Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Observations From the Guru's Italian Adventure


The Guru recently returned from a month in Italy. I've traveled to Europe two or three times a year  for over twenty years and I thoroughly enjoy the lifestyle and pace of life there. I'm a huge fan of "La Dolce Vita".

Here are some observations from my trip:

Unbelievably Overpriced Airport Food--During my wait before departure at Orlando International Airport, I dined at an on-site Outback Restaurant. While this airport version looks like the same Outback chain I enjoy, it's not even close. I gotta a feeling they have dozens of microwave ovens humming away in the kitchen at this place. While the menu had some of my favorites, the translation was pretty sad. I assume the food was nuked into tastelessness by a microwave. I'm always amazed at the prices these airport vendors charge for absolutely substandard fare.

Flying Woes--Hey, fellow passenger:Is it really that hard to put your carry-on bag in the overhead compartment and get your fat ass out of the aisle when you're boarding a plane? It seems like every flight now, you've got people camped out in the aisle trying to stuff their oversized bag into a too-small compartment. Annoyingly, everyone must wait in line while this inconsiderate oaf tries to find a place for all his or her carry-ons. It's the same thing when you're getting off the plane as well.

Smokers Everywhere--I don't smoke and it generally doesn't bug me to be around someone sucking on a heater. In the U.S., smokers are typically hard to find these days. In Europe though, especially in Italy, people are smoking as if they've never heard of emphysema, cancer or heart disease. You see all sorts of teens and old-timers inhaling hard and fast. What ruins it for non-smokers is that many of the sidewalk cafes in Italy let them puff away while you're dining al fresco. Let's just say, I'm not a big fan of second-hand smoke wafting into my Pasta Carbonara.

AirB&B a Winner--This trip was the first time I used AirB&B and I was impressed on many levels. First, the online communication and coordination between AirB&B and the apartment owner with me was exceptional. Second, the owner, Samuele, was a super Italian guy, who helped with the luggage (nothing says they have to) and left a basket full of breakfast goodies. Add to that, a stunning view of the port of Trieste, a safe and convenient neighborhood and Mrs. Guru and I had a great week for a very reasonable price.

Staying in a Villa--About five years ago, I decided to eschew hotels in Europe and try to find alternative places to stay like villas and apartments. I got tired of the tiny bathrooms and the saggy beds you get at many hotels that bill themselves as 3-star properties. Let's face it, these dumps wouldn't stay in business two weeks competing against value-priced American chains like Hyatt Place, Hilton Home2 and Holiday Inn Express. You'd be amazed at the type of phenomenal places you can stay at in Europe for very reasonable rates if you just put in a good online search. I stayed at the Villa Bottacin in Trieste, which has a swimming pool, beautifully landscaped lawn and garden, terrace for dining at breakfast and an apartment with a balcony offering a city view. All for less than 100 bucks a night. La Dolce Vita, indeed.

Monday, June 20, 2016

On Location: Inn at Bay Harbor


I've been dreaming of playing Northern Michigan for years. I finally made it and for my delay I deserve a solid plunk in the head with a nine-iron. Wow! What a great destination to play golf.

A wonderland of Lake Michigan views, superbly designed golf courses, quaint lakeside villages and wonderfully prepared Midwestern cuisine, Michigan has all of these things and a lot more. The relatively short golf season runs from April to October. After that, it's time to break out the ski poles and snowboards.

One of the highlights of my visit was staying and playing at the Inn at Bay Harbor, one of America's treasured, classically styled, luxury hotels.

Situated on the Lake Michigan shoreline, the stunning, Victorian-style hotel oozes with timeless charm, yet pampers its guests with a wealth of desired upscale amenities. The Inn at Bay Harbor is part of the prestigious Marriott International's Autograph Collection Hotels, a portfolio of independent hotels recognized for celebrating individuality.

If you're looking for the quintessential Lake Michigan vacation experience, the Inn at Bay Harbor is a Guru approved.

GOLF

I'm a devoted Arthur Hills design fan so I was excited to tee up at Bay Harbor Golf Club, one of his high-profile designs. While some get carried away with hyperbole, I can't disagree with those writers who refer to the course as "the Pebble Beach of the Midwest". 

You're treated to three distinct nines at the 27-hole complex. The Links weaves alongside Lake Michigan and has the feel and look of a great Irish seaside course. The Quarry winds through a shale quarry with 40-foot rock walls, ponds and a waterfall. The Preserve is cut through a hardwood forest with wildflowers and wetlands.

Hills did a masterful job of enhancing the existing terrain and features to create truly inspiring golf that'll have you talking about your round months and perhaps years after playing Bay Harbor. Quite honestly, if I had focused on my game instead of taking so many pictures with my iPhone I might have scored a little better. Some of the holes on the Links and Quarry are among the most photogenic you'll find in the U.S.

My most memorable shots at Bay Harbor came on elevated tees with Lake Michigan in the foreground. I got the same feeling of awe and inspiration I've received at oceanside gems like the Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and Kingsbarns in Scotland. 

Guests can also play the Crooked Tree Golf Club located nearby. Set on bluffs above Bay Harbor, the course highlights include fairways lined by centuries-old hardwood trees, panoramas of Little Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan and innovative bunkering. 

ACCOMMODATIONS

A variety of options are available. A standard 440 square-foot guest room has two queen beds, a balcony and in-room coffee maker.

The Master Suite is 770 square feet with a fireplace and kitchenette.

For those traveling with multiple family members or for buddy golf trips, the additional suite selections include: The Grand (880 square feet/3 beds), The Quarry (950 square feet/3 beds), The Specialty (1,200 square feet/3 beds), The Tower (2,000 square feet/4 beds) and The Penthouse (3,000 square feet/5 beds).

10 Little Things I Liked

1. The complimentary crisp, luscious apples available in the lobby.


2. The fire pit and chairs just a few feet from Lake Michigan directly behind the Inn.


3. The amazing Schonbek chandelier in the lobby with 34,000 gem-cut crystals and nearly 2,000 lights.


4. The delicious Horny Monk craft beer by Petoskey Brewery that I had at the Vintage Chophouse/Bar.


5. The perfectly prepared N.Y. Strip steak and to-die-for Mac & Cheese Gratin I had at Vintage Chophouse.


6. The life-size chess board near the pool.


7. The stunning lake views and bountiful breakfast buffet at the Sagamore Room.


8. The plush bedding with multiple pillows in my guest room.


9. The friendly and accommodating staff exuding great Midwestern hospitality.


10. The walk on the beach located directly behind the Inn.


DINING/LOUNGES

Vintage Chophouse/Wine Bar--A classic American steakhouse with rich wood appointments, leather chairs, superb wine list and a good selection of craft beers. Dinner menu highlights include Seafood Linguini, Cowboy Ribeye with Smoked Blue Cheese Au Gratin and Herbed Free Range Chicken.

The Sagamore Room--If you think the views on the golf course are great, wait'll you have breakfast at the Sagamore. Expansive windows afford spectacular views of Lake Michigan while you enjoy an impressive breakfast buffet.

Inn Cafe--Great little spot for a cup of coffee, cappuccino, espresso or ice cream and light snacks.  

Cabana Bar--Magnificent views of Lake Michigan, casual dining fare, tropical drinks and daily Happy Hour specials are the draw here.

THINGS TO DO

--Boutique shopping and dining at Village at Bay Harbor adjacent to the Inn.

--A variety of spa services available at the Inn's full-service spa and salon.

--Shopping, dining and sightseeing in historic Petoskey.

--Biking on paths alongside Lake Michigan.

--Swimming in the outdoor pool.

--Enjoying a glass of wine or making S'Mores at the fire pit.

--Sunset watching from the shoreline just a few steps away from the Inn.

--Wine tours at nearby wineries.

--Lake fishing and fly fishing at nearby streams.

--Resort activities such as croquet, bocce ball and a life-size chess board.

LOCATION

Situated just off Highway 31 about 4 miles from downtown Petoskey, Michigan.

