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Places We Like: SoMa StrEat Food, San Francisco

By Matthew Rudy

San Francisco is known for the diversity of its food scene, and no place in town is a better microcosm of that diversity than SoMa StrEat Food Park -- a collection of food truck vendors on square-block lot under the 101 Freeway in the South of Market neighborhood.

Different vendors rotate in and out every day, so you never know what you're going to get -- which is a wonderful thing. Luckily for us, our visit coincided with that of one of the most popular trucks -- the unrepentantly fat-saturated Bacon Bacon

Owner Jim Angelus deals both standard and eclectic pig-based selections from the side of his icon Black, white and pink step truck. The bacon double cheeseburger is delicious, but the bacon fried chicken sandwich is worth the cross-country flight all by itself. The chicken is coated in a combination of panko and chopped bacon and fried, then served topped with cole slaw on a fresh brioche roll. 

Even with the competing smells coming from the burrito and pizza trucks nearby, the porky goodness wafting from the Bacon Bacon truck made it hard to understand why neighbors near the truck's home base cafe petitioned to get it closed down because of the food smell last year. Happily, they resolved their differences and the Haight-Asbury walk-up will reopen this weekend.  

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Travel

Unofficial Guide: Shell Houston Open

By Matthew Rudy

Amen (ahem) Corner

The tour stop situated the week before the Masters has long been mostly an elaborate series of practice rounds for the main event in Augusta. It's no different at the Golf Club of Houston this week. The green complexes have been primped, shaved and rolled to try to emulate what players will see in Augusta, and the first two questions any player in the field is going to get will be about Tiger Woods' back and how it'll impact the season's first major, not what it's like to be back in Humble, Texas. 

7ApproachSlider.jpg
 If that isn't enough to confuse you about where you are, drive seven miles miles from the tournament site to Tour 18 Houston, where you can play replicas of the three Amen Corner holes at Augusta ---and 15 other "greatest hits" of American golf course architecture. Leaving the side the fact that coastal Texas doesn't look anything like the Georgia cotton belt, Tour 18 does offer familiar visual cues. If you squint (and forget that the pine straw that frames the right side of the Augusta National version isn't there), you have the same pulse-quickening risk-reward decision after a good tee shot on Tour 18's version of Augusta's par-5 13th. And when you drown your approach in "Rae's" Creek, the water is just as wet. But for $95 on Shell Houston Open weekend, it's as close as you (and most of the cut-missers at the Shell) are probably going to get to Magnolia Drive. 

Roads?

The winner in Houston will get $1.1 million and crystal trophy that looks like burial urn. He should get a brand new DeLorean. 

Yes, the company that made Marty McFly's aluminum-paneled, gull-winged ride in Back to the Future went bankrupt in 1982. But in 2007 a Houston businessman bought the rights to the name and a huge store of replacement parts. You can find anything you need for the vintage one in your garage, or commission a completely new car built from a combination of original and replacement parts for $57,000.

Flux capacitors are currently out of stock.

Final Four Fix

The Final Four games are being played up the road in Dallas on Saturday night. If you aren't up for the three and a half hour drive -- or spending $600 for a ticket -- Houston has plenty of serviceable locations to watch the telecast.

For a more civilized experience, visit the Houston Texans Grille in CityCentre. It's big, modern, spotless and easy to find, and you can leave your car with the valet right up front. The upscale bar food is uniformly good - even if calling something named Kung Pao Smoke Kissed Ribs would get you laughed out of Lockhart. Pick from one of more than 60 hi-def televisions around the bar and on the patio.

For a more authentic experience, make sure your tetanus shots are up to date and head to Griff's. Billed as Houston's oldest sports bar (since 1965), it makes up with $2 drink specials and people watching for what it lacks in pure high-definition square footage. The food choices mainly exist to soak up any beer you plan to drink (a Philly cheesesteak with swiss?), but order the burger if you must. If you're debating about whether or not you should stop back at the hotel and change out of the golf shirt and khakis before heading over, stick with the Texans Grille. 

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Courses & Travel

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

Matty G's Mailbag: Couples golf trip in January?

Hi Matt,
 
Every year, four couples (my husband and I included) take a post-holiday golf trip. It’s golf for the guys, some golf and a lot of spa time for the wives. (After all, we have to look good when the guys come in after a long hard day on the links, right?)
 
Anyway, I'm in charge of picking the place this year. Since everything is a competition in our group, I have to have the best place EVER, so I’m turning to a professional for advice.
 
We live in South Carolina and have done Pinehurst and Myrtle Beach to death. I realize that the time of the year and the weather are going to limit our choices, but I hope you have some ideas for an awesome golf experience with some awesome amenities. We usually try for 4-5 days in early January and we’re willing to travel. I have read about a couple of places that you have mentioned recently—Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links—but January probably makes those unrealistic.
 
Help me out, OK?
 
Thanks,
 
Brenda Kirk, Charleston, SC

 
 

Brenda,
 
First of all, I don’t recommend Bandon Dunes in January unless you dip yourself in Thompson’s WaterSeal and you’re willing to play through bone-chilling winds. And this spa experience you speak of, at Bandon, is best described as modest with a few massage tables.
 
As for Cabot Links: also a pass in January. Cabot will get real good when they complete the second course, add a spa and more amenities, which I’m not even sure is part of the grand plan.
 
You’ve been to Myrtle and Pinehurst, and I’m ruling out Sea Island, Kiawah and Pebble Beach because their average highs in January aren’t over 60 degrees. Hawaii is always popular in January, and if that’s what you’re looking to do, I’m a fan of Kapalua on Maui and the St. Regis on Kauai. If you want to get weird and wild and venture out of the country, I had a great winter trip to Mayakoba in Mexico.
 
The above are a bit more expensive and more exotic than mainland America, so I’ll offer these suggestions based on January weather and your specific needs.

 
KeyBiscayne.jpgKey Biscayne, Fla.
Miami is a popular destination in January, but Doral’s golf offerings don’t do it for me, which is why I prefer Key Biscayne. Less than 30 minutes from the airport and over the Rickenbacker Causeway, “the Key” has an opulent Ritz property on the water (pictured above) with multiple food choices and plenty of amenities, including world-class tennis courts and instructors. The public golf course across the street, Crandon Park, is fun, flat, affordable and void of fairways flanked by houses.
 
Average high in January: 75 degrees. (My story about Key Biscayne.)
 


Coronado.jpgSan Diego, Calif.
It’s no secret that I love San Diego for more than those pathetic Padres. La Costa is nice, and could work for your group. The courses there are a mess in terms of routing and they’re over priced. If you’re going to spend that kind of money, I suggest staying at the Grand Del Mar. Prepare to be wined, dined and pampered. The Tom Fazio-designed course is good and secluded, and you’re close to Coronado (pictured above), which is my second favorite public facility in the country—behind Bethpage. If you want to save a little money but you’re committed to San Diego, try the Lodge at Torrey Pines, which also offers guaranteed tee times on the South Course, host of the 2008 U.S. Open (Tiger’s last major).
 
Average high in January: 66 degrees. (My trip to San Diego.)
 


Tucson.jpgTucson, AZ
I’ll start by saying Tucson is a tough town going through tougher economic times. And on the outskirts of some struggles is a pocket of serenity known as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Dove Mountain. The resort, built around two saguaro cacti entrenched in the Sonoran Desert, seamlessly blends into the setting. It’s not only easy on the eyes, but you’ll appreciate an organic respect of the Native-American culture and the luxurious lodging and snappy service typical of a Ritz property. The spa (pictured above) is tranquil and unique—and I say that having seen more than my share of copycats. And although the 27 holes of Nicklaus-designed golf gets heat from fickle tour pros who complain about severe undulations on the greens, the common golfer will be too busy enjoying Sonoran sunsets and tequila drinks to be frustrated by an abundance of three putts.
 
Average high in January: 64 degrees. (My trip to Tucson.)
 


LaQuinta.jpgLa Quinta, Calif.
If you want to guarantee yourself idyllic weather in January, head to Palm Springs and check into the casita comforts of La Quinta Resort & Spa. There are little pools attached to intimate quads of socially conducive rooms, a Jim McLean golf school, 23 pristine tennis courts, nine boutique shops, a first-class spa, seven restaurant options on property, and Arnold Palmer’s restaurant down the street. Of the five golf courses available to guests, the Mountain Course (pictured above), which runs along the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, is a fun ride for couples golf. Average age of the locals is up there, way up there, but that has never bothered me. And I’m guessing it won’t bother you, especially if you’re traveling with a good group willing to make your own fun.
 
Average high: 71 degrees. (My trip to La Quinta.)
 

I also asked this question of my Twitter followers: “Couples trip in January...good golf, obviously, and a spa is a priority...where would you go?”
 
Here are 10 of the responses I received:
 
@jasleeack: Kiawah. They'll have the beach to themselves and there is another hotel being built near the resort.
 
@duckhook7: The Boulders in Scottsdale or Half Moon in Montego Bay.
 
@dbomaha: Scottsdale. The Boulders Resort has your golf and a Golden Door Spa for the ladies. #worldclass
 
@starnzie: Inn at Spanish Bay, done.
 
@justin_essner: Waldorf Astoria Orlando.
 
@MRicks83: Ritz Carlton Naples, FL.
 
@Judd_Henry: Palmetto Bluff, top notch Nicklaus with Auberge Resort. Plus, weather in Low Country is sunny and dry in January.
 
@bule1101: Dove Mountain, any Ritz or Four Seasons on Hawaii, Pelican Hill, Ritz Sarasota, One & Only Bahamas, Lajitas, Aviara, Ritz Half Moon Bay.
 
@iGolfReviews: Casa de Campo, DR or El Conquistador, PR.

@Chip_Gaskins: Calusa Pines and @RitzCarlton Naples or Barton Creek in Austin, TX with Austin Golf Club.

 
 Hope some of this helps, Brenda. And let me know what you decide.
 
~Matty G.


Do you have a golf and travel question? Send a tweet to @Matt_Ginella, or email to matt.ginella@golfdigest.com (subject: Mailbag).


Photographs by: Jensen Larson (Key Biscayne), J.D. Cuban (Tucson), and Joey Terrill (La Quinta and San Diego).
 




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Courses & Travel

Mike Keiser's going forward with Cabot Cliffs, built by Coore and Crenshaw

Mike Keiser made it official on a flight from Nova Scotia to Chicago last Thursday: There will be a second course at Cabot Links, the Cape Breton Island resort he co-owns with Ben Cowan-Dewar, and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw will design it.

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Courses & Travel

iInTheSky: an aerial perspective of NYC golf

I fly. A lot. I also take a lot of pictures. And sometimes I take a lot of pictures while I'm flying. Yes, I'm that guy: A cloud-shooting, Instagram-posting amateur photographer captivated by the idea that although we're called "passengers," we're really all astronauts taking the concept of flight for granted.

A few weeks ago, on approach to LaGuardia, the pilot alerted his passengers that we would be flying over the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River. Which is so much better than an announcement that we'd be landing on the Hudson River. (Captain Sully, you're forever my hero.) With cell phone in airplane mode--as if it matters--I was ready. Being a window guy, and seated on the left side of the plane, I missed a vantage point of Manhattan, but I caught Lady Liberty and quite a collection of golf courses in and around the Tri-State area.

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Courses & Travel

108 Holes In One Day: Goat Hill Giveth . . .

I’ve been fortunate enough to start a lot of days teeing off as the sun comes up. But on July 16, and for 108 reasons, this day would be unlike any day I’ve ever had on a golf course.

100Hole_12.jpgBefore we get to blisters and Body Glide, aches and apathy, pain and a little perspective, let’s go back a few months and answer the question: Who was the inspiration to play 108 holes under the same sun?

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Courses & Travel

Tom (Watson) The Trickster

The first Saturday in June, I attended a grand opening exhibition by Tom Watson at his new Tom Watson Signature Course at Loch Lloyd Country Club in the Kansas City suburb of Belton, Missouri. The club itself is over 20 years old, used to host a Senior PGA Tour event (what’s now the Champions Tour) on a decent 18-hole layout by Kansas City architect Don Sechrest.

Screen shot 2012-07-08 at 10.50.45 PM.pngNew owners purchased the club in 2000. They then asked Watson, a lifelong KC resident, to determine if a second 18 could fit into a parcel of land -- a “hidden valley” -- right next door. Tom told them it had potential, so they bought it, too. But a second 18 never developed.

Ten years later, the owners contacted Tom again, this time asking if he could design nine holes in the hidden valley and link it to the existing back nine to create a new 18. With the help of his chief designer Bob Gibbons (a Purdue grad who’s been with Watson since 1991), a routing was developed, along with a recommendation that Watson be allowed to remodel that back nine as well.


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