WHERE ARE YOU PLAYING?/ All around Florida


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.


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.

Iconic Harbour Town is just one reason for golfers to hit Hilton Head

The iconic lighthouse behind Harbour Town’s 18th green is one of golf’s most famous scenes.

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, South Carolina – The Harbour Town Links, with its iconic lighthouse behind the No. 18 green, may give Hilton Head Island most of its international exposure, but this golf destination is more than just Harbour Town.

A lot more, in fact.

While Harbour Town — home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage tournament — celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, the rest of the island also enhances the area’s reputation of being a golf mecca.

Harbour Town, along with Atlantic Dunes and Heron’s Point, are all part of the Sea Pines Resort. Atlantic Dunes was the National Golf Course Owners Association 2018 Course of the Year.

“We’re the drivers of why people come here,’’ said Cary Corbitt, president of the South Carolina Lowcountry Golf Course Owners Association and vice president of Sea Pines, “but not everybody wants to just play Harbour Town and Atlantic Dunes – and we’re fine with that.’’

Fee to play Harbour Town generally tops $300 and at Atlantic Dune’s it’s upwards of $150. Both are extremely well-conditioned courses that draw about 30,000 rounds annually, but there’s also perfectly fine public courses nearby that charge less than $100.

Those numbers are just fine with Corbitt, who came to Hilton Head when he was in college to work as a volunteer at the first Heritage tournament (won by Arnold Palmer), returned when he was done with college in 1974 and started at Sea Pines in 1978.

“Sea Pines is a family destination resort. We’re not bashful about what we charge, but we don’t feel we’re uppity or better than anyone else,’’ said Corbitt. “The other courses help round everything out.’’

The clubhouse at Sea Pines Resort is a Hilton Head landmark, especially in April when the RBC Heritage Classic comes to town.

Hilton Head has 40,000 full-time residents. They benefit from the island’s beautiful beaches as well as the golf, as both attract tourists. So does the nearly 300 restaurants – many of them solidly upscale – on the property.

Lodging is more than ample with more than 6,000 villas, condos and homes on the rental market and more than 20 hotels and inns also available. Custom-built golf packages are no problem.

The non-golf attractions are also plentiful. They’re highlighted by the tennis academy at Sea Pines that is run by the legendary Stan Smith who won titles at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Hilton Head got its name because a ship owned by William Hilton first spotted the island over 300 years ago. Charles Fraser, son of one of the families that owned most of the island, started it on its way as a tourist destination when he drew up a master plan for a resort community in 1956. Hilton Head was incorporated as a town in 1983 but golf had arrived in 1962 when the Ocean Course opened.

Golf grew rapidly after that, but not without some major developments along the way. The Ocean Course was totally renovated by Davis Love III is now called Atlantic Dunes. Famed architect Pete Dye, who designed Harbour Town with consulting help from Jack Nicklaus, also is responsible for Sea Pines’ other course, Heron’s Point. That course started under the name of Sea Marsh.

Oyster Reef isn’t part of the Sea Pines Resort but it has one of Hilton Head’s prettiest par-3s.

Now the golf landscape is spread around. Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort has three courses on its 2,000 acres that are bounded by three miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline on one side and a sheltered Intracoastal Waterway on the other. This resort’s featured course is the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course, which has one hole on the ocean and was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1967. The others at the resort were creations of George Fazio (the island’s only par-70) in 1974 and Arthur Hills in 1986.

There’s also the Heritage Collection, seven courses and 81 holes spread over three clubs. Oyster Reef, a Rees Jones design with – at least arguably – the best putting surfaces on the island, is not to be missed. Sixteen courses are on the island and there’s also 13 off-island layouts close at hand.

All the courses are beneficiaries of the recently-expanded Hilton Head Island Airport. Last year it started twice weekly (Saturdays and Sundays) flights directly from O’Hare, so Chicago golfers could step right off the airplane and be on the first tee at many of the courses in a matter of a few minutes.

Even without that luxury transportation getting from Chicago to Hilton Head isn’t a problem. Many more flights are available to the Savannah Hilton International Airport, which is just 45 minutes from the island.

And then there’s the hurricanes. No doubt, they can be a problem but not even one of the strongest – Hurricane Matthew in 2016 – kept golfers off the Hilton Head courses for long.

Atlantic Dunes head professional Bobby Downs has worked in the golf industry on the island for 36 years. After 22 seasons at Palmetto Dunes he was eagerly awaiting the opening of Atlantic Dunes when Matthew struck at a most inopportune time.

“The Ryder Cup had just finished, and we (the U.S. team) had won,’’ recalled Downs. “We had a great Grand Opening and Davis (designer and U.S. captain Davis Love III) was to be here on Sunday with the trophy, but three days prior we got hit by the hurricane and were shut down for three weeks.’’

Tree damage was extensive, but Atlantic Dunes bounced back quickly, just like the Hilton Head courses have done for decades.

“In the end we were better off because a lot of trees that weren’t meant to be there after 50 years were weeded out,’’ said Corbitt.

Palmetto Dunes has long been one of the most popular courses at Hilton Head.

TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Here’s what’s happening at some of our favorite destinations

The Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club in Orlando, FL., will again host the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions — the first event of the 2020 LPGA season. It’ll be played Jan. 13-19 and a new event, the Bainbridge LPGA Championship, will follow on Jan. 23-26 at Boca Rio, in Boca Raton, FL

U.S. golf options – for the next few months at least – will be reduced as winter weather transitions into most of the country. That doesn’t mean that interesting things aren’t happening at many of our favorite places, however.

Here’s a sampling of what’s been going on at some of the most popular American golf destinations and what they’ll be offering in 2020:

REYNOLDS LAKE OCONEE – Few places have been making as many positive changes as this 99-hole resort in Greensboro, Ga., which is roughly midway between Atlanta and Augusta.

An 18-month renovation of the resort’s premier course, the Jack Nicklaus-designed Great Waters, has been completed and a multi-million dollar transformation of The Ritz-Carlton hotel is now in the works, setting the stage for an exciting 2020 season there.

“The transformation that our resort will see over this next year will redefine luxury in Georgia,’’ said Ralph Vick, the hotel’s general manager. Luxury guest rooms and suites and the club lounge will be impacted in this latest phase of the renovation.

Jack Nicklaus had another big year. In addition to completing a well-received renovation of Great Waters at Reynolds Lake Oconee his design at Florida’s Reunion Resort also got a long-overdue clubhouse.

AUDUBON TRAIL — Louisiana’s already impressive golf trail is growing. Three new courses have been added, bringing the total number of member courses to 18.

The new additions are LaTour, in Mathews; Oak Knoll, in Hammond; and Koasati Pines at Coushatta Casino Resort, in Kinder. LaTour is a David Toms design.

TPC Louisiana, best known of the other courses on the trail, now has new grass surfaces thanks to a $2 million enhancement project. It’ll continue as host of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

PINEHURST – The Manor Inn has re-opened after an extensive renovation. It’s the youngest of the North Carolina village’s three historic hotels.

Manor Inn opened in 1923, which pales in comparison to the Holly Inn (1895) and Carolina Hotel (1901). All of Manor Inn’s interior was renovated, with only 15 percent of the interior framing remaining.

The resort has also announced that it will host both the Boys and Girls High School Golf National Invitational for the second straight year in 2020. The girls version will feature 216 players and be contested from June 24-26 and the boys, with 324 players, will run from June 29-July 1. Both will be 54-hole tournaments with the girls using the Nos. 6, 8 and 1 courses and the boys competing on Nos. 6, 8 and 5.

The course with the most interesting story to tell in our 2019 travels was at Royal New Kent in Virginia — an outstanding creation by the late architect, Mike Strantz. The course made a great recovery after having been closed for eight months following a series of ownership changes.

MYRTLE BEACH – There’s never a slowdown at MB. The sixth annual Preseason Classic, a two-person 54-hole team event, will be played over six courses from Jan. 26-29.

Myrtle Beach will also have a notable new look, as 11 of its premier courses will go wall-to-wall green in 2020. Founder’s Group International has overseeded its courses, ensuring that players will enjoy lush green grass throughout the winter and spring. Those courses include TPC Myrtle Beach, King’s North at Myrtle Beach National, Pawley’s Plantation, Long Bay Club, World Tour, the Palmetto and Pine Hills courses at Myrtlewood, Wing Win Avocet, Tradition Club, River Club, and Willibrook Plantation.

In another new development MyrtleBeachGolfTrips,com has released the results of an anonymous survey of over 50 of the area’s PGA professionals in an effort to provide an answer to the frequently-asked question – Which of the area’s courses is best?

The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design was the clear No. 1. There’s sure to be more debate, though. Rounding out the top 10, in order, were Tidewater, Grande Dunes, Prestwick, TPC Myrtle Beach, True Blue, the Fazio Course and Dye Course at Barefoot Resort and King’s North.

Myrtle Beach’s best? The area’s club professionals accorded The Dunes Club that honor.

FRENCH LICK – Cold weather may preclude golf at this southern Indiana resort for awhile, but things are looking up inside. The Valley Tower, a 71-room hotel, and the Valley Bar, both opened in November. They are part of a $17 million addition geared toward providing guests more options.

The additional rooms will supplement the existing 686 guestrooms at French Lick’s two historic hotels. French Lick Springs has 443 rooms and West Baden Springs has 243. Valley Bar will be the resort’s only 21-and-over eating establishment.


While the PGA of America is working on an eventual moving of its headquarters it’s winter home in Port St. Lucie, FL., is becoming a busy place. PGA Golf Club hosted the PGA Assistants’ Championship in November and landed two other big championships for the future.

PGA Golf Club will host the PGA Boys and Girls Junior Championship from July 13-31 of 2020 and the PGA Professional Championship in 2021.

“What’s significant about this and for everyone affiliated with the PGA Golf Club is that the facility will complete the circuit of hosting every PGA of America member championship,” said Jimmy Terry, senior director of PGA Golf Properties.

Ground-breaking was held on Oct. 18 at the PGA of America’s eventual new headquarters in Frisco, TX. It came 10 months after the projected move from Palm Beach Gardens, FL., was announced. The construction timetable calls for golf course construction to be finished in the fall of 2021, play starting in the spring of 2022 and the grand opening of the overall development in June, 2022.

The Ryder Course at PGA Golf Club will share hosting duties with the Wanamaker layout when the PGA Professionals Championship comes to the Port St. Lucie resort in 2021.


The Sheep Ranch, newest course at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes, is scheduled to open on June 1. The design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have been creating a par-71, 6,785-yard layout. Coore-Crenshaw also designed Bandon Trails and Bandon Preserve in the golf hotbed.

Construction has begun on the 10-hole Hilltop Short Course at Forest Dunes, in Roscommon, MI., with an opening expected in the spring.

Premier club fitter Club Champion has announced the opening of new facilities in Richmond, VA.; Hartford, CT.; Louisville; Houston; Birmingham, AL., Scottsdale, AR.; and Grand Rapids, MI. And another will open soon in Omaha, NEB.

The PGA of America has announced a nationwide series of 12 clinics in connection with the KPMG Women’s Championship. The first is April 27 at El Niguel in Laguna, Niguel, Calif. The tournament proper is June 23-28 at Aronimink, in Pennsylvania.

Sailfish Point, a premier private club on Florida’s Hutchinson Island, has scheduled three major charity events – the United Way Tocqueville Society Benefit on Dec. 12, the Hibiscus Luncheon on March 2; and the Florida Oceanographic Society Fundraiser on March 29.

Sailfish Point is one of the best of Florida’s private clubs that gets involved with charitable causes.

Broken Sound, in Boca Raton, FL., has been the traditional site of the PGA Tour Champions’ season opener. In 2020, however, the tournament will be played in the fall as one of the circuit’s playoff events.

North Carolina’s Grandover Resort, which has two quality courses, is the site of many festivities connected to the PGA Tour’s nearby Wyndham Championship.

Rochester is the best bet for golf getaways in New York

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – There are good reasons why Rochester should come to mind when you consider golf destinations. After all, the legendary player Walter Hagen grew up here and one of the most prolific course designers, Robert Trent Jones Sr., was not only born in Rochester but his very first design, Midvale, is also within the city limits.

Then there’s the venerable Oak Hill Country Club in suburban Pittsford. Its East Course is a Donald Ross design that dates back to 1901. The course has hosted three U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships (a fourth one is coming in 2023), two U.S. Amateurs, two Senior PGA Championships, one U.S. Senior Open and the 1995 Ryder Cup. The LPGA has played several of its majors at another Rochester club, Locust Hill.
Chicago’s own Jeff Sluman also developed his game in Rochester before becoming a fixture on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions.

