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Counting Down Best of Buddies-Trip Destinations. No. 7: Palm Springs

Palm Springs isn’t the best spot for a true “buddies trip” made up of 30- or 40-somethings looking to play golf by day and walk a tightrope of trouble at night. After decades of decadence, I’d delicately say the destination suffers from a reputation of soft and squishy. (Think over-ripe banana.) Oddly, and ironically, Palm Springs does work for a couples golf trip, and it was my first choice for a family golf trip to celebrate my father’s 75th birthday. (My two older brothers completed the foursome.)
 
With a wide range of ages, handicaps and various levels of golf enthusiasts, the flat desert terrain, some of the forgiving fairways, idyllic weather in November and Arnold Palmer’s Steakhouse were a good fit for our needs.
 
Blog_LaQuinta.jpgWe stayed at La Quinta Resort & Spa, which, in 2009, was in the midst of an impressive and expensive renovation. We reserved two of the Spanish casitas, complete with lounge space, flatscreens and small pools, which would help cool competitive Ginella tempers. (I should've never had my brothers share a cart.)
 
After all of my travels, I still say the Mountain Course is a unique experience for the avid amateur.

Blog_Mountain.jpgThere are points within the round in which you are playing along the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains. We couldn’t resist the urge to stop, look up and around, and be in awe of what seemed to be a massive movie set.
 
There’s nothing incredibly unique or memorable about the Nicklaus and Norman resort courses at PGA West, but they were both good additions to our itinerary.
 
I’ve played the TPC Stadium Course, but not on the trip with dad and brothers. Like the ocean (and The Ocean Course at Kiawah), I respect the Stadium for what it can and has done to me physically and emotionally, but it would’ve been too much for this crew.

Blog_Stadium.jpgMy dad, who suffers from old Italian pride and aging knees, would’ve buckled under the weight of the hike, deep bunkers and testy approach shots. My brothers would’ve broken clubs (or each other) before we got to the fifth hole.
 
The Dunes, the fifth course the resort offers to its guests, is on the opposite end of the Stadium in terms of difficulty. It would be the late-afternoon option if you wanted to play an emergency bag-of-beers 18 with a scramble or alternate-shot format. 
 
If you had connections or were owed a favor by a member, I’d try to play Palmer and/or Nicklaus private courses. The Palmer is more recognizable as the course used for the final round of the Bob Hope (now Humana Challenge), but you might be more impressed by the routing and the intimacy of the Nicklaus private:

Blog_NicPrivate.jpgAs perfect as La Quinta was for our needs, my combative brothers still almost came to blows over, among other things, slow play.

The pool wasn’t cool enough to chill this sibling rivalry.
 
--Matty G.




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Courses & Travel

Counting Down Best of Buddies-Trip Destinations. No. 8: Scottsdale

If I were planning a buddies trip to Scottsdale, I’d go during the week of the Waste Management Phoenix Open (Jan. 28-Feb. 3). Often referred to as “the greatest show on grass,” some would argue it’s an astounding display of assets. Pack sunscreen (and a neck brace).

Blog_Scottsdale_2.jpgIf you followed my experience there last February ("Golf Can Be Cool"), you know how much I enjoyed the ancillary activities surrounding the Skybox Village overlooking the par-3 16th hole and the post-tournament concerts across the street at the Birds Nest.

Blog_Scottsdale_1.jpgIt was the rare case of something living up to the hype. Not unlike Vegas during the first week of March Madness, once you’ve been, you’ll want to run it right back.
 
Although my trip to Scottsdale in 2012 wasn’t a buddies trip to play golf, it could have been—and probably should have been.

Blog_Scottsdale_TSNorth.jpgI stayed at the Talking Stick Resort, which has a youthful vibe and opened less than three years ago, so it still has the general feel of clean. There’s a big pool for hot afternoons and a sprawling casino for late-night wagering. The two golf courses on the property were designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, so they’re both good, but if I had to pick one, I’d play the North (pictured above).
 
For two more rounds, I’d play both courses at We-Ko-Pa. I prefer Saguaro over Cholla. (The common theme of the golf: fair, fun and relatively affordable desert courses with no houses lining the fairways.)

