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!

Friday, December 9, 2016

5 Most Common Golf Vacationers

Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand
One question I often get from people who don't know a golf club from a baseball bat is: Why do you travel around the world to play golf when you have several perfectly fine golf courses within 5 minutes of your house?

I don't want to go all philosophical on you, but the reason for travel by golfers can be summed up in this simple phrase: "Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire."

In my three decades of spanning the globe to play golf, I've identified five types of golf travelers:

1. The Vacationer--Most likely the golfer is married to a non-golfer, who prefers a stone massage at the spa rather than roaming the fairways. The couple plans the golf trip with the distinct theme of compromise in the air. Golfer searches for a resort with a highly ranked spa and great golf (or some super tracks nearby) and they enjoy the best of both worlds. It has been my experience (with Mrs. Guru) that the non-golfer's needs come first and the golfer is seemingly happy as long as the fairways are wide, the greens are true and the beer is ice cold at the 19th hole.

2. Trophy Hunter--These are the individuals who more than likely have a large map in their office dotted with tiny flags denoting the Top 100 courses they've played around the world. It's an admirable goal for the golf fanatic and I've known more than a few golfers who pursue playing the most highly ranked courses. When they travel, the goal is to plant flags on their map when they return. From the Old Course at St. Andrews to Royal County Down in Ireland to Pebble Beach Golf Links in California, the trophy hunter wants to play them all during his golf travel career.

3. Buddy Tripper--Typically a group of men who generally want to play golf (up to 36 holes a day), drink beer and single malt scotch at the 19th hole, enjoy a steak, lobster or pasta dinner and repeat that day several times. Scotland and Ireland are great buddy trip destinations because the courses are often close to each other and there's an abundance of 19th holes, whiskey distilleries for tours and pubs where the pints flow freely. In the U.S., top buddy trip destinations include Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

4. Adventure Traveler--I'm seeing more of this type of golf traveler in recent years. In addition to playing great golf courses, they want to incorporate exciting off-the-course activities in their itinerary such as wine tours and tastings, safaris, river rafting, hot air ballooning and bicycling. This traveler often gets just as excited in finding a great Cab or Chardonnay as they do in slamming in a 20 foot birdie putt. Some destinations vying for the adventure traveler include South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

5. Event Traveler--This ultimate multi-tasker likes to attend major golf events and tee it up in the area. They'll select events like the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, Solheim Cup, Open Championship, The Masters and PGA Tour and European Tour tournaments, then arrange to attend for a few days and play golf at nearby notable courses.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Top 10 Golf Travel Trends for 2017

South Africa
Ladies and gentlemen, start your packing!

I'm predicting 2017 will be a great golf travel year. Last week (November 14-18), the U.S. dollar was at its highest rate in 14 years so American travelers will, no doubt, take advantage of this promising turn of events. Plus, golf travel is easier than ever to plan with new technologies no matter where you are in the world.

Here are the Golf Travel Guru's top 10 travel trends for 2017:

1. Combo Golf Trips--While the buddy/friends trip to Scotland and Ireland will continue its seemingly never ending popularity, golf travelers taking couples or multi-generation trips are increasingly opting for packages that can include everything from wine and whiskey tastings to safaris and luxury cruises. An itinerary packed with 18 to 36 holes a day is still appealing to golf fanatics, however, casual golfers who love to travel and play are enhancing trips with varied activities in between rounds. In addition, planning a golf vacation around a major event like the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup or Major like the Open Championship, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and The Masters is becoming more prevalent.

2. Luxury Golf Cruises--Various golf travel companies are highlighting luxury cruising as the main source of travel to play great golf courses. For instance, Premier Golf is offering an 11-night excursion aboard the the $450 million Regent Seven Seas Explorer, the most expensive luxury liner ever built. The uber-luxurious ship will make stops in golf capitals like Edinburgh, Scotland, Liverpool, England and Dublin and Cork in Ireland. On the play list are world class layouts like Royal County Down and the European Club.

