Len Ziehm On Golf

What’s going on at Pinehurst? Plenty, as usual

Pinehurst has offered the best in American golf since 1895, and nothing has changed since then.

PINEHURST, North Carolina – There’s one thing that you can always be sure of when you visit this premier golf destination. There’s always something new and exciting in the works. This time that’s been taken to extremes.

Always looking for something different, our visit this spring provided that in an unusual way. Our two rounds were on courses about to face the wrecking ball. That did two things: it showed what resort owners judged in need of updates and it tantalized us for the possibilities of what lies ahead.

Both the courses we played were created by well-respected designers in the early 1990s. Mid South Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer design, was a favorite of mine off previous visits. Pinehurst No. 4, created by Tom Fazio, provided the stage for a most fun round in our first (and undoubtedly last) tour of the course.

Mid South will be closed on June 5, Pinehurst No. 4 on Sept. 13.

The design for the new par-3 course at Pinehurst has visitors excited about what’s to come.

The greens at Mid South will be changed from bentgrass to Champion Bermuda, the same procedure that was performed on the companion Talamore course across the street last summer. The greens will be enlarged by 20-40 percent by Southport, N.C.-based Shapemasters, a firm that has previously worked with courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Pete Dye, Greg Norman and Tom Fazio.

A hard-packed sand base will be installed as part of a cart path improvement and new condos are being built near the Nos. 9 and 18 greens. Mid South is also adding basketball and pickle ball on one of its tennis courts and putting a new barbecue and hospitality area in near the swimming pool. That’s part of a $6 million capital improvement plan initiated by Talamore’s parent company at its four resorts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

At the Pinehurst Resort, however, the changes will become even more dramatic as soon as this fall. The Pinehurst No. 4 renovation will be a big deal if for no other reason than it’s being directed by the hot architect Gil Hanse, most noted recently for designing the Brazil course that hosted last summer’s Olympics golf competition.

Hanse will be putting in wire-grass, which transformed Pinehurst’s famed No. 2 course for the historic back-to-back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Opens of 2014. He’ll also eliminate many of the bunkers from the original design. Both moves will enhance a course that has never been short of players in the past.

Condo construction is underway near the big green serving the Nos. 9 and 18 holes at Mid South.

Pinehurst No. 4 is just part of a bigger transformation at the resort, however. The Deuce, a chef-driven restaurant, is a welcome new addition to the clubhouse and work has already begun at two of its other courses. When everything is done some less frequent visitors might feel they won’t recognize the place.

Already the No. 1 holes on Pinehurst No. 3 and Pinehurst No. 5 have been closed. As soon as next week construction will begin on a par-3 course where those old holes had stood.

A birds-eye view of what’s going on at Pinehurst’s No. 5 course will be revealing.

Pinehurst No. 3 already has a new first hole and two new par-3s. That was required in its transformation to a par-68 course. The new first hole of Pinehurst No. 5 is to open on May 1.

And that’s not all. Thistle Dhu, the popular putting course, is being moved to a much better location. It’ll be in full view of patrons enjoying all that the clubhouse has to offer.

All these changes may not have really been necessary, but they’re all for the good. Pinehurst has always been a trendsetter when it comes to golf destinations, and that’s been underscored by the projects now in the works.

Bunkers were a trademark of Pinehurst No. 4, but they’ll be greatly reduced in the upcoming renovation.

All golfers should celebrate Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday’s Golden Anniversary

The Cherry Grove skyline spices up the view from Tidewater’s No. 12 — a memorable par-3

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina – This is one golf milestone that certainly shouldn’t go unnoticed. Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Back in 1967 Myrtle Beach was by no means the golf mecca that it is today. It had only nine courses then. Now the number of courses on the 60-mile Grand Strand from Pawley’s Island to just across the state line into Brunswick County, N.C., is nearly 90 and every relevant public course in that area is a member of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.

Finding they couldn’t market their courses individually, the owners of Myrtle Beach’s courses started thinking about a marketing strategy as early as 1962. Thanks to the support of local hotels they made the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday a reality five years later and that corresponded to the rise of golf packages, now the most popular way for golfers to find courses while on vacation most anywhere.

The original nine courses were Pine Lakes, The Dunes Club, Conway Golf Club, Winyah Bay, Carolinas Country Club, Surf Golf & Beach Club, Whispering Pines, PineHills Course at Myrtlewood and Litchfield Country Club. Winyah closed in 2005.and Carolinas doesn’t exist under that name. The owners of them all, though, started something that turned out very good.

The Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame is part of the ambience at Pine Lakes, the first course in the area.

“It’s amazing what they created,’’ said Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. He joined up 19 years ago after working for Golf Digest magazine and never regretted it.

“At the time I arrived in the late 1990s that was the peak of growth here,’’ said Golden. We had a Senior PGA Tour event and an LPGA Tour event. It was a great opportunity for me, and this has been a great place to live. You have a good quality of life.’’

The golf’s been pretty good, too, for one very important reason: just like the Holiday founders, the course owners have been able to work together.

“In golf space we’re very unique,’’ said Golden. “Golf has been so important here, and people have been supportive. The owners are competitive on one level, but if they didn’t work together this wouldn’t have worked out. They’ve taken the attitude that if it’s better for everybody, let’s do it. That’s refreshing, and it’s been a great lesson to learn.’’

Golden readily admits that “it’s never been easy…the golf industry has gotten so complicated.’’

Pine Hills has a beautiful, stately clubhouse that complements a course that was built in 1927.

But, in Myrtle Beach, it’s still been able to become big business. The Myrtle Beach area attract nearly 1 million golfers every year and Golden reports that the area courses together have 3.3 million rounds annually. That’s a lot of rounds.

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday has a staff of seven headed by Golden, a former collegiate player at Villanova. Four members of the staff focus on tournaments with Jeff Monday directing that group.

Though the pro tour stops are gone, the Holiday tournament group runs some far-reaching events. The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship has been played for 33 years. This year’s version tees off on August 28 and runs through September 1. It is played on 60 courses in the area and draws over 3,000 players. Every state in the U.S. except Alaska and South Dakota had players in the last World Am and 24 countries were represented in the field.

Founders Club at Pawley’s Island has waste areas on every hole as a substitute for cart paths.

The World Am is biggest event but the staff stages six others and helps with some put on by other groups. The Holiday events started as early as February this year, when the Preseason Classic drew 200 players from 22 states. The March Championship has drawn over 70,000 players in its 32-year history.

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday also hosts the Palmetto Championship, the nation’s largest high school tournament, and the Dustin Johnson World Junior, which is played at TPC Myrtle Beach – where the world’s current No. 1-ranked golfer has many of his trophies on display.

No area of the country can match Myrtle Beach for the destination’s quantity of quality courses. There are lots of them. Some are part of multiple-course facilities; some stand-alone. Some offer lodging, some don’t. Some are part of resort groups. Some have single ownership. The cost to play each one varies dramatically. Still, the course operators have stuck together and made Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday the sport’s largest non-profit marketing consortium.

Possum Trot’s logo ball stands out.

First course in the area was Pine Lakes, which opened in 1927 to complement the Ocean Forest Hotel, which catered to that era’s rich and famous. Pine Lakes is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2017 and it’s also known, for obvious reasons, as The Granddaddy.

Of all the Myrtle Beach courses Pine Lakes is the richest in history. The original holes were designed by Robert White, a native of St. Andrews, Scotland, was also the first president of the PGA of America. The facility once had 27 holes but lost nine during the Great Depression.

The existing 18 is pretty close to what White designed. It’s a good walking course and golfers can see the clubhouse from every hole. Not many courses anywhere can make that claim.

Though the course has undergone regular updating, only Nos. 4 and 5 were notably altered during a 2009 redesign by architect Craig Schreiner. The course has certainly withstood the tests of time and its clubhouse reflects its rich past with its history wall adorned with memorabilia photos and newspaper clippings.

Among the artifacts is artwork provided by the noted magazine Sport Illustrated, which was founded at Pine Lakes by a group of executives in 1954. The Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame is also based at the club.

The only alligator we saw in four rounds was this one, at Founders Club.

Pine Lakes may have come first, but the course that really put Myrtle Beach on the map was The Dunes Club, which opened as the area’s second course in 1948. The architect was Robert Trent Jones Sr., who wasn’t famous then but is now looked on as one of the great course designers of all time. His sons Rees and Robert Trent Jones Jr. are now among the world’s foremost course architects.

The Dunes has hosted tournaments on all the major tours as well as many top amateur events. This year it will be the site of the U.S. Golf Association Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

Myrtle Beach offers an embarrassment of riches for golfers. Twelve of its courses have been ranked on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses and more than half of the Golf Holiday member facilities have been given 4-star or better rankings in that publication’s Best Places to Play Guide.

As a six-time visitor to Myrtle Beach over a span of about 20 years, I’ve seen how much the area has grown over the years and can appreciated first-hand the variety of golf offered. Every visitor will have a favorite course, but I’ve found mine changing with each visit.

Railroad ties were worked into the design in several places at Possum Trot.

The Caledonia Golf & Fish Club generally stands out with all who have visited but its companion course, True Blue, is a beauty, too.

Our most recent visit took us – in addition to Pine Lakes – to Founders Club at Pawley’s Island, Tidewater and Possum Trot.

Founders Club, among the courses celebrating the 30th anniversary of Pawley’s Island, has perhaps the most unusual design in Myrtle Beach. Once called The Seagull, its redesign virtually eliminated standard cart paths. Waste areas on every hole take their place.

Tidewater is one of the area’s most scenic courses, to be sure. Its location – between the Intracoastal Waterway and Cherry Grove – provides views of the city skyline and marshes as well as the natural beauty of the Grand Strand. It’s now right up there with my Myrtle Beach favorites.

So is Possum Trot, but for different reasons. No doubt this short, sporty well-conditioned layout with 560 palm trees – a surprising number for a course that isn’t in Florida — deserves its claim to being the “Friendliest Course on the Beach.’’ Possums disappeared long ago, but I love this layout’s logo and other special touches as much as the fun golf the course offers.

A fountain at the home hole created a memorable finish at Possum Trot.

A marsh contrasts nicely with the Cherry Grove skyline at one of Tidewater’s best viewing spots.