Golf in Rochester, though, is about a lot more than major championships, top players and course designers. The Rochester area is also a great place to visit just for the purpose of just playing golf. Not only are there plenty of good courses, they’re also affordable and the distance between them is manageable.

Those are some big pluses, and they weren’t lost on Rod Christian, who created the New York Golf Trail. Christian’s trail is the largest in the country in terms of courses (34). He has divided it into eight regions and, he says, “the most popular of the regions is right here (in Rochester).’’

Four of his New York Trail courses – The Links at Greystone in Walworth, Ravenwood in Victor, Bristol Harbour in Canandaigua and Mill Creek in Churchville – are around Rochester and they also form the Finger Lakes Golf Trail. If another course is needed to accommodate those trail packages 27-hole Deerfield, in Brockport, gets the call.

Christian operates his trail in regions to facilitate travel for participating golfers. That sets New York apart from many of the other trails, most notably the more well-known Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama.

“There’s a lot more driving on that trail,’’ said Christian. “Rochester is a great place to work with. Here you plant yourself in one (hotel) location and there’s no more than a 20- to 30-minute drive to the courses.’’

The best course on our visit was a trail course — The Links at Greystone, a facility owned and operated by the Odenbach family. Its top greens fee is $67 – a bargain given the quality of the sport course with intriguing elevation changes.

Golf has been a labor of love for three generations of the Odenbach family, who opened a quarry and mining business in the Rochester area in 1920. Using equipment from that business, the Odenbachs built three courses between 1979 and 1995, sold them in 2000 and then bought them back 16 years later. They now operate two of the courses with family members playing a variety of lead roles.

Brothers John and Gardy Odenbach own The Links at Greystone. John’s son Alex is general manager and Gardy’s son Dusty is the director of golf. John’s wife Julie, a well-known high school coach of both boys and girls teams in the area, oversees the gardening and floral arrangements at the course.

“Our family tree is large here,’’ admitted Dusty Odenbach. The superintendent, Tim Hahn, may as well be a family member, too. The son of a one-time superintendent at famed Oak Hill, Hahn has been at Greystone since it opened.

“Golf started as a sidelight for us,’’ said John Odenbach. “There was always a lot of ground around our quarries, and my Dad (also named John) loved to build golf courses.’’

The Odenbachs ventured into golf by building Shadow Lake in Pennfield in 1979. It’s a 27-hole facility with Pete Craig the designer. Craig was also the designer of Shadow Pines, which was built nearby several years later.

Craig Schreiner, who worked with the Hurdzan Design Group, collaborated on courses with tour players Larry Mize and Nick Price and produced his own designs in 10 states. The Odenbachs hired him to create the Greystone Golf Club.

“At that time there were about 40 golf courses in and around Rochester,’’ said John Odenbach. “Now there’s about 80, so there’s lots of competition.’’

In 2000 the Odenbachs sold everything – the quarry business and the three golf courses — to Old Castle Materials, an Irish company, to settle a family estate. Family members, though, continued to run both the quarry company and the courses.

Four years ago Old Castle wanted to get out of the golf business, and the Odenbachs wanted to stay in. John and Gardy bought Greystone and another brother, Fritz, became the owner of Shadow Lake with a partner. Shadow Creek was built on land that was more valuable for development rather than golf. It is now a park.

Since the re-acquisition the family has re-branded Greystone, and that included the name adjustment.

“Originally there was a lot of traditional links-style to it,’’ said Dusty Odenbach. “We’ve made several improvements to enhance the links roots. We took out a lot of trees and added a starter’s hut on the first tee.’’

Ravenwood is good, too, and probably a better tournament course. It has hosted the New York State Amateur twice and its top green fee is $65 in the summer months. Mill Creek, in Churchville, has one of the longest public facilities in the area at 6,861 yards from the tips, and its top fee if $50.

The city of Rochester has 12 golf facilities within its borders and three are municipally owned. Oldest of the courses is Country Club of Rochester, built in 1895. Like Oak Hill, it’s a private club, but Genesee Valley — one of three facilities operated by the Monroe County Department of Parks — has two seasoned 18-holers. One opened in 1899 and the other in 1925.

The Rochester area has other attractions that are also appealing – especially if you schedule your visit during the annual Rochester International Jazz Festival. It keeps the downtown area hopping with its series of free concerts.

Of the year-around offerings, The Strong National Museum of Play most accurately bills itself as “the ultimate play destination for all ages.’’ It has the world’s largest collection of toys, dolls, board games and electronic games and its Toys National Hall of Fame honors such innovators as Milton Bradley, Walt Disney, Jim Henson and George Lucas.

Then there’s the George Eastman Museum. Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, was a pioneer in the photography and motion picture industry and the museum is housed in his mansion. It has one of the oldest film archives in the U.S. and its artifacts include the world’s largest collection of camera technology.

If you want a non-golf outdoor activity take a guided cruise down the Erie Canal on the Sam Patch, a replica of the boats that traveled in the canal after its opening in 1825.

Dining is more than ample, too. We tried out The Cub Room, which specializes in American fare but has nothing to do with Chicago’s baseball team. We also sampled the Italian dishes at Branca Midtown, the unique atmosphere of the Genesee Brew House and the wines at the Casa Larga Vineyards.

All made for a great escape but the golf was in the forefront.

Mission Inn isn’t one of Florida’s biggest golf resorts — but it’s one of the best

No. 17 at Mission Inn’s El Campeon course may be the toughest par-5 in Florida. It’s a double dogleg with the approach to the green requiring a third shot over a pond — plus you must either go over or around a tree in the middle of the fairway that can block a shot to the putting surface. That infuriating tree has been confronting golfers for over 100 years. That’s why the hole is called `Devil’s Delight.’

HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, FLORIDA – Florida is loaded with golf courses – about 1,500 of them – and the state’s golf resorts include such famous multi-course meccas at PGA National, PGA Golf Club, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass, Innisbrook and Doral.

In contrast, Mission Inn Resort & Club on the outskirts of Orlando has just two courses but, make no mistake, it is as special a place as any of the others.

Mission Inn is just a bit different. It has one of the Sunshine State’s oldest courses, now called El Campeon, that is rich in history. Its companion course, 27-year old Las Colinas, isn’t exactly new but is a nice complement to El Campeon, which dates back to 1917.

As old as El Campeon is, the layout still holds up just fine in top-level amateur tournaments. That’s rarely the case for layouts of similar vintage, but El Campeon is the tougher of the two Mission Inn layouts. Both are well-conditioned and used regularly for the Florida high school championships. They’ve also hosted many, many college tournaments, U.S. Golf Association qualifiers and small professional events.

The par-3 eighth is the most historical hole on El Campeon. It’s the only hole that has maintained its same spot in the rotation since the course opened in 1917.

Mission Inn’s big tournament resume is surprising, considering that neither course permits walking except in extraordinary circumstances. They’ve just withstood the time as good shot-making tests for measuring which player is the best on any given day or in any give competition.

El Campeon’s history is extraordinary. George O’Neil, a Chicago teaching pro who dabbled in course design, created the course for William Howey – a citrus magnate who wanted something to entertain some of the visitors to his estate that was built just before World War I.

O’Neil is known more for his teaching than his architectural efforts. He gave lessons to such luminaries as former President Warren G. Harding, Charlie Chaplin and John D. Rockefeller. Golfing greats Harry Vardon and Chick Evans also were tutored by O’Neil.

The fifth hole is the shortest of the four par-5s on the Las Colinas course.

The 6,300-yard course was originally called Chain O’ Lakes and there was no grass on its greens from its opening in 1917 until 1938. The putting surfaces consisted of well-oiled sand and the rest of the course, without the benefit of irrigation systems, was unkempt. Visitors stayed at the Bougainvillea Hotel until it burned down in 1920.

A Scottish architect, Charles Clarke, refurbished the course while the Hotel Floridian was built to replace the lodging lost in the fire. The course continued as an attraction and its players included Ben Hogan, Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias before Nick Beucher bought the facility in 1964 and gradually transformed the place into a Spanish colonial- themed resort.

The beauty of the resort provides a stunning backdrop for golfers finishing their rounds.

Beucher started a successful career as a salesman while living in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette. That came after he had fulfilled a life-long dream when he and a friend made a 39-day, 1,400-mile horseback ride from Del Rio, TX, to Mexico City. They stayed in missions along the way, and the horseback adventure led to Beucher’s renaming efforts at the resort.

The golf course, stretched to 7,015 yards, was revived and re-routed and became El Campeon. The resort and hotel became Mission Inn and it now includes El Conquistador, a fine upscale restaurant; La Hacienda, a good dining spot for breakfast and lunch; Spa Mirabella; the El Cornedor Fitness Center; a beautiful outdoor bar/gathering place called Plaza de las Palmas; and hotel segments tabbed San Angel, San Diego and San Miguel.

El Campeon has 85-foot elevation changes — some going up, some going down – on six holes and its No. 17 hole, a par-5, is one of the toughest anywhere. A double-dogleg dubbed Devil’s Delight, the green is fronted by a live oak tree in the center of the fairway and a pond. More than a few Mission Inn golfers wish that the tree would be hit by one of the hurricanes that occasionally visit the area, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Las Colinas isn’t nearly as interesting. Former PGA Tour player Gary Koch created the original design for the course’s opening in 1992 and veteran Florida architect Ron Garl made some major changes in 2007. The result is a course that is more typically resort style and user friendly than El Campeon.

This courtyard fountain is another example of the Spanish influence at Mission Inn.

The 1,100 acres that comprise the Mission Inn property contain much more than the two golf courses. There’s 30,000 square feet of conference space with 19 meeting rooms and two large ballrooms. The 176 guest rooms, suites and villas are supplemented by two lounges and a poolside bar. About 75 percent of the lodging and corporate rooms have golf course views.

Beacher passed away in 2005 at age 88 while residing in what is now the penthouse suite of the hotel. He passed on his enthusiasm for the place to his six children, however, with one son Bob the resort president and another, Bud, the vice president and general manager. Two daughters also play prominent roles in the resort’s operation.

Diners at the upscale El Conquistador are greeted by this imposing figure in a suit of armor at the front door.

The staff more recently added a significant non-family member. Roy Schindele, executive director of sales and marketing at Bay Hill, now is in a similar role at Mission Inn.

The Howey mansion and mausoleum are located across from Mission Inn but it not part of the resort property. That land, though, does include the Marina del Rey Pavilion on Lake Harris. It includes 50 slips that are used by residents and the result has two pontoon boats and one fishing boat that get heavy use in waters that are great for bass fishing.

There’s also four clay courts and two all-weather courts for tennis and two more courts for pickleball. All have lights to allow for night play. Team-building facilities, which include a rock-climbing wall, are also part of the marina area. Boat rides to Mount Dora, a quaint little town with its own unique attractions, and a short trip to nearby Tavares – the self-proclaimed “Seaplane Capitol of the World’’ – are also readily available.

The Marina del Rey provides another recreational dimension for Mission Inn guests.

Want the best golf options in Michigan? Head to the north

Thanks to a series of expansions Crystal Mountain Resort has created the look of a village plaza.

THOMPSONVILLE, Michigan – The state of Michigan is loaded with great golf courses. That’s no secret.

With over 800 public facilities in the state, it might be challenging to find the right area for the best courses – but fear no more. Northern Michigan is that spot. You can’t go wrong there.

In 2013 course operators in that area made a bold claim, declaring their terrain “America’s Summer Golf Capital,’’ and very few have disputed it. The “Capital’’ now includes 10 resorts and 33 courses, most within 45 minutes of each other. And membership does not include nearby Arcadia Bluffs, billed by many as the state’s best course, or Arcadia South, the new companion course to the Bluffs.

“Most of the members have been pretty consistent,’’ said Brian Lawson, director of public relations at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville. “Us, Manistee National, Grand Traverse Resort, Treetops, all the Boyne resorts, LochenHeath — have been there from the beginning. A few others have been in and out, but we’re always looking to expand.’’

No. 17, a downhill par-3 on the Mountain Ridge course, may be Crystal Mountain’s most popular hole.

The “Capital’’ started as basically a website, and it still is without a headquarters location. Golf packages, however, can be booked on the website, www.americasgolfcapital.com, and Charley Olson is available as the group’s marketing administrator.

Here are the golf options provided in America’s Summer Golf Capital:

BAY HARBOR — Four courses are available in the Petoskey-Charlevoix area – Bay Harbor, The Quarry, The Links and Crooked Tree.

BOYNE HIGHLANDS — Located in Harbor Springs, this resort has 72 holes plus a par-3 course. The 18-holers are The Heather, Arthur Hills, Donald Ross Memorial and Moor. The Heather was named National Course of the Year for 2019 by the National Golf Course Owners Association.

BOYNE MOUNTAIN – Located in Boyne Falls, this resort has the Alpine and Monument layouts.

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN – Another two-course facility, this one offers Mountain Ridge, home of the Michigan Women’s Open for the last 17 years, and Betsie Valley. A lot has been happening at Crystal Mountain. We’ll get to that later.

FOREST DUNES – This well-regarded resort is Roscommon is in expansion mode. In addition to its established Tom Weiskopf-designed layout Forest Dunes has a unique reversible course, called The Loop, and a putting course. A par-3 course is under construction.

GRAND TRAVERSE – Located in Acme, this resort’s Bear, Wolverine and Spruce Run courses have been popular for years. The Bear is a Jack Nicklaus design.

A sunset view of Grand Traverse Bay from the Cherry Tree Inn is something special.

LOCHENHEATH – Steve Smyers designed the lone course at this location, which is located on Grand Traverse Bay in Williamsburg and its minutes away from downtown Traverse City.

MANISTEE NATIONAL – Canthooke Valley and Cutter’s Ridge are both par-71 layouts located in a beautiful forest setting.

SHANTY CREEK – Cedar River (Tom Weiskopf) and The Legend (Arnold Palmer) have well-known designers on this site in Bellaire. The other courses there are Schuss Mountain and Summit.

TREETOPS – The Gaylord hotspot has five courses, among them The Premier – the only Tom Fazio design in Michigan. Rick Smith designed both the Signature and Tradition courses and Robert Trent Jones Sr. provided The Masterpiece. Treetops also features Threetops – one of the best par-3 layouts in the U.S.

TULLYMORE — This resort in Stanwood has two great 18-holers – the Tullymore and St. Ives layouts.

Many of these places started as ski resorts and still thrive in the winter months because of their slopes and chairlifts. Golf, though, has been the heart of summertime activity there for over 50 years and each year there’s something new at one place or another to entice golfers.

The new rooftop bar (above) has been a big hit at Crystal Mountain this year. The view from it (below) is stunning. It showcases the fire pit and game area with the ski slopes as a backdrop.

Our latest of many trips to Northern Michigan focused on Crystal Mountain. That’s been where most of the action has the last four years. Our last visit was in 2015, and we hardly recognized the place upon our return. That’s what a $12 million expansion and the hiring of a quality course superintendent can do for a place.

Jason Farah, formerly at U.S. Open site Oakland Hills, took over superintendent’s duties in 2014 and Crystal Mountain’s Mountain Ridge and Betsie Valley courses have never looked better.

Greg Babinec, Michigan’s Golf Professional of the Year in 2018, has also factored into the golf upgrades. He spent 11 years at Arcadia Bluffs and has now been at Crystal Mountain for the last nine. In addition to serving as host professional for the resort’s biggest golf event, the Michigan Women’s Open, Babinec made a noteworthy executive decision in the last year.

The Mountain Ridge course may have been the only one in the country to have its first hole designated as the No. 1 handicap hole. Players didn’t like that, so now the No. 1 handicap hole is No. 13 – a long tough par-4 – and No. 1 has been dropped to No. 6 on the scorecard for handicap purposes.

That’s just a fun detail for what’s been going on at Crystal Mountain. After a series of cottages were added a much bigger deal was the expansion of the Inn at the Mountain. Because of it a pedestrian-friendly village plaza has emerged as the centerpiece of the resort.

“We doubled the size of the Inn and added 25 new hotel suites,’’ said Lawson. A rooftop bar, which is also used for receptions, also has opened. All the rooms are themed after local or national attractions.

The bottom line is, Crystal Mountain has even more options than it had four years ago and can entice a wider variety of visitors. It now has – among other things — Michigan’s only alpine slide, a water park, a climbing wall, 14 miles of bicycle trails, the Michigan Legacy Art Park and facilities for pickleball, tennis, kayaking and Disc Golf. The Wild Tomato is great for breakfast and the Thistle Pub & Grille in Kinlochen (where the pro shop is also located) has lunch and dinner menus.

“We’re different things to different people,’’ said Lawson. “We’re a family resort, a golf resort, a spa, a ski resort. And, they almost all require separate marketing plans.’’

Want to go off-site for other attractions? There’s the Iron Fish Distillery, which is also in Thompsonville, and Mawby Sparkling winery in Suttons Bay. If you want to stay away from the resort there’s wide variety of lodging available in Traverse City. We used the Park Place Hotel and Cherry Inn & Suites on our stop.

If you’re looking for non-golf activities in Northern Michigan, David Wallace’s Iron Fish Distillery, in Thompsonville, and the Mawby Sparkling winery, in Suttons Bay, are interesting diversions.

New Yorker Welch is Myrtle Beach’s latest World Champion

William Welch of West Islip, N.Y., claimed the World Champion trophy at Barefoot Resort’s Dye Course.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — August is the biggest month of the golf season – and not just because big professional events like the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs are contested then. The PlayGolf Myrtle Beach.com World Amateur Handicap Championship was different but every bit as impressive.

Staged for the 36th time on 55 courses in this South Carolina golf mecca, the World Am wasn’t just older than any of that month’s tour events, it also had more players. Many more, in fact..

The entry count hit 3,215 from 49 states (only Alaska was missing) and 20 countries. There were 161 international participants with Canada leading with 51. The internationals traveled approximately 500,000 miles to get here. As far as the U.S. states are concerned, South Carolina led with 312 players and Florida had 307.

Though multiple courses were used, organizers claim the World Am is “the world’s largest single-site tournament’’ – the “site’’ being the general Myrtle Beach area.

The player coming the farthest was likely Steve Muller, who lives in Brisbane, Australia. Muller and his wife Karen were 24 hours in transit to get to Myrtle Beach for the first time.

Muller learned about the World Am via a Google search in January and made travel plans even before the tournament was accepting entries. He believes his home club in Australia, called Carbrook, is the only one with sharks in its ponds but Australia’s `Great White Shark,’ Greg Norman, has never played there.

Australians Steve Muller and wife Karen enjoyed their first taste of the World Am.

So, why did Muller enter?

“It’s golf, so why not?’’ he said. “Nobody from my club had heard about it but there’ll be at least four from there here next year.’’

The World Am had more winners than the August pro events, too. In addition to the 67 flight winners, there was an overall champion – William Welch of West Islip, N.Y.,’ a Gross Division winner – Christopher Reina of Frisco, TX.; and a Senior Gross Division titlist – Steve Humphrey of Ocala, FL.

Welch shot a net 69 (gross 85) to win the Flight Winners’ Playoff at the Barefoot Resort’s Dye Course. That made Welch the 2019 World Champion. Reina shot a 75 to win the Gross Division and Humphrey a 76 en route to an eight-stroke victory in the Senior Gross Division.

The World Am is never about winning, though. It’s about participation, fun and socializing, but there’s of golf played. Myrtle Beach’s biggest event consists of 72 holes on different courses for players in nine age groups, and there’s also a “Just for Fun’’ division. The handicap procedure is strictly supervised, and that’s a big reason for the event’s annual success.

Not to be forgotten regarding this event’s popularity is the World’s Largest 19th Hole, a nightly feature at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The big party featured music, food and beverages from a variety of Myrtle Beach restaurants and appearances by various Golf Channel personalities.

Tournament director Scott Tomasello called the World Am “a bucket list event for recreational golfers.’’

“It is more than just a tournament to our players,’’ said Tomasello. “It’s an event. From what happens on the course to the World’s Largest 19th Hole, the World Am becomes part of the annual calendar for our players.’’

This year’s version was blessed with great weather. Thirty-three courses hosted play each day and 55 used for at least one round. The World’s Largest 19th Hole, staged nightly in a 120,000 square foot area of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. included a 70-exhibitor golf expo and featured attractions included billiards legend Ewa Laurance.

Next playing of the World Am will be Aug. 31 through Sept. 4 of 2020.