Hold the cherry blossoms in DC and hold the azaleas in Augusta! One of those god awful nor’easter things is bearing down on the DMV today and will be dropping a foot of the fluffy stuff.
After getting out and playing in January and February in one of the most delightful winters on record (zero snowfall), my luck has finally run out. Last month, I was fortunate enough to practice on five separate occasions and had made progress on my swing changes, but it’s really cold now and the season is on hold. Yesterday, in some misguided sense of idiocy, I decided to hit balls in the wind with temperatures in the mid 30s, and didn’t do my game any favors, so maybe it is time for a break.
Actually, I’m very thankful that I got to play at all, and that I got back to town safely on Saturday before the airlines began cancelling flights. So while you sit by the fire and wait with me for the courses to clear, enjoy a couple pics from sunny Florida.
I love to travel for golf. Some of my best vacations are had when going to play at destination sites. But when you’re on a family vacation, do you golf if other members of your party don’t? This can be a tricky dilemma and I’m staring it straight in the face next week, as the family and I head off to Treasure Island, Florida for some time in the sun.
The downside of turning your family into golf widows and orphans is just too great, so I err on the side of not playing. That doesn’t mean golf is totally ruled out. I’ll always bring my clubs on family trips to the Delaware eastern shore and often get a round in very early while everyone is still sleeping. No harm there. Or sometimes, like on our last trip to Florida, I’ll make my way to a professional venue just to check it out. As it happened my son and I ran into Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill completely by accident. What a thrill!
Next week, the PGA Tour is playing Valspar at Innisbrook in Palm Harbour, which is 45 minutes from our hotel. Maybe we’ll pop in on Thursday or Friday, or for a practice round??? So even if you’re not playing, you can still engage. Bottom line: family is too important and they shouldn’t be abandoned even if golf is your passion.
Some fellow bloggers play with their family members. Jim, at The Grateful Golfer is starting to play more with his wife, which is awesome. Josh and Beth at Golf is Mental, regularly travel, play together, and document their trips beautifully in posts and pictures. More power to you folks!
My next golf trip is to Myrtle Beach over Memorial Day week. Here’s the line-up:
Having played a fair amount of golf in Myrtle Beach, I still try to get on at least one course I’ve never played per trip. This year that will be Wild Wing – Avocet. Anyone ever played there? Got some playing tips for me? New reviews are coming for the courses in red.
So next week, as much as I would like to be ripping drives down lush Bermuda fairways for seven straight days, I’ll happily settle for kayaking in the mangroves, Baltimore Orioles spring training games, riding roller coasters at Busch Gardens, and just hanging with family by the pool and on the beach. Remember, on a family vacation, always put family first! Safe travels and play well.
Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” Last weekend that was the theory of the case I set out to prove on my 54-hole eastern shore jaunt. The plan was to play the first 18 holes with the assist from a GPS and a laser range finder, but to dispense with both devices in round two. Round three would be played with the preferred method taken from the prior two days.
First, it was awesome to finally golf on consecutive days for the first time since early June. The experiment was admittedly a small sample size, so much of the feedback was based on gut feel rather than hard metrics. My day-to-day performance showed continual improvement, which was encouraging (84-78-76) and the reps were invaluable and served as a quasi practice for the following day’s game.
Round one at Heritage Shores (Bridgeville, DE) was characterized by a hot start, a mid-round ball striking implosion, and a strong finish. Using both devices didn’t feel any different even though I was conscious of trying to match exact yardage to swing. I putted poorly all day but stumbled into a swing key that allowed me to play the last five holes in even par, and to hit four of the five greens. Despite the poor score, I left the course encouraged about the swing band-aid I had found, and for the experiment I was going to try the next day.
Saturday, we played Eagles Landing (Ocean City, MD). The carts were equipped with GPS and I basically ignored it unless I couldn’t find ground yardage. There is no driving range at Eagles Landing and we were limited to some light chipping and putting before we went off. I promptly pull hooked my drive on #1 and made double, and followed that with a big push on #2 for a bogey. Yardage was playing no part in this mess. So I decided to keep the driver in the bag until my body loosened up and I managed to stabilize using 3WD. On number 8, I found another swing key and managed to strike it solid and played the rest of the way around in 2-over. Here I noticed some gains by pacing off yardages on the short wedge shots from the fairway. Without precise yardage, I relied on my stock practice range shots to carry distances I was comfortable with, and this was key! I am not a professional and cannot dedicate tons of range time perfecting partial wedge shots to specific distances. Just give me 50-75-100 yard shots and I proved that hitting to those yardages was more effective than snapping an exact number on the laser and trying to modify my swing to match.
Sunday at Baywood Greens (Long Neck, DE) was a completely different story. We got to the course 1.5 hours ahead of our tee time and got ample range time in plus putting green and short game warm ups. In addition, I had a game plan from the previous two days and felt very prepared and it showed. The good work with the short irons continued despite not having exact yardages and I felt completely in control. I also noticed the impact of imprecise yardages diminished the farther you were from the flag stick.
At the end of our short experiment, I’d have to conclude that the back to back to back rounds were probably more beneficial to my game than how I measured my yardages. I liked not having as much to do and think about between shots, but honestly felt that I could do a better job planning my shots even with exact yardage. In short, it really didn’t matter how it was calculated, but I’m going to try without the range finder for my next few rounds.
Do you have a preference for course navigation? Please share if you do.
Human beings are predisposed to favor either creativity or analysis in their thought processes. Take cooking for example. We prepare a successful meal by either following a recipe or inventing one on the fly. I am definitely in the latter camp, and believe that when we identify with a trend, it’s probably best to play golf in a similar fashion. I had an epiphany recently. I have always thought I trended scientific, but now believe the opposite is true, and realize my current technical approach may be hurting my game.
Do you play with a laser range finder? I do and my regular golf partner has a GPS device. These are wonderful instruments of precision and we normally share information on most shots, so I have the distance to the flag, the distance to the front, middle, and back of the green, as well as distance to any hazards or hidden course features at my disposal. When I factor in wind direction and speed, condition of the putting surface, and my current swing key(s), it feels like I’m trying to land a 747 on a small runway in a 20 knot cross wind. I’ve been consuming all this information for a long time and have been struggling to hit shots when thinking so precisely. I think there’s a connection because I had more success when I simplified by calculating yardages old school (using sprinkler head distances to the middle of the green and adding or subtracting estimated yardages for front or back pin placements). Lately I’ve also noticed I’ve had good results executing difficult recovery or partial shots where my approach has been very simple.
