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.
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.
IT’S SHOW TIME: Next week’s PGA Merchandise Show at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL., will have an expanded travel program for golfers.
Its Travel Pavilion, located on the main floor of the center, will feature destinations from Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Scotland, South Africa and Thailand.
There’ll also be a Golf Travel Forum, presented by PGA Magazine, at 9 a.m. on Thursday and hundreds of golf travel products will be included in the exhibits from more than 1,000 participating companies and brands.
HERE AND THERE
North Carolina is a state loaded with good courses, and a layout from the Outer Banks, The Pointe Golf Club, jumped into the latest Golf Advisor Golfers’ Choice rankings of the state’s best courses. The Pointe was No. 7 on the list, ahead of such favorites as Pinehurst No. 4, Pinehurst No. 9 and Tobacco Road.
Barefoot Resort, in North Myrtle Beach, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It became famous in 1999 when its four championship courses opened simultaneously. They were designed by Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. To commemorate the anniversary the resort is offering stay-and-play packages that included three rounds for the price of four and a three-night stay with a fourth night for free. They have to be booked by Jan. 31.
The Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at Desert Highlands, in North Scottsdale, Ariz., has re-opened following a $7 million renovation. Desert Highlands also recently welcomed Curtis Tyrrell as its new director of agronomy. Tyrrell was director of golf operations at Illinois’ Medinah Country Club before coming to Arizona as the replacement for the retired Phil Shoemaker. Shoemaker started at Desert Highlands in 1982 and was involved in the construction of the course.
The North Course at Florida’s Daytona Beach Golf Club has re-opened following a six-month renovation project. The renovation included a re-routing of the back nine holes. The previous version had par-5s for both Nos. 17 and 18, and they were among the hardest holes on the course. Now the old No. 17 is No. 10, which altered the rest of the back nine. Only the 18th has its same place in the rotation.
The Citrus Golf Trail, a group of courses in the Sebring, FL., area, has announced its participating courses for 2020. It includes the Sebring International Golf Resort, which was formerly Spring Lake Golf Resort. Other courses on the trail are Pinecrest, River Greens, Sebring Municipal and the Deer Run and Turtle Run courses at Sun ‘N Lake Golf Club. Inn on the Lakes is the hotel partner.
Diamondhead Country Club’s Cardinal Course, near Biloxi, MS., has re-opened following a three-month greens renovation process. Dan Hamman has also been hired as the superintendent at the 36-hole facility.
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.’’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
FROM THE PGA OF AMERICA
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.
HERE AND THERE
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina – This 37th Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship has 161 international players among its 3,215 entries, and Steve Muller may have come the furthest to get here.
He is one of eight players from Australia in the tournament, and the only one from Brisbane. Oh, yes, he’s also the only golfer in the field with a home course that has shark-infested waters.
Carbrook Golf Club is located on the Logan River in a suburb of Brisbane. Sharks started surfacing there after a flood several years ago. Now there’s four or five of them.
“We’re the only golf club in the world with sharks in its lake,’’ said Muller. “If you hit it in the water at No. 15 you’re not getting the ball back, and at No. 12 you can sometimes see them up close chasing other fish.’’
Club members have embraced the sharks. They have their own version of the Shark Shootout challenge the last Wednesday of each month. The legendary “shark,’’ Greg Norman, is from Queensland, Australia.
“Our Shark Shootout is pretty awesome,’’ said Muller. “Greg hasn’t played our course yet, but he’s more than welcome to give it a go.’’
Muller, who has a 13 handicap at Carbrook, was in 16th place in Flight 9 of the 49-and-under men’s age group through two rounds. He arrived here with his Karen, his wife of 23 years. They have two children – a 21-year old son and 17-year old daughter in Australia. Karen is not playing in the tournament.
The Mullers spent 24 hours in transit to get to Myrtle Beach, thanks in part to a stopover in Los Angeles, but long-distance travel is nothing new for Steve.
“I work for an American company in Connecticut as its international sales director, so I travel the world,’’ he said. “When I travel for more than a weekend I always play golf somewhere in the world.’’
He’s in his fourth continent in a four-week stretch for the World Amateur, having been in India, Australia and Europe previously. Getting his golf fix on the road isn’t always easy. He’s a left-handed golfer and clubs aren’t always available when he needs to rent a set.
Though he lived in Cleveland from 2014-16 Muller had never heard of the Myrtle Beach World Amateur until he searched Google for tournament possibilities in February. He made travel arrangements for this one before entries were even being accepted.
“I googled `world amateur championship’ to see what would come up, and there were quite a few,’’ he said. “This one seemed the one most of the world would come to play in. No one from my golf club had heard about it, but there’ll be at least four of us here next year.’’
So, why go to all this trouble, expense and time commitment?
