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Len Ziehm On Golf

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.

TRAVEL NOTEOOK: Planned move to Texas doesn’t mean that PGA is leaving Florida

Florida’s PGA Golf Club will remain the winter home of the PGA of America’s 29,000 members.


Earlier this month the PGA of America announced that it will be moving its headquarters from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, to Frisco, Texas. That’s a huge deal, since the projected new headquarters is a half-billion dollar project that will include 45 golf holes, a 500-room Omni resort and a 127,000-square foot conference center among other things.

While that may well be the biggest news splash of 2018 for golfers wanting to travel, there’s more to the announcement than that.

The PGA has deep roots in Florida, and that won’t change. Palm Beach Gardens has been the PGA’s base for more than 50 years. The PGA has operated out of a two-building complex adjacent to the PGA National Resort — annual site of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic — since 1981.

Jimmy Terry still oversees the operation of PGA Golf Club but his duties have been greatly expanded.


While the PGA does not own PGA National it does own and operate PGA Golf Club, a three-course resort located about 40 miles to the north in Port St. Lucie. The PGA will continue to operate it regardless of what goes on in Texas, so the Sunshine State won’t be losing much as far as remaining a golf destination is concerned.

The bottom line is that the PGA isn’t completely leaving Florida – not by a long shot. Construction hasn’t even started in Frisco, and the actual move to Texas won’t come until the fall of 2021 at the earliest.

Even after the construction in Texas is finished the PGA plans to keep about 100 of its 220 employees in Florida working in a refurbished facility built where the current headquarters stands. Those who will move to Texas won’t do so until June of 2022.

The Frisco project aside, Florida will retain its prominence in golf with the PGA Tour still based in Ponte Vedra, the LPGA Tour in Daytona Beach and the huge PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. There already has been a major personnel change within the PGA of America hierarchy related to the move to Texas, however.

Jimmy Terry, general manager of the PGA Golf Club the last five years, is taking on an expanded role as Senior Director of PGA Golf Properties. He’ll now oversee three golf facilities instead of just one.

Terry will play a significant role in guiding the development of the Texas facility and also steer the operation at Valhalla, the PGA’s flagship private facility in Kentucky that has hosted six major championships since its opening in 1986 and is slated to host the PGA Championship in 2024.

Jeremy Wiernasz, who has assumed general manager duties at PGA Golf Club, will report to Terry. Wiernasz will also retain the director of golf duties he has handled at PGA Golf Club since 2013.

TPC Myrtle Beach is one of that area’s best courses and a home course for PGA Tour star Dustin Johnson. He’ll host the Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship there on March 1-3.

CHARLIE RYMER: THE VOICE OF MYRTLE BEACH

Ex-Golf Channel mainstay Charlie Rymer is boosting Myrtle Beach.

Charlie Rymer, a fixture on The Golf Channel for the past 11 years, has joined the Golf Tourism Solutions team in a multi-media partnership that will spotlight the Myrtle Beach golf scene. Golf Tourism Solutions is a company that has the assets of a media outlet, including one of the game’s largest email databases, a print magazine and more than 200,000 social media followers.

Myrtle Beach has long been on the cutting edge of destination marketing, and Rymer – a South Carolina Golf Hall of Fame inductee – will play a lead role in that continuing effort.

“I feel like I’m coming home,’’ said Rymer. “At this point in my golf career I want to do things I’m passionate about, and Myrtle Beach is a great fit. Myrtle Beach wants to open the game up to as many people as possible, and that’s what motivates me.’’

MORE TIDBITS FROM FLORIDA

Kissimmee Bay Country Club, a Lloyd Clifton design that opened in the Orlando area 28 years ago, has re-opened after a complete renovation of the greens complexes. The facility had been closed for three months.

PGA Tour Champions will again open its season at Broken Sound, in Boca Raton, with its first full-field event from Feb. 4-10 but the tourney will have a new title sponsor. It’ll be called the Oasis Championship thanks to new sponsorship from Oasis Outsourcing, the nation’s largest privately-held professional employer organization.

