The Local Knowlege

Travel

Deal of the Week: Walk in the footsteps of champions in Ojai

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Maybe it's seeing PGA Tour players duke it out over Riviera's twists and turns last week. Or maybe it's just the mid-70s California weather. 

Either way, you can experience the next best thing to playing members-only Riviera -- the same Roaring 20s course architecture and weather, but at the Ojai Inn's beautiful resort course 80 miles northwest of L.A. In March, you can pick from a couple of attractive offers. A twosome can stay and play unlimited golf for $569 per night midweek, or you can simply book at least two nights and get an additional night free. 

Built in 1923 by George Thomas -- the same man who laid out Riviera and L.A. Country Club around the same time -- the Ojai Country Club is 6,200 yards of pure history. In addition to playing host to a handful of Champions Tour events in the late '80s and early '90s, the course has long been a stop for golf and Hollywood royalty. Jimmy Demaret represented the resort in the 1940s and 1950s, and played money games there with Ben Hogan throughout the 1950s.

You can even play two of Thomas' original "lost holes," rediscovered and restored to their original 1923 specifications after being plowed over during World War II, when the U.S Army and Navy took over the property.

The Inn retains all of the charm and seclusion that made it one of the most popular getaways for Hollywood stars in the 1950s. The exteriors look as they did when Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy shot Pat and Mike there in 1952, and you can sit for dinner and California wine outside, overlooking the golf course, at The Oak--one of former president Ronald Reagan's favorite spots. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Play gangster style in Hot Springs

Even mobsters need vacations, apparently. 

In the 1920s, Al Capone's destination of choice was Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he had a suite on the fourth floor of the Arlington Hotel and played his golf at Hot Springs Country Club. 

You probably don't want to follow Capone's career path, but you can walk in his footsteps. The circa-1925, twin-towered Arlington Hotel still anchors downtown Hot Springs, and the $390 golf package there offers two nights lodging, full breakfast and a round of golf for two at either of Hot Springs Country Club's layouts. 

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The original course on the property, the Park, opened in 1898. Designed by Willie Park, Jr., it was overhauled by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore in 2001. It has a little more elbow room and flatter lies than the sporty Arlington, a 1927 William Diddle design redone by Crenshaw in his pre-collaboration days. Neither are punishing for shorter hitters -- especially now, when the daytime temperatures bounce between the mid 60s and low 70s. 

No visit to Hot Springs is complete without a walk down Bathhouse Row, adjacent to the Arlington on Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs. The turn-of-the-century buildings were built directly over the natural hot springs for which the town is named, and served as medicinal spas for health tourists -- who have been coming to Hot Springs to "take the waters" since the mid 1800s. 

Of the eight historic bathhouses on the row, the Buckstaff is the last one still operating -- and you can get the same thermal mineral water treatment you would have received when it opened in 1912. For $33, you get a 20-minute whirlpool mineral bath, a trip through a Sitz bath and a high-powered needle shower. A loofah mitt will run you an extra $4.  

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Catch off-season bargains at Pinehurst

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After the freshly old-schooled Pinehurst No. 2's star turn at both the men's and women's U.S. Opens last year, you might be feeling like you want your own crack at it. 

Generally, that'll cost you--to the tune of $420 during peak season. Right now, the North Carolina Sandhills are at their coldest of the year, with daytime highs in the mid-50s. That means you can score a round on No. 2--or one of the other eight other courses at the Pinehurst Resort--for a slightly less-stiff tariff. 

Book the Evergreen Golf or Spa Escape and get a room at The Carolina Hotel, breakfast buffet and either 18 holes or a 50-minute spa treatment for $174 per person per night Sunday through Thursday. To play No 2., where Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie won on back to back weeks, you need to pay a $150 surcharge, but it's worth every penny to see Donald Ross' masterpiece, brought back to its original sandy ferocity by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. 

There are no bad choices for your other rounds, from the circa-1898 No. 1 (the first one at the resort) to Tom Fazio's No. 4--generally considered to be the second-best of the group. The most fun might be had on No. 3, Donald Ross' sporty 5,800-yard short course. If offers all of the roller coaster greenside challenges as big brother No. 2, but with short iron approaches. 

If you go, reserve one evening for dinner at the Pine Crest Inn, situated in the heart of the town. Ross bought the property in 1921 and owned it until his death. Go casual and sit at the bar in Mr. B's Lounge and take in a century of Ross-centric golf memorabilia, or sit in the dining room and have the signature 22-oz. pork chop. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Be a sports junkie in Tampa

Theoretically, golf should be enough to keep you entertained on that three-day golf weekend. But there's a reason Las Vegas is a popular destination. 

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Off-course entertainment matters, and Florida's Innisbrook Resort is betting that its combination of PGA Tour-caliber golf and extracurriculars will entice groups looking for a blended experience. 

Innisbrook's Sportsman's Package offers villa lodging, a daily round on one of the four championship courses on property (including the Copperhead, home of the PGA Tour's Valspar Classic) and a choice of ticket to one of four Tampa-area sporting events -- the NFL Buccaneers, NHL Lighting, the Richard Petty Driving Experience or deep-water fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Rates start at $279 per night, per person.

Chances are you already know which ticket you'd pick. But if you're torn, consider how often you'll get the chance back home to ride along at 180 miles per hour a few feet from the wall and a certain, fiery death. If feels like your stomach is getting stapled to your spine. But in a good way.   



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Travel

Deal of the Week: Tee up in New Mexico's high desert

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New Mexico doesn't get nearly the same golf attention as its desert neighbor, Arizona--probably because Scottsdale by itself has more courses than the entire state. But the weather in New Mexico is just as good right now, with temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s, and even though there are fewer top-end destination resort choices, you can score great off-the-beaten-path bargains. 

Hyatt Regency's Tamaya Resort & Spa is situated in the high desert 30 miles north of Albuquerque and 60 miles southwest of Santa Fe. It's beautiful country--a mix of windswept dunes, mountains and surprising greenery. Gary Panks' Twin Warriors, one of Golf Digest's 100 Best Public Courses, is the signature course on the property. Threaded between sacred Tamayame historical sites, a dormant volcano, desert wash, mature Juniper trees--and even a cascading waterfall--Twin Warriors offers challenge and visual punch. You also have access to the 27-hole Santa Ana Golf Club, a self-described links course (we know, heresy...) with views of the Sandia Mountains. 

Through April 31, you can book the New Mexico Retreat Package and get three rounds of golf on your choice of the two courses, three nights lodging at the resort and breakfast and lunch, all for $900. 

If you're choosing whether to drive south to Albuquerque or northeast to Santa Fe for an off-campus excursion, opt for the slightly longer drive to Santa Fe. It is one of the finest food cities in the Southwest, with choices all along the cultural spectrum. You can stay true to Santa Fe's history as the terminus of the old El Camino Real trade route from Mexico City and have dinner at the Compound--a converted adobe home that has been serving fine Southwestern food since the 1960s. Don't ask for taquitos--they're too polite to kick you out, but you'll deserve it. Pick the grilled Angus tenderloin instead, and pair it with roasted brussels sprouts served with smoked gouda cream and bacon. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Only football teams don't want to visit Alabama in the winter

The Robert Trent Jones Trail's marketing conceit is straightforward: Promote the collection of 11 RTJ-designed courses owned in the state by Retirement Systems of Alabama and generate visits from golfers from both within and beyond the region. 

The quality of golf along the Trail is uniformly good, and you won't go wrong booking a time at any of them. But some have better deals than others over winter, when temperatures are in the high 50s and low 60s. Ross Bridge is conveniently located just outside Birmingham, and it has a 260-room Renaissance resort attached to it. 

Considering the course runs 8,100 yards from the tips, its Ketel One winter package is apropos. From now until Dec. 31, you can get two rounds of golf, a room at the resort, a gift bag filled with apparel and balls and vouchers for two Ketel One drinks for rates starting at $380. 

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Save the vodka for the bonkers ninth hole, a roller-coaster 518-yard par-4 from the tips that's protected by a lake, a waterfall and a fairway bunker magnetized to attract ProV1s. The Champions Tour last played an event here in 2010, and some of the older guys are just now finishing up on 18.

If you're looking to make a weekend out of it (assuming you still have balls left), fellow Trail member Oxmoor Valley is next door in Birmingham, and it has two championship courses of its own--the Ridge and Valley--built on mountainous former U.S. Steel property. You can book an unlimited play winter day rate of $77 at either course through February 8. 
 
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Travel

Deal of the Week: Hit the Dominican Republic for an all-inclusive golf getaway

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Punta Cana, Dominican Republic has long been a prime destination for experiencing perfect weather and some of the finest white sand beaches in the world--and doing it in affordable, all-inclusive luxury. 

Now, there are even more reasons to go. The Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort is offering a hybrid golf and all-inclusive experience at its 2,000-room property--half of which is adults-only. For rates starting at $160 per night per person, you get the resort's traditional all-inclusive experience--food and drink at any of the 14 restaurants and 16 bars on property, and access to amenities like a casino and water park--plus a daily round at the P.B Dye-designed Lakes course. Threaded around 25 inland lakes and through a mangrove forest, the Lakes is the ideal combination of challenging and playable. 

It's easy to get a direct flight daily from New York, Boston, Atlanta, Miami and Charlotte, and to understand why Punta Cana is one of the fastest growing airports in the world in terms of traffic. All you have to do is look at the December weather forecast. The average high is 75, while the average low is 70.

Don't forget your passport. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Unfreeze in the Arizona sun

It's only mid-November and two-thirds of the country is already tired of pre-winter and the Polar Vortex. Temperatures are 20 degrees below normal almost everywhere. 

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But look at the national weather map closely and you'll see a few pockets of yellows and oranges, signifying temperatures in the 70s. One of them is over Tucson -- where late November in the Arizona desert means days in the mid-70s and nights in the mid-40s. 

If you're not ready to give up on your 2014 season yet, you can book an unlimited golf package for two at the Ritz-Carlton's Dove Mountain property -- former home of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship -- tucked into the foothills just outside Tucson. Rates start at $469 per night and include lodging, unlimited golf for two on the Jack Nicklaus-designed 27 holes, breakfast for two and a $10 gift card for the golf shop, which covers the first Pro V1 you'll blow into the wash on the par-4 471-yard first hole of the Tortolita nine. Victor Dubuisson made pars from behind every cactus last year, but it isn't that easy.  

Tucson specializes in other kinds of heat as well. The El Charro Cafe is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. continuously operated by the same family. The downtown location is the original, situated in the Flin family's converted circa-1896 stone house. You're obligated to try one of the burros served deep fried, chimichanga style. It was invented here in 1922, when the original proprietor accidentally dropped a burro into a fry pan filled with hot oil. It is decidedly not heart-healthy, but then again, shoveling two feet of snow out of the driveway isn't, either.

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Tune up your foursome at the Resort at Pelican Hill

A buddies foursome trip is usually about wagering and watering holes. If you have the budget and can travel before Nov. 26, you can add an unconventional twist at the tony Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, Calif. 

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Book the two-night Five-Star Fifth Anniversary Package and a foursome can get two nights of villa accommodations, play unlimited golf at Pelican Hill's two oceanside Tom Fazio designs, get five hours of instruction at the resort's top-rated golf academy and private chef's table breakfasts and dinners for both days for $5,000.

The Ocean South Course is known for its 270-degree views of the Pacific and the diabolical 131-yard 13th -- which has two different greens. The left one is the smaller and tougher of the two, while the right one has more tree and hill protection from the ocean breezes. The North runs out along the cliffside and offers a Torrey Pines-like experience with Augusta-caliber conditioning. Trickle long on your approach to the 558-yard 17th and you'll feel like Honolulu is the nearest point of relief. 

In addition to 36 holes of Fazio goodness, Pelican Hill has one of California's most luxurious spas, six restaurants and circular, terraced Coliseum pool overlooking the Pacific. The resort is 50 miles south of LAX and a 15-minute drive from Orange County's John Wayne International Airport. You can even come up from San Diego, 85 miles to the south, and make an intermediate stop in Carlsbad to visit Callaway or TaylorMade, or the new Scotty Cameron gallery in Encinitas. 

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Travel

Deal of the Week: Play and stay like a tour player in Napa

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In its 1970s heyday, Silverado Resort in Napa was one of California's most glamorous locations. Celebrity and sports A-listers flocked to its charity pro-ams, and its proximity to the burgeoning wine industry made it a convenient three-day weekend stop over for couples looking for a mix of golf and culture. 

Some of the shine came off in the 1990s and 2000s, when the property became, in the unkind words of one online review, not a resort but a conference center for golfers. 

An investment group led by Johnny Miller bought the 1,200-acre resort in 2010, and Miller's plan was to redesign the courses and upgrade the physical plant into luxury territory. The PGA Tour's 2014 Frys Open in October was the coming out party for all of the elbow grease. The North Course hosted Sang-Moon Bae's two-shot win over Steven Bowditch to rave reviews, and the centrally-located Mansion rooms and golfside cottage villas sparkle after extensive renovation. 

Now, you can see for yourself with an enticing late fall-early winter package. Book the His and Hers Escape and you'll get a room, round of golf on the North or South course and 50-minute spa treatment for $400 per night midweek and $579 on the weekends. You'll also receive a $50 food credit toward the resort's restaurants. 

Thomas Keller's French Laundry in nearby Yountville is the ultimate food experience in Napa Valley, but unless you're reading this in a time machine set to six months ago, you won't be able to get a table. Keller's more casual Bouchon Bistro two blocks down is a worthy runner-up prize, and you can usually walk right in for lunch. The Steak Bouchon--pan-seared ribeye served with Bearnaise sauce and frites—should get its own bumper sticker. 

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