Tag: golf travel

El Camaleon: something for everyone in Mayakoba

By Mike Lednovich, Editor & Publisher

On the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico’s southeastern border, Cancun is the life of the party. If memories of your wilder days are a bit hazy, consider making the short drive south to Playa del Carmen, home to good golf and plenty of family activities.

The 260-acre Fairmont Mayakoba is one of the all-inclusive options in the region. Helping it stand out are El Camaleon Golf Club, site of a PGA Tour event the past 11 years, and a bevy of activities that include beach time, five freshwater pools and excursions on snaking waterways that are home to abundant wildlife.

“Mayakoba is quickly earning the reputation as one of the best golf destinations for the golfer who also wants to bring their family along for a great vacation,” said Jorge Franssen, director of marketing at El Camaleon. “There are so many things for a family to do here; we have that rare combination of golf and extraordinary non-golf activities.”

There are seven other golf courses within a 30–minute drive of what’s known as the Mayan Trail, including TPC Cancun, Riviera Maya Golf Club and the Golf Club at Playacar. But golfers can’t go wrong by staying and playing several rounds at El Camaleon, which has been home to the OHL Classic at Mayakoba since 2007.

“We have one of the finest golf courses anywhere and a great practice facility,” said Yayoi Garcia, golf sales and marketing executive at the Greg Norman-designed course. “We have a 70-person full–time grounds crew, which means the golf course is in perfect condition year round.”

Surrounded by mangrove forests and tropical jungles and with lagoons and canals bordering many holes, El Camaleon is an adventure from the start. Just beyond driving distance for most amateurs on the first hole is a huge sinkhole, or, as they’re called in Mexico, a cenote, in the middle of the fairway. Because the golf course is built on limestone and the area has several surface rivers, there are several cenotes on the course, but none as massive as seen on the opening hole.

The signature par-3 15th hole doesn’t have a cenote, but its view of the Caribbean Sea is a real charmer. While short and scenic, most tee shots are hit into a blustery wind, which ups the ante for shot concentration.

Aside from 15, Norman did an admirable job keeping the features of each hole interesting. On the fifth, a par-5 of 554 yards, the fairway is bordered by mangrove stands and a sparkling waterway, with a pond and a row of resort casitas near the green. The third hole is a 389-yard par-4 with two forced carries over water, with approach shots seeking an elevated green with deep bunkers on the right. Hole 16 is a 450-yard par-4 with mangroves on both sides of the fairway and a large perpendicular green well guarded by bunkers.

The mangroves and jungles that protect Mayakoba from tropical storms are home to an array of wildlife that includes close to 300 species of birds, iguanas, crocodiles, monkeys and other creatures that often sun themselves on the limestone rocks or frolic on the fairways. It’s all part of the man-mingling-with-nature feel that exists on the sprawling property.

Because of its many canals, the Fairmont Mayakoba has a nickname of the “Venice of the Caribbean,” with many of its 400 rooms and suites featuring private entrances and furnished balconies or terraces that overlook the forest, waterways, gardens or Caribbean Sea. The resort is set up in a residential-like format, with rows of rooms stretching from the resort lobby to the shore. For those nearest the entrance, bicycles are located throughout the property to get you to the beach or other site in a quick and casual manner.

For help with your game, El Camaleon is home to a Jim McLean Golf School that features a full range, practice greens and short-game complex. And if you ditched or dunked a few too many balls on the fringes of El Cameleon, there’s no better place to decompress than on a 40-minute tour of the lagoons through limestone caverns and mangrove stands. Or you could opt for beer and chocolate. In Mayan culture, chocolate was a valued possession, so at Fairmont’s Willow Stream Spa a sweet tooth can be satisfied with the Chocolate, Food of the Gods full body treatment. Follow that with a Mexican craft beer tasting that includes a selection of fourcervezas artesanalesthat embody aromas of orange, vanilla and, yes, even chocolate.

“We have perfect golf and perfect days and nights of fine dining and activities,” said Stuart McColl, regional director of marketing at the Fairmont Mayakoba. “It’s all here.”

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French Lick: Donald Ross and Pete Dye at their finest

If the golf courses at French Lick Resort aren’t on your must-play list, adjust it. The Indiana boyhood home of NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird also has two layouts that are turning the hoops hotbed into a golf playground as well.

