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 [firstname.lastname@example.org](mailto:email@example.com)
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 [firstname.lastname@example.org](mailto:email@example.com [gallery ids="101349,152313,152309,152305,152284,152290,152295,152300" nav="thumbs"]
Certainly no stranger to hosting major events, having welcomed four President’s Cups, Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., is busy readying itself for the Quicken Loans PGA event for summer 2015. In a very close vote, as many members object to the lack of access to the course around tournament time, Congressional Country Club has decided to host the event in upcoming even years only. TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm will host in 2017. The PGA event was formerly known as the AT&T National and continues to benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation. Having never even been to RTJ (Robert Trent Jones), I saw the tournament’s move as a great opportunity to learn more about the club. After a phone inquiry about the tournament, I was pleasantly surprised by an invitation to join the board member liaison for the event in a round of golf, along with the head professional and another long-time member. I cannot remember a recent visit to a golf club that I have enjoyed more. On entering the club, the first thing I noticed was the mammoth glacier-white pile of sand being used to freshen up the traps for the tournament. Flags on lampposts announcing the dates came next. Expecting a beehive of activity inside the clubhouse, the wall of timeless serenity that greeted me was grabbingly comfortable. While the clubhouse furnishings, finishes, dining areas, bar, locker room and pro-shop were all architecturally immaculate, each of these areas reeked of usability. Even with some construction happening on certain holes of the course, the round was absolutely picturesque, showcasing the October colors that Virginia is famous for, and I appreciated walking the course. The trap placements up the right side of the fairway on the first hole, a dog leg right par 4, were of a classical risk-reward design that are trademarks of Robert Trent Jones-designed courses. While water does not come directly into play on that many holes, the presence of Lake Manassas that can be felt on almost all of them gives off a non-threatening, almost meditative vibe. The string of holes visible along the lake from the ninth green was an impressive view, and reminded me of the famous sequential holes at Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic. The 11th hole par three over water could be considered a signature hole and was a favorite for me. The peninsula that made up the par 4 hole #13 was also a big favorite for me, with the changing colors of the trees highlighted against the lake on the walk down the fairway. I could have taken a nap in that fairway. There were not any bad songs on this album. The quality of the course and the lack of design gimmickry left me with a clear feeling for where my game needed work, which is what a great course should do. The ending holes were a pair of par fours that delivered us to a stately and inviting view of the clubhouse, which is where we headed. The bar area has that perfect dark wood, comfortable chair, low table feeling that is a great place to digest a round of golf and tell stories. There are no social memberships at RTJ, no pool and no tennis courts. It is all about the game of golf. A round here is designed to be something special for members and guests. In fact, a requirement of membership is that it be secondary to another golf club membership, ensuring that it stays a special treat. This was the first time I really think I got a good understanding of what the negotiations between the PGA and a golf club are like when designing an event. Thanks go to board members Bill Craig and Mike Prentiss and to head professional Cary Sciorra for taking the time to explain the changes going on. Altering tee boxes, lengthening holes and updating sand trap designs are measures undertaken to ensure a fair fight. Like a boxing match, the exciting events are the bouts that go the distance. Nobody wants to watch pro golfers shooting fish in a barrel, and nobody truly wants to watch them hate their jobs either. The negotiators for the courses and the PGA are who make sure this doesn’t happen, and I will have a new appreciation for them moving forward. I don’t think the PGA could have found a better venue to host its Quicken Loans event. While the next few years are spoken for, it would be nice to see the event eventually return to RTJ as a permanent fixture. What a welcome relief it is to watch a world-class golf club express humility in its approach to hosting an event and all the excitement about the game that it creates. Wally Greeves is the golf columnist for the Georgetowner and is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and can be reached at Wally@wandergolf.com.
