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Wander Golf: Groundhog Day at Pawleys Island, South Carolina

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. [gallery ids="101837,139040,139049,139046" nav="thumbs"]

Pin Hunting on Penobscot Bay: Samoset Resort

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

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. 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Growing Up Golf

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. For answers to your questions, comments or suggestions, please email: wally@wandergolf.com

Wandergolf: Getting a Grip

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.

Wandergolf

Being the same age as former Dominican-born baseball star Sammy Sosa, I found it a bit painful that my knowledge concerning the Dominican Republic -- largely derived from reading cigar bands -- was tripled solely by gawking out the airplane window on the way there. Four days at the brand-new Westin Puntacana were an experiential windfall for me. With no shame, I admit, I ended up doing the retirement reevaluation thing, where you drive around with a realtor. A low-density community, knockout ceviche and ocean spray drifting over tee boxes from waves slamming into the island’s perimeter made this winter golf getaway something special. La Cana Golf Club comprises 27 of the 45 resort holes, in three separate P.B. Dye-designed nine-hole tracts: Arrecife, Hacienda and Tortuga. Hibiscus hedges and Bougainvillea abound. Arrecife and Tortuga boast six holes along the gently frothing, splotchy blue Caribbean waters. Possibly having to yield your ball flight to kite surfers on Arrecife’s trifecta of ocean holes to finish the nine is a mesmerizing reality. Tortuga’s ocean introduction by way of an absolutely beautiful par five #4 hole is followed up by a wickedly provocative par three over the ocean, easily my favorite hole at La Cana. The curvy and seductive shoreline cuts into just a little more than half of the approach and made me just a little uncomfortable. I blame the mental images of tottering seesaws, curve balls that don’t break and the recessionary pull of the ocean on my nine iron for the resulting ball theft. Unapologetically, the ocean belched away, hungry for more. The implanted grassy knolls and lumpy, wide fairways of the newly designed Hacienda course could have been transported from the northwestern United States, and complemented the other nines well. The La Cana clubhouse had a great evening view and was completely relaxing. If I had found that it wasn’t, I could have walked down one flight of steps for any number of types of massages designed for everyone from golfers to grandmothers, if they were not already both. Corales golf course was a consummately manicured, expansive piece of unpopulated greenery, bordered by limestone bluffs, and featured massive catcher’s-mitt-shaped Fazio trademark sand traps. Stretched to 7,650 yards at the tips, with forward tees of 5,123 yards, this course proves a challenge for any level golfer. We enjoyed it so much that we played it twice in a row. We had to, because while approaching the ocean on the par five hole #7, standing on the tee box and fairway at #8, playing the entire 9th hole and all the way through the “Devil’s Elbow” three finishing holes, we took more shots with cameras than with clubs. The humbly sized clubhouse alone atop the bluffs brought to mind a ranger station at a national park -- a reminder that the real show is the venue that nature lets us borrow for a little while to play in. From course management to cuisine, sustainability is a popular theme at Puntacana. The resort is on the forefront of irrigation techniques that utilize ocean water and fertilization methods that highlight the use of worm scat. That’s right! Turns out all those fishing worms you found in dark, rich soil didn’t migrate there, they were the reason it was there. A 1,500-acre ecological park that boasts 12 swimmable, freshwater lagoons and iguana habitat (not on the same acre) amongst a network of walking trails are good for eco-friendly exercise. Without being too noticeably available, there was no shortage of anything that I could think of doing on vacation. Just the fishing and food options launched me into a mini panic attack halfway through my second day there, when I realized how much I would leave untouched on my visit. The staff at the Westin, and at every other establishment within the resort, could not have been more welcoming without being intrusive. My room was right on the beach. I couldn’t wait to throw open the double doors each morning and watch the sun burn off the predawn gusts of warm wind rustling through the palm trees, leaving the tapered tips of their long-legged leaves tap dancing in the air. Upon learning I was from Georgetown, the realtor who was unwittingly co-authoring the future of my daydreams, called local resort homeowners from Georgetown. A short time later, I was drinking lemonade in their backyard, which, by the way, is a few driveways away from P.B. Dye’s Puntacana house. Longtime Georgetown residents Sacha Knob and Anthony Van Eych couldn’t say enough about the merits of raising their son in Puntacana, exposing him to “a population base that really is only 20 or 30 percent American, with representation from all over the world.” With business partners like Oscar de la Renta and Julio Iglesias living at Puntacana, the resort’s pull is far-reaching but manages to maintain its rudimentary charm. Talk of expanding the airport owned by the resort, which already flies directly to more than 98 cities worldwide, leaves the future development of Puntacana yet to be defined, although wall murals all over the resort promote the ownership’s desire for responsible growth over time. On talking over my recent trip to the Dominican Republic with my father, who is thinking of hosting a family get-together there, I couldn’t help but wonder aloud about the exploitation of the resort’s future potential. He summed this up perfectly by replying: “Well, it can’t all happen this year. So, let’s go there for Thanksgiving.”

