World Am Handicap tourney puts the golf spotlight on Myrtle Beach

The excitement is building at Myrtle Beach as World Amateur participants check in.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — August might be 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 World Amateur Handicap Championship is different but every bit as impressive. It is older and has many more players. The 36th staging of the event tees off on 59 courses in the Myrtle Beach area. The entry count hit 3,226 for this year with entrants from 49 states (only Alaska is missing) and 20 countries.

There are 161 international participants with Canada leading with 51. The internationals have travelled approximately 500,000 miles to get here. As far as the U.S. states are concerned, South Carolina leads with 312 players and Florida has 307.

Myrtle Beach’s big event consists of 72 holes on different courses for players in nine age groups, and there’s also a “Just for Fun’’ division and a Flight Winners Playoff at the Dye Course at Barefoot Resort to climax the competition on Friday. There are 67 flights in the first four days of the competition.

The handicap procedure is strictly supervised, and that’s a big reason for the event’s success. I know, because I’ve played in the World Am and am back again this year.

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 features music, food and beverages from a variety of Myrtle Beach restaurants and appearances by various Golf Channel personalities.

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

“The World Am 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.’’

The World Am will also benefit the military. It’ll come in the form of Royal Crown’s Purple Bag Project, in which non-perishable items will be gathered and sent to deployed military personnel as a means of showing gratitude and support for their services.

Myrtle Beach’s busy schedule doesn’t slow down after the World Am. Nancy Lopez will be featured at the Mentor Cup on Oct. 26 at Tidewater Golf Club. It’s a two-player team event (nine holes of scramble and nine holes of alternate shot) that benefits Gene’s Dream Foundation. The Short Par 4 Fall Classic follows from Nov. 17-21 and the 51st George Holiday Memorial Junior Tournament is Nov. 26-30 at Myrtle Beach National.

Myrtlewood’s Palmetto Course, in Myrtle Beach, is scheduled to re-open on Labor Day weekend. Architect Dan Schlegel has supervised a summer-long renovation project that includes the installation of Sunday Bermuda grass greens and the restoration to their original dimensions. That means there’ll be an additional 18,00 square feet of greens space when the course re-opens. Changes were made on every bunker on the course as well.

Have golf bag, will travel: Our latest tour of the Eastern U.S.


You can’t try this at home, that’s for sure.

While we continue to write about all things golf for this publication (and a few others), we’ve taken a special liking to Travel Destination pieces in the last 10 years. There’s nothing wrong with playing most of your golf close to home. In fact, we’ve always encouraged that.

Taking your game on the road, though, can be refreshing as well as educational. That’s our job – to find interesting places with golf courses that we think you’d like to visit. We check things out for you, and sometimes that takes considerable time on our part. A couple of our trips over the years have put us on the road for several weeks at a time, and this latest one took up almost all of the month of June.

On this one we headed to the eastern states — the first time we’ve ventured further in that direction than the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Trying to stay close to Interstate 95 we left our Florida home and passed through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Maine.

Our trips are all driving ones, and this one took three weeks and covered slightly over 3,000 miles. Crazy, you’re thinking? Maybe so, but it was a lot of fun experiencing golf in states that we had basically never even visited.

We didn’t play in all the states that we passed through, and planning our trip was much more difficult than it had been for our previous journeys. Thanks to the efforts of Bruce Vittner, publisher of Southern New England Golfer and executive director of the Golf Travel Writers of America, we were included in a three-day writers’ familiarization trip to a golf destination in Maine. That triggered planning other stops that might be on the way or even beyond.

Here’s what we came up with:

GREENSBORO, N.C. – First stop was at the Grandover Resort, a great place that, we learned once we got there, plays a role on the PGA Tour. It is the headquarters site for the Wyndham Championship, which is held at the Sedgefield Country Club nearby. Interesting that a tournament sponsored by a hotel chain used a non-affiliated resort for such a key role in its showcase event, isn’t it?

Grandover has two good courses, the East and West. Both were designed by the architectural team of David Graham, an Australian who won both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, and Gary Panks.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Colonial Williamsburg has more to offer tourists than golf, what with all its historical attractions. They’re well worth visiting, but the golf there is on the upswing, too. The well-known Kingsmill Resort isn’t the whole show golf-wise.

We hit three facilities – Royal New Kent, The Club at Viniterra and Williamsburg National – that were in full revival mode. Royal New Kent, designed by the late Mike Strantz, was Golf Digest’s Best New Course of 1997. Tough economic times led to its eventual closing but it re-opened in May after a $2 million rehab.

Viniterra, a Rees Jones design that opened 11 years ago, never closed but it carried on without a much-needed clubhouse. A new one opened the day after we played the course. Williamsburg National has two courses. Its Jack Nicklaus design, Jamestown, was closed for awhile and its Yorktown course needed work. Now both courses are in full swing.

KENILWORTH, N.J. – Our friends at Chicago-based KemperSports manage Galloping Hill, an interesting place that is one of the few public facilities to host the New Jersey State Open. It has 27 holes and, unfortunately, we could only look at them from the clubhouse. We got caught in horrendous traffic jams going through Washington D.C., and to cancel our scheduled tee time and then had to move on to make our next destination on time. From the clubhouse, though, you had an extraordinary view of many of the holes and it was a busy place.