GET THE SCOOP

For more information, call 855-688-7023 or click to Inn at Bay Harbor. Address: 3600 Village Harbor Drive, Bay Harbor, Michigan 49770-8577


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

TPC Network Adding New Course in Colorado


If you like TPC courses, you’re gonna love the next addition to the TPC Network that's scheduled to debut in the spring of 2018.

The PGATour’s TPC Network just announced the groundbreaking of  TPC Colorado, which will offer phenomenal panoramas of the Rocky Mountains. It’s located in the northern region of the state on Highway 287 in Berthoud, just north of Longmont and south of Loveland about a 20-minute drive to Fort Collins, a 30-minute drive to Boulder and one hour drive to Denver.

“We’re excited to announce the construction of TPC Colorado, which has been a highly anticipated project from everyone involved and will feature the first TPC course to be built from the ground up since we opened TPC San Antonio in 2010,” says PGA TOUR Chairman of Golf Course Properties Charlie Zink.

Set along the banks of Lonetree, McNeil and Welch Reservoirs, the par-72, 18-hole, championship layout will have elevated ridges with stunning views of Long’s Peak and the entire Front Range and holes along the shorelines of the large reservoirs. Stacked-sod pot bunkers and fescue-lined fairways will give the course a Scottish-style feel.

Designed by Arthur Schaupeter, the course will be built into the natural terrain providing numerous play options and different lines of play for all skill levels. Other courses by Schaupeter include The Republic Golf Club in San Antonio and The Club at Old Hawthorne, the home course for the University of Missouri golf teams.

The golf course will be the centerpiece amenity at an 800-acre master-planned residential community with a clubhouse, community center, pool, fitness facility and a Marina Club with lake access, recreation, waterfront bar and grill, pier and outdoor seating. In addition, there will be more than eight miles of walking trails and other recreation options such as boating, biking, hiking and fishing.

Developed by Heron Lakes Investments, LLC, this will be Colorado’s first ground-up golf course development in nearly 10 years.

Residential offerings at the development will range from multi-million dollar custom estates to a diverse mix of luxurious townhomes and condos. The mixed-use master plan is also zoned for a 30-acre commercial component, allowing small businesses to provide products and services in what has been dubbed “Heron LakesGolf Community.”
Known for hosting PGA TOUR-sponsored golf tournaments, the TPC Network is comprised of 34 premier private, resort and daily fee golf properties designed by some of golf’s most elite architects. It’s resort locations include TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, TPC San Antonio, TPC Scottsdale and TPC Las Vegas.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tee Up in New Jersey

Atlantic City Country Club
As a Florida resident, I'm constantly meeting golfers from New Jersey on the courses down here. They retreat to the Sunshine State for the great winter weather, beaches and countless golf courses. 

Uh, the Key Lime Pie, grilled Red Snapper, Funky Buddha craft beer and Pomperdale New York Deli in Fort Lauderdale are also a few other important enticements.

Fact is, though, during the spring, summer and fall, New Jersey is a darn good place to play golf. The state has a great golf legacy and a plethora of exceptional places to play. I visited the Atlantic City area several months ago and was impressed with the variety and quality of course selections.

New Jersey is a favorite spot for the pros. The 2016 PGA Championship will be played at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield July 25-31 and Liberty National will be the site for The Barclays, one of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup Playoffs, in 2019 and 2022. The LPGA plays its ShopRite Classic every June at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway and they'll contest they're national championship in 2017 when the U.S. Women's Open is played at Trump National Bedminster.
Twisted Dune Golf Club

Hey, fuggedabout the pros, right? 

To find a list of public and daily-fee courses you can play, click to: http://www.visitnj.org/nj/attractions/golfing

For further guidance, here's Golfweek Magazine's list of the Top 10 courses in New Jersey:

Atlantic City CC, North field

Crystal Springs Resort (Ballyowen and Wild Turkey), Hamburg

Twisted Dune, Egg Harbor Township

Shore Gate, Ocean View

Neshanic Valley, Neshanic Station

Ballamor GC, Lopatcong

Stockton Seaview Hotel & GC, Absecon

Sand Barrens GC, Swainton
Seaview Hotel & Golf Club

Here are some notable facts about New Jersey golf:


   The consensus number-one course in the country (and on some lists, the world) is Pine Valley, located in Clementon

   Other top-ranked courses in the state, as rated by the leading golf publications, include both the Upper and Lower Courses at Baltusrol, Plainfield Country Club, Somerset Hills Golf Club, Trump National, Ridgewood, Galloway National, Bayonne Golf Club, Hidden Creek, and Hollywood.