A tee shot over water on a Pine Hills par-3 hole was just one of the challenges on that layout.

The Founders Club at Pawley’s Island had one of the biggest putting greens I’ve ever seen.

Want to get serious about your golf? Check out the PGA Learning Center

Rain — thanks to a $75,000 movable canopy — can’t stop practice sessions at PGA Learning Center.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida – The PGA Golf Club, with its four courses, has no trouble attracting golfers. There’s more to the place than those four courses, however.

Most notably, there’s the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance. This is where the really serious golfers hang out. Very few golf facilities have anything like it.

“We’re not a driving range. We’re a practice facility,’’ said Patrick Brosnihan, the director of operations. “There aren’t a lot of these facilities.’’

There is only one bigger one than the PGA Golf Club’s Center for Golf Learning and Performance. That’s at Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge in Orlando, FL. It’s spread over 45 acres and features a circular range that is the place to be on Demo Day, the traditional opening of the annual PGA Merchandise Show in January.

The PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance is on just 35 acres but it has something its rival doesn’t have — the official connection with the PGA of America.

Club-fitting, club repair and fitness and video programs are housed in Learning Center headquarters.

“I’m representing what the PGA badge stands for,’’ said Brosnihan. “It’s the biggest sports organization in the world.’’

The PGA of America has 28,000 members and PGA Golf Club is their winter home. They wanted a practice center on the premises and got one about four years after the first two courses – then called North and South and now the Wanamaker and Ryder, both designed by Tom Fazio – had opened for play.

Dedication for the Learning Center was on Aug. 16, 2000, and the third PGA Golf Club course, the Dye, also opened that season. (The fourth, now called St. Lucie Trail, became part of the resort facilities in 2014 after existing as a private club for 26 years).

Many of those PGA members make good use of the Learning Center facilities, but for a variety of reasons. There’s a lot to digest when you visit this place.

Patrick Brosnihan has been the operations director at the Learning Center the past two years.

On one end of the property is the 23,650-foot square foot PGA Education Center. Opened in 2001 as a training forum for PGA apprentice professionals, it can accommodate over 400 students with its nine classrooms and 1,600 square-foot computer testing and club repair laboratory. Budding club professionals must go there to meet their certification requirements.

“You get eight years to finish,’’ said Brosnihan “It reminds me of residency requirements for a doctor.’’

The smaller building next to the Education Center is the Rotunda. It once housed a small museum of golf memorabilia but now is used for social gatherings.

Dominating the complex is the Learning and Performance Center and all that goes with it. Basically it’s a golf park.

The indoor portion is dedicated to technology. There are two monitors devoted to club fitting. They can provide numbers relative to such things as launch and spin-rate. Want to see if the clubs you own – or are considering for purchase – are right for you? This is the place to go. All the top equipment manufacturers have their products available.

“You can’t fit clubs without the numbers,’’ said Brosnihan. “Eighty-five percent of golfers aren’t fitted properly. I can understand why some people don’t want to be inside. They want to see where the ball goes outside, but there’s so much more technology inside. We want to get the (club-fitting) numbers first.’’

The sand comes in all types and colors at the Learning Center’s bunker practice area.

Video equipment as well as the fitness area directed by performance coach Tommey Lyons is also under the roof as is the club-repair operation, which works with between 300 and 400 clubs a week during the heart of the season. A golf psychologist isn’t on the staff yet, but adding a mind coach is under consideration.

There are all sorts of options for instruction and practice options outdoors. Brosnihan’s teaching staff is headed by lead instructor Jamie Fordyce and Billy Ore, who was working on the club-fitting side during our visit. There’s also three independent contractors who teach there, headed by Nancy Quarcelino, rated among the nation’s Top 100 teachers by Golf Magazine.

In addition to giving lessons, they put on a one-hour clinic every day but Sunday, with each focused on one segment of the game – pitching and wedges, driver and fairway woods, irons and hybrids, bunker and lob shots, chipping and putting.

All models of equipment are available for players who want to go through club-fitting procedures.

Their lessons can also be tailored to individual preferences. Individual, group, father-son, husband-wife — you name the type of lesson you want and the staff can fit your needs. There are also a wide variety of golf schools available as well as a Sports Academy that offers an eight-week program of activities that includes other sports as well as golf.

“It’s whatever you want. We can create anything,’’ said Brosnihan.

His mainstay staffers aren’t the only ones giving lessons, though. About 80 PGA club professionals from other areas of the country rent private practice areas, called pods, on the back end of the facility and bring their students to Florida for more focused training than might be possible at their home clubs.

The facility will also be used by 20-25 college teams and six-10 high school teams during the winter months. They come to train and play in tournaments on the nearby courses. The most celebrated of the Learning Center regulars is also the youngest. Jessy “The Rocket’’ Huebner, age 7, has won over 60 age group tournaments, most notably the 7-and-under division of the U.S. Kids Championship in 2016.

Well-regarded teaching professional Nancy Quarcelino gets a daily clinic session underway

If you are looking for tour players, you won’t find any at the Learning Center – with the possible exception of Jim Herman. While most of the many Florida-based tour players are based in nearly Jupiter, Herman worked at the Learning Center for years, still comes occasionally for Sunday games and has been given Lifetime member status.

