Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hiking to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world
The date is 11/1/11.   There are 4 dates this year that have all the same digits and this is an unusual phenomena.     We have just arrived at the South rim of the Grand Canyon.  If you think that Arizona is all just one big hot desert, think again.  The overnight low in Grand Canyon Village, tonight, is 30 degrees and they are predicting snow showers in two days.  But we are planning to leave tomorrow morning to hike 7 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.   We will be descending almost a mile in elevation, through 5 different climate zones to stay at Phantom Ranch on the banks of the Colorado River.
There are several places to stay here in Grand Canyon Village; we are staying in Maswick Lodge, just a couple hundred yards from the rim of the Canyon.  The accommodations are rustic but all we need.  Very clean, plenty of heat--  newly remodeled and just right....  

The next morning
We descended the Kaibab trail where we are passing through a goelogic timetable of almost 2 billion years (the bottom layers of the canyon are almost 2 billion years old and the top layers are a mere 270 million years old).  Every step up or down the trail, we are stepping through 60,000 years of geologic history. Imagine that!   Every turn of the trail and every hour of the day--the view keeps changing, the beauty more awsome, until in the last hour we finally see the Colorado River.
We arrived at Phantom Ranch around 3:00, to find bunk houses (male and female)   with showers and ranger talks and even a few cabins that sleep 4 on bunk beds.  There are 2 dinner seatings, ours is at 5:00 with a very welcome family style steak dinner.  “You can eat as much as you want except only 1 steak per person,” the head cook informs us.
 The hike in and out of the canyon is very challenging and I wondered weather this is a good family activity. But if you are an active family, this could be for you.  We met the Chapman family, from Minnesota;  3 generations, from 10 years old and up, who were there hiking on Grandpas 80th birthday.  This was grandpas 15th hike to the bottom
We also met a family from San Diego. Every year their kids have to take a hike: 1 mile for every year, their 10 year old had done a 10 mile hike this year.
 The next day is was a hike up Bright Angel trail. 9 miles, less steep, both beautiful and exhausting-especially as the top which is the steepest part and we are at over 6000 feet of elevation.  Rain was predicted on the day of the hike out--  that made me nervous.  But we got lucky-- we arrived at the Rim at 2:00 in the afternoon.  It started raining at 5:00 and the next morning there was 3” of snow on the ground!!  whew!!!
 If this all sounds too exhausting you can ride to Phantom Ranch on a mule.
The demand for lodging at Phantom Ranch is very high--  they open reservations on the first of the month for 13 months later.  Call them for more information.
Even if hiking down to the bottom isn’t your thing the Grand Canyon may be, because of all the visitors that visit the Grand Canyon every year only 1% stay overnight in the canyon.  The rest stay at the rim.  There are plenty of rim hikes, day hikes into and around the canyon ranger programs. For example there is Trail of Time, a 1.3 mile stroll that shows you how the canyon was formed.
There is also the Hopi house, where you learn about the lifestyle of the Hopi Indians who inhabited parts of the canyon in the 1500s.
Most people think the Grand Canyon is named for its grand size, but The Colorado River was originally called the Grand River, till the state of Colorado came along and changed its name to plenty of opposition.    However prevailing wisdom says the Grand CAnyon was named by John Wesley Powell, the man who discovered it.
You can drive to the Grand Canyon or take the Grand Canyon Express train from Williams.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grand Golf in Grand Junction CO

Golf in Colorado can be wonderful. Of course, golf anywhere can be wonderful, but it’s hard for other places to compete with Colorado at its best. When you combine golf with the state’s spectacular geography, such as the Colorado National Monument, there’s a thrill that you just can’t get anywhere else. A visit to the National Monument in far western Colorado can be almost as spectacular as a visit to the Grand Canyon, and playing golf along its base is simply breathtaking. That’s the irresistible appeal of golf in and around Grand Junction, a city of 59,000 that nestles right up to the National Monument.  
Tiara Rado Golf Course
Grand Junction’s Tiara Rado Golf Course sits at the foot of the red cliffs of the Colorado National Monument. The locals translate Tiara Rado as Red Crown. Framed by the red rock cliffs of the National Monument, Tiara Rado has an awesome location. It began in 1971 as a six- hole course, and is now a full 18 owned and operated by the city of Grand Junction. It plays 6400 yards and is a real “walk in the park” as you enjoy the surrounding red bookcliffs and experience the wide variety of bird species as this course  is certified in the Audubon cooperative sanctuary program. We even had an encounter with the resident kitty, who greeted us on the third hole by batting my ball across the green and then bumping up against my leg and putter. After we moved on, he gave the foursome behind us the same treatment.
This course is in wonderful condition.  The homes on the front 9 are pretty average homes, and this section of the course is a non threatening way to open your round.  The course changes dramatically on the back where there is water on several holes  much more elevation change and more contemporary homes lining the course.  The views of Grand Mesa,the worlds largest flat top mountain, are spectacular.
The sign over the desk in the pro shop says  “No work boots and no cowboy boots,” which tells you all you need to know about the neighborhood.
Green fee: $43.75 weekdays and $50.75 weekends, including cart. Tiara Rado is open ten months a year. Phone: 970-254-3830
Golf Club at Redlands Mesa
"Positioned beneath the slopes of jagged buttes south of Grand Junction, Colorado, in the shadow of the towering pink and red sandstone face of the Colorado National Monument, Redlands Mesa is like playing golf along the bottom of the Grand Canyon, with a couple of sojourns to the Garden of the Gods thrown in." –Golf Digest 
Redlands Mesa, a few miles down the road from Tiara Rado, also sits at the base of the Colorado National Monument. This mountain masterpiece by architect Jim Engh has won many accolades, including Top 30 Public from Golf Digest five years running. It was also voted #1 Best New Affordable Public Golf Course in America. It deserves all this and more. 
Engh, who has three courses on the Top 100 list, may be the king of mountain golf course architects. He has an incredible ability to take dramatic mountain terrain and place golf holes on it that look like they belong there. When I asked Engh about his design philosophy, he said, “I am in the entertainment business. I want to delight, entertain, fully engage and inspire golfers who play my courses. I hope they have gone on an emotional ride from frustration to complete intrigue when they play Redlands Mesa.”
The mounding on Redlands Mesa echoes the surrounding mountain terrain, and hidden among those mounds are some bunkers—a modest 41 in all—that you just don’t want to get in. In this mountainous environment, almost every hole plays down hill, some dramatically, as in tee boxes that are 100-150 feet above the fairway. It’s just a spectacular golf course. I did learn from Engh that, as much as golfers love down hill tee shots, they are more likely to drift off line than uphill tee shots because of the extended time the ball is in the air. That may be the one respect in which uphill tee shots are easier.
The views are dramatic enough that you may forget you came here to play golf. The greens have more movement in them than a bowl of jelly and are almost all uniquely shaped. The good news is many of them are actually bowls, so if you hit around the edges, you will probably get a favorable roll. But miss the edges by a few yards and you have a very challenging chip shot, down hill from a down hill lie, one of the toughest shots in golf. “Golf is a gathering game,” said Engh, “The question is, ‘Is your ball gathered onto the quadrant of the green where the pin is placed that day?’” 
Here are a few examples of the kinds of holes that will launch you on the “emotional ride” Jim Engh wants you to take at Redlands Mesa. Number 2 has a breathtaking tee shot as you look out at the Grand Mesa, Number 8 is a spectacular par 3 across a lake that will certainly test your nerves. Number 17 may be the most memorable tee shot on the course—218 yards from the back tees with a 150-foot plus drop from tee to green which is framed by a rock amphitheatre. Water, rock outcroppings, and endless views make this a wonderful day
Redlands Mesa is a par 72 playing from tees ranging from 4890 to 7007 yards. At 6000 feet of elevation these yardages will play shorter. This example of wonderful golf is easily the centerpiece of a golf trip to Grand Junction. 
Green fee: $89.00
Devil’s Thumb Golf Course 
Devil’s Thumb is 40 miles down the road in Delta, Colorado, and it’s another must-play on your Grand Junction golf trip. The course is surrounded by foothills which are basically volcanic mud.  Rick Phelps, the course designer, describes it as a Prairie style course. This landscape has an almost lunar look and in some cases comes right down next to the fairways. Grand Mesa, the largest mesa in the U.S., looms large in the background. There are five holes, all featuring dramatic downhill elevation changes, which could serve as signature holes at Devil’s Thumb: 3, 4, 5, 13 and 14.  One is a drivable par 4  with a split fairway, the second fairway going around the rock cliff is by far the safer way to go. A few of the holes on the back nine even have streams and ponds running through them. This is a very good golf course in a stunning setting and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Green fee: $25 weekdays and $31 weekends, plus cart.
Cedaredge Lodge
Forty miles east of Grand Junction and just below the Grand Mesa, Cedaredge Lodge is an old 1950s style motel that proprietors Donna and Gary have turned into a small piece of heaven. It has quaint little rooms, all with tiny kitchenettes, and sits by a stream—open the window and let the rushing water lull you to sleep. There’s more—a clever little game room, putt-putt course, hot tub, fire pit and outdoor barbecue.  Donna, in her prior life, was a massage therapist at a body building gym. She offers fantastic bodywork. This unusual motel is completely worth the stay. There is not a restaurant on the property, but Donna and Gary will gladly barbeque dinner for their guests. It is very convient to Devils Thumb but could be a good central point for most of the golf courses in the area.
The Links at Cobble Creek
A river (more a stream, perhaps) runs through almost every hole of The Links at Cobble Creek in Montrose, Colorado. We are half way between Telluride and Grand Junction in the western part of the state. Cobble Creek actually runs through 15 of the 18 holes, developing into ponds and ten different lakes along the way and bringing beauty and intrigue to this wonderful layout. The course, which runs through an attractive housing development, has four sets of tees ranging from 6970 yards down to 5177. There’s a game for every player.  
The front nine is three par threes, three par fours, and three par fives. Par fives and par threes are usually the most interesting holes in golf architecture, and that certainly is the case here. The opening par five is a sweeping dog leg right followed two holes later by another par five that sweeps left. The third par five on the front is relatively straight. Numbers two and four bring you straight on to the breathtaking views of Mt. Sneffels, one of Colorado’s towering 14,000 foot peaks  You get the same view from the seventh tee, if you turn around (maybe this hole should play the other direction).  There are two wonderful, short (some would say drivable) par fours that are superbly designed with plenty of trouble.  ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT THE BACK?
This is an almost level golf course, which is unusual in a mountain setting. It has half private play and half public play, and is beautifully maintained. What I found most intriguing about Cobble Creek is that it was designed by Craig Cherry. He got the job because his father-in-law was the property developer. This was the first, last and only golf course he ever designed. Creating a golf course requires skill and art, and for someone to create one this good with no training is remarkable.
Green fee: $38.00 on weekdays and $41.00 on weekends. Carts are an additional $13.00 per player. 
The Bridges Golf Club  
The Bridges, in Montrose, Colorado, is a wonderful Nicklaus design that was included in the Top 10 new courses by Golf Magazine in 2005. The Bent grass fairways are generous and in terrific condition. There are too many wetlands, streams, and ponds to count, crossed by many bridges (guess how it got its name).
Number three boasts a challenging double fairway. Number five brings the San Juan Mountains into view, including Mount Buckhorn.  Number six is a double dogleg, so hit your tee shot carefully. Number 13 is a devilishly designed drivable par four. Number 15 is a long par five with two different greens, which make the hole dramatically different from day to day.  Number 16 is a mid-iron par three with a very shallow, well protected green. Club selection is key here. The greens have lots of undulation, making the putting very challenging.  
The Bridges is private, but nearly two-thirds of its play is public and you will be warmly welcomed and feel like a member for a day. The clubhouse is 23,000 square feet, but more importantly there are four sleeping rooms (suites) upstairs that are wonderfully appointed. The rates vary from $125 per night to $175 per night. If you are headed this way, this would make a wonderful base for playing and touring. 
Green fee: $72.00 plus $13.00 cart.

