The Legends – Course Review

Fairway bunker #18 Parkland

Summary

The Legends is a group of five golf courses, three of which (Heathland, Parkland, and  Moreland), are located off Rt 501 in central Myrtle Beach.  Heritage (Pawleys Island), and Oyster Bay (Sunset Beach, North Carolina), round out the group and all have been operated by the Arnold Palmer Golf Management group since 2009.  Recently our group played all five courses in late May – early June of 2011.  This review covers Heathland, Parkland, and Moreland.

Value (5.0 out of 5.0)

The Legends is an excellent value when coupled with the readily available “Three Round Special” package that includes daily lodging, greens fees for one round per day, carts, range balls, breakfast, lunch, and two drinks.  Our group played on a package that included Heritage and Oyster Bay and found that the excellent course conditions and the professional staff’s ability to move several hundred golfers a day and pay special attention to each made the golf experience very cost effective.

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Along with three superb championship courses, the Rt 501 facility includes an extensive grass driving range and short game practice area.  Each course presents a stern test and is very different in layout, but each are equally playable and enjoyable.  All three are very well marked and a free yardage guide is provided in each golf cart.  Heathland is a wide open links style layout with large bunkers and undulating greens providing the main challenge.  Parkland is a traditional tree-lined layout with large fairways and is the longest of the three.  Moreland is a P.B. Dye design and provides several elevation changes and significant greenside mounding as well as routing around water hazards that creates an ample test of a player’s shot making ability.  Conditions were consistent across all three courses with closely manicured fairways, very undulated greens that ran smooth and true, and consistent sand in the vast array of deep faced bunkers.  Several of the tee boxes were a bit patchy and slightly burned out but did not affect playability.

Driving range conditions were equally impressive as the all grass hitting areas were rotated to ensure even ware and recovery.  Considering the large number of players and long hours (open under the lights until 9:00 p.m.), we always had good grass to practice from.  A large undulating practice putting green with room for 20 + holes was available and closely mirrored course conditions.  Putting green markers are used in lieu of actual cups, which is an inconvenience for players who prefer putting to an actual hole.  Shuttles constantly move players and equipment from the staging areas to and from the driving range since the walk is considerable.  Shuttle service was also available to transport golfers to and from the golf facilities and their housing units.

Customer Experience (5.0 out of 5.0)

The professionalism on display from the golf shop staff, food service staff in the clubhouse, beverage service on the golf course, range attendants, and shuttle drivers was unparalleled.  From the little details like fresh towels and coolers with ice in every golf cart to the television screens showing scheduled tee times for all three courses in the clubhouse, our group definitely noticed a marked improvement in friendliness and attention to detail.   Everyone went out of their way to accommodate our every need and when a tournament was mistakenly scheduled over our previously reserved tee times on Heathland, the shop staff handled the mix-up calmly and professionally and got us out on Parkland in the same time slots and even compensated us with half price replay rates for the balance of our stay, which was greatly appreciated.  You get the feeling the customer is truly appreciated.  The Arnold Palmer Golf Management group has done the job.

Overall rating (5.0 out of 5.0)

Smart Practice Tip #3. Develop a pre-shot routine

To add consistency to your game and build resistance to choking under pressure, develop a pre-shot routine and stick to it.  Your routine can be easily established and should be practiced and put into play for every shot.  Typically, it will differ for full swing shots and those on and around the green so let’s address each.

Full Swing:

For most shots, amateurs just pick a club, hit it and hope it goes in a general direction towards safety.  Often, they identify hazards like lakes and bunkers where they do not want to go and fixate on these objects which is counterproductive.  The successful pre-shot routine envisions where you want the ball to go, then provides a proper setup and starts the swing without hesitation.  The mind works in funny ways in this regard.  How many times have you stepped to the tee and thought to yourself, “Don’t hit it in the water,” then “splash.”

