Monday, July 24, 2017

10 Reasons I Love Italy's Friuli Venezia Giulia Region


One of the Guru's favorite places on the planet is Italy. I spend a month there each year. On this visit (June 2017), I took much more time exploring vineyards than golf courses in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Yet, whether you want to play lots of golf or drink lots of wine, I highly recommend you visit this area about two hours north of Venice.

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Fantastico Wine--With my humble apologies to all golf lovers, if the Guru had to make the dreadful choice between giving up wine or golf, I'd have to lay my clubs to rest. I enjoy great wines immensely and especially Italian wines. I absolutely love the wonderful, crisp wines in this region like Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Ribolla Gialla and Sauvignon.

2. Great Golf--The golf menu is impressive with seven good courses to choose from, including Golf Club Trieste, Golf Club Udine, Golf Club Lignano, Golf Club Grado, Golf & Country Club Castello Di Spessa, Golf Club Castel D'Aviano and Golf Club Tarviso.

3. City of Trieste--It's one of my favorite cities in the world. It's like a mini San Francisco with its hills and antique trolly to the village of Opicina, which overlooks the city. There's also Barcola beach, the castles of San Giusto and Miramare, Piazza Unita, a beautiful city square overlooking the ocean and a walkable old town with excellent seafood restaurants.

4. Town of Civedale--Founded by Julius Caesar in 50 B.C., this charming little town surrounded by vineyards has cobblestone streets, ancient buildings, a national archeological museum, a picturesque bridge and a city square rimmed by quaint cafes and restaurants.

5. Wine Hotels and Farmhouses--I decided to eschew traditional hotels on my visit and opted for small boutique properties or farmhouse hotels. One of my favorites is Il Roncal, a small estate winery with 50 acres of terraced vineyards and a small hotel. It has a swimming pool, bicycles for rides through the vineyards, exceptional wines and a sunny outdoor patio where you can enjoy breakfast each morning.

6. Foodie Fun--Because the region is in close proximity to the Austrian border, you'll find lots of great fusion cuisine. Some of my favorites include Jota, a bean soup topped with sauerkraut; Frico, a fritatta-like pancake of cheese and potatoes and Strucolo, the region's take on Austrian strudel. Also, don't forget to get a plate of San Danielle ham with a nice glass of local wine and fresh baked bread.

7. Castles--If you love castles, you'll love this region. Some of my favorites are Castlemonte near Civedale and Castle Miramare and Castello di San Guisto in Trieste.

8. Villa Bottacin in Trieste--One of my favorite places to stay in all of Europe is the Villa Bottacin, which was originally built in 1854. About 10 years ago, it was converted into a boutique hotel. It has a beautifully landscaped lawn and garden, outdoor terrace for breakfast dining and a swimming pool where you lounge and sip limoncello. La Dolce Vita, indeed.

9. Venice Airport (Marco Polo)--In my opinion, it's absolutely one of the best and easiest-to- navigate airports in Italy. Flying into Rome or Milan is hectic and a major hassle. Marco Polo was enhanced a few years ago to accommodate cruise travelers and it's really a great entry point to enjoy northern Italy, especially the Friuli Venezia Giulia region.

10. Bicycle Trails and Roads--There are some unbelievable bicycle trails and small roads that weave through the vineyards just outside Civedale in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Several of the wine hotel and farmhouses offer complimentary bicycle rental. You can ride leisurely through the vineyards in quiet isolation most of the time.


Monday, July 10, 2017

10 Amazing Golf Superstitions and Quirky Situations


The Guru has teed it up around the world with all sorts of golfers. There are, of course, differences in golf courses, cultural attitudes and drink choices at the 19th hole. (I love a chilled Vinho Verde wine in Portugal and a frosty Tsingtao in China after a round). 

One thing that seems to be universal, though, are the crazy superstitions and quirky behaviors golfers display no matter where you are in the world.

Here are 10 of my favorite ones:

1.  Never drink a beer on the first hole. It implies you're not serious about golf. The Guru always waits to the second hole for some swing oil.

2. Don't use crappy, cheap balls or range balls when facing a water hazard off the tee--It's just bad karma. Range balls, especially.

