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Category Archives: Golf Experiences
This past September I traveled north from San Diego to the tiny hamlet of Graeagle nestled in the pine covered forests of Northern California , an hour north of Lake Tahoe. This trip, unlike many I take, wasn’t to discover new golf courses or visit exotic new lands. It was to participate with old friends in the 18 th annual FAGAPO golf tournament. FAGAPO, an acronym for First Annual Golf And Poker Outing, had its beginning in September, 1987. Eight tennis playing friends from Walnut Creek , an East Bay suburb of San Francisco borrowed golf clubs, gathered up a couple of decks of cards and a box of old poker chips, and headed to Lake Tahoe for a one-day men’s golf get-away. FAGAPO has expanded from this humble beginning to become a much anticipated four day, three night outing. Because most of the FAGAPO participants are now Medicare eligible, or close to it, neither the age of the participants nor their golf ability is important. What is important is that everyone enjoys an outing with good friends. Sure, we pretend we are kids again. Sure, we wish we could hit the golf ball 300-plus yards like Tiger Woods. Sure, we act like winning FAGAPO is as prestigious and financially rewarding as winning The Masters. What we don’t have to pretend is the enjoyment we have gathering to reminisce about family friendships and nearly 20 years of FAGAPO. We played three fun golf courses, had daily and tournament prizes, a memorial putting contest honoring a deceased friend and former participant, and devoted four days and three nights to golf and camaraderie with lots of food, drinks, card games and laughter. This year, of the 20 golfers who played, two had played each of the eighteen years and ten had played twelve to fifteen times...a true tribute to the importance of long lasting friendships. The three courses we attacked, Plumas Pines, which winds through a pine forest; Graeagle Meadows, which has fairways crossing the trout laden Feather River; and the highly challenging Golf Club at Whitehawk Ranch, all had “Kodak Moment” postcard scenery with groves of tall pines, colorful wild flowers, and sky blue lakes and streams. We played our usual scramble format with one drive required by each member of the foursome on each nine. Since most of the yearly participants are high or non-handicap golfers, this format is ideal. Each player, regardless of ability, has the opportunity to play every shot, avoid the pressure of competing with an individual score, and still have a chance to win the tournament. To determine a winner, each golfer played in a different foursome each of the three days taking his daily team score as his individual score. This year’s winner, with a score of seven under par at the end of the three rounds, was 25 handicapper Dan Cochrane. By winning the tournament Dan received the mandatory “right” to wear the coveted FAGAPO Jacket at the annual awards dinner. Since “The Jacket” is a garish 1960 vintage orange, yellow, light green and brown plaid blazer, something Jack Nicklaus would have worn in his early years, Dan had the honor of enduring laughs and finger pointing while enjoying cocktails and dinner. Our eighteenth annual “all included” outing certainly wasn’t as lavish as one would find at famed all-inclusive resorts like Sandals or Beaches in the Caribbean or at the newly renovated and revitalized Club Med operations around the world. However, when you consider it included three days of golf on lovely mountain courses, three nights in well appointed condos, daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners, all the beverages one desired, as well as prize money, the year-long right to the coveted FAGAPO Jacket for the winner, and most importantly, priceless fun and fellowship, it was quite a special event. Does all this sound like a bunch of friends having a good time? Does it sound like 20 seniors reliving their youth? Does it sound like an enjoyable outing? The answer of course is yes. That’s why, for the 18th straight year I headed north to celebrate wonderful friendships, laugh a lot, and pretend I’m a really good golfer. For more information on how to put together a FAGAPO type golf outing, email Chuck Miller, The Traveling Guy, at email@example.com. To read about and view photos of the Golf Club at Whitehawk Ranch, see Scenic Mountain Courses on the Article Archive link.
Webster’s dictionary defines unique as having no like or equal; being the only one of its kind; standing alone in comparison with others. The 14 th hole island green at Idaho’s five star Couer d’Alene Resort certainly qualifies for this distinction. The 15,000 square foot green is the one and only moveable floating island green in the world. That’s unique!…and that’s exactly what resort owner Duane Hagadone had in mind when he enlisted golf course architect Scott Miller to design the hole and the course. The 15,000,000-pound island is moved daily to its new computer generated distance by a one-inch cable connected to electric winches in the green’s substructure. Depending upon where the island is positioned, a tee shot can be anywhere from 100 to 175 yards. If your tee shot finds the crystal clear snow fed waters of Lake Couer d’Alene, you can reload for a second shot. To speed play only two shots at the green are allowed before you must board the small ferry for the short ride to the island and your next shot from the drop zone. Par the hole and you will receive a Certificate of Achievement for your golfing wall of fame. The world famous 14 th hole is challenging and fun to play, as are the course’s other 17 holes. On paper, at only 6309 yards from the blues, the par 71course with its 121 slope rating might look to be easy. Don’t be fooled. Snow-white bunkers, strategically placed around the greens and in the wide rolling fairways, make proper club selection and shot execution paramount for a good round. The natural beauty of the course also makes concentrating on golf extremely difficult. Playing from the tips, the par 4’s are mostly 420 yards plus. The par 5’s range from 491 yards to 566 yards, and one par 3 is 208 yards. Even the short 257-yard par 4 17 th hole requires good course management and well-placed shots. Architect Scott Miller created the course with three distinct golfing experiences; a links experience while playing on sculptured fairways, a mountain experience from observing fairways carved from native rock croppings, and a water experience while absorbing beautiful lake views on every hole. When you combine these experiences with finely manicured bent grass tees, greens and fairways, and the over 60,000 petunias, junipers, geraniums and wildflowers that add rainbow like color to the course, you have a treat in store when you play this Northern Idaho gem. To add to the ease and enjoyment of playing the course, each foursome has a caddy who acts as both a forward caddy and a putting green guru; golf carts are equipped with tee dispensers, beverage cart coolers, shoe/accessory storage areas, waste receptacles, and club and ball; course maintenance is done at night to avoid conflict with golfers; and tee times are lengthened to 10 minute intervals so you never feel rushed. Before or after a round of golf, you can fish, swim, kayak, parasail or cruise about on 23 mile-long Lake Couer d’Alene, once described by National Geographic as one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world. For shoppers in the family, the picturesque town of Couer d’Alene, with its population of approximately 35,000, offers both small family-owned stores and well appointed mall shops. When it comes to dining, a variety of delightful restaurants in the resort and along Couer d’Alene’s picturesque streets offer a variety of pleasures for every taste. Beverly’s, the resort’s fine dining restaurant, was one of my favorites. It combines a casual relaxed atmosphere with delicious certified prime beef entrees, a world class wine cellar, and spectacular panoramic views of the lake to provide a wonderful dining experience. When in Northern Idaho, make the elegant Couer d’Alene Resort your headquarters.Play the course and its famed14 th hole and you’ll agree that just like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Great Wall of China, the moveable floating island green is One Of A Kind. For more information about the Coeur d’Alene Resort, which is perennially ratedas one the top 10 resorts in the U.S. by readers of Conde Naste Traveler magazine, visit www.cdaresort.com. For golf reservations call 1-800-935-6283.
If Christopher Columbus were to land today on the island of Hispaniola, first stop on his historic initial voyage to the new world, he would find it still has lovely white sand beaches, lush green rain forests, and in some places, jagged coral coastlines. What he would also discover is that the Dominican Republic portion of the island, which it shares with Haiti, is a golfer’s paradise with panoramic ocean views and swaying coconut palms on its 21 beautiful and challenging courses. If Columbus happened to have taken up golf sometime in the past 500 years, he would be excited to find and play courses designed by noted golfers, and golf architects, including Pete Dye, P. B. Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones, Gary Player, Tom Fazio and Nick Faldo. This past January, during a quick visit to the Dominican Republic, I had the opportunity to play Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog. The course, whose name comes from the rocky and snarling coral coastline bordering it, is located at the Casa de Campo Resort on the outskirts of La Romana. Even with wide fairway landing areas, from the 5914-yard white tees it is a very demanding track as Pete Dye’s signature challenges are everywhere. Dye’s trademark railroad ties, vast waste areas, peninsula greens and tees, and small-elevated greens, combine with gorgeous views of the waters of the Caribbean Sea to make playing the Teeth of the Dog a memorable day on the links. The day I played was as calm a day as one could wish for. Well-hit shots went straight with no interference from winds that are normally present. Playing in the wind from the back tees at just under 7000 yards, the Teeth of The Dog would be a very difficult challenge for even the best of golfers. When he was asked about his course, which opened to great acclaim in 1971, Pete Dye said, “I created 11 holes, and God created seven.” The seven he was referring are strategically placed scenic holes on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. All are picture postcard perfect, architecturally demanding, and wonderful to play. Three are par 3’s ranging from 155 to 225 yards from the tips. Four are Par 4’s, the shortest being the 384-yard 15 th hole, which my caddy told me normally plays into a cross wind which directs even a well-hit drive toward the ocean. Because of this, the 15 th hole is known affectionately as the “longest 384 yard hole in the world”. In addition to the seven ocean holes, one of my other favorites was the 505-yard par 5 ninth hole. It became my favorite when I reached the green in three after slicing my erratic left handed drive far to the left into the dirt and weedy rough, belted a long fairway metal over, around