Brosnihan admits that the Learning Center would be hard-pressed to stay alive without the nearby courses. They have driving ranges, but not the extensive facilities offered at the Learning and Performance Center. A challenge is getting the players using the courses that are just a mile or two away to test it out.

Teaching pods are all set up for professionals who want to bring their students to the PGA Learning Center.

PGA Golf Club is more than halfway through an upgrading program that involves the courses and their clubhouses as well as the Learning Center, which has been somewhat restructured. Director of agronomy Dick Gray, recently named the TurfNet Superintendent of the Year nation-wide, created a new practice chipping area and the other areas were spruced up as well.

They include a 7,000-square foot putting green, built to U.S. Golf Association specifications, and over 100 full-swing practice stations. Movable canopies are available to facilitate practice even in rainy weather.

The bunker practice area once was billed as having specific types of sand in each bunker to accommodate players from all parts of the country. That claim is no more. Now they’re just bunkers, though the color and texture of the sand varies.

“We did have all types of sand in our bunkers, but we couldn’t guarantee what type of sand each one was,’’ said Brosnihan. “We didn’t want to mis-represent.’’

And then there’s the three practice holes at the far end of the facility. They’re not always in operation but can offer an on-course experience for those wanting that after working at the other practice areas. Purchase of a one-day pass will allow you to do that.

Video analysis is just one method that Learning Center instructors use to teach their students.

Palm Beach has a par-3 course that is unlike any other

Palm Beach’s finishing hole gives players one last good look at the Atlantic Ocean and its parasailors.

PALM BEACH, Florida – I’ve always believed that the Nickol Knoll course in my former backyard is the best par-3 course in Illinois. As for the best par-3 in the entire United States I had given the nine-holer at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo., a slight edge over Three-tops, at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich.

Now, though, I’m not so sure. A visit to the Palm Beach Par-3 here has confused the situation for me.

The Palm Beach Par-3 opened in 1961 as a combination effort by designers Dick Wilson and Joe Lee, and Raymond Floyd did a complete remodeling job in 2009. Actually, Floyd did much more than that. A Palm Beach resident at the time, the world golf Hall of Famer offered to re-design the course and did his work gratis. He also helped raise the $7 million needed to get the job done.

Palm Beach’s Par-3 dates back to 1961, but Raymond Floyd gave it a new look in 2009.

Needless to say, Floyd’s name is on the welcoming sign and his 18 holes are marred by only the fact that you have to cross busy Ocean Boulevard twice on the front nine in the course of your round. Otherwise the course couldn’t have a better location. The Atlantic Ocean is on one side and the Interecoastal Waterway on the other.

This course has a lot of other things going for it, not the least of which is the clubhouse fare. On our visit – in the heart of the Florida tourist season – the golf operation ran smoothly and there were even more people around in early afternoon on a Sunday to enjoy the dining. The Palm Beach Par-3 isn’t your usual par-3 snack shop. It has a full-service dining at its Fresco restaurant that attracts plenty of non-golfers.

As for the course, Golf Digest has called it “one of the best par-3s you can play anywhere.’’ As most of you know, I’ve always been skeptical about the ratings systems used by the various golf publications, but I can’t quibble with Golf Digest listing the Palm Beach Par-3 in its “Top 50 Most Fun golf courses in America.’’

The Intercostal Waterway is a most obvious landmark on most of Palm Beach’s front nine.

The course was in fine condition (especially the greens) when we visited. It also has a well-stocked pro shop and good practice range. The green fees don’t include use of a power cart, and that’s significant.

Walking has no negative stigma here. Pull carts are available and players walking with pull carts, those carrying their own bags and those riding on power carts shared the course comfortably on our visit. That’s not something you always find on par-3s that offers a bit of a challenge.

Holes range from 81 to 211 yards from the tips and three sets of tee options make it interesting for all level of players. Only four of the holes from the front tees are over 100 yars, the shortest being 49 at No. 9. Inevitably it’s the ocean views – all of them on the back nine – that most set this course apart from every other par-3, though.

Palm Beach’s clubhouse was a hopping place when we made our mid-winter, weekend visit.

Palmer Design Company shows off Shingle Creek’s new course — near Bay Hill

Course designer Thad Layton tees off during Shingle Creek’s media preview outing.

ORLANDO, Florida – The late Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club is just a 15-minute drive from Shingle Creek Golf Club, an 18-holer connected to the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel and in Palmer’s final days his design company was in the process of renovating the nearby layout.

That renovation is now completed and the course has opened to rave reviews.

Thad Layton, the lead designer on the project, said Palmer was most interested in how the new Shingle Creek course would differ from Bay Hill – site of the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational each March.

Palmer had played the original Shingle Creek course, designed by a less known local architect David Harman, at least two times since its opening on Dec. 1, 2003. That was even before the accompanying hotel had been built.

Shingle Creek provides a nice blend of challenging golf with a user-friendly design.

Layton took on a re-design that required the course to be closed for six months, though its Brad Brewer Golf Academy remained opened while the work was being done. The finished product is a fun course in which Layton completely re-designed three holes (Nos. 12, 13 and 14) and redid the other 15. The greens in particular underwent major changes. The original ones were relatively flat. The new ones have plenty of interesting undulations.

