Food & Wine
Wandergolf: Home, Sweet, Homestead
Wally Greeves • January 16, 2015
The colors of fall made their debut in the trees of southern Virginia this past weekend. Nature’s annually renewable color wheel turned out rustic-red, campfire-orange, and squash-yellow leaf swirls for our viewing pleasure, as my wife and I meandered through the Allegheny Mountains to arrive at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. This was my first visit to this resort, and the timelessness that met me here in Bath County ensured that it will not be my last.
While the picturesque drive there, hassle-free check-in and plushy sleeping situation slowed things down, the breakfast buffet delivered the final pulse-lowering blow. The pre-hibernation feast available quashed all ideas I had of walking the Cascades Course.
Always in the “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” list, the Cascades is the textbook mountain course, ensconced by natural surroundings that showcase it well. Man, I love playing a golf course with room. When you have a fairway lined with 150-foot hemlock trees and a backdrop of a mountain five miles away, who cares where your ball lands? Well, me, but I shouldn’t.
Highlights of the round for me included the approach shot to the slightly inclined, elevated shelf-like green on #4, and the tee shot into the deep left side of the soup-bowl valley on #7. No matter if it was your second or third stroke (or fourth, fifth or sixth), the approach shot over the pond on the par 5 #16 hole was spectacular, and the uphill tee shot over water to the 18th green ended the round on a high note. I also appreciated the mountain-inspired acoustical smack of the flag being dropped to the green by far away fellow golfers being audible from a great distance away. At this time, I would not recommend using orange or yellow balls.
The Canyon Ranch Spa services that my wife availed herself of were reportedly luxurious, and she almost overslept for dinner. The post-treatment outdoor lounge with natural springs and wood-burning fire pit, surrounded by satisfied “spadets” in white robes, could have passed for a Roman marshmallow roast. In less opulent surroundings, the men-only natural springs five miles away that Thomas Jefferson once soaked in provided me warmth and humor, as I listened to a fellow bather lament upon the color choices of the “noodle” flotation devices that were available to us grown men.
A jacketed affair, complete with late-era live band music, dinner in the main dining room lasted about as long as a good movie. Starring roles were pheasant and strip steak, with cameos by crab Louis and oysters Rockefeller. The menu at Jefferson’s, the other upscale restaurant at the Homestead, looked equally appealing and will have to wait for our next visit.
The Old Course at the Homestead, built in 1892, is home to the nation’s oldest first tee in continuous use. Last Sunday morning it was home to 30-something degree weather, as the first cold snap appeared out of nowhere. The cold burned off to become a crisp, beautiful, sunny mountain day with spectacular views making an appearance once again. The Old Course, while not in the same league as the Cascades, is the best kept example of resort golf I have ever seen. This is a perfect course for a couple or a family to play. The back tees might keep a seasoned golfer happy with yardage and difficulty, but a seasoned golfer would never think to complain about either because of the available views. Memorable golf moments for me were the tee shot at the par three #5 against the “double-mountain” looking backdrop and the five minutes my wife and I marveled at the views down the #13 fairway from the tee box. I really enjoyed playing the Old Course with my wife and will file this in the “Special Round” category.
Whichever activities I chose to participate in on my visit to the Homestead, I was still going to be left with a list for future visits. Falconry is not something you see every day, and learning how to fly fish in the mountain streams surrounding the Homestead are two things on my list. The hiking trails and horses may see more of my wife in some future trip. When we first pulled into Hot Springs and I saw the Jeffersonian brick and white grounds of the Homestead, and when we later exited onto Sam Snead Highway to leave, I found myself thinking roughly the same thing: How cool is it that something like that exists in Virginia? [gallery ids="101514,150884,150886" nav="thumbs"]
Wander Golf: Groundhog Day at Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Wally Greeves • September 10, 2014
One way a truly exceptional golf course distinguishes itself from its rivals is through the quality of excuses it makes available to golfers for poorly executed shots. Post-shot outbursts last weekend at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in South Carolina of “Both alligators surfaced closer at the same time” and “That heron stabbed a fish in my backswing” once again confirmed this course to be one of my all-time favorite layouts.
Caledonia and its sister course, True Blue Plantation, have been Myrtle Beach itinerary favorites for years, and every year on the way home someone says, “Man, we should just play those courses every day!” Last weekend, we played the same 36 holes of golf at Caledonia and True Blue at the same times for four days in a row to put it to the test. Is too much of a good thing wonderful?
These two courses, both designed by Mike Strantz, differ from each other so greatly that they make a great pairing.
Caledonia is a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of flowers, wildlife and Spanish moss draped from massive century-old oak trees. This golf course has more energy than any other golf course I have ever played. Wing-drying cormorants line the banks, where alligators sun and white snowy egrets fly over southern fox squirrels at play. Fish jump when you are actually looking. The course feels like a Disney-animated, closed-circuit ecosystem. Caledonia showcases landscaping in a way that even the wildlife seems to appreciate.
The rolling, expansive and immaculate fairways of True Blue stand out amid what feels like 60 percent of the course that is made up of waste bunkers and has the opposite feel of being landscaped. It has a natural feel to it like Kiawah or Pinehurst. It also has a natural feel to it like a beach. The sheer amount of sand on some holes leaves open the possibility of getting so lost that your fellow golfers forget who you are by the time you get to the green. The trees and wildlife seem totally different at True Blue, and, once again, this makes for a great pairing with its big brother course. If Caledonia is the Who, then True Blue is Dire Straits.