Southern Comfort: perfect days at Sea Island Golf Club

By Mike Lednovich, Editor & Publisher

The end of a perfect day of golf at Sea Island Golf Club occurs as the setting sun casts a red glow on the rippling surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Sitting on the veranda of Sea Island Lodge, the silhouette of a lone figure appears on the 10th tee of the Plantation Course, and soon the soulful wail of bagpipes fills the chilled evening air.

There’s no place quite like Sea Island, Ga., on the southern tip of St. Simons Island. The approach to the lodge is on a boulevard of moss-draped oaks, and the complex includes three courses that provide glimpses of unspoiled beaches, salt marshes and St. Simons Sound.

A challenging par-3 on the Plantation Course

“At Sea Island it’s all about the experience,” said director of golf Brannen Veal. “Yes, we have golf, but we’ve also got all the extra touches that go with it.”

Those extras include the Golf Performance Center, where top teaching professionals such as Jack Lumpkin, Mike Shannon, PGA Teacher of the Year Todd Anderson and wedge expert Gale Peterson train the likes of Zack Johnson, Davis Love III, Billy Horschel and weekend warriors. Dr. Morris Pickens is also on staff to help players navigate the mental aspect of their games, and body biomechanics pioneer Randy Myers is onsite for stretching and body motion workouts.

Sea Island oozes Southern hospitality and charm at every turn.

“We engage our guests so they feel this is home for however long they are visiting,” Veal said. “We have an Old South style and tradition in everything we do.”

High rollers will appreciate the Sea Island Lodge or 175-room Cloister during a visit. The lodge is exclusive, with 40 rooms, and also serves as the clubhouse for the golf courses. Sea Island has also thought about the average and more conservative golfers as well with the construction of the nearby Sea Island Inn 12 years ago.

“Sea Island is all inclusive to every golfer and their family,” Veal said. “Building the Inn was the best thing we ever did.”

The Seaside Course, which plays 6,570 yards from the blue tees, is home to the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic. Originally built in 1929, Seaside was updated 70 years later by Tom Fazio and is among Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses to Play in the U.S. The demanding layout features sand dunes, marshes and tidal creeks as it winds through St. Simons Sound. Distinctive Red wicker baskets instead of flags mark the location of holes on the layout.

“The Seaside Course is all about strategy and shot selection. The wind is a dominant factor and, depending how hard it’s blowing, the course can play completely different from day to day,” said assistant professional Jared Walahoski. “If you miss your target, then you’ve got to have a super-sharp recovery game. With these quick greens, the putter has got to be your best friend.”

The most demanding and interesting hole is the 409-yard, par-4, 13th, which is protected by marshes on the left and five bunkers on the right. Five holes later, Seaside’s 18th is a classic links design with an undulating fairway flanked by water and bunkers on the left and a bunker and marshes on the right. The approach shot to the green is tricky as water cuts in from the left and a huge bunker looms in front to the right.

If links style golf isn’t your cup of tea, the Plantation Course will likely suit you better. Winding through rows of live oaks, cedars and pines, the course opened in 1928 and was updated in 1998 by Rees Jones. The layout has breathtaking ocean views as well as several lakes to gobble up wayward shots.

The 10th hole is a great start to the back nine as the fairway skirts the ocean on the right before narrowing near the elevated green guarded by massive oaks on the right and a lake on the left. The par-4 12th hole is a classic dogleg left, requiring an accurate drive through a tree-lined alley, with large bunkers on the left at the turn. A lake awaits by the green, and golfers also must navigate a six-bunker complex on the left and a large oak and bunker on the right.

The Plantation Course also has a familiar-looking – and daunting – hole for fans of the Players Championship and its most famous hole at TPC Sawgrass.

“My favorite on the Plantation Course is the seventh hole,” Veal said. “It’s our version of the island green 17th at the TPC. All of that water between you and the green gets in your head.”

The other layout on property is the Retreat Course, which was redesigned by Love and his brother Mark in 2001. It plays from 5,082 to 7,106 yards and has tree-lined fairways and difficult green complexes that feature plenty of bunkers and undulating surfaces.

Off the course, Sea Island has a bevy of nature and outdoor activities from open sea kayaking, horseback riding and fishing to a world-class shooting school and miles of open beaches.

“We have a wonderful setting for golfers and their families,” Veal said. “There’s plenty to see and a ton of activities at Sea Island.”

