Tag Archives: travel

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

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.

Playing Old School

Works For Ricky!
Works For Ricky!

Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”  Last weekend that was the theory of the case I set out to prove on my 54-hole eastern shore jaunt.  The plan was to play the first 18 holes with the assist from a GPS and a laser range finder, but to dispense with both devices in round two.  Round three would be played with the preferred method taken from the prior two days.

First, it was awesome to finally golf on consecutive days for the first time since early June.  The experiment was admittedly a small sample size, so much of the feedback was based on gut feel rather than hard metrics.  My day-to-day performance showed continual improvement, which was encouraging (84-78-76) and the reps were invaluable and served as a quasi practice for the following day’s game.

Round one at Heritage Shores (Bridgeville, DE) was characterized by a hot start, a mid-round ball striking implosion, and a strong finish.  Using both devices didn’t feel any different even though I was conscious of trying to match exact yardage to swing.  I putted poorly all day but stumbled into a swing key that allowed me to play the last five holes in even par, and to hit four of the five greens.  Despite the poor score, I left the course encouraged about the swing band-aid I had found, and for the experiment I was going to try the next day.

Saturday, we played Eagles Landing (Ocean City, MD).  The carts were equipped with GPS and I basically ignored it unless I couldn’t find ground yardage.  There is no driving range at Eagles Landing and we were limited to some light chipping and putting before we went off.  I promptly pull hooked my drive on #1 and made double, and followed that with a big push on #2 for a bogey.  Yardage was playing no part in this mess.  So I decided to keep the driver in the bag until my body loosened up and I managed to stabilize using 3WD.  On number 8, I found another swing key and managed to strike it solid and played the rest of the way around in 2-over.  Here I noticed some gains by pacing off yardages on the short wedge shots from the fairway.  Without precise yardage, I relied on my stock practice range shots to carry distances I was comfortable with, and this was key!  I am not a professional and cannot dedicate tons of range time perfecting partial wedge shots to specific distances.  Just give me 50-75-100 yard shots and I proved that hitting to those yardages was more effective than snapping an exact number on the laser and trying to modify my swing to match.

Sunday at Baywood Greens (Long Neck, DE) was a completely different story.  We got to the course 1.5 hours ahead of our tee time and got ample range time in plus putting green and short game warm ups.  In addition, I had a game plan from the previous two days and felt very prepared and it showed.  The good work with the short irons continued despite not having exact yardages and I felt completely in control.  I also noticed the impact of imprecise yardages diminished the farther you were from the flag stick.

At the end of our short experiment, I’d have to conclude that the back to back to back rounds were probably more beneficial to my game than how I measured my yardages.  I liked not having as much to do and think about between shots, but honestly felt that I could do a better job planning my shots even with exact yardage.  In short, it really didn’t matter how it was calculated, but I’m going to try without the range finder for my next few rounds.

Do you have a preference for course navigation?  Please share if you do.

Thanks and play well!

Do You Golf Like An Artist or Scientist?

artvsscienceHuman beings are predisposed to favor either creativity or analysis in their thought processes.  Take cooking for example.  We prepare a successful meal by either following a recipe or inventing one on the fly.  I am definitely in the latter camp, and believe that when we identify with a trend, it’s probably best to play golf in a similar fashion.  I had an epiphany recently.  I have always thought I trended scientific, but now believe the opposite is true, and realize my current technical approach may be hurting my game.

Do you play with a laser range finder?  I do and my regular golf partner has a GPS device.  These are wonderful instruments of precision and we normally share information on most shots, so I have the distance to the flag, the distance to the front, middle, and back of the green, as well as distance to any hazards or hidden course features at my disposal.  When I factor in wind direction and speed, condition of the putting surface, and my current swing key(s), it feels like I’m trying to land a 747 on a small runway in a 20 knot cross wind.  I’ve been consuming all this information for a long time and have been struggling to hit shots when thinking so precisely.  I think there’s a connection because I had more success when I simplified by calculating yardages old school (using sprinkler head distances to the middle of the green and adding or subtracting estimated yardages for front or back pin placements).   Lately I’ve also noticed I’ve had good results executing difficult recovery or partial shots where my approach has been very simple.

Here’s two recent shots side-by-side to illustrate.  Shot 1:  Yesterday I had a short approach into a par-5.  I measured 54 yards uphill to a back flag.  It was downwind, and the greens were running fast.  I had 60 yards to the back.  I thought, “lob wedge to 51 yards” but tried to be too precise and shut the face a little and the ball trickled over the green into the fringe about 25 feet long leaving a treacherous downhill putt, which I promptly three-jacked.  I’d have been better off playing for the middle of the green.  Shot 2:  Last week, I drove a ball under a tree with low hanging branches.  I had 160 yards left but could not elevate a shot.  I thought, “hit a low 130 yard 3-iron then let it run up”.  Now who practices that shot on the range?  Not me, but I just rehearsed a simple little half flip with the club and hit the shot as planned.  My target was much less precise, but I felt more relaxed during my pre-shot routine than for Shot 1.  Why?  I believe Shot 1 had too many technical inputs and Shot 2 didn’t.  It allowed me to take a creative approach that my brain was comfortable with.

So what to do now?  It’s quite possible that I’m not using the information at my disposal correctly or maybe it’s just too much information.  I’m going to experiment on my upcoming eastern shore golf trip Friday to Sunday.  Friday’s round is at Heritage Shores which I have played twice and am less familiar.  I’m going to use the laser and GPS.  Saturday we play Eagles Landing which I have played over a dozen times and know where to hit it.  So I will go old school and pace off yardages and simplify.  Sunday at Baywood Greens will be the more comfortable of the two approaches.  I will let you know how it goes next week.