To correctly start your routine, choose your club and make a couple of practice swings with smooth tempo.  Then take a position behind the ball looking down the line at your target and pick a spot high in the sky above your target as your aiming point.  I like to use a tree top or roof of a distant building.  For some reason, the higher you aim, the less tension you feel.  Next locate an alignment spot a few inches on the ground in front of your ball in line with the target.  Step up to the ball and place the leading edge of your club face down square to the alignment spot on the ground.  Set your feet with your toes parallel to the target line and presto, you are correctly aligned!  Next, sight your aiming point above the target and pull the trigger without delay.  It’s important to avoid delay because waiting allows tension and indecision to creep into the swing.  Do this for all full-swing shots.

Around the green:

For chip, pitch, and bunker shots, again, start behind the ball and pick a spot on the green where you’d like to land the ball.  Try to envision the trajectory and roll you’ll get and let that guide your club selection.  Next, identify your alignment spot on the ground and take a position astride the ball that will allow you to make a couple of practice strokes parallel to your target line.  After you’re satisfied with your practice strokes, address the ball and hit without delay.  I like to take two practice swings and if I don’t feel comfortable I restart my routine.  CAUTION:  Trying to play a shot before you’re ready or before you’re committed to it will result in a poor shot every time!

Putting:

This is very similar to the shot around the green except I don’t use an alignment spot in front of the ball and prefer to align directly at my target spot, whether in the hole or outside on a breaking putt.  I take two smooth practice swings and attempt to apply enough force to feel the distance of the putt.  I then address the ball and make the stroke without delay.

A key point to remember is to execute all shots without delay.  This is the single most insular act against choking because tension and worry are the seeds of the choke.  Use the same routine every time regardless of the pressure situation and you won’t have time to doubt yourself.

Good luck! – Brian

Ernie Els – flatstick failures. Is he done?

Remember that silky smooth putting stroke that had Ernie in contention on the fastest greens in the toughest tournaments?  Well it’s gone, poof!  As of this writing, Els is ranked 185th on the PGA Tour in putting from the critical 3-5’ range with an average of 73%.  Pros having top seasons like David Toms (93%) consistently excel in this scoring zone and it appears Els has completely lost it at age 41.  Compare the ball striking of the two and you’ll see both are comparable with Toms ranked 2nd  on Tour in GIR at 72% and Els ranked 11th at 70%  But the true impact is felt when looking at stroke average with Toms, ranked 4th  at 69.60, and Els at a whopping 159th at 72.16!  What’s troubling for Els fans is when great ball strikers like Tom Watson and Johnny Miller lost their ability to make the short ones, they lost their ability to compete for good.  Is Ernie done?  Will we see him with a long putter before too long?  Place your bets.

Count Down to Myrtle Beach!

Looking forward to the annual summer trip next weekend!  Great line-up includes The Legends tracks: Heathland, Moreland, and Parkland, as well as Oyster Bay, Heritage, and Caledonia.  We got a great package with The Legends and they never seem to disappoint.  I was impressed with the service and facilities last time down (first since the Arnold Palmer Golf Management group took over operations in 2009.)  A full review of the  courses and accommodations is coming.

I’ve played five times this year with one more pre-trip practice round to come.  Don’t have my A-game yet but I’m gaining confidence, with the short game a bit ahead of the full swing.  Got to avoid getting too mechanical and will start barfing swing thoughts now.  THINK TARGET!!

Smart Practice Tip #2. The Short Game

Whether you have several days per week or just a few hours on the weekend to dedicate to game improvement, you should center about 75% of your practice time on the short game.  High handicappers can make significant improvements in the shortest period of time by mastering a few basic shots and developing a sound repeatable putting stroke.  Advanced players have known for years that they must dedicate significant time and effort on their short games to shave those last few strokes.  They know that once their full swing is grooved, it’s very hard to make changes that will significantly alter their ability to score.  However, there are a multitude of short game shots one can add and refine to keep the scores coming down.

Remember three major principles when practicing short game.

  1. Aim for the smallest target possible.  By shrinking your target, you widen your margin of error which allows you to get shots closer to the hole.  For short greenside chips and pitches, and every putt, the hole is your target and you must try to make it.  For short or medium range putts, pick a spot on the lip of the hole that you’d like the ball to roll over.  Be that precise and you’ll notice your ability to focus will improve, you’ll make more chips and putts, and your misses will be much closer.
  2. Roll is easier to judge than flight.  Whenever possible, keep your short shots as low to the ground as you can because distance is much easier to judge with lower trajectory, and the mechanics of hitting low shots are simpler than for lofted pitches.  Try this experiment.  Grab three balls and pace off 50 feet from a hole.  First attempt to throw a high lob and stop each ball near the hole.  Next roll all three from the same spot to the hole and see which three get closer.   This is an excellent drill for teaching feel that I learned in “Shark Attack, Greg Norman’s Guide to Aggressive Golf.”
  3. Making putts in practice builds confidence during play.  Nothing builds confidence like watching the ball go in the hole and hearing it hit bottom.  Putting is 90% confidence and 10% stroke.  There are many golfers who putt great and use completely different strokes.  Some die it in the hole, others bang it in the back, but the one thing they have in common is confidence.  Whatever stroke you use, build your confidence by making a ton of putts in every practice session and it will pay off big time on the golf course.  Next time out, stick a tee in the ground three feet from a hole on a flat part of the practice green.  Take 50 or 100 putts from this location and you’ll be surprised how confident you are next time out on the course standing over a pressure putt from the same distance.  There is no better way to groove your stroke and build confidence.  Admittedly, it is probably the least glamorous aspect of short game practice, but without a doubt, the most necessary because having confidence in your putting allows you to go low when you’re hitting it close and takes pressure off your long game when your swing is off.

There are three shots every confident golfer must learn to be successful around the green.

  1. Low running chip.  This is often played from the fringe or just off the fringe and can be executed  with anything from a sand wedge to a seven-iron.  Let the distance from the hole govern your club selection with your intention to minimize air time and maximize roll.  To execute, zero in on a spot to land the ball that will allow for the proper run-out.  Shade your weight forward, grip down for better control, play the ball back in your stance, and make the swing with just your arms by keeping your wrists firm and not letting the club head pass your hands.  Take a couple of practice swings and keep your upper arms tightly connected to your chest during the stroke.  Once you have the feel, address the ball and hit without delay.  Fidgeting over the ball will allow second thoughts and doubt to creep into your mind and should be avoided at all costs.  Getting flippy with your wrists or allowing the club to pass your hands will result in poor inconsistent contact.
  2. Elevated pitch.  This is played from a position where significant carry is required and a low rolling shot is not possible.  The shot requires more practice time to groove than the low running chip because it’s slightly more complex, but once mastered can work as an excellent stroke saver.  Typically you play with the sand wedge or lob wedge and to execute, zero in on a spot where you’d like the ball to land, only this time, with minimal run-out.  Open the clubface slightly to add loft and open your stance while shading your weight forward.  This will promote a descending blow which is required to get the ball up fast.  On the backswing, hinge your wrist quickly so that your lead forearm and the shaft make a V-shape.  Swing down and contact the ball but try to keep your wrist firm on the strike and follow through so that your lead forearm and the shaft are in a straight line or in an I-shape.  My swing thought is “V to I” on this shot.  Others like to use “hinge and hold” but the concept is the same.  Like the low running chip, you’ll gain better control by feeling your upper arms are connected to your chest throughout the swing.  The shot will result in a higher trajectory and allow the ball to land softly.  The length of the shot governs the length of your backswing.  Once you get far enough from the green, this evolves into a different shot as the ability to hold the “I” or “hold” position is not possible and the shot becomes a mini version of the full swing.
  3. Explosion from the sand.  This shot is not as difficult or as intimidating as most fear.  Keep these fundamentals in mind and you’ll be fine.  Open the clubface of your sand wedge and open your stance with your weight shaded forward.  Play the ball off your front heel and locate a spot in the sand 1-2 inches behind the ball.  As with the Elevated Pitch, pick the club up quickly with an early wrist break and execute the downswing by hitting the sand and follow through to a nice high finish.  Once you address the ball, take care to keep your focus on the spot in the sand where you want to make contact and don’t let your eyes wonder to the ball.  This will more often than not cause you to inadvertently hit the ball with the leading edge of the club (we’ve all done it) and that’s no good.  The length of the bunker shot  and condition of the sand will govern how big a swing you take.  You’ll need to adjust in firm or wet sand and take a smaller swing and hit a little closer to the ball.  In fine powdery sand, you may open the clubface a bit more, take a little more sand and make a bigger swing.  Finally for buried lies, square the clubface and hit down hard a couple of inches behind the ball.  You’ll basically leave your club in the sand (no high follow through) because of the severe downward motion of the strike and of the force required to expel the ball.

