The Local Knowlege

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.


“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.”

... Read
Courses & Travel

Book Review: The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses

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, 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 For a limited time, you can order all five volumes in advance at a substantial discount. 

... Read

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 for the complete list of participating courses.

... Read
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.


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. 

... Read
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?

... Read
Courses & Travel

A sneak peek at Gleneagles reveals an American golf course that happens to be in Scotland

PERTHSHIRE, Scotland -- With 10 days still to go before the first shot is struck in Ryder anger, all the things that sit alongside a major event are already well underway at Gleneagles.

Security is tight (your intrepid correspondent was escorted to the European Tour office before being allowed entry).

Watched by a squad from the local constabulary who had just concluded its daily search of every grandstand, former European Tour pro Mark Roe of Sky Sports was taping an explanation of the intricacies found on the new 18th green. It's nine yards "wide" at its narrowest point apparently and runs off sharply on both sides.

Gleneagles will be in immaculate, but soft conditions. (Photo by Stephen Szurlej)

And the PGA Centenary course is looking very green and feeling very soft. Despite a recent and glorious run of "Indian Summer" weather in sunny Caledonia, one day of rain was seemingly enough to eliminate any semblance of fast running conditions.

Not that any golfers will have experienced that fact. The course has been closed since the first of the month and is, as you'd expect, in pristine condition. Which has both good and bad implications. While the exotic and expensive Perthshire resort no doubt wishes its third-best course to be presented to the world in a fashion that will encourage future visitors -- mission accomplished -- a closer inspection provoked one or two misgivings in this observer.

For one thing, the fairways are immaculate, not a divot hole in sight. For another, the gradual lengthening of the grass on either side of the "cut and prepared" is exact almost to the inch. A few feet of short semi-rough (six lengths of a size-11 shoe in width) is bordered on the outside by the same stretch of what might be termed intermediate rough. Then comes the real tough stuff.

That all sounds fine and dandy -- and has obviously been done at the instigation of European skipper Paul McGinley -- but what all of the above does is eliminate any sense of randomness. In other words, it's all very predictable and scientific, rather than arbitrary and artistic -- two features you would expect at a more traditional venue in the Home of Golf. We certainly won't be watching any of the 24 players hitting from anything other than a perfect fairway lie, something we already know they can do with monotonous aplomb.

This isn't really a "Scottish" track, of course. Designed (and re-worked) by Jack Nicklaus, this is PGA Tour golf with only a vague tartan hue. The first hint of that came in the ET office, where could be found a sign headlined "Buggy Instruction." But on the course is just as "American." Long grass, for example, all but surrounds almost every bunker. And, just as inexplicably, more long grass can be found between greenside bunkers and putting surfaces. This Ryder Cup, it would appear, is going to be played through the air -- not on the ground.

Perhaps most egregious, however, is the deliberate dampening of adventure on more than one hole. By its very nature, match play encourages the bold and the brave rather than the merely prosaic. But any incentive to "go for it" over the corner at, say, the par-5 second has been all but eliminated. There, very thick rough has been allowed to grow just over the bunker situated on the left side of the slight right-to-left dogleg. Long hitters with a sense of enterprise are thus rendered all but impotent. Bubba Watson and Jim Furyk will likely play this hole in very similar fashions.

Happily, a bit more imagination has been applied to the par-5 ninth. Measuring 618 yards and playing slightly uphill, this hole has the potential to be a rather boring 90-yard par 3 if no one can possibly reach the green in two. But that possibility has clearly occurred to Mister McGinley. A forward tee, maybe 50 yards ahead will surely make for more excitement.

So, all in all, despite the geographic location of the biennial bun-fight between Old and New Worlds, it would be folly to expect anything like an Open Championship next week.

Golf in Scotland? Yes. Scottish golf? Not so much.

... Read
Courses & Travel

Tour players are way different, example No. 793: When they rank golf courses

Asking a PGA Tour star which top golf course he's still waiting to play is like asking an artist which color he'd still like to paint with. Before long, your options start to dwindle.

Still, in advance of this week's Deutsche Bank Championship, the Boston Globe pressed players on the courses remaining on their bucket list. The answers -- and sometimes the lack thereof -- were telling.

Already with exposure to gems like Augusta National and Pebble Beach, many mentioned uber-private destinations like Pine Valley and Cypress Point. Others, like Geoff Ogilvy, said it was more about getting a chance to experience a classic in a more casual context.


Pine Valley is still a good get for many tour players.

“I’d love to do all of Long Island properly, and play them all as the members play them,” Ogilvy told the Globe. “We see these courses in such ridiculous setups.”

Other players, owing to the demands of the profession, admitted to a sort of golf fatigue.

“I don’t play any leisure golf," said Jonathan Byrd. "If I told my wife I was going to take a week and play some courses I’ve never been to before, she’d slap me silly.”

Added Phil Mickelson: "I’ve played them all. All the ones I’ve wanted to, anyway.”

The Globe question was a variation of one Golf Digest posed to some of the game's A-listers in 2011, as part of our package on America's 100 Greatest Courses: Of the countless American golf courses you HAVE played, what ranks in your top 10?


In handwritten responses from the likes of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Ernie Els, we got many of the usual suspects (Pine Valley, Augusta National, Oakmont, and Winged Foot). We got plenty of sentimental favorites: Davis Love III included his hometown Frederica Golf Club on St. Simon Island, Ga., while Palmer went with his own Bay Hill, Pennsylvania's Laurel Valley Golf Club, and Cherry Hills, where he won the 1960 U.S. Open.

And of course we got the expected from Donald Trump. He included five Trump courses, including Trump Bedminster at No. 1.

