The Local Knowlege

Courses & Travel

Here's a how you can play some of the best golf courses in the country in 2015

Do you have a golf course -- or perhaps a list of courses -- that you've made it your goal to play next year? Golf Channel posed that question on Morning Drive a few days ago, and we thought it was a good one, so we explored it a little further.

It turns out that The First Tee of Central Ohio is auctioning off a handful of rounds at some of the swankiest, most-desirable courses in the country. It'll cost you, but split it between a group of other people and it's not totally unreasonable. And besides, it's for a good cause.

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Bidding on most of them doesn't end for another six months, but each has a "buy it now" price that hovers around $5,000. You can check out the full list here.

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Courses & Travel

I've found the answer to golf's problems. It's in Westport, Connecticut

"They're not making courses like that anymore."
--Longshore Golf Club professional, John Cooper.

In the context of golf's present struggles, this qualifies as a dissertation. Cooper isn't suggesting that his Westport, Conn., muny, which rose from an onion field in 1922, represents any startling design, or that it threatens to make a list of courses Golf Digest considers great. He's certainly not going to argue that Longshore is a "stern test of golf." If it's any test of all, it's an open book quiz, with the curve running pretty high. It's "sporty," he says. And you give him that.

Longshore measures only about 6,000 yards from the back. Its par is 69. It is flat and its greens are not superfast, running in the 9-10 range. Bunkers, of which there are about 70, are a work in progress, and a bit stony.

But visit Longshore on a weather-friendly weekend or weekday afternoon and you see the sport all those industry meetings and symposia seem to be pleading for: men, women, boys, girls, couples, families, buddies and retirees, carrying, pulling carts or riding, but moving steadily -- four hours even on Sunday afternoons, a pace most places don't even aspire to anymore -- around a pretty course where bunkers are eye-browed with golden fescue and the fairways are cut not too tight and plenty wide.

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On the warm-up range -- irons only -- hitters spend half their time staring out at the water where sailboats, motorboats, rowers and fisherman work the waters of the Long Island Sound. Often there's a circle of Sunfish where kids enrolled in the sailing program are learning to tack -- or right a capsized Sunfish. Clearing out the "garbage" trees and shrubs along the landfill-based range was Hurricane Sandy's gift to Longshore. It created The Most Spectacular View on the Dinkiest Range in Golf.

The second gift the course got was a First Selectman, Jim Marpe, elected two years ago. Marpe plays golf, was one of Accenture's founding partners, and ran partly on a campaign to bring Longshore Back. His "This is not right!" video from the pockmarked first green went viral. Marpe hired a Parks and Rec man who raised golfing kids here and who has a membership at Pinehurst. ("I don't think you can ever go wrong by having high standards," says the director, Charlie Haberstroh.) They hired ValleyCrest, the course maintenance firm, a year ago, and what had become a rundown track with abominable greens got turned around and became Longshore again. It isn't recording the 40,000-plus rounds it did in its heyday, but numbers are creeping back into the mid-30,000s.

I played Longshore a lot this summer with a group of guys who liked to tee off about 1:00 on Sunday afternoon and be off the course by 5. It never failed. A couple of us belong to private clubs but found the pace and the convenience of those afternoon rounds irresistible. The fact that we could "score" was nice, too. Longshore is, above all, playable.

So in the middle of industry meetings convened to solve the problems that keep players away from our game -- time, expense, difficulty -- I kept coming back to this "easy" little muny. When architect Bruce Charlton told last month's USGA Pace of Play Symposium, for example, that "If we kept designing courses like we did in the 1980s" --- meaning very challenging ones -- "we'd be out of business."

The acknowledgment that playability is an important factor not only in pace of play, but also in the sport's attraction to new players, is a theme that's been repeated often lately. David McLay Kidd, who designed Bandon Dunes, said in a Golf Digest story on the year's Best New Courses, "I'd gotten romanced by notions of defending par and resistance to scoring. So I built courses that were difficult. I admit it." Those courses, says Kidd, "took some of the joy and enjoyment out of the game," he says. "I wanted to put the idea of fun back into the game."

At Longshore, fun for beginners is a par or two. For the studs, it's threatening or even breaking par.

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Data is the word in golf initiatives these days. The USGA and its affiliates are measuring walking speed, the effect of tee-interval variance, course flow based on hole sequence, the role of the first group of the day, play patterns, you name it. With that data they hope to be able to advise operators on how to make their facilities more friendly, and "pace-ful."

But it also makes sense, if you find a place where it all seems to be working, do the data in reverse. Like finding the ingredients in Coke, sort of. So here is Longshore's formula.

1. Gentle Course Rating (68.8) and Slope (122).

2. Group spacing. Nine-minute tee time intervals

3. Easy start: A 350-yard par 4, a 150-yard par 3

4. Balance, part 1:  Half of par 4s short (350 and under), half long (390 and up)

5. Balance, part 2: Half par 3s 150-to-170, half at or over 200. Even strong players are proud of staying even on the par 3s.

6. Fairways: Wide, 30 yards at least.

7. Greens: Well-maintained with reasonable speeds: 9-10; short but real rough.

8. Pace: Marshals move things along and help find balls (!) especially in the fescue. They don't lecture. Pace was once a big problem. "We spend a lot of time monitoring and tracking marshals, and I've got some good guys now," says Cooper.

9. Options: Walk anytime, pull anytime, drive a cart anytime.

10. Dress code: Up to you.


11. Clubs: Active Men's and Women's clubs that lobby for course, pace, tournaments.

12. Levels of play: All. Active 18- and 9-hole women's groups.

13. Beginner programs. "Get Golf Ready is the best thing to happen to golf," says Cooper. "We had people come from as far away as Milford (20 miles away).  "I said, 'How did you end up here?' Lady said, 'You're the only one who called me back!'"

14: Cost. Longshore is delightfully affordable, just $26 on the weekends for residents, and $19 for juniors during the week.

It's tempting to assign part of Longshore's popularity and success to its setting, and there's no doubt that helps. From the course itself you get glimpses of the water, though no holes abut it.

You're more likely to notice on the road that leads into and around the course and its accompanying inn, dog walkers, bikers, joggers and nature-appreciating photographers who occasionally stop to watch a golf shot or, politely, wait for a tee shot to happen. The feeling is a little "beachy," as Cooper puts it, but mainly of a park dedicated to fitness, with golf being part of, but not the sole object of, that goal.

"Longshore is challenging for those who want to be challenged and straightforward for those who are there for a recreational experience," says First Selectman Marpe. "It's kind of a country club experience without the cost or complications that can come with a country club."

And that's working.

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Courses & Travel

Deal of the Week: Chase the Shark in Great Exuma

The Atlantis mega-resort soaks up a lot of the vacation attention the Bahamas receives, but is probably closer to a Las Vegas experience than a true island vacation. Great Exuma is a little more work to get to -- and more expensive -- but worth it for the golf vacationer who is looking for some solitude. 

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The Sandals Emerald Bay Resort in Great Exuma took over the property from the Four Seasons in 2010, and they've amped up attention to the Greg Norman-designed Emerald Reef Golf Course. That's a good thing, because the 2003-design winds it way out onto a spit of land jutting into the ocean, and offers one of the toughest tests in the Caribbean.

Now, you score two free rounds on Emerald Reef if you book any Sandals stay of three nights or more. If you book a butler-level room -- which features (as you can imagine) a personalized concierge doing your bidding, you get free unlimited golf during your stay. 

The rates aren't at the bargain end of the spectrum, but Sandals Emerald Bay offers a premium, all-inclusive experience -- food at seven restaurants, and unlimited top-shelf booze. Basic rates start at $600 a night for two people, and rise to $1,200 for a oceanside butler villa. 

