Golf travel has changed, but it’s still fun — especially in the Pinehurst area

The massive double green, serving Mid South’s Nos. 9 and 18 holes, is great for spectators.

SOUTHERN PINES, North Carolina – Traveling to golf destinations has had a big impact on our lifestyle for 10 years. Make no mistake, though. The pandemic affected us big-time, just as it has everyone else.

For eight months we didn’t leave Florida, our home for nearly four years now. We didn’t forget how nice it was to drive around the country in search of golf destinations, however, and that urge sent us on our way to the Carolinas in mid-June. We are among the very first to report on the golf travel beat because we were more than mildly curious about how things had changed.

When we began our 11th year of road trips we targeted familiar destinations. Our journeys in the past had ranged from a couple days to over a month, all of them made by car. This first one of 2020 lasted only nine days. We made the decision to shorten it a few days while already on the road because a couple of our planned destinations reported that not all of their courses were ready for play.

Still, we found that golf vacations are very much doable in the Carolinas – just as they were when the pandemic impact hit full-force on March 12 and shut down the PGA Tour. The destinations that we visited never shut down their courses, but they all suffered from the lack of overnight guests.

We enjoyed eight straight days of golf – three courses in Santee, one in Camden and one in Cheraw in South Carolina and three more in the Pinehurst area of North Carolina. The golf offered at these places was almost like it was pre-pandemic. There was no one-player-per-cart policy and driving ranges and putting greens were in full operation. Tee times were standard and plenty of players took advantage of that.

Pot bunkers were part of the recent renovation that created a new look on what is now The New Course at Talamore.

Sponge or styrofoam donuts were in most all the cups to keep players from reaching into the holes. Most courses still kept rakes out of the bunkers, but one dispensed with that policy and had three in most of its bunkers. While flagsticks were to remain in the holes, one foursome that played in front of us had a money game going and pulled the pin on every hole. That wasn’t smart and slowed down play, but the ranger on duty didn’t protest.

In short, everyone was having a good time – at least on the golf courses where social distancing was no problem.

Off the courses it wasn’t quite the same. Lodging was just starting to pick up and the dining establishments weren’t nearly as busy as they had been in those good old days four months ago. On the way home we were stopped by state police at the Georgia-Florida line and asked where we had been. In our case, at least, that was good enough for them to cheerfully send us on our way.

Our goal on this trip was to portray what golf travel is like in this “new normal’’ period, and we didn’t find it bad at all. We suspect more people will be heading to smaller communities, seeing them as a better alternative to big cities health-wise. We’re seeing more golfers walking on their rounds, and that’s a good thing.

Pine Needles’ No.13 is a downhill par-3 that plays 208 yards from the tips to an undulating green.

The key to having a successful, fun golf trip is in the planning. Lodging can’t be made spur-of-the-moment. Even the bigger hotel chains aren’t operating at full capacity. Buffet lines for breakfast were not allowed. Each diner was served by hotel personnel. Restaurants were available in all locations, but not all were open. Virtually everyone was diligent about sanitizing everything, from the menus in the restaurants to the luggage racks in the hotels.

Strangely, it seemed, clubhouses at the courses were not catering to diners. They mainly provided just beverage service.

As for the overall experience, we saved the best for last. It shouldn’t surprise any traveling golfer that the Pinehurst area was clearly the most prepared for these troubling times. We played lots of courses that were aerating their greens at the start of the trip, but that wasn’t the case at either Talamore Golf Resort or Pine Needles – long-time Pinehurst area favorites.

The two Talamore courses had undergone renovations since our last visit. The original Rees Jones-designed Talamore, which opened in 1991 and drew nationwide attention for have llama caddies, is now called The New Course at Talamore. The llamas are still there – at least we saw two of them headquartered near the No. 14 tee. A good photo op, even though llamas have no duties on the course anymore.

Construction on the Mid South Club, the other course at the Talamore Resort, started in 1988 but the course didn’t open until 1993. An Arnold Palmer design, it was acquired by Talamore in 2004.

Mid South also had its greens converted from bentgrass to champion bermuda. The spectacular double green for holes 9 and 18 is still the biggest eye-catcher on the property but clearly the work done on both layouts as well as in the accompanying villas represent a major upgrade.

The concluding round on our trip was at Pine Needles. It’s always a treat to play there.

