Mission Hills Resorts: Mainland China and Hainan Island

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"]

Growing Up Golf

May 19, 2014

I can always tell when I am playing golf with someone who started playing early in life. There is a degree of confidence present in the way they choose clubs, address the ball and shrug off bad shots that suggests a long relationship with the game. They are usually in decent physical shape, don’t drink on the course, have good manners and seem well organized. I didn’t start playing until my mid-twenties.

This past Saturday, I arrived for a tee time at Raspberry Falls in Loudoun, and there were 320 kids there for the skills assessment day of the Loudoun Junior Golf Association. I was absolutely floored. LJGA President Charlie Hoffman spent an hour educating me about the league and turning my astonishment into admiration. Born out of Leesburg Parks and Recreation in 2004, the league has since become its own 501(c)3 and grown to include 12 golf courses, both private and public, and now has corporate sponsors like ExxonMobil and Jersey Mikes.

The price for annual membership is $275. This includes an assessment, four lessons (chipping, putting, woods and irons), score keeping and etiquette instruction and participation in six tournaments. There are five divisions to accommodate every skill level and age. Satisfying their annual volunteer requirement, PGA pros happily lend their time to these clinics, ensuring top-notch instruction. All positions are volunteer-based, and most, if not all, of the volunteers have or have had children in the league. Raspberry Golf Academy and Goose Creek paid for the uniforms this year. This is not the Bad News Bears sponsored by Chico’s Bail Bonds. This is a well thought out, responsibly grown and accessible golf program for kids, one which is encouraging its footprint to be copied.

Spending a day talking to golf professionals in Fairfax County and finally back to Washington, D.C., to see what junior golf programs were available presented a different story from Loudoun. Junior golf outside of private clubs in Fairfax County also began at Parks and Recreation, and for the most part, still is where the majority of junior leagues are found. Five county-owned courses in Fairfax County have been competing in league play for a couple of years now, according to Jeff Winkle, General Manager of Oak Marr Golf Complex. While Fairfax County has some good courses, most of the tournaments and clinics for juniors are at par 3 courses. Loudoun kids are playing courses like Lansdowne Resort, River Creek and Raspberry Falls.

Washington, D.C., junior golfers have even less of a chance to experience different types of courses. There are some great programs like the First Tee of Greater Washington and Paul Berry’s Get Hooked on Golf programs. If you are a child in D.C. public schools and want to take the six-week Get Hooked on Golf Clinic, it will be provided at no cost, including transportation. Once you finish the clinic, the organization will pay for your rounds at East Potomac Golf Course. This is made possible in conjunction with D.C. Friends of Ireland and the PGA of America, which partners with the program.

These programs are a wonderful resource, but the three courses in D.C. are extremely crowded, and variety is limited. Terry McFarland, General Manager of Rock Creek Golf Course, worked with the PGA of America to form leagues last year, but there were not enough participants at the three courses to sustain a program. He said he would love to see a situation where the course would be active with golf leagues, but it would need to make good business sense for the three D.C. courses.

The difference between these programs and Loudoun is that the parents and volunteers are the ones running the leagues. If parents ran the leagues in D.C. and Fairfax County, as they seem to do in so many other sports, they could compete with other areas and visit their courses. LJGA’s Hoffman says he would love to be able to compete with other areas and work with other organizations and would even help set them up. The PGA of America says the same thing.

“I will come talk to anyone, anywhere, that wants to start a golf league for kids,” says Bob Heintz, Junior Golf Director for the Mid-Atlantic section of the PGA of America. Heintz says that he has gone to talk to Loudoun over the years and is glad to see them doing well. “Leagues do not even have to be PGA members to have PGA support,” he says.

It seems that there is room here for all sides of the equation to benefit. League play, organized by D.C. and Fairfax Volunteers, however large, could work with other leagues like Loudoun to allow their kids access to more courses in the area. Golf courses, county and non-county alike, can focus on providing the best facilities for play they can and be paid for it. Sponsors that are willing to help kids play golf can show support for these leagues and have tax benefits. Lastly, as a community, we can reap the benefits created from raising more children in the area that espouse the good qualities that the game of golf seems to install in them.

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Wandergolf: Getting a Grip

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.