Staying at True Blue in Pawleys Island, right next to both courses, was key to enjoying this many rounds at them. While Myrtle Beach has more than 100 courses, staying in the middle of it and running around to play golf all over has a cafeteria feel to it that I don’t like. I really liked getting to know the two courses well. I looked forward to improving on my play from prior rounds. There is a reason sports franchises compete with each other in a series. Look at the pros: they play the same course every day for five days, week in and week out. The downside to being afforded the ability to improve upon prior play is that you have no place to go but down after playing well, which can be tough. Repetitive play has a way of sucker punching the eternal optimist in every golfer.
Having the same golf schedule every day also makes it easier to plan meals, which — along with water, suntan lotion, and anti-inflammatories — become important factors in finishing rounds every day. Both courses have grill rooms with solid options and finishing hole views. Nosh and Bistro 217 are two excellent restaurants nearby for anyone left standing at the end of the day.
Golf magazine just came out with its 2014 list of “Top 100 U.S. Courses You Can Play,” and Caledonia was #27 and True Blue made the list for the first time at #77.
Architect Mike Strantz unfortunately died young in 2006 at the age of 50, or I am sure we would see a lot more of his courses in the spotlight. He worked under Tom Fazio before breaking out on his own with Caledonia in 1993. Virginia favorites Stonehouse and Royal New Kent are Strantz designs also. Tobacco Road in North Carolina is also one of the nine courses he designed.
Riding to the eighteenth green for the last time, around what is left of the former rice plantation at Caledonia, I was feeling dismayed at not having a breakthrough round on the trip. At that moment, a giant seabird spread its wings and took flight across our path, while a rabbit darted the opposite direction. While an alligator circling the green was leaving a quiet wake, a fish jumped three times in a row so close that I could see the spots on its side. Exiting the course for the last time, the starter appeared out of nowhere at our window and said, “You fellows make sure to come back and visit us again, ya hear.” In my last backward glance, I swear I thought I saw a bluebird on his shoulder.
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Pin Hunting on Penobscot Bay: Samoset Resort
Wally Greeves • July 16, 2014
The analogies between bacon and golf might escape the neophyte leisurist, but any expert loafer in the wild at this moment may have already casually surveyed the frying pan rack, mentally reviewed the contents of his trunk and will soon be pressing #1 for the pro shop. Eating little blueberries and slurping up lobster can only shine brighter when bacon shows her face, while Andrew Wyeth paintings and puffin sightings are truly more appreciated when bookended or framed by a few rounds of golf. Nestled along the Penobscot Bay in Maine between the tidal water towns of Rockland and Rockport, Samoset Resort was my vacation bacon.
Celebrating a centennial of golf in 2002, the course underwent major renovations in the 1970s, and many recent tweaks and additions have landed the resort in the pages of Conde Nast Traveler and Golf Digest for its resort amenities and beautiful views. One hundred and seventy-eight rooms and three cottages are crowned by “The Flume,” a moat surrounded, majestic oceanside residence for rent along hole #15, where actor John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston supposedly spent their honeymoon night. More recent and weighty geographical significance has surfaced in its cameo role as the house behind the sand trap that I chipped in from to make birdie.
Highlights on the front nine are made even higher by the presence of the Atlantic Ocean on every single hole. Lobstermen dropping traps in the water, puffy white sailboat triangles and Rockland’s Breakwater Lighthouse Trail all come together in bad-shot-erasing panoramic views that put the exclamation point in time already being well spent. Definite front nine favorites for me were holes #3 and #4. The third hole’s uphill tee shot to a green beneath a watercolor-worthy copse of trees could be the textbook case for clubbing up, and the blind shot to reach the #4 green in two could be one of many ways to play the hole. I consider the number of times a golfer has to consider risk and reward in a round a good measure of course architecture, and Samoset has had good architectural input over the years.
The course’s only four non-oceanside string of holes starts out with a very nicely laid out par four on #10. The challenging approach shot over water can only be made harder if you manage to hide behind the one three-inch wide sapling in the middle of the fairway (I did). Hole #11 is a good-looking, spicy little par three with pleasant water fountain white noise to even out swing tempo. The accolades from me for the back nine belong to holes #13 and #14. The spicy little par three’s bar brawling uncle with tattoos makes up the wicked thirteenth par three; it’s a 230-yard shot over water. Any separation anxiety stemming from lack of ocean is more than quelled by the water’s stunning return at the end of the lengthy lounge-chair shaped par 5 number 14 hole, easily my favorite hole at Samoset.
Maine’s humidity-avoiding, transient, late summer population is represented well at Samoset, and it was very easy for me to find people that felt obligated to let me join them. As happens over a round of golf my new friends Bob, Dave, and Fred soon became Bobby, Davey and Freddy. The staff at the club was extremely welcoming, and while I had plans of playing some other nearby courses, it just seemed natural to store my clubs at Samoset when asked. Club professional Gary Soule was very welcoming and fun to talk to, and 94-year-old starter Ray Fogarty, a 34-year course veteran, recently had “Ray’s Creek” dedicated to him for years of service. When I met him at 7 a.m. the other day, he was munching on a Danish with a cartful of empty beer bottles he claimed were just collected for recycling. Having worked at the Samoset as early as 1934, Fogarty remembers when the club had barracks for visiting baseball players that would play exhibition games for guests.
Lobster, organic farms, bird watching, kayaking, biking, hiking, little blueberries, lighthouses, country roads, watercolors, music festivals and gas stations that serve award-winning soups are all reasons I will be back in Maine next summer. This summer, I added golf at the Samoset to the list. [gallery ids="101808,139919,139914" nav="thumbs"]
Mission Hills Resorts: Mainland China and Hainan Island
Wally Greeves • June 27, 2014
Whether your arrival is straight from a knee-crunching, 20-hour airline experience or a shuttle over the border from the space-starved city of Hong Kong, the welcoming 20 square kilometers that comprise the world’s largest golf resort at Mission Hills promise plenty of leg room, long irons and lady loopers. Mission Hills Dongguan and Shenzhen edged out Pinehurst in 2004 for the Guinness Book of World Records honor, boasting a total of 12 championship courses. Combine these with the ten additional courses located at Mission Hills Haikou Resort on Hainan Island, and you can see where an eight-day trip there might be an option-wrenching experience for a golfer. No one has expressed anything like real sympathy for me as of yet.
I played my first round of nighttime golf — readily available at all Mission Hills Resorts — at Dongguan. It turned out to be an eerily cool way to deal with jet lag. Time became confusing while sleepily wandering around the fluorescent-filled fairways, sporting oxygen-deprived swollen ankles. Golf balls began resembling Atari asteroids as they rocketed from my clubs and disappeared off screen.
Having arrived skeptical as to how a resort could uniquely differ from so many neighboring golf tracts, I left overwhelmingly impressed. The thick forest-lined Norman course weaved in and around the Mainland China Hills and was probably the most challenging course at Dongguan. The meandering layout promoted solitude, and my inability to speak Mandarin prompted a fun practice of miming out shot intentions to my caddie. Knowledgeable caddie notwithstanding and appreciated, I very much enjoyed playing by myself and will remember this quietly pleasant Norman walkabout for some time. The number of sand traps on the famed Olazabal Course necessitate the creation of greenside outdoor showers and a name change to “Playa Del Iraq,” but make it an outstanding test of shot placement skills.
Mission Hills Shenzhen, a short shuttle away, was no less expansive or inviting. While waxing golf is something I am partial to, no account of time spent here would be complete without addressing the magnitude of activities besides golf that are available to the “golfed-out” and non-golfer. If world-renowned spas, eco-friendly trail hikes, curvy swimming pools or optical illusionary “Trick-Eye Museums” become old hat, guests can go buy new ones in Hong Kong. Culinary possibilities featuring Chinese, Japanese, American and Korean menus are available in venues, ranging from your bed to private dining rooms. A golf course science and technology museum is available for kids (and held my attention), while life-size dioramas espousing resort responsibility for green and responsible growth are educational and captivating. Just walking through the grand ballrooms is fun. Visiting celebrities have all left cement handprints in walkways throughout the grounds, and finding your celebrity match is a popular pastime. Algebraically, I learned that: My Hands < Nick Faldo’s Hands < Yao Ming’s Hands. It was a special treat to play a Pete Dye course in China, where the trademarked railroad-tie designs came complete with the exotic three-noted chimes of emerald doves overseeing play. The highlight round of Dongguan and Shenzhen was the World Cup Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Made famous when Fred Couples and Davis Love III won here in 1995, it remains one of the most famous courses in China. I flew into Mission Hills Haikou on Hainan Island, having no idea what to expect, and I was wowed all over again. Hainan Island is generally referred to as the “Hawaii of the East,” as it has the same tropical climate and volcanic rock. I was even necklaced with a flowered lei upon hotel arrival. Mainland Chinese flock here for the relaxed attitude and recreation it provides. The golf courses I played at Haikou were unbelievable. The Blackstone Course, which hosted the exhibition match between Rory and Tiger last October, featured a contrasting trio of lava rock, white sand and green grass in a sharpness that I have never seen before. International awards and competitions litter its pedigree. If Blackstone were the heavyweight, then the Lava Fields Course would be a barroom-brawling cousin. These two courses were more alike than any others I played at Mission Hills, and this was not only forgivable but desirable. I saw the sun rise at Mission Hills Haikou from the Blackstone Course my last day because I had to play it a second time. The amenity base at the Haikou Resort already surpasses anything I have ever seen at a golf resort, and future expansion plans are no less promising. A Lan Kwai Fong shopping, dining, and concert venue to sister the existing one in Hong Kong is set to deliver late this year (think East Asian Times Square), and an entire movie-themed town is also just wrapping up. Hyatt and Hard Rock are under construction. Mission Hills may have most of its golf courses situated, but the Mission Hills brand is just getting underway. Home to the world’s largest spa and mineral springs, the resort is also the largest tennis facility in the world. The vast real estate holdings that make all of this expansion possible could hide a million people, and yet it would not feel crowded. If you want to feel crowded, you can visit nearby Haikou City. Not only did I wander off campus to do this, I even undertook an evening “Hainan Impression” show, showcasing the history of the island. A seafood dinner expedition in town allowed me to pick out whatever I wanted to eat from hundreds of fresh seafood tanks. There are more than 600 golf courses in China, and that number is growing monthly. The sheer numbers associated with the breakout of the Chinese upper middle class is something the world has never seen, and the number of golfers there are predicted to eclipse their American counterparts inside of ten years. Mission Hills Resorts will be there to cater to them, and a family or group trip to China to experience them will round out any American golfer’s resume. The inability to portray the monumental number of experiential possibilities available to me on this trip in a single column leave me no choice but to leave you with this simple directive: Google Mission Hills, and go there. I definitely will be going back soon. [gallery ids="101775,141125,141128,141134,141138,141149,141146,141142" nav="thumbs"]
Wandergolf: Getting a Grip
Wally Greeves • April 11, 2014
The last false start to the end of miserably wretched seasonal affectation disorders that have prohibited Washingtonians from golfing may finally be water under the bridge. While Mother Nature’s final green light to swap out the snow shovel for the sand wedge may mean the season is ready for you, are you ready for the season? Consideration of the age-old basics, a little cash, some good karma and a new tuna recipe may be just what you need to break into the seventies this season. So here we go:
Size matters and flash inspires. Have someone industry-knowledgeable confirm you are using the right clubs. It makes a difference. Buy a shiny new bag, sporty new shoes, some Pro V1’s with a picture of your dog on them and replace cadaver-ready golf gloves. Replace the nine iron you cleaned the gutters with, and ditch whatever you were hiding in your golf bag all winter in the garage.
Bust a move. Exercise will ensure a safe couch-to-course transition, and low poundage correlates to low golf scores. Walk, do push-ups, ride to work, do backyard tai chi in your underwear, but do something. Pre-golf movement will spike your moods and help with injury avoidance.
Want birdies, eat bird food. Stop eating poor bratwurst imitations and buffet tacos at the clubhouse. Go to the bulk food section at Whole Foods and design your own nut and berry mix for the season. Google spicy Asian tuna fish on the internet, and finally use that insulated pocket on your bag for something other than warm beer. Have wasabi-flavored almonds for a snack after the seventh hole.
“Wax on, wax off.” Seek out wise and enlightened counsel to design a three-lesson plan that smooths out some rough edges in your game and gives you some direction for practice time. The cost of a few lessons is probably a hundredth of what you spent on the game last season and will pay dividends.
Know a 97 from a 79. The rules of golf read like a 33-part real estate transaction between three generations of four non-NATO participating countries, but there are crib notes available almost everywhere, and you should read them and know them. You do not have to always play by them but you should know how to. When you do shoot a 70s game, it will mean something.
Home on the range, home on the course. You are what you do, so squeeze in meaningful range time. Sequentially practice shots that mirror your favorite golf holes, and spend equal amounts of time on the putting and chipping greens. Sometimes take only two clubs to the range. Putt for quarters. Have the humility and diligence to play a par three course to work on your short game, but make it a competition.
Carrier pigeons are obsolete. Embrace technology and computerize a list of all the people you know that play golf, complete with phone numbers and emails, then send it to every one of them. This says you are open for business. Pulling off the Tuesday afternoon ad-hoc game becomes an easy reality. Having a co-conspirator on the fly will diminish “helpful suggestions” from others about how you spend your valuable free time.
Get out of Dodge. Be a leader and plan a long golf weekend for later in the season. Do it now, get it on the books. Myrtle Beach, Kohler, Bandon Dunes and the U.K. are all a phone call away. A healthy, natural, competitive fear will force you to play enough to pass muster on the trip. Who cares how many people go? You will have fun. That one phone call may turn into your club’s annual event.
Pass it on, pay it forward. Introduce the game of golf to a young person by taking them out to play a round or to hit some at the range. Somebody did it for you. If the idea of footgolf (or any other multi-land use ideas for golf courses) nauseates you, than man up and teach the incoming generation to appreciate the status quo. This advice nugget can be the one on this list that doesn’t even necessarily have to involve golf. Spending an afternoon a week in an old folks’ home cheering people up will put your poor golf shots in perspective.
Crack a book. Read a golf classic by John Updike, Jack Nicklaus or Dr. Alister MacKenzie. If you have attention-span issues, then just replace whatever magazines are in your bathroom with the golf classics organized in “snippets of sense” fashion. Harvey Penick, Hogan and Bob Rotella books are all ideal for ADD golfers, and the haphazard lessons will find a way into your game.
Have a stake in the game. Throw a hundred bucks at a fantasy golf league. Pick one that doesn’t require a statistician’s background to play. This participation will prompt phone calls, emails and wisecracks about the game, making for pleasant white noise during the work week.
Man vs. himself. Go play by yourself once in a while. The same foursome all the time will eventually suffer from “cellmate mentality” issues. One-word jokes, out-of-date bathroom humor and obscure music and movie references might creep into your professional vernacular or domestic conversations. Fun people play golf. Go meet them.
Record outstanding occurrences. A golf diary or journal is not necessary, but if you hit an outstanding shot on a sunny day in a cool place, write it down. An encounter with someone memorable, a treeful of rare birds, mid-fairway solutions to a problem or the end of a midlife crisis may all surface during frequently scheduled four-hour activities – and are worthy of remembrance. Paragraph them on three by five cards, punch holes in them and keep a flip chart of noteworthy thoughts nearby to remind you of the little things that make life worthwhile.