Brewer, who opened his Academy at Shingle Creek after directing the teaching operation at Bay Hill, said the course became a busy place immediately after its recent re-opening. His teaching staff includes Chris Spalla, a transplanted Chicagoan, and the director of golf, David Scott, got his start in the business at Naperville Country Club.

The Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel offers a steady presence to Shingle Creek golfers throughout their rounds.

A milestone for the world’s first replica golf course

Designer Ron Garl takes aim at his re-creation of the famed “postage stamp” green at Royal Troon.

OCALA, Florida – The world’s first replica golf course, turned 30 this week.

Ron Garl, one of the most prolific of all course architects, was the brainchild for the layout at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club. Back in 1986 he picked out eight holes from five of golf’s most famous courses – Augusta National and Baltusrol in the United States and Royal Troon, Muirfield and St. Andrews from Europe – and worked them into his design at Golden Ocala.

The concept of replica – also called inspired or tribute – holes has been tried numerous times by other architects since then. Few, though, have been as successful in creating the magic of the famous holes as Garl was at Golden Ocala.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of both the concept and the course Garl hosted a small outing at the club for a variety of players – members who knew the course well all the way down to first-time visitors.

Some of the replica holes are, understandably, better than others. The most photogenic was Golden Ocala’s No. 13 – a re-creation of the “road hole, or No. 17 at Scotland’s St. Andrews. Being Garl’s cart partner in the outing, I benefitted from an architect’s eye view of the construction process. Needless to say, building the “road hole’’ was a difficult, time-consuming effort 30 years ago but the work then is still paying off today.

Having not seen the original European holes in person, my choice as the best of Golden Ocala’s replica holes was its No. 6 – the par-3 over-the-water sixteenth at Augusta National. That’s always one of the best holes for drama during the Masters tournament. (From my experiences at that annual April epic, it’s the best).

Architect Ron Garl has worked on over 100 Florida courses and over 250 world-wide.

Garl stressed the attention to detail that went into making each replica hole as concise as the original. Citing various reasons for selection including how the holes would fit into the topography available, Garl picked three holes from Augusta National. In addition to No. 16 he opted for another par-3 – Augusta’s No. 12 and Golden Ocala’s No. 11 – and the short par-5 13th at Augusta (No. 12 at Golden Ocala).

St. Andrews was the only other course to have more than one hole selected. St. Andrews’ opening hole – the first hole in golf – is No. 14 at Golden Ocala.

Other than the trio at Augusta National, the only other hole from an America course selected was No. 4 at Baltusrol – the par-3 fifteenth at Golden Ocala.

Royal Troon’s No. 8 – with its famous “postage stamp’’ green – is Golden Ocala’s par-3 fourth hole and the next hole in the rotation is a replica of Muirfield’s No. 9, a par-5.

“This is a very special place for me,’’ said Garl, who was in the 10th year of his 40 designing courses when he created Golden Ocala. The process back then included obtaining precise photographs of the famous holes – a project that cost $50,000 a hole 30 years ago.

What’s also interesting is that the replica holes, while a nice feature, don’t dominate the course. The “Garl originals’’ aren’t bad, either. Garl rates the par-4 third hole as his overall favorite on the course and the other non-replica holes fit seamlessly into the rotation.

The “road hole” at Scotland’s St. Andrews has a look-alike in No. 13 at Florida’s Golden Ocala.

Garl returned to Golden Ocala to supervise a major renovation in 2001 and convinced the Roberts family members, owners of the course now, to acquire more land that would facilitate an expansion of the practice facilities. That led to the building of two fullscale practice holes that were a big hit with players from the LPGA in 2015 and 2016.

The LPGA contested the Coates Classic as an early season event for two years, and it has been the biggest competition yet held on the course. The players said crowds resembled those at the U.S. Women’s Open, but the tourney was discontinued after two stagings.

Garl, meanwhile, has emerged as perhaps the most prolific architect in his native state. Based in Lakeland, he opened his first course in 1972 and has designed over 100 in the Sunshine State. The best-known of those, in addition to Golden Ocala, are TPC of Prestancia in Sarasota, Fiddlesticks in Fort Myers and Palm Beach Polo in West Palm Beach.

Moving beyond Florida, Garl has designed or renovated over 250 courses and worked in 10 other countries. He’s completed such award-winning courses as Wooden Sticks in Canada, Alpine in Thailand, Gudymaral in Colombia and Nine Dragons in China and is currently deeply involved in a course for the King of Morocco.

Ron Garl’s favorite hole at Golden Ocala isn’t a replica one. It’s this pleasant-looking par-4 third hole.

HERE AND THERE: No doubt about it: The Loop is Best New Course of 2016

We played The Loop in both directions and felt the experience was well worth the walk.

The Loop, Tom Doak’s 18-hole reversible course in Roscommon, Mich., isn’t just something new. It’s also been declared something very good.

Golf Digest and GOLF Magazine, the golf industry’s two leading publications, both honored The Loop with its top awards. Golf Digest named The Loop as the Best New Public Course of 2016 and GOLF Magazine named it the Best New U.S. Course You Can Play.’’

