Len Ziehm On Golf

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

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

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

Poland, Maine, that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Williamsburg golf is on the upswing — and that’s putting it mildly

Architect Mike Strantz was at his creative best on Royal New Kent’s signature seventh hole.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Like so many other communities, Williamsburg was hit hard by the recession a few years back and that negatively impacted its golf business. The difference is, Williamsburg got back in revival mode and is showing off now at several facilities.

For instance, Royal New Kent was a smash hit when it opened. Golf Digest named this Mike Strantz design its Best New Course of 1997 and it was also on the magazine’s America’s Top 100 list. As prestigious as that is, the course had to be closed for eight months after a series of ownership changes. Its Grand Re-opening was on May 6 after a $2 million rehab.

Then there was The Club at Viniterra, a Rees Jones design with a staggering 9 ½ miles of cart paths. Jones has long been one of the world’s most respected course architects, but this creation – built as the centerpiece of a gated community – stayed alive in part by providing more affordable greens fees. That was a necessity because Viniterra had no clubhouse for 11 years. Viniterra opened its new one on June 12 after a two-year construction process.

And then there’s Williamsburg National, a 36-hole facility closest to all of the area’s colonial attractions. Its Jamestown course, a Jack Nicklaus design, was closed for about 14 months and the companion Yorktown course stayed open but was not in the best condition.

As was the case at Royal New Kent, Williamsburg National underwent some ownership changes during the more difficult times but is back in full operation.

Chris Hartig likes how the two courses at Williamsburg National have blossomed

Chris Hartig presents a good perspective on what was going on. A long-time club professional, he was director of golf at Kingsmill – Williamsburg’s long-established resort that has hosted 37 pro tour events, the most recent being the LPGA’s Pure Silk Championship in May.

Now Hartig’s Carlton Hospitality is the management company overseeing the rehab at Williamsburg National, which is near Hartig’s home, and his Virginia Golf Vacations, a separate business, organizes golf trips throughout the state.

“In Williamsburg there’s been a commitment to golf for a long time,’’ said Hartig, citing the success of such multi-course facilities as Kingsmill and Golden Horsehoe. “In the 1990s they started expanding, and that led to an overbuilding situation. Recession got it, and courses started changing hands.’’

Royal New Kent and Jamestown weren’t the only courses that closed for a brief period. All the courses have different issues but found solutions. The most interesting is at Royal New Kent.

The creative talents of the late Mike Strautz won’t be forgotten at Royal New Kent.

Strantz was one of the world’s hottest designers after working for Tom Fazio in the mid-1990s. Not only did Strantz design Royal New Kent, his seven solo creations include Caledonia and True Blue in South Carolina, Tobacco Road in North Carolina, Lake Nona in Florida and Monterey Peninsula’s South course in California. The run of great courses stopped when Strantz, only 50 years old, succumbed to cancer in 2005. His works, though, live on.

“He only designed a certain number of golf courses before he passed away but he gained legendary status,’’ said Chip Sullivan, the former PGA Tour pro who was recently named general manager and director of golf at Royal New Kent. “He was creative beyond most other designers. He designed courses with a totally different look. He was an artist before he used his artistic values on golf courses.’’

That’s obvious at Royal New Kent, an Irish style links course patterned after Royal County Down and Ballybunion. It has 105 bunkers, perhaps a few too many blind shots, tons of elevation changes and – overall – a distinctly unique look. Though Strantz had passed away before the course was restored, members of his original crew participated in the year-long revival project. It involved replacing every green and doing extensive work on the bunkers and irrigation system

The Club at Viniterra will benefit from the opening of its long overdue new clubhouse.

Brandon Tuck, chairman of Wingfield Golf – a part-owner and the managing company of the facility, calls Royal New Kent “one of the most challenging courses in the country.’’

No argument there, but the mental challenges it offers are stimulating – if not sometimes frustrating. That makes it a special place to play. The top fee to do that is $95.

Wingfield, based in Greenville, S.C., also owns Viniterra. The new clubhouse will do wonders there. The course has always been popular, its top greens fee of $66 – low for a Rees Jones design – being just one of the reasons. The club had operated out of trailer until the new clubhouse opened.

The greens at all the Williamsburg area courses were outstanding, even though they were new at Royal New Kent and the Williamsburg National courses. The only issue we had at Viniterra was on the par-5 fourth hole, where blind shots made for unnecessary frustration instead of fun. (As most of you know, I’ve never been a fan of blind shots anywhere).