   The United States Golf Association (USGA), which oversees 13 national championships and helps set the rules of golf, is based in Far Hills (Somerset County) in the center of the state.

•   The USGA Museum and Arnold Palmer Centerfor Golf History houses one of the world’s premier collections of golf artifacts and memorabilia. Its exhibits tell the 100-plus-year story of golf in America. The Museum is open to the public.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Great Golf Deals at Georgia State Parks

Wallace Adams Golf Course at Little Ocmulgee State Park
Are you looking for golf deals in all the wrong places?

While cost conscious golf travelers, understandably, flock to golf trails and budget resorts, there are also money-saving deals and great golf to be found at state parks, especially in Georgia.

If you like excellent golf with greens fees in the $25 to $50 price range, I highly suggest you head to Georgia.

Georgia State Parks offer special packages that include lodging and golf.  For example, The Creek at Hard Labor Creek State Park has two day/two night stays in a cabin and two days of golf, starting at $105 per night. To review the packages, click to: Georgia State Parks Golf Packages

Here's the superb menu of courses if you've got "Georgia On Your Mind":

Arrowhead Pointe at Richard B. Russell State Park near Elberton--Bring your camera along with your "A" game to this picturesque 6,800-yard layout that's situated on a peninsula within the state park offering spectacular water panoramas on 10 of the 18 holes skirting the lake. In 2014, Golfweek selected Arrowhead Pointe as the "Sixth Best Municipal Course in the Nation."

Brazell's Creek Golf Course at Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park near Reidsville--Playing to par 71 at 6,821 yards, this unique course has a 1,500-yard winding bridge that connects the two decidedly different nines. The first nine is dominated by tree-lined fairways while the other nine is links-style set on a windswept open landscape.

Georgia Veterans Memorial Golf Course at Lake Blackshear Resort near Cordele--Ranked by Golf Digest as a four-star course, this 6,869-yard Denis Griffiths design on the shores of Lake Blackshear has fairways that wind through mounds and stands of towering loblolly pines.
Lake Blackshear Resort
Highland Walk at Victoria Bryant State Park near Royston--Built on steep rolling hills with wide open, crowned Bermuda fairways, the 6,503-yard Highland Walk is fun and challenging. It has some great deals such as the "All You Can Play" for $50 per day and the twilight rate (after 2 p.m.) for $26 on weekdays and $28 on weekends.

The Creek Golf Course at Hard Labor Creek State Park near Social Circle--While only 6,437-yards long, The Creek offers lots of challenge with narrow tree-lined fairways and Champion Bermuda greens. The first hole, a 434-yard, par 4, is considered by many as one of the toughest opening holes in the state.

The Lakes Golf Course at Laura S. Walker State Park near Waycross--Situated near the Okefenokee Swamp, this 6,596-yard course has three lakes and bunkers and waste areas with native sand. Monday to Friday rates are $27 for 18 holes with cart at The Lakes and an amazing $18 twilight rate for those teeing up after 2 p.m.
The Lakes Golf Course at Laura S. Walker State Park
Meadow Links Golf Course at George T. Bagby State Park near Fort Gaines--Opened in 1998, this affordable 7,007-yard Willard Byrd design is seamlessly woven into beautiful rolling countryside. It has large greens with subtle undulations and fairways rimmed with Bahia rough.

Wallace Adams Golf Course at Little Ocmulgee State Park near Helena--This 6,625-yard layout immerses you in a wonderland of loblolly pines, willows and magnolias with Bermuda fairways and Tif  Eagle Bermuda greens.

For reservations or tee times, call 770-389-7419 or 800-434-0982. For more golf information, click to Georgia State Parks Golf. To access information on accommodations, recreation options, historic sites, special passes, traveling with pets and things to do at Georgia State Parks, click HERE.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Go To the Masters: The Ultimate Spectator Experience


I don't care if you can't break 120. If you're passionate about golf on any level, you absolutely must go to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Amazingly, in more than two decades of writing about golf travel, I had never been to the Masters. Suffice it to say, it was a glaring void in my resume.

Oh, I've had several opportunities through the years, but I was always coaching my kids' soccer games or caddying for them in junior golf tournaments in April. Believe me, I have no regrets at choosing family time over everything else.

I finally made it to the Masters this year, though, thanks to Jim Robustelli, president of  Georgia Sports & Event Marketing Corporation , Inc., who graciously set up my visit to Tuesday's practice round.

The experience amid the magnolias, azaleas, dogwoods and carpet-like fairways far exceeded my expectations. While I could pile on the hyperbole for several sentences, I really don't need to because almost everybody knows (either by watching on television or talking with friends who've attended) about the magical charms of the Masters.

If you want to go, Georgia Sports & Event Marketing can take you there with a variety of Masters packages. Jim and his travel experts have deep ties to the tournament and the city of Augusta with more than 30 years experience and, most importantly, they provide a 100% guarantee of your Masters tickets and badges.

Whether you want a package to attend tournament rounds, a practice round package or a combination of both, Georgia Sports' packages are loaded with great amenities like valet parking across the street form Augusta National, full day hospitality at the Magnolia Manor, shuttle to and from the tournament (from hotels and Magnolia Manor), and on-site program coordination by Georgia Sports Masters Golf Travel experts.
Magnolia Manor
Through the years I've seen lots of travel packages and I think Georgia Sports' are very reasonably priced and value-oriented with lots of extras. Best of all, Jim and his staff take great care of you in all phases of your visit.

Some of the featured hotels in their packages include Comfort Suites Augusta, Jameson Suites Augusta and Home2 Suites by Hilton in Augusta. Georgia Sports also has exclusive rental rights to many homes in the Augusta area. The beautiful, amenity-loaded homes range in size from 3 to 6 bedroom and are located a 5 to 15 minute ride from Augusta National.

The private home packages are a great value if you've got a group of four. Prices are per person based on four guests. For example, at this year's Masters (2016), the 2 Night Early Round Package (which included Masters Tournament Badges on Thursday and Friday and lots of amenities) was priced at $3,382 per person (based on 4 guests). 

Georgia Sports offers a variety of multi-night Masters packages. They also have watch & play and extension packages. 

In addition, Georgia Sports has packages to the U.S. Open, Open Championship, PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, Players Championship, Memorial Tournament, Tour Championship and Walker Cup as well as a host of other big time sports events.

For more information, click to Georgia Sports & Event Marketing Corporation or call 770-518-5558 or 888-704-3140.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

10 Masters Tournament Don'ts


Here are 10 things you absolutely shouldn't do if you want to be an honorable fan, I mean patron:

1. Don't refer to your fellow spectators as fans. At the Masters they're always called "patrons".

2. If you're tired and want to lay down for a spell. Don't. It's bad manners and etiquette to sprawl out and take a nap on the lush green grass.

3. Don't take off your shoes and go barefootin'. It's a bad look and bad form at the Masters.

4. Don't wear your hat backwards like a rapper. In 2011, Rickie Fowler was asked to turn his hat around before a pre-tournament press conference.

5. Don't run. Once again, it's bad manners and etiquette to try and beat your fellow patrons in a foot race to the next hole.

6. No cell phones. Leave it in the car whether it's a practice round or tournament day. If you think you're the one person to sneak it in, think again, the metal detectors are just like the ones at the airport. Cameras, however, are allowed on practice round days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday).

7. Don't try and scalp tickets. Anyone caught selling or handing off tickets within a 2,700 foot barrier around the Augusta National could face misdemeanor charges.

8. Don't ask for autographs on the golf course, only in the parking lot.

9. Don't bring strollers, selfie sticks or periscopes.

10. Don't tip. Tipping is frowned upon at Augusta National.