3. If you find a person's ball out of bounds while looking for yours, don't use it in that round. It may have a tendency to find out of bounds frequently.

4. Don't yell "it's in the hole" when you see your ball tracking towards the hole for a hole-in-one. Remember, the ball can hear you and it likes to do the opposite of your command.

5. Don't stand with your shadow in someone else's putting line. Shadows somehow make people miss putts. Yeah, sure.

6. Never say out loud, "I hope I don't hit it in the water" because you inevitably will. That phrase creates some sort of magnet effect.

7. Don't carry more than one extra ball in your pocket. It's bad vibes and puts the idea in your head that you EXPECT to lose balls.

8. Always wear a lucky color shirt. They work. Just ask Jack Nicklaus-Yellow, Gary Player-Black, Tiger Woods-Red and Rickie Fowler-Orange.

9. You should always mark your ball consistently with either heads or tails on your coin. Don't go back and forth.

10. Always take your hat off when shaking hands after a round. It's not necessarily bad karma-- you just want to be a gentleman and show sportsmanship and not come off as some sort of rube.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

On Location: Saddlebrook Resort


Much like a perennial favorite Cabernet Sauvignon wine you order at a steakhouse to accompany a butter slathered, grilled New York Strip, Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa provides a welcome comfort zone for golf vacationers.

A mainstay on Florida's golf resort menu for more than 35 years, Saddlebrook is designed with golfers in mind. 

The most appealing aspect of the 480-acre resort is that most of its accommodations, its restaurants, two golf courses, and all of its major amenities are never more than a short walk away, thanks to the resort's innovative walking-village concept. No long commutes or vans are needed here: Simply walk a few steps from your room or suite, and , voila, you stroll into the golf pro shop, dine at the restaurants or lounge by the pool.

GOLF

The golf menu at Saddlebrook consists of two on-site 18-hole courses that take full advantage of the lush, palm-, pine-, -cypress and lake-dotted rolling terrain. Both courses-the Palmer and Saddlebrook- are not long, but they're testy because of the undulating terrain, sometimes narrow fairways and strategically placed bunkers.
Both of these Arnold Palmer designed courses are exceedingly fair, though. And if you can keep it in the short grass off the tee and make solid approach shots, you can score well.


If I had to pick a favorite between the two, it's the Palmer. The combination of fairways that often dip like a roller coaster, greens with lots of movement and aesthetic beauty with brightly colored flowers and lush foliage make it a joy to play.


The Saddlebrook is an excellent resort track as well and its finishing hole with a pond and towering cypress trees populated by egrets and wood storks lining the right side near the green is one of Florida's best.

Finally, if the putts don't fall and your scorecard has more strokes than points at an NBA All-Star game, you can either drown yourself in sorrow at the adjacent sports T.D.'s Sports Bar or grab your swimsuit for a refreshing dunk the Superpool, which is a few steps from the pro shop.

ACCOMMODATIONS


I stayed in one-bedroom suite with a tropical Bahamas decor accented by dark wood furnishings. There are 540 rooms and suites at Saddlebrook with 800 bedrooms. More than 75% of Saddlebrook's accommodations are suites. Conveniently, the accommodations are clustered around nine park-like courtyards, each made up of four buildings (50 suites). Thanks to the car-free walking village concept, every major amenity and restaurant is just a few minutes or less walk from your front door.

If you want to stock up on groceries and brewskis, there's a Publix and Wal-Mart just a few blocks from the resort on State Road 54.

Here's a list of highlights in my suite:

--A full-kitchen with a regular size refrigerator, microwave and serving bar.

--42 inch flat screen television in the living room (32 inch in the bedroom)

--A private patio (also private balconies for second story units)

--Marble appointed bathroom

--100% Egyptian cotton sheets and white goose down duvets and pillows

--Keuring coffee and tea maker

--High-speed Internet access

RESORT AMENITIES

--45 tennis courts, including 4 Grand Slam surfaces

--7,000 square-foot European style spa with 12 treatment rooms

--500,000 gallon free-form Superpool

--Fitness center

--Saddlebrook Golf Academy

--Bicycle rentals

--Sports village with volleyball and basketball courts

10 Little Things I Liked

1. The amazing wood storks and egrets you'll see up close and personal in the cypress trees overlooking the 18th green on the Saddlebrook Course.