I hope this year’s golfing season brings you much joy, and that the rocks, trees and greens conspire to send your balls bouncing in their intended directions. I hope you remember to tell your spouse and family about the wildlife you saw on the course and the interesting people you met (not just all about which irons went where). I hope to see you as you trudge the happy fairways of destiny. Most of all, I hope you play fast.
Fall at Kiawah Island, S.C.
Wally Greeves • September 25, 2013
Leaving the world-class accommodations at Kiawah Island, S.C., after five rounds of golf, stellar food, and service with a smile that required no finger lifting whatsoever, the thought occurred to me as the exit gate was closing that vacating the womb as an adult male had its merits and its downsides. While operating a motor vehicle and hunting for food came quickly to me once again, detachment anxiety set in a whole lot sooner than the first time the cord was cut. The arrival at the Sanctuary four days earlier was something straight out of “Gulliver’s Travels”: the mammoth-columned entryway doors leading to a multi-storied lobby, full of murals and memorabilia. I immediately felt the genuine warmth of the staff when checking in and barely had time to change clothes before my uncle and I were scheduled to tee off at Jack Nicklaus-designed Turtle Point.
Turtle Point has my vote for the Kiawah golf course that most leaves you wanting to golf more. The first nine holes of somewhat narrow tree-lined fairways are set back from the ocean and reward straight shots with good scores. Holes 14-16 were spectacularly fun, windy, beautiful and challenging golf holes along the beach that rewarded straight shots with pathetic scores, but left me smiling. Two picturesque par fours end the feast, but leave you maybe wanting to ask for the menu back.
We had dinner outside at the Sanctuary’s Jasmine Porch, where we safely watched lightning bolts and heat charges sashay across the island during an evening rain shower. The food and service were exemplary. The quality of service at Kiawah was of a special variety to me that felt extremely personal yet not invasive. It left me feeling somewhat like Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show,” where behind every door were people that wanted to see me do well.
The Ocean Course and Osprey Point were scheduled for the next day, and it was sub-par service that allowed us to just wander out from the Sanctuary and see our clubs waiting for us and shuttle ready to go. The famous Dye-designed Ocean Course lived up to its name and then some, and I was glad I walked it. It gave me a chance to have the Ryder Cup and PGA tested grounds all to myself at times in a way that just doesn’t happen from a cart. I got a chance to scratch my head and wonder how Rory’s ball got caught in a leafless tree that looks more like driftwood harpooned into the ground, and I took the time to walk up to the pro tees and survey the view from hole 14. The very serene round had a pleasant sense of surrealness to it that felt like a mix of meditation and connect the dots, inside of a watercolor painting. Lunch at the Ryder Cup Bar, overlooking the eighteenth green, was a great way to spend time.
If the Ocean Course was the runaway classic, then Osprey Point had the most comfortable interior and got the best gas mileage. Birds were everywhere, alligators rampant along the lakeshores and good scores followed us around the player-friendly Fazio layout. Five sets of tees on every course makes even wagering with your uncle possible, and lets you decide how masochistic you want to be. Whichever you choose, playing this course after the Ocean was a welcome massage in a good environment.
Dinner at the Ocean Room at one of the few steakhouses to have a Forbes four star and AAA four diamond rating prompted me to try an aged Wagyu steak with a marble rating exceeding 10. When asked how it was I honestly answered, “Wonderful,” but what was really going through my head and would have flown was the old George Carlin line “I never had a ten, but one night I had five twos.” (Okay, okay, sorry.) The epic atmosphere present in the restaurant spawned a conversation between my uncle and I, where I learned multiple things about my mother and grandparents that I never knew. Kiawah is just that kind of place. I saw it in the pediatric dentist, celebrating an anniversary with his wife and newborn, staying next to us. I saw it in the apartment broker there to represent his firm in the First Tee charity event that Friday on the Ocean Course. I even saw it in the price of my yogurt parfait the next morning at Beaches and Cream before we set out for one more day of golf, and it still tasted great.
Oak Point is the only Kiawah course that is actually outside of the resort gates, and as I was exiting the morning shuttle I have to say I felt vulnerable. The feeling that I had stepped off the safari train only deepened when we were visited at the driving range by a bobcat still on the prowl from the night before. It was way cool. We also saw a heron stab a fish out of the water, decide not to eat it, and carry it around like a stuffed animal for as long as we watched. The par three 15th hole along the road was a signature hole for me, and the par five 17th hole was one of my favorites of the trip.
The last round, Cougar Point, was my solid second-place choice of the five courses we played. A Gary Player design, I thought it was a great example of what a landscaped golf course should look like. In that sense, it was the opposite of a natural layout like the Ocean Course, and so, for that, I vote it best car in its class. Some of the expansive marshland views were so Serengeti that I almost started humming tunes from “The Lion King.”
