Big things are happening on the Citrus Golf Trail

It’s official. James Cramer (left) begins the introduction process leading into the announcement that the Citrus Golf Trail Open will make its debut in 2021.

SEBRING, Florida — The Citrus Golf Trail has – most justifiably —  promoted itself as “The Value Golf Capital of America.’’

Joe Staffieri, the  manager at Pinecrest on Loleta in Avon Park, created the Trail in 2012 and it’s flourishing like never before now.

“Golf can be expensive, but if you want to make a golf trip without breaking the bank you can come here and play for $20 — $60 in peak season,’’ said Andy Kesling, head professional at Sun ‘N Lake Golf Club and a Trail official.  “We’re very excited about what the future holes.  We have a lot to offer here.’’

The Sebring area isn’t just an economical place to play good golf. Big things are happening at the six golf facilities that comprise the Trail.  Two have recently gotten new owners and collectively the group has put together a big new amateur event that will debut in December of 2021.

The biggest splash made most recently has been at what had been the Spring Lake Golf Resort, a facility that had opened in the 1970s. Signature H Property Group purchased the 352-acre property in November of 2019, renamed it the Sebring International Golf Resort and went on a major rebranding mission.

“It had 45 holes in its heyday,’’ said Helmut Wyzisk III, president and chief executive officer of Signature H.  “Then it fell on hard times.  My business is re-positioning and re-developing golf courses.  We come in with a vision. Play had been coming down but it had a great footprint for us to bring in other amenities and save 27 championship holes.’’

Those 45 holes have been whittled to 39. The 18-hole Cougar, a 5,500-yard par-70 course, and the nine-hole Panther nine are being renovated. The nine-hole Bobcat has been closed and will become the gathering point for fishermen. And, within that mix, is The 12 –  a creation of Steve Smyers, a Florida architect who has designed courses across the U.S.

The 12 is a course that ties in golf and auto racing — a good combination in Sebring.

The 12 is so named because of the famous auto race, 12 Hours of Sebring, that is staged annually within earshot of Sebring International. Smyers’ course consists of 12 par-3 holes, some of them very much on the short side but all of them fun. A group of media played the initial round there on a Dec. 8 riding tour, but the course is perfect for walkers.

Meanwhile, the Panther nine is undergoing a major renovation.  What had been the longest hole in Florida golf – No. 4, a par-6 that measured 800 yards from the back tees – is no more. Wyzisk, his father Helmut Wyzisk Jr. and head professional Craig Bendall are creating a re-routing that will make the new par-3 on that part of the property a signature hole. A tee box with three elevation changes is being constructed.

A recreation center, 44 new cabins and some new golf villas are in the works and amenities like a member’s pool, bocce ball and sports courts are also in the future plans.

“We’re here to create something different, and we’re lucky to still have this property,’’ said Wyzisk. “We came in at the perfect time.’’

Here’s what’s left of the 800-yard par-6 hole at Sebring International. Once the longest hole in Florida golf, it’ll soon become an elevated tee box for a signature par-3 on the Panther nine.

Golf enthusiasm has been in abundance in the Sebring area, which is 60 miles south of Disney World.  That was evident with the announcement of the upcoming Citrus Golf Trail Open.  It was made at Pinecrest, one of six courses on the Trail, and a club that had been a big tournament site years ago.  One of the early televised match play elimination tournaments was played there in 1959 as part of the World Championship Golf series on NBC. It offered what was then one of the biggest purses in golf — $171,000.

The following year Pinecrest hosted the best men and women players in the world at the Haig & Haig Scotch Foursome tournament, which remained in the Sebring area until 1964. Arnold Palmer, Tommy Bolt, Julius Boros, Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Joanne Carner all played there and Al Balding and Fred Hawkins were regulars at Pinecrest after their retirements as tour players.

Guest players were pretty high profiles, too – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Grover Cleveland, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the comedy team of Burns & Allen.

Only amateurs – an expected 350 of them, men and women – will participate in the new Citrus Golf Trail Open, which will make its debut Dec. 2-5, 2021, and be a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Highland County. Its projected to become an annual event.

“It’s a wonderful time to announce this exciting new tournament that will shine a light on the great courses that make up the Citrus Golf Trail,’’ said Kesling. More details are to be announced on the Trail website (

In addition to Pinecrest and Sebring International, the courses on the Trail include River Greens, Sebring Municipal and Sun ‘N Lakes’ two 18-holers — Deer Run and Turtle Run.

This fallen pine went down in a hurricane two years ago at Sebring Municipal. Reflecting the powers of nature, it’s become a popular photo shoot for golfers.





GOLF TRAVEL NOTES: Two long-time favorites are changing course



First of all, HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all of our traveling golfers from our place in Florida’s PGA Village.

We are now in the heart of the holiday season and we hope that all our friends will enjoy these days to the fullest. Golf travel wasn’t so easy in this pandemic year, but we’re sure that better days are ahead. Len Ziehm on Golf wanted to remain on your radar when it came to providing the latest from travel destinations. To do that we have made three driving trips in 2020, visiting seven states after the pandemic clicked in big-time on March 12.  Spending 37 days on the road for those jaunts isn’t much, compared what we’ve done in our previous 10 years driving around the country to report on golf travel. We have one trip, albeit a short one, remaining in 2020.  Next week we’ll be going to Sebring, Florida — a great place for golfers who want to play a lot and still enjoy the many benefits that a small town offers.

IN THE MEANTIME, here’s updates from some of our favorite places that we visited recently.

California’s LaCosta Resort, the scene of lots of big tournaments in the past, has been named the site of the NCAA Championships three years in a row.

DESPITE THE problems caused by the pandemic there were three big stories in the world of golf travel in 2020.  Two involved long-famous destinations, the other a Texas town that is certain to become one.

Back in the day Ohio’s Firestone and California’s LaCosta were among the very best PGA Tour stops.  Firestone, a long-time private club, hosted big tournaments since the 1950s and LaCosta was on the pro tour calendar from 1968 through 2007 before focusing on resort play.

Now things have changed.

Firestone, now open to non-members, is offering stay-and-play packages, and LaCosta, with its 36 holes, is back in the tournament business – or at least it will be soon.  Following a renovation of its Champions Course by Gil Hanse – the game’s hottest architect at the moment, the resort will host the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s championships from 2024 to 2026.

We’ve been to both places, but not in recent years.  I’ve played the Firestone courses and reported on tournaments there.  LaCosta was a key part of a five-week driving trip through western states in 2015 that included stops at prominent destinations in California, Washington and Arizona.

LaCosta was a name from the past even back then.  It had hosted 25 PGA Tour events and two LPGA tournaments in those more high-profile times.

From 1968-98 it was the site of the Mercedes Championship – also known as the Tournament of Champions. Tournament rounds consisted of nine holes on the Champions Course and nine of the Legends Course, and a great list of champions included Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Then that event moved to Hawaii.

LaCosta wasn’t tournament-starved for long. A year later the Accenture Match Play Championship, a World Golf Championship event, moved in and was staged there until 2006 (minus one year when the event was played in Australia in 2001). Then it moved to Arizona.

In came the LPGA with its Kia Classic, in 2011 and 2012, but then it switched to Aviara, another  course in the Carlsbad, Calif., area.

Losing those big ones was a blow to the resort, which had been taken over by the Omni hotel chain. LaCosta celebrated its 50th anniversary while we were there and Champions, originally designed by Dick Wilson, was notable for its steep bunkers (78 had been put in during a redesign for the WGC arrival).  Now Hanse and partner Jim Wagner will begin another upgrading with the NCAA Championships in mind.

As for Firestone, it was the site of such biggies as the World Series of Golf, three PGA Championships, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and – most recently – the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship. Its underdoing a renovation, too, with 18 bunkers being removed from the Fazio (formerly West) Course and the remaining 51 being reshaped and enhanced by the Better Billy Bunker system to improve drainage.

There’s also been a management change. Jay Walkinshaw, who held management positions at –among others – California hotspots Olympic Club and  Pebble Beach, is now the general manager and Tommy Moore is the new director of golf.

A potentially bigger splash  is being made in Frisco, Tex.  The PGA of America announced it was moving much of its headquarters there from its long-time home in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. The PGA is making big plans for the facility in Texas, and the first two of its courses there – the East, designed by Hanse, and the West, designed by Beau Welling — are almost finished.  They won’t be open for a while, however, as the PGA wants to a full year for the courses to grow in  and maintenance practices established.

The projected opening for the courses is June of 2022 and the first tournament scheduled in Frisco is the Senior PGA Championship in 2023.


We’ve hit lots of shots on lots of courses in Myrtle Beach, but this was one time a free drop was mandatory,

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – As always, lots is going on in this golf mecca. The Myrtle Beach Preseason Classic, a two-man 54-hole team event, will tee off on six courses from Feb. 1-3.  The 150-team field is already full…..The March Championship has a new name.  It’s now the World Amateur Q School….Three-time World Long Drive champion Sean Fister is now on the staff of the Dustin Johnson Junior Golf Academy….Mystical Golf, which has three courses (Man-O-War, The Witch and The Wizard), has overseeded its layouts with Ryegrass and that means wall to wall emerald green fairways, rough and putting surfaces as opposed to the usual dormant brown conditions found on most courses during the cold weather months.

STREAMSONG – KemperSports has expanded its role at this three-course central Florida destination. The Chicago-based group has been involved with the Streamsong golf operation since the resort was launched in 2012. Now Kemper will manage all resort operations.

PINEHURST, N.C. – The U.S. Golf Association and Kids Golf Foundation both announced they’re setting up headquarters in this golf hotbed, but there’s more. The Dormie Club is getting a 16,600-foot clubhouse, a stand-alone pro shop and 15 cottages to enhance its Bill Coore-Ben Creshaw designed course. Improvements have been made to the course, too.  All the projects are to be completed by June, 2021.

BANDON DUNES – Oregon’s very special facility has announced its championship events for 2021.  The Bandon Dunes Cup is May 2-5, the Golf Digest Open June 6-9, the Links Championship June 27-30 and the Fall Match Play Oct. 20-23.