Experiment and get comfortable with all three of these shots and watch your scores drop!  There are many other shots that require more advanced techniques that you can add to your arsenal around the green and I’ll cover those in a future post.

Finally, here’s a great short game practice routine that I use to build confidence the day before a round.  It takes 1 ½ hours.

  • Get to your course early before the practice green gets too crowded
  • Take out three balls and play a variety of short and long low running chips with different clubs.  I prefer to use the pitching wedge and 8-iron.
  • Next switch to your sand wedge or lob wedge and play some elevated pitches and bunker shots to holes of different length
  • Next take your putter to a hole and identify a flat three-foot putt and take a few warm-up putts.
  • Hit 50 3-foot putts in groups of 10 using your full on course pre-shot routine for each putt.  After each group of ten, chip 3 balls to your hole from the fringe and make the putts.  Repeat with four more groups of 10 putts, continuing to chip and hole the three balls between each group.
  • Wrap up by playing 9 holes with one ball from various lies and using various shots.  Try to make every chip/pitch and then complete by holing your putts.  Use your bunker for a few shots if possible.

Good luck!  -Brian

Maryland National Golf Club – Course Review

Summary

Maryland National is located in Middletown, MD about 45 minutes from my home in Rockville.  While not overly long at 6,811 yards from the championship tees, this links style course has beautiful mountain vistas and significant changes in elevation on several holes.  The course will test your ball striking ability, especially into some of it’s very small protected greens.  There is ample room off the tee on most holes with the course’s main defense provided by creative green-side mounding and deeply contoured bunkers.  Players enjoy GPS in all golf carts and five sets of tee boxes make the course a fun challenging experience for everyone.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

The club lists greens fees on the weekend after 10 a.m. at $74 but we were playing on a pre-purchased discount card that allowed you to play on any day/time for $50, which is an excellent value.  Greens fees before 10 a.m. on the weekends are $94 which seem a bit high.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

The practice area is a medium length cart ride from the clubhouse and consists of a nicely maintained grass driving range, albeit on the small size, with about 15-20 hitting stations.  Balls are included with greens fees.  Adjacent to the range are two very small nicely maintained pitching (bunker included) and putting greens.    I was left with the distinct impression that these practice areas could become very crowded during times of heavy play because of their limited size.  There is a fully stocked pro shop and the on-site restaurant provides either sit down or walk up service.

Customer Experience (4.5 out of 5.0)

On Sunday, May 15, 2011 I found the course to be in excellent condition with all tee boxes and fairways nicely manicured and the greens running medium fast and very true.  The course had received significant rainfall the night before but all bunkers were nicely raked and there was very little standing water as the fairways and rough appeared to have drained nicely.  It was clear the staff takes pride in their course conditioning.  Everyone from the pro shop staff to the beverage cart girl to the staff in the restaurant were very friendly and accommodating.  My only complaint was a malfunctioning GPS.  Once we left the cart path, a message to “Return to the cart path immediately” was displayed and could not be cleared until the cart was back on the path.  When we questioned the clubhouse staff, they indicated the GPS was infected with a computer virus and had been for several days.

Overall rating (4.0 out of 5.0)

Smart Practice Tip #1. Simulating game conditions.

If you’re like me, golf is not your day job and you cannot devote hour after hour to game improvement, yet you need to stay as sharp as possible for your weekend play or the occasional tournament.  Typically, I play once every two weeks and dedicate one morning per weekend for practice; that’s it.  I manage to stay sharp by maximizing my limited time and by following three key principles.  1 – You must simulate game conditions as often as possible.  2 – You must spend 75% of your time on your short game.  3 – You must develop and practice a reliable pre-shot routine that can be executed with every club.  I’ll address each of these with a series of posts.

Simulating game conditions  Often players complain of not being able to take their range swing to the course.  Their failure to execute the shots that seemed easy in practice is a never ending source of frustration.  Yet, golf is like any other sport that requires separate sessions for practice and play.  Smart football coaches simulate game conditions by pumping in loud crowd noise before taking their teams into a hostile road environment.  Baseball teams play 30+ spring training games against live opponents before the real season starts.  All serious athletes know that drills and repetition are required parts of practice, but there is no substitute for the value that game condition pressure provides.  Golf is no different and here’s what I do to easily transition from practice to play.

First, get to your short game practice area and warm up with a few chips and putts, then play nine holes around the practice area with one ball.  Drop the ball in various lies that will require you to use different green-side shots.  Attempt to chip/pitch to the various holes and make the putts.  If possible, play shots similar to those you may encounter on the course.  Playing a course with lots of mounding and elevation changes around the greens?  Make sure to hit your share of pitches with your sand and lob wedges.  Playing a course with large flat greens?  Work your low bump and run shots with the 7 and 8 irons.  Use your actual pre-shot routine for all chips and putts.  It’s especially important to mark and clean your ball as you would on the golf course before you putt as this helps to transition your mind from practice to game condition state.  Keep score (even use an old scorecard).  Marking your score is a game component that will get you in the mindset too.  Have small bets if you’re playing with a friend or play against your personal best score.  The key here is to simulate every activity down to the smallest detail that you follow during your round.  Then when you transition to the course, the play will closely resemble your practice.

Next, head to the driving range.  Warm up with a few partial and full wedge shots and a half dozen drivers then start playing a simulated game.  I play four or five imaginary holes on the course I plan to play the next day.  If the next day’s round is on a new course, play simulated holes on your home course.  Use trees, signs, fences, tractors and anything available on the range to construct imaginary holes.  Play your tee shots and approaches and be honest with yourself.  If you miss your imaginary green, grab a wedge and try to hit a pitch of the appropriate length.  You MUST hit every shot with a distinct target and purpose.  Just raking ball after ball and banging away will not help you improve or transition to game conditions.  This approach also works great as a warm-up routine before an actual round.  Simulate play on the first hole a couple of times before teeing off and you’ll experience less transition pressure when you get to the actual first tee.  It’s important to note that if you have very limited practice time, put a premium on the short game work because you’ll be hitting off real grass and holing real putts.

Good luck! – Brian

Tiger – Gone from The Players!

To be honest, Tiger’s withdrawal is no surprise, however, the comments in his post round interview left me thinking that he overplayed the injury and simply quit because he was hacking so badly.  Mark O’Meara reported that he had played pre-tournament practice rounds with Tiger and Tiger’s knee seemed fine.  Frankly, I’m mystified as to how he could warm up before the round without issue and seriously re-injure himself on his first tee shot.  Is Tiger’s will to compete the same as it was when playing on a broken leg in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines where the injury seemed more serious than this one, or is it dependent on the quality of the shots he’s hitting?

Clearly Tiger is playing on an old 35 year body and his mental state is not even close to his former self.  You can lock up Nicklaus’ record for majors and throw away the key!

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