At Williamsburg National a greens renovation was needed to get the Jamestown course up and running again. The newest ownership group renovated with Champion Bermuda, which ensured top playing conditions on its more difficult course.

Yorktown was designed by Tom Clark, who doesn’t have the world-wide reputation of Nicklaus but has long been a popular architect in the Mid-Atlantic region. The new ownership overseeded the fairways on Yorktown, so it offers live green fairways in the winter while the Champion Bermuda surfaces at Jamestown are covered. Top greens fee on those courses is $89.

“`They’re two completely different courses,’’ said Hartig. “You can play year around, but in January, February and part of March we don’t need two courses. Jamestown is a classic course with subtle elevation changes that is probably preferred by our local players. Yorktown is more the choice of the traveling golfer.’’

That’s because Clark was innovative, putting in more than 80 bunkers, a redan green and laying out a somewhat unusual back nine that has three par-5s, three par-4s and three par-3s.

Three holes converge during a key spot on the back nine on Williamsburg National’s Yorktown course.

Grandover doesn’t exactly host a PGA Tour event, but still….

Drive past the iconic griffin, and you’ve arrived at one of North Carolina’s best golf resorts.

GREENSBORO, N.C. – There’s a lot more good golf to be played in North Carolina than what’s offered in the Pinehurst area. For instance, consider the unique situation in this burgeoning community that is the state’s third-largest metropolitan area.

Greensboro may offer the feel of a small town, but it hosts the third-oldest PGA Tour event, now called the Wyndham Championship. The Wyndham was first played in 1938, when Sam Snead won the first of his eight titles. In August the tourney will celebrate its 80th anniversary.

Originally called the Greater Greensboro Open, the tournament was first played at Sedgefield Country Club — a private facility that opened in 1926. The tournament has had other title sponsors and other host sites over the years, but since 2008 it’s been the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield with tourney headquarters at the neighboring Grandover Resort & Conference Center.

The resort’s practice range also serves in that capacity for the players during the tournament, so the relationship between private Sedgefield and the resort is a tight one.

“I would call it perfect,’’ said Mark Brazil, tournament director of the Wyndham Championship. “They’ve got two great golf courses over there and all the space for our activities plus a beautiful hotel. It almost feels like we’re their third course because we’re so close. We couldn’t have a better marriage with them.’’

Mark Brazil directs the only PGA Tour event played annually on a Donald Ross-designed course but he appreciates the neighboring Grandover Resort.

Wyndham Week this year is Aug. 1-4, and the $6.2 million event holds a key place on the PGA Tour schedule. The Wyndham will be the last tournament prior to the FedEx Cup Playoffs. It represents the last chance for players to establish a strong position going into golf’s lucrative postseason. Only the top 125 in the FedEx standings will tee off in the first of the three playoff events.

And that’s not all. For the first time the $10 million Wyndham Rewards Top 10 bonus pool will be in effect. It offers bonus money — $2 million to the winner – to the top 10 players in the FedEx standings entering the playoffs.

While the birdies and bogeys are crucial at Sedgefield, about 40 members of the field will be staying at Grandover. So will a bulk of the tourney’s sponsors and Wyndham’s guests, and they will have some great golf to play that week, too.

Grandover’s two 18-hole courses are top-notch. Both were designed by architect Gary Panks with the help of player consultant David Graham. Graham, an Australian, won the 1979 PGA Championship and the 1981 U.S. Open. He also had top-five finishes in both the British Open and Masters. Like many top stars in his playing days, Graham got involved in course design as a sidelight venture.

Panks did most of his design work in Arizona, Grayhawk being his most noteworthy creation there. The Grandover courses are his only creations in North Carolina. Panks started doing courses on his own in 1978 and teamed up with Graham from 1988-97 under the banner Graham & Panks International. They did 10 courses together, and the Grandover courses were one of their last projects.

Graham & Panks was able to break into the North Carolina course design market – one then dominated by state resident Tom Fazio and Arnold Palmer – because Graham had a friend who was close to Joe Koury, the founder of Grandover. Koury passed away in 1998, shortly after the resort opened, but it’s still family owned.

By then Grandover had an East Course, which is longer and slightly more difficult than its West counterpart. It also has one of the most memorable very short par-3s anywhere. Its No. 12 hole plays only 125 yards from the tips and as short as 60 yards from the forward markers, but there’s a creek fronting the green, which has three tiers, and a pot bunker catches many errant tee shots as well.

No. 12 on Grandover’s East Course can play as short as 60 yards, but it’s still a devil of a hole.

I consider that hole on par with three other very short par-3s in memorability – the much more famous being No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass and No. 7 at Pebble Beach — and No. 9 at Kingsley Club, a private facility in Michigan.

The records on both courses is 63, and the West has – according to 23-year director of golf Jonathan York – the hardest hole on the property. The West’s No. 7 is that layout’s No. 1 handicap hole. This par-4 has trouble right and left off the tee, a water hazard crossing the fairway and a steeply elevated three-tiered green. In other words, there’s trouble everywhere on this one. It is — by far — the toughest of Grandover’s 36 holes.

The resort, celebrating its 20th year in full operation, was built on 1,500 acres of oak, pine and dogwood-covered hills. The designers filled the courses with bumpy fairways and a wide variety of holes, most all of them with extremely undulating greens. The courses have been used for Web.com Tour events and top collegiate competitions. An NCAA Division I regional and three Division III national championships have been played at Grandover.

The 18th hole on Grandover’s East Course underscores the features that make it a fun course to play.

For leisure travelers these courses are a great deal, as the top greens fee is only $75, there is no competition with members for tee times and the lodging is not only pleasantly upscale but in close proximity to the golf as well.

Grandover has undergone an extensive $10 million renovation of the entire property over the last two years and a little more money is being spent to complete some indoor projects this year.

Joseph Koury, founder of Grandover, passed away in 1998, shortly after the resort opened.

Work began on the exterior of the resort late in 2016 and required six months to complete. In 2017 all 244 guest rooms were remodeled and in 2018 the bars and restaurants received the same attention. All parts of the property were rebranded, the style changing from Old World European to a tribute honoring the rich history of the area. A fire pit lounge overlooking the courses has been added this year.

Grandover still surrenders top billing to Sedgefield around tournament time, which is understandable. Sedgefield has the only Donald Ross-designed course still hosting a regular PGA Tour stop. But Grandover has more holes, all of them open to the public, and is an easy stopover for players heading to either of the golf meccas of Pinehurst or Myrtle Beach.

It’s especially easy for North Carolina residents, thanks to the formation of the Griffin Club. York created the club, named after the resort’s symbolic figure. For $20 members can get reduced greens fees and other year-around benefits when they visit Grandover. Over 2,500 have already signed up.

Here’s some scenes from Grandover Resort’s sporty West Course. It has steeper fairways and tighter driving areas than the East Course, which is a slightly longer layout. We couldn’t pick a favorite.

TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Sea Pines’ best courses will host new Lighthouse Invitational

THE DUNES CLUB was closed for three months last summer for a bunker renovation and drainage project supervised by architect Rees Jones. Jones’ father, Robert Trent Jones Sr., designed the Myrtle Beach, S.C. course. The golf shop was also remodeled and these scenes show The Dunes is as photogenic as ever. The club hosted the Hackler Championship, one of the nation’s premier collegiate events, in March with five teams ranked in the top 25 competing. North Florida won the title.

The Sea Pines Resort welcomes the PGA Tour this week for the RBC Heritage Classic and a big new amateur event will be coming in the fall.

A two-person team competition, the 54-hole Lighthouse Invitational, will have divisions for both men and women amateurs. Dates for the tournament on Hilton Head Island, S.C., are Sept. 12-15. It’ll be a showcase for Sea Pines’ top-ranked courses.

The tourney will have rounds on Harbour Town, Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point. Harbour Town is the long-time home of the PGA Tour’s Heritage event, the latest staging of which tees off on Thursday.

Atlantic Dunes, a Davis Love III design, was last year’s National Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association. Heron Point is a Pete Dye creation. Registration options are $1,299 for a single golfer, $1,849 for a single golfer and non-golfing partner and $2,598 for two golfers.

Tournament participants are required to stay in the resort, and each will receive a preferred rate of $279 per night for lodging at either The Inn & Club at Harbour Town or a two-bedroom deluxe villa.

In addition to the golf, the tournament package includes an opening night reception and dinner at the Harbour Town Clubhouse, a putting contest, daily breakfast and box lunches, unlimited range privileges with available practice rounds, a tee gift package valued at more than $500 and an awards ceremony with vacation prizes to resort destinations.

Two unexpected visitors joined us on our round at the Willbrook Plantation course in Myrtle Beach.

