The Local Knowlege

Courses & Travel

Higher handicap golfers can enjoy Bandon Dunes, too

By Ashley Mayo

In 2013, I went to Bandon Dunes with three other guys. Our ages ranged from 26 to 32, and our handicaps ranged from 2 to 5. This year, I went to Bandon with seven other guys. Our ages ranged from 28 to 70, and our handicaps from 1 to 25. Same destination, two very different groups, one very similar outcome: we all had a blast.

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Our crew played The Preserve as an eightsome on the day we arrived. 

Whether you're an avid, accomplished golfer who thrives on a good challenge, or a weekend warrior who attempts to avoid any and all trouble, the five courses at Bandon Dunes manage to offer enough of a test for single-digit-handicap golfers without being too overwhelming for double-digit-handicap golfers.
 
Our higher-handicappers had this tremendous fear of losing a lot of golf balls. As it turns out, they lost very few. Don Scheck, a 23-handicapper, lost just one ball in five rounds (he lost it at Pacific Dunes), and says the courses are playable because there aren't a lot of forced carries, especially off the tees. "My drives mostly landed short of trouble as long as I hit them straight," says Scheck. "Approach shots and putting are what did me in."

Brian Bakst, a 22-handicapper, says he returned home with more balls than he brought. "And better ones," says Bakst. "When I went into the junk, I often came out with two or three beauties."
 
Scott Davies, who started playing golf when he was 65 years old (he’s now 69), says that the courses are not as intimidating as they might seem. "Having a caddie was a big assist," says the 25-handicapper. "And playing Preserve (the 13-hole par 3 course) first really increased my sense that I could play these courses and have fun. I lost a couple balls at Pacific Dunes but not otherwise."
 
The best decision we made all week was taking a "Links Lesson" led by Master PGA Professional Grant Rogers and PGA Professional Jake Sestero. They taught us, in just one hour, how to play golf in the wind, how to hit bump-and-run shots with putters, irons and hybrids, and how to lag putt.
 
"Some of the lessons I learned there carried with me the whole week," says Eric Hyland, an 11 handicapper. Among them: 

--Light hands on fast putts. 
--If you can run the ball up to the green, run the ball up to the green. Keep it low.
--Remember, the golf holes like to win, too.
--You might as well be the person having the most fun in your foursome.

That lesson was equally important to our higher-handicappers as it was to Tom Freeman, our 1-handicapper. "There aren't many courses in the United States where you'll learn how to hit a bump-and-run hybrid 123 yards, and then use it to give yourself a 4-foot birdie putt," says Freeman. "It's something I'll laugh and smile about for years."
 
I asked everyone in our group to answer the classic question that all golfers should answer after they’ve played each of the four regulation-length courses at Bandon Dunes: If you had 10 rounds to play at Bandon, how would you divvy them up? Collectively, our double-digit handicap golfers slightly prefer Old Macdonald—wild bounces on that course generally feed toward the green and can turn so-so shots into stellar ones, and it’s actually quite difficult to lose a ball there—and our single-digit handicap golfers would rather face Pacific Dunes—Tom Doak’s extreme design requires shot-making skills.

Other than that, our higher-handicappers and lower-handicappers appreciated Bandon Dunes just the same. "You better laugh when you think at the start of your shot that you're putting for birdie and then leave the hole with a double," says Tom Scheck, a 9-handicapper. "Good shots are going to roll under the lip of a bunker. It's a lot like life. You better roll with the good and bad bounces or you'll spend most of your time in misery."

But isn't it that kind of misery that keeps us nutty golfers coming back for more?

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Courses & Travel

Bandon's Mike Keiser keeps building golf courses when others are shutting them down

By Peter Finch

Like a lot of people I know, I got home from a recent trip to Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and immediately began dreaming about my next visit. Developer Mike Keiser has created something extraordinary, reflected not just in the accolades (it has four courses in our ranking of America’s 100 Greatest) but in the satisfied smiles you see on golfers all over the property.

One knock on Bandon is that it’s hard to reach, especially if your trip doesn’t begin in the western U.S. But Keiser has a couple of other projects in the works that, if everything goes as planned, will bring the Bandon experience to the East Coast and the Midwest. The former is the Cabot Links Resort in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and the latter is Sand Valley in Rome, Wisc.

How can he keep building all these courses when news about the golf economy is generally so dour? The difference is the sand, he says.