While the flight was long and Table Mountain was huge, it wasn’t until a South African native waitress clicked through some Zulu expressions that the waves of delightful unfamiliarity washed over me and far-awayness kicked in. The April trip to South Africa with some other writers and tour operators was with Pro Golf Safaris, the most noteworthy golf and safari tour operator in South Africa. Making bogeys taste good is this group’s specialty, and the seemingly endless depths of South African resources available to them in this undertaking made this an enchanting trip and introduction to the country. Topping the New York Times list of places to go in the world in 2014, Cape Town has something for everyone. Twelve hours after my arrival, I was staring into the wide open mouth of a 17-foot great white shark as it banged itself against the wimpy and bent up cage I was diving in, an experience I will never forget. We saw the wobbly little penguins by the hundreds at Boulder’s Beach, which was (there is no other way to describe this) totally cute. Reaching the top of Cape Point, I was laughingly disabused of the notion that I would see a jagged and watery line where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. The Cape Town waterfront offers multitudes of excursions involving helicopters, whales, wine and other activities — the most famous probably being the trips to Nelson Mandela’s former prison on Robben Island. Fresh eateries and local markets are around every corner, and we consumed local biltong by the pound the whole trip. Biltong is a 400-year-old South African snack similar to beef jerky, but chewier and prepared differently, featuring every type of game meat conceivable. Not having yet picked up a golf club or gotten over jet lag, I was already wowed by South Africa. The most distinctive golf in SA lies along the Eastern Cape and Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. De Zalze, a parklands course on a 300-hectare estate boasting substantial vineyard and farming efforts, was a great example of just how much golf and wine scratch each other’s backs in the SA economy. A visit to the picturesque Ernie Els Winery and his nearby Stellenbosch restaurant, The Big Easy, culinarily hammered this point home. Farther down the road and voted #5 in SA, Arabella Golf Course was an absolute treat to play. Nestled amongst the hills of the Palmiet Mountain Range above the Bot River Lagoon, the course was a sanctuary of bird life and beautiful views. South of Mossel Bay, the caves directly beneath Pinnacle Point Golf Course, are a heritage site, which are believed to be one of the first places that humans used heat to make stone tools. Forty thousand years later, I was hoping to reap karma benefits from using forged irons at the breathtakingly stunning course. Halfway between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, Pinnacle Point reminded me of an elevated Pebble Beach, and the views from above the blue waters of the Indian Ocean may be the best I have seen in golf. The Links at Fancourt, designed by Gary Player, was recently voted #34 in the world. The caddied round here was special and portrayed traditional golf in a way conservatives would toast as near perfect. The two other courses at the resort, Montagu and Outeniqua, along with the exemplary dining facilities and accommodations, rate this a destination by itself. We stayed three days, but many retire there and do not leave the premises. The massive grounds are a botanist paradise. We stayed an evening at the Conrad Pezula after that, dined in Flintstonian proportions, and in the morning drove the impressive Pezula Course designed by Jack Nicklaus. The game drives over the next few days at the Kichaka and Pumba Reserves on the Eastern Cape were amazing. The highlight of my Kichaka experience was a quiet sunset tailgate in the bush, punctuated by the velvet pattering of giraffe pillow fights less than 100 yards away, as they whipped their gangly necks at each other’s torsos. The unexpected baby rhino sightings at Pumba were thrilling, and on the last evening there we stumbled upon a family of white lions and watched the cubs play with each other as we sat in silence. Wildebeests just look weird, and watching them run in circles was interesting. The tendency for startled warthogs to scatter and then immediately return to where they were startled was Darwinistically interesting. Monkeys are always a welcome addition, as long as all of your food is within reach. Nighttime hippopotamus noises were new to me, once you figured out they didn’t come from someone in your own crowd. I like to think of myself as a contrarian, a non-cruise-ship guy, someone who makes their own plans and comes out ahead. But I was overwhelmingly thankful and appreciative for Pro Golf Safaris by the end of this trip. It’s too hard to be in the know this far from South Africa, and good operators have a finger on the pulse of their specialty areas. Most tour operators get roughly 30-percent discounts on almost everything, especially outfits like this that do a large volume business with the places you want to go. The skill that results in good times and cultural education for me now seems to be in communicating with folks like this about exactly what you would like to do, because it’s all available. This was a lifetime experience, and I will go back. The last conversations with my travel friends all concerned bucket-list amendments and revisions to include repeats and further research. There is golf everywhere, and certainly closer, but what about the penguins and biltong? What about the wines they don’t ship and the plants that don’t grow here? What about the Indian Ocean? What about Zulu? Knowing the answers to these questions makes up for the truth: that I will never play on the PGA Tour. You may contact Pro Golf Safaris at 1-800-701-2185, or go to progolfsafaris.com. [gallery ids="102273,128233,128225,128251,128243,128240" nav="thumbs"]
