It all started with an extreme and exclusive itinerary raising money for a great cause. And I still can’t believe it ended with a trophy ceremony on the 18th of one of the greatest stages in golf.
“It,” in this case, was 99 days on the road, with the occasional break for home to refresh the laundry, swap out shoes and pay some bills. (A euphemism that covers a lot of aspects of life.)
Within this stretch, I played 56 rounds in four countries, 11 states, with 17 being ranked on Golf Digest’s list of 100 Greatest. And before we go any further, I feel the need to articulate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for all of the above. None of which would be possible without a supportive and understanding wife and family who were able to join me on several of the following adventures.
From Sea Island to Ireland, Bandon, Bend and the Bahamas, Whistler, Whistling Straits, Pinehurst, Pebble, Poxabogue and the occasional Friday skins at the WP9, this will be a stretch that sits on my mantle of memories forever.
Meet Adam Heick, CEO of Youth on Course (no hat, just right of me) and Jeff Clark, Chief Development Officer (to the right of Heick). Heick, Clark and their team of tireless growers of the game have coordinated an extreme annual fundraising concept. This year, I was asked to join eight donors playing four rounds in four states in two days. The trip raised over $200,000 to help subsidize green fees for kids, scholarships and everything else this program does for the good of golf. What started in the lower level of the Poppy Hills clubhouse, home of the Northern California Golf Association, has spread to 33 states and all of Canada. In 13 years, Youth on Course has acquired 70,000 members, 1,200 participating courses and has subsidized almost one million rounds of junior golf. Not to mention $2 million in college scholarships. If your home course doesn’t already support Youth on Course, it should. Your state golf association is either involved or will be soon.
The courses on this phenomenal fundraiser included Muirfield Village in Ohio and Sutton Bay in South Dakota. That was day one. The next day was Shooting Star in Wyoming and then Gozzer Ranch in Idaho. There was a little plane involved, big meals, fast vans, short naps, and as you can imagine, the ultimate in buddies-trip camaraderie. We dine-and-dashed Jack’s place, grabbing a buckeye-flavored milkshake on our way out the door. (Delicious.) Sutton Bay is as amazing as it is secluded. If you can find it and get to it, get on it. You won’t be disappointed.
Shooting Star (pictured), at the base of the Grand Teton National Park, is all things spectacular, special and my favorite on this trip of four courses. Muirfield Village is a monster. The scale and degree of difficulty is that of a Winged Foot or Bethpage Black. Miss the fairway, a double is coming. Sutton Bay is so sweet. Gozzer Ranch is like playing through a painting. All course reviews for all courses I played on this trip will soon be posted to GolfAdvisor.com.
From Idaho, I went to Forest Dunes in Michigan, where I caught up with Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns as they finished shaping a 10-hole, par-3 course that will open in June 2020. Good for Lew Thompson, owner of Forest Dunes, for such a smart hire. Rhebb and Johns have spent years working for and with the likes of Coore, Crenshaw, Doak, Hanse and Whitman, and coming off the popular renovation of Winter Park Golf Course in Florida, they have built another little hub of fun at Forest Dunes.
Just a bunch of kids who love playing in the dirt. Which is also how I’d describe Rhebb and Johns.
To the Cradle of American Golf
En route to Pinehurst, and sitting next to me on the plane was Paula Abdul, who agreed to pose for a pic. (Swoon!) It was a short flight, but I observed her scrolling through the selection of romantic comedies, laughing out loud, spoke kindly to her assistant and she was incredibly gracious to everyone who recognized her. “Oh my God, you’re Paula frickin’ Abdul!” was one woman’s animated reaction. “I am,” replied the very petite pop princess. And then they hugged it out.
Pinehurst is on the rise. Which is crazy to say about a place that has achieved “The Cradle of American Golf” status, has well over 100 years of rich history and includes multiple U.S. Opens and countless iconic amateur championships. To borrow from the Paula Abdul fan: It’s frickin’ Pinehurst! And yet, Bob Dedman, owner, and Tom Pashley, president, will not stop making improvements and enhancements. I was there to film a Golf Advisor Round Trip, which will air on Golf Channel November 12th at 7:30 ET, and the show tells the story of what they’ve done and why they’ve done it. And why we, the avid amateur, benefit from this level of investment and leadership.