... Read
Courses & Travel

What's in a name? The owners of two courses, both called TimberStone, may soon find out

By Peter Finch

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But what about a TimberStone? That’s the gist of a federal lawsuit filed recently in the Northern District of Illinois. (Hat tip to Rob Harris of for spotting the suit.)

TimberStone Golf Course at Pine Mountain (below) has been around since the late-1990s. Set in Iron Mountain, Mich., it’s a popular, Jerry Matthews-designed course that carries five stars (out of a possible five) in Golf Digest’s Best Places to Play reader ratings. In 2000, its sixth hole -- a 413-yard dogleg left over water -- was cited as an “honorable mention” when Golf Digest’s Dan Jenkins and Ron Whitten ranked “America’s Best 18 Holes.”

loop timberstone 1.jpgThe TimberStone Golf Course in Caldwell, Idaho, (below) is no relation. It opened
three years ago and charges a mere $39 including cart for 18 holes (vs. $100 at the other TimberStone).

Loop timberstone2.jpg Michigan’s TimberStone takes exception to Idaho TimberStone’s use of the name, arguing that the Idaho course -- even though it is 1,700 miles away -- could be confusing to consumers. Idaho's TimberStone contends that’s unlikely and points out that its director has a local landscaping business with the same name.

Would anyone honestly think the two courses were related? Perhaps. But if the court rules in the Michigan course’s favor, imagine the lawsuits that might follow. I count 12 U.S. golf courses with “Augusta” in their names. I count 20 whose names include “Pine Valley.”

... Read
Courses & Travel

A reversible golf course? Tom Doak's plan for Forest Dunes is a course you can play two ways

By Peter Finch

When Lew Thompson began contemplating a second 18 holes at Forest Dunes Golf Club, the much-loved course he owns in northern Michigan, the Arkansas trucking executive made one thing clear: The new design had to make him say “wow.”

He got his wish. The architect Tom Doak came up with a plan he’d been mulling for the better part of 30 years: a fully reversible 18-hole course. That is, you can play it forward or backward, depending on the day.

Construction is underway on the as-yet-unnamed course(s), with August 2016 as the targeted opening.

loop forest dunes.jpeg
Though Forest Dunes is ranked among America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, it has struggled financially for years. Part of the reason is its remote location, in tiny Roscommon, Mich. When Thompson and a silent partner bought the Tom Weiskopf-designed course in 2011, he created a five-year strategic plan to turn Forest Dunes into more of a destination, says Todd Campbell, general manager. That included adding more lodging and more golf.

Right now it has 65 beds, more than twice the number when Thompson took over. Campbell says his “gut feeling” is that it will end up having room for as many as 150 guests in the years ahead.

Doak was one of two finalists in the running to build the new course, Campbell says. He recalls a meeting with Thompson and Doak about a year ago. When the architect had finished his presentation, Thompson leaned back in his chair and said, “Tom, it looks really nice, but I’m not wowed.”

At that point, says Campbell, Doak reached down and pulled out some additional documents. “I think this is going to wow you,” he said.

Doak had with him a plan for the second 18 that can be played in the opposite direction of the one he’d just pitched. “Our jaws just hit the floor,” Campbell says. “It was goose-bump city.”

It won’t be the first time a golf course has offered two routings on the same property. At the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, they used to reverse directions regularly and in fact they still play it “backwards” one day a year.

But still, it’s not exactly common. “As far as we can tell, this will be the only truly ‘reversible golf course’ in the world,” says Campbell. Forest Dunes will alternate the course each day, he says. He imagines it will be par 72 in one direction and either 70 or 71 in the other.

... Read
Courses & Travel

What would you shoot if a pro was driving for you? Recalling a bold Golf Digest experiment

By Sam Weinman

Whatever your individual philosophies about golf, let's agree the game would be much easier if you could drive the ball 330 yards down the center of the fairway. That's true at the game's highest level, as was made apparent by Rory McIlroy's win in the Bridgestone Invitational with a 334-yard driving average. And it would be true at your course, wherever that is.

Think about it: that long par 4 with trouble down the right side -- wouldn't it be considerably less daunting if you knew you were hitting wedge in from the fairway? What if every hole was like that?  How many strokes off your typical score do you think you could shave?

Golf Digest set out to answer these questions more than two decades ago, when writer Peter Andrews and tour veteran Mark O'Meara played together at Isleworth Country Club in Windermere, Fla., for a story in the May 1991 issue. Andrews was an 18-handicapper who was convinced he could be shooting in the 70s "with only a few measly extra yards off the tee, assuming 50 yards qualifies as measly." O'Meara was by then a PGA Tour star -- not yet a winner of two major titles, but already with six tour wins to his name. The concept was quite simple: playing from 6,279 yards, Andrews played O'Meara's tee ball in on every hole, and O'Meara played Andrews'. 

The result was about what you'd expect when you take some of the variables out of a mediocre golfer's hands, but still leave him with enough room to make a mess.  Using O'Meara's respectable pre-titanium 260-yard drives, Andrews shot 82 (playing Andrews' drives, O'Meara shot 75). It was about 10 strokes better than his average, but as Andrews noted, he never quite took advantage of O'Meara's help.

"And so it went; Mark clicking off pars and birdies whenever I left him on anything Luther Burbank would have recognized as grass, and me constantly being offered the glittering prize, but able, only sporadically, to gather it in," Andrews wrote.

Do you think you could fare better? What if you didn't just have any tour player teeing off for you, but the premier driver in the game? If you could hit Rory's tee ball at your home course, what sort of difference would it make? Let us know in the comments section below, or chime in on our Golf Digest Facebook page.

(Illustration by Arnold Roth)
... Read
Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today