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. – This stop involved play at only one course but was a natural destination as it will be the host of the 30th annual International Network of Golf Spring Conference next May. We wanted a sneak preview.

The five-day long Spring Conference, which rotates around the country every year, includes two golf outings. Usually more courses than one are involved, but not here. Raven’s Craw will be the site of both. A fun course designed by owner Ed Shearon, it grabs your attention from first tee shot because there’s half of a house on the edge on the No. 1 fairway. Why it’s there, who knows?

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – This was an eye-opener. Not only is Rochester a nice to look at, it’s also an outstanding golf town. We had stops at Ravenwood, The Links at Greystone and Deerfield. All are located in the suburbs of Rochester and are involved with the Finger Lakes and New York Golf Trails. The New York trail is the biggest in the country in terms of courses participation. It has 30 spread across the state.

Best of the trio on our schedule was The Links at Greystone, a Craig Schreiner design that opened in 1996.

POLAND, Maine – The Maine Golf Trifecta is one of the best golf packages we’ve seen because it offers a little bit of everything for a great price — $349 for three rounds of golf with two nights lodging and four buffet-style meals.

Poland Spring Resort, which dates back to 1797, has a Donald Ross course that opened in 1896. It’s short and user-friendly. Spring Meadows at Cole Farms is a fun layout with its array of elevation changes and Fox Ridge will challenge even the best of players. The latter two don’t have lodging so Trifecta participants stay at Poland Spring.

HOMEWARD-BOUND: No more golf on this trip, but we did experience some history. Vittner took us on a car tour of Newport, R.I., and that included a quick stop at Newport Country Club, the site of the first U.S. Open in 1895.

The end result was a lot of driving – sometimes it did seem like too much – but we could see the change in courses as we drove from state to state. Doing something like this takes some planning and a significant time commitment. We were tired when it was over, but it was a golfing adventure that we’ll never forget.

Rochester is — at the very least — the heart of the New York Golf Trail

Ravenwood is a featured course on both the New York and Finger Lakes golf trails.

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.

And 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 some of its majors at Locust Hill.

Golf in Rochester is a lot more than major championships, Hagen and RTJ Sr. (For the record now Chicago’s own Jeff Sluman developed his game in Rochester before becoming a fixture on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions).

Rod Chrlstian’s New York Golf Trail has more courses (34) than any of the other U.S. trails.

Rochester is also very much a place to visit for the purpose of just playing golf. Rod Christian created the New York Golf Trail, which is now the largest trail in the country in terms of courses (34). He has divided his trail 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 – also form the Finger Lakes Golf Trail. If another course is needed to accommodate 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 much 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.’’

And those course are not only good, they’re affordable.

The best course we played on our visit was The Links at Greystone, a family owned and operated facility with a course designed by Craig Schreiner in 1995. Its top greens fee is $67 – a bargain given the quality of the course.

The family-owned Links at Greystone has my vote as the best of Rochester’s public courses.

Greystone is a three-generation labor of love for members 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.

Ravenwood is good, too. It has hosted the New York State Amateur twice. Its top green fee is $65 in the summer months.

The George Eastman Museum is located in the exotic mansion of the late founder of Eastman Kodak.

While the golf at the approximately 60 public course within a 20-mile radius of Rochester is enticing, the 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.

The Genesee Brewery, which doubles as a popular restaurant, has been operating in Rochester since 1878.

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.

Next to golf, the Strong Museum may be Rochester’s best attraction. It has something for everyone.

A milestone for Grand Geneva comes with the loss of a landmark

The 18th green of The Brute course provides a stunning view for Grand Geneva’s hotel guests.

LAKE GENEVA, Wis.—This is a milestone year for Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, which is already a place with an interesting history.

The current milestone being celebrated is the 25th anniversary of the resort’s ownership by Milwaukee-based Marcus Corporation. Marcus bought what was then called the Americana Resort in 1981, and that came after Chicago-based Americana Hotels Corporation had taken over what was originally the Playboy Club-Hotel.

Hugh Hefner had created the Playboy Club concept, opening his first facilty in Chicago in 1960. Hefner, amidst much fanfare, expanded into the resort world when the Lake Geneva location opened in 1968.

The Playboy Club-Hotel thrived for a while but eventually was no longer considered a trendsetter in sex, sophistication or entertainment. That led to financial trouble and the sale to Americana. Americana rebranded as more of a family destination and thrived for a while, too, before encountering its own financial problems. That prompted the sale to Marcus.

Not much remains from the good old days. In fact one of the most prominent disappeared earlier this year. A sculpture on the No. 16 tee of The Brute course was taken down. It was a topic of discussion for most every golfing visitor because nobody knew quite what it was.

This controversial sculpture is gone but still memorable to Grand Geneva golfers.

A local sculptor, Charles Moelter, created it for Playboy 50 years ago and advised those wondering what it was to “Use your imagination.’’

“It was supposedly a reproduction of Picasso drawing and was called `The Frustrated Golfer,’’’ said Dave Hallenbeck, the current director of golf who marked his 46th year working on the property on the Fourth of July. He started as a lifeguard at the resort and worked on the golf side for the last 42 years.

Hallenbeck said that taking the iconic sculpture down was a corporate decision.

“I was surprised because it was kind of a landmark,’’ he said, “but it was getting holes in it and it would have cost a lot of money to repair it. The whole thing was just falling apart.’’