“As you know, these are links golf courses built on sand and using fescue grass,” Keiser explains. “Most U.S. courses are built on dirt. People love the links courses. They always have. They’ve flooded over to Ireland and Scotland for decades, for that reason. The Wisconsin courses won’t be links because they’re not on the ocean, but they will be virtually treeless and links-like.”

Here are updates from Keiser both of these projects, as well as a third one near Bandon.

Cabot Links
 
loop cabot links.jpgKeiser partnered with Canadian Ben Cowan-Dewar in 2007 to build the first course (pictured) and now they are adding a second 18, this one designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. "We're in the last two months of completion," Keiser says. "By sometime in September we'll have everything seeded, then we’ll get through the winter and as early as next August, we'll probably have limited preview play for our hotel guests." He imagines an official opening for this second course, known as Cabot Cliffs, in 2016.

For the moment, getting to Cabot Links is every bit as tough -- if not tougher -- than Bandon Dunes. You fly into Halifax, then drive three and a half hours north. But Keiser is "95 percent confident" the government will build an airport nearer to the resort, with direct flights likely from Toronto if not New York and other U.S. cities eventually.

Right now there are 48 rooms on property. Keiser is building “at least” another 24 in time for the opening.

Sand Valley

For this 1,500-acre site, set about an hour and 45 minutes north of Madison, Wis., Keiser imagines multiple courses. "We're near the final 18-hole routing" on the first, also designed by Coore and Crenshaw, Keiser says. "It will be final after a mid-August trip with Bill and Ben and my son, Michael, and me. We'll also nail down a final clubhouse site, at which point we’ll begin grading the course. Next year we’ll put in the irrigation, do the fine grading in September 2015, and by 2016 we'll have some founder play."

Founder play? Keiser rounded up 155 investors -- "friends who wanted to be part of a golf-course project" -- to help finance the development. It was a sort of Keiser Kickstarter. "They get all kinds of freebies," he explains, including a chance to play the course first.

He’s already talking about starting a second course there. "My philosophy is 1 plus 1 equals 3," he says. "One course is a curiosity, two is a destination."

Who will design the second course? "Well, it's known that I think highly of the boy genius Tom Doak and also Gil Hanse," he says. "Bill and Ben's two key guys are Dave Axland and the Canadian architect Rod Whitman (who designed Cabot Links). They work as a team. So I'd say those three are all contenders." Keiser says he expects to have an announcement about the architect by November. 

Eventually he'll build some lodging on site, but for the time being he expects guests will stay at the nearby Lake Arrowhead and Northern Bay resorts. "We want to help the existing economy," Keiser says.

Bandon Links

This is a separate project, located a few miles down the road from Bandon Dunes. It's a 36-hole municipal facility that's to be designed by Hanse. Keiser has gotten approval from the state parks department to do a land swap that will make the project viable for him, and now he’s waiting on federal Bureau of Land Management and Coos County approvals. "I estimate we'll get all that done in two years and then Gil Hanse can go to work," he says.

  ... Read
Courses & Travel

It's Play 9 Day, which means we should all skip work and go play golf

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

It's Play 9 day! Does your boss know? You should tell your boss.

In case you're not already familiar, "Play 9" is a joint USGA-PGA-Golf Digest initiative that aims to bring more people into the game by encouraging them to play nine holes more often. Not having enough time is undoubtedly one of the biggest obstacles to people playing more golf, and nine holes is a pretty handy way around that. You may remember those Rickie Fowler commercials about it around the time of the U.S. Open.

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Rickie also talked about it on CNBC's morning show, Squawk Box, on Wednesday.

 

As part of the initiative, the USGA is hosting a tournament through its website. And if this post has suddenly inspired you to leave work and go play a quick nine, here's a list of the country's most nine-hole friendly courses, many of whom are offering special rates as part of the initiative.

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Courses & Travel

The St. Andrews skyline will look a little different for the 2015 British Open

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

The Hamilton Grand -- or Hamilton Hall, as it's more widely known -- is one of those distinctly Scottish buildings that litters the skyline of St. Andrews. It's among the town's more recognizable landmarks, sitting just behind the 18th green of the Old Course, a wedge from the R&A clubhouse.

And it’s looking a little grander these days.

In work that was completed earlier in 2014 the building now boasts a sixth floor and a four-bedroom penthouse, according to a company representative. The penthouse is believed to be valued at around $11 million and is part of a series of renovations being undertaken by owner Herb Kohler, a process included a 30-bedroom expansion.