Black Canyon National Park
Black Canyon is just a few minutes drive from the Bridges and has some views that are as spectacular as the Grand Canyon. No other canyon in North America combines the narrow opening, sheer walls, and startling depths offered by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Views from Painted Wall, Chasm Point and Sunset View are as good as it gets. If you are in the area, don’t miss this.
The Colorado National Monument is also well worth a few hours to visit.  The redrocks are spectacualar, especially near sunrise or sunset.  It has towering monoliths and  extensive plateau and canyon panoramas.  As your eyes drink in all this spectacular scenery, don’t forget to keep an eye out for soaring eagles and Big horn sheep who call the area home.  You can hike it some or all of it-- or just gather it all in from the comfort of your car on the 23 mile Rim-Rock Drive

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Golf in Glorious St George Utah

St. George, Utah is about two hours from Las Vegas and less than an hour from Zion National Park. But St. George holds its own with these two overwhelming attractions by occupying a special niche--great golf at reasonable prices. And there’s no extra charge for the great weather. St. George has its own micro weather system and is usually a warm, dry, wonderful place to play golf.

The Golf Course at Sand Hollow Resort

At Sand Hollow Resort, think green, as in more grass than you’ve ever seen on a desert course. Designer John Fought clearly wants you to hit his fairways and greens. He does get a little cross, though, with those who don’t take advantage of his generosity. That’s why you also better think red, as in the deep orange red of the sand in the 90 or so vast and very deep bunkers that await shots that somehow stray from fairways and greens that are almost too big to miss. There’s also the red of the desert and the surrounding rocks, but at Sand Hollow there are no white out-of-bounds stakes. If you can find it, you can hit it.

The combination of red and green is not only stunningly beautiful--it makes a trip around Sand Hollow challenging, rewarding and, above all, enjoyable. My overall impression of the course is of bright waves of fairway, punctuated by bunkers, sweeping up and down the desert slopes to greens that are huge but not too severe. Every shot you hit rises against the mountains in the distance, or the massive red rocks and cliffs that dot the course, or simply the blue desert sky. A good example is number six, rated the number one handicap hole on the course. A dogleg left, the point where the sixth fairway turns is marked by a beautiful red boulder. Cut the corner by flying it if you can, or play right and look down from a hill top to a green guarded by bunkers on both sides. The flight of a well-struck second shot will be so enchanting that you’ll want to hit it again.

The front nine will make you smile, but eleven through fifteen on the back turn your smile into a thrill. Here is where red rock cliffs, falling 200 feet to the Virgin River valley below, will make you stop and just breathe in the scenery. At the beginning of the round, the starter said, “Pace of play is approximately 4:40--faster on the front nine, slower on the back, giving you extra time to drink in the scenery.” Numbers 12, 13 and 14 play along the cliff, uphill and then back down, bringing visual drama into every shot. But the real payoff is number 15, a breathtaking 160-yard downhill par three that inspires awe as your ball seems to hang in the air forever before falling onto the emerald green.

You may think that no out of bounds, not a single tree, wide fairways--and no water--would make Sand Hollow a bit of pushover. Guess again. The cunningly placed bunkers will take care of that notion, but it’s a challenge of the most enjoyable kind. And if you haven’t had enough fun after 18, Sand Hollow also offers an attractive, walkable nine-hole links style course and an 18-hole putting course called the Himalaya (yes, it’s that steep). The putting course alone may be worth the trip.

The Sand Hollow Resort golf course is a real bargain during the off season (mid-May through September 30)--only $50 including cart and range balls. Twilight fees are even less. The green fee doubles during peak season. Annual passes are available.

If you go:
435-656- golf (4653)

Coral Canyon Golf Club

Coral Canyon Golf Club, located in Washington UT, is just a few miles up the road from St. George. We are in a low lying desert and the design
of this golf course truly reflects its environment. Coral Canyon has its share of drama--both the front and back nines begin on tees 75 to 100 feet above the fairway. These tee shots have hang time that would make an NFL punter proud. But the real strength of this course is its connection to its desert setting.

The challenge here is not only to keep your ball out of the desert that lines the fairways, but also to keep it out of the desert washes that cross the fairways. These washes are strategically placed to challenge your courage to carry them, especially if you haven’t hit your best tee shot. Don’t take these washes lightly. Not just sandy stream beds, they are filled with golfball-eating vegetation. On two of the par fives--two and fourteen--a weak drive will cause you to think long and hard about trying to carry the wash on your second shot. Hoping to avoid this dilemma, you may feel a little added pressure on the tees of these holes. But the most interesting use of these cross-fairway washes is on the 15th, an intimidating par four that requires you to carry washes on the drive and second shot. The hole is flat, so bushes may even interfere with your view of the green. Par is a really good score here.

Coral Canyon’s back nine is particularly interesting because it has 3 par threes, 3 par fours and 3 par fives. This may make things more enjoyable for the average golfer, since par threes and par fives are usually easier to play. Plus, they are usually the most interesting hole designs as well.

The service here is wonderful. Be sure to greet Jan, the outside services person, with a big smile when you arrive. They don’t get much friendlier or more helpful than Jan.

If you go:
Rates range from $48-$105 plus tax and range balls, depending on the season. You may reserve up to 60 days in advance

Accommodations: Mesquite, only 30 miles from St. George, has a couple casino hotels. We found a very nice two-bedroom condo in St George in Sports Village. The condo was clean and well equipped. The complex has a clubhouse, workout room, 3 swimming pools, hot tubs, racquetball, volleyball, tennis and other amenities. The rates are $120 per night in the high season, and $100 per night low season.Talk to the folks at about the four condos they have available in the complex.

There are many things to do in the St. George Area. You are 30 minutes from Nevada casinos and less than an hour from Zion National Park. In St. George you can visit the oldest Mormon Temple in the world and the winter home of Brigham Young, as well as St. George Dinosaur Discovery, where there are some of the best fossil footprints from the Jurassic period to be seen anywhere.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Golf and Dude Ranches of Granby Colorado

Home James met us at the Denver Airport heading 65 miles west of Denver and in less than two hours we had climbed nearly 3000 feet in elevation to our snuggly condo in Granby Ranch. Although we are in the heart of ski country, this area may get more tourists in the summer. We are a few miles from Rocky Mountain National Park, There are numerous dude ranches and several golf courses in the area and we are close to the banks of the Colorado River. There is also plenty of wildlife roaming the neighborhood including Elk, Black Bear, Antelope, Coyote and Mountain Lions.