BARTON CREEK – This Omni resort and spa in Austin, Tex., will host the PGA Professional Championship – the world’s largest all-professional event – on its Fazio Foothills and Coore-Crenshaw courses in April of 2022.

EAGLE RIDGE – Illinois’ premier resort has won the Stella Award from North Star Meeting Group for the second year in a row.  Its Gold award  in the regional hotel category honors the “Best Golf Resort in the Midwest.’’ Eagle Ridge has four courses, headed by The General.  The resort’s attractions also include the new Highlands Restaurant and Lounge 289.





These trying times didn’t faze Myrtle Beach’s Founders Group


King’s North, at Myrtle Beach National, has a par-5 that’s hard to play — and hard to forget.

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina — Believe it or not, there are some good things coming out of this horrible pandemic that has negatively impacted the U.S. for the last nine months. It created a bigger demand for golf nation-wide — play is up over 20 percent, according to the National Golf Foundation —  and the pandemic resulted in some positive changes to the game as well.

Justin Binke, director of marketing for Founders Group International, has witnessed it first hand, as Myrtle Beach has retained its title as “Golf Capital of the World’’ and FGI has the area’s most established group of courses, loyalty programs and reservation services.

FGI has acquired 21 courses in the area since 2014.  They include TPC Myrtle Beach and Grande Dunes, both former honorees as Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association,  and Pine Lakes Country Club, where the MB golf boom began. Pine Lakes was the first club to open there, in 1927, and its founder was Robert White, the first president of the PGA of America.

All the good years, though, were threatened by the pandemic.

“Granted these have been unfortunate times,’’ said Binke, “but golf has been an out for people who want to get out of the house, get some exercise and play the game that we all love.  They feel safe coming to a golf course, and we’ve seen a rise in local golf.’’

Binke also oversees two of the area’s most popular package companies – and They’ve been key to keeping golf strong in an area where it’s always been that way.

“We’ve made sure our websites are up to date,’’ said Binke.  “We have everything golfers are looking to do.  We have specials, lodging and great golf courses all there for people to come to see, and we’ve taken the proper protocols to keep everyone safe. We’ve also tried to be the resource for not only golf packages, but for all things golf in Myrtle Beach.’’

No. 3 at King’s North has an island green and — if you get an aerial view — bunkers that honor South Carolina.

On the playing side, there have been two big positives. FGI was quick to point out that walking would be allowed at all its courses.  Not many golf destinations allow that, but the declaration was helpful at the FGI facilities.

“We’ve seen a rise in people wanting to walk, be outside and enjoy great weather this summer,’’ said Binke.  “We’ll continue to allow walking if people choose to do so.’’

Most players continue to ride, and the MB walkers must provide their own push-carts or carry their own bags. Still, walking is an option that should be offered at more destinations. The argument that it slows down play is bogus.

Actually, some  protocols put in place because of the pandemic have speeded up play – like not allowing rakes in bunkers, keeping flagsticks inserted in raised cups (so golfers don’t have to reach in to retrieve their balls) and dispensing with sand bottles in carts to repair divots. Those are measures that could be retained once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. At least they’re worth considering.

Grande Dune’s clubhouse provides a welcoming finish from the 18th fairway.

“We have seen an increase in speed of play, and that beneficial to us all,’’ said Binke

Our latest visit to the “Golf Capital of the World’’ enabled us to see how things were working at three of the FGI courses. The answer? Everything was just fine at Grande Dunes, the King’s North course at Myrtle Beach National and TPC Myrtle Beach.

King’s North was really something special. Over the years I’ve played an estimated 30 courses in the Myrtle Beach area and King’s North is now my favorite after playing my first round there. (Of course, I’ll have to play the other 70 or so to provide a definitive answer – and I hope I’ll be able to do that).

Arnold Palmer designed all three of the courses at Myrtle Beach National, with help from Francis Duane. King’s North, which opened in 1973 but was re-designed by Palmer in 1996, has some special touches.  An island green at No. 3 is one. The bunkers on that hole also are a tribute to the state of South Carolina (they form an “SC”) and No. 18 has an astonishing 43 bunkers all by itself. They don’t impact play all that much, though.

The most interesting special feature at King’s North is “The Gambler’’ at the par-5 sixth hole. You’ve got a variety of playing options on this risk-reward hole, and it merits its claim as “The Most Unique Par 5 in All of Golf.’’

King’s North and TPC Myrtle Beach are both good walking courses, Grande Dunes not so much. The TPC layout, a Tom Fazio design with consulting help from Lanny Wadkins, opened in 1999. It includes the Dustin Johnson Golf Academy and many of DJ’s trophies are on display in the clubhouse. Grande Dunes, a Roger Rulewich design, opened in 2001 and offers great views of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The march up the 18th fairway at TPC Myrtle Beach is lined with bunkers all the way to the clubhouse.





Kilmarlic’s Cottages provide a big boost to golf on the Outer Banks


The home hole at Kilmarlic brings golfers right up to the clubhouse.

POWELLS POINT, N.C. – Golf has been played around the Outer Banks of North Carolina since 1988 but its development was a slow one. Nags Head Links was the first to open,  and The Sound Links, The Pointe, Currituck, Carolina Club, Kilmarlic, The Pines and Scotch Hall Preserve all were taking players by 2008.

Those courses all had their followings among residents and visitors to the area, which divides the Atlantic Ocean from the Currituck Sound. The problem was keeping those players there. There wasn’t enough lodging geared to golfers.

That shortcoming was alleviated only recently when the Kilmarlic Club Cottages were built. There’s 18 of them, all named after former Masters champions. Each has two bedrooms and two baths plus a full kitchen, living room and back deck that includes a gas grill. Thirteen surround a lighted 5,000 square foot putting green and five are set near a small pond.

There’s also a four-hole short course, called The Killie.  Its holes range from 27 to 40 yards.

Bryan Sullivan, co-owner of Kilmarlic Resort and Club, saw a definite uptick in play after the cottages were completed in April of 2019.  The construction of all of them took 14 months. The pandemic forced a slow start to the 2020 season, but Sullivan reports “our best June, July, August and September we’ve ever had’’ since then.

High grass at the start of the tee boxes creates an imposing look for golfers at Kilmarlic.

“(The cottages) were a big investment,’’ said Sullivan, “but I always felt fairly confident we could get the golf rentals.  The big question was whether we could get the summertime family rentals.  As it’s turned out, those rentals have been a big hit and a big surprise.’’

It wasn’t just the golf that made them work. Other attractions – notably a water park within walking distance and the always popular Wright Brothers historic air flight museum and monument in Kitty Hawk – brought in families, too. So did the availability of watersports.

“As I like to tell guests, you can have your toes in the ocean in 10 minutes from here,’’ said Sullivan.  “After the first six cottages were completed and we saw the reaction to them, we knew we had it. It was a home run for us.’’

Bryan Sullivan has taken Outer Banks golf to a new level.

The Kilmarlic course, recognized as one of the best in not only the Outer Banks but state-wide as well, is certainly an attraction. As site of the North Carolina Open in 2004 and 2009, it’s no secret to golfers.  It’s also been the annual site of the OBX Intercollegiate, hosted by Old Dominion. At the 2019 staging of that event Michael O’Brien, of St. Joseph’s of Pennsylvania, shot a course record 61.

Sullivan, who played on both the PGA and Canadian pro tours, had shared the old record of 63, his hot round coming in the North Carolina Open.  He’s been at Kilmarlic from its beginning, when Tom Steele designed the course. Steele, a landscape architect from Virginia, designed only one other course – Nansemond River in Suffolk, VA. It opened in 1999.

Though not well known in golf architecture, Steele created a course that’s not long (6,615 yards from the back tees) and has no real signature hole.

He had 605 acres have maritime forests and wetlands wo work with and  Sullivan likes the par-5 ninth as his favorite hole.

High grass in front of most of the tees creates the illusion that the holes are longer than they really area. The par-3s are all easy on the eye and present a variety of challenges.  The par-5s all have a risk-reward look.

The course’s name came from a ship from Kilmarnock, Scotland, that sank off the shores of the Outer Banks in the mid-1600s. Apparently the ship was filled with whiskey and the area residents enjoyed a big celebration after confiscating it.

Here are scenes from Kilmarmic’s new Cottages.





No doubt about it: Michigan’s LochenHeath is back in the swing of things


LochenHeath has plenty of memorable holes, and waterfront views only make them better.

WILLIAMSBURG, Michigan – This is one of those golf feel-good stories that you don’t see often enough.

It focuses on LochenHeath Golf Club in northern Michigan, on the outskirts of Traverse City.  LochenHeath is a course that once was closed, but has since been rescued thanks to some extraordinary efforts by a few club members and some dedicated employes. Now they have one of the best public courses in this golf-rich state.

The course, designed by the well-respected Steve Smyers, has a beautiful site above East Grand Traverse Bay. Built on what had been a 300-acre cherry orchard, LochenHeath opened as a public course in 2002, went private in 2004 and then reverted to a daily fee operation in 2008. The end result of those maneuvers led to bankruptcy and a shutdown that lasted over two years

Eleven members brought the club out of foreclosure in the spring of 2011, but they did more than that. Their passion for the project made all the difference.

“Really quite a story,’’ recounted general manager Kevin O’Brien.  “The members didn’t sit by during the shutdown.  They came out and kept the course alive – mowing, weeding bunkers, whatever they could do.’’

At one point the grass in the fairways was knee-high, and one of the bunkers required 65 man-hours of hand labor for it to survive.

Joe Ettawagiac, who had been the assistant superintendent, was brought back as the head man and another former employee, chef Joseph George, was also re-hired.  In May of 2011 those involved held a celebratory reopening.

O’Brien, who joined the effort in 2013, had worked at some other good places in Michigan.  He was in charge at the 36-hole Tullymore Resort, in Stanwood, for 20 years. While O’Brien was there architect Jim Engh created the resort’s  namesake course that was judged America’s Best New Public and Resort Course after its opening in 2002.  St. Ives, the resort’s older course, is considered one of the best for women.

After Tullymore O’Brien went to True North, in Harbor Springs.  It also had a course designed by Engh. O’Brien was there for two years until LochenHeath came calling.

“The members wanted to transition back to private, something I had done at True North,’’ said O’Brien, “but here it’s different.  It’ll take nine or 10 years. We figured it’d be a long process.’’

Architect Steve Smyers gave LochenHeath a Scottish links look.

For now O’Brien  describes LochenHeath as “a private club that invites limited outside play.’’

While the recruitment of more members may take some time, the product doesn’t seem a hard sell. Smyers, once the president of the Golf Course Architects of America, took on a site that had 85 feet of elevation changes.  That was a good start for him to make something good, and he did.

“The conditioning and golf course views are exceptional,” said O’Brien, “and there’s great movement to the land.”

More recently two spatious cottages have been built to attract national members. The outdoor practice area is also state-of-the-art and simulators are available for use indoors.

This is one of those courses that must be played from the proper set of tees to fit a player’s talent level. If that commonsense practice is followed you’ll find LochenHeath challenging, but – more than anything —  a lot of fun. If you don’t follow that guideline you won’t appreciate what LochenHeath offers.

The course measures 7,287 yards from the back tees, where the rating is 77.2 and the slope 150.  LochenHeath measures only 5,031 from the front markers, and there are seven sets of tees.

Best hole may be No. 7, a downhill par-5.  At 579 yards from the tips, it’s the longest  on the course and – with a 70-foot elevation drop – it’s the No. 1 handicap hole.  That finishing stretch, though, can break your heart.

Last of the par-3s is No. 15 which requires an uphill tee shot to a green that slopes sharply back to front. Keeping your ball from running off the front and into a deep ravine is no easy task. Then comes two of the toughest par-4s on the layout and the finisher is a tight par-5 that demands a straight tee shot.  Long hitters might be able to reach the green in two shots if the tee shot is a good one.

A PGA Tour player, Ryan Brehm, holds the course record with a 65 — and he’s also a LochenHeath member.

Pass through the gate into LochenHeath Golf Club, and you’re in for a real treat.




Michigan’s Forest Dunes continues to expand its facilities


Forest Dunes’ new Short Course has provided playing options for more types of players.

ROSCOMMON, Michigan – There was never a doubt that Forest Dunes had one of the very best golf courses in Michigan, if not the entire United States. Tom Weiskopf designed it in 2002 – the same year that Golf Digest named it Best New Course in the U.S.

That started a rivalry with nearby Arcadia Bluffs for the best public course in Michigan, and it’s been ongoing. Arcadia added a second course last year, but Forest Dunes’ first 18-holer remains on the best in the U.S. lists by Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golfweek.

No facility, however, can keep up with the expansion that Forest Dunes owner Lew Thompson, an Arkansas trucking magnate, has engineered over that last five years.

The well-received Weiskopf design brought players to this small town, but not enough of them. Lodging was needed to keep them there, and now – between a lodge, villas and nine homes scattered around the property — there are 130 beds on the 1,300-acre site.

Golfers could play more by signing up for stay-and-play packages, but then there was just that one course. That was a drawback.

Thompson’s answer was to hire of Michigan architect Tom Doak for the creation of The Loop – arguably the most unique golf course in the country.  It plays clock-wise (as the Black course)  one day and counter-clock-wise (as the Red) the next. The Loop opened in 2016 as a walking-only layout, but now carts are allowed and rounds  have increased.

Still, that wasn’t enough.

“We’ve seen, as a destination facility, that stays are getting extended a night or two,’’ said Don Helinski, Forest Dunes’ director of operations.  “But people aren’t interested in golfing themselves to death by playing 36 holes a day. They also want to get together with the people they’re with and hang out.’’

The HillTop Putting Course is more than a place to putt. It is spread over two acres.

So more building was necessary.  On Aug. 1 the new 10-hole Short Course opened, its holes ranging from 65 to 150 yards.

“We’re a pure golf facility,’’ said Helinski.  “WE have no pool, no spa, no nightlife.  We need these things to keep our people entertained.’’

The Short Course has done that.  Such layouts are becoming more and more popular, and Forest Dunes’ version is somewhat of a cross between The Cradle, at Pinehurst, and Mountain Top, the Gary Player-design in the Branson, Mo., area.  Forest Dunes’ short course is more challenging than The Cradle but not as testy as Mountain Top.  Like The Cradle, the Short Course starts and finishes near an outdoor bar and that adds to the fun atmosphere of playing there.

“These courses throw out the stuffiness and standardness of golf,’’ said Helinski.  “Who says a course has to have nine or 18 holes? Who says you have to measure yourself against par? Just go out and have fun. That’s why we’re calling it a Short Course rather than a par-3 course.  It’s not about a cumulative score.  It’s all about the games you can play.’’

The No. 10 hole provides an unusual finisher at Forest Dunes’ Short Course.

Helinski says the average time for a round is 1 hour 15 minutes.  Groups of up to eight are allowed to play together and the fee per adult round is $39. Children 15 and under play free if accompanied by an adult.

