Saturday, December 1, 2012


by Larry Berle

There are over four hundred golf courses in Ireland and several of them are  in the Dublin area and its quite possible to come to Dublin, stay put in a bustling interesting city and take in all the wonderful links or parkland golf you desire. We spent two nights at the Westbury Hotel , right in the center of town with plenty of restaurants, nightlife and shopping just outside the door and a couple nights at the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt  in the serene countryside just a few miles out of the city center.

Powerscourt Golf Club

The majestic peak of Sugarloaf Mountain, in county Wicklow, Ireland, keeps a watchful eye on the lush, green parklands of the Powerscourt Estate and the Powerscourt Golf Club. The area is better known for its world famous gardens and award winning Ritz-Carlton hotel, but the West and East golf courses of Powerscourt hold one of the regions best kept secrets. Approximately half hours drive south of Dublin, and about one mile from the sometimes sunny southeast coastline in the land of rugged beauty, you will delight in finding treasures of Irish golf.  This is not the linksland most people come to Ireland for. Apart from the brisk Irish air, you may well liken this beautiful parkland course to those beauties found stateside. 
Its Oct 27 today and its not much warmer than forty degrees. You would think the courses would be empty but the first 3 hours on both courses are full.  These people are hearty and love their golf, weather be damned.

Throughout my years of playing golf I have learned the difference between a challenging course and a punishing course; the former being infinitely more enjoyable.
At the P.G.C. (one of Irelands East Cost Alliance along with the K Club, Druids Glen, The Island G.C., and the Carton House) the pleasure is in the challenge. Instead of punishing, shoulder-high bunkers, there are strategic, waist-high traps requiring enough skill to soldier forward. The thick, dense rough needs a steady arm to advance your position rather than often-found, ball stealing, wickets. And, cleverly angled dog-legs keep a player sharp minded. These are the challenges that allow for the ever-improving golfer of all skill levels rather than catering to the lowest of all handicappers.

I played the Peter McEvoy designed East Course with my wife and found the holes to be well routed. The first hole draws you into the lay of the land with ease at less than 400 yards.  The following nine holes give you reasonable par 5’s, spacious par 3’s, and mid-distanced par 4‘s for a casual walk in the park. 
The back nine holes meander higher on the hillside with a splash of water on holes 16 through 18.Number 16, a par 3, is clearly the signature hole with a very short iron over a pond to a postage stamp green. This hole may even remind you of the famed number twelve at Augusta National. 
The West Course, designed by David McClay KIdd, who gained instant notoriety in the U.S. with his design at Bandon Dunes, holds a similar sequence with the difference being the greater undulation of the greens. There are fewer flat spots on the greens making your approach shots more difficult. A good short iron is a mainstay on the West Course. It will eliminate that 3rd putt.
Keep that flat stick steady, and you will come into the clubhouse with a respectable scorecard.

On number eighteen we were inundated with a flock of seagulls on the fairway dodging in and out of the aged ash trees.  It was quite a sight. The semi-manicured hillside provides enough natural topography to make you feel like you are in a “land of magic” (a direct quote from the club’s cook).  

The fairways are generous allowing you to “let the big dog hunt”  and it’s a very walkable course, in fact a majority of the players here are walking. The yardage book gives you all the information you need, so it’s easy to know your distances, but keep in mind the measurements are in meters not yards (meters are approx 10% longer)

Steve Masterson, the head of the club, told us that these days, less than half of the players coming from the U.S. bring clubs, so they have upgraded their rental program.  We played with a tremendous set of Taylor Made Rocket ball woods and RBZ irons, They also rent Titelist clubs (in my case these rentals  are probably better than my clubs at home.)
Good golf and great storytelling are infinitely blended in Irish tradition. So, look and listen here in the land of Eire for a grand vacation stay.

Golf Packages Available with/without hotel at varying prices per season with bargains to be had in the fringe seasons between 45-55 Euro. 

for more information visit

Royal Dublin Golf Club

 How does a club like the Royal Dublin get an official Royal designation?  Just as you might have thought, the reigning King or Queen designates it so. It could be due to some great accomplishment, some special contribution to history, or they just played there and liked it enough to make such a declaration. Royal Dublin received its Royal designation in 1891, six years after it came into existence.  It’s third and current location is Bull Island in the Dublin Harbor. Bull Island was built as a sea wall to protect the port following advice of Captain Bligh of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame.  During WWI it was taken over by the Army to be used as a firing range  (there is still a bunker just off the 6th fairway).  After the war the course was redesigned by H.S. Colt and in 2006 redesigned again by Martin Hawktree.

This is true linksland, on the Irish Sea.   It is a championship course playing 7269 yards from the tips with most of the holes being straight, but seeming to meander left and right with the gorse and hillocks that frame the very narrow fairways. It sits on a long narrow piece of land, playing downwind on the outward nine and into the teeth of the wind on the returning nine.   There are only a couple cross wind holes but the wind conditions make these two nines as different as night and day. There could easily be a 4-5 club difference in the distances depending on weather you are upwind or downwind.   The fairways are firm and the greens quick with wonderful undulations.  The sand bunkers, and there are plenty of them, are very well maintained and quite easy to play from.  

