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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

Genuflecting In The Temple of Tiger (Four Truths)

Photo of Tiger at Valspar from Golf Digest

Before the believers and the doubters (myself included) overreact to what went down at Valspar, let’s take an objective look at the infallible truths about Tiger’s comeback.

Truth #1:  The smartest thing he did was fire Sean Foley.  Tiger had gone from artist to scientist under Foley’s tutelage and it was just painfully awful watching Tiger twist himself into the proverbial swing pretzel Foley was trying to create.  Tiger is now un-coached.  See any of that at Honda or Valspar?  Nope.  Vision, feel, and imagination are back; watch out!

Truth #2:  Tiger has changed his swing because of his spinal fusion repair and it’s working.  There’s less rotational movement, less torque, a more upright finish, and it’s producing plenty of length.  However, Tiger’s weak point is his surgically repaired legs.  The foundation has crumbled before on several occasions.  Is his lower body strong or a peanut brittle bar ready to snap at any moment?

Truth #3:  Tiger is smart, knows how to compete, and wants to win so badly he’ll do anything it takes, including abandoning equipment that he was previously wedded to.  Also see Truth #1.

Truth #4:  Tiger’s comeback has been brilliant but I still need to see him compete on a course that demands you hit driver consistently.  Genesis at Riviera requires superior driving and he struck it poorly.  He played brilliantly off the tee at Valspar, frequently controlling distance, direction, and trajectory with long iron stingers, but the way you conquer Augusta is to bomb it on the 4s and 5s and get wedges in from the fairways.  Can he win The Masters without consistent performance from the big dog?

I wouldn’t be surprised if he won at Bay Hill this week but The Masters is the 800 pound gorilla in the corner of the room.  You, I, and everyone else are thinking the same thing.  Can he do it?  Well, can he?  Thoughts?

 

The Golf Gap: Connecting The Dots

Playing from a fairway bunker at Oyster Bay

 

How big is your golf gap?  Your gap is the difference between what you know is the right thing to practice and what you actually practice.  Your goal is to lower your scores through effective practice, and folks who have been playing and studying the game for a long time should have smaller gaps than beginners.  The smaller you can shrink your gap, the more rapidly you should improve.

My gap is larger than it should be.  I had a bit of an epiphany last weekend and the experience might serve a useful purpose going forward.  It started when I read the article by Dustin Johnson in the February 2018 Golf Digest on how he practices.  DJ was always an excellent ball striker but he truly became a superb player after he adopted his current routine of dedicating 80% of his range time to full and partial wedge shots.  Considering how great he is with the driver, I was surprised to learn how little he practiced with it.  Bottom line: his weakness was inside 100 yards and he addressed it.

Aligning my own game to DJ’s is like comparing a rowboat to a battleship, but his routine is instructive and should be copied.  I reviewed my 2017 season performance notes and most of my good rounds were preceded by lessons and practice with my wedges.  Like DJ, my goal last year was to get more consistent inside 100 yards.  From some mechanical changes my pro helped me with (using primarily my wedges), my proximity improved greatly inside 100 yards and I began to hit it longer.  I became enamored with the newfound length and in accordance, began hitting more practice balls with the driver.  That’s when my performance dipped.  Argh!  My gap had widened.

Last weekend I hit the range with the goal of closing the gap and connecting the dots between practice and play.  I only worked on hitting partial and full wedge shots.  The contact was excellent and transitioned nicely to the few shots I mixed in with the longer clubs.  What I would advise is that you hit the range and work on your wedges.  See your pro if you need help with your technique.  Then jot down what you are working on.  This makes it easy to recall past practice that preceded good play, and of course, any “ah ha” moments you may discover.  Finally, one caveat, if you are filming your own swing for analysis purposes, hit shots with a medium iron and a driver, as a wedge swing will often be too short and compact to reveal some critical swing flaws.

Good luck with your gap analysis and play well!

After a rainy round at TPC of Myrtle Beach

 

Crack The Egg On The 2018 Golf Season!

As luck would have it, we’ve hit a stretch of warm weather in the DMV and I broke out the sticks yesterday and opened my season.  I hate to use the word “breakthrough” on the first day because my intention was just banging rust off the various components, but I did make a welcome discovery and was so inspired, that I reserved a tee time for next Sunday.

The day started at the range with a small bucket and some crisp pitching wedge shots.  Tell me if you’ve ever done this:  you start working on your swing in January after about five swings.  This was followed by a roulette wheel of pulls, snap hooks, and push cuts with the longer clubs.  No worries; there were no expectations other than to stretch the golf muscles and not endure any pain in my left elbow.  I’m not sure what compelled me to start swing analysis, but there were only 25 balls left.  No harm – no foul.

The excitement started when I got to the short game area.  After chipping and pitching for 15 minutes, I brought out the flat stick.  Recall at the end of last season I was in a dilemma with trying to line a putt up straight.  Nothing was working.  Change of stance, ball position, a bunch of new putters – nothing.  After a suggestion from Catherine Baker, I made the simple change of lining up my putts using the straight line on the side of my Titleist golf ball.  Bingo!  The benefit of this change is that I have confidence in my aim, and it forces me to commit to a line and not change it while I’m over the ball.  If I seriously need to change lines, I’ll need to re-mark and start my pre-shot routine all over again – at the risk of putting slower than Jim Furyk.  Thank you Catherine!

So there you have it.  Simple change, crisis averted, confidence built, new outlook on life, on the tee next weekend.  Stay tuned and play well!

 

 

 

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

Fantastic Opportunity to Challenge Myself

476 yard par-4 #10 at Northwest

Yesterday, I played Northwest Golf Course in Silver Spring, Maryland.  We usually get out here four or five times per year and on this beautiful Masters Sunday, we enjoyed crystal clear skies and comfortable 70 degree temperatures.  With perfect scoring conditions,  I shot a ho-hum 81 from the blue tees, which play one set up and measure 6,827 yards.  While I left the golf course a bit frustrated with my swing, I was tremendously excited because I learned that Northwest would be hosting 2017 U.S. Open qualifying on May 8th!

When this Ault & Clark design was built in 1964, it was actually constructed with the anticipation of hosting a U.S. Open.  But with Congressional Country Club located in the same market, the dream never materialized and Northwest became one of the strongest municipal tests, and a favorite for players who like to let the shaft out.

A couple years ago, I wrote a piece theorizing on how tour pros might fare at your local muni.  It’s no longer speculation.  I get to find out myself because I’m going to join them!  I know what you’re thinking, “Brian, you hack; you need a 1.4 USGA index to enter qualifying for the U.S. Open.”  Of course my handicap is not that low and I won’t be in the field, but I’ll be playing the day before on the same track and trying to test the heck out of myself; or the day after.  We’ll be teeing it up from the tips and at 7,376 yards, probably hitting driver 3WD into a lot of the par-4s and hoping to keep the ball on these undulating razor-fast greens.

My group never plays the back tees out here; it’s just too long.  In the decades I’ve been playing Northwest, I’ve only attempted the back tees a couple times.  Once, as a much younger player maybe 25 years ago, I played one of the best rounds of my life in the rain and shot a 5-over 77 from the tips.  Now, I’m happy with 77 from the regular tees.  What are my chances of breaking 90?  This is going to be humbling.

Have you ever had the opportunity to play a tour caliber competition course very close to the real event?  If so, how did it go?

Play well.

2017 Golf Season – Reset!

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico at Treasure Island, FL

Hold the cherry blossoms in DC and hold the azaleas in Augusta!  One of those god awful nor’easter things is bearing down on the DMV today and will be dropping a foot of the fluffy stuff.

After getting out and playing in January and February in one of the most delightful winters on record (zero snowfall), my luck has finally run out.  Last month, I was fortunate enough to practice on five separate occasions and had made progress on my swing changes, but it’s really cold now and the season is on hold.  Yesterday, in some misguided sense of idiocy, I decided to hit balls in the wind with temperatures in the mid 30s, and didn’t do my game any favors, so maybe it is time for a break.

Actually, I’m very thankful that I got to play at all, and that I got back to town safely on Saturday before the airlines began cancelling flights.  So while you sit by the fire and wait with me for the courses to clear, enjoy a couple pics from sunny Florida.

Play well!

Orioles spring training at Sarasota, FL
Kayaking the mangroves at Saint Petersburg, FL
Florida Aquarium at Tampa, FL
With Gilda at Busch Gardens Tampa, FL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

What Motivates You to Pursue Excellence?

Photo of the author on the range working with the driver.
Photo of the author on the range working with the driver.

What gets you up in the morning to go work on your golf game?

As human beings, we are motivated either one of two ways; extrinsically (pursuit of money, titles, things, etc.),  or intrinsically (praise for a job well done, solving a tough problem, or the self satisfaction of simply improving at something).  Don’t say “both” because you favor one or the other.  Which is it?

I returned from a session at the driving range today, where I was practicing something new, and started wondering why I keep working at this crazy game.  I see bits of improvement here and there but basically maintain the same level of competence from year to year.  What’s my motivation?  I realized that the simple pursuit of improvement (the journey) was providing me the greatest amount of satisfaction.  It keeps me going and definitely puts me in the intrinsic camp.

I like where I’m sitting after reading Mark Manson’s new article, “The Disease of More” where he details the travails of the 1980 Los Angeles Lakers and of folks in general who experience success too fast.  The “Disease”was originally coined by Pat Riley (Lakers coach) who portended that championship teams are often dethroned not by other better teams but by forces that demotivate within their own organization.  The Lakers reached the pinnacle and weren’t content to be a great basketball team.  They lost their motivation by pursuing more money, cars, women, endorsements, and other objects outside of basketball, which ultimately led to their downfall.  Sound like someone we know in the golf world?

From espn.com
From espn.com

I would love to get inside the head of two individuals and understand their motivation.  The first is Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.  Nick has the titles, he has the dollars, he has the legacy, but I hear him speak often in very process oriented terms.  He sometimes seems joyless in victory because his teams failed to execute on some fine detail of his game plan.  Is it possible he is totally intrinsically motivated in his pursuit of perfection, and views all the victories and championships as a simple extrinsic reward that comes naturally with success, but doesn’t particularly excite him?

The second is Bill Belichick, Patriots head coach.  We are all fascinated by his level of achievement and the secrecy that surrounds his thinking and operation.  Does he want to stick it to the world?  Become the greatest coach of all time?  Or does he just enjoy the grind of a head-to-head match-up across the field from a peer on a weekly basis?  What goes on behind those beady eyes and under that hood?  A lot of good secrets for sure.  If he ever writes a book, I’ll be first in line.

photo from durangoherald.com
photo from durangoherald.com

As a full time desk jockey and a part time golfer, I’m thankful for my intrinsic tendencies and my ability to hold the line on the quality of my game.  For me, the joy is in the never ending journey.  What about you?  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.

 

Thistle Golf Club – Course Review

Summary

Thistle Golf Club
Thistle Golf Club

On Friday, June 3rd, 2016, our travel group had the pleasure of playing Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach, NC.  Thistle had not been on our regular Myrtle Beach course rotation but it is now.  We last played it about 10 years ago and the course has only been open since 1999.  It has grown into a fabulous track and should be on your MUST play list of northern end courses.

I will usually poll my playing group at dinner on their likes and dislikes about the day’s course and the group was hard pressed to fine any negatives.  In short, we loved it.  Thistle is a straight forward superbly conditioned course with all Bermuda playing surfaces.  There are no trick holes on the two nines we played and if you drive it well, you can shorten some of the par-4s considerably and score.  If not, you’ll struggle because there is a lot of water on the tee shots.  Of the three nines (MacKay, Cameron, and Stewart), we played MacKay-Cameron as Stewart was closed for maintenance.

Right out of the gate on MacKay #1, you have hidden water on the left and an approach over water, so keep your tee shot right center.  Most other shots have a clear line of sight for the player to follow.  Trust your aiming points and if you’re hitting it solid, you’ll be in for an enjoyable round.

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Mike on the range
Mike on the range

We started off our day warming up on the beautiful driving range.  There are 12 all grass hitting stations and a bag of 40 balls costs $5.00.  Much to our surprise, all the range balls were brand new Titleist NXT Tours and were in excellent condition.  This added to the sense of class, and to the feeling that we were entering into the realm of a hidden gem.

The clubhouse is a modern well appointed beauty and the entire premises has that feel of a classic Scottish course.  There is an ample sized putting green and pitching area and all are located very conveniently to the starter’s station for efficient traffic control.  Out on the course, there are several rest stops with modern clean bathrooms, as well as water fountains and good supplies of divot mix replacement bottles for your golf cart.  This struck me as a good idea and probably helped keep the golf course in its great condition.

View of the putting green from the clubhouse
View of the putting green from the clubhouse

Value (4.25 out of 5.0)

Thistle is a high end play but doesn’t charge high end prices.  The replay rate was $45 (a steal for this caliber of course).  I suppose you could ding them for not including balls in your greens fee but that’s a nitpick when you figure the overvalue you are getting for the golf experience.

With Mike at the par-3, 4th hole, Cameron nine
With Mike at the par-3, 4th hole, Cameron nine

Customer Experience (4.5 out of 5.0)

The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in and got us loaded and on our way promptly.  The gentleman manning the desk in the pro shop was courteous and helpful, but the lady in charge at mid-day went over and above.  Three of us badly wanted to replay and came in right after the a.m. round to inquire.  The lady said the tee sheet was full until 4:00 p.m. (it was 1:00 p.m.) but she could get us out again if we wanted to go in 10 minutes.  She made sure we had time to grab a lunch to go and a drink, and got us back out into a sweet spot that allowed us to play the afternoon in just under four hours.  We very much appreciated her flexibility and loved our afternoon round.

Then, our group leader found out he lost his car keys and the same lady let him come behind the desk to use the phone, call a tow, and take all the time he needed.  The cart guys helped search the premises for the missing keys which was also appreciated.  We found them locked in our car and resolved the situation with their help in 1/2 hour.

The course would get a perfect 5.0 except that each of the golf carts were equipped with two coolers and neither had any ice.  Virtually every course in Myrtle will provide ice in your coolers and hand towels, but there were none.  A very minor inconvenience but not perfect.

Mike sizing up the tee shot on the par-3, 3rd hole - MacKay nine
Mike sizing up the tee shot on the par-3, 3rd hole – MacKay nine

Overall Rating (4.5 out of 5.0)

I would love to come back and try the Stewart nine when it’s open.  As it was, we played the MacKay-Cameron combination from the blue tees (one up).  The course measured 6,495 and I carded an 8-over 80.  Thistle is a fabulous play.  I’ll be back and you should too on your next trip to Myrtle Beach!

Chris on the par-5 ninth, Cameron nine
Chris on the par-5 ninth, Cameron nine

Barefoot Norman – Course Review

Summary

Clubhouse at Barefoot Resort
Clubhouse at Barefoot Resort

Our travel group played the Barefoot Norman course in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Wednesday, June 1, 2016.  Barefoot Resort hosts three other courses named after their architects (Love, Fazio, and Dye) three of the courses play out of a single tremendous size clubhouse (Dye has its own).  What strikes you as you arrive at the main clubhouse is the level of organization and sophistication to the golf operation.  They have to be efficient with one central area servicing all three courses.

Make sure to get to the course an hour early if you like to warm up.  Barefoot has a beautiful all grass driving range facility with complimentary balls and ample hitting space, but it’s about half a mile down the main road and is only accessed by shuttle once you’ve parked and unloaded.  The bag attendants will call the shuttle when you’re ready to go hit but you do need about 15 minutes extra time for the transit.  Our group either warmed up on the range or putted, but didn’t have time for both and we arrived 45 minutes ahead of our time.  A special shout out goes to our shuttle driver who unloaded a golf bag for an elderly lady and took it out to the range to make sure she was set up with her clubs and balls at a hitting station.

The range shuttle at Barefoot.
The range shuttle at Barefoot.

On the course, Greg Norman’s layout is very playable for every handicap level.  The playing surfaces are Bermuda on the tees and through the green but the putting surfaces are Bent, which I was very comfortable on.  There are no tricked up holes or greens with buried elephants to frustrate you.  Just a classy straight forward well designed golf course with excellent conditioning.  The routing takes you through a mix of isolated holes in the natural landscape, gentle doglegs, with a few holes running through the community.  At no time did we feel any of the condos were intruding on our play.

Ronnie tees off on the par-4 fourth hole.
Ronnie tees off on the par-4 fourth hole.

The beauty in this course is in the par-3s.  #3 is long and narrow with water in front.  #7 (shown below) is a shorter hole protected by a large waste bunker, and #10 (also below) is the signature hole that plays about 180 yards and runs downhill along the Inter-coastal Waterway.  There’s always some party boat or jet ski navy cruising by to add entertainment value.

Par-3, 7th hole
Par-3, 7th hole
The author on the par-3 10th hole
The author on the par-3 10th hole

Value (3.25 out of 5.0)

We played on Wednesday when you get a $20 price break on your greens fees.  Ours was built into our package, but this is not an inexpensive play.  Barefoot is a high end resort and the Norman course is very nice, but we elected to forego the $60 replay charge and play in the afternoon for $45 back at The Legends Parkland course, where we were staying.  I’ve played the Fazio and Dye courses here which are also good plays, but I’d place all three a notch below other top end courses like True Blue, Grand Dunes, and Tidewater.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

Big plus is the size and amenities available in the clubhouse and driving range.  We dined after our round in the sit down restaurant and the food and service were excellent.  Unfortunately the staging area can get really crowded when they are setting up play for three courses.  For some inexplicable reason they located an outdoor bar right in the staging area where customers can drink or sit for a light meal.  Initially I thought this was a cool idea but after seeing the foot and cart traffic trying to share the same space, had to reconsider.  Barefoot also has a policy of trying to limit unnatural objects on the golf courses.  That means no water coolers or trash cans.  On this day, the weather was perfect but several years back, I had to quit from dehydration during a round on the Norman course.  I would have loved to have had regular water stops available and that negative experience is etched in my psyche, so I brought extra water in my golf bag that I didn’t need.  Still, the marshals brought coolers with water and beverage cart hit us up several times.  There is one rest stop servicing the 10th and 13th tee with a bathroom and water fountain.

Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)

The shuttle driver and bag drop guys were top notch, as was the lady running the beverage cart.  Marshals were friendly and ready to assist.  But the golf carts are equipped with GPS units that bombard you with adds.  On every hole, you need to touch the screen to clear the adds and get back to the golf course map.  Everyone in our group found this as an irritant.  The rating here would have gone higher with time to practice my putting after hitting the range, but the shuttle time compressed everything.  Once we hit the course we were in for an excellent relaxing experience.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Norman was a solid well maintained golf course and very fun to play.  We played the black tees (one set up) at 6,374 yards and I carded an 8-over par 79.

The bar in the staging area
The bar in the staging area