Tag Archives: travel

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!

 

Myrtle Beach 2015 Is Here!

With all the graduations, family activities, and work related distractions, I have never prepared less for a golf trip.  I am going down with basically zero practice and two rounds played in the last three weeks.  In years past, I’ve tended to over-prepare mentally and physically for the six day (36 holes per day) marathon, but this year I have no expectations.  Will just show up and play with what I have, but I’ve got a sneaky good feeling for some reason.  The line-up:

  1. Tidewater, 6/8
  2. Possum Trot, 6/9
  3. Pawleys Plantation, 6/10
  4. Glen Dornoch, 6/11
  5. Shaftsbury Glen, 6/12
  6. Heather Glen, 6/13

Course reviews are coming on the last five tracks, stay tuned and play well!

Brian

Golf Bloggers Convention???

Las Vegas Convention Center from vegasmeansbusiness.com
Las Vegas Convention Center
from vegasmeansbusiness.com

There was a bit of a buzz from a previous post I authored on how to plan a golf trip.  Some readers asked about getting like minded individuals together for a golf bloggers convention.  Could be a great opportunity to bring folks who love to play and write about the game together.  I’d be up for it, what about you?  There are several ways this could work.  I’ll throw out a few ideas and look to get your feedback.  If there’s enough interest, I’d be happy to get the ball rolling on organization.

Initial thoughts:

  1. Try to make this event as inclusive as possible to boost participation.  Not sure how many golf bloggers there are so that may mean opening it up to perhaps golf writers.  Create our own convention with our own program, or join an existing one and gather together outside the official program for our own activities.  In either case, we’ll need to put a program together to generate interest for participants as well as those who want to bring family members and significant others.
  2. Choose the right time of year and location.  This will have to be in 2016 to leave enough time to plan and for folks traveling internationally to budget.
  3. Perhaps couple it with a noteworthy golf industry event like a trade show, or tournament, where we’d ensure that many more amateur and professional writers would be in attendance, or maybe do our event as a shadow event, or one that immediately follows the main event.  Again, anything to increase participation.
  4. Provide a  locale near a very accessible city, since many will need to travel.  Ensure the destination has ample entertainment, lodging, quality golf courses, meeting facilities, and food options.

Some options on time and place:

  • April 2016(est). Las Vegas Convention Center.  Attend the NMX show (New Media Expo).   This is a convention with 97,000 attendees and features tracks for bloggers.   Obviously this is easiest from an organization standpoint.  You attend, go to the sessions that interest you, and meetup outside of official hours for our own activities.  Here’s a link to the 2015 schedule grid.
  • January 2016. Orlando, Florida.  Shadow  the PGA Merchandise show.  The 2015 show had 41,000+ attendees.  Golf Writers Association of America are sponsors and are in attendence.
  • March 2016. Orlando, Florida.  Shadow the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.  Orlando is obviously a great venue because of the accessible facilities and entertainment options.  We could attend the tournament for one or more days, meet offsite, play at other courses, socialize and enjoy Orlando.
  • February 2016. San Diego, California.  Shadow the Golf Industry Show.  Predicted to have 14,000+ attendees.
  • Late January/early February 2016. Phoenix, Arizona.  Shadow the Waste Management Open.  Raucous party atmosphere with a good time had by all.  Same idea as Orlando/Bay Hill.

Do any of these sound good?  Shoot me a comment if you’re interested and with suggestions/preferences on time and venue.  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

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

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

Hog Neck – Course Review

Summary

IMG_1038

We played Hog Neck Golf Course in Easton, MD on Sunday, November 9, 2014.  On every trip back, I’m reminded of the time several decades back when the United States was flirting with metric system implementation.  Hog Neck is the only course I’ve played that has distance markers in meters and yards.  Once, they actually had their scorecards and markers solely in meters, which forced you to do a minor math calculation on every shot, but they updated their scorecards and are now back to U.S. standard units.

Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck
Par 3, 7th at Hog Neck

The par-72 course is a tale of two halves with the front nine playing out on windswept fairways with hidden water, large mounding, penal bunkers, and nary a tree in sight.  Truly a links style experience.  The back meanders through tall pine trees and plays several hundred yards longer and is considerably more difficult.  The parkland style changeover is a great experience in the middle of November, as the fall colors are in their peak brilliance.

Playing tips from the gold tees:  There are no tricks to scoring well but a few tripwires to be avoided.  On the dogleg left par-4, 2nd there are two large fairway bunkers guarding the corner.  Don’t challenge them.  A well struck drive 10-15 yards off the right bunker will leave you with a short iron in from a flat lie.  Forget par from either of the bunkers.  The par-4, 5th has hidden water that sneaks up fast on the left of the tee shot, so be precise.  The par-4, 6th has hidden water on the right and left and again requires precision.  The par-5, 9th has a diagonal water hazard crossing the fairway that’s not easy to see.  For the landing area of your second shot, you must be able to fly it within 100 yards of the green or you’ll need to lay back to about 150 yards.

Teeing off on the par-3, 17th at Hog Neck
Teeing off on the par-3, 17th at Hog Neck

The key on the back nine is driving it solid and straight.  As you get deeper into the inward half, the holes become longer and more difficult, but there are no hidden hazards with the exception of a small pond guarding the left of the par-4, 15th green.  The approach will either be with a long iron or hybrid, and you need to favor the right side.  The par-5, 18th is the only quirky hole on the golf course.  It measures 523 yards, but when the tees are up, you think you can go for it in two.  For some reason, the designer placed a wrap around bunker that guards the entire front approach preventing a roll up option.  So lay back to your favorite yardage and try for a regulation par or birdie.

Approach to the par-5, 18th
Approach to the par-5, 18th

 Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

In season weekend rates are $55 to ride.  We played on an off-season special rate of $40 which included a cart and hot dog/chips/soda snack at the turn.  We were putting on excellent greens but the rest of the course conditions were average at best.  Still we felt this was a good deal at the off season rate.  A bucket of range balls cost $6.

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

First impressions are important and Hog Neck misses the mark with their driving range facilities.  The balls were old and the hitting area was essentially 10 low quality mats supported by no bag stands or structures of any type to hold a bag or clubs.  It was barely adequate to get a few swings in and warm up.

Low budget bag stand on the range.
Low budget bag stand on the range.