To the Pacific Northwest
Words just don’t do Whistler justice. Certainly no selection of words that I can string together in a caption. Just do yourself a favor, go. And when you do, you’re bound to bump into an Olympic athlete. They are literally everywhere. And if they’re not one already, they’re training to be one. Or training like one. Whistler is an extreme destination with a non-pretentious presentation of all that’s good and healthy in life. In this upcoming Golf Advisor Round Trip (airing February 11th, 2020), I tee it up with Marielle Thompson, or Big Air Mar, who won the gold medal in ski cross in Sochi (2014), who gets emotional to this day when she tells us about the moment she realized all of her dreams were about to come true. Which was when she was in the air, flying towards the finish line.
As for flying, that’s what we did with Seth Wescott, a two-time gold medalist in snowboard cross. We helicoptered to the top of Mount Currie (7,000 feet), overlooking and hitting (biodegradable) golf balls down to Big Sky Golf Club, the pride of Pemberton. They actually offer the “Heli Golf” package at Big Sky: $349 gets you a round of golf, a trip to the top and a bag of balls. I’m not in the business of offering swing tips, but in this case, I command you: Keep the weight on your back foot! And if you’re interested in joining me on my return trip to Whistler, there will be more details here.
(GOLFPASS members save $100 on Golf Advisor Getaways hosted by Matt Ginella. Sign up today!)
In late July, we were back to Bandon Dunes for another Uncle Tony invitational. There were 28 of us, 14 teams of two, battling it out for a little “day cheddar,” a lot of pride, and in the spirit of my Uncle who taught me the game and fostered my love of The hang. Unfortunately, Uncle Tony is no longer with us, but he’s in the breeze and the trees, the sand and the songs as we continue to honor his ability to link souls.
New to this year’s itinerary was a tour of what’s new at Bandon Dunes. I can’t thank Bill Coore enough for giving up some of his valuable time to lead our group on a walkabout around the Sheep Ranch, Bandon’s fifth big course that will open June 1, 2020. Sitting on the coast, just north of Old Macdonald, Coore and Crenshaw figured out a routing and design that will include nine infinity greens and no bunkers. (None!)
Back to the Midwest
After checking into Kohler, I had some time before the start of the Linksoul 2-Man, which would be played at Blackwolf Run River, and the Straits and Irish courses at Whistling Straits. So I jumped in the rental car with my son, who had recently turned two, and we went to see the Links at the Lawsonia Golf Courses. Almost halfway between Kohler and Sand Valley (about an hour-and-a-half to each), this is well worth the stop going in either direction, or as an addition to an itinerary to one or the other. As advertised, it’s an open and fun flow through Green Lake with great value and a non-pretentious presentation. They say it was “built with 1920s-era steam shovels,” and it seems to me it doesn’t get more links-style without neighboring an ocean. Baby Bandon had a blast ripping around in a cart eating Doritos and hitting the occasional putt (pictured on the second green). As for the mid-round diaper change in the fairway, that was a first. For him, anyway.
Lawsonia Links is perfectly located between two Wisconsin heavyweights. It’s much lighter on the wallet and lost balls, and deserves all the architectural fanfare celebrating the work of William Langford and Theodore Moreau. Swales and waves of fairway run along and on top of Midwestern ridges. Which is why it’s no surprise the greens feature swales, waves and ridges. There aren’t any bad holes. There’s plenty of variety. You’ll hit a lot of different clubs to elevated fairways or greens, and I was especially impressed by and enjoyed playing the five par 3s. (Pictured is the 154-yard 14th.)
Golf in America can’t get enough courses like Lawsonia Links.
On the subject of memorable par 3s, here are all four at Whistling Straits (3, 7, 12 and 17), host of the 2020 Ryder Cup:
As for River at Blackwolf Run, yes, the Sheboygan River is a key factor throughout the round, but it’s trees like these, at 13, that make this such a tough test.
From the Irish to Ireland
From Kohler’s Irish course, it was on to Ireland for another round at one of my favorite courses in the world. Lahinch simply never disappoints. It's hard to believe anyone would ever take an Irish golf trip and skip it, especially if you’re flying in or out of Shannon. It’s the architecture and all the various architects who have had a hand in making it so special, which includes Old Tom Morris (1894), Dr. Alister Mackenzie (1927) and Dr. Martin Hawtree (1999). But it’s also the membership, setting, the neighboring surf school, the history and the town itself that leaves me always wanting more.
The 5th hole, the Dell, an Old Tom Morris original design, is the previous picture and it gets a lot of well-deserved attention for being a blind shot to a small green protected by two dunes. But the “new” 11th hole, a Hawtree design, is what I’d refer to as often overlooked and underrated.
