Thursday, February 16, 2017

On Location: Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel

One of my favorite restaurants in Orlando is Shula's Steakhouse at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel. I recently spent a night at the hotel and had another fabulous dining experience at Coach Shula's restaurant.

I'm thoroughly convinced if you want to visit theme parks, enjoy great dining with a prime location near Disney's golf courses, the Walt Disney World Dolphin is your best choice. It's located within walking distance of Epcot and the Boardwalk Disney entertainment, shopping and dining complex, a few minutes from Disney's golf courses and about a 5 minute drive to Disney Springs, the dynamic entertainment complex formerly known as Downtown Disney.

GOLF OPTIONS

Once you leave the hotel, you can be on a first tee in minutes. Walt Disney World has three championship layouts, the Magnolia, Palm and Lake Buena Vista, and a 9-hole walking course, Oak Trail, that's ideal for beginners, juniors and super seniors.

Disney offers a 4 round "Play Around the World" golf pass that can save golfers up to 30% on a four-round package at their courses. Packages also come with a souvenir "Disney Golf Passport" booklet. All four rounds must be played within 30 days. Call 407-939-4653 or visit www.golfwdw.com for questions or booking.

Another great option is the Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Orlando that's situated adjacent to Golden Oak at Walt Disney World, an uber-luxurious residential community. It's the course formerly named Osprey Ridge. The Original designer Tom Fazio was invited back to re-create the course in a different form and he did an outstanding job.

ACCOMMODATIONS

The hotel has 1,509 rooms. Soft, muted colors of silver, white and blue give the rooms a bright and positive feel. I absolutely love the great shower head and luxury bedding.

Main amenities include:

--Mandara Spa

--3-acre pool complex

--Camp Dolphin

--Complimentary Disney Bus Transportation

--Self-parking

5 Little Things I Liked

1. The huge lobby with lots of chairs and couches so you can lounge, read or check social media.


2. Fantastic location that allows you to walk to the Swan Hotel, Epcot and Disney's Boardwalk.


3. The phenomenal BBQ Shrimp we enjoyed as an appetizer at Shula's Steakhouse.


4. The beautifully decorated, refurbished guest room.


5. The view from my 5th floor room of the Swan Hotel and pool complex.



DINING/LOUNGES

Shula's Steakhouse--One of the highlights of my stay was dining at the oh-so-convenient Shula's, which is located just off the main lobby. For football fans and steak lovers, it's the ultimate dining experience. The entire restaurant celebrates the NFL's only undefeated team, the 17-0, 1972 Miami Dolphins, coached by, of course, Don Shula. The decor of the restaurant is dominated by beautiful polished wood and vintage photographs and memorabilia with familiar Dolphin icons like Larry Csonka, Bob Griese and Earl Morrall. A nice touch, too, is the teal and white football placed on your table detailing the steaks available. Undoubtedly, the star of the restaurant is the beef, which is some of the best on the planet. Shula's gets their Premium Black Angus Beef from the Graham Angus Farm in Albany, Georgia. This quality is absolutely amazing. 
The highlights of our dinner included the BBQ Shrimp, a sumptuous appetizer with large shrimp stuffed with basil, wrapped in Applewood Bacon and coated in a tangy BBQ sauce, grilled asparagus, Potato Gratin with garlic cream reduction topped with Panko Parmesan Crust and our juicy, succulent steaks. I savored every bite of my 20 oz. Kansas City Strip and my wife waved about her Steak Mary Anne, two 5 oz. filets with Cognac-Peppercorn Sauce. We complemented this epic feast with a superb bottle of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon by Arrowood. Here's the MENU.

Todd English's Bluezoo--This sleekly designed restaurant has a hip ambiance with lots of glass accents and aquariums. Celebrity chef Todd English presents a menu featuring entrees like bbq-rubbed swordfish atop risotto and Maine Lobster tossed in a Cantonese-style soy glaze. For dessert, how about a Mai Tai Banana Cream Tart.

There are also various casual and poolside restaurants and lounges.

THINGS TO DO

--Visit Epcot, which is just a 5-minute walk away

--Dine at the various restaurants at the Boardwalk such as Flying Fish, ESPN Club, Trattoria Al Forno and Big River Grille & Brewing Works

--Play Disney's Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course

--Dine at restaurants at Swan Hotel such as il Mulino New York Trattoria and Kimonos.

--Visit other Disney Theme Parks

--Shop and dine at Disney Springs, which is located a 5-minute drive from the Dolphin Hotel

LOCATION

Situated adjacent to Disney's Boardwalk entertainment, dining and hotels complex. 1500 Epcot Resorts Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32830. 
GET THE SCOOP

Call 407-934-4000 or click HERE for more information.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Masters Week Golf at Champions Retreat


If you're attending the Masters this year and you're looking for an exceptional place to tee up, I've got a terrific suggestion. In many respects, it's possibly the next best thing to playing Augusta National.

At the recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, I spoke with Cameron Wiebe, general manager of Champions Retreat, a phenomenal 27-hole private club located 15 miles northwest of Augusta.
Wiebe said the club, which is exclusively private the rest of the year, accepts tee times from non-members during Masters Week (Monday April 3 to Sunday April 9 this year).

Perhaps you may have heard of the designers of the three separate 9 hole layouts? The gentlemen architects who fashioned the layouts are icons Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, aka The Big 3. Champions Retreat is the only place in the world with nines designed by the former Masters Champions.

Reportedly, Player presented the idea to Arnie and the Golden Bear at the Champions Dinner at Augusta National in 1999. They each selected a parcel of land for their nine and, voila, Champions Retreat was born.

The beautifully conditioned courses, with superb bentgrass greens, are set on rolling landscape dotted with tall pines, old hardwoods and wetlands alongside the Savannah River. 
"Champions Retreat is a pure golf experience," Wiebe said. "It's conveniently just minutes away from Augusta National and you play on wonderfully designed courses in a quiet, scenic setting away from the crowds."

Tee times are for 4 players. Each Masters Week tee time will be accompanied by one (1) forecaddie. The tee time price includes practice facility access, greens fees, forecaddie base fee (required), cart fee, tax, and all you can eat and drink for breakfast and lunch. Selections will include breakfast items, lunch items, snack items, soft drinks, sports drinks, domestic beer and well-liquor drinks. Tee times do not include the forecaddie gratuity.

Tee Time Rates for Champions Retreat Masters Week 2017:

Monday and Tuesday: $2,200

Wednesday--Saturday: $2,500

Sunday: $2,200

Monday, April 10th: Available for private outings.

In addition, there will also be live entertainment and other activities during the week. 

For more information, contact Lauri DeNicolo by email: lauri@championsretreat.net or call 706-854-6966

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

2017 PGA Merchandise Show Favorites


Hey dimpled ball fanatics, welcome to golf heaven! The annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in late January showcases oodles of products and gives golf industry types a chance to schmooze and celebrate the game. Aisles and aisles are lined with booths featuring everything from new drivers and putters to the latest threads and shoes. More than 1,000 companies are represented.

You'll also see lots of golf celebrities wandering the convention center to promote their endorsements and offer advice to attendees. This year the list of golf royalty in attendance included Greg Norman, Johnny Miller, John Daly, Bubba Watson, Annika Sorenstam and Colin Montgomerie.

By many, it's simply referred to as "The Show". More than 40,000 people attend every year and it's not open to the public. You'll have to rely on the Guru to take you down the aisles.

Here are some of my favorite products from the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show:


Vertical Groove Driver-During Show week I attended a demonstration of this new driver. John Daly serves as a global ambassador for the Jupiter, Florida-based company. Daly has the driver in his bag and plays it on tour. The company says the Vertical Groove Driver reduces side spin at impact leading to 40% straighter ball flight on average and increases driving distance. While I'm firmly convinced Daly can pretty much hit a tree branch 300 yards, his demonstration was very impressive. I hit about 10 to 12 drives with the Vertical Groove and I absolutely can confirm I hit the ball straighter.
Tagmarshal--I spoke with company president, Bodo Sieber, about this innovative pace of play management system, which helps reduce average round times and number of slow rounds, reduces the cost of field management, enhances the golf experience and increases ROI. Walking groups attach the small tracking device to one bag in a foursome or its carried by a caddie or installed in a golf cart. The accurate, real-time data is submitted to Tagmarshal's cloud service, which is easily accessible to marshals and management. "Our system results in faster play, the golfers are happier and it increases revenue for the courses," said Sieber.

Nikon Coolshot Golf Laser Rangefinder--Hey, we've all had shaky hands and nerves that hinder the ability to hold a compact rangefinder steady. Nikon has solved the problem with its Optical Vibration Reduction technology.


Callaway Epic Driver--I didn't get the chance to hit one, but this driver was the talk of the Show. Callaway claims their Jailbreak Technology, whatever that means, has resulted in a driver that produces more ball speed across a larger area of the face. This driver, they say, will increase your swing speed. The combination of an aerospace-grade titanium with an ultralight triaxial carbon crown and sole gives the club a  light, well-balanced feel. 

Zero Friction GPS Glove--Forget wandering aimlessly on the fairway searching for yardage markers, this glove cures that problem. Powered by Bluetooth, the small device sits on the glove flap and weighs less than half an ounce. It has more than 35,000 courses programmed worldwide. As you walk up to your shot, the read-out gives you front, center and back yardages to the green.



Topgolf Orlando--Slated to debut in fall 2017, the Orlando version of this phenomenally popular entertainment and dining complex will be "huuuuge". The 65,000 square-foot Topgolf Orlando will feature 100+ climate-controlled hitting bays, full-service restaurant and bars, private event space and meeting rooms, rooftop terrace with fire pit, over 200 HDTVs and complimentary Wi-Fi.




Biion Footwear--You can say goodbye to boring golf shoes with this innovative brand. They've got some amazing designs in a wide variety of colors and styles. Let's face it, if you don't have game at least look good while you're traipsing through the woods and burrowing out of bunkers.
Henrik Stenson Eyewear--Chances are you won't play like this sweet swinging Swede, but you can at least tap into some of his swag with these shades. They offer complete protection from solar radiation, blue light and UV radiation as well as contrast enhancement and sharper clearer vision.

Friday, January 20, 2017

On Location: Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club


For the Guru, the appeal of this classic Naples, Florida resort starts with the easy accessibility of all its major amenities. You can almost reach out and touch the white sand beach and swimming pool from your room balcony and the golf course and spa are located just a few steps from the front door of the main resort building.

I've visited Naples Beach Hotel & Club several times through the years and on my most recent visit last week (January 13-15, 2017) I was blown away by the enhancements throughout the property, especially the golf course, which has undergone an amazing transformation thanks to the Nicklaus Design Company.

GOLF

If you've played the golf course before, you'll barely recognize the new and decidedly improved version. The Nicklaus Design Company in collaboration with architect John Sanford didn't just renovate the course they essentially recreated it. Sanford's impressive portfolio includes Florida courses Hobe Sound Golf Club, Juliett Falls and Links at Madison.
Re-designed with reconfigured holes, the course has been modernized to stand up to today's equipment and technology. The new par-71 course has five tee settings on each hole playing from 4,800 yards to more than 6,900 yards. Enhancing the total experience is a new practice and teaching range and new golf carts with GPS tracking systems. The entire project cost $9 million and it was money well spent.

"I think those who have played The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club before are in for a pleasant surprise," says Jack Nicklaus. "I believe the golf course has been transformed into a fun, exciting and aesthetically pleasing layout..."
Nicklaus nailed it: I definitely found the course to be lots of fun with a variety of exciting holes and lots of eye candy with beautiful trees, lakes and wonderfully manicured green complexes. Nicklaus and Sanford worked overtime to make sure no two holes even look and play remotely alike.
The new GPS systems are top notch and extremely helpful in getting accurate yardages avoiding hazards, especially for first-time players to the resort. Just as important, they help speed up play.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Set on 125 acres along seven miles of stunning, white sandy beach, Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, a AAA Four-Diamond resort, is comprised of six beachfront buildings and 319 guest rooms and suites.
The guest rooms and suites are appointed with high quality furnishings accented by cheery colors and earth tones that exude a sophisticated tropical feel. Chances are, though, you'll spend lots of time on your balcony or patio, which are superb places to enjoy a bottle of wine while you toast your inspiring surroundings.

AMENITIES

--1,000 feet of easily accessible soft white-sand beach and gentle surf ideal for families

--Beachfront pool complex

--Top-notch spa and fitness center 

--Tennis center with six Har-Tru courts

--Retail shops

--Beach umbrella and other rentals

--Complimentary child activity program

--Multiple restaurants and lounges

--34,000 square feet of meeting space

--18-hole golf course
10 Little Things I Liked

1. The wonderful and accommodating Watkins Family. Three generations of the family have owned and operated the resort.


2. Spacious balconies that are ideal for sipping wine and watching amazing sunsets.


3. Convenient self-parking.


4. A great location just minutes from downtown Naples where there's lots of shopping and restaurant choices.


5. The beautiful swimming pool situated a few steps from the beach.


6. The phenomenal blackened grouper sandwich I had after playing golf.


7. The biking, jogging and walking path that conveniently runs in front of the resort.


8. Friendly and helpful golf pro George Willard.


9. The new 300-yard long driving range.


10. The magnificent Banyon trees that dot the golf course.


DINING/LOUNGES

HB's on the Gulf-Offers fine indoor dining with spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico and sunsets as well as al fresco dining. Highlighting the menu is Garlic Shrimp, Pork Shank Bucatini, Stone Crabs and Scallops with Lobster Risotto.

Sunset Beach Bar & Grill-This aptly named restaurant, which sits a few steps from the beach, is arguably one of the best places in Florida to view a sunset. There's an open-air grill, big round group loungers, traditional chaise lounges and cocktail tables and chairs. On Wednesday thru Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. a solo guitarist performs. Menu highlights include Conch Fritters, Coconut Fried Shrimp and Blackened Grouper Sandwich.

Broadwell's-A restaurant at the Golf Club that serves a bountiful breakfast buffet as well as an a la carte menu with items like Ranchero Cubano, Eggs Benedict and Egg White Frittata.

THINGS TO DO
--Awesome sunset watching every evening at the resort's Sunset Beach Bar & Grill or from your guest room balcony.

--Shopping at nearby fashionable, walkable downtown streets--5th Avenue South and 3rd Street South.

--Shopping at Venetian Village, Waterside Shops, Bayfront and Tin City, which are located within easy driving distance of the resort.

--Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, which is located a few blocks from the resort

--Tours of Corkscrew Swamp, The Botanical Gardens and Conservancy Nature Center.

--Deep sea fishing charters in the Gulf of Mexico.

--Shelling and eco tours

--Viewing a spectacular collection of race, classic and antique cars at Revs Institute of Automotive Research.

LOCATION

Located just a few blocks from downtown Naples at 851 Gulf Shore Boulevard North.

GET THE SCOOP

Click to NaplesBeachHotel.com or call 239-261-2222 or 800-237-7600 for reservations or general inquiries.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

10 Fearless Predictions for Golf in 2017


No, I didn't pick the Cubs to win the World Series. No, I didn't pick Clemson to beat Bama for the NCAA National Championship. And I certainly didn't pick Danny Willett to win the 2016 Masters...

I did pick the U.S.A. to win the 2016 Ryder Cup, so I guess I have some credibility, right? Don't answer that, please.

That said, here are some of The Guru's best predictions for 2017:

--The future is now. More golf courses will finally wake up and start pricing green fees by the hour or by the hole. Recently, the Lodge at Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, Missouri started pricing by the hour. They're hoping it will speed up play and allow golfers who only want to play a few holes to "pay for what they play". Hey Millennials, you asked for it, you got it.

--The U.S. dollar will stay strong and golf travel will surge this year. Biggest benefactors will be Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and New Zealand.

--The most exciting new courses debuting in 2017 will be Mike Keiser's Sand Valley in Wisconsin, Streamsong Black in Florida and Trinity Forest in Texas.

--Young studs Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Thomas will make a huge impact on the PGA Tour in 2017.

--Green will be the popular color choice for golf apparel in 2017. Who says so? The Golf Travel Guru, that's who. No, not just me. Various golf clothing companies are pushing all shades of green this year from olive to fluorescent to Masters green.

--The U.S. Open will be a great one at Erin Hills Golf Club in Wisconsin. Set on rolling terrain formed by glaciers, the course designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, has dramatic ridges, contours and panoramas. Erin Hills is located 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee and 115 miles from Chicago.

--More people will experience golf outside traditional golf courses at venues like Topgolf, Flying Tee and driving ranges. Uh, let's not forget golf simulators, too.

--Major championship winners will be Rory McIlroy (Masters), Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open),  Sergio Garcia (British Open) Patrick Reed (PGA Championship

--Topgolf will continue to soar in popularity with those who love golf and cocktails and others who don't know a golf club from a tennis racquet. In fall 2017, Topgolf Orlando (Florida) will debut. Coming soon are Topgolf's in Miami Gardens, Florida, Nashville, Tennessee, El Paso and Fort Worth in Texas and Birmingham, Alabama.

--Tiger Woods will experience some minor back issues before he wins a minor tournament at the end of the year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Best Event to See Golf Legends


Fortunately, most of golf's living legends congregate in one place annually at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club in Orlando.

From Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Hale Irwin to John Daly, Nick Price and Nick Faldo, the fairways are teeming with golf icons at the PNC Father Son Challenge, which is staged every December. The unique tournament joins 20 of golf's legends with their son or daughter in a professional competition.


If you want to see some of golf's biggest and most popular stars up close and personal, I highly suggest you attend this tournament. The stars are very approachable off the course and the crowds are limited so you're often just a few feet away on tee boxes and greens from some of the greatest players who've ever picked up a club. Better still, the tickets are very reasonably priced.




The Ritz Carlton Golf Club, which sits behind The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando and JW Marriott Orlando hotels at Grande Lakes Resort, is fairly flat and an easy walk so you can stroll along with the greats. An excellent resort course, it was designed by Greg Norman.


I've attended the tournament for several years and it's easily become one of my favorites to enjoy and celebrate the great game of golf. No other sport celebrates its great players like golf.

This year the team of John Daly and "Little John" Daly stole the show, so to speak, with their brightly colored pants/shorts, friendly demeanor and long balls off the tee. The tournament winners were David Duval and his stepson Nick Karavites, who out dueled Fred Funk and his son Taylor and Retief Goosen and his son Leo.

Some of the other greats who teed it up at the 2016 PNC Father Son Challenge were Raymond Floyd, Larry Nelson, Vijay Singh, Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins, Lee Janzen, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Stewart Cink, Steve Elkington and Mark O'Meara. All the participating pros must have won a Major or a Players Championship to be part of the field.

The absence of Arnold Palmer was clearly felt this year. Arnie absolutely loved the tournament and participated seven times. Palmer was instrumental in launching the event more than 20 years ago.

Baseball has its Old-Timers games and football greats gather at the Pro Football Hall of Fame every year, but golf has arguably the best way to see and enjoy its greatest stars--it's called the PNC Father Son Challenge.

See you there next year!