MYRTLE BEACH HEADLINER: One of the nation’s biggest high school tournaments, the Palmetto Championship, will tee off at Caledonia and True Blue – two of Myrtle Beach’s best layouts – this week.

The Palmetto has 29 teams from six states in the 54-hole college-style competition. Registration is Wednesday with a qualifying round on Thursday at True Blue and Friday and Saturday competition at both True Blue and neighboring Caledonaia. Caledonia was recently selected as the region’s best in the biennial list put out by the South Carolinia Golf Course Ratings Panel.

True Blue recently completed an extensive tree removal and trimming project. The course also has a new 7,000 square foot putting green.

MYRTLE BEACH MILESTONES: Both Beachwood and Possum Trot celebrated their 50th anniversaries in 2018 and Meadowlands celebrated its 20th. Meadowlands was also named the Myrtle Beach Golf Course of the Year by the MB Golf Course Owners Association.

The anniversary celebration had mixed reactions at Possum Trot. The course with the catchiest name in Myrtle Beach will close in December.

Willbrook Plantation isn’t one of Myrtle Beach’s most famous courses but we found it delightful.

ANOTHER PINEHURST INNOVATION: Pinehurst has long been a golf trend-setter and this year’s 119th U.S. Amateur underscores that. The North Carolina golf mecca will stage the first U.S. Amateur final played on two courses.

The 36-hole climax to the event will be played on both the resort’s Nos. 2 and 4 courses. The 36-hole stroke play qualifying session will also use both layouts but the first five rounds of matches will be strictly on No. 2.

LARGEST OUTING: The annual World’s Largest Golf Outing has been set for Aug. 5. Registration will open for the event, conceived by Billy Casper Golf chief executive officer Peter Hill, on May 1.

The national fundraiser for military charities has drawn over 6,200 men, women, junior and senior participants since its start in 2011. With courses in 34 states being used, the Outing has raised $4.1 million. Fisher House Foundation will be the selected charity for the fourth straight year.

STRANTZ DESIGN RE-OPENS: Virginia’s Royal New Trent Golf Club has re-opened. The layout, designed by the late Mike Strantz, was purchased by Wingfield Golf Management Services of Greenville, S.C. last year. The facility then underwent a total overhaul of the entire complex.

UNVEILING SET: Braemar, in Edina, Minn., had been a 27-hole facility. It’lt re-open on May 15 as the first 18-hole municipal course built in Minnesota since 2003.

Georgia’s Jekyll Island is a golf destination that has had two lives

Jekyll Island has kept up with the times to remain a golf destination for over 120 years.

JEKYLL ISLAND, Georgia – Georgia is a state rich in golf resorts. It has 24 of them and is also boasts Augusta National, the home of the Masters, and East Lake, the home of the PGA’s Tour Championship. At least 20 PGA Tour pros live on Sea Island.

And yet, the biggest public golf facility in Georgia is a state park. Jekyll Island, with 63 holes now, is a golf destination that has had two distinct lives.

From the late 1800s until 1942 in was a private playground for the rich and famous. In 1948, after a period of decay during World War II, it was opened to the public.

History-wise, Jekyll Island stands tall from what went on there many decades ago. As a retreat for America’s wealthiest — people with last names like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer and Astor either lived or hung out their regularly – Jekyll Island was one of America’s first golf destination.

The Jekyll Island Golf Club was the 36th club to gain a charter with the U.S. Golf Association in 1886, though the members didn’t open a course until 1898. Scotsman Willie Dunn, runner-up in the first U.S. Open in 1895, designed an 18-holer and Horace Rawlins, the man who beat him in 1895 at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, was Jekyll’s first head professional beginning in 1899.

The Walter Travis-designed Great Dunes has provided ocean views for 93 years.

Rawlins won the inaugural U.S. Open with rounds of 91-82, two strokes better than Dunn. The Open, only a one-day affair back then, was played the day after the three-day U.S. Amateur.

Just how long Rawlings hung around Jekyll Island is uncertain, but the second head pro was also a notable player and stayed much longer. Karl Keffer won the Canadian Open in 1909 and 1914. In between those wins (in 1910) Keffer was hired as Jekyll’s second head pro. Only one Canadian golfer, Pat Fletcher in 1954, has won the Canadian Open since Keffer last did it.

Keffler was Jekyll’s head pro until 1942 and during his time on the job the club got serious about golf. The members wanted a better course than the original one and a second course was started in 1910 with legendary Donald Ross the architect. It was built on the grounds of what is now the Oleander course — toughest of Jekyll’s three 18-holers — but Ross doesn’t have his name on it.

Some say Ross was fired during the construction process, which was hampered by drainage problems.

“My understanding,’’ said present director of golf Spencer Brookman, “was that he was hired to build the course and got it started, then he was either terminated or they couldn’t get the course dry enough.’’

Architect Dick Wilson made water a problem on the No. 9 hole at the Pine Lakes course

That course wasn’t open long before the members lured Walter Travis to design another one. Travis’ hiring was a big deal as he was the first three-time U.S. Amateur champion (1900, 1901 and 1903) and the first non-Brit to win the British Amateur in 1904. He was also a prolific writer and course architect, and Great Dunes was one of his last creations. It opened in 1928, a year after his death.

Fourteen years later the wealthy left, many feeling the Island was too vulnerable to enemy air attacks with World War II looming. There were no workers to keep the place afloat anyway, and in 1947 the state of Georgia took it over and named it Jekyll Island State Park. That ended the first phase of Jekyll Island’s life as a golf destination and started the second, which continues to this day.

When Jekyll Island State Park opened to the public for the first time on March 1, 1948, golf was not an option. Neither the Oceanside Course, now Great Dunes, nor the Club Golf Course that Ross designed was playable. Both were overgrown, and it took years to get the sport re-established on the Island.

The Jekyll courses were all walk-able, but the GPS system in the carts was outstanding.

The state turned over what had been Ross’ design to architect Dick Wilson and he created what is now the Oleander course. It opened in 1964. Pine Lakes, the most family-friendly course on the Island, opened in 1968 after a combined design effort by Wilson and Joe Lee. Indian Mound, a Lee creation, was constructed in 1975.

Lee and Wilson would later collaborate on the Dubsdread course at the Cog Hill complex in the Chicago area. That layout would host a major PGA Tour event – first called the Western Open and then the BMW Championship – for 20 straight years (1991-2011).

Great Dunes was reduced to nine holes in 1955 when the Island was undergoing difficult financial times.

“That course has become more and more popular since we redid the greens and re-routed Nos. 1 and 9 toward the ocean,’’ said Brookman. That project was completed last September.

There were lots of unusually-shaped trees at Jekyll — especially this one at Great Dunes.

With all 63 holes up and running the Island became a tourist destination and some of the scenes in the golf-themed movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance,’’ were shot there.

“Oleander is more of a shot-makers course with more doglegs,’’ said Brookman. “It plays a lot longer than it looks. Pine Lakes is a little easier but still hard since it was redone in 2005 (by architect Clyde Johnston).’’

The courses are in the spotlight of amateur golf two weeks every year when – on consecutive weekends – they host a U.S. Kids Regional, which draws 320 youngsters, and the biggest of college tournaments. The Jekyll Island Intercollegiate, hosted by Atlanta’s Ogelthorpe University, brings together 64 men’s and women’s teams from the NCAA Division III ranks.

The three 18-hole courses are player-friendly and reasonably priced. The terrain is relatively flat, so walking is an option for those who want the exercise, and the power carts have a state-of-the-art GPS system. Lodging and dining options on the Island are more than ample.

Once the state purchased the Island there was definitely a push to rebuild,’’ said Brookman. “Now you can park your car, play 54 holes and never have to get back in your car. That sets us apart from other places.’’

Keeping golf from being the focal point at Jekyll Island is the fact that Jekyll offers numerous other attractions. Driftwood Beach is the best non-golf feature and wildlife abounds everywhere. You can also take a fishing tour, paddle in a kayak or bike through the forest. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is an educational diversion, and the Historic District offers a glimpse into the Island’s rich past with its array of mansions. Horton House, oldest of the Island’s landmarks, has been standing since 1743.

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel and eerie Driftwood Beach are both memorable sites away from the golf.

Could Reynolds Lake Oconee be the next Georgia site for a big tournament?

Lake Oconee, spread over 119 acres, impacts most every hole on the Reynolds courses.

GREENSBORO, Georgia – Georgia is already considered a big-time golf destination. How could it not be when the Masters is played annually in Augusta and the PGA’s Tour Championship in Atlanta?

Don’t be surprised if another biggie is coming soon, either. Recent developments at Reynolds Lake Oconee, which is located roughly midway between Atlanta and Augusta, suggest that’s a distinct possibility.

First, consider the recent arrival of Mike Scully as the resort’s general manager. Scully knows all about big golf events. As director of golf at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago for more than a decade he played a lead organizational role in the staging of the 2012 Ryder Cup matches there.

Two weeks after that devastating American loss to the Europeans in that competition Scully was in Arizona starting a job as director of golf at Desert Mountain, a resort with five courses. Desert Mountain was to host the Charles Schwab Cup, a climax to the PGA Tour Champions season, three weeks later.

General manager Mike Scully is no stranger to hosting big golf events.

“As soon as I got there I was in a meeting with our board of directors and they were freaking out about putting four tents behind the 18th green,’’ said Scully. “To me that was like a member-guest at Medinah. We had 87 tents at Medinah for the Ryder Cup, so I told them we could figure it out.’’

Figure it out they did, and Scully stayed on at Desert Mountain for another six years. Earlier this year he moved to Reynolds Lake Oconee where he was entrusted with the broader duties of general manager.

A star football player who was a member of the University of Illinois’ 1984 Rose Bowl team, Scully moved to this beautiful multi-course resort that was already a popular golf destination. It has 3,700 members and a Ritz Carlton Hotel in the middle of the property, and last year there were 140,000 rounds of golf played there

Reynolds Lake Oconee has taken on some ambitious projects since Scully’s arrival. The entire teaching staff was changed at the TaylorMade Kingdom facility. TaylorMade had exclusive rights with Reynolds’ members and guests until its contract expired recently. The facility is still there but Scully opened the pro shop to other equipment companies. That big change was introduced during Masters week when 60 vendors were on the premises.

The biggest change may be yet to come. Jack Nicklaus has been on the property during the renovation of the Reynolds’ championship course, Great Waters. It’ll re-open in the fall, and Nicklaus has already promised the new look will be “spectacular.’’

The Landing is the oldest of the Reynolds courses but it remains challenging for even the best players.

During the renovation the course was opened up to permit more views of the 119-acre Lake Oconee and the course was lengthened to 7,800 yards. That makes it more attractive as a major tournament site.

“Great Waters would be a great for the Charles Schwab Cup, given its field size and hotel requirements, or a women’s event,’’ said Scully, who has found happiness in a hurry in the South.

It’s not like Reynolds Lake Oconee, with its 117 golf holes, hasn’t welcomed championship events before –. but it’s been awhile.

Great Waters hosted the Andersen Consulting World Championship from 1995-97 and just before the Nicklaus renovation it hosted two big American Junior Golf Association events – the Rolex Tournament of Champions in 2016 and the Justin Rose Junior All-Star Invitational in 2017.

Bob Cupp designed two of the Reynolds courses. This hole has a jagged shoreline to the green.

It’ll be a whole new ball game once Great Waters re-opens, and Scully has the background to deal with the biggest of the big events based on where he’s been in the golf world.

“Medinah, on the private side, was the best of the best,’’ he said. “My time in the desert was training time to do this job and get into the GM side. Now this is home. The two things I love here is southern hospitality and that it comes with a strong Midwest feel. I didn’t have that in Arizona. That West Coast vibe just wasn’t me.’’

Even in spring weather the conditioning of all the Reynolds courses was excellent.

Great Waters may be the resort’s championship layout but the others are good, too. Here’s what they’re all about:

THE LANDING – The first course built on Lake Oconee in 1986, it’s a Bob Cupp design. Originally known as Port Armor Golf Club, Reynolds acquired it in 2005 and it’s filled with stunning elevation changes and is a serious challenge for even the most talented players. A top college event, the Linger Longer Invitational, was played there from 2006-2017 and the Georgia Open was contested there in 2006.

THE PRESERVE – Cupp also was the designer of this one, which opened in 1988, and he had PGA Tour regulars Hubert Green and Fuzzy Zoeller available as consultants. It was a smash hit immediately, being named Best New Resort Course of 1988 by Golf Digest magazine.

THE NATIONAL – Architect Tom Fazio unveiled the first of this 27-hole project in 1997 when the Ridge and Bluff nines were ready. The Cove opened in 2000. These nines wind through a forest and feature large, undulating greens.

THE OCONEE: Rees Jones, known as the “Open Doctor’’ for his re-designs of seven U.S. Open venues, five PGA Championship courses and three layouts that have hosted Ryder Cup matches, had this course ready for a 2002 opening. Water comes into play on nine holes, but the feature of this layout is its stunning par-3s. The Oconee’s biggest year was 2007 when the NCAA Mach Play Championship and PGA Cup matches were played there.

