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Myrtle Beach 2016 – Sometimes Less Is More

Our golf travel group visited The Grand Strand for a long anticipated week of overindulgence from May 29 to June 5th and I finally learned the lesson that sometimes less is more.  It has its practical applications in life and sometimes needs to be learned and re-learned on the golf course.

Our trip was a wild ride from the start as we traveled to South Carolina during the height of Tropical Storm Bonnie.  The slow moving system lingered in the area until Wednesday and while no day was a total washout, we got wet during a couple of rounds.

Thunderhead building over The Norman course at Barefoot Resort
Thunderhead building over the Norman course at Barefoot Resort

Despite the rain, I still played 10 times over six days and loved every minute of it even though I ran myself ragged by the end.  For the week, I played:

Monday: Parkland a.m., Parkland p.m.

Tuesday: Oyster Bay a.m.

Wednesday:  Barefoot Norman a.m., Parkland p.m.

Thursday:  Heathland a.m., Mooreland p.m.

Friday: Thistle Club a.m., Thistle Club p.m.

Saturday: True Blue a.m.

Preparation:  I had been working on my short game in an effort to get rid of a 5-year case of the chip yips and boy did the work pay off.  My technique and mental game changes left me in a confident state and in complete control around the greens (post coming shortly on what has been working).  I was able to save countless strokes in a week where I hit a lot of loose shots with my irons.  Oddly enough, I drove it solid and straight but made some bad swings from a lot of ‘A’ positions.  On these difficult venues you are going to make bogeys, but in years past poor ball striking and poor short game would have resulted in several rounds ruined early with the dreaded “other” rearing its ugly head, but I knew early I was in business after making only one double bogey in my first 54 holes.  For the trip I had only three “others” in 180 holes played which thrilled me to no end.

I never went really low (76 at Parkland was my best round), but until the last day, played extremely steady and kept it in the high 70s and low 80s.  Unfortunately, the lesson of less is more had to be learned at True Blue (one of my top 5 favorite courses in the area).  I was starting to feel fatigued the previous day at Thistle (review coming) and by Saturday morning, was very sore and tired.  We warmed up at True Blue and I struggled to make any type of athletic move, even with a short iron.  I hit about 30 balls in an effort to get loose and never made solid contact.  Sensing it would be a rough day, I went through the motions, enjoyed the company of my playing partners, and bunted it around for an 89.

Smiling at True Blue before my final round 89.
Still smiling at True Blue before my final round 89.

It had been a long week of playing a lot of golf in the sun, heat, and rain, and everyone was pretty whipped after our round at True Blue.  We had the common sense to forgo one final replay and headed off to the Dead Dog Saloon at the MarshWalk in Murrells Inlet for some refreshment.

At the world famous Suck Bang Blow biker bar in Murrells Inlet, SC.
Stopped by the world famous Suck Bang Blow biker bar in Murrells Inlet, SC.

Every year, we make the 7.5 hour drive to Myrtle Beach from Maryland but this year we decided to fly.  What a great decision.  The one hour hop from Baltimore on Spirit Airlines was effortless and left us in a refreshed state of mind and body.  The drive down is not bad but returning in all that traffic after a fatiguing week of golf is tough and I think we’ve probably made our last drive down.  In coming years, I’ll need to think about conserving my energy for the end of the trip.  Yes, 10-12 rounds of golf over six days may be too much and was a painful lesson.  😦

So that’s it for Myrtle Beach 2016.  Stay tuned for course reviews from Thistle Golf Club and Barefoot – Norman.  Play well!

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Possum Trot – Course Review

Putting green and cart barn at Possum Trot
Putting green and cart barn at Possum Trot

This is the fifth and final installment of course reviews from our 2015 Myrtle Beach trip.  We played Possum Trot in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday, June 9, 2015.  Possum Trot was the first course on the Glens package that included Shaftesbury Glen, Glen Dornoch, and Heather Glen.  The course has that muni look and feel and I would advise playing it first or last in your line-up depending on whether you like to ease into your week or finish on a soft note.  We had it second behind Tidewater and definitely felt the drop in class.  In retrospect, I probably would have scheduled Possum Trot last in a six day trip because the urge to replay at this course wasn’t that great, and after 11 rounds in six days, neither is your energy level.

The strength of Possum Trot is in the par threes.  There are some beauties and the 13th (last photo below) is the best and brings back an awesome memory because I hit my best shot of the trip here (4-iron from 199 yards to one foot).  The surfaces are all Bermuda and the greens were running smooth and medium slow except for #6, 7, and 8.  This group is in a low area on the front nine and had been under stress.  Aerated and chewed up, these three were barely playable and badly in need of better air circulation.  Playing conditions on the rest of the course were decent, but the concrete on the cart paths was crumbling in several spots and was in need of some serious repair.

In our morning round, we played the white tees,  If you are driving it well, it felt like you could overpower the course which I did, even though I’m not a big hitter.  I had a lot of wedges into the par-4s and counted numerous scoring opportunities on my way to a 1-over 73.  In the afternoon we replayed from the blue tees from 600+ yards back and got rained on a bit, and the course played considerably more difficult.

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

Again, excellent value as part of the overall Glens package, but the conditions on this track were not up to snuff or at least to the other Glen courses standards.  Also, when we checked in, the pro shop gave us three baskets of balls to share between six golfers, which I thought was odd since balls were included as part of the package.  Couldn’t tell if this was a nickle and dime job or just an oversight.