My arrivals to Scotland’s heralded eighteen hole tracts located within the towns of Carnoustie and St. Andrews could not have been more different. When I pulled into the diagonally striped, beach-adjacent parking lot of Carnoustie Golf Links, I could have been arriving at Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware. The simplicity of the clubhouse serving the Burnside, Buddon, and the Championship Links course that made Sergio cry and Padraig fly reminded me of a friendly ranger station somewhere in the Midwest. Post-play building renovations I could suggest might include signs saying things about entrants abandoning hope or devils appearing in sheep’s clothing.

I played the tamer Burnside course before tackling the beast, and I truly enjoyed the round. Burnside was the course Ben Hogan qualified on in 1953, before winning the Open on the Championship Links. The two Scot members I was paired with were a retired police officer and civil servant, and they played the golf ambassador roles consummately, not withstanding my barrage of questions. The biggest problem for me on these courses was the ever-present, daunting, howling, massive amount of wind. Teeing off on the 460 yard #4 hole “South America” maybe felt like sticking your head out the window of a moving car and trying to spit a watermelon seed on to the hood. One of the ambassadors explained that in order to survive these conditions on the course you have to hit the ball below the wind and that the harder ground will allow low trajectory shots like this to travel a long way. I felt like a pitcher might feel who throws only fastballs being exposed to major league hitters for the first time and realizing he has to learn some junk to survive. The necessity of shaping shots to overcome the elements, probably the very heart of the game of golf, really rooted itself in me on this trip.

One thing I like to tell other golfers to do when golf balls start to go sideways (and never do myself) is to put away the scorecard and just enjoy the day. I actually did this on the Championship Course, not even cheating by keeping the score in my head. It made the par on “Hogan’s Alley” #6 hole a pleasant surprise, the famous spectacle bunkers on #14 more fun to examine, and allowed me to get out of myself enough to imagine what it would have been like to be Van De Velde and blow the three shot lead on the 18th hole in the 1999 Open.

The arrival at St. Andrews was more like arriving at a sports arena, with the prices of the famous Old Course golf shirts going down the further you got from stadium row. Since it is also home to the third oldest English-speaking university in the world, dating back to the 1400s, the American feel to it might be like Charlottesville. Throw a bit of Duke University into the mix, due to the presence of St. Andrews Cathedral, and presto: you have the town that introduced the game of golf to the world over 600 years ago.

Without planning a year in advance, winning a last-minute ballot entry, or being part of a very expensive full service golf tour package, the only way to get a tee time on the Old Course is to walk on the morning you wish to play and ask the starter. It might seem risky but if you are alone and show up early the odds are that the starter will be able to fit you in. How we, as a country, seem to have made our best golf courses aloof, I view as somewhat depressing, when compared to the Scottish community’s pride in making its golf courses accessible to golfers of almost all levels. One of the best comments I heard on this trip came from one of the golf ambassadors I played with at Carnoustie when he pointed to a woman strolling nearby on the course and said, “Wally, that woman walking her dog over there. She may not play golf, but this is her course, too.”

I spent the time waiting to tee off on the Old Course listening to priceless stories from famed Starter, Rod Sturrock. Part of his humble duties as gatekeeper to the most famous golf course in the world include standing quietly behind golfers teeing off, as a significant number of golfers that have traveled from far and wide to this golf mecca get wobbly kneed and pass out on the tee box. Laughing out loud at the expense of other golfer’s exploits at the famous links course was sure to have been what caused me to duff my tee shot, but I still managed to bogey the first hole.

My caddie at St. Andrews, Neil Crate, was the only caddie I have ever had that threatened me for potentially failing to execute golf shots. His threats and humor coerced me out of the “Bobby Jones” bunker on 13 in one shot, guided me away from “Hell” on the 14th hole, delivered me past the “Valley of Sin” below the 18th green, and on to hole out for my best round of the trip.

The levity with which I approached the round pegged me as the target for the exploding golf ball routine the caddies occasionally trot out. I even met Oliver Horovitz, author of “An American Caddie at St. Andrews,” an amusing coming of age memoir, written by a Harvard student about “Growing up, Girls, and Looping the Old Course”.

While not scheduled to play them, I managed to get in rounds at the Jubilee and Castle Courses at St. Andrews also. They were picturesque, and the time spent there worthwhile. Since this was my first trip to Ireland and Scotland and was a family adventure, golf was not the only agenda, but it could have been. I ogled castles, kissed the Blarney Stone, black-taxied through Belfast and bought sweaters in Edinburgh, but destinations like Old Head, Royal Dornach, and Ballybunion will ensure my return to the area of the world that spawned the game of golf.

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 wally@wandergolf.com [gallery ids="101431,154580,154588,154585" nav="thumbs"]

WandergolfJanuary 29, 2014

January 29, 2014

While on a family trip to Nicaragua
recently, I made sure to detour
for a night from the sustainable
farm we were staying at long
enough to play David Maclay Kidd?s newly
designed Guacalito Golf Course at Mukul
Resort along the country?s Emerald Coast . . .
twice. On the Pacific, the resort has been open
less than a year.

The picturesque 18th green that has rounded
the golf magazine circuit tops off an amazing
round of jungle golf that blends into its
environment so well that I got the feeling the
howler monkeys probably never left during
construction. Maybe they were as impressed as
I was that not one of their trees was chopped
down to create the tract. Fifteen hundred trees
were relocated safely on the property to make
the course easier for me, and the wooden beams
used in the resort?s construction phase were
expensively collected from the wakes of hurricanes
to help me sleep better at night.

Starting with number one, Genizaro (a rain
or monkeypod tree), every golf hole is named
for a native tree found on it, and the artwork
above my bed at night was weaved with reeds,
made from the leaves of Nicaraguan coffee
bean trees. The golf course and resort overflowed
with domestic pride at every turn. The
only thing that could have made each of thesegolf rounds more enjoyable would have been my
two black labs running down the fairways chasing
iguanas, while I played.

The first two holes are each par fours, and
250-yard shots down the middle of the fairway
leave you fair approach shots, the second
one being more uphill and over riskier terrain.
Architect Kidd is building a stunning home
overlooking the par three 3rd hole that, if he follows
owner Don Carlos Pellas?s tradition, will
be rentable while he is not in residence. Holes 4
and 16 are similar par five target golf holes, both
fairways crossed twice with shot-stealing scrub
ditches. The par five number 7 hole has some
kind of weird dense-air-looking visual spatial
effect that guarantees you will use too much club
on your approach shot. You will be angry about
this but will probably do it again the next day,
too. The 8th green is accessed by a cool, locally
fashioned suspension bridge that you will really
like, if your ball is on the green already.

Hole #11 is a challenging downhill tee shot
that leaves you, in my opinion, the hardest
approach shot on the course. We agreed it was
the hardest hole on the course, but it was rated as
the 14th. I almost made par the second round and
was elated. The par three 12th hole tee box was
spectacular, and that was before we were treated
to a flash visit from a troupe of howler monkeys.
The Scotland-inspired, Redan-styled par three
15th hole was punctuated with a swale-divided
Biarritz green (ha, ha, ha, ha . . . Golf Digest,
here I come). The 17th hole was my favorite,
and the 18th is a one of a kind treat, leaving you
on the surf.

Adam Scott purportedly loves this place
because he can be fairly anonymous and surf up
from the Pacific Ocean to his golf cart and play.
I scored well both rounds here. So, I would have
to say it was probably the toughest course I have
ever played. Joking aside, Kidd has made this
a beautifully playable experience I could enjoy
every morning of a vacation, however long.

The cliff-side bohio we were delivered to bygolf cart after our round was a top-five favorite for me. High ceilings, wood, balcony, whirlpool, marble, little pillows, and flat-out style showcased the unrealized tree fort of my adult dream life. The kind of place you ashamedly find yourself texting pictures of to relatives before you start unpacking your luggage.

A chauffeured golf cart ensured that we were on time for our evening trip to the five-star resort?s award-winning spa. Each of the six spa buildings that make up the relaxing compound boast ultra-unique motifs, personal post-treatment pools, outstanding smells, and extremely knowledgeable masseuses. I am nowhere near spa-educated enough to tell you just how good this one was, but I had the best foot rub I have ever had there, and it turned my wife into a noodle.

Dinner in the formal dining room was elegant. The mural-sized black-and-white photos of owner Don Carlos Pellas?s parents wedding gave us the feeling we were celebrating with the owner in delivering a legacy resort that Nicaraguans can be proud of. Ninety-five percent of the workforce hails from within two miles of the resort, and the Mukul team spent years training them to five-star standards — another testament to the owner?s interests in the future of Nicaragua.

A breakfast decided upon the evening before magically appeared on our balcony table around seven, and we struggled with how to allocate our only hour left in a much too hurried visit. My wife chose a walk on the beach, and I finished a primo cigar from the evening before and scoured the ocean horizon hoping to see a whale. A shiny black sedan from Mukul?s fleet delivered us to the airport in Managua, and another Mukul team member stayed with us until we arrived at our gate.

A short flight later and an arrival home to roughly the same time zone we left from made the experience feel like a daydream. The only reminder of the recent past was the faint smell of cigar in my clothes, and the good taste it left in my mouth.

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 [wally@wandergolf.com](mailto:wally@wandergolf.com)

Weekend at Kingsmill

January 17, 2014

Existence of pre-historic Indians that lived 7,000 years ago on the bluffs of the James River where Kingsmill Resort is now located has been proven through the discovery of pottery and stone tools. I wonder what conclusion the future’s archeologists will come to when they find all of the post-industrial urethane-covered rubber Titleists I left all over the property three weeks ago? Most of the evidenc will be found on the River course, although similar deposits will be available for unearthing on the Woods and Plantation courses also.

The recent LPGA event at the River course left behind in its wake a series of well groomed fairways, immaculate greens and overall lushy factor where all plant growth was concerned, and made it visually pleasing to play. From the first hole, whose fairway was diagonally punctured with beckoning sand traps at tee shot distances, the bunkers reigned supreme in a way only possible in a non-beach town. A moat of sand surrounding the 5th hole makes the landing of the par three’s tee shot safely within the castle walls crucial to scoring well.

The picturesque and windy par three 17th hole along the river, immediately followed by a challenging tee shot over a souped-up water retention area to reach the 18th fairway make for a strong finish. The River course is clearly the benevolent bully of the trio worth befriending on your visit to Kingsmill.

The remoteness of the Woods course in relation to the Kingsmill hub was a welcome relief, and upon arrival I found myself looking for an archery instructor or some broken clay pigeons. The absolute dominant thought I walked away with after playing the Woods course was that the two sets of nine holes could not have been more different from each other, with the back nine utilizing three times more real estate than the front. If the back nine’s long wooden bridges, steep inclines, and tube-like tunnels between holes didn’t plant the idea in your head that you were adjacent to Busch Gardens, than the pleasant far away roller coaster shrieks audible from the 12th hole tee box sure did. The back nine here would make a great addendum to the championship River course when planning a 27 hole golf day.

The yardage reduction and less complex obstacles of the Arnold Palmer designed Plantation course will be a warm welcome for the mid to high handicapper or beginner golfer. Its signature hole features tobacco and grain era plantation houses from the 17th and 18th century, but otherwise winds through a neighborhood consisting of Williamsburg brick homes, seemingly each of original design. While I understand seasonality plays a role in their prevalence, I would have found flame throwers a welcome golf cart presence to combat the oversized and persistent horseflies in some dank areas of the course.

Boasting a marina, tennis courts, boat rentals, walking areas, and riverside dining, Kingsmill has plenty to offer the non-golfer before you even factor in the presence of Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg right next door. Since I was not here with my wife and am not metrosexually correct enough to enjoy spa treatments, I had to rely on my club’s length observations of the unbelievable amount of ways to pamper yourself one could avail themselves of at this spa. Decadent chocolate wraps, sugar scrubs, reflexological half hours, warmed basalt stone rubdowns, and something involving eucalyptus called nasal drainage stroking are only some of the plethora of treatments, available for age ranges starting at 5 to 11 through senior citizenhood.

Kingsmill Resort housing is made up of sprawling villas, only some of which are owned and operated by the resort. This ownership mix, combined with the sprawl, offers visitors a choice in how involved they would like to be in choreographing their stay. Whether a stay at the riverside villas will complement your visits to Williamsburg attractions and be a place to dine or whether you plan to never leave the premises and rely on the full service staff to plan your golf and spa weekend, your needs will surely be met. For more information, visit www.kingsmill.com/golf. 1010 Kingsmill Road, Williamsburg, Va. 23185 – toll free, 800-832-5665; direct dial, 757-253-1703

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 [wally@wandergolf.com](mailto:wally@wandergolf.com
[gallery ids="101349,152313,152309,152305,152284,152290,152295,152300" nav="thumbs"]

Astronaut, Critic and Man of Letters, Pulitzer-Prize Novelist: Godspeed

October 21, 2013

We lost the next-to-last of the Mercury Seven astronaut Scott Carpenter, the learned film critic of the New Republic and elsewhere, Stanley Kaufman, and the lyrical, Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuban-American novelist Oscar Hijuelos these past few days.


Scott Carpenter, one of the pioneering, original group of brave astronauts who were the first Americans to orbit the earth in the early era of space rivalry with the Soviet Union, died at 88 of complications from a stroke Oct. 10 in Vail, Colo., at a hospice.

He was a Navy man from the beginning, commissioned in 1949, becoming a naval aviator in 1951 and serving in the Korean War. He was a test pilot, and eventually became one of the Mercury 7 Astronauts selected and introduced on April 10, 1959. Among them was John Glenn, who would become the first American to orbit the earth. Carpenter was the second. The backup pilot for the first mission, Carpenter was at Mission Control and was heard to say, “Godspeed, John Glenn,” as Glenn’s spacecraft burst the bounds of earth. Carpenter piloted his Aurora 7 craft on May 24 of that year, eating “Space Food Sticks” in space. He overshot the landing zone for his splashdown, by a considerable distance, but he was found in his life raft.

For the record here are the Mercury 7 astronauts: Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., died 1998, U.S. Navy; Virgil Ivan (Gus) Grissom, died 1967, was commander of the Gemini mission, killed in a fire during a launch pad test one month before the scheduled launch of Apollo 1; John Herschel Glenn, Jr., former U.S. senator, Buckeye, oldest man in space; Malcolm Scott Carpenter; died 2013; Walter Marty (Wally) Schirra, Jr., died 2007; Leroy Gordon (Gordo) Cooper, died 2004; Donald Kent (Deke) Slayton, died 1993.

John Glenn was quoted as saying “Godspeed, Scott Carpenter, my great friend,” when hearing the news of Carpenter’s passing.


Stanley Kauffmann wrote movie—or film—reviews for the New Republic for more than 50 years with a break, writing theater reviews for the New York Times. Think of all the movies viewed for such an assignment—strung together, review after review, year after year, a lifetime in the dark.

Then, think of the straight forward, but deeply felt reviews he wrote. I remember reading him a lot. He took the job and the films seriously, but perhaps this came from being originally a man of the theater as well.

I have some empathy and sympathy for the task. Reviewing films or stage productions involves story-telling and imagery in varying degrees, as well as words, and the telling of the saga of ourselves, we humans on earth.

For Kauffmann, for all reviewers and writers, this meant dealing daily with the sublime and the ridiculous, the sublime, even among the pearls before swine, outdoing the ridiculous, and the latter becoming sublime at times. Ask Charlie Chaplin or Woody Allen, if you could.

What was evidenced in his writing was a passion, a love and affection for what he wrote about. What seemed evident in his bearing was erudition, seriousness, respect, intellect and culture. He made Americans—he was not alone in this—look at foreign films in new ways but rarely did so with the intent of calling attention to himself.

Kauffmann was 97.


If Oscar Hijuelos had never written another book other than “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love,” he would still be famous, because that’s the book that made him a Pulitzer Prize guy in 1989.

But he did write more: “Our House in the Last World,” the wonderful, almost magical “The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien,” “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” “A Simple Habana Melody,” “Thoughts Without Cigarettes, A Memoir,” “Dark Dude,” “Empress of the Splendid Season,” “Mr. Ives’ Christmas” and “Our House in the Last World.” Taken together, the titles alone suggest a style, a way with words, a lot of lyricism, lore, family memories, a great American and family theme.

His career, his output—and they will last pretty much forever—are another great addition to the fabric, the literary quilters of our immigration literature, which is in broad terms pretty much all of the output. It’s a crazy quilt with particular flavors and concerns of a country where everyone is an immigrant, an outsider, and insider, where citizenship and country are about matters of heart and soul, not addresses.

Hijuelos happened to be of a Cuban ethnic background—with that came soul, music, rhythm, mysterious tales, religion, neighborhoods and the tentacles of family.

He died after collapsing on a tennis court. He was only 62.

Fall at Kiawah Island, S.C.

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

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 [wally@wandergolf.com](mailto

The Raspberry Experience

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 wally@wandergolf.com
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