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...

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