf industry nation-wide has been struggling with economic issues the two Michigan hotspots have been making major upgrades.

Some of the bunkers on the South course encircle rectangular putting surfaces.


Forest Dunes, in Roscommon, started it. One course – even a great one designed by Weiskopf in 2002 — wasn’t enough to keep players in town there, so owner Lew Thompson not only increased lodging but also brought in Tom Doak to design the highly unusual reversible course, called The Loop. Play its Red course one day from tee to green, then go back the next day and play its Black layout, which reverses those same greens and tees. Both layouts have been well received.

Since opening The Loop Thompson has also added the Hilltop putting course and a 10-hole 957-yard par-3 layout, designed by young architects Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb, will be ready soon.

Despite all that good work, Arcadia Bluffs hasn’t been outdone. Its lodging options were also increased and late last year the South course was added to the Bluffs. The 18-holers don’t share the same clubhouse – the South is about a mile away from its predecessor – and the courses couldn’t be more different.

Arcadia Bluffs has been one of Michigan’s very best public courses since it opened in 1999.


The Bluffs, designed by Warren Henderson and Rick Smith and opened in 1999, is far more challenging than the South, though the ratings (75.7 for The Bluffs and 75.6 for the South from the tips) are almost identical. A Dana Fry/Jason Straka design, the South — at 7,412 yards — is 112 yards longer than the Bluffs but there’s a big difference in slope. From the back tees the Bluffs’ is 146, the South’s 132. Both are par-72s for men, while the women’s par on the Bluffs is 73. The Bluffs has four tee placements for men and two for women. The South has five tee placements for men, three for women.

Those are just numbers, though. They don’t mean much once you hit your first tee shot on either one. Needless to say, I really like the South. Unlike the Bluffs, it has no water views and very wide fairways. The South comes in two nine-hole loops, meaning each nine finishes at the clubhouse. The Bluffs doesn’t.

While the South has 112 bunkers, it is more user friendly. The bunkers aren’t as deep as those on the Bluffs but they were similar. The putting surfaces are extensive on both courses, but the undulations were more tricky on the Bluffs.

Again, which is better – Arcadia or Forest Dunes, or the Bluffs or the South? Who knows, and who cares (other than perhaps the operators of those facilities)?

One thing is certain: both facilities are so good that all serious golfers should give them a try, then form their own opinions.

Arcadia Bluffs (above) has a lodge (right) near its clubhouse while the South course (below) has chairs available in the back of its clubhouse for visitors who wants to see players finish their rounds.

World Am Handicap tourney puts the golf spotlight on Myrtle Beach

The excitement is building at Myrtle Beach as World Amateur participants check in.


MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — August might be the biggest month of the golf season – and not just because big professional events like the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs are contested then.

The PlayGolf Myrtle Beach.com World Amateur Handicap Championship is different but every bit as impressive. It is older and has many more players. The 36th staging of the event tees off on 59 courses in the Myrtle Beach area. The entry count hit 3,226 for this year with entrants from 49 states (only Alaska is missing) and 20 countries.

There are 161 international participants with Canada leading with 51. The internationals have travelled approximately 500,000 miles to get here. As far as the U.S. states are concerned, South Carolina leads with 312 players and Florida has 307.

Myrtle Beach’s big event consists of 72 holes on different courses for players in nine age groups, and there’s also a “Just for Fun’’ division and a Flight Winners Playoff at the Dye Course at Barefoot Resort to climax the competition on Friday. There are 67 flights in the first four days of the competition.

The handicap procedure is strictly supervised, and that’s a big reason for the event’s success. I know, because I’ve played in the World Am and am back again this year.

Not to be forgotten regarding this event’s popularity is the World’s Largest 19th Hole, a nightly feature at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The big party features music, food and beverages from a variety of Myrtle Beach restaurants and appearances by various Golf Channel personalities.

Tournament director Scott Tomasello calls the World Am “a bucket list event for recreational golfers.’’

“The World Am is more than just a tournament to our players,’’ said Tomasello. “It’s an event. From what happens on the course to the World’s Largest 19th Hole, the World Am becomes part of the annual calendar for our players.’’

The World Am will also benefit the military. It’ll come in the form of Royal Crown’s Purple Bag Project, in which non-perishable items will be gathered and sent to deployed military personnel as a means of showing gratitude and support for their services.

Myrtle Beach’s busy schedule doesn’t slow down after the World Am. Nancy Lopez will be featured at the Mentor Cup on Oct. 26 at Tidewater Golf Club. It’s a two-player team event (nine holes of scramble and nine holes of alternate shot) that benefits Gene’s Dream Foundation. The Short Par 4 Fall Classic follows from Nov. 17-21 and the 51st George Holiday Memorial Junior Tournament is Nov. 26-30 at Myrtle Beach National.

Myrtlewood’s Palmetto Course, in Myrtle Beach, is scheduled to re-open on Labor Day weekend. Architect Dan Schlegel has supervised a summer-long renovation project that includes the installation of Sunday Bermuda grass greens and the restoration to their original dimensions. That means there’ll be an additional 18,00 square feet of greens space when the course re-opens. Changes were made on every bunker on the course as well.

Have golf bag, will travel: Our latest tour of the Eastern U.S.

AS PUBLISHED IN CHICAGOLAND GOLF, AUGUST 2019.

You can’t try this at home, that’s for sure.

While we continue to write about all things golf for this publication (and a few others), we’ve taken a special liking to Travel Destination pieces in the last 10 years. There’s nothing wrong with playing most of your golf close to home. In fact, we’ve always encouraged that.

Taking your game on the road, though, can be refreshing as well as educational. That’s our job – to find interesting places with golf courses that we think you’d like to visit. We check things out for you, and sometimes that takes considerable time on our part. A couple of our trips over the years have put us on the road for several weeks at a time, and this latest one took up almost all of the month of June.

On this one we headed to the eastern states — the first time we’ve ventured further in that direction than the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Trying to stay close to Interstate 95 we left our Florida home and passed through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Maine.

Our trips are all driving ones, and this one took three weeks and covered slightly over 3,000 miles. Crazy, you’re thinking? Maybe so, but it was a lot of fun experiencing golf in states that we had basically never even visited.

We didn’t play in all the states that we passed through, and planning our trip was much more difficult than it had been for our previous journeys. Thanks to the efforts of Bruce Vittner, publisher of Southern New England Golfer and executive director of the Golf Travel Writers of America, we were included in a three-day writers’ familiarization trip to a golf destination in Maine. That triggered planning other stops that might be on the way or even beyond.

Here’s what we came up with:

GREENSBORO, N.C. – First stop was at the Grandover Resort, a great place that, we learned once we got there, plays a role on the PGA Tour. It is the headquarters site for the Wyndham Championship, which is held at the Sedgefield Country Club nearby. Interesting that a tournament sponsored by a hotel chain used a non-affiliated resort for such a key role in its showcase event, isn’t it?

Grandover has two good courses, the East and West. Both were designed by the architectural team of David Graham, an Australian who won both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, and Gary Panks.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Colonial Williamsburg has more to offer tourists than golf, what with all its historical attractions. They’re well worth visiting, but the golf there is on the upswing, too. The well-known Kingsmill Resort isn’t the whole show golf-wise.

We hit three facilities – Royal New Kent, The Club at Viniterra and Williamsburg National – that were in full revival mode. Royal New Kent, designed by the late Mike Strantz, was Golf Digest’s Best New Course of 1997. Tough economic times led to its eventual closing but it re-opened in May after a $2 million rehab.

Viniterra, a Rees Jones design that opened 11 years ago, never closed but it carried on without a much-needed clubhouse. A new one opened the day after we played the course. Williamsburg National has two courses. Its Jack Nicklaus design, Jamestown, was closed for awhile and its Yorktown course needed work. Now both courses are in full swing.

KENILWORTH, N.J. – Our friends at Chicago-based KemperSports manage Galloping Hill, an interesting place that is one of the few public facilities to host the New Jersey State Open. It has 27 holes and, unfortunately, we could only look at them from the clubhouse. We got caught in horrendous traffic jams going through Washington D.C., and to cancel our scheduled tee time and then had to move on to make our next destination on time. From the clubhouse, though, you had an extraordinary view of many of the holes and it was a busy place.

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. – This stop involved play at only one course but was a natural destination as it will be the host of the 30th annual International Network of Golf Spring Conference next May. We wanted a sneak preview.

The five-day long Spring Conference, which rotates around the country every year, includes two golf outings. Usually more courses than one are involved, but not here. Raven’s Craw will be the site of both. A fun course designed by owner Ed Shearon, it grabs your attention from first tee shot because there’s half of a house on the edge on the No. 1 fairway. Why it’s there, who knows?

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – This was an eye-opener. Not only is Rochester a nice to look at, it’s also an outstanding golf town. We had stops at Ravenwood, The Links at Greystone and Deerfield. All are located in the suburbs of Rochester and are involved with the Finger Lakes and New York Golf Trails. The New York trail is the biggest in the country in terms of courses participation. It has 30 spread across the state.

Best of the trio on our schedule was The Links at Greystone, a Craig Schreiner design that opened in 1996.

POLAND, Maine – The Maine Golf Trifecta is one of the best golf packages we’ve seen because it offers a little bit of everything for a great price — $349 for three rounds of golf with two nights lodging and four buffet-style meals.

Poland Spring Resort, which dates back to 1797, has a Donald Ross course that opened in 1896. It’s short and user-friendly. Spring Meadows at Cole Farms is a fun layout with its array of elevation changes and Fox Ridge will challenge even the best of players. The latter two don’t have lodging so Trifecta participants stay at Poland Spring.

HOMEWARD-BOUND: No more golf on this trip, but we did experience some history. Vittner took us on a car tour of Newport, R.I., and that included a quick stop at Newport Country Club, the site of the first U.S. Open in 1895.

The end result was a lot of driving – sometimes it did seem like too much – but we could see the change in courses as we drove from state to state. Doing something like this takes some planning and a significant time commitment. We were tired when it was over, but it was a golfing adventure that we’ll never forget.

Rochester is — at the very least — the heart of the New York Golf Trail

Ravenwood is a featured course on both the New York and Finger Lakes golf trails.


ROCHESTER, N.Y. – There are good reasons why Rochester should come to mind when you consider golf destinations. After all, the legendary player Walter Hagen grew up here and one of the most prolific course designers, Robert Trent Jones Sr., was not only born in Rochester but his very first design, Midvale, is also within the city limits.

And then there’s the venerable Oak Hill Country Club in suburban Pittsford. Its East Course is a Donald Ross design that dates back to 1901. The course has hosted three U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships (a fourth one is coming in 2023), two U.S. Amateurs, two Senior PGA Championships, one U.S. Senior Open and the 1995 Ryder Cup. The LPGA has played some of its majors at Locust Hill.

Golf in Rochester is a lot more than major championships, Hagen and RTJ Sr. (For the record now Chicago’s own Jeff Sluman developed his game in Rochester before becoming a fixture on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions).

Rod Chrlstian’s New York Golf Trail has more courses (34) than any of the other U.S. trails.


Rochester is also very much a place to visit for the purpose of just playing golf. Rod Christian created the New York Golf Trail, which is now the largest trail in the country in terms of courses (34). He has divided his trail into eight regions and, he says, “the most popular of the regions is right here (in Rochester).’’

Four of his New York Trail courses – The Links at Greystone in Walworth, Ravenwood in Victor, Bristol Harbour in Canandaigua and Mill Creek in Churchville – also form the Finger Lakes Golf Trail. If another course is needed to accommodate trail packages 27-hole Deerfield, in Brockport, gets the call.

Christian operates his trail in regions to facilitate travel for participating golfers. That sets New York apart from many of the other trails, most notably the much more well-known Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama.

“There’s a lot more driving on that trail,’’ said Christian. “Rochester is a great place to work with. Here you plant yourself in one (hotel) location and there’s no more than a 20- to 30-minute drive to the courses.’’

And those course are not only good, they’re affordable.

The best course we played on our visit was The Links at Greystone, a family owned and operated facility with a course designed by Craig Schreiner in 1995. Its top greens fee is $67 – a bargain given the quality of the course.

The family-owned Links at Greystone has my vote as the best of Rochester’s public courses.


Greystone is a three-generation labor of love for members of the Odenbach family, who opened a quarry and mining business in the Rochester area in 1920. Using equipment from that business, the Odenbachs built three courses between 1979 and 1995, sold them in 2000 and then bought them back 16 years later. They now operate two of the courses with family members playing a variety of lead roles.

Brothers John and Gardy Odenbach own The Links at Greystone. John’s son Alex is general manager and Gardy’s son Dusty is the director of golf. John’s wife Julie, a well-known high school coach of both boys and girls teams in the area, oversees the gardening and floral arrangements at the course.

“Our family tree is large here,’’ admitted Dusty Odenbach. The superintendent, Tim Hahn, may as well be a family member, too. The son of a one-time superintendent at famed Oak Hill, Hahn has been at Greystone since it opened.

Ravenwood is good, too. It has hosted the New York State Amateur twice. Its top green fee is $65 in the summer months.

The George Eastman Museum is located in the exotic mansion of the late founder of Eastman Kodak.


While the golf at the approximately 60 public course within a 20-mile radius of Rochester is enticing, the area has other attractions that are also appealing – especially if you schedule your visit during the annual Rochester International Jazz Festival. It keeps the downtown area hopping with its series of free concerts.

Of the year-around offerings, The Strong National Museum of Play most accurately bills itself as “the ultimate play destination for all ages.’’ It has the world’s largest collection of toys, dolls, board games and electronic games and its Toys National Hall of Fame honors such innovators as Milton Bradley, Walt Disney, Jim Henson and George Lucas.

The Genesee Brewery, which doubles as a popular restaurant, has been operating in Rochester since 1878.


Then there’s the George Eastman Museum. Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, was a pioneer in the photography and motion picture industry and the museum is housed in his mansion. It has one of the oldest film archives in the U.S. and its artifacts include the world’s largest collection of camera technology.

If you want a non-golf outdoor activity take a guided cruise down the Erie Canal on the Sam Patch, a replica of the boats that traveled in the canal after its opening in 1825.

Dining is more than ample, too. We tried out The Cub Room, which specializes in American fare but has nothing to do with Chicago’s baseball team. We also sampled the Italian dishes at Branca Midtown, the unique atmosphere of the Genesee Brew House and the wines at the Casa Larga Vineyards.

All made for a great escape but the golf was in the forefront.

Next to golf, the Strong Museum may be Rochester’s best attraction. It has something for everyone.

A milestone for Grand Geneva comes with the loss of a landmark

The 18th green of The Brute course provides a stunning view for Grand Geneva’s hotel guests.


LAKE GENEVA, Wis.—This is a milestone year for Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, which is already a place with an interesting history.

The current milestone being celebrated is the 25th anniversary of the resort’s ownership by Milwaukee-based Marcus Corporation. Marcus bought what was then called the Americana Resort in 1981, and that came after Chicago-based Americana Hotels Corporation had taken over what was originally the Playboy Club-Hotel.

Hugh Hefner had created the Playboy Club concept, opening his first facilty in Chicago in 1960. Hefner, amidst much fanfare, expanded into the resort world when the Lake Geneva location opened in 1968.

The Playboy Club-Hotel thrived for a while but eventually was no longer considered a trendsetter in sex, sophistication or entertainment. That led to financial trouble and the sale to Americana. Americana rebranded as more of a family destination and thrived for a while, too, before encountering its own financial problems. That prompted the sale to Marcus.

Not much remains from the good old days. In fact one of the most prominent disappeared earlier this year. A sculpture on the No. 16 tee of The Brute course was taken down. It was a topic of discussion for most every golfing visitor because nobody knew quite what it was.

This controversial sculpture is gone but still memorable to Grand Geneva golfers.


A local sculptor, Charles Moelter, created it for Playboy 50 years ago and advised those wondering what it was to “Use your imagination.’’

“It was supposedly a reproduction of Picasso drawing and was called `The Frustrated Golfer,’’’ said Dave Hallenbeck, the current director of golf who marked his 46th year working on the property on the Fourth of July. He started as a lifeguard at the resort and worked on the golf side for the last 42 years.

Hallenbeck said that taking the iconic sculpture down was a corporate decision.

“I was surprised because it was kind of a landmark,’’ he said, “but it was getting holes in it and it would have cost a lot of money to repair it. The whole thing was just falling apart.’’

The sculpture did occasionally serve as a rain shelter but was more of a conversation piece than anything else.

One icon still remains, and it pre-dates the weird statue.

Lots of golfers hit tee shots into this old silo on No. 11 of The Brute, but it’s still standing.


“We still have the old silo on the 11th hole,’’ said Hallenbeck. “It was from the original farmhouse on the property.’’

That silo has been battered by many errant golf shots and shows signs of wear and tear, too. Hallenbeck has proposed that it be restored and re-pointed with a new roof and a plaque to mark its historical significant on the property.

While the absence of the sculpture is notable to the resort’s golf aficionados, it hardly detracts from what Grand Geneva has become under the Marcus ownership. It’s a beautiful place with two fine courses – the well-known Brute and the more user-friendly Highlands. Both are always busy, as Grand Geneva is an extremely popular outing destination.

“I don’t know any resort or club that does the volume that we do,’’ said Hallenbeck. “We’re a melting pot. We take a little of what everyone else does in golf and blend it in.’’

Fireworks displays over water are a regular treat for the guests at Grand Geneva.


Corporate and charity outings are a fixture at Grand Geneva, but there’s almost always openings for individual play.

“There have been days when we’ve done up to eight events,’’ said Hallenbeck. “Our groups start with 12-16 players and go up to a massive one that has 325 players. You try to please everybody. Golf is flat, even decreasing, but we understand what golfers want.’’

Grand Geneva finds room for junior programs (it even has a team in the PGA Junior League), couples events and PGA, college and high school tournaments.

“Playboy and Americana never did things like that,’’ said Hallenbeck. “We’re doing everything we can to keep golf going and to support it.’’

Grand Geneva is the only golf facility among the 18 Marcus properties. The others include hotels, resorts and theaters. At Grand Geneva there’s much more than golf. It’s a haven for skiers in the winter and the spa and fitness center attracts all ages year-around.

Carlos Miramontes, massage supervisor of the WELL spa, has been a fixture at Grand Geneva for 16 years.


Carlos Miramontes, the WELL spa’s massage supervisor, grew up two miles from the resort and has been giving massages there for 16 years. He supervises a staff that can provide up to eight massages an hour when the demand is there.

Grand Geneva is also a popular wedding destination and its Christmas in the Country display has attracted visitors in the winter since 1996.

“We have three entities,’’ said Hallenbeck. “We have a time-share, family fun area; the resort side, which is more corporate and upscale; and a waterpark, which is a fun family place.’’

The two main restaurants – Geneva Chop House and Ristorante Brissago – supplement that activities offered by providing fine dining. Many of those non-golf offerings were also available in the Playboy and Americana days, but not to the extent seen since Marcus took over.

The Highlands isn’t the best known course at Grand Geneva but many players prefer it over The Brute.

Want a unique golf experience? Check out Poland — in Maine

The walk to the first tee at Poland Spring is the start to a round on a most historic course.


POLAND, Maine – We’re always looking for unusual golf experiences, and this time we found one in Poland.

Poland, Maine, that is.

Chances are you won’t think of Maine when you’re talking golf. It’s nothing new at Poland Spring Resort, however. Golf has been played there since 1896. For the last 10 years it’s hosted one of the most enticing golf packages that we’ve come across.

The state of Maine has only about 140 courses, most of them public and many of those nine-holers. Still, Maine has its place in American golf history thanks to the Poland Spring Resort. It is — by most accounts — the oldest resort golf course in the country. The resort has only one Donald Ross course, but there was golf there before Donald Ross arrived.

“We start with Arthur Fenn,’’ said Cyndi Robbins, a remarkable woman who started working at Poland Spring 45 years ago as a waitress and is now the resort’s owner. “He’s an important part of our history.’’

Cyndi Robbins has helped golf grow at Poland Spring for nearly 50 years.


Cyndi married Mel Robbins, who took over the ownership of the resort in the 1970s after they were married. When Mel passed away 11 years ago Cyndi opted to keep this historic place going and she’s done an admirable job of that.

The town may be best known for the mineral water that has long been produced there, but Robbins makes a strong case for recognizing the importance of golf and Fenn as well. Fenn designed the first course on the property, a nine-holer, in 1896.

A top player himself, Fenn attracted many other top golfers to the resort in the early 1900s. Most notable were Harry Vardon, the famous professional from England, and Scotsman Willie Anderson, the only golfer to win three straight U.S. Opens. Most of the golf professionals of that era were from England or Scotland.

Poland Spring historians consider Fenn the “first American-born golf professional and course designer.’’ He played with the best golfers of his era, too, but isn’t as famous as the Vardons or Andersons because he didn’t stray much from Poland Spring to compete in the big national tournaments.

Fenn’s daughter Bessie also was part of the operation, and she is considered the “first woman golf professional in charge of a club.’’

The Maine Inn is located just a few steps from the No. 1 tee at Poland Spring


The resort goes much further back than the Fenns. An inn has operated continuously on the property since 1797. It was called the Wentworth Ricker Inn then, and the Ricker family owned the resort for almost 150 years.

“The Rickers hired Fenn because they wanted to be involved in golf,’’ said Cyndi Robbins, noting that subsequent owners all felt the same way. “We still get people coming just because of our golf course. Some who never played our course have come just because of Donald Ross.’’

The legendary Ross was hired by the Rickers to convert Fenn’s nine-holer into 18 holes. Ross started work in 1913 and finished the job in 1915, and the course hasn’t undergone any major changes since then. The course measured 6,380 yards when it opened and is a 6,178-yard par-71 from the back tees that’s called The Links at Poland Spring now.

“In World War II some of his features were let go,’’ said Cyndi Robbins. “We’ve worked to restore what we can.’’

The Maine Golf Hall of Fame is also housed on the property, which features the Maine Inn – a Colonial-style building with a huge porch and stately white pillars. It’s the center for a wide variety of activities offered at the resort. Poland Spring, though, still has just the one golf course.

Many resorts have multiple courses these days, and – rather than build more of courses at the expense of the resort’s other entertainment offerings – Robbins opted to start the Maine Golf Trifecta.

She invited the owners of two nearby privately-owned public courses – Spring Meadows at Cole Farms, in the town of Gray, and Fox Ridge, in Auburn – to join forces on a golf package. Neither Spring Meadows nor Fox Ridge offers lodging so package participants stay at Poland Spring.

Poland Spring’s big putting green can accommodate plenty of golfers.


Spring Meadows and Fox Ridge are much newer courses, and the mix of layouts offered to those joining the Trifecta covers all levels of players. Poland Spring’s course is short, flat and historic. Spring Meadows is the most fun with stunning elevation changes. Fox Ridge has some similar features but is a tougher challenge. The most skilled players will like it the best.

The Maine Trifecta has been in effect for 10 years and benefitted all three facilities. For $319 participants can play all three courses, receive two nights of lodging at Poland Spring and four all-you-can-eat buffet meals. With upgraded accommodations the price goes up to $349.

“It’s been 10 years in the making and we have something very unique,’’ said David Pollard, co-owner and manager of Spring Meadows. “We are 15 minutes apart and the owners have come together. That’s unheard of. We’re very proud of what we’ve done.’’

Spring Meadows, celebrating its 20th anniversary, is a family-owned operation and Pollard’s brother Brad owns a restaurant across the street from the course. Robbins also has a restaurant, Cyndi’s Dockside, that is separate from the resort.

The No. 8 hole at Spring Meadows, in the town of Gray, is a fun short par-4 (above) while Maine Golf Trifecta partner course Fox Ridge, in Auburn, (below) has a most memorable island green


Raven’s Claw offers a weird touch of history on its very first hole

This old house is centuries old, and that’s a good reason to have it on Raven’s Claw’s course.


POTTSTOWN, Pa. – Can’t say I ever started a round of golf like a recent one at Raven’s Claw, a public course near historic Valley Forge.

You line up your tee shot and the most noticeable obstacle in an old brick house – or at least part of one. It doesn’t really come into play and host golf professional Jim Bromley doesn’t know why it’s there. He believes it dates back to at least the early 1800s.

Well, it is something that gets your attention—and it’s not a bad thing, either. It’s just something different.

Ed Shearon, who owns the course, also designed it. Raven’s Claw opened in 2005 and was built in conjunction with a pleasant neighborhood of traditional-style family homes on a 177-acre plot.

Shearon, who lives in the area and has designed several other courses, owns a big landscaping business. Raven’s Claw got its name from some of the birds that frequent the place and a tough stretch of the course – holes No. 9 to 11 – has been dubbed The Claw.

The ninth hole doesn’t bring you back to the clubhouse, so you don’t get a break when you take on The Claw.

Jim Bromley is in his second year as the golf professional at Raven’s Claw.


Measuring 6,739 yards from the tips, Raven’s Claw has testy, undulating greens and some other interesting features. Two smokestacks loom above the layout, a striking feature though nothing like the old brick half-house. Shearon has also made excellent use of big bolders, which guide players at several spots along the course.

“It can look difficult but play easy’’ said Bromley. “There’s a lot of room out there. The challenge is if you want to make birdies. There’s lots of interesting things to challenge a good player.’’

At least one good player was up to the challenge. The Raven’s Claw course record of 8-under-par 63 is held by a woman.

Sweden’s Louise Ridderstrom posted that low number in the inaugural Valley Forge Invitational, a Symetra event that has been held at Raven’s Claw the last two years. Ridderstrom’s low number came in the final round of the 2018 tourney, with the course set up at about 6,400 yards. She went on to win the tournament and been playing on the LPGA circuit in 2019.

Here’s a view you get several times in a round at Raven’s Claw.


While the Symetra event is the biggest event held so far at Raven’s Claw, it won’t be the last. In 2020 the course will host both competitive rounds at the International Network of Golf’s 30th annual Spring Conference from May 31 to June 3.

Golf is clearly an amenity in the Valley Forge area. The Valley Forge Casino Resort, which will host the ING visitors, is across the street from the Valley Forge National Historic Park. It’s worth plenty of visitors’ time as well.

The Park offers a restoration of George Washington’s winter headquarters as well as the very basic lodging available for his American troops in the 1770s – the early stages of the Revolutionary War. The Park offers guided tours – which I’d highly recommend – but many of the visitors use it for exercise as well. The trails winding through it are walkable and also ideal for cyclists.

Raven’s Claw has some tough challenges. This one, at the par-3 third hole, is one of the best.