Some players wear flip-flops, some play barefoot.  Some carry three clubs, while others take a full bag and ride in a cart. Some play the course with just one club (one even did it with a putter when we were there). Regardless of how you play, the Short Course provides a good introduction to golf for people of all ages.

Unlike the Weiskopf and Doak courses, the Short Course didn’t have a big-name designer. Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns were co-designers.  They had designed a similar course in Winter Park, FL., where Rhebb lives.  Johns, from Canada, worked with Doak in the creation of The Loop.

“You don’t get the chance to get super creative when designing courses,’’ said Rhebb, “but with the Short Course we really had the opportunity to have some fun with it.  Lew wanted it to be fun and always engaging, and we were able to express that in the design.’’

The Short Course went up fast. Construction took just 81 days from the time the first shovel went into the ground until seeding. It also was only two weeks between the time the first phone call was made to start the project until the start of construction.

Having the Short Course up and running also brought more attention to Forest  Dunes’ two-acre, 18-hole HillTop Putting Course.  It has some undulation and is spiced up with native grasses and pine trees.  Tee markers and scorecards are part of the ambiance. We’ve been to Forest Dunes four times and didn’t know the putting course, which opened three years ago, was there.  Now you can’t miss it.

Amazingly, Thompson most likely isn’t done building yet.

“We have enough property north of the current courses to expand the property and develop another course,’’ said Helinski.  “Several top architects have said the land for it is the best on the property, but that would also mean an investment for more lodging and other facilities.’’

Given the aggressive approach Thompson has taken to develop the property, don’t be surprised if the the building of the next course isn’t too far off.

Arthur Hills Golf Trail is up and running


Maumee Bay State Park’s golf villas provide great lodging for stay-and-play packages.

TOLEDO, Ohio – Arthur Hills designed more than 200 golf courses and renovated more than 150 in his long career as a course architect. Few modern day architects have come even close to those numbers.

Hills, now 90 and officially retired, spends most of his time on the east coast of Florida now but his work is being honored in the area that was his long-time home base.  Hills, working with long-time partner Steve Forrest, was based in the Toledo area and now Ohio Golf Journal publisher Fred Altvater and several club operators are developing the Arthur Hills Golf Trail.

The Trail was officially launched at the Toledo Golf Show in 2019. Pandemic issues slowed its takeoff but Altvater sees bigger days ahead. Based on the work Hills has done world-wide there’s no question he deserves his own Trail.

In addition to his American designs – the best-known of which may be Half Moon Bay in California — Hills has designed courses in Portugal, Croatia, Sweden, Mexico and Norway.

Several years ago the Pete Dye Golf Trail started on a small scale with seven courses in the late architect’s native Indiana.  Hills is Dye’s contemporary, and his trail has a similar beginning.  Altvater has lined up five courses for starters.

They include three layouts in southeast Michigan —  The Legacy by Arthur Hills, in Ottawa Hills, and Stonebridge Golf Club and Leslie Park, in Ann Arbor – and two in northwest Ohio – Stone Ridge, in Bowling Green, and Maumee Bay State Park, on the shores of Lake Erie in the town of  Oregon.

“There’s probably 10-12 good Arthur Hills designs in the Toledo area,’’ said Altvater.  “Down the road we hope to have them involved as well, but these are within 45 minutes of Toledo and have great lodging and fantastic places to eat nearby as well.’’

Altvater is also banking on other nearby attractions, like a world-class zoo and botanical gardens, to entice visitors.

Hills’ footprint in the area touches far more destinations than are represented on the present trail.  He designed nine courses in Ohio and another 17 in Michigan.  The Michigan layouts include one of his very best – the Arthur Hills Course at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs – and 27-hole Bay Harbor, a masterpiece overlooking Little Traverse Bay.

The first course Hills created was in Toledo —  Brandywine, in 1967, and he did renovation work at, among others, the historic Inverness Club in that city. He has degrees from Michigan, Michigan State and the University of Toledo, so Hills is indeed a native son of both states.

No. 12, a par-3 measuring 199 yards from the tips, has hazards on both sides of the green.

As for the five Trail courses, the toughest is Stone Ridge – the home course of the Bowling Green University golf teams and just a long tee shot from the edge of the campus. The bunkering there is one of Hills’ finest works, and the course is surrounded by rolling hills and dissected by small creeks and water hazards.

Stonebridge may be the most beautiful of the Trail layouts, with the extremely well-conditioned course blending in well with an array of pleasant homesites.  Leslie Park started as a Larry Packard design in 1967 before Hills performed major renovation work 28 years later. Leslie Park has been selected as the best municipal course in Michigan by Golf Digest.

Most enticing of the lot, though, is Maumee Bay because it offers so much more than golf.  With camping and watersports readily available, the park is ideal for family activities.  The on-site lodging is also well situated, just a short walk from the golf course.

“Arthur’s hand has touched a lot of golf courses around the area,’’ said Altvater.  “He’s a very popular designer in this part of the world, and I’m amazed at the great golf here that nobody knows about.  We can put custom-made packages together and, for double occupancy and 18 holes a day, we can do it for about $100.  And replay rounds can be less than $25.’’