THE CREEK CLUB: Jim Engh became Golf Digest’s first Architect of the Year in part for his work on this members-only course. He was brought in in 2007 to create something different from the resort’s other courses and he delivered. Through the use of four sets of tees the Creek Club can be altered by as much as 160 yards from one playing to the next. The back nine is also unusual in that it has three par-3s, three par-4s and three par-5s.

With a Ritz Carlton Hotel on the property, there are many other eye-catching sites at Reynolds Lake Oconee away from the resort’s golf courses. Here are some of them.

Mount Dora’s historic course thrives on its connection to the military

Mount Dora’s proud history is evident when you arrive at the first tee.

MOUNT DORA, Florida – It’s safe to say that few golfers would come to this Central Florida city primarily to play the Mount Dora Golf Club course. Mount Dora has just too many interesting shops, enticing restaurants and other attractions to lure tourists.

The Mount Dora Golf Club, though, is part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail and there’s a story to tell about all 54 courses on its path. Mount Dora has one of the most interesting, not to mention a unique, fun course to play.

After all, what’s not to like about course whose owners describe as “the longest 5,700 yards in Florida.’’

And what’s not to like about golf carts that can provide music throughout a round? The sounds of the sixties mixed in with the golf….what could be more fun than that?

The price is right, too – even in the heart of snowbird season – and there’s a patriotic component as well.

Those who have served or are serving in the U.S. military get a price break beyond the modest $34 greens fee (cart included). Mini American flags are used for all the holes on the putting green and a well-maintained marker near the first tee declares the course “a living memorial to Mount Dora’s military troops that served in World War II and all veterans and members of the Armed Forces since.’’

A VFW hall is located next to the course and tournaments dedicated to the men and women in the Armed Forces and the veterans are held every year.

And, there’s even a bit more to it than that. The course isn’t just a tribute to military members. It was actually physically built by them. There were no well-known course architects involved in this one.

No.17 in the last, longest and most challenging of Mount Dora’s five par-3s.

Mount Dora was already a thriving community during and after World War II. It had lawn bowling, yachting, shuffleboard, swimming and tennis clubs but golfers were left out. In 1944 a group of World War II veterans who had returned from Europe or the South Pacific moved to correct that. They formed a committee and took their problem to the Mount Dora City Council.

The Council leased an 80-acre plot of land, which had foreclosed for back taxes, for use as a golf course. The lease was for 25 years, and the Council also agreed to provide $1,000 to $2,000 each year to help in the maintenance of a course and donated an unused traffic kiosk for use as the first pro shop.

Stock certificates were issued in the amount of $100 and the newly-formed Mount Dora Golf Association quickly had 90 members who voted to build a no-frills nine-holer. There is no architect of record, though some accounts mention one Cliff Deming as the leader of the servicemen who toiled through the construction process. They used a mule and bulldozer to clear land that had been covered with pine trees, and a 3,056-yard course was up and running in roughly a year’s time.

The first scorecard proclaimed it in the “Midst of Central Florida’s Wonderland of Lakes and Hills.’’ In its first years the course was frequently referred to as the Hilltop Golf Club.

This is the only water on the Mount Dora course — at No. 12, the signature hole.

The first ball was hit on Dec. 15, 1946, and it wasn’t Deming who took the first swing. That honor went to William Wadsworth, who was the lead donor for the construction of the course. He provided $50,000 for the project and was a long-time president of the Mount Dora Golf Club prior to his death in 1959.

A second nine was added in 1959 with Harold Paddock listed as the architect, and that same year the Mount Dora Women’s Golf Association was formed. In the course of the 1960s the club put in new greens, an irrigation and sprinkler system, a cart shed and maintenance building and a clubhouse. All that building culminated with the signing of a 75-year lease in 1968.

The clubhouse was expanded to its present size in 1985 but the club operated without a general manager until Doug Passen was hired in 1990. While 200 trees were planted in a busy 1978 season, almost all were lost when three hurricanes (Charlie, Francis and Jean) hit the course in 2004.

Through it all the Mount Dora Golf Club survived. Its small greens and tight fairways made for a fun round, and those back-to-back par-5s (Nos. 5 and 6) were found to be serious challenges. One plays uphill, the other downhill and the elevation changes are steep ones. There aren’t many public courses with holes like those two in Florida., but then there aren’t many with rich history that Mount Dora has either.

Mount Dora’s clubhouse has become a landmark on South Highland Street.