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 [firstname.lastname@example.org](mailto
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 email@example.com
The colors of fall made their debut in the trees of southern Virginia this past weekend. Nature’s annually renewable color wheel turned out rustic-red, campfire-orange, and squash-yellow leaf swirls for our viewing pleasure, as my wife and I meandered through the Allegheny Mountains to arrive at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. This was my first visit to this resort, and the timelessness that met me here in Bath County ensured that it will not be my last. While the picturesque drive there, hassle-free check-in and plushy sleeping situation slowed things down, the breakfast buffet delivered the final pulse-lowering blow. The pre-hibernation feast available quashed all ideas I had of walking the Cascades Course. Always in the “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” list, the Cascades is the textbook mountain course, ensconced by natural surroundings that showcase it well. Man, I love playing a golf course with room. When you have a fairway lined with 150-foot hemlock trees and a backdrop of a mountain five miles away, who cares where your ball lands? Well, me, but I shouldn’t. Highlights of the round for me included the approach shot to the slightly inclined, elevated shelf-like green on #4, and the tee shot into the deep left side of the soup-bowl valley on #7. No matter if it was your second or third stroke (or fourth, fifth or sixth), the approach shot over the pond on the par 5 #16 hole was spectacular, and the uphill tee shot over water to the 18th green ended the round on a high note. I also appreciated the mountain-inspired acoustical smack of the flag being dropped to the green by far away fellow golfers being audible from a great distance away. At this time, I would not recommend using orange or yellow balls. The Canyon Ranch Spa services that my wife availed herself of were reportedly luxurious, and she almost overslept for dinner. The post-treatment outdoor lounge with natural springs and wood-burning fire pit, surrounded by satisfied “spadets” in white robes, could have passed for a Roman marshmallow roast. In less opulent surroundings, the men-only natural springs five miles away that Thomas Jefferson once soaked in provided me warmth and humor, as I listened to a fellow bather lament upon the color choices of the “noodle” flotation devices that were available to us grown men. A jacketed affair, complete with late-era live band music, dinner in the main dining room lasted about as long as a good movie. Starring roles were pheasant and strip steak, with cameos by crab Louis and oysters Rockefeller. The menu at Jefferson’s, the other upscale restaurant at the Homestead, looked equally appealing and will have to wait for our next visit. The Old Course at the Homestead, built in 1892, is home to the nation’s oldest first tee in continuous use. Last Sunday morning it was home to 30-something degree weather, as the first cold snap appeared out of nowhere. The cold burned off to become a crisp, beautiful, sunny mountain day with spectacular views making an appearance once again. The Old Course, while not in the same league as the Cascades, is the best kept example of resort golf I have ever seen. This is a perfect course for a couple or a family to play. The back tees might keep a seasoned golfer happy with yardage and difficulty, but a seasoned golfer would never think to complain about either because of the available views. Memorable golf moments for me were the tee shot at the par three #5 against the “double-mountain” looking backdrop and the five minutes my wife and I marveled at the views down the #13 fairway from the tee box. I really enjoyed playing the Old Course with my wife and will file this in the “Special Round” category. Whichever activities I chose to participate in on my visit to the Homestead, I was still going to be left with a list for future visits. Falconry is not something you see every day, and learning how to fly fish in the mountain streams surrounding the Homestead are two things on my list. The hiking trails and horses may see more of my wife in some future trip. When we first pulled into Hot Springs and I saw the Jeffersonian brick and white grounds of the Homestead, and when we later exited onto Sam Snead Highway to leave, I found myself thinking roughly the same thing: How cool is it that something like that exists in Virginia? [gallery ids="101514,150884,150886" nav="thumbs"]