There are only a couple ponds on this course but there is a menacing  narrow stream running through the course crossing the fairways in several places.  It shows up in front of greens, and is narrow enough that it may be impossible to see from where you are hitting. Since its shaved at its shores, it can gobble up golf balls in the blink of an eye.
The home hole is a severe dog leg right that brings you back to this
 Intriguing club house.  Paddy the pro was very friendly and this private club is most welcoming to all visitors from home and abroad.

For more information  visit
Rates: depending on the season  range from 75 Euros to $125 Euros

The Island Club

The Island Club, which was founded in 1890, is just 15 miles north of Dublin in the small town of Donabate, just 5 miles from the airport. It is an island, (a peninsula, actually) in the Irish Sea.  This is also true linksland but that is where the similarity to Royal Dublin ends. It plays 6943 yards from the tips to par 71. Many of the dunes that frame the fairways are of significant enough height that you feel like you are on a very private golf course.  These dunes are probably the highest in Irish golf. There are only a couple holes where you can see to a neighboring fairway, you may be able to see the groups ahead or behind you but that is about it. Speaking of private, the concept of a private club in the U.S. is very different than here.  I don’t think there is a private club in Ireland that, as a tourist, you can’t get a tee time. This one has nearly 1,000 members and there never seems to be a problem getting a starting time.

The Island has a comprehensive Jr. golf program. They just finished a very successful Jr. golf membership drive and recruited lots of kids at all levels play. One kid in their program, Club Captain Tony Bell told me, is Gavin Moynihan. He’s 17 and already a plus 3 handicap. Tony thinks we will see him on the tour in the next couple years.

What is windy to me is “just a breeze” to an Irishman, Tony informed me, when I told him the wind was a factor I rarely encounter in the U.S.  Today was his idea of breezy,   The first four holes play in every direction and with wind such a big factor as it always is by the sea, knowing this is quite important, because the “breeze” has a big effect on every shot, even putting.  On the second tee box you have a wonderful view of the town of Donabate on the far shore.

Number 5 is a wonderful hole, the tee shot is the only blind shot on the course to a severely undulating fairway. The green is fully protected, almost caressed, by an amphitheater of Dunes that surround it on three sides.
Number six plays from the highest tee box on the course and this is the first place where I could clearly see the Sea.
Number eight is called “The well”. It is best to keep your tee shot under 200 yards on this 300 yard hole or your ball falls off a cliff into some nasty rough, But hit the tee shot where it belongs and it is a beautiful wedge into the picturesque green below.
Number nine is a mid length par three to the most guarded green on the course.
On number ten club captain Tony Bell joined me and we had a very fun back nine.  On this 550 yard par five he let me know that Rory McElroy hit driver 9 iron to the green when he was here a couple years ago. Tony and I both hit driver 3 wood and wedge to this green.

If they have a signature hole, it would be the par three thirteenth. Its 200 yards over the water which is a bit much for me.  This hole truly reminds me of the 16th hole at Cypress Point, which is the most photographed hole in all of golf.

On number 14 called “clubhouse” Tony pointed out that the clubhouse once sat on this tee box and this was hole number one.  The primary way of reaching this course until 1973, was by a short boat ride from the mainland to  this point. Now you can hop in your can and drive. which prompted a rerouting of some of the holes and a new clubhouse location.

I don’t suggest that you come the end of Oct when its freezing cold  but this is one course you will truly love.

Larry Berle is a golf travel writer and has played the Golf Digest top 100 courses in the U.S. and written a book about his journey A GOLFERS DREAM.   more info at

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The St Regis Hotel in Deer Valley

St. Regis Deer Valley
by Larry Berle

 The difference between an outstanding hotel and an awsome one is in the service.  And service is king here.  They even have a butler dept to give you that extra service you rarely find anywhere else, especially at home.

The St. Regis Deer Valley is located right at the base of Deer Valley Ski Resort, virtually in the heart of Park City and just thirty miles from the Salt Lake City airport.
Nestled into the mountain, you arrive at the front desk via a funicular. A grand entrance lifting you into the hotel. The ride up the hill welcomes you with a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and glorious skies, and its hard not to get excited about your visit to this hotel. Children and adults alike will wiggle with delight.

This is kid friendly at its best!!  In fact Travel and Leisure Magazine just named this the number one family resort in America.  There are almost 200 rooms here that range in rates from the low $200’s per night up to $1,200 per night during the Sundance film festival. The season dictates the rates.

 Over half of the guests here are families.  At check in, every kid is given an age appropriate gift. At 6:30 each night they have the sabering of a champagne bottle and complimentary glass of champagne (that is for Mom and Dad)  and at 8:30 every night  its smores at one of the many fire pits.  That’s for the kids ,(but I had two and made sure to be there the next night also). 

They don’t use the term ski in ski out, rather  slopeside because you can put your skis on right here in the hotel, and the valet there will even  put your boots on for you.  Ski down to the lift right from the hotel and return to the mountain terrace of the hotel at the end of the day.

Jean George VonGerichten is the executive chef for all St. Regis and has more Michelin and New York Times stars than any living chef  (not to mention several James Beard awards) so come ready for a gastronomic delight.  He has  taken the typical kids menu to a whole new level.  They have done taste testing with kids to create a menu “by kids for kids”
Here are a couple examples: Three Cheese Double Croque Monsieur  with Black Forest Ham  and  Char Tomato braised chicken with Parmesan Grits.  That sure beats chicken fingers.

Have you ever heard of butler service at a hotel?  I had not. The butler service here is headed up by Alexander Mattinson  a former butler at Buckingham Palace.  They will do anything you request, get clothes pressed, pack and unpack your suitcases for you, go do your Christmas shopping and gift wrapping etc.  They even fulfill some very unusual requests. One example Alex gave me was a woman who left a pair of shoes after check out.  She called the hotel from Europe  and wanted them “personally returned”   Of course the hotel offered to ship them to her but she reiterated “I want them personally returned”  so one of the butlers got on a plane, with shoes in hand and took them across the Atlantic Ocean to “personally return them to her.”

Robbie Preece is the family activities director and they pride themselves  not only on plenty of family activities, but customizing them for your  family. If you want to learn landscape painting or photography-- they match  you up with the right instructor.  If you want to mountain bike or horseback ride they help you assess your skill level and pair you up with the proper guide.  This does not even include the plethora of activities all over Park City, like the Olympic Park,where you can watch ski jumpers train or ride the  bobsled run.  Then there are the family traditions like an annual reading of “The Night Before Christmas” in the lobby lounge every Christmas eve  or Easter baskets on Easter morning.

One more offer worth mentioning is “Exclusive Evenings”  They have a special supervised dining room for kids  so Mom and Dad can go out on the town one night for their private romantic dinner.

If you find  both romance and family activities  appealling to you. St Regis and Deer Valley may be the place for you. 

For more information visit

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ryder Cup 2012 a different perspective

The Ryder Cup kicks off tomorrow at Medinah in Chicago and its going to be an exciting tournament.  There will be this and one more Ryder Cup before golf is played in the Olympics in 2016 and it will be interesting to see if any of the limelight of the Ryder Cup diminishes because of golf showing up in the Olympics.

Since the Europeans joined with the Brits to expand their team, the American and Euros are tied.  So this year will be a tie breaker for these two teams.

I spoke today with Rob Holt, former executive director of Ryder Cup Wales, when the Ryder Cup was at Celtic Manor in 2010.   Of course the question came up of “is the investment in hosting a Ryder Cup worth it?”.  Rob told me that since they were awarded the event ,that Wales as a golf destination grew from 30,000 golf visitors a year in 2002  to 200,000 in 2010 and still growing as a result.  It also will be hosting the Senior Open at Royal Portcawl in 2014 and are in the running for at least 2 other major events.  
Golfers are looking to Wales these days as a golf destination.There are 160 golf courses in Wales, too many to choose from.  Many are links courses, like Royal Portcawl and many Parkland courses like Celtic Manor.  Celtic Manor has 3 courses including the Ryder Cup course and is a 5 star resort.   Most of the courses in Wales are private but the definition of private there is much different than the U.S. Visitors and tourists are welcome to play these fine courses.

Last year I played Royal Portcawl and Pennard as well as a couple others and  they were really wonderful.  As an added bonus  Wales is dramatically less expensive to play than Scotland or Ireland-- at least 20% cheaper, maybe even more-- and its lots closer to London.

Larry Berle is a golf travel writer and has played the entire Golf Digest Top 100 and written a book about his quest A GOLFERS DREAM

Read more about Wales golf

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

playing the top 100

I wrote a story about my quest to play the Top 100 golf courses in the US for Avid Golfer magazine.
Here is a link to that article