2. The superb tennis pro shop with a varied selection of top-notch fashions you don't see at resorts.


3. The expansive Superpool, one of the largest pools I've seen at the countless resorts I've visited.


4. Dew busting on both courses. Early morning play at Saddlebrook rewards you with excellent playing conditions and a chance to see fantastic birds and wildlife.


5. The Greek salad I had at the Poolside Cafe. Wow. It was loaded with chicken, feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes and more.


6. Dempsey's Steakhouse's menu, which not only has great steaks, but the Shrimp Scampi pasta is exceptional.


7. The Keurig coffee maker in our suite.


8. The very functional and convenient kitchen in our suites with a bar counter, full refrigerator, microwave and dishwasher.


9. Convenient and fast valet parking.


10. The friendly staff that always offered golf cart rides back to your room.


DINING/LOUNGES

Dempsey's Steakhouse

The Guru loves a great juicy steak and Dempsey's (on-site at the resort) delivered big-time. My New York Strip was excellent and Mrs. Guru had what she considers the best Shrimp Scampi pasta dish she's ever tasted. This pronouncement is from a lady who seemingly orders the dish at just about every restaurant that has it on their menu. A nice touch at Dempsey's is the Caesar Salad prepared table side. Other menu highlights include Home-Made Pasta Bolognese, Steak Diane in a Cognac Sauce and Sesame Seared Tuna.

Tropics Restaurant

Overlooking the 18th green of the Saddlebrook Course, Tropics is renowned for its great breakfasts and buffet highlighted by their signature Pecan Crusted French Toast. Lunch features innovative items like a Grilled Mahi Club Sandwich with Mango Avocado Salsa and a Chopped Greek Salad with Chicken.

T.D's Sports Bar

Next to the pro shop and adjacent to Dempsey's Steakhouse, this place has all the elements needed for a great sports bar. A horseshoe shaped wooden bar, several elevated televisions and a wide selection of liquors, beer and wine make T.D's a must stop after a round of golf. I like the menu, too, which has selections like Irish Nachos, Hot Pastrami Sandwich and Open-Faced Grilled Ribeye Steak on Grilled Pumpernickel Bread.

Poolside Cafe

Adjacent to the Superpool, it offers comfortable and relaxing poolside, al fresco dining with a great selection of salads and sandwiches. 

THINGS TO DO NEARBY

--Shops at Wiregrass (3.6 miles)

--Tampa Premium Outlets (4.7 miles)

--Busch Gardens Tampa (20 miles)

--Downtown Tampa (24 miles) Lowry Park Zoo, Florida Aquarium, Ybor City, Glazer Children's Museum, Tampa Cruise Terminal and more.

LOCATION

Situated one mile east of I-75 at exit 279 on State Road 54 about 30 minutes north of Tampa International Airport.

GET THE SCOOP

For reservations and information, call 800-729-8383. For golf package information at Saddlebrook click to Saddlebrook Golf Deals.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tiger Woods To Design New Public Access Course in Branson, Missouri

Bass Pro Shops founder, avid conservationist and golf enthusiast Johnny Morris today announced a collaborative partnership with Tiger Woods and the Payne Stewart family that includes plans to create the first-ever public access golf courses designed by TGR Design, a world-class championship golf course and a family friendly short course at Big Cedar Lodge.

The partnership grew from a vision by Morris to connect more people to nature by growing the game of golf and outdoor recreation with premier golf, angling and shooting experiences. Beyond the championship course, the expansive partnership includes plans for a future Woods-designed par-3 “short course” on Big Cedar property.

Slated to open in 2019 and named in honor of the late Payne Stewart, the new “Payne’s Valley” Golf Course will be the first completed fully public-access course in the world designed by Tiger Woods’ design firm TGR Design.
Being built to showcase the region’s pristine beauty, the championship course will feature a dramatic 19th hole, “The Rock,” that can be used to settle unfinished wagers. The hole was envisioned by nature-loving Morris, and is set in a dramatic geological feature. The challenging but player-friendly walkable course will have a stunning conclusion where golfers will traverse through a natural cavern system to return to the clubhouse after completing the 19th hole.

“I couldn’t be more proud to partner with Johnny Morris to debut my first public-access courses at Big Cedar Lodge,” says Tiger Woods. “Johnny’s incredible passion for connecting people of all ages and walks of life to nature is truly inspiring. Together we’re tremendously excited to create a publicly accessible world-class golf experience in the center of America.”

The friendship between Morris and Woods began on the water 20 years ago.

“Shortly after Tiger won his first Masters Tournament in 1997, Tiger actually ended up buying one of our Bass Tracker fishing boats," says Johnny Morris. "My son and I had the opportunity to deliver his boat and spend the day bass fishing with him… you really get to know a person when you’re able to spend quiet time on the water fishing together. My boy and I were both very impressed by how down to earth and engaging Tiger was, and by how much he loved to fish."

Morris continues, “When we contemplated building another golf course at Big Cedar last year, my son John and I visited Tiger’s new Bluejack National course in Texas and we were both blown away! It is a truly breathtakingly beautiful place very reminiscent of Augusta National. After spending more time with Tiger and his team, it became apparent to us that Tiger is extremely dedicated to applying his worldly knowledge of golf to develop great courses. His aim is to design and build only a select number of courses that are of extraordinarily high standards, with an emphasis on width and playabilitiy creating a fun and enjoyable experience for all. We quickly became excited about Tiger’s design philosophies and the three of us began to dream together about creating a world-class golf course in our stunning Ozark surroundings. We are very proud to align with Tiger to create an unforgettable golf experience that players of all abilities will be able to enjoy again and again.”
The “Payne’s Valley” Course will pay tribute to the legacy of the late Payne Stewart, a friend of both Morris and Woods as well as an Ozarks native who won 11 PGA TOUR events, including three Major championships. Stewart and his father Bill Stewart were instrumental in helping to establish golf in the region and nationally. To further honor Stewart’s legacy, Morris, with the help of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, is also creating The Payne Stewart Learning Facility, an extraordinary practice facility that will contain a tribute museum displaying Stewart’s personal trophies, scorecards, apparel, equipment, photos and more.

Morris will also honor Stewart by expanding support to a number of charitable initiatives linked to the course. 2017 marks the third year Big Cedar Lodge will host the American Junior Golf Association for the Bass Pro Shops Payne Stewart Junior Championship. The AJGA is dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf. The new course will serve as a future home for the event.


Monday, March 27, 2017

10 Astonishing Quotes on the Masters

1. "The greatest natural laxative in the world."—Fuzzy Zoeller commenting on an approaching tee time for the first hole at the Masters.
 2. "We could make the greens so slick we'd have to furnish ice skates on the first tee."-- Hord Hardin, Masters chairman 1980-1991

3. "You don't come to Augusta to find your game. You come here because you've got one."-- Gene Sarazen

4. "Hey, I won three times and I never even got an outhouse."-- Jimmy Demaret said when asked to comment on the bridges at Augusta National named after champions Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen.

5. "I've never been to heaven and thinking back on my life I probably won't get the chance to go. I guess winning the Masters is as close as I'm going to get."-- Fuzzy Zoeller

6. "I always said that if they have a golf course like this in heaven, I want to be the head pro."--Gary Player
7. "The first time I played the Masters, I was so nervous I drank a bottle of rum before I teed off. I shot the happiest 83 of my life." --Chi Chi Rodriguez.
8. "The course is perfection, and it asks perfection.”--Nick Faldo

9. "Because you pray after you play."-- Fuzzy Zoeller on how Amen Corner earned its name.

10. "You start to choke at The Masters when you drive through the front gate."-- Hale Irwin












Thursday, March 9, 2017

5 Fab Things to Do During Masters Week


All the action in Augusta, Georgia during Masters Week is not inside the ropes.

The city comes alive during the week and there are some activities I recommend when you're not roaming the carpet-like fairways at Augusta National. Even if you're one of the unlucky ones who can't even scrounge up a ticket even for a practice round, you can still immerse yourself in all the frivolity and fun that is Masters Week.

Here are some great things to do:

Enjoy Steaks and Frosty Brews at TBonz Steakhouse--It's a popular hangout for players, caddies and golf industry types during Masters Week. The "Godfather of Soul", James Brown, loved TBonz and there's all sorts of J.B. memorabilia around the restaurant. Menu highlights include hand cut steaks (try the Drunken Ribeye with Kentucky Bourbon Sauce or the Black & Bleu Filet topped with broiled bleu cheese crust). The ribs and chicken are pretty darn good, too.

Visit with John Daly in front of Hooters--It's a tradition unlike any other. Every year during Masters Week, John Daly parks his luxury RV in front of the Augusta Hooters on Washington Road. J.D. hasn't played in the Masters since 2006, but he still comes to Augusta every year to hawk everything from t-shirts and head covers to hats and towels. He stands in front of his bus, usually smoking a heater, and chats with fans while he makes sales. If you buy something, large or small, Daly happily takes a picture with you that's worthy of any Instagram or Facebook post.

Party On at Augusta Commons--Scheduled for April 5, 2017 in downtown Augusta at Augusta Commons, ParTee on the Green is a dance party for all ages. The music encompasses beach, soul, pop, jazz, reggae, R&B and funk. The entry fee is only $3 in advance. 

Feast at Champion's Retreat--This ultra-private club offers the "Southern Culinary Experience" to the public with an amazing menu that includes Low Country, New Orleans Cajun and Creole, Carolina Calabash style, Charleston Raw Bar, Texas Dry Rubbed BBQ, Florida and the Keys influences, Mid Georgia BBQ and classic Southern Soul. Beer, wine and liquor included. Enjoy nightly entertainment while smoking cigars and sipping bourbons as you celebrate Masters Week. Thursday-Saturday 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (open seating). Reservations are required. Price is $125 plus tax per person, which includes food, beverages and gratuity. Call Champion's Retreat at 706-854-6977 for reservations.

Dine With the Locals--Two of the most popular local restaurants are The Boll Weevil Cafe near the Riverwalk, where shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, pasta creole and homemade desserts are the draw and Luigi's, a mainstay since 1949 and Ben Crenshaw favorite, which has to-die-for Lasagne and it's legendary Toasted Ravioli with Meat Sauce.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Topgolf Orlando Will Be Phenomenal


Ya gotta love Topgolf, the hugely popular, trendy nightclub/restaurants where everyone hits golf balls with computer microchips to targets, noshes on innovative cuisine and sips on adult beverages-- all while listening to some sweet tunes in a laid-back, sophisticated environment.

I know, I know, there are haters out there who can't put their golf tradition aside and appreciate Topgolf. Yet, those folks really don't know what they're missing.  

Topgolf is a fantastic way to engage in the game even if you don't know a golf club from a tennis racquet.  In a fun and convivial atmosphere it introduces people to the game without all the fear and intimidation factors. Interestingly, nearly 40% of all Topgolf guests describe themselves as "non-golfers."
That said, Topgolf, which currently has 24 locations serving 8 million guests annually, will open an amazing venue in Orlando, Florida in Fall 2017.

Here's what you need to know about Topgolf Orlando:

--The three-level complex will encompass a whopping 65,000 square feet.

--It will be located in a prime location at Convention Way and Universal Boulevard, right across the street from the Orange County Convention Center near International Drive.

--There will be 3,000 square feet of private event space and meeting rooms.

--The 102 climate-controlled hitting bays will host up to six players at one time.

--More than 200 high-definition flat-screen TVs will be situated throughout the complex.

--There will be a full-service restaurant and bar and rooftop terrace and fire pit.

--The drinks and food selections will feature an upscale menu highlighted by specialty drinks like the Tipsy Palmer and Strawberry JalapeƱo Margarita, craft beer selections, wine by the bottle or glass and delicacies like Bacon Mac 'N Cheese Springs Rolls, Pulled Pork Sliders and Char-grilled Steak Flatbread.

See you there...