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:

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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Greatest Show on Turf: Ryder Cup 2016

I've been to a World Series, Orange Bowl game, NCAA basketball tournament games, major NASCAR races and a host of other big time sports events.

My best sports spectator experience, however, was the 2014 Ryder Cup matches at Gleneagles in Scotland.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the patriotic fervor, passion and drama of the Ryder Cup matches. The raucous crowds and cheers that reverberate from one fairway to another give the event the feel of a golf tournament in a soccer stadium.

Watching the best players in the world play for their country just elevates the importance of every putt, every drive and every point won.

If you have the time, money and inclination, I strongly encourage you attend in person to adequately immerse yourself in Ryder Cup mania.

The Course

Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, is one of America's great championship layouts. Opened for play in 1962, this Robert Trent Jones design is a popular choice for some of golf's biggest events. Hazeltine hosted the 1970 and 1991 U.S. Opens, 2002 PGA Championship and 2009 PGA Championship.

Minneapolis/St. Paul

For playing golf, shopping, dining, nightlife and gaming, the Twin Cities has lots of options. There are more than 65 golf courses within a 20 mile radius of the metropolitan area; the Mall of America is the largest shopping and entertainment complex in the U.S. with more than 400 stores; there's a great selection of restaurants such as Alma (New American), I Nonni (Italian) and Butcher & The Boar (American/Beer Garden) to name a few; the North Loop in the Warehouse District is brimming with nighttime activities and there are several casinos within easy driving distance.

Spieth v. McIlroy

Most likely, phenom Jordan Spieth will lead the U.S.A. team against a European team led by Rory McIlroy. The 2016 teams (based on current standings) look like they'll be young, dynamic and exciting. As of March 14, 2016, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler top the U.S.A. standings. On the European side, Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick lead the way.

The Captains

Two of golf's most respected elder statesmen, Davis Love III and Darren Clarke are the captains of the 2016 Ryder Cup teams. Low-key, but fiercely competitive Love has Ryder Cup captain experience at the 2012 matches at Medinah C.C. The popular and affable Clarke served as vice captain in the European wins in 2010 and 2012.

How to Go

If you want to attend, I recommend Premier Golf, a highly respected golf travel company based in Atlanta, Georgia. They've been licensed since 1991 by the PGA of America as the exclusive distributor of official Ryder Cup packages. Their travel specialists have planned and executed a wide variety of Ryder Cup trips for hundreds of clients and they have more experience than anybody in coordinating attendance to this event.

You can choose from a list of packages that includes the Ultimate Ryder Cup Experience with accommodations at the JW Marriott starting at $6,995 per person, double occupancy to the economical Blue Tee Package at the Commons Hotel starting at $2,895 per person, double occupancy.  Other packages include Championship Tee (Hyatt Regency Minneapolis); Resort Package (Mystic Lake Casino Hotel); Gold Tee (Radisson Hotel Bloomington By Mall of America); Gold Tee (Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot); Blue Tee (Best Western Plus Bloomington) and Blue Tee (Residence Inn at The Depot).

All packages include: Four nights accommodations (Thursday Sept. 29-Monday Oct. 3), breakfast daily, Ryder Cup Season Ticket (Thurs.-Sunday), Round-trip transportation daily (between your hotel and Hazeltine National Golf Club), Welcome reception and Ryder Cup Gift.

Some of the optional add-ons include VIP Hospitality upgrade, International Pavilion upgrade (Thurs.-Sunday), additional nights accommodations (ask for quote) and practice round tickets.

I suspect these packages are moving pretty fast. Click to PREMIER GOLF for information or call one of their travel specialists at 866-260-4409.

Friday, February 26, 2016

5 Places to Play Golf While the Dollar is Strong

Remember the great Kool & The Gang song "Celebration"?

Well, it's time to start singing it: "Let's celebrate, it's all right...."

The U.S. dollar has been gaining strength of late and I've got a list of countries where the golf is superb at a very happy price (when you consider the excellent exchange rates).

Here are Five places to consider:

CANADA--The U.S. dollar has been steadily progressing against the Canadian dollar for the past five years so it's a great time to visit up north. Better still, Canadians love to swing the sticks, and I don't just mean hockey sticks. There's great golf all over the country from the picturesque layouts in British Columbia on the west coast to Banff Springs and Jasper Lodge in Alberta to excellent courses in and around Toronto and, the latest rage, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia.

MEXICO--Bueno, Bueno, Bueno...The U.S. dollar to the Mexican Peso has risen more than 22% in value since February 2015. If you've been thinking about playing golf in Mexico, now is a great time with excellent value. You can tee up in all sorts of settings ranging from the all-inclusives in Cancun and Riviera Maya to Puerto Vallarta and the stunning, ruggedly beautiful courses in Los Cabos where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean.

SOUTH AFRICA--If you enjoy stunningly picturesque golf courses, world class wines, luxury hotels and game lodges and safaris where you can see the Big 5 (elephant, leopard, buffalo, lion and rhino), you'll absolutely love South Africa. Whether you decide to tee up in the Las Vegas-like Sun City area near Johannesburg in the north or the Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in the south, or both, you'll find excellent golf courses and great deals on hotels, dining and wine thanks to the favorable exchange rate.

THAILAND--Since February last year (2015), the U.S. dollar is worth about 10% more against the Thai Baht. Golf in Thailand ranges from the luxury beach/golf resorts in the south to the mountainous surroundings in the north. You can also tee up in Bangkok an Pattaya. In fact, there are more than 60 courses near Bangkok. Thailand has a great golf tradition dating back to 1923 so the sport is well ingrained in the tourism infrastructure. Top courses to play include Ayodhya Links, Amata Spring and Alpine Golf Club.