Because Saturday crowds at the Phoenix Open exceed 100,000 (attendance was 173,210 on Saturday in 2012), here’s my recommended itinerary:

Arrive Wednesday afternoon of tournament week, and play Talking Stick's South Course as a warm up. I’d play the North on Thursday morning before heading out to the tournament in the afternoon. (There are shuttles from Talking Stick to TPC Scottsdale, where the tournament is played. Catching a cab back was never a problem.)

Anticipate staying out late Thursday night, so don't schedule golf for Friday morning and, instead, enjoy one more day at the tournament on Friday afternoon. After that, I'd go to the concert at the Birds Nest.

Blog_Scottsdale_Saguaro.jpgWake up late Saturday morning and play We-Ko-Pa Saguaro (pictured above) in the afternoon. Then, after one last BIG night in Scottsdale, I’d fly home Sunday.
 
One drawback to a Scottsdale buddies golf trip during the Waste Management Phoenix Open is that you can’t play TPC Scottsdale Stadium. Any other time, the Stadium course is a lot of fun and worth considering, even with its $299 green fee. The Champions course across the street is decent, but after playing it once, I don’t feel the need to go back.
 
On Twitter yesterday, I asked followers where they’d stay and play in Scottsdale. Talking Stick, TPC Scottsdale Stadium and We-Ko-Pa were popular golf picks. So were both courses at Grayhawk, Troon North and Boulders South.
 
Their top lodging choices were the W Hotel, Fairmont Princess or renting a house. If you’re on a tight budget, @dbomaha suggests staying at the Gainey Suites.
 
Scottsdale is a second home to a lot of avid golfers. After a trip to all that is Waste Management, you'll know why. 

--Matty G.



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Courses & Travel

Counting Down Best of Buddies-Trip Destinations. No. 9: Hilton Head Island/Savannah

In our January issue we rank America’s 36 Best Buddies-Trip Destinations, a list we created by surveying the roughly 1,100 Golf Digest course-rating panelists who produce our biennial rankings of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses.

In my next 10 blog posts, and with the help of golfdigest.com’s Course Finder, I’ll be sharing favorite courses near the 10 best destinations.

No. 9 is Hilton Head Island/Savannah. This is a destination that I don't know well enough to give you an accurate ranking of courses to include in a buddies trip. As one guy, traveling the country for six years, Hilton Head has somehow slipped through the cracks of my planning. (My loss.)

Blog_HiltonHead.jpgLast year colleague Max Adler wrote a travel story about staying and playing at Hilton Head. I loved this line: "Just when you thought a post-round beer couldn't taste better, the owners of Bomboras Grille make you think again." (Click here for that entire story.)

 And so, for the purpose of this blog, I asked Adler to share his thoughts on this destination:


“Don’t play 36 two days in a row,” is rule number two of five from Golf Digest Editor-in-Chief Jerry Tarde, who has engineered more buddies trips than anyone. So while the Hilton Head/Savannah area posts important top 10s in our rank of Best Courses, Best Value and Best Weather, it’s the ease of chartering a fishing boat or simply heading to the beach on a spare afternoon that makes it a top spot for good friends.

Blog_HiltonHead_Harbour.jpgNevertheless, golf is the reason you and your crew came, and you can’t come to Hilton Head without playing Harbour Town Golf Links (pictured above). Disregard that it ranks No. 21 on Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest, never mind that it hosts a PGA Tour event, and forget that you can snap a group photo at the iconic finishing hole with the lighthouse backdrop. What matters is it’s the only public course on the island where you can hire a caddie, and to stroll unburdened inhaling the ocean breeze is an experience not to be missed. Also, it takes some local knowledge to get around because the Loblolly Pines can block approaches from sides of certain fairways.

Blog_HeronPoint.jpgWhile I was at Sea Pines Resort, I’d go to Heron Point if I was playing well (pictured above), but the Ocean Course if I needed to sort my swing out. The former is a pretty vicious Pete Dye design filled with hazards that slither beside the angular doglegs like snakes.

Blog_Palmetto_ArthurHills.jpgThe other all-inclusive resort with three solid courses, and which is generally less spendy, is Palmetto Dunes. The Arthur Hills layout (pictured above), is the most spectacularly situated with 10 holes along water, but the George Fazio is the better test because of small, elevated greens. The greens were switched from Bermuda to Zoysia grass in 2010, which is a heartier strand designed to thrive in high-salt, high-traffic conditions.