“It’s golf. Why not?’’ he said. “It’s all amateurs. Let’s see if an Aussie can win it.’’
He’s never played in an event remotely close to the World Am.
“The Queensland PGA runs like a mid-amateur for guys in my handicap division, but’s it’s nothing like this,’’ he said. “It’s just one golf course over two days.’’
The week-long World Am experience has been a good one for the Mullers so far, as Steve has had some ideal playing partners.
“I’ve met some fantastic guys,’’ he said. “The mates have been friendly, encouraging, supportive. I’ve exchanged numbers with a couple guys. Maybe it’s just my accent, being from Australia, but I hope not. They’re just been good blokes.’’
There are some differences between golf in Brisbane and golf in the U.S., however.
“Golf in Australia is completely different than here,’’ he said. “It’s different grasses, different layouts. Here I have to hit at least one club longer than I would back home. And we measure in meters, not yards.’’
The golf clubs are different as well.
“In Australia you have to be a member of a club to play golf.,’’ he said. “They’re all private clubs. And at mine the members own the club. That’s a little different. Plus, the men and women are integrated in the tee times.’’
ARCADIA, Michigan — For years I had been told that Arcadia Bluffs and Forest Dunes were in a battle for best golf course in Michigan with Bluffs usually getting the nod. I’ve now played them both, and I’m not so sure about that.
The Bluffs definitely has the scenery. Its waterfront views of Lake Michigan are extraordinary and its on-course mounding and elevation changes are spectacular. I don’t know of any course, anywhere, that could top that.
As for it being “the best,’’ however, views aren’t everything in judging a golf course. Never one to give much credence to the course ratings offered by industry publications, I don’t think determining “the best’’ is very important anyway. Golf is such a subjective thing. Over the past 34-plus years I’ve had several “favorite’’ courses in Michigan — a state so extraordinary in golf options that it can defy the imagination.
For awhile my favorite Michigan course was The Bear, at Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City. Then it switched between the Tom Weiskopf-designed Cedar River course at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire, The Heather at Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs and Tullymore in Stanwood.
I was also intrigued by Threetops, the memorable par-3 layout at Treetops, in Gaylord.; the captivating par-3s at Island Hills, in Centreville; and Paul Albanese’s drumlin-focused design at Sage Run in Harris. There’s also fond memories of Harbor Shores, in Benton Harbor; Greywalls, in Marquette; and Crystal Mountain, in Thompsonville.
That list could go on, as the golf landscape in Michigan has gotten more impressive every year and I’ll never get to play all of that state’s great courses.
What’s intriguing in the Arcadia Bluffs-Forest Dunes scenario is what’s been happening lately. In an era where the golf industry nation-wide has been struggling with economic issues the two Michigan hotspots have been making major upgrades.
Forest Dunes, in Roscommon, started it. One course – even a great one designed by Weiskopf in 2002 — wasn’t enough to keep players in town there, so owner Lew Thompson not only increased lodging but also brought in Tom Doak to design the highly unusual reversible course, called The Loop. Play its Red course one day from tee to green, then go back the next day and play its Black layout, which reverses those same greens and tees. Both layouts have been well received.
Since opening The Loop Thompson has also added the Hilltop putting course and a 10-hole 957-yard par-3 layout, designed by young architects Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb, will be ready soon.
Despite all that good work, Arcadia Bluffs hasn’t been outdone. Its lodging options were also increased and late last year the South course was added to the Bluffs. The 18-holers don’t share the same clubhouse – the South is about a mile away from its predecessor – and the courses couldn’t be more different.
The Bluffs, designed by Warren Henderson and Rick Smith and opened in 1999, is far more challenging than the South, though the ratings (75.7 for The Bluffs and 75.6 for the South from the tips) are almost identical. A Dana Fry/Jason Straka design, the South — at 7,412 yards — is 112 yards longer than the Bluffs but there’s a big difference in slope. From the back tees the Bluffs’ is 146, the South’s 132. Both are par-72s for men, while the women’s par on the Bluffs is 73. The Bluffs has four tee placements for men and two for women. The South has five tee placements for men, three for women.
Those are just numbers, though. They don’t mean much once you hit your first tee shot on either one. Needless to say, I really like the South. Unlike the Bluffs, it has no water views and very wide fairways. The South comes in two nine-hole loops, meaning each nine finishes at the clubhouse. The Bluffs doesn’t.
While the South has 112 bunkers, it is more user friendly. The bunkers aren’t as deep as those on the Bluffs but they were similar. The putting surfaces are extensive on both courses, but the undulations were more tricky on the Bluffs.
Again, which is better – Arcadia or Forest Dunes, or the Bluffs or the South? Who knows, and who cares (other than perhaps the operators of those facilities)?
One thing is certain: both facilities are so good that all serious golfers should give them a try, then form their own opinions.