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.