The pitching area had ample space to work from and included closely mown areas and two medium size bunkers.  The pro shop was on the smallish side but was well stocked and clean.  The snack bar area was located conveniently next to the 10th tee and was also of ample size and clean.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

You make a tee time by either emailing the course with your preference or calling.  No on-line user-friendly reservation system is available.  I had no problem getting the precise time that I requested being it was the second week of November.  Upon check in, we were told not to ride carts in the fairways because their bermuda grass had just gone dormant, and some of the playing surfaces were extremely wet.  We were permitted to ride the rough all the way around the backsides of some of the greens, which was a little unusual, but didn’t present any major obstacles.  The bentgrass putting surfaces were in excellent condition and good greens always lead to a greater feeling of satisfaction.  Finally, according to my playing partner, the hot dog at the turn was excellent!

Overall Rating (3.0 out of 5.0)

On this day, we played the gold tees at 6,477 yards with a course rating of 71.5/130 and I shot a 5-over par 77.  I have been playing this course on trips to the eastern shore for over 30 years and will be back.

Surf Club – Course Review

Looking down #1 tee at Surf Club
Looking down #1 tee at Surf Club

We played Surf Club in North Myrtle Beach, SC on Saturday, June 14, 2014.  This George Cobb design was built in 1960 and is nestled neatly into a neighborhood one block from the ocean.  Surf is a very old style private club with good conditioning and traditional parkland style routing and if you like doglegs, you are going to love this golf course.  Only about four of the longer holes do not have some kind of bend and an absolute premium is placed on solid ball striking off the tee.  Surf’s Bentgrass greens have a reputation for being among the fastest on the beach but we played them about three weeks after their aeration.  They were almost full recovered and were rolling at medium speed.  On a previous visit, I recall the course playing firm and fast with the the greens running lightening quick.

I’m not an arborist, but the type of trees that frame most of the holes are unlike most you’ll see on Myrtle Beach courses and certainly not the tall Carolina pines you are accustomed to.  Normally, you can play out of the trees but not at Surf.  Trying to hit low recoveries almost always caught bark and was usually the natural predecessor to a double-bogey on the scorecard.  You’re best advice is to drive it straight or punch out sideways.

We played from the back tees and there are three holes that play like a beast.  The par-4, 7th at 442 yards bends to the right and if it’s playing into the wind, is virtually like a short par-5.  You turn right around on the par-4, 8th which plays 430 yards and you hope the wind is favoring your direction.

Par-3, 18th at Surf Club
Par-3, 18th at Surf Club

Finally, the par-3, 18th is one of the finest finishing holes in Myrtle Beach.  At 217 yards, you are faced with a forced carry over water, and we played it straight into a two club wind coming in off the ocean.  Thank goodness for the front flag position, as my fully struck 3WD barely covered the 200 yards needed from tee to pin.

Value (3.75 out of 5.0)

Surf was an upscale addition to our golf package but to our very pleasant surprise, the afternoon replay rate was only $27.  This is a very affordable, high quality golf experience.  Driving range privileges are included and the free tees in the pro shop were one of those nice little touches.

The Range at Surf Club
The Range at Surf Club

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse and grill were on the smallish side and the pro shop displays were nicely detailed, but a little limited in scope.  The grill served very basic golf course food and had walk up service only.  We dined on hot dogs, wings, and chips after our morning round.

The 15-station driving range had good turf to hit off and high quality balls, and the practice green was medium sized and adequate for a warm-up.  I did not observe a separate chipping/pitching green and was unsure if short game work was permitted.

Pro Shop at Surf Club
Pro Shop at Surf Club

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

I’m not sure who the amiable professional on duty was but he made you feel very welcome and at home.  He was very accommodating when we inquired about working us into the afternoon tee sheet for a replay and went out of his way to ensure that we had everything we needed to enjoy ourselves.  The rating goes even higher except for the staff at the bag drop were nowhere to be found when we arrived at the course around 7:30 a.m.  It was clear that we were one of the first groups at the course, but we didn’t expect to haul our bags in from the parking lot.  Anyway, they found our equipment and had us loaded in time for play.

Surf Club was a good value and a fun day.  We played the blue tees at 6,842 yards (par-72) I shot rounds of 87 and 81.  It was difficult but I loved it and will be back for more on future golf trips.  Don’t miss this one.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

Clubhouse at Surf Club
Clubhouse at Surf Club

Lion’s Paw – Panther’s Run Course Reviews

Clubhouse at Lion's Paw and Panther's Run
Clubhouse at Lion’s Paw and Panther’s Run

My travel group played Lion’s Paw on Monday, June 8, 2014 and Panther’s Run the day after on a recent trip to Myrtle Beach.  These are two of the four Big Cat courses at Ocean Ridge Plantation in Ocean Isle Beach, NC.  We’ll review them together because they are sister courses and play out of the same clubhouse.  Tiger’s Eye is the top play of the Big Cats group and is run from a separate clubhouse across the street, but as we learned, the golf operations are distinctly different.

On Monday, we arrived at Lion’s Paw as they were preparing for a ladies tournament on the front nine.  Our two foursomes were scheduled to go off #10 and we were thankful for that.  The bag drop and staging area is rather small and was extremely congested and chaotic.  Play for both courses is launched from the same constricted space.

Staging area on Monday
Staging area on Monday

Due to an airline luggage snafu, four guys in our group were playing with rental clubs, which the golf staff had hastily assembled.  They charged $40 per set for the rentals which were a mediocre mishmash of late year model irons and metal woods.  Nobody in our group was impressed with the offerings and the guys renting actually played several shots using clubs from the rest of our bags which was a little disruptive for everyone.  Given the short notice, I was thankful that the staff could even assemble the sets to allow us to play together.

#3 Tee at Lion's Paw
#3 Tee at Lion’s Paw

Both courses share a medium size driving range with Tiger’s Eye , and the range is located at the far side of the parking lot across the road.  Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to ride your cart to the range from Lion’s/Panthers, but you are from Tiger’s.  Also, the shop charged $3.00 for balls from Lion’s/Panthers, but Tiger’s extended complimentary range privileges.  We thought this was strange given the courses were under the same management company.  There is a small pitching green with one flag and a practice bunker next to the range and two putting greens next to the Lion’s / Panther’s clubhouse.  I felt it would have been beneficial to have a chipping green that allowed your shots to run out, but clearly there was no space for one.  There was good turf to hit off at the range but the quality of the balls was suspect.