Grand Lake Golf Course

Today, Sept 2, I arrived at Grand Lake Golf Course to find there was a 45 minute frost delay. WOW!! That’s early!! This course may have one of the shortest seasons in golf--they are basically open from mid-May to early Oct.Thats short, but for those few months this is open, it’s well worth the trip.
This is a true mountain course, with elevation changes and vistas galore. Sitting a few miles from the southern boarder of Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake is par 72 playing 6650 yards. However, at 8400 feet of elevation it plays more like 6200 yards, and like many mountain courses, the challenge of the golf can be matched by the challenge of the distracting views.

When it was originally designed, all the fairways were tightly tree-lined but several years ago there was a Bark Beatle infestation and they lost 200,000 trees. Now it looks very links style with sweeping views of not only adjacent holes but miles of mountain views as well. I like it like this.

As you look out over the panoramas of the majestic Rocky Mountains that surround you, you’ll see acres and acres of brown dead trees peppered in contrast to some green areas of new growth. It reminds you of the infestation but stuns you nonetheless.
The carts all have graphic GPS so distances to everything are very clear, but be careful of club selection, 8400 feet of elevation can fool you if you don’t pay attention.
Many of the greens are postage stamp in size but they were in terrific shape and putted very well. Several of the holes on the back nine could be signature holes, particularly number 10 a sweeping downhill dogleg left and number 11,a 180 yard par three from an elevated tee, to an elevated green over a pond.

As we made the turn about, just after noon, the wind showed up and changed everything. Apparently, this is common in the mountains.

I played with two wonderful partners, who I met on the first tee, Art and Rich. Art was from New York, but Rich went to Bloomington High School, one suburb over from me in Minneapolis. Small World!

Grand Lake Golf Course- 970-627-8008
Rates are $64 in high season and $44 in low season plus cart

Home James airport shuttle: 800-359-7536 shuttles to Granby from DIA $75.00 one way
Alpine Resort Properties: 800-551-9943 Two bedroom condo at Granby Ranch was $149 per night.

Pole Creek Golf Club is located just outside of Winter Park CO 70 miles west of Denver. It is a magnificent 27 hole facility and today I played 18 holes (Ridge and Meadow). We played it from 6600 yards but there are 4 sets of tees so you can play any distance you are comfortable with. Remember 6600 at this elevation plays more like 6200 at sea level.

The Ridge nine is fascinating with elevation changes and undulations galore. It starts with a dogleg left, uphill par 4 and then travels up and down along the ridge from there. The par threes are wonderful and the par-five, ninth is spectacular. You can see for miles from the tee box even to many of the ski runs of Winter Park. This 532 yard hole tumbles down the hill, like a water fall and even I was able to get within 40 yards of the green in two. The contrast of the vast blue skies against the shimmering emerald fairways is surreal in its own way.

The Meadow is laid out on a more level portion of the property. Just after 1:00 the notorious afternoon winds showed up and changed everything.

Number 5 is a split fairway, I chose the right fairway, but having played it once I would play the left fairway which gives you a much clearer view of the green. Number seven is an almost horseshoe shaped hole where at first glance it appears you could go straight for the green, but even the longest of hitters can’t really reach it. It took someone with quite a vision to design this hole. So the conventional way is straight over a fairway bunker, then almost 90 degrees dogleg left over a pond and back up hill and further left to an elevated green. I would love to play this hole a couple more times, It is such an interesting and unique design.
There are some spectacular homes dotting these fairways and there are many spots that make you feel like you are looking at the best Golf coffee table book in existence.

Pole Creek Golf Club 970-887-9195
Rates $83-$89 regular season plus cart

Dude Ranches of Colorado
This is my first visit to a Dude Ranch and I can’t help but think about the movie “City Slickers.” Maybe I’ll meet Curley, but I am more hoping to meet Norman, the cow that Billy Crystal helped birth and effectively adopted.

There is something about the outside of a horse: that is good
for the inside of a cowboy”
- anon

If you have dreamed of trying out the cowboy life, and a week away from cell phones, TV and your Blackberry sounds enticing, then Dude ranches may be the place for you.

Drowsy Water Ranch is a dude ranch located near Granby, CO about 90 miles west of Denver and 3000 feet higher in elevation. This has been a working ranch for many years and was bought by the Fosha Family in 1977. This ranch is a family affair in many ways. One couple who is here this week from Indiana has been coming for 28 years. They have brought the kids and now bring the grandkids as well. He said, “I was here the year the Foshas had their first kid and I have seen their entire family grow up. They are like family to me”
Guests are not the only family members; there are the 120 horses with their varying temperaments and personalities who seem to be separate but equal family members. Ken told us the story of two of the horses, Gus and Navajo who hang out together all the time in the pasture and seem to be inseparable. Then there are the friendships that get built here as people bond during their weeks and arrange to come back the following year or years at the same time.

It’s also a family affair in that 75% of the visitors here are families. They have 3 adult weeks after Labor Day and thats it. This week is “art week” where people interested in painting come to paint in the morning and ride in the afternoon.
So what do you do at a Dude Ranch? Well, of course there is horseback riding, but there is also mountain biking, trout fishing, guided hikes, river rafting, yoga, horseshoes, steak frys, songfests and campfires, country dancing, hay rides and more. I forgot to mention the family style meals in the dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This morning started with a full breakfast from the menu and our introduction to trail riding. We walked down to the stable to meet our horse (mine is Gus, the lovebird I mentioned earlier). We got about 1/2 hour of training (how to ride, trot, command them etc)--this was followed by a 1 hour trail ride. The instruction was thorough and outstanding.
The staff here is as friendly and helpful as can be. After a delicious spaghetti dinner it was off to the Teepee for an evening of line dancing and square dancing (with plenty of instruction to help us novices) It was more fun than I would have at first imagined.
Come for a week and you will soon be familiar with words like “Howdy!!” “Come and Get it!” and the sound of the dinner bell.
I can see why people come back here year after year.
Drowsy Water Ranch 800-845-2292. rates are $1820 to $1890 per week

Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch is the oldest continuous dude ranch in Colorado, and in 2012 they will celebrate their 100th anniversary. They are located 105 miles west of Denver on the bank of the Colorado River (the river source is 20 miles upriver) at an altitude of 7500 feet. We are just a few miles down the road from Drowsy Water Ranch. Drowsy Water Ranch and Bar Lazy J seem similar at first (especially when you review their daily activities list) but the similarities stop there. The capacity here is approx 45.

My cabin is called Gingerquill and the Colorado River is right out my front door. It’s raining today, but that does not really seem to matter. It’s so tranquil to just look out the window at the running river. Or just curl up with a book in the living room of the ranch house in front of the fireplace and pretty soon its lunchtime.

There is plenty to do, even if you don’t like riding horses, such as: fishing, white water rafting, high country rides, hiking, steak, shrimp and, BBQ rib cookouts and even a cattle drive (Billy Crystal, watch out). These are for everyone.
Then especially for the kids, there are programs for swimming, arts and crafts, treasure hunts, feeding baby animals and nature walks and more. They have a kids Pow Wow and on Friday nights they have staff skits followed by a kids skit--which the kids get totally immersed in.

There are specific multigenerational family activities as well, like the Wed morning breakfast ride and “GymKahna,” relay races on horses that involve family teams.

The guest books in the rooms are a perfect way to wile away a couple hours on a rainy morning. The stories and appreciation are awe inspiring. Here are three examples
“To the guest who come after us, If this is your first visit, get
ready for the single most magical experience of your life.
This is our third visit”
“Our family came half way round the world from France for
this fantastic week. We plan to return”
“I know I am one of many, but I so feel like family.. This place
is like nowhere else, a place to forget reality for a while and
simply enjoy life”

But the most telling story I heard this week was about a very successful lawyer from New York City who was here with his family. His firm had managed to reach him by phone at the ranch and told him to return to New York for a very important deposition. The senior partner of the firm had asked “can we land a helicopter on the ranch to pick you up and take you to a private jet?” He thought it over for about a minute and said, “Let someone else handle that deposition, I am stayin here with my family”
After he hung up the phone he recounted the conversation to the Ranch owners. “This is the first time I ever said NO to my work colleages.”

One more story is about a family from Arkansas. The kids had never been out of Arkansas before and came to Bar Lazy J. For weeks after the visit the kids begged, “Lets move to Colorado, buy 40 acres and three horses”
Several months later the family pulled up stakes and made the move.

75-80 percent of their guests are repeat guests. Personally I am surprised that there is ever room for new guests.
There is one small 8x8 room remotely located on the ranch property called “Internet Jailhouse” in case you just have to get on line.

Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch: 800-369-6279 Weekly Rates: $1825 (adults) $1295 (7-12 yr old) $1095 (3-6 yr old) They are sold out for 2012 except for 2 weeks in Sept

Happy Trails!!

