Len Ziehm On Golf

Mammoth Dunes opening has taken Sand Valley to a new, most fun level

No doubt Sand Valley is aptly named. It was built on sand dunes that were up to 80 feet tall.

NEKOOSA, Wisconsin – I accept the premise that if you have one 18-holer you have a golf course, but if you have two – or more – you have a golf destination.

Well, Sand Valley is definitely a golf destination now. This Mike Keiser-developed facility in Central Wisconsin opened its first course on May 2, 2017. Designed by the widely respected architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, that course was called simply Sand Valley. It was well received, of course.

Keiser, though, always planned to have more than one course here. So, preview play was permitted at the second course, Mammoth Dunes, late in the 2017 season and the David McLay Kidd design opened officially this year. So did The Sand Box, a 17-hole par-3 course that was already the site of Sand Valley’s first significant competition. The Wisconsin State Par-3 Championship was held there in July. The Sand Box is also a Coore-Crenshaw design with Jimmy Craig also on the credit line.

Mammoth Dunes, though, is the course which took Sand Valley to destination status, like Keiser’s other American project Bandon Dunes in Oregon. The courses at both resorts are walking-only, though carts are available for those with medical issues.

Lots of Amerian golf destinations offer a variety of courses, and we’ve been blessed to experience many of them. Bandon, with its four courses and a 13-hole par-3 layout, is clearly the best golf resort in America from this perspective. Sand Valley is still in its fledgling stage and might get there eventually.

For now, though, this focus is on Mammoth Dunes which — I’m comfortable in declaring — the most fun golf course I’ve ever played. And that’s saying a lot. There are a lot of fun courses out there.

More than anything golf is supposed to be fun. Mammoth Dunes is that – and it would be even when your golf ball isn’t always going in the “right’’ direction.

David McLay Kidd is a Scottish architect who designed the first course at Bandon Dunes 20 years ago. At Mammoth the fairways are wide and the greens are huge. No. 18 at Mammoth has the largest putting surface on the property – nearly a half-acre. Though water barely comes into play on any of the 36 holes, the fairways and greens on both courses are filled with bumps and mounds and impacted by bunkers and hazards that stimulate your thinking. You don’t lose many golf balls, though.

This is the swing that did it. I proved that Mammoth Dunes’ No. 14 is indeed a drivable par-4.

The course has a bonafide drivable par-4 hole. Many “drivable par-4s’’ don’t deserve that description. They’re that for only the select long-ball hitters, but I know Mammoth Dunes’ No. 14 fits the bill. I drove the green from the white tee, 261 yards with a strong helping wind and a downhill path to the putting surface. It’d been over 20 years since I’d driven a par-4, so it was quite a thrill even though a three-putt followed.

But I digress. This hole has an interesting history and Kidd doesn’t get all the credit for it. Brian Silvernail gets partial credit. A Florida resident, he won Golf Digest’s Armchair Architect contest in 2016 and Kidd incorporated his design of this hole into the Mammoth Dunes rotation.

Luke Jackson, a local caddie, knew all the nuances of Sand Valley’s courses.

One thing that’s a must when you play Mammoth Dunes – at least for the first time – is a good caddie and, in local guy Luke Jackson, we had the best. A bag-toter is desirable for more than just making the seven-mile hike less of a physical challenge. A lot of shots aren’t what they might first appear at Mammoth Dunes. Go with your gut and you’re sure to get burned. Take an experienced caddie and you’ll do much better. Either way, though, you’ll enjoy the Mammoth experience.

It was impressive to see how far Sand Valley has come in the three years since we hiked the sandy hills with Michael Keiser Jr, Mike’s son, prior to the resort’s opening. The first course, Sand Valley, is more challenging than Mammoth Dunes.

Mammoth – at 6,988 yards from the tips — is an insignificant 50 yards longer, but both are par-73 layouts. The fifth hole on Sand Valley was built at the highest point on the property. It’s not the toughest short hole on the property, though. That label easily goes to Sand Valley’s 17th, which presents an uphill blind tee shot to a green 236 yards away from the back tee.

Sand Valley’s two courses are all about elevation changes, and they can confound golfers.

None of the 10 par-5s on the property play as long as Sand Valley’s fourth – 593 yards from the tips. For those into numerical comparisons Sand Valley tops off at a 73.2 rating with a 134 slope. For Mammoth it’s 72.4 and 132.

The rap on Sand Valley is the shortage of lodging. Wisconsin, as a state, isn’t long on chain hotels, either. More lodging is being built in and around Sand Valley to fill the need and the town of Wisconsin Rapids, a 20-minute drive away, has a variety of options. We used Hotel Mead there and the dining options are more numerous there as well.

Wisconsin is known for its supper clubs and fish fries, and we found the Branding Iron in Wisconsin Rapids provides a great flavor of the area. The resort has an upscale dining room and more informal pub and non-golfing locals like to hang out around Sand Valley’s snack bar to watch the golfers tee off and finish their rounds. That fun setting complements the players’ enjoyment on the course.

Now, I don’t put much stock in the course ratings published annually by the various golf publications. In this case, though, it’s worth mentioning that Sand Valley was Golf Digest’s Best New Course of 2017 and Golf Magazine labeled it Best New Course You Can Play.

That’s lofty praise, and Mammoth Dunes should be a lock for the same honors in 2018.

The life and times at Sand Valley Resort are happy ones, and filled with great views.

Sage Run’s drumlin will make a big impact on Michigan golf

The bridge to Sweetgrass’ island green is just one nice feature devised by architect Paul Albanese.

BARK RIVER/HARRIS, Michigan – Very few new golf courses are opening these days. That’s just a reflection of these economic times. One did in July in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, however.

The Paul Albanese-designed Sage Run is brand new. It’s no renovation built over an existing course. This one was created on previously untouched land as part of an $8 million renovation of the Island Resort & Casino, which is eight miles away and already had a quality layout – Sweetgrass – on its property.

Sage Run is no Sweetgrass, which was also designed by Albanese. It opened in 2008 and has blossomed into one of the very best courses in golf-rich Michigan. Sweetgrass, obviously more mature, is better now and Sage Run is different – not worse, just different. That’s the way Albanese wanted it.

“We didn’t want to force that,’’ Albanese said of the inevitable comparison of the courses. “They’re completely different properties. It’s like red wine and white wine – two different styles.’’

This is what a drumlin looks like. Sage Run’s big ridge is clearly a factor on the par-3 fifth hole.

Sweetgrass already has more than its share of aficionados – I’m certainly one of them – but golfers will be talking about Sage Run as soon as they play it for the first time.

Albanese brought a new buzz word to golf architecture – drumlins – when he unveiled Sage Run to a bunch of golf media people who were virtually unanimous in never having heard the term.

“It’s by no means unknown in the golf architecture world,’’ said Albanese. “A drumlin is a geological formation created by glaciers. A large ridge is a drumlin.’’

Albanese used a very large ridge when he designed Sage Run. It runs through the center of the 300-acre property and the holes go around, over and through it.

Getting around Sage Run is no walk in the park. The course has a rough, rugged look throughout.

Though golf architects may know the term Albanese has used a drumlin on only one of his previous courses – Mill Creek in Upstate New York.

“Drumlins aren’t everywhere. There aren’t a lot in the South but, they’re a great land form for golf,’’ said Albanese. “It gives you elevation change, and drumlins are usually above flatter land. They look like an upside down spoon, and they add a lot of character.’’

Leaders of the Potawatomi tribe gave Albanese thousands of acres on a typographical map to find a place to build a golf course, and he decided on this one.

Sweetgrass didn’t have drumlins. Neither did Tatanka, an Albanese creation in very rural Nebraska that was named Best New Resort Course by Golf Magazine in 2015.

The bridge leading to Sweetgrass’ island green runs right to the putting surface.

Albanese is believed to be the only Harvard educated golf course architect. A resident of Plymouth, Mich., he is partnered with Chris Lutzke, a former Pete Dye associate, in Albanese & Lutzke Golf Design. Though he is currently working on a course in Vietnam, Albanese has worked extensively with Indian tribes in the past.

Sweetgrass, Tatanka and now Sage Run were all projects done in conjunction with tribes and are part of casino facilities.

“Tribe leadership has wanted to utilize their people in building these courses,’’ said Albanese. “They want them to have a stake in building the golf course and take pride in it. It’s been amazingly successful.’’

Sweetgrass is in a class of its own, but there are similarities between Tatanka and Sage Run.

“Both have a more rough and rugged flavor. That came through at both courses,’’ said Albanese. “Conceptually we used the natural ruggedness of the terrain.’’

The clean look of this bunker at Sweetgrass’ No. 8 hole is in sharp contrast to the bunkers at Sage Run.

Low-Mow bluegrass was used for everything except the greens at Sage Run. The putting surfaces are bentgrass, but the tees are more noteworthy. Their concept is in keeping with the unusual focus on the big drumlin.

“We created teeing areas, not tee boxes,’’ said Albanese. “Tees are shaped to be flat, but we wanted to shape these like we shape greens. The tee areas have the same flavor of a green complex.’’

Sage Run plays 7,375 yards from the tips, while Sweetgrass’ maximum yardage is 7,275. Sage Run is also longer from the front tees – 5,231 yards compared to 5,075. Raters have visited Sage Run but not yet revealed its rating or slope numbers.

While Sage Run is the latest new thing in golf course design, Sweetgrass is every bit as memorable. A particularly interesting touch design-wise is the use of a bridge to the island green at No. 15. The bridge runs right up to the putting surface.

Sweetgrass has names for its holes – God’s Kettle (No. 2), Michigami (No. 4), The Serpent of the Flood (No. 5) and Trailing Arbutus (No. 9) are my favorites. They all point out the history of the area. Sweetgrass was the first plant to grow on mother earth and the Potawatami used it in making its medicines. Sweetgrass can also be found in the low-lying areas surrounding the course.

According to tribal lore, the other traditional Potawami medicines were cedar, tobacco and sage. The latter led to the naming of the new course as Sage Run.

Sweetgrass also has the replica of some fierce-looking eagles protecting the green at No. 13 and a wolf replica that blows in the wind is a feature on the No. 18 fairway to scare off unwanted intruders. Waterfalls are in view leading up to the double green that serves Nos. 9 and 18 with the casino and its hotel serving as a backdrop.

All in all, Sweetgrass and Sage Run both make for most interesting golf adventures.

The eagles, the wolf and the waterfalls are all part of the Sweetgrass experience.

Great golf and beer — this area of Michigan is a mecca for both

A bridge is needed to get golfers over the Orchestra Pit on the striking 17th hole at Ravines.

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – This is hardly breaking news. Michigan has been a golfing hotspot for, well – almost forever.

Michigan has over 850 public courses, more than any other state in the nation, and golf generates more than $4 billion to the state’s economy. You can pick virtually any section of Michigan for a visit and be assured the golf will be more than just fine.

That’s what happened when we ventured to Grand Rapids which – for us – was an untested section of the state. We found, to no one’s surprise, that the golf was great – four excellent courses in four days and more readily available had we opted for a longer stay.

The Grand Rapids area, we soon learned, has another good thing going. This city with a population just under 200,000 has over 80 breweries in the immediate area. It has earned its designation of Beer City, USA.

We were there for the golf, of course, but daily late afternoon visits to different breweries — climaxed by a guided tour of Founders, the biggest one – made this golf destination stand out from any of the others.

Grand Rapids offers much more than just golf and beer. The high-rises in its skyline are proof of that.

An Englishman opened the first brewery in Grand Rapids in 1836, and the Grand Rapids Brewing Company – the oldest of those still in existence – dates back to 1893. The golf courses aren’t nearly so well-seasoned but they have their charm, too.

Best of the ones we played was Pilgrim’s Run, located in the outlying town of Pierson. It has an interesting history. The Chicago-based Van Kampen family bought the course and had family members and friends design the holes. That was a start before Mike DeVries, a well-respected architect from Traverse City, Mich., stepped in.

DeVries attended Lake Forest College in the Chicago area before entering the golf world. He worked with designers Tom Doak and Tom Fazio before tackling Pilgrim’s Run. Then, teaming up with superintendent Kris Schumacker, DeVries routed the course and constructed in the greens. Since its opening as an 18-holer in 1998 Pilgrim’s Run has been one of Michigan’s most popular public courses.

Pilgrim’s Run stands out because of all its special touches.

Most notable from our standpoint was the short par-4 18th – one of the best finishing holes we’ve encountered. A great risk-reward hole with water protecting the green, No. 18 can play anywhere from 221 to 358 yards. It’s a thought-provoking, fun way to finish a round on a course that can play as long as 7,093 yards.

DeVries’ design credits also include The Mines, Greywalls and the Kingsley Club in Michigan and – well-received most recently – Cape Wickham in Australia. The Mines was also on our Grand Rapids itinerary, and there’s a lot to say for that layout as well – though I’m not a big fan of the many blind shots involved in playing it.

Sweeping elevation changes and undulating greens are major characteristics of The Mines and location-wise the course is near the downtown area. That can be a plus since you’ll be close to plenty of lodging, restaurants and – of course – the breweries.

The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe is bordered by a river with an airport also nearby.

The Mines was built about 150 feet above gypsum mines that had been utilized as early as the 1860s and throughout the 1900s. Some features of the mines were incorporated into the construction of the course. The No. 8 hole is located where a natural sand pit was used for the mining operation. Directional signs were also made with wooden timbers from the mining process.

Another unusual feature of The Mines was that it has back-to-back par-3 holes at Nos. 7 and 8. The course is a par-70 with two tough par-5s, the longest being the 607-yard fifth.

This statue honors Arnold Palmer’s design work at the Ravines course.

The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe isn’t bad, either, and clearly the locals like it. The course was a busy place during our visit. This is a Bill Newcomb design that opened in 1997. It’s located along the Thornapple River on Interstate 96 near the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

Newcomb’s stature in Michigan golf course architecture started earlier than DeVries.’ Newcomb, who attended the University of Michigan, was a nationally-ranked amateur golfer with wins in both the Michigan Amateur and Indiana Open and a competitive appearance in the Masters. Like all the courses we played on our Grand Rapids visit, The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe had great views, interesting holes and striking views.

A quirk in the planned schedule turned out much to our advantage, as we had the opportunity to also visit a course about 30 miles beyond the Grand Rapids boundaries – the Arnold Palmer-designed Ravines in Saugatuck.

Ravines was another good layout, as would be expected. It has only three sets of tees but lots of forced carries. The most eye-catching features are the tall pines that dramatize the longest hole – the 626-yard 14th – and the Orchestra Pit at the par-3 17th. There’s a deep dropoff in front of the green, which accentuates the putting surface as a stage.

Playing those four courses may give you a thirst to try some more of the area layouts, but in Grand Rapids it might be a better idea to check beer drinkers’ hot spots like the The Knickerbocker, for its pinwheel appetizers, or City Built Brewing Company, for both its unique beers and Puerto Rico-inspired food menu, or the Creston Brewery, where its beer flights are served osn vinyl phonograph disc records. The brewerys were not cookie-cutters; all had their own unique atmospheres.

If you’re having trouble picking out a post-round recovery spot you can hop on the Grand Rapids Beer Trolley Tour. It’ll take you to a variety of locations for good dining and sipping. Then again, picking from all those available options might not simplify matters either.

The colorful Grand Rapids beer scene has created a cheerful, fun atmosphere.

TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: More from the Missouri Ozarks; Changes on Indiana’s Dye Trail

Old Kinderhook’s ninth hole offers a full-length view from the facility’s lodge.

The Ozarks is an unusual region of the country. Broadly defined, this beautiful area encompasses parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Golf-wise its central point is Missouri’s Branson area and Johnny Morris’ array of exciting projects there. Top of the Rock and Mountain Top are Morris courses completed in recent years. Ozarks National, a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw design, is set to open on Sept. 1 and Tiger Woods’ Payne’s Valley is targeted for 2019. That’s going to become America’s greatest golf destination eventually.

There’s another part of the Ozarks – a segment that still in Missouri – that shouldn’t be missed either, however.

A 100-mile drive north of Branson is the long-respected Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail, an area with a conglomeration of 13 courses that are plenty good, too.

Heading that list is Old Kinderhook, a Tom Weiskopf design in Camdenton. You can be assured the ideal combination of good golf and good lodging when you visit this place. This year the 700-acre facility has a new professional in Shane Blankenship. Formerly at Sullivan Country Club in the central part of Missouri, Blankenship is well decorated as both a teacher and player and is directing the Old Kinderhook golf school while Jason Woods is the head professional at Old Kinderhook.

With its attractive elevation changes, the Old Kinderhook course is a tester, and its conditioning was excellent on our visit. The Lodge at Old Kinderhook has on-site restaurants, marina, spa, swimming pools, fitness center and even a volleyball facility. In short, other activities are available besides just golf at that location.

Golf isn’t the only nice viewing at Old Kinderhook. Volleyball works, too.

Stay & Play packages include other facilities as well. Osage National, in Lake Ozark, is an Arnold Palmer design and his original renderings of all 18 holes are on display in the recently updated Eagle Bar and Grill.

Blankenship isn’t the only new pro on this trail. Jamie Martin moved to Bear Creek Valley in Osage Beach.

Troon Golf has taken over the management at The Lodge of the Four Seasons’s Ridge and Cover courses in Lake Ozark. The Tan-Tar-A Resort is in the process of transitioning to a Margaritaville Resort property, with the grand opening scheduled for 2019.

The Pete Dye Golf Course at French Lick remains the highlight of Indiana’s re-launched Dye Trail.

CHANGES ON PETE DYE TRAIL: Indiana’s collection of Pete Dye-designed courses has been re-launched, with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development taking over the managing and marketing.

The Trail has one new addition, the Ackerman-Allen Course on the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette. Plum Creek, one of the original members located in Carmel, is under new management and — while still open for play — is no longer part of the Dye Trail.

Ackerman-Allen is part of the Birck-Boilermaker Golf Complex that is the home for Purdue’s teams. One course at the Complex, the links-style Kampen, was included in the original Dye Trail.

The other, known as the South Course and later Ackerman Hills, was designed by the Bill Diddel. He was a prolific Indiana-based architect who had 160 courses on his resume, including 52 in his home state. Diddel, who died in 1985 at age 100, was as much of a Hoosier legend as Dye — but not just for his architectural efforts. He was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and also won the Indiana Amateur golf title five times.

Diddel’s design earned a significant place in golf history in 1961 when Jack Nicklaus won his only NCAA individual title there. Purdue was also the NCAA team champion that year, creating a moment of athletic glory for the host school. While there was some reluctance to tearing down a course with so much history, the replacement quickly won over the players.

Backed financially by Sam Allen, a former Purdue golfer who became the chief executive officer of John Deere Company, the Dye renovation was named the Ackerman-Allen Course.

“The old course was pretty nice,’’ said Dan Ross, the head professional, “but not to the level that things are now. There are five sets of tees instead of three, so more people can enjoy it. It’s such an enjoyable, fun layout. Pete did a phenomenal job.’’

Dye changed all the green complexes and much of the routing while switching the course from bluegrass to bentgrass. He also built two new holes, a par-4 and par-5 at Nos. 15 and 16. The new course opened in the summer of 2016 and both courses were used for last year’s Indiana Open.

Could there possibly any more stunning views than those offered at French Lick Resort’s Dye Course?

NEW LEADER AT BAY HILL: Don Emery is now the president and general manager at Arnold Palmer’s By Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla.

Emery had been at California’s famed Riviera Country Country Club the previous six years as general manager. Before that he was GM at Interlachen in Winter Park, Fla.

During his stint at Riviera that club hosted top-flight events in both golf and tennis. It was the site of the 2017 U.S. Amateur and the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust and Genesis Open in golf as well as the annual International Tennis Association Women ‘s All-American Championship.

MORE HONORS FOR NEMACOLIN: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, in Farmington, Pa., continues to dominate Golfweek Magazine’s Best Courses You Can Play list.

Nemacolin’s Mystic Rock layout was named Pennsylvania’s best public course the last four years and it’s also No. 45 in the publication’s Best Resort Courses in the U.S.
Shepherd’s Rock, like Mystic a Pete Dye design, opened last July and made its debut on the rankings list at No. 5 among the Best Courses You Can Play in Pennsylvania.

TAGMARSHALL AT PINEHURST: Tagmarshall, a sophisticated pace of play system, is now operational at North Carolina’s Pinehurst Resort. It’s a course intelligence system that uses small tags attached to golf bags or installed on carts to transmit location data. Its supporters contend that Tagmarshall turns pace of play into an asset with reductions of 15 to 17 minutes per round reported at some courses.

Other facilities using Tagmarshall include the Ocean Course at Kiawah in South Carolina, Whistling Straits and Erin Hills in Wisconsin, East Lake in Atlanta and Valhalla in Louisville.

Pinehurst Resort is always at the cutting edge in providing for its golfers.

The world’s next great golf destination will be….the Missouri Ozarks?

Work progresses at Tiger Woods’ Payne’s Valley course while golfers play at Buffalo Ridge Springs.

HOLLISTER, Missouri – Where do you start in describing all the big new things Johnny Morris has in the works for golfers in the Missouri Ozarks?

For starters, how about a prediction?

This area in the Ozark mountains near the entertainment hub of Branson will – in the not very distant future – become the America’s next great golf destination. That’s what Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, wants and there’s no reason he can’t achieve this the latest of his ambitious goals.

Pebble Beach in California, Doral in Florida, Pinehurst in North Carolina, Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Kohler in Wisconsin all could justifiably claim to be America’s best now. They’re all special in their own way. But keep your eye on the Missouri Ozarks. That’s where the action is now, and by as soon as 2020 – when the Tiger Woods-designed Payne’s Valley course is up and running at full steam — the established hotspots will have a most worthy challenger.

Reports of what is going on in the Missouri Ozarks have been coming out piecemeal, so the full impact of the projects that are underway hasn’t been felt yet. But it will be — and soon.

Here’s what’s happened in just the last few years:

Top of the Rock, a spectacular nine-hole par-3 course designed by Jack Nicklaus overlooking Table Rock Lake, opened at the PGA Tour Champions’ Legends of Golf event in June of 2014. Along with it came the unveiling of Buffalo Ridge Springs, a redesign effort on an 18-holer known as Branson Creek by both original architect Tom Fazio and Morris himself. The revamped layout includes bison, who roam on its outskirts.

Bison don’t affect play but they’re definitely in view off Buffalo Ridge Springs’ No. 1 fairway.

On Aug. 31, 2017, the Gary Player-designed Mountain Top course opened. It has 13 holes, all of them par-3s. The holes at Top of the Rock and Mountain Top were immediately judged good enough to be used for a tournament on the world’s top senior circuit. No par-3 course had ever received such and endorsement, so that was saying a lot.

Morris, who made his mark catering to the needs of hunters and fishermen, moved into the golf world in a most unusual manner. He built alternative courses first. Where else can you find a par-3 layout like the one Nicklaus created, or a course with an odd 13-hole rotation like the one Player designed to fit into space limitations?

Those two courses are close together, but different. Top of the Rock has forced carries and is for riding golfers only. Mountain Top, which is walking only, has no forced carries and is more family-friendly.

A round at Mountain Top involves walking over long bridges to get from hole to hole.

Steve Friedlander, completing his first year as vice president of golf for Morris’ Big Cedar Lodge — a most upscale wildness resort, can appreciate the value of alternative courses. In his 43 years in the golf business Friedlander held similar leadership positions at Doral; Kohler; Ventana Canyon in Tucson, Ariz.; Grand Traverse in Michigan; and Pelican Hills, in California. Those places had multiple quality courses and Pelican had the best practice facility in California.

“But they didn’t have alternative courses. Here we have alternatives for everything,’’ said Friedlander. “We have courses for people with a time crunch who may not want to challenge themselves on an 18-hole course. For them, nine-hole courses can be more fun. Golf is a lot about just getting people out in nature, and Mountain Top is a great walk, yet both our par-3 courses can also challenge the best players in the world. Plus, you can’t beat the scenery.’’

No question about that. The golf in Morris’ part of the Missouri Ozarks is one big photo op. You can easily see for 15 miles from most spots on the courses. He began buying up property near where he grew up — and still lives – in 1987, and he’s done wonders with it.

This is Ozark National’s par-5 first hole, notable for its buffalo grass and beige bunkers.

Just look what’s coming next:

Sept. 1 is the target opening date for Ozarks National, an 18-holer being put together by the well-respected architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. They’ve built the holes on ridge-tops. Tufted, off-green buffalo grass defines many of the non-playing areas, and the bunkers are the only ones on the Morris courses that aren’t of the sparkling white variety. That makes for a course that will look different from the others here.

Stone House is a halfway house, and also a replica of a home that existed 130 years ago.

Another feature setting Ozarks National apart is Stone House, the replica of a 130-year old home that had once been on the property. Overlooking an irrigation lake, it’ll serve as a halfway house that can service players coming to or from four different holes.

Ozarks National will also have a 15-acre practice facility and a caddie program is in the planning stages. Though cart paths are in place, it won’t be a difficult walking course.

The same can be said for Payne’s Valley, the course that Woods’ design team has been putting together on land below the Mountain Top clubhouse and course that once housed Murder Rock – a course designed by John Daly.

Payne Stewart, who grew up in nearby Springfield, Mo., went on to win two U.S. Opens and one PGA Championship before his death in a 1999 plane crash four months after his second Open victory. So that there is no confusion, Stewart once had a course that had been named in his honor in the area, but it underwent an ownership change and is now called Branson Hills.

Woods is planning a course with very wide fairways that will also be very walkable. It could open sometime in 2019, and it’ll have something none of the others have – a 19th hole. The extra hole will be a 202-yard par-3 from the tips with “Johnny Morris’ The Rock’’ as its backdrop. It’s a 250-foot rock wall and, after players finish with it, they’ll get a cart ride through a cave back to the clubhouse.

“By then we’ll have two more courses capable of holding any kind of championship,’’ said Friedlander. “People will want to come here from all over the world.’’

This premier wilderness resort is a most welcoming place.

An oddity in this most positive scenario is that Buffalo Ridge Springs – widely acknowledged as the best public course in Missouri – will no longer be needed for high-profile tournament play. It’s a spectacular layout with bison roaming its outskirts. The drawback is that Buffalo Ridge Springs would be a difficult walking course, and all of the biggest tournaments are walking only.

Along with the completion of Ozarks National and Payne’s Valley comes the finishing up of the Tom Watson Putting Course beside the Mountain Top clubhouse. Watson had designed a similar putting surface, called the Himalaya, at Top of the Rock. The attraction didn’t last long there. It was destroyed when a sinkhole developed shortly before the first Legends of Golf event was played there.

Morris didn’t view the sinkhole as a tragedy. In fact, he made it an attraction that is being called the Cathedral of Nature. More than 200 yards of additional dirt was removed, as Morris searched for a suspected cave on the property. It’ll eventually be another nature-oriented attraction for visitors and the Top of the Rock Lodge will be built nearby.

It was a tragedy when a sinkhole appeared near the Top of the Rock course just before the Legends of Golf tournament. Now it’s a much photographed attraction called the Cathedral of Nature.

One more thing: the other major American golf destinations don’t have the side attractions that Morris has provided around his courses. The Branson area is about more than its array of shows and other entertainment attractions. Morris, always the passionate naturalist, has built the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum at Top of the Rock and then Dogwood Canyon Nature Park a few miles away.

They provide a diversion from golf, if one is needed, but Wonders of Wildlife is the most impressive of Morris’ efforts to promote the beauty of nature. It opened a year ago at the Bass Pro Shops national headquarters in Springfield, barely an hour’s drive from the golf mecca.

A final look at scenes that sum up the unique flavor of the Big Cedar area. (Photos by Joy Sarver)

Louisiana’s Audubon Golf Trail is a winner for more than just golfers

Lots of states have golf trails, and some of them have received more recognition than Louisiana’s Audubon Trail. That’s unfortunate, because the Audubon offers much more than the others if your golf trips take into account non-golf attractions.

Make no mistake, the 15 courses on the Audubon Golf Trail are good. The trail was named for naturalist/artist John James Audubon, who painted many of his bird studies in Louisiana, and many of the courses on the trail are members of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. They undergo rigorous screening to become members.

We covered six of the courses in as many days in 90-degree early-summer heat. They all kept our attention throughout, and each had its unique features.

Best of the lot – but not by much – was Gray Plantation in Lake Charles – the state’s golf hotbed.

Rocky Roquemore, a Georgia-based architect, became prominent in the Chicago area in 1986 when one of hls designs, Pine Meadow in suburban Mundelein, was named America’s Best New Course by Golf Digest. He also did some work on Cog Hill’s famed Dubsdread course in Lemont, Ill., so I had some familiarity with his architectural style.

The bunkering on the par-3 eighth is Gray Plantation’s most memorable hole.

I got another taste of just how good an architect Roquemore was while playing Gray Plantation. It’s a player-friendly layout with its wide fairways, but it has a great mix of holes. Most notable are a double dogleg par-5 at No. 7 and the par-3 at No. 8 with its stunning bunker complex.

Gray Plantation is one of those “semi-private’’ facilities. It has memberships but also accepts public play. An indoor Golf Academy is also being developed. Though there was some debate among my most knowledgeable traveling companions, from my perspective it was the most enjoyable of the Audubon Trail courses.

Understandably the low handicappers might prefer TPC Louisiana, annual site of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans. It’s a Pete Dye design, and you can never go wrong choosing a Pete Dye course. On our visit the tournament scaffolding was still in evidence, though any comparison between our play and that of the PGA Tour guys was purely coincidental.

The Atchafalaya at Idlewild spotlighted the habitat that lives on the course with its tee markers.

The Atchafalaya at Idlewild, in Patterson, is a fun track designed by Robert von Hagge. It has five lakes and some dramatic elevation changes but its most unique touches are the tee markers – they’re not color-coded, but rather are named after the habitat in the area. The tees, from front to back, are Otter, Owl, Eagle, Bear and Alligator. I hit from the Owls, a wise move on my part.

The 150-yard markers were also unusual. Rather than using the standard stakes, these were marked by Cypress knees. The camouflage-painted golf carts also gave the course a refreshing look.

The Loyola University chapel overlooks the Audubon Park course.

The Wetlands, in Lafayette, is a tricky layout devised by Frank Burandt, who had formerly been with Nicklaus Design. He made use of the many lakes and – obviously as per the name – wetlands areas. Water comes into play on 11 holes and the greens are well-bunkered.

First course on our agenda, The Golf Course at Audubon Park, was planned as a warmup round. It’s the oldest golf course in Louisiana, dating back to 1898 when it had only six holes. Audubon Park underwent a major transformation when Georgia-based architect Dennis Griffiths created the present layout in 2001.

The length – only 4,220 yards from the tips – may give the impression that Audubon Park is not “real’’ golf. Each nine has one par-5, two par-4s and six par-3s, all situated in a park that includes a zoo and has a walking/biking trail within the borders of the course. You also get a nice view of the Loyola University chapel. Personnel from that school as well as those from nearby Tulane University utilize the facilities, which include a plantation-style clubhouse with good dining options and an outdoor venue for social events like weddings and birthday parties. In short, Audubon Park is a most fun place for more than just golfers.

TPC Louisiana is big on alligators. Some of the live ones were even televised during the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

While The Bluffs on Thompson Creek, in St. Francisville, was shaking off some issues related to flooding, the Arnold Palmer designed course had some excellent holes – especially the 17th, a downhill par-3, and the uphill 18th. James Audubon once studied and illustrated the bird life on what is now holes 11 through 13, and 32 of his paintings were made when he resided in the area.

Other courses at the Trail are Black Bear, the Louisiana State Park’s only course in Delhi; the 27-hole Olde Oaks near Shreveport; Cypress Bend Resort in Many; Tamahka Trails at Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville; OakWing, in Alexandria; Carter Plantation, designed by Louisiana native and one-time PGA Championship winner David Toms, in Springfield; and three Baton Rouge area courses — the Robert Trent Jones-designed Santa Maria, links-style Copper Miller and The Island, carved out of a sugar plantation in Plaquemine.

Unlike most of the other golf trails we’ve visited, the Audubon has signage on both the nearby major highways as well as the course entrances. The courses aren’t difficult to find.

George Rodrigue became a popular artist when he put blue dogs with haunting eyes in his paintings.

There are other quality layouts off the trail, most notably Contraband Bayou and neighboring Golden Nugget, both by the L’Auberge Casino Resort, and The National Golf Club of Louisiana. They’re all in the Lake Charles area.

Just as New Orleans is more than just Mardi Gras, Louisiana is more than just golf. But, the golf is good, affordable and – perhaps best of all – accessible to far more attractions than most of the nation’s other golf trails.

While in New Orleans we hung out for a while at the French Quarter where we dined at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau and enjoyed the night life of the Bourbon O Bar at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.

The historical offerings were outstanding in upscale St. Francisville, particularly a church cemetery that had gravesites dating back to the mid-1800s. We also were backgrounded on the once brutal but now reincarnated Angola Prison.

No. 17 at The Bluffs, an Arnold Palmer design, has a stunning, and most challenging, par-3 at No. 17.

We petted baby alligators while getting a tour of the Bayou Rum distillery in Lacassine. We enjoyed a terrific Cajun style dinner at the Jack Daniels Bar & Grill at L’Auberge Casino’s Jack Daniels Bar & Grill where super chef Lyle Broussard gave us a backgrounder on each offering.

We learned how Tabasco has been made on Avery Island for the last 150 years and we had both a French-style breakfast and spirited musical pre-dinner entertainment at Mouton Plantation Bed and Breakfast in Lafayette. We also enjoyed a scenic boat cruise and another great meal on board at Lake End Park in Morgan City. Obviously there’s plenty to enjoy in Louisiana besides the golf.

No. 17 may be the easiest hole at The Wetlands, but it is also the prettiest.

What intrigued us the most was the Blue Dog Café in Lafayette. It’s famous for more than its cuisine. The food is served amidst a collection of artworks by artist George Rodrigue, who became famous after he started including blue dogs with haunting eyes in his creations. This side trip was made even more memorable when we met Jacques Rodrigue, son of the famed artist who passed away in 2013. Jacques gave us an inside look at the work his father had done.

Lafayette was declared “America’s Happiest City’’ by the Wall Street Journal and you get a hint why as soon as you see the city’s welcome sign. The “Y’’ in Lafayette is missing – and for a good reason. The missing letter creates a great photo opp. Stand in the spot of the missing letter in the “Welcome to Lafayette’’ declaration, which is near a fountain in the middle of town, with your arms upraised. That’s where you realize that the “Y’’ stands for “You.’’

You can’t help but smile after learning that tidbit. Indeed, Lafayette might be America’s Happiest City, but everyone we encountered in Louisiana seemed happy with their surroundings, too.

Appreciating the “Welcome to Lafayette” marker requires personal participation.

The plantation-style clubhouse at Audubon Park is the center for all kinds of activities every day.

For Key West course it’s all about location, location, location

The treacherous Mangrove Hole presents an imposing look at Key West’s No. 8 hole.

KEY WEST, Florida – For some vacations you might want to choose a golf destination. For others golf need be no more than an amenity. You can have easy access to the game, but take advantage of other attractions as well.

Key West Golf Club is one of the latter. Its first claim to fame is that it’s the southernmost course in the continental United States. There are no other golf courses in Key West, which is just 90 miles from Cuba, and there are no other championship-style layouts within 100 miles.

Vacationers are attracted to Key West by its beautiful sunsets; the shops, bars and restaurants along Duval Street and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum more than they are to the city’s only golf course. Still, Key West Golf Club has its fan base as well. It also has a rich Chicago connection.

Construction of the course began in 1923 with the Chicago firm of Langford & Moreau in charge. Wiliam Langford was a graduate of both Yale and Columbia who designed over 200 courses prior to his death at age 90 in 1977.

Among his credits are a flock of Illinois private layouts — Barrington Hills, Bloomington Country Club, Bryn Mawr, Butterfield, Glen Oak, LaGrange, Park Ridge, Ruth Lake and Skokie. He also designed the Chicago Park District’s nine-holer at Marquette Park.

His partner, Theodore Moreau, was the construction foreman for the Langford courses. The Key West course owners since 1994 have been Bill and Gwen Smith. Bill is a Chicago real estate attorney. The Smiths also own two Illinois courses — Deer Creek, in University Park, and The Rail, in Springfield — and were long-time owners of Antioch Golf Club. In addition, Doug Carter, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect, is Key West’s general manager and director of golf.

Those connections all played a big part in keeping golf going during some tough times in Key West. The course has shown amazing staying power over the years, and that’s reflected in it being one of 50 layouts included in the Florida Historic Golf Trail. All the Trail courses were established between 1897 and 1949 and are still playable today.

It’s good that iguanas are friendly creatures. They’re everywhere on the Key West course.

Just getting a course in Key West was difficult. The city is an island, just two miles wide and six miles long. Find available space wasn’t easy, but the local Chamber of Commerce was able to do it in 1923 and came up with $150,000 in its budget for a golf course at the entrance to the island.

Langford’s design was innovative at the time. With 200 acres of very flat terrain available, his layout featured 10 doglegs, heavy bunkering and an island green when it opened in 1924. A hurricane did severe damage to the facility two years later, reducing it to nine holes, and another in 1935 put the course’s future in serious jeopardy.

Bright foliage is part of the atmosphere at Key West Golf Club.

A group of local players banded together in the 1950s to restore the facility as an 18-hole course and Rees Jones, the famous course architect, tackled the project in 1983 with co-designer Keith Evans. They built a new course on the property. The Smiths took it over and rebuilt all the greens in 2006 and 2007.

The present layout has an eye-catching signature feature – the infamous Mangrove Hole. It’s No. 8 on the scorecard, a par-3 that plays from 129 to 185 yards with thick mangrove terrain creating a forced carry from the tee box all the way to the green.

Otherwise, the course is on the short side because of its land constraints. It plays at 6,531 yards from the tips and is a par-70. There’s plenty to look at as you work your way around it, as the wildlife and foliage aren’t quite like any of the many Florida courses we’ve visited over the years.

Key West’s ducks aren’t pretty, but they sure are friendly.

For us this adventure started with an iguana slithering across the No. 1 tee box. That struck us as highly unusual – we hadn’t seen any on our many visits to other Florida courses – but it wasn’t. Those interesting-looking, apparently harmless creatures were in evidence on most holes.

The unique-looking ducks were even more golfer-friendly. They would come right up to your cart looking for food. The pastel-colored coastal homes around the course also enhanced the ambience.

Irma, the latest major hurricane to hit Florida, did damage to most every course in the state last September and Key West was one of the harder hit communities. Key West Golf Club, though, suffered only minimal damage. We found a course that – at the end of the tourist season – was still in quite decent shape.

A little pricey, perhaps, but Key West Golf Club is a friendly place with a user-friendly course that blends in nicely with the unique community in which it’s located.

Key West’s cheerful-looking clubhouse sets the tone for a pleasant golf experience.

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Upgrades coming at Bay Hill; PGA sells St. Lucie Trail

Visitors to Bay Hill will notice some major changes to the practice area in a few months.

Here’s more proof that Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge is carrying on since the passing of its legendary owner 16 months ago.

The second Arnold Palmer Invitational, played in March, benefitted from the return of Tiger Woods to draw record crowds and Rory McIlroy’s rousing victory kept the excitement at a fever pitch.

But that’s not all. A week after the tournament ended the Arnold Palmer Design Company announced some major upgrades to the popular facility. An extensive two-acre short game area will be among the improvements made to the driving range, and a new hole is coming to the nine-hole Challenge Course. The Championship layout will also get a new state-of-the-art irrigation system.

Four greens of varying shapes and sizes, as well as a collection of bunkers, will be built as part of the short game facility.

“It’s important for us to design a facility that showcases on-course scenarios not only found at Bay Hill, but other situations players would find when playing at other top clubs around the world,’’ said Brandon Johnson, vice president and architect at Arnold Palmer Design Company. “The new short game area will allow members and guests to get lost in their practice sessions honing basic shots or experimenting with a variety of recovery shots that incorporate flat pitch slopes, nobs, false fronts, backboards and various bunker styles.’’

The creation of the short game facility will require a change to the finishing hole on the nine-hole Charge Course. It’ll become a drivable par-4.

Work on both the short game facility and Championship Course will begin in May with the target for completion in October. The Championship Course will remain open for play while the new irrigation system is installed, though periodic hole closures are possible. The plan is for only one hole to be closed at a time, and only for two-three days.

No. 9 at St. Lucie Trail is one of many challenging holes on the Jim Fazio-designed layout.

PGA sells St. Lucie Trail

The PGA of America’s PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., now has three courses instead of four. St. Lucie Trail, located on the opposite side of Interstate 95 from the club’s other courses (Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye), has been acquired by the CBI investment group that also owns The Evergreen Club, a public facility in nearly Palm City.

PGA signage was removed on Friday and St. Lucie Trail opened under its new ownership on Saturday. The transformation is not complete, however. Still in limbo is what will happen to St. Lucie Trail’s tennis courts, swimming pool and clubhouse. The bottom floor, of the clubhouse which includes the pro shop and bar area, is still being operated by the new owners but the rest of the clubhouse may be converted to office space and nearby home owners may want the tennis courts and pool.

St. Lucie Trail, designed by Jim Fazio, opened as St. Lucie West Country Club in 1988 and was owned by the PGA of America before the other three courses were built at the PGA Golf Club resort. The PGA renamed it PGA Country Club and operated it as a private facility for nearly two decades before opting to open it to the public in November of 2014. At that point it was renamed St. Lucie Trail.

The PGA of America, which encompasses 29,000 members, also owns Valhalla in Kentucky. Both the Trail course and the nearby 35-acres PGA Learning Center were put up for sale about a year ago but no buyer has been found yet for the Learning Center. Matt Boyd, head professional at The Evergreen Club, will also serve in that capacity at the Trail.

How the St. Lucie Trail clubhouse will be used since the course’s sale is still to be determined.

New Michael Jordan course is in the works

Michael Jordan, the basketball legend and long-time golf addict, is building his own course on a former citrus grove in Hobe Sound, Fla., about 20 miles south of PGA Golf Club and St. Lucie Trail.

Jordan, who has a restaurant in Jupiter — a few miles to the south of his new course, has hired Bobby Weed as the course architect. The course will be built on 240 acres adjacent to the Hobe Sound Polo Club. The course is expected to open in early 2019.

Erin Hills creates 5-hole option

In an effort to encourage more late-afternoon play the staff at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills – home of last year’s U.S. Open – will offer its visitors a five-hole option. Parts of the first six holes will be used in a five-hole loop with tee box adjustments the key to creating a different playing experience from the standard 18-hole route.

Prep tourney is `boiling’ hot

Myrtle Beach has long hosted what may be the strongest high school tournament in the country. This year’s 20th staging of the Palmetto High School Championships was completed on Saturday with Boiling Springs of South Carolina the champion.

Boiling Springs’ four-man team covered the respected True Blue and Caledonia courses in 2-over-par for the final 36 holes and won the title by 14 strokes. The tourney drew 28 teams from nine states and Boiling Springs’ Trent Phillips was low individual with an 8-under 134. He shot a tournament record 63 in the first round and is headed to the University of Georgia next year.

GOLF TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Dustin Johnson expands his facility at TPC Myrtle Beach

Dustin Johnson (center) celebrates ground-breaking with Steve Mays, president of Founders Group International, and Allen Terrell, director of coaching at Johnson’s Golf School. (Chris King Photo)

The world’s No. 1-ranked golfer hasn’t forgotten where he came from. Dustin Johnson has put many of his trophies and memorabilia on display at TPC Myrtle Beach, and now he’s upgrading his commitment to that South Carolina facility.

Johnson was featured at the groundbreaking for the state-of-the-art Dustin Johnson Golf Performance Center, a 3,100-square foot building that is expected to be completed by Memorial Day. It’ll become the home of both the Dustin Johnson Golf School and Dustin Johnson Foundation.

“To bring this Performance Center to my hometown and be able to give golfers a competitive edge is exciting,’’ said Johnson. “We haven’t held anything back in the design because we want to give the Golf School students and Foundation scholars the opportunity to learn the game, no matter what level they are when they start here.’’

The Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship has been held at TPC Myrtle Beach the past two years. When completed the Performance Center will have three indoor hitting bays, three covered hitting areas, a fitness center and space for instructional seminars. It’ll also feature TrackMan, AimPoint and MySwing 3D technology.

Ornate bridges and bold pink blossoms are just some of the nice touches at Reynolds Lake Oconee.

REYNOLDS CUP ON TAP: Reynolds Lake Oconee, the long-popular destination between Atlanta and Augusta, Ga., will unveil a new tournament for corporate executives who thrive on the competition and camaraderie.

The Reynolds Cup presented by National Car Rental will be held on the Rees Jones-designed Oconee course Sept. 10-12. The event will match two-person teams from companies throughout the country over 36 holes in a Stableford Best Ball format. Registration is $3,500 per team, which includes three nights and two rooms at The Ritz-Carlton.

SAND VALLEY OPENINGS SET: Mike Keiser’s latest destination, in Rome, Wis., will begin its second season of play on May 1 when the The Sandbox opens for play. It’s a 17-hole par-3 course designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. A fun layout, it offers a wide variety of shot-making opportunities that include the chance to play the entire course using only a putter.

Mammoth Dunes, the resort’s second 18-holer, will open on May 31. It was designed by David McLay Kidd, the Scottish architect who designed the first course at Bandon Dunes, Keiser’s Oregon designation.

THE CRADLE ROCKS: Pinehurst’s new 788-yard par-3 course is already a big hit. There were 30 holes-in-one in the North Carolina course’s first two months of operation, and those getting them ranged in age from 8 to 84. Biggest group to test the course was a 12-some and the biggest daily turnout was 174 players. Fee was $50, which included replay rounds.

Kelly Mitchum, a Pinehurst teaching professional, tackled The Cradle on winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. He got in 26 rounds – 234 holes – and was 12-under-par for the day.

About to enter its 35th year, the Myrtle Beach World Amateur is an event that’s not to be missed.

MORE FROM MYRTLE: Tickets are now on sale for the Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-am. The 24th annual event will be held on the Dye Course at Myrtle Beach’s Barefoot Resort.

Celebrities include basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, hockey legend Grant Fuhr, former PGA Tour winners Woody Austin and Chris DiMarco and Paige Spiranac, a professional golfer who has stimulated golf popularity through her social media outlets. She recently joined the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday staff.

Myrtle Beach’s biggest annual event, the 35th World Amateur Handicap Championship, started accepting entries in March and early-birds will get a break. Entry is $525 through May 17. That’s a $100 saving off the regular cost. Those who register by April 12 will be eligible for one of 50 random drawing prizes that are collectively valued at $10,000.

The World Am will be contested over 72 holes from Aug 27-31 on 64 courses. With over 3,000 entrants from about 20 countries participating there will be a wide variety of age and handicap divisions and the winners of each on will go an extra round to determine the overall champion.

The 35-acre Learning Center at PGA Golf Club is a cutting-edge place for performance enhancement.


\PGA Golf Club, the PGA of America’s biggest facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., picked up two awards recently that were independent of the destination’s four courses. The 35-acre Learning Center was named among the Top 50 ranges for the 17th consecutive year by the Golf Range Association of America and its Taplow Pub was named the area’s best pub by a local publication.

Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, in Hilton Head, S.C., is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018. All three of its courses — the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront the Arthur Hills and the Fazio — have been named South Carolina’s Golf Course of the Year at one time or another.

Mike Jones, once the head pro at two Chicago area courses – Thunderhawk and Cantigny – is on the move again. Since leaving Chicago Jones was the man in charge at two major destinations – Kapalua in Hawaii and Nemacolin Woodlands in Pennsylvania. He just accepted a director of golf position at Suncadia, in Ellensburg, Wash., and will begin work there in April.

Jan Stephenson, the LPGA Hall of Famer, has entered the golf management side at Tarpon Woods, in Palm Harbor, Fla., and is making plans for a course renovation there.

The Concession Cup, a competition between amateur teams from the U.S. and Europe has undergone a major personnel change. Bob Lewis has withdrawn as captain of the U.S. team due to health concerns and two-time Concession Cup captain Vinny Giles and the event’s founder, Alan Fadel, will serve as co-captains for the U.S. team that will seek to win the event for the third straight time from April 16-21 at the Concession Club in Bradenton, Fla.

Two Chicago courses that are part of the Arcis Golf portfolio of clubs nation-wide were honored with Golden Fork Awards by Golf Inc. magazine. Ruffled Feathers, in Lemont, was named runner-up in the Most Improved public facility category and Eagle Brook, in Geneva, was a top-three finalist among the most improved private clubs.

More names in the news: Jeff Roth, winner of 15 major titles in Michigan golf, has joined the instruction staff at Boyne Golf Academy. Kelly Holmes is now general manager at Michigan’s Harbor Shores, and Steve Kuretsky is director of agronomy at Cantigny.

Here’s my updated resident’s guide to golf in the Sunshine State

OK, maybe I do have an ulterior motive: I’d like to play more golf with my Chicago friends during the cold weather months. That would be possible if more of you would just head to Florida.

The Sunshine State is officially my residence now, though I’ll again be on hand for the heart of the Chicago golf season in a few months. Believe me, though, Florida is the place to be if you want to get a golf fix before the snow melts. I did that for years as a snow-bird. Now I’m the recruiter for Florida golf instead of being the recruited one.

Just to be prepared for my new duties as your trusted golf scout I made five road trips to various parts of Florida after settling in in early September. I liked what I saw – a lot!

Topping the list was a visit to Streamsong, which is near Lakeland. It’s been well-received since its opening in 2013, but this year is different than last in that the Black Course is now available for play. That means you can play 54 holes now, all on fine courses. I consider the Red Course my favorite but none really stands head-and-shoulders above the others. You’ll want to play them all.

Streamsong is on the pricey side, but you won’t likely leave the premises once your stay begins. The golf is exceptional, the chance to play it walking is an extreme rarity in Florida, caddies are available as are push carts (they’re called rickshaws at Streamsong) and the dining and other off-course options in the big lodge will satisfy anybody’s taste.

Next up should be Daytona Beach – a community where its golf courses don’t get the attention they deserve. Admittedly visitors go to Daytona first for its beaches and then for its auto races. Still, the golf is pretty good – especially if you’re adventurous enough to hit the nearby towns of New Smyrna Beach and DeLand.

Within Daytona proper the main option is LPGA International, with its two 18-holers. Neighboring towns, though, can supplement your options. Best of those is Sugar Mill Country Club, in New Smyrna Beach. It’s a 27-hole private facility, but I’m told tee times for the public are available – though limited. Trying to get on this layout is well worth the effort. Sugar Mill is one of the best courses in Florida, and that’s saying a lot. Florida has over 1,300, more than any other state.

DeLand has another memorable layout in Victoria Hills. Few courses anywhere can match its 104 ferocious, big, deep bunkers. You might not like them, but you won’t forget them.

Next up is PGA Golf Club, a place close to my heart since I live within walking distance of three of its courses. The designated winter home of the PGA of America’s 29,000 members, PGA Golf Club has been on a steady upswing the last five years. In December its Ryder Course was re-opened following a renovation. That completed a cycle that include its Wanamaker and Dye courses undergoing such work previously.

The renovations all turned out well, but the evolution of the facility continues. More improvements — probably to the already decent practice facility next — will be made following the sale of the off=the-property St. Lucie Trail course and the spacious PGA Learning Center.

Innisbrook Resort, in Palm Harbor near Tampa, has long been one of my favorite destinations. While its famed Copperhead Course gets the most attention – it hosts the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship in March – the North Course was re-opened this fall after undergoing a renovation. It’s more popularly referred to as Little Copperhead.

Another tried and true stop is World Golf Village, in St. Augustine. It has two courses, one of which – The King & The Bear – is the only layout jointly designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. World Golf Village also offers two other great attractions – the World Golf Hall of Fame and the Caddie Shack Restaurant.

Orlando has its Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios to bring in tourists. It also has Bay Hill, the long-time home of the legendary Palmer who passed away barely a year ago. His memory lives on at Bay Hill.

The first course that Palmer played as a professional back in the 1950s was Miami Springs Country Club. Located just a couple miles from the famed Trump Doral Resort, Miami Springs went public long ago and is part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail. Mixing in course on the Trail is a relatively inexpensive option that will appeal to visiting golfers who have an interest in the roots of the game.

Finally, I’ve uncovered new destinations in an unlikely location that might suit those adventurous ones who are looking for something different. The Florida Panhandle isn’t known for its golf but the game is played in a few spots in this area that is roughly 60 miles from the Alabama and Georgia lines.

Panama City is a hopping place in the Panhandle, and its Bay Point facility has two 18-hole courses. One has a checkered past. When it went by the name of Lagoon Legends it was said to be the most difficult course in Florida if not the entire country. Jack Nicklaus, of all people, was brought in to “soften’’ the course and he did it so well that the layout is now called the Nicklaus Course.

The town of Carrabelle is a two-hour drive from Bay Point, and it’s not nearly as hopping a place as Panama City. Carrabelle, though, is a mecca for fishermen in search of tarpon. If they want to enjoy a diversionary round of golf there is one course in the town – St. James Bay. It was purchased last year by a Chicago investment group.

No matter where you go in Florida you’ll find a golf course that fits your needs as well as your price point. If you come for a visit you might turn out like me – a happily transplanted Floridian.