Pine Needles is the first course to be awarded four U.S. Women’s Opens by the U.S. Golf Association. The fourth U.S. Women’s Open will be played at Pine Needles in 2022. Previous ones were in 1996, 2001 and 2007.

A covered driving range is a unique feature at Pine Needles, which will host a record fourth U.S. Women’s Open in 2022.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.TalamoreGolfResort.com, PineNeedlesLodge.com, HomeofGolf.com.

This history-rich town has a Donald Ross golf course — and much, much more

This isn’t famed Pinehurst No. 2. Instead it’s from another Donald Ross course — his only 18-hole design in South Carolina.

CAMDEN, S.C. – Camden, a town of about 7,000 residents, has a Donald Ross-designed golf course. That made it fair game for us on our first travel writing trip of 2020. There’s much more to Camden than that, however.

Camden, a beautiful little town, is less than an hour’s drive from the state capital of Columbia. South Carolina’s oldest inland town, it’s also the home of the National Steeplechase Museum which consists of 160 stalls and several tracks for both training and racing purposes on its 600 acres. Horse aficionados are well aware of Camden. It hosted the Carolina Cup beginning in 1932, and this year’s pandemic forced its cancelation for the first time in 85 years.

The community of Camden dates back to 1732 and was the site of the 1780 Battle of Camden, a critical part of the Revolutionary War. Now Camden has a 104-acre museum and park celebrating the town’s colonial American history.

Camden also has its extraordinary Antique Street, and the Camden Archives and Museum boasts “the best gun collection in the South.’’ In addition Camden was the home of Larry Doby, the first African American player in baseball’s American League and it has the best Mexican restaurant we’ve ever visited, called Salud. The nearby Sam Kendall’s is quite good, as well.

We were set up at an elegant bed and breakfast, called Four Oaks Inn. We also tested a tasty lunch place, Everyday Gourmet.

These railroad tracks designate out of bounds on two holes at Camden Country Club.

Oh, but did I mention that Camden also has a Donald Ross golf course? That’s what brought us here in the first place, though it’s hardly the town’s main attraction.

Camden Country Club is a private facility but with a community feel to it. Golfers who want to play there can set up a round with help from your local head professional. Matt McCarley holds that title at Camden. A former Camden assistant professional, Clayton Daniels, owns Everyday Gourmet. He was also our most affable playing partner and golf historian during our stay in Camden.

The legendary Ross has his name on many courses, and he wasn’t the first to create a golf course on the land that houses Camden Country Club. Another American golf pioneer, Walter Travis, did that in 1903 – four years after the club was awarded its charter.

At that time the course was part of the Kirkwood Inn Resort. It’s long gone, as it became the Camden Country Club after Ross arrived in the 1920s. He put in the putting surfaces that remain the trademark of layout – the only 18-hole Donald Ross course in South Carolina. (The other three Ross designs are nine-holers).

The club lost its clubhouse when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989 and the Ross design underwent only one significant updating of the course came under the direction of North Carolina architect Kris Spence in 2011. Camden CC played close to 30,000 rounds during its heyday in the 1990s. Now it’s a bit less than that, but the club still has nearly 400 members – not bad for a town of that size.

Camden’s course measures 6,669 yards from the back tees and 4,552 from the front. It’s a par-70 and has been the home of the Carolinas Golf Association Men’s Four-Ball Championship for more than 50 years.

Danny Allen was Camden’s superintendent for 38 years until his recent retirement. He groomed a course that has five sets of tees, and they all make for a pleasant walking course experience.

There’s also a couple other things you should know about Camden CC. A railroad track runs through it, and serves as an out of bounds marker on two of the back nine holes but especially at the par-4 fourteenth. At 498 yards from the back tees it’s the toughest hole on the course.

No. 5 was also made famous by a quote from the legendary Gene Sarazen, one of the many greats of the game who visited the course decades ago. The fifth measures just 320 yards from the tips and is a par-4, but Sarazen described as “the shortest par-5 that I’ve ever played.’’ That’s because of the devilish small green that Ross designed. If you miss the pin just a hair to the left this short par-4 becomes par-5 only if you’re lucky enough to hit a great bunker shot or make a long putt.

I know what Sarazen was talking about. I couldn’t do it either.