Mark on the par-5 first hole
Mark on the par-5 first hole

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

The course works from a no-frills very small clubhouse that’s essentially a pro-shop snack bar combo.  The bag drop area was a little cramped and chaotic when we arrived because the morning men’s group was arriving as well, and they didn’t seem to have enough staff to unload cars and load carts.  There is an all grass driving range and putting green with ample room to work on each, and a smaller putting green next to the first tee for those waiting in the queue.  The overall rating is reflective of a mid to lower class facility, across-the-board.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

Once we were loaded, the starter was organized and got us off without issue.  For those of us that replayed in the afternoon, we had our pick of tee times and the course emptied out fast after the men’s group had concluded play.

One of the guys in our group (Mike) is an ardent animal lover and was feeding a squirrel peanuts as we worked our way around the morning round.  This little guy followed us to the clubhouse and observed the pocket that Mike stored his peanuts in and actually chewed a hole in his golf bag to get at the stash while we were breaking for lunch.  We came out and Mike was not too pleased about the hole in his bag, and that one of the cart guys had witnessed the whole fiasco and not taken any steps to shoo the animal away, and was actually laughing with amusement.  Well, this was probably half Mike’s fault, but he didn’t appreciate the non-assistance from the staff member.

We played the white tees at 6,343 yards and par of 72 with a course rating of 70.4/118.  Possum Trot is best used as a warm-up course for your golf trip, or if you are into playing middle to top-tier courses, you could skip this one.  It was a fun day, but I’d hesitate to return because of the conditioning issues with greens 6-8, and there are several better alternatives on the north end of the Strand.

Overall Rating (2.75 out of 5.0)

Par-3 13th hole
Par-3 13th hole

Heather Glen – Course Review

Staging area in the morning at Heather Glen
Staging area in the morning at Heather Glen

We played the red, white, and blue target golf adventure that is Heather Glen, in Little River, SC on Saturday, June 13, 2015.  This golf course is tight off the tee, and coming from the wide open expanses of Shaftesbury Glen the previous day, required an urgent push of the mental reset button.  If you are wild with your driver, expect a long day.  I mixed in enough 3WDs  and was thinking well, and while I didn’t hit many greens, managed to keep it in play and out of trouble.

What we loved about Heather Glen is the total seclusion you enjoy on all three of the nines.  There are no houses on the property and none of the holes impose upon each other so you feel comfortable and spaced, even with the tightness of the layout.  I have played the White nine several years ago, but on this day we traversed the Red/Blue combination.

The playing surfaces are Bermuda through the green, and the greens were in good condition albeit rolling smooth and medium slow.  Big deep bunkers with good course sand adorn much of the course and since the greens are so small, unless you can thread it like Jim Furyk, you will be hitting your share of bunker shots and assorted wedges.  The green-side sand texture was similar to the courses we play in Maryland and I had a good comfortable feel in them and played my sand shots with excellent spin and distance control.

When you arrive at the course, they set you up with range balls and you traverse the one-man wide wooden bridge out to the grass range.  Some of the lies were a little bare on the range and a few of the fairways were a bit scratchy, but the course was in good condition overall.

Heading to the range
Heading to the range

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Playing on the Glens package with complimentary cart fees, lunch, range balls and replays was great.  We thought we’d get out on the White nine for the afternoon round but didn’t/couldn’t and the value rating would go a bit higher if we could have played all 27 in one day.

Jim lining up to bust one off #1 on the Blue nine
Jim lining up to bust one off #1 on the Blue nine

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

Heather Glen has an older modest sized club house, similar in size and stature to Glen Dornoch.  The driving range can handle 15 golfers comfortably, but the practice chipping green (shown above in the first photo) is a single flag in a small area where the grass is allowed to grow.  I’d like them to move this or redesign to something more inviting and accommodating.  As it is now, it’s too close to the pathway to the range and you feel squeezed.  The putting green is large and in good condition, and is located close to the staging area as well.  On the course, we found an ample supply of drinking water every third hole, which was great considering how oppressive the summer heat was.

Customer Experience (2.25 out of 5.0)

The cart guy  was helpful and very hard working and was there from dawn to dusk.  We were visited by the beverage cart with great frequency which was appreciated, but where Heather Glen came up short is at the starter shack.  There was no issue with our morning round but when I checked into the pro shop for our afternoon round, one of my playing partners confirmed with the starter outside that we could play the White nine and then switch to the Red or Blue at the turn.  Excited at the prospect of playing all 27 holes, we drove to the 1st tee five minutes later only to find a group already waiting,  and they were stuck behind a twosome waiting in the fairway.  The starter was nowhere to be found and had made the critical mistake of losing control of his tee.  With 27 holes and groups crossing over and replaying, the starter needed to be out in front controlling traffic and he wasn’t.  After a brief dialog with the group on the tee, they said they would let us go first but we were both still waiting for the twosome in the fairway.  We noticed the 1st tee was open on the Blue nine and elected to shoot over there and tee off.  10 minutes later, we noticed the twosome that was in front of us on the White, behind us on the Blue!  They had gotten frustrated by the pace of play, quit the White and restarted on Blue as well.

On this day, we played the Red/Blue combination from the blue tees which measured 6,773 yards with a par of 72 and a course rating of 73.3/138.  I shot a 79.  Heather Glen is a quality play and is worth the trip but they need to manage the tee more proactively.