I was standing on the 18th tee box at Pebble Beach and my caddie said to me, “You are standing on the tee box of the greatest finishing hole in all of golf.”
Something about that statement resonated with me, and as I walked up the fairway I could feel I was walking in the spike marks of the greats: Hogan, Nicklaus, Palmer, Woods. After the round I wondered how I could recreate this experience? Then it hit me – play the top 100 courses in the United States.
And just like that, a dream was born.
First, to accomplish this, be aware that this was not a cheap venture. It took me 10 years, but it was worth every penny and every ounce of energy I put into it. If you decide to do this, the airlines, hotels, restaurants and car rental companies will be very grateful to you. And you probably will find that the guest fees are but a small portion of your costs.
Sixteen courses currently on this list are public or at least public access, and in at least three cases you can hit two courses in one trip to a resort (Bandon Trails and Bandon Dunes; Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill; Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits). Each of these trips will cost anywhere from $1,200-$2,000 for rooms, golf and caddies, plus airfare.
That’s the easy part (if you consider earning and spending the money easy). The hard part is getting on the private courses.
It’s going to take some begging and pleading to get yourself an invitation to the most exclusive clubs in America. For instance, I called my friend in Los Angeles, who called his cousin in Baltimore. She asked her husband, who called his uncle, who would become my host at Baltimore Country Club (Five Farms). That is how my life went for 10 years of this quest.
What I also found was people love to help, and I feel that is especially true in the golf community.
A business colleague of mine, Steve B., told me, “my dad’s a doctor and his partner is a member at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.” Steve called his dad who then called his partner. “I would be glad to host Larry,” he told Steve’s dad.
I had never met this man before in my life, but after a few telephone conversations I was told I would be staying at his house with him and his wife and they would be picking me up at the airport.
Somewhere in the human universe is the “mother lode person.” Mine was a Wall Street broker, John, whom I met through a lady named Donna, who lives in Monterey, Calif. (all the way across the U.S.). I called John and told him my challenge – to play Golf Digest’s top 100 U.S. courses. My goal was to arrange a golf game at Garden City Golf Club.
“Any friend of Donna is a friend of mine, Larry, so consider it done,” John said.
Then he dropped a bombshell.
“While you are here what other courses do you need in the New York area? The person at the desk next to me is a member at Shinnecock and the guy at the desk next to him is a member at Baltusrol.”
He arranged four courses on that trip and two more on a return trip. Then one day John asked, “How about Columbus, Ohio? I am a member at the Golf Club and can also arrange Double Eagle.”
To say that John quickly became my new best friend is an understatement.
Pine Valley seems to always stand at No. 1 and the demand to play there is great. But it has nearly 1,000 members, so finding one is not as hard as you may think. Even though they are scattered across the country, many live in a 50-mile radius of P.V.
Here are some things you don’t want to miss!
Yes, this goal is all about the golf courses, but there is so much more to many of these experiences. For example, every guest at Augusta National Golf Club stays in one of the cabins. I stayed in the Firestone Cabin, which that alone was a huge treat. The dining room has no menus because the chef prepares whatever you want.
I also toured the Masters Champions locker room, the Crow’s Nest (where the amateurs in the Masters Tournament sleep), the media room, the Eisenhower Cabin (where the former president lived for several years) and, of course, the Butler Cabin. Where’s my green jacket?
The next morning we started on the par-3 course and then continued to the 18-hole course. If you’re one of the lucky few to get an invite, don’t miss an opportunity to play the par-3 course. If there were a top 100 in the world list of par-3 courses, Augusta National would have to be No. 1.
As I was getting in the car to leave at the end of the day, my host reminded me, “Larry when you wake up tomorrow morning, remember, this actually happened; this was not a dream.”
There are many challenges to getting on Augusta National, but one that is overwhelming is the members live all over the United States. You are not just asking someone to spend four hours to play golf with you; you are asking the member to travel quite a distance to spend the day with you. That is a big request. And don’t worry about the group ahead or behind you. A big day at Augusta National is five foursomes.
The history and memorabilia at places like East Lake in Atlanta, where Bobby Jones grew up playing golf (his former house still stands across from the club), is unbelievable. The locker room at Seminole will stop you in your tracks as you gaze on the history depicted on the wall there. The locker room at Milwaukee Country Club has an atmosphere that is incomparable. It stands near the top of the best 100 locker rooms list (yes, there is one of those lists, too). And for you Texans, standing in front of Ben Hogan’s locker with his hat, sweaters and, of course, 1-iron at Colonial, or just standing on the section of the range where Mr. Hogan hit balls almost every day, is quite inspiring.
The Tuscan style steaks at Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska are unlike any other, as is the legendary peanut butter, jelly and bacon sandwich at Fishers Island. And if you are a car buff, don’t miss the collection at Rich Harvest Farms.
At one point, a quest like this becomes as much, or more, about the people you meet and become friends with as it is about conquering the real estate. The networking takes on a life of its own. The telephone is a large part of the networking, but you can also use a blog or an email list to keep people informed.
Is this hard?
It depends on what you mean by hard. Networking your way onto these courses takes serious time and effort. But the friends you make will be well worth it.
Are the courses hard? You can bet the championship courses are a true challenge. The pro at Oakmont told me that in the few days prior to the last U.S. Open that was played there, members were quitting after just a few holes. Even without a U.S. Open set-up, I thought it was the hardest course I ever set foot on. Also, consider yourself a hero if you don’t four-putt at least one green at Augusta National.
This quest is not for the faint of heart. It took me 10 years, and because the list changed five times in those 10 years I actually played 117 courses to complete the 2002 list.
So go do it and have a blast!
Larry Berle is a golf travel writer who has played the entire Golf Digest list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses and wrote a book about it: “A Golfers Dream.” Learn more at

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Mighty Majestic Oaks

Mighty Majestic Oaks

by Larry Berle

Majestic Oaks Golf Club is located in Ham Lake MN  just a 25 mile drive north of Downtown Minneapolis.  This is the home to 3 golf courses, The 18 hole signature course, playing to 7073 championship yards, The Crossroads course playing to 6396 yards  which was designed by Garett Gill and of course the executive course which is par 29  (two par 4’s and seven par 3s.  That is a total of 45 holes.
The signature course, which we are playing today was designed by Charles Maddox.

