Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On-Site: England's Golf Coast

Royal Lytham & St Annes 

Most of the golf masses always conjure up images of Scotland when the talk is about golf in the British Isles. While it doesn't have an Old Course, Royal Dornoch or Muirfield, England's Golf Coast in the northwest corner of the country has a phenomenal star-studded line-up.

I recently visited the area for the first time and, I must admit, I should hit myself in the head with a 9-iron for waiting so long. England's Golf Coast courses have served as venues for Open Championships, The Ryder Cup and Walker Cup. The region has hosted the Open Championship--are you ready for this?-- thirty-two times.

Enhancing your visit away from the fairways is a chance to immerse in Beatles memorabilia in Liverpool and perhaps even take in a Premier League soccer match (the season runs from August to May) in Liverpool or Manchester like the Guru did during his early spring visit.


Royal Birkdale Clubhouse

England's Golf Coast is home to 15 golf courses. Some are very recognizable names, others are not. I assure you, though, you'll be playing a quality course no matter where you tee up in this region.  

Here are some brief impressions of the four courses The Guru played:

Royal Lytham & St Annes--I know this is high praise, but this course instantly made my most-favorite-courses-I've-played list. The front-nine is absolutely phenomenal with a great mix of wonderfully designed holes. My favorite hole is the short par 4 8th (I played from the 389 yard green tees). If you push your tee shot to the right, chances are you'll land on the railroad tracks.  You play from an elevated tee to an elevated green guarded on the left by the deepest bunker on the course. From the famous, classically designed clubhouse to the train occasionally whisking by, this is a fantastic golf experience.

Royal Liverpool--Oozing with history at every turn, Royal Liverpool was founded in 1869. Often referred to as "Hoylake", it's the second oldest seaside links course in England. Luckily, The Guru has played the oldest--Royal North Devon. What strikes you immediately is how flat the terrain at Royal Liverpool is with little definition. The further you move away from the clubhouse, the more undulations you'll incur.  My favorite holes are 9 through 12 alongside the shore. I spent an  enjoyable hour wandering through the memorabilia loaded clubhouse. What a treat!. I saw the 2-iron Tiger used almost exclusively off the tee in his 2006 Open Championship victory. The list of Open Championship winners is amazing. It includes Walter Hagen (1924), Bobby Jones (1930), Tiger Woods (2006) and Rory McIlroy (2014). Hoylake has hosted the Open Championship twelve times.

Royal Birkdale--To be sure, you've got to hit fairways at Birkdale to score well. Unless, of course, you're Jordan Spieth, who famously jacked his drive way right onto the practice range on the 13th hole at the 2017 Open Championship. While I was excited to play all of the holes at Birkdale, it was fun to play the 13th to appreciate just how spectacular Spieth's recovery was in the final round of the Open. Overall, Birkdale is a true and fair test of all skill levels. The fairways are routed through flat-bottomed valleys between massive dunes. The day I played, the wind was rather tame. When the wind cranks up, Birkdale gets real tough, real quick. Royal Birkdale has hosted the Open Championship ten times. On a stroll through the Art Deco clubhouse, the photos dotting the walls feature the past Birkdale Open champions. Wow, what a list...Arnold Palmer (1961), Lee Trevino (1971), Johnny Miller (1976), Tom Watson (1983), Mark O'Meara (1998) and Padraig Harrington (2008).

Formby Golf Club--Formby often gets overlooked because of the three Royal courses, but, make no mistake, it's a superb layout. It has a distinctively different look and feel than the Royals. Formby is bordered on three sides by beautiful pine trees. The course is an engaging blend of links golf and inland golf with lots of variety in each hole. No two holes on the course are even remotely alike. I love the stretch of holes between six and ten, which are stunningly photogenic and challenging to play. Formby has a friendly membership and welcoming ambiance on the the course and in the clubhouse. I'm so glad I got to play this under-publicized gem.

Others to play include West Lancashire, Southport & Ainsdale, Hillside, Delamere Forest, Wallasey, Formby Hall and Formby Ladies Course.


Formby Hall Golf Resort & Spa

* Formby Hall Golf Resort & Spa (Southport)--Located six miles from the center of Southport, this exceptional amenity-rich, 4-star resort has an 18-hole parkland style golf course, nine hole par-3 course, PGA Golf Academy, a luxury spa, a restaurant and bar with golf course views and ample parking. The par-72 Old Course, an established venue on the European Challenge Tour, has fast greens and is routed through beautiful countryside with lots of trees.

* The Vincent (Southport)--A popular hotel with golfers, The Vincent is located only about two miles from Royal Birkdale. It's situated on Southport's main shopping Street (Lord Street). It has a sleek, urban vibe throughout the property with amenities like free Wi-Fi, plush European-style bedding and LCD TV in guest rooms. It also has a 6th floor gym and a chic restaurant with an eclectic menu. Amazingly, I had sushi AND fish and chips one evening at the restaurant the overlooks Lord Street.

* Ramada Plaza Hotel Southport--Set on the waterfront in Southport, this 133-room property has American-style guest rooms loaded with amenities and especially appealing attributes like convenient, covered parking and a superb breakfast buffet perfect for golfers headed out for a full day on the links. The front desk staff is extremely helpful and can guide you to top restaurants and sites in the area.

Hard Days Night Hotel (Liverpool)--If you love The Beatles, this 110-room hotel on North John Street in central Liverpool is for you. Located adjacent to The Carvern Club, where the Beatles rose to fame, the hotel's common areas and guest rooms have specially commissioned Beatles-inspired artwork dotting the walls. 

Malmaison Liverpool--A boutique hotel in the city center with views of the Mersey. The stylishly designed rooms have plush European-style bedding, great bathrooms with power showers, flat screen TV and same-day laundry service.

Bowden Lodge (Southport)--A family-run guest house situated near Lord Street, which is loaded with shops and restaurants. Set in a Victorian family home, the Bowden is charming, clean and centrally located.

*Guru stayed there during my visit.

Where The Beatles Rose To Fame

10 Little Things I Liked

1. If you're a Beatles fan, this region is a must visit. The Fab Four grew up in Liverpool and you can visit places like The Cavern Club where they got their start. There's also a Magical Mystery bus tour and The Beatles Story, the world's largest permanent exhibition of Beatles memorabilia.

2. Great fish and chips can be found anywhere from small shops with takeaway to upscale restaurants that prepare the dish to perfection.

3. The train route that goes directly by the golf courses of Formby, Southport & Ainsdale, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Hillside. It's fun--sometimes you have to wait till the train passes so you don't lose concentration on your shot. 

4. The friendly and helpful golf professionals I met at all four courses I played.

5. The surprisingly great Italian restaurants I found: Trattoria 51 in Southport and Il Forno in Liverpool.

6. Golf knowledgable players that follow proper etiquette and play at a more rapid pace than in the U.S.

7. Rising star Tommy Fleetwood who grew up in the area is celebrated at Formby Hall with the Tommy Fleetwood Lounge, which has walls dotted with pictures of him during various points in his career.

8. The Halfway House at Royal Lytham where I enjoyed a wee nip of Bells Scottish whiskey to warm up.

9. The Winslow Hotel at Goodison Park People's Pub where I hoisted a few pints prior to an Everton match against Brighton. The Blues won 2-0.

10. The full English breakfasts I enjoyed with eggs, bacon, sausages (bangers), grilled tomatoes, beans, hash browns and black pudding.

Goodison Park

England's Golf Coast in northwest England stretches from Lytham in its northern reaches to Liverpool and Wirral in the southern sector. You can fly into either Liverpool John Lennon Airport, about 9 miles from Liverpool city center, or Manchester Airport, which is about 35 miles from Liverpool. By train, London to Liverpool is about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The Guru flew into Manchester and rented a car, which was very convenient. The M6 (England's version of the U.S. interstate system) is the main arterial through the area offering easy access to all major destinations.


If you want to go, especially for groups of 8 or more, I suggest you get in touch with a couple of very proficient and knowledgeable travel professional friends of mine: Geoff Harris of England's Golf Coast (enquiries@englandsgolfcoast) or Ann Mabry of Atlanta-based Premier Golf (888-439-1831). You can also direct message me on twitter @GuruGolfTravel for any tips. For general information on the area, click www.englandsgolfcoast or call 0174 807800

Friday, March 2, 2018

On Site: Trump National Doral Miami

In the past twenty years, I've visited the resort "formerly known as the Doral Golf Resort and Spa" more than a half dozen times. My most recent visit to the property (now named Trump National Doral Miami) was the first time after the Trump Organization spent more than $250 million modernizing and dramatically enhancing this legendary 800-acre resort.

To say I was blown away by the enhancements would be a vast understatement. Trump National Doral Miami definitely lives up to all the hype. From impeccable landscaping at every glance to common areas in the main building brimming with gold appointments, stunning chandeliers and plush Italian marble, the Trump's have literally created a "new" resort. 

Heck, I hardly even recognize the old place. That's a great thing, believe me.

If you're looking for the quintessential luxury Florida golf experience, Trump National delivers in sense of place, wonderfully maintained golf courses, great food and in numerous other ways.


Make no mistake, the golf courses were not an afterthought in the enhancement program. Top notch designer Gil Hanse was brought in to revamp the Blue Monster and provide consultation on the other courses. Hanse is masterful at creating lots of challenge for the best golfers in the world and fun, playable holes for mid-handicapper resort players.

No matter how bad you play on a Hanse course, you don't walk away blaming the designer. If you're honest, like the Guru, you blame your lack of concentration, poor set-up and inconsistent swing.

Trump National Doral has four championship 18-hole golf courses. There's something for every skill level. If you don't have a skill level or you want to take your game to another level, the on-site Rick Smith Golf Performance Center is amazing with its high-tech gadgetry.

Blue Monster--One of my favorite courses to play in Florida, the Blue Monster was enhanced by Gil Hanse in 2014. It's still long, it's still tough, but Hanse requires more than length to score well. He re-evaluated and re-sculpted every hole assuring golfers of great shot angles and lots of high risk, high reward possibilities. One thing Hanse didn't change is the routing of the celebrated 18th hole with water skirting the entire left side. It's arguably, the best individual hole in Florida.

Golden Palm--Gil Hanse and his team put their design magic on this links-style layout that has open vistas, contoured greens, superb green complexes and innovative bunkering. It's named after the predominate tree that dots the course. One of the most intriguing design aspects is the bunkering. Hanse puts some heavy rough behind the back side of many bunkers, which presents a great challenge.

Red Tiger--This is a shotmaker's layout where you need a good strategy on each hole not brute strength off the tee. Fourteen of the holes have some sort of water feature and there are two island greens (No. 6 and No. 14). It's target golf, yes, but not overly penal. If you're having a good ball striking day, you'll do fine.

Silver Fox--If you like water, not necessarily landing in it, you'll enjoy this layout that has the liquid stuff on 16 of the 18 holes. It has a good mix of holes with elevated tee boxes and greens and you'll need to keep your sand wedge accessible because there are some very strategically placed bunkers.

Rick Smith Golf Performance Center

Opened in January 2018, this state-of-the-art instruction facility is headed by Rick Smith, who has tutored the likes of Phil Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus during his long and storied career. I interviewed Rick at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando recently and he's tremendously excited about his facility at Trump National Doral. The affable Smith is a great communicator and he instructs his staff to make the learning process fun and productive. The facility incorporates four indoor hitting bays and a fifth for evaluation and club fitting as well as a practice tee and short game area. The vibe at Rick Smith Golf Performance Center is easy going, helpful and non-intimidating. Whether you're a beginner or professional wanting to take the next step, this is an exceptional facility.


The accommodations encompass 643 total guest rooms, 14 deluxe suites, 27 premier suites, 2 presidential suites and 48 spa suites. The rooms are situated in villa-like lodges. I stayed in the Arnold Palmer lodge and others are named after golf icons like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Gary Player and Sam Snead.

My Deluxe Room (343 square feet) had a balcony overlooking the 18th green of the Blue Monster.  Stylish and elegant, the room has soft, neutral colors, gold appointments, mahogany veneers and walls dotted with vintage photographs of Arnold Palmer.

10 Little Things I Liked

1. The gigantic American Flag positioned behind the 18th green of the Blue Monster golf course.

2. The efficient valet and bellman services at check-in and check-out.

3. My guest room located in the Arnold Palmer Villas building with its amazing collection of vintage photographs of Arnie and his friends.

4. My room's spacious balcony overlooking the Blue Monster. Loved sipping a smooth Cab while watching the golfers finishing on one of the toughest holes anywhere.

5. The plush European bedding and six, yes six, big fluffy pillows.

6. The gold fixtures in my bathroom with granite countertops and marble flooring.

7. The phenomenal Rainfall Shower Head with strong water pressure.

8. The Natura Bisse Diamond Collection bath amenities.

9. The calamari with citrus/habanero sauce and ice cold Corona Light I had at the pool bar on my first day.

10. The Grilled Bacon appetizer at the resort's BLT Prime restaurant. An amazing dish of double cut bacon, parsley, garlic and sherry vinaigrette.


BLT Prime--An upscale steakhouse with a phenomenal view of the Blue Monster golf course. I dined here one night and had an exceptional meal. While the Guru generally opts for the biggest steak on the menu, I'm watching the waistline so I opted for the grilled jumbo shrimp in basil oil. It was exceptional. For desert, absolutely, positively, don't miss the peanut butter chocolate mousse with banana ice cream. Amazing!

Champions Bar & Grill--Upscale sports bar with plush leather seats and polished wood appointments. It's a great place for a post round libation. It has an all-day menu and outdoor patio seating. Lots of variety on the menu. You can get anything from a 16 oz. half bone-in ribeye to fish tacos and kale salad.

Palm Grill--Great poolside restaurant with al fresco dining and a menu dotted with specialties like fish tacos, Cuban sandwich, local Cerviche and shrimp Acapulco style.

Marketplace--A convenient, small grab-and-go place with coffee, pastries, sandwiches, wines and other beverages. Need coffee before you hit the links? This should be your preferred stop.


CityPlace Doral--Located about five blocks from the resort (about a $5 Uber ride), this one year-old shopping and entertainment complex is perfect for those who want to slip off the resort campus for a night. It has live music on its plaza every Friday and Saturday night and restaurants such as Brimstone Woodfire Grill, Cooper's Hawk Winery/Restaurant and Cabo Flats Cantina & Tequila Bar. There's also a Cinebistro and Kings Bowling Alley.

Miami International Mall--Four miles from the resort, this mall has 140 stores and 22 eateries.

Hialeah Racing & Casino--Situated about 5 miles from Trump National Doral is the historic Hialeah Race Track, which features horse racing, live entertainment and a casino with slots and poker tables.


Set in the town of Doral near the Miami International Airport, 15 miles west of downtown Miami, the resort is located at 4400 NW 87th Avenue, Miami, Florida 33178. 


For more information click www.trumpnationaldoral.com or call toll-free (800) 71-DORAL (36725)