Monday, August 29, 2016

The Ryder Cup is coming to Hazeltine National in Minnesota


Things to Know about TheRyder Cup
2016
by Larry Berle


The Ryder Cup will be played at Hazeltine National Golf Club Sept 26- Oct 2, 2016.
Hazeltine has hosted several other major golf tournaments  but  this, by far, seems to have the highest level of interest.

Here is just a taste of what has gone into the preparation of this event.
  1. The course has been lengthened  to  7674 yards.  I will be surprised if anyone ever plays it again at that length,  in fact The Ryder Cup wont be played at that length because I can see that the first tee bleachers have been built in front of the back tee box on #1
  2. It’s August  28 and carts are no longer allowed out on the course.  The only play allowed is walking  and at that they must carry a mat and place their ball on the mat to hit from the fairway  (you can hit it from the rough if you land there)
  3. After Labor day  the golf course will be closed to all play.
  4. Many of the corporate,  media and merchandise tents are already up and in place  (but I have been told there are more to come)
  5. The course has been rerouted. Please note this does not mean that  holes have been changed, just rerouted for crowd control and viewing purposes.  (for example 9 and 18 have been interchanged and #4 may not be followed by the old #5 It is undetermined if Hazeltine will go back to the old routing after the Ryder Cup or not.
  1. The General Public Parking Lot for the 2016 Ryder Cup is at Canterbury Park located at 1100 Canterbury Road, Shakopee,  This is a half hour bus ride from the course.  There will also be no bike riding to the course and no walking either.
  2. There are 28 matches in total in the Ryder Cup, 8 on Friday 8 on Saturday and 12 singles matches on Sunday.   The amount of golf a spectator will be able to see in person seems to me to be severely limited.  I think this will be much better on TV.
  3. If you are going, and if you are a Prince Fan then you may want to know that Paisley Park is 3 or 4 miles from Hazeltine National. at the intersection of Highway #5 and Audubon Road
  4. With the 2016 Ryder Cup, Hazeltine will become one of two courses in the United States to have hosted the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Amateur, and Ryder Cup Matches.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Grand Lake Colorado

 Grand Lake Colorado  
by Larry Berle

Come for the Winters and stay for the summers
Thats what the people who live here year round say— they came to ski but the summers are why they stayed. 
It would be hard to disagree since there is so much to do here  and the weather is so wonderful during the summer.
Grand Lake Colorado is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Denver and a half hour north of Winter Park.
It is the Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and at the Headwaters of the Colorado River  (yep that  powerful Colorado River that cuts through the Grand Canyon)  This river was originally called the Grand River  but the state of Colorado changed its name.  

We are on the Western slope of  the Continental Divide.  What exactly is the  Continental Divide you may ask?  It defines which direction rivers run in the continental U.S..  Rivers on its western slope drain toward the Pacific Ocean and the Eastern slope drains  toward the Atlantic.  Thus the Colorado River heads west and provides a substantial part of the water for Utah, Arizona and California and some of Mexico.

Grand Lake is the largest natural lake in Colorado and sits at 8366 feet above sea level.  Gaze out at the iconic Rocky Mountain Views and  on the golf course hit it farther than you ever hit it before.  
Grand Lake is the Eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park  where there is 415 Square miles of glorious views .  You can even see the  “Never Summer Mountains”  with snow covered peaks 12 months a year and deepen your education with park ranger led nature programs.

Come here and cross Hot air ballooning   off your bucket list with a sunrise flight through a mountain pass.

Just look around you and you will likely  encounter Moose, Soaring Eagles, Elk,  Black Bear,  Big Horn Sheep and if you are lucky maybe all of the above.

Go Fly fishing and  (but see the movie A River Runs Through it before you do)
Go Kayaking or River rafting
Go Horsebackriding
Go Mountain Biking  (we are talking real mountains here)




 Enjoy a sunset dinner at Grand Lake Lodge (  a hotel and  wonderful restaurant overlooking the lake).   My guess is you will love the food as much as you love the view.  visit  www.grandlakelodge.com



All this and golf too— which is the real reason we came here in the first place.  Probably not the first location that comes to mind when planning a golf vacation  but the courses are wonderful and there is so much more to do in addition to golf, that it truly should be on your destination list.  There are 4 golf courses in the area

Grand Elk Golf Course
Craig Stadler and Trip Davis  took some inspiration from Scotlands Glen Eagles in designing this golf course that opened in 2003, and the trouble around this course shows it.  Fairways lined, not with trees, rather with  Gorse and Sage and plenty of  tough rough.  If you don't find those hazards then you can find water in play on over 1/2 of the holes.  Grand Elk is part of a housing development and has now become semi private with over half of the play being public,  It sits in the Valley  and the rolling fairways  are relatively flat, but the surrounding snow capped mountains are always in view.