This is the place that is also home to snow golf, for those that need their golf fix in the middle of winter.  The holes are 50-150 yards long and you play with yellow tennis balls. The fairways are groomed, but everything else is a hazard. The holes are six inches wide, the flags frozen in place, and if the golf isn’t challenging enough, playing in the freezing cold will be.  Its cheap $7.00 and if you need it they will throw in a cup of hot chocolate. They expect to do over 3000 rounds this winter.  But its seasonal, ya gotta wait till the snow flyies.
With 45 holes and an enormous banquet facility that can serve 600 for a sit down dinner. So they can host a good sized wedding and a post golf tournament banquet simultaneously.
Majestic Oaks hosts close to 150 golf events a year and over twenty of them are large enough that they take up both courses. They have 28 leagues, hosted 115 weddings last year, have a boot hockey league, and in Fall and Spring host “Glow Ball” golf events.  This is a very busy place.   General Manager, Dan Jacott  told me “ We are having a terrific year financially.” There are not many golf courses these days that can say that.
Last year they were host to the 2011 Women's state Publinx  and recently hosted the Remax Long drive qualifier.
They get all this traffic because it’s a wonderful course at bargain rates.
Playing behind me are the Mueller brothers.  Between them one of them has won the club championship  12 years in a row.
The opening par five is a beautiful way to start.  It’s a dogleg left  (there are 6 dogleg lefts on the front nine)  Like most of the holes here it is tree lined but rarely on this course do the trees  pinch in the fairways  and if you miss the fairway, you may have a tree to contend with but they are sparse enough that you are rarely “in jail.”  But the rough is plenty penal, so keep it in the fairway. The greens are large, making for an abundance of pin placements. The greens are not only in good shape but putt true and hold their line.  The sand is consistent and not hard to hit from  (I know I was in it a few times)
There are four sets of tees, and at the tee boxes the distances from each tee box are clearly marked  (you are going to need it because the carts do not have GPS).
The course was in terrific shape but with all the traffic it gets, they have more than their share of divots on the fairways.  And unlike most public courses, they have a full locker room with 6 showers and towels.

IF you go:
701 Bunker Lake Blvd. NE
Ham Lake, MN 55304
Phone: (763) 755-2140

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 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Legacy at Craguns in Brainerd MN

The Legacy at Cragun’s
by Larry Berle
For years Brainerd MN was a family beach and lake destination.  Then came golf.  Cragun’s was one of the leaders in turning Brainerd into a golf destination by bringing in the legendary Robt Trent Jones Jr. in 1998 to design not one but two courses at Cragun’s: Dutch Legacy and Bobby’s Legacy.  Today the area calls itself the Brainerd Golf Trail which consists of several courses here in Brainerd.
Today I played Dutch Legacy and it is a treat.  It plays through woods, wetlands and around a 100 acre lake.  We wound our way through 6879 challenging championship yards but it has 5 sets of tee boxes down to 4841 yards. So all skill levels can come and enjoy this trip through several eco systems.  We played 6225 yards.  Does it favor long hitters?  I suppose most courses do these days, but a thinking golfer can outfox a long hitter any day on this course. You really have to pay attention to your target selections. And you have to pay attention to club selection because the greens are large and the pin placement can make a one or two club difference.
This course boasts six par threes, six par fours, and six par fives. Most courses these days are; Ten par fours, four par threes and four par fives.  By far, I prefer this configuration because usually par threes and par fives are the most interesting designs and this course does not disappoint that expectation.
Number fourteen has two greens in two very separate locations. Lo and behold they want you to decide which green you are playing before you hit your tee ball.  Damn them!
 A couple holes have split fairways but unless you have seen number sixteen before  this par five, almost turns out to be unfair, with its split fairways and forced carries.
Dutch Legacy is not easy, make no mistake about it.  The slope and rating from the tips is 74.2 with a slope of 149 (average slope is 113 and the toughest slope rating the USGA has is 155.)
 In addition they have a 9 hole, par 27 course they call reversible-- for 45 (actually 46) total holes.  There is a finishing hole after the finishing hole on Dutch Legacy called the Gamblers hole (in case the game you are playing ends in a tie.)
Golf Digest has awarded it 5 stars and its certified as an Audubon signature sanctuary course.
In addition there are more activities for the family than you can shake a stick at and accommodations with choices from spacious hotel rooms to lakeside cabins.
If you go:
Larry Berle is a golf travel writer who has played the entire Golf Digest Top 100 golf courses in America  read more at 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Kids Club at Ritz Carlton of Reynolds Plantation

Kids Club at the Ritz Carlton of Reynolds Plantation.
First, let me tell you a bit about the Reynolds Plantation.The Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee, GA may have just about everything a family is looking for in a vacation.  It sits on the second largest lake in GA with 374 miles of shoreline. First of all it has 6 golf courses-- one for each day of the week and that precious day of rest. .
That takes care of dad, butWhat activities are there for the rest of the family?
Over twelve Tennis courts, over eleven miles of hiking trails, more than ten kayaks, nine canoes, Eight fabulous restaurants, seven pontoon boats, Six golf courses five clubhouses four marinas three speed boats, two swimming pools and a world class 26,000 square foot spa, That’s better than a partridge in a pear tree.  With all this and more this could well be the place  to spend the 12 days of Christmas for you and your family.
Reynolds Plantation is located an hour east of  The Atlanta Airport on Lake Oconee, a man made lake created by damning the Oconee River to generate electricity for the area.  The Reynolds plantation, stayed in the family trust for years, and was recently taken over by Met Life. I am looking for the Snoopy blimp, but I don’t see it. However everyone here seems thrilled by the new owners.
Like many Ritz Carlton resorts, these days, this Ritz Carlton has an active kids club, with a full time director and several counselors working in the program.  They try to keep a maximum of 5-1 ratio of counselors to kids on any given day.   When a kid arrives he can ride the small train that travels around the property.  There is an activities room with a live bull frog and a couple rabbits the kids can pet.There are many activities on the lake such as canoes, kayaks and a wake boarding school taught by a world class wake board champion, and of course, fishing.  
They have fishing contests where the kids can catch a fish and put it in a tank in the activities room so they can bring Mom and Dad to show off the pride of their catch.  (after the family checks out the fish is released back into the lake).  There is also a tour of this man made lake, led by a local historian,  They take them down to the damn and show them how the lake not only creates a recreational space but also generates electricity.
They also bring in one of the local tribal elders to lead the kids in a fire ceremony and to learn about the lifestyle of the Native Americas that have historically inhabited the area.
There is a community ice rink in the winter and there are concerts followed by fireworks every Sunday in the summer.
Lets just put it this way, if you are a kid on a trip to this Ritz Carlton you are one lucky kid.  And Mom, don’t forget the world class Ritz Carlton Spa.
If you go:
80 miles east of the Atlanta Airport

Creek Club at Reynolds Plantation

The Creek Club is the only private club on property and the golf course, designed by Jim Engh, is the most visually stunning.  I love Jim Engh designs but some people find them too  tricked up.  I have met very few people who are ambivalent  about his work.  Head pro Wes Forester told us “some of the members  were questioning this course when they first joined but once they play it a few times have come to love it”.  EVery hole has an element of drama to it.  The back 9 has 3 par 3’s 3 par 4’s and 3 par 5’s  which is an unusual combination but.  John Deere put out a calendar of the 18 most brutally beautiful golf holes in the US and number 15 here was on that list.

This post is  sepearte because this club is private and not available for public play

Reynolds Plantation GA

Reynolds Plantation  
The Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee GA  may have almost everything a family is looking for in a vacation.  It sits on the second largest lake in GA  with 374 miles of shoreline. First of all it has 6 golf courses-- one for each day of the week and that precious day of rest.  
But don’t just come here for the golf because there may be lots of other activities you may be interested in.
 Over twelve Tennis courts, over eleven miles of hiking trails, more than ten kayaks,nine canoes,  Eight  fabulous restaurants, seven pontoon boats,Six golf courses five clubhouses four marinas three speed boats, two swimming pools and a world class 26,000 square foot spa, That’s  better than a partridge in a pear tree.  With all this and more this could well be the place  to spend the  the 12 days of Christmas for you and your family.
Reynolds Plantation is located an hour east of  The Atlanta Airport, on a man made lake created by damning the Oconee River  to generate electricity for the area.  It stayed in the family trust for years, and was recently taken over by  Met Life--  I am looking  for the Snoopy blimp,  but I don’t see it. However everyone here seems thrilled by the new owners.
We are an hour from Augusta, so Dogwoods, Azaleas and Georgia Pine frame these courses  similar to what you see on TV every year at the Masters-- I am even told the Azaleas bloom in the spring, just like the spring tradition of The Masters but sadly, not this week.
The Reynolds Plantation development  is large -- 7 miles long by 3 miles wide and over 90 miles of streets in the development alone-- with more than enough activities  to fill any vacation.  I could not experience all of the golf but here is an overview of what I played.
There are 6 golf courses here:The Jack Nicklaus-designed Great Waters course,  Two Bob Cupp designs, Plantation and The Landing, Tom Fazio's 27-hole National course, The Oconee designed by Rees Jones and a new private club, The Creek Club, designed by Jim Engh
The National Golf Club is 27 holes,  designed in 2000 by Tom Fazio, who has more golf courses in the top 100 in the U.S.than any other living architect today.  Depending on which 2 nines you play  it ranges from 7000 yards to  5200 yards-- so plenty of choices for every level of golfer.  Greens are  Bent grass and the fairways and all other grass is bermuda.
There are several holes with a creek running through it  that bring beauty and drama to the significant elevation changes of this course.  In Fazio style,  the greens are large and the bunkers are also large (there are 115, more than any other course here at Reynolds Plantation).  These sizes create an illusion of distance making greens and flags appear farther away then they really are. He incorporated the steep ravines and valleys  with three nines named Ridge, Bluff and Cove.  Once you see them you will clearly see how each got its name.  “The three nines are named for the type of terrain they feature.  No two holes are alike  but all share a consistency in feel for the way they match the natural contours,” said Fazio. 
The National currently plays out of temporary clubhouse but they have plans for a grand clubhouse that is scheduled for completion  in summer 2013.
Today we played Great Waters Golf Club. This 7048 yard course was designed by Jack Nicklaus in 1992.  This is the most scenic and because of that, probably the most popular of the golf courses here.  Most of the back nine winds  along the coves of Lake Oconee  but  although the lakes presence is soothing to the eye, it only becomes a threatening  water hazard occasionally.
“From the 9th hole on, I could have put every hole on the water” said  Nicklaus, but he used the water to his aesthetic advantage without over doing the penal aspect, with the possible exception of hole no. 14 a par three across a cove to a picturesque peninsula green.  I have played several Nicklaus designs and many are  almost too challenging (that is as politely as I can put it)  but this layout is quite user friendly. The fairways are  Bermuda but the greens  are a mini verde bermuda that has a much reduced grain compared to the old strains of bermuda and it putts wonderfully. The front 9 winds through the Georgia pines, pink dogwoods and azaleas, so the two nines are strongly contrasted.
The Landing, designed by Bob Cupp, also plays to 7029 yards and comes into contact with the lake on number 4 but is primarily a parkland course.  These greens are Champion Bermuda, but I understand they are changing soon to Mini Tif Bermuda in the near future. The Landing played host to the 2008 PGA Professional National Championship.
In addition to these wonderful golf courses, Reynolds Plantation is home to the Reynolds Golf Academy led by top 100 instructor Charlie King.  If that’s not enough, there is the Taylor Made  Performance Lab which does swing analysis and club fitting(this is one of only 8 in the U.S.)
 Reynolds Plantation is Rated 23rd on  THE 75 BEST GOLF RESORTS AT GOLFDIGEST.COM-- and to the best of my knowledge only Pinehurst resort with 8 courses, has more courses. 
An increasing number of people are using rental clubs rather than hassle with the airlines and pay those baggage charges to bring their clubs.  I used their rental set and had brand new, state of the art, Taylor Made woods, irons and hybrids.  They lease from Taylor Made and replace them with the newest they have to offer every year.  These were better than the clubs I would have brought and the charge was $75.00.  Traveling with clubs may not be worthwhile anymore.
The focus of the Reynolds Plantation is real estate and a majority of the play here is members, but except for the busiest weeks, there are plenty of tee times for the resort guests.
You can stay at either the 260 room Ritz Carlton or in one of the 60 cottages (luxury 2-3 bedroom homes really) which are beautifully appointed. These cottages are privately owned, but managed for rental by the Plantation management.  We stayed in a 2 Bedroom cottage overlooking the marina with wi-fi and luxuriously appointed (even granite counters).  These cottages are the way to go.
If you go:
80 miles east of the Atlanta Airport
Rounds of golf range from $185 to $250 depending on the course and the season

Friday, May 18, 2012


Raven Golf Club
Phoenix AZ
A first class experience at non-first class rates
The Raven Golf club  (formerly  Raven at South Mountain)  is under the management of OB Sports and it is a greatly improved place to play.  It was designed by  Gary Panks and David Graham and they did a wonderful job  creating a course that, as my friend Sheldon said ,“meets the 3 f’s:  fun friendly and fair”
Is it a parkland course?  Or a desert course?  The  rolling fairways are generous and most of them are  lined with Georgia Pine trees. In fact over 6,000 of them were planted when the course was built in 1995.  There are some areas where desert washes have been created, but you won’t think you are in the Sonoran desert when you play here.
The undulating greens are all very large- varying from 29- 41 yards deep, most being between 36 and 39 yards deep.  That alone could make a 3 club difference in an approach shot, and there are numerous pin positions making it a new experience each time you play here.
It is  fun and challenging for all skill levels-- as it ranges from 7078 yards from the tips down to 5759 yards from the front tees.  There is only water in play on three holes  but the deep bunkering  adds whatever challenge is missing from not enough water.   Just how deep are they?  Well you will just have to get in a couple to find out.- Some of the bunkers even seem invisible from the fairways so be sure to keep your eye in the yardage card they give each player.
The yardage card is very helpful but nothing like the  hole by hole description on the website, which has comments about each hole with pro suggestions about the best strategy for each hole.  They should include this info on the yardage cards they give out to the players.
Today the course was in terrific shape and  the word is that it has been in wonderful shape all season, under the management of OB.
It has a first class practice facility  with plenty of good clear targets on the range and an outstanding area to practice your short game.  It has won many awards including being rated 4.5 stars (out of 5) by Golf Digest
Rates vary from $55 in summer to $150 in peak season of winter.  These rates currently include $25.00 proshop credit and $10.00 lunch credit--  which reduces the cost for the day. There are wonderful discounts that are nearly 1/2 off with an OB Sports card. A bargain compared to many of the  first class a golf facilities of Scottsdale
 The Raven Golf Club – Phoenix, 
call (602) 243-3636 or 
It is located just a few short miles south of Sky Harbor Airport