To get to my next destination, Salt Lake City, I decided to take the train from Granby, CO to Salt Lake City. Its about 10 or 11 hours. But it is the most relaxing scenic day you may ever spend, as the train winds through the canyons along side the mighty Colorado River.-- What a way to travel!

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Wales of a Golf Trip


When I used to think of golf in the British Isles, I thought of Scotland or Ireland. Golf in Wales was not on my bucket list. But, after a recent golf trip to the south of Wales, I think you may want to put it on yours. Wales was good enough for the 2010 Ryder Cup, and it was plenty good enough for me.

There are more than 200 golf courses packed into this land of unpronounceable counties and villages, many of which cluster along the Heritage Coastline on the Bay of Bristol. You will find 800 miles of quaint townships such as Cwmyllynfell and Dolyddelan, but don’t bother traveling to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoc, a landlocked city that has 56 letters in its name but not a single golf course.

From the U.S., we flew to London Heathrow and then took a two-hour train ride to Cardiff. From Cardiff, travel by car southwest, through winding roadways along the craggy shoreline. Here in Wales, you’ll find true links golf—fast firm fairways, steep walled bunkers, plenty of gorse to eat up errant shots, sea views with crashing waves, grassy dunes with bleating sheep, and, naturally, the whims of Mother Nature. Expect wind to move your ball around all day. And expect to walk these courses. There are almost no carts available and no one uses them anyway.


Royal Porthcawl is now rated number 94 in the Golf Magazine “Top 100 Golf Courses in the World.”
On the first tee box of Royal Porthcawl, the most inspiring comment your golf partner can make is not “Good shot!” but rather, “I can still see your ball!” That’s because, the moment you launch your ball into the costal air, it seems to disappear into reflections of sea and sky.
This Welsh links course, founded in 1888, is both private and public and boasts expansive views of the ocean from almost every tee and fairway. The fairways run at lightning speed, giving you up to 90 yards of roll off the tee! Unless, of course, you veer into the gorse and broom, which makes up most of the rough. This dense stuff will steal your ball and rack up your scorecard.

Judging distance is a constant challenge at Royal Porthcawl G.C. since there aren’t any trees or buildings to use as a reference. One scrub brush looks the same as all the others! And the local heather seems to run seamlessly along every hole. If you manage to keep your ball in the relatively narrow fairways, you can run it onto most of the greens. Tiger Woods played his final event as an amateur here in 1995, losing in match play, with a few detours off the fairways. So, take care to control the roll!

The wind and rain are constant variables and tease your stroke-count. And finding your way to the12th and 17th tees might frustrate the first-timer, since there is little signage and some crossover fairways to negotiate. Often, one must scurry to find the tee and keep ahead of the well seasoned, fast-walking members! We played the final three holes withTwo Welshmen, both named Robert, guided us back to the cottage-like clubhouse with smiles and Welsh hospitality.

The “Royal” status of Royal Porthcawl G.C. was bestowed on the club by King Edward VII. How does a golf course get “Royal” status? Easy. If a member of the royal family plays it and likes it, they can dub it royal. There are just over 60 commonwealth golf clubs that carry this moniker.

Greens fees range from 55 GBP to 125 GBP depending on the day and season and package rates are also available.

Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club

This much younger course is almost next door to Royal Porthcawl. Nine holes were opened in 1922 and the back nine, which plays like a new golf course, opened in 1942. We were lucky these past two days with no wind and no rain—wind is usually your companion here by the sea. The greens here are in outstanding shape, better today than at neighboring Royal Porthcawl.

The front nine is inland and the rough on the front nine is light and it’s easy to find a shot that misses the fairway.

The back nine is like a different golf course altogether, as you cross the road and get closer to the sea It offers more elevation changes and twisted doglegs all nestled along the coast. Number twelve, for example, is a severe dogleg right and the instructions were “tee off toward the bouy out in the sea.” It is much more challenging and more likely to cost you a sleeve or two of balls. The course also has a yardage book, which helps find your way around.

Green fees are 50 GBP weekdays and 75 GPB on weekends.

Pennard Golf Club

The fabled “links in the sky” sits 200 feet above Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower Peninsula, was founded in 1886. The seventh hole alone may be worthy of a trip half way round the world. The seventh fairway is framed by a ruined church on one side and the ruins of Pennard Castle on the other. The green hangs on a ledge overlooking the bay. If that’s not enough, then the par-5 16th hole has bay views that may stop your golf game for a while.

Holes 1-5 are a welcoming start to your golf day, then 6-10 play over much harsher undulating land and 11-18 provide the grand finish.
Authentic links is the sandy soil that is the buffer between land and sea. What is unusual here at Pennard, is that this soil has been blown onto the bluffs up to 200 feet about sea level. Many would say playing Pennard is a bit like playing on the moon. It certainly is dramatic. We were fortunate that Jeff Joseph, a former captain of the club, joined us on the front nine and helped us find our way around this course. We did have a yardage book and there are aim posts on many of the holes, but there are plenty of blind shots here and several holes, like seven and eight, that move like a rollercoaster, or maybe more like a pinball machine. The fairways undulate and tumble through hillocks, hummocks and dunes. I rarely had a flat lie, but that may be one of the charms of Pennard. The greens were in terrific shape and the sand (I was in one too many bunkers) was quite playable.

One interesting aspect of Pennard is the land has what they call “commoner rights”. That allows for hikers, horseback riders and even some cows to roam the course. There are short fences around the greens to keep the cattle from grazing. You will rarely find a course like this, and if you are anywhere near here, you gotta come experience it. But be prepared for a challenging walk. I would love to come back and take this on after having seen it once.

Pennard, like many clubs in the UK, is private but welcomes guests and the public to play.
40 GBP on weekdays and 60 GBP on weekends.

Park Plaza Hotel Cardiff
This was a wonderful welcome to Wales, right in the heart of the city. It is a contemporary, boutique hotel with all modern amenities, including a fitness center, swimming pool, steam bath and whirlpool, delicious restaurant, and a very helpful staff.


Coed-y-Mwstwr Hotel in Coychurch
This is a quaint 35-room European hotel of distinction and a golfers’ favorite. Located outside of Coychurch, it is an old manor house built in 1888 for the Arthur John Williams family. If you want a quiet countryside retreat, this has all the charm, comfort and tradition you can ask for. The stained glass windows and floral fabrics help make it a cozy, peaceful respite on the hillside.

Enjoy menu selections of Welsh Lamb Rump, Loin of Breconshire Venison, or hearty Cottage Pie with Creamy Mash after a long walk on the links, or bathe in the steam and sauna before retiring. Just ask our stuffed animal—a dog named Cayuga whose collar reads, “Put me outside of your room if you do not wish to be disturbed, and let sleeping dogs lay.”

Cafe Valance in Mumbles
This was, by far, the best accommodation we had on this trip. We just loved it. It is in Mumbles, just down the road from Swansea, a very quaint beach town with wonderful shopping and great activities. Cafe Valance is a coffee shop, restaurant, and four-room hotel. The rooms have all been remodeled and the service is wonderful. So wonderful that when we asked for directions to the gas station, Andy, the proprietor, said, “I will get in the car with you and show you the way.” Now that’s service!! The dinner was wonderful too.

How did a town like Mumbles get its name? There are two islands off the coast that look like breasts and when the Romans landed here centuries ago they named it using the Latin word for breasts, which now translates to Mumbles. The tide in the channel here has nearly 35 feet of tidal change, one of the largest in the world. When the tide is high, the coast line is especially beautiful.

Golf in Wales is a treat. It may be as good as Ireland or Scotland at a fraction of the cost and much closer proximity to London.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Golf in Mississippi or is Mississippi burning up?

“To understand the world you must first understand a place like Mississippi”—William Faulkner

When I say burning up, I mean temperature. The state of Mississippi has changed dramatically from what was depicted in the film Mississippi Burning, but it’s still stifling in summer. It’s the middle of July and it’s just plain hot and humid—not too steamy, though, to play a few of Mississippi’s wonderful golf courses.

If you like our blues, you will love our greens
Spring and fall are the prime seasons here, but whenever you come, you’ll find lots to do between rounds. Some of the major artists of the 20th century were from Mississippi: Elvis Presley, born in Tupelo; Tennessee Williams, born in Columbus; William Faulkner, born in Oxford; and B. B. King, who first saw light in Indianola. There are fascinating museums at each of these birthplaces. Having promoted many concert dates with BB King, and getting to know him as well as I did, I especially wish I had had time to visit his museum, which gives a taste of the social history of the Mississippi Delta and a firsthand account of Riley B. King’s life on the farm as a sharecropper and all the way through to his worldwide fame as a musician.

People have referred to Mississippi as the birthplace of American music, The fact that it is home to to such music greats as Tammy Wynette, Faith HIll, Jimmy Rogers, Bo Didley and Willie Dixon may be evidence enough of that.

But back to business. Where should you be making tee times in Mississippi? There are some great choices.

Old Waverly Golf Club

Old Waverly in West Point, just two hours south of the Memphis airport, hosted the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open and has been rated in Golf Digest’s top 100—and you can play it. Old Waverly gets nearly half of its revenue from guest play, mostly thru stay and play packages at the club’s own lodgings—townhomes, cabins, and cottages that can accommodate over 100 people. Given the reasonable prices and the wonderful course designed by Jerry Pate and Bob Cupp, Old Waverly is a real deal.

Lake Waverly, a forty-acre lake is the centerpiece of this development with holes 10,11,12,17 and 18 playing along its shores. There are several other small lakes on the property, so water is in play on many holes. Greens are very firm and very fast, even after a downpour of rain, we went back out and they remained firm and fast. The fairways are generous and play well, most of the holes are tree lined and the sand is extremely well maintained.

The clubhouse at Old Waverly was built when the course opened but as you wander through, it looks and feels like an old southern Antebellum home, a bit like walking onto the set of Gone with the Wind. Even the dining room is built with such an intimate look, it feels as though you are eating in someone’s home.

In the proshop,there is a framed display of 4 signed golf gloves. The plaque reads: The only 4 men to ever win all 4 major championships Gene Sarazan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan. Conspicuously missing , is Tiger Woods. I assume this went up before Tiger accomplished this ,and when he was in Mississippi for rehab, he just didn’t have time to get over to Old Waverly to sign a glove.

If you go:
Unaccompanied guest fees $165.00, but check out their stay and play packages.

Dancing Rabbit Golf Club at Pearl River Resort, Choctaw MS

Dancing Rabbit sits on ancestral lands of the Mississippi band of Choctaw Indians, and was named for its location along the banks of the Big and Little Dancing Rabbit Creeks. Many casinos now come with golf courses, but few have two courses of such high caliber—The Azaleas and The Oaks, both designed by acclaimed golf course designer Tom Fazio and PGA great Jerry Pate. They both play from about 7100 yards down to 5000 yards so there is plenty of challenge for all levels of players.

Towering pines and stunning Oaks frame both of these courses, and today I am thankful for that, because it 95 degrees with over 90% humidity and the shade on the cart paths is a lifesaver.

The courses are very different. For starters, the Oaks fairways are Zoysia grass with bermuda greens. Azaleas, on the other hand, has bermuda fairways and bent grass greens. These two types of grasses play very differently. Bent grass is difficult to grow in extreme heat, so its an uncommon grass in this climate.
Every hole at Dancing Rabbit is a work of art laid upon land that is wrapped in over 5 miles of meandering spring-fed streams. Most of these beauties will leave an indelible mark on your memory.

The Oaks meanders through many elevation changes with some outstanding views. As you stand on most of the tee boxes the holes lay out clearly in front of you. The Par threes are all down hill to stunning framed greens. And Tom Fazio sure knows how to bring excitement to drivable short par fours.
Azelias is rated as more difficult and it is. The fairways are tighter and with the bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens almost every approach is likely to take one more club than would be the case on The Oaks.

There are 8 sleeping rooms in the clubhouse, and it’s a very charming place to stay. Having experienced this I will take staying in a clubhouse like this over a hotel any day. There is also one 3 bedroom house on property which is a nice way to go as well. You can always stay at the Casino hotel, which is nice, but you can find accommodations like that anywhere. If you go, stay in the clubhouse!! You won’t regret it.

Restaurants-- There are several here to choose from, in the clubhouse and in the casino offering a large variety of food choices. But Miko Steakhouse, their upscale steakhouse is fabulous. The ribeye steak accompanied by a sweetcorn soufle may be worth the visit all by itself.

If you love gambling, then you have come to the right place. They not only have plenty of slot machines but all the table games as well.

Annandale Golf Club
Annandale Golf Club, just outside of Jackson, is an early Jack Nicklaus design. The Viking Classic is being played there this week and several golf travel writers on this trip are playing in the pro-am. Our team teed off at 8:30 am with Chris Riley. His regular caddie was off this week, so his wife Michelle was on his bag. She was a great competitive golfer in her day, playing not only on her college team but on an LPGA mini tour as well. It was interesting to watch her gather the yardage and map pin positions and green slope information that Chris would need later that week for the competition.

This is the first Pro-am I have ever played in and I have to say it is a real treat. The gifts alone are worth it, but the best part is playing with a pro. There is no other sport where you can play alongside a pro and once you do stand there, you really appreciate the vast difference between their skill level and the skill level of us average Joe golfers.

The southern hospitality really shone through in this event as well. The volunteers did not have signs that read “Quiet.” Instead they read “Hush Y’all.” The service was fabulous, the food was non stop and we truly felt welcome at every turn.

Southern hospitality was king, not only at the Viking Classic, but throughout Mississippi. It is a much more interesting state than I had imagined. Just do your best to avoid the heat of the summer, unless you are headed to the gulf coast.

Larry Berle is a travel writer who writes on many travel topics but specializes in golf travel.  He is author of A GOLFERS DREAM: HOW A REGULAR GUY CONQUERED THE GOLF DIGEST LIST OF AMERICAS TOP 100 GOLF COURSES.   Learn more about his book at and from there you can also access his travel blog.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Park City Utah golf part 2

Park City Golf Club (formerly Park City municipal)

Park City Golf Club is located right in the middle of Park City, snuggled up close to the base of Park City Ski resort. In fact, part of the course is used as for cross country skiing in the winter.
First of all, this is a very walkable course, with some elevation changes, but not so much as to make it unwalkable. There is water on many holes here. The streams today are rushing very quickly as the snow melt from the winter tumbles down from the mountains. There is so much snow melt, that one fairway is partly underwater (not enough to make the hole unplayable and a couple spots where they had to do some light sandbagging to keep the tee box from flooding.)
It plays from 6622 yards to 5558 yards, a good challenge for most players (possible exception the longest of hitters).

The front nine is enjoyable but the back nine is in better condition and the holes are more interesting. More elevation change, playing along the back of the hotel and condos and just a prettier stroll in the park. It is certainly not the least expensive public course in the valley but still a good value at
$43 to walk plus $14 per person for a cart. Rates go down by $11.00 after 3:00 PM.


Promontory, just outside of Park City UT, is a 10 square mile development. It is designed to appeal to golfers and non-golfers alike and it certainly does that. If they build a grocery store in here--you may never have to leave.
There are currently two golf courses, one designed by Pete Dye which opened in 2002 and the other designed by Jack Nicklaus opened in 2007.
They plan 3 more, the next one will be designed by Tom Weiskopf.

Promontory is private, with an initiation fee just over $100,000 and monthly dues of $650 but the Dye course takes 8 public tee times per day (32 players) at $200.00 a round. There are currently 400 members and the membership is growing, even in this flat economy. Custom homes start in the $900,000 range and home sites start at $300,000. The master plan calls for 1900 homes. AS of Jan 2011 783 have been sold

The two courses couldn’t be any more different. First of all the views from all over the property are expansive and breathtaking. I am sure there are spots where you can see for 30 or 40 miles. Every tee box is a picture postcard, and most of the holes are downhill, so you can see clearly the hole as it lays out in front of you.
The Dye course takes you on an elevation rolller-coaster ride through a desert meadow on the front 9, with the back 9 taking you through sage covered mountain valleys. There is plenty of elevation change and rarely a flat lie.
The Nicklaus course, in contrast has generous flat fairways, (that Jack makes look narrow from the tee) half as many bunkers but 15 holes where water comes into play. The water brings an entire new level of beauty to this course. The true challenge is the green complexes. It has been rated as the toughest course in Utah.In 2009 it was awarded #3 Best New Private Course by Golf Digest.
This is only the second course I have been to that is over 8000 yards from the tips (8098) but remember the ball flys 10% further at this altitude and there are many sets of tees to make this playable for all levels.

If you visit and click come for a weekend getaway, two people can stay here for three nights in a luxury 3 bedroom cabin, golf for two and complete access to the clubs amenities for $499. When you consider the golf is $200.00 a round then you are getting this luxury home for $50.00 a night and full access to all the other club activities.

Golf is only one thing here--Here are some of the others. A world class fitness center with a ski trainer like I have never seen before, A kids cabin with more kids activities than you can shake a stick at. An Equestrian center. On July 4 they announced the building of “the shed” it will have basketball, bowling, movie theatre, sports bar, arts studio and more.
Do I even have to mention the world class spa? There is Tennis, snow shoeing, sledding and tubing, mountain biking ice skating and guided hiking (over 50 miles of private trails), fly fishing with a guide all right on property.

World class skiing is 20 minutes away in Park City and the Salt Lake City airport is less than 30 minutes away
If your social life revolves around your house and you dont like a day full of activities, this is not the place for you.

They had a very clever event here last week. On June 21, the longest day of the year, they set the Nicklaus course up to play as the longest course in the world at approx 8400 yards (the very back of every back tee). Now that is a solstice celebration, if I ever saw one.

Park City Utah golf part 3

Victory Ranch Club
There is a reason that Rees Jones has been called “The Open Doctor” and that the USGA uses him to redesign many of the U.S. Open venues. Simply put, Rees has quite a vision and that is why Victory Ranch hired him to design this golf course. Lets start with Rees Jones design philosophy. He says “Primarily, the style of a course is dictated by the contours of the land. The importance of the visual impact of a golf hole from the tee should never be underestimated.”
This mountain course definitely accomplishes both of these philosophical statements.
Victory Ranch is in Kamas UT (but to most golfers is in the Park City cluster of golf courses), sits 12 miles from the center of Park City. It opened as a private club, which it still is, in fall of 2009. The entire Victory Ranch development is 5600 acres, over half of which is and will remain protected land. It offers magnificent sweeping views of the surrounding mountains for at least 20 miles at some points.

Almost every hole plays somewhat down hill so you can see exactly what lays in front of you. Number 12 was the only hole where I stood on the tee box and was not sure if it was a dog leg right or left. All the holes are wonderful, but as is often the case the par fives and especially the par threes are spectacular.
As you stand on the picture postcard Number six tee box, a par three ranging from 104-235 yards across a cavernous gorge, you have to wonder “just how did a course architect stand here and envision a golf hole?” And this hole has 9 different tee boxes for different wind conditions. This is only one of three par threes that play over a gorge or old stone quarry.

The lack of trees and buildings makes everything appear farther than it is. A couple par five greens appear to be over a mile away from their tee boxes--but they are not. The course plays 7599 yards down to 5422 I played 6726) which is long for me but keep in mind that at almost 7,000 feet of elevation the ball travels over 5% further.
You would be hard pressed to find a stretch of holes as impressive as Victory Ranches three closing holes.Number sixteen, an uphill 520 yard par five, seems to hang on a cliff on one side and is framed by a canyon wall on the other. climbing its way to a narrow steep green. Choose one of eleven tee boxes on the par three number seventeen from 242 yards or less while you stand on the highest spot on the course, and prepare to hit across an old rock quarry. This can be quite intimidating when the wind is blowing as hard as it was this afternoon. Number 18 tumbles down the hill back home to finish out a wonderful day on the golf course. It’s 465 yards from the member tees (520 from the tips) but if you catch the hill just right you may have only 150 yards in.

Few trees, few houses, no problem! Almost all the holes are framed by sage and colorful heather which appeared like a moving Monet painting as the wind picked up. The Upper Provo River, which runs through the property was rushing full steam as the snow melt crashes down from the surrounding mountains. No wonder Golfweek named it “Top 10 Best New Courses in the Country”

In spring of 2013 March madness will descend on Salt Lake City and a planning meeting must be underway because there was a small NCAA tournament behind us and one of the foursomes had Jim Nantz, best known for years of being the broadcast voice of the Masters and Sean McMannus chairman of CBS Sports. When the wind wasn’t howling, it was as if I could hear the famous hushed tones of Jim Nantz speaking softly into a microphone as my 40 foot putt fell into the hole.

It is not a busy place, only 60 members so far, so in these tough economic times they have hired OB Sports to manage the facility and allow public to play as “club guests” at $150.00 a round (but get a replay rate within 48 hours for $50). If you pick the right day and time it will be like your own private course
Its worth the trip to Park City-- so just get on a plane and go play it.

Victory Ranch Club phone 435-785-5030
or visit

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Utah has more than its share of public golf courses and good ones too. The greens fees are some of the greatest values in America. This is one of the things that makes Park City such a wonderful golf destination. Another is Park City is less than 40 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport.

They have far fewer private clubs than most states (between 15-20 in the entire state). When I asked why, I was told “ Most people join clubs for a sense of community and family activities. In Utah the LDS church serves that function, thus a decreased need for private clubs.” Approx one third of these private clubs are in the Park City area. That is compared to over 125 public golf courses in the state.

Wasatch State Park Mountain

Wasatch State Park is home to 2, 18 hole golf courses, the Lakes Course and the Mountain Course. The Lakes Course is nestled on the floor of the Wasatch Valley, while the Mountain Course appears to be sculpted into the Wasatch Mountain Range.

In todays golf course world, shorter is usually synonymous with easier. And, at 6459 yards from the tips, this course initially seems to be a short course. But don’t let this distance con you. Keep your winning bets in your pocket if you are a short hitter. What the Mountain Course lacks in distance, it makes up in plentiful challenges, with dense rough, limited fairway rolls, and a handful of green-protecting bunkers.

Even though it’s true that at 6000 feet of elevation the ball travels 10% further, you might not find this bonus at Wasatch Mountain. The crisp alpine air and chilly breezes often create additional challenges while keeping your ball from soaring and rolling, and you will rarely find your ball on a flat surface. At times, your ball will lie so high above your feet that you may feel like you are whacking a baseball bat rather than swinging a golf club.

When we headed out to the first teebox, the course manager, named Steakhouse, warned us about the local squirrels; “They not only steal any food from your cart, but they have been known to haul off with your wallets, money clips and cell phones.” You may also see elk, deer, moose and wild turkeys here. All of this wildlife adds to the charm and beauty of this public course.

The clubhouse sits at 5800 feet of elevation and the 12th tee box sits at 7200 feet. That 1400 foot elevation change gives you an idea of the dramatic climb necessary to reach some of the greens, and makes this course restricted to carts only. In fact, walking is not allowed. Throughout your assent, you will play a few narrow fairways and “draw-up” on your club choice. You may even find yourself coming up short to the green. However, the green-side bunkers are shallow and fine, making it easy to lob a shot near the pins.

But what goes up, must come down, and at hole # 8, you will be tempted to “grip it and rip it” some 591 yards down the mountain. But, before you do, take a moment to enjoy the snowcapped mountain view.

There are few areas that offer penalty lies, with water comming into play on less than 3 holes. Hazard markings are scarce and you’ll find little that is out of bounds.

This par 71 layout has 6 par threes and 5 par fives. That leaves only 7 par fours. I generally love courses with an abundance of par fives and threes because these are usually the most creative holes. My theory is upheld on this very scenic course, with the par fives offering spectacular and vast alpine beauty.

These two courses are located in the Midway, about a 25 minute drive from the center of Park City. The quaint, historically Swiss area, boasts additional uniqueness with artisan cheese shops and lively horse stables. So it is no wonder that Golf Digest voted it “one of the best places to play.”
I will bet this place is glorious when the fall colors are in their full spectacle.

Greens fees are $29.00, plus $13.00 for a cart
Season passes are available for $750.00

Golf wasatch telephone: 888-wasatch

Soldier Hollow Golf
At Soldier Hollow in Heber, UT (just a 20 min drive from Park City) there are 2 18-hole courses, Golf and Silver. The Gold course will host the U.S. Amateur Public Links in July 2012, the first major USGA championship for Utah in many years. You can play this as a USGA major venue, except for the second hole for which they will create a composite hole #2 that tees off from a tee box on the silver course and most of the hole is on the Gold course. It will be a 550 yard par 4 the longest par 4 in USGA championship history.

The first thing I noticed as we turned our car toward the clubhouse was the lack of trees--It is links style although certainly not on linksland. But don’t let the lack of trees fool you-there is plenty of places to loose your ball if you stray too far off the fairway into the thick vegetation. This complex was opened in 2004 to relieve the demand for Wasatch Mountain, just down the road. It was the site for a couple Olympic events (Biathlon and cross country) and the state park system decided to make the land a golf course after the Olympics were completed. They brought in Gene Bates who gave them this wonderful design. Of course this beautiful clubhouse cannot go unnoticed. It has a very contemporary look with a sloping roof that appears to mirror the mountain in its background. It features beautiful exposed beams, with floor to ceiling windows, so you can take in the breathtaking views from here.

This course definitely has plenty of length ranging from 7598 yards down to 5658, so there is something to challenge all levels of players.
Hole number one is very inviting with no trees, no bunkers and no water.
The first 7 holes are somewhat level and quite inviting--but as you work your way up into the foothills everything changes.

The mountain holes are the most spectacular but if you don’t play here first thing in the morning or late in the evening, you are almost certain to encounter some serious wind, which we did, just after noon. It was almost as if someone opened a big door at noon and let the wind come rushing through. It meant a 2-3 club difference in many cases.

Number 11 is a beautiful downhill downwind par four of 440 yards. I felt like superman with my 300 yard tee shot. But number 12 turns the other way into the teeth of the wind. Number 14 is not only a long par three but it has a green depth of 45 yards, that is nearly a half of a football field.
Number 15 tee box is probably the highest spot on the course and the view from here is expansive. I am sure you can see almost every one of the 36 golf holes here at Soldiers Hollow.
Number 16 is a fabulous par 3 that must tumble 150 feet down hill to a large green. Its just wonderful to watch your ball soar with majestic Mount Timpanogos in the background.
Number 17 is a deceptive par 5 double dogleg that looks very tight off the tee but truly has plenty of landing area.
You almost wish #18 wouldn’t arrive as you approach the beautiful clubhouse in the background.

Greens fees here are $42 plus cart

Ambassadors of the Environment at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel

This Ritz Carlton is located half way between Los Angeles and San Diego--just 25 miles south of the John Wayne Airport. It sits on a bluff 150 feet over the Pacific Ocean at Dana Point. There are 370 rooms and 25% of the guest stays here are families.

The Raya restaurant is the signature restaurant featuring 80% seafood and they are becoming more organic and using more locally grown items thanks to the influence of the ambassadors of the environment program that is the centerpiece of family activities here. It may be mostly seafood but the Spring Pea Soup with black beans and the NY strip steak with a jalapeno hollandaise sauce were delicious.
There is a more casual restaurant and Enology: a wine/cheese/ chocolate bar--what a combo... and several other places to eat here as well.