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Hamilton Grand opened in 1895 as a hotel and remained as such until World War II, when the military used it to aid its war efforts. After that is was sold to the University of St Andrews and used as a residence hall for students until 2006. In subsequent years the building fell into disrepair before Kohler bought the property in 2009 with a view of turning it into a luxury apartment building.

In the before and after shot below, you can see a new row of windows and the penthouse extending over the dome on the right side of the building. It won't be a huge adjustment to the one, but a noteworthy one for St. Andrews' most astute followers.

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Courses & Travel

Allerton Park: Where John And Paul Strolled, Even Golfed A Little

By Geoff Shackelford

HOYLAKE, England -- Maybe if Allerton Park had the same ring to it as "Penny Lane" or "Strawberry Fields," the quaint Liverpool golf course might have been immortalized into a classic Beatles tune. Instead, the 18-hole Liverpool muni and nine-hole par-3 course that Paul McCartney had to cross to so he could strum guitars with John is hallowed ground to hardcore Beatles fans.

Related: Why you're not hearing any actual Beatles songs on ESPN this week

Those who have studied the early years of music's most prolific, famous and enduring songwriting partnership know the 5,494-yard course was the bridge to late afternoons trying to figure out how Buddy Holly played the opening chords to "That'll Be The Day" and developing their writing process. The former estate-turned-city-course sits between Paul's more modest home on Forthlin Road and John's more upscale abode on Menlove Avenue.

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"John lived just the other side of the golf course, literally and metaphorically," McCartney has said. "People don't realize how middle-class he was. It's a very fancy neighbourhood."

McCartney has recounted how on the late winter days walking back through the specimen tree-dotted course or on a particularly quiet path through Allerton Park, the almost-haunted vibe would prompt him to play his guitar and sing at the top of his lungs to "steady his nerve." If anyone came along, McCartney would pretend it wasn't him. Yet one night a cop halted him to ask what on earth he was doing. Paul has said that he thought and arrest was coming. Instead, the cop famously asked for a guitar lesson. McCartney says their golf passion was limited, and for the sake of rock and roll history, golfers will forgive them.

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"We'd go round for a laugh. We weren't very good but we'd do it. It was there, like Mount Everest, so you do it."

Today Allerton is still a stunning parkland property, controlled by the Liverpool City Council and managed lovingly by the Large family. Fourth generation pro Jonathan Large manning the counter on Saturday as the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool played out, while his father Barry, the head professional, rolled in to check up on things even though the course was closed due to the drenching overnight rains.

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The flattish parkland course, with large, beautifully-conditioned greens, could use a slight cleaning up and upgrade of the former estate's horse stables-turned-clubhouse. The city will be bringing in a management company to spruce things up, but hopefully only so much so that the Large's continue to oversee what has been the family business of instruction and course operation for four generations, including the years when those mop-topped lads took a short-cut to their dreams.

Related: 9 classic Beatles songs you didn't realize were about golf

All Allerton Park needs is love. It's just the kind of place golf must better appreciate: a casual, playable, open green space that is fun for beginners, kids, older golfers.

Or as Paul so succinctly puts it, a place to go around for a laugh.

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Courses & Travel

Here are some pictures of the second hole, before and after Tiger Woods played it

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HOYLAKE, England -- The second hole for the British Open course at Royal Liverpool is a 454-yard par 4 resting slightly out of the way on a plot of land on the eastern edge of the property. It runs parallel to the par-4 first, but limited crosswalks make it challenging to get to any decent viewing areas on No. 2, so spectators generally just jump from the first tee straight to the third hole.

An exception to this strategy, however, is often made when a big name golfer comes through. Because this year's British Open is Tiger's first major back since last year's PGA, I thought it would be fun to see how big the hole's crowd looked before Tiger played it, compared to when he was playing it. Here are the results; the pictures on the left were taken at just after 1:15 p.m., and the ones on the right were taken from the same spot just after 2:15 p.m., when Tiger's group was putting out.
140718-tiger-before-after-518.jpgThe top row of pictures was taken looking down the left rough about 100 yards away from the green. The bottom row of pictures was taken from just right of the green. As you can see, in each picture the stand completely fills out, and the gallery on the ropes swells to about three or four rows deep.

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Courses & Travel

Some of the rough at Royal Liverpool is so high that you can literally hide in it

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

HOYLAKE, England -- U.S. Open rough may be heavy, but it's got nothing on the British Open in length.

The rough just off the fairway at Royal Liverpool is generally about a foot high, but there are spots around the course that are much higher. You have to miss it pretty big to find the really long stuff, but the rough about 25 yards left off the tee on the third (which comes into play because of the tight out-of-bounds on the right), 14th, 16th and 17th holes gets about five feet high.