WandergolfJanuary 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

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"]

WandergolfNovember 20, 2013

With his plantation Oak Hill so nearby on Route 15, it?s a cinch that if James Monroe were alive and well today he would be playing golf at Creighton Farms. Stately oaks, mature maples, wispy cedars, and rigid pines form the 900-acre landscape that this new golf club has been painted into. The small valley of golf you are confronted with after entering the security-manned gates is warmly welcoming and serenely unbusy. With a membership base of 120 members right now, the density ratio of Creighton Farms is 7.5 acres per person: plenty of room to pound little white balls over water, to trudge through sand, or to build 10,000-square-foot homes. The course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is home to the Creighton Farms Invitational Hosted by Jack Nicklaus, which has raised close to a million dollars for local charities. Nicklaus is currently building an 8,000-square-foot home behind the ninth green. The standard fare Nicklaus design sporting massively undulating and shelved greens may limit views from his own back deck. Two weeks ago, the leaves were in their prime as I teed off on the first hole with a mentor friend of mine and a retiring local orthopedic surgeon who had recently joined the club. The feeling that we were three extremely lucky cows in a very small herd on large range followed us from the first tee to the last. The rolling downhill fairway of the par four that begins the experience had me feeling somewhat confident until we got to the green. The greens at this golf course are hard. The undulations, sizes and speed of these greens render pin placement an almost moot point, but credit to the designer (and quietly disheartening to myself), I walked off each one of them thinking that they were fair. The second hole is a short par four with a deceptively finicky green shot along the banks of a small creek that immediately negates the perceived advantage of a 316-yard hole. Walking off this green is when the course description in my head went from fair to what I would now say should be written on the entrance marquee: ?Creighton Farms, Playably Hard.? The ubiquitous sand traps on the ?short? number three par five hole are the villains that rob you of advantage next. The access to greens on this course is so limited by sand traps that it became difficult to decide where to park the golf cart for the shortest walk to the putting surface. The only time I really felt like I had been truly wronged was when my blind tee shot on hole number eight found some unknown final resting place at the other side of an incredibly thin fairway. The fact that the ?Turn Shack? used to be the clubhouse before the current 30,000-square-foot building was completed speaks volumes. The back nine continued to impress, with the largely untouched natural hunt country outlining a superb layout. The view down the eleventh fairway was majestic, and somehow hypnotized me into going for the green in two. Indirectly, this failure may lead to me staying at the nearby Salamander Inn at some future time, as guest privileges there are one of the only ways to play this course without joining, and I need to take that shot again. It is the fish that got away. I was warned to stay below the signature green on number twelve, and once again realized I was not terminally unique as I watched my ball roll down the sloped green like a surfboard down a wave. I got stuck in quicksand on a fairway bunker of hole #14, and my golf club became the tool I needed to literally and figuratively, get out of the trap. I very much enjoyed this round, and the company I played it with. The facilities are brandnew and want for nothing. Nine spacious and luxurious club rooms are available to members and guests for overnight stay. Planned amenities include resort pool, Har-Tru Tennis courts, and wellness center. In categories focusing on ?Best New Private Courses,? accolades for Creighton Farms can be found in Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golfweek. While there are no shortages of prestigious golf clubs available to consider joining in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area, the expansive grounds, state of the art facilities, and top notch golf course design ensure that Creighton Farms will be a favorite of many. 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

Fall at Kiawah Island, S.C.

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"]

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