A judge has ordered the Ocean Links Course at Omni Amelia Island Resort to be restored. Resort operators had begun bulldozing the course, which has five ocean views, in an effort to convert it into a park.

ClubLife Management, sponsored by ClubCorp, has taken over the management of Boca Lago Country Club in Boca Raton. The 27-hole private facility is undergoing a $3.6 million renovation of its clubhouse and that follows a just-completed renovation of the course by Jan Bel Jan Golf Course Design and superintendent George Redshaw.

HERE AND THERE

Pinehurst’s Dormie Club now has some partner clubs.

The Nebraska-based Dormie Network has added a fifth club to its portfolio. Victoria National, the Indiana course that has hosted the Web.com Tour, joined a group that includes Dormie Club, in Pinehurst, N.C.; Briggs Ranch, in San Antonio, TX; Arbor Links, in Nebraska City, Neb.; and Ballyhawk, in Roanoke, Va.

Smart Golf & Fitness has broken ground on a new indoor facility in Chicago’s Lincoln Park area. The two-level 11,000 square foot facility is expected to open in early 2019.

Architect Todd Eckenrode has announced the opening of Twin Dolphin in Los Cabos, Mexico. The layout is the first Fred Couples Signature Course in that area.

Sanctuary Cap Cana has re-opened in the Dominican Republic following a renovation. It’s located near the Corales Puntacana Resort, which hosts a PGA Tour stop from March 28-31.

CourseCo, a golf course management company with properties in California, Oregon, Washington and Texas, has been selected to receive the President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America board of directors.

The Dormie Club Network has a unique look at its namesake course in Pinehurst, N.C.

Jan Stephenson’s new golf course provides a boost for veterans, first responders

Jan Stephenson has taken a hands-on approach to reviving her Tarpon Woods course.


PALM HARBOR, Florida – Jan Stephenson is about to go into the World Golf Hall of Fame. That’s not surprising given that she won 16 LPGA tournaments including three majors, among them the 1982 LPGA Championship and 1983 U.S. Women’s Open. She also has 41 world-wide wins including 10 titles on the LPGA’s Legends circuit. That’s a lot of wins – but there’s more.

She’s also involved in tons of outside projects, more – in fact – than virtually every other touring pro, man or woman. And, one of those projects is particularly special. On April 1, 2017, Stephenson – through her Crossroads Foundation – bought a golf course.

It’s not all that surprising for a touring golf professional of Stephenson’s stature to own – or at least partly own – a course somewhere. Again, though, Stephenson’s course is particularly special. She bought it to help others. That’s why it is officially owned by Stephenson’s foundation.

Diane and Michael Vandiver and service dog Eddie are all part of Jan Stephenson’s Crossroads Foundation team in her newest golf venture, the Tarpon Woods Golf Club.


“We wanted to make it a veterans’ golf facility,’’ said Michael Vandiver, executive vice president of the foundation. “We didn’t acquire it for personal gain. We wanted a facility to accommodate veterans and first responders.’’

Many of Stephenson’s golf memorabilia items have been used to decorate the clubhouse but there’s much more to her involvement than that.

Though her purchase of Tarpon Woods Golf Club was no secret, Stephenson has doubts that even her fellow members of the LPGA Legends Tour realize just what the purchase meant.

“I’ve always had a charity,’’ said Stephenson. “I had a junior program before this, but now juniors are well taken care of. There’s lots of programs for them. I had been an ambassador for the disabled and the blind and this is for the veterans. “I would like to teach them all about golf and to even help them to have a career. This place became available, and we could devote it all to them.’’

Improvements to the outdoor garden dining area are part of the Tarpon Woods’ upgrades.


Tarpon Woods was built as a high-end private club in 1971 with Lane Marshall the course designer. In the 1990s it was called the Lost Oaks of Innisbrook and owned by the flourishing upscale Innisbrook Resort about eight miles away.

Over the years it was particularly popular when the New York Yankees held their spring training nearby. The Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, particularly liked to play the course. It remains a par-72 that measures 6,613 yards from the back tees but lots of things changed, and not for the better, as Tarpon Woods was converted to a public venue under different owners.

The club was certainly no hot spot when Stephenson’s foundation took it over.

“It was a sand pit. It had no grass,’’ recalled Stephenson. “No one was playing it, and it was losing a lot of money. Its reputation was bad. The maintenance irrigation system didn’t work and the clubhouse had only two lights that worked.’’

Then things got worse. Hurricane Irma hit, and that slowed down the restoration efforts. Those were being done by with a hands-on approach that even included Stephenson coming over to trim hedges and pull weeds. Her brother Greg, who is a first responder, spent a few months painting the clubhouse.

It’s out with the old and in with the new on Tarpon Woods’ ongoing bunker renovation.


Vandiver, who is also president of club manufacturer Razor Golf, and his wife Diane are also deeply involved in the day-to-day operations. Stephenson is also part owner of Razor Golf and Vandiver also works with Jan Stephenson Events – a side business that puts on concerts and other entertainment events.

Tarpon Woods is another of their joint ventures, and it’s been a rewarding one as public play is picking up and thousands of veterans have already benefitted from visiting there.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but people have thanked us for what we’ve done already,’’ said Stephenson. “We’ll probably get 1,400 rounds a week in the winter. A lot of people wouldn’t have played here, but now they’ve seen it’s in pretty good shape and it’s a value ($46 per round in peak season). ‘’

The club has all brand new golf carts, and veterans and first responders get 20 percent off on greens fees as well as discounts in the restaurant and well-stocked pro shop.

Stephenson has organized monthly clinics for the disabled and about 50 – ranging in age from 14 to 80 – turned out for a clinic designed for blind golfers. She has also hosted a fund-raiser – the Jan Stephenson Invitational Pro-Am – that included Robert Gamez and Cindy Figg-Currier, a couple of former tour players.

Vandiver is tackling a bunker renovation in an innovative way. He’s trying to raise $90,000 via corporate and individual donations. He says one bunker can be renovated at a cost of $2,360 but he’d like to find 18 corporations willing to donate $5,000 for the project. The bunker renovation isn’t just for a cosmetic improvement. The bunkers need to be re-designed to accommodate the disabled golfers.

The Australia-born Stephenson, who has lived in nearby New Port Richey the last seven years and obtained her U.S. citizenship the same month she acquired the course, has another goal for Tarpon Woods. She wants a building to be built specifically for teaching golf to the veterans.

Innisbrook re-opens its South Course, completes its four-course greens renovation

Innisbrook leaders (from left) Dawn Mercer, the director of instruction; managing director Mike Williams and director of golf Bobby Barnes hit the ceremonial first tee shots together to re-open the South Course.


PALM HARBOR, Florida – The golf resort business is highly competitive in Florida, and the managing director of one of the best thinks there may soon be a changing of the guard.

Mike Williams, managing director of Innisbrook Resort, presided over the re-opening of his South Course last week and took an aggressive stance after outlining all the work that has or is being done there.

“This is a great day for Innisbrook,’’ Williams said. “Innisbrook will be – is – the premier golf resort in the Southeast. Our competitive set is PGA National, Streamsong, Doral, TPC Sawgrass. We now have the guest accommodations that not only rival what they have but far surpass their offerings.’’

Those are strong words, but Williams may have a case with the snowbirds starting to return to the Sunshine State.

Innisbrook has four courses – Copperhead, Island, North and South – all designed by Larry Packard who lived on the property until his passing at age 101 in 2014. Copperhead has hosted a PGA Tour event for 29 straight years and the Valspar Championship returns there in March.

The Island course hosted NCAA championships that were won by Phil Mickelson and Lee Janzen and the LPGA, Symetra and Legends tours have all had events on Innisbrook courses at one time or another. The U.S. Golf Association has also held U.S. Open qualifiers there.

Now, though, the resort’s focus is on the recreational visitors. After a six-month long renovation of the South layout, Innisbrook has all four courses with the same TifEagle Bermuda grass on its greens. That’s a big deal as far as the resort is concerned.

“We had a perfect summer for growing grass, and it’s so important to have all four courses with the same putting surface for the people who come down from all over,’’ said Williams. “They don’t want to go from course to course and have a different putting experience. Every year the pros rave about the greens that we have here and how consistent they are.’’

Now the South Course has greens like the other three courses at Innisbrook Resort.


The North Course, dubbed Little Copperhead, got those new greens in 2017. The South was the last to get them.

“We’ve expanded the greens to the original Larry Packard size and we also replaced the grass on three practice greens,’’ said Bobby Barnes, Innisbrook’s director of golf. “That’s extremely beneficial to us because it allows for more foot traffic and helps the greens stay healthier longer. We couldn’t be more excited about that. What we did this summer will pay dividends for years to come.’’

In addition to the greens’ renovation the Innisbrook crew also improved the condition of the bunkers, cleared all storm canals, trimmed trees in the fairways and re-sodded in some areas.

“The South is our newest, and most user-friendly course, and probably my favorite golf course to play,’’ said Barnes. It’s now up to the standards of the other three.

More work is being done, too. The remodeling of all 400 rooms at the resort started in September and is expected to be completed in early 2019. When that work is done it’ll mark the first time in 20 years that Innisbrook could do all the upgrading at one time. In previous upgrades the work was done in phases. The work done is all leading up to the course’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2020.

Innisbrook isn’t the only golf resort in the Salamander portfolio to make a major upgrade. The Jack Nicklaus course at Reunion Resort in Orlando now has a new 12,000 square foot clubhouse. It features an upscale sports bar, named Traditions, and features lots of Nicklaus memorabilia.

Bunkers, especially these on the seventh hole, were a major challenge on the South Course.

Golf shared the spotlight at this Mississippi resort with Capone and Elvis

No, that’s not the real Elvis, but the king’s memory lives on in his tribute suite at Gulf Hills Resort.

OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi – Not all the golf destinations that we visit are just about golf. Gulf Hills Resort is a prime example.

Knowing our interest in history as well as golf, one of our tour guides suggested we hit this 91-year old resort on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that was founded as a golfing hot spot in the late 1920s. We found it much more than that.

We came from having never heard of the place to learning that it was initially a hideout for gangster Al Capone and later a retreat for prominent entertainers like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Fats Domino, Judy Garland and Gypsy Rose Lee.

Presley, especially, has left an impact here. There’s a classy tribute to him in the Gulf Hills Hotel’s “Love Me Tender, Love Me Suites’’ that are almost always rented out even when the golf course and rest of the resort is quiet. We’ll be getting into that later and, rest assured, Elvis hasn’t completely left this building

Only the Gulf Hills swimming pool and golf course remained after a 1971 fire. The present hotel was constructed using the same frame structure of the original building.


For us, though, there had to be a golf component to Gulf Hills Resort, and there is. It also helped that there were some prominent Chicago people involved over the course of its colorful history.

Branigar Brothers, Chicago-based developers, began work on the resort in 1925. As initial owners they envisioned “an upscale winter resort with one of the most beautiful golf courses in the Southeast, a yacht basin, riding stables, clubhouse and a handful of homes built close to the water.’’

The Branigars delivered on that, and their offspring would later carry on, as Branigar Organization, in the creation of Illinois golf resorts Eagle Ridge, in Galena, and Indian Lakes, in Bloomingdale.

Just the Branigars weren’t enough to fulfill the creation of Gulf Hills, however. According to local historians the resort’s hotel was financed by laundered money from Capone and Chicago mob figures.

It’s undergoing maintenance work in this photo, but Golf Digest magazine once called Gulf Hill’s signature hole — the par-3 17th — one of the five most beautiful and challenging holes in the Southeast.


The golf course was designed by Jack Daray, who was then in the midst of a six-year stint as head professional at Olympia Fields Country Club – the tournament-tested multi-course private club in Chicago’s south suburbs. Daray, like several other club professionals in that era, spent winters teaching in Mississippi. Daray’s winter base was at nearby Biloxi Country Club.

Daray’s design at Gulf Hills was immediately well received, and the No. 17 hole – an uphill par-3 – was quickly cited by Golf Digest as “one of the five most beautiful and challenging holes in the entire Southeast Region.’’

One of the first American golf professionals to get involved in course architecture, Daray also designed three Chicago area courses – two 18-holers at White Pines in Bensenville and another at Coyote Run in Flossmoor.

Colorful signage and tee markers make for a pleasant atmosphere for Gulf Hills golfers.


Root & Hollister, also a Chicago connection, did the building of the 1,300-acres course at Gulf Hills using 170 men, 20 mule teams, road graders, tractors and a 30-ton dredge. It was completed in less than two years. Even with that course just completed there was already plans for a second 18-holer to be built at the resort. Those plans never materialized, however.

The first event played on the Daray course was on Christmas Day, 1926, when Walter Hagen – then in the midst of his five-year run as winner of the PGA Championship – joined three club pros in an exhibition match. Tragically, it was also on a Christmas Day, in 1971, that a fire destroyed most of the place. Basically all that was left was the swimming pool, golf course and structural frame of what had been the hotel. The rebuilding process has been slow and ongoing.

Golf was at the forefront of activities at Gulf Hills in its early years and visitors from the Chicago were commonplace while the resort underwent numerous ownership changes. In 1949 it was transformed into a Dude Ranch, and that’s when the celebrities started pouring in.

The wall at Ocean Spring’s Cultural Center calls attention to the many of celebrity visitors to Gulf Hills. You’ll need to double click on the page to read the captions.


Presley made Gulf Hills his summer home from 1951-57 when he was building his career with appearances on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. During that time he was a regular on the piano at the resort’s Pink Pony Lounge. Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America of 1959, and her actor-husband Gary Collins had their honeymoon at Gulf Hills. Jayne Mansfield was on her way to the resort when she was killed in a horrid traffic accident in 1967. The apparent heir to Monroe as America’s sex symbol, Mansfield was only 34 years old.

Even during the Dude Ranch days golf was more than a basic amenity at Gulf Hills. The resort’s professional staff included Johnny Pott, a mainstay on the PGA Tour, and Mary Mills, an LPGA regular. John Revolta, a PGA champion in his days as Evanston Golf Club’s head professional, also did some winter teaching at Gulf Hills.

Fast forward to today, Gulf Hills isn’t nearly as busy a place as it was in its heyday but we found it a pleasant place to hang out. Other than the re-routing of several holes and the installation of cart paths, the golf course is much the way Daray designed it.

What Gulf Hills is best known for now, however, is the Love Me Tender, Love Me Suites. Though Presley’s connection with Gulf Hills was well known, Donna Brown wasn’t enthusiastic about reviving those memories when she was named general manager in 2000. A local family, which wishes to remain anonymous, had purchased the fading hotel and golf course and begun efforts to revive it.

“Six months after I took the job I had to call them and tell them I made a mistake,’’ recalled Brown. She had received too many inquiries from hotel guests of the past who had fond memories of the Dude Ranch days.

From the beds to the memorabilia Gulf Hill’s four-room Elvis Presley tribute suite is something special.


A decision was made to create “a tribute, something we thought he (Presley) would like,’’ said Brown. This four-bedroom suite was not to be anything like Graceland, Presley’s home in Memphis. It’s become an ongoing project with authentic antique pieces and furniture brought in to capture the life and times in Presley’s heyday.

Presley’s attachment to Gulf Hills wasn’t taken lightly. Though he didn’t make use of the golf course, Presley learned horseback-riding and water-skiing while staying at Gulf Hills and also met his first girlfriend, Biloxi resident June Juanico, there. They were engaged for four years before she broke off the relationship, and they remained friends and until his death in 1977.

The tribute suite project was briefly derailed when Hurricane Katrina decimated the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005 but the suite is in constant demand now. It goes for $1,000 a night, though Brown has accepted less if something else is booked in connection with its use. That’s taken the form of wedding receptions, corporate board retreats, golf groups and business-after-hours events.

Here’s how the guests at the Love Me Tender, Love Me Suites do their dining these days.