The sculpture did occasionally serve as a rain shelter but was more of a conversation piece than anything else.

One icon still remains, and it pre-dates the weird statue.

Lots of golfers hit tee shots into this old silo on No. 11 of The Brute, but it’s still standing.

“We still have the old silo on the 11th hole,’’ said Hallenbeck. “It was from the original farmhouse on the property.’’

That silo has been battered by many errant golf shots and shows signs of wear and tear, too. Hallenbeck has proposed that it be restored and re-pointed with a new roof and a plaque to mark its historical significant on the property.

While the absence of the sculpture is notable to the resort’s golf aficionados, it hardly detracts from what Grand Geneva has become under the Marcus ownership. It’s a beautiful place with two fine courses – the well-known Brute and the more user-friendly Highlands. Both are always busy, as Grand Geneva is an extremely popular outing destination.

“I don’t know any resort or club that does the volume that we do,’’ said Hallenbeck. “We’re a melting pot. We take a little of what everyone else does in golf and blend it in.’’

Fireworks displays over water are a regular treat for the guests at Grand Geneva.

Corporate and charity outings are a fixture at Grand Geneva, but there’s almost always openings for individual play.

“There have been days when we’ve done up to eight events,’’ said Hallenbeck. “Our groups start with 12-16 players and go up to a massive one that has 325 players. You try to please everybody. Golf is flat, even decreasing, but we understand what golfers want.’’

Grand Geneva finds room for junior programs (it even has a team in the PGA Junior League), couples events and PGA, college and high school tournaments.

“Playboy and Americana never did things like that,’’ said Hallenbeck. “We’re doing everything we can to keep golf going and to support it.’’

Grand Geneva is the only golf facility among the 18 Marcus properties. The others include hotels, resorts and theaters. At Grand Geneva there’s much more than golf. It’s a haven for skiers in the winter and the spa and fitness center attracts all ages year-around.

Carlos Miramontes, massage supervisor of the WELL spa, has been a fixture at Grand Geneva for 16 years.

Carlos Miramontes, the WELL spa’s massage supervisor, grew up two miles from the resort and has been giving massages there for 16 years. He supervises a staff that can provide up to eight massages an hour when the demand is there.

Grand Geneva is also a popular wedding destination and its Christmas in the Country display has attracted visitors in the winter since 1996.

“We have three entities,’’ said Hallenbeck. “We have a time-share, family fun area; the resort side, which is more corporate and upscale; and a waterpark, which is a fun family place.’’

The two main restaurants – Geneva Chop House and Ristorante Brissago – supplement that activities offered by providing fine dining. Many of those non-golf offerings were also available in the Playboy and Americana days, but not to the extent seen since Marcus took over.

The Highlands isn’t the best known course at Grand Geneva but many players prefer it over The Brute.

Want a unique golf experience? Check out Poland — in Maine

The walk to the first tee at Poland Spring is the start to a round on a most historic course.

POLAND, Maine – We’re always looking for unusual golf experiences, and this time we found one in Poland.

Poland, Maine, that is.

Chances are you won’t think of Maine when you’re talking golf. It’s nothing new at Poland Spring Resort, however. Golf has been played there since 1896. For the last 10 years it’s hosted one of the most enticing golf packages that we’ve come across.

The state of Maine has only about 140 courses, most of them public and many of those nine-holers. Still, Maine has its place in American golf history thanks to the Poland Spring Resort. It is — by most accounts — the oldest resort golf course in the country. The resort has only one Donald Ross course, but there was golf there before Donald Ross arrived.

“We start with Arthur Fenn,’’ said Cyndi Robbins, a remarkable woman who started working at Poland Spring 45 years ago as a waitress and is now the resort’s owner. “He’s an important part of our history.’’

Cyndi Robbins has helped golf grow at Poland Spring for nearly 50 years.

Cyndi married Mel Robbins, who took over the ownership of the resort in the 1970s after they were married. When Mel passed away 11 years ago Cyndi opted to keep this historic place going and she’s done an admirable job of that.

The town may be best known for the mineral water that has long been produced there, but Robbins makes a strong case for recognizing the importance of golf and Fenn as well. Fenn designed the first course on the property, a nine-holer, in 1896.

A top player himself, Fenn attracted many other top golfers to the resort in the early 1900s. Most notable were Harry Vardon, the famous professional from England, and Scotsman Willie Anderson, the only golfer to win three straight U.S. Opens. Most of the golf professionals of that era were from England or Scotland.

Poland Spring historians consider Fenn the “first American-born golf professional and course designer.’’ He played with the best golfers of his era, too, but isn’t as famous as the Vardons or Andersons because he didn’t stray much from Poland Spring to compete in the big national tournaments.

Fenn’s daughter Bessie also was part of the operation, and she is considered the “first woman golf professional in charge of a club.’’

The Maine Inn is located just a few steps from the No. 1 tee at Poland Spring

The resort goes much further back than the Fenns. An inn has operated continuously on the property since 1797. It was called the Wentworth Ricker Inn then, and the Ricker family owned the resort for almost 150 years.

“The Rickers hired Fenn because they wanted to be involved in golf,’’ said Cyndi Robbins, noting that subsequent owners all felt the same way. “We still get people coming just because of our golf course. Some who never played our course have come just because of Donald Ross.’’

The legendary Ross was hired by the Rickers to convert Fenn’s nine-holer into 18 holes. Ross started work in 1913 and finished the job in 1915, and the course hasn’t undergone any major changes since then. The course measured 6,380 yards when it opened and is a 6,178-yard par-71 from the back tees that’s called The Links at Poland Spring now.

“In World War II some of his features were let go,’’ said Cyndi Robbins. “We’ve worked to restore what we can.’’

The Maine Golf Hall of Fame is also housed on the property, which features the Maine Inn – a Colonial-style building with a huge porch and stately white pillars. It’s the center for a wide variety of activities offered at the resort. Poland Spring, though, still has just the one golf course.

Many resorts have multiple courses these days, and – rather than build more of courses at the expense of the resort’s other entertainment offerings – Robbins opted to start the Maine Golf Trifecta.

She invited the owners of two nearby privately-owned public courses – Spring Meadows at Cole Farms, in the town of Gray, and Fox Ridge, in Auburn – to join forces on a golf package. Neither Spring Meadows nor Fox Ridge offers lodging so package participants stay at Poland Spring.

Poland Spring’s big putting green can accommodate plenty of golfers.

Spring Meadows and Fox Ridge are much newer courses, and the mix of layouts offered to those joining the Trifecta covers all levels of players. Poland Spring’s course is short, flat and historic. Spring Meadows is the most fun with stunning elevation changes. Fox Ridge has some similar features but is a tougher challenge. The most skilled players will like it the best.

The Maine Trifecta has been in effect for 10 years and benefitted all three facilities. For $319 participants can play all three courses, receive two nights of lodging at Poland Spring and four all-you-can-eat buffet meals. With upgraded accommodations the price goes up to $349.

“It’s been 10 years in the making and we have something very unique,’’ said David Pollard, co-owner and manager of Spring Meadows. “We are 15 minutes apart and the owners have come together. That’s unheard of. We’re very proud of what we’ve done.’’

Spring Meadows, celebrating its 20th anniversary, is a family-owned operation and Pollard’s brother Brad owns a restaurant across the street from the course. Robbins also has a restaurant, Cyndi’s Dockside, that is separate from the resort.

The No. 8 hole at Spring Meadows, in the town of Gray, is a fun short par-4 (above) while Maine Golf Trifecta partner course Fox Ridge, in Auburn, (below) has a most memorable island green

Raven’s Claw offers a weird touch of history on its very first hole

This old house is centuries old, and that’s a good reason to have it on Raven’s Claw’s course.

POTTSTOWN, Pa. – Can’t say I ever started a round of golf like a recent one at Raven’s Claw, a public course near historic Valley Forge.

You line up your tee shot and the most noticeable obstacle in an old brick house – or at least part of one. It doesn’t really come into play and host golf professional Jim Bromley doesn’t know why it’s there. He believes it dates back to at least the early 1800s.

Well, it is something that gets your attention—and it’s not a bad thing, either. It’s just something different.

Ed Shearon, who owns the course, also designed it. Raven’s Claw opened in 2005 and was built in conjunction with a pleasant neighborhood of traditional-style family homes on a 177-acre plot.

Shearon, who lives in the area and has designed several other courses, owns a big landscaping business. Raven’s Claw got its name from some of the birds that frequent the place and a tough stretch of the course – holes No. 9 to 11 – has been dubbed The Claw.

The ninth hole doesn’t bring you back to the clubhouse, so you don’t get a break when you take on The Claw.

Jim Bromley is in his second year as the golf professional at Raven’s Claw.

Measuring 6,739 yards from the tips, Raven’s Claw has testy, undulating greens and some other interesting features. Two smokestacks loom above the layout, a striking feature though nothing like the old brick half-house. Shearon has also made excellent use of big bolders, which guide players at several spots along the course.

“It can look difficult but play easy’’ said Bromley. “There’s a lot of room out there. The challenge is if you want to make birdies. There’s lots of interesting things to challenge a good player.’’

At least one good player was up to the challenge. The Raven’s Claw course record of 8-under-par 63 is held by a woman.

Sweden’s Louise Ridderstrom posted that low number in the inaugural Valley Forge Invitational, a Symetra event that has been held at Raven’s Claw the last two years. Ridderstrom’s low number came in the final round of the 2018 tourney, with the course set up at about 6,400 yards. She went on to win the tournament and been playing on the LPGA circuit in 2019.

Here’s a view you get several times in a round at Raven’s Claw.

While the Symetra event is the biggest event held so far at Raven’s Claw, it won’t be the last. In 2020 the course will host both competitive rounds at the International Network of Golf’s 30th annual Spring Conference from May 31 to June 3.

Golf is clearly an amenity in the Valley Forge area. The Valley Forge Casino Resort, which will host the ING visitors, is across the street from the Valley Forge National Historic Park. It’s worth plenty of visitors’ time as well.

The Park offers a restoration of George Washington’s winter headquarters as well as the very basic lodging available for his American troops in the 1770s – the early stages of the Revolutionary War. The Park offers guided tours – which I’d highly recommend – but many of the visitors use it for exercise as well. The trails winding through it are walkable and also ideal for cyclists.

Raven’s Claw has some tough challenges. This one, at the par-3 third hole, is one of the best.