Camden, S.C., may be a small town but it’s big on historical significance.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Camden Country Club, camdencountryclub.com; National Steeplechase Museum, www.nationalsteeplechasemuseum.org; Four Oaks Inn, www.fouroaksinn.com; and for general information, www.historiccamden.org; www.OldeEnglishDistrict.com, www.CityofCamden.org.

Cheraw State Park’s golf course is a true hidden gem

No. 13 is one tough par-4, a dogleg left with a green well protected by water.

I must admit that I was surprised to see the Cheraw State Park Golf Course included on the itinerary when trip planner Martin Armes lined our first golf/travel writing journey of 2020. Though we have been making such driving trips several times a year over the last 10 years we had never heard of the town of Cheraw, S.C., much less its golf course.

Though never reluctant to check out hidden gems, this one wasn’t really close to any of the other destinations on our itinerary. After visiting this South Carolina layout, however, I must admit that Martin was right. Cheraw is a great track.

In fact, since the calendar turned to 2020 we have played 20 courses and Cheraw is clearly the best of those. (That may change over the next three days when we have rounds on courses in the Pinehurst. N.C, area). None of the immediately upcoming courses are at the iconic Pinehurst Resort, but the Pinehurst area is loaded with good golf options.

As for Cheraw State Park Golf Course, it opened in 1992 and gets heavy play from Canadian golfers who like to rent cabins on the park grounds. Its superintendent, Chris Flowers, is considered top notch and the course was in the best condition of any we’ve seen so far in 2020. Its big clubhouse is also impressive.

Tom Jackson, a course architect based in Greenville, S.C., was the designer and his best hole was No. 13 – a sharp dogleg left par-4 that plays 492 yards from the back tees. The green is protected by water in front, to the left, behind the green and most of the right side. There are other challenging holes at Cheraw, but this one clearly merits its designation as the No. 1 handicap hole.

Jackson worked for both Robert Trent Jones Sr. and George Cobb before starting his own architectural firm in 1971. He’s built over 100 courses, nearly half of them in the Carolinas.

One interesting side note: Cheraw was the first course we’ve played this season that had rakes available in all the bunkers. They had been banned on most restriction lists mandated by the pandemic.

Cheraw measures 6,928 yards from the back tees and can play as short as 5,408. For more information check out www.playcheraw.com.

Cheraw State Park has a clubhouse that’s bigger and better than most public facilities.

This South Carolina town may be small, but its golf is big time

Palmetto Traverse isn’t a putting course — it’s a putting experience that all can enjoy.

SANTEE, S.C. – Less than 1,000 people live in Santee – a little town between Charleston and Columbia – but the South Carolina community has three quality golf courses within a few miles of each other, plenty of lodging and an ample supply of restaurants highlighted by the iconic Clark’s Restaurant and Inn, a fixture since 1946.

Santee mayor Donnie Hilliard likes to say “We have less than 1,000 here during the day, but potentially 20,000 on the weekends.’’ They come in big numbers for the golf, and more were starting to trickle in after Palmetto Traverse – a unique putting attraction — was opened last fall.

Then the pandemic hit.

“For us it wasn’t just the lack of revenue but the timing of it all,’’ said Todd Miller, general manager of Santee Cooper Resort. “After Traverse opened we got some momentum going. Then all this (pandemic concerns and inevitable restrictions) happened and we don’t know if it’s done yet. That’s the hard part. All we can compare it to in our area is the hurricanes, and they come and go.’’

The three-course triumvirate consists of Santee Cooper Country Club, a George Cobb design that opened in 1967; Lake Marion, designed by Eddie Riccono for a 1978 opening; and Santee National, a Porter Gibson creation that made its debut in 1989.

A pool and dining area were among the more recent additions to Santee’s Lake Marion course.

And then came Palmetto Traverse, a natural grass putting course.

Putting courses aren’t exactly new. Many golf facilities – even storied St. Andrews in Scotland – have them as an extra amenity for their golfers. Palmetto Traverse isn’t one of the bigger such courses, but it is one of the best.

Rather than call it a “putting course,’’ Palmetto Traverse has been labeled a “putting experience’’ — and it is that. Built over 35,000 square feet near the Lake Marion course. Palmetto Traverse was designed by Kris Spence, an architect based in Greensboro, N.C., with help from Miller and Santee marketing director Robbie Wooten.