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French Lick: Donald Ross and Pete Dye at their finest

If the golf courses at French Lick Resort aren’t on your must-play list, adjust it. The Indiana boyhood home of NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird also has two layouts that are turning the hoops hotbed into a golf playground as well.

French Lick: Donald Ross and Pete Dye at their finest

By Mike Lednovich, Editor & Publisher

If the golf courses at French Lick Resort aren’t on your must-play list, adjust it. The Indiana boyhood home of NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird also has two layouts that are turning the hoops hotbed into a golf playground as well.

The first is the Donald Ross Course, built in 1917 and restored 10 years ago by Scottsdale architect Lee Schmidt. The resort added the Pete Dye Course in 2009, and the track was well received by players at the 2015 Senior PGA Championship. The spectacular view from the clubhouse terrace, situated on Mount Airie, offers a sweeping view of the tree-dotted hills of Hoosier National Forest.

“We’ve received a lot of accolades in a very short period of time. That says volumes about the quality of golf at French Lick,” said Dave Harner, the resort’s director of golf. “We have a very unique golf experience with a classic layout by old school architect Donald Ross and a modern design by legendary architect Pete Dye. That’s the best one-two combination in the U.S.”

The magic of the Donald Ross layout is the Scotland-styled greens that are often elevated, crowned, tiered and sloping. The caddies will tell you to “never hit the ball past the pin,” meaning that a deft short game is crucial to good scoring. Consider the benign looking 133-yard, par-3 16th. I hit an 8-iron 15 feet left of the pin, but only a slight tap of the ball with my putter sent it 40 feet past the hole. Oh my.

Slick greens and yawning bunkers are staples of a Donald Ross design

Accuracy is also an asset because most holes are guarded with thick swatches of heather on either side of the fairway. There are four par-3s, but three are longer than 200 yards from the tips. The 13th, at 228 yards, plays uphill to a multi-tiered green, forcing everyone in my group to hit driver, a club that also will come in handy – twice, perhaps – at No. 15, a 665-yard, par-5 from the back tees.

The Pete Dye Course offers five sets of tees, from a staggering 8,100 yards from the tips to a milder 5,100 yards from the forward markers. Mid-handicappers will want to try the middle offerings from 6,100 to 6,700 yards.

The Pete Dye Course offers wonderful hilltop vistas

“It’s a handful from any set of tees,” said Dyan Duncan, public relations manager for the French Lick Resort. “The feedback we get from golfers is, yes, it’s difficult, but also that it’s a unique layout and visually stunning golf course.”

A highlight of the Dye layout is the fifth hole, a par-5 that features a split fairway. A couple holes later is another par-5 with one of Dye’s signature features – volcano bunkers by the green. The best hole is No. 18, a downhill 580-yard, par-5 with a fairway that bends to the left. Aim to the right because the fairway is severely sloped the other way and those side-hill lies out of deep rough can be tough.

There’s plenty to see when you’re done, as well, because French Lick Resort also has spas, a casino, an elephant retreat and a winery. The town originally honed its tourist chops starting in 1845, as visitors flocked to the gateway destination to experience the healing powers of the numerous sulfur springs.

The hamlet of 2,000 people experienced a downturn when the resort was purchased in 1934, but a tourism revival was launched when the Cook Group acquired the land and poured $600 million into resort upgrades.

Some $100 million also was spent to put new life into the town’s West Baden Springs Hotel, once nicknamed the Eighth Wonder of the World because of its majestic lobby that was under the largest free-spanning dome in the U.S. until 1955. Modeled after the German spa town of Baden-Baden, the hotel once hosted the likes of Al Capone, Gen. John Pershing and boxer John L. Sullivan. Following its restoration, West Baden reopened in 2006 with 243 rooms and suites.

Another option is the French Lick Springs Hotel and Casino that, like the West Baden, has treatment rooms with mineral spring baths. You can also pose for photos holding Bird’s NBA MVP trophy at 33 Brick Street Restaurant.

All in all, French Lick is a surprising discovery for visitors not familiar with what the heartland has to offer regarding scenery, golf and hospitality.

“We treat all of our guests like VIPs, whether they’re staying at the resort or they’re from the area,” Harner said. “We understand how important it is that every need of our visiting golfers are met and exceeded. It’s that VIP treatment that makes us a top-rated golf destination.”