If Lahinch is my No. 1 in the Republic of Ireland, then Waterville is a close second. I describe it as six, three-hole routings. And depending on which way the wind is blowing, each three-hole test will offer a mix of tough, fair and fun. My new favorite pub debate: Which is your favorite three-hole stretch at Waterville? Although I hear a lot of votes for 16 thru 18 (pictured), my vote is one, two and three.
This was my sixth trip to the Father/Son, hosted by Carr Golf. I never thought I would be a guy bellied up to a pub piano, shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of smelly drunk dudes, singing songs like “Sweet Caroline” until sunrise. But that’s exactly what I’ve done and will continue to do for as long as I keep going back.
At the epicenter of the sounds and social activity has always been the great Peter Keighery. Unfortunately, on the day of his 49th wedding anniversary, Keighery gave his wife a card, a cup of tea in bed and then died of a heart attack. Life in Ireland will never be the same, but I can promise you, next year, on Friday and Saturday nights of the 31st Father/Son, we’ll all be cramming into the Butler Arms Hotel with one common cause: Celebrate The Legend.
Back across the Atlantic
If you’re looking for an affordable and memorable golf trip to somewhere outside of the States, I suggest Prince Edward Island. This Canadian destination flies below the radar, but like Myrtle Beach, there’s a high concentration of good value golf, a lot of nice people, fresh seafood and so much more. Most of which you’ll see in an upcoming Golf Advisor Round Trip, which will air February 18th, 2020. I’d build an itinerary around Dundarave, Brudenell River (pictured) and the Links at Crowbush Cove.
One of the off-course activities in the Prince Edward Island Round Trip was getting on goalie gear and letting a few NHLers fire pucks at me. Simon Hofley (left) was brought in to offer tips on surviving, while Josh Currie (yellow) and Ross Johnston (far right) pummeled me into submission. I left looking and feeling like I had been run over by a Zamboni.
A few days later and it was back where I belong, on a golf course. And again, another value destination that flies below most buddies-trip radars. Turning Stone in Verona, N.Y., has three courses, an indoor driving range and short-game facility, multiple lodging options, casino, live music venues and more. On this particular Golf Advisor Getaway, Atunyote (pictured), the Tom Fazio design that hosted a PGA Tour event from 2007 until 2010, was everyone’s favorite.
Regardless of where I get to go, the courses I get to play and people I meet, it’s the time on any golf course with Baby Bandon that are the most meaningful and memorable. In other words, I’m addicted to being a dad. And wedged between a Getaway at Turning Stone and a Round Trip to Central Oregon, I met up with my buddy Pete Cestaro for nine holes at Poxabogue in Bridgehampton, where I usually play in bare feet and never pay more than $40.
High and dry in Central Oregon
Bend will forever be in the shadow of Bandon Dunes. It’s just the nature of having such a collection of great golf along the dramatic Oregon coastline, but having said that, a high-desert itinerary that includes Crosswater, both courses at Pronghorn and Tetherow (pictured) is something worth considering.
Bend is booming. It’s a place I’d consider calling home someday soon: Especially after fishing, surfing and rafting the Deschutes River. You’ll see on TV when this Round Trip airs in March 2020. You can also see for yourself when I go back fora Golf Advisor Getaway (September 2020).
Off to Ohio
How can you not like Jason and Ellie Day and all that they’re doing with their foundation, Brighter Days? Through a golf tournament and concert in Columbus Ohio, the Days have raised over $2 million in five years for child-serving organizations in Central Ohio. The course they use for the tournament is Double Eagle, a Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish design.
The course is fun, in immaculate shape, and the service is insane, but it’s quite possible that J’s Hooch and Ho’s Tiki Bar stole the show. If the flag is flying behind the 14th tee, all are welcome to come back for a few drinks. It’s easily the most non-pretentious and friendly “19th holes” at one of golf’s most exclusive and elite experiences.
Good vibes in the Southeast
From Ohio, it was on to Sea Island, where we’d shoot another Round Trip. In doing so, we got time with Davis and Mark Love, who recently renovated the Plantation Course, which reopened Oct. 14. Both Love brothers will tell you that, in their 25 years of building 25 courses, they’ve had influence by architects like Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Ben Crenshaw, Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye, not to mention the courses they’ve seen and played all over the world. A few years ago, I walked Greenbrier’s Old White with Davis as he was marveling at some of Seth Raynor’s bunkering, greens and shot options. What did they do to Plantation? Other than a complete renovation, the Love Brothers removed a lot of trees, eliminated more than half the bunkers, did a slight rerouting and drastically increased the fun factor. Sea Island will again host the RSM Classic in November, which will be played on both the Seaside Course and the new Plantation.
“Pete Dye got the idea of railroad ties as bulkheads from Prestwick,” Love says. “We got the railroad ties idea from Pete Dye.”
Dye and Nicklaus designed Harbor Town, which is where Love has won the RBC Heritage five times.
Also included in the Sea Island show will be a lesson from a legend now in his mid-80s, Jack Lumpkin. After he changed my grip and swing path, I hope to be in the 70s more often. Lumpkin has been giving lessons to pros and amateurs at Sea Island for more than 30 years. And with a new Plantation Course, a state-of-the-art performance center, cottages, putting course and pool house, the best in the industry for high-end buddies trips, couples trips and all things family trips just got a lot better.
I drove straight from Sea Island to Sandestin, where, once again, the emphasis is on a sweet southern setting, pristine beaches, multiple golf options and a lot of fresh seafood. This was yet another Getaway where guests enjoyed four rounds of golf, a sizable swag bag, some dinners, a lot of drinks and some laughs. My favorite course in the area is Burnt Pine, which you have to stay to play.
On the verge of being burnt out by the act of travel, not even the hockey pucks of PEI could stop me from pushing on to Pebble Beach. Having been invited to play in my fifth Pure Insurance Championship Impacting The First Tee, the first thing I noticed was the plan to rebuild Peter Hay, the par-3 course across the street from Pebble Beach. With such a perfect piece of land for what could be such a special short-course experience, I’m rooting for management to go big by hiring one of the young up-and-coming architectural teams like Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns (WP9 and the short course at Forest Dunes), Tad King and Rob Collins (Sweetens Cove), or Kyle Franz (Mid Pines and Pine Needles). Regardless, I hope it gets done soon and gets back to super fun and affordable generational golf in an area in need of all of the above.
Meanwhile, fresh off another AT&T and U.S. Open, Pebble Beach rolls on. Not much left to say other than this is my No. 1 public course in the country. Yes, it’s expensive, but where other courses that charge north of $400 and don’t always deliver on a memorable experience, that’s never the case here, where the most notable nitpick is the time it takes to play. Quite honestly, any and every time I get a crack at Pebble, the last thing I do is rush it. I can’t blame others for doing the same.
The Pure Insurance Championship Impacting the First Tee is just that: A Champions Tour event involving and benefiting First Tee kids from all over the country. A field of 78 pros get paired with a First Tee kid between the ages of 14 and 18 and joining them are two amateurs. With three tournaments happening simultaneously, the pros are playing against the other pros. The pros also play with their junior partners in a best-ball of their twosome. And then the pros and their junior partner with two amateurs are playing one best ball of that foursome. My amateur partner was Alfonso Ribeiro of Fresh Prince fame, America’s Funniest Home Videos and Dancing With the Stars. It was good to be with this star all week as his infectious energy and love of the game got us through several scoring lulls. (He played as a 4-handicap, I was a 9.) Our first professional partner and junior partner was Steve Pate and Stephany Barbosa of Dallas. Then we had Colin Montgomerie and Neil Babu of Reno, Nev. All of which helped us be one of the 10 amateur teams to make the cut. We were one shot off the lead.
On the final day at Pebble, each amateur team was paired with two pros. We got the help of Kenny Perry and Esteban Toledo, who were both willing to commit to our cause. Toledo birdied the first. Perry eagled the second and then birdied the third. Toledo and Ribeiro birdied the fifth, before Ribeiro made net eagle on the sixth. Toledo birdied the eighth. Ribeiro and I both made net birdie on the ninth and I made net birdie on the tenth, which put us at -10 thru 10, and we had a 5-shot lead.
From there we held on as a team while I chopped my way in. Toledo got up and down for par on 18, and amidst some fist pumping and hugs, we finished 36-under through 54 holes, no bogeys and we won by two. So there I was, standing on the 18th green, a kid from Northern California, surrounded by First Tee kids, reflecting on the day my dad brought me down to play Pebble as a high school graduation present. And now, holding the ultimate trophy (Bandon) in one arm and the Pure Insurance trophy in the other, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the great game of golf.
A 99-day stretch that started with a fundraiser for Youth on Course was ending by looking back on my youth at this historic venue, sharing a moment with my son. And on the 100th day, I did what seemed appropriate. I went home, kissed my wife, invited over a few friends, opened up some of our best bottles of wine, and we partied. And then I slept.