It is Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program that is unique and completely captivated my attention. It started as a program for kids, and it still is, but increasingly parents join in and love it enough to bring the family back.

The central gathering point is furninshed with all products that are recycled or made from recycled material (carpet tables, chairs etc).

Tour the organic garden and compost area in the outdoor center and learn about sustainable gardening. Then put on your chef hat and apron and work with hotel chefs and learn cooking with organic ingredients.

The Forests Under the Sea program teaches about the underwater kelp forests and what function it serves in the sustainability of the ocean. Kelp is used in many of the products we use everyday, cosmetics, ice cream. Bandaids yogurt toothpaste and many more. Then take a snorkeling trip through a kelp forest and see the many creatures that live there. You may also be able to observe kelp as it grows, since it grows at a rate of almost an inch per hour. I took the snorkeling tour and swimming among these kelp is beautiful.

Take a tide-pool tour on the beach and see the many sea creatures that live between the tides, in the tide-pools.

Dana Point may be one of the greatest places in the world for whale watching. The gray whales migrate through here in winter--but summer season the Blue whales are here. These are the largest creatures (over 100 feet long) to ever inhabit the earth, even larger than dinosaurs. Scientists now believe that they find their way for their annual migration, thousands of miles by the magnetic field of the earth (their own form of GPS).

There are also nighttime programs. One teaches about creatures of the night down by the ocean after sunset and the night sky program teaches about constellations and the night sky.

You can even learn to surf and boogie board if you want.

This has led the hotel to some environmental innovations. Such as the water bottles are made 100% from plants and are completely compostable. They even sell paper made from Cow and elephant dung. These animals eat large amounts of fiber and don’t digest it well--so paper can be made from it. Its called poopoopaper.

This is a Ritz-Carlton and the place is fabulous, but I did observe one thing. All the bathrooms are smaller than I expected and all the showers are still tub showers. Did I mention the Fitness center? Well, you gotta have a chandelier in the entrance to any fitness center right? And every fitness center should have sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and a view of Santa Catalina Island, 26 miles away.
If you are going to bring your kids--You should also bring your Pet. Check out their posh pooch program.

There are many other things to do in the area--like visit the Mission San Juan Capistrano--a fascinating place built in 1776. Visit the numerous art galleries of Laguna Beach, just 3 miles up the coast. Relax by the pool and hang out down on the beach--just to name a few

More information at: to learn more about the Ambassadors of the Environment program

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Golf Mesquite Nevada

Trophy-course golf trips with their mortgage-payment greens fees can be unforgettable, but sometimes you just want value—great golf and great scenery at great prices. That’s when you have to look at Golf Mesquite Nevada. Just an hour north of Las Vegas, it’s a one-stop-shop for championship golf—nine quality courses plus hotel resorts and casinos.
Mesquite is a small town of 15,000 in a beautiful setting where the desert meets the surrounding 10,000 foot peaks. The weather is as spectacular as the views. In the winter you can ski in the morning, drive an hour back to town and golf in the afternoon.

Casa Blanca Golf Club:
Just behind the Casa Blanca resort and casino, this 1996 layout measure 7036 yards from the tips, but also plays down to 5209 yards, making it fun and challenging for all skill levels. There are wetlands or water on more than half the holes, and an abundance of wild life, cranes, turtles and birds. We had Scott Sullivan, the director of golf, to point us in the right directions. Some of the holes inspire calmness—a relative term on a golf course—with soothing waterfalls, quiet streams, and warbling birds.
Even with all the water, the landing areas are generous and the bent grass greens putt very true. On many of the holes this looks like a stadium course, with rolling mounds framing the greens beautifully. Casa Blanca starts and ends gently. Seven through eleven is the most challenging stretch of the course, playing down and back along a pond, where the water poses a constant threat. Number thirteen is a drivable par-4 (for some), which always adds a thrill. Number fifteen, a 565-yard par-5 from the tips, was reached by John Daly in two earlier this year. That is two big shots! But this course is definitely not only for big hitters. My wife says that the Casa Blanca Golf Club, with its wide fairways and lack of punishing holes, is also a truly “women-friendly” course.

The Palms Golf Club
is 7008 yards, par 71, with two very different nines. This is the oldest, most varied course in Mesquite. Over 200 palm trees define this beautiful property. The front nine is wide open, almost to the point where it can be hard to distinguish your fairway from the neighboring one. You have to pay attention to the monuments at tee boxes to be certain of the direction you should be heading.
Number 10 marks the beginning of a very different journey. As you enter the foothills, there are sweeping elevation changes on almost every hole. Number 11 is a big down hill par-3, and number 12 a short but steeply uphill par 4. Number 15, a par-5, has a spectacular 100- foot drop from the tee box to the fairway. If you want variety in one round, the Palms Golf Club is the place for you.

Resort Hotels
There are four casino/resort, hotels to choose from. We stayed at the Casa Blanca. The rooms were very nice, and the staff was wonderful. There are three restaurants, a full-feature casino, a large lagoon style pool, and a world class spa. The showroom has free comedy on weekends—the comedian we saw on Saturday night was hilarious. I would tell you it’s centrally located, but Mesquite is so small, everything is centrally located.

If you go:

Green Fees: $45-90 depending on the time of year

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Grand Canyon Skybridge

Imagine standing on a plexiglass floor, 45 feet over the edge of the Grand Canyon and looking straight down between your feet nearly 1 mile, into the Grand Canyon, which spans over 270 miles.. That is exactly what the Hualapai Nation hired David Chin to design, a forty four foot bridge, with a plexiglass floor cantilevered over the west rim of the Grand Canyon

This is one gravity defying architectural feat of 1.5 million pounds of steel and plexiglass, that will hold over 70 million pounds of people (more than you could possible fit on there. ) Put all your personal belongings in a locker, go thru a metal detector and put on the paper booties over your shoes so the plexiglass floor you are about to walk on does not get scratched. And while you are out there, lay face down on the plexiglass floor. If that does not take your breath away, I don’t know what will.

Come for the Skybridge and get a whole lot more. There are several places a tourist can see the Grand Canyon, but this may be the most remote and breath-taking spot from which to do so. Children will screech in fascination.

Eagle Point and the Skybridge attract an average of 2,000 people a day 365 days a year from all over the world, China and Japan bringing the most people.

The skybridge is located about 4 hours drive north of Phoenix and about 3 hours drive from Las Vegas. There is also an airport less than a mile from the Skybridge that is serviced by Sundance Air, Grand Canyon Air, Pappion and a couple other small airlines. so you can fly there.

There is quite a bit more here than the Skybridge. We went to Guano point with breathtaking views of both the canyon and the Colorado River that, for years, has carved the canyon.

We visited a Native American village and learned how several tribes of the area built their dwellings. It also featured an outdoor amphitheater with performances and demonstrations of the Hopi, Navajo, Plains and Hualapai tribes of the area.
There are several ways to take in all of Grand Canyon West. The land only portion, which we took, A helicopter tour above the rim of the canyon--or a helicopter ride to the bottom of the canyon and a short river raft ride and helicopter ride back to Eagle Point.

Make the most of a 24 hour stay at Hualapai Ranch, just a couple miles down the road with 26 overnight cabins a small western town and plenty of activities for the whole family: Horse drawn wagon rides, roping, horse back riding. Learn quick draw and tomahawk toss, there was a closeup magic show in the restaurant that was sure to fool even the quickest eye. This is also the home to “Norman” the cow that Billy Crystal befriended in “City Slickers -- Take advantage of all the activities here and you may go home feeling like a sure fire gunslinger.

If you go: visit Grand Canyon West $43.00
Add the skywalk $32.00
reservations: 928-769-2636

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Golf the Alabama Gulf Coast

Golf the Alabama Gulf Coast
Mix two parts sugar-white sand with one part crystal blue water, stir in nine lovely golf courses, and you have one Sweet Home Alabama Gol

When I first heard I was going to the Gulf coast of Alabama, my friends said, “You are headed for the Redneck Riviera.” But perception and reality turned out to be quite different. This is a beautiful place to visit with great golf, fine food and beautiful beaches. Hurricane Katrina missed this part of the Gulf, and the effects of last year’s oil spill are minimal. It’s a beautiful vacation spot that draws southerners escaping the heat of summer and snowbirds escaping the cold of winter.
Fly to Pensacola or Mobile for easy access to the Gulf coast of Alabama, which is halfway between these two communities. The accommodations are plentiful, ranging from RV and camping grounds all the way up to beach houses and luxurious condos. We stayed in the Turquoise Place condos, 24 stories of luxurious three-, four- and five-bedroom residences, perched right on the beach with sweeping gulf views and all the upscale amenities you would expect, including hot tubs and outdoor kitchens on the balconies.
There are plenty of things to see and do on the Alabama Gulf coast besides golf and hanging out on the stunning white sand beaches. The Blue Angels, the Navy acrobatic flying team, is based in Pensacola and you might see them practicing Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. You can visit the Battleship Alabama. This is a bird lover’s paradise, and there are bird watching trails that help you appreciate the large diversity of native and migratory species. It is the last stop for migratory birds heading across the Gulf of Mexico. As you might imagine, you can do some great deep sea fishing here. Or you can do what I did—play lots and lots of golf on some wonderful courses.

Gulf Shores Golf Club
Our golfing adventure started at the Gulf Shores Golf Club (formerly known as The Golf Club of the Wharf). It was built in the 1960s and was the first golf course in the Gulf Shores area. In 2005 it underwent a substantial renovation by Jay Moorish and his son, Carter. Jay Morrish is best known for designing some great courses in partnership with Tom Weiskopf. The renovated Gulf Shores course offers options for all skill levels. You can tackle this par 71 layout from the tips— 6900 yards—all the way down to 4866 yards. The renovation added water features, new bunkers and wider fairways. People who remember this course before the renovation say “You would never recognize it.”
There are 5 par threes, a feature I like because the par threes—and par fives—are usually the most interesting holes on a golf course. Pine trees frame the generous fairways, the greens are large and fast, and many are open in the front, meaning you can run the ball up. Gotta love it when one of those, uh, thin shots we’re all prone to ends up the green. The grass is a new strain of Bermuda called Mini Verde, with reduced grain that makes it similar to Bent. There are some homes on the course, but in most cases they are set well back and are not intrusive. There is water on a majority of the holes, but in many cases it’s not actually in play.
This place is fun and all levels of golfers should enjoy it. There’s GPS on the carts so you always have a visual of the holes and the distances you’re facing.

Peninsula Golf Club and Kiva Dunes
These are probably the best—and most expensive—golf courses in the Gulf Shores region. They both are wonderful.
Peninsula Golf club sits on 820 acres and is adjacent on two sides to the Bon Secour Wildlife preserve. It was designed by Earl Stone, whom I had never heard of, but he clearly knows how to design a golf course. The Peninsula course sports plenty of streams and ponds, with holes framed by cypress trees, pine trees and natural vegetation. It’s like being in a bird sanctuary. The hundreds of birds singing were music to my ears. As I walked a golf course years ago at dawn someone said to me that the singing birds were “the sound of a golf course waking up.” That statement has stuck with me. My awareness of the sounds of nature on a golf course has increased since then and makes the game even more enjoyable.
The course was in excellent condition with fast greens—the day we were there they were running almost 11 on the stimpmeter. The greens are large—one is almost 50 yards deep—which makes for plenty of pin placements. To put that in perspective, 50 yards is pushing the limit of many NFL field goal kickers. There could easily be a three or four club difference between back and front pins. Walking is allowed here, but it would be a challenge because of lots of elevation changes and some long hikes between greens and tees.

Kiva Dunes is a Jerry Pate design built in 1995, and a spectacular one at that. It sits very close to the Gulf shore—you are never close enough to see the water, but you can feel the wind and smell the salt air. There are 4 sets of tees ranging from 5006 to 7092 yards. It meanders through the dunes including a couple places that are part of a preserve—your ball may go in, but you can’t—and plenty of streams, lakes and ponds. Watch out for gators. Most of the entire course plays east or west. There are some doglegs, but hardly anything runs north and south, so you are usually hitting downwind or into the wind, and there is plenty of breeze here most days.
We played with the director of Golf, Rea Schuessler, and he shot 64. What a display—it’s not that easy!

Rock Creek Golf Club is another Earl Stone design and is owned by the same company as the Peninsula. Houses line the fairways of this course. There are many elevation changes and many doglegs, but with generous landing areas and beautifully contoured greens. I was surprised to see the incredible elevation changes in this part of the state that make this golf course so interesting.

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
The now-famous Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is the brainchild of Dr. David Bronner, who grew up in Minnesota, went to the University of Alabama, and never returned to Minnesota. He is CEO of Retirement Systems of Alabama, the pension fund for teachers and state employees, and in the early 1990s he decided to invest $150 million of the pension fund’s money in what became the RTJ Golf Trail. Bronner’s vision was to build several 54-hole golf stops immediately and simultaneously. He wrote letters to five leading golf architects, most of whom were skeptical about his ability to pull off such a grandiose project. Robert Trent Jones was the only one who took him seriously, came for an interview, and got the job. Needless to say, Dr. Bronner was able to pull it off. The Trail now has 11 locations and 26 courses—468 holes of fabulous and affordable golf. Green fees range from $45 to $64, plus cart fees.
When Dr. Bronner couldn’t attract a major luxury hotel chain to the Trail, he built the hotels himself. It has been quite a profitable investment, but perhaps more important, it has boosted the image of Alabama as a tourist destination and as a business location. At least three car manufacturers have opened plants in the state since the Trail opened. Hailed by the New York Times as “some of the best public golf on earth,” the RTJ Golf Trail celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2012.

Magnolia Grove is the most southern location on the RTJ golf trail, located just outside of Mobile. There’s an 18-hole par three course plus two full-length courses: The Falls and The Crossings. Both make the list of America’s Top 50 Affordable Courses. Both courses feature quite generous fairways framed by towering pines, sprawling live oaks (some over 200 years old), dogwoods, and, of course, magnolias. Magnolia Grove is somewhat reminiscent of Augusta National because of its elevation changes, the tall pines with pine straw below, and the same beautiful white sand you are accustomed to seeing on TV. Stepping into one of those sand traps in bright sunlight without sun glasses can be almost blinding. The greens are firm and quick.

The Falls course is named for the waterfall that tumbles across the fairway in front of the tenth green. If you are out to play nine holes, this is not the course, because number nine does not return to the clubhouse. The only par 71 on the trail, the Falls winds its way through creeks, marshland and lakes. Some of the waste areas have been spread with crushed oyster shell waste, which gives an intriguing and unique look.

The Crossings course hosts an annual LPGA event. It has plenty of pulpit and cloverleaf bunkers to test your skills. They have been renovating the Crossings by softening the contours of the greens and clearing some of the brush under the trees along the fairways (makes it much easier to find balls that run through the rough). Number 14, formerly a long uphill par three, now features a shorter downhill shot over water. The new hole is so beautiful that I would consider it a signature hole.

Lakewood Golf Club, at The Marriott Grand Resort in Point Clear, Alabama, is also part of the RTJ Trail. There are two 18-hole championship courses here, Azalea and Dogwood
With tee choices ranging from 7500 yards down to 4725 yards, they offer good challenges for all levels. Part of the original course was designed by the legendary Perry Maxwell. Lakewood is the only spot on the trail that has a membership in addition to being open to public play. Therefore it only gets 30,000 rounds a year. For comparison’s sake, Minneapolis City courses probably see twice that. The fairways are wide open and the cart paths are all concrete.
Because of the light play in winter, they do not overseed here. That makes its easier to grow good turf grass. The Azalea course’s signature hole is the par-5 number 14. It winds its way to an island green surrounded by a four-acre lake. The approach shot demands pinpoint accuracy.

The Dogwood course is equally wonderful. The front nine is lined with houses—there are virtually no houses on the back nine. Both of the par-threes on the front nine have two greens. They are small and this is so every other day they can rest one green. Needless to say, different greens change the hole dramataically.
Twenty five years ago on number 10 one of their giant sprawling oak trees blew down. Rather than digging it up by the roots and disposing of it, they piled dirt on top of the tree trunk, and tree still lives. Number 12 is a wonderful double dog leg and Number 13, a par three, features a bunker 40 yards off the tee with a mound behind it. The director of golf told us it is there to create the illusion that the hole plays shorter than its published distance. Many players are deceived. Even with forewarning, it got me too—I came up 15 yards short.
Yes, the golf courses are wonderful, but the Marriott Grand hotel and all its amenities are absolutely fabulous. Come for the golf, but stay at the Grand—you won’t regret it.

The Battle House
I know this seems like a very odd name for a hotel but don’t let that stop you. It sits on a site that was Andrew Jackson’s military headquarters during the War of 1812; however, it’s actually named for James and Samuel Battles. This grand old hotel was originally built in 1852 and re-opened with a shiny new renovation in 2007. When you walk in the door, you step back to a time of opulence and gracious living. It has a wonderful fitness facility and pool and a hot tub on the roof, where I sat and soothed my weary bones as I watched a beautiful sunset.
Mobile is a wonderful bayside town. and it came as a surprise to me that one of its claims to fame is that it was the home of the first known American Mardi Gras celebrations (yes, even before New Orleans). And for you baseball fans, it was the childhood home of Hank Aaron.

Great Eats
Here are three wonderful restaurants I ate at on this trip—and how to find each of them. They were all very good but Lulu’s was especially memorable—on the water, owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister, and just a very fun place. I don’t eat seafood, but my travel companions feasted on shrimp, oysters, flounder and other bounty pulled from the gulf waters. Fried, boiled or blackened Cajun style, my pals made it clear it’s wonderful down here. I can tell you the steaks and barbecue are as good as anywhere.

Southbeach at The Beach Club, Gulf Shores, AL:
Live Bait at The Wharf, Orange Beach, AL:
Lulu’s at Homeport Marina, Gulf Shores, AL: