Monday, May 18, 2015

Are You Ready For Fox Sports and the U.S. Open?

Don't worry, you won't see John Madden coming out of retirement and bellowing "Boom!" and "Bam!" every time someone launches a 350-yard drive or sinks a 30 footer.

Better still, you won't see Jimmy, Howie, Terry, Michael and Curt breaking down video of the world's best golfers.

No, Fox Sports has assembled an eclectic cast headed by Joe Buck, Greg Norman, Holly Sonders and others to bring you the 2015 U.S. Open on television and digital platforms.

Here's a review of the Fox Sports golf line-up:

Joe Buck--I like Buck as a baseball announcer. He's right up there on my favorite list alongside Vin Scully of the Dodgers and Jon Miller of the Giants. Buck is excellent with Troy Aikman on Fox's NFL telecasts, too. That said, he's got a long way to go to equal the excellence of CBS's Jim Nantz and NBC's Dan Hicks. These two silky smooth talking announcers sound like they came out of the womb announcing golf. I know he'll be broadcasting some warm-up events, but the 2015 U.S.Open might just be the biggest challenge of Buck's career. How he sets up Norman and addresses the nuances of the game of golf, will go a long way in determining his ultimate success.

Greg Norman--I've interviewed Norman twice and he's a terrific story teller. I hope he can bring the same color and detail to his presentation on Fox. My concern is Norman has so many other things going on in his life such as clothing, wine and turf businesses that he might not have enough time to fully prepare. My guess is Norman will attack this challenge just like everything else he does and do an admirable job. It's unrealistic to think, however, that he can be on the same footing initially with Johnny Miller, who is synonymous with the U.S. Open.

Holly Sonders--We really haven't seen much of the curvaceous Sonders on Fox Sports golf since she left The Golf Channel last July. Articulate and well-informed about golf, Sonders, a former collegiate player at Michigan State, is knowledgeable and always prepared. She lights up the television screen. Wow, was there anything better than watching her swing a golf club on Golf Academy Live on The Golf Channel. It was about the only time I ever paid attention to whatever swing tips they were doling out.


Filling out the starting line-up for the U.S. Open coverage is former PGA Tour pros Brad Faxon and Steve Flesch as on-course analysts, two-time U.S. Women's Open champion Julie Inkster as on on-course reporter, 1995 U.S. Open champ Corey Pavin as a studio analyst, Irish journalist Shane O'Donoghue as host and former USGA executive David Fay as a rules analyst.

In what appears to be a cast of thousands, others who will participate in the coverage, include Tom Weiskopf, LPGA notables Natalie Gulbis and Morgan Pressel, and venerable Fox broadcasters like Tim Brando, Curt Menefee, Charles Davis and Joel Klatt.

Still others on the Fox Sports Golf coverage team are Shane Bacon, Mark Brooks, Robert Damron, Jay Delsing, Debbie Doniger, Gil Hanse, Buddy Marucci, Scott McCarron, Ned Michaels, Eoghan O'Connell, Joe Ogilvie and EA Tischler.

Fox Sports plans to televise more than 32 hours of the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. In total, it will air more than 300 hours of golf, including other U.S.G.A. championships and amateur events during the late spring and early summer

I'll watch to see if the Buck/Norman team can perform under pressure. After years, of superb coverage by NBC, it'll be interesting to see if Fox is up to the task. 

To be sure, they certainly have an impressive line-up of on-air talent.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Golf in Italy and The World Expo

NOTE: "I love everything about Italy--the history, great food, friendly people and, yes, its golf courses. Below is a guest post by my good friend Bjorn Jingberger, president of Golf Holiday Italy, a golf travel professional who partners with Italy's best golf clubs and resorts to offer fantastic golf packages. Bjorn is highlighting some of his top golf packages in conjunction with the World Expo in Milan, Italy. Enjoy the post and click to his free e-brochure to check out some great packages. Ciao!"--The Golf Travel Guru.
The World Expo in Milan, Italy is running between May and October 2015. It’s a fantastic opportunity to book a golf break, play a few rounds on selected top golf courses, enjoy world-class food and wine and visit Milan and the Expo, which has many things to do, enjoy and experience. Download this free e-brochure for great ideas and inspiration for your next golf break in Italy and read on for more details.

From May to October, Milan, organizer and host of the 2015 Universal Exhibition, becomes a global showcase where 140 countries and some leading international organizations will showcase the best of their technologies. The spectacular show offers a concrete answer to a vital need: guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the planet and its equilibrium.

On its 1m square meter exhibition area, Expo 2015 will tell everyone out about the worlds best dishes with tasting opportunities, while displaying the best of the agri-food and gastronomic traditions of each of the exhibitor countries.

Outside the exhibition area, located in Rho, a few miles west of centre Milan, the entire city will play an active role with thousands of cultural and recreational events organized throughout the city, such as the largest exhibition so far of Leonardo da Vinci with works of the Renaissance icon borrowed from Italian and international museums.

For more excitement, visit the magnificent gothic Duomo Cathedral, or purchase opera tickets for an event at the famous La Scala theater, or attend one of the more than 140 spectacles during the six-month expo. If you’re a shopping enthusiast, Milan, as a global fashion capital, is near paradise. From the best in value-for-money dining and phenomenal fashions, you’ll find it in the magnificent city of Milan. Football fans will get their treat as well, as both AC Milan and Inter play at home in the city.

To enjoy the Milan good life, don’t forget to stop by CaffĂ© Camparino, just next to the Duomo, for an aperitif. The bar opened in 1915 by Gaspare Campari, the inventor of…well you know what!

 Golf
Why not combine a visit to the Expo with a few days of golf? Northern Italy is home to around 80% of the country’s golf clubs. Discover excellent golf packages, specifically designed to satisfy most interests and tastes, which are available in a free e-brochure you can access here GREAT GOLF PACKAGES IN ITALY

For those who prefer to remain in and enjoy the Milan area there are a couple of golf breaks very close to the centre of the city. Or, in less than an hours drive north you can reach both Lake Como and Lake Maggiore with its breathtaking views and picturesque villages.

Heading east, consider a golf weekend in Franciacorta, the wine region, famous for its white sparkling wine, as well as at the beautiful Lake Garda where a few rounds of golf can be combined with a visit to an Amarone producing vineyard. Alternatively, continuing further east, north of Venice, there’s an interesting golf break combining golf and visits to local coffee and grappa producers.

Golf Holiday Italy acts as a marketplace enabling golf clubs, resorts and golf hotels to reach out to the international golf community.  Through our website, our social media channels and selected media partners, Italian golf structures have access to a cost efficient and easy-to-use platform to market themselves to an international client base.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Golf in Normandy and Western France

A couple of years ago I traveled to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches and bask in the wonderful wine, cheese, art and history lifestyle. Unlike most of my travels, I left my golf clubs at home. I wanted to focus on all things related to D-Day.

That said, I was surprised at how many excellent golf courses there are in Normandy and the western part of France. Golf is much more than a recreation afterthought in this region of France with more than 67 options on the course menu.

Uncrowded fairways, spectacular coastal and countryside terrain and a chilled glass of local white wine at the 19th hole are part of the overall golf experience in Western France.

You won't bust your budget, either. You can tee up at one of the top notch courses in the region with green fees ranging from $50 to $150.

Better still, this region of France is easy to reach by train, rental car or ferry. The most convenient ferry to France from the U.K. is Brittany Ferries.

For logistics purposes, the coastal town of Roscoff is in the northwest corner of the region, Paris and Orleans are on its eastern boundary and Bordeaux is situated in the southern quadrant.

Here are some of the high-profile play options in Western France:

Golf National Albatros--Twenty miles west of Paris, this future Ryder Cup site (2018) is built like a TPC layout with spectators in mind. Built in 1990, this tournament tested course has impressive mounding and strategically place water hazards. 

Golf de Granville Bale du Mont St. Michel--Originally laid out in 1912 then redesigned by Harry Colt in 1921, this 18-hole course is regarded as the only true links course in France. Bump and run shots, unpredictable winds and spectacular scenery are part of the overall golf experience at this layout located four miles north of Granville in Normandy. There's also a fun-to-play 9-hole, par 33, links course at the complex.

Golf De la Bretesche--Routed around a magnificent chateau, which golfers see at the start, middle and end of their round, this Henry Cotton design is an exceptional golf experience exuding distinctive western France sophistication. Impeccably maintained to high standards, it features fairways mown in an attractive cross-hatch, chessboard-style. It's located in the town of Missillac.

Saint-Malo Golf Resort--For those seeking a multi-amenity golf resort experience, Saint-Malo near Le Tronchet in Brittany is a great choice. Framed by the Mesnil Forest and bordering Lake Mirloup, this 18-hole course features breathtaking views and well-bunkered greens. More golf is available, too, with an additional 9-hole, par 36 course.

Omaha Beach Golf Club--Comprised of two 18-hole courses, this popular facility offers a variety of golf challenges and scenic views. The "La Mer" overlooks the sea and Port en Bessin, a quaint fishing village. For a parkland experience, the hilly and heavily wooded "Le Manoir" introduces visitors to lush Normandy terrain.

Golf Club Des Ormes--Located between Saint Malo and Mont St Michel, this course, which is situated near a chateau, has ancient trees, small lakes and beautiful flowerbeds and landscaping.

The best golf courses in North West France


Image source: Brittany Ferries presents the best golf courses in Western France.

Monday, April 6, 2015

On Location: Royal Isabela in Puerto Rico


For those who love seaside golf ala Pebble Beach and Teeth of the Dog, Royal Isabela, on Puerto Rico's pristine northwestern coast should definitely be on your must play list.

Similar in jaw-dropping, oceanside beauty, Royal Isabela is different from Pebble and the Teeth because its sits high above the ocean, not at sea level.

Perched 200 feet above the Atlantic Ocean on rugged cliffs, Royal Isabela has some of the best oceanside holes and vistas I've ever seen. 

SETTING & BACKGROUND

Spread out over 420 lush acres, Royal Isabela is the first phase of Costa Isabela, a master-planned 1,800-acre development that encompasses 3.5 miles of Atlantic Oceanfront and nearly five miles of the Guajataca River Basin. Royal Isabela is the vision of two brothers, Puerto Rican natives Charlie and Stanley Pasarell. 

Charlie was instrumental in the development of Hualalai on the Big Island in Hawaii. You might also remember him from his storied tennis career. He was an elite, world-class professional in the 1960's and later founded the pro tour tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California.

Stanley was a tennis player and both of the brothers have a passion for golf. The third partner in the development team is Edwin Perez, president of Puerto Rico Supplies Co., a leading distributor of brand-name goods throughout Puerto Rico.


GOLF

If you can't get enough of playing Royal Isabela, the developers created three additional holes, 21 in total.

The course was designed by the Pasarells and David W. Pfaff. Based in Carmel, California, Pfaff, who passed away recently, was a pioneer in modern golf course architecture. He was an integral part of Pete Dye's design team for many years and was involved in more than 120 golf courses in 31 states and 16 countries.

"He was a wonderfully creative architect and helped us stay true to the natural contour of the land and in keeping the the integrity of the site," Charlie Pasarell told me one sunny afternoon as we gazed out to the ocean on the no. 17 hole tee box. "We moved very little dirt during the construction process to keep the original landscape as natural as possible."

Verdant, lush flora and fauna, spectacular cliff top holes overlooking craggy rock coves and deep blue ocean waters and creatively contoured greens are at the heart of Royal Isbela's appeal. 

Its a tropical links style course with a wide variety of shot options, including bump and run shots, lob shots over protruding mounds and shots over foliage filled canyons framed by ocean waters.

It's a great course for every skill level, too. There are multiple tee boxes on each hole, some have as many as six and Hole 17 has a total of 11 tee settings.

I loved the smooth, true greens. Pasarell, a friend and tennis and golf playing partner of Jack Nicklaus, told me the greens are Mini-Verde, a new Bermuda hybrid grass that the Golden Bear has at his Bear's Club in Jupiter, Florida.

My favorite holes are No. 10, a high-risk, high-reward, dogleg lelft par 5 and the signature hole No. 17, one of the most beautiful and challenging par threes in the world. 

ACCOMMODATIONS/AMENITIES

Staying at Royal Isabela is the personification of exclusivity. There are 20 separate luxurious casitas set in private settings surrounded by tropical foliage. Each of the units has 1,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. Elegantly appointed, the casitas have rich, dark wood polished floors, ceiling fans, spacious, luxurious bathrooms and a terrace with a dip pool.

Casita amenities, include:

--Two LCD televisions
--Wet bar
--Complimentary high-speed Internet
-- Plush linens and robes
--Shower room
--Beautiful views from terrace
--Gilchrist & Soames bath products

Resort amenities, include:

--Large resort swimming pool
--Tennis courts
--On-site restaurant
--Concierge services
--Daily housekeeping
--In-room dining
--Nightly turndown service
--Golf pro shop

10 Little Things I Liked

1. Sipping Don Q rum at the open-air bar overlooking the 18th green with the beautiful turquoise/blue ocean in the distance.


2. My phenomenal caddie, Galo, who knew every inch of the course and made sure me and my playing partner enjoyed every hole.


3. The steep walk and stairway down to the ocean where a pristine beach with nobody else in sight is a great reward.


4. The Amaretto French Toast and Veggie Frittata I enjoyed for breakfast at the clubhouse restaurant.


5. The hole-by-hole tour I received from developer Charlie Pasarell and conversation I also had with his brother and co-developer, Stanley Pasarell.


6. The seared scallops on a bed of risotto I had one evening at the clubhouse restaurant as I dined al fresco.


7. The dip pool on my terrace at my casita, a great place to take a dip and forget about my double bogeys.


8. Seeing the stars at night. Because of Royal Isabela's discreet, well-planned lighting, you get an amazing dark sky dotted with stars every night.


9. The luxurious, rich wood appointments and amenities in my casita.


10. The easy accessibility to Royal Isabela. It's about 90 minutes from San Juan via major highways.


DINING/LOUNGES

The social epicenter of the resort is La Casa, an elegant, Spanish-Colonial style building with a farm-to-table restaurant, open-air bar and library lounge. With exquisite stone work and beautiful landscaping, it looks as if its been air-dropped in from a luxury ranch estate in Spain.

Restaurant La Casa--The quality here rivals the fantastic golf. Headed by chef Jose Carles Fabregas, the restaurant features dishes created from freshly harvested organic vegetables and fruits from the resort's own farm. With a menu that changes daily, the food is a fusion of local cuisine with European influences. If you love seafood, some of the items offered include lobster pizza, seared scallops on a bed of risotto and fresh grouper baked "Papillote" style in a banana leaf served with coconut risotto. Fabregas talks with local fisherman daily to get the best catches of the day.

Bar at La Casa--This circular outdoor bar is an amazing place to savor a drink before or after dinner drink as well as celebrate a great round of golf. At night, there's nothing better than enjoying a rum drink, inhaling the fragrance of the higuerrillo trees and admiring the starry sky above.

Grill at The Pro Shop--Features paninis, wraps and pizzas in a covered outdoor veranda setting.

THINGS TO DO

Old San Juan--Before or  after your visit to Royal Isabela, don't miss Old San Juan with its narrow streets, boutique shops, centuries old forts and wide range of restaurants featuring everything from native Puerto Rican cuisine to Italian.

Old Town Isabela--Less than a 10 minute drive, this village has an historic church, museum and great beaches.

Watersports--The area is world-class surfing area. Check out Middles Beach. Popular pursuits include kite-surfing, stand-up paddleboard, scuba and snorkeling.

LOCATION

Royal Isabela is located 73 miles northwest of the San Juan International Airport near the town of Isabela. It's situated just off Highway 113. Take the toll road 22 from San Juan, merge onto Highway 2, then turn off to Highway 113.

REAL ESTATE

Royal Isabela is a private club and residential community that has 26 home sites offered for purchase ranging in size from one to one-and-a-half acres featuring views of the cliffs, Atlantic Ocean or golf course. In addition,  Fairway Villas with wood-beamed ceilings, open kitchens and two master suites overlooking the golf course are offered.

GET THE SCOOP

For more information, click to www.royalisabela.com . Phone 1-787-609-5888, Toll Free 1-855-609-5888. Address: 396 Ave Noel Estrada, Isabela, Puerto Rico 00662

Friday, March 6, 2015

On Location: The Abaco Club on Winding Bay


I'm not sure what I like best about the Abaco Club on Winding Bay on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. From the stunning private beach with its brilliant turquoise/blue waters framed by white sand to the lush, seaside, Scottish links style course, there's lots to like about this private, international sporting club and residential community.

If you're interested in serious relaxation, where dressed up means a floral shirt and your best pair of flip-flops, this enclave of tropical luxury is for you.

Spread out on 453 acres with verdant tropical foliage, picture postcard beaches and clear, refreshing waters, the Abaco Club, which bills itself as "Barefoot Luxury", is a wonderland for those looking to de-stress.

I absolutely loved the three days I spent there and I've got the worn out flip flops to prove it.

Good news, too, the Abaco Club is embarking on an impressive multi-million dollar enhancement project that will make it even more appealing to members, new members, potential members and visitors.

Southworth Development, a highly respected international developer and manager of resort communities recently acquired the Abaco Club from Marriott Vacation Worldwide Corporation.

"The Abaco Club has everything money can't buy,"  David Southworth, president and CEO of Southworth Development, told me one evening as we enjoyed cold libations while viewing beautiful Winding Bay from the terrace of The Cliff House, the property's clubhouse.