Overall Rating (3.25 out of 5.0)

#9 green on the Red nine
#9 green on the Red nine

Glen Dornoch – Course Review

Glen Dornoch Clubhouse
Glen Dornoch Clubhouse

We played Glen Dornoch Golf Links in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Thursday, June 11, 2015.  This was our second of four rounds on the Glens package which is one of the best value plays in the area.  Every visitor to the Grand Strand should make it a point to play Glen Dornoch because the layout is unique, the party-like atmosphere along the Intracoastal Waterway is very entertaining, and the course has an outstanding set of finishing holes.

We arrived for our 8:00 a.m. starting time and there weren’t six cars in the parking lot.  As we warmed up on the all grass driving range, we completely had the course to ourselves and did not feel rushed at all.  I believe we were the first two groups off, and didn’t see another set of golfers until our replay round after lunch.  As it turned out, this was a hot and humid day and Glen Dornoch was playing wet and long.  One of the big challenges on this trip was playing on different conditions at a new course every day and Glen Dornoch fit the bill, especially after playing in the wind and hard fast surfaces at Pawleys the day before.  We immediately noticed our approaches making huge ball marks and felt we could attack the flags without hesitation.

The course opens up with four fairly easy holes to let you ease into your game and then hits you upside the head with a 560 yard par-5 and it’s game on!  As you move through the front, you come to #8 which is a brutal dogleg right par-5 that plays 540 yards into the wind coming off the waterway (photo below of the approach shot).   It’s followed by the long par-4 ninth, that parallels the waterway and demands power and accuracy.

The entire course is about placement off the tee, but requires that you drive it solid to get in the correct positions.  #16, 17, and 18 are some of the toughest finishing holes on The Strand.  #16 is a downhill par-4 of 413 yards with ample room to land your drive.  The yardage book says favor the right but the left is a better spot.  Wherever you play from, when you arrive at your ball, you are faced with an approach to a target about the size of a gnat’s rear end – good luck!  #17 is a 182 yard par-3 that plays into the wind with trouble everywhere, and #18 is a par-4 of 427 yards with a split fairway that dares you to hit it about 230 yards on the left route to clear the marsh and get a shorter shot in.  I played the bailout (chicken) route twice but managed to par it both times using my lob wedge, which was the highlight of my afternoon.  If you can play the last three holes in 2-over par, you are doing fine.

Mike and Dylan at the clubhouse
Mike and Dylan at the clubhouse

Value (4.5 out of 5.0)

The Glens package (see Shaftesbury Glen review) is an incredible deal.  For golf nuts and enthusiasts who are crazy enough to play 36 per day for six straight days, the prospect of free golf in the afternoons is tempting.  The state of the national golf economy is in general decline but there are some deals to be had in Myrtle Beach, and this is probably the best package we’ve ever played on.

Facilities (3.25 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse at Glen Dornoch is of modest size and has a decent grill to get your food.  Complimentary lunch on the package was a sandwich or hotdog, soda and chips.  The choices didn’t vary much from course to course, although they did offer pizza at Shaftesbury Glen.  You can eat inside or take it on the porch and enjoy watching the players finishing on #9, or just hang out and enjoy all the sightseeing boats and jet skis flying up and down on the Intracoastal Waterway.  The boat horns, occasional music, and jovial atmosphere make play along the finishing holes entertaining and unique.

There was the same minor issue with non-inclusion of sand mix on the golf carts, as was the case at all the other Glens courses.  Again, if you are playing on Bermuda fairways, you should be filling your divots.

#9 green in front of the Intracoastal Waterway
#9 green in front of the Intracoastal Waterway

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

We paced ourselves easily in the morning round and played in a little over four hours.  Again, we had the course to ourselves except for frequent visits from the beverage cart, which was appreciated because of the heat and the need to stay hydrated.  There was a good supply of cold water coolers around the course at regular intervals.

It was definitely a slow day at the course, but the small cloth bags for range balls that we had used in the morning were still littered about the range as we teed off for our afternoon round.  While very minor, the staff should have cleaned up the range area and kept it looking sharp.  We actually ran into a couple groups in the afternoon round, but we were playing as a twosome and decided to pace ourselves a bit and give them room.

On this day, we played the blue tees at 6,446 yards which played to a par of 72 and a course rating of 71.2/137.  I carded an 83.  Glen Dornoch was a great place to spend 10 hours on a hot lazy Thursday afternoon.  I will be back!

Mike on #1 tee
Mike on #1 tee

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Party boat behind #8 green.
Party boat behind #8 green.

Shaftesbury Glen – Course Review

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My travel group played Shaftesbury Glen in Conway, SC on Friday, June 12, 2015.  This was the third of four courses in our Glens summer golf package which was a tremendous value.  Shaftesbury is unique in the Glens group because it’s the only course with A-1 Bent grass greens.  The rest are Bermuda, and golfers from the north and Mid-Atlantic areas who are used to playing on Bent will find Shaftesbury’s surfaces a welcome respite from the grainy tough to read Bermuda that is prevalent in the Myrtle Beach area.  The issue with Bent in this climate is maintainability during hot weather.  It was hot when we played and we found the greens smooth, a bit slow, very firm, and difficult to hold approach shots.  I loved the surfaces after playing all week on Bermuda and adapted quickly in my morning round, taking only 28 putts.

Shaftesbury is a straight forward course with no surprises.  Located several miles inland, you don’t get the benefit of the persistent on-shore breeze that the courses closer to the coast are accustomed to, and as a result, the course doesn’t dissipate moisture well and can get and stay wet in the summer humidity.

Architected by Clyde Johnson, you’ll find the sight-lines off the tee very pleasing to your eye which should allow you to drive the ball well.  There’s ample room to miss on most tee shots and the bunkering is beautifully done and precisely frames many of the holes.  The layout is very flat but many of the greens are raised about six to 10 feet above the fairway and are protected by deep bunkers with good quality hard coarse sand.  You need to add about 1/2 club on the approaches to handle these benign elevation changes.

Fran getting ready to play.
Fran getting ready to play.

Value (4.5 out of 5.0)

Our round was part of The Glens package, which included golf, carts, lodging, free range balls, lunch, and complimentary replays on the four Glens courses (we added rounds at Tidewater and Pawleys) for a total price of $550.  You simply cannot beat this value for your golfing dollar.  I didn’t think to ask about the regular replay rate, but there is a nominal fee for range balls (I believe $3.00) for non-package players.  Again, with the all-inclusive rate, we had nothing to focus on except playing our best golf and enjoying ourselves.

The green at #5
The green at #5

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

Conditioning of the course, all-grass driving range, and practice putting green was very good.  There were ample supplies of good cool drinking water at regular intervals around the course, which was important because of the unyielding heat.

What’s odd about Shaftesbury is the staging area configuration.  The bag drop is right next to the clubhouse but the driving range and putting green are at the other end of the parking lot and while there are plenty of cart parking spots next to the range, they do not let you ride to the range.  So you’re left with the option of hauling your bag the length of the parking lot and hauling it back to put it on a cart before play.  This was the case several years ago when I first played the course and oddly remains the practice.  I suppose they feel they may lose a measure of control if they let golfers ride to the range, but I would advise they open up and try it.

Another commonality with the course and the three other Glen courses is the lack of sand mix on the golf carts.  Most courses with Bermuda fairways provide a bottle of sand mix to fill in fairway divots, but there was none.  Not sure if the greens crew repaired divots around the course every evening, but taking a chunk of the course out with your irons and not repairing felt awkward.  This should be the responsibility of the golfers and the mix should be provided.

Dylan, on his way to a career best 76!
Dylan, on his way to a career best 76!

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

Service from the clubhouse staff was excellent, especially the very nice lady staffing the grill.  She went out of her way on the little things like refilling our water bottles from the soda fountain, providing free refills on soft drinks, to busing our tables.  We noticed and a shout out goes to her.

There were five of us who wanted to replay in the afternoon.  Certainly an awkward number, so we asked the starter if we could play as a fivesome.  He said we needed to tee off as a threesome and a twosome and if nobody pressed us after we were out on the course, to join up.  We played the last 15 holes in the afternoon round as a fivesome and had a delightful time.

On this day, I shot a 76 from the white tees which measured 6,445 yards and played to a par of 72 with a course rating of 71.5/135.   Shaftesbury Glen is a fun play and will be on my course rotation for future trips to Myrtle Beach.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

The author taking a break during the afternoon round.
The author taking a break during the afternoon round.

Pawleys Plantation – Course Review

Clubhouse at Pawleys
Clubhouse at Pawleys

We played Pawleys Plantation Golf and Country Club in Pawleys Island, SC on Wednesday June 10, 2015.  As you enter the grounds and approach the stately clubhouse of this Jack Nicklaus design, you can’t help but sense the architect’s love of Augusta National, and the impact the club had on the way he laid out this project.  Tanglewood Drive is lined with large beautiful live oaks dangling Spanish moss, and immaculately landscaped touches adorn every pathway and corner.  It has been at least since 2006 when I last played Pawleys, and the course has grown in immensely, and in a great way.

Value (3.75 out of 5.0)

We added Pawleys as a last minute substitute for Barefoot Love because of poor conditions at Barefoot, and were glad we did.  Our package price actually dropped $10 per man and the playing experience at Pawleys tops Barefoot.  Last time down I recall a very expensive replay rate at Pawleys and the afternoon tee sheet was booked, so we weren’t sure we’d get back on for a second round.  Imagine our surprise when they hit us with a minimal $30 replay fee and any tee time we wanted.  Value gets a 4.0 rating except they charge for range balls ($4.00) and everything should be included at this class of course.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

Pawleys clubhouse is beautiful and as you enter the pro shop, you see Jack’s framed even-par 72 scorecard proudly displayed behind the front desk.  His was the first round played here when the course opened in 1988.

The practice grass driving range is in excellent condition.  There’s a practice putting green of ample size right next to the range and the starter drives out to conveniently announce the next group on the tee which is located close by.  Everything is laid out perfectly, as you would expect someone of Jack Nicklaus’ detail oriented nature to construct.

Mike and Dylan warming up.
Mike and Dylan warming up.

The playing surfaces are all Bermuda and the greens were rolling smooth and at medium speed.  A couple of the fairways had some scratchy lies but they were easy to play from.  Many of the tee shots were framed with large oak trees either on the side or on occasion in the fairway’s line of sight.  It should come as no surprise but Nicklaus wants you to think on every tee shot, as he would have.  Interestingly, there was a mix of doglegs left and not the predominant favoring of the right, as has been the case with so many other Nicklaus designs.

View of the 11th green from the 12th tee
View of the 11th green from the 12th tee

The front nine meanders through a beautiful neighborhood of ponds and superbly landscaped luxury homes, but you don’t feel the neighbors are imposing on your round.  Watch out for the huge alligator that lives in the lake next to the par-3 third hole!  The back nine is drop-dead gorgeous; especially the par three complex of #13 and #17 which both play out on the marsh.  #13 is especially difficult because you’re playing into what is effectively a peninsula with very little bailout area and into the prevailing wind.  The mindset seemed similar to #17 at THE PLAYERS.  We were playing the blue tees, which measure only 115 yards and I flushed an 8-iron which reached in the morning round and had to add a club for the afternoon.  As you can see in the photo, you cannot miss the surface.