ALSO IN PLAY

The Valley Links Course at French Lick Resort doesn’t get the accolades of its two siblings, but the nine-hole layout that can stretch to 3,500 yards is great for people who want to play a stylish course with rolling fairways, Scottish-style fescue grasses and strategically placed bunkers.

Designed specifically for children and beginners, French Lick Resort partnered with U.S. Kids Golf to develop the family friendly course. The second of its kind in Indiana, there are two sets of tee markers – 1,100 and 1,900 yards – that set up perfectly for youngsters or adults just getting started. Best yet, there are no green fees for children 12 and younger.

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ProCheck ends the 'trial and error' method of buying a golf ball

How To Remove The Hassle From Your Next Golf Trip

By Scott Kramer

Golf travel is fun. But transporting your gear with you can be a major hassle — especially shlepping your clubs to and through airports. And the costs can add up: Airlines generally charge $25 to send your golf travel bag each way domestically, although some set you back twice that amount. And that’s if it’s your only checked-in luggage. Fees may double if you’re also checking in a suitcase. Plus you’ll be tipping the bellman at the resort to move the clubs into and out of the golf bag storage area.

You can always rent clubs at your destination. But that can frankly be both expensive ($50/day on up) and dicey: You can often be given clubs that you’re unfamiliar with and are not suited to your swing. As a golf writer, I take a lot of golf trips every year for work. And rental clubs — generally my favorite option, particularly for short excursions, can be hit or miss. I recall one recent multi-day trip when the clubs were so mis-gauged for my swing that it actually ruined the golf portion of my trip. The game is not fun when you cannot get the ball airborne.

So what’s a golfer to do? Ship the clubs ahead of time to your destination. Know up front that there can be drawbacks, such as being without your clubs for a few days immediately before and after your trip. But this method can also eliminate many of the hassles. Which is why several club shipping services have gained popularity the past five years. The most popular is Ship Sticks. It’s a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based company started and run by golfers, that’s been around since 2011.

I went to use it for a trip I’m taking next week. The process was simple. I called the company, told them where I live, where I was going to play golf, and how long I was going to be there. I could’ve used my own travel bag — had my father-in-law not taken it with him on his own golf trip. Instead, Ship Sticks sent me a box via FedEx, replete with pre-printed shipping labels for both directions. And they arranged a date to pick up the clubs at my home. Unfortunately, the day after the box arrived, I had to cancel the golf portion of my upcoming trip. So I was unable to use the service this time.

But several of my friends and colleagues have used it in the past. I’ve heard several praises of the service, and not one complaint. It can be a little pricey: Ship Sticks sends your clubs each way for $40 and up, depending on the weight of your bag and how quickly you need it to get there. But the convenience can outweigh the cost. The company arranges all of the back-end handling at the golf course. All you do is set your bag on your porch or at the front desk of your office, for initial pick-up. Then just show up at your destination course and the clubs will be ready for play. Whenever you want the clubs returned home — and from wherever — the company arranges for that. Next time you see the clubs is back home.

Playing golf more than once or twice on your trip can definitely justify using the service — based on the cost of rentals at most places. And while you can go directly with the likes of FedEx or UPS, those services are more expensive. There’s also a service called Luggage Forward that can do the task. Ship Sticks has its own in with the couriers, so its reps constantly keep track of exactly where your bag is at any time. The company also offers free base insurance of $1,000 on your clubs — included in your cost. But you can buy more.

When you take a golf trip, the courses you play are likely new. So it’s that much more important to have some level of familiarity to help you score well and enjoy the game. Playing your own clubs adds that level of comfort.

Scott Kramer is veteran, Southern California-based writer primarily versed in golf and personal technology. Studying Computer Sciences in college, and then working as a programmer/software engineer for about a decade, triggered my passion for today’s high-end, high-tech gadgets. I can’t help myself whenever I see any kind of cool new personal technology. I feel compelled to further check it out and see what it’s all about. And even if I have no use for it personally, I’m always thinking who it might best suit. There are exciting new innovations emerging daily that are shaping the future and simplifying life. And I hope to be your eyes to that world, through the words of this column.

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French Lick: Donald Ross and Pete Dye at their finest

If the golf courses at French Lick Resort aren’t on your must-play list, adjust it. The Indiana boyhood home of NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird also has two layouts that are turning the hoops hotbed into a golf playground as well.