3. Year of The Grape--If you like wine and golf like I do, ya gotta wonder what took destinations so long to put them together in packages. Countries that are heavily promoting incorporating wine experiences like tours and tastings with golf are Australia, South Africa, Italy, France, New Zealand and the U.S. (Napa Valley and Sonoma in California and Oregon). In the past year I've been to Napa/Sonoma, Italy and South Africa and I can fully attest that superb wines and great golf are an excellent pairing. 

4. New Destinations--While I'm probably missing a few, my list of emerging golf destinations includes Bulgaria, Turkey, Sweden, Vietnam, Italy, Malaysia and China. 

5. Pacific Rim Appeal--After obligatory visits to Scotland and Ireland have been made and new frontiers beckon, the Pacific Rim is an increasingly popular option. Destinations like New Zealand and Australia offer scenic and challenging courses as well as great wines and countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Korea and China have lately become very bullish on golf.

6. New Booking Technology--It's getting much easier to book a golf vacation with just a few clicks on your own. Golf Voyager, an Ireland-based company, recently debuted a platform to book fully customizable golf packages in real time with immediate confirmation. The easy-to-use, do-it-yourself design combines golf, hotel and transportation options into packages that can be altered to fit your specific needs with confirmed pricing immediately at check-out. I believe you'll start seeing their widget on on many tourism bureau sites. They offer great rates and Golf Voyager is very simple and user-friendly. The software is up and running for Spain and Portugal and will be followed by Ireland, U.K., U.S.A. and other destinations.

7. Social Media Arrives--Social media is increasingly a huge influencer in golf travel decisions. Instead of a flashy ad or video, travelers are investigating how their peers evaluate particular airlines, hotels and golf courses. More travelers or relying on user-generated reviews at sites like TripAdvisor, GolfAdvisor, Oyster and Yelp to make their decisions. Moreover, travelers are influenced by posts and remarks on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Pinterest and Google Plus.

8. The Masters--The popularity of the Masters increases every year and more people want to immerse among the azaleas and pines even if it just means a practice round day. Trust me, whether you attend a Tuesday or Wednesday practice day or the entire tournament week, it's  a phenomenal, memorable golf experience. From "The Big Oak Tree' and green and white umbrellas on the patio behind the clubhouse to the amazingly inexpensive 1970s concession prices, there's nothing in the golf universe quite like Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters tournament. Some of the companies offering Masters packages that I recommend include Georgia Sports and Premier Golf Travel.

9. Alternative Accommodations--Multi-amenity golf resorts are still the most desired accommodations, however, experienced, intrepid travelers are increasingly considering private vacation homes and Airbnb as other options, especially for extended stays. Now, it's easier than ever to book a private home, room in a home or an apartment. 

10.Bucket List Adventures--While greens fee prices keep climbing, bucket list courses like Pebble Beach and The Old Course at St. Andrews are actually increasing in popularity. In the U.S., topping the list are Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes, TPC THE PLAYERS Sawgrass, Whistling Straits, Bethpage Black, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Streamsong Resort. Internationally, courses like Royal Troon and Muirfield in Scotland, Royal County Down and Ballybunion in Ireland, Royal St. George in England, Valderrama in Spain, Fancourt Links in South Africa, Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, Royal Melbourne in Australia, Banff Springs and Cabot Links in Canada and Vale do Lobo in Portugal are Bucket List favorites.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

UPDATE on Streamsong Resort's Upcoming Black Course

Streamsong Black No. 7 (Photo by Larry Lambrecht)
When golfers find out the Guru resides in Central Florida, one of the more frequent questions I get is about the much anticipated new Black Course at Streamsong Resort near Lakeland.

After some intrepid research, here are my answers to that question:

* The Black Course is slated to debut in Fall 2017. It's currently in the grow-in mode.

* It's designed by Gil Hanse, whose impressive resume includes the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, which received rave reviews, as well as Castle Stuart in Inverness, Scotland and The Vineyard Club in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Streamsong Black No. 15 (Photo by Larry Lambrecht)
* Upon completion of The Black, Streamsong Resort will be the only resort in the world with courses designed by Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore, Tom Doak and Gil Hanse.

* Hanse was essentially given a blank canvas to design The Black. He got his pick of land spanning more than 800 acres and selected a 250-acre parcel dominated by a long sand ridge and natural elevation changes.

* The Black is set about a mile from the clubhouse that serves the Streamsong Red and Blue Courses and will be somewhat isolated on the southeast portion of the property.

* The Black is set on rolling terrain with abundant sand, native grasses and panoramas similar to those of Sand Belt courses in Australia.
Streamsong Black No. 5 (Photo by Ben Hillard)
* The Black Course will play to par 73.

* Tee time reservations for The Black became available this month (October, 2016) with  packages available.

* Streamsong officials foresee The Black hosting large Amateur events.

* The resort plans to add a second practice facility, clubhouse and restaurant to serve guests playing Streamsong Black.

Streamsong Resort, situated 27 miles south of Lakeland between Orlando and Tampa, is a multi-amenity resort with championship golf, a 216-room lodge with a spa, infinity pool and casual and fine dining restaurants and activities like bass fishing, sporting clays, tennis and nature trails.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

U.S.A. WILL WIN Ryder Cup 2016

Yeah, I'm going to say it:

The U.S.A. team will win Ryder Cup 2016 at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

Yes, you have my permission to call me delusional, a big-time homer or maybe even an idiot (it won't be the first time) for making this bold prediction.

In the tradition of historic successful predictions made by Joe Namath in the 1969 Super Bowl and Mark Messier in the 1994 N.H.L playoffs, I believe our boys in red, white and blue will bring the Ryder Cup back to American soil.

I can already hear the naysayers out there on the Internet Highway: The Guru's had one too many single-malts, all of the cumulative jet lag has rattled his smallish brain or he's just, well, an idiot.

The Guru understands your skepticism. After all, the Euros have won six out of the last seven and four straight Ryder Cups.

That said, here are my reasons the U.S.A. will be spraying champagne on the final day after the singles matches:

NO IAN POULTER--Due to a foot injury, "Poults" will not be a playing member of the European team, although he'll be a vice captain. Poulter has been the heart and soul of the Euro team with his passion and commitment to Ryder Cup. He rallied his troops at Gleneagles in 2014 with spirited play and timely shots and he was the key player in the amazing European comeback at Medinah in 2012, where he was the top points scorer from either side. Just as impressive is Poulter's incredible run of five birdies in a row to close out his Saturday four ball match with Rory McIlroy against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson when Europe was trailing 10-4 and seemingly dead in the water. That match pretty much started the miracle comeback.

PATRICK REED IS IN-YOUR-FACE--The pugnacious, irascible Reed is the type of take-no-prisoners player the U.S.A. team has been missing. His famous finger-to-the-lips "shooshing" of the crowd after sinking a putt at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014 is the stuff of legend now. Reed went 3-0-1 at Gleneagles and never once backed down to the crowd or opposing players. Nobody on the American team played better than Reed at Gleneagles. The U.S.A. finally has someone as defiant and passionate as Ballesteros and Poulter and Reed should make a big difference at Hazeltine National.

TEAM U.S.A.WILL FINALLY SINK PUTTS WHEN THEY COUNT--In many ways, Ryder Cup matches evolve into putting contests. The Euros have sunk them in timely moments and the U.S.A. has not. I predict that will change in 2016. This year the U.S.A. is bringing some serious flatsticks to the moss. The U.S.A. team has six players in the top 30 in the PGA Tour's Putting Average (through the weekend ending 9/19/16): Jordan Spieth (T1), Dustin Johnson (3), Phil Mickelson (5), Brooks Koepka (T16), Matt Kuchar (T16) and Brandt Snedeker (26). The top European player is Rory McIlroy at T31, which is where U.S.A Captain's Pick J.B. Holmes is also slotted. I certainly comprehend that several of the European players don't play a full PGA Tour schedule, but the numbers are still impressive for the U.S.A. The putts are gonna drop this year and propel the U.S.A. to victory.