I came to Kiawah Island to play golf, and golf was there for the taking in splendor fashion, but I left with a lot more than that. I left as a more experienced traveler, diner, bobcat watcher, nephew and critic. [gallery ids="101468,152926,152923" nav="thumbs"]
Royal County Down and Turnberry
Wally Greeves • August 6, 2013
When tee times at the legendary golf courses of Ireland and Scotland that spawned the game are not being used by professional golfers, I always pictured them to be overflowing with freemasons, ex-presidents, famously transient exiles or Bill Murray. Having just arrived back from a whirlwind tour of golf course greats, including Royal County Down, Turnberry, Carnoustie and St. Andrews, Wandergolf is happy to report that normalcy is abound and plentiful on the Emerald Isle and the banks of the North Sea.
Nestled against the Mourne Mountain range within the town of Newcastle located an hour southeast of Belfast, Royal County Down is one of the most picturesque golf courses I have ever seen and by far the most difficult links course I have ever played. The front nine holes along Dundrum Bay were so windy that the roots of the purple horse and golden heather rough extended an extra foot to snag shots with extra spin on them before swallowing golf balls whole. Landing on a green in the windy conditions from any elevated lie brought to mind SAT prep questions involving gum wrappers thrown from moving airplanes. Assuming it was findable, advancing a golf ball from the wall of one of the famously “bearded” sand traps abundant on the course was apropos to hitting a round needle in a living haystack off of a hippie’s face. The freshly mown walkways through the hills and the fairway outlines were beautifully showcased by the virtually untouched negative space comprised of the Murlough Nature Reserve and were fairly accessible as observation points by placing well thought-out and executed shots. The views from the tee box at the 9th hole of Royal County Down are photographed more so than any other golf hole in the world.
The opportunity cost of course ignorance when playing famous “bucket list courses” almost necessitates the use of caddies when available. The numerous blind golf shots at Royal County Down would have been daunting without guidance, and the performance I turned out on the front nine would have been unbearable if not for the humorous stories of my predecessors. I was very pleasantly surprised and impressed with score-changing caddie advice given to me in matters of when and when not to snack, proper body hydration, noticing and handling pre-shot agitation, and the uselessness of smoking cigars during a round. Your caddie will probably not tell you, but 85 percent of the time he is a single-digit handicapper, and ten percent of the time he is a scratch golfer.
The shock value of the course diminishing some and the hills insulating the back nine from the bay winds allowed me to score better during the second half of the round, contributing to the good taste the experience left me with. On a random note, everything from the simple ivy-covered iron welcome sign to the humble clubhouse hammered home the future our country simply hasn’t yet seemed to evolve to: namely, that the size of the yard is more important than the size of the house. It was also intriguing and a testament to Royal County Down to observe and listen to the citizens of Newcastle take pride in their landmark. In times of political upheaval in Northern Ireland, adventurous and prosperous golfers would helicopter in to play a round here. The cost of getting my clubs to Glasgow from Dublin via Ryan Air the next day in order to play Turnberry may have been more expensive.
The Ailsa Course at Turnberry has hosted four Opens, most notably the 1977 “Duel in the Sun” between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. The course is named for the Ailsa Craig, a volcanic island whose rock is famous for its uses in making curling stones. The view of the clubhouse on the hill, the Ailsa Craig, the Turnberry Lighthouse, and the beach itself create some of the best backdrops in golf.
Most memorable golf events, trips, and spectacular moments have been hugely enhanced or ruined by the people I have shared them with. While people do seem to make the difference, the morning round I played on the Ailsa course with just my caddie was my favorite of the trip. The visual ease with which the course intertwines itself amongst natural water and rock outcroppings along the coast makes you feel like the whole thing was just left behind in the recession of some large wave of the past. So deep was I lost in the guided meditation that my only really major error occurred when playing through a noisy foursome on the 15th tee.
Turnberry is not by itself among the country’s great golf courses, in that your non-golfing companion can walk the course with you if they choose to. My wife walked part of most of the courses I played and enjoyed the experience (or so she said). Turnberry Resort is an 800-acre Starwood Luxury property, and such a world class destination by itself that even if you don’t play golf there are a wide range of things to do including spa activities, horseback riding, shooting stuff, 4 by 4 offroading, and water zorbing. Yes, water zorbing, the art of hurtling yourself heedlessly around on the high seas in every imaginable direction and position within the confines of an oversized, puffy Christmas ornament.
There is no substitute for visiting something in person that you have seen on TV, read about, or, in this case, played a virtual reality round of online (although, unbelievably, this is kind of cool). Playing Royal County Down and Turnberry was part of an incredibly enjoyable trip to Ireland and Scotland, and I look forward to talking more about the Links at Carnoustie and St. Andrews next month.
Wandergolf will be a frequently appearing golf column in The Georgetowner that will be reporting on the golf interests of Washingtonians. If you have suggestions for columns or comments, please email them to [email@example.com](mailto
The Raspberry Experience
Wally Greeves • June 3, 2013
The increasingly familiar 37-minute drive from my home to the entrance of Raspberry Falls Golf & Hunt Club in Leesburg, Va., has become a spiritual cleanser for me.
About the time the last of the Dulles Technology corridor buildings and E-ZPass employees disappear into the rear view mirror, the Catoctin foothills at the base of the Blue Ridge appear from between mounds of highway-blasted rocks and start to lower my blood pressure. Meandering through historical Raspberry Plain to arrive at the Scottish-style links course, I see why course designer Gary Player says, “This site was made for a golf course” and “Like nothing you’ve experienced this side of the Atlantic.” When golfers find a place that regularly humiliates them, beats them up, frustrates them, flagrantly tests the outer limits of their patience–and they keep going there–well, they have either gotten married or found a home golf course. Raspberry Falls is my home course.
My performance on a golf hole is much easier to digest and I am able to focus on the next one better, if I can no longer see the prior hole or hear golfers playing it right next to me. The thankfully simple progression of Raspberry holes from one to the next reminds me of classically sequential board games from childhood where you don’t have to backtrack, repeat, skip three spaces or follow arrows to get to the next challenge. This distinction, allowable by a proper amount of real estate, leads me to consider each of the 18 holes at Raspberry as a separate experience with different character and personalities. I absolutely like every hole on the course, which is a rarity for me. The rising elevation on bunker-lined fairway #1 brings you to a pleasant plateau at the base of the tree line and then sends you hurtling through the valley and over a stream to reach glassy green #2. The stunning views from the 100-foot elevated tee box on hole #3 are my favorite on the course, and a lofty drive will allow time to watch your ball slowly disappear into the valley like a champagne cork shot off the side of a mountain.
Restored stone walls from the Civil War era on holes #3 and #9, and Scottish-style stacked pot sand traps with names like “Lee’s Bunker” and “Grant’s Tomb” on hole #11 are among the many pleasant score distractions, assuming you are not behind or in them. You may need the assistance of cliff-dwelling Indians to get your ball out of some of these extremely deep, Grand Canyon-like looking bunkers. Natural rock outcroppings ubiquitously litter the course. If you do not reach the green on #13 with your tee shot, you may find yourself breaking these rocks out of frustration or just to find your ball. A successful approach shot on #10 over water is a sigh of relief when beginning the back nine, and the par five #11 will exercise your fairway woods at almost 600 yards uphill. Many of the Raspberry Plain farming outbuildings still stand around the layout and give an extra rustic feeling to holes like the par three #15. The elevated tee box on #18 is nestled into the side of a hill, and the falls that make up the name of the course drip down into the ravine you will be shooting over. Ending the round requires successfully crossing the ravine again and also flying “Rogue’s Hollow,” a villainous little round-killing greenside bunker that has robbed me frequently.
According to my wife, the habit I have of establishing the perfect drip in the kitchen sink and individually cleaning each of my clubs while re-organizing my golf bag is annoying. I find it cathartically therapeutic in a Macbeth sort of way and a chance to review which clubs I am using. It was while engaging in this perfectly healthy and normal behavior recently that I discovered another reason that I like Raspberry Falls: it requires the use of every club in my bag, including the 60-degree wedge.
From being welcomed by Gilbert or another red vest wearing cart assistant to speaking with general manager Bob Swiger, I have never felt anything other than welcome at this golf club. The Raspberry experience doesn’t have to end with a round at Raspberry Falls either, because Raspberry Golf Management owns and operates local favorite courses Augustine, Bull Run and Old Hickory Golf Clubs as well. You can join as a full member of any of these. If you need a break from playing golf at them than you can get married on the grounds of any of the four courses, and I see this happening more and more. The Raspberry Academy operates out of all four and is a great place to take lessons or get fitted for clubs. I was first introduced to Raspberry after I hosted a real estate tournament there in 2000, and they are no less friendly or innovative now. Two groups recently brought their sales and lobbyist all-stars out for lessons tailored to driving and wedge shots, and all left with custom fitted drivers and wedges. The growing Raspberry Golf Trail, offering multiple-play discounts, includes 13 courses from southern Virginia to mid-Pennsylvania, including another local favorite of mine, Queenstown Harbor in Maryland. Recent deals with the Golf Channel are just another indicator of the growing presence of the Raspberry name.
The fact that when I pull out of Raspberry Falls after a round of golf I feel like I just did something vastly important is not only funny but a testament to the designers, management and employees of the course. A round of golf here is exactly like a raspberry: an upscale, yet affordable, fruit that leaves a good taste in your mouth.
For more information, visit www.raspberryfalls.com Raspberry Falls, 41601 Raspberry Drive, Leesburg, Va. 20176 703-779-2555
Wandergolf will be a frequently appearing golf column in The Georgetowner that will be reporting on the golf interests of Washingtonians. If you have suggestions for columns or comments, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Wandergolf: Spring at Pinehurst
Wally Greeves • April 25, 2013
The clicketty-clack of ?rubber tires hitting? highway cement ?separations is the only thing ?that I was really thinking? about when, after hurtling ?through a couple of still-?confusing, identical looking roadway roundabouts, ?the charming and mystical ?town of Pinehurst, North ?Carolina, appeared from? the clouds out of nowhere.?“Field of Dreams,” “Bagger ?Vance,” and the two golfers? (I mean hunters) that found ?Brigadoon came to mind. Far away-sounding French horns tapered off as we drove into the charming golf village that is busy readying itself for back-to-back men and women U.S. Opens in 2014. Non-chain bookshops, clothing boutiques and eateries line the streets of the small village business district, surrounded by stunning Carolina homes that busy local realtors rent for as much as $75,000 a week during the Open. On our visit, the Holly was our resort home away from home.
Christened in 1895, with dark oak passages and suck-you-in cute creaky hallways that cause women to grab you by the arm, the Holly was consummate in its décor down to its two restaurants that offer collar-only steak at night and mouth-melting banana strawberry smoothies in early a.m. pre-golf or spa attire.
Boasting nine golf courses, the Donald Ross designed Pinehurst #2 is, by far, the most infamous and will host the Open in 2014. Teeing off at 8:40a.m. in 39-degree rain weather may make it hard for me to recognize the audience-flocked fairways come Open time, but I will know that’s where they are by watching the momentarily grief-stricken amazed looks on the faces of pro-golfers as they watch their balls roll off perfectly groomed, innocent-looking, turtle-backed greens. Showering after my humbling round, the thought occurred to me that I had more of a chance of standing at the back of the tub and successfully tossing a wet bar of soap onto the elevated bathtub corner than I did of hitting any kind of iron shot that the #2 greens would hold. Fortunate to play my round with a member of the 106-year-old, Pinehurst-based golfing fraternity, the Tin Whistles (think well-dressed, philanthropic Hell’s Angels of golf), I was treated to warm and funny stories in the history-laden clubhouse, complete with walls sporting action pictures of every who’s-who and who has been in the game of golf.
Creamy crab and sweet corn bisque with lightly toasted fritters floating in it, and the cheerful one-liner-offering staff at the resort’s anchor facility, Carolina Dining Room, helped me feel better about the damage #2 did to my permanent record and my golf-battered ego. Bellboys, shuttle drivers, caddies and other good time co- conspirators can play Pinehurst courses at their leisure with few restrictions, which says a lot to me about a golf resort. It serves as a reminder to me that whatever multi-starred and architecturally crisp resort you may wander into, it will be the people that dictate carefree afternoon naps or the cause of unsettling heartburn.
Encouraged by the staff at the clubhouse the next morning and heartily welcomed by the threesome and caddie I was paired with, my wife rode with us as we teed off at 8:27 a.m. on Pinehurst #4. The threesome we were golfing with was at Pinehurst celebrating one brother’s victorious bout with leukemia from the other brother’s marrow donation, and the son’s recovery from a double hip operation. This inspirational dynamic, our scratch-shooting caddie Bradley’s witty repartee, my wife’s presence and the sunny day all made up for the amount of time I spent in the course’s legendary Fazio-created 180 sand traps. This winter was a long one in Pinehurst, and I just missed seeing the blooming azaleas and dogwoods that #4 usually boasts at this time of year. Nevertheless, the appealing monochromatic-magic created by pine needle boughs every- where satiated my aesthetic appetite and made it easier to find wayward tee shots.
Manufacturing empathy and sensitivity for the non- golfer are wasted efforts at Pinehurst because of the number of other activities avail- able to engage in as well as the interesting historical nature of the resort. My wife is still showing off a pedicure she received from a choice of more than 50 treatments at the spa, and there are sinful amounts of money-spending opportunities that include clothes, tennis, food, real estate, antiques, alcohol, pottery and any item you ever thought of with the putter boy logo spawned the weekend long laughable request for “more putter butter, please.” Just the fact that you find yourself requesting extra butter is relaxation recognition. The front porch of the Carolina in the early evening is a loafer wearing, cigar-smoking, pre-dinner drink eruption of laughter experience dotted with expert bag pipe tunes, proffered by kilt-wearing musicians. In the early 1900s, Annie Oakley lived at Pinehurst for almost 10 years, gave shooting exhibitions at the Carolina and taught shooting to more than 125,000 persons. The Town of Southern Pines is five miles away, has a railroad track right through the middle of it, quaint cafes, antiques stores, many latte places, and little benches in the middle of town with non-stressed-looking people sitting at them and smiling at each other’s stories.
Pinehurst #8 is a full seven minutes away from the main clubhouse by pleasant shuttle and lays out where the Pinehurst Gun Club once did. Even in all its regalia and splendor, with en- trance roads to Pinehurst nearby and abundant housing, the proximity of courses 1 through 5 can be overwhelming. Views of the adjacent fairways from the clubhouse showcase meticulously groomed areas of green expanse dot- ted with golfers swinging their clubs like bees beating their wings, expeditiously being herded toward green pollination by white-uniformed “bee-keeping” caddies. I had the first tee time of the day at #8 on Sunday, and I enjoyed all 420 acres of it. Paired up with the resort requisite cigar smoking, beer drinking, long-ball hitting, loud Texan and his equally enjoyable Coloradan brother-in-law, we made shots that would have made Annie Oakley proud. The Natural wet- lands combined with rolling hills through expansive pines and positively alone feel to this tract made it the favorite for me of the three courses I played in my weekend at Pinehurst.
Thanks to a certain colonel and his wife hailing from Pinehurst #7, we had a genuine Carolina barbecue open house to stop by after showering and checking out of the Holly. What a pleasurable way to end a great trip. I overheard the host say to my wife “Look at Wally, he is perfectly happy and doesn’t want to leave,” and at that moment he was right. I was truly lost in too much of a good thing.
For more information, visit Pinehurst.com. Pinehurst Resort, 80 Carolina Vista Drive, Pinehurst, N.C. 28374 — (855)-235-8507
Wandergolf will be a frequently appearing golf column in The Georgetowner that will be reporting on the golf interests of Washingtonians. If you have suggestions for columns or comments please email them to email@example.com
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