You putt from black “tee’’ markers and holes are labeled with white flags. A 260-foot putt is possible, but not necessary. The layout offers putts breaking in all directions, some steeply uphill and some sharply downhill. Two bunkers are also included. That’s the real attraction of the place, not the gimmicks.

There isn’t much of a walk between holes, making Palmetto Traverse a nice social diversion after a round as well as a challenging pre-round practice exercise.

Santee National, the newest of the town’s courses, now rates as our personal favorite.

“We created the concept over what Pinehurst had done (on its Thistle Du layout) – a short, fun course,’’ said Miller, who has been with the Santee organization since 1998. “It was a way for us to introduce the game to anyone and yet experienced players can enjoy it just as much – if not more.’’

Morgan has witnessed changes, particularly in 2017 when 10 golf villas, a swimming pool and commercial laundry were added, but Palmetto Traverse has been the most exciting new feature. It alone couldn’t turn the tide when the pandemic hit, though.

“Santee has been what we always have been – laid back, relaxed,’’ said Miller. “We never did close. For us the biggest negative impact was that people couldn’t or wouldn’t travel. We were open for our inexpensive golf but literally had no revenue from our lodging.’’

That’s starting to change now, and there’s one thing that has always helped Santee…location, location, location. Located off I-95 at Exit 98, it’s a convenient stop for golf trips of all sizes. And, if the three solid Santee courses aren’t enough there’s another 11 in close proximity.

The trio at Santee is enough, though. In our first visit, in 2014, we considered Lake Marion the best of the three. It’s closest to the most lodging and dining facilities in addition to Palmetto Traverse.

This time, though, we’re switching our favorite to Santee National. It has a nice mixture of holes with lots of doglegs and a particularly tight, demanding back nine. Santee Cooper Country Club, a short, sporty layout located in a gated community, has 300 members but is also open to play by resort guests.

For more information check out www.SanteeCooperGolf.com.

The finishing hole at Santee Cooper Country Club has an unusual backdrop with a long bridge in the background.

Palmetto Traverse isn’t your usual putting green

This unique putting green in Santee, S.C., is good for both competition and putting practice.
Putting courses aren’t exactly new. Many golf facilities – even storied St. Andrews in Scotland – are adding them as a extra amenity at their facilities. The one that we played Monday in Santee, S.C., is one of the better ones. It’s called Palmetto Traverse.

Santee is a town of barely 1,000 residents but its golf – three good courses within just a few miles of each other – is big-time. The recently-constructed putting course has 18 holes built over 35,000 square feet near the Lake Marion course. We visited Santee in 2015 and liked the golf atmosphere there then. We like it more with the putting course designed by Kris Spence, an architect base in Greensboro, N.C., with help from Santee marketing director Robbie Wooten.

Rather than call it a “putting course,’’ Palmetto Traverse been labeled as a “putting experience.’’ You putt from black “tee’’ markers and holes are labeled with white flags. A 260-foot putt is possible but the layout offers putts breaking in all directions, some steeply uphill and some sharply downhill. Two bunkers are also included. There isn’t much of a walk between holes, making Palmetto Traverse a nice diversion after a round as well as a challenging pre-round exercise.

Jensen Beach Golf Club: How Sweet-ish will this course get?

Johan Tumba, the son of a Swedish sports legend, has his own dreams for Jensen Beach Golf Club.
Johan Tumba, son of a Swedish sports legend, has big dreams for Jensen Beach.

JENSEN BEACH, FL. – Eagle Marsh Golf Club, a Tommy Fazio design, was well-received on Florida’s Treasure Coast when it opened in 1997.  Now Eagle Marsh is no more – but its future is by no means a sad one.

JENSEN BEACH, Florida — Two entrepreneurs from Sweden, Johan Tumba and Joakim Sabel,  purchased the struggling layout, then known as Eagle Marsh, on Sept. 20, 2019.  In just eight months the course has been renamed – it’s now called Jensen Beach Golf Club – and it’s getting a facelift that looks better each day.

“We have big dreams.  We want to be in the top 20 in Florida. We set high goals,’’ said Tumba. “This course was ranked No. 1 in all of America for new courses when it opened (in 1997), and the layout and routing is there.’’