#13 green at Pawleys Plantation
#13 green at Pawleys Plantation

Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)

The minute we arrived, the cart guys had our clubs out of the car and provided snappy accurate service all day.  The proshop staff were friendly and very professional, and made our replay experience the best.  Lastly, the chicken salad wrap and potato salad I had in the pub was superb.   Definitely stop by for some delicious eats between rounds.

Pawleys measures 6,549 yards from the blue tees with a 73.7/144 course rating.  I shot an 82.  This is a top-10 play in the Myrtle Beach area, do not miss it on your next time down!

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)

Mike at the par-4 10th hole
Mike at the par-4 10th hole

Indestructeeble Myrtle Beach Golf Trip

The author at Heather Glen Golf Links in Myrtle Beach
The author at Heather Glen Golf Links in Myrtle Beach

Just got back from a fabulous golf trip to Myrtle Beach.  I would have given you long odds back in October that I could have played 36 holes for six straight days in hot weather, but I managed to pull it off and savored every one of them.  Some may wonder about the wisdom of playing so much golf in a compromised state of cardiac fitness and it’s a fair question, but the urge to splurge was difficult to overcome.  I did average 3.5 strokes per round higher in the afternoon replay rounds, which is an indicator of some fatigue, but I was having too much fun to stop and didn’t feel my health was at risk at any time.

This year’s venues were a mixture of high and middle end courses with different playing surfaces and widely varying conditions.  From a performance standpoint, only you as a player know in your heart whether the trip was a success, and mine was.  The self assessment:

  • Driving: B
  • Putting: A minus
  • Irons: C
  • Chipping B minus
  • Pitching C minus
  • Bunker: B
  • Course management / mental game:  B plus

Metrics:

  • Holes played:  216
  • Stroke average:  80.92
  • GIR average:  6.83
  • Putts per round:  30.08
  • Low round:  1-over 73 at Possum Trot
  • High round: 85, three times:  Possum Trot, Pawleys Plantation, Glen Dornoch

An interesting side note:  I hit every tee shot with my driver and 3WD using the same plastic frictionless tee.  I found this tee on my April trip to Myrtle Beach and have now played 20 straight rounds without losing it.  During our Wednesday round at Pawleys, the guys played a trick on me when the tee popped out after a drive and landed at the feet of my friend Mike who stepped on it and let me search for about 30 seconds in a panic fearing it was lost.  I’ve done a bit of research on frictionless tees and most are three pronged, but this one (pictured below) is prong-less.  Anyone recognize the model?

The famous frictionless tee
The famous frictionless tee

At Pawleys, the 13th and 17th holes are both par-3s that play out over seaside marshes.  The teeing area is a long narrow stretch of elevated grass and cart path.  I almost made the mistake of teeing up an iron on #17 with the treasured peg, but quickly replaced with a standard tee, because any forward or backward displacement of the tee would have found the marsh and ended the adventure.  As the trip neared it’s close, every tee shot took on greater importance and the preservation of the tee had a life of its own.

Jim on the narrow teeing area at Pawleys.
Jim on the narrow teeing area at Pawleys.

The peg is no longer round at the top and looks more pentagonal from being battered about for 20 rounds.  It might be time to retire this thing and call the World Golf Hall of Fame to see if there’s an endurance record.

Course reviews are coming, stay tuned!

 

Why Some Players Don’t Win Majors

photo by dailymail.co.uk
photo by dailymail.co.uk

The Masters is almost here and the non-major winners will be under the microscope again.  Why don’t they win?  Why do some players like John Daly win multiple majors when stellar career guys like Steve Stricker don’t?  How do guys like Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen (one tour win each) manage to make their only tour victory a major?  Of the guys that win, some overcome physical shortcomings, some overcome mental issues, but rarely will someone conquer both.  To be successful, they must have three characteristics:

 

 

Total commitment

-Belief in self

-Ability to avoid distractions for 72 holes

Of the players that win majors, you’ll always find two of the three on any given week, but the guys who lose have a major deficit in at least one. Of the winners, John Daly is the most fascinating and is the least likely multiple major winner in the history of the game.  With the charges of domestic violence, substance abuse, busting up hotel rooms, etc, Daly suffered from the most distractions, but his belief in self and ability to concentrate for the full 72 holes allowed him to prevail in the 1991 PGA and 1995 Open Championship.   Vijay Singh overcame poor putting for his entire career, but his commitment to excellence and belief in self were tremendous, and he won three majors.  Nick Faldo had just nine tour wins but six were majors.  Nick was supreme in all three facets.   Tiger Woods also excelled in each but when the distractions started, so did the current train wreck.

John Daly with the Claret Jug. photo by golfweek.com
John Daly with the Claret Jug.
photo by golfweek.com

Of the primary non-winners with double digit career victories (age/PGA Tour wins) let’s look at why they failed:

  • Steve Stricker (48/12): Lack of total commitment.  Total family man; nothing wrong with that, but 15 tournaments per year was a full schedule.  Sometimes didn’t travel to The Open when eligible to play.
  • Bruce Lietzke (63/13): Lack of total commitment.  Would rather be fishing.  Very similar to Stricker.
  • Kenny Perry (54/14):  Belief in self.  Came close at The Masters but didn’t believe he could win it at the end and choked.  Very humble, almost to a fault.  No killer attitude and has never believed he was a great player.