You can fly direct to George Town, Exuma from Atlanta and Miami, or take the short hop from the main Bahamas airport in Nassau.

Great Exuma is known for its solitude, reef diving and shark watching -- all of which was on display during the famous speargun battle in the 1965 James Bond classic Thunderball, which was shot north of Staniel Cay in Exuma. Any of the energetic charter captains can take you there, and most will swear that they know Sean Connery personally.  

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Courses & Travel

The 7 coolest changes made to TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course

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Tom Weiskopf spent nearly every day at TPC Scottsdale's Stadium course this summer overseeing renovations at his course.

Though he calls Montana his full-time home, TPC Scottsdale is still one of Weiskopf's signature designs (along with co-designer Jay Morrish), which is why Weiskopf wanted to return to Arizona to oversee the entire course refreshing.

The course will re-open on Nov. 15 after being closed from April-November to implement the changes. Superintendent Jeff Plotts, who has been at TPC Scottsdale the last 10 years, gave me a tour of the facility last week before it opens. Here's a photo summary of the touch-ups that you'll see when the PGA Tour heads here again for the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Super Bowl weekend.

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The view down No. 1 tee will look pretty similar to anyone who's seen it. Moving some desert off the fairway will give players more options off the tee. This slight tweak reflects the theme of the changes overall at the Stadium course: an aesthetic "refreshing" of the course to modernize it both for the PGA Tour player and the daily resort player.

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As a fan of classic architecture, Weiskopf added a coffin bunker on the front of the par-5 13th is a nod to St. Andrews. It's a change intended to add some signature to the par 5. And if you go for the green from the tightened fairway, there's certainly a chance you'd end up in here.

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One of the more significant changes to the Stadium course comes at the par-3 fourth hole. Weiskopf elevated the green significantly, to add more difficult to this hole that will play about 195 yards now from the championship tees.

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As another nod to classic design elements, Weiskopf has redone the fairway bunkers here at the 18th hole to include church-pew rows, a la Oakmont. The carry over the water had become a standard line for pros (above photo). Now, these church pews about 305 yards off the tee will put even more of a premium on an accurate tee shot on this home hole.

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The 14th green at TPC Scottsdale is a completely new look. Previously, the green on this par-4 was situated to the right. But at the suggestion of Plotts, the green was moved way right and elevated. Now you'll find some memorable views of the Superstition Mountains in the distance on this elevated green.

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There are actually completely new greens at Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 14. And all the greens were resurfaced, a change that Plotts said was definitely necessary. Here's the view of the new second hole green.

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And we couldn't not provide an inside look at No. 16. It was awesome to stand on the tee and watch the stands being built months before the tournament. With the Super Bowl the same week, the Thunderbirds aren't going to have any problem selling seats this year. Should be another raucous scene at the party-hard 16th!


Photos: (top) Getty images; Previous look at the 18th hole: Jensen Larsen; others: Jeff Plotts
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Courses & Travel

TPC Sawgrass is losing one of its most recognizable features

Don't worry, the 17th hole's island green hasn't eroded away, but TPC Sawgrass announced on Twitter the tree overhanging the sixth tee on the Stadium Course will be no more. You know, the one that makes it seem like golfers at the Players are teeing off through an actual window.

Sad from a visual perspective perhaps, but pros probably won't miss the visually-intimidating tree that altered strategy on the short par four. Bob Estes, for one, was quick to chime in.

Related: America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses

"We were only a few years away from having to tee off with a putter. #truth"

UPDATE: The PGA Tour has released a statement about the removal of the tree. Here's a snippet:

The overhanging Live Oak to the right of the No. 6 tee box, which has impacted tee shots over the years, recently developed a large crack in its trunk due to old age and disease and became a safety concern due to the weight of its overhanging limb, thus necessitating removal of the tree today.

"The Live Oak on the sixth hole was one of the more recognizable trees on the golf course and influenced the tee shots of amateurs and professionals alike from the time the golf course opened in October of 1980," said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. "Unfortunately, over time it became more fragile and susceptible to disease. Just recently, a significant fissure developed in its trunk, making it a safety concern. There simply was no way to save it, as much as we would have liked to."