Forest Dunes owner Lew Thompson wanted “something industry changing’’ when he decided to add a second 18 holes to his facility and he got it with The Loop.

“Tom Doak delivered by providing us some of his best work, and the feedback by our guests has been tremendous,’’ said Thompson. “The genius of the concept is how it looks and plays completely different when you play in the other direction.’’

Doak, who operates out of Traverse City, Mich., had long considered the reversible concept and was able to create the course while working close to home.

The Loop is a walking-only experience, with caddies an available option. The two different layouts alternate directions on a daily basis.

Tom Doak’s bunkering provides a challenge, no matter which direction you play The Loop.

Another Nicklaus redesign

The Banyan Cay Resort in West Palm Beach, FL. Is getting a new Jack Nicklaus Signature Course. Chris Cochran, Nicklaus’ senior design associate, will join Nicklaus in leading the design team. John Sanford, of Sanford Golf Design will also be involved when construction begins in February. Sanford grew up playing the course and his father had been its director of golf.

Formerly known as Presidents Country Club, the Banyan Cay club has been home to 36 holes of golf but one of of the courses is being transformed into a residential development consisting of 100 single family homes, a boutique hotel, new clubhouse, villas and a 20-story condo tower.

Torrey Pines North is open again

Tom Weiskopf has completed his renovation of the North Course at Torrey Pines, in LaJolla, Calif. The $12.6 million project was completed in nine months and the city-owned public course is now considered a rival to the world famous South Course, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Open and will be the venue for that tournament again in 2021.

Weiskopf reduced the number of bunkers from 59 to 41 and the average green size increased from 4,500 square feet to 6,400 as part of the North renovation. The front and back nines were also reversed, allowing golfers some spectacular ocean and canyon views when they finish their rounds.

Bits and pieces

The Major Series of Putting has moved its 2017 championship to the fall. It’ll conclude in Las Vegas beginning on Oct. 27 after a nation-wide series of over 250 qualifying events.

Sean Foley, one-time coach of Tiger Woods, has announced the formation of the Foley Performance Academy at Eagles Dream in Lake Mary, FL. It’s based at Timacuan Golf & Country Club and is a full-time residential program that offers training to all levels of golfers.

Chicago-based KemperSports has been selected to manage the Forest Creek Golf Club in Round Rock, TX. The course will be renovated and re-branded as a top-notch municipal course.

The rugged International Course at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, a Greg Norman design, has reopened after undergoing an $860,000 renovation of its greens approaches and bunkers. The reclaiming of 42,000 square feet of greens has added an average of three additional pin positions per green.

Presidio Golf & Concordia Club, in San Francisco, is now undergoing major renovations following the merger of the historic Presidio Golf Club and the Concordia-Argonaut Club. It’s an $8.5 million project. Presidio was founded in 1895 and Concordia-Argonaut has roots dating back to 1864.

Hokuala Resort, a newcomer to Hawaiian island of Kauai, has completed renovations to its Ocean Course. That layout is the home to the longest stretch of consecutive oceanfront holes in all of Hawaii.

Play was limited at The Loop in 2016. That won’t likely be the case once the course opens in 2017.

Jupiter has its big-time clubs — but don’t underestimate Jupiter Dunes

Pleasant clubhouse is in keeping with the atmosphere at Jupiter Dunes.

JUPITER, Florida – This town on Florida’s East Coast, just north of Palm Beach, has long attracted top golfers. It’s home for Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and a host of others.

Those pros have a wide range of championship courses to play, but there’s another course in town that shouldn’t be missed.

Jupiter Dunes is an 18-hole par-3 layout that is owned by two homeowner associations. The holes, ranging from 70 to 178 yards, weave between the housing options. I had lived off arguably the best par-3 course in Illinois, Nickol Knoll, but that Arlington Heights Park District facility had only nine holes.

Not only is Jupiter Dunes at 18-holer, the holes feature all sorts of challenges – water, out of bounds, tricky greens, big bunkers. It’s a real challenge, though definitely a fun one. It may be the best par-3 that I’ve ever seen, though the nine-hole layout at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo., is hard to ignore. After all, the PGA Champions circuit used it for one of its annual tour stops.

Jupiter Dunes has attracted golfers for 43 years.

Jupiter Dunes is a much different than Big Cedar. We were looking for a course that would provide an upgrade for my 8-year old grandson. He’s also past the First Tee program in North Carolina and been to some low-level camps. Jupiter Dunes represented his first try at an 18-hole course.

The architectural icon Tom Fazio designed the original Jupiter Dunes in 1974. There wasn’t much around it then. In 2005 the original course was re-designed by Florida-based architect Tom Pearson and now it’s surrounded by a variety of private clubs.

Still, Jupiter Dunes won’t get lost in the shuffle. It’s an affordable course that is very suitable for walking with a friendly staff. Unfortunately there’s no practice range – just a few spots for golfers to hit shots into nets — but there is a big putting green and the course itself lends itself to beginners and recreational players of all age levels. Pros have had a 27-hole money event there, as well.

Even in a state rich in golf facilities, that’s not easy to find. American golf overall needs more Jupiter Dunes.

The third hole, one of many with a tee shot over water, falls between the lodging at Jupiter Dunes.