Do you over-complicate your approach on the course?  Hope not.

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

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!

IMG_1691

Myrtle Beach Trip – 2016

Myrtle BeachTomorrow we leave for Myrtle Beach on the annual golf-a-palooza journey.  The good news is that I feel more confident in my game than during any previous MB trip.  The work I’ve done to change the mechanics of my short game, along with a switch in pre-shot routine has recharged my batteries.  When combined with the new West Coast Offense visualization techniques, I’m feeling very positive, and today’s final tune up round was another good one and reinforced the correctness of the approach.  Will this translate into better scoring on the trip?  Who knows, but I can’t wait to try.

The not so good news is that our arrival at MB International coincides with the departure of Tropical Storm Bonnie from the Grand Strand area.  Our flight in could be a rough one and our round on Monday may be affected by the remnants but we are ready for anything mother nature throws our way.  The remainder of the week looks good weather-wise.  We are staying at The Legends 54-hole golf mecca and the week’s lineup is awesome:

Monday:  Legends Parkland

Tuesday:  Oyster Bay

Wednesday:  Barefoot – Norman (course review coming)

Thursday:  Legends Heathland

Friday:  Thistle (course review coming)

Saturday:  True Blue

Full trip report is coming; stay tuned.  Play well and have a great week!

Brian

 

Tips for Handling Different Green Speeds

Image from Neverthreeputt.com
Image from Neverthreeputt.com

Saturday at THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP, we saw just how difficult changing green speeds can be for the world’s best professionals.  The sudden switch from an aggressive birdie-fest mindset to a total defensive posture drove the field nuts.  Average putts per round jumped to 32!  We often see similar condition fluctuations at The Masters and the U.S. Open, when the courses typically firm up through the championships, but not as radically as what happened today.

Professionals will adjust from fast to slow greens more easily than slow to fast.  They’ve gotten to where they are by making birdies.  On the other hand, amateurs typically struggle more with fast to slow adjustments.  This happens because the amateur is more concerned about three-putt avoidance (blowing it past) than the professional who is thinking, “Make it.”

Handling change is difficult for touring professionals, so how are weekend desk jockeys supposed to cope?  When my group goes to Myrtle Beach, we often play on nine or ten different courses over six days, and are constantly presented with different green speeds.  The typical adjustment required is fast to slow, as we’re faced with slower Bermuda or Tiff Dwarf surfaces that are prevalent in South Carolina, and have been grown out a bit to handle the hot summer weather.  In the mid-Atlantic, we are used to the quicker Bentgrass surfaces.  The adjustment can be difficult and nothing frustrates my group more than knocking an iron shot stiff only to leave a well-struck birdie putt one foot short “right in the jaws.”

Here are three simple keys I use to adjust:

  1. Warm up with 10-footers before you play.  This is the length of putt that will give you the best feedback for the day’s green speeds.  Also, if you hole out your practice putts, starting with the 10-footer will get you close enough to the hole that you don’t three putt.  You never want to three putt while warming up because it’s a confidence drain right before you tee off.  Concern yourself with feeling the pace of the putt and don’t worry too much about the line.
  2. Adjust grip pressure.  Ideally, on fast surfaces, hold the putter as lightly as possible.  You may even allow for a smidgen of wrist break on the back swing so as to not get too robotic.  For slow surfaces, hold the putter a little tighter which will produce more of a pop stroke.  Picture Brandt Snedeker or Tom Watson.  Try not to alter the pace of your stroke based on the green speed.  Keep it consistent and smooth.  The grip pressure will give you more or less distance.
  3. It’s obvious, but on fast surfaces try to keep your approach shots below the hole.  It makes the game easier because putting downhill and scared are a lethal combination.

Those are my keys; I hope they work for you.  Do you have any you’d like to share?

Cramming for May events

CrammingNormally the golf season starts in late February in the DMV and I attempt to peak my game for the important events on the May calendar.  May 5 is the four-man scramble for the Jess Carson Charity Foundation at Queenstown Harbor, and May 30-June 4 is our annual Myrtle Beach 216-hole slug-fest.  This year we have a dynamite course line-up and I am pumped to travel, but the physical demands of this trip can be daunting if your fitness level is poor or you are struggling with your game.   Sometimes you can’t control game struggles, but this year I broke protocol by doing a poor job maintaining my fitness over the winter, and am playing catch up.  Also, rather than dedicating two days per weekend in the spring for practice and play, I was limited to one mostly because of bad weather.

As I noted earlier, I’ve been battling a long running case of the chip yips and last weekend appeared to have it whipped.  I managed to chip in again for the second time in four rounds and took great encouragement from the course despite my continued ball striking issues.  Fast forward to yesterday and I hit 14 greens in regulation (did not see that coming), but the chip yips were back – ugh!  I left the course a bit dejected after blowing a chance to go low by playing holes 15-18 bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey.  What drives you nuts in this game is that you cannot solve for one thing without something else going wrong.  But my dejection quickly faded because I realized my ball striking was coming around and I finished poorly because my poor conditioning caused some loose swings late.

It’s hard to recognize that when you lay the sod over a short pitch, you are actually improving.  Improvement is not linear and you are going to have setbacks and can only hope to see overall improvement that trends up slowly.  So the push is on and I’ll continue to work on flexibility, dropping some more weight, and tailoring practice to the May 5th tournament.  The scramble is all about driving, putting, and short iron play.  I’ll practice on Saturday featuring wedges, drivers, and putting, and then play on Sunday.  Hopefully it all comes together on the 5th.  After the scramble, it will be back to the short game focus and working hard on conditioning.

When you’re a desk jockey, it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees; you want to do your best every time out, but when you only get one day per week, it sure seems hard.  How is your early season coming?

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