Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Location: Westgate River Ranch Resort

Even if you're a city slicker who doesn't know the right end of a horse, I guarantee you'll like this luxe ranch resort near Lake Wales in Polk County Florida, about an 80 minute drive from Orlando.

Set on 1,700 acres, Westgate River Ranch is the largest dude ranch east of the Mississippi River.  You get a true ranch escape experience because the property is surrounded on all sides by approximately 400,000 acres of state and federally protected wetlands.

Fully renovated and refurbished, the resort offers a first class ranch lifestyle getaway. If you doubt a greenhorn like The Golf Travel Guru, how about the kudos provided by one of the genre's esteemed experts. In 2013, Westgate River Ranch received the Gene Kilgore "World's Best Ranches Award" from, the number one website for dude ranch vacations worldwide. Other awards include the 2012 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence and the 2011 Florida Chapter of the National Skeet Shooting Association Skeet Club of the Year.

For golfers, there's a nine-hole, on-site golf course and some excellent 18-hole options nearby. (See golf subhead below).


If you participate in all the recreation activities at Westgate River Ranch, take it from the Guru, you're going to be one tired cowboy or cowgirl.

In a two day stay, Mrs. Guru and I took a hayride, attended the Saturday night rodeo, hit the dance floor for some line dancing to a live band, engaged in some Trap & Skeet shooting, rode horses and took a nature hike.

Other things to do, include airboat and swamp buggy rides, zip lining, bungee trampoline, rock climbing, a mechanical bull, guided fishing tours and a petting farm and pony rides.

If you really want to get away from the smart phone, tablet and computer screen, this place is the perfect antidote.  The activities are wholesome and just plain fun.


Rest assured, you don't have to stay in a bunk house at River Ranch. The accommodations menu runs the gamut from tastefully appointed standard guest lodge rooms and suites to multi-bedroom cottages and cabins.

If you're really into the great outdoors, there are also places for tent camping, glamping and RV camping.

We stayed in a Deluxe Lodge Suite, which was completely renovated in October 2013. (See picture below). It had all the amenities a city slicker turned weekend cowboy needs such as a big screen flat panel television and a kitchnette with a range, mini refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker.

Ten Little Things I Liked

1. The fire pit surrounded by wood benches in front of the saloon where you can sip on a brew and gaze up at the stars.

2. The mechanical bull in front of the saloon that costs only $5 a ride.

3. The general store, which has everything from Barbeque Bloody Mary Mix to breakfast sandwiches with country biscuits.

4. The rodeo staged every Saturday night featuring bull riding, barrel racing and an inspiring patriotic theme that'll make you extra proud to be an American.

5. The cowboy crooner that sings and tells stories on the old-fashioned, tractor-pulled hayride that weaves through the property and the adjacent KICCO Wildlife Management Area.

6. The amazing group of buffalo you'll see grazing by the first tee of the golf course.

7.  The outdoor dance floor in front of the saloon where you can line dance till the cows come home.

8. The longhorn cattle you see grazing in the pasture as you walk to the Westgate Smokehouse Grill restaurant.

9. The River Chips (pickle chips tossed in flour and cornmeal) that are fried and served with ranch dressing at the Smokehouse Grill.

10. The big 32 oz. boot (a plastic one) of beer at the River Ranch Saloon that costs $8 with $5 refills.


Here's a list of other important amenities at the resort:

--The Westgate River Ranch Aviation Center with a 5,000 foot fully paved runway with lights and fuel service accommodations.

--River Ranch Saloon, which has a full bar, live music and dance floor.

--The General Store and Village shops.

--WiFi is available at the General Store, Main Lodge, Saloon and Smokehouse Grill.

--Miniature golf course

--A catch and release fishing pond

--Westgate Smokehouse Grill where you can order steaks, ribs, chicken, salads, burgers and more.

--Little White Chapel, where they hold wedding ceremonies and non-denominational services every Sunday.

--A full-service marina.

--Swimming pool and hot tub

--Conference Center

--Rodeo Arena, where a western-style rodeo is staged every Saturday at 7:30 p.m.


The on-site, 9 hole, par-36 golf course at River Ranch measures 3,321 yards. Peppered with large mature oak trees and water features, the course is playable for all skill levels. It's beautiful in its simplicity and the golf experience would be comparable to playing at a good, reliable municipal course. Not many golfers seem to play so you most likely will have the course to yourself our just a few other golfers unless there's a group outing. When you're out on the course, you get the sense you're hundreds of miles out in the country. It's a great ambiance and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours if you want a reprieve from ranch activities.

There's a driving range and putting green near the course and balls and club rentals are available. Greens fees are $20 for nine holes.

For those who want to step up and play an 18-hole course during your stay at Westgate River Ranch, there are a couple of options less than a 10 minute drive away: Indian Lakes Estates Country club has a George Cobb designed 6,485-yard layout built in 1962 and the Oakwood Golf Club features a 6,891-yard course designed by Karl Litten that opened in 1993.


Westgate River Ranch is located just south of Lake Kissimmee about 25 miles east of the town of Lake Wales just off State Road 60.


For more information or to book a reservation, call 863-692-1321 or click to Westgate River Ranch.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Top 10 Golf Travel Trends For 2014

Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria
It used to be father and son trips were all the rage. Now, grandpa and grandma want to get in on the fun. The Baby Boomer demographic is what drove golf to its unparalleled popularity and growth in the 1990s. As a group, Boomers love to play golf and as more of them retire with no job to occupy their time and attention, the prospect of playing golf in an exotic destination with family members is just too great to pass up. In 2013, 40% of families went on a multi-generational vacation. Grandparents travel about 25% more than the average leisure traveler.

