Leopard’s Chase – Course Review

Summary

Approach on #18 at Leopard’s Chase

Leopard’s Chase, is considered the premium play for the four Big Cats courses at the Ocean Ridge Plantation located in Sunset Beach, NC.    My travel group played here on Wednesday, June 20, 2012, and the experience was decidedly different from when we played this Tim Cate design in 2009.  Unfortunately, the change was not for the better and course conditions were the issue.  As we did three years ago, we enjoyed the same great routing and hole variety, especially on the back nine,  but the excellence ended there.  The L-93 bentgrass greens had just been treated for a fungicide and were colored aqua-blue and were rolling extremely slow.  Most bentgrass greens get hammered in late summer from the persistent heat in the Southeast U.S. and it seemed a bit early to see greens on a course of this caliber stressed.  Also, general maintenance had clearly slipped.  Last time out, the course was pristine with lightning fast greens.  This time we noticed a few bare spots on the approaches, the landing surface on the practice pitching green was literally covered in weeds, and there was grass growing in several fairway bunkers.  You got the feeling that a general level of malaise had set in regarding pride of ownership.  Interestingly enough, this was not evident when we played Tigers Eye later in the afternoon (another Big Cat course) which was in beautiful condition and is under the same management.  Leopard’s Chase was still quite playable and we had a good time, but were surprised at the shape.

Our group on the range at Leopard’s Chase

A few playing notes:  There is a lot of sand.  You will hit into greenside and fairway bunkers so bring you’re A-bunker game.  Also the back nine is more challenging than the front and features the par-5 11th, which requires three precision shots to get home, and the scenic par-4 18th ,with the lovely approach over the stone configuration and waterfall.  I enjoyed one of my better ball striking days on our trip, but was continually frustrated at my inability to get short birdie putts to the hole because of the shaggy putting surfaces.  Others in our group felt the same.

Checking yardage on the par-3, 6th at Leopard’s Chase

Value (2.0 out of 5.0)

Morning greens fees for the summer run at $83.00 which seems high for the current conditions.  Range balls are included in the greens fee and you are given a very small bag of about 20 balls to warm up with.  I do recall a much higher greens fee back in 2009 and a very steep replay rate of about $80.  Clearly, rates have come down, but with our prior replay rate experience, we played the afternoon at Tigers Eye for $45 and were happy we did.

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

The pro-shop is little more than a double wide trailer with a decent retail area with some clothes and limited equipment for sale.  There was a very small snack bar and a restroom but nothing else.  The practice putting green was modest sized and the all-grass driving range while limited to about 15 hitting stations was in pretty good shape.  I already mentioned the dreadful shape of the pitching green.

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

The pro-shop staff were courteous and helpful getting our replay time set up over at Tigers Eye when we checked in.  The bag drop was staffed by one gentleman who was a bit slow unloading us (we essentially did it ourselves) and the course was basically empty when we got there.  We warmed up and teed off when we were ready.  It struck me as a bit unusual that the place was so empty on a Wednesday morning, as all other courses we played mid-week had plenty of players.  Perhaps word got out regarding the conditions.  For visitors planning on playing at Ocean Ridge Plantation, spend your money at Tiger’s Eye and bypass this one until the conditions improve.  For the record, I played the blue tees at 6,645 yards and shot a four-over par 76.

Overall Rating (2.5 out of 5.0)

Tee shot on the par-3, 4th at Leopard’s Chase

Grand Dunes Resort Course – Course Review

Summary

View from the clubhouse at Grand Dunes Resort Course

Grand Dunes Resort Course, located off Rt. 17 in Myrtle Beach, SC is one of the finest golf courses you can play on the Grand Strand.  Our travel group played here on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 and found the golf course in excellent condition and the service and amenities top notch.  Right from your arrival at the bag drop you are treated with country club level service that sets the tone for a great day of golf.  Grand Dunes boasts some of the best playing conditions from tee to green, as well as on all their practice facilities.  It was hard to find a blade of grass out of place and it was a treat to play on such pristine surfaces.  Depending on the set of tees you play, the layout can be very tough with a premium being placed on solid ball striking.  Hit it close, or you’re going to three-putt a lot of these very large and contoured greens.  Also, bring plenty of balls, as water comes into play on several holes.  The course boasts a string of holes (8-10) that run along the scenic Intracoastal Waterway that can play brutally tough if the wind is blowing.  The downhill par-3, 14th is the course’s most scenic hole and requires a precise tee shot to keep it out of the Intracoastal on the right.

Par 3, #14 at Grand Dunes Resort Course

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

This is a premium course and the prices reflect the conditions and superb level of service.  Green fees can run well over $100 and while our first round was built into the price of our package, we replayed for a fairly expensive $55 rate.  You get what you pay for at this course and it’s worth the extra money to get the conditioning and level of service we received.

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Course conditions were excellent with the greens running smooth and medium-fast.  Grand Dunes has a 15-station grass driving range that was in excellent condition and balls were included in the greens fee.  The range was conveniently located next to the first tee.  Three practice greens (one for putting and two for short game) were also nearby.  Get to the course early to take advantage of these excellent practice facilities.

The clubhouse boasted a fully stocked pro-shop and a nice snack bar and full service grill.  The food was good and the service prompt.

Customer Experience (4.5 out of 5.0)

The pro-shop, starters, cart attendants and beverage service staff were all very professional and attentive to our every need.  Carts are fully equipped with GPS, coolers with ice, and as many free bottles of water as you want.  We were especially pleased that the afternoon professional on duty allowed us to replay as a fivesome.  His only contingency was for us not to hold anyone up, and we didn’t.  It makes a big difference when you can play with your friends and not have to split up into groups of two and three players.  We had an awesome day at Grand Dunes and I highly recommend this play to visitors in Myrtle Beach.  For the record, I played twice and shot 83 both times which was 11-over par.  We played from the blue tees which measured 6,737 yards.

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)

On the green at #14

2012 Myrtle Beach Trip Report and Golf Improvement Plan

Just got back from the golf trip of the decade to Myrtle Beach and have trip details and good news to share.

Our group before the June 23rd round on Moorland.

Summary:

We enjoyed 11 fabulous rounds over six days in sunny mid-80 degree weather.  With these temperatures, we played 36 holes every day except for Thursday when our first round was scheduled in the afternoon.  Normally after this trip, my body feels like I’ve been through an NFL game with the rigorous physical demands of playing so much golf, but the conditioning work I’ve been focusing on since January has increased my strength and stamina, and I feel as fresh as I did on Day One.  Let’s play another 11 rounds right now!

The swing speed work and exercises designed to strengthen my back clearly helped my iron game and I was hitting it flush and more consistently with all clubs.  I was particularly pleased with the ability to attack flags inside of 120 yards instead of fighting a push, as I had in years past.

My driving was a mixed bag, as the additional length I was enjoying early in the season was neutralized by a fade that developed early in the trip and was hard to control at times.  A big push reared its ugly head on occasion which is my standard miss with the driver, but rather than fight the push/fade, I just played for it.

My short game was not as sharp as I would have liked, especially with the chips and pitches you need from tight Bermuda lies just off the greens, however my bunker play was solid, and you need to play well from the sand as frequent visits are common on these resort courses.  I never worry too much about putting because of the difference in surfaces from course to course.  I rolled it okay but you can go nuts if you let the changing green speeds affect your approach.  The better iron play made up for my substandard short game and allowed me to score better.

#3 green at Moorland with #6 green in the foreground.

KPIs:

  • Handicap index went DOWN!  Pre-trip was 5.2, post-trip is 4.4 and six of the 11 rounds were handicap rounds.  Very pleased with this.
  • 2012 trip scoring average was 78.81, down from 80.70 in 2011 and 82.50 in 2010.  Again, attributed to better iron play.
  • Set a new personal best of playing 54 straight holes without a swing thought 🙂  Started thinking “target only” after a particularly rough stretch with the driver and this worked great to steady me.

Rounds / Results:

  • June 18, Oyster Bay – 75
  • June 18, Oyster Bay – 78
  • June 19, Grand Dunes Resort – 83
  • June 19, Grand Dunes Resort – 83
  • June 20, Leopards Chase – 76
  • June 20, Tigers Eye – 77
  • June 21, Tidewater – 80
  • June 22, Heathland – 81
  • June 22, Heathland – 72
  • June 23, Moorland – 86
  • June 23, Heathland – 76

Full reviews of Grand Dunes, Leopards Chase, Tigers Eye, and Tidewater are coming.

A couple of quick notes:

  • Playing this many holes, you inevitably hit hot and cold streaks.  One minute you make back-to-back birdies and are on fire, and the next you wonder what you are doing out there and think you need a full swing lesson.  You need to ride out the bad streaks, understand they will happen and not panic.  Fixing your swing on the course is an exercise in futility.  Just ride it out and have fun.
  • If you book rounds at The Legends (Heathland, Moorland, Parkland) it’s best to avoid the weekend.  Our morning round on Saturday at Moorland took 6 hours and we had to quit after 15 to leave time to eat lunch and re-tee for our afternoon round.  We actually finished the last three holes after the afternoon round was complete which was a little odd but allowed us to get the full 36 in.  The double teeing in the morning and our late (9:00 a.m.) tee time was the culprit.  If you need to play the weekend and want a replay, try to get one of the times before 8:00 a.m.  Better yet, play mid-week at this golf factory.  We did speak to the staff about the slow pace of play.  To their credit, they made it right by giving us a free replay for the afternoon.
  • Call each course one week before you travel and inquire about green aeration plans.  I moved us off Heritage and onto Oyster Bay because of aeration at Heritage right before we arrived.

If you have any questions or comments about any of these courses or just want to talk Myrtle Beach golf, send them along, thanks!


Fighting your golf swing? Give yourself a fighting chance.

The great thing about the game of golf is that you inevitably learn something new every time you play.  I had a big fight with my golf swing today and will share what happened in hopes that you can learn from my experience.

Today I played my worst ball striking round of the year, but also shot my lowest score of the season (73).  What happened?  Off the tee, I couldn’t hit water from a boat and was looking at big pushes with my driver and irons the entire day.  After trying every WOOD bandaid I knew of I finally figured it out on the 17th tee.  I had reverted to my classic miss when I come up and out of my spine angle.  On the next two tee shots, I exaggerated the spine angle retention and everything re-clicked into place.  There are two important lessons here:  1)  If you’ve identified a swing fault through professional instruction and start missing shots and seeing a consistent recognizable shot pattern, you are likely falling into the same old habit, even though you may not feel as if you’re making the old move.  2)  You get out of this game what you put into it, and you need to focus on practicing what you’ll need the most during play.

The first point validates that we are human and humans are creatures of habit.  Good and bad, those habits are hard to break and should be recognized for what they are.  Focus on identifying and correcting the bad and don’t get sidetracked on a bunch of other stuff.  To the second point, I had reviewed a period of time in the past where I enjoyed a nice stretch of play and had correlated that with a certain type of practice which I had recently gotten away from.  In short, I got lazy.  Yesterday I decided to buckle down and duplicate that old practice session and it paid off handsomely.  The drill was hitting 100 uphill putts from four feet using my alignment sticks to frame the putt.  I made 19 of the first 20 but noticed I was cutting the putts and they were leaking in the right side of the hole.  I patiently worked each group of 10 by checking one fundamental per set until I hit the right one and proceeded to bang in 50 in a row with confidence.  The fundamental was to feel the club brushing  the ground on my backswing which helped keep the putter head low and promote solid contact.  Now this drill is quite boring and takes a considerable amount of time, but the payoff was worth it.  Today I had my best day putting, especially from long distance, which was crucial since I wasn’t hitting my irons close.  The confidence boost the practice provided was invaluable, as I felt totally ready and prepared for success over every putt.

On the swing fight, give yourself a chance by managing your game and having the courage to admit your swing is off and make good playing decisions.  Once I recognized I was off, I kept the driver in the bag and worked the 3WD for position.  I found that even when you lose distance, it’s important from a mental perspective to get your tee shot in play because you can become despondent  and disinterested when you drive the ball into trouble too often.  So when your swing deserts you, continue to make an aggressive swing with a more conservative club.  Use whatever you need to get the ball in play and keep your mind in the game.

What I admire most about Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods is not all the major championship victories, but the ability both had to play great golf and keep their head in the game when they didn’t have their best move.  It’s frustrating to not hit driver on the par-5s or on the long par-4s, but trust me on this; it’s more important to stay in play and give yourself a chance.  Often, as you lower the pressure on yourself to drive it straight, you’ll regain confidence that will help your swing to come around.  Good luck!

2012 U.S. Open Picks

Olympic Club

The golfing gods and the USGA have left us with a truly tantalizing mix of events and pairings in advance of the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco.  As in all U.S. Opens, the premium will be on driving accuracy and putting (specifically in the 5-10 foot range) so let’s get to the analysis:

On everyone’s mind is Tiger Woods.  Can the two-time winner in 2012 sustain his newly regained momentum on what arguably could be considered a home field advantage?  You’ll recall Tiger played his collegiate golf at Stanford and is a California native so this a home game.  Olympic will favor the straightest of hitters and Tiger has found the go-to stinger shot that will get him in the fairway.  He leads the tour in total driving and is incredibly 24th in driving accuracy.  Ball striking consistency is becoming less of an issue, but on course adjustments seem to allude him because he’s still plagued by mechanical corrections and thinking issues when his swing is off.  Tiger’s putting is coming around as well, and he’s ranked 8th from 5-10 feet.  He’s not all the way back but is a serious contender.

Phil “Check your cell phone” Mickelson is also a California native and is partial to west coast courses.  Is the mental fatigue over?  If the cell phones were a true distraction at Memorial they won’t be at Olympic because the USGA doesn’t allow them in.  I didn’t like the way that whole Memorial thing played out.

Does Bubba Watson have his mojo back?  We’ll give him a pass at Memorial to bang the rust off his layoff.  His record in the U.S. Open is spotty with his best finish being a tie for fifth in 2007 at Oakmont.  The key for Bubba is keeping it in the fairway and exhibiting enough coolness under fire.  Last year at Congressional, he lost his composure after some bad breaks.  Bubba, Tiger, and Phil are paired together in the first two rounds.  Clearly the USGA loves the Tiger-Phil matchup with the butt kicking Phil administered to Tiger at Pebble Beach creating a wonderful story line, but the throng that’s going to follow this threesome will be huge and the distractions aplenty.  This pairing will make for great theater but doesn’t help any of the three.

Luke Donald has the KPIs (18th in putting from 5-10 feet and 8th in driving accuracy) but he still hasn’t won a big one.  You need to meld killer instinct with the patience of Job to with this tournament and I’m not sure we can call Donald a killer.

Rory McIlroy is in good form in Memphis the week before and seems to have taken his issues with preparation more seriously.  If he can drive it straight enough, he’ll contend on talent alone.  Definitely has the guts and killer instinct.

Lee Westwood has half the package (driving ability) but just doesn’t putt well enough to win an Open.  Whether it’s nerve or touch, something has always been the issue with Lee’s flatstick and that’s a non-starter.  Lee, Rory, and Luke are also paired in the first two rounds and they’ve got to love this arrangement, as all the distractions and hoopla will be with the Big-3 American pairing.  Look for Luke and Rory to be in contention after Friday’s round.

Matt Kuchar mysteriously did not play Memorial this year.  I don’t like that trend because in the last two years he played Memorial two weeks before the U.S. Open and played well in both tournaments.  If you believe in trends, this is not a good one.

Dark horse contender:  Jim Furyk.  The cagey veteran is playing super consistent over his last eight events with a tie for 26th at Wells Fargo being his worst finish.  He’s presently 3rd in driving accuracy and 3rd in scoring average.  With a past U.S. Open championship on his resume, Furyk knows how to get it done and will contend.

My final 2012 U.S. Open picks.  Who do you like?

1st Place:  Rory McIlroy.

2nd Place:  Tiger Woods.

3rd Place:  Jim Furyk

Tiger wins 2012 Memorial as world’s best implode

Tiger Woods
By Halleran/Getty Images

Did Tiger deserve the win at the 2012 Memorial on Sunday?  Absolutely.  His final round 67 punctuated by a stellar chip-in birdie on #16 was worthy of all the hysterics and histrionics, but the confluence of bad play and unexcused absences from the world’s best certainly contributed.  Consider:

Phil Mickelson shot an opening round 79 and promptly withdrew sighting mental fatigue.    Was Lefty truly in need of a break after playing three straight weeks and then vacationing with his wife in Italy?

Rory McIlroy missed his third straight cut with a second round 79 and is making huge blunders leading to huge numbers on his scorecard.  I’m convinced something is going on outside his golf game that’s distracting and is the genesis for the poor form.

Rickie Fowler, arguably the hottest golfer in the last month, shot 84 in the final round while paired with Tiger.  Are you kidding me?

Bubba Watson is still rusty from his one month layoff to recover from burnout, and missed the cut.

Zach Johnson, winner last week at Colonial was mysteriously missing from the field.  There was an unsubstantiated rumor that he had been suspended for some sort of substance abuse issue.  Seems unlikely, but where was he?

How about Jason Dufner who was also missing from the field.  Memorial is an invitational (non full field event) but was the two-time winner this year invited?

Not trying to discount Tiger’s achievement, and he certainly has kept himself out of the news over the last few weeks, which is hard to do, but what happened to the world’s best this week?

Golf Improvement Plan – The Big Test

It’s June 1 and I’m two weeks out from the final exam for the 2012 Improvement Plan.  Yes, end-stage preparations have begun for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Myrtle Beach) and a quick review of my 2012 KPIs vs. 2011 and some anecdotal observations are in order.

Positive trends:

  • Scoring average has dropped from 79.17 (six rounds) to 77.80 (10 rounds).
  • GIR average has increased from 8.83 to 9.20 with 7 out of 10 rounds at or above 10 GIRs.
  • Putts per round has decreased from 32.66 to 31.90.
  • More play.  Number of rounds up from six last year to 10 in 2012 with two or three more scheduled prior to MB.
  • Number of practice sessions has been reduced from 20 to 13 for the same time period.  Intent was to be more efficient by playing more and practicing less.

Negative trends:

  • Short game is not as sharp, especially with greenside SW shots
  • Tendency to pull hook the occasional mid-iron off the tee on par-3 holes

General observations:

My focus has been on improving core conditioning in hopes that the changes would result in more consistent ball striking.  This has worked and I’m enjoying more length off the tee and better accuracy with my three wedges inside of 120 yards.  My GIR stats are skewed down a bit by an early round where I hit only two greens but actually struck the ball decent.  That day the course was playing hard and fast with the greens impossible to hold.   It’s clear that ball striking has seen the best improvements.  Along those lines,  I’ve been resisting the temptation to work on my swing and finally succumbed last weekend, but the key here is that I continued to focus on my single most prevalent weaknesses (not maintaining spine angle).  My Saturday range work helped result in 12 GIRs during Sunday’s round.

Adjustments:

Players of this game all know that just when you think you have it, you don’t, and that golf requires constant adjustments.  I didn’t want to work on my swing but started to see some familiar misses that were not evident early in the season.  Now that I think I’ve got that fixed, it’s off to work on the greenside pitches.  I’m not too worried because these are clearly a problem with technique and lack of reps.   I changed short game approach over the winter and have not practiced it enough to get comfortable.  With my focus on conditioning, the short game suffered.  The good news is that it usually takes only one or two dedicated sessions around the green to get comfortable.

So a little short game work, a round this weekend and next, a few last minute adjustments for whatever else pops up, and I’ll be ready to go.  Wish me luck!