Thomas Edison, Henry Ford were connected to this Florida course

The walls in the clubhouse at Fort Myers Country Club are filled with historic photos

FORT MYERS, Florida — Every state should have a golf trail like the one Florida has. The Florida Historic Golf Trail represents a most serious attempt to chronicle the state’s rich history in the sport, and the Trail lists 56 courses that have been open to the public for at least 50 years.

They’re all worth visiting if you want a glimpse into what Florida used to be, but there’s one that offers by far the most tantalizing historical perspective. Fort Myers Country Club dates back to 1917 and its early members included three American icons.

Famed inventor Thomas Edison, auto magnate Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, founder of one of the first companies to manufacture automobile tires, were friends and neighbors who had winter homes a mile from what was then called the Fort Myers Golf & Yacht Club. It’s hard to imagine any golf club in that era having such a high-profile membership.

Edison definitely had a role in the course’s creation of a golf course. Its restaurant/lounge is named after him and his pictures dominate the walls inside. One has him pictured there with Ford.

“But,’’ said director of golf Rich Lamb, who has worked at the club for 43 years, “Thomas Edison was never much of a golfer and neither were Henry Ford or Harvey Firestone.’’

Their concurrent connection to the club, however, invites digging by golf historians. Add to the mix the role of legendary architect Donald Ross and you have an intertwining of the giants of both golf and industry from a century ago.

Friends Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were winter neighbors in Fort Myers.

Edison used Fort Myers as a winter vacation retreat from 1885 until his death in 1931. He was member of the board of directors when the club was known as the Fort Myers Golf & Yacht Club. He likely recommended Ross as the designer when the club decided to add a golf course.

“Tom was a persuader,’’ said Lamb. “He probably said they should get Donald Ross, and the old geezer was probably right.’’

Ross is the original architect of record and newspaper accounts have him meeting with 15-member board members on Dec. 8, 1916, and advising them that they had an ideal site to build a golf course. Ground-breaking came 10 days later and the course opened on Dec. 29, 1917. Ten years later the city of Fort Myers took over the operation of the club and has operated as a golf facility ever since.

Whether Ross ever set foot on the property after it became a golf course is somewhat in doubt. His presence on site couldn’t be confirmed in the most comprehensive book “Discovering Donald Ross’’ by golf architectural expert Bradley S. Klein. Klein, in a detailed listing of Rose designs, reported that Fort Myers Country Club didn’t open in 1928. That opening was also listed in a similar comprehensive work, “Golf, As It Was Meant To Be Played,’’ by Michael J. Fay. How both respected authors came up with the ’28 opening date is uncertain, but Lamb has no doubts about Ross’ on-site involvement with the course.

What likely happened was that Ross did a preliminary drawing of the 100-acre palm tree-filled property and Lamb suggests he made a few other visits during the construction period.

Ross.was in his final days working solo when the Fort Myers course was in the planning stages. James B. McGovern, who had just begun a long-time run as a Ross “associate,’’ was listed in newspaper accounts as having “supervised’’ the project and A.L. White, acting secretary of the Fort Myers Golf & Yacht Club, was also reportedly involved in the six-month construction process.

Lamb likens the creative process 102 years ago to what is common practice today, when major course designers work on several projects at a time and leave daily details to on-site staffers.

“Donald Ross did about 39 courses just in Florida,’’ said Lamb. “He was a big-time architect and I’m sure he had a big old staff.’’

McGovern maintained a low profile throughout his long career with Ross, and both were among the 13 charter members of the America Society of Golf Course Architects when it was created in 1947.

Edison and Ford reportedly enjoyed the course as players in the 1920s and Edison’s second wife, Mina, got her start in golf there. She made her debut with a whiff off the first tee in January of 1930 and shot 99 for her first nine holes. Mina, who was 19 years younger than Edison, got hooked on the game and immediately ordered a new set of clubs. She apparently didn’t use them much playing with her husband, who was then 83 years old and told reporters that golf was “too much work.’’

Edison, whose first wife Mary passed on two years before his marriage to Mina, died the following year and one published report had Mina deeding the property to the city of Fort Myers in her husband’s memory 16 years later. Lamb, though, said that Edison never had ownership in the club.

The course, which had been built for $60,000 with Bahia grass fairways and common Bermuda greens, remains popular with area players and the Edison and Ford estates nearby became museums and are tourist attractions.

In 1914, three years before the course’s centennial, architect Steve Smyers was brought in to oversee a $5.8 million renovation – the only major re-do in the club’s history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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