He continued, "It's a gorgeous setting that people instantly fall in love with."

Discussing the coming attractions elicits even a wider smile from the amiable Southworth, who I first met 13 years ago at the Westin Rio Mar in Puerto Rico.

In the next two years, Southworth plans to build a new marina and boathouse, new beachside, multi-amenity clubhouse and execute a golf course improvement project that includes on-course enhancements and a state-of-the-art golf practice facility.

"We're going to make paradise even better," Southworth says. 

GOLF

I consider the Abaco Club course along with with the Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo and Corales at Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic as one of the best seaside golf experiences in the Caribbean or anywhere, for that matter.

Course architects Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie did a masterful job at the Abaco Club of incorporating Scottish links design features on gently rolling, seaside, tropical terrain.

To see The Golf Travel Guru T.V. video, click HERE

Stretching to 7,123 yards from the championship tees (6,846 yards from the Blues, ,6434 yards from the White, 6,020 yards from the Yellow and 5,395 yards from the Red), the Abaco Club layout features generous landing areas, exceptional green complexes with bump and run opportunities, pot bunkers and a variety of lies on the undulating fairways.

The panoramic ocean views from the elevated tees on holes #4, #17 and #18 are among the best anywhere in the world.

My favorite hole is the 204-yard number 17  (which I played from the 163-yard blue tees). Waves crash in the background as you putt on an undulating green. 

VISIT/MEMBERSHIP 

As a private international sports club, the Abaco Club on Winding Bay offers a variety of membership types (see below). 

For those who want a test run, so to speak, or want to stay and play, that option is available as well. Guests are welcome to stay on the property when they're guests of, or rent homes from Club members. (There's a three visit limit.)

Membership options are:

Resident Golf--offers full use of all facilities

Local Non-Resident Golf (non-Bahamian citizen)--offers full use of facilities

Bahamian Non-Resident Golf (Bahamian citizen)--offers full use of all facilities

International Non-Resident Golf--offers 20 tee times per year, participation in member events and tournaments (space available) and unlimited access to all other facilities

Resident Sports Membership--offers six tee times per year, participation in member events and tournaments (space available) and unlimited access to all other facilities

Resident Social Membership--offers use of dining and beach facilities

A non-refundable initiation fee is required upon signing. Initiation fees range from $5,000 to $100,000 depending on membership category. Annual dues range from $1,800 to $11,500.

For those interested in purchasing a home or lot, the options are:

Estate Lots--One or two acre lots, all with phenomenal ocean views, which range in price from $3 million to $4 million.

Cottages--Plantation-style, single family homes with golf and/or water views. Available in two-to-four-bedroom configurations, the Cottages are semi-customizable with interior design packages featuring island-inspired colors, furnishings and appointments. Approximately, 2,800 square feet, they range in price from $2 million to $3 million.

Cabanas--One-bedroom, vacation-style buildings priced at $375,000.

ACCOMMODATIONS/AMENITIES

I stayed in one of the resort's Cabanas, which are stand alone buildings 650 square feet in size. My one-bedroom unit was surrounded by tropical foliage with a view of the first hole fairway. Upon arrival, guests receive a personal golf cart for the length of their stay. It's great for cruising around the property and traveling easily to and from various amenities.

Cabana Amenities, included:

--Large flat screen wall television
--Screened porch
--Luxury furnishings and appointments
--Small kitchen area with refrigerator, sink and coffee maker
--Bathroom with luxury tile flooring and a roomy shower with dual shower heads (above and sidewall)
--Designer toiletries in bathroom
--Plush robes
--Superb high-speed Internet service

Resort Amenities, include:

--Heated Resort-style infinity pool
--European-style spa 
--Fully equipped fitness center
--All-weather tennis courts
--On-site restaurants
--Concierge services

10 Little Things I Liked

1. The private 2-mile sand beach. The best walking beach I've ever experienced.

2. The coconut rum drinks served at Buster's Beach Bar.

3. The quaint, small and friendly pro shop at the golf course.

4. The excellent Internet service in my Cabana.

5. The phenomenal breakfast wraps and coffee I had at Buster's Bar in the mornings.

6. The smiling, friendly members I met during my stay.

7. The awesome, inspiring ocean views from the elevated tee box on the 18th hole.

8. Sitting at Buster's Bar with a Kalick beer watching the sun set.

9. The homemade chocolate chip cookies and tropical punch at the welcome center.

10. Cruising the property on my golf cart with the air blowing through my hair.


 
DINING/LOUNGES

Buster's Beach Bar--Sitting about 20 paces from the water's edge, Buster's has a circular bar with most of the seats strategically arranged so you can fully enjoy the great sunsets.  The menu is loaded with numerous tropical specialties. My favorites: The conch fritters with a Caribbean hot sauce and the Bahama Mama tropical drink (dark rum, light rum, coconut rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and grenadine).

The Cliff House Restaurant--An octagonal shaped, open-air dining venue situated on a cliff overlooking the Winding Bay Beach. Breakfast and gourmet dinners are served.

THINGS TO DO

On-site Beach Activities--You can take full advantage of the club's phenomenal beach. Activities offered include swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, wind surfing, Hobie Cats, paddle boards and beach volleyball.

Deep Sea and Bone Fishing Charters--The fishing in the waters surrounding Great Abaco Island is world class. Dolphin, wahoo, tuna and swordfish are abundant just a few miles off shore in the deep waters beyond the reefs.  There's also fantastic bonefishing at the flats of Green Turtle Cay or in the marls of Cherokee.

Diving and Snorkeling--You can easily arrange a charter to explore areas around the smaller islands and cays and explore sunken shipwrecks.

Excursions to Hope Town-This quaint village on the island of Elbow Cay, known for its candy striped lighthouse, is a great day trip where you can enjoy a sailing charter or dine al fresco overlooking the colorful marina. Don't miss the Firefly Bar & Grill where the lobster fritters and coconut/Panko crusted fish filet are just a couple of the many great items on the menu.

Ferry to nearby attractions--Ferry service (Albury's Ferry Service) is available from Marsh Harbour to Hope Town, Man-O-War and Guana Cay.

Pete's Pub & Gallery--Situated about a 10-minute drive from the club, Pete's is a don't miss part of the Abaco experience. With it's sandy floors and t-shirts hanging from the rafters (signed and donated by customers), Pete's is the quintessential island bar. Have a Blaster, their signature drink, and you'll quickly forget about all your worries. The fresh seafood is amazing with delicacies like mango grilled shrimp, coconut cracked conch and lemon pepper wahoo.

LOCATION

The Abaco Club on Winding Bay is situated about a 25-minute drive from the Marsh Harbour International Airport. There are regularly scheduled commercial flights to and from Nassau, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Seasonal flights also operate from Orlando and St. Augustine. Flights from Tampa will be available soon.

GET THE SCOOP

For more information, click to The Abaco Club on Winding Bay. Email is info@TheAbacoClub.com  Phone: 1-242-366-3820.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On Location: Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World


During PGA Merchandise Show week in Orlando, I spent an afternoon playing golf, enjoying lunch at the clubhouse and taking a brief tour of this luxury resort property.

Opened in August 2014, the Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World has been creating lots of buzz, especially among leisure luxury travelers, golfers and business meeting groups.

While Orlando has more than 115,000 hotel rooms, its upscale, luxury offerings are somewhat limited and the Four Seasons is a welcome addition for those who like a 5-star resort experience on and off the fairways.

GOLF

Originally built in 1992 and designed by Tom Fazio in Disney's portfolio of courses (named Osprey Ridge), the resort's Tranquilo Golf Club was re-designed by Fazio as well.  His enhancements included renovating bunkers, expanding and re-positioning landscaping to enhance visibility and airflow and creating a completely new hole.

I liked the course as Osprey Ridge and like it even better as Tranquilo Golf Club. The golf experience encompasses varying elevation changes, some elevated tees, protected wetlands and numerous Southern live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Fazio is one of my favorite designers because he has mastered the technique of making courses enjoyable for all skill levels, not just for power hitters and scratch players.

All the greens have been resurfaced with Tiff Eagle Bermuda grass. The new hole is the par three 16th, which measures 163 yards from the back tee. Interestingly, the course concludes with a 217 yard par three fronted by a large bunkers and a pond to the left.

The 6,901-yard course is a par 71 with four sets of tees to accommodate all skill levels.

"I am very proud of the transformation of the Tranquilo Golf Club golf course," says Tom Fazio. "Since the course opened more than 20 years ago, it has been considered among the best courses in the region, and the recent upgrades and improvements to the course will surely solidify that reputation for many years to come."

ACCOMMODATIONS/AMENITIES


Designed in a Spanish Revival architecture style, the hotel has 443 rooms (including 68 suites). The lobby and common areas are luxuriously appointed with beautiful art, flooring and furniture.

The guestrooms feature tasteful soft, elegant colors (beige, teal and orange) with white furnishings. In the evenings, you can view the Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks from your room.

Guestroom amenities include:

--Twice daily housekeeping service
--Hypoallergenic bedding
--Thick terry bathrobes
--Flat screen television
--Device charging station
--Marble mosaic bathroom with deep soaking tub, a separate oversized glass-walled shower, a separate WC and in-mirror T.V.

Resort amenities include:

--Adult-only pool
--Family pool with lazy river
--Full-service spa
--5-acre Explorer Island family playground with rock climbing wall, two water slides, sand volleyball and more
--3 Har-Tru tennis courts
--On-site Tom Fazio designed 18-hole championship course
--37,450 square feet of meeting space

DINING

For those tired of the same ol' hamburgers and wings at the clubhouse grill, the Four Seasons Orlando responds with Plancha, a Cuban American restaurant located at their golf clubhouse.

On my visit, I dined on empanadas, smoked bacon and black bean soup and marinated chicken followed by Tres Leches cake and a chocolate banana torta. My dining companions raved about their selections: The La Plancha burger with chorizo, maduro and smoked gouda cheese and the classic El Cubano grilled sandwich.

A unique touch is the outdoor smoking lounge area where you can enjoy an "apres golf"
cigar.  Better still, you can purchase a Plancha Cigar, which are hand-rolled and made exclusively for Tranquilo Golf Club. They also offer additional cigars from Davidoff, Padron and Romeo Y Julieta from their humidor.

Other dining options, include:

Capa--A 17th floor rooftop steakhouse bar with an open-kitchen and wood-burning grill.

Ravello--Features modern Italian cuisine, including pizza made in a wood-burning oven.

PB&G--A pool bar and grill with smokehouse grilled favorites like pulled pork sandwiches and smoked brisket burgers.

THINGS TO DO

--It's only minutes away from Disney's theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom).
--Downtown Disney with Cirque du Soleil, House of Blues, Planet Hollywood and an AMC 24-screen theater is a five-minute drive.
--Other golf options within a 10 to 15-minute drive are Grand Cypress Resort, Marriott's Grande Pines, Celebration Golf Club, Falcon's Fire and Disney's other courses.
--Luxury shopping at Mall at Millennia is 15-minute drive away.

LOCATION

Four Seasons Orlando is situated in Golden Oak, Disney's new, private, luxury, residential community of upscale, custom homes. Hotel address: 10100 Dream Tree Boulevard, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32836.

GET THE SCOOP

For more information, click to Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World or call 407-313-7777.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

On Location: Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

It had been more than a decade since I last visited the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Florida and I'm glad I returned recently.

Always one of Orlando's premier high-profile properties, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress has benefited greatly from a recent property-wide enhancement program that included a new spa, new pool bar, expanded fitness center, additions to its expansive pool complex and refurbishments of its guestrooms and common areas.

"We have spent over $75 million overhauling every inch of the property," says Chris Regan, sales manager/leisure travel for the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. "These improvements have left us with a property that has the feel of a brand new resort."

What hasn't changed is the hotel's always appealing other attributes: Its great location near Walt Disney World and shopping (close to one of the nation's largest upscale outlet malls), excellent golf courses and academy and consistently supberb on-site dining. Better still, you're only minutes away from great attractions like Cirque du Soleil, House of Blues and Rainforest Cafe.

For golfers traveling with other family members who don't know a golf ball from a bowling ball, this resort offers the best of both worlds. You've got world-class golf (and a spa to soothe those aches and pains) as well as an unparalleled swimming pool complex and outdoor recreation menu so kids and spouses can enjoy the day while you're sinking birdie putts, or, uh, making triple bogeys.

GOLF

For Jack Nicklaus design fans, this property is pure nirvana. The Golden Bear fashioned 45 holes of championship golf, which includes a 27-hole Grand Cypress configuration comprised of three nines, the North, South and East and the New Course, a tribute to the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland.

North, South and East--These superbly maintained nines offer some of Orlando's best golf. All play to par-36 and feature terraced fairways and platform greens. Nicklaus did a fantastic job of framing the fairways and greens with mounds and foliage and the nines are as beautiful as they're challenging. While not totally target golf, you don't have lots of leeway on many fairways for big off-the-tee mistakes.

New Course--It's actually not new--it opened 27 years ago. Nicklaus named it on a whim and the somewhat confusing name stuck. Lending an air of authenticity to the New Course are replicas of St. Andrews' stone bridges and walls, a snaking burn (creek), a starter's hut overlooking the first tee, seven double greens, deep pot bunkers (some as deep as 12 feet) with ladders and simple white fences. There are few trees in the interior of the course, however, water comes into play on seven holes. Nicklaus offers golfers lots of room for imagination around the greens with many options to bump and run shots.

Greens of Lake Windsong--An engaging, on-site, par-3 course with holes ranging from 37 to 90 yards.

Grand Cypress Academy of Golf--One of the most innovative instructional facilities in the world, instructors use the science of biomechanics, with video and computer swing analysis and techniques, to help improve performance of golfers of all skill levels. Whether you're a Tour pro who needs a few tweaks or a struggling beginner in need of good fundamentals, this place can accommodate you. It has excellent practice facilities that include a 3-hole academy learning course where you can apply what you've learned without the intimidation you might feel on a regulation course. I highly recommend this facility to improve your game.

ACCOMMODATIONS/AMENITIES

The recently refurbished rooms have a sophisticated, airy, ambiance with a wide range of amenities. There are 815 rooms, including 48 suites and 317 kings.

Here are some of the amenities in my room:

--A 37-inch flat-screen TV
--Wi-Fi high-speed Internet access
--Ceiling fan and private balcony
--Temperature controlled cool box for beverages
--A comfortable and well-designed work desk
--An adapter panel for multimedia plug n' play
--Individual air conditioning control
--iHome alarm clock radio

Resort amenities include:

--Half-acre outdoor pool with 12 waterfalls, two whirlpools, waterslide tower pavilion and water jet splash zone
--Hyatt StayFit gym with fitness center
--12 tennis courts (5 lighted)
--Jogging paths and bicycling trails
--Marilyn Monroe Spa
--White-sand beach and water sports on 21-acre Lake Windsong
--65,000 square feet of meeting and function space/45 meeting rooms
--24-hour in-room dining
--Concierge
--FedEx Business Center 
--Hertz car rental on-site
--Multilingual staff
--Babysitting

10 Little Things I Liked

1. The spectacular views from the balcony of my 14th floor room with panoramas of Walt Disney World theme parks and Lake Buena Vista


2. On The Rocks, a new pool bar, where I enjoyed a frosty Stella Artois on a sunny January day.


3. The excellent Internet service in my room.


4. The spacious and comfortable 18-story high lobby where I relaxed with a cup of coffee to check my emails, tweets and posts.


5. Hemingway's Restaurant, which has wonderfully prepared crab cakes and other seafood delicacies.


6. The 9-hole, on-site, pitch and putt course.


7. The beautiful Marilyn Monroe Spa where I enjoyed a relaxation massage.


8. The 12 waterfalls at the half-acre size swimming pool.


9. Friendly and helpful bellmen and front door staff that anticipate your needs.


10. The fabulous lounge at the Regency Club on the 12th floor where you can sip on glass of wine, cocktail or beer inside or on a outside patio and enjoy Disney' fireworks displays in the evening.


MARILYN MONROE SPA


DINING AND LOUNGES

Cascade American Bistro--You can get breakfast, lunch and dinner daily at this restaurant with a two-story atrium and views of Lake Windsong.

Hemingway's--If you love superbly prepared fresh seafood, this is one of the best places to dine in Orlando. My favorite items are the crab cakes, scallops (pictured below) and Alaska style Key Lime pie (best I've ever tasted).

Palm Cafe--This casual dining spot has sandwiches, burgers, salads and snakes with outdoor patio dining.

Hurricane's Lounge--Offering views of the swimming pool and gardens, this popular bar has hand-crafted martinis, tropical blended drinks and an extensive wine list.

Trellises Bar & Lounge--Featuring glass walls, leather banquettes in the open air setting of an 18-story lobby, this is great place enjoy the grandeur of the hotel while drinking a cocktail or glass of wine.

On the Rocks Poolside Lounge--Situated along Lake Windsong with views of the lagoon pool and 1,000-foot beach, the lounge has four 60-inch TVs and shaded seating with misting fans.

LOCATION

Situated near Lake Buena Vista, one mile from Walt Disney World, 5 miles from Sea World Orlando, 18 miles from Orlando International Airport and 2 miles from outlet mall shopping.

GET THE SCOOP

For more information and or reservations, click to Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress or call 407-239-1234.