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"]

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"]

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"]

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)

Wandergolf: Home, Sweet, Homestead

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"]

Happy 250th Birthday, Homestead

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"]

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.”

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.

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. [gallery ids="101775,141125,141128,141134,141138,141149,141146,141142" nav="thumbs"]

Wandergolf: Creighton Farms, Playably Hard

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