Here’s two recent shots side-by-side to illustrate. Shot 1: Yesterday I had a short approach into a par-5. I measured 54 yards uphill to a back flag. It was downwind, and the greens were running fast. I had 60 yards to the back. I thought, “lob wedge to 51 yards” but tried to be too precise and shut the face a little and the ball trickled over the green into the fringe about 25 feet long leaving a treacherous downhill putt, which I promptly three-jacked. I’d have been better off playing for the middle of the green. Shot 2: Last week, I drove a ball under a tree with low hanging branches. I had 160 yards left but could not elevate a shot. I thought, “hit a low 130 yard 3-iron then let it run up”. Now who practices that shot on the range? Not me, but I just rehearsed a simple little half flip with the club and hit the shot as planned. My target was much less precise, but I felt more relaxed during my pre-shot routine than for Shot 1. Why? I believe Shot 1 had too many technical inputs and Shot 2 didn’t. It allowed me to take a creative approach that my brain was comfortable with.
So what to do now? It’s quite possible that I’m not using the information at my disposal correctly or maybe it’s just too much information. I’m going to experiment on my upcoming eastern shore golf trip Friday to Sunday. Friday’s round is at Heritage Shores which I have played twice and am less familiar. I’m going to use the laser and GPS. Saturday we play Eagles Landing which I have played over a dozen times and know where to hit it. So I will go old school and pace off yardages and simplify. Sunday at Baywood Greens will be the more comfortable of the two approaches. I will let you know how it goes next week.
Do you over-complicate your approach on the course? Hope not.
On Friday, June 3rd, 2016, our travel group had the pleasure of playing Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach, NC. Thistle had not been on our regular Myrtle Beach course rotation but it is now. We last played it about 10 years ago and the course has only been open since 1999. It has grown into a fabulous track and should be on your MUST play list of northern end courses.
I will usually poll my playing group at dinner on their likes and dislikes about the day’s course and the group was hard pressed to fine any negatives. In short, we loved it. Thistle is a straight forward superbly conditioned course with all Bermuda playing surfaces. There are no trick holes on the two nines we played and if you drive it well, you can shorten some of the par-4s considerably and score. If not, you’ll struggle because there is a lot of water on the tee shots. Of the three nines (MacKay, Cameron, and Stewart), we played MacKay-Cameron as Stewart was closed for maintenance.
Right out of the gate on MacKay #1, you have hidden water on the left and an approach over water, so keep your tee shot right center. Most other shots have a clear line of sight for the player to follow. Trust your aiming points and if you’re hitting it solid, you’ll be in for an enjoyable round.
Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)
We started off our day warming up on the beautiful driving range. There are 12 all grass hitting stations and a bag of 40 balls costs $5.00. Much to our surprise, all the range balls were brand new Titleist NXT Tours and were in excellent condition. This added to the sense of class, and to the feeling that we were entering into the realm of a hidden gem.
The clubhouse is a modern well appointed beauty and the entire premises has that feel of a classic Scottish course. There is an ample sized putting green and pitching area and all are located very conveniently to the starter’s station for efficient traffic control. Out on the course, there are several rest stops with modern clean bathrooms, as well as water fountains and good supplies of divot mix replacement bottles for your golf cart. This struck me as a good idea and probably helped keep the golf course in its great condition.
Value (4.25 out of 5.0)
Thistle is a high end play but doesn’t charge high end prices. The replay rate was $45 (a steal for this caliber of course). I suppose you could ding them for not including balls in your greens fee but that’s a nitpick when you figure the overvalue you are getting for the golf experience.
Customer Experience (4.5 out of 5.0)
The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in and got us loaded and on our way promptly. The gentleman manning the desk in the pro shop was courteous and helpful, but the lady in charge at mid-day went over and above. Three of us badly wanted to replay and came in right after the a.m. round to inquire. The lady said the tee sheet was full until 4:00 p.m. (it was 1:00 p.m.) but she could get us out again if we wanted to go in 10 minutes. She made sure we had time to grab a lunch to go and a drink, and got us back out into a sweet spot that allowed us to play the afternoon in just under four hours. We very much appreciated her flexibility and loved our afternoon round.
Then, our group leader found out he lost his car keys and the same lady let him come behind the desk to use the phone, call a tow, and take all the time he needed. The cart guys helped search the premises for the missing keys which was also appreciated. We found them locked in our car and resolved the situation with their help in 1/2 hour.
The course would get a perfect 5.0 except that each of the golf carts were equipped with two coolers and neither had any ice. Virtually every course in Myrtle will provide ice in your coolers and hand towels, but there were none. A very minor inconvenience but not perfect.
Overall Rating (4.5 out of 5.0)
I would love to come back and try the Stewart nine when it’s open. As it was, we played the MacKay-Cameron combination from the blue tees (one up). The course measured 6,495 and I carded an 8-over 80. Thistle is a fabulous play. I’ll be back and you should too on your next trip to Myrtle Beach!
Our golf travel group visited The Grand Strand for a long anticipated week of overindulgence from May 29 to June 5th and I finally learned the lesson that sometimes less is more. It has its practical applications in life and sometimes needs to be learned and re-learned on the golf course.
Our trip was a wild ride from the start as we traveled to South Carolina during the height of Tropical Storm Bonnie. The slow moving system lingered in the area until Wednesday and while no day was a total washout, we got wet during a couple of rounds.
Despite the rain, I still played 10 times over six days and loved every minute of it even though I ran myself ragged by the end. For the week, I played:
Monday: Parkland a.m., Parkland p.m.
Tuesday: Oyster Bay a.m.
Wednesday: Barefoot Norman a.m., Parkland p.m.
Thursday: Heathland a.m., Mooreland p.m.
Friday: Thistle Club a.m., Thistle Club p.m.
Saturday: True Blue a.m.