With its birthday celebrating a quarter of a millennium rolling around next year, the Omni Homestead is considered America’s first resort, which began as a lodge in 1766. It makes me feel proud to be an American and a Virginian that it existed before the American Revolution. Daily and monthly theme-oriented activities involving fireworks, speakers, concerts, historic menus, and a lot of cake will commemorate the year. I am eagerly awaiting some kind of major ghost activity announcement. I could feel the excitement building on a fall visit this year, as I watched every employee on grounds group together for a fly-over photo. The Homestead is one of the most timeless places I have ever been, and the drive to Bath County from Washington, D.C., is a sunroof and radio proposition. Showcasing smaller and smaller Virginia settings at progressively slower lifestyles until you finally wind between and amongst the Allegheny Mountains to arrive there, the drive gives you just the right amount of time to decompress and close down shop before you lose cell coverage, the air thickens, and you make the jump to historical hyperspace. The main dining room is a trademark affair and should not be missed. Elegant dress, outstanding employees and traditional food greats make a wrong turn unlikely. That being said, on this visit Jefferson’s Restaurant was the culinary hand that just plain smacked me around and left me laughing on the scale the next morning ... twice. A group of us ate one of every appetizer on the menu the first night, and my friend had a mouthwatering steak that was so big that even after he was done they cut it up into two sandwiches for golf the next day. A visit is not complete without a meal at Sam Snead’s Tavern, just to pay homage to the slamster himself. Stories of Sam Snead’s ability to kick the tops of door frames from a dead stand still, even into his seventies, are fun and factual. The old saying that there is “something for everyone” has never been more true than at the Homestead. I focused on food, golf, foot massage and exploring creaky hallways, but I could have shot stuff and fished, too. I strongly encourage a tour from the historian on grounds, who entertained us with his present tense accounts of notable guests from different eras. Men and women have kicked off their shoes and had a good time at this place. The period photos really show it, and they are fun to peruse. The Old Course, designed by Donald Ross, has America’s oldest continuous tee still in use, and many presidents have played it. This course is picturesque against the Homestead, is forgiving, and the perfect round to enjoy with a spouse or friend. The Cascades Course is one of my all-time favorites. I played it three times during this visit. Heralded as perhaps the best mountain course in the country, the fall scenery here is Virginia’s finest. The last round we walked with caddies, and a finer day of golf I have not had. I love Virginia: so walking through the mountains with a friend and playing the game I love would be a win-win, no matter the score. The added bonus of having Bart as my caddy to stop me from tripping over myself was great extra “day enjoyment” insurance. The people at the Omni Homestead are what make the place special. I was lucky enough to play a round with the recently retired Director of Golf at the Homestead, Don Ryder. He took the time to introduce me to J.C. Snead, Sam Snead’s nephew and PGA Tour winner, who happened to be hitting some balls on the range. Retiring after 43 years of service at the Homestead, Don has had over a hundred relatives work at the resort, at last count. His cousin Barry Ryder took over as Director of Golf, while Don will still play a role as Director of Golf Emeritus. Bob Swiger of Raspberry Falls Golf Course, upon my mentioning the round with Don, stated, “A finer ambassador of the game does not exist.” Don and I were approaching a tee box on the Old Course in separate carts that day, and all of a sudden out of nowhere he roared off down the hill at top speed. I looked around for what I was sure would be poorly behaved guests, or an emergency of some magnitude, only to see Don racing a hedgehog across the valley, through the fairway. Watching him outdistance the hedgehog, and then turn the cart around to block the animal’s forest entry with a series of right and left dance moves, just left me laughing out loud. Upon his return to the tee box, I asked him who won, and he replied, “Just visiting an old friend. I used to just reach down and grab ’em.” What can I say? This kind of catchy enthusiasm, interest, and energy speaks for itself. I highlight my experience with Don as one example of the quality of people that make the Homestead work. It truly is an exceptional family within this small community in southwest Virginia. Celebrating 250 years is a big deal and is worthy of a place on your calendar in 2016. I always look forward to going there. The anticipation of a trip there will cause me to take pause when deciding what shirts to pack and what music to bring. I rarely use a cell phone there, and I always take the time to wash and wax the car before the trip. I laugh a lot there. My ghost will hang out there sometimes. [gallery ids="102365,124542,124537" nav="thumbs"]
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"]
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.
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