Going public was a big boost for the PGA’s St. Lucie Trail course

No. 5, one of St. Lucie Trail’s toughest holes, starts off with a most demanding tee shot.

Of the four golf courses in PGA Golf Club, one stands out – at least historically.

The winter home of the PGA of America’s 28,000 members includes three 18-hole courses on the grounds of PGA Village – the Wanamaker, the Ryder and the Dye. PGA Golf Club also encompasses one course across Interstate 95 about two miles to the east. That one is now called St. Lucie Trail Golf Club. It didn’t always have that name – in fact, this is the third one since the 18-holer opened for play in 1988. Still it is, at least technically, the start of what is now the PGA Golf Club.

St. Lucie Trail stands apart from its three companion courses under the banner of the resort by more than location. The PGA of America purchased what is now St. Lucie Trail in 1995, before any of the other PGA Golf Club courses were ready for play. Not only is St. Lucie Trail older than the Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye, it also differs in that it has a lengthy history as a private club.

Like the Wanamaker and Ryder, however, St. Lucie Trail also has the benefit of the Fazio touch and the Fazio name means a lot in golf course architectural circles.

Sound confusing? A little history will be helpful.

Port St. Lucie was by no means a golf hotbed in the early 1980s, when PGA Tour player –turned-course architect George Fazio led the way in the creation of a private course called The Reserve near what is now PGA Golf Club. His nephew Jim Fazio was the course designer when the club opened its doors in 1984.

A new sign has been a welcoming site for golfers visiting St. Lucie Trail.

Jim’s work in the area, though, didn’t end there. Four years later he would design the course at St. Lucie West Country Club, also in Port St. Lucie. The Reserve, now called The Legacy, is not part of the PGA Golf Club but it was the first entry in Jim Fazio’s design resume which now numbers about 30 courses in the United States and another 30 in foreign locations like Japan, Spain, Italy and the Caribbean Islands.

The second and third Jim Fazio designs were Hawks Nest, in Vero Beach, which opened in 1986, and St. Lucie West Country Club, which was ready for play in 1988. St. Lucie West was the forerunner to what is now St. Lucie Trail.

The PGA of America already owned St. Lucie West when it started its PGA Golf Club as a resort in 1996. That’s the year the North and South courses (now the Ryder and Wanamaker) opened for play. Both were designed by Tom Fazio, Jim’s younger brother. The Dye course, a Pete Dye creation, was added in 2000 and is the only course in the group not designed by a Fazio.

St. Lucie West Country Club remained private and continued with that title for about 18 months after the purchase. Then the PGA renamed it PGA Country Club and kept it private for nearly two decades.

That changed on Nov. 1, 2014, when general manager Jimmy Terry announced that the club – after an 18-month revitalization program that included work on the tee boxes, fairways and greens and additional landscaping, all supervised by director of agronomy Dick Gray – was going public.

Along with that announcement came the name change, to St. Lucie Trail, and a new logo. The club would also become the national testing ground for player development programs originated by the PGA of America to grow the game both locally and nationally.

A forced carry over vegetation off the tee makes No. 17 a most memorable par-3.

As a private venue, PGA Country Club may have seemed somewhat of an after-thought for the resort facilities. Its change to a public venue, though, triggered a five-year plan to upgrade the entire resort.

“The first year we started working on agronomy and started working on the greens at St. Lucie Trail,’’ Terry said. “The second year we renamed the course, made it semi-private and changed the pricing structure to make it affordable for people to play.’’

Nate Manis, who became St. Lucie Trail’s head professional when the course went public, witnessed the change up close and personal.

“There was a lot of hype around the community, but it took a good solid month before we were rocking and rolling,’’ he recalled. “Still that first year we were very well received. It was a huge boost for us.’’

That showed in the numbers. Rounds played in the first year as a public venue nearly hit 30,000. As a private club the rounds were closer to 15,000 per year.

Major work on the clubhouse and renovation of the Wanamaker and Dye courses would follow the St. Lucie Trail announcement and the Ryder will get a similar facelift this fall to conclude the five-year effort to upgrade the entire four-course facility that also includes a short course and spacious Learning Center.

A waterfall adorns the outside of the clubhouse at St. Lucie Trail.

“At the end of the five-years we will have touched every course and the clubhouse,’’ said Terry. “The response from our members has been very positive. Our private club memberships have been the highest they’ve ever been and the rounds of golf are back to a level where we’re happy with them.’’

Getting more players on what had been its private club is just one of the benefits of the hard work over the last three-plus years. The St. Lucie Trail layout hasn’t yet received the recognition that other Jim Fazio designs in Florida have but that could change as more players experience its challenges.

Best known of Fazio’s other designs is Trump International in West Palm Beach – incoming U.S. President Donald Trump’s first venture into golf. Hawks Nest, in Vero Beach, and El Diablo, in Ocala, have also been recognized in various state rankings and St. Lucie Trail might be next. There is now a growing number of players (myself included) who believe that it may be the best of the PGA Village/PGA Golf Club courses.

After playing all five in the span of a month, St. Lucie Trail seems the most challenging. It is a tighter driving course than the others with some particularly memorable holes.

No. 6, a 418-yard par-4 that well deserves its status as the No. 1 handicap hole, comes to mind first. It has the most demanding tee shot on the layout and that hole follows another good hole. No. 5 is a 415-yard par-4 with a pond on the right and an uphill approach to the green.

The back side isn’t as tough as the front but Nos. 14, 17 and 18 – a par-4, par-3 and par-5 respectively – merit post-round discussion. The 17th may be the prettiest hole on the course and the 18th, at 550 yards, is the longest.

St. Lucie Trail, which plays at 6,901 yards from the back tees, is the only one of the four PGA Golf Club courses under 7,000 yards. Longest is the Dye at 7,221 yards. The Dye also has the highest rating (75.7) while the Wanamaker has the top slope (145). St. Lucie Trail has a 73.4 rating and 142 slope.

Visitors to St. Lucie Trail will find a well-conditioned course that is both challenging and fun.

West Palm Beach muny has retained its relevance as 70th season approaches

West Palm Beach offers golfers one of Florida’s best conditioned municipal courses.

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – Florida leads the nation with over 1,300 public golf courses, and it also has something that many other states with serious golfers should consider – a trail that pays homage to its older layouts that have best withstood the tests of time.

The Trail hasn’t been heavily promoted but we have made it a must to visit some of its courses every year. There are about 50 of them spread across Florida. They come in varying states of conditioning and popularity but all have welcomed public golfers for at least 50 consecutive years.

These courses aren’t just fun. They reflect the history of the area in which they’re located, and few do that as well as West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course, which will celebrate its 70th season in 2017.

West Palm was created in 1947 by Dick Wilson, a Florida architect of major stature, but its story really goes back much further than that – to 1921 when it was first known as the West Palm Beach Country Club.. As a private club it couldn’t survive for long, especially after a 1928 hurricane wrecked the place.

Waste bunkers are hazard on both sides of the fairways throughout a round at West Palm.

In 1929 the club’s owners donated it to the city of West Palm Beach with the understanding that it would be operated as a municipal course. It became the forerunner to what is now West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course.

The federal government took possession of the original course during World War II and a decision was made to move the facility to its present location and rebuild the course. The result was one of Wilson’s first creations. Then a Delray Beach resident, he would later design or renovate about 60 courses, many in partnership with Joe Lee. The best known of those are Bay Hill and Pine Tree in Florida, LaCosta in California and the Dubsdread course at Cog Hill in the Chicago area.

Dubsdread opened in 1964 and would later host the PGA Tour’s Western Open and BMW Championship from 1991 to 2007. Wilson passed on in 1965 at the age of 61.

You’re better off not hitting into this area at West Palm, though you can usually escape from. it.

His West Palm Beach design was a novelty — a course with no water on it – and it was immediately well received. After a clubhouse was opened in 1951 West Palm was ready to host PGA Tour players and from 1956 through 1962 it was the site of an annual tournament, called either the West Palm Beach Open or the West Palm Beach Open Invitational.

The tourney’s highlight playing was in 1959 when Arnold Palmer was the champion. He was 7-under par after rounds of 72, 67, 66 and 76 after the regulation 72 holes and needed four more holes to beat Gay Brewer and Pete Cooper in a playoff to claim the $2,000 winner’s check. Palmer’ victory was the 13th of the 62 he would claim on the PGA Tour.

Cooper (1958) and Brewer (1961) were also winners of the tournament, which usually offered a $20,000 purse. Other champions were Al Balding (1957), Johnny Pott (1960) and Dave Ragan (1962). The tourney ended as a PGA Tour event after Ragan’s win but was revived under the title of West Palm Beach Open 10 years later when Wilf Homenuik won the title.

Though the tour players were gone West Palm remained popular with local players. The wear and tear of daily play, though, eventually took its toll. By 2009 it was due for some updating, and Mark McCumber, a PGA Tour veteran with 10 tour titles to his credit, directed a seven-month restoration project. When the work was done Palmer returned 50 years after his tournament victory on the old course to hit the celebratory first tee shot on the new version.

The halfway house at West Palm is pretty basic, but serves its purpose.

That came in 2009, and players returned in strong numbers. The absence of water hazards has never been a deterrent. Lots of waste areas and big, deep bunkers provide plenty of challenges and they keep your interest. The course gets better as you go along, and the big greens were in excellent condition for our round there. We played in the company of a couple from Ireland who were every bit as impressed as we were.

West Palm is definitely one of the best conditioned courses on the Florida Historic Golf Trail and an excellent golf value, historical significance notwithstanding.

With five sets of tee placements, West Palm can be played as long as 7,002 yards (rating is 73.0 and slope is 128 from the back tees). It’s 5,023 yards from the front markers. The facility also has a full grass driving range and a large practice area overlooking the course.

One thing that is notably missing, however, is a clubhouse. The old one was torn down three years ago when safety concerns surfaced. Since then the staff has operated out of very basic facilities — a small pro shop near the parking lot, which is beside a high school, and a snack shop between the No. 9 green and No. 10 tee.

That look could change in the near future. The board of commissioners that operates the course has studied the possibility of building a new clubhouse for over a year and a decision on whether to go ahead with that project is expected at a formal meeting on Jan. 9, 2017.