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Game is peaking for Pinehurst!

11 days and counting until Pinehurst!  The good news is that last weekend I practiced twice at Bear Trap Dunes in Delaware and felt real good.  The second day’s practice included full swing and short game and was extremely productive.  One more pre-trip tune up round scheduled for this weekend and I should be set.  Hopefully Hurricane Irene will hold off long enough to get in my work on Saturday.

The line-up for Pinehurst:

Saturday, 9/3 – #8

Sunday, 9/4 – #4

Monday, 9/5 – Bucket list round on #2, yeah baby!

If anyone has any playing tips for any of the three courses, send ’em my way, thanks!

Blue Mash – Course Review

Summary

Blue Mash golf course in Laytonsville, Maryland is a Joe Hills-Tom Healy design that combines links and parkland styles into a single theme that is both challenging and very fun to play.  The course is home to a fabulous grass driving range and large short game practice facility that begs the seasoned player and beginner alike to come and spend time.

Always in good condition, this upscale daily fee track smacks you right out of the box with three meaty par-4 holes each playing over 420 yards from the men’s tees.  Water and well placed fairway bunkers come into play and frame the approaches on several holes but there’s only one forced carry on the par-3 17th.  A mixture of short and medium length par-4s and 5s keep the route interesting with no two holes alike.  The true toughness of Blue Mash is evident in hot dry conditions when the greens are rolling fast.  I recently played on August 14, 2011 during “Diabolical Pins Week” where the course attempts to mirror some feature of the major tournament being played at the time (2011 PGA.)  The pins were cut on various humps and near the edges and needless to say, I made nothing outside of six feet.  Fortunately, some early rain had slowed the greens to a manageable pace but I left imagining what kind of day I could have had with these pins cut on fast rolling greens.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

Greens fees for 2011 are $79 for morning weekend starting times.  This includes cart and range balls.  You can get $10 off if you elect to prepay.  A variety of weekday, 10-year, and corporate memberships are available that offer good value to the individual who plays a lot.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

Blue Mash is where I go when I need to do serious practice.  The driving range is the best I’ve found in Montgomery County and always seems to be in excellent condition.  The practice putting green can handle a large number of players quite comfortably and is always rolling smooth and true.  Nearby is a short game area that provides a variety of shots from all sides.  Several tightly mowed areas are provided as are a variety of tall grass configurations, as well as uphill and downhill lies.  Two bunkers at opposite ends of the green are much lower than the surface of the green and are the only awkward feature, as thinly struck sand shots from either can sometimes endanger players at the opposite end.

A modest sized clubhouse is home to a small pro shop and medium-sized grill area.  A good-sized patio  overlooks the short game area and is a great spot to enjoy some food and drink after a round.  Finally, a small set of lockers are available to the members for a nominal fee.  The allure of Blue Mash facilities are the course and practice area.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

The pro shop staff and starters are friendly and accommodating.  With the driving range, putting green, and short game area closely situated to the clubhouse, the process of warm-up and teeing off was a cinch.  Everything moved orderly and we did a minimal amount of waiting on the course, albeit after teeing off on a less crowded rainy morning.  The course had aerated greens which I thought was a little awkward considering it was still late summer but then found that another local upscale daily fee (Whiskey Creek) had done the same a week later.  Perhaps there’s a reason, but I’m accustomed to a mid-Fall aeration schedule.  Anyway, the greens were a little slow because of the rain and not rolling true from aeration.  The course had drained very well from heavy early morning rains as we rode and played cart-path only.  Tee boxes and fairways were in good shape with the lone exception on the short par-4, 8th fairway which had many unrepaired divots left from numerous short iron approaches.

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)


Clustered Spires – Course Review

Summary

Clustered Spires is run by the city of Frederick, Maryland and is adjacent to the Frederick municipal airport (about 10 minutes from downtown Frederick).  We played on August 7, 2011 at the height of the summer heat and drought that’s gripped the Washington D.C. area.  Surprisingly, the course was in good shape, with well watered tee boxes, lush fairways, and thick receptive greens.  There’s not much length to the course with the regular men’s tees playing just over 6,200 yards.  Most par-4s are under 400 yards and several par-5s are reachable in two with a good tee shot.  Water comes into play on a few holes but there are no forced carries and ample bail-out areas for sprayers off the tee.

My last three times out at Clustered Spires, I’ve switched to a ball with a lower spin rate (Titleist DT Roll) as I’ve found my regular ball (Pro-V1) provides too much bite on these greens.  Again today, those in our group playing high spin balls were backing up full iron shots 10-20 feet.  Once on the greens, the surfaces rolled smooth and were easy to read, albeit a little slow, as the greens crew was clearly working to preserve them in the heat.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Greens fees are quite reasonable with a weekday fee of $40 to ride and $59 for Saturday/Sunday.  The combination of low greens fees and good course conditioning in the summer heat make Clustered Spires a very good value for your golfing dollar.

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

Clustered Spires has a good size clubhouse that encompasses a nice fully stocked pro shop, a walk up grill with a medium size indoor seating area, and a fairly large covered patio overlooking the 9th green and 1st tee.  Separate practice putting and chipping greens are available, but the chipping green lacks an extended closely mowed area for practicing longer pitch shots.  A good size grass driving range is available but was in very poor shape with hardly any grass remaining.  Either the hitting area had not been rotated, the summer heat and lack of water had taken their toll, or both.  As a result, I spent most of my warm up hitting woods and irons off a tee.  Our only complaint with the course was the hard packed crusty condition of the sand.  While consistent from hole to hole, it was too firm and hadn’t appeared to be groomed for quite some time.

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

Calling ahead for a reserved tee time was easy and there were ample times available one week in advance.  The staff in the pro shop and snack bar were friendly and helpful.  Our starter seemed organized but tried to be too accommodating and sent a twosome off ahead of us and in our time slot.  These guys had played nine holes on the back and were looking to squeeze in nine more.  As a result, we were frequently waiting on our front nine until the twosome mysteriously quit and rode in after six holes.  The pro shop staff should work to better ensure the integrity of the scheduled starting times.  On the course, the beverage cart came by every five or six holes and there was a good supply of fresh cold drinking water.  Starting in late morning, activity at the adjacent airport picked up with a fairly continuous drone of propeller driven aircraft and sightseeing helicopters.  If you’re looking for quiet secluded golf experience, Clustered Spires is not it, but for a fairly inexpensive municipal golf course with pretty good conditioning at reasonable prices, you can’t go wrong.  I’ll be back.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)


Destination Pinehurst Number Two!

Just booked a trip over Labor Day weekend to play Pinehurst #2 along with rounds on #4 and #8 – can’t wait!  #2 is on my bucket list, and as with any golf vacation I will try to peak my game for the effort.  When I travel annually to Myrtle Beach, I’m pretty familiar with what types of greens I’ll be putting and what type of short shots will be required but I’ve never been to Pinehurst and am looking for advice and or playing tips for any of the courses so please send your comments!

Of course, detailed course reviews and an evaluation of the entire Pinehurst travel operation are coming so stay tuned!

The great debate: Walk or ride?

I’m in the walking camp and truly believe one’s game is enhanced to the tune of three strokes better per round by walking.  On foot you get into a rhythm, get a better feel for the course, can judge the effects of wind and terrain, and can play without delay.  Compare to the worst case cart scenario:  You are the driver, riding with a player that sprays the ball, who doesn’t play from the same tee box as you, and the course is wet and enforcing “Cart path only.”  There’s nothing worse than walking all the way across the fairway to hunt for lost balls or grabbing a bag full of clubs because you can’t measure yardage or visualize the correct shot parked on the cart path.  Everything is so much easier when you can just walk to your ball.

There are circumstances where you should be playing out of a cart.  On my recent trip to Myrtle Beach, golfing at The Legends would be nearly impossible for a walker.  The 54-hole complex and driving range is the size of a small airport and motorized transportation is a must.  We were blessed with good weather and could ride the carts in the fairways, which helped to speed play and allowed us to conserve energy for playing 36 holes in the summer heat.

Finally, a word of caution:  If you’re going to walk, make sure you’re physically up for the test.  Pulling or carrying your bag over four miles in summer heat is not trivial.  My back and legs used to get tired after 14 or 15 holes so I dedicated myself to an off-season workout regimen that included aerobic conditioning as well as core strengthening exercises.

Heritage Club – Course Review

#8 tee Heritage

Summary

Heritage Club, on Pawleys Island, SC, is one of my favorite layouts in Myrtle Beach.  Two things make  Heritage unique;  a bevy of Live Oak trees draped with Spanish moss that line the entrance to the club and frame several outstanding holes, and huge undulating Bermuda greens that provide a daunting challenge to your short game.  This course is challenging and you MUST place your approach shots on the same level as the pins.  Missing the greens on the proper level is an easier play than playing from the wrong tier of the putting surface.  40 and 50 foot putts are not uncommon and will create havoc with your confidence and put big numbers on your scorecard.  You’ll need length off the tee, accuracy on approaches, and a deft short game to score at Heritage.  The course is an awesome test.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0).

Playing on The Legends rotation package, Heritage provides very good value considering the overall layout, scenic beauty and quality of course conditioning.  To get top billing, they need to include range balls in the cost, don’t charge an extra $2.00 to turn on the Logitec distance finder in each cart, and stock the range with some quality balls.  I bought a bag of 40, with nearly all the dimples wiped off.  Get them for $5 in the pro shop or the range shuttle driver will sell you a bag in route.  A classy course like Heritage doesn’t need to nickel and dime their customers.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

The property is not that large but a shuttle is required to go everywhere.  To the range, back to the clubhouse, to the parking lot after the round.  The putting green is located adjacent to the range and not withing walking distance of the clubhouse, which is a bit awkward (also requires a shuttle.)  The attendant manning the cart staging area reminded us not to drive our clubs to our car after the round because of some insurance concern, which I found interesting since the other Legends courses mentioned no such restriction.

From the front and rear, the clubhouse is drop dead gorgeous and is reminiscent of the antebellum mansion that might have existed on the property in yesteryear.   Between our morning and afternoon round, we dined in the clubhouse and while the standard American fare was quite tasty, we found the service a bit on the slow side.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

Despite all the pre and post round shuttling, we found all the staff very friendly and accommodating.  The pace of play was excellent for both morning and afternoon rounds, and the course a delight to play.   Bring your patience, nerve, and your A-game because from start to finish, Heritage is a fun stern test of every club in the bag.  I’d consider this a must play for anyone making the trip to Pawleys Island.

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)


Oyster Bay – Course Review

#5 tee Oyster Bay

Summary

Oyster Bay, in Sunset Beach, NC is the northern most track affiliated with The Legends courses managed by Arnold Palmer Golf Management.  My group played here on a recent trip in early June.  Located close to the ocean, the course boasts a variety of holes that weave their way around scenic lakes and marshes and are buffeted by the stiff ocean breezes.  Notable holes begin with #14, a downhill par 5 with a large tree to negotiate in the middle of the fairway, which is followed by a risk-reward carry to the green over water.  This is followed by #15, a beautiful short par 3 surrounded by water that challenges the player’s ability to keep a ball down under the prevailing sea breeze.  #16 is a long par 4 that plays downwind and is bordered by water on the right and in front of the green.  Set just inside the ocean, these three holes, along with the par 5 fifth hole (pictured above), provide a standout variety of challenges for the nature loving golf enthusiast.  Course conditioning is less than spectacular, with several brown patches intruding on some greens as well as a good number of burned out tee boxes and worn spots in the fairways, but the scenic views and variety of holes make this a very fun course to play.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Greens fees run $79 dollars during June and July and include cart but range balls are extra.  Our group was playing on the package offered by The Legends which included breakfast, lunch, two drinks, and golf, which was a great deal.  If you are a playing conditions purist, Oyster Bay’s value is middle of the road at best.  Our group felt like we easily got our money’s worth and enjoyed a second 18 in the afternoon at a $30 replay rate which was discounted, as the course honored our 9-hole price replay card from our scheduling snafu at Heathlands earlier in the week.  We viewed Oyster Bay very favorably and would rate it a top value except for the slightly scrappy conditions.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse structure was a bit dated and the grill was on the smallish side and offered a limited variety of food choices, especially on the breakfast buffet and just a few ready made sandwiches and hot dogs for lunch.  The pro shop seemed nicely stocked for its size.  Oyster Bay has a medium size grass driving range with balls costing $5 for a bag.  There’s a good size practice putting green where chipping is allowed since there’s no separate short game area.  Most holes on the course are surrounded by houses albeit very beautiful properties, but there is little privacy during play.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

The course had double teed groups from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. and we began our morning on the 10th tee accompanied by a very friendly and informative starter/marshal.  We played our first nine quickly and our marshal visited us a couple times on the course to inform us that our pace was good and on one occasion brought a player in our group some fresh ice and cold towels to relieve a painful shoulder injury that had flared.  We appreciated the assistance but when we turned the pace slowed to a crawl with three and four groups playing each hole and we never saw our marshal again.  Ultimately our second nine took three hours to play which taxed everyone’s patience.  A few of us decided to replay and went out again shortly after 2:00 p.m. and breezed around 18 holes without waiting on a single shot which picked up our spirits and provided a very enjoyable afternoon.  If you are interested in 18 holes on the weekend during the summer, try to reserve between 1:30 and 2:00 p.m. for the best pace of play.  The final verdict:  If you want a beautiful layout and don’t mind playing on less than stellar conditions, Oyster Bay is a good choice.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)


Caledonia Golf Course – Course Review

#10 green Caledonia

Summary

My travel group recently played Caledonia Golf Course which is located in Pawleys Island, SC and is managed by Caledonia Golf Vacations along with its sister course, True Blue.  Caledonia sits on a wonderful piece of property which is actually an old rice plantation and has many spectacular views and is beautifully appointed with many charms of the old south.  While not terribly long (6,526 yards from the back tees), the superb conditioning and well maintained grounds make for a very enjoyable afternoon of golf.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

Greens fees range from a low of $110 during the summer to a high of $200 in the spring for morning tee times.  Technically, range balls are included, but there is no driving range at Caledonia and it’s not practical to shuttle back and forth to True Blue to hit balls before a round.  Also, at these first class prices, you need to have a yardage guide, extra towels, and mini cooler provided with each golf cart, but at Caledonia you get none (just a cart with a scorecard), which we found disappointing.  These minor inconveniences need to be balanced against the sheer beauty and conditioning that the golf course provides.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

There is a bit of a cramped feeling around the bad drop and cart staging area as it’s apparent that Caledonia was built on a limited amount of real estate.  With no room for a driving range, they’ve created a smallish practice area with about four or five separate greens, complete with bunkers and mowed approaches to warm up on.  Want to hit balls?  You need to drive to True Blue which is a couple of minutes away by car.  The practice putting green is very small and barely had room for our group of two foresomes.  You felt congested when several players were trying to warm up in the practice area because the practice greens are tightly interwoven and shots were being struck from several different directions (watch your head!)  The morning we were playing they were double teeing off #1 and #10 and the practice area was crowded.  Additionally, there was little room to maneuver carts around the staging area to get to the practice greens. However, once on the golf course, you no longer felt squeezed and could relax.  Finally, the clubhouse, while on the smallish side, exudes southern charm with it’s wonderful wrap around porch outfitted with rocking chairs overlooking the 18th green and is a wonderful place to watch groups concluding play for the day.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

I’d like to see the course minimize the distractions and crowding by eliminating the practice of double teeing.  Once away from the confusion associated with staging and warm-up, the customer can relax and enjoy the beauty and challenges of a great golf course, which is pretty much what you remember at the end of the day.  Tee boxes, fairways, greens, and bunkers are all immaculate and the landscaping a true marvel.

Finally, you can enjoy an excellent lunch in the grill room with very tasty menu selections, good service, and reasonable prices.  I will be back to Caledonia.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)


The Legends – Course Review

Fairway bunker #18 Parkland

Summary

The Legends is a group of five golf courses, three of which (Heathland, Parkland, and  Moreland), are located off Rt 501 in central Myrtle Beach.  Heritage (Pawleys Island), and Oyster Bay (Sunset Beach, North Carolina), round out the group and all have been operated by the Arnold Palmer Golf Management group since 2009.  Recently our group played all five courses in late May – early June of 2011.  This review covers Heathland, Parkland, and Moreland.

Value (5.0 out of 5.0)

The Legends is an excellent value when coupled with the readily available “Three Round Special” package that includes daily lodging, greens fees for one round per day, carts, range balls, breakfast, lunch, and two drinks.  Our group played on a package that included Heritage and Oyster Bay and found that the excellent course conditions and the professional staff’s ability to move several hundred golfers a day and pay special attention to each made the golf experience very cost effective.

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Along with three superb championship courses, the Rt 501 facility includes an extensive grass driving range and short game practice area.  Each course presents a stern test and is very different in layout, but each are equally playable and enjoyable.  All three are very well marked and a free yardage guide is provided in each golf cart.  Heathland is a wide open links style layout with large bunkers and undulating greens providing the main challenge.  Parkland is a traditional tree-lined layout with large fairways and is the longest of the three.  Moreland is a P.B. Dye design and provides several elevation changes and significant greenside mounding as well as routing around water hazards that creates an ample test of a player’s shot making ability.  Conditions were consistent across all three courses with closely manicured fairways, very undulated greens that ran smooth and true, and consistent sand in the vast array of deep faced bunkers.  Several of the tee boxes were a bit patchy and slightly burned out but did not affect playability.

Driving range conditions were equally impressive as the all grass hitting areas were rotated to ensure even ware and recovery.  Considering the large number of players and long hours (open under the lights until 9:00 p.m.), we always had good grass to practice from.  A large undulating practice putting green with room for 20 + holes was available and closely mirrored course conditions.  Putting green markers are used in lieu of actual cups, which is an inconvenience for players who prefer putting to an actual hole.  Shuttles constantly move players and equipment from the staging areas to and from the driving range since the walk is considerable.  Shuttle service was also available to transport golfers to and from the golf facilities and their housing units.

Customer Experience (5.0 out of 5.0)

The professionalism on display from the golf shop staff, food service staff in the clubhouse, beverage service on the golf course, range attendants, and shuttle drivers was unparalleled.  From the little details like fresh towels and coolers with ice in every golf cart to the television screens showing scheduled tee times for all three courses in the clubhouse, our group definitely noticed a marked improvement in friendliness and attention to detail.   Everyone went out of their way to accommodate our every need and when a tournament was mistakenly scheduled over our previously reserved tee times on Heathland, the shop staff handled the mix-up calmly and professionally and got us out on Parkland in the same time slots and even compensated us with half price replay rates for the balance of our stay, which was greatly appreciated.  You get the feeling the customer is truly appreciated.  The Arnold Palmer Golf Management group has done the job.

Overall rating (5.0 out of 5.0)

Maryland National Golf Club – Course Review

Summary

Maryland National is located in Middletown, MD about 45 minutes from my home in Rockville.  While not overly long at 6,811 yards from the championship tees, this links style course has beautiful mountain vistas and significant changes in elevation on several holes.  The course will test your ball striking ability, especially into some of it’s very small protected greens.  There is ample room off the tee on most holes with the course’s main defense provided by creative green-side mounding and deeply contoured bunkers.  Players enjoy GPS in all golf carts and five sets of tee boxes make the course a fun challenging experience for everyone.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

The club lists greens fees on the weekend after 10 a.m. at $74 but we were playing on a pre-purchased discount card that allowed you to play on any day/time for $50, which is an excellent value.  Greens fees before 10 a.m. on the weekends are $94 which seem a bit high.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

The practice area is a medium length cart ride from the clubhouse and consists of a nicely maintained grass driving range, albeit on the small size, with about 15-20 hitting stations.  Balls are included with greens fees.  Adjacent to the range are two very small nicely maintained pitching (bunker included) and putting greens.    I was left with the distinct impression that these practice areas could become very crowded during times of heavy play because of their limited size.  There is a fully stocked pro shop and the on-site restaurant provides either sit down or walk up service.

Customer Experience (4.5 out of 5.0)

On Sunday, May 15, 2011 I found the course to be in excellent condition with all tee boxes and fairways nicely manicured and the greens running medium fast and very true.  The course had received significant rainfall the night before but all bunkers were nicely raked and there was very little standing water as the fairways and rough appeared to have drained nicely.  It was clear the staff takes pride in their course conditioning.  Everyone from the pro shop staff to the beverage cart girl to the staff in the restaurant were very friendly and accommodating.  My only complaint was a malfunctioning GPS.  Once we left the cart path, a message to “Return to the cart path immediately” was displayed and could not be cleared until the cart was back on the path.  When we questioned the clubhouse staff, they indicated the GPS was infected with a computer virus and had been for several days.

Overall rating (4.0 out of 5.0)