Don't take my word it, here's the proof. To put things in perspective, I'm 6' 2":

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On a side note: if my boss asks where I am, don't tell him about this post.

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Courses & Travel

Let the links onslaught begin! Three weeks of pure golf and four things to look for

By Geoff Shackelford

The Scottish Open host course may just be better than the Open Championship site. The Senior British Open course could be auditioning for Wales to finally host an Open. And the Women's British Open site may be the toughest of them all.

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The par-3 13th at Hoylake.

If you love links golf, the next three weeks will delight to no end with plenty of television coverage. Trying to pick a winner out of the four venues is impossible, so instead, just sit back and take in the nuances because when the Ryder Cup returns to Scotland this September, they'll be playing an inland Jack Nicklaus design.

Related: Get to know your British Open courses

Here's what to watch for, with help from the legendary and timeless words of writer Bernard Darwin:

1. The Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open has become a premier event reinvigorated by a top-flight sponsor and an adherence to one simple principle: give the lads a links to prepare their games on prior to the Open. Royal Aberdeen may be the most visually beautiful of the links you'll see this year, especially the stunning front nine playing through a dunes valley. "A noble links!" Darwin declared after having postponed a visit there for many years. Golf Channel and NBC split the coverage duties starting Thursday.

2. Royal Birkdale is difficult and big in scale. The Ricoh Women's British Open is going to give the ladies the sternest test imaginable, which was not to Bernard Darwin's liking. "There seemed to be rather too many holes of one type, with greens running up to a point at the base of a hill and having heathery banks on either hand. They have grown a little intermingled in my head which may be my heads fault, but so be it." ESPN2 has the coverage starting Thursday.

Related: Michelle Wie eying a second straight major at Royal Birkdale

3. Royal Liverpool, or Hoylake as the Open Championship host is properly referred to, has historically required a stout defense from golf writers because so much of its brilliance falls under the guise of nuance. "At Hoylake the golfing pilgrim is emphatically on classic ground," Darwin wrote. "As he steps out of the train that has brought him from Liverpool, he will gaze with awe-struck eyes upon surroundings in which the irreverent might see nothing out of the ordinary." ESPN's coverage starts bright and early July 17th.

4. Royal Porthcawl hosts the Senior British Open and ESPN2 will show it starting July 24th. Safe to say, Tom Watson will be favored to win at the youthful age of 64 on a links few of today's players have seen. But Darwin noted this is a "genuine" links, "the sea in sight all of the time, and the most noble bunkers. True to its national character, the course also boasts of stone walls."

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Courses & Travel

This might actually be the scariest entrance drive in golf

By Geoff Shackelford

As the Scottish Open kicks off this week at Royal Aberdeen, you'll hear mentions of the abutting Murcar Links. Because minus tournament paraphenalia, an unsuspecting golfer could walk right off of Royal Aberdeen's 9th green, tee off onto Murcar and not have a clue they've left Royal Aberdeen. 

But you'll undoubtedly see some Tweets regarding this excellent links and its, well, not so excellent entrance drive. As a connoisseur of entry ways to golf courses, I love to see how the build-up for an arrival is played by courses around the world. Murcar's may just be the most memorable. And frightening.

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Some entrances are intentionally understated, others over-the-top, but Murcar's charms in both its difficulty to find and once located, the sheer intensity of the journey. The one-lane road features a tiny turnout about midway through the narrowest stretch, but if cars meet at any other point in the nearly 3/4's of a mile stretch that is no wider than a mid-size sedan, someone will be backing up a long way.

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However, do not let this peculiarity deter you. Murcar is a must play if you head to the Aberdeen area for a golf trip. With Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay, Trump International Links and the seventh oldest links in the world called Fraserburgh, there is no shortage of grand golf within a one hour drive of Scotland's third most populous city.

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Courses & Travel

Try this 8-course, 5-day golf trip to Williamsburg, Va., and you will NOT be disappointed

By Alex Myers

The mark of a great golf trip is not being able to determine the best or worst course played along the way. As some friends and I drove back from a five-day journey to Williamsburg, Va., we happily struggled with both. So how did we get to that point? Here's a look back at our itinerary.

Related: America's 100 Greatest Public Courses

Day 1: Williamsburg had been mentioned as a possible venue for the annual HGGA (don't ask) Championship for years, but the underrated golf destination became a more popular choice as we passed signs for it on our way to Myrtle Beach last summer. Our group likes to drive from the N.Y. area and cutting the time in the car almost in half was very appealing. We broke up the sevenish-hour drive down even more by stopping in Maryland to play Bulle Rock Golf Club. Good choice. The Pete Dye course, which has hosted the LPGA Championship five times and is No. 78 on Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses, was a treat to play, even in high winds that made a tough track even more difficult. The green fee was $130 and we paid an extra $25 plus tip to have a forecaddie. Worth it. Then we got back in the car and continued south. When we hit rush hour traffic, we waited it out by stopping for a long meal at Chili's . . . savvy! We arrived in Williamsburg around 10 p.m. and checked into the luxurious Kingsmill Resort. Not that we spent that much time inside or at the spa and pool -- there was too much golf to be played!

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The par-4 18th at Bulle Rock.

Day 2 - Morning: The opening round of the tournament was 10 minutes down the road at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club. In the morning, we played the Gold Course, which Robert Trent Jones Sr. called his "finest design" and is No. 54 in Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses. The course was in immaculate condition and featured one of the best collection of par 3s I've ever seen, including an island green on No. 16 that the starter made sure to inform us pre-dated TPC Sawgrass' No. 17 by nearly 20 years. Just be ready when you make the turn. A 450-yard par 4 starts a much more difficult back nine that also includes a 600-plus-yard par 5.

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The par-3 16th at Golden Horseshoe (Gold).

Afternoon: We drove about five minutes to get to the Golden Horseshoe's Green Course, designed by Rees Jones and the site of Yani Tseng's win over Michelle Wie in the final of the 2004 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship. Despite Jones' reputation as the "(U.S.) Open Doctor," this was a perfect spot for a fun afternoon round, with mounds on many holes that acted as side boards to keep the ball in the fairway. The course wasn't in as great of shape as its sister course (but what is?), but it had nearly as many interesting holes, including the uphill par-5 18th.

Day 3 - Morning: Speaking of interesting holes, welcome to Tradition Golf Club at Stonehouse. Among its accolades, the course was named "Best New Upscale Golf Course" by Golf Digest in 1996. Unfortunately, the course's conditioning has apparently gone down since then. Or maybe we just caught it at a bad time. There was, after all, a crane digging dirt from the side of the 18th green that we had to try to avoid with our approach shots. Not even the innovative architect Mike Strantz meant for it to play like that.

Afternoon: If Stonehouse was an adventure, Ford's Colony Country Club was a more traditional layout. We played the Blackheath Course there and enjoyed being on a well-manicured course that didn't make you think about where to hit on every single shot, but still featured more than its fair share of dangerous spots with water coming into play on 13 holes.

Day 4 - Morning: After walking and driving around Kingsmill Resort for a few days, it was nice to finally get out on the actual courses within the resort. Up first, the River Course, which currently hosts the LPGA Kingsmill Championship every year and was previously a PGA Tour stop for 22 years. Ranked No. 90 on Golf Digest's list of America's 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses, its first 15 holes are very good and its last three are spectacular. The 17th is a stunning par 3 by the water and you might remember the 18th as the hole Jiyai Shin and Paula Creamer played eight times in a playoff at the 2013 Kingsmill before Shin won the next morning on the ninth try.

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The par-3 17th at Kingsmill (River).

Afternoon: Instead of replaying the River Course, we tried Kingsmill's Plantation Course, which only cost $30 in the afternoon. After a few pedestrian holes, this course got really good. And not just good for $30 good. After finishing No. 18, we were left near that glorious finishing stretch of the River Course. Remember when we mentioned that long LPGA playoff? Well, we may have played that 18th hole an extra time, too. Shh. . .

Day 5: We played The Tradition Golf Club at Royal New Kent, another Mike Strantz design to finish things off, in part because it was 40 minutes in the direction we'd be driving home. Like Stonehouse, the links-style course featured some unique holes. But also like Stonehouse, the course had fallen off in the conditions department from when it was featured in Golf Digest's Top 100 Public Courses in 2007-2008. Another negative was all the blind shots, but that's something that wouldn't be as big of a deal a second or third time around.

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The par-3 7th at Royal New Kent.

So there you have it. Five days, eight different courses, and six very satisfied golfers. Williamsburg more than delivered when it comes to high-quality golf -- enough to leave everyone struggling to pick just one favorite track and unable to pick a least favorite. Throw in reasonable early summer rates and a reasonable drive and you've got the makings of a great trip. We'll be back.

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July 28, 2014

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