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Aussie Chiller Golf Hat
I mostly write about  Golf Travel.  However Once in a while I come across a product that I think  is worth knowing about and I just tried a new golf hat called  the Aussie Chiller
It was developed in, you guessed it, Australia, and it looks like a brimmed cowboy hat but it has one awesome feature.  Its made from  a chamois like fabric.  The one I tried has the fabric perforated  (its sold with unperforated  as well) On those brutally hot days you just dowse this hat in chilled water and voila, you cool off.
I was out on one of those hundred degree days  in Phoenix, wearing my new hat and on the third hole I just soaked it in cold water, put it on my head  and my body temp dropped noticeably.  What a relief. It even seems to stop sweat before staining the hat.  Pretty nice!!
Their webiste says it packs flat in a suitcase and returns to its original shape, but I didn’t try that.  It has has an elastic headband so in windy conditions it won’t blow off your head.
I would guess these hats will even be a wonderful  in the rain because of the slow water absorbtion rate.
I have been wearing wide brim hats the last couple years because I was constantly forgetting to put sunscreen on the back of my neck and my ears.  This hat protects these spots--  and I don’t have to worry about sunscreen.  I was wearing a “bucket hat”  but I am now switching to this Aussie Chiller. On hot days you just can’t beat it.  It comes in a few different colors and my wife even says “it looks better than those bucket hats you have been wearing, dear”

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The "New" McDowell Mountain Golf Club

 The “New” McDowell Mountain Golf Club
The McDowell Mountain Golf Club, formerly Sanctuary Golf Club, re opened in Oct 2011 under the new ownership of Phil Mickelson and Steve Loy and under new management as well by OB Sports, and it is now home to the Rick Smith Golf Academy in Scottsdale AZ.
The course has undergone a $1.2 million renovation which included such changes as: more generous landing areas, waste bunkers that improve hole definition and and some new teeing areas.
“We wanted to create an experience for all  players that provides an enjoyable round regardless of abilities... to present demanding shots for the better players but give the average player more than one shot option”
  • Phil Mickenson
I think they accomplished this here.  This Par 71 plays from  7072 down to 4880 yards  so all players can find a suitable length.  Several holes have parallel fairways--  hit it too far off line and “Poof” you are still in a fairway.
There is a wide variety of holes with many shot options and as my playing partners said  “its challenging, but it doesn’t beat you up.  Its a fun layout.”
They do have more than their share of power lines running over head but you soon get used to that.
The panorama views from the 18th tee box are not the only breathtaking views of the valley-- but the 18th tee box is sure worth  a pause to take in the scenery.
As a premium course competing in the valley of the sun for the premium  golf $$$ it could use an improvement in amenities.  There was no yardage book or GPS on the carts. On holes where the green wasn’t clearly visible from the tee, it was hard to know where to go  (they told me yardage books are at the printer), no towels on the golf cart, and there is an extra charge for range balls, but these are small things that will hopefully be changed.  
Greens fees range from $65 to $150 depending on the season with generous discounts for OB Sports card holders.
10690 E. Shenna 

Tonto Verde Golf Club in Scottsdale AZ

Tonto Verde Golf Club
If you like golf in the desert and if you like life far from the maddening crowd, and if you especially like being surrounded by Minnesota natives, then Tonto Verde may be exactly what you are looking for.  (over 1/4 of themembers are from Minnesota)
They call this remote community “The Verdes” consisting of Rio Verde, Tonto Verde and the new Vista Verde.  Rio and Tonto have two eighteen hole golf courses and Vista has  one--a total of 90 holes (not to mention the 18 hole putting course at Tonto).  The putting course, by the way, is a treat in itself.
I played the Peaks course at Tonto Verde which was designed by well known golf course architects David Graham and Gary Panks. This 6744 yard course follows the natural contours of the land and will challenge golfers of all skill levels.   It has views for miles of surrounding mountains and is named for “Four Peaks” which is in view on many of the holes.  Four Peaks is the highest point in the area and is occasionally covered in snow. Just imagine an 80 degree sunny day with snow covered peaks nearby.  That ought to get your heart thumpin’
The landing areas are generous and the greens are firm and quick, even after todays rain.  In winter the entire course is overseeded, so its all green (The Ranch course has only the fairways, tees and greens overseeded giving it a different look with the brilliant green fairways framed by dormant Bermuda grass.
They recently remodeled the 26,000 Square foot clubhouse and it looks brand new. A real treat.
Membership at Tonto is currently $20,000 but they run specials from time to time, including 6 month trial memberships with no initiation.  Until they become full, these courses have limited public access at fees ranging from $40.00 in summer to $100.00 in high season.  Just call the pro shop.
For those of you visiting the Phoenix area, they have an outstanding stay and play package with a beautifully furnished home for a week and 5 round of golf for under $1900 per couple.  Prices vary based on size of home and the season
If you go: