Boyne Highlands Review

 

In front of the clubhouse at Heather

The Resort

Our travel group visited Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs, MI from July 22 to July 27.  Until last year, I never knew of Boyne, but one of our Myrtle Beach golf partners suggested the location was to die for as far as quality golf went, so we decided to mix things up and booked it.  Boyne is about as far north as you can go without crossing into the upper peninsula and is on the west coast of the state just north of Little Traverse Bay.

Because of its remote location, travel to the resort is not simple.  We priced out flights and flight times from Washington and decided to drive it in two days, with a stop in Ohio.  Total driving time was about 11-12 hours.  Our playing partners booked flights from Phoenix that connected in Chicago and terminated in Grand Rapids.  They drove the remaining 3-4 hours in a rental car.  We are thinking of returning next year and will continue to research flight/rental car options.

View up the slopes from our condo

When you talk to the locals, you quickly learn that Boyne is a split season resort and caters to golfers in summer and skiers in winter.  I asked the reception agent about the popularity of the various sports and seasons and learned that ski season brought in about 25% more customers than golf did.  Our accommodations had the look and feel of a ski lodge.  The unit was in the Heather Highlands Inn and was at the base of the mountain with a ski lift right out back. It consisted of a bedroom, a loft with two queen beds, two full baths, a fireplace, and a pull-out sofa.  Perfect for four guys.  The resort was running that ski lift and let resort guests ride up and down the mountain for free – which I did.  You could just ride up and explore or bring your mountain bikes up and ride down the ski trails.

The resort coming down the lift

Boyne is a big resort and employs a large staff.  All the employees were super friendly and accommodating.  Interesting factoid:  I noticed that several of the golf courses had women staffing the bag drops.  A little unusual but a welcome site.  I was curious so I asked them about their story and found most were working the golf clubs in summer and at the ski resorts in winter, some as instructors.  In either case they handled the work with ease, and it was good to see them get the additional job opportunities.  Some of the wait staff told me they loved their jobs because they could play as much golf as they wanted for free at any of the Boyne courses.  Nice gigs.

Slopeside executive nine holes

The Golf Package

Boyne has 10 courses at multiple sites and I played nine rounds on seven of them over five days.  We played on the Great Escape package which ran from Sunday night through Thursday night and extended it an additional two days on the Unlimited Package.  The whole shebang included a welcome party on Sunday, full breakfast and dinner daily, unlimited golf every day, an $85 gift card to any of the pro shops, and a $25 casino voucher.  They threw in a Wednesday scramble tournament for package players, but we skipped that because we had 36 holes booked every day.  Our Arizona guys stayed through Sunday and I played Monday through Friday and left on Saturday.  My total package cost was around $1,100 plus gratuities.  We were eating filet, rib-eye, lobster tail every night and quality of dinner and breakfast choices was outstanding.  With the food, accommodations, and unlimited golf, this was an incredible value.

Extras

There were other activities such as zip line, horseback riding, and spa treatments that you can purchase.  At the end of the week, I was hurting from all the golf and could have used a spa treatment but passed.  Swimming pool, nine-hole natural mini-golf, tennis, fishing, and paddle-boating are also available and are free, and many families were present to take advantage of these amenities.

Course Summary

At the end of the day, we were there to play golf and the list of offerings was impressive.  At the resort center, there are four courses.  Heather plays out of a clubhouse across the parking lot from the main lodge.  A one mile drive gets you to the Donald Ross Golf Center where there are three courses:  Arthur Hills, Donald Ross, and Moor, and an extensive practice facility.

14 miles away in Bay Harbor is Crooked Tree where we played twice on Wednesday.  And 30 miles to the south in Boyne Falls are Monument and Alpine, that both play out of the same clubhouse.  We played both on Thursday.

Normally, I’ll do individual reviews for one or two courses, yet my experience was almost overwhelming playing seven new tracks in such a short period of time.  I just wanted to immerse and play rather than capture intricate details on each.  So, enjoy some photos and I’ll provide some memories of each course but not a comprehensive review.  At a high level, what impressed me most was the variety of layouts and awesome course conditions.  Due to the northern climate, all courses play on Bent grass and there was rarely a blade out of place.  Each of these courses is a must play but since we are a society of rankings, I’ll note them in my order of preference.

Warming up at the Donald Ross Center before a round on Arthur Hills

#1 Arthur Hills.  I have a bias for this outstanding layout because we played it first and were overwhelmed with its grandiose appearance and perfect conditions.  It’s a fabulous course to get your golf vacation started on.  No two holes are alike, and they give you ample room to hit your driver.  The par-5 #13 is the signature hole.  When played from the tips this monster measures 570 yards (see short video) and you need to carry a drive 250 yards (downhill) just to reach the fairway.  We played it once from the tips and once two sets up at 516 yards.  It was here that we learned we should not be playing this course from the tips.

As mentioned, I played my first and last round and the beast beat me up on the later, but I played it well on day one.  We observed ample wildlife as well, with many wild turkeys, and we actually saw deer in the middle of a lake on #17 feasting on aquatic plants.

Wild Turkey
Deer in the lake – #17 Arthur Hills
On #13 tee at Arthur Hills

#2 Donald Ross.  This track is a collection of classic holes designed by Donald Ross and is another outstanding conditioned golf course.  Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of rendition type courses and I couldn’t recognize any of the holes we were playing, but the layout and routing was incredible.  I was loving the holes I was playing whether the scorecard said, Pinehurst, Oakmont, or something else.  Many of the holes had extensive bunkering around the greens and you need to be a solid ball striker to score on this one.  My sand game got tested too.

Mike and Curtis at Crooked Tree
The range at Crooked Tree

#3 Crooked Tree.   This course runs along the south shore of Little Traverse Bay.  You enjoy great elevation changes on some of these holes starting with #1 where you have a huge drop on a downhill dogleg right par-4.  #2 is a par-3 with a giant hump in a two-tier green.  If you miss this one left you can forget about keeping a chip shot on the green with bogey not a bad score.

Jim on #7 at Crooked Tree

The par-4 16th is the signature hole and plays 389 from the tips and has tremendous lake views.  The tee shot drops down a huge hill and if hit well, can leave you with a flip wedge in, but you can just as easily lose your ball if you’re not straight.

Par-4 10th at Crooked Tree

I had my best round here in the morning but ran out of gas in the afternoon which was my 6th round in three days.  My ball striking began to falter as I became fatigued, but I was in love with the greens and managed to go around in only 25 putts (10 on the back nine) despite shooting an 11-over 82.  Crooked Tree is a great course.  My only ding was that the snack bar was small with only about five tables.  It got very crowded in there as we were hit by a rain shower between rounds and several golfers came in and packed the place.

Next to the scenic #16 green at Crooked Tree
Curtis before teeing off at Monument

#4 Monument.  Monument and Alpine play out of the same clubhouse and required the longest road trip from the resort area.  The practice area is awesome for a 36 hole facility.  They boast a large driving range, full pitching and bunker green, separate chipping green, and another green for putting only.  I could definitely spend a full day here working on all aspects of my game.

Both courses start at the top of the ski slope and the cart ride is about a mile up the mountain and takes about 10 minutes.  Monument was the toughest of all the courses we played with the front nine weaving its way through the mountain with tight tee shots, elevation changes, dog legs, and incredibly fast / undulating greens.  One of my playing partners equated the putting experience to rolling a ball on a Pringles potato chip.

#1 tee at Monument

You get hit right out of the chute on #1 with a big downhill dogleg right par-5 with a beautiful approach to a green protected in front by a bunker framed with railroad ties.

#1 green at Monument

Oddly enough, I was the only one in the group that didn’t struggle on the greens and managed to take 29 putts with no three jacks – that’s the good news.  Unfortunately, I was playing with some serious pain in my left neck / shoulder area as this was round seven in day four.  It prevented me from making a full swing, but on a golf trip and you gotta play through it.  Monument chewed me up and spit me out because I could not control my golf ball and I shot 90.

Curtis keeping his spine angle
#12 tee Monument

#5 Alpine.  We welcomed the warmest temperatures of the golf trip Thursday afternoon as the thermometer hit 80 degrees and after nine Advil, my neck finally loosened up and I played much better on Alpine.  Alpine is the sister course of Monument and was a little wider open off the tee and the greens were just as fast but were not as undulating.  In the morning, everyone was a little shell shocked from our experience on Monument and found Alpine more playable / more score-able.  As it was, I found Monument slightly more scenic.  Both were fantastic plays.

Mike rips one at Heather

#6 Heather.  Heather has won several regional and national awards for course of the year.  The clubhouse was walking distance from the main lodge and our accommodations.  If you feel like taking a few putts on an off day, just stroll over and enjoy.

#1 green at Heather

The pro gave us the preview and set expectations that we would see a lot of doglegs and that if we hit our tee shots at the 150 yard poles, we’d be fine.

Jim at Heather
Mike sends one on the way

Of course, I tried to cut too many of the doglegs in the bend and got in trouble off the tee.  The course was in excellent condition and was another enjoyable play, but I learned after playing that I favor holes where you can see the flag from the tee.  If I can’t, for some reason, it’s a struggle to concentrate on my tee shots.  Along with the collection of doglegs, Heather has a stunning par-4 finishing hole with a forced carry over water.

Tee shot on the daunting 18th at Heather

I was thrilled to flush a 4-iron and carry the beast only to three-putt.  Oh well.  I got several pictures from the tee and from the lift going down the mountain.  When we finished up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the pro come out and assist the bag staff in unloading our clubs.  Excellent customers service bonus points there.  Finally, the driving range at Heather is a short drive from the clubhouse and plays up the mountain on one of the slopes which I thought was an excellent use of real estate.

The range/ski slope at Heather

#7 Moor.   We played Moor on Monday afternoon after Arthur Hills in the morning.  The front nine presented tight tee shots with lateral penalty areas in seemingly every landing spot.  Conditions on the front were good but not great.  The back nine was much stronger and our mood was re-elevated as the quality of layout and conditions improved markedly.  I’m not sure of the reason for the change, but I relaxed and played much better on the inward half.

Game Summary:

The consistency of course conditions made for some of the best quality golf I’ve ever experienced on a trip.  All week I putted exceptionally well on the smooth fast Bent greens.  The extensive work I had done in the previous month paid off.  My short game was sharp, and I was particularly pleased with my bunker game.  It was clear that as the week wore on, I became more fatigued and my ball striking was affected.  Woods, irons, and wedges were off after my 5th round.  The last four were a struggle and I only played 18 on Friday because the tank had run completely dry.  On future trips, I need to find a way to conserve energy over the course of the whole week and that will probably involve only 18 per day in the early rounds.  Getting old sucks 😊

Hope you enjoyed the review!  Play well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juicy Sub-Plots from The Open!

Lots of great tidbits floating around Royal Portrush this week adding to the specter of the championship and interest in general.

photo from skysports.com

 

Justin Rose complaining?

Let’s start with Justin and his criticism of the tour’s condensed major scheduling.  Rose never complains about anything and this is the first I’ve heard any top-tier player criticize the format.  While I love the back-to-back-to-back rapid fire cadence, I’m with him on this because he’s exposed the tour’s three dirty little secrets.  1)  There are too many events in the Fall with the FedEx Cup playoffs being the primary culprit.  2)  Autumn in North America is for football.  3)  They have their eye on the 2020 Olympics falling into the PGA Championship’s traditional slot in August, as was the case in 2016.  So, they squeezed everything up front.  The football argument is reasonable and there’s nothing they can do.  The other two are related.  Rose was spot on when he said the majors are the measuring stick for professional success and career legacy.  The FedEx Cup is just a money-ratings grab and always has been.  Olympic golf doesn’t matter.  Rory McIlroy said as much when he declined to participate at Rio.  Is anyone going to remember Rose won the gold medal and the FedEx Cup?  Probably not.  If you eliminate FedEx and leave the Olympics to the amateurs and move the PGA back to its traditional August spot, everything is solved. . .and Justin and Rory can go have a pint.

A new lunch entree?

Speaking of Rory, I don’t recall ever watching a perfectly reasonable round of even-par golf at a major squeezed between a quadruple and triple bogey on #1 and #18.  Should we call that a “Rory Sandwich”?

Grande Latte?

What is up with Phil Mickelson?  He looks great after starving himself for six days and consuming nothing but coffee.  Admittedly, he did lose 15 pounds, and at 49 must be trying to defy gravity or get a Starbucks logo on his bag.  At least he warned us that this “might” not do anything positive for his golf game.  After shooting +5 in round one he was right.

Caddy-gate?

And finally, some in the press made a big deal out of Brooks Koepka not acknowledging Tiger’s request for a practice round and possible brain picking session with Koepka’s caddy, Portrush native Ricky Elliott.  Sorry Tiger, there are no shortcuts.  And where have you been while trying to peak your game for the majors?  It certainly hasn’t been out on tour.  Will Tiger miss another cut?  Was The Masters a fluke?

Stay tuned!

Inside the Brilliant Mind of Brooks Koepka

Photo from Golf Digest

What makes him tick?  As we approach the final major of the season, my intrigue continues to grow with his amazing success.  He is extraordinary in the big events but rather ordinary in the regular tour stops.  How does he turn on the mental supercharger for the majors?  Few athletes in history have been able to turn it on in big events to the same extent.  Great golfers like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods demonstrated fantastic ability to concentrate, but their performance was more evenly distributed across all their events.

Sports fans old enough to remember the Hall of Fame running back John Riggins, recall Riggo hated to practice and almost never did.  He was often in the hospital injured during the week, or out carousing and making trouble, but come game day, he could turn on an amazing level of focus and concentration and performed brilliantly.  Football is a sport where you are very dependent on the performance of others.  Golf is not.  Koepka has no offensive line to run behind which makes his majors performances even more remarkable.

In perhaps his greatest book on sports psychology (How Champions Think), Bob Rotella sites “single-mindedness” as the most important key.  The greats demonstrate it time and again and sometimes at the cost of other important aspects in their lives.  Tiger certainly had single-mindedness and learned it from his dad.  Maybe his personal failings later in life were a cry for help due to the strains of single-mindedness at an early age.  Michele Wie’s parents tried to enforce single-mindedness before she was ready and may have ruined a great golf career.

Koepka doesn’t appear to be single-minded at all.  He doesn’t sweat the majors any more than you or I would going to an important meeting at the office.  He does abide by a corny half-baked idea that it’s easier to win the majors because he has fewer opponents that will be in contention for a variety of reasons.  Does that really work; can you trick yourself into performing better by simply believing you are superior?  For example, could your son or daughter excel in an important event like taking the SAT and expect superlative performance by thinking half the other students in the class will choke under the pressure?  There may be some truth to it.

More importantly, is there something we (the average amateur) can adopt from his approach that will help our games?  Think back to a time when you put on a great performance for a big event.  A couple months back, I presented at a professional conference and was rather nervous at the thought of getting up in front of my peers for an hour.  What if I stumbled or said something stupid?  But, I nailed the presentation.  How?  I practiced the heck out of it until I was so sick of it I could do it forwards and backwards.  On a few occasions, I’ve been able to mentally trick myself into performing better on the golf course by playing without any swing thoughts, but that doesn’t sustain for more than a few holes.  The only tried and true method I’ve found is consistent practice, but it’s important to get feedback from someone other than yourself during the practice.  I did that presentation alone and for family members and got constructive feedback that made it better.

So next time you’re on the practice tee or working short game, ask for feedback.  In the best case, get it from a professional instructor.  Learn the right way and practice.

And yes, Brooks Koepka is my pick for the 2019 British Open.  I’ll ride him until he bucks me off.

Play well.

Preparing for Golf Travel

With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse

What do you wish for most on a golf trip?  The simple pleasures are important like good weather, comfortable accommodations and delicious food, but what I want most is to play my best.  When I travel it’s usually for a week to Myrtle Beach and the trip consists of 10-12 rounds in the heat and humidity of the southeastern United States.

We’ve been going to Myrtle for the last 15-20 years and I can honestly say that I haven’t swam in a pool once, or taken a dip in the ocean.  People are incredulous when they ask, “How was the beach?” and I tell them I never saw it.  For me it’s a pure immersion in golf.  Not sure how healthy or sane that is, but when it’s done, I’ve had my fill.  These trips include a lot of physical exertion when you factor in the rounds and warm-up balls, and I am usually exhausted by the end.

With Arnold Palmer and my son at Bay Hill

As luck would have it, I’ve visited Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Doral, and even met Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill, but never played any of these world class tracks.  Why?  The visits were always without clubs and on a family vacation.

This year we are going to Boyne Highlands in Michigan, which will be an entirely new experience.  All the courses are supposedly pure with beautiful fast Bentgrass putting surfaces.  I can’t wait to test myself, and we are on an all-inclusive package that includes accommodations, 18 holes per day, replays, and a full breakfast and dinner daily.  We’re expecting cooler weather because it is way up north, almost to the upper peninsula, and I’m hoping to be able to play later with the added daylight and longer because of the lower humidity.

Physical Prep:

There are a couple things that could hold me back.  My elbow tendonitis is about 85% healed.  I still feel it a little when I play and practice and am wondering how it will hold up under the prospective load.  I’ve been doing my rehab exercises from physical therapy every day since February, and oddly enough, I’m seeing some muscle development in my forearms, but the damaged tendon is still there.  Second is my age.  I work out and stretch for golf every morning, and I know it’s just a number, but at 58, should I be attempting to play this much?  It was a lot at 38.  We’ll see how serviceable my big bottle of Advil is.

Game Prep:

The first mistake most serious players make is to try and bring a perfect swing to the trip.  They get too mechanical in pre-week practice.  I’ve done it numerous times and it only makes things worse.  When you play upwards of 200 holes, your swing will come and go and there’s only so much you can control.  You are much better off thinking “target” than mechanics.  So, I’ll try and play a few 9-hole rounds after work next week in-lieu of hitting balls.

When I do practice it will be short game and it will be simulating game conditions, not raking ball after ball for chipping or putting.  A good game is to take nine balls and throw them around the green.  Put three in easy lies, three in medium, and three in difficult.  Try to get each up and down.  If you can get 5 for 9, you’re doing well.  This helps steel you for pressure in new and unfamiliar conditions.

Lastly, I’ll double down on my morning workouts.  The one year I went to Myrtle after exercising daily for three months prior, I felt pretty refreshed coming off the trip.  Hoping for the same.

There you have it.  Expect a few select course reviews upon my return.  Play well!

 

 

Learning From My Putting Overhaul

This is the story of how I am working a significant change in my putting and how you may be able to leverage some of my changes to help yourself.  While I generally try to improve every aspect of my game, rarely do I attempt a component overhaul as I have done with my putting in 2019.  The decision was driven by my frustration with poor distance control, and inability to hit short putts with confidence.  The timing of the change was ideal in 2019 because every year I travel to Myrtle Beach to play a week of golf and the transition to the southern putting surfaces (mostly Bermuda) drives me nuts.  To grapple with the slower green speeds and grainy surfaces, I found myself altering my grip pressure, changing the pace of my stroke, and struggling to get the ball to the hole.  But this year, we are not going to Myrtle Beach and have opted for a week at the Boyne Highlands resort in Michigan.  At Boyne, all the surfaces are Bentgrass and are consistent with what we play on in the mid-Atlantic.  I figured with that parameter controlled, what better time to go for a putting overhaul.

To frame the problem, you first need an honest assessment of yourself.  Here’s mine:  In the past, the closer I got to the green, the worse I’ve played.  My strength has always been my driving and course management and my Achilles heel; my putting and short game.  For the past three seasons I had averaged 32.5 putts per round which was unacceptable.  Prior to the overhaul, this season I was averaging 33.6.

My struggles have been twofold:  distance control on the lags and confidence on the shorties.  Last year I paced off my putts and tried to groove a stroke for different distances.  This worked for a while until I found myself on greens with different speeds.  I couldn’t adjust, and the system fell apart.  In accordance, I had a reluctance to hit the ball hard enough on the shorties.  I could not make myself do it, and putts not hit with pace are affected too much by break and usually miss low. It was truly an endless source of frustration.  After a particularly costly miss of a short putt in a round on May 25 of this year, I decided to launch the overhaul.   I wanted to ram in my short putts and develop a great feel for distance on the long ones.  A simple metric to prove success or failure would be an average of sub 30 putts per round after the changes.

Conventional thinking says you shouldn’t get too mechanical when you practice golf because you’ll never be able to transition from practice to the course and there’s a lot of truth to that.  But I felt my primary problem was one of consistency borne from a lack of confidence.  So, I designed a practice routine blending fundamentals with feel.  Here it is.

Enhanced Putting Drill Station

To improve my short putting, I started by committing to taking 50 4-foot putts every time I practiced.  Whether I was at the range or putting green or doing some chipping, some part of the practice had to include these 50, and since I started, that’s amounted to at least 150 per week.  I began by putting into a hole framed by two alignment sticks but found that two tees spaced 4 inches apart worked better and were slightly smaller than a regulation cup (at 4 ¼ inches).  Additionally, I could set up this station anywhere on a putting green and not interfere with other players.  I’ve recently enhanced the drill by placing a couple irons behind the tees (see photo) to catch my golf balls. IMPORTANT:  The key in using this configuration is to always have enough pace to have the ball roll through the tees, hit the front club, pop up, and settle between the two clubs.  Seriously, it works!  Use this feedback to teach yourself what a firm well struck short putt feels like.  If you don’t make that ball pop over the first club, you are putting too tentatively.  To measure success, I will count how many passed through my tees without touching one.   On good days, I make all 50.  My worst has been 43, and I’ve learned to use this drill to focus on making a good rhythmical swing.  I’ll use a mantra of “Tick-Tock” to get the ball rolling with enough oomph to pop over that first club.   I borrowed the thought from Paige Spiranac who uses “One Potato – Two Potato” in her video.

Use whatever works that helps you build rhythm, because rhythm is the best yip fighter on the planet and you will trust yourself to bang those shorties in the back of the cup.

To build feel for distance, I’ve experimented a lot and have settled on a very simple method.  During your setup for any length putt, set your putter behind the ball and align it at your target.  Sight your target next to or in the hole and stare at it for a couple seconds.  Burn the vision of the target into your mind’s eye.  Then look down and immediately begin your stroke.  The more time you spend looking at your target and the less spent looking at the ball helps associate your brain with the force required to cover the distance.  Do not sit there locked up over your putt staring at the ball.  That builds tension.  Inevitably you will get more balls to or past the hole using this method.  It’s analogous to shooting free throws with a basketball.  You toe the line, bounce the ball, maybe spin it a little, regrip it, but the whole time you have your eyes on the back of the rim, your target.  You never look at the basketball right before you shoot, do you?  Watch any professional baseball pitcher.  They have all kinds of different windups but are always looking at where they wish to locate the pitch, not at the baseball in their hands.  Same concept.

It’s been a month and a half since I started the overhaul and my putts per round average has fallen to 30.17 so I’m encouraged.  This is difficult and what I learned about improvement on this scale is that there is no magic bullet.  It’s about consistent practice and small tweaks to your approach.  If you keep working the fundamentals over time, the odds will rebalance in your favor.

Give this a try if you want to improve your putting and let me know how it goes.  I’m off to bang another 50 free throws.  Play well.