Greens fees are $85 weekdays and  $95  weekends  includes range balls, cart and very good GPS on the carts



Grand Lakes Golf Course..  
Hit it long on the Rolling Fairways of Grand Lake Golf Course designed by Dick Phelps.  Stroll among  lodge pole pines, aspens  and maybe even be visited by a Moose, Elk Chipmunk or who knows what else.    Stay focused on the golf which could be a challenge  as we are surrounded by snow capped peaks of the Rockies and we are right on the border of Rocky Mountain National Park  (which, by the way you should visit when you are here).  The front 9 is rolling fairways.  The back 9  has so much elevation change that you dare not walk it and  the views will challenge your concentration.  As you line up that putt  remember  “you are here to play golf  not to daydream.




Granby Ranch
Granby Ranch is a few miles down the road and well worth the visit.  The front nine plays down on the valley floor  but the back 9 climbs into the foot hills and this is where the interesting and challenging holes appear. A couple big up hill par 4s to start  but several glorious down hill holes on the way back. Bring your Sky caddie or laser finder because they don't have  GPS on the carts although the sprinkler heads are clearly marked with distances to the center.  Don't get too distracted by looking at  snow capped Mount Baldy which peaks out at 12,500 feet. If that does not get your attention the deep blue sky and never ending sunshine will.



Greens fees $95 and $60 after 2:00

Pole Creek Golf Club-
Pole Creek has 27 holes and today we played the Ranch and the Ridge.  The Ridge 9 is the newest (added in 1999) and climbs to the highest elevation (over 8600 feet) and the views and the holes are so very worth it.  The final hole on the Ridge is a 532 yard par 5 straight down hill.  I am not a long hitter but I was 50 yards short of the green in two.  and I felt like superman. It was designed by Dennis Griffith, whom I have never heard of but  this guy knows how to design a mountain golf course. In fact for 2 years running it has been rated the best public mountain golf course in Colorado by Avid Golfer Magazine
It also was the 1985 – Golf Digest – Best New Public Golf Course  in America




We are staying in the rustic Gateway Inn just down the block—  a beautiful log bldg with rooms all decorated in  Log furniture    www.GatewayInn.com    Just like you would expect in the mountain country of Colorado

One more thing — if rustic luxury is on your bucket list  then be sure to visit  Devils Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa.  We didn't stay there   (I wish we had) the dinner was awesome  and rumor has it that the towels are so fluffy that you probably wont be able to fit them in your suitcase.


What a wonderful place for a family vacation with plenty of golf    and even a great place to get away with the guys for  a few days.

Friday, April 1, 2016

More on Cuba chapter four


The changing landscape of hotels in Cuba
by Larry Berle

The hotel scene in Cuba has a dismal history,but that is about to change.
Both Starwood and Marriott are in negotiations to run, develop  or at least manage several hotels on the island.  Not only that, but booking.com, the hotel reservation service, recently reached an agreement with several Cuban hotels to begin booking with them.  Who knows what else is in the works.

 Cuba had a 25% increase in tourism visitors last year and with new rules making it much easier for Americans to travel to Cuba without organized groups  and  airlines flying scheduled service between Havana and the U.S., The demand is  out stripping the hotel supply in Cuba. and who knows what the demand will be next year.  This has been eased somewhat since airbnb.com was allowed to operate in Cuba and thousands of Cubans  have now opened their  homes to tourists.  I don't know what the financial arrangements are between the Cuban government and those private homes that are now listing on airbnb.com but  its got to be a financial boom for those who participate.  It looks like private enterprise is creeping its way into the Cuban economy.


Ultimately, if you are planning to visit Cuba  make your hotel reservations early. And hope you get a decent place to stay.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The High Heat Driver

In the past few years my tee shots have gotten shorter and shorter and harder to control.  Then I met Dean Knuth and was introduced to the High Heat Driver.  At least 10 (sometimes more) yards were added and fairways hit increased.
Mr Knuth told me that the center of Gravity has been lowered and is farther back and the sweet spot on the face has been greatly increased.   Now he's onto something, I thought  but  could it be something else thats causing it?  So I loaned it to my friend Tim O'Phelan  and asked him to try it.
Tim confirmed  the thrill I found in this club. He said it  so well that I thought I should just share his post.


High Heat by Tim Ophelan

Each year millions of dollars are spent searching for the next great breakthrough in driver design. The pressure on engineering staffs to find that breakthrough or even a slight tweak has got to be tremendous. Ad campaigns with budgets of equal size are then created to present these new concepts to the millions of golfers looking for the “Holy Grail” in their game. But not all of the great ideas come from large corporations. The television show “Shark Tank” trots out dozens of new products every year – each one coming from an inventive person who views the world a little differently.
For those who haven’t seen “Shark Tank”, entrepreneurs pitch their unique product or service to a panel of very wealthy business people with the hope of “landing” one or more of the “Sharks” as an investor and mentoring partner. The next successful “Shark Tank” participant could easily be Dean Knuth – the inventor of the High Heat driver.
In my opinion Dean would “wow” the panel with his engineering background, five patents and for good measure his knowledge of the golf industry as he spent 16 years with the United State Golf Association. For an added kicker he could bring me onto the set to provide a testimonial of how the club works for this amateur golfer.
I had been using a Mizuno MP-600 for several years which (I think) helped me drop my handicap from 9 to 7. With the Mizuno I also settled into thinking that a 240 yard drive was the best that I could do and I regularly opted to play from 6400 yards or shorter. My scores would exponentially balloon if I tried to play from the longer tees and my ego as well as my handicap suffered.
Enter the High Heat driver – I used it for 45 holes and I am hooked.  For many of those holes I had the opportunity to hit both the Mizuno and High Heat for a true life comparison. And for whatever technical reason, I have developed a draw using the High Heat which resulted in an average of 15 additional yards off the tee. Dean explains it all in engineering speak on his website www.knuthgolf.com, but for me it simply works and it is staying in my bag.

I’m sure the “Sharks” would be impressed with my story as well as my willingness to pay the $399.00 price tag (I’m billing my ego for half of the cost). I’m also sure that the “Sharks” will be outbidding each other for a piece of Dean’s action because he offers a 100% money back guarantee and that is the piece of the marketing puzzle that will get this driver into the hands of all those golfers looking for the “Holy Grail”.
http://www.knuthgolf.com

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Thing Charger


           

 Travel much?   Are you carrying chargeable electronic devices on the road with you?  Do you ever forget the charging cable in the hotel room when you check out?  or do you find that  your charging cable took the last electrical outlet and you still have one more thing to plug in?

I just spent a week with my new  Thing Charger.   It has   power tips that fit every electronic device you own and you plug it into an outlet and that outlet is still available to plug something else in.

Its wonderful at home too  (I now keep that outlet available) and I always put my cell phone in the same place, no more hunting for it— and  better yet, no messy cables sitting  on the countertops.   If that's not enough, there is no need to remove the case if its in one.

And if I should happen to need a USB port— its got two of those as well.

As a travel writer, who is on the road regularly, this is a fabulous new discovery.  Check it out at  
www.thingcharger.com

  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

More Observations about Cuba (3rd post about Cuba)

Baseball
Baseball is a game that is tightly woven into the culture of both the US and Cuba.  It is clearly the top sport in Cuba and if you play it, where and when you play is controlled by the Castro regime. That said, there are 18 Cubans now playing in the major leagues, including Yoenis Cespedas. who just played in the World Series for the Mets, and they all had to endure a risky defection to get there. ( in fact, because of that defection one of Mr. Cespedas relatives in Cuba has been jailed). Cuba does send some of its players to other countries but the Govt. decides when and where and takes a piece of the action.  Major League Baseball is exploring the possibility of playing exhibition games in Cuba this spring but more importantly, has been working on a system where they can recruit players from Cuba (and its believed there are many more who's talent is good enough for Major League Baseball), but the Castro regime wont allow it unless the government gets compensated and that would violate the US Embargo.— Who knows when and if that standoff will ever be resolved.
But if you love baseball, one of the Cuba trips that Insight Cuba offers is Baseball in Cuba.


The US Embargo 
Not only are US companies banned from doing business in Cuba but  any foreign company doing business with Cuba is not allowed to do business in the US.  That explains all the old  cars— because  if Volkswagen  or Honda want to sell in the US they can't sell to Cuba.     Is also why the cruise ships don't stop here-yet. Almost every Caribbean cruise  carries many U.S passengers— If a cruise ship docked in Cuban ports the embargo prohibits them from docking in the US for 6 months. That is going to soon change.


Cuba, until Raul took over, was 100% socialist.  Now only 85% of the people work for the state.  The demand for tourism is so great they are allowing people to put their homes on Air B&B. They are also allowing people to start restaurants. As you would surmise, no one can really afford to start a traditional restaurant so they start with a couple tables in the living rooms of their homes and make the meals in their home kitchens.  If it goes well they may take over another room in the home or Apartment and in some cases they were successful enough that they moved to a new home or Apartment  and let the entire home become a small restaurant.   We ate in one, The Magic Flute, on the 19th floor of an Apartment bldg, just across from the US Embassy with a capacity of about 40 or 50. It was outstanding.

MUSIC
The music in Cuba is worth the trip all by itself.  We heard several jazz bands that are world class.  Progressive jazz, Afro Cuban jazz and much more.  A very few of the lucky ones are allowed to leave Cuba to  do tour dates, but the hoops a Cuban citizen has to go through to get a visa to leave are overwhelming.   At the jazz club, La Zorra El Cuervo,  we heard the contemporary jazz group  Jazz En Trance.  These guys were world class. Then we  went to Pastorita performing arts high school in Matanzas, and heard several students play short recitals for us.  Everything is paid for by the Government, including room and board and the instrument they are studying.   
  
  There are only 4 recording studios in Havana and they are all very busy.  We visited Abdala, where Beuna Vista Social Club recorded, is the largest and most prestigious.   I asked a couple of the musicians what the biggest challenge of being a musician was in Cuba.  We heard about the problems with the economy  and communism  and travel restrictions  but the guitar player told us there is no place in Cuba where they can buy guitar strings.  I am sure it has to do with years of trade embargo with the US   If you go to Cuba  pack a few sets of guitar strings in your bag,  It will be easy to find someone who will greatly appreciate the gift.

Despite  the oppressive government, people of Cuba that we met seem to be happy and joyful


More observations about Cuba

Vintage Cars

Old beautiful vintage cars cruise up and down the broad avenues and seaside roads every day. When people talk about Cuba  the vintage cars are usually near the top of the conversation list.  I am sure that they are what remained from the start of the  US embargo period.  These are cars that are  50 to 60 years old now,  hundreds of them cruise the streets of Havana, and mostly in tip-top condition. The pride of ownership shines through.  
 I asked a couple car owners “what is the biggest challenge with having these cars in Cuba?”   The answer was overwhelmingly parts.  Due to the embargo, I am sure, the auto manufactures were not allowed to send auto parts to Cuba.  But the Cubans are nothing, if not clever and inventive,  good at finding innovative solutions  for their challenges…  so they learned how to rebuild parts,   found other sources than the US and had friends coming from the US bring them in their checked luggage.  Maybe even tires— who knows.  
They have made a mini-industry out of these cars being an attraction. Some even have new LED headlights and some even have brand new engines  (like a Toyota engine in a ’59 Ford Farlane).  We were told of one car that replaced their engine with a washing machine motor. They serve as taxi’s but on an even larger scale they offer 1 or 2 hour tour rides of Havana.  When they all convene at one location,it’s a bit like being at a back to the 50’s car show.

Cigars

As I prepared for the trip, if people were not asking me about the vintage cars they were asking me about Cigars.  The tobacco growing industry is very big here and the Cigars  are all hand rolled and in high demand around the world.  I stopped at a Cigar store to buy some for friends who asked for them, and the store was packed with people buying boxes of them.  I learned that cigar aficionados are very choosy about the kinds of cigars they want, thus the lines to purchase them are long and slow because  everyone has questions  “ whats the best?”

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The many faces of Cuba

Vintage Cars, Cigars,  and Colorful architecture is what comes to the minds of most people when they think about Cuba.   But there is so much more. I have been interested in visiting Cuba for several years now— and as US Cuba relations improve, I can just imagine the growth and development that will occur once things are totally normalized.    So I wanted to see Cuba before all that changed.  It seems to me,  the development will be so great that most of Havana may end up like  Cancun  or Miami Beach.  I guess we will have to see.

That is why I chose to go now.  So I signed up for a People to People trip  with Insight Cuba.  The tour  is called  “Jazz in Havana.”
The majority of the world visits Cuba without restriction. Not so for  US citizens,  who are highly restricted and the tours must have specific purposes.  Before 2011 even these kinds of tours were not permitted. It's a shame, because you don't have to be here but a few hours to see  what a wonderful country Cuba is to visit.

Our group of 24,  met in Miami, got acquainted, and had a short introductory orientation.  The next morning I left the hotel after breakfast at 10:00 AM and for 10 minute ride to the airport and a 90 mile flight  to Havana 

 My first stop was the small town of Jaimanitas, and the studio of ceramic artist Jose Fuster. Just over 30 years ago he began decorating  ceramic tiles, mostly in his home. He has now expanded to decorating most of the neighborhood and most of the neighbors homes.  His work is fabulous and  he is a brilliant folk artist, who chooses  ceramic tile as his medium.  I bought one of his tiles for $30 and I am proud to add it to my meager art collection.

At 5:30 I checked into the Melia Cohiba hotel, on the waterfront in the center of Havana.  For a country that is poor, and is  considered to be  3rd world , this hotel is  quite luxurious.  Then I was off to dinner at El Templete which is famous for its traditional Cuban style seafood.  Cuban food in general is quite bland, but this meal was scrumptious.

Day Two
After breakfast we  had an hour lecture with Cuban musicologist Alberto Faya.  In the context of survival he talked about what we do to preserve our lives and our culture.  Conquerers, he told us, not only bring their concepts and culture , they impose it on those whom they conquer. So the Spanish, when they landed here in the late 1400s  pretty much wiped out the culture of the native Cuban inhabitants. Thus came Spanish  musical influence to Cuba.  Shortly after that came the slave trade and the Africans infused the culture and music of their native lands into Cuba.  That was his first example of  what he calls Transculturation.

His second example was Jelly Roll Morton .  Because of the proximity to the US  the influences of Cuban and American music  became intertwined, with some American music (mostly Jazz) absorbing Cuban influence and vice versa. His talk was  fascinating.

Then it was onto our bus with my 24 newest friends for a walking tour of Old Havana.  This used to be a walled city, but as it grew beyond its walls, the walls finally came down. Some remnants remain.  Old Havana is now pedestrian only. As I walked on the Plaza de Armas we learned about the Capitan Generals wife  who got splitting headaches from the loudness of the cobblestone streets. So he had the street in front of his house dug up and replaced with a much quieter wood surface, which still exists today.

Plaza de Vieja is a beautiful old plaza with very colorful and beautiful buildings, but we can already see  stores like United Colors of Bennetton and Lacoste,   staking out locations  in preparation for the normalization of relations with the US   Carnival Cruises is planning to add Cuba as a stop  sometime in the next 6 months— then things are gonna change quickly. 
My lunch at  Los Mercaderes was delicious,  Cuban jazz accompanied our  BBQ chicken and beans —  Most restaurants here are state owned and operated but this one is private and I can see there is a big difference.

We stopped at the jazz club,La Zorra El Cuervo,  where we heard the contemporary jazz group  Jazz En Trance.These musicians are world class. They have toured Eastern Europe, but are  hoping  they will soon be able to tour the US.  I am going to see if I can get them introduced to the right people in the US
  
Then our tour group split up.  Maggie and I were the only ones who went on the Abdala recording studio tour and it was fascinating. There are only 4 recording studios in Havana.  Abdala, where Beuna Vista Social Club recorded, is the largest and most prestigious.   I asked a couple of the musicians what the biggest challenge of being a musician was in Cuba.  We heard about the problems with the economy  and communism  and travel restrictions  but the guitar player told us there is no place in Cuba where they can buy guitar strings.  If you go to Cuba stick a few sets of guitar strings in your suitcase.  It won't be hard to find someone who needs them.  

Day Three
On the bus at 8:30 this morning and we headed for the town of Matanzas,  a couple hours east of Havana. The first stop was at a publishing house where they preserve the culture of publishing  hand made books.  By handmade, I mean from scratch.  They make the paper, stitch the binding, create the artwork,   some of which may just be a collage, and make a limited edition of only 200 copies of each book.  I think its safe to say J.K. Rowling won’t be looking for a publishing deal here.  Some are in Spanish and some in English.  I bought a book that is 1” by 1” and is an abbreviated history of Cuba.  I am thinking about renaming it  “Everything I ever knew about Fidel Castro”.
Then it was off to the Pastorita Art School where we heard several of the students play a musical recital for us.  This is one of the choices these kids can make for High School. There are 108 students in the school and it's completely paid for including room and board and they are issued the musical instruments for training.  (they must return them when they are done at school)

This brings me to the educational system here in Cuba. It seems to operate at quite a high standard, in fact they have a literacy rate of 99.8% making it the second highest in the world. And its all free including University or a trade school, whichever you choose. And yes that could even include medical school, of which there are 23.  The average salary here in Cuba seems to be  25-35  CUC a month.  (1CUC=$1.00 US)  A doctor makes an average of 70-80 CUC per month.  That would be a very wealthy person in Cuba.
The overwhelming  majority of people work for the Govt.  but they are given full education, complete health care and food rations. Not much to pay for but housing. A very few work in the private sector mostly at restaurants and Hotels that serve tourists.  These lucky people seem to be able to  earn  more than government workers.  All due to the recent changes that Raul Castro has allowed in Cuba since taking power from his older brother Fidel.

I had lunch at Amelia Del Mar where we also enjoyed a performance by the dance and Congo drum group  Afrocuba de Mantanzas.  They were wonderful.  If I didn't understand the African influence on Cuban music from Dr. Faya's earlier lecture, I certainly could see it in this performance.

Day Four
Today started with a visit to the local food coop.  If I thought I understood the difference in lifestyle between Americans and Cubans,  I had another think coming.  My eyes were really opened up here.  Food rations are issued to every citizen in Cuba at a cost of about fifty cents a month.  For this they get staples like rice, pasta,  sugar, milk some meat and a few  more basics.    Next door to the Rations store is the local market, which to me looked like a farmers market.  
Our group divided into 6 teams. We were each given  approx. 1CUC and told to go in the market and buy enough food for one meal for a family of four.  We all were able to accomplish it  (amazing eh)? We brought it back to the bus and  our bus driver Leo, chose which   team presented the best meal.  Leo got to take all the groceries home that we purchased.  I think that gave him enough food for almost a weeks worth of dinners for his family.— So I now see their low earnings in another light.  But it did create a wonderful discussion “Our standard of living is clearly much higher than the average Cuban, but are we happier because of it?”  I don't know but I can safely tell you it's not as easy of an answer as you might think.




Day Five
There was one final stop on the way to the airport and this may fall under the category of saving the best for last.  I visited a neighborhood  dance studio, that they just call the Jazz Club, in  the Santa Amalia neighborhood with several senior citizen jazz dancers.  What a blast!!  There were a couple young dancers but they were mostly in the late 70’s and 80’s and they not only danced the  Rumba and Tango for us ,but after affecting us with their abundant enthusiasm they pulled me and everyone else in our group onto the floor to dance with them.  We learned that for several years these dance gatherings were banned by Castro, but they kept going anyway. That ban has now been lifted.   The joy on their faces as they all waved to us as our bus pulled away was truly inspiring.



That afternoon,  we rode around Havana in  50’s  and even 40’s cars that catch everyones attention when they visit Cuba. Mine was an immaculate  ’57 chevy.   We drove down to Revolution Square   where Pope Francis held mass here a few weeks ago just prior to his visit to the US   




Cuba is a beautiful country, no doubt about it, but visiting here is more like a college course in culture and lifestyle.  Come visit, meet the people and you will see what I mean.



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

St. Regis Hotel and Monarch Beach Golf Links Dana Pt CA

The weather of Southern California may be the best year round weather in the U.S.  Just a few miles from  renowned Laguna Beach, with its great restaurants and art galleries lies  the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort.  Come for the fabulous weather and to frolic by the sea and experience some wonderful golf at the Monarch Beach Golf Links.  Where did it get it’s name?  This used to be a breeding ground for the Monrach butterflies and during your round here you are  certain to encounter a few yourself.

But their presence is just an added bonus to your round of golf here.  Monarch Beach is 6,645 yards from the tips  par 70 designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. that was built as a 9 hole  course  in 1983.  8 years later the other 9 was added.  The two nines couldn’t be more different.  But thats a good thing.  The luxurious St Regis hotel followed in 2000  making it a complete and luxurious place to stay and play.   There are five par-3’s and only two par-5s, and the most visually intriguing holes here at Monarch Beach are the par-3’s..  

612 yard Number seven is  the only par-5 on the front nine and is the number one handicap.  My experience is that it is rare indeed to see a par-5 as the number one handicap hole.  The clubs pro, Jackie Kazarian, thinks its the hardest hole in all of Orange County.    Thats hard.

On a clear day, which it wasn’t today, you can see the Pacific Ocean from every tee box, however numbers 3 and 4 are the only two holes that actually play oceanside.  Jackie told us the first 5 holes are called the Ocean loop and the next 4 hole are called the Canyon loop.  I can see why. We clearly went from the ocean  to playing in a Canyon.


Number Four at Monarch Golf Links



Even with the drought, the course was in wonderful shape today, especially the greens.  The bunkering is a work of art in itself and they were  wonderfully playable  (don’t ask me how I know, just trust me).  The greens were in outstanding shape and running at almost 11 on the stimpmeter.  So staying below the hole is a key strategy here in your approach shots.  Most good greens that I play are some advanced form of Bent grass but these are Poa Ana.  My experience is that most greenskeepers spend frustrating amounts of time trying to keep Poa Ana off of a golf course, but these greens were wonderful.  Go figure.



Even  though the front nine has 2 oceanside holes  the back 9 is by far the most intriguing, with water and expansive views.   Number 13 is a stunning par 3 played from a tee box 60-80 feet downhill to a green surrounded by water on three sides and sand on the other.










Finishing Hole at Monarch Beach Golf Links

Even though most of the holes lay out visually in front of you on the tee box there are many times you need to know distance to a sand trap, hazard or layup spot.  The carts have the latest  in GPS technology with touch screens, so that you can touch your target on the screen and instantly see its distance.  If you prefer your information from people, then try their Waterman forecaddie program where one of their highly trained caddies will assist you the entire round.

They don't have a driving range but they do have 4 hitting bays into nets that allow for an adequate warm up.  On tournament days they set up the first fairway as a driving range and pick it clean just 10 minutes before the shotgun goes off to start the tournament. Voila, from driving range to first hole.

Monarch Beach Golf Links is semi private and is avail for public play.  They also have stay and play packages with the luxurious St. Regis hotel on property.

If you love your golf equipment as much as you like your golf, then plan a day to visit Carlsbad, CA just  30  miles down the coast where almost all of the major golf equipment manufacturers call home.

July and August are pageant season here in Laguna Beach, and that means performances every night of the Pageant of the Masters.  where well known paintings are brought to life on stage by real live people. and quite a spectacle it is.  I don’t know how they do it but its like magic.   If you want to see the pageant while you are there  get your tickets early.  This 3,500 seat venue sells out almost every night.


If you are looking for more family activities in the area  just down the road  30  miles is Legoland—  Yeah I said Legoland.  Where everything is made from legos: elephants, giraffes, The Sydney Opera House,  The Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and even the NY skyline.  They are made by “master builders”    If a day of legos isn't enough for you— then you may want to stay on property in the Legoland hotel—-  I guess you can sleep with legos and maybe have your meals with Legos..  At over $300 per night this hotel is regularly sold out but the rooms are all themed and if you love legos, this is the place for you.

For more information visit   http://www.stregismb.com

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Golf in Ontario Canada

Toronto is now the 4th largest city in North America,  Fly there and then head for the countryside surrounding Toronto for some enjoyable and challenging golf.
When most people think about a golf trip they rarely think about Canada but my weeklong trip here gives me a new perspective on that.  You have access to one of the worlds great cosmopolitan cities and some beautiful countryside and wonderful golf courses nearby.
The economy of this area is over 50% driven by tourism. Fishing, Beach and Wineries probably top the list but golf is not far behind and growing in popularity.  And if you are coming from the U.S.  the exchange rate with the Canadian dollar is very favorable. (today one U.S. dollar is worth $1.30 Canadian.)

Today we played  Angus Glen.  Three days later Angus Glen hosted the Pan Am Games golf tournament.  Did you know that golf is now a sport in both the Pan Am Games and the Olympics? This was its first year and it was a success. 
 In 2002 and 2007  The South Course hosted the Canadian Open which was renovated  earlier 2015 to the tune of $6 million.
There are 36 holes here (North and South) and South is the where the tournaments are played and a championship course it is.  If you are a beginning golfer, this may not be the place for you as there are many places to loose balls in the water, fescue, (lots of which was added in the renovation) wetlands ponds and streams.  But if you love a challenging walk in nature this may be exactly the place for you.
www.AngusGlen.com

There are many things to do around Toronto and one of our stops was 
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park—-  If you love motor racing, then you don’t want to pass up a visit here.  This 2.5 mile track hosts many  auto and motorcycle races including Formula 1,Indy Car, Stock Car. They also offer lapping days and driving schools with professional drivers for those who want to  experience this for themselves.

 www.canadiantiremotorsportpark.com


Nestleton Waters Inn.   Tucked away in the countryside of Nestelton  Ontario, just about 50 minutes east of downtown Toronto sits this charming  B&B.  It sits on 93 acres of forest and a spring fed pond.  There are 7 very individually decorated rooms  (two are 2 bedroom suites.  Mine was the Mapenzi suite decorated in an African theme. Our hosts,  the Kiezebrink family, built the entire B&B and they did an outstanding job and  truly make you feel like its your own home.  We stayed in some wonderful hotels on this trip but this place is very special.


Royal Ashburn Golf Club
How does a golf club get a Royal designation?  In the UK it happens by a decree of a royal family member.  In this case  the club made an application to the Govt. of Canada and got one from them.  (It didn’t hurt that Prince Andrew had been there.)   This club is in Whitby Ontario  just 45 minutes from the center of Toronto.  We spent some time with the owner, Wilson Paterson, a life member in the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.  He told us about the course and  the many rounds of golf he played with Moe Norman, right here on this golf course.  For those of you who have never heard of Moe Norman,  he is widely regarded as the greatest ball striker in history.  An old set of Moe’s clubs is on display in the clubhouse and  the worn spot on each iron is the size of a dime and right in the center of each clubface.
Royal Ashburn is a beautiful parkland course  with ponds and streams on eight of the holes. Five sets of tees  gives every level of player a challenge from 7104 yards down to 4783.  Greens fees are $85-$92  (weekdays or weekends) plus a cart.

905-686-1121



Bay of Quinte Golf & Country Club
Founded in 1921 (they are 94 years old this year)  Bay of Quinte Golf & Country Club is a true value in southern Ontario. Par 73 and playing only 6571 yards from the tips and down to 5063 from the reds. This place is a real value at $44 and $52 on weekends  (plus cart if you want to ride).  These greens were in outstanding shape and running at least 11 on the stimpmeter.  There is water in play on nearly half the holes but  its all easy to navigate.  Three of the four par 3’s are long for such a short course. but that makes for some short and attackable  par 4 holes.  There are several interesting holes  and number 14 is a perfect example.  It plays 262 from the tips and is drivable for big hitters,  but if you are even 20 yards short, you are in trouble— so its best to lay up to 100 yards  or be sure to stay to the right  where there is a very welcoming, yet narrow strip of fairway.   Come play here and have a meal in the clubhouse and enjoy the view over the shore of Lake Ontario.



Black Bear Ridge Golf Club
Black Bear Ridge may be  the best golf value in the area. It sits on a beautiful piece of property with wonderful views from its many elevation changes. It opened in 2005 and was designed by its owner  Brian Mcgee.  There are not many golf courses designed by non professional golf course architects but this is one and its magnificent.  I call  them “one and done.”  Routing a golf course is such a challenge that few people can do it successfully, especially with no training.  This is a story in itself.

The first tee sits on  top of a hill overlooking the fairway 100 feet below and there are several holes with similarly dramatic views from their tee boxes like 7,10 and 17.  Number 8 may be a short hole  (300 yards or less depending on which tees you play) but don't let that fool you. It is  a sweeping dogleg right with a large pond guarding the entire right side.  

If you are not paying full attention to this beautiful place then # 11 will stop you in your tracks. It was originally designed as a par 6  (that's not a typo)  at 692 yards from the tips  (it must be over 690 yards to qualify as a par 6)  They shortened it by 2 yards because almost no one ever played the very longest tee box) so  it is now a legal par 5, sweeping around a 600 acre migratory nesting ground.   
Par 5 Number 18 heads back up hill to the clubhouse with stunning  cross bunkering and colorful fescue framing the green at the top of the hill.  With all its streams, ponds  and treelined fairways this will be a breathtaking course in the peak of fall colors.


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The Briars Resort
Sits on the shore of Lake Simcoe an hour north of Toronto and has been in the Sibbald family since 1876. Its still family run, and guests stay in either the historic manor house or adjacent cottages.  It has old world charm that wont quit— even to the point that they still use  old style room keys.  Miles of hiking trails,  a world class spa all at a beautiful lakeside resort.

TheBriar’s golf resort  right next door has been a secret in the Toronto area but its soon to be a secret no more.  It was originally a nine hole layout designed but Canada’s premier golf course architect, Stanley Thompson in 1922. Fifty years later Robbie Robinson, a former protege of Thompson,  added the back nine. If someone didn’t tell you they were built 50 years apart you would never know because both nines wind seamlessly and breathtakingly through the trees , ponds and streams narrowing into velvety slick greens.  
 Its short at 6285 from the tips  but mighty.  If you refuse to leave your driver in the bag on several of these holes, you may regret it. Briar’s is private,  but the Briar’s resort has stay and play packages, so it’s the only way on for the general public,  on this former  farm. On #14 still stands an old grain silo as a memory of that farm and it seems that everyone stops to take a photo of it.    Definitely worth it, is all I can say.  I hope to return here to play again one day.

Lora Bay Golf Club  is located about an hour north of Toronto.  This golf club was designed by  Tom Lehman and Thomas McBroom.  It sits right on the shore of Georgian Bay, of Lake Huron with a spectacular new clubhouse.    The back nine has some especially interesting holes.  Just behind the green on number 11 sits a century old barn.  #14, a short par 4, that some call “The temptress” is a mere 328 yards from the tips with plenty of trouble in the landing area   so choose your club at the tee carefully.  Then comes the signature hole number 15 par three that drops over 200 feet below to the forest floor,  but as you enjoy the spectacular panoramic view of Georgian Bay.  remember  you cant stay there forever, you still have 3 holes to go.
The par 5, 16th has you hitting to an elevated fairway.  This hole has only one bunker and no water but  there is more challenge here than you can imagine.

519-599-7500

Caledon Country Club
Caledon Country Club is a really fun par 72, 6502 golf course from the tips. It has lots of elevation changes and it makes for a fun day.  The holes even have  catchy names such as #3 Devils Corridor, #5 The Chute, #7 Slipery Slope, #9 Go For Broke #12 The Prayer #14 The Signature and #15 Alcatraz.  That alone should clearly define this quirky little course.




Hockley Valley Resort
Just how challenging can a par 71 golf course be with one water hazard in play  (maybe 2), not one single sand trap and playing 6358 yards from the tips?  The answer is much harder than you think.
Hockley Vallley has so much elevation change that  they had to get gas carts because  the battery powered carts  couldn’t hold enough charge  to make it 18 holes. This amount of elevation change also makes it almost impossible to walk.
The greens are small and most sit in an amphitheatre.  They look beautiful and at first glance would appear to gather your ball back down to the green, however if your approach  gets  more than  8 or 10 feet off the green, you are likely  to have a near impossible chip.  
Finding a level lie  after you leave the tee box on this golf course  may be a challenge in itself.  I know I said there are no sand bunkers but there are more than enough grass bunkers to make up for it.  And the funky lies these produce probably make for harder shots than any fluffy lie in a sandtrap.  
 Beauty abounds.  We were on the course at the end of the day and the  deep shadows  of twilight  make all this bunkering and elevation change  (somewhere between 600-800 feet of elevation change)  just breathtaking.  One more thing, the mowing patterns  (contrasts of rough, fairway and greens) makes this golf course look like a work of art.  Before this week I had barely heard of golf course architect, Thomas McBroom, who designed Hockley Valley, but now I am going to seek out other courses that he has designed.  I began to wonder if I have ever seen a golf course with no sand bunkers,  I can’t remember one but I had a chance to ask Thomas  McBroom and he answered “I, like you, don't think there is another course anywhere that is bunkerless.”
That certainly isnt definitive.  Do you know of one?

#10 has a 100’ drop to the fairway and #17 has a drop from the tee box to the fairway of over 120’  and there are many more with similar  views.  Hitting shots from these tee boxes will have hang time that would make an NFL punter proud.  If you don’t like heights this may not be the place for you.
www.hockley.com



Wooden Sticks

Wooden Sticks, designed by Ron Garl,  has twelve out of eighteen holes that are “inspired by”   holes from Augusta National, St. Andrews, Sawgrass, Pine Valey and Troon. They are  not intended to be exact replicas, but when you step onto the tee box of these holes  you  will certainly recognize them   The other 6 holes really make the course worth the full day visit.
Most guest stays here are 6-7 hours and each round includes  2 full meals from the restaurant menu.
Many use their stay and play packages as they have 6 cottages on property.

We went fishing on Lake Ontario and even challenged ourselves to a ropes course.   The golf here is wonderful but there is certainly lots more to do.  Come to Canada while the exchange rate is  favorable.

To book a tour of this wonderful area contact:  
Golfstream  Travel

Phone 905-267-4902