On the current list of Best Player to Never Win a Major, who’s got what it takes?  Let’s look at three:  Matt Kuchar (36/7); (Dustin Johnson (30/9); Sergio Garcia (35/8).

Matt Kuchar Best finish was T-3 at the 2012 Masters.  Has the belief in his abilities and is a relentless competitor.  Seems to stay in the moment and has an excellent short game.  Tough to judge his level of commitment.  I’m not wild about his recent swing changes with his closed stance and over the top move.  Historically, not a good ball striker in terms of driving length, accuracy, and GIR which is probably what’s held him back.  Best chance to break through would be at The Masters.  I have him at 50-50 odds to get a major.

Dustin Johnson Best finish was T-2 at the 2011 Open Championship but best chance to win was at the 2010 PGA (T-5) where he was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the last hole and missed out on a playoff by two strokes.  Could have the most physical talent on tour.  Obviously distractions were a huge issue in the past.  I love the changes in his pre-shot routine, especially with the putter, and they’ve been on display in recent weeks.  Still has a weak short game that will hurt in tournaments with fast greens like Augusta and the U.S. Open.  Best chance to win is at The Open where his ability to bomb it and the slower greens work in his favor.  Too soon to tell if he’s past the mental foibles but looks good in the short term.  70% chance to win a major because he’s young and oozing talent.

Sergio Garcia:  Best finish was T-2 at the 1999 and 2008 PGA as well as T-2 at the 2007 and 2014 Open Championship.  Clearly the most disappointing of the three.   What’s held Sergio back has been issues with commitment, a bad attitude, and poor putting, especially towards the end of tournaments.  He’s been so close, but the combination of mental and physical shortcomings has derailed him.  With all the second place finishes and late round failures, his major career is slightly reminiscent of Greg Norman’s, except The Shark won his first major at the age of 31 . At 35,  Sergio has improved his putting over the last couple of seasons but still struggles with pressure late in rounds.  His proclivity to choke will get harder to overcome with age and despite all the close calls, I have him at less than 25% to win a major.  Best chance would be at The Open, with the slower greens and home field advantage.

Ricky Fowler and Jordan Spieth are in the next group but are too young to be dinged for not winning.  Both have the talent to prevail, but as we have seen recently, will need to overcome a huge obstacle (Mr. Rory McIlroy) to break through.

Do you think anyone has what it takes to break through in 2015?  Predictions?

 

 

How Do You Plan The Best Golf Trip?

With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse
With my wife outside the Doral clubhouse

It’s the middle of winter and we all have cabin fever.  Wouldn’t it be great to tee it up tomorrow at a tropical golf destination?  Lately, I’ve been getting quite a few inquiries on how to book the best golf trips at the lowest cost.  Getting bang for the buck when you travel is a great source of satisfaction, but remember the most important element in a golf trip is the golf.  A great hotel, delicious food, and wonderful entertainment are fine, but if the golf is substandard, that’s what you’ll remember.

Course Reviews:  To get the best golf, start your travel planning reading websites focused on course reviews.  Skip the sites like Golf Digest where you’ll get lists of great courses and glossy marketing material (yeah, we all know Pebble Beach and Whistling Straights are great venues), and focus on personal experiences because you want a straight call on the good and bad.  You want to find the hidden nuggets of value, the starters and course marshals who took the extra steps to make you feel special, the details about conditions that stood out or didn’t meet expectations, and the ups and downs of customer service from your reservation agent to the pro shop staff.  Here’s some top sites to get you started:

  • 2 Play the Tips has reviews from world famous golf courses across the country.
  • OneBeardedGolfer has got you covered on Kentucky and other courses in the southeast USA.
  • Golf Is Mental has great information on Alberta, British Columbia, and visiting the western USA.
  • We’ve got plenty of reviews on this site from the  Washington DC, Eastern Shore, and Myrtle Beach areas.
  • Finally, Vet4golfing51 sprinkles his interesting playing insights in with information on his journey to play 100 courses in the western Pennsylvania region.  There are many others.

Conditions:  Once you decide where you want to play, seek out information on course conditions for the period of time you’re going to play, not necessarily the latest conditions.  Pay close attention to reports of when courses will schedule aeration.  We hit Pinehurst #2 the day after an emergency aeration.  Nothing is worse than traveling to a world class venue only to find you are putting on bumps and top dressing.  Hit up a site like Golf Insider for Myrtle Beach.  They have thousands of personal visit reviews for hundreds of area courses.  Then go to Trip Advisor and look at reviews that can be sorted on the time of year you’re traveling.  Getting a good cross-section of opinion yields the best experiences.

Lodging:  Next, look for a good package that couples lodging, golf, and maybe some food.  In June, my travel group has a package lined up in Myrtle Beach with seven nights lodging, six rounds of golf, carts, free range balls, lunch, and complimentary daily replays for under $600.  If you don’t want to couple resort lodging with golf, look to book a hotel separate to save money.  We traveled and played the RTJ Trail in Alabama staying at Hampton Inns across the state and had a great and inexpensive experience.

Peak Discounts:  Lastly, if you’re traveling in high season and don’t want to pay those exorbitant prices, don’t worry; there are tools that can help.  I am traveling next month to Myrtle Beach during peak tourist time and didn’t feel like paying $150 for a round.   I used a tool at Golf Insider that allows you to plug in your desired dollar range and date, and searches the entire Grand Strand for a match.  Got one for $60 and I’m ready to go!

You can get overwhelmed with information and will save time and money reaching out to an individual who’s traveled ahead of you to your destination.  Often times you’ll pick up local knowledge about good venues and ones to avoid, and most folks are very happy to help.  I know I am.  Good luck!

#9 The Great White course at Doral
#9 The Great White course at Doral

Would a PGA Tour Pro Tear Up Your Local Course?

One of the favorite debates we have in our regular weekend foursome goes like this, “Would a top-tier PGA Tour pro shoot lights out at the venues we play on?”  We normally visit a circuit of courses with varying degrees of conditioning, length, and difficulty.  A common opinion is that PGA Tour pros always play on immaculate conditions and they would not be able to adjust downward and tear up a common man’s track with it’s assortment of un-replaced divots, half fixed ball marks, occasional aeration holes, and partially raked bunkers.  But as Granny Hawkins once remarked in The Outlaw Josey Wales, “I say that big talk’s worth doodly-squat.”

To figure this out, we do have a couple of reference points.  First, one of the more difficult tracks we play in upper Montgomery County is Little Bennett, with it’s good conditioning, fast undulating greens, and severe changes in elevation.  As a five-handicap playing from the blue tees at 6,770 yards and a par of 72, I struggle to break 80.  The course has been the site of local qualifying for The AT&T National (Previously Booz Allen Classic / Kemper Open).  Top local pros routinely shoot 64, 65, 66 to qualify, which blows my mind when you consider the difficulty level, and these guys are the lower-tier entrants in the PGA Tour event and usually miss the cut.

Reference point 2:  Back in the mid 1980s, while working as an assistant in the Mid-Atlantic PGA section, our tournaments were contested on the best local country clubs and the difficulty level was considerably higher than the courses my weekend group now plays on.  At the time, the top local pro was Fred Funk, who was working as the golf coach at the University of Maryland.

Fred Funk Photo by theguardian.com
Fred Funk
Photo by theguardian.com

Funk ultimately won eight times on the PGA Tour and this was a few years prior to when he joined the tour full time in 1989.  When Funk was in a MAPGA event, he’d routinely shoot in the mid 60s and everyone else knew they were playing for second place.  In his career, Funk’s average driving distance topped out at 281 yards for one season but was usually in the 269-279 range.  Nothing tremendous, but he was destroying us on the best of our local courses.  Now fast forward and think what would happen if you put an average tour threesome of say, Harris English, Jhonattan Vegas, and Graham DeLaet on your local muni.  These guys all average over 300 yards off the tee.  They would be hitting short and mid-irons into all the par fives and flip wedges into the fours.  Now, put a major winning caliber group of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Phil Mickelson on the muni and you start to paint a different picture.  The only thing that could hold them back from the 58s, 59s, 60s, would be inordinately poor conditions on the putting greens.  The muni wouldn’t stand a chance.

Jhonny V winds up photo by golfweek.com
Jhonny V winds up
photo by golfweek.com

I’ve played with professionals who were good enough to qualify for the occasional PGA Tour event but never had the pleasure of playing with a top flight touring pro.  Have you ever played a round with a regular member of the PGA Tour?  If so, was it on your local course and did they tear it up?  The thought is a fun one to ponder.

Dangers of Copying a Pro’s Swing

Adam Scott at the top Photo at Youtube.com
Adam Scott at the top
Photo at Youtube.com

Here we are in the dead of winter and I am fighting the irresistible urge to tinker with my golf swing.  Last weekend, it was 60 degrees and I spent two hours on the range and had a real good opening session.  Probably too good, which is why I’m feeling greedy.  If you are like me, the reason we do this is because of the safety factor of winter.  You can make minor tweaks or wholesale changes during periods of inactivity without suffering the consequences of a slump-inducing fix.  I know it’s a bad idea and still do it.  Do you as well?

Two years ago, I became infatuated with Adam Scott’s golf swing and tried to impart his down the line setup and move through the ball.  I loved the way he kept his spine angle rock solid and the way he torqued against his very stable lower body, and modeled it for myself over the winter.  Problem is this 54-year old bag of bones has nothing in common with Adam Scott.  The wholesale changes fell apart with the first ball struck in anger.

The modern day swings of players like Scott, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Dustin Johnson, are all modeled off Tiger Woods and are not meant to be copied by desk jockeys.  Each has clearly spent many hours in the gym, and if you watch the follow through with their driver swings, each gets tremendous body rotation and the shaft points towards the target at finish.  Is the human back designed to undergo this much rotational stress over a protracted period?  I’m left to think that it’s not and players with a more upright swing like Phil Mickelson are doing their backs a favor.  Phil has his own physical issues, but I suspect lower back pain is not one of them.  Only one guy on the Senior Tour torques his body even close to these guys and that is Fred Couples.  Most others have more of a classic restricted finish and are still playing into their 50s.  Of course, Freddy’s back issues are well known and I can’t help but wonder, beautiful tempo aside, if the tremendous rotation he gets is responsible.

Adam Scott follow through Photo by ESPN
Adam Scott follow through
Photo by ESPN

So I smartly re-read the Grateful Golfer’s post on The Best Golf Swings Ever, where he reminded us that despite the number of writings and videos available on the swings of the greatest professionals of all time, the swing we should be working on is our own.  This is great advice and would add that you copy the visualization, pre-shot routines, and mental preparation of the top pros, but when it comes to swing mechanics, focus on improving your own technique.

So it’s off to go pump some 12 oz curls old style.  See you in the gym.

When Is It Time To Quit?