Lion’s Paw:

On the course, we found Lion’s Paw to be in good condition, with the Bermuda greens rolling medium fast and smooth.  A couple of the tee boxes were crowned  which was a bit odd but didn’t affect playability.  The course is fairly open off the tee and weaves its way through a residential area with several nice homes nearby, but you don’t have a lot of privacy.

Mike on #3 tee at Lion's Paw
Mike on #3 tee at Lion’s Paw

A couple of the par-3 holes were memorable for the contouring, water carries, and bordering with oyster shells, but you weren’t struck by anything overtly beautiful or difficult.  Lion’s Paw is just a solid, well maintained nondescript golf course.  The biggest appeal for the enthusiast is the ample opportunities for afternoon replay.  With the four Big Cats in close proximity, we chose Tiger’s Eye for the afternoon and at $45, found it a tremendous value and a tremendous golfing experience.  The replay rate at Lion’s and Panther’s is $35 and we actually were given the $35 rate to replay Tiger’s later in the week after they had started fairway aeration.  For the record, at Lion’s Paw, I had a 7-over par 79 from the white tees which were playing 6,457 yards.

#9 green at Lion’s Paw

Panther’s Run:

Tuesday we played Panther’s Run and had a decidedly different experience.  There was no tournament, the course was fairly empty, and everything seemed more organized and less rushed.  Everyone in our group was now playing with their own equipment and the day was more enjoyable.  IMG_0857Panther’s Run is more of a traditional parkland style course that meanders through tall trees with the holes being better framed than Lion’s Paw.  I preferred this layout, although the greens were putting a bit slower, a few tee boxes were a little chewed up, and the fairways were starting to brown out.  Again, nothing affected playability as overall conditioning was pretty good.  Of note are the back to front sloping greens.  Several of the pins were cut in the back along ridges that dropped down at the rear of the greens.  Long two putts were difficult because if you charged these back flags the drop offs would roll out significantly.  I took 36 putts and thee-jacked three times.  Playing for the middle of the greens with back flags was the way to go.  I shot a 9-over 81 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,706 yards.

Jim contemplates the approach on #18 at Panther’s Run

A couple of nitpicking notes:  When we played the par-3 11th, one of the rangers was sitting in a cart just behind the tee box talking on a cellphone and seemed completely unaware of his surroundings or that people were playing golf nearby.  It would have been considerate if he could have held down the chatter.  Also one of our group was perturbed by an experience in the pro shop while in line making a purchase.  The person behind the counter was interrupted by a club member with an inquiry about another matter and immediately discontinued their service on the transaction at hand to cater to the member’s request.  Otherwise, we had a fairly positive golfing experience at Panther’s Run.

If you are traveling to the Myrtle Beach area and want to play the Big Cats, Tiger’s Eye is your course if you only have time for one round.  Lion’s and Panther’s are enjoyable plays as well.

Team Walmart Storms Myrtle Beach!

From ramblinobeachchat.com
From ramblinobeachchat.com

The dust has finally settled from Golfapalooza 2014 (Myrtle Beach) and this was a trip like no other.

Our plan was  to have four players (myself included) drive down from Maryland and four fly in from Arizona on Sunday June 7th, with the intent on playing Monday-Saturday (June 8-14).  Storms on Sunday evening delayed the AZ group’s arrival and then left them stranded in Charlotte, NC as US Airways cancelled their flight to Myrtle.  Determined not to miss their Monday 8 a.m. tee time, they rented a car and drove the remaining 240 miles to Myrtle through heavy rain, and arrived around 8:30 p.m. with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  The airline refused to release their luggage and equipment to them and promised to fly them in on the next plane.

Sunday evening at 10:30 p.m. we checked at the US Airways lost luggage counter at the Myrtle airport but no bags had arrived from Charlotte and we were told the luggage and clubs would be in on the first flight on Monday – uh oh.  Our AZ guys were given permission to buy clothes, toiletries, balls, tees, shoes, and rent clubs, and expense them to the airline, so instead of resting up for our 5:30 a.m. wake up call and dreaming of all the pars and birdies we were going to make on Monday, we went shopping at Walmart at 11:30 p.m.

Team Walmart
Team Walmart from AZ

On Monday, we called Lion’s Paw early and alerted them that we needed four rental sets but upon arrival realized the clubs assembled were barely fit for a yard sale.  Was this how a golf vacation was supposed to start?  The course was also trying to launch a tournament off the first tee and sent our two Team Walmart foursomes off #10.   In the chaos of the arrival, tournament prep, and rental assembly, I did not have the opportunity to hit balls and went to the tee cold.  Somehow I scratched out a 7-over 79 on Lion’s Paw but was out of sorts all day and carded my worst round of the trip in the afternoon (89 on Tiger’s Eye).

In the afternoon, we received word that the clubs and bags had arrived, and had been shipped to our condo.  Upon arriving home, we noticed that all the clothes and golf equipment were soaking wet.  Apparently the airline had left them overnight on the tarmac during the torrential rains in Charlotte.  Very nasty-gram going to US Airways on that one.

Tuesday, armed with dried clothes and equipment, we headed back to Ocean Ridge Plantation for a round at Panther’s Run.  I got a good warm-up in and started to relax a bit.  On the second nine something started to click and even though I carded a 9-over 81, I hit 10 GIR for the first time in 2014.  My ball striking had been so bad this spring I was wondering if I’d ever see 10+ GIR and it was a welcome relief.

Then I got on a ball striking hot streak for the next 54 holes and shot 77 and 75 at Tiger’s Eye, with 13 and 11 GIR respectively, and carded a 76 at Leopard’s Chase with 10 greens.  Our AZ group was starting to play better as well as they settled in with their own equipment and clothes and it started to feel like a vacation again.

Friday, at True Blue, my ball striking was just a little off and I carded a respectable 82 in the morning followed by an 81 in the afternoon.  When the wind is up you need to hit it very solid off the tee, as the 6,812 yards plays like a beast.  If you don’t believe in the horses for courses theory, consider that last year I carded an 81-81 at the same venue under pretty much the same conditions, and in 2012 during my last round at Leopard’s Chase, I also carded a 76.  I’ve observed over the years that I’ve accumulated significant local knowledge and preferences, and often play well/not well at the same venues on repeated attempts.

Saturday at Surf Club (course review coming), I lost my swing and struggled for 27 of the 36 holes we played.  Inevitably, when playing this much golf in a short amount of time, you get too mechanical in your thinking, and I paid for it.  Only on my last nine when I decided to dispose of all swing thoughts except hitting the ball at the target, did things right themselves.  I struggled with a 46-41 (87) in the morning, and finished up with 44-37 (81) in the afternoon and enjoyed a super high note finish, as I hit a 3WD six feet below the hole on Surf’s 200-yard par-3 18th hole, which requires a water carry and was playing into a stiff two-club wind.  It’s great to hit your best shot of the trip on your last attempt.

Stay tuned for trip reviews of Lion’s Paw/Panther’s Run and Surf Club.  Happy Father’s Day to all!

Three fourths of the MD guys
Three fourths of the MD guys

 

 

Put That Cellphone Away!

Now that the 2014 season is upon us, I’d like to poll the group and get your views on a somewhat sensitive topic; cellphone use on the golf course.    As far as my use, I’ve had a smartphone for a couple of years and the prehistoric predecessor about eight years prior.  Not once have I made or taken a call during a game of golf.  I have my phone on vibrate in the bag and occasionally pull to take a few pictures or video, but that’s it.  I view golf as my time and if you need to interrupt me it better be important, otherwise it can wait until my round is finished.  In my view, it’s a breach of etiquette to whip out your phone and make calls from the sanctity of the course.  I know many golf GPS apps are available for smartphones, and I’m fine with folks checking for golf, but I draw the line at yardages and hazards.

I draw my bias from a time shortly before I owned a cellphone when I played in a 9-hole captain’s choice golf league after work.  The competition was friendly, but everyone tried hard to win.  One lady on my team insisted upon making work calls during our matches, and on one hole actually had the phone between her ear and chin while trying to chip for the team’s eagle on a par-5.  I called time and read her the mini-riot act.  What blew my mind is that as a seasoned golfer she had no idea she was doing anything improper and was a bit embarrassed when I called her on it.

The one time I wished I had a cellphone on the course was when my lovely wife called the pro shop and had the marshal come out to pick me up because she had locked herself out of the car.  He drove me in to take this “urgent” call which of course had me worried, and as luck would have it, I was threatening to shoot the best round of my life.  Having just completed 15 holes in 3-under par, by the time I got to the phone in the golf shop, my wife had the emergency resolved.  The marshal returned me to my group and I promptly finished bogey, triple bogey, double bogey.

I wouldn’t dream of traveling without my phone because of the GPS, internet access, conveniences, and the security blanket factor but do you really need a phone to interrupt your game?  My God, how did we ever golf before cellphones!  What are your thoughts?

2014 Golf Resolutions

freezingI think the cabin fever is finally getting to me.  Either brought on the recent sub freezing temperatures in the east, or dramatic views from Torrey Pines on TV last week, or maybe that we’ve just booked our June golf trip to Myrtle Beach, or perhaps the Grateful Golfer’s recent post on Time For Golf really hit home.  I have been thinking more and more about the 2014 golf season and what to target for improvement, but right now, I don’t care about fixing anything, I just want to get out of the house!

Today, with the thermometer in the mid 40s, I got out the driving range mat and hit about 50 magnolia bombs in the back yard which felt great.  Tomorrow is supposed to be mid-50s and a trip to the range for some work with the nine-shot drill is certainly in order.  Couple that with a few hours of Phoenix Open golf coverage before the Super Bowl, and I think I’ll be alright for the next 36 hours.  The forecast for snow on Monday does not bode well.

I want to return to a point about reducing television viewing mentioned in the Grateful Golfer’s post and how that hits home.  Recently I’ve been guilty of feeding my addiction for televised Baltimore Oriole baseball games.  I probably watched 140 games last year end-to-end and many of these start at 7:00 p.m. which is right in the prime weekday post-work practice window (PWPWPW).  All this TV cannot be good for me.  My new job and commuting schedule has also cut into my morning fitness workout routine.  I’m struggling and need a plan for fitness and practice.  I’m thinking I’ve got to get some golf in one weekday evening before setting foot at home, and another two days of immediate workouts before dinner or watching any baseball.  This will be the toughest because as soon as I get home, my butt likes to hit the couch, and it’s all over.

East Potomac Golf Course has a practice facility and is located very close to my office near Reagan National Airport.  Anyone have a quality report on this course?  I think this may be part of the solution.  Also, any ideas on how to get motivated to practice and workout in the evenings if the mornings are not available – please share.  Thanks!

Assult The Bucket List – Golf Trip To The U.K.!

Union JackAfter thumbing through the pages of the February issue of Golf Digest and finding nothing of value from Phil Mickelson’s latest bomb your driver tutorial, or Billy Horschel’s lesson on twisting and contorting your 20-year old body into the purest iron shots, I stumbled across the latest rankings for the World’s 100 greatest golf courses.  Wow!  With 32 of these residing in the U.K. or Ireland, that’s a mighty tempting target and I’ve decided to start planning the golf trip I’ve always dreamed about.

I’m reaching out to my readers for help on this one because while I’ve got significant experience traveling for golf in the United States, the British Isles is brand new to me.  I haven’t traveled to the U.K. since 1983 and that was not for golf.  In an earlier trip as a teenager, I actually had the pleasure (torture) of playing Carnoustie as a beginner.  My sole recollection was shooting something over 130 and getting yelled at by some elderly ladies for playing too slow.  In retrospect, seems like a waste, but the thought of a rematch is intriguing.

I will assume this trip of a lifetime will take careful planning and am thinking the summer of 2015 is a good target.  I’ve just changed jobs and cannot dedicate that much time to travel this year, and would guess that to get on the greatest courses in the world you may need to book tee times over a year in advance.

So where to start.  Key questions:  Do I book this myself or through a tour operator?  What is the ideal number of players for such a conquest?  How about the ideal length of a trip?  How much should I expect to spend?  Do I keep it on the mainland or travel to Ireland?  The Old Course at Saint Andrews is THE bucket item; is that a must have for any trip and if so, what are the constraints?

Any guidance you can provide is welcome, thanks!

Grand National – Course Reviews

Summary

Early morning at Grand National
Early morning at Grand National

Grand National is the 54-hole facility on the RTJ Trail in Opelika, AL and is next door to the Auburn Marriott Opilika Hotel and Conference Center.  This was our final stop on the October 2013 trip and we played the two 18 hole courses and associated par-3 track over October 10th and 11th.  We did not stay at the Conference Center and opted for the Hampton Inn on South College Street in Auburn and were very pleasantly surprised.  The accommodations were quite comfortable and they ran a social from Mon-Thr where they served good food, beer and soft drinks.  All were complimentary.  On Friday’s before home football games (Auburn Tigers) they did a complimentary tailgate party.  We thought this was a great value and a great way to save a few bucks.  The hotel was only a 20 minute drive from the golf course.

First on the playlist was the Links course.  The name is misleading because the course doesn’t play anything like a traditional seaside links.  They fancy the name because of the mounding around a lot of the greens, but this plays more like a parkland course as you wind your way through tall pine trees that beautifully frame many of the holes.  In fact, standing on the second tee, I remarked that this course reminded me very much of Parkland at The Legends in Myrtle Beach.

Approach to the par-5 3rd hole at Links.  Note the sucker pin.
Approach to the par-5 3rd hole at Links. Note the sucker pin.

What strikes you about this course is the huge undulations in the Bentgrass greens and the significant bunkering protecting the approaches.  A traditional links course would permit bounce and run approaches but not here.  You need to bring everything in high and strike it pure.  The greens were smooth and rolling medium speed which was plenty difficult considering the slopes we had to navigate.  A considerable number of holes had pins cut on the edges making it very tough to get close and score.  I played my best all around golf on the trip at this course and shot a five-over 77 with 32 putts and thankfully only two three-jacks.  After play, I couldn’t help thinking that if they had the greens rolling faster, the course might be unplayable from a difficulty standpoint.  However, the conditions on Links were impeccable.   We played the orange tees that measured 6,574 yards and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.  In retrospect, we probably didn’t help ourselves by warming up on the putting green near the range which was Bermuda, was cut tight, and was rolling very fast.  Oh well, que sera sera.

Clubhouse at Grand National
Clubhouse at Grand National

What’s interesting about the clubhouse at Grand National is that it’s exactly the same layout and structure as Oxmoor Valley’s.  From the pro shop, to the kitchen, to the grill, to the rest rooms; an exact duplicate.  I also noticed that the golf carts were identical at all the sites.  Then I finally connected the dots:  all these RTJ Trail courses were built at the same time with the same architect and sub contractors, since the state of Alabama had sponsored the project.  The only significant difference between the clubhouses was the better food at Grand National.

After lunch we headed out on the Short course, and wow!  This track of 18 legitimate 100-200 yard 3-par holes was drop dead gorgeous.  Much of the routing took us down by the lakes and in the mid to late afternoon with nobody around to push or hold you up, this was some of the most serene and enjoyable golf I have ever played.

Lining up a putt on the Short course
Lining up a putt on the Short course

The greens were Bermuda and were running medium fast, but you didn’t have the undulations of Links or the elevation changes of the Short course at Oxmoor Valley.  We played the orange tees at 2,802 yards at a par of 54.  If you come to Grand National, you must play this one.

Beautiful par-3 along the water on the Short Course
Beautiful par-3 along the water on the Short Course
#9 Short course.  Playing 250 yards from the tips.
#9 Short course. Playing 250 yards from the tips.

On Friday, we played the Lake course.  I noted the need for precision off the tee, and it seemed like every tee shot had a complex set of fairway bunkers you had to avoid.  I ended up only hitting driver on two of the first five par-4s, and all the thinking left me mentally taxed.  There are many doglegs as well and even though the course rating is lower than Links, I found this play more difficult.  The course is all Bermuda and the greens aren’t nearly as sloped as Links, which should make them putt easier, but I found reading putts more of a challenge.  Perhaps it was the last day of our trip and we’d been shifting from Bent to Bermuda on almost every round, but I couldn’t get a good read on many putts.

My swing was on early and I managed a one-over 37 on the front with a couple of birdies, but alas, all good things come to an end.  I fell apart on the back nine, with the round punctuated by a quadruple bogey 7 on the signature hole (par 3 #15).  After splashing two 3-irons on the approach to the island green, I limped in with a 10-over 46 on the back and a total of 83 for the day.  We played the orange tees at 6,488 yards.

#15 Lake course
#15 Lake course

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Booking fees for Link and Lakes were $79.20 which included cart and range balls.  We used coupons given to us from Tony at Oxmoor Valley to play for free on the Short course and only paid $12 for a cart fee.  I can’t remember playing better caliber golf for such a great price.  Coupons aside, Grand National is a very good value for your golfing dollar.

Facilities (4.25 out of 5.0)

The range at Grand National is huge and has plenty of great grass hitting stations that were rotated daily.  Next to the range was a good size putting green and a short game green with bunkers.  Up by the clubhouse was another large putting green so there was plenty of room to warm-up and practice.  The range was a considerable drive away from the clubhouse via cart, but if you wanted to just come and practice, the range had it’s own parking lot and balls were for sale for those not on a golf package.  All practice areas were well conditioned and the quality of practice balls was good.  One interesting note:  the bunkers on the driving range were actually concrete painted white.  You didn’t know that until you hit into one and bounced your shot about 50 feet in the air.

Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)

Great customer service appears to be the norm across all the RTJ sites we visited, and Grand National was no exception.  On day one, our bag drop attendant didn’t just unload our clubs, he gave us the history of the place and provided directions to all the important stops and stations (very helpful).  Your clubs were loaded and ready to go when you walked out of the pro shop, and you didn’t have to seek out instruction, the cart guys were there to proactively ask you where you were playing and point you in the right direction.

Kayla in the golf shop was super nice when she checked us in on day one and was helpful as we purchased some souvenirs.  The professional (forgot his name) who checked us in for our Thursday afternoon round on the Short course told me we were going to “love it.”  I like that when folks show passion for their everyday jobs and for tasks that may be a little mundane but can make a difference to a first time customer.  He was right and the nice little touch sticks out in my mind.  And finally, the food was pretty darn good in the grill, and we ordered lunch after both rounds.  Overall our experience at Grand National was a great one.  Don’t miss it on your trip to RTJ!

Overall Rating (4.25 out of 5.0)

Short course at Grand National
Short course at Grand National

Oxmoor Valley – Course Reviews

Summary

Clubhouse at Oxmoor Valley
Clubhouse at Oxmoor Valley

The starter at Oxmoor Valley described the experience of playing the Ridge course and then the Valley course as going from hell to heaven.  I understood the context of the comment after playing the two primary 18 hole tracks back to back.  With an excellent 18 hole par-3 short course added in, this 54-hole facility in Birmingham, AL on the RTJ Trail provided a fascinating and enjoyable golf experience.  We played all three courses over two days on October 8th and 9th and it was a wild ride.

Par 5, #3 at the Ridge
Par 5, #3 at the Ridge

First up was Ridge with it’s tight tree-lined fairways, huge changes in elevation, and quirky pinball bounces.  You definitely need a Sherpa with local knowledge to negotiate your way around this mountain.  And playing directly after Ross Bridge, with it’s wide open expanses, we pushed the level of our comfort zones.  Some of the locals said the best way to play Ridge was to try and land your ball as close to the 150 yard poles because that’s the only flat place on the course.  I could see their point, but if you’re trying to get to a scoring yardage in close that becomes a problem.

3rd green at the Ridge cut into a mountain of shale
3rd green at the Ridge cut into a mountain of shale

Ridge has Bentgrass greens and Bermuda through the fairway and rough.  I actually putted these greens quite well after coming from the Bent surfaces at Ross Bridge, but found that moving to the Bermuda greens on the short course and Valley a difficult adjustment.

On the day we played Ridge there were two issues.  First, we found out that on all RTJ Trail courses, the driving ranges are closed for maintenance on Tuesday mornings.  The pro shop staff offered to let us play a few holes on the short course as a warm-up, which we did, but unbeknownst to us was the difficulty and precision required to play the short course, and we ended up losing two balls each on the first two holes just warming up.  Secondly, the tees and fairways on Ridge had not been cut.  It appeared that a mower had been driven on each of the tee boxes, but no grass was taken, which seemed very peculiar and we pointed that out to the pro shop staff.  The long fairways were actually a blessing in disguise, as some of our off-line tee shots did not roll out into the penal Bermuda rough.  The main takeaway; you need to fully warm up your swing before playing Ridge.  I shot a seven-over par 79 from the Orange tees that were playing at 6,527 yards and was quite happy with that score.

In the afternoon, we played the Short course.  This is a collection of 18 legitimate par-3 holes that were pretty darn tough.  Many of these played considerably downhill.  Club selection was difficult and the Bermuda greens had some severe undulations.  They were in good condition, but were hard to negotiate after playing on Bent for a couple of rounds.  Four three-putt greens and an 12-over par 66 later, I finally figured out I needed to “pop” the ball with the putter like Brandt Snedeker to get a decent roll.  Nevertheless, the Short course was a very fun and challenging play.  We played the orange tees which measured 2,971 yards.

Short course downhill par 3 playing 200 yards
Short course downhill par 3 playing 200 yards

Next up was the Valley course on Wednesday, October, 9 and we found it also challenging, but much more open off the tee and more aesthetically pleasing with its gently rolling fairways and meticulously landscaped touches.  Valley’s Bermuda greens were cut tighter than the short course and were in excellent condition, yet weren’t rolling as fast as they looked.

Jim on the par 4 15th tee at Valley
Jim on the par 4 15th tee at Valley

We were paired up with Charlie, a local, who gave us great course management tips and some interesting history of the Valley and Ridge courses.  There is something to be said for local knowledge and more open sight lines; it relaxes you.  However, there were strategically placed fairway bunkers on most holes in the 240-260 yard range off the tee.  Hit them and you were in trouble, but well placed drives were rewarded with good looks at the greens.  Valley was clearly the preferred play of all the locals and I could see why.  I managed an 11-over 83 from the orange tees that were playing at 6,588 yards.  This course felt easier than Ridge but I struggled again on the Bermuda greens.

Value (3.75 out of 5.0)

Booking fees for Ridge and Valley were $79.20 which included a cart.  I actually saw some fool going out to walk on the Ridge, so it was permitted but I would advise against it.  I hope they found the guy.  We played the short course on a replay special rate for $22 which included a sleeve of Nike balls.  This was a great value considering I can play my 9-hole executive course at home for $20 and the quality of golf doesn’t compare.  Range balls had to be purchased separately but we found an ample supply left at the hitting stations for a free warm-up on Wednesday.

Facilities (3.25 out of 5.0)

The range at Oxmoor Valley
The range at Oxmoor Valley

The range had about 25 hitting stations which were on good conditioned mats.  Normally they hit from several tiers of grass but the range had been overseeded and mats were in order during the first two weeks of October.  There was a large putting green near the clubhouse where chipping wasn’t allowed and a smaller green for short game practice near the range.  The facility also hosts a separate range and short game area reserved for a golf school that wasn’t available for general use.

Customer Experience (4.25 out of 5.0)

The operation shines at Oxmoor Valley with exceptional customer service.  Our bag drop greeters were right there when we pulled up and very courteous and helpful with directions to the range, first tee, and general instructions on protocol.  Special shout out to Tony who was working carts on Tuesday and recharged ours for the afternoon round on the Short course.  Tony also hit us up with coupons for a free round at any RTJ course, which we greatly appreciated and took and used at Grand National later in the week.  The pro shop staff moved my Wednesday tee time from 7:50 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. upon my request, despite the time not being available when I booked a month in advance.  Bottom line, this was some of the most friendly service we’ve experienced in our travels.  Only complaint is that the clubhouse food selection was very limited and the turkey and cheddar sandwich I lunched on was quite ordinary.  Charlie, our Wednesday playing companion, also reiterated that the food was not that great.

Overall experience at Oxmoor Valley was very good.  Valley is a must play and I’d love to come back and tackle that Ridge course again now that I have an idea of where to hit it.

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)

Tee shot on par 5 #12 at Valley
Tee shot on par 5 #12 at Valley

Ross Bridge – Course Review

Summary

Ross Bridge

Playing Ross Bridge as your opening course on a trip to Alabama’s RTJ Trail feels like trying to learn to drive in a Cadillac Escalade.  This outstanding championship venue is located in Hoover, AL, and is the third longest course in the world (measuring 8,191 yards from the back tees and covering over 300 acres.) It is the on-site companion to the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa.

What immediately strikes you is the enormous size of everything and the exquisite conditioning and attention to detail in all areas of the operation.  From the pristine all grass driving range with its pyramid stacks of new golf balls, to it’s gigantic putting surfaces, to the miles of open fairways, to the long traverses from green to tee, this golf course was a delight to play.

The Driving Range at Ross Bridge
The Driving Range at Ross Bridge
The Putting Green
The Putting Green

Playing notes:

  • Even though you will be riding, prepare to do some walking.  The course is so large that there are ample stretches where you are on foot from cart to green and back.
  • Warm up your driver and forget about losing any balls or laying up on any holes, as this is a bomber’s paradise.
  • The course’s main defenses are the huge greens and deep green-side bunkers, a lot of which are protecting the front of the surfaces.  If you are in a green-side bunker, you will have a long tough sand shot, so good ball striking off the tee and a solid iron game are at a premium.
  • To get off to a good start on the first hole which is a long par-5, your line should be to carry the right side of the fairway bunker, but guard against going left on your second shot layup, as water sneaks in close to the fairway.
  • The par-3 4th hole has a false front.  Take plenty of club and play to the back-middle of the green.
  • #7 is a par-5 dog leg right.  You are tempted to cut the corner but don’t as everything bounces right.  There’s plenty of room left center; take it.
  • This course is long.  Check your ego at the door and play the appropriate set of tees; you’ll have more fun.  There are five to choose from (Black – 8,191; Purple – 7,446; Orange – 6,783; White – 6,200; Teal – 5,312).
Halfway House
Halfway House

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

We booked our play at the RTJ Trail as a package and most of the venues on the site were known for good value and came in at $79.20 which included a cart.  Ross Bridge is considered a resort and commands a premium level $151.80 greens fee.  If you were to play here five times, your golf vacation could become costly, and even at the stated price, I questioned the value when I booked the tee time until I played the track.  It is worth every penny.  Having played comparable courses in the $100 – $200 range, such as Bulle Rock and the redesigned Pinehurst #2, I can clearly say that Ross Bridge provided the best value.

On the tee at the par-4 eighth hole.
On the tee at the par-4 eighth hole.

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse and pro shop are attached to the beautiful 248-room Renaissance resort.  There is a grill and a fine dining restaurant to choose from, but we did not eat here so no comment on the food.  The pro shop was of good size and well stocked.  The practice facilities include the tremendous all grass driving rang, a short game area to chip, pitch, and hit bunker shots, and an extra large putting green located between the staging area and first tee.  The course was empty on the Monday that we played and I felt like a kid in a candy store with all these wonderful amenities at my disposal.  Tees, fairways, and rough are all Bermuda grass and the greens are Bent and were rolling medium fast and very smooth.  Of the hundreds of courses I’ve played, Ross Bridge’s practice facilities rank third, behind only Pinehurst and Congressional.

Approach to the par-4 ninth hole
Approach to the par-4 ninth hole

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

Booking a tee time was easy and I did this by calling RTJ a couple months in advance.  They will book golf and / or lodging for you at the Marriott-Renaissance resorts or just golf, which I elected to do.  We stayed at the Hampton Inn on Lakeshore Drive for three nights and found the accommodations very comfortable and about a 15 minute drive to the course.

Upon arrival, the bag drop attendant was right there to meet and greet and got us loaded promptly.  When we finished up, he cleaned our clubs and gave us directions to the Oxmoor Valley clubhouse, where we were to play the next day.  The pro shop staff was professional and welcoming and the starter actually provided playing tips for the first hole, which was much appreciated, and mentioned where to park our cart at the second green to avoid an inordinately long walk to the third tee.  We played as a twosome and were not rushed and did not push anyone all the way around.  It was a truly enjoyable golf experience.  On your next trip to RTJ, don’t miss this one.

We played here on Monday, October 7, 2013 and I shot a six-over par 78 from the Orange tees which measured 6,783 yards.

Overall Rating (4.25 out of 5.0)

#14 green in the foreground.  #15 fairway behind the lake.
#14 green in the foreground. #15 fairway behind the lake.

Roll Tide! War Eagle! RTJ ‘Bama Trip Booked.

At the risk of sounding like the two-faced ferry operator in The Outlaw Josey Wales, I need to practice these two catchphrases for my upcoming trip to the RTJ Golf Trail in Alabama.RTJ  We are visiting during the second week in October and our travels will take us from Birmingham (Tide country) to Auburn/Opelika (Tigers) and cover seven days and five rounds.  I’ve done some preliminary research and believe that the courses we’ve selected are among the finest on the trail.  The line-up:

  1. Ross Bridge, Hoover
  2. Oxmoor Valley – Ridge course, Birmingham
  3. Oxmoor Valley – Valley course, Birmingham
  4. Grand National – Links course, Opelika
  5. Grand National – Lakes course, Opelika

The 800 mile trek from DC to Birmingham is a haul and we’ve decided to fly instead of drive.  Our thoughts were to stay/play at as many courses in the same areas and minimize the travel between sites.  The RTJ Trail has partnered with some Renaissance and Marriott resorts on site and will book a stay-play package for you, or they offer you the option of doing your own hotel reservations, as we have done.  Full course reviews are coming for each site, as well as an evaluation of our travel and booking strategy.  Right now I’m looking for any travel insights, course playing tips, or advice on good barbeque joints along the trail; please send!

Have you ever tried to peak your game for a golf trip?  My advice is not to try too hard because you end up traveling with too many mechanical swing thoughts, and even though the airlines don’t charge for them, they are more costly than most baggage fees.  As this trip gets closer, I’m thinking of trying to just play as much as I can and not worry too much about practice.  Usually, I play better the day after I practice, but yesterday’s outlier round gave me great hope on the “play only” strategy.  I hadn’t touched a club in over a week and went out cold for a game in the wind and rain at Rattlewood.  I hit about 20 balls, rolled a dozen 3-foot putts and teed it up.  Four hours later, I returned soaking wet, but had hit 14 greens and shot even par for my best round of the year.  Strange game.  I have noticed a marked improvement in my ball striking and have hit double-digit GIR in six of my last eight rounds.  I may be onto a fundamental “ah ha” discovery but it’s too early to tell.  The trip will provide a great opportunity to test my theory and I’ll fill you in upon my return.

My Almost Perfect Father’s Day

With my kids on Father's Day at Bethany Beach, DE
With my kids on Father’s Day at Bethany Beach, DE

I drifted off to sleep Saturday night thinking about Father’s Day and wondering what would constitute the perfect day?  How about a great beach day with my family, a perfect round of golf, and a thrilling storybook ending to the U.S. Open?

I was going to spend the afternoon at the beach with my wife and kids and the weather was going to be perfect – part one, check.  I also had a tee time at the Salt Pond in Bethany Beach at 7:00 a.m.

#3 Tee at the Salt Pond
#3 Tee at the Salt Pond

The Salt Pond is a lovely little par-61 executive course where I annually go to sharpen my iron game when visiting the beach.  If your swing is on, you can score because the greens are always soft and in excellent condition.  I’ve gone as low as 3-under here, but was thinking about “the perfect round”.  How about bogey free?  Ever played a bogey free round?  On a couple of occasions, I’ve gotten close, and when the round got late into the back-nine, the pressure buildup was significant, and I always cracked.  So I figured, why not on the perfect day?

Third, I looked forward to watching Phil Mickelson enjoying his birthday, Father’s Day, first U.S. Open title, yada, yada yada.  Well, we know how that ended, but Justin Rose seemed like a very worthy champion, and truly a class act with his gracious post-round comments about Phil.  No complaints.

There’s just a driving net with a couple of stations at the Salt Pond, but I’m becoming very adept at playing golf sans hitting warm-up balls since I’ve been working on this new warm-up routine, and elected to tee off after stretching and taking a couple of passes with a swing doughnut.  I wonder if any tour pros have played bogey free golf in an official round without warming up?  But I digress.  I opened with a lovely 7-iron right over the flag and just missed the birdie putt.  A couple of solid pitching wedges on #2 and #3 yielded a birdie and a par, but the dream ended on #4 with a pulled 5-iron and a missed 10-footer for par.  At least I wasn’t hallucinating for too long.  The day ended with a few more birdies, a few bogeys, and two doubles.  I finished three-over and sort of reminiscent of the round Lefty would play later in the day.  But I was out playing the game I love and really had no expectations other than to have fun.

I loved Father’s Day this year; it was truly perfect for me.  How was yours?

9 Tee at The Salt Pond
9 Tee at The Salt Pond

True Blue – Course Review

Summary

On the tee at True Blue
On the tee at True Blue

We played True Blue in Pawleys Island, SC on Saturday, June 1, 2013.  Every time I visit this Mike Strantz design I enjoy it more and more and our 36 hole adventure lived up to the advanced billing.  We found the course in impeccable condition from tee to green, as it has always been.  True Blue is known for it’s huge expansive fairways and natural waste bunkers that do double duty as cart paths.  I always seem to drive the ball well here and believe it’s because the wide fairways tend to relax me, and the holes have abundant targets that fit my eye quite well.  We were playing the blue tees at 6,812 yards and the course played long and tough with a moderate wind blowing and showed most of its teeth on the par five holes.  #1 is a monster at 600 yards and was playing into the wind.  I’m not used to hitting driver, 3WD, 3WD on most par fives but did in round #1.  The greens were rolling smooth and medium fast and were a delight to putt on after playing on some slower surfaces earlier in the week.

Playing notes:

  • #2 is a short par-4 at 342 yards and you must play your drive as far left as possible.  The approach to the green is guarded by a canopy of trees that seemed to catch most of the approaches we hit from all but the proper angle.
  • #4 is a horseshoe par-5 that hooks around a large lake.  You may be tempted to get as close to the water on your tee shot and go for the full 200+ yard carry, but don’t.  I tried and rinsed two in my morning round.  The conservative play over land will give you a good shot at par.
  • #8 is a medium length par-4 at 363 yards.  Hit 3WD over the bunker on the right side of this blind tee shot for a good look at the green with a short iron or wedge.
  • #17 is a very long par-4 and at 426 yards was playing into a stiff wind.  Both times I crushed a driver and needed a full three-iron over water to get home and barely made it.  If your drive is a little bit off, play it like a short par-5.
  • #18 is a dogleg left and requires a tee shot over water, and depending on where they put the flag, the second shot as well.  The best play here is to aim just right of the green and short as the approach is a good area to chip from and takes the water and a big number out of play.
Clubhouse view from the 18th tee at True Blue
View of the clubhouse and 18th green from the tee at True Blue

Value (3.75 out of 5.0)

True Blue was the premium play on our golf package. Morning times are $94 and afternoon $74 in this time slot.  The replay cost of $60 was well worth the price.  Range balls were complimentary.  The grill provided a large menu of food options with good sized portions at reasonable prices.  For $15 I had a Cajun Chicken Club, coleslaw, iced tea, and tip.

Facilities (4.50 out of 5.0)

The course has some of the best facilities starting with the conditioning and routing which were top notch.  Everyone in my group loved the layout because it’s simply one of the best in Myrtle Beach.  The driving range is all grass and was in excellent condition, as was the short game practice area and putting green, and they are adjacent to the cart staging area which made set up and go very easy.  The pro shop is of ample size and the grill is a nice area to enjoy food and drink after play.  The clubhouse has an excellent outside deck suitable for watching golfers plunk their approaches into the pond guarding #18.  The only peculiarity we noticed was that our starter told us to treat all bunkers (even those green-side and with rakes) as waste areas.  Normally, if it has a rake, you treat it as a hazard.  As a result, there were some unraked footprints in the green-side bunkers but it was pretty inconsequential.

Customer Experience (3.75 out of 5.0)

The bag drop attendants were very organized, punctual, and friendly.  It’s always great to have your first interaction be a positive one.  The staff in the pro shop indicated it would not be a problem to replay, but didn’t allow us to reserve a time until after we finished our morning round.  The thought was that they wanted to reserve the high priced tee times for full paying customers.  It worried us a bit because their sister course (Caledonia) was closed for a tournament and the thought of not having a time on a Saturday afternoon was a possibility.  Nevertheless, they got us out after lunch and we were not rushed, as there were no groups before or after us.  We asked to play as a fivesome but were told to go off as as a twosome and threesome.  We joined up and played the round as five and broke apart as we played holes that neared the clubhouse.  I’m sure this behavior was frowned upon, but we would have ceased if we were holding anyone up.

On this day we played from the blue tees for both rounds and I carded an 81 on both tries.  True Blue is an awesome play and is in my top five, if not right at the top of all courses at Myrtle Beach.  Don’t miss it on your next trip.

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)

#3 green - True Blue
#3 green – True Blue

Rivers Edge – Course Review

Summary

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

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

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

Playing notes:

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

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

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

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

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

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

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

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

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

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

Kings North – Course Review

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Front bunker protecting #5
Front bunker protecting #5

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

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

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

Facilities (3.75 out of 5.0)

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

Customer Experience (3.25 out of 5.0)

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

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

Overall Rating (3.75 out of 5.0)