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Courses & Travel

Florida Historic Golf Trail features 'important chapters to our golf story,' Nicklaus says

It began several years ago, as a challenge within the Division of Historical Resources at Florida’s Department of State, to find creative ways to promote preservation and history.

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“Me being a golfer, I try to incorporate that into anything I do work-related,” Scott Edwards said. “So I proposed the idea and it got accepted.”

The idea has come to fruition with the launch of the Florida Historic Golf Trail, 50 publicly accessible courses built before 1946 and stretching from Pensacola on the Florida panhandle (A.C. Read Golf Course and Osceola Municipal Golf Course) to Key West at the southern tip of the state (Key West Golf Club).

“We wanted to make sure all the courses are open to the public, that anybody could walk up and play any time,” Edwards said. “We chose the time frame from the turn of the century through World War II because that was a big part of Florida’s development and its national development.”

The objective, Edwards said, “is to promote these historic golf courses, but also telling Florida history through these golf courses.”

Arnold Palmer, who resides part of the year in Orlando, was enlisted to do a commercial for the project. Jack Nicklaus, a North Palm Beach resident, also provided an endorsement. “As a proud Floridian for close to 50 years, I know the state of Florida has its own storied history in our game,” he said. “The Florida Historic Golf Trail included important chapters to our golf story.”

A potential incidental benefit is bringing new players into the game, Edwards said. “That’s what the golf industry people have latched onto, that it’s a new way to grow the game. And if you’re a golfer and have been around the game, you love the history, and this is a great source of history.”

A scorecard has been developed, allowing players setting out to play all 50 to check off the courses they’ve played and input a score.

“Groups of people already want to go out and start playing these,” Edwards said. “It’s gone beyond what I thought it would. That’s what we want. We hope it drives tourism for them and get exposure they’ve never had.”

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Courses & Travel

Book Review: The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses

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Back when he was a twenty-something, Tom Doak burst onto the golf scene not as a golf course architect but as a golf course critic. The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, which he self-published in 1988, was a limited edition of just 50 copies, basically a computer printout in a loose-leaf binder (this writer is the proud owner of No. 5 of 50), but its contents became the talk of the golf industry. Doak was brash in his commentaries, tart in his prose and not afraid to call a dog a dog.  The ears of some (actually, many) designers stung, partly because the criticisms of their work was coming from a new competitor for their clients. (Doak was just finishing up his first design, High Pointe in Traverse City, Mich. when the book started to circulate.)

Its notoriety led to a bound, updated volume produced by Doak in 1994, again a limited edition of 1,000. (I have copy No. 2.)  Two years later, Sleeping Bear Press published a lush coffee-table edition, with high production values and color illustrations (most photos taken by Doak himself), which retailed for $45.00.

What makes those books so valuable, of course, is that they contain the early opinions on design of Doak, who has now become one of the premier golf architects in America.  The Confidential Guide not only reflected his blunt honesty but also showcased his extensive travels.   Doak reviewed courses he'd played or toured throughout America and around the globe, not just the usual suspects but hidden gems such as Pennard in Wales and Titirangi in New Zealand.

In the past two decades, Doak has been busy creating such world renown courses as Pacific Dunes, Barnbougle Dunes and Streamsong Blue.  But he's also continued to travel and study other people's designs.  Now in his 50s, he's reissuing a fully updated version of The Confidential Guide, so extensive that he's publishing it in five volumes.  The first, available now, covers courses in Great Britain and Ireland. The next two will feature the Americas, one, critiquing winter destination courses, to be released in 2015,  the other on summer destination courses in 2016.  Volume 4, Europe, Middle East and Africa, is slated for a 2017 release and the last volume, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, won't be published until 2018.  

Reading through a review copy recently sent me, I can vouch that the first volume is an improvement of the fancy 1996 edition, from the glorious Joshua Smith painting of the 6th at St. Enodoc on the cover to the expansive color photographs (again, mostly Doak's) on many pages throughout. There are even some diagrams and descriptions of individual holes of particular note.  Some things stay the same.  The courses are still rated using Doak's original 0-10 scale (0 being "contrived and unnatural. . . and shouldn't have been built;"  10 being  "Nearly Perfect. . . drop the book and call your travel agent.")  Also reprised is The Gourmet's Choices, although instead of the 31 Flavors of the original (Doak's salute to Baskin-Robbins), it's limited to 18 courses in the first volume, and presumably 18 in each of the next four as well, a total of 90 select favorites.

What's new is that Doak has enlisted the aid of three other prominent golf course critics to broaden the scope of his new guide: Ran Morrissett, co-founder of golfclubatlas.com, Darius Oliver of Australia, author of two Planet Golf books and a website of the same name, and Masa Nishijima, one of the most knowledgeable golf writers in Japan.  Each provides his own "Doak Scale" rating to each course he has played, although the descriptive text of each course was written, as explained in the preface,  in Doak's voice to maintain consistency.  (I'm not sure if that means Morrissett et. al. imitated Doak's writing style on certain descriptions or if Doak simply rewrote their reviews in his style. )

The most revealing aspect of the new edition of The Confidential Guide is that Doak has clearly mellowed.  For example, in his original 1988 version, he gave County Louth G.C. in Baltray, Ireland a 4 (defined as "modestly interesting course"), and described it as "not the classic links . . . well removed from the sea." In 1994, he'd bumped its rating to 6 (defined as "a very good course") and wrote, "fine course, but very dull by comparison with Ireland's top layouts. . . "

The same rating and description appeared in the 1996 edition, but for 2014, Doak raised his rating to 7 (defined as "an excellent course"), while his three cohorts each rated it a 6.  "Relatively small dunes make it less photogenic than Ireland's big 5 courses," Doak writes, "but for me this is a wonderful links."

Doak seems to have lost some of his bite from his earlier editions, but I suspect that's merely because Volume 1 covers the territory he loves best.  His extensive 1982 tour of Great Britain and Ireland is what embed in Doak the design principles he lives by today. I suspect Volumes 2 and 3, covering American courses, will contain more far controversial opinions and pointed jabs.

Although he did stick it to my profession in Volume 1.  "All the major golf magazines have an 'architecture editor,'" he writes, "and I would have love to have their real opinions for this book - but they can't always write what they really think, because the magazines still don't want to offend anyone."  He concludes by saying, "You'll not have to read between the lines here."

The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Vol. 1, is available now for $60 plus postage by placing an order at www.rennaissancegolf.com. For a limited time, you can order all five volumes in advance at a substantial discount. 

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Travel

Marriott is offering college students discounted green fees

College students don't have much income but do have plenty of expenses: tuition, books, food, beverages, etc. Paying fat green fees can be a budget-buster.

loop-marriott-camelback-518.jpgScottsdale's JW Marriott Camelback G.C. (13th hole at the Ambiente Course, shown) is among the courss offering discounted rates to college students. (Lonna Tucker)

Marriott's College Links program is designed to give students a break. The program allows college students to play at the nearly two dozen participating Marriott Golf properties nationwide from now through June 1, 2015.

Students showing their college ID after 3 p.m. will be charged a discounted twilight rate ($29-$69) plus a twilight voucher for a future round.

Go to collegegolflinks.com for the complete list of participating courses.

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Courses & Travel

Deal of the Week: Play your own Open Championship

Scoring a tee time at the Old Course in St. Andrews leading up to next year's Open Championship will be a lesson in futility, but for about $170 and a few mouse clicks, you can play a different leg of the rota in the offseason. 

Turnberry's Ailsa Course -- where Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus in the Duel in the Sun (and barely missed another chance in 2009) -- is offering a weekday morning "Gulfstream" tee time package that includes a breakfast sandwich, 18 holes and a three-course lunch afterward for about $170. The package is available Oct. 13 until March 31 on tee times from 9 to 11 a.m. and costs 105 pounds, or about $170. You can pick the same package on the Kintyre Course for just 75 pounds and even choose from some weekend times.

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Turnberry sits on a point on Scotland's southwest coast, a scenic 100-mile drive from Edinburgh, and has dramatic water views on three sides. Donald Trump bought the property this summer and has plans to spend $200 million upgrading the hotel, but he says he's going to leave the golf course alone. October and November offer the best weather bet, with temperatures consistently in the mid-50s -- which isn't that different than what you might get in the middle of the summer.

If you go, take an extra minute after you hit your tee shot in 15 to find the remains of the airstrip built across the course during World War II. The entire property was turned into a Royal Air Force training station and paved flat to accommodate hangars and planes. The Ailsa reopened in 1951 after a redesign from Philip MacKenzie Ross and joined the Open Championship rota in 1977, when Nicklaus and Watson had their famous battle. 

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Courses & Travel

We toured next year's U.S. Open course on a GolfBoard and it was sweet (VIDEO)

Chambers Bay is an unlikely place to bag a maiden GolfBoard ride. The municipal links, built in 2007 on a former industrial gravel pit along the Puget Sound, doesn’t allow golf carts. Players must take a caddie, a pushcart or carry their own bag. Only with a medical note may one ride in a cart, and the enforcement of this policy is as strict as the rental fleet is small. So ripping around on another motorized vehicle, albeit a quite smaller one at 100 pounds, was a big ask.
 
But since the U.S. Open is coming here in 2015 and golf fans are eager to see what the youngest course to land the national championship looks like, the good folk at Chambers Bay slackened their retro-purist principles for a morning and let us film a ride.



It was my first time on a GolfBoard. Brock Sabo, the GolfBoard sales rep who met me in the parking lot, didn’t need my help unloading the unit from his car. After a tentative introductory minute, I was comfortable to set sail on the course at full speed, or 11 mph. The motion is similar to any type of board riding -- I’m fairly experienced with the snow and skate variety -- but getting wholly accustomed to the throttle, a Bluetooth-enabled device held like a water pistol, took a few holes (Then again, I’ve never been outside the bell curve for rubbing my belly and patting my stomach simultaneously). The vertical handlebar mount, which can aid steering but is mostly there for security, was the design addition “that convinced insurance companies it would be safe for the public to rent without helmets,” says Sabo. Which was an important development, because hitting quality golf shots is hard enough without a helmet.

Is it fun to ride? Does Ricky Barnes wear a funny hat?

Riding a GolfBoard is a more physically involved act than driving a cart. By no means a workout, but the more you throw your weight around, the more you are rewarded with deeper, more thrilling carves. Like walking, the tendency is to become more attentive and engaged with the topography of the golf course. Also like walking, the fun’s in the fairway. Traipsing through the rough at low speed looking for a lost ball isn’t fun in any mode of ambulation. My theory is far from being proven, but I think the GolfBoard might actually help one stay in the fairway. The rhythmic weight shift of the carving motion bleeds nicely into a pre-shot routine.  

A major reason Chambers Bay shuns golf carts is to protect its 100-percent fescue turf. A GolfBoard is five- to six-times lighter than a typical golf cart and has smaller wheels, so it at least partially assuages that concern. However, the kneejerk fear of most courses considering the GolfBoard will be safety. How many golfers will ride recklessly and get hurt? Who knows, perhaps an even higher rate than already do with golf carts. Like a golf cart, you won’t get hurt on a GolfBoard unless you purposefully push the boundaries.  
           
Laird Hamilton, the legendary pro surfer and design consultant of the GolfBoard, has his own handle-less model that allegedly goes 60 mph.

Maybe Oakmont Country Club will let us film in advance of the 2016 U.S. Open. Laird, you available?
   

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