The course didn’t have much of a following when Tumba and Sabel purchased it in what they call a “private agreement.’’  The name change, insisted upon by Sabel, was an indication of that.

“There was too bad a rap on the other (name),’’ said Tumba.  “It had gone down the drain.  We wanted to make a fresh start with that name, and we’re inside of Jensen Beach Country Club. It was a good move.’’

Sabel is a former European PGA pro but the Tumba name would be more familiar to fans of more sports than just golf. Johan’s father is Sven Tumba, and he was athletic royalty in his heyday.

Colorful new flags were an immediate hit after Jensen Beach’s ownership change.

In hockey he was Sweden’s star player in eight World Championships and four Winter Olympics en route to being named to the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.  He also played on Sweden’s national soccer team, was the Swedish national champion in water skiing and also represented Sweden in international golf competitions. In golf he was also the founder of the Scandinavian Open and designed several courses, including the first one in the Soviet Union.

“According to Jack Nicklaus my Dad was one of the greatest athletes he ever met,’’ said Johan.  “He was also a real nice dad.’’

It was Sven, who died in 2011 at the age of 80, who started Johan in golf at age 5.  Johan made frequent trips to Florida after his parents moved to West Palm Beach in 1982 and went on to attend college in Palm Beach. Now living on Singer Island, Tumba remains an avid player but course ownership is his main focus.

He was briefly part of a group that purchased The Fox Club, a long-time private club that recently turned public, and was unsuccessful in a bid to buy another Florida course, Hammock Creek. Both those courses are in Palm City.

When the opportunity to acquire Eagle Marsh surfaced, Tumba and Sabel took it over with two investment partners who are also from Sweden.  Tumba is the chief operating officer and has taken a hands-on approach, even to the point of spending considerable time in a massive cleanup project on the course.

“The course never did close, but it was almost unplayable,’’ he said.  “I’m hands-on – cutting new lines for the fairways and shaping the course the way I want it — because we want everything to look good.  We have a lot to do to get there, but we’re making the course more playable again.  We’re killing all the weeds, and getting the greens in great shape.  Everything is going good.’

Good enough for the owners to already make some aggressive marketing moves.  They took out ads on the telecast of  “The Match: Champions for Charity’’ that featured Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.  That high-profile event was played at the Medalist Club in nearby Hobe Sound. Tumba’s group is also contacting nearby hotels in hopes of establishing travel packages for international visitors.

In addition to work on the course Jensen Beach Golf Club is getting new flooring in its clubhouse and a liquor license, and the restaurant is opening again. Plus, the multi-colored flags on each green may be the most striking I’ve ever seen.

Signs of a massive cleanup effort are particularly evident on Jensen Beach’s back nine.

All the on-course work started after consulting with Tommy Fazio II, the original designer who is also the nephew of Tom Fazio and son of Jim Fazio – both prominent architects.

“We had Tommy here for five-six hours,’’ said Tumba.  “He gave me directions on what to do, which I totally agreed with.  He sees what a player might see, too.  We opened up a lot of the vistas.  This year is for cleaning up.  In Phase 2 we’ll bring back the original design and start building some cottages.  We’re in for the long haul.’’

While Tumba loved the natural beauty of the course, he will continue to work with Fazio, a Jupiter resident.

“I’d never do anything without speaking to him first,’’ said Tumba.  “Right now the course is a bit too tough for the average golfer, but it’s a gem.  I fell in love with it. It’s an absolutely beautiful place that just needs some tender loving care. We’re going to polish this gem up and make it beautiful again.’’

Two greens and tee options allow No. 18 to be played anywhere from 230 to 454 yards.

WHERE ARE YOU PLAYING?/ All around Florida

ONE IN A SERIES

Once again Rory Spears and Len Ziehm are combining efforts on our experiences from various golf destinations. This one is on Florida courses.

Living in the Sunshine State now, I’ve always felt that Florida golf is most enjoyable in those months after the snowbirds leave for the season. In normal times that would be about now.

Warm weather is still in abundance – though 90-plus degree days are not really an exception. The greens fees generally drop at this time, the courses are more accessible and pace of play is notably faster.

This year, due to pandemic concerns, Florida’s winter visitors have tended to stay longer. More and more playing restrictions have been lifted and more and more facilities are completely open. It’s virtually a day to day thing.

Some of those great, big resorts — Innisbrook, PGA National, PGA Golf Club, TPC Sawgrass, Bay Hill, Mission Inn, Doral, World Golf Village, this list goes on – are still in limbo, though, and they’re tending to limit play and wait until all systems are go.

That’s not to say the resort courses are empty. They’ve just been largely opened to only members. That should change soon.

In the meantime public play has stepped up and greens fees are most accommodating – especially on Florida’s East Coast where Len lives. Already visited this year are some old favorities – Meadowood in Fort Pierce; St. Lucie Trail, Champions Turf Club at St. James and The Saints, in Port St. Lucie; Crane Watch (formerly Evergreen), The Fox Club and Hammock Creek, in Palm City; and Jensen Beach (formerly Eagle Marsh) in Jensen Beach.

Jensen Beach Golf Club is in transition with its new flags are among the best I’ve ever seen.

Big things are happening in Palm City, a community about 30 miles from Jupiter – the home of Tiger Woods and a flock of other PGA Tour players. There were ownership changes at Evergreen Club and Hammock Creek (a creation of the Nicklaus Design group) and The Fox Club, a long-time private venue, has gone public.

Jensen Beach, under new ownership from Sweden, has taken on a name change and is undergoing a major transformation. It’ll be more user-friendly than Eagle Marsh was once the work is completed.

Rory and I both have enjoyed Florida’s vast array of resort layouts over the years and look forward to their full re-openings. Rory was an early visitor to Streamsong, a rare Florida layout that stresses walking golf. It’s located near the bigger town of Lakeland.

“I first visited Streamsong shortly after it opened,’’ said Rory. “I played both the Red Course, by architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and the Blue Course, designed by Tom Doak.

The Red starts out a little tough, even with a good drive on the first hole. The second shot is slightly uphill and long. No. 2 has a “the island fairway,’’ with water short, right and left. Then there’s 16 really enjoyable holes including a two great, fun par-3s on the back nine.

Rory enjoyed the Blue Course the most, especially its famed par-3 seventh hole. Caddies say that the Blue Course greens are harder to putt than the ones on the Red.

The par-3 seventh hole on the Blue Course may be the most memorable hole at Streaming.

Gil Hanse’s Black Course is my favorite, though Rory says most consider it the second-best on the property.

Innisbrook, in Palm Harbour, is the home of the Copperhead Course and the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship. Copperhead is one of four courses at the resort, all of them designed by the late former Chicago architect Larry Packard. The North and South layouts have had recent green renovations and the double-sided driving range has been popular.

The guest rooms have been completely renovated, and the new look is off the charts good. From the kitchens to the living rooms and bedrooms luxury and comfort are obvious. We both love Innisbrook, and Packard’s Steakhouse is one of our favorite upscale dining places in the entire U.S>

Hammock Beach Resort, in Palm Coast is – like Innisbrook – a Salamander property that is clearly upscale. Its Ocean Course, a Jack Nicklaus design, was remodeled after enduring hurricane damage several years ago. Being on the ocean and in the northern part of the state, it’ll be a bit cooler when Florida’s hot summer temperatures kick in.

Florida also has PGA Tour sites in PGA National, in Palm Beach Gardens – home of the Honda Classic, and Bay Hill, in Orlando – home of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Those are more famous but Len also is a big fan of Mission Inn, in Howey-in-the-Hills, near Orlando. Mission Inn’s El Campeon is one of the oldest and best preserved courses in Florida.

Innisbroook’s Copperhead Course has always been a popular stop for PGA Tour players.

TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: PGA events make Florida the place to be for golfers

PGA National’s Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion course — home of the fearsome Bear Trap series of holes — was the scene of Keith Mitchell’s surprise victory in 2019. He out dueled established stars Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler then. This week Mitchell defends his title.

If you want to see the PGA Tour live there’s only one place to go – at least for a while. That’s Florida.

After spending the first two months of the year bouncing around between Hawaii, California, Arizona and Mexico the circuit will be in Florida for four consecutive weeks. The season heats up now on tougher courses than the circuit had been playing on.

Only four PGA Tour events had 36-hole cuts over par in 2019, three were in Florida and the toughest of them all was the opening event of the Florida Swing. The Honda Classic, which tees off on Thursday at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, had the highest cut number in relation to par – 2-over.

The Honda field again be without Tiger Woods (who lives in the area) and Rory McIlroy. The field, however, will include winners of three of last year’s majors – Brooks Koepka (PGA), Gary Woodland (U.S. Open) and Shane Lowry (British Open) – as well as Rickie Fowler. Koepka and Fowler tied for second last year behind surprise winner Keith Mitchell.

Competition resumes up the following week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, in Orlando. Competition rounds there are March 5-8 with Francesco Molinari the defending champion.

Best field of the month will be at The Players Championship March12-15 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, when McIlroy tries for a repeat title, and the Valspar Championship ends the Florida swing from March 19-22 at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour. Paul Casey will go for a three-peat in that one. The 2019 cut fell at 1-over at both Bay Hill and Innisbrook.

When the last putt drops at the Valspar the golf focus turns to the Masters. The year’s first major will be played three weeks later.

The Fox Club, a course designed by Roy Case and renovated by Darren Clark in Palm City, FL., is a public facility now. Its dogleg left par-5 finishing hole is one that’s hard to forget.

Playing around the Honda

PGA National has a variety of stay-and-play packages available during the Honda Classic.

“It has become one of the most anticipated PGA Tour stops for players, fans and resort guests each year, said Jeffrey Mayers, managing director of the resort. “We’re thrilled to provide our guests with premier access to watching the best players in the world compete as well as an outstanding array of golf and resort amenities. It’ll make for a fun-packed week to long remember.’’

There’s more golf not far away, with the PGA Golf Club – winter home of the PGA of America – less than an hour to the north. Palm City is located between the two PGA destinations, and it offers something different from past years at two of its facilities.

The Fox Club, a long-time private club in Palm City that was once known as Cobblestone, became a public venue last fall and the Evergreen Club underwent an ownership change and total makeover. It’s now called Crane’s Watch.

Resurfacing the putting green is one of the updates in progress at just re-opened Crane Watch, formerly the Evergreen Club. A new short game area is being built on the other side of the clubhouse.

Here and there

The North & South Bar has opened in Pinehurst, N.C. That completes a nearly year-long renovation of The Manor. It’s the youngest hotel in Pinehurst – at a mere 97 years old.

Two Mississippi courses that we’ve visited more than once — Old Waverly and Mossy Oak – will be offering stay-and-play opportunities beginning on March 17.

Tickets are now on sale for the 26th annual Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It’ll be played for the 18th consecutive year at Barefoot Resort’s Dye Club on April 11.

How important are golf course rankings to you?

Here’s a resort course that isn’t on Golfweek’s list but will always be on mine…..

….And so will this one. Can you name the courses and the resorts that they’re in?

I found this interesting. As most of you know, I give little credence to the course rankings provided annually by the various golf publications. Golfweek, though, just released its top 200 resort courses (as well as its top 200 in casino courses, residential courses and courses in the Caribbean and Mexico).

Being most interested in the resort layouts, I decided to check out how many of the Golfweek courses have been on our itineraries over the years. It turned out we are more on the same page than I could have imagined.

Of Golfweek’s top 10 the only one that I hadn’t either played or at least visited was No. 7 Shadow Creek. Of Golfweek’s top 20 I’d at least been on site of 17 and of the top 50 I’d either played or visited (in most cases, played) 35.

That said, my ranking order GREATLY differs from Golfweek’s and there were at least five courses that I couldn’t believe didn’t even crack the publication’s top 200. That’s not surprising. Ranking golf courses — just like ranking movies, automobiles or restaurants – is a very subjective thing. The fun is in just making the comparisons.

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Myrtle Beach is going after golfers — from Alaska?!

THE `NEW’ INNISBROOK: All the rooms at the Innisbrook Resort near Tampa, FL., were remodeled in honor of the facility’s 50th anniversary. Here’s what they look like now, and they’ll be filled when the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship is held on Innisbrook’s Copperhead course from March 19-22. Innisbrook, which has 72 holes, has hosted a nationally-televised PGA Tour event for the past 30 years.
The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship is already the world’s largest tournament with its annual entry number around 3,200, but that’s apparently not good enough.

When the event tees off for the 37th straight year on Aug. 31 tournament director Scott Tomasello is hoping for a change in the field. There hasn’t been a player participating – at least in recent years – from Alaska so “The Last Frontier Sweepstakes’’ has been created to entice Alaskan golfers.

The winner will receive an expense-paid trip to Myrtle Beach for the 72-hole event that runs through Sept. 4. Players from 49 states and about 20 foreign countries will be there, but Alaskan representation remains a problem.

“If golfers from South Africa, Japan and India – among other nations – can annually play in the event we believe at least one Alaskan can join the party in 2020,’’ said Tomasello.

Time will tell if Tomasello is right, but the Myrtle Beach March Championship – dubbed the `Mini’ World Am, is already a sellout. It’ll have at least 224 players and a waiting list is being created for more. Deadline to enter the World Amateur is Feb. 23.

Another of Myrtle Beach’s most popular tournaments has a new name. What was the Calabash Cup – a 54-hole two-person team event – now has GolfTrek as its title sponsor. The sixth annual event, renamed the GolfTrek Challenge, will be played from June 11-14.

FRENCH LICK EXPANSION: Indiana’s French Lick Resort, which will again host tournaments on both the Symetra and LPGA tours this summer, has completed a major transformation project.

The six-story, 71-room six-suite Valley Tower has been opened adjacent to the resort’s casino and event center. It includes French Lick’s first ever Sports Book and Sports Viewing Lounge and its Valley Bar is the only 21-and-over eating establishment at the resort.

French Lick will host the Donald Ross Championship on the Symetra Tour from July 7-12 and the Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course from July 29 through Aug. 1. The Senior LPGA, which was the first major championship for senior women when it made its debut in 2017, will have a new format. The championship will be played over 36 instead of 54 holes and two pro-ams will precede the main event.

The Valley Bar, the only 21-and-over eating establishment at French Lick Resort, is one of the features of a recent expansion project that resulted in a major upgrade at the Indiana resort.

IT’S SHOW TIME: Next week’s PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL., will have an expanded travel program for golfers.

Its Travel Pavilion, located on the main floor of the center, will feature destinations from Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Scotland, South Africa and Thailand.

There’ll also be a Golf Travel Forum, presented by PGA Magazine, at 9 a.m. on Thursday and hundreds of golf travel products will be included in the exhibits from more than 1,000 participating companies and brands.

HERE AND THERE

North Carolina is a state loaded with good courses, and a layout from the Outer Banks, The Pointe Golf Club, jumped into the latest Golf Advisor Golfers’ Choice rankings of the state’s best courses. The Pointe was No. 7 on the list, ahead of such favorites as Pinehurst No. 4, Pinehurst No. 9 and Tobacco Road.

Barefoot Resort, in North Myrtle Beach, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It became famous in 1999 when its four championship courses opened simultaneously. They were designed by Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. To commemorate the anniversary the resort is offering stay-and-play packages that included three rounds for the price of four and a three-night stay with a fourth night for free. They have to be booked by Jan. 31.

The Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at Desert Highlands, in North Scottsdale, Ariz., has re-opened following a $7 million renovation. Desert Highlands also recently welcomed Curtis Tyrrell as its new director of agronomy. Tyrrell was director of golf operations at Illinois’ Medinah Country Club before coming to Arizona as the replacement for the retired Phil Shoemaker. Shoemaker started at Desert Highlands in 1982 and was involved in the construction of the course.

The North Course at Florida’s Daytona Beach Golf Club has re-opened following a six-month renovation project. The renovation included a re-routing of the back nine holes. The previous version had par-5s for both Nos. 17 and 18, and they were among the hardest holes on the course. Now the old No. 17 is No. 10, which altered the rest of the back nine. Only the 18th has its same place in the rotation.

The Citrus Golf Trail, a group of courses in the Sebring, FL., area, has announced its participating courses for 2020. It includes the Sebring International Golf Resort, which was formerly Spring Lake Golf Resort. Other courses on the trail are Pinecrest, River Greens, Sebring Municipal and the Deer Run and Turtle Run courses at Sun ‘N Lake Golf Club. Inn on the Lakes is the hotel partner.

Diamondhead Country Club’s Cardinal Course, near Biloxi, MS., has re-opened following a three-month greens renovation process. Dan Hamman has also been hired as the superintendent at the 36-hole facility.