TURKEY--The U.S. dollar is favorable against the Turkish lira right now. While golfers don't immediately think of Turkey as a golf destination, the country has quietly emerged as a great place to combine a beach/golf excursion. The Turkish Riviera on the country's southern coast has 14 golf courses with designer tags like Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and David Feherty.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

2016 PGA Merchandise Show Product Picks

The Guru has to been to more than 20 PGA Merchandise Shows so I've seen just about every new golf product imaginable. "The Show", staged annually in Orlando, Florida is the greatest display of golf products and services on the planet.

I spent three days wandering the miles of aisles at the Orange County Convention Center  at this year's show in late January. With more than 1,000 companies represented there's a great mix of new and old product offerings.

Here are some of the booths and products I liked:

Premier Golf Travel--I heard lots of buzz at "The Show" about the 2016 Ryder Cup. Excitement abounds that Jordan Spieth and other young guns can help U.S.A. get the Cup back. Hazeltine National Golf Club near Minneapolis will be the venue for the 2016 Ryder Cup matches. If you want to go, Premier Golf is the official distributor of Ryder Cup travel packages. I spoke with a couple of their travel experts, Premier Golf President Jim Ward, and international golf travel specialist Ann Mabry. Premier has a great selection of accommodations in their various packages and they can provide you with all sorts of great information on attractions, places to play and dining in the area. C'mon, all together now: "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A..."

Puerto Rico-I spoke with Waleska Lugo, the director of sales/luxury market for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. We talked about the great golf options in areas like San Juan, Dorado Beach, Rio Mar, Bahia Beach and Ponce. There are more than 20 championship golf courses in Puerto Rico. My favorite course in Puerto Rico is Royal Isabela in the northwest corner of the country about 70 minutes from San Juan International Airport. Some of the things I like about Puerto Rico as a golf destination, include: No money exchange. No passport needed. Great airline deals and easy access. Excellent selection of golf courses by top notch designers. Superb cuisine and exceptional restaurant selection in San Juan. Friendly people. Bacardi rum. Rum Punch. Medalla Light Beer. Pina Coladas. El Yunque tropical rain forest...

Sligo Wear--The Guru likes to add a little pizzaz to his wardrobe on the golf course, but I definitely can't go for the in-your-face Loudmouth John Daly look or that over-the-top, orange pumpkin Rickie Fowler fashion statement. Luckily, there's a Montreal, Canada company, Sligo Wear, that makes some great looking, tasteful, colorful golf clothing. "What sets us apart are our bright colors, patterns and design detail," Bernadette Ray, Sligo's Florida sales rep told me at "The Show". "The colors and patterns are dynamic and fun." Sligo offers shirts, shorts, pants, sweaters, wind shirts, wind jackets, belts, hats and other accessories.

Sundog Eyewear--I ran into my long-time friend Hal Quinn (we teed it up in China a few years ago) at the Sundog booth. He introduced me to the company's TrueBlue line of sunglasses. I absolutely love the TrueBlue Laser sunglasses I wear from their Performance Collection.  One of its advantages is they reduce short term eye fatigue by decreasing veiled glare. The TrueBlue lens is the only non-prescription sunglass lens in the world to incorporate both synthesized Melanin and OLP (Ocular Lens Pigment) to provide ultimate eye protection and vision performance. Quinn and I had a great conversation about the damaging impact of blue light on the front and back of the eye. Sundog Eyewear has  been at the forefront of lens technology to combat the negative effects of blue light. For golfers, Sundog also has some great selections in its Athleisure and Athleisure/Polarized collections.

TaylorMade M2 Irons--Introduced at "The Show", these game improvement irons are designed to give golfers greater distance and higher trajectory. Hmm, the Guru could use both of those as well as a major reduction in three putts. What's the secret to these new irons?I was told that club designers positioned the center gravity lower and farther back in the clubhead.
Topgolf--I'm a huge fan of these golf entertainment/nightclub style complexes that feature point-scoring golf games with micro-chipped golf balls, great drinks and fab food like Asian Sesame wings and cinnamon-sugar dusted donut holes. I'm not the only one who loves Topgolf, either. Last year more than 8 million people visited the 24 Topgolfs around the world. At "The Show" Topgolf made two big announcements: They'll soon break ground on Topgolfs in Orlando and Nashville with scheduled openings for early 2017 and they acquired the World Golf Tour, the leading web and mobile golf game.

Voice Caddie--My friend Tommy Glasgow of the Buffalo Brand Invigoration Group introduced me to this great company, which has a slew of high-tech products like a portable launch monitor, Hybrid Golf GPS Watch and Golf GPS Band. One of their reps showed me the VC300 Voice Output Golf GPS, an amazing device that you clip to the bill on your hat or visor. There are 30,000 courses preloaded and it has automatic course and hole recognition. With a simple click, it provides distances from the front, center and back of the green. Better still, it only costs $129.99. 
VPAR--I first used the VPAR golf app at Salish Cliffs Golf Club, an excellent resort course near Tacoma, Washington. Hey, now you can use your paper scorecard as a beer coaster because this special piece of technology keeps your score and a lot more. VPAR allows you to set up your own golf tournaments with friends and follow their scores in real time leaderboards on your phone or to share online. It also has a GPS course planner and tracks performance (or, in my case, lack of performance).