Williamsburg golf is on the upswing — and that’s putting it mildly

Architect Mike Strantz was at his creative best on Royal New Kent’s signature seventh hole.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Like so many other communities, Williamsburg was hit hard by the recession a few years back and that negatively impacted its golf business. The difference is, Williamsburg got back in revival mode and is showing off now at several facilities.

For instance, Royal New Kent was a smash hit when it opened. Golf Digest named this Mike Strantz design its Best New Course of 1997 and it was also on the magazine’s America’s Top 100 list. As prestigious as that is, the course had to be closed for eight months after a series of ownership changes. Its Grand Re-opening was on May 6 after a $2 million rehab.

Then there was The Club at Viniterra, a Rees Jones design with a staggering 9 ½ miles of cart paths. Jones has long been one of the world’s most respected course architects, but this creation – built as the centerpiece of a gated community – stayed alive in part by providing more affordable greens fees. That was a necessity because Viniterra had no clubhouse for 11 years. Viniterra opened its new one on June 12 after a two-year construction process.

And then there’s Williamsburg National, a 36-hole facility closest to all of the area’s colonial attractions. Its Jamestown course, a Jack Nicklaus design, was closed for about 14 months and the companion Yorktown course stayed open but was not in the best condition.

As was the case at Royal New Kent, Williamsburg National underwent some ownership changes during the more difficult times but is back in full operation.

Chris Hartig likes how the two courses at Williamsburg National have blossomed

Chris Hartig presents a good perspective on what was going on. A long-time club professional, he was director of golf at Kingsmill – Williamsburg’s long-established resort that has hosted 37 pro tour events, the most recent being the LPGA’s Pure Silk Championship in May.

Now Hartig’s Carlton Hospitality is the management company overseeing the rehab at Williamsburg National, which is near Hartig’s home, and his Virginia Golf Vacations, a separate business, organizes golf trips throughout the state.

“In Williamsburg there’s been a commitment to golf for a long time,’’ said Hartig, citing the success of such multi-course facilities as Kingsmill and Golden Horsehoe. “In the 1990s they started expanding, and that led to an overbuilding situation. Recession got it, and courses started changing hands.’’

Royal New Kent and Jamestown weren’t the only courses that closed for a brief period. All the courses have different issues but found solutions. The most interesting is at Royal New Kent.

The creative talents of the late Mike Strautz won’t be forgotten at Royal New Kent.

Strantz was one of the world’s hottest designers after working for Tom Fazio in the mid-1990s. Not only did Strantz design Royal New Kent, his seven solo creations include Caledonia and True Blue in South Carolina, Tobacco Road in North Carolina, Lake Nona in Florida and Monterey Peninsula’s South course in California. The run of great courses stopped when Strantz, only 50 years old, succumbed to cancer in 2005. His works, though, live on.

“He only designed a certain number of golf courses before he passed away but he gained legendary status,’’ said Chip Sullivan, the former PGA Tour pro who was recently named general manager and director of golf at Royal New Kent. “He was creative beyond most other designers. He designed courses with a totally different look. He was an artist before he used his artistic values on golf courses.’’

That’s obvious at Royal New Kent, an Irish style links course patterned after Royal County Down and Ballybunion. It has 105 bunkers, perhaps a few too many blind shots, tons of elevation changes and – overall – a distinctly unique look. Though Strantz had passed away before the course was restored, members of his original crew participated in the year-long revival project. It involved replacing every green and doing extensive work on the bunkers and irrigation system

The Club at Viniterra will benefit from the opening of its long overdue new clubhouse.

Brandon Tuck, chairman of Wingfield Golf – a part-owner and the managing company of the facility, calls Royal New Kent “one of the most challenging courses in the country.’’

No argument there, but the mental challenges it offers are stimulating – if not sometimes frustrating. That makes it a special place to play. The top fee to do that is $95.

Wingfield, based in Greenville, S.C., also owns Viniterra. The new clubhouse will do wonders there. The course has always been popular, its top greens fee of $66 – low for a Rees Jones design – being just one of the reasons. The club had operated out of trailer until the new clubhouse opened.

The greens at all the Williamsburg area courses were outstanding, even though they were new at Royal New Kent and the Williamsburg National courses. The only issue we had at Viniterra was on the par-5 fourth hole, where blind shots made for unnecessary frustration instead of fun. (As most of you know, I’ve never been a fan of blind shots anywhere).

At Williamsburg National a greens renovation was needed to get the Jamestown course up and running again. The newest ownership group renovated with Champion Bermuda, which ensured top playing conditions on its more difficult course.

Yorktown was designed by Tom Clark, who doesn’t have the world-wide reputation of Nicklaus but has long been a popular architect in the Mid-Atlantic region. The new ownership overseeded the fairways on Yorktown, so it offers live green fairways in the winter while the Champion Bermuda surfaces at Jamestown are covered. Top greens fee on those courses is $89.

“`They’re two completely different courses,’’ said Hartig. “You can play year around, but in January, February and part of March we don’t need two courses. Jamestown is a classic course with subtle elevation changes that is probably preferred by our local players. Yorktown is more the choice of the traveling golfer.’’

That’s because Clark was innovative, putting in more than 80 bunkers, a redan green and laying out a somewhat unusual back nine that has three par-5s, three par-4s and three par-3s.

Three holes converge during a key spot on the back nine on Williamsburg National’s Yorktown course.

Grandover doesn’t exactly host a PGA Tour event, but still….

Drive past the iconic griffin, and you’ve arrived at one of North Carolina’s best golf resorts.

GREENSBORO, N.C. – There’s a lot more good golf to be played in North Carolina than what’s offered in the Pinehurst area. For instance, consider the unique situation in this burgeoning community that is the state’s third-largest metropolitan area.

Greensboro may offer the feel of a small town, but it hosts the third-oldest PGA Tour event, now called the Wyndham Championship. The Wyndham was first played in 1938, when Sam Snead won the first of his eight titles. In August the tourney will celebrate its 80th anniversary.

Originally called the Greater Greensboro Open, the tournament was first played at Sedgefield Country Club — a private facility that opened in 1926. The tournament has had other title sponsors and other host sites over the years, but since 2008 it’s been the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield with tourney headquarters at the neighboring Grandover Resort & Conference Center.

The resort’s practice range also serves in that capacity for the players during the tournament, so the relationship between private Sedgefield and the resort is a tight one.

“I would call it perfect,’’ said Mark Brazil, tournament director of the Wyndham Championship. “They’ve got two great golf courses over there and all the space for our activities plus a beautiful hotel. It almost feels like we’re their third course because we’re so close. We couldn’t have a better marriage with them.’’

Mark Brazil directs the only PGA Tour event played annually on a Donald Ross-designed course but he appreciates the neighboring Grandover Resort.
Wyndham Week this year is Aug. 1-4, and the $6.2 million event holds a key place on the PGA Tour schedule. The Wyndham will be the last tournament prior to the FedEx Cup Playoffs. It represents the last chance for players to establish a strong position going into golf’s lucrative postseason. Only the top 125 in the FedEx standings will tee off in the first of the three playoff events.

And that’s not all. For the first time the $10 million Wyndham Rewards Top 10 bonus pool will be in effect. It offers bonus money — $2 million to the winner – to the top 10 players in the FedEx standings entering the playoffs.

While the birdies and bogeys are crucial at Sedgefield, about 40 members of the field will be staying at Grandover. So will a bulk of the tourney’s sponsors and Wyndham’s guests, and they will have some great golf to play that week, too.

Grandover’s two 18-hole courses are top-notch. Both were designed by architect Gary Panks with the help of player consultant David Graham. Graham, an Australian, won the 1979 PGA Championship and the 1981 U.S. Open. He also had top-five finishes in both the British Open and Masters. Like many top stars in his playing days, Graham got involved in course design as a sidelight venture.

Panks did most of his design work in Arizona, Grayhawk being his most noteworthy creation there. The Grandover courses are his only creations in North Carolina. Panks started doing courses on his own in 1978 and teamed up with Graham from 1988-97 under the banner Graham & Panks International. They did 10 courses together, and the Grandover courses were one of their last projects.

Graham & Panks was able to break into the North Carolina course design market – one then dominated by state resident Tom Fazio and Arnold Palmer – because Graham had a friend who was close to Joe Koury, the founder of Grandover. Koury passed away in 1998, shortly after the resort opened, but it’s still family owned.

By then Grandover had an East Course, which is longer and slightly more difficult than its West counterpart. It also has one of the most memorable very short par-3s anywhere. Its No. 12 hole plays only 125 yards from the tips and as short as 60 yards from the forward markers, but there’s a creek fronting the green, which has three tiers, and a pot bunker catches many errant tee shots as well.

No. 12 on Grandover’s East Course can play as short as 60 yards, but it’s still a devil of a hole.

I consider that hole on par with three other very short par-3s in memorability – the much more famous being No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass and No. 7 at Pebble Beach — and No. 9 at Kingsley Club, a private facility in Michigan.

The records on both courses is 63, and the West has – according to 23-year director of golf Jonathan York – the hardest hole on the property. The West’s No. 7 is that layout’s No. 1 handicap hole. This par-4 has trouble right and left off the tee, a water hazard crossing the fairway and a steeply elevated three-tiered green. In other words, there’s trouble everywhere on this one. It is — by far — the toughest of Grandover’s 36 holes.

The resort, celebrating its 20th year in full operation, was built on 1,500 acres of oak, pine and dogwood-covered hills. The designers filled the courses with bumpy fairways and a wide variety of holes, most all of them with extremely undulating greens. The courses have been used for Tour events and top collegiate competitions. An NCAA Division I regional and three Division III national championships have been played at Grandover.

The 18th hole on Grandover’s East Course underscores the features that make it a fun course to play.

For leisure travelers these courses are a great deal, as the top greens fee is only $75, there is no competition with members for tee times and the lodging is not only pleasantly upscale but in close proximity to the golf as well.

Grandover has undergone an extensive $10 million renovation of the entire property over the last two years and a little more money is being spent to complete some indoor projects this year.

Joseph Koury, founder of Grandover, passed away in 1998, shortly after the resort opened.
Work began on the exterior of the resort late in 2016 and required six months to complete. In 2017 all 244 guest rooms were remodeled and in 2018 the bars and restaurants received the same attention. All parts of the property were rebranded, the style changing from Old World European to a tribute honoring the rich history of the area. A fire pit lounge overlooking the courses has been added this year.

Grandover still surrenders top billing to Sedgefield around tournament time, which is understandable. Sedgefield has the only Donald Ross-designed course still hosting a regular PGA Tour stop. But Grandover has more holes, all of them open to the public, and is an easy stopover for players heading to either of the golf meccas of Pinehurst or Myrtle Beach.

It’s especially easy for North Carolina residents, thanks to the formation of the Griffin Club. York created the club, named after the resort’s symbolic figure. For $20 members can get reduced greens fees and other year-around benefits when they visit Grandover. Over 2,500 have already signed up.

Here’s some scenes from Grandover Resort’s sporty West Course. It has steeper fairways and tighter driving areas than the East Course, which is a slightly longer layout. We couldn’t pick a favorite.

TRAVEL NOTEBOOK: Sea Pines’ best courses will host new Lighthouse Invitational

THE DUNES CLUB was closed for three months last summer for a bunker renovation and drainage project supervised by architect Rees Jones. Jones’ father, Robert Trent Jones Sr., designed the Myrtle Beach, S.C. course. The golf shop was also remodeled and these scenes show The Dunes is as photogenic as ever. The club hosted the Hackler Championship, one of the nation’s premier collegiate events, in March with five teams ranked in the top 25 competing. North Florida won the title.

The Sea Pines Resort welcomes the PGA Tour this week for the RBC Heritage Classic and a big new amateur event will be coming in the fall.

A two-person team competition, the 54-hole Lighthouse Invitational, will have divisions for both men and women amateurs. Dates for the tournament on Hilton Head Island, S.C., are Sept. 12-15. It’ll be a showcase for Sea Pines’ top-ranked courses.

The tourney will have rounds on Harbour Town, Atlantic Dunes and Heron Point. Harbour Town is the long-time home of the PGA Tour’s Heritage event, the latest staging of which tees off on Thursday.

Atlantic Dunes, a Davis Love III design, was last year’s National Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association. Heron Point is a Pete Dye creation. Registration options are $1,299 for a single golfer, $1,849 for a single golfer and non-golfing partner and $2,598 for two golfers.

Tournament participants are required to stay in the resort, and each will receive a preferred rate of $279 per night for lodging at either The Inn & Club at Harbour Town or a two-bedroom deluxe villa.

In addition to the golf, the tournament package includes an opening night reception and dinner at the Harbour Town Clubhouse, a putting contest, daily breakfast and box lunches, unlimited range privileges with available practice rounds, a tee gift package valued at more than $500 and an awards ceremony with vacation prizes to resort destinations.

Two unexpected visitors joined us on our round at the Willbrook Plantation course in Myrtle Beach.

MYRTLE BEACH HEADLINER: One of the nation’s biggest high school tournaments, the Palmetto Championship, will tee off at Caledonia and True Blue – two of Myrtle Beach’s best layouts – this week.

The Palmetto has 29 teams from six states in the 54-hole college-style competition. Registration is Wednesday with a qualifying round on Thursday at True Blue and Friday and Saturday competition at both True Blue and neighboring Caledonaia. Caledonia was recently selected as the region’s best in the biennial list put out by the South Carolinia Golf Course Ratings Panel.

True Blue recently completed an extensive tree removal and trimming project. The course also has a new 7,000 square foot putting green.

MYRTLE BEACH MILESTONES: Both Beachwood and Possum Trot celebrated their 50th anniversaries in 2018 and Meadowlands celebrated its 20th. Meadowlands was also named the Myrtle Beach Golf Course of the Year by the MB Golf Course Owners Association.

The anniversary celebration had mixed reactions at Possum Trot. The course with the catchiest name in Myrtle Beach will close in December.

Willbrook Plantation isn’t one of Myrtle Beach’s most famous courses but we found it delightful.

ANOTHER PINEHURST INNOVATION: Pinehurst has long been a golf trend-setter and this year’s 119th U.S. Amateur underscores that. The North Carolina golf mecca will stage the first U.S. Amateur final played on two courses.

The 36-hole climax to the event will be played on both the resort’s Nos. 2 and 4 courses. The 36-hole stroke play qualifying session will also use both layouts but the first five rounds of matches will be strictly on No. 2.

LARGEST OUTING: The annual World’s Largest Golf Outing has been set for Aug. 5. Registration will open for the event, conceived by Billy Casper Golf chief executive officer Peter Hill, on May 1.

The national fundraiser for military charities has drawn over 6,200 men, women, junior and senior participants since its start in 2011. With courses in 34 states being used, the Outing has raised $4.1 million. Fisher House Foundation will be the selected charity for the fourth straight year.

STRANTZ DESIGN RE-OPENS: Virginia’s Royal New Trent Golf Club has re-opened. The layout, designed by the late Mike Strantz, was purchased by Wingfield Golf Management Services of Greenville, S.C. last year. The facility then underwent a total overhaul of the entire complex.

UNVEILING SET: Braemar, in Edina, Minn., had been a 27-hole facility. It’lt re-open on May 15 as the first 18-hole municipal course built in Minnesota since 2003.

Georgia’s Jekyll Island is a golf destination that has had two lives

Jekyll Island has kept up with the times to remain a golf destination for over 120 years.

JEKYLL ISLAND, Georgia – Georgia is a state rich in golf resorts. It has 24 of them and is also boasts Augusta National, the home of the Masters, and East Lake, the home of the PGA’s Tour Championship. At least 20 PGA Tour pros live on Sea Island.

And yet, the biggest public golf facility in Georgia is a state park. Jekyll Island, with 63 holes now, is a golf destination that has had two distinct lives.

From the late 1800s until 1942 in was a private playground for the rich and famous. In 1948, after a period of decay during World War II, it was opened to the public.

History-wise, Jekyll Island stands tall from what went on there many decades ago. As a retreat for America’s wealthiest — people with last names like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer and Astor either lived or hung out their regularly – Jekyll Island was one of America’s first golf destination.

The Jekyll Island Golf Club was the 36th club to gain a charter with the U.S. Golf Association in 1886, though the members didn’t open a course until 1898. Scotsman Willie Dunn, runner-up in the first U.S. Open in 1895, designed an 18-holer and Horace Rawlins, the man who beat him in 1895 at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, was Jekyll’s first head professional beginning in 1899.

The Walter Travis-designed Great Dunes has provided ocean views for 93 years.

Rawlins won the inaugural U.S. Open with rounds of 91-82, two strokes better than Dunn. The Open, only a one-day affair back then, was played the day after the three-day U.S. Amateur.

Just how long Rawlings hung around Jekyll Island is uncertain, but the second head pro was also a notable player and stayed much longer. Karl Keffer won the Canadian Open in 1909 and 1914. In between those wins (in 1910) Keffer was hired as Jekyll’s second head pro. Only one Canadian golfer, Pat Fletcher in 1954, has won the Canadian Open since Keffer last did it.

Keffler was Jekyll’s head pro until 1942 and during his time on the job the club got serious about golf. The members wanted a better course than the original one and a second course was started in 1910 with legendary Donald Ross the architect. It was built on the grounds of what is now the Oleander course — toughest of Jekyll’s three 18-holers — but Ross doesn’t have his name on it.

Some say Ross was fired during the construction process, which was hampered by drainage problems.

“My understanding,’’ said present director of golf Spencer Brookman, “was that he was hired to build the course and got it started, then he was either terminated or they couldn’t get the course dry enough.’’

Architect Dick Wilson made water a problem on the No. 9 hole at the Pine Lakes course

That course wasn’t open long before the members lured Walter Travis to design another one. Travis’ hiring was a big deal as he was the first three-time U.S. Amateur champion (1900, 1901 and 1903) and the first non-Brit to win the British Amateur in 1904. He was also a prolific writer and course architect, and Great Dunes was one of his last creations. It opened in 1928, a year after his death.

Fourteen years later the wealthy left, many feeling the Island was too vulnerable to enemy air attacks with World War II looming. There were no workers to keep the place afloat anyway, and in 1947 the state of Georgia took it over and named it Jekyll Island State Park. That ended the first phase of Jekyll Island’s life as a golf destination and started the second, which continues to this day.

When Jekyll Island State Park opened to the public for the first time on March 1, 1948, golf was not an option. Neither the Oceanside Course, now Great Dunes, nor the Club Golf Course that Ross designed was playable. Both were overgrown, and it took years to get the sport re-established on the Island.

The Jekyll courses were all walk-able, but the GPS system in the carts was outstanding.

The state turned over what had been Ross’ design to architect Dick Wilson and he created what is now the Oleander course. It opened in 1964. Pine Lakes, the most family-friendly course on the Island, opened in 1968 after a combined design effort by Wilson and Joe Lee. Indian Mound, a Lee creation, was constructed in 1975.

Lee and Wilson would later collaborate on the Dubsdread course at the Cog Hill complex in the Chicago area. That layout would host a major PGA Tour event – first called the Western Open and then the BMW Championship – for 20 straight years (1991-2011).

Great Dunes was reduced to nine holes in 1955 when the Island was undergoing difficult financial times.

“That course has become more and more popular since we redid the greens and re-routed Nos. 1 and 9 toward the ocean,’’ said Brookman. That project was completed last September.

There were lots of unusually-shaped trees at Jekyll — especially this one at Great Dunes.

With all 63 holes up and running the Island became a tourist destination and some of the scenes in the golf-themed movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance,’’ were shot there.

“Oleander is more of a shot-makers course with more doglegs,’’ said Brookman. “It plays a lot longer than it looks. Pine Lakes is a little easier but still hard since it was redone in 2005 (by architect Clyde Johnston).’’

The courses are in the spotlight of amateur golf two weeks every year when – on consecutive weekends – they host a U.S. Kids Regional, which draws 320 youngsters, and the biggest of college tournaments. The Jekyll Island Intercollegiate, hosted by Atlanta’s Ogelthorpe University, brings together 64 men’s and women’s teams from the NCAA Division III ranks.

The three 18-hole courses are player-friendly and reasonably priced. The terrain is relatively flat, so walking is an option for those who want the exercise, and the power carts have a state-of-the-art GPS system. Lodging and dining options on the Island are more than ample.

Once the state purchased the Island there was definitely a push to rebuild,’’ said Brookman. “Now you can park your car, play 54 holes and never have to get back in your car. That sets us apart from other places.’’

Keeping golf from being the focal point at Jekyll Island is the fact that Jekyll offers numerous other attractions. Driftwood Beach is the best non-golf feature and wildlife abounds everywhere. You can also take a fishing tour, paddle in a kayak or bike through the forest. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is an educational diversion, and the Historic District offers a glimpse into the Island’s rich past with its array of mansions. Horton House, oldest of the Island’s landmarks, has been standing since 1743.

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel and eerie Driftwood Beach are both memorable sites away from the golf.