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: