Tag Archives: Arnold Palmer

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!

 

 

Golf Widows And Orphans

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.

Sneaking out to play and practice at Bear Trap Dunes in Bethany Beach, DE
Sneaking out to play and practice at Bear Trap Dunes in Bethany Beach, DE

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!

With Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill Club. April 2010
With Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill Club. April 2010

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:

The Legends – Heathland

Grand Dunes – Resort Course

Myrtle Beach National – Kings North

TPC of Myrtle Beach

Wild Wing – Avocet

Willbrook Plantation

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.

Long Live The King

with-arnold-palmer-at-bay-hillI was very saddened at the passing of Arnold Palmer yesterday.  His humbleness, kindness, and unassuming personality towards regular folks made him truly a man of the people.  He was one of my heroes and will be missed.  I’d like to share a couple of Arnie stories.

At 19 years old, I was attending the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club.  Even at age 51, Arnie was a fierce competitor and it was true that he could burn hot at times.  On this day, I was in his gallery surrounding the par-4 12th green.  Arnie hit his approach on in regulation and proceeded to three-putt for bogey.   After holing out, Arnie sent the blade into orbit with a two-hand jaw-dropping reverse tomahawk straight over his head.  I was half shocked and half amazed that I just saw one of the greatest players on earth wing metal in earnest.  I thought, how cool was that!  And Arnie had the wherewithal to aim this rocket towards the next tee box and away from any curious onlookers.  The image has remained with me to this day and in 1985 it turned into a lesson on club throwing.  I was playing the uphill par-5 17th at Kenwood Country Club in Bethesda, MD and badly missed my second shot with a 4-iron.  I sent my own missile helicoptering off into the left rough and spent the next 15 minutes searching for my golf club in knee-high fescue.  I have never thrown a club since.

In 2010, I was on a family vacation during spring break in Orlando.  On the last day of the trip, my son Elliot and I ventured out to Bay Hill to visit the course and collect souvenirs.  Our last stop was the 18th green, the scene of so many memorable Bay Hill Classic finishes.  A work crew was taking down the last of the bleachers from the recently completed tournament, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye way down in the fairway a very familiar golf swing.  Yes, the King was out playing golf and we were there watching with nobody else around!  Must have been my fight or flight mechanism kicking in but I don’t ever remember being as excited on a golf course, and I yelled for Elliot to “get the camera out!”

Arnie had always been a club tinkerer and was always looking for a way to improve his golf, even late in life.  arnold-palmers-setWhat struck me first was how many clubs were in his bag.  There must have been about 40 in the two Arnold Palmer Callaway tour bags.   We watched Arnie and his foursome putt out and he came strolling over to his cart.  We walked up and introduced ourselves.  It was a hot day and Arnie was looking tired but he was so gracious and accommodating when we asked him to pose for a couple pictures.  Not wanting to keep him for long, we got our photos and chatted for a couple minutes.  I asked him how he played and he said he’d shot an 81 (not bad for an 80-year old) and had, “taken a couple bucks off his friends.”  I thought, not bad for a man with seven major championships and millions in the bank.

Truly a man of the people.  RIP King.

 

2016 The Masters – Picking a Winner

The Masters isn’t the most difficult major to win but it has become the most coveted because of what it represents.  In Michael Bamberger’s Men In Green, he describes Ken Venturi’s inability to get past his defeat in the 1958 Masters, and how it haunted him the rest of his life.  It certainly showcases the importance of winning this championship and how it can make or break a player.Magnolia Lane

The 2016 edition feels like the passing of the torch from the cadre of players in their 40s and 50s (Woods, Singh, Els, Mickelson, Couples), who competed and thrilled us for years, to the younger set that is dominating play today.  Of the previous group, only Lefty can be considered competitive enough to have a chance.  But at 45, he’s seeing the slow inevitable loss of “the edge”.  Everyone who’s ever played the game goes through the process, as the venerable Arnold Palmer has described it.

A tip of the cap goes to The King who will not be hitting his ceremonial Masters tee shot this year because of an unfortunate injury.  We wish him a speedy recovery.

Now to the business at hand, let’s break the field into three groups of contenders.

  • Group 1 (Superstars):  Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Adam Scott, and Bubba Watson. The world’s #1 ranking rotates regularly in this circle and sort of confirms the lack of importance of that title.  Whomever is hot at the moment is the World #1.
  • Group 2 (Cagey Veterans):  Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson, and Jim Furyk.  All major winners and usually in contention.
  • Group 3 (BPTNWM:  Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and I’ll lump in Rickie Fowler, since he’s been so close with top five finishes in all the majors.  Certainly he has the talent, and now he’s got the expectations.

There are plenty of great players on the periphery like Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kistner, and Danny Willett, but the champion will come from one of the first three groups.

Picking major winners is hard so let’s use the process of elimination to arrive at a champion.  Getting started, here’s why Rory McIlroy will not win it despite all that talent.  Rory has won his four majors but also has that Masters bugaboo since he fired the final round 80 in 2011.  Becoming a first time champion at Augusta is hard work as the magnolia baggage piles up.  I’m not wild about the timing of his putting change to left hand low.  It may be working for him now but I like to see stability with the flatstick heading into a date with these slickmeisters.  Adam Scott is striping it too, but I don’t like him for the same reason.  Too soon away from the broomstick to handle the mental grind on these greens.

Now we know what the issue with defending champion Jordan Spieth is.  He overextended himself with commitments after his stellar year.  Seems reasonable, and he appears to be regaining some mojo, but is also struggling with the putter and won’t get all the way back, at least not this week.

Someone with imagination will win The Masters  Someone who’s a great putter will win.  Someone who can grind will win.  Ricky Fowler can make birdies with the best of them but can he grind?  He got ground out in Phoenix as a front-runner and that didn’t sit well.  To have a chance he needs to come from behind on Sunday.  Not likely.

Jason Day fits the bill on the requirements.  Before last year’s breakthrough in the PGA, he seemed to always have an untimely injury or bout with vertigo, or illness, or lost a little focus, or something that just prevented him from breaking through.  Nobody was closer in the majors, but he finally broke through in 2015, but not at Augusta.  He’s the hottest on the planet coming in and I like him for a top-3 but not a jacket.

If golf was played on a 15 hole course and majors were 60 holes not 72, Sergio Garcia would be challenging Jack and Tiger for all time supremacy.  Maybe Sergio needs a golf shirt with an XXXXL size collar to have a chance.  Sorry Sergio, no chance.  I’m also losing faith in Dustin (more talent than anyone) Johnson.  Seems he runs with a bit of Sergio fever at crunch time.  I’m not picking him in a major until he wins one.

So who’s left?  It’s Zach Johnson vs. Bubba Watson.  David vs Goliath.  Bubba is hitting the ball great and leads the tour in the all important GIR statistic.  But unlike normal Bubba, his putting is mediocre and his scrambling is horrible and you’ve gotta have touch and guts around these greens to win.

So your 2016 Masters Champion will be touch and guts Zach Johnson, with Jason Day finishing second and Bubba coming in third.  For those of you looking for a dark horse in your Calcutta, Charl Schwartzel is an ex-champion, has had a nice quiet but solid start to his season and will be cheap!  Look for him to contend.

Call your bookies and good luck!Zach Johnson

Golf Course Meet-Ups and Conversation Starters

I was going to write a course review for Eisenhower, a muni we played last weekend in Anne Arundel County, but the course was just ho-hum and not worth the writer’s block.  However, the playing company was outstanding and got me thinking about the most notable cast of characters I’ve ever met on the golf course.  Here are some of mine, who are yours?

Last weekend:   My partner and I roll up in our cart and are introduced to the twosome paired with us.  One middle aged fellow has a Philadelphia Eagles hat on, tattoos up and down his arms, and is constantly out of breath.  I strike up a conversation, “So are you from Philadelphia?”

Not our guy, but close. From deadspin.com
Not our guy, but close.
From deadspin.com

He says, “No I’m from across da  riva in South Jersey,” – as if I couldn’t tell from the accent.  We dialog the Eagles, Redskins, and baseball for a hole and a half and on the third tee, he asks, “Hey, you guys aren’t priests or minsters are you?”  He reiterates, “I’m from South Jersey and you’re gonna hear some F-bombs today.  Hope that’s not a problem.”  The rest of the day we were entertained with tales of glorious bar fights, driving his car through the corn fields of south Jersey at 110 mph, and hoping he didn’t pass out from retrieving his ball out of the hole.  I’m no stranger to salty language on the course, but if the U.S. Air Force had dropped all the F-bombs coming out of his mouth.  Nice guy though.

Character number two:  78 year old guy playing at my local muni on a 95 degree day in June.  He’s carrying his bag and swears to me as we’re walking down the first fairway that he does 100 push-ups every day.  I’m thinking who is this guy, Jack Lalanne?  Then we are waiting on our second shots in the first fairway and he drops and gives me 30 right there.  Must have finished his daily allotment during the rest of the round.  Hope I’m that physically fit at 78 – although mentally, not so sure.

Character number three:  A few years ago, my friend and I are paired up with a young soft-spoken guy at Clustered Spires in Frederick, MD.  He doesn’t say much to us all day, but is 4-under par on the backside alone, and I’m thinking we’re playing with the club pro.  So on the 17th tee I ask him what he does for a living.  He replies, “Nothing.  I’m on parole and have been in prison for the last 18 months.”  He goes on to shoot 5-under 66 and seems irritated because he played bad.  We leave with our jaws dragging in the parking lot.

My greatest thrill in golf.  Met The King in 2010 at Bayhill!
My greatest thrill in golf. Met The King in 2010 at Bayhill

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the chance encounter – meet up with Arnold Palmer on the course at Bay Hill  with nobody around but my son and his playing partners.  I’ve written about this before, but it remains the most profound experience I’ve ever had at a golf course.  What are yours?

 

 

 

Rivers Edge – Course Review

Summary

On the 9th tee at Rivers Edge
On the 9th tee at Rivers Edge

We visited this Arnold Palmer design in Shallotte, NC on Thursday, May 27 and played 36 holes on a very challenging layout.  From the back tees, this course is rated at 74.7/149 and thankfully we played them one set up.  At 6,440 yards, Rivers Edge is not that long, but the firm fairways and windy conditions put solid ball striking at a premium and tested every ounce of our patience.  Several of the holes are very scenic and run along the Shallotte River and when the tide is out, the site of thousands of golf balls donated in the mud flats gave even the best players in our group cause for hesitation.

Conditions were somewhat of a mixed bag, with several of the bentgrass greens infiltrated with spotty brown patches, which were either dormant grass (unlikely) or some type of disease.  They were rolling fairly slow but were dry and bouncing hard, especially on the down wind shots.  The tee boxes were a little scratchy in spots and the fairways hard and dry.  The series of exposed holes by the river were reminiscent of conditions at a British Open.

Playing notes:

  • #9 is a 90 degree dogleg left par-5 that played into the wind on the first two shots and as you made the dogleg, were forced to contend with a strong right to left wind and a fairway and green that sloped hard right to left.  Trying to keep the ball on the putting surface was almost comical.  I made bogey in both rounds and felt I had conquered the world.  Favor the right side of the fairway off the tee because a drive left of center will catch the hard turf and roll down into the marsh.
  • #10 is a 330 yard par-4 that has more landing room than it looks like from the tee.  I laid up with a 3-iron but could have easily hit 3WD and gained a shorter approach.
  • #16 is a 386 yard par-4 that you must favor the left side on your tee shot or risk a hard bounce right and a lost ball in the river.  Take your tee shot over the middle of the left fairway bunker for the best line in.
  • #17 is a par-5 with an awkward approach because of the positioning of a tree right in front of the green.  Only a left pin placement is actually accessible and seemed a bit unfair to us.
  • #18 is a 360 yard par-4 where you have to decide how much marsh to carry on the tee shot.  I found a well struck 3WD at the gazebo in the distance is a good line and left about a 100 yard shot in.  My playing partner buried a driver in a bunker about 60 yards from the green (video below).  Your choice.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

Greens fees are $100 to play at this time which seemed a bit high for the summer.  Of course, ours was included in our package but we found the replay rate of $25 low in comparison to other courses of this caliber, and a very pleasant surprise.  Range balls were complimentary.  We ate lunch in the clubhouse and the entries were delicious and very reasonably priced.  Treat yourself to the blackened fish sandwich if you are inclined.  It was excellent.

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse and grill were good sized with a medium to small pro shop.  The driving range was in very good condition and you hit from all grass stations.  The putting green was medium sized but you weren’t allowed to chip and I couldn’t find an alternate chipping / pitching area.  The practice area was clearly meant for resort players who want a quick bucket to warm up before their game and not for protracted practice.  My rating here would go higher with top notch course conditions because the layout of some of these holes is outstanding.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

The bag drop off / cart attendant was very friendly and provided an excellent first face.  He had your clubs loaded, your range balls in hand, and directions to wherever you wanted to go.  The pro in the shop was very friendly and accommodating and I believe discounted us $10 off the normal replay rate, which was much appreciated.  They got us off when we wanted to play in the afternoon without issue.  The servers in the grill area were very friendly and brought our food and drinks promptly.

On this day, we played the black tees at 6,440 yards and I carded an 84 and an 83.  Rivers Edge is a great layout and we had a lot of fun.  I’d like to replay it when conditions are at their peak.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

15th green looking back at the tee - Rivers Edge
15th green looking back at the tee – Rivers Edge

Kings North – Course Review

Summary

#12 green at Kings North
#12 green at Kings North

On May 27, 2013, I got my first look at Kings North at Myrtle Beach National Golf Club and I loved what I saw.  Kings North is one of three Arnold Palmer designs at MBN and is the high end play.  SouthCreek and The West Course are the other two and we opted for a replay on Kings after our scheduled 18 because we enjoyed it so much.  Kings was built in 1973 and fully refurbished in 1996.

We found Kings in excellent condition from tee to green with the Crenshaw bentgrass surfaces rolling medium-slow but very smooth.  When you play Kings, several holes stick out in your mind which is an indicator of an excellent playing experience.  #6 is their signature hole known as The Gambler and is a par-5 with an island fairway left off the tee.  When this hole is playing into the wind, don’t gamble on the island route because you need to hit it deep enough into the island to get a shorter iron to go for it in two.  The green, which sits on a peninsula, is a water carry from either the island rout or the conventional fairway on the right and the gamble on the tee shot is just not worth it.

On the tee at The Gambler
On the tee at The Gambler

The par three 12th hole (pictured earlier) is a drop dead beautiful island green that plays to 129 yards from the gold tees and is somewhat reminiscent of #17 at TPC at Sawgrass with regard to the length and size of landing area.  If the pin is cut middle right and you are left, the downhill putt breaks much harder to the left than it looks and is fast.

#5 pictured below is a lovely short par-4 with a massive bunker fronting the green that you do not want to be in.  It’s 220 yards to clear the left fairway bunker which is the best play off the tee and will leave you with a wedge shot in.  Long is safer on this hole.

Front bunker protecting #5
Front bunker protecting #5

What’s great about this course is that #1 and #10 are benign par-5 holes that allow the golfer to get off to a good start and that’s appreciated on this tough but beautiful track.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Our greens fees were included in the golf package but normally run $72 in the morning and $50 after 12:00 noon.  We opted for that $50 afternoon rate and were told that was the replay rate.  You can book an afternoon time for $50 so there really is no replay rate.  In any case, we elected to replay Kings North in-lieu of the $30 replay at either of the sister courses, as Kings was just too good to pass up another play on.  Range balls were $4.00 for a small basket and the balls were of good quality.

Facilities (3.75 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse and pro shop were large and well appointed.  There were two medium-large practice putting greens adjacent to the clubhouse but chipping was discouraged there.  The driving range had about 20-25 all grass hitting stations that were in good condition.  The bag drop-off and cart staging area was right out front and were easy to access from the parking lot, clubhouse, and driving range.

Customer Experience (3.25 out of 5.0)

We were one of the first groups to arrive at the course but were running a little short on time for a warm-up.  The guys at the bag drop were a bit slow to load our bags on carts for the short trip to the driving range, but the delay was only for a few minutes.  Still, you expected a little snappier service from a club of this caliber.  The proshop staff were businesslike but not overly friendly.  We were visited regularly on the course by the food and beverage cart which was appreciated.

On this day, I shot an 84 and an 86 from the gold tees which measured 6,481 yards (71.4/130).  Overall, this was a very delightful experience and I would highly recommend Kings North.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

What is your Gold Medal golf moment?

In my 35 years of playing, spectating, and working in the golf business, here are my top three memories.  What are yours?

Gold Medal Moment:

In April 2010, my family and I were vacationing in Orlando, Florida and on the last day of our trip, my son Elliot and I decided to visit the Bay Hill club to view the course and purchase souvenirs.  Our final stop was the 18th green to see where all the storied finishes of the Bay Hill Classic had taken place and as we approached from the cart path I noticed a very familiar figure swinging down in the fairway – Arnold Palmer.  I said, “Elliot, get the camera!” and we hurried over to watch him finish.  After Arnie putted out we walked up to him and introduced ourselves and shook his hand.  He was tired from a hot day in the sun and a little perturbed about the bogey he just carded but was very gracious when I asked to take a few pictures with Elliot and myself.  We briefly chatted and I learned that he had shot 81 and still took his playing partners for a few bucks.  I told him I was a huge lifelong fan and congratulated him on hosting such an excellent event year after year.  Arnie thanked us and went back to wrap up with his group.  Man, was I juiced for the rest of the day!  As I reflected on my long association with the game, could not think of a finer moment.

With Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill Club. April 2010

Silver Medal Moment:

My greatest hot streak ever was during the summer in the early 1990’s (actual year escapes me.)  I shot even-par 70 in a warm up round on a Friday at my local muni and then followed with  rounds of 69-70 on the weekend to win the 36-hole stroke play club championship.  I’ve since carded a couple of random scores of 68 on the same course, but have never enjoyed back to back to back successes in the same regard.  It was a bit surreal, as if a strange calmness had taken over my body.  While I was nervous in the club championship rounds, it never affected my play and I have never been able to duplicate that momentum in two consecutive rounds, much less three.

Bronze Medal Moment:

The first time I broke 80.  Actually shot a six-over 76 at Kenwood Golf and Country Club while working a summer job at the course in the early 1980s.  You work and play for so long and wonder when it will happen, and then you clear the magic number by four shots.  Funny how that works.

Honorable Mention: 

My first and only hole-in-one was in March of 1983.  Jarred a 7-iron on #7 at Needwood in Rockville, MD.  Several years ago, I actually made another on a third shot at #11 on Whitetail Golf Club in Bath, PA.  After sucking my first shot with a 7-iron back off the green and down into a ravine for a lost ball, I holed the provisional with a 6-iron.  A thrill but with a silver lining.