Preparation: I had been working on my short game in an effort to get rid of a 5-year case of the chip yips and boy did the work pay off. My technique and mental game changes left me in a confident state and in complete control around the greens (post coming shortly on what has been working). I was able to save countless strokes in a week where I hit a lot of loose shots with my irons. Oddly enough, I drove it solid and straight but made some bad swings from a lot of ‘A’ positions. On these difficult venues you are going to make bogeys, but in years past poor ball striking and poor short game would have resulted in several rounds ruined early with the dreaded “other” rearing its ugly head, but I knew early I was in business after making only one double bogey in my first 54 holes. For the trip I had only three “others” in 180 holes played which thrilled me to no end.
I never went really low (76 at Parkland was my best round), but until the last day, played extremely steady and kept it in the high 70s and low 80s. Unfortunately, the lesson of less is more had to be learned at True Blue (one of my top 5 favorite courses in the area). I was starting to feel fatigued the previous day at Thistle (review coming) and by Saturday morning, was very sore and tired. We warmed up at True Blue and I struggled to make any type of athletic move, even with a short iron. I hit about 30 balls in an effort to get loose and never made solid contact. Sensing it would be a rough day, I went through the motions, enjoyed the company of my playing partners, and bunted it around for an 89.
It had been a long week of playing a lot of golf in the sun, heat, and rain, and everyone was pretty whipped after our round at True Blue. We had the common sense to forgo one final replay and headed off to the Dead Dog Saloon at the MarshWalk in Murrells Inlet for some refreshment.
Every year, we make the 7.5 hour drive to Myrtle Beach from Maryland but this year we decided to fly. What a great decision. The one hour hop from Baltimore on Spirit Airlines was effortless and left us in a refreshed state of mind and body. The drive down is not bad but returning in all that traffic after a fatiguing week of golf is tough and I think we’ve probably made our last drive down. In coming years, I’ll need to think about conserving my energy for the end of the trip. Yes, 10-12 rounds of golf over six days may be too much and was a painful lesson. 😦
So that’s it for Myrtle Beach 2016. Stay tuned for course reviews from Thistle Golf Club and Barefoot – Norman. Play well!
Tomorrow we leave for Myrtle Beach on the annual golf-a-palooza journey. The good news is that I feel more confident in my game than during any previous MB trip. The work I’ve done to change the mechanics of my short game, along with a switch in pre-shot routine has recharged my batteries. When combined with the new West Coast Offense visualization techniques, I’m feeling very positive, and today’s final tune up round was another good one and reinforced the correctness of the approach. Will this translate into better scoring on the trip? Who knows, but I can’t wait to try.
The not so good news is that our arrival at MB International coincides with the departure of Tropical Storm Bonnie from the Grand Strand area. Our flight in could be a rough one and our round on Monday may be affected by the remnants but we are ready for anything mother nature throws our way. The remainder of the week looks good weather-wise. We are staying at The Legends 54-hole golf mecca and the week’s lineup is awesome:
Monday: Legends Parkland
Tuesday: Oyster Bay
Wednesday: Barefoot – Norman (course review coming)
Thursday: Legends Heathland
Friday: Thistle (course review coming)
Saturday: True Blue
Full trip report is coming; stay tuned. Play well and have a great week!
Saturday at THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP, we saw just how difficult changing green speeds can be for the world’s best professionals. The sudden switch from an aggressive birdie-fest mindset to a total defensive posture drove the field nuts. Average putts per round jumped to 32! We often see similar condition fluctuations at The Masters and the U.S. Open, when the courses typically firm up through the championships, but not as radically as what happened today.
Professionals will adjust from fast to slow greens more easily than slow to fast. They’ve gotten to where they are by making birdies. On the other hand, amateurs typically struggle more with fast to slow adjustments. This happens because the amateur is more concerned about three-putt avoidance (blowing it past) than the professional who is thinking, “Make it.”
Handling change is difficult for touring professionals, so how are weekend desk jockeys supposed to cope? When my group goes to Myrtle Beach, we often play on nine or ten different courses over six days, and are constantly presented with different green speeds. The typical adjustment required is fast to slow, as we’re faced with slower Bermuda or Tiff Dwarf surfaces that are prevalent in South Carolina, and have been grown out a bit to handle the hot summer weather. In the mid-Atlantic, we are used to the quicker Bentgrass surfaces. The adjustment can be difficult and nothing frustrates my group more than knocking an iron shot stiff only to leave a well-struck birdie putt one foot short “right in the jaws.”
Here are three simple keys I use to adjust:
Warm up with 10-footers before you play. This is the length of putt that will give you the best feedback for the day’s green speeds. Also, if you hole out your practice putts, starting with the 10-footer will get you close enough to the hole that you don’t three putt. You never want to three putt while warming up because it’s a confidence drain right before you tee off. Concern yourself with feeling the pace of the putt and don’t worry too much about the line.
Adjust grip pressure. Ideally, on fast surfaces, hold the putter as lightly as possible. You may even allow for a smidgen of wrist break on the back swing so as to not get too robotic. For slow surfaces, hold the putter a little tighter which will produce more of a pop stroke. Picture Brandt Snedeker or Tom Watson. Try not to alter the pace of your stroke based on the green speed. Keep it consistent and smooth. The grip pressure will give you more or less distance.
It’s obvious, but on fast surfaces try to keep your approach shots below the hole. It makes the game easier because putting downhill and scared are a lethal combination.
Those are my keys; I hope they work for you. Do you have any you’d like to share?
Normally the golf season starts in late February in the DMV and I attempt to peak my game for the important events on the May calendar. May 5 is the four-man scramble for the Jess Carson Charity Foundation at Queenstown Harbor, and May 30-June 4 is our annual Myrtle Beach 216-hole slug-fest. This year we have a dynamite course line-up and I am pumped to travel, but the physical demands of this trip can be daunting if your fitness level is poor or you are struggling with your game. Sometimes you can’t control game struggles, but this year I broke protocol by doing a poor job maintaining my fitness over the winter, and am playing catch up. Also, rather than dedicating two days per weekend in the spring for practice and play, I was limited to one mostly because of bad weather.
As I noted earlier, I’ve been battling a long running case of the chip yips and last weekend appeared to have it whipped. I managed to chip in again for the second time in four rounds and took great encouragement from the course despite my continued ball striking issues. Fast forward to yesterday and I hit 14 greens in regulation (did not see that coming), but the chip yips were back – ugh! I left the course a bit dejected after blowing a chance to go low by playing holes 15-18 bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey. What drives you nuts in this game is that you cannot solve for one thing without something else going wrong. But my dejection quickly faded because I realized my ball striking was coming around and I finished poorly because my poor conditioning caused some loose swings late.
It’s hard to recognize that when you lay the sod over a short pitch, you are actually improving. Improvement is not linear and you are going to have setbacks and can only hope to see overall improvement that trends up slowly. So the push is on and I’ll continue to work on flexibility, dropping some more weight, and tailoring practice to the May 5th tournament. The scramble is all about driving, putting, and short iron play. I’ll practice on Saturday featuring wedges, drivers, and putting, and then play on Sunday. Hopefully it all comes together on the 5th. After the scramble, it will be back to the short game focus and working hard on conditioning.
When you’re a desk jockey, it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees; you want to do your best every time out, but when you only get one day per week, it sure seems hard. How is your early season coming?
Just got back from a fabulous golf trip to Myrtle Beach. I would have given you long odds back in October that I could have played 36 holes for six straight days in hot weather, but I managed to pull it off and savored every one of them. Some may wonder about the wisdom of playing so much golf in a compromised state of cardiac fitness and it’s a fair question, but the urge to splurge was difficult to overcome. I did average 3.5 strokes per round higher in the afternoon replay rounds, which is an indicator of some fatigue, but I was having too much fun to stop and didn’t feel my health was at risk at any time.
This year’s venues were a mixture of high and middle end courses with different playing surfaces and widely varying conditions. From a performance standpoint, only you as a player know in your heart whether the trip was a success, and mine was. The self assessment:
Putting: A minus
Chipping B minus
Pitching C minus
Course management / mental game: B plus
Holes played: 216
Stroke average: 80.92
GIR average: 6.83
Putts per round: 30.08
Low round: 1-over 73 at Possum Trot
High round: 85, three times: Possum Trot, Pawleys Plantation, Glen Dornoch
An interesting side note: I hit every tee shot with my driver and 3WD using the same plastic frictionless tee. I found this tee on my April trip to Myrtle Beach and have now played 20 straight rounds without losing it. During our Wednesday round at Pawleys, the guys played a trick on me when the tee popped out after a drive and landed at the feet of my friend Mike who stepped on it and let me search for about 30 seconds in a panic fearing it was lost. I’ve done a bit of research on frictionless tees and most are three pronged, but this one (pictured below) is prong-less. Anyone recognize the model?
At Pawleys, the 13th and 17th holes are both par-3s that play out over seaside marshes. The teeing area is a long narrow stretch of elevated grass and cart path. I almost made the mistake of teeing up an iron on #17 with the treasured peg, but quickly replaced with a standard tee, because any forward or backward displacement of the tee would have found the marsh and ended the adventure. As the trip neared it’s close, every tee shot took on greater importance and the preservation of the tee had a life of its own.
The peg is no longer round at the top and looks more pentagonal from being battered about for 20 rounds. It might be time to retire this thing and call the World Golf Hall of Fame to see if there’s an endurance record.
With all the graduations, family activities, and work related distractions, I have never prepared less for a golf trip. I am going down with basically zero practice and two rounds played in the last three weeks. In years past, I’ve tended to over-prepare mentally and physically for the six day (36 holes per day) marathon, but this year I have no expectations. Will just show up and play with what I have, but I’ve got a sneaky good feeling for some reason. The line-up:
Possum Trot, 6/9
Pawleys Plantation, 6/10
Glen Dornoch, 6/11
Shaftsbury Glen, 6/12
Heather Glen, 6/13
Course reviews are coming on the last five tracks, stay tuned and play well!
There was a bit of a buzz from a previous post I authored on how to plan a golf trip. Some readers asked about getting like minded individuals together for a golf bloggers convention. Could be a great opportunity to bring folks who love to play and write about the game together. I’d be up for it, what about you? There are several ways this could work. I’ll throw out a few ideas and look to get your feedback. If there’s enough interest, I’d be happy to get the ball rolling on organization.
Try to make this event as inclusive as possible to boost participation. Not sure how many golf bloggers there are so that may mean opening it up to perhaps golf writers. Create our own convention with our own program, or join an existing one and gather together outside the official program for our own activities. In either case, we’ll need to put a program together to generate interest for participants as well as those who want to bring family members and significant others.
Choose the right time of year and location. This will have to be in 2016 to leave enough time to plan and for folks traveling internationally to budget.
Perhaps couple it with a noteworthy golf industry event like a trade show, or tournament, where we’d ensure that many more amateur and professional writers would be in attendance, or maybe do our event as a shadow event, or one that immediately follows the main event. Again, anything to increase participation.
Provide a locale near a very accessible city, since many will need to travel. Ensure the destination has ample entertainment, lodging, quality golf courses, meeting facilities, and food options.
Some options on time and place:
April 2016(est). Las Vegas Convention Center. Attend the NMX show (New Media Expo). This is a convention with 97,000 attendees and features tracks for bloggers. Obviously this is easiest from an organization standpoint. You attend, go to the sessions that interest you, and meetup outside of official hours for our own activities. Here’s a link to the 2015 schedule grid.
January 2016. Orlando, Florida. Shadow the PGA Merchandise show. The 2015 show had 41,000+ attendees. Golf Writers Association of America are sponsors and are in attendence.
March 2016. Orlando, Florida. Shadow the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Orlando is obviously a great venue because of the accessible facilities and entertainment options. We could attend the tournament for one or more days, meet offsite, play at other courses, socialize and enjoy Orlando.
February 2016. San Diego, California. Shadow the Golf Industry Show. Predicted to have 14,000+ attendees.
Late January/early February 2016. Phoenix, Arizona. Shadow the Waste Management Open. Raucous party atmosphere with a good time had by all. Same idea as Orlando/Bay Hill.
Do any of these sound good? Shoot me a comment if you’re interested and with suggestions/preferences on time and venue. Thanks!
It’s the middle of winter and we all have cabin fever. Wouldn’t it be great to tee it up tomorrow at a tropical golf destination? Lately, I’ve been getting quite a few inquiries on how to book the best golf trips at the lowest cost. Getting bang for the buck when you travel is a great source of satisfaction, but remember the most important element in a golf trip is the golf. A great hotel, delicious food, and wonderful entertainment are fine, but if the golf is substandard, that’s what you’ll remember.
Course Reviews: To get the best golf, start your travel planning reading websites focused on course reviews. Skip the sites like Golf Digest where you’ll get lists of great courses and glossy marketing material (yeah, we all know Pebble Beach and Whistling Straights are great venues), and focus on personal experiences because you want a straight call on the good and bad. You want to find the hidden nuggets of value, the starters and course marshals who took the extra steps to make you feel special, the details about conditions that stood out or didn’t meet expectations, and the ups and downs of customer service from your reservation agent to the pro shop staff. Here’s some top sites to get you started:
2 Play the Tips has reviews from world famous golf courses across the country.
OneBeardedGolfer has got you covered on Kentucky and other courses in the southeast USA.
Golf Is Mental has great information on Alberta, British Columbia, and visiting the western USA.
Finally, Vet4golfing51 sprinkles his interesting playing insights in with information on his journey to play 100 courses in the western Pennsylvania region. There are many others.
Conditions: Once you decide where you want to play, seek out information on course conditions for the period of time you’re going to play, not necessarily the latest conditions. Pay close attention to reports of when courses will schedule aeration. We hit Pinehurst #2 the day after an emergency aeration. Nothing is worse than traveling to a world class venue only to find you are putting on bumps and top dressing. Hit up a site like Golf Insider for Myrtle Beach. They have thousands of personal visit reviews for hundreds of area courses. Then go to Trip Advisor and look at reviews that can be sorted on the time of year you’re traveling. Getting a good cross-section of opinion yields the best experiences.
Lodging: Next, look for a good package that couples lodging, golf, and maybe some food. In June, my travel group has a package lined up in Myrtle Beach with seven nights lodging, six rounds of golf, carts, free range balls, lunch, and complimentary daily replays for under $600. If you don’t want to couple resort lodging with golf, look to book a hotel separate to save money. We traveled and played the RTJ Trail in Alabama staying at Hampton Inns across the state and had a great and inexpensive experience.
Peak Discounts: Lastly, if you’re traveling in high season and don’t want to pay those exorbitant prices, don’t worry; there are tools that can help. I am traveling next month to Myrtle Beach during peak tourist time and didn’t feel like paying $150 for a round. I used a tool at Golf Insider that allows you to plug in your desired dollar range and date, and searches the entire Grand Strand for a match. Got one for $60 and I’m ready to go!
You can get overwhelmed with information and will save time and money reaching out to an individual who’s traveled ahead of you to your destination. Often times you’ll pick up local knowledge about good venues and ones to avoid, and most folks are very happy to help. I know I am. Good luck!
Our group played Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, DE on Tuesday, November 11, 2014. This 27-hole facility is three miles west of Bethany Beach, and I’ve practiced here on many occasions while vacationing at the beach, but have never played the course until now. The operation is first class and the practice facilities top notch. Of the three nines, we played Kodiak and Black Bear and will reserve judgement on Grizzly for another time. The course is operated by Troon Golf and is semi-private. Rick Jacobsen (architect) used to be on the Jack Nicklaus course design team, and the course has that familiar Nicklaus look and feel off the tee. Many of the holes are framed by groups of three and four bunker configurations located at different distances on opposite sides of the fairway.
I found the layout pleasing to my eye and relaxed into a good ball striking day off the tee but my luck ended there. To score well, you need local knowledge off the tee and accurate iron play; I had neither. Missing in the deep and expansive greenside bunkers left awfully tough up-and-down opportunities, and once you hit the greens, we found them large, fast, fairly flat, and fair. Twice on the Kodiak nine, I hit perfect drives into fairway bunkers that I had no idea I could reach. If you are playing #6 and #9 with a tailwind, 3WD is plenty of club off the tee. Otherwise, I came away from a bad iron day thinking you could score better and put less pressure on yourself playing for the middle of most greens instead of flag hunting to precise yardages, as I attempted. A few of the holes like #5 on Kodiak are beautiful and play into a nice U-shaped backdrop of woods, but most of the holes were nondescript despite the very good course conditioning. One of my playing partners remarked that the Bear Trap experience reminded him of the time we Played Pinehurst #2. Very good golf course, but very few of the holes stood out; I have to agree.
Value (3.0 out of 5.0)
We played on an off season rate of $39 which included cart and range balls. For the course conditioning, service, and quality of facilities, this was an awesome value. I’d rate this as a $70-80 golf experience so why the average rating? They advertise their in-season rates at $100 – 135 for a weekend round which is exorbitant. If I’m paying that kind of money, I want memorable holes and a tremendous experience. Bear Trap was a very nice afternoon of golf on very good conditions with a quasi-country club feel, but not $135 worth.
Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)
The clubhouse hosts the pro shop, locker rooms, full service grill (The Den), offices, and banquet space. It is a beautiful building. Conveniently located across the parking lot is the top notch practice facility. The range is divided into halves for members and guests and boasts excellent grass hitting surfaces (mats were out for the late fall, but they were in excellent condition, as were the range balls). They have a large and well maintained short game area and separate putting green with green speeds that were identical to the course. As mentioned earlier, I practice at Bear Trap regularly and could spend all day using the facilities. The rating would go even higher except most holes were in very close proximity to the local housing community. Nice homes but I prefer a little more solitude.
Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)
Booking a tee time was easy and was done over the phone. Being November, they had anything I wanted. We did not utilize the bag drop and found out later that you couldn’t ride your clubs to your car upon completion of the round. Some courses are funny in that regard and are weary of liability issues with golfers driving in the parking lots. I found it more of a minor hindrance. The pro in the shop was very friendly and attentive and we had a very nice day on an uncrowded and well conditioned golf course. For this round I shot a 86 from the blue tees that measured 6,377 yards and played to a course rating of 69.3/127. Bear Trap Dunes is a nice golf course and the off-season rates made it a great play. If you’re down during the summer, I wouldn’t recommend playing here at full price, but go seek a lower cost high quality alternative like Eagles Landing in Ocean City, MD.
We played Hog Neck Golf Course in Easton, MD on Sunday, November 9, 2014. On every trip back, I’m reminded of the time several decades back when the United States was flirting with metric system implementation. Hog Neck is the only course I’ve played that has distance markers in meters and yards. Once, they actually had their scorecards and markers solely in meters, which forced you to do a minor math calculation on every shot, but they updated their scorecards and are now back to U.S. standard units.
The par-72 course is a tale of two halves with the front nine playing out on windswept fairways with hidden water, large mounding, penal bunkers, and nary a tree in sight. Truly a links style experience. The back meanders through tall pine trees and plays several hundred yards longer and is considerably more difficult. The parkland style changeover is a great experience in the middle of November, as the fall colors are in their peak brilliance.
Playing tips from the gold tees: There are no tricks to scoring well but a few tripwires to be avoided. On the dogleg left par-4, 2nd there are two large fairway bunkers guarding the corner. Don’t challenge them. A well struck drive 10-15 yards off the right bunker will leave you with a short iron in from a flat lie. Forget par from either of the bunkers. The par-4, 5th has hidden water that sneaks up fast on the left of the tee shot, so be precise. The par-4, 6th has hidden water on the right and left and again requires precision. The par-5, 9th has a diagonal water hazard crossing the fairway that’s not easy to see. For the landing area of your second shot, you must be able to fly it within 100 yards of the green or you’ll need to lay back to about 150 yards.
The key on the back nine is driving it solid and straight. As you get deeper into the inward half, the holes become longer and more difficult, but there are no hidden hazards with the exception of a small pond guarding the left of the par-4, 15th green. The approach will either be with a long iron or hybrid, and you need to favor the right side. The par-5, 18th is the only quirky hole on the golf course. It measures 523 yards, but when the tees are up, you think you can go for it in two. For some reason, the designer placed a wrap around bunker that guards the entire front approach preventing a roll up option. So lay back to your favorite yardage and try for a regulation par or birdie.
Value (3.5 out of 5.0)
In season weekend rates are $55 to ride. We played on an off-season special rate of $40 which included a cart and hot dog/chips/soda snack at the turn. We were putting on excellent greens but the rest of the course conditions were average at best. Still we felt this was a good deal at the off season rate. A bucket of range balls cost $6.
Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)
First impressions are important and Hog Neck misses the mark with their driving range facilities. The balls were old and the hitting area was essentially 10 low quality mats supported by no bag stands or structures of any type to hold a bag or clubs. It was barely adequate to get a few swings in and warm up.
The pitching area had ample space to work from and included closely mown areas and two medium size bunkers. The pro shop was on the smallish side but was well stocked and clean. The snack bar area was located conveniently next to the 10th tee and was also of ample size and clean.
Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)
You make a tee time by either emailing the course with your preference or calling. No on-line user-friendly reservation system is available. I had no problem getting the precise time that I requested being it was the second week of November. Upon check in, we were told not to ride carts in the fairways because their bermuda grass had just gone dormant, and some of the playing surfaces were extremely wet. We were permitted to ride the rough all the way around the backsides of some of the greens, which was a little unusual, but didn’t present any major obstacles. The bentgrass putting surfaces were in excellent condition and good greens always lead to a greater feeling of satisfaction. Finally, according to my playing partner, the hot dog at the turn was excellent!
Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)
On this day, we played the gold tees at 6,477 yards with a course rating of 71.5/130 and I shot a 5-over par 77. I have been playing this course on trips to the eastern shore for over 30 years and will be back.
We played Surf Club in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Saturday, June 14, 2014. This George Cobb design was built in 1960 and is nestled neatly into a neighborhood one block from the ocean. Surf is a very old style private club with good conditioning and traditional parkland style routing and if you like doglegs, you are going to love this golf course. Only about four of the longer holes do not have some kind of bend and an absolute premium is placed on solid ball striking off the tee. Surf’s Bentgrass greens have a reputation for being among the fastest on the beach but we played them about three weeks after their aeration. They were almost full recovered and were rolling at medium speed. On a previous visit, I recall the course playing firm and fast with the the greens running lightening quick.
I’m not an arborist, but the type of trees that frame most of the holes are unlike most you’ll see on Myrtle Beach courses and certainly not the tall Carolina pines you are accustomed to. Normally, you can play out of the trees but not at Surf. Trying to hit low recoveries almost always caught bark and was usually the natural predecessor to a double-bogey on the scorecard. You’re best advice is to drive it straight or punch out sideways.
We played from the back tees and there are three holes that play like a beast. The par-4, 7th at 442 yards bends to the right and if it’s playing into the wind, is virtually like a short par-5. You turn right around on the par-4, 8th which plays 430 yards and you hope the wind is favoring your direction.
Finally, the par-3, 18th is one of the finest finishing holes in Myrtle Beach. At 217 yards, you are faced with a forced carry over water, and we played it straight into a two club wind coming in off the ocean. Thank goodness for the front flag position, as my fully struck 3WD barely covered the 200 yards needed from tee to pin.
Value (3.75 out of 5.0)
Surf was an upscale addition to our golf package but to our very pleasant surprise, the afternoon replay rate was only $27. This is a very affordable, high quality golf experience. Driving range privileges are included and the free tees in the pro shop were one of those nice little touches.
Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)
The clubhouse and grill were on the smallish side and the pro shop displays were nicely detailed, but a little limited in scope. The grill served very basic golf course food and had walk up service only. We dined on hot dogs, wings, and chips after our morning round.
The 15-station driving range had good turf to hit off and high quality balls, and the practice green was medium sized and adequate for a warm-up. I did not observe a separate chipping/pitching green and was unsure if short game work was permitted.
Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)
I’m not sure who the amiable professional on duty was but he made you feel very welcome and at home. He was very accommodating when we inquired about working us into the afternoon tee sheet for a replay and went out of his way to ensure that we had everything we needed to enjoy ourselves. The rating goes even higher except for the staff at the bag drop were nowhere to be found when we arrived at the course around 7:30 a.m. It was clear that we were one of the first groups at the course, but we didn’t expect to haul our bags in from the parking lot. Anyway, they found our equipment and had us loaded in time for play.
Surf Club was a good value and a fun day. We played the blue tees at 6,842 yards (par-72) I shot rounds of 87 and 81. It was difficult but I loved it and will be back for more on future golf trips. Don’t miss this one.
Usually when I return from the annual Myrtle Beach golf trip I don’t touch a club for 7-10 days, primarily because my body feels so beat up from all the rounds and practice balls. This year was different and I felt pretty fresh. Not trying to overdo it, I made it a point to stop off at a local course on the way home from work every day this week, and chip and putt for just 15-20 minutes. My short game is always sharp after the trip and I wanted to keep the feeling. Then mid-week, Fred, from Team Walmart (AZ guys) sent me a photo stream of pics from our trip and I immediately picked up a flaw in my move that I felt would be an easy fix, and lend itself to more consistent ball striking.
This morning I headed out to my local muni to try the fix on our inside nine. After just a couple of stretches, no Advil floating through my veins, and no practice balls, I teed up a 9-iron with the fix in play, and rifled it towards the first hole – easy par. #2 was playing 110 yards and I selected a smooth pitching wedge and drilled it with two hops and into the hole for the second ace of my life. The first was 31 years ago with a 7-iron – quite a gap. My last thought before heading off to retrieve and retire the Titleist was, “Who needs a stinkin’ warm up?”
It’s nice when a plan comes together. Hope your Saturday got off to as good a start as mine did. When was your last/first hole-in-one?
My travel group played Lion’s Paw on Monday, June 8, 2014 and Panther’s Run the day after on a recent trip to Myrtle Beach. These are two of the four Big Cat courses at Ocean Ridge Plantation in Ocean Isle Beach, NC. We’ll review them together because they are sister courses and play out of the same clubhouse. Tiger’s Eye is the top play of the Big Cats group and is run from a separate clubhouse across the street, but as we learned, the golf operations are distinctly different.
On Monday, we arrived at Lion’s Paw as they were preparing for a ladies tournament on the front nine. Our two foursomes were scheduled to go off #10 and we were thankful for that. The bag drop and staging area is rather small and was extremely congested and chaotic. Play for both courses is launched from the same constricted space.
Due to an airline luggage snafu, four guys in our group were playing with rental clubs, which the golf staff had hastily assembled. They charged $40 per set for the rentals which were a mediocre mishmash of late year model irons and metal woods. Nobody in our group was impressed with the offerings and the guys renting actually played several shots using clubs from the rest of our bags which was a little disruptive for everyone. Given the short notice, I was thankful that the staff could even assemble the sets to allow us to play together.
Both courses share a medium size driving range with Tiger’s Eye , and the range is located at the far side of the parking lot across the road. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to ride your cart to the range from Lion’s/Panthers, but you are from Tiger’s. Also, the shop charged $3.00 for balls from Lion’s/Panthers, but Tiger’s extended complimentary range privileges. We thought this was strange given the courses were under the same management company. There is a small pitching green with one flag and a practice bunker next to the range and two putting greens next to the Lion’s / Panther’s clubhouse. I felt it would have been beneficial to have a chipping green that allowed your shots to run out, but clearly there was no space for one. There was good turf to hit off at the range but the quality of the balls was suspect.
On the course, we found Lion’s Paw to be in good condition, with the Bermuda greens rolling medium fast and smooth. A couple of the tee boxes were crowned which was a bit odd but didn’t affect playability. The course is fairly open off the tee and weaves its way through a residential area with several nice homes nearby, but you don’t have a lot of privacy.
A couple of the par-3 holes were memorable for the contouring, water carries, and bordering with oyster shells, but you weren’t struck by anything overtly beautiful or difficult. Lion’s Paw is just a solid, well maintained nondescript golf course. The biggest appeal for the enthusiast is the ample opportunities for afternoon replay. With the four Big Cats in close proximity, we chose Tiger’s Eye for the afternoon and at $45, found it a tremendous value and a tremendous golfing experience. The replay rate at Lion’s and Panther’s is $35 and we actually were given the $35 rate to replay Tiger’s later in the week after they had started fairway aeration. For the record, at Lion’s Paw, I had a 7-over par 79 from the white tees which were playing 6,457 yards.
Tuesday we played Panther’s Run and had a decidedly different experience. There was no tournament, the course was fairly empty, and everything seemed more organized and less rushed. Everyone in our group was now playing with their own equipment and the day was more enjoyable. Panther’s Run is more of a traditional parkland style course that meanders through tall trees with the holes being better framed than Lion’s Paw. I preferred this layout, although the greens were putting a bit slower, a few tee boxes were a little chewed up, and the fairways were starting to brown out. Again, nothing affected playability as overall conditioning was pretty good. Of note are the back to front sloping greens. Several of the pins were cut in the back along ridges that dropped down at the rear of the greens. Long two putts were difficult because if you charged these back flags the drop offs would roll out significantly. I took 36 putts and thee-jacked three times. Playing for the middle of the greens with back flags was the way to go. I shot a 9-over 81 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,706 yards.
A couple of nitpicking notes: When we played the par-3 11th, one of the rangers was sitting in a cart just behind the tee box talking on a cellphone and seemed completely unaware of his surroundings or that people were playing golf nearby. It would have been considerate if he could have held down the chatter. Also one of our group was perturbed by an experience in the pro shop while in line making a purchase. The person behind the counter was interrupted by a club member with an inquiry about another matter and immediately discontinued their service on the transaction at hand to cater to the member’s request. Otherwise, we had a fairly positive golfing experience at Panther’s Run.
If you are traveling to the Myrtle Beach area and want to play the Big Cats, Tiger’s Eye is your course if you only have time for one round. Lion’s and Panther’s are enjoyable plays as well.
The dust has finally settled from Golfapalooza 2014 (Myrtle Beach) and this was a trip like no other.
Our plan was to have four players (myself included) drive down from Maryland and four fly in from Arizona on Sunday June 7th, with the intent on playing Monday-Saturday (June 8-14). Storms on Sunday evening delayed the AZ group’s arrival and then left them stranded in Charlotte, NC as US Airways cancelled their flight to Myrtle. Determined not to miss their Monday 8 a.m. tee time, they rented a car and drove the remaining 240 miles to Myrtle through heavy rain, and arrived around 8:30 p.m. with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The airline refused to release their luggage and equipment to them and promised to fly them in on the next plane.