No matter what courses you play or where you go for apres-golf, you’ll be sure to find your beverage served in comically oversize Styrofoam cup. This is just the way of the lowcountry people, and a larger drink ration is always good for buddies-trip morale.

--Max Adler


Here's a grid which compares all the courses discussed above:





Blog_No9.jpg

We created this grid by going to golfdigest.com, clicking on Courses & Travel, scrolling down and clicking on Course Finder.

Type in the course names, and then click the box below each course that says “+ Compare.” After finding and clicking on all of the courses, in the bottom right of the screen, click on “Compare Now.”

Next up is destination No. 8: Scottsdale.


~Matty G.





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Courses & Travel

Counting Down Best of Buddies-Trip Destinations. No. 10: Traverse City, Mich.

In our January issue we rank America’s 36 Best Buddies-Trip Destinations, a list we created by surveying the roughly 1,100 Golf Digest course-rating panelists who produce our biennial rankings of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses.

My ranking of buddies-trip destinations would look a little different, and for my money, Austin is much better than 28th-best in the country. You'll definitely agree if you visit during the Austin City Limits music festival in October.

In my next 10 blog posts, and with the help of golfdigest.com’s Course Finder, I’ll be ranking my favorite courses near the 10 best destinations.

I’ll be counting down No. 10 to No. 1, which means I'm kicking off with No. 10, Traverse City, Mich.

Blog_Arcadia.jpgI love the combination of golf and value in Michigan. In or around Traverse City, Arcadia Bluffs, No. 10 on America’s 100 Greatest Public, would be the axis to any good buddies trip. Although it’s not a better course than Spyglass Hill (No. 11), Bandon Trails (No. 14) or Plantation at Kapalua (No. 17), the Warren Henderson/Rick Smith design, located on Lake Michigan, is so much fun I spontaneously played it twice before I left. Arcadia's scenic Amen Corner goes out and along the water and consists of the 594-yard 11th (pictured above), the 431-yard 12th and the 190-yard 13th.

Blog_ForestDunes.jpgFrom now on, every golf trip I make to Michigan will include a round at Forest Dunes, No. 20 on 100 Greatest Public (pictured above). It’s a tremendous walk in a remote setting, good service, an impressive clubhouse, two distinct nines and a fun finish highlighted by the drivable par-4 17th and the bet-settling 19th. The 90-minute drive from Traverse City is well worth it.
 
Blog_Traverse.jpgThe Grand Traverse Resort, which has been ranked as high as No. 48 on our list of Top 75 Golf Resorts in North America, is a good place to stay. There are three courses, a nice restaurant, and its marketing staff gets creative with golf packages, but if I had time for only one round on the property, I’d play The Bear (pictured above). I’d also play it from a mix of blue and white tees. The Bear can be obnoxiously difficult from the blue tees (6,618 yards).
 
Blog_KingsleyClub.jpgFor my fourth round, I’d express interest in "joining" Kingsley Club (pictured above) and hope they’d allow me and my group to pay for a round on what's nearly a perfect private golf experience. It's so good, and relatively affordable, that I considered joining even though I live in Brooklyn.
 
I’ve created a grid which compares all four courses above:
 
Blog_Grid.jpg
I quickly created this grid by going to golfdigest.com, clicking on Courses & Travel, scrolling down and clicking on Course Finder. I typed in the course names, and then clicked the box below each course that says “+ Compare.” After finding and clicking on all four courses, in the bottom right of the screen, I hit “Compare Now.”
 
For more on Arcadia Bluffs, Forest Dunes, Grand Traverse Resort and other courses I’ve played in Michigan, click here.
 
Next up is destination No. 9: Hilton Head Island/Savannah.
 
--Matty G.



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Courses & Travel

I'm thankful for . . .

Turkey_3.jpg
Thanksgiving. It’s the Cypress Point of holidays. Nothing compares. It’s certainly my favorite. Like Cypress Point, Thanksgiving starts out with a handshake or a hug, some playable holes, feels like the gathering of family, and then builds to the presentation of the Big Bird, or the 16th tee. By the 18th green, you want to unbutton your pants, find a spot on the sofa, and drift into tryptophanic dreams of John Madden awarding you a turducken drumstick for being the game’s MVP. 
 
So, what am I thankful for?

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Courses & Travel

LIST: The worst of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw

Some colleagues and I were playing golf last week (Woodway Country Club in Darien, Conn.), and we were debating a list of the worst designs by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

Having played eight of the 18 courses that they’ve built while working together, here’s my list of the ones I don’t like:

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Courses & Travel

Bandon Dunes or Blackwolf Run?

BethpageBlack_1.jpg
The other day I was walking around a Brooklyn flea market and I sampled bacon on a cupcake. Then I bought a box and I thought, this ambush of my taste buds is a lot like Bethpage Black, my favorite public course in the country, which is the perfect combination of salt and sweet.

I don’t need to go any further on why I liked the cupcake, but here’s what I love about Bethpage Black (pictured above):

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Courses & Travel

Vote Now! A tournament of the Top 64 Public Golf Courses

Most lists are effective tools for quick reference, and a list such as Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses in the May issue is especially good at inspiring debate.

Now were getting you involved in taking this one step further. Today is the start of the Fans’ Choice, a tournament of the top 64 public courses based on the opinion of the 1,000-plus Golf Digest panelists. They got us to the bracket; now it’s your turn to decide which course advances to the title.

If you haven’t seen the bracket, click here. There will be two matches per voting cycle, and voting cycles start on Mondays and Thursdays. This tournament will run through the summer, with a winner being revealed on Tuesday, Aug. 16, after the conclusion of the PGA Championship.

PEBBLE_PUMPKIN.jpg
Today, in the Donald Ross quadrant of the bracket, No. 1 seed Pebble Beach tips against No. 16 seed Ghost Creek at Pumpkin Ridge.

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Courses & Travel

My Top 10 States To Play Golf

When pressed (see previous blog post below), I’ve extended my list of top five states to play golf. (Early apologies to Arizona, but at the end of the day, it’s golf in the desert. Same goes for most of the golf in Nevada. Texas was considered. So was New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. New Mexico and Washington are my sleepers.

No. 10: Alabama The Robert Trent Jones Trail is 468 holes in 11 locations. It’s the envy of every other state that has a collection of struggling public courses--Florida, for example. Top to bottom, The Trail is solid, and most of the courses are less than $64 in peak season. My three favorite courses in Alabama: Ross Bridge, and the Lake and the Links at Auburn-Opelika. Best value: take your pick, but you get dinged at Ross Bridge. Best course I haven’t played yet: The Judge at Capitol Hill in Prattville.

No. 9: Florida Choosing to ignore swamps, flatlands, strip-malls, bugs and Bermuda grass, there’s enough good golf to justify the Sunshine State a spot in the top 10. (And I’ll say this: The weather in March doesn’t hurt.) My three favorite courses: Players Stadium at TPC Sawgrass, Bay Hill and Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne. Best value: The courses at Orange County National or Pine Barrens at World Woods. Best course I haven’t played yet: Sharks Tooth.

No. 8: Minnesota Madden’s on Gull Lake was the winner of this year’s Golf Digest Green Star Award for the golf resort’s small carbon footprint. I’m a huge fan of their championship track, the Classic, No. 40 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses. If you ever want to go off radar for some real quiet time and some great golf, hunker down at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. It has two more of the 100 Greatest Public, the Quarry (No. 20) and the Legend (No. 72). My three favorite courses in Minnesota: Classic, Legend and Deacon’s Lodge. Best value: The Legend at Giants Ridge. Best course I haven’t played yet: Other than the four I’ve mentioned, I have no idea. (Open to suggestions).

No. 7: Wisconsin If you’ve ever stood on Whistling Straits’ 13th green on a clear summer afternoon, overlooking the great Lake Michigan, you’ll know why Wisconsin is on my list of top 10 states to play golf. The Badger State frequently hosts majors and has four of the 100 Greatest Public courses in the country. My three favorite public courses in Wisconsin: Straits, the Championship 18 at Blackwolf Run and the Irish course at Whistling Straits. Best value: The Bog. Best course I haven’t played yet: Erin Hills after the recent round of renovations.