More travelers will use smart phones to check-in to hotels and book reservations at restaurants. Mobile apps are essentially replacing the hotel concierge as the first place travelers go to for information and directions. In addition, a selection of great travel apps have hit the market making planning and coordinating trips easier. Some of my favorite trav apps include Four Square, Flight Track Pro, Packing Pro and Onanda Currency Converter. An increasing number of travelers, especially those under 45 years old use mobile devices for online research.

France--Host site of the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National on the outskirts of Versailles near Paris, France is aggressively courting golf tourists with 550 courses, including four rated in Continental Europe's Top 10.

Turkey--The Turkish Riviera on the southern coast takes the world stage with the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final at the Maxx Royal Course in the Belek region. A legitimate golf destination, the Belek area has 14 golf courses with designer tags like Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie and more than 30 four-star and five-star hotels.

Sweden--With 300 golf courses and native golfers like Annika Sorenstam, Henrik Stenson and Anna Nordqvist singing its praises, Sweden has arrived as a golf travel destination. It was recently selected the "Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year 2014" by the International Association of Golf Travel Operators (IAGTO).

Malaysia--It has more than 200 golf courses with several spectacular multi-amenity resorts in mountain, seashore and rain forest settings. Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed courses in Malaysia near its largest cities Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru.

Bulgaria--Seemingly out of nowhere, Bulgaria has arrived as a golf destination. The Cape Kaliakra area on the Black Sea Coast is home to three dynamic courses--Lighthouse (Ian Woosnam), BlackSeaRama (Gary Player) and Thracian Cliffs (Gary Player). The inland Sofia destination offers play on Pravets Golf (Peter Harradine), Pirin Golf (Ian Woosnam) and St. Sofia (Paul McGinley)

China--Mission Hills resorts in Shenzhen and Hainan, which encompasses numerous golf courses by big name designers like Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye and Nick Faldo, dominate the golf tourism scene. China has gone golf crazy and there are are plethora of golf projects in the development stages.

Vietnam--There are 25 golf courses and more than 60 projects at different stages of development in Vietnam. The Danang and Hoi An area has spectacular beaches, a good selection of first class hotels and courses like the Montgomerie Golf Links Vietnam designed by Colin Montgomerie and Danang Golf Club, a Greg Norman design. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) both offer a good selection of courses.

Increasingly, golf travel companies, resorts and coop marketing organizations are announcing package deals on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and other social media. Golf Travel companies, in particular, will put a greater emphasis on interacting with their clients to keep them up-to-date on special packages, trips and events.

6. RYDER CUP 2014
The globally popular event will put the spotlight on Gleneagles Resort in Scotland, the host site. Golf travelers will attend the matches (September 26-28) and play lots of golf in Scotland. Gleneagles is situated 50 miles from Edinburgh and Glasgow and about 70 miles from St. Andrews so world-renowned courses like the Old Course, Carnoustie and Gullane will get lots of play.

This innovative developer has created amazing golf courses that golfers will travel long distances to play. Bandon Dunes on the southern Oregon coast has five courses oozing with "wow" factor. In Canada, Keiser's Cabot Links in Nova Scotia is one of the country's most talked about layouts. Scheduled to open nearby in 2015 is Cabot Cliffs, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design set high on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, with a stunning par three similar to No. 16 at Cypress Point. At Bandon Dunes, an 18-hole putting course at Pacific Dunes called "Punchbowl Putting Course"is slated to open May 2014.

Savvy golf travelers are increasingly selecting destinations that include gaming, beach, mountains or theme parks. Gaming destinations with big name entertainment shows such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno/Lake Tahoe and Mississippi's Gulf Coast feature an extensive menu of golf courses and casinos. Popular U.S. seaside destinations include the Monterey Peninsula in California, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Kiawah Island, South Carolina, Bandon Dunes, Oregon and San Diego, California. Mountain destinations drawing golfers include the White Mountains region in New Hampshire, western North Carolina, Sun Valley, Idaho and ski towns with golf course in Colorado such as Breckenridge, Aspen and Vail. Popular theme park destinations include Orlando, Florida, San Antonio, Texas, Williamsburg, Virginia, Tampa, Florida and Branson, Missouri.

When will they stop? Apparently, not anytime soon as hotels and airlines have fallen in love with this "additional revenue" producer. Get ready for more annoying service, parking and Internet fees from hotels and luggage and boarding pass fees from airlines.

Ireland is on a roll. The warm and friendly Irish people, a slew of great courses and other enticements continue to make Ireland appealing, especially to golfers who've already played in Scotland. The most popular courses include Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Royal Portrush, Old Head, Tralee, Lahinch, Portmarnock, Doonbeg and Waterville. Tourist sites like the stunning Cliffs of Moher and special events such as the Penn State vs. UCF football game (August 30, 2014) enhance the appeal.

10. CRAMPED AIR TRAVEL As airlines "right size" their aircraft, planes will be fuller with fewer empty seats. When was the last time you stretched out on some empty seats on an international flight? Like, uh, never. Most products improve over time, but airlines seem to be going backward. Some of my pet peeves (which are only getting worse) include: Cramped seating, crowded aisles with clueless passengers trying to stuff oversize carry-on bags into bins and overpriced snacks.

Monday, November 4, 2013

On Location: Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort

You can kayak and canoe its 11-mile lagoon system, bike its shady paths and jog on its flat, hard-packed 3-mile beach, but Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island (South Carolina) is a golf resort at its core. A sizeable amount of its 2,000 acres is devoted to three championship golf courses.

A wonderland of moss draped oaks, palmetto trees, tall pines and Atlantic Ocean beaches, Palmetto Dunes is an adroitly designed, self-contained, amenity-rich resort that encourages you to quickly get into relax mode.

Golf is the dominant amenity at the resort, but golfers who are also fitness buffs and nature lovers will enjoy the varied recreation offerings.


If you rank Palmetto Dunes' three courses by rounds played, the Robert Trent Jones Course would be number one.

"The Jones Course has the most demand," director of golf Clark Sinclair told me during breakfast at the resort's Big Jim's Restaurant one morning. "but, the Hills and George Fazio are excellent plays as well and they have their own distinct personalities. We take great pride in our course conditioning on all three courses and all offer an exceptional experience. Regardless of the course they choose to play, I don't think they'll be disappointed."

Robert Trent Jones Course--One of Hilton Head Island's most notable courses, this highly ranked gem was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones and later reshaped and restructured by Jones protege Roger Rulewich. The unique design features an amazing lagoon system that comes into play on 11 of the 18 holes. Get your camera out on the par five 10th hole, which has a spectacular backdrop of high dunes speckled with sea oats and the Atlantic Ocean.

Arthur Hills Course--Built on a series of rolling dunes with a fairly constant ocean breeze and water on 10 holes, this layout is challenging, yet playable and enjoyable for mid-handicappers who play the correct set of tees. It plays 6,122 yards from the middle white tees. One of the inspiring features of the overall golf experience is viewing the Historic Leamington Lighthouse, which is located on the course.

George Fazio Course--With its long par fours, this par-70 layout is considered by many as one of the toughest tests on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton. Superbly designed by George Fazio with assistance from his nephew Tom Fazio, this course has innovative bunkering and wonderfully placed water hazards.


One of Palmetto Dunes' great appeals to stay and play golfers are the wide variety of accommodations available. The exceptional rental program features everything from one-bedroom villas to six-bedroom homes.

I stayed in the Queens Grant Villas, which are near the entrance of the resort only a couple of blocks from the Robert Trent Jones clubhouse, General Store and tennis center. Some of the things I liked about my two-bedroom villa were the walk-in shower in the master bedroom, parking space only a few feet from the front door, an outdoor patio with a grill (where Mrs. Guru and I shared a nice chilled bottle of Vinho Verde Portuguese wine one evening after golf), a full-size refrigerator (perfect for storing my Shiner Bock beers) and a fully-equipped kitchen complete with a corkscrew. Other highlights include a community outdoor swimming pool and easy access to bike trails and the beach.

There are a variety of rental villa and home options available with these types of views: Courtyard, golf course, lagoon, marina, near ocean, ocean, oceanfront, pool and resort.


While the golfer in the family is roaming the fairways, spouses and family members who don't play golf have access to a variety of things to do, such as:

Charter deep sea fishing
Inshore fishing
Sport crabbing
Dolphin tours
Nature cruises
Sailing cruises
Bike rentals (on-site)
Private nature tours
Beachfront dining at the Dunes House
Dining at Big Jim's at the Robert Trent Jones Clubhouse
Shopping and dining at Shelter Cove Harbour and Marina (free shuttle bus)
Kayaking and canoeing
Golf academy

10 Little Things I Liked

1. The vaulted ceiling at my Queen's Grant villa.

2. Easy check-in and check-out at the Welcome Center.

3. The General Store near the Robert Trent Jones clubhouse that has just about everything you need.

4. The flat, hard-packed beach that makes it easy to ride a bike, jog or walk.

5. The spectacular, inspiring ocean view from the 10th green on the Robert Trent Jones Course.

6. Clark Sinclair, the affable and helpful director of golf.

7. The excellent tennis center.

8. The resort's location across the street from the Shelter Cove Harbour, a marina, dining and entertainment complex.

9. The beautiful shaded bike trails that weave throughout the property.

10. The Hilton Head Outfitters, the on-site shop where you can conveniently rent bikes, kayaks and canoes at reasonable prices.


Traveling north or south on I-95, take SC Exit 8 onto Highway 278 East. Proceed about 18 miles. After crossing the bridge onto Hilton Head Island, Palmetto Dunes is situated mid-island at mile marker 8. It is best reached by Highway 278 Business (William Hilton Parkway. At the intersection in front of Palmetto Dunes, use the left turn lanes into the resort. The Welcome Center is the first building on the right.

Nearby areas with excellent courses include Bluffton, situated between the Island and I-95 on Highway 278; Beaufort, 25 miles from the Island and Savannah, 31 miles from Hilton Head.

The Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is about a one hour drive from Palmetto Dunes (50 miles) and the on-island Hilton Head Airport is six miles from the resort.

Address: 4 Queens Folly Road, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
Toll Free: 800-827-3006
Local: 843-785-9100


You can customize a golf package by contacting Palmetto Dunes Resort at their website or by calling 866-380-1778. A golf travel company I highly recommend for Hilton Head Island golf packages is Golfpac Travel in Orlando.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Harbour Town Golf Links: When the Lighthouse Beckons

I played Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island (South Carolina) a couple of days ago.

I'm still on a golfer's high with images of luxury boats and a candy stripe lighthouse dancing in my mind.

I first played Harbour Town 13 years ago and had a blast playing with my 10-year old son.

Flash forward to this past weekend and this time around my son is a strapping 23-year old who bombs it off the tee and wonders why "Pops" can't keep up with him.

We struck gold with the weather on our latest trip. It was 68 degree beauty in late October.  Our forecaddie, Lee, said it was one of the best days of the year.

Following the round, my son and I celebrated our good fortune a little differently this time. When he was 10, we went with the ice cream with double sprinkles. On this occasion we retired to the clubhouse bar and celebrated our enviable surroundings with a frosty IPA by the Palmetto Brewing Company of Charleston, South Carolina.

Absolutely, don't miss the cozy bar at the Harbour Town clubhouse. With its framed golf pictures and rich furnishings, it provides the ideal atmosphere to discuss the day's round and toast your good luck.


Risking a scolding and impending arrest from the hyperbole police, I view Harbour Town as a course with the elegance of Augusta national, the pine scented ambiance of Pinehurst and the water panorama excitement of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

If you don't believe the hype from yours truly,  PGA TOUR players (in a survey by Golf World) selected Harbour Town Golf Links as their second favorite course right behind Augusta National. Harbour Town hosts the PGA TOUR's RBC Heritage every April.

It's a perfect test for the pros. With tight fairways and small greens, you must control your accuracy and trajectory and be able to work the ball left or right to score well. If you're a weekend hacker or casual player, you must play the correct tees for your skill level or you'll need a calculator to tabulate your score and several sleeves of balls to finish your round.

While Pete Dye (with consultation by Jack Nicklaus) adroitly designed all 18 holes at Harbour Town, I consider the final stretch of holes (number 13 to the lighthouse) among the best anywhere.

No. 14 at Harbour Town Golf Links
Often overlooked by golfers so enamored with the lighthouse and finishing hole are two of the most picturesque and fun-to-play par threes. Number 14 (192 yards from the back tees, 165 yards from the blues and 148 from the whites) incorporates a beautiful pond, a bulkhead framed green, tall pines and moss draped oaks. As you gaze at the setting off the tee, the reflection of the trees off the pond creates a surreal effect.

Number 17 (185 yards from the back tees, 174 from the blues and 152 from the whites) is a scenic gem with an expansive backdrop of the Calibogue Sound. The tee shot, over a lagoon and high grasses, is an adventurous one. A long, narrow bunker skirts the left side of the green and continues up almost to the forward tees and a small, menacing bunker waits to gobble up errant shots right of the green.  Don't wait to take out your camera or phone camera on 18, this beauty deserves a few shots as well.

If you're an avid PGA TOUR fan and watch tournaments regularly on television, you, no doubt, tune in to watch the RBC Heritage. Like Augusta National, you're so familiar with many of the holes at Harbour Town that you feel like you know the course even if you've never played it.

Pete Dye has some marvelous courses around the world at places like Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, but no Dye hit list would be complete without this Sea Pines Resort gem on Hilton Head Island.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Location: TPC San Antonio/JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa

While some might remember the Alamo and Davey Crockett and the gang, my thoughts go to TPC San Antonio, home to two spectacular golf courses designed by Pete Dye and Greg Norman and the amenity-laden JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa.

My memories harken to playing golf in a spectacular hill country setting that makes you feel like you're hundreds of miles from downtown San Antonio. (Downtown is only 18 miles away) Once you get done with golf, the JW Marriott San Antonio was specifically designed with golfers in mind with features like a mammoth sports bar with Texas size televisions, a spacious lobby bar where you can sink into comfy leather chairs and lots of places to lounge outside around a fireplace and discuss the highs and lows of your golf round with a single malt scotch or frosty brew in hand.


The quality of golf at TPC San Antonio is verified by this simple fact: It is only one of three properties in the country to host two PGA TOUR events each year (the other two are TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach). The AT&T Oaks Course plays host to the Valero Texas Open and the AT&T Canyons Course is host to the Champions Tour AT&T Championship.

AT&T Oaks course

Designed by Greg Norman and PGA TOUR player consultant Sergio Garcia, the Oaks has a good balance of wide and more narrow tree-lined fairways. Highlights include downhill holes that play into the prevailing wind and uphill holes that play downwind, Champion Bermuda greens and lots of native grasses and plants.

AT&T Canyons Course

Designed by Pete Dye and PGA TOUR player consultant Bruce Lietzke, the Canyons has dramatic elevation changes and a plethora of Hill Country views as well as panoramas of a 750-acre nature preserve. The rugged hills are dotted with oak and cedar trees. The greens are quick and true.


Overlooking the AT&T Oaks Course, the 42,000 square foot clubhouse has outdoor decks with golf course views, full-service men's and women's locker rooms and a hallway dotted with dozens of vintage black and white photos of Texas golf legends and icons.

For dining, the 18 Oaks restaurant at the clubhouse offers prime cuts and traditional steakhouse fare as well as a bountiful Sunday Brunch loaded with gourmet style delicacies.


Tasteful appointments in metals, tooled leather, carved wood and hewn stonework are plentiful in each of the 1,002 rooms and 85 suites at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa.

I stayed in a 460 square-foot Deluxe Room, which has a Marriott Revive Bed, 37 inch LCD HDTV, work desk and separate shower and bathtub.

Main hotel amenities:
--Lantana Spa
--Seven dining options
--River Bluff Water Experience with six acres of heated pools, fountains, waterfalls, rivers and poolside lounges
--BMW Experience
--High Velocity Sports Bar
--Crooked Branch Lobby Bar

10 Little Things I liked

1. The comfortable sitting area on the back veranda with views of the fountains, flowers and golf course in the distance. On a cool evening you can enjoy a warm libation around one of the fireplaces.

2. World-class onion rings at the High Velocity sports bar. Order them with a Shiner Bock on draft and you'll have the perfect celebration after a round of golf.

3. Seven fluffy pillows on my king size bed with European style bedding.

4. The tribute to champions hallway at the TPC San Antonio clubhouse that's dotted with vintage photographs of Texas golf icons like Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino.

5. The spacious lobby bar appointed with rich leather furnishings, tall ceilings and towering windows with views of the fountain.

6. The amazing Sunday brunch at 18 Oaks.

7. The test drive BMWs available to guests.

8. The expansive pool area with a winding speed slide.

9. The proximity of the clubhouse and golf courses which are just a few steps from the back of the hotel.

10. Fantastic sunrises you'll see from the balcony of your room.


TPC San Antonio and the JW Marriott San Antonio are located 12 miles from the international airport and 18 miles north of downtown San Antonio.


The experts on Texas golf travel are Texas Bound For Golf, a company that can design packages to JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa as well as destinations like Austin, Dallas, Houston and other areas of the state.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What's New for Golf Vacationers in 2014

If you're sick and tired of the constant drumbeat of gloom and doom economic news, I hope I can remedy that problem for you.

Finally, here's some good news about exciting happenings in the golf travel world in 2014:

Slated to debut early 2014 is a luxury 210-room main lodge at Streamsong Resort in Polk County near Lakeland, Florida. Amenities will include three restaurants and two lounge areas, an indoor pool, outdoor infinity pool, fitness center, full-service spa with multiple treatment rooms, retail shopping, hiking, birding tours, sporting clays and lakefront fishing complex with guides, outfitters and boating equipment. Situated 53 miles from Tampa and 69 miles from Orlando, Streamsong is home to two of golf's more celebrated new courses that opened in 2012. Set on formerly mined land, the courses incorporate hills, dramatic land forms, sweeping sand dunes, ridges and vistas. The two 18-hole courses were designed by Tom Doak and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales, the venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup matches, will debut 10 new luxury lodges in 2014, which is part of a planned development of 60 lodges. The large, multi-bedroom log cabins will be named Hunter Lodges. Offering views of the Usk Valley, the lodges will be situated near Celtic Manor's Twenty Ten Ryder Cup course.

The $3.5 billion Baha Mar mega-resort in Nassau's Cable Beach area (Bahamas) will open its 1,000-room casino hotel in December 2014. Opening late this year or early next year is the property's Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at Baha Mar.

An 18-hole putting course at Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon is scheduled to open in May 2014. Designed by Tom Doak, the highlights of "The Punchbowl Putting Course" include 15 to 20 feet of elevation change and a 100-foot downhill roller coaster putt.

Expected to open late 2014 is the 444-room Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Set in Disney's ultra-exclusive, luxury master-planned Golden Oaks community near the Tom Fazio designed Osprey Ridge Golf course, the $360 million hotel will be dripping with luxury amenities.

PGA Village Resort in Port St. Lucie, Florida has committed to a course conditioning and enhancement program that will significantly improve the overall golf experience at the resort's four golf courses. Veteran superintendent Dick Gray was hired to raise the quality of maintenance and conditioning to unparalleled levels for 2014 and beyond.

The Trump National Doral Miami (formerly named Doral Golf Resort & Spa) is undergoing a massive $250 million renovation and enhancement program. Slated for completion in fall 2014, the transformation will include refurbishment of guest rooms, extensive renovation of the clubhouse and redesign of the "Blue Monster" by architect Gil Hanse. The new "Blue Monster" is scheduled to be ready by early 2014, just prior to the 2014 World Golf Championship/Cadillac Championship in March.

The Indura Resort and Spa on the northern coast of Honduras is scheduled to open early 2014. One of the highlight amenities is an 18-hole golf course designed by Gary Player and managed by Troon Golf.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Top 10 Golf Party Cities and Towns

After an amazing round of golf, is there anything better than (beer) tapping out at the 19th hole?

Yes, especially when you continue the party away from the course.

Later, when you want to take the celebration to another level, there are certain cities and towns on the planet that have extended menus of places to party. Whether you want an ale, lager, stout, single malt or any other celebratory libation, you can find them at my Top 10 favorite places to party after golf.

Bartender, may I have drum roll please:

1. DUBLIN, IRELAND--Great golf courses like Portnarnock Golf Club, The K Club Palmer Course and Druids Glen will draw you to Dublin and its dizzying line-up of pubs will take your celebration game to unparalleled heights. Whether you want a place to drown your sorrows or dance the night away to traditional Irish music, you don't have to look far. If you're not particular about where to drink, just head to the Temple Bar District and you'll find an ample menu of possibilities to display your "A" game. Here are some suggestions to get you started: The Quays Bar in the Temple Bar District, which has traditional Irish music and dancing: The Porterhouse (pictured), a four-story, fun and and drink palace with balconies and giant copper vats situated at the edge of Temple Bar District and Brazen Head, near the Guinness factory, the oldest pub in Ireland, dating back to 1198.

2. EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND--The most populous city in Scotland, Edinburgh accommodates its citizens with lots of places to play golf and drink. I love the courses in East Lothian like Muirfield, North Berwick, Gullane, Dunbar and Musselburgh. If you don't have a GPS or don't want to mess with chasing down addresses, just head to Edinburgh's Royal Mile, where you'll find lots of places to eat and drink. Some don't miss pubs in Edinburgh are Deacon Brodie's Tavern (pictured), Cafe Royal Circle Bar, The Last Drop, Peartree House and The Brauhaus.

3. ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND--With the Old Course, The Castle Course and other St. Andrews Links Trust courses, Kingsbarns, The Duke's Course and several other great places to tee up, this wonderful village is golf nirvana. Following the obligatory photo-op on the Swilcan Bridge and perhaps a selfie with the ocean crashing in the background at Kingsbarns, it's time to hit the pubs. These are a few of my favorite places to soak up and enjoy St. Andrews' wonderful golf lifestyle: Dunvegan Hotel Lounge Bar, a magnet for Americans who've just played the Old Course; Ma Bell's, a high-energy pub set in the basement of the St. Andrews Golf Hotel; Jigger Inn (pictured), a gathering place for international tourists, locals and caddies adjacent to the Old Course Hotel; Golf Place, a less than a minute walk from the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse and the One Under Gastro Pub at Macdonald Rusacks Hotel, which overlooks the 18th hole of the Old Course.

4. LOS CABOS, MEXICO--There's nothing quite like playing  golf, engaging in some world-class deep sea fishing where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortes and celebrating your fabulous luck with an ice cold Tecate, Pacifico and a shot of Tequila. Popular haunts include The Giggling Marlin, Cabo Wabo (pictured), Happy Ending Cantina, Nowhere Bar and Baja Brewing Company. Among the courses to play in the area are Cabo Real Golf Club, Cabo del Sol and Palmilla Golf Resort.

5. SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA--When you combine abundant sunshine, more than 90 golf courses and a phenomenal beer culture, you've got one of the world's best places to tee up and clink beer glasses after the last putt has fallen. For golf, Torrey Pines, Grand Del Mar Resort and Spa, La Costa Resort & Spa and Rancho Bernardo Inn are great resort choices. You can also venture to Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego, to take tours of the numerous golf manufacturers, like Titleist and Callaway, who have equipment plants there. When it's time for some hops and barley, you should know San Diego has 35 breweries. While Portland, Denver and Chicago are craft beer capitals, San Diego can hold its own against any of them.Heading the list of must drink places, include Hamilton's Tavern, Toronado and O'Briens American Pub.

6. MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN--After playing Whistling Straits and the Irish Course in Kohler (about an hour drive from Milwaukee) and area layouts like Ironwood and Brown Deer, rest assured, this brew-happy city has lots of celebration options such as great bars, german restaurants with exceptional beer and brewery tours where you can immerse yourself in everything beer. When it's time to start partying, head to popular places like Wolski's Tavern (pictured), Foundation Bar and Palm Tavern.

7. ORLANDO, FLORIDA--In southwest Orlando near courses like Bay Hill, Grand Cypress Resort, MetroWest, Walt Disney World and Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, there some excellent places to imbibe after a day on the links. Some of my favorite watering holes are the World of Beer on Dr. Phillips Boulevard, Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant (pictured) at Downtown Disney and Bar Louie on Sand Lake Road. If you love beer and enjoy a frosty one or two after golf, the World of Beer has more than 500 selections.

8. MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA--With more than 100 golf courses and a slew of sports and beach bars, you're never very far from a place to tee up or a bar stool to sit and enjoy a frosty cool one. For those who want a beach view with their drink, try Ocean Annie's Beach Bar (pictured), Oceanfront Bar & Grill and Mango's on the Beach. If you want to catch a game on a big screen, head to Overtime Sports Cafe, Five O'Clock Somewhere and Broadway Louie's. Here's the complete menu of Myrtle Beach golf courses.

9. BANFF, CANADA--After you play the 27 holes of Stanley Thompson designed golf at the Fairmont Banff Springs Resort in Alberta, Canada, I highly suggest taking the five-minute walk into the village of Banff, a popular ski resort town.  Let's face it, skiers have perfected the art of partying away sore muscles and Banff has more than a few places to celebrate your great fortune of being in a stunning mountain setting. Places to party, include St. James Gate Olde Irish Pub, (pictured),  Tommy's Neighbourhood Pub and the Aurora nightclub. Some other don't miss courses to play in the area are Canmore Golf & Curling Club and Silvertip.

10. GULF SHORES, ALABAMA--This Gulf of Mexico beach destination makes the list for two reasons: It has nine golf courses, including prime time layouts like Kiva Dunes, Craft Farms and Lost Key and it has the Flora-Bama Lounge, (pictured) the quintessential party roadhouse.  Located on the Florida-Alabama border it's a combination oyster bar, juke joint and seafood shack. If you really want to party, plan your golf trip in late April when the rollicking Mullet Toss Festival is staged at the Flora-Bama Lounge. During the day at this ultimate beach bar, you can shed the golf duds, slip into your bathing suit, order a frosty longneck and you'll forget all about those shanks, three putts, errant drives into pool screens and exploding bunker shots that fly the green.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

On Location: PGA Village Has Come To Play

Finishing Hole at the Wannamaker Course
You might want to take another look at PGA Village this fall and winter.

If you think Oprah performed some amazing makeovers, the new management team and grounds crew are equally magical.

Let's face it, PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, Florida has not aged gracefully in the past few years. While it certainly was an acceptable place to tee up and stay on a golf getaway, it didn't really boldly stand out among the state's crowded sea of 40 major golf resorts.

It will now.

Six months ago, PGA Village hired veteran golf course superintendent Dick Gray to oversee the grounds and maintenance of the three courses at the resort.

Dick Gray knows turf. During his 25-year career, Gray helped design and build The Florida Club in Stuart, Florida; worked with Pete Dye and P.B. Dye on the construction of Loblolly Pines in Hobe Sound, Florida; and was involved in significant greens and regrassing projects as superintendent at Jupiter Hills Club in Tequesta, Florida and Sailfish Point Golf Club in Stuart.

Gray and PGA President Ted Bishop have promised to enhance the courses to unparalleled levels commensurate with the PGA brand. PGA Village serves as the home club for more than 27,000 men and women PGA Professionals.

"Dick Gray is a world-class golf course superintendent," says PGA President Ted Bishop. "His turf grass practices are widely respected throughout the golf course industry..."

Gray has arrived on property with a focused enhancement program and a passion to make the courses at PGA Village some of the best turf playgrounds anywhere.

Guests visiting this winter will see the initial results of his turf revolution at the resort's courses. From new and improved grasses to recently acquired state-of-the-art mowing equipment and a hard-working and dedicated staff, Gray believes he can succeed with the makeover.

"As the PGA, golfers expect us to produce at a high-level and we want these courses to meet and exceed  expectations," says Gray. "There is tremendous commitment to that goal starting with Ted Bishop on down."

Gray says his goal is to have players walk off the courses thinking "Wow, these are some of the best maintained and conditioned courses I've ever played."


The way I see it, PGA Village's golf selections are a bit like those at a ski resort, where there are slopes for experts, intermediates and beginners.

Dye Course--To be sure, you'll quickly be exposed on this course if you don't have game. If you can't consistently hit your approach shots to near the exact yardage, you'll be scrambling for bogeys all day. Dye's use of fairways with movement, massive coquina waste bunkers, pine straw roughs, subtle contours on the greens and masterful bunkering is joyful to see and appreciate, but hellish to play if you lack consistency.

Wannamaker Course (formerly named the South Course)--I'm a huge Tom Fazio fan and the Wannamaker exudes Fazio flair with bold, imaginative bunkering, marvelous mounding and large greens with subtle movements that don't look contrived or forced.

Ryder Course (formerly named the North Course)--There are just as many pine trees as palms on this Tom Fazio layout. Generous landing areas and five sets of tees make this the best course to start any stay and play getaway vacation at PGA Village. My suggestion is to start here then progress to the Wannamaker and finish with the Dye.


The facilities and practice areas at this 35-acre complex are exactly what you would expect at a resort that serves as a gathering spot for thousands of  PGA Professionals. The menu includes:

--More than 100 full swing practice stations
--9 bunkers that simulate play from around the world
--Three private teaching pods
--Mobile covered hitting bays to protect against the hot sun and rain
--Pitching and chipping practice areas
--7,000-square-foot USGA putting greens
--Three hole teaching course
--State-of-the-art technology for swing analysis, club fitting and game improvement; TrackMan Shot Performance, LinxTracker/PGA PAR System and other high-tech gadgets
--Golf specific fitness center
--Golf repair and fitting center

Designed so you can work on all phases of the game, the expansive complex is the perfect place to practice for cold climate residents who want to work off the rust caused by inactivity and sporadic play. A daily pass costs $34 from 1/4 to 3/17; $29 from 11/1 to 1/3 and 3/18 to 5/31 and $21 from 6/1 to 10/31. There's also special pricing for spouses, PGA Professionals and juniors.

For those who want a golf school experience, there are  21/2 day, 3 1/2 day and 4 1/2 day schools featuring a 4:1 student-to-teacher ratio.

Some of the things I like about the PGA of America Golf Schools is that the instructors are experienced Class "A" certified professionals with years of teaching experience and each instructor stays with a student for the entire school instead of revolving for each skill education.

The golf fitness facility is exceptional. Packed with a variety of machines, stretch bands, large rubber bands, balls and other apparatus, the PGA Center For Fitness helps develop core strength and increases flexibility as well as addressing other golf specific fitness issues.


Don't miss visiting this museum, which is brimming with golf history exhibits, vintage photographs, posters, golf clubs and other memorabilia. You can also see golf's four major championship trophies on display.

The PGA of America has a rich and storied history and it's displayed beautifully in this building adjacent to the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance. There's a also a phenomenal library room packed with historical golf books and past issues of the PGA Magazine.


Much like the golf, there's great variety in the accommodations options at PGA Village.

A good selection of on-property villa and townhome properties are available in packages.  The beige stucco villa apartment and townhomes feature kitchens, Wi-Fi, swimming pools and other amenities.

For those who prefer a hotel room, there are several moderately priced options just outside the front gate and very close to the clubhouse and golf courses. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which has spacious, well-appointed rooms, a comfortable lobby with a fireplace and large flat screen television, beautiful swimming pool and courtyard area and an on-site Sam Snead's Tavern.
Lobby at Hilton Garden Inn

Suite accommodations are available about 1/4 mile away at Homewood Suites, which has one and or two-bedroom suites. Each unit has a full-size refrigerator, two-burner stove and dishwasher. Also included is a complimentary breakfast.

10 Little Things I Like About PGA Village

1. The user-friendly GPS systems on the golf carts.

2. The 6-hole short course with holes ranging from 35 to 60 yards.

3. The Donald Ross 1890s-era workbench at the PGA Museum of Golf.

4. The Sam Snead's Tavern at the on-site Hilton Garden Inn that serves Goose Island brew on draft.

5. The on-site golf club repair and fitting shop at the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance.

6. The Ryder Cup golf bags and other memorabilia displayed in the clubhouse.

7. The 3-hole practice school course at the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance.

8. Fantastic, easily accessible location just off Interstate-95.

9. The quesadillas, turkey club sandwich and potato pancakes at the Champions Grill.

10. Lots of places to shop and dine just a few blocks from the property across I-95. The casual dining offerings include Chipotle, Chilli's and TGIFRidays to name a few.


Situated on Florida's east coast in Port St. Lucie just off Interstate-95 about a two hour drive from Orlando, a one hour drive from Daytona Beach and 45 minutes from West Palm Beach. 


Several golf travel companies offer packages to PGA Village. The golf travel company that knows the resort better than anyone is Atlanta-based Premier Golf.  They have a unique relationship with the PGA of America and customize a variety of stay and play packages. Call 866-260-4409 for package information.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Top 10 Places to Play Links Style Golf in the U.S.

This list will, no doubt, upset links golf purists who insist there are no true links courses in the U.S.

If you'll read the title closely, though, you'll notice the courses I highlight are "links style".  The ten mentioned aren't links courses in the strict definition and some of them are actually hundreds of miles away from the nearest ocean.

That said, you'll find lots of links golf features on these exceptional layouts like rolling dunes, subtle movement in the terrain, few water hazards, few if any trees, knee-high grasses and deep pot bunkers.

Not sure the purists are still reading, but for the rest of you who want to play some fascinating and superbly designed links golf inspired courses, here's my list:

1. Bandon Dunes (Oregon)

"Hey, did I just parachute into Scotland with my golf clubs?" might be your thought as you step to the first tee on one of Bandon Dunes' five courses. No, you're actually on the stunning southern Oregon coast. Here, the courses take advantage of terrain with massive sand dunes, giant shore pine trees and Pacific Ocean views. You'll love the tight lies, tall grasses, undulating fairways and other engaging elements of these phenomenally designed courses. The Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes courses are ranked in the top 10 of Golf Digest's 2013-2014 "Amerca's 100 Greatest Public Courses."

2. Whistling Straits (Kohler, Wisconsin)

Framed by two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, the Pete Dye designed Straits course at The American Club Resort is a masterpiece with imported fescue grasses, rolling dunes topped with tall grasses and amazing links-style bunkering. If you want even more authenticity, there are even sheep roaming on the course. The Straits is ranked #2 in Golf Digest's ranking of America's Greatest Public Golf Courses for 2013-2014.  Dye also designed the resort's Irish course, a tribute to the great links courses in southwestern Ireland. The PGA Championship will return for the third time to Whistling Straits in 2015.

3. Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (South Carolina)

Site of the 2012 PGA Championship and the legendary "War on the Shore" Ryder Cup Match in 1991, this Pete Dye virtuoso design at the Kiawah Island Resort has everything you'd want in a links style golf experience. There are sometimes fierce Scottish-like winds and ten holes that play along the Atlantic Ocean. Dye throws everything but the kitchen sink on the Ocean Course with mounded fairways, steep-walled waste bunkers, deep pot bunkers, undulating plateau greens and high grasses.

4. Chambers Bay (University Place, Washington)

A walking only, links-style golf experience with a Puget Sound backdrop, this Robert Trent Jones II gem capitalizes on its stunning coastal setting, windswept dunes and native fescue grasses.  Chambers Bay will host the 2015 U.S. Open and 2010 U.S. AmateurChampionships. 

5. Arcadia Bluffs (Arcadia, Michigan)

Designed by Rick Smith and Warren Henderson, the course rests on the bluffs above the shore of Lake Michigan. A daily-fee layout open from mid-April to mid-November, Arcadia Bluffs looks as if it has been air-dropped in from Ireland. Enhancing the Irish links ambiance are high native grasses, wide, rolling fairways, 50 sod-walled bunkers, huge greens averaging 8,000 square feet and 3,100 feet of shoreline.

6. Ballyowen (Hamburg, New Jersey)

A wonderland of rolling fairways, wheat-yellow native grasses, craggy knolls and huge mounds, this 1998 Roger Rulewich design at Crystal Springs Resort is annually ranked one of New Jersey's best courses by a variety of regional and national publications and websites. The expansive 360 degree panoramic views of the New Jersey countryside give golfers an added shot of adrenaline as they approach the tee boxes at Ballyowen.

7.  The Prairie Club (Valentine, Nebraska)

Situated on the rim of the Snake River Canyon, this Tom Lehman/Chris Brand design has dramatic elevation changes, high grasses and innovative rugged bunkering. When the wind blows, as it often does in this part of the Cornhusker state, you can close your eyes and swear you're in Scotland. The Prairie Club is a fantastic golf vacation destination with accommodations at a rustic-looking, amenity laden 31-room lodge, four separate cabins and two other golf courses.

8.  Sand Hills (Mullen, Nebraska)

Aptly named, this Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design weaves around and over countless sand hills in north central Nebraska. The experience encompasses 50 to 90 foot wide fairways, native tan and brown prairie grasses, sand blow-out areas and massive green complexes that encourage bump and run and pitch shots. Be aware, this course is in the middle of nowhere. Situated in a fairly desolate part of the state about a 5 hour drive west of Omaha, Sand Hills is a private club with about 160 members and it's only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There is no cell phone or internet service there and you need to be a guest of a member or have some sort of connection to tee it up. If you can secure an invitation, it's one you shouldn't pass up. Sand Hills has been rated by many publications in the top 20 of best courses in the world. For more information, I suggest clicking  Sand Hills, where you can retrieve basic information and a phone number to call.

9. Ballyneal(Holyoke, Colorado)

A private club that allows limited outside play and some stay and play packages, Ballyneal is a high-end, few frills type of golf experience. To create a natural, less contrived links-style experience, there are no tee markers, no yardage markers, and, of course, no golf carts. You'll find rolling fairways, fescue grasses and links-style bunkers on this minimalist design by Tom Doak.

10. Nags Head Golf Links (Outer Banks)

While it may only measure 6,126 yards, the constant winds at Nags Head make it play much longer. Some holes are routed along the Roanoke Sound and rolling dunes and wild sea grasses add to its links-style personality.