On a fall afternoon in 1973, I remember watching my home town Washington Redskins do battle with the San Diego Chargers.  I was only 12 years old at the time, but the image of Johnny Unitas, struggling to stay upright, and fully embarrassing himself at the helm of the Chargers offense will always be etched in my mind.  I was too young to remember Unitas in his glory years, but recall my father telling me how great he was as the leader of the Baltimore Colts.  I was a little sad, and was left to ponder why someone would extend their playing career past their ability to compete.  Thankfully he retired after that season.  Unitas was 40 years old.

For athletes who’ve competed from adolescence through the present day, the hardest thing for them in life is to know when to quit.  Usually the deterioration in capacity is gradual, with the mind remaining sharp as the physical skills slowly atrophy.  Derek Jeter comes to mind, with his retirement feeling timely and right.

Tiger Pulls out of Farmers Photo by ESPN
Tiger Pulls out of Farmers
Photo by ESPN

For the last two years, I’ve been watching the Tiger Woods saga and pontificating about his decline in performance and how his chances of catching Jack Nicklaus were nill, and how maintaining this charade of injury and comeback attempts was no longer continuing to the betterment of the professional game.  We all know that golf is a unique sport in which players can compete at the elite levels for longer because the physical demands are not the same as other professional sports.  However, Tiger’s performance at The Farmers was Johnny U.  He’s clearly done from a physical standpoint and should retire before the embarrassment gets worse.  We can hold on to the greatness of the Tiger memories, but too much time in the gym, too much Navy Seal training, and too much repetitive stress on his back and legs has taken its final toll.  I actually believe he is capable of recovering from his mental foibles, but his body is sending a clear message.  It is time.

Do we continue with the false hope that he’ll somehow recover the old magic, or is it time to take his seat in the booth next to Jim and Sir Nick?  How do you see it?

Bear Trap Dunes – Course Review

Summary

The Den at Bear Trap Dunes
The Den at Bear Trap Dunes

Our group played Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, DE on Tuesday, November 11, 2014.  This 27-hole facility is three miles west of Bethany Beach, and I’ve practiced here on many occasions while vacationing at the beach, but have never played the course until now.  The operation is first class and the practice facilities top notch.  Of the three nines, we played Kodiak and Black Bear and will reserve judgement on Grizzly for another time.  The course is operated by Troon Golf and is semi-private.  Rick Jacobsen (architect) used to be on the Jack Nicklaus course design team, and the course has that familiar Nicklaus look and feel off the tee.  Many of the holes are framed by groups of three and four bunker configurations located at different distances on opposite sides of the fairway.

I found the layout pleasing to my eye and relaxed into a good ball striking day off the tee but my luck ended there.  To score well, you need local knowledge off the tee and accurate iron play; I had neither.  Missing in the deep and expansive greenside bunkers left awfully tough up-and-down opportunities, and once you hit the greens, we found them large, fast, fairly flat, and fair.  Twice on the Kodiak nine, I hit perfect drives into fairway bunkers that I had no idea I could reach.  If you are playing #6 and #9 with a tailwind, 3WD is plenty of club off the tee.  Otherwise, I came away from a bad iron day thinking you could score better and put less pressure on yourself playing for the middle of most greens instead of flag hunting to precise yardages, as I attempted.  A few of the holes like #5 on Kodiak are beautiful and play into a nice U-shaped backdrop of woods, but most of the holes were nondescript despite the very good course conditioning.  One of my playing partners remarked that the Bear Trap experience reminded him of the time we Played Pinehurst #2.  Very good golf course, but very few of the holes stood out; I have to agree.

Par-4, 5th hole on Kodiak.  Bear Trap Dunes
Par-4, 5th hole on Kodiak. Bear Trap Dunes

Value (3.0 out of 5.0)

We played on an off season rate of $39 which included cart and range balls.  For the course conditioning, service, and quality of facilities, this was an awesome value.  I’d rate this as a $70-80 golf experience so why the average rating?  They advertise their in-season rates at $100 – 135 for a weekend round which is exorbitant.  If I’m paying that kind of money, I want memorable holes and a tremendous experience.  Bear Trap was a very nice afternoon of golf on very good conditions with a quasi-country club feel, but not $135 worth.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse hosts the pro shop, locker rooms, full service grill (The Den), offices, and banquet space.  It is a beautiful building.  Conveniently located across the parking lot is the top notch practice facility.  The range is divided into halves for members and guests and boasts excellent grass hitting surfaces (mats were out for the late fall, but they were in excellent condition, as were the range balls).  They have a large and well maintained short game area and separate putting green with green speeds that were identical to the course.  As mentioned earlier, I practice at Bear Trap regularly and could spend all day using the facilities.  The rating would go even higher except most holes were in very close proximity to the local housing community.  Nice homes but I prefer a little more solitude.

Cary playing his 2nd shot on the par-5, 6th on Black Bear
Cary playing his 2nd shot on the par-5, 6th on Black Bear

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

Booking a tee time was easy and was done over the phone.  Being November, they had anything I wanted.  We did not utilize the bag drop and found out later that you couldn’t ride your clubs to your car upon completion of the round.  Some courses are funny in that regard and are weary of liability issues with golfers driving in the parking lots.  I found it more of a minor hindrance.  The pro in the shop was very friendly and attentive and we had a very nice day on an uncrowded and well conditioned golf course.   For this round I shot a 86 from the blue tees that measured 6,377 yards and played to a course rating of 69.3/127.  Bear Trap Dunes is a nice golf course and the off-season rates made it a great play.  If you’re down during the summer, I wouldn’t recommend playing here at full price, but go seek a lower cost high quality alternative like Eagles Landing in Ocean City, MD.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear
Difficult par-3, 7th on Black Bear