Friday, July 27, 2012

Top 10 Value-Priced Golf Travel Destinations

Tennessee Golf Trail
With the never ending recession, high gas prices and a sorry U.S. dollar exchange rate, it's more difficult than ever to travel and play golf these days.

Hey, even the wealthiest among us get serious sticker shock when they see some of the greens fees. The Pebble Beach Golf Links wants $495 to play their historic, lush and picturesque course on the Pacific Ocean and you'll pay $360 on the weekend to roam the fairways at Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina.

Bay Harbor in Northern Michigan
Like a lot of travelers, I don't want to tap my home equity line of credit just to play a round of golf.

For package deal seekers and those looking to spend judiciously till the good economic times start to roll, I offer you my top 10 favorite value-priced golf travel destinations:

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (Alabama) --The granddaddy of all golf trails, this collection of 468 holes at 11 locations offers golfers excellent golf at great prices. Greens fees start at $46 and the Trail offers some spectacular off-season deals (November 14 to March 11). The Trail also has affordably priced resorts Such as the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort  & Spa and Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel & Conference Center at Grand National. 

Northwest Ireland --Somewhat remote and often overlooked by Americans as they scurry to Ballybunion and Doonbeg, this area has spectacular scenery and modest greens fees. With its narrow country roads and sleepy farming and fishing villages, you can immerse in an engaging way of Irish life. While the courses aren't as publicized as other Irish tracks, make no mistake, they are excellent plays. A few to get you started include Connemara, Carne, Enniscrone and Rosses Point.

New Mexico --Uncrowded and affordable public access courses in mountain and high desert settings and off-the-course activities like casino gambling on Indian reservations and art gallery shopping for Indian and western art make New Mexico a great value golf getaway destination. For exceptional golf packages, the marketing alliance called “Golf on the Santa Fe Trail” features eight golf courses situated along a 100-mile swatch of the Rio Grande River Valley with green fees starting at $52 on weekdays and $65 on weekends. All of the courses are situated within a two-hour drive of each other.

Algarve, Portugal --Stretching along Portugal’s southern coast, the Algarve has some of the most photogenic beaches in the world, a series of quiet, sandy coves framed turquoise water and broken up by the reddish cliffs and sandstone rocks. Inland, the coastal plains are peppered with fig, eucalyptus, and olive trees. Not surprisingly, when you drop in 20 golf courses amidst this awesome backdrop, you’ve got one of the most desirable places in the world to tee up. I wouldn't say golf is cheap to play here (no place in Europe has inexpensive greens fees), however, when you factor in the scenery, quality of course designs and the relaxing lifestyle with inexpensive dining options, it's a bargain.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina --It has lots of contenders and pretenders, but Myrtle Beach is still the capital of the value-priced golf vacation. With more than 100 golf courses and every kind of accommodations available (from motels and economically priced hotel chains to condos), it offers phenomenal course selection plus a wealth of off-the-course entertainment options like shopping complexes, miniature golf courses and amusement parks. The competition for golfers is fierce in Myrtle Beach so there's always a great deal to be found.

Tennessee Golf Trail --All together now, let's sing "Rocky Top". You’ll certainly celebrate when you discover the Tennessee Golf Trail, part of the Tennessee State Parks system, which features a collection of nine courses, including three designed by Jack Nicklaus. Green fees are in the $40 to $65 range. Consider this, you can play the Nicklaus designed Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain in Crossville for $36 in the off-season (November 15 to March 31) and $47 the rest of the year.

Northern Michigan --This region is one of my favorites for a budget happy summer golf getaway. The cooler summer days seldom eclipse 80 degrees and the long days allow for 36, even 54 holes of golf a day. There are more than 200 courses in the region and accommodations in all price categories, including multi-amenity resorts, condos, chalets, cottages, hotels and inns and value-priced hotel chains such as Best Western, Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn Express. Among the high-profile resorts in the region are Treetops, Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain, Inn at Bay Harbor and Shanty Creek.

Gulf Shores, Alabama --A family-oriented beach destination on the Gulf of Mexico, it has an excellent marketing alliance, Golf Gulf Shores, that features 9 golf courses and customized stay and play packages. Some of the top plays include Cotton Creek at Craft Farm and Cypress Bend at Craft Farms, a pair of exceptionally maintained and lush Arnold Palmer designed layouts; Kiva Dunes, a “Top 100 Course in America” by Golf Digest that was designed by former U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate and the Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club, a 27-hole complex surrounded by the Bon Secour Wildlife Preserve. Throw in 32 miles of blindingly white sand beaches, great seafood restaurants and the don't miss Flora-Bama Lounge (home of the mullet toss) and you've got a fantastic value-priced golf/beach getaway destination.

Mesquite, Nevada --Leave Vegas to the high-rollers. This folksy, unpretentious community 77 miles north of Sin City has nine championship courses, 24-hour casino gaming and celebrity entertainment. A marketing alliance called "Golf Mesquite Nevada" has excellent golf packages featuring area resorts and hotels. Among the courses offered are Coyote Springs, Palmer Golf Club at Oasis, Canyons Golf Club at Oasis and Conestoga Golf Club.

Seattle, Washington --No way, you say. Reconsider, my golfing friends, there's more to Seattle than just a great cup of coffee, the Seahawks and Mariners and a nice steady rain. Seattle has a good inventory of golf courses with affordable greens fees and you don't have to fight the tourist hordes or locals for tee times. For the most part, Seattle's courses are uncrowded. Municipal layouts like Jefferson Park and Jackson Park are great deals. Daily fee options include the Golf Club at New Castle Coal Creek Course, Druids Glen, Chambers Bay and Washington National.

Monday, July 16, 2012

10 Reasons The Open Championship is the Best Major

Tiger Woods just called it “my favorite major.” While I don’t condone some of Mr. Woods’, uh, questionable off-the-course activities, I agree with second best golfer never to have won 18 majors.
Here’s why I love the Open Championship:
  1. You absolutely have no idea who’s going to win. While so and so might be playing great going into the tournament, it’s the player that adjusts to the conditions and course the best who ultimately wins. It’s not necessarily a big name, either. Ask Todd Hamilton, Paul Lawrie and Ben Curtis.
  2. It’s not played on some tricked up U.S. Open course that constantly has announcers saying, “Ya know, par is a great score on this hole.”
  3. With ESPN’s early morning coverage (starts at 5 a.m. Thursday and Friday) you get to rise in darkness and relive your old newspaper delivering days.
  4. It encourages golfers to hit a variety of shots rather than driver, short iron, over and over again.
  5. You receive lots of history from announcers and commentators but not the annoying lovefest you get when they drone on about Augusta National and the Masters.
  6. It’s so enjoyable to see how peeved the Brits get when us Yanks refer to their Open Championship as the British Open.
  7. Different weather conditions make golfers change strategy on a day-to-day basis.
  8. Something about the Claret Jug. Is it me, or is it the best looking  trophy in sports?
  9. We get to hear British golf commentators like Peter Alliss use terms like brolly (umbrella), buggy (golf cart) and trolley (pull cart).
  10. Watching British Open Courses on television is inspiring and makes me want to practice and play more golf.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Florida's Next Great Golf Resort

 It's Florida's answer to Oregon's Bandon Dunes Resort, Nebraska's Sand Hills Golf Club and Nova Scotia's Cabot Links.

(Click Here to check out an amazing video of Streamsong.)

The new Streamsong Resort in Central Florida will feature two world-class 18-hole championship golf courses at a, shall we say, off-the-beaten path location between Orlando and Tampa in Polk County. It's a 60 minute drive from Tampa International Airport and 90 minutes from Orlando International Airport.

Streamsong is not exactly in the middle of nowhere, but very close. Upon completion, it'll definitely be worth the drive.

The courses, designed in a unique collaboration agreement by Coore & Crenshaw (Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) and Renaissance Golf Design (Tom Doak) are scheduled to debut in mid December (2012).

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw

Among Coore and Crenshaw's more notable designs are Barton Creek Resort and Spa in Austin, Texas, Sand Hills in Mullen, Nebraska, Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Arizona and Bandon Trails and Bandon Preserve at Bandon Dunes Resort in Bandon, Oregon. 

Topping Doak's impressive portfolio are Cape Kidnappers Golf Resort in New Zealand, Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald Golf Links at Bandon Dunes Resort and Ballyneal Golf Club in Holyoke, Colorado.

The courses are built on spectacular terrain that legend has Hernando Desoto and his army camped on in 1539. Massive sand dunes, dramatic, undulating landforms and lakes dominate the golf experience. Interestingly, the land was formerly mined for phosphate, which is a key ingredient in fertilizer.

Doak's "Blue Course" will measure 7,200 yards from the back tees, while the shorter Coore/Crenshaw "Red Course" will play about 7,000 yards from the tips. 

While both courses take full advantage of the impressive terrain, the most noticeable differences between the courses will be the contours of the greens and bunker design styles. 

The clubhouse, which will also open in mid December, will have 12 guest rooms, a restaurant with a steakhouse theme and 4,000 square feet of conference space.


Things to know

Location: Approximately 5 miles west of the town of Ft. Meade, near the Polk-Hardee County line on the south.

Hotel: Overlooking a large lake, the 216-room hotel, slated to open in the fall of 2013, will be comparable in ambiance, class and style to resorts like Keswick Hall in Virginia and Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.

Hotel architecture: Highlighted by stone, wood and glass, the hotel will seamlessly blend with the surrounding landscape with lakes on its sunrise and sunset sides. Without city lights to hinder the starlight views, guests can use the rooftop veranda for a superb scenic observation area.

Hotel Amenities: Three-meal/steak restaurant, lounge/bar, rooftop veranda, 18,500 square-feet of meeting space, full-service spa with private treatment rooms, fitness center, indoor spa pool, shooting range, fishing facilities and personal enrichment classes and programs.