For more information check out or contact Altvater at

Maumee Bay’s Lodge offers views of Lake Erie and its beaches.






Valley Tower’s creation brightens the outlook at Indiana’s French Lick Resort

The new Valley Sports Bar will be a happening place at French Lick.

FRENCH LICK, Indiana — Our longest golf/travel writing tour of the year – 22 days with stops in six states — ended at a most familiar place.  We’ve made at least one stop at French Lick Resort & Casino every year since 2009.

This year’s visit was a bit different than the others in that no tournament coverage was involved. At least our string of consecutive annual visits remains intact, a sharp contrast to what’s happened on the PGA Tour.  I had covered every Chicago area PGA event conducted by the Western Golf Association since 1972. That run will come to an end this week when the BMW Championship is held at Olympia Fields Country Club.

In addition to not allowing spectators at its tournaments since March 12 the PGA Tour has limited media attendance to basically just those who travel with the circuit on a weekly basis. That ruled me out, as was the case at three other previous tournaments at which I applied for a credential.

French Lick was not immune to pandemic restrictions. Pandemic concerns led to the cancelation of both the Senior LPGA Championship, slated for Oct. 9-16 on the resort’s Pete Dye Course, and the Donald Ross Classic, a Symetra Tour stop that was to be contested on the Donald Ross Course in July.

The opening of the Valley Tower increased French Lick’s lodging capabilities.

Our latest tour of golf destinations included stops in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio and Michigan before we reached Indiana. In sharp contrast to PGA tournaments, the destinations visited on our tour had no trouble welcoming golfers. Virtually all were cognizant of governmental restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Only one of our stops, in Georgia, was reluctant to push the use of masks and that stop even offered a breakfast buffet – something discouraged by the health experts.

None of the others, however, were as diligent about safety concerns as French Lick.  Masks were required  — with no exceptions anywhere – and temperature checks were made at the resort’s hotels and restaurants on a daily basis.  Those who passed were given coded bracelets to wear that day. That precaution wasn’t taken at any of the other destinations we visited.

While French Lick has had its problems like every place else, director of golf Dave Harner could find a silver lining.

“Our courses never closed,’’ he said.  “It took a pandemic to get golf going again.  Our play has been  extremely heavy on the weekends.’’

In our visits to French Lick we have seen new, positive developments of one sort or another every year.  This time it was the opening of a new hotel and restaurant – the Valley Tower and Bar. Its creation led to the conversion of the pro shop at the nine-hole Valley Links course into a convention/exhibition center.  A new pro shop was constructed closer to the first tee at the Valley Links.

While big tournaments had to be scrapped in 2020, the Senior LPGA Championship and Donald Ross Championship will return in 2021.  The Big Ten men’s championship and Indiana Amateur are also on the resort’s calendar for future years.

What’s the best course on the Georgia Golf Trail? You tell me

Architect Denis Griffiths’ finger bunkers and the Blue Ridge Mountains are trademarks at Brasstown Valley.

 Georgia may be the best state in the union for golf.  Others may have more courses, but the Peach State is the home of both the Masters and the PGA’s Tour Championship. No state has major events of that caliber on an annual basis.

And don’t forget the Georgia Golf Trail. With 20 destinations it’s one of the nation’s biggest trails. The Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama may receive more attention, but it doesn’t have the number of destinations that Georgia does.

Created by Doug Hollandsworth eight years ago, the Georgia Trail has grown to 20 destinations and you can’t beat the variety of them. Many are multi-course facilities, headed by  the six-course Reynolds Lake Oconee, in Greensboro, which features the great, Jack Nicklaus-designed and recently-renovated Great Waters layout.

Eight of the others are at state parks, such as the Wallace Adams Course – affectionately known as “Little O’’ – at Little Ocmulgee State Lodge Park in Helena. You can play this, very decent, layout for under $30.

It’d be presumptuous of me to name the best destination on the trail, since I have played only a few of them. Comparing them is a fun, stimulating exercise, however, so why not give it a shot?

For me it’s hard to imagine a trail course much nicer than the last one I visited.  That’d be Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa in Young Harris, a town with only about 1,000 residents that is but six miles from the North Carolina border.

Denis Griffiths, who lives in North Carolina, designed Brasstown Valley.  It opened in 1995 and was one of the early members of the Trail.

“We became the anchor,’’ said Steve Phelps, the resort’s director of golf the past 14 years. “The pros all wanted to see who would jump on board with this.  We’re known pretty well throughout the state and are a state-owned facility.  As soon as we got in a number of others followed.’’

The Trail has served its major purpose. It expanded interest in more parts of Georgia.

The 515-yard 15th, a par-5 that wraps around water, may be the best hole at Brasstown Valley.

“It showed our diversity,’’ said Phelps. “By playing the Trail you can see all of Georgia. Here (at Brasstown) we have the mountains. It’s too nice a place to miss.  We’re one of the marquee places, but Georgia has a pretty nice coast, too.’’

Brasstown Valley was built on 500 acres of a wildlife preserve.  The resort includes a stable, hiking trails, tennis, indoor and outdoor pools and two restaurants. In addition to its proximity to North Carolina it’s a half-hour from the Tennessee line and four states can be viewed from one high spot near the resort.

Griffiths’ course is stunning. The Blue Ridge Mountains provide an appropriate backdrop for a course dominated by finger-filled bunkers and sweeping elevation changes.  The par-5 fifteenth, which plays around a lake, may be the best hole.

One other thing to note about the well-groomed course.  Many places on it are protected wildlife areas or sacred Indian ground. There were once seven Indian villages in the area, and the popular multi-colored turtle tee markers are a tribute to Indian lore. Machinery can’t be used in those protected area so wildlife can grow as high as five feet in some spots at certain times of the year, adding to the striking nature of the layout.

Griffiths has two other designs on the Trail, at Brazell’s Creek Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park in Reidsville and the Georgia Veterans Golf Club at Lake Blackshear Resort in Cordele.

Other state park courses on the Trail are Arrowhead Pointe at Richard B. Russell State Park in Elberton;  Meadow Links at George T. Bagby State Park and Lodge in Fort Gaines; The Creek at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge; The Lakes at Laura S. Walker State Park in Hoboken; and Highland Walk at Victoria Bryant State Park in Franklin Springs.

The opening hole at the Wallace Adams Course at Little Ocmulgee is a tough dogleg left over water.

New clubhouse will also bring a stunning opening tee shot at Cherokee Valley


The Blue Ridge Mountains create a stunning backdrop for players at Cherokee Valley.

TRAVELER’S REST, South Carolina – Clubs — at least the lucky ones– are sometimes able to build nice, new clubhouses even in these difficult financial times.  Cherokee Valley, a 28-year old public facility 25 miles from the city of  Greenville, is one of those but there’s more to the story.

Owner Matt Jennings wanted to add a premier dining experience when he and his uncle, Ted Levine,  bought the club in 2017. They wanted a place where families, couples, individuals, business people and – of course – golfers could share a sense of community.

By November Cherokee Valley will have all of that, but it isn’t a case of a new clubhouse replacing an old one. The old clubhouse will revert back to its original use – as an events center.  The focus of the new one will be the Core 450 Restaurant, and executive chef Todd Warden is already on board to oversee the dining operation. The current golf shop will be moved to the first floor of the new building.

Making this dramatic move, however, also will necessitate a reconfiguration of the golf course – a beautiful one already, and one of the best public venues we’ve ever visited.  P.B. Dye, one of the sons of the late, great golf architecture couple of Pete and Alice Dye, was the designer.

The new clubhouse, under construction, will feature the Core 450 Restaurant and views of ninth and 18th greens.


For P.B., it’s more than just another credit on his resume.  He used the par-3 eighth hole, which has a 70-foot downhill drop and Glassy Mountain as a backdrop, as the site for his wedding.  P.B. and wife Jean were married on that spot shortly before Cherokee Valley opened in 1992.

With the creation of Core 450 Dye had to make changes to his original layout, one of which should stir some controversy..

The new opening hole will get players’ attention immediately.  It’s a sturdy par-4, 461 yards from the back tees, with a significant forced carry over water on the opening tee shot. In the original layout it was No. 3. The par-4 second hole becomes No. 18, which enhances viewing for those on hand at Core 450. Those viewers will be able to see the action at both the Nos. 9 and 18 holes.

In the routing  No. 1 is No. 17 and No. 2 was No. 18 The downhill par-4 third hole will be reverted to the first hole. The new configuration will create a tough finishing stretch featuring a par-5 and two lengthy par-4s in the last three holes.  They’ll measure a combined 1,404 total yards from the back tees and include the third and fifth hardest holes on the course.

While the other changes are significant, the new No. 1 will be felt the most.  Jennings says the new rotation will be a big hit with Cherokee’s players, both members and visitors alike.

“Golfers are going to love it,’’ said Jennings.  “We’ve received great feedback on the configuration. Low handicappers have readily accepted the challenging of facing two of the toughest holes on the course right at the start.’’

With a waterfall as part of the attraction, No. 5 is the signature holes at Cherokee Valley.

Bottom line is that Cherokee Valley isn’t your typical golf club.  It’s a family club in a tight-knit community, but it also has cottages – located just a short walk from the pro shop — that make it ideal for stay-and-play group outings. There’s a swimming pool as well as tennis and pickleball courts and its golf practice area is extraordinary.

While the golf carts are top-notch, the 20 Finn Cycles – motorized “golf scooters’’ – are a fun option for on-course transportation.

Regardless of the order of the holes Cherokee Valley has a great mix of challenges.  The elevation changes are dramatic in many places but the course is no killer, either.  It measures 6,728 yards from the tips with a rating of 71.4 and slope of 134.  It’s enjoyable for players of all ability levels. The course has 11 lakes and 50 strategically-placed bunkers and the current No. 5, which features a waterfall, is the designated signature hole.

These Cottages at Cherokee Valley offer visitors most comfortable lodging just a short walk from the pro shop.