Tag Archives: Myrtle Beach

Jim Rush: Friend and Player – RIP

My dear friend and playing companion for the last 30 years, Jim Rush, passed away on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.  Folks that knew and played with Jimmy recognized what a selfless, generous, kind, and devoted man he was.  His family, friends, and the local golf community have endured a tremendous loss.

Jim Rush

I first met Jim in the late 1980s at Needwood Golf Course.  He used to work as a construction foreman for the organization that maintained the course and a handful of other municipal tracks in Montgomery County.  Jim and another friend, Mike DeOrio, used to pick golf balls at the range and play together.  I assimilated into their group and a lifelong friendship was born.  Over the course of the next three plus decades, Jim and I played many weekend rounds and charity events together.  We traveled annually to Myrtle Beach and played the RTJ Trail in Alabama, as well as the Boyne Resort in Michigan.  Every Fall, Jim would come with me to my beach house in Bethany Beach, DE to winterize the place and play our little mini-Eastern Shore Tour.   I will miss him.

Pat, Mike, Ronnie, Jim, Cary, and myself at TPC of Myrtle Beach

Along with golf, Jim was an avid varmint hunter and would travel to Ohio, Nebraska, and shoot in the local farmlands of Maryland.  Jim was fond of telling the same hunting stories more than once.  I remember on long drives to out of town golf courses, he educated me over and over on the Coriolis’ effect (earth’s rotational effect on moving objects) and what this had on some of his long hunting shots.  I am now an expert 🙂 Golf, hunting, travel, sports, politics, family life, his daily to-do list, and just about everything else was fair game for a discussion.  I will miss him.

Jimmy was a man of many details.  He always organized the annual Myrtle Beach trips, and even after everyone had cellphones and cars with GPS, showed up at our staging area with 10-page printed copies of directions, maps, and lists of tee times.  Jimmy was late to the technology party but eventually got there.  His laminated index card with 15-20 swing thoughts was legendary and was always in his bag. I will miss him.

Jimmy on the Eastern Shore Tour – #10 tee at Eagles Landing

Jimmy wasn’t shy and had the gift of gab.  As readers of this blog know, I like to review golf courses and feel that the best reviews are done when the course is not aware they are being evaluated.  One year, we rolled into Baywood Greens in Delaware, and I told him that I’d be reviewing the course and to keep it quiet.  He strolled right up to the pro shop attendant and introduced me as a course reviewer from All About Golf and said that their course would be evaluated during our round.  They welcomed us and immediately paired an assistant pro with us for our “enjoyment.”  Thanks Jimmy – I will miss you.  

Jimmy had fought and beat the scorn of cancer for many years.  I won’t dwell on his illness or his courageous fight but watching him through the surgeries and treatments and to see him keep taking lessons and trying to improve was inspiring.  We used to lovingly tease him that he was belting it past all the other one-kidney guys out there.  Eventually his illness cut short his time on the course, and I believe the last time we played together was at Blue Mash in May. 

Jim and I played together, practiced together, filmed each other’s swings, and compared lesson notes from each of our instructors.  When he stopped playing, I felt the void and my game went downhill fast because I lacked the motivation Jimmy provided to improve.  I’ve only played three rounds since the beginning of August and the last was over a month ago.

Here’s a video of Jim “moving that pill” at Blue Mash from 2017: https://youtu.be/Ao-DtUl6uVw

I’m not sure how this story will end and all I know is that I miss you buddy, rest in peace.

Jimmy and I after winning first place in our last charity scramble together

Hidden Gem Found in Myrtle Beach!

Just returned from a week on the Grand Strand with my wife.  This was a fabulous beach vacation and not a golf getaway, but the clubs are an essential accoutrement for any journey to South Carolina, and mine were in the SUV.  We arrived to some beautiful weather on Saturday, September 12 and after four straight days planted in my beach chair, I was ready for some action.  On Wednesday, I headed over to Barefoot for a couple hours of practice and was feeling pretty good about my game.

Squall in Hurricane Sally

Hurricane Sally had come ashore in Alabama and was supposed to visit the area on Thursday so I set out to find a tee time for Friday.  My only criteria; the course couldn’t be too far from our condo in North Myrtle Beach, and I didn’t want to spend over $100.  So, I booked a 1:00 pm time at Myrtle Beach National – Kings North.   This is an Arnold Palmer design and is one of my favorite tracks.  The greens fee was $50 which is about the best value you’re going to find for a course of this caliber.

As scheduled, Sally ripped through the area on Thursday afternoon/evening and produced an awesome lightning show and tons of rain.  On Friday, I drove to the course and found one of the nines on Kings North was under water and closed.  They offered to let me play the open nine twice or rebook on South Creek.  MBN has 54 holes and I had played Kings North about five times.  I had replayed once on the  West course and thought it rather ho-hum so I agreed to try South Creek.  What a delight!

South Creek, photo from GolfAdvisor

With all the rain, we were playing cart path only.  This was a day where wedge shots were exploding foot long divots and caking your legs with mud.  But I loved the track.  South Creek plays about 6,400 from the blues but I moved up a set on the front nine because it was so wet.  You need to drive it straight out here, and I did, but couldn’t get anything going with my irons or putter and shot a four-over 40.  I was by myself and following a twosome and raced around the front in 1.5 hours.  When I got to the 10th tee, I found the last of three threesomes the pro shop had sent out to start on the back.  A little perturbed, I asked the starter what he recommend I do and he told me to skip 10 and 11 and start my back nine on 12.  I rolled up to the tee and joined the twosome that had also received the same instructions.

These two were a father and son combination, with the boy playing a practice round for a 16-18 year-old junior tournament scheduled for South Creek over the next two days.  Dad was playing the whites, but the son was playing the blues, and clearly had a lot of game, so I backed up and played the blues with him.  This kid was busting it past me but for some reason, joining him elevated my concentration level and I carded an even par 36 on the back.  What a weird phenomenon: some kind of focus switch engaged in my mind as I played with the better player.  It reminded me a similar situation a couple years back when I was out for a round on my local muni and a couple young pros from the course joined me on the first hole.  They were pounding it 50 yards past me off the tee, but that same switch went off and I elevated my concentration and played great.  I wonder what causes this?  Has this ever happened to you?

So, I finished my round playing 10 and 11 and after ending with a birdie, realized how much fun I just had.  This was primarily because I was driving the ball so well, but I loved the golf course.  I also realized how straight you have to be to score, and how penal it could get.  The greens fee was $43 and I was tickled pink with the great value.  I will definitely be back to play South Creek at the next opportunity.  You should consider adding this course to your play list next time down.

Play well!

Sunrise at North Myrtle Beach

Is Top Golf Practice??

Top Golf Facility – photo from morethanthecurve.com

Would you classify an evening pounding balls and drinking beer at Top Golf practice?  For some, any activity with club in hand is practice.  I have never been to a Top Golf.  Sounds like fun but that’s not practice.

Guys in my Myrtle Beach travel group have gone to the PGA Superstore on a rainy day to hit balls in the bays with the new drivers, and putt on the indoor green.  Nope, not practice either.  We used to stay at The Legends in Myrtle Beach.  When we found out our room cards worked in the driving range dispenser, we’d play 36 holes, eat dinner, and then go to the range for practice until the lights turned off at 10:00 p.m.  THAT was loads of fun and we did help each other root out our swing faults for the day, but that took a lot of energy.  I’d call it practice.

Indoor putting green at PGA Superstore – photo by prnewswire.com

I generally practice alone, but on occasion join up with friends.  Both types are valuable.  The last couple times at my club was with friends and the light banter was great, as we worked through long game, short game, and putting.  Sometimes these sessions can evolve into a contest on the range or putting green.  A couple weeks ago it turned into a swing film session.  But the key is the personal interaction.  It’s especially important to socialize at a time when folks can over-isolate themselves.  If you don’t have four hours for a golf game, try half the time at the practice facility.  It works great.

Regardless of how I practice, I enter notes in a spreadsheet on what I worked on, and grade the session.  After the last few with friends, the grades weren’t that high.  Clearly, I do my best work alone.  Today, I went early and alone to the local muni to work on short game and had a great session.  If you time it right, there are drills and games you can play that aren’t possible with friends or at a more crowded facility.  My real work gets done alone.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m back at my club with friends after playing some tennis in the morning.  This tennis-golf routine on the same day is a great cross training aid.  I call it a “Nicklaus” because Jack often spoke of playing tennis.  I also tend to go easier on myself with the golf practice after tennis.

So, what’s your opinion, is Top Golf practice?  How do you practice best, alone or with friends?

Play well!

2020 Myrtle Beach Cup

Myrtle Beach at dawn

Overview:

In the 20+ years that I have been traveling to the Grand Strand for golf, it’s always been in the summer.  This year, I was invited to play in a February family and friends 5-day match play tournament staged across the four Barefoot courses and Grand Dunes.  We had a fabulous outting.  If you have not tried Myrtle Beach as a winter golf destination, it’s about time.

Many in the group of 20 players scheduled their travel to arrive and depart on the first and last days of the competition.  I elected to pad a travel day on both ends which worked out well.  Going into the event, I had been playing or practicing every weekend and that turned out to be a huge boon for my game.  I played well the entire week and generally felt in mid-season form.  The on-site day of practice beforehand was very helpful for getting accommodated to the playing conditions and green speeds.

Our accommodations were condos located in the Yacht Club and North Tower on the Barefoot property.  These were huge and well-appointed three- and four-bedroom units that housed us very comfortably.  I would definitely recommend them for a trip in the North Myrtle Beach area.  On a previous trip, we stayed in 3-bedroom condos on the Norman course which were nice but much smaller.

Spacious living area in our Yacht Club condo.

View of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Pool area at the North Tower

Tournament format:

We were grouped as A, B, C, and D players by handicap and a blind draw assigned us into two 10-man teams for a Ryder Cup style competition.  I was told that on paper, our team looked very strong.  Not having played any golf with any of these fellows, I made up my mind to just go play and not try to over-analyze anything.  On days 1 through 4 we would play four ball matches (you and your partner’s better ball against your opponent’s ball) at 80% of handicap.  On the fifth day, we’d play 10 singles matches – again at 80% handicap.  Every match had one available point, with a total of 30 points available, 15 ½ were required to win the Cup.  The team captains met each morning to make pairings and select who would play whom.  An excellent requirement was added to promote player interaction.  You could not be paired with the same teammate more than once.  I greatly appreciated the opportunity to play with a new teammate every day because I only knew four of the other 19 players going into the week.  After playing with different teammates and opponents and dining with everyone on a nightly basis, I’m thankful to have met so many great guys.

Match Summaries:

Day One:  Barefoot Love Course.

Weather was cloudy in the mid-50s.  This was the first time I had played the Love course and I enjoyed the layout.  Course was in great condition and the over-seeded greens were rolling medium speed and smooth.  There was a little hidden water off some of the tee shots but the holes were nicely framed and fit my eye.  I played with Ken and our opponents were Bruce and Tim.  I drove it really well and struck some good irons close.  Lost my concentration a bit around the greens on the back nine but Ken and I had pretty good control of the match and won 3 and 1.

The boys on the practice putting green before the matches at Love.

Day Two:  Barefoot Norman Course.

Weather again cloudy in the mid-50s.  Norman is the Barefoot course I’ve logged the most rounds on, but I struggled on the greens.  Joe and I played Nick and Ed and we were behind all the way around.  Down 2 with 4 to play, our opponents let us back into the match with some loose driving and Joe made a 4-footer for par to win the match on 18.  About 2/3 of the guys went out for a nine-hole replay but not me.  My new strategy was to conserve energy.

Day Three:  Grand Dunes.

One of my favorite courses, Grand Dunes did not disappoint.  Temps were in the low 60s and the course was in fabulous condition.  I was super excited because I was stripping it on the driving range which is always a good leading indicator for my game.  Greens were running faster than the previous two days at Barefoot and the day’s match was Glenn and I vs. Marc and Ed.  I had my best ball striking day and carried my partner on the front nine.  Glenn ordered a fast-action Bloody Mary from the cart girl on the 6th  or 7th hole and his game suddenly caught fire.  I relaxed afterwards and we coasted in this one 7 and 5.  The last four or five holes were played in the rain which was a harbinger of things to come.

Day Four:  Barefoot Dye.

It had rained heavily overnight and there was still precipitation in the area.  Dye was playing cart path only and giant puddles and ruts were the order of the day in the cart paths.  The paths at Dye are all sand/waste areas which made for a sloppy round.  It basically rained medium hard all day.  The driving range was closed beforehand and swings were obviously affected.  In this match, Ron and I played Nick and Tim.  Nobody hit it that well.  However, my chipping and putting were getting it done and we prevailed 5 and 4.  I found Dye the most difficult driving course because there are few good sight lines.  You stand on the tees and confront a world of bunkers.  Where to hit it?  At the end of the day, our team was up 15 to 5 and needed only a half point to secure the Cup making the outcome all but decided.  I guess all the pre-tournament prognostications were correct.

Day Five:  Barefoot Fazio.

Temps were in the low 40s, rain was falling, and winds were building from the west.  We were on the leading edge of a winter storm that dumped four inches of snow just north of us in Virginia and North Carolina.  I was paired against Dan in singles and was playing with my teammate Ted who was matched up with Steve.  Surprisingly, the greens were rolling fast and pure despite the weather.  Dan and I got off to a rough start and halved the first hole with 7s.  He took a 1-up lead on the second but I came back to take a string of holes and was three up at the turn.  Ted was leading Steve 7-up and it was raining and blowing sideways.  We called it quits.  A couple of the boys did complete their games and a few reported that they had played well.  I didn’t get the final points total, but it was clear that our side had prevailed.  While we didn’t play the back nine, we had to drive in along it and I was impressed by some of the routing and conditioning.  It would be great to come back and play Fazio in good weather.

Playing notes:

  1. When in a match play format, don’t get distracted by your individual score. Several players asked me what I shot for the day and I told them that I didn’t know.  It was true.  If I was out of a hole, I’d put my ball in my pocket and let my partner play for our side.  I think it’s beneficial to NOT play out a ball on a hole you messed up because making a bigger mess can form negative mental pictures in your head.  When you have a bad hole pick up and forget about it.  Your gross score doesn’t matter – it’s not the game you are playing.  I get that many of the guys just want to play for practice or measure themselves, and that’s fine, but not my preference.
  2. Play to your strength in match play and don’t alter your game based on the way your opponent(s) play. My strengths are accuracy off the tee and attacking with wedges.  My weaknesses are playing from fairway bunkers, and there were a lot at these venues.  I often hit a long iron or 3wd off the tee for position.  If you have strengths like mine, you’ll find that ego-based players may become frustrated playing you.  While they like to bomb tee shots, your accurate tee shots and their wayward driving often puts significant pressure on their game.
  3. Around the greens, work the ground game. Courses at Myrtle Beach do not have significant greenside rough and don’t require high lofted pitch shots.  Don’t get too enamored with your lofted wedges and try chipping and pitching with more straight-faced clubs.  Putt when you can and keep the shots low whenever possible because roll is easier to judge distance on than flight.

Summary:

This trip was about camaraderie.   We played with lots of different players which was great.  We were also able to make dinner reservations every night for our party of 20 at a different restaurant.  You could never pull this off on a summer trip to Myrtle Beach; it’s just too crowded.

The course conditioning was excellent everywhere.  Of course, the dominant playing surfaces (Bermuda) were dormant, but they were very playable and framed the over seeded fairways nicely on all the courses.

The value was tremendous.  We paid about $550 for five days of golf and four nights in excellent accommodations.

I’ve been invited to the 2021 version of this tournament and am eagerly looking forward to it.  That’s it for now.

Play well!

New lids for the winning side

 

 

 

 

 

2020 Golf Season – Early Start!

On the green at #14 at Barefoot – Norman

Here we are, two weeks from Christmas and the bad news is that I haven’t played since the last week of October.  My season-ending November golf/beach trip never happened because of bad weather and I have that weird feeling like when you read nine chapters in a 10-chapter book and never pick it up to finish.  I keep looking for a good weekend day to properly close 2019, but either work, football, or the honey-do list get in the way.

The good news is that my 2020 season start is just around the corner.  I’ll kickoff in mid-February with a trip to Myrtle Beach.  At a recent family gathering, I was invited to participate in a 20-man event for five days of Ryder Cup style competition.  We’ll be divided into two 10-man teams and have four rounds scheduled at all the Barefoot courses along with a round at Grand Dunes.  This is going to be awesome!  But how do I prepare?  I booked a flight in a day earlier and will try to practice/play a round, but that’s just to bang off some rust.  Would definitely want some more regular activity during the winter, and was thinking about my friend Jim at The Grateful Golfer.  He’s constructing an indoor hitting station.  What I wouldn’t give to have a setup like that for the cold months!  Jim, can I come over and swat a few?

Some of the guys playing this event come from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but others are from the Carolinas and California, so they’ll be a mix of rust and good preparation leading up to tournament time.  I haven’t practiced heavily in the off season for years.  The older I get, the less accepting I am of cold weather, but there’s a heated/covered range within a 20-minute drive and I might have to make use as a stop gap.  I’d hate to show up in February not having swung a club for a couple months.

Any suggestions for off-season ball striking practice?

Play well!

Learning From My Putting Overhaul

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

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

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

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

Enhanced Putting Drill Station

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

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

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

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

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

The Hardest Shot in Golf – Conquered!

Playing from a fairway bunker at Oyster Bay

What’s your hardest shot?  For me, it’s the long bunker shot.  You know, 50-60 yards and perhaps over another bunker or with water behind the green.  The shot places seeds of doubt in your mind and what follows is not pretty.  It’s made more difficult by the infrequency that it occurs.  I don’t practice it, will go several rounds without confronting it, and often play away from it altogether.  Yesterday, I learned how to hit it.

I had been struggling with consistency in my green-side bunker game and went to my pro for a lesson.  He had me hit a few shots to a close in flag with my lob wedge and quickly identified a flaw in technique.  I was forward pressing the grip and that was causing me to hit the shot heavy (take too much sand and leave the ball short).  The fix was to move my hands back – even or slightly behind the ball which allowed me to use the bounce in my wedge to slap the sand in a more aggressive motion.  Not very complicated and the burst of adrenaline from the “ah ha” moment teased me with anticipation.

This practice bunker has targets at 20, 40, and 60 yards and the lesson progressed into hitting shots with the new technique at varying distances.  I changed out to my 54-degree sand wedge for the longer green-side shots.  The new setup allowed me to approach with an attack mindset.  I now controlled distance with club selection, how fast I swung, how hard I hit the sand, and with the confidence that I wasn’t going to chunk or blade the shot.

In the past, my aversion to the long bunker shot was rooted in the belief that I didn’t have enough power to take sand and get the ball to the hole.  But I do!  We talked about choice of wedge for this shot and my pro said he adjusts by squaring the face on a sand wedge or gap wedge.  Gap wedge?  I had never thought of that and tried a few with the square blade at 60 yards and presto!  Never in a million years did I think I could hit an explosion and cover the distance.

We then moved to uphill, downhill, and side-hill bunker shots.  I hit a few out of footprints and learned this was an excellent way to practice.  Don’t get married to hitting simple 20-yard shots from a perfectly raked lie.  We finished up with some 9-iron, 7-iron, and 4-iron fairway bunker shots.  Of utmost importance out of the fairway bunkers is to keep your lower body and your head as still as possible.  I made good contact on most of these but without the lower body rotation, pulled them a bit.  I learned I need to aim a little right and allow for it.

Finally, we dialoged set make-up.  I recently purchased a TaylorMade M6 3-hybrid and had been considering dropping a wedge to get to 14 clubs.  He advised against this because the wedges are key in scoring situations which should be my top priority.  We agreed I should remove my 3-iron instead.

This was a fantastic learning experience.  My only regret was that a steady wind was blowing in our face for the entire lesson.  After nearly a hundred balls I was caked; but was beaming with confidence. 😊

What is your toughest shot to execute?  Need any help with that?

Play well!

 

Crow Creek – Course Review

Summary:

Our Myrtle Beach travel group played Crow Creek in Calabash, NC on Saturday, June 2, 2018.  This Rick Robbins design held up extremely well during the 2018 harsh winter and we were met with immaculate playing conditions which was a pleasant surprise.  Tropical Storm Alberto had soaked the area earlier in the week and every course we played on was wet and slow except for this beauty.  I had an 8-iron approach on the first hole, caught it fairly well and watched it bounce hard from the front of the green to the back.  The course’s website advertises V8 bentgrass greens, and these were clearly new, beautiful, and held up very well after the winter.

If you can drive it you can score here but if you are crooked, you’re going to struggle with the ample forced carries over water, troubling sucker pins, and loads of bunkers.  After playing a couple holes, the course reminded me of Thistle from a conditioning standpoint, and the visuals on the tee shots, but didn’t have Thistle’s share of wooded parkland routing that they boast on on one of their nines.

Gazebo overlooking the 16th tee at Crow Creek

Value: (4.25 out of 5.0)

Crow Creek would be considered a middle end play but provides excellent bang for the buck.  The combination of perfect conditions and a very reasonable replay rate ($35) make this a must play for your northern end golf packages.  We got paired up with one of the local senior players and he indicated the word was out on this course.  It was popular with all levels of players (five sets of tees make it playable for everyone) and that became evident when we tried unsuccessfully to book a replay in the afternoon.

Mike working on his swing

Facilities: (4.25 out of 5.0)

The course has a nice clubhouse and full service grill and is serviced by an all grass driving range and two beautiful manicured putting greens.  Once on your cart, you travel under a tunnel to the other side of the road where the practice range, large chipping/putting green, and first tee all reside in a nice orderly distance from each other.  You buy your range balls ($5.00 for a small bag) at the shed adjacent to the range.  The layout makes sense because once golfers are staged in the cart area, they are moved to the other side of the road for warmup and front nine play which reduces cart traffic around the clubhouse.  You travel back under the tunnel to play the back closer to the clubhouse.

Lou warming up his short game

 

 

 

Customer Experience: (3.75 out of 5.0)

We pulled up to the bag drop and there were a lot of players arriving simultaneously.  The cart guys got us unloaded reasonably well but seemed a little harried trying to get everyone saddled up and across the road, with ample time to warm up.  A special thanks goes to the gentleman manning the pro-shop counter in the afternoon.  After our round we inquired about a replay and he had nothing for a couple hours, but made a call to Sea Trail Dan Maples course and got us on there for the reduced price replay rate of $29.  This was a well appreciated effort.  The only ding I’ve got is an important one.  There were only two fresh water stops on the course.  Every track in the Myrtle Beach area should have at least two per nine because of the frequent hot and humid conditions.  So carry plenty of water with you from the start.

#1 tee

Taking on the sucker pin at the 169 yard par-3 13th.

Overall Rating: (4.0 out of 5.0)

If you are staying in the north at Sea Trail or the Glens Village, you could add this course to a package that included Thistle, and Perl East and West courses.  You’d be playing some great tracks on some excellent conditions.  Don’t miss out on playing Crow Creek!

183 yard par-3 16th at Crow Creek

The boys having a cold one in the grill after their round.

Great Golf In Myrtle Beach

At the baby gator hatchery. Pawleys Plantation, SC

Your humble servant has just returned from a trip to the Grand Strand for nine rounds over eight courses, in five days.  There is some great golf to be played in Myrtle Beach but some courses to be avoided at all costs.  Along with playing some awesome venues, we managed to visit with as many golf shops as possible to get an accurate picture of playing conditions across the region.  The following trip report has first hand accounts, photos, and snippets of knowledge picked up by conversations with key people.  Hopefully you’ll find it valuable and interesting.

On Monday, we made the hour drive from our condo at Sea Trail to TPC of Myrtle Beach only to get dumped on by Tropical Storm Alberto and completely washed out after three holes.  We grabbed our rain checks and went shopping.  Off to a poor start.

Practice Green at Kings North.  Notice the winter kill on the left.

Tuesday we ventured out to Myrtle Beach National for a round on Kings North.  Much to our surprise, the greens were rolling okay on this Arnold Palmer gem, but were in very poor shape with significant browning caused by the winter freeze/kill that affected the area.  After the round, the pro explained that the Champion 327 strain of Bermuda was on the Kings course and that another strain of Bermuda was on the West and South courses and they were playing much better, so we replayed on the West and had a very enjoyable round on lush conditions.  Only one or two greens were in questionable shape.  The North is still an awesome layout with tees and fairways in great condition, and is still playable but temper your expectations.

8th green at Glen Dornoch along the intercoastal waterway

On Wednesday we hit Glen Dornoch for 36 holes and encountered lush full greens that were rolling rather slow.  Admittedly it had rained the previous two days, and we got dumped on again for about five holes but the surfaces were in good shape.  We asked the pro how they managed to keep their greens in order and he indicated they had overseeded with Rye, which was essentially what we were putting on.  It had filled in nicely but you could see the spotty Bermuda and our thoughts were that after another month of heat, if that Bermuda didn’t come back, they’d be in trouble when the cool season grass became stressed from the summer bake.

Back down to the southern end we went on Thursday to Willbrook Plantation.  The course was wet from the previous deluge but in otherwise great condition except for a lot of clumpy grass in the fairway since they had just mowed for the first time that week.  For the third straight day we were playing cart path only and getting plenty of exercise toting clubs from buggy to ball and back.  The greens were in good shape and were another overseed job similar to Glen Dornoch.  We had a nice round and elected to forgo a replay in order to save our strength for a head smacking big day on Friday.

The morning round on Friday was at Pawley’s Plantation and we left the condo at 5:45 a.m. to make our 7:48 tee time.  We found Pawleys in great shape and we were finally allowed to ride the fairways.  17 of the 18 greens were perfect, except for the memorable island 13th, which was very stressed.

Lou and Mike sizing up the tee shot at Pawleys #13

13th at Pawleys

I love this golf course and its killer par threes and it took every ounce of skill for me to muster an 8-over 80 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,549/73.7/144.  Finally the heat and humidity had returned.  These were conditions were were more accustomed to playing in.

173 yards of marsh carry to the 17th at Pawleys

In the afternoon, we made our way up the coast to Murrells Inlet and TPC of Myrtle Beach to cash in our rain checks.  TPC had dried out but for some reason they were still playing cart path only.  This is a big golf course with wide holes loaded with tons of sand and water.  The course was in excellent shape and the greens were rolling medium fast but again were primarily on overseeded Rye.  You could see the Bermuda was very spotty and we were glad we were playing it now before conditions deteriorated.   We were tired from the 36 holes, the heat, and playing from the cart paths in the afternoon.  But there was one more day to go.

10 foot friend guarding the banks of the 17th at TPC

Our last play day was Saturday and in the morning we tried out Crow Creek in the north.  Course review is coming but in short, conditions were pure on this all Bermuda track.  It’s a must play.

Dennis warming up at Crow Creek

We wanted to replay in the afternoon but they were booked.  They called over to the Sea Trail resort and got us a time on the Maples course right after lunch.  Sea Trail has three courses and had been brutalized by the winter kill.  Two of the courses, Jones, and Byrd had totally lost their Bermuda greens.  Maples had lost everything but their greens because they were bentgrass.  We learned that they close Maples in the summer so as not to stress their greens.  The Maples tee boxes were very scratchy and there wasn’t much turf in the fairways, although you could play on it.  We were just glad to be playing our final round of golf on a course next to our condo.  After all the driving to the south, it was nice to sink your final putt and collapse in your bed in five minutes.  Oddly enough, despite the conditions, I had my best round of the trip (3-over 75) on Maples.  I suppose if you’re going to play on a scratchy course, the one thing you want is playable greens.

#18 Green on Sea Trail Jones course

We did a great job moving our venues off courses with known winter kill and generally played on very good conditions during the week.  Sunday, I had a late flight and decided to visit some of the area courses for intelligence gathering.  Here’s what I learned:

Oyster Bay:  I adore this layout but the greens are shot.  Avoid it.

The sad practice green at Oyster Bay

 

 

 

Big Cats in Ocean Ridge Plantation:  Tigers Eye’s greens are slowly coming back.  They are letting them grow out, and they looked kind of spotty and shaggy.  Lions Paw is closed for two weeks and Panthers Run is closed for six weeks.  Those two courses totally lost their greens.  Leopard’s Chase is still reportedly playable as they have bentgrass on the surfaces, but I didn’t get a visual.  I’d stay away from these courses as a package.

The Legends:  According to the pro in the shop, Moreland has the Champion 327 Bermuda and lost seven greens.  They are giving discounts to play it.  Steer clear.  Heathland is in great shape and Parkland has a few spots on a couple greens.  I checked the practice green and it looked fine.  Play here at your own risk.

Thistle:  The practice green had a couple damage spots but I examined a green on the course and spoke to the pro who told me the greens keeper did a great job and the course was in excellent condition.  I rolled a few balls on the putting green and it seemed fine.  I’d play here as the layout is awesome and the operation first class.

9th at Thistle. Looking good.

Then I drove across the street to Perl (East and West courses).  Their greens were Bermuda and looked immaculate.  I went inside and learned that Perl had covered their greens during the winter, off and on and especially during the one week stretch that had killed everyone else.  This was the key, and I had received earlier reports that both courses were in great shape.  Passed the eye test, get yourself out on both of these!

Beautiful greens at Perl

Finally, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate on the flight home who was wearing a Caledonia shirt.  He reportedly had played and said the course was in fabulous shape.  So there you have it.  If you are making your way down to the Grand Strand, I’d do it sooner rather than later when all the Rye overseed on some of these good courses is going to get stressed.  If you have any other first hand accounts on Myrtle Beach course conditions, please share!

Play well.

Emergency PSA – Myrtle Beach – Course Conditions!

Travelers/golfers going to the Grand Strand:  Red Alert! Check with the golf courses you are booked at regarding course conditions.  About 3/4 of the golf courses in Myrtle Beach have lost their greens due to the abnormally cold winter, and you may not be auto re-booked by your tour operator.  Tripadvisor and Golfadvisor have the gory details and I’d recommend you read the latest reviews.  Courses with Bermuda putting surfaces have been hit extremely hard.  Nothing is exempt, even the great courses like Grand Dunes, Thistle, Tidewater, and Oyster Bay.  Most have had their greens reduced to dirt or dead grass with patches of dirt; and some have been dyed green.  These conditions are deplorable and are creating significant angst among the traveling public.

We were booked on four of the Big Cats, Oyster Bay, and Thistle and have moved off all of them.  Three of the Cats were reported as dead with the lone exception being Leopard’s Chase which has bent grass on the putting surfaces.  Area courses with cool season grasses came through the winter in better shape, but the vast majority of courses have Bermuda, which holds up better in the summer heat, but needs to be covered in extended periods of freezing temperatures.  This was not done and there is a local symposium being held for greens keepers to understand how to better handle such an emergency in the future, but that has not solved for this season’s problems.  June and July could be rough in the area if the Bermuda surfaces haven’t recovered and the bent greens become stressed from heat and over play.

I’ve verified playing conditions are good to excellent on the following courses and aeration schedules will not impact play the week of Memorial Day.  We are re-booked on:  TPC of Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach National – Kings North, Pawleys Plantation, Willbrook, Glen Dornoch, and Crow Creek.  We’re staying in Sunset Beach, NC at Sea Trail and as a result of all the re-bookings in the south, will be doing some extended driving, but at least we’ll be playing on good surfaces.

Perl East and Perl West are also reported in excellent condition but are being aerated right before Memorial Day.  If anyone has information about more courses that are in good condition please share and thank you!

Play well.

On a better day at Tidewater – North Myrtle Beach, SC

The Adventures Of Captain Single

Captain Single at the famous biker bar in Murrells Inlet, SC after a round at TPC

I have never been adverse to playing golf as a single. . .until the last three times out.  Normally, I enjoy meeting people and have actually made some lifelong friendships on the first tee, but as luck would have it, my regular golfing partners have been quitting the game or dropping out temporarily for health reasons.  I’ve been relegated to playing as a single this season and the experience is driving me nuts.

It started three weeks ago on Easter Sunday.  Who golfs on Easter?  Nobody, right?  I figured church in the morning and a tee time right after noon on a wide open course – perfect.  I showed up for my 12:06 and there were ten foursomes right in front of me playing a self-organized tournament and putting everything out.  The single I got paired with was nice company but it took nearly three hours to play the front nine.  He dropped out after nine and I was hardly thrilled at the prospect of following this rolling roadblock, but fortunately a threesome zipped down to the 10th tee and joined me.  These three guys were hitting it all over the lot, but they kept moving which suited me fine.  Round one in the books but it gets more bizarre.

Two weeks ago, at a different track, Seargant Solo was out again with a noon time.  The starter paired me up with a guy and a girl in a cart and as I rolled down to the tee I noticed they only had one set of clubs.  I introduced myself and the guy tells me his girlfriend has never played and was just was riding along and would hit a few shots from time to time.  Then he invited me to “go ahead of them because they just wanted to lay back, relax, and drink a few beers.”  It was 80 degrees, the sun was shining, and the course was packed with foursomes.  I’m thinking, “Dude, you just don’t get it,” but I didn’t say anything.  Then two more fellows rolled down and joined making us a happy five-some.  So we played two holes uneventfully and the guy even fist bumps me after I sink a putt on #2 green.  I’m thinking, “Okay, this isn’t that bad.”  Then on the par-5 third, the other two guys and I hit our tee shots but the thirsty couple just sat in their cart chatting.  We took off up the fairway and hit our second shots and noticed these two were still on the lady’s tee fiddling around while the foursome behind them were standing on the regular tee.  He wasn’t kidding about laying back.  They must have yelled at them because they came rushing back up to join us.  We finished the front with just the guy hitting shots.

After three holes on the back, this twosome just got in their cart and rode off while we were putting out.  They didn’t say good bye and were never to be seen again.  Turns out they had polished off a twelve pack and a fifth of whiskey in the 12 holes.  I was left to wonder who was their designated driver, the last person standing?  It gets worse.

Single-Seat Sombrero had a 12:33 time last Sunday and was pared up with a threesome.  I showed up only to find out it was U.S. Kids tournament day at the course.  There were kids already on the course and the nine-holers were scheduled to go off the back nine from 2-4 p.m.  Before I even left the golf shop, the pro was offering me a rain check because I might get blocked out trying to make the turn.  I’m wondering why they didn’t call me or post this on the website, and I asked if I could play the front twice and he said they’d  try to fit me in.  Well it was 12:05 and I was ready to go and they were not running with a starter for some inexplicable reason, so I just jumped on the tee, ripped a shot and headed off by myself on foot.  Soon a single in a cart was pushing me from behind, but never got close enough to join me.  I felt rushed and started to miss shots and get frustrated.  On the par-4 fourth hole, I was in the fairway off the tee and couldn’t see the flag stick because the last kids group had forgot to replace it.  I tried to hit a ball on the center of the green and pull hooked it badly.  Now I was seething.  On #7 I realized I was playing so fast that if I kept my pace, I could beat the first kids group off #10 at 2:00 p.m, and proceeded to do just that.  On #15 I was still feeling rushed and blew a tee shot way right.  At that point, I finally caught up to the last kids tournament group and the guy in the cart caught me and I asked him to join.  Funny, but as soon as he joined, I slowed way down and didn’t miss a shot the rest of the way in.  It’s weird how a nice measured pace will help your game, but I was very disheartened by the whole experience.

So what’s next?  I realize this charade has to end.  I need to get out and play with good players on a regular basis.  No more solitary Sundays for me, I’m joining a club next weekend.  The course is Blue Mash in Laytonsville, MD.  More to come; stay tuned!

On the tee at Oyster Bay, but playing in a foursome

 

Can You Trust A Bad Swing?

Relaxing at Pawleys Island, SC

Readers of Bob Rotella books know that one of his favorite axioms is, “Train it, trust it.”  The idea is to practice enough so your body will naturally recall the proper swing mechanics without trying to force them.  This is truly the best way to play golf, but what if you’re out on the course and feel your swing slipping away to the point that you cannot trust it?  What do you do?  You have two options:

  1. Work on your mechanics and try to fix your swing
  2. Try to change your perspective of the shots you need to hit.  In essence, fool your mind into getting comfortable because a couple fairways in a row will do wonders for your confidence.  Tiger does this by hitting that stinger with his three wood when he loses confidence in the driver.

Try number two.  You should do it by taking any club you feel you can make an aggressive swing with to hit the fairway.  Say, you usually hit driver on a 500 yard par-5.  A good shot leaves you 260 yards in, but a bad swing might put you in the woods and looking at a big number.  Instead, hit a four or five iron off the tee.  From the fairway, you now have maybe 330 yards in.  That’s still just a short par-4 which you should be able to hit with two more shots, and presto, you are right back in the hole.

There is another approach gleaned from the great mystery of why we play great one day and awful the next.  It’s truly mind boggling and all golfers have tried to solve for this at one point in time.  I believe it has something to do with your natural bio-rhythms.  These are the brain synapses that fire and guide your central nervous system.  They control your ability to concentrate, your stress level, your hand-eye coordination, your pleasure and pain receptors, and just how you feel from day to day.   Example:  Today I was at my local muni practicing and hit the ball quite awful.  Couldn’t tell where it was going and actually thinned a couple off the hozel.  The day before, I was at another course working short game and my touch was superb.  Oddly enough, the good practice was preceded by a frustrating day at work and I didn’t feel like practicing and forced myself to.  Yet, that had no impact on my performance.  Why?  Ultimately, I think the environment you’re in and comfort level has a lot to do with your performance.

Control the environment and you control your ability to relax.  Relax and you play better.  For me, it’s the avoidance of feeling crowded and being in tight spaces.  I get tense in traffic jams, shopping malls, in long lines, and even on crowded beaches.  When I’m tense on the golf course, my game goes in the crapper.  Conversely, when I loosen up and relax, I perform much better.  The course I practiced at yesterday is much less populated than my local muni.  There’s plenty of room to spread out and work all your shots.  Nobody gets in anyone’s way.  I always seem to practice well there.  On the other hand, my muni is the popular hangout.  Today was 80 degrees and it was packed, but it’s always crowded.  My practice and play are spotty at this track.  I’m much more relaxed at the first course and therefore perform better.  Tomorrow, I play at Rattlewood, where I’ve had considerable success.  I always seem to warm up well before my round and that relaxes me.  Oddly enough, the driving range was constructed with a slight upgrade from left to right for all hitting stations.  Ding on whomever poured the foundation, but this silly little nuance forces me to start hitting the ball right to left during my warm-up, and that’s a ball flight I’m comfortable with.

Need more evidence?  Think of some courses you play regularly.  Do you routinely play well at some and hack on others?  The pros do.  I travel to Myrtle Beach every year and always play good on the same courses.  Legends-Heathland, Thistle, Oyster Bay, and True Blue come to mind.  Some of these are hard tracks, but the common factor is that I like the look of the tee shots.  They’re generally a little more open, have great sight lines, and distinct targets.  I feel relaxed and loose and can let the shaft out.  Other courses like TPC of Myrtle, Legends-Moorland, and Heritage are super tight off the tee and I struggle with every round.  I feel squeezed on the tee box and always worry about keeping it in play, and I usually don’t.

In summary, my two keys.

  1. Trust your swing. If you can’t, find a conservative shot you can trust
  2. Practice and play at venues where you feel relaxed

Got any others?  Please share and play well!

Still relaxed at Oyster Bay, Sunset Beach, NC

Short Game Salvation!

On the tee at Barefoot Fazio in Myrtle Beach

Two weeks ago, I took my first golf lesson of the season.  It was on short game.  Over the many years of my golf career, I’ve had countless full swing lessons but only received a couple tips on short game from teaching professionals.  As I finished up and stacked my clubs into the trunk, I had two thoughts: I’m filled with hope and optimism, and why did I ever wait this long.

The Diagnosis:

The lesson started with me spilling my guts for five minutes on what was wrong with my short game. I enjoy this approach to teaching and learning because you need to clearly identify what you are solving for and my pro is not presumptuous in any way.  He always asks.   My laundry list:

  • My wedge game was good from 40 to 100 yards based on the full swing work that we did last year. From 40 to green side with my pitching I was clueless.  I avoided that yardage like the plague.  Inside 40, I would go back and forth on technique and approach and was thoroughly confused.
  • On my chipping, I was slightly better but have always struggled with playing too defensively. I want to attack the hole but many of my chips continually come up short and I often struggle with direction and hitting my spot.
  • I thought my chipping technique was sound, but last season I had to remove my fitted set of Cleveland wedges (50, 54, 58) for my old SW (56) and old GW (49) because of confidence problems. The previous season, I had hit a couple of s#@nks with the 54 and had that image burned in my mind.
  • I was confused and constantly changing my pre-shot routine to try and get better feel for shots but nothing worked consistently. I struggled to visualize my shots.

In short, I thought I knew how to hit all the shots but could never seem to pull them off.  I have often wondered how I maintain a low single-digit handicap with a short game as bad as mine.  In retrospect, I have probably played overly conservative into the greens to avoid as much trouble as possible.  Not necessarily a bad approach, but not conducive to going low.  I wondered how good I could get if I ever learned to attack the hole.  All this came out before I struck a single shot.

The Lesson:

Then we started.  First, he had me chip from the fringe for a distant hole and asked me what clubs I normally chip with.  I told him my 56, PW, and 8-iron, and selected the 8 for this shot.  I chipped a few.  Most were off line and my distance was long.  He told me we needed to work on three changes:  Make a swing that I controlled with my body by rotating my chest, try to hit with a consistent pace regardless of club selection, and get the ball rolling as soon as possible because roll is easier to judge than flight.  For this shot, he had me switch to the 50, move the ball position back to my right big toe, forward press the handle a bit, and shade more of my weight forward.  Then I made a smaller swing by just turning my chest and presto!  I started seeing a small divot, generating backspin, and hitting straight shots that flew considerably lower even though the 50 has more loft than the 8-iron.   We then started working in shots with the 54 and 58 based on the various distances to alternate holes, but with every shot, I hit it with the same pace and technique, and attempt to get it rolling quickly.  I noticed while hitting all these shots that I had not been using a practice swing, and had just been lining up the shots from behind and executing – interesting!  My ability to visualize the shot was returning because it was the same shot, very little change in trajectory, and just a different distance to the various targets.  It was easy to implement.  My head was clearing.  I was feeling good.

Next, we moved back to the dreaded zone.  Pitching.  His message was clear, we were going to use the same technique but make a slightly bigger swing and move the ball position up a bit (about ¾ back).  Again, we were still trying to flight the ball lower than what I was used to, control the shot with spin, and take a divot.  As we altered targets we simply adjusted the amount of carry with club selection.  Using the 50, 54, and 58, pitching became almost routine.  What the hell was so hard about this?

What’s great about a 1×1 professional lesson is that you can ask your pro all the dumb little questions you’ve always wondered about.  I inquired, “When you are green side and need to hit a high pitch, do you first grip the club normally and rotate your hands to open the blade, or open the blade first, then grip the club?”  He told me it was the latter, which I had never done.  We finished up by throwing balls all around the green into different distances and lies and having me practice selecting a club to fit the shot and simply executing on my new technique.  It was a fantastic lesson.

Going forward, we are changing my club make up.  Out are the old SW, GW, and 5WD and in are the three wedges I learned with.  I can also use my PW (46) and 8-iron for longer chips and simply need to move the ball position forward of my right toe for those two clubs.

Of course, what followed the next weekend was a small snowstorm in the DMV and I haven’t had the chance to practice any of this until today.  I’m full of hope, chomping at the bit and need to get cracking because our trip to Myrtle Beach is just two months out!

Play well!

The rest of our group at Barefoot Fazio

Careful With That Off-Season Workout!

Are you chomping at the bit to get the 2018 golf season going?  Trying to shed those last few holiday season pounds and/or build the golf muscles needed for superior performance?  I am.  A big word of caution for everybody regularly hitting the gym:  Be very careful when lifting weights!  You can do significant long lasting damage to muscle tissue if you aren’t lifting correctly or a working with too much weight.

At Tigers Eye

Here’s a picture of me during a golf trip to Myrtle Beach in 2009.  Notice the big old wrap on my left elbow?  That was an injury (tendonitis) that I incurred while lifting weights incorrectly during the preceding winter.  I paid for it on that trip and was running through Advil like John Daly downing M&Ms.  The whole issue could have been avoided if I had sought professional help with my weight lifting technique.  Slowly the injury healed, as I discontinued all workouts and limited the amount of range balls I hit.

Fast forward to 2017.  I started a workout regimen on May 1 that only consisted of floor exercises.  I was using the force of gravity to provide resistance and no weight.  Over the summer, I was very pleased with the increase in strength and muscle development that I had experienced.  In October I decided to add weights to my arm workouts.  I reviewed some technique videos on bicep and hammer curls and began with the lightest of weights.  The progress I made over the next few months was excellent and I slowly and cautiously added more weight.  As I got stronger I got more confident and a couple of weeks ago, added a significant amount of weight, but noticed that I was struggling to move the extra weight with the same amount of repetitions.  Then yesterday, I experienced the setback.  The left elbow tendonitis injury returned. 😦

Please don’t do what I did.  If you are working out for golf, it’s about building tone rather than bulk.  Get professional help from a trainer before tackling too much weight or the wrong technique.  Hopefully with some good drugs and a little time off, it’ll heal before the season starts.

Do you have any off-season workout recommendations?

Play well.

Wild Wing Avocet – Course Review

Summary

The practice putting green

On Tuesday, May 30, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Wild Wing Plantation (Avocet course) in Conway, SC.  Wild Wing used to host a magnificent 72 hole facility.  There was Avocet, Hummingbird, Woodstock, and Falcon.  But alas in 2006, Woodstock and Falcon closed as did nine holes on Hummingbird.  The huge clubhouse that was previously servicing this golf factory is still there but is sparsely outfitted and looks like it’s more utilized for banquets.  In the last ten years, the Grand Strand has lost about 25 golf courses, mostly to housing development, and Wild Wing is certainly a top casualty.

When you enter the grounds, you are confronted with a parking lot the size of the Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is also a leftover from the previous decade of vibrancy.  The bad drop was staffed by a single guy who did the unloading, fetching of carts from the barn, and staging of groups for play.  Clearly they could have used more help, and we felt something was a little off kilter.

Cary ordering at the Players Pub

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

The driving range; wet and closed

Our day started off rough because the driving range was closed.  I asked the bag guy if I could borrow a cart to go take pictures of the range and he was kind enough to grant that request.  The range is actually quite large and beautiful, and is all grass but it was soaking.  Balls are sold in the pro shop for $4.00 a bag and it appeared to be a good decision to keep it closed.  Playing a strange course with no warm-up and cart path only for the first four holes was rough.  Most of the guys were hacking and trying to get loose.  The course was wet and played fairly long from the blue tees (6,658/72.7/131).

Now, the Good, Bad, and Ugly.

The Good:

The golf course is a great play.  The greens used to be bent grass but were redone in Mini-Verde Bermuda after the brutal summer of 2011.  They were beautiful and rolling true with a medium fast pace despite the moisture.  The course has a mixture of parkland routing framing a lot of the par 4s and 5s, and links style architecture around the greens with big undulations on the surfaces, tall mounds protecting the approaches, water in play on tee shots and approaches, and deep penal green side bunkering.  You will struggle to get it up and down if your ball striking is off but I thought this was an awesomely interesting mixture of holes with many being unique and memorable.  Several of the par-4s are long.  #6 at 451 yards with water all down the left, was playing into a stiff breeze.  I knew I couldn’t reach and played it like a short par-5.  #7, a par-5 at 553 yards was playing in the same direction and took two massive hits to have a shot to reach.  #14 is a cool short par-4 with so many bunkers it looked like the face of the moon.  Even with rangefinder in hand, it was a bit of guesswork as to where to hit it first time through.

The Bad:

The green part of the golf course was the allure at Wild Wing, with the excellent layout and conditioning.  The rest of the grounds needed serious work.  Several holes played adjacent in a back and forth direction which is fine, but there were shared cart paths which left you  dangerously close to the ball flight of opposing groups and occasionally left you playing a game of chicken with the carts.  A lot of the cart paths were crumbling and in a state of disrepair.  There were only two water coolers on the entire course, which is a major ding, and one ran dry around 3:00 p.m.  This can be dangerous in the summer time heat, as most courses take care to ensure you have fresh water every 3-5 holes.  And finally, the on course restrooms were filthy.

The Ugly:

Mike and I were the only ones to replay in the afternoon.  We were parked by the par-5 15th green and as we were preparing to exit our golf cart, the beverage cart rammed into our golf cart.  Mike was holding the steering wheel and the impact jerked our front tires and wrenched Mike’s hand.  The cart lady didn’t even apologize and insisted on blaming us for the collision.  This left a very sour taste in our mouths and some pain in Mike’s hand and wrist for the rest of the afternoon.  As we drove up the 18th hole, we saw the cart lady parked in the rough with her head down.  Couldn’t tell if she was texting someone or sleeping off a hangover from sampling her own wares, but she was parked in the same spot for several minutes – very unprofessional.

Mike on #3 tee. Par-4, 424 yards

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

 

Chris sizing up his tee shot on #5. Par-3, 157 yards

Avocet isn’t a bad value for just pure golf.  Our greens fee on the Founders package was the lowest of any course at $56 and we replayed for $40.  This course seems to be a low budget affair with regard to facilities, maintenance, number of staff, and they sink their available funds into keeping the golf course in as good as shape as it’s in.  As a traveler and avid player, the whole experience was a bit of a disappointment.  There is also some previous day bias because Monday we had opened our trip at Grand Dunes Resort and everything there is first class.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

Dual green for #6 and #17 (foreground)

What’s odd is that everyone working at Avocet was very accommodating, kind, and professional, except for the beverage cart operator.  A special thank you goes out to Meagan, who operated the Players Pub and assisted Mike with some ice for his hand after our on course accident.  The starter was very flexible and helpful in getting us out for the afternoon.  He suggested we start on the 2nd tee to avoid a foursome that had just teed off #1.  We appreciated that and played #1 as our final hole after zipping around in 3.5 hours.

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

You need some local knowledge to score on this golf course.  I shot 88 in the morning and followed that up with a 79 after I was suitably warmed up and knew where to hit it.  Again, the course is a fun play but only if you don’t mind the marginal facilities and low budget feel of the place.  I’m mixed on a return trip to Avocet.

Mike bunkered on #1

Willbrook Plantation – Course Review

Summary

On Thursday, June 1st, 2017, our travel group teed it up at the Willbrook Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC.  The plantation was established in 1798 and a visit here provides a mix of lovely old southern charm with a humbling history lesson.  The place is beautiful with large live oaks framing the clubhouse, course, and surrounding residential areas, but you also can find historical markers noting the location of slave quarters and burial grounds that remind you of our 18th and 19th century culture and lifestyle.  Everything is done tastefully and the atmosphere is welcoming to all.

Our group has played Willbrook on several previous trips and unfortunately most of those visits were spent in the clubhouse watching doppler radar and sitting on the porch in stately rocking chairs waiting out torrential rain storms.  No problem with the weather on this day as we enjoyed broken clouds and temperatures in the 80s, but we had our full rain gear packed.

The staging area at Willbrook

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

Spent many hours in these rocking chairs during previous visits

You’ll notice as you first enter the facility that everything is on the small size, from the parking lot, to the clubhouse, to the grill area, to the driving range.  The range was all grass and was in wonderful shape but only had about seven hitting stations.  Balls were $4.00 per bag and were sold in the pro shop.  There were two medium sized putting greens; one between the range and clubhouse and the other conveniently located between the clubhouse and first tee.  Traffic flowed nicely around the staging area.

Willbrook has Bermuda grass through the green and on this day, the putting surfaces were rolling true and at medium speed but had a light layer of sand applied.  The course conditioning was very good with all the tee boxes, fringes, and bunkers neatly manicured.  I only remembered a few of the holes, probably because the last time through, we were so focused on keeping ourselves and our equipment dry, the course play-ability and routing were not at the forefront of our minds.

At 6,292 yards from the white tees (70.3 / 129), the course is not an overly stern test.  It has a mixture of short to medium length par-4s with all the par-5s playing over 500 yards.  If you are driving it straight you can score.  As it was, they had many of the pins cut on small crowns and slopes, and while I hit 11 greens, I couldn’t make any putts, but managed to avoid any three-putts, and carded a solid 4-over 76.  I recall a much tougher time playing in the rain from the blue tees at 6,722 yards.

A few playing notes:

  • #1 tee shot is tight (pictured below).  You have a big tree on the right to contend with and water on the left.  Drive it straight 🙂
  • #10 is a par-4 that only plays 356 yards but a large oak tree guards the right side of the green.  Shots right center in the fairway may be blocked from coming in high, even with a short iron.  There’s plenty of room left even though it doesn’t look like it on the tee.  Take it.
  • #18 is a hard dogleg right par-5 and is super tight.  There’s a bunker at the end of the fairway 250 yards from the tee.  Long hitters should lay up.  There’s a big tree on the right guarding the dogleg so you have to get it far enough out there to avoid.  Up by the green, there are more large oaks that block the left side of the approach.  If you can get it to 100 yards, you can get over them with a wedge, otherwise, you are blocked.  Try to keep it right.  I felt this hole was a smidgen unfair, as did others in my group.

Jim and Cary before the round

 Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

The look from #1 tee

Willbrook was $71 on our Founders package.  The replay rate was $40, which is a good value, and the beauty of the package is that it included a $100 gift card to use at all 21 of the Founders courses.  We also learned that the replay rate at Willbrook could be applied at a higher end course, which is exactly what we did.  We booked a replay at Willbrook and decided not to use it but called Myrtle Beach National – Kings North, and they let us play the afternoon for the Willbrook price, which was $22 less than the Kings North price.  As long as you played your first round on a Founders group course, you can leverage this benefit and I would take advantage of that again.

Pat in a bit of trouble on #5

Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)

Me before teeing off on #10, a tricky par-4

The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in.  The pro only had a single replay time when we inquired so we grabbed it.  The tee sheet evidently fills up quite fast at this course and I was glad we had the opportunity to replay, but there’s a chance we could have got shut out.  We also figured with one replay time, the course would be full and slow.  When we replay, we usually enjoy a quicker pace because most courses in the area are empty.  It pays to look for courses with more than 18 holes when you consider replaying.  Our decision to play at Kings North was a good one, as they have 54 holes and we flew around in under four hours.

On the course, the marshals kept play moving and were friendly and helpful.  The pace was good as we were in threesomes and were never pushed and did not have to wait on any shots.

The grill area is small and has a limited selection of food items.  After the morning round, I settled for a chili dog, chips and soda that cost me $6.00.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Pat tees off on #15, par-5, 538 yards

I enjoy playing this course and will come back to Willbrook on future trips.  If you want a medium end course that’s not too difficult or expensive, add it to your playlist.

At the final hole, sharp dogleg right par-5

Palmetto State Peaks and Plummets

Phote from myrtlebeachonline.com

The “One Ninety” is the new roller coaster at Busch Gardens named after my recent golf trip to Myrtle Beach.  Playing 189 holes in six days with a series of golf lessons fresh in your mind was the inspiration.  What the hell was I thinking?  Folks, don’t try this at home without plenty of cold beer and Advil.

First the good news.  The weather was terrific and the company of my friends was fantastic.  Most days we had six players and went off as two threesomes and sometimes a single would be paired along giving us the opportunity to meet fellow travelers and on occasion, a local retiree.

Before the round at Willbrook

On the golf course, of the ten full rounds played, I managed to break 80 five times, which is good for me and the most since the 2011 trip.  The bad news was three of the other rounds were 88, 88, and 89 but I seemed to follow a bad one with a good one more easily than in the past.  In short, the fun part was pulling off shots I knew I couldn’t hit in previous years because of the swing work I’d been doing with my instructor.  The hard part was obviously playing golf swing while attempting to play a ton of golf shots over a protracted duration.  But whenever I got into a bad rut, I would return to the swing keys my instructor gave me and usually correct on the spot.  In the past, I’d often be searching in many different directions for a band-aid.  While the courses were beautiful, some were very difficult, and I had hoped after two months of instruction and practice that the new habits would be more ingrained, but alas I wasn’t quite ready to go Justin Thomas on Hawaii.

My review for TPC of Myrtle Beach is up and reviews are coming for Willbrook and Wild Wing Avocet.  Most of the courses have gone to Bermuda greens in lieu of the higher maintenance cool season grasses.  It was a pleasure to play six straight days on the same surfaces, albeit with different speeds and undulations.  Putting Bermuda is difficult coming from Bentgrass greens because it is grainy.  When the ball slows near the hole, the grain will throw it off line and often on longer putts, part of the putt will be with the grain and part against.  Up close, you need to summon the courage to bang your short putts and take some of the break out.  Generally, I had a good feel for the speed but didn’t master the shorties.  Game report card:

  • Driving: B+
  • Fairway woods: A-
  • Mid and long irons: C-
  • Short irons and wedges: B
  • Short game: B
  • Lag putting: A
  • Short putting: D
  • Course management:  B

Someone located a swimming pool next to the driving range at Avocet

I loved this trip and just to cap the roller coaster ride, our plane trip home to Baltimore was uneventful until the final 30 seconds.  We were literally seconds from touching down and the pilot pulled back hard on the stick and gunned his engines sending our stomachs to the floor and the blood rushing from our heads.  He informed us as he circled around that another aircraft was on our runway.  Thank God our guy was paying attention even if the air traffic controllers were not!

Play well.

TPC of Myrtle Beach – Course Review

Summary

On Saturday, June 3rd, 2017, our travel group had the pleasure of playing TPC of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet, SC.  For visitors to the southern end of the Grand Strand, this Tom Fazio design is in the the top tier of courses along with True Blue, Caledonia, and Pawleys Plantation.  Most golf courses have one defensive feature whether it be fast greens, narrow fairways, or whatever.  TPC has them all.  The course is lined with tall pines and strategically placed fairway bunkers that frame long difficult tee shots.  There are deep green side bunkers, plenty of water, and fast Bermuda greens.  An outing here is not for the faint of heart or those with crooked drivers.  Bring your A-game, plenty of golf balls, and prepare for one heckuva challenge!

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Team Myrtle Beach 2017. From left to right: Pat, Mike, Ronnie, Jim, Cary, and Brian

TPC was built in 1999 and has a prestigious history.  The course hosted the 2000 Senior PGA Tour Championship (won by Tom Watson) and is the present day home to the Dustin Johnson School of Golf.  Inside the clubhouse are several cases smartly displaying DJ’s memorabilia, and the presentation reminded me of the Payne Stewart display at Pinehurst.

After checking in, we started the morning by warming up at the fabulous short game area.  The bunkering and approaches were neatly manicured and there were ample spots to set up for all kinds of shots without getting in your neighbor’s way.  I don’t usually take sand shots before a round, but the bunkers were beautiful and inviting, and the prospects of visiting sand during the round were high.

When you check in, the bag drop guys get you on a cart immediately which allows you to drive to the range.  The grass stations were beautiful, the balls complimentary, and everything was in top shape.  At the end of the driving range was a medium sized putting green.  If I had a minor pet peeve it was that you couldn’t easily walk to the putting green from the clubhouse and staging area.  It seems like it was designed to have players putt last, and right up to the time before they teed off.  Again, minor issue, but if I just wanted to come out and putt, the jaunt to the area would be a little inconvenient.

Dustin Johnson display case in the clubhouse

The course was double teeing and we were sent off #10.  I find the back nine here more difficult than the front and #10 is a tough hole to start on.  While only 360 yards from the blue tees, the tee shot is tight and water comes right up to the front of the green.  Sure enough, I rinsed my approach, but manage to get up and down from 100 yards and was thrilled with my bogey 5.  We started our afternoon round on #1 which is a par-4 of roughly the same length but has a little more room off the tee and no water guarding.  For some reason my eye doesn’t fit #10 and I recall struggling there in previous rounds.  Given my druthers, I’d start on #1 every time.

Dawn at the short game practice area

The front nine features three par-4s over 425 yards and #9 actually had the tees at the back markers and was playing 472 yards.  Oddly enough, I was more comfortable hitting driver and a fairway wood into these longer holes than some of the shorter par 4s that were tight and well bunkered.  The premium on the par-5s is the second shot.  You don’t need a fairway wood but MUST stay out of fairway bunkers and water.  In short, there’s a premium on excellent ball striking.  The greens are fast but are not tricked up.  You have to avoid some of the mounding that surround the approaches because pitches from these lies to fast greens are difficult.  A word of caution on the par-4 15th hole.  The fairway runs diagonal and you must carry a marsh on the left and avoid woods on the right.  Take your range finder and shoot a comfortable distance on the far bank of the marsh to aim for.  I didn’t measure, thought I hit a perfect drive, and ended up in the woods and with a seven on my scorecard.

We played the blue tees at 6,600 yards and normally that’s a comfortable distance for me.  Out here, I’d say if you have a handicap of 5 or less, those markers are suitable but if your iron game is off, as mine was, you’ll get punished.  You’ll have a better chance to score playing the whites at 6,193.  Next time I may just try them.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Tee shot on #4. Par-4, 430 yards

As part of our Founders Group package, the cost to play TPC was $109.  Our replay was only $42 which was a genuine bargain for a course of this caliber.  After 27 holes, the lightning detection system went off and they had to clear the course.  It never rained but after a brief delay, we elected to call it quits and the course provided a 9-hole rain check which was good at any time.  At this price and the quality of operation and facility, this is a very good value.

Mike checks his yardage

Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)

Looking down at #7. Par 3, 176 yards.

The bag drop staff were excellent and had us loaded literally as soon as we arrived.  There was no waiting around to get set up and the organization of the place was evident.  The marshals on the course were courteous and had supplies of cool drinking water on their carts.  There were ample supplies of water at rest rooms and rest stops which is important when it gets hot and the humidity is stifling.  The lady running the beverage cart seemed a bit disinterested in servicing the players and was more focused on just completing her rounds of the course.  She did stop in the afternoon when one of our players made a point to flag her down.

The boys enjoying a sweet tea after the round

Overall Rating (4.25 out of 5.0)

I will be back to TPC and try my luck again next time I’m in Myrtle Beach.  This is an awesome golf course from the point of layout, conditioning, and operation.  Everything about TPC is first class.  Good luck if you give it a try!

View of #18 from the clubhouse. Par 5, 515 yards

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.

Golf is NOT Dead!

Bear marketIs the game dead?  No, and it’s not even on life support.  Some recent events and conversations have left folks with the perception that the game of golf is suffering a slow agonizing death.  Drew Harwell wrote a piece in today’s Washington Post today titled, “Whispers in the gallery get louder; Golf is dying.”  He sights some troubling figures from participation rates in the United States, like the reduction in US golfers playing at least one round per year.  This is down from 30 million in 2003 to 24 million last year.  This week Nike announced that they are shutting down their golf equipment business, and the top names in the men’s game are skipping Olympic golf at Rio.

Tracy, a beach blogger from Myrtle Beach by Word of Mouth sent along a great question about why so many golf courses in The Grand Strand area were closing and being replaced by housing developments.  And finally, yesterday at lunch, a friend was wondering why nobody was showing up to play the “perfectly fine” golf course in his parents gated retirement community.

Taken at face value these events point to a decline in the game, but these are merely leading indicators in a market correction.  As is often the case with real estate, stocks, oil, pork bellies, or beanie babies, when we are in the midst of a market shift, it’s difficult to observe from the inside.  Hard-core golf enthusiasts (I count myself as one) get emotional and defensive about the game.  We love the sport and want to share our joy and experiences while playing and watching, and when negative observations are made, get upset.  But take a step back and think about the reason this is happening.  There is one single explanation that is driving most if not all of the above phenomena.  Tiger Woods.

Tiger took the golfing world by storm from his Masters win in 1997 until the autumn of 2009.  This twelve-year run constituted a bubble in the market which was identified by an increased demand for equipment, clothing, an over-saturation of professional events (FedEx Cup started in 2005, IOC reinstated golf as an Olympic sport in 2009), and most importantly, increased participation by individuals that would not normally play golf.  Courses and resorts were built to accommodate the additional demand for rounds.  Clothing and equipment manufactures sprung to life to supply and outfit newly minted players and prize money and endorsement deals skyrocketed for professionals.  Greens fees and club membership costs soared.  The Tiger effect had bestowed great wealth on many in the corporate world and the elite playing class.  Amateurs were enamored with his chase of Jack Nicklaus’ major record, and his power, physique, and playing style were captivating.  Everyone bought into his brand.  The game was hot and so were the ancillary markets for equipment, real estate, and golf course design.

The bubble burst in November of 2009 when his wife buried a 9-iron in the back window of his SUV after his well publicized cheating scandal.

Middle age guys (like me) have always been the backbone of the game.  We are the majority of players and continued to play at the same rates, unabated by the scandal; but enough of the genuflecting newbies soured on Tiger’s behavior, and when he exited the national stage, pulled out of the game, which started the downward trend in rounds played.  Declining participation is commonly mis-perceived as the struggle to get poor kids or women to take up the game, or to grow the game globally.  While there are obvious barriers to entry such as cost and time, they have always been there and probably will be, but the trend is actually a return to the normal rates of participation.

Sponsors dropped Tiger (except for Nike) and the demand for equipment and clothing ebbed.  Greens fees at public and upscale daily fee courses started to discount, as tee time supply exceeded the demand for rounds.  Some courses could not survive and closed, which was what Tracy was seeing in Myrtle Beach.  While interest rates remained low it was still cheap enough to borrow money and the real estate market began to fill the void in the golf market which is why housing developments have sprung up on old golf course land.

So rest easy and go stock up on newly discounted Nike golf equipment.  Just because Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Dustin Johnson aren’t playing the over-hyped event at Rio doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the game.  We’re market correcting and that’s okay.

Play well!