Sunday evening at 10:30 p.m. we checked at the US Airways lost luggage counter at the Myrtle airport but no bags had arrived from Charlotte and we were told the luggage and clubs would be in on the first flight on Monday – uh oh. Our AZ guys were given permission to buy clothes, toiletries, balls, tees, shoes, and rent clubs, and expense them to the airline, so instead of resting up for our 5:30 a.m. wake up call and dreaming of all the pars and birdies we were going to make on Monday, we went shopping at Walmart at 11:30 p.m.
On Monday, we called Lion’s Paw early and alerted them that we needed four rental sets but upon arrival realized the clubs assembled were barely fit for a yard sale. Was this how a golf vacation was supposed to start? The course was also trying to launch a tournament off the first tee and sent our two Team Walmart foursomes off #10. In the chaos of the arrival, tournament prep, and rental assembly, I did not have the opportunity to hit balls and went to the tee cold. Somehow I scratched out a 7-over 79 on Lion’s Paw but was out of sorts all day and carded my worst round of the trip in the afternoon (89 on Tiger’s Eye).
In the afternoon, we received word that the clubs and bags had arrived, and had been shipped to our condo. Upon arriving home, we noticed that all the clothes and golf equipment were soaking wet. Apparently the airline had left them overnight on the tarmac during the torrential rains in Charlotte. Very nasty-gram going to US Airways on that one.
Tuesday, armed with dried clothes and equipment, we headed back to Ocean Ridge Plantation for a round at Panther’s Run. I got a good warm-up in and started to relax a bit. On the second nine something started to click and even though I carded a 9-over 81, I hit 10 GIR for the first time in 2014. My ball striking had been so bad this spring I was wondering if I’d ever see 10+ GIR and it was a welcome relief.
Then I got on a ball striking hot streak for the next 54 holes and shot 77 and 75 at Tiger’s Eye, with 13 and 11 GIR respectively, and carded a 76 at Leopard’s Chase with 10 greens. Our AZ group was starting to play better as well as they settled in with their own equipment and clothes and it started to feel like a vacation again.
Friday, at True Blue, my ball striking was just a little off and I carded a respectable 82 in the morning followed by an 81 in the afternoon. When the wind is up you need to hit it very solid off the tee, as the 6,812 yards plays like a beast. If you don’t believe in the horses for courses theory, consider that last year I carded an 81-81 at the same venue under pretty much the same conditions, and in 2012 during my last round at Leopard’s Chase, I also carded a 76. I’ve observed over the years that I’ve accumulated significant local knowledge and preferences, and often play well/not well at the same venues on repeated attempts.
Saturday at Surf Club (course review coming), I lost my swing and struggled for 27 of the 36 holes we played. Inevitably, when playing this much golf in a short amount of time, you get too mechanical in your thinking, and I paid for it. Only on my last nine when I decided to dispose of all swing thoughts except hitting the ball at the target, did things right themselves. I struggled with a 46-41 (87) in the morning, and finished up with 44-37 (81) in the afternoon and enjoyed a super high note finish, as I hit a 3WD six feet below the hole on Surf’s 200-yard par-3 18th hole, which requires a water carry and was playing into a stiff two-club wind. It’s great to hit your best shot of the trip on your last attempt.
Stay tuned for trip reviews of Lion’s Paw/Panther’s Run and Surf Club. Happy Father’s Day to all!
The 2014 U.S. Open is setting up to play out as one of the most intriguing majors in recent memory. Will the back-to-back line up with the Women’s Open have an impact? You bet it will, as will the course redesign by Coors and Crenshaw in 2010. Picking a winner this early requires some deep analysis. Let’s go out on a limb and make a prognostication without seeing results from The Memorial, because I’m gearing up for my own U.S. Open (Myrtle Beach trip) and can’t take the time next weekend. So here’s your early winning pick – call your bookie now to get the best odds 🙂
When I traveled in 2011 and played Pinehurst #2, along with gathering data for the course review, I was trying to evaluate how this storied venue would stack up for the Open after the redesign. What immediately struck me was how wide open it was off the tee. I had mentally prepared to be hitting a lot of 3WDs but ended up with driver on every par 4 and 5. We were playing if from the same yardage as the women will play the following week, but noticed that our tee shots were landing with ample room in the fairways and there was literally no rough. The natural waste areas were mostly sand but were not played as a hazard (unless you were in a bunker within the waste areas). I thought the way they had these laid out was awkward and it would be difficult to determine how to play if your ball was on the edge of a bunker. Expect an abundance of USGA officials traveling with each group to speed along ruling inquiries, but the main takeaway is that unlike most U.S. Open venues, the rough will not be the penal impediment it usually is.
Pinehurst’s crowned greens will be the course’s main defense, BUT they won’t be able to shave them down and dry them out almost to the point of burning them because of the Women’s Open immediately following. So with small reasonably well watered greens, expect some diabolical pin placements and a premium on chipping, missing the greens on the correct side, and solid bunker play; but not a fairways and greens affair.
This sets up perfectly for Matt Kuchar who will win the tournament.
Kuchar is not the greatest driver of the ball but has a wonderful short game, is getting in contention with every major, is from the southeast, and just feels like the right pick. I’m giving him a pass on the missed cut at Colonial.
Justin Rose is the defending champion and his golf swing looks great. He’s over his shoulder injury and actually seems rather bulked up (have you noticed too?) and I’m wondering if he’s been collaborating with Tiger The Gym Rat Woods, considering they both work with Sean Foley. Normally, I’d take Rose to repeat in a ball striking competition, but his short game is not strong enough. His form is good for a top 10, though.
Coming in a close second again is the hottest golf property on the planet, Jordan Spieth. He is getting so close, is so mentally mature and tough, that it’s just a matter of time; just not this time.
So that brings us to Phil Mickelson, who would be the perfect pick for the way this course sets up. Phil is without a top 10 this year and despite finishing second at Pinehurst to Payne Stewart back in 1999, Lefty will remain a sentimental pick.
So what about Rory McIlroy and Woz-gate? Good timing or bad? I say bad and a missed cut.
So there you have it with Koooch finally getting his first major. You like this pick or someone else?
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