TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: TPC Myrtle Beach is new site of World Amateur climax

TPC Myrtle Beach will be in the spotlight when the 39th World Amateur concludes on Sept. 2.

America’s golf hotbeds are shifting, now that snowbird golfers are departing the warmer weather states for cooler climates where the golf seasons are just beginning.

Golf, however, is always in season in Myrtle Beach, S.C. where the lead-in to the 39th annual Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship is already underway — even though the tournament itself isn’t until September.

Early entries are already at 1,400 and they’ll hit over 3,000 again before long, assuring that the event will remain the world’s biggest golf tournament.  Organizers, in fact, have already made a major announcement.  They’ve moved the Sept. 2 Flight Winners Playoff – the climax to the five days of competition – from Grande Dunes to TPC Myrtle Beach. That’s a significant change.

Grande Dunes was to host for the second time until the decision was made to conduct a massive renovation there.  Grande Dunes, long one of the area’s most acclaimed layouts, will close on May 16 and re-open on Sept. 15. Architect John Harvey, who worked with Roger Rulewich on the original design and construction of the course in 2001, will lead the renovation project.

The greens will be restored to their original size, reclaiming nearly 40,000 square feet of putting surface that had been lost over time.  That’s a 33 percent increase in the size of the putting surfaces.

Grande Dunes is installing new TifEagle ultradwarf bermudagrass greens and every bunker will be renovated with a Capillary Concrete liner installed.  That will eliminate washout and drastically improve drainage. The clubhouse will also be expanded.  The pro shop will grow by 400 feet, an indoor/outdoor bar will be added and the outdoor seating will be greatly expanded.

Grande Dunes, one of Myrtle Beach’s best courses, will soon be closed for a renovation.

“Grande Dunes is one of Myrtle Beach’s crown jewels, and this renovation project will ensure the course continues to provide the type of experience golfers have come to expect,’’ said Steve Mays, president of Founders Group International, the course’s parent company and owner of 21 MB courses.

Scott Tomasello, the World Am tournament director, has no qualms about the move to TPC Myrtle Beach, a Tom Fazio design that displays many of Dustin Johnson’s trophies in its clubhouse and hosts DJ’s World Junior Championship among many big events.

“We knew TPC would be a perfect landing spot,’’ said Tomasello.  “We look forward to showcasing their beautiful property.’’

The final shootout follows 72 holes of age group net competition that begins on Aug. 29. Over 50 other MB courses will be used in the preliminary rounds.  For more information checkout www.myrtlebeachworldamateur.com.

 

WHILE THERE’S always golf action in Myrtle Beach, some noteworthy developments are being made in other states as well:

FLORIDA: Saddlebrook Resort, in Wesley Chapel, and Cabot Citrus Farms, in Brooksville, have new owners with big plans. Both will be closed for major overhauls.

Saddlebook, which opened in 1981, has chosen Troon to manage the resort’s golf operations. The resort has two Arnold Palmer-designed courses as well as the 45-court Harry Hopman Tennis Academy.

Camilo Miguel, chief executive officer of new owner Mast Capital, said his firm is in the early stages of a major renovation of the entire property.

“There is a lot of opportunity in elevating the property and bringing back some of its luster,’’ said Miguel.  “There hasn’t been much investment in the property in decades.’’

Florida’s Saddlebrook Resort will get a facelift under new ownership.

Cabot Citrus Farms is the new name for what had been World Woods. Work has begun there with architect Kyle Franz overseeing a renovation of the featured  Pine Barrens course.  Keith Rebb and Riley Johns, who renovated the Winter Park 9 in Orlando and designed the Bootleggers Par 3 at Michigan’s Forest Dunes, will oversee changes on the Rolling Oaks course, and Mike Nuzzo will be in charge at the short course and practice facilities.

WISCONSIN: Sand Valley, in the town of Rome, is getting a third course and will eventually get a fourth.  And that’s not counting The Sandbox, a short course designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

Sand Valley has a strong group of architects.  The namesake course is also a Coore and Crenshaw creation and David McLay Kidd designed Mammoth Dunes. Now those layouts will have company.

Tom Doak will begin work on Sedge Valley sometime this spring and the Lido will open to members and resort guests in 2023. Sedge Valley will open in 2024.

“The golf experience at Sedge Valley is completely different from anything else on the property,’’ said Sand Valley co-owner Michael Keiser.  “Tom Doak moves so easily from the large-scale engineering project of the Lido to this much more intimate design.  Watching him identify and work his routing to these incredible natural green sites was a true `pinch me’ moment.  This is how the great ones have always done it.’’

These chairs will soon be filled at Wisconsin’s Sand Valley with two new courses under construction.

Meanwhile, play in the golf hotbed of Kohler will soon be picking up.  Tee times are being taken at the Irish Course at Whistling Straits and the Original Championship layout at Blackwolf Run.  The Straits course, site of last fall’s Ryder Cup matches, and the River and Meadows Valley layouts at Blackwolf Run are scheduled to open on April 22.

WEST VIRGINIA; The Pete Dye Golf Club, in Bridgeport, will host the finals of the new Pete Dye World Championships on Oct. 23-25.  The late Dye called that course “my best 18 holes on one golf course.’’

Participants in the new event will be qualifiers from one-day stroke play tournaments held at any course designed by any member of the Pete Dye family. There’ll be six divisions of the tournament – men’s net and gross, women’s net and gross and senior men net and gross.  There’ll also be team best ball formats and a pro-am.

CALIFORNIA: Visit Carlsbad, the destination marketing organization for the Pacific Coast town of Carlsbad,  is welcoming golfers to the Omni LaCosta Resort, Park Hyatt Aviara and The Crossings at Carlsbad.

LaCosta has been a go-to spot for golfers and celebrities since the 1960s.  Aviara features the region’s only Arnold Palmer-designed course and The Crossings is a popular municipal course.  The city is also  known as the golf equipment capital of the world as the home of club manufacturers Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade, Cobra and Honma.

INDIANA: The Harbor Links Golf Club at the Sagamore Resort is a premier marina and golf destination located between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Its 18-hole public course was designed by P.B. Dye, one of Pete and Alice Dye’s two sons.

GEORGIA: Stone Mountain Golf Club has two courses on the outskirts of downtown Atlanta.  The Stonemont Course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1969.  The Lakemont Course was designed by Georgia native John LaFoy.  Both are noted for their great mountain views.

The Omni Homestead Resort, in Hot Springs, Va., dates to 1766 and is in the process of a $120 million property-wide renovation. This waterfall graces the No.17 green on the beautiful Cascades course, which was once the home layout for a young Sam Snead.

 

 

GOLF TRAVEL NOTES: Florida’s World Woods is in for some big changes

Architect Tom Fazio gave World Woods’ Pine Barren course a wild look in the early 1990s.

BROOKSVILLE, FL. – Go back three decades and World Woods was one of the biggest things in Florida golf. It had two Tom Fazio-designed courses – Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks – that opened together on April 1, 1993 and its Japanese owner,  Yukihisa Inoue, had plans for much more.

“The previous owner (Inoue is now in his 90) wanted to be a destination golf resort that would bring in people from all over the world, especially Japan,’’ said Rick Kelso, now the resort’s director of golf. “He planned to build seven golf courses and a beautiful hotel and bring in the top Japanese players – but things changed.’’

Kelso was part of the excitement that World Woods generated then and he is looking for more of the same now that the Canada-based Cabot group completed a long purchasing negotiation for the facility.

Cabot has an owner with big dreams, too. Ben Cowan-Dewar is Cabot’s founder and chief executive officer.  He took his first look at World Woods 20 years ago and considered buying it for the last 10.  The purchase was completed last December 16 with no terms disclosed. Then conjecture about the exciting plans for World Woods’ future kicked in.  That was inevitable, and spurred two Chicago golf addicts to make a visit there.

Chicago’s Mike Keiser, whose golfing vision spurred the creation of Oregon’s Bandon Dunes and Sand Valley in Wisconsin, will be involved.  The question is to what extent.

Kelso can’t answer that but confirms that Keiser and Cowan-Dewar are “very good friends who talk all the time.’’ He suggests that Keiser is Cowan-Dewar’s “mentor’’ when it comes to golf projects. World Woods will be Cabot’s first venture in the United States and the first existing club that Cabot acquired.

No. 1 at Pine Barrens sets the tone for a round at World Woods. (Photos by Rory Spears)

The company’s portfolio already includes Cabot Cape Breton, home of Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links – both highly ranked among Canadian courses. Cabot St. Lucia and Cabot Revelstroke, in British Columbia, are under construction.  Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are the design team for St. Lucia and the architect for World Woods is to be announced next week.

Kelso says “the majority of the main architects have been out,’’ and who gets the job will have lots to work with.  The densely-wooded Pine Barrens, with its deep bunkers,  was Golf Digest’s Best New Resort Course of 1994 and spent several years on that publication’s prestigious list of Top 100 Greatest Courses. Rolling Oaks ranks high among courses in Florida.

“(The new architect) will fix them up,’’ said Kelso.  “They’re coming in to bring back World Woods’ luster, not re-design the courses.  The bones are already there.’’

Pine Barrens in particular has played to between 75,000 and 83,000 rounds a year without getting much updating.  It needs it. World Woods also has a nine-hole short course, three practice holes,, a putting course and a 360-degree driving range. They will get major updating after the facility is closed, probably in late spring.

And that’s not all. The Cabot purchase included more than the 550 acres on the golf courses.  It also included 600 acres of undeveloped land and a couple of nearby courses, Sugarmille and Southern Woods. The role those courses will play in the project is uncertain, but Kelso assured there’ll be big changes once the facility re-opens. Retail outlets, restaurants and a spa are under consideration.

The par-3 sixteenth helped make Pine Barrens popular immediately.

One thing is certain.  World Woods will be rebranded as Cabot Citrus Farms.

“When we open again there will be some sort of lodging and a new clubhouse,’’ said Kelso. “We don’t plan any houses on the facility, but there will be some real estate.’’

Visiting golfers have stayed in the nearby towns of Spring Hill and Crystal River in the past and made day visits from Orlando and Tampa as well. The Tampa airport is an hour away and Brooksville has its own airport that can accommodate corporate jets.  Nearest golf destinations include Innisbrook (one hour away), the Disney courses (1 hour 40 minutes) and Streamsong (slightly over two hours).

Kelso expects Cabot Citrus Farms to be more friendly for golfers who want to walk, and caddies will likely be available.

Pine Barrens was the site of a final qualifier for the Senior PGA Tour in the 1990s and a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match between David Toms and Phil Mickelson in the early 2000s. Since then about 300 yards was added to the course, making it play 7,300 from the tips now. Course records are sketchy though one Jeff Leonard was said to shoot a 60 in a mini-tour event many years back.

TRAVEL TIDBITS:  Streamsong has announced plans to add a fourth course, and it’ll be shorter than the other three.  The design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who created the first course at the resort in 2012, are planning another layout that will have holes ranging from 70 to 300 yards.  It’ll be built on 100 acres and feature lots of elevation changes.

Sweetgrass, one of two 18-holers at Michigan’s Island Resort & Casino, has been named Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association.  Sweetgrass, a Paul Albanese design, opened in  2008. Sage Run is the resort’s other course, and the entire facility just announced the completion of a $33 million expansion.

Boca West Country Club, another Florida facility, has become the first country club in the nation to upgrade its driving range with Inrange – a radar tracking technology.

 

 

Chubb tourney’s 35th anniversary is at a special place

The clubhouse at Tiburon is a welcome site for three pro golf tour events.

NAPLES, FL. – The traditional warmup in Hawaii is over.  Now PGA Tour Champions is ready to get down to business. With the tournament rounds scheduled for Feb. 18-20, the Chubb Classic Presented by SERVOPRO is the first full-field event of the season for the 50-and-over circuit.

“A great place for it,’’ said Peter Jacobsen, who played in the tournament last year and will be on Golf Channel’s broadcasting crew for this one.

Oh yes, he’s also a member at Tiberon, the host club that first welcomed the Chubb in 2021.

PGA Tour Champions made its traditional season debut at the Mitsubishi Championship, but only winners of tournaments from the previous year can play in that one.

“It’s the crown jewel because everyone wants to play there,’’ said Jacobsen, “but all the players are excited to get out and get their year started. Last year was a weird one with Covid.’’

Indeed it was. Last year’s Chubb was moved to April and was one of the many events on all the golf tours that was played without fans in attendance. The fans will be very evident at Tiberon this year, and not just because the tournament won’t be dealing as much with pandemic issues.

The Chubb is always a special event.  It’s become a Florida tradition and this year’s playing marks the tournament’s 35th anniversary. It’s the longest-running Champions Tour event in the same marketplace. The Champions circuit started in 1980, and the Chubb made its debut just eight years later.  It’s  produced plenty of golf excitement ever since.

So, let’s get down to business. Here’s what golf fans need to know in the waning  days before the first tee shot is struck on Tiburon’s Black Course.

Executive director Sandy Diamond (left) and media director Jeremy Friedman give the Chubb a new look.

WHAT’S NEW:  The tourney has a new executive director, but this won’t be Sandy Diamond’s first rodeo. He worked at the tournament 20 years ago, then spent a long career with the PGA Tour before hooking on with the First Tee of Metropolitan New York as its chief development officer.

When the Chubb position opened up Diamond was excited to take it and promptly moved to Naples to oversee management of the tournament.

“My background has been more on the development side – sponsorship, marketing – and not on the operational side,’’ said Diamond, but he’s off to a flying start.  He’s lined up full fields for morning and afternoon pro-ams on both Wednesday and Thursday of tournament week.  There’s a $14,000 fee to get a foursome into the field in those, and Diamond had 56 teams lined up two weeks before the tournament.

“And there’s no freebies,’’ said Diamond.

There may also be another pro-am on Tiberon’s sister Gold Course on Tuesday of tournament week, based on demand.

The Gold Course at Tiburon hosts the LPGA and PGA tours, but not the Champions.

WHAT ABOUT TIBURON? It’s the only facility to host events on the PGA and LPGA tours as well as PGA Tour Champions in a one-year period. The club has taken on that demanding task in a four-month period. The LPGA’s CME Championship, which included the 2021 season, was held in November and was the biggest money event in women’s golf. The QBE Shootout, held in December, brought in an array of PGA Tour stars and now it’s PGA Tour Champions’ turn.

The Chubb is the only event of the big three held on Tiburon’s Black Course.  The other two were held on the Gold.  Both courses were designed by Greg Norman.

WHO’S DEFENDING?  Unfortunately, probably nobody.  Steve Stricker was a one-stroke winner over Robert Karlsson and Alex Cejka last year.  It was the 54-year old’s sixth victory on the Champions circuit, and he followed up with an even more high-profile accomplishment when he captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team to a record 19-9 whomping of Europe at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits course in September.

Unfortunately Stricker was hit with a severe illness – described as an inflammation around his heart — in late November and his participation in the Chubb is doubtful, though reports suggest he has been making big strides in his recovery.

“I don’t think he’ll be here, and that stinks,’’ said Diamond.  “It’d take a minor mira

While Greg Norman designed both Tiburon courses, the Gold and Black have their own distinct qualities.

WHO WILL BE HERE?  Diamond had only a handful of early commitments, but they were some good ones – Jim Furyk, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Bernhard Langer. David Duval, a former major champion, is also coming.  He made his Champions debut in the Mitsubishi event, finishing in a tie for 34th, and the Chubb will be Duval’s first in a full-field competition. He was the 2001 British Open champion and a former world No. 1.

Later player commitments included Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam, Billy Andrade, Brad Faxon and Dudley Hart. Sponsor exemptions were awarded to Michael Balliet, head pro at nearby Calusa Pines, and amateur Michael Muehr.

There’ll be 78 players in the field, and Diamond promised “The field will be extremely strong.’’

HISTORICALLY SPEAKING:  The first Chubb first champion was Gary Player at The Club at Pelican Bay, the site for the first three years of the tournament.  Other Naples area courses took their shot at hosting – Vineyards, Lely, Bay Colony, Pelican Marsh, TwinEagles, Quail Creek, TP Treviso Bay and The Quarry – before Tiburon joined the mix.

When Player won the purse was only $300,000.  Now it’s $1.6 million. Lee Trevino was the first back-to-back winner (1990-91) and Mike Hill also accomplished the feat in 1993-94.

Langer is the only three-time winner (2011, 2013 and 2016).

BEST STORY LINES: Langer, who lives just a couple hours away, in Boca Raton, is always a good one. Now 64, this guy can still play and will continue to chase Hale Irwin’s record 45 Champions wins at least for another year. Langer has won 41 Champions titles and captured the Charles Schwab Cup  six times, the last win coming last year.

Miguel Angel Jimenez got off to a great start in Hawaii when he won the Mitsubishi event for the third time, this time in a playoff with Steven Alker. Alker was the surprise of last season and will be well-watched if he keeps his success run going.

And who know what to expect from David Duval?

BEST VIEWING HOLES: Jacobsen, who has lived in Naples and been a Tiburon member for 18 years, believes the key holes will be Nos. 2 and 18.

“The second is tight and long, a difficult par,’’ said Jacobsen.  “It’s extremely difficult and tests your driving right off the bat.  The last hole is a reachable par-5.  A player will have the opportunity to make eagle and win the tournament there.’’

“Overall, the Black Course is a good design,’’ said Jacobsen.  “It’s not overly difficult or very long (6,949 yards from the tips).  Greg Norman did a good job.  He designed a course that is good for tour players and resort guests as well.’’

 

 

Palm Aire’s Champions Course re-opens on Dec. 1

The par-5 eleventh hole of The Champions Course at Sarasota’s Palm Aire Country Club has come a long way in the construction process. (Mike Benkusky Photos)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SARASOTA, FL. – The Champions Course at Palm Aire Country Club was one of the more difficult courses in Florida, and it may still be. It will, however, have a much different look when it re-opens following an extensive $2 million  renovation on December 1.

The original version, created by architect Dick Wilson, opened in 1957 when the club was named DeSoto Lakes. The club added a second 18-holer, The Lakes – a Joe Lee design, in 1984 when the Palm Aire name went into effect.

In its early years the Champion layout was known as the Green Monster and was the site of PGA and LPGA Tour events as well as the National Lefthanders Championship and the LPGA Legends Tour’s Handa Cup. Tour events won’t likely return because the practice range is on the short side, but new features will stir conversation once the club’s members and their guests have crack at it.

Illinois-based architect Mike Benkusky, who had worked almost entirely in the Midwest before landing the Palm Aire project, calls the renovation “a re-imagining’’ of the course that the respected Wilson brought to life.  Wilson’s work also included Bay Hill and Doral’s Blue Monster in Florida and the Dubsdread course at Cog Hill in the Chicago area.

The Champion’s  “re-imagining’’ will feature runway tees, two of them measuring about 100 yards; the use of 15 acres of crushed shells that will benefit cart traffic but will come into play as well; and a vastly different scorecard. There’ll be eight – yes, eight – sets of rated tee markers for the men and five for the women and they’ll be designated by numbers, not the colors used in the past. Tee markers will range from 4,466 yards on the short end to 7,126 at the tips – that’s 125 yards longer than the pre-imagining layout.

“Using tee numbers instead of colors will change peoples’ mindsets,’’ said Palm Aire director of golf Jay Seymour, who has been at the club for 11 years.  “Instead of playing the white tees, players may decide to play the 4-tees or the 5-tees. It comes down to what yardage do you want to play, not what color.’’

The flagsticks will all have white flags, so they won’t designate a pin placement in the front, middle or back of the green.

“That’s not always the best way to utilize the greens surface,’’ said Seymour. “We’ll be taking advantage of technology to do that.’’

Palm Aire has been a test site for Easy Locater’s state of the art app that provides a more detailed description of the pin locations.

While most of the concrete cart paths will remain, the crushed shells will combine with the runway tees to create a more modern day look for the course overall. The long tee boxes not only provide an updated appearance but will  also  enhance maintenance procedures.

Sixty-five oak trees were removed in the “re-imagining’’ and lots of collection areas were created around the greens.  A history wall was erected around the No. 1 tee. Greens were expanded to their original size and bunkers were given a more severe look while the new BillyBunker system will improve drainage in them. And, the sand is now white instead of tan.

While overall yardage hasn’t changed dramatically, the way it has been distributed will be noticeable.

“For those who preferred the White tees the yardage stayed the same, about 6,000 to 6,100 yards,’’ said Seymour, “but the par-5s will now be on the shorter side and the par-3s will be on the longer side.  There’ll be a nice mix of par-4s.’’

The original target date for the re-opening was Nov. 1, then the greens committee pushed it back to Nov. 13 and finally to the recently announced Dec. 1.

“They’re not rushing it – and that’s good,’’ said Benkusky.“Everything’s looking good.  The greens look very good. We’re right on schedule.’’.

Seymour said some college events and USGA qualifiers would like be held on the Champion Course.  That’s in contrast to when Wilson did his work. The PGA Tour conducted the DeSoto Open there in 1960, Sam Snead winning the title. A year later another Hall of Famer, Louise Suggs, won Golden Circle of Golf Festival, an LPGA event, on the course. That was one of Suggs’ five wins that season.

 

 

Ray Hearn takes on some big golf projects at Boyne resorts

 

The first hole of Boyne Highlands’ Donald Ross Memorial course is in the process of getting a new look.

HARBOR SPRINGS, Michigan – Michigan-based architect Ray Hearn has worked on courses across the country for 25 years, but the projects he has recently  taken on close to home may have a more far-reaching impact.

Stephen  Kircher, Boyne’s president and chief executive officer, and  Bernie Friedrich, senior vice president of golf,  brought in Hearn, who has headquarters in Holland, Mich., to tackle a variety of projects. One of the most interesting is on the Donald Ross Memorial course at Boyne Highlands Resort.

This course was already something special. Bill Newcomb was the original architect of the Ross course and each of its 18 holes created a composite of classic holes that Ross designed in the early part of the century.

The Ross Memorial course opened in 1989 and Golf Digest tabbed it the Best New Resort Course in the U.S. in 1990. Its replica holes have been used in 14 U.S. Opens, 11 PGA Championships, eight U.S Amateurs and three Ryder Cups.

Courses represented include Seminole, in Florida;   Oakland Hills and Detroit Golf Club, in Michigan;  Pinehurst and Charlotte Country Club, in North Carolina; Oak Hill, in New York; Plainfield, in New Jersey; Scioto and Inverness, in Ohio;  Oak Hill in New York; Bob O’Link, in Illinois; Royal Dornoch, in Scotland; Salem Country Club, in Massachusetts; Aronimink, in Pennsylvania; and Wannamoisett, in Rhode Island.

That’s quite a collection of holes, and Hearn is revising two of them.

Golf course architect Ray Hearn has taken on his first projects at Boyne resorts.

Nos. 1 and 16 of the Ross Memorial are getting touched up by Hearns.  No. 1 is from the sixth hole at Seminole  and No. 16 is from the tenth hole at Pinehurst No. 2. Most of the work is being down on Ross Memorial’s No. 1, but the work there spills over into No. 16 as well.

“We’re capturing the flavor a little more than the first time through, when Bill Newcomb did it,’’ said Hearn.  “There’s so much more information available for architects to work with now.’’

In the case of Seminole, that course was restored by the architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw two years ago.  Now Hearn is restoring a hole from a hole that was already restored once.

“We’re looking only at the original drawings of this hole,’’ Hearn said. “The bunkers were originally a lot larger, and Seminole is obviously in a different climate in Florida than we have in Michigan..  We took out quite a few trees to open up the hole like the original one.  Now there’s massive waste areas on both sides of the hole.’’

Tinkering with a Donald Ross design can be dangerous. Hearn is aware of that.

“There’s a small percentage of Ross aficionados who question the idea of the Ross Memorial, but I think it’s good,’’ said Hearn.  “A lot of players would never get the chance to play those other holes, so getting to play them is fun. But, for those who take them too seriously, I respect that, too.’’

The Ross Memorial course already has a beautiful finishing hole, patterned after No. 18 at Oakland Hills.

Despite his firm’s 25-year history and its proximity to the resorts, this is the first time that Boyne Golf and Hearn have joined forces and his work there will extend far beyond the Ross Memorial.

His biggest project there may be a redo of the Moor course, which opened in 1974.

“We’re in Phase 1 of that,’’ said Hearn.  “We’ve begun tree removal and adjustments of the grass lines of the fairways and greens.  It could be highly controversial, too.’’

The bunkers will be addressed next.  In the end, the work on the Moor will be extensive.  Hearn wants to create more angles and options for shots and adjust the course for changes in hitting distance .  There’ll be new cupping areas on the greens and new run-up areas to the putting surfaces.

Ken Griffin, Boyne’s director of  golf sales and marketing, calls the changes “subtle but significant.”

Sounds like a new course might be in the making, but Hearn says that’s not the case.

“I just like great golf.  I’m not trying to put the Ray Hearn stamp on this,’’ he said.  “I’m trying to create a throwback to a golden age look and feel – a tribute to that era.’’

Hearn will be creating a new par-3 course as part of the more long-range plans. He’ll be putting a new course in place and eliminate the modest one that’s there now.  In short, Boyne is joining the country-wide trend of building new short courses. Ground-breaking on this one is not expected until early 2023.

“I’m creating my favorite nine greens from overseas, from Scotland, Ireland and England,’’ said Hearn.  “This course will be visually stunning and interesting to play.  It won’t have formal tees and it’ll have fairway levels everywhere.  I want golfers to have the opportunity to put tees anywhere they want so they can practice options from different lies and angles.’’

Finally, The Monument course will also get some attention.

“It’s a very nice, enjoyable course,’’ said Hearn, “but the trees on it have gotten bigger and bigger and have started to infringe on the fairways.’’

That’ll be corrected, allowing Hearn to open more angles and options from the tees.

Boyne, with  10 course spread over three Michigan resorts, has long been a leader in golf while maintaining its similar role among ski resorts.

“They’re always looking forward, always thinking of improving.  They’re visionaries,’’ said Hearn.

That vision extends beyond these golf course projects.  The Main Lodge at Boyne Highlands has already undergone some upgrades and more are coming.  The first phase involved the transformation of the Main Lodge, with 87 guestrooms remodeled and renamed with Scottish and English heritage.

The next phase, to begin in the spring of 2022, involves construction of a  new multi-level European spa and the redesign of the Tower lobbies. Eventually a steak and sushi restaurant and a new convention center will be added as well.

The Main Lodge at Boyne Highlands has already received a room upgrade, but more things are coming.

This resort has one of Michigan’s best courses — and one of the most different

The rugged look is a trademark of Michigan’s Sage Run course.

BARK RIVER/HARRIS, Michigan – Island Resort and Casino has two golf courses.  They’re eight miles apart and have a much bigger difference in course architecture, even though Paul Albanese designed them both.

Sweetgrass, which opened in 2008, is one of the best courses in Michigan – perhaps in the whole Midwest.  Sage Run, which opened 10 years later, has its own unique style. I prefer Sweetgrass by a wide margin, but Sage Run certain catches your attention – and it should.

Sage Run was built on a drumlin. That’s not unusual in golf course architecture. Just after unveiling his latest course Albanese told me that a drumlin is “a geological formation created by a glacier….A  large ridge is a drumlin.’’

Sage Run certainly has plenty of those. The course has big, dramatic elevation changes. It also has a lot of rocks and thick – though not really deep – rough. It’s hard to find your ball in it sometimes.   Those things make this course difficult, and yet it still can be a lot of fun. It’s just one of those layouts that playing from the proper set of tees for your skill level is tantamount to enjoying the experience.

It seems as though Sage Run gets more attention than Sweetgrass just because it is so different. Even the tees are out of the ordinary.  There’s only one marker per set on each whole.  Pick the appropriate marker and you can move as far left or right as you want. That matters, too, as you’ll want to find a flat area to stick your tee in the ground, and that isn’t always easy at Sage Run.

Anyway, Sage Run isn’t built for low scoring but it’s not an overload of Albanese’s fertile imagination, either. A partner of Pete Dye disciple Chris Lutzke, Albanese also designed Tatanka, in rural Nebraska.  It was named Golf Digest’s Best New Resort Course  In 2015.  That proof that Albanese knows his stuff.

As for Sweetgrass, its conditioning is excellent.  While Sage Run has benefitted from three years of seasoning, Sweetgrass has made gigantic strides in that department.  If truth be told, I like Sweetgrass more know than I did on our first visit.

One thing you should know about both courses.  They are part of the Island Resort which has a unique location.  It’s on the border of the Eastern and Central time zones. That’s a factor you should be aware of when you make your tee times.

Sweetgrass’ pro shop Is on the grounds of the resort, but those who enjoy gambling adventures will find visits to either course a nice outdoor diversion to what the casino offers.

Sweetgrass is a beautiful layout that features this island green.

 

 

 

The Baths is making a big splash with golfers at Blackwolf Run

Can you imagine golfers interrupting their round for a dip in this “bath?”

KOHLER, Wis. – Whoever heard of allowing golfers to go swimming in the middle of their round?

Well, probably nobody – until now.

The Baths of Blackwolf Run is allowing players to enjoy a swim on its new 10-hole par-3 course that is built on 27 acres between the Nos. 1 and 11 holes of its Meadow Valleys course. Chris Lutzke, the course designer, and Dirk Willis, vice president of golf for Kohler Co., took a running leap into one of the ponds when The Baths opened in early June.

Not many have since then, but swimming remains an available option.  Herb Kohler, the 82-year old executive chairman of Kohler Co. and co-designer of the course, wanted it that way, and he’s done wonders for the golf industry in Wisconsin.

The PGA Championships of 2004, 2010 and 2015 were played at Kohler’s Whistling Straits course, which will be the site of this year’s Ryder Cup matches later this month. Blackwolf Run, which opened the first of its 36 holes in 1988, hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 and 2012. Staging such big events have boosted Wisconsin’s image as a golf state and other courses have benefitted as well.

There’s warnings for potential swimmers on the water holes at The Baths.

Kohler’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.  He’s been inducted into the Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame, and The Baths is his latest special project. The other courses were designed by the late, legendary Pete Dye, but Kohler took a more hands-on approach with The Baths though Lutzke, a Dye disciple for 30 years, was the project architect.

Novel short courses are the trend these days.  So are expanded putting courses, and The Baths has one of those, too – a two-acre version that can be played in 18 or 27-hole loops.  Kohler sees both as a way to attract new players to the game.

The course measures 1,362 yards from the back tees with holes ranging from 62 to 171 yards.. Staffers will provide use of a power cart or a shuttle to get you to the first tee, but after that it’s walking only. Push carts and carry bags are available, and we found that bags were the more efficient. Like Whistling Straits the course has some steep hills adorned with thick rough.  Push carts don’t work so well in that setting.

Sod-wall bunkers are prevalent throughout The Baths, and the greens have some steep elevations, so putting is always a challenge. It’s best to laugh off putts that roll off the green and down hills into the fairway.  No sense getting frustrated. The Baths is made for fun, not frustration.

The Baths is also beautifully manicured and is the prettiest of the new, novel short courses that have sprung up in the last few years – and we’ve played most of them.

Whether the swimming option takes off remains to be seen. There’s four water features of “Baths.’’ They pay homage to Kohler Company’s 128-year history of bathing design excellence. The baths have sand-line bottoms and are all very shallow. There are no drop-offs, so there’s no problem for bathing golfers who want to walk back to dry land after taking a dip.

Our only problem was following the routing.  The first six holes go out from the 125-year old log cabin that was imported from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to serve as a food and beverage station at the first tee. The final six bring you back to that log cabin. Signage was lacking in a few spots on the early holes, and holes from the Meadow Valleys 18-holer come close to The Baths’ holes to further confuse things.

We wound up playing one hole twice, but that was all right.The Baths can be played in three- or six-hole loopes, and playing extra holes is encouraged. Like the immediately popular Cradle at North Carolina’s  Pinehurst, golfers pay a daily fee  to use The Baths. You can play all day for $75.

Mix in some time on the massive putting course with multiple rounds on The Baths and you’ll have a good day – with or without squeezing a dip in the water along the way.

Steep bunkers are prominent on most holes at The Baths.

Don’t sell golf short in the Wisconsin Dells

The entry to 12North opens the way to a whole new golf experience.

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. – The Wisconsin Dells area never grew much in population.  Its namesake city has never had more than 3,000 residents.  Still, the Dells has been one of the Midwest’s most popular travel destinations since its founding in 1856.

Boats trips brought tourists in first because they liked the scenery.  A wide variety of attractions followed, probably the best known being the Tommy Bartlett Thrill Show, which arrived in 1952 and just closed in 2020. Now the area justifiably bills itself as “The Waterpark Capital of the World” also has — among other things —  a casino, fishing, wineries, go-kart tracks, zipline tours and horseback riding.

Oh, yes.  There’s golf, too.  There are 12 different golf experiences available, and don’t sell them short – literally.

There’s a nationwide trend to make courses more accessible, more appealing and less time-consuming, and the Dells is up front in shifting the focus from “traditional’’ play into a new direction.

The first course in the Dells was a nine-holer, Cold Water Canyon, at the Chula Vista Resort. It opened in 1923 and was later expanded to 18 holes. Despite its longevity Cold Water Canyon has become up to date thanks to shifts in the game. Short courses are the new in thing.

General manager Patrick Steffes spent the pandemic helping to create a new course at Trappers Turn.

J.C. Wilson, who designed the front nine at Cold Water Canyon, and Dan Fleck, who created the back, put together a course that measures 6,027 yards from the back tees. That would be an extremely short course by any standards today, but the layout has tight driving holes and tricky greens. It’s no pushover.

The newest course isn’t, either, but it much better reflects the sign of the times.  Trappers Turn, which already had three nine-holers, just opened 12North – the latest in the national movement towards the unusual.  It doesn’t have nine or 18 holes; it has 12, and by next year it won’t even have any tees.

Trappers Turn’s nine-holers were designed by two-time U.S. Open champion and long-time Wisconsin native Andy North and the late Roger Packard.  North was brought back to work with Craig Haltom in creating 12North. Haltom, owner of Oliphant Golf, found the site for Sand Valley, another Wisconsin facility that became a big hit after Chicago entrepreneur Mike Keiser became an investor.

A $1 million project, 12North was constructed during the heart of the pandemic.

“We were all going through Covid and had a whole lot of time,’’ said Patrick Steffes, general manager and director of golf at Trappers Turn.  “We had a lot of fun with it.  It gave us something to do when there wasn’t anything to do at all.’’

Could there be more colorful landscaping in golf than this one at Trappers Turn?

Land from one of the holes of the original 18 was used in the construction of 12North. The longest hole is No. 12 – a 114-yard finisher.  The shortest is No. 10 at 54 yards. There were seven holes-in-one made in the first six weeks the course was open.

All the tees have mats now, but Steffes says they’ll be gone in the spring. Then the 12North will play like the tee-less H-O-R-S-E Course in Nebraska, where each player decides where to tee off.

“We travel a lot and steal some things,’’ said Steffes.  “I don’t know if we copied from there or not, but we want golfers to play where they want.  If they want to hit from 120 yards to these crazy greens, so be it.’’

Originally the plan was for a walking course.  While some players do walk 12North cart paths have been installed and will remain, as the footing can be tricky on some points of the hilly property.

Trappers Turn, marked by some beautiful landscaping on and near the courses, also will soon open a one-acre lighted putting green and adding  lodging is a strong consideration for down the road. Trappers Turn  is the most complete golf facility in the Dells and has the longest hole – the 600-yard third on its Lake Course, but the best 18  holes may be at Wild Rock at Wilderness Resort, an early work of architects Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry. They later teamed up to created 2017 U.S. Open site Erin Hills, another Wisconsin gem.

Wild Rock also has a nine-hole short course, The Woods, that features an island green. Overall, the Dells has 142 holes of golf, and short is the byword.  Christmas Mountain Village has a challenging par-3 course that measures 2,881 yards to supplement its championship 18-holer.

Fairfield Hills, in Baraboo, is owned by Barrington, Ill., resident Jim Tracy. Its 12-hole course can be played in three, six, nine, 12 or 18 hole loops and its practice range is the largest in the Dells area. Fairfield Hills also offers disc golf on a limited play basis.

“A very playable course,” said Tracy, who bought the place eight years ago.  It depends on your interest in golf and the time you have available.”

Pinecrest, located  near the downtown area of the Dells, has a par-3 course mixed in with an archery course with multiple shooting stations. Longest hole on the Pinecrest links is only 150 yards.  Another nine-holer, Spring Brook, is situated amidst tall pines and can be more challenging.

Wild Rock, a Mike Hurdzan/Dana Fry design, may be the best 18-holer in the Wisconsin Dells.

 

Ownership change triggers big changes at Illinois’ Eagle Ridge

The Highlands Restaurant welcomes visitors to Eagle Ridge, and now it’s bigger and better.

GALENA, IL. – I love Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa.  There, I’ve said it.

Actually, it’s not that earth-shaking a statement.  I’ve had good vibes about this place since my first visit, probably in the early 1970s.  There have been a lot since then, the highlights being an invitee to the Grand Opening of the South Course in 1984 and The General in 1997.

Eagle Ridge is, for all intents, Illinois’ only golf resort – and, with its 63 holes, it’s a good one. More recently, however, it’s undergone some significant changes.  All were triggered by an ownership change.

The resort has had a few of those over the years, but now – for the first time – it has an owner who lives on site.  Mark Klausner and wife Kathy have resided in the Galena Territory for over 20 years.

Klausner lived in the Chicago suburb of Aurora for 30 years and lived in Galenaa part-time.  He became a full-timer in Galena upon his retirement in 2016.   That’s when Eagle Ridge became available for purchase and Klausner stepped to the plate.  He doesn’t like the term “owner,’’ however.

The Klausners prefer to look on themselves as “stewards’’ of the resort.

“I always loved the Territory and feel privileged to be part of this,’’ said Klausner.  “When the opportunity presented itself I said I wanted to be part of it.  Who wouldn’t?’’

Mark and Kathy Klausner, savoring the new decor at The Highlands, have had a long attachment to Eagle Ridge.

Once committed, Klausner put his own game plan into effect. A $2.5 million clubhouse renovation has been the most eye-catching but $800,000 was also targeted for course upgrades.

“My first reaction was, I wanted this to be a world-class, first-class place and when it came time to do this transaction I was a little surprised at the lack of maintenance,’’ said Klausner.

To correct that problem he brought in Marty Johnson.  He’s a local, too.

“We hired the best architect.  He was born and raised in Galena.  Everybody knows and loves him, and he knows all the contractors,’’ said Klausner.  “We’re very fortunate to have him on our team.’’

The “team,’’ most specifically general manager Thomas Ruhs and director of golf  Mike Weiler, were also heavy contributors since Klausner took over but none were more impactful than Johnson.  He designed the original clubhouse for The General, the resort’s premier course and one of the best anywhere.  Twenty years earlier Johnson had designed Klausner’s home near that course.

Views from the new outdoor dining deck at The Highlands are stunning.

This time the Klausner-Johnson combo took on the clubhouse at The Highlands, the headquarters for The General and the first thing you see when you enter the long, winding road to the Eagle Ridge Inn. The Highlands is a lot more impressive now.

Johnson incorporated the General Store into the building. It had been located closer to the Inn.  The Pro Shop was moved from the second floor to the first.  Johnson found some 110-year old beams to highlight a new lounge.  The best part, though, was the creation of a new outdoor dining deck.  Garage doors lead to it and can be open when the weather permits.

The outdoor dining deck has magnificent views that stretch to three states (Illinois and neighboring Iowa and Wisconsin) and include several holes of The General. One is a new No. 18. In the old rotation it was the ninth hole of The General. Many players —  myself included – long felt the nines designed by the late Roger Packard – should be been switched, and they were shortly have Klausner took over.

Under the old rotation the finishing hole could not be seen from the clubhouse. That par-5 is now No. 9. The new rotation coupled with Johnson’s new clubhouse deck has created a much more intimate connection between players on the course and the diners watching them.

The course remains a rarity in the basically flat state of Illinois.  The hills make it special, especially on the tee shots that are now at No. 2, a par-3, and No. 5 – a par-4 that has long been my favorite driving hole in all of golf with its 180-foot elevation change from tee to green.

Klausner said the changes to the resort are only about half done.

“The Spa will get our undivided attention next, then the Inn,’’ he said. “We’re also going to expand the driving range with two more simulators (one is already in operation).’’

And don’t bet on that being the last upgrade at Eagle Ridge.  There’s sure to be more to come.

This used to be the tee shot on No. 10 on The General. Now its at No. 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GOLF/TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: World’s Largest 19th Hole is back at World Am

 

The World’s Largest 19th Hole always packs the house during the Myrtle Beach World Amateur

The Myrtle Beach World Amateur – always one of my favorite tournaments of any year – is adding three new divisions for its 38th staging this year. There’ll also be 70 flights and $100,000 in prize money, and Southwest Airlines has added 10 new non-stop destinations to help players get there.

That’s not the best news, though.

The best news is that the World’s Largest 19th Hole will be back.  It’s one of the best parties in all of golf – four evenings at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center that’s open to all of the anticipated 3,200 participants. Last year, while the five-day tournament was held, the big party had to be canceled because of pandemic concerns.

Without the World’s Largest 19th Hole the World Am didn’t seem to many (including me) to be the World Am. Many of Myrtle Beach’s best dining establishments provide food, beverages of all sorts are plentiful, there’s entertainment of all sorts, exhibits and dancing. In short, it’s the most festive of post-round gatherings of any tournament, anywhere.

This World Am will be played Aug. 30 to Sept. 3 on 55 of Myrtle Beach’s best courses. It consists of 72 holes of net stroke play competition followed by an 18-hole playoff pitting all the division winners against each other.

There’ll be three new gross divisions – for women, men’s senior (50 and over) and men’s mid-senior (60 and over). The winners of the men’s open and men’s mid-senior will receive exemptions to the Dixie Amateur the women’s gross winner will get a pass into the amateur division of the South Carolina Women’s Open.

The women will also have two brackets – one for players 59 and under and another for seniors 60 and over.

There’ll also be a new site for the playoff for all group winners.  After eight years at the Barefoot Resort the climax to the competition will be contest at Grande Dunes. For more information check out PlayGolfMyrtleBeach.com

Welcome the Bootlegger — that’s the name for Forest Dunes’ new 10-hole short course.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?  A highlight of last year’s travels was a return to Forest Dunes, one of the very best courses in Michigan and a long-time favorite of ours.

Last year’s visit was planned around the opening of a 10-hole short course designed by Kieth Rhebb and Riley Johns. It measures but 1,135 yards but is a nice supplement to the well-regarded 18-holer designed by Tom Weiskopf, the highly innovative Loop (a Tom Doak design that can be played in two directions) and a big putting course.

Now the new short course has a name.  It’s called the Bootlegger, a nod to the history of the land Forest Dunes was built on.

GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES: Brickyard Crossing isn’t a new course, but it’ll always be a unique one.  The Pete Dye design has four holes inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I was part of a a pre-opening preview arranged by Dye many years ago and have yet to visit a course quite like this one.

Now that course is going to get more of the attention that it has long deserved.  NBC Sports’ GolfNow technology and services is being added “to better manage operations and improve the guest book experience through enhanced tee time management, pricing, payments and marketing.’’

The upgrade isn’t lost on driver Conor Daly of Ed Carpenter Racing.

“Brickyard Cross is a world-class course set against an incredible backdrop.. This partnership with NBC Sports and GolfNow only serves to enhance an already epic experience,’’ Daly said.

A REALLY GRAND OPENING: Any Jack Nicklaus course opening is something special, but at American Dunes it’s even more so.

The Grand Haven, Mich., course, which benefits the Folds of Honor, had some play last fall but the formal opening is coming up on May 2.  The project represents the vision and collaboration of Folds of Honor founder and chief executive officer Dan Rooney and Nicklaus, who donated his design team’s services to support the Folds of Honor mission.