No. 6: North Carolina This state should really be No. 5A. Pinehurst Nos. 2, 4 and 8 with the addition of Pine Needles, which is just down the street, isn’t far behind the four courses at Bandon Dunes for my favorite four courses within a few minutes of each other. My three favorite public courses in North Carolina: Pine Needles, Pinehurst No. 2 and 8. Best value: Hyland Hills. Best course I haven’t played yet: Tobacco Road.

No. 5: South Carolina At first I ruled out this state simply because I can’t stand the bugs (I have a horrific reaction to noseeum bites. It’s no wonder only the female noseeums suck your blood). North Carolina is probably No. 6 on my list. I considered New York, but it’s really the great state of private golf. Alabama is the great state of value golf. Minnesota is the most underrated. Arizona and Florida are for the (snow) birds. Wisconsin was close to being top 5 worthy, but there are too many good courses on The Grand Strand not to reconsider wearing long sleeves and bathing in bug spray before the round. My three favorite public courses in South Carolina: Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, The Dunes Golf & Beach Club and Tidewater. Best value: I don’t have an obvious choice for best value in South Carolina. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Best course I haven’t played yet: Harbour Town.

No. 4: Hawaii I’ve sampled courses on five of the eight islands. There’s too much good weather, golf and scenery not to put Hawaii on this list. It has seven of the 100 Greatest Public, and even though most of them are overpriced, there are a lot of great courses. My three favorite public courses in Hawaii: Plantation course at Kapalua (Maui), the Challenge at Manele (Lanai) and the Palmer course at Turtle Bay (Oahu). Best value: Wailua Municipal (Kauai). Best course I haven’t played yet: Mauna Kea (Big Island).

No. 3: Michigan The season is short, but I’d almost be willing to endure one of those ridiculous winters just so I could enjoy in-state discounts at one of the eight courses on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public (that’s only one less than California and one more than Hawaii). My three favorite public courses in Michigan: Forest Dunes (by far), Arcadia Bluffs and Treetops (Signature). Best value: Black Forest at Wilderness. Best course I haven’t played yet: Tullymore.

No. 2: Oregon If golf is my religion, my heaven will include the four courses at Bandon Dunes and all the courses in and around Bend. The Beaver state has five on the list of America’s 100 Greatest Public, and that’s not counting Old Macdonald, which will almost certainly be on it when it’s eligible (May, 2013). My three favorite public courses in Oregon: Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes and Tetherow (just to throw one in that’s not at Bandon Dunes). Best value: Aspen Lakes. Best course I haven’t played yet: Ghost Creek at Pumpkin Ridge.

No. 1: California The Golden State wins this race by almost 900 miles of coastline, which is only one of its finest features. It has a 13-month golf season, U.S. Open venues, nine on the list of America’s 100 Greatest Public, a wide variety of value golf, including Coronado, one of my favorite munys in the country. It also benefits from all the courses in Palm Springs and Lake Tahoe. There’s just no other state that can come close to competing. My three favorite public courses in California: Spyglass Hill, Pasatiempo, and I’ll list Pebble Beach, but that $500 green fee is a crock of craziness. Best value: Coronado. Best course I haven’t played yet: It might be both renovated courses at the old Fort Ord--Bayonet and Blackhorse. 

I’d be curious to hear your top 10.

Have a great weekend.

-Matty G.

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Courses & Travel

My Top 5 States To Play Golf

Later this week I’ll be posting my Top 15 buddies trip destinations in the U.S. While working up that list, it inspired another list. My Top 5 states to play golf.

No. 5: South Carolina At first I ruled out this state simply because I can’t stand the bugs (I have a horrific reaction to noseeum bites. It’s no wonder only the female noseeums suck your blood). North Carolina is probably No. 6 on my list. I considered New York, but it’s really the great state of private golf. Alabama is the great state of value golf. Minnesota is the most underrated. Arizona and Florida are for the (snow) birds. Wisconsin was close to being top 5 worthy, but there are too many good courses on The Grand Strand not to reconsider wearing long sleeves and bathing in bug spray before the round. My three favorite public courses in South Carolina: Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, The Dunes Golf & Beach Club and Tidewater. Best value: I don’t have an obvious choice for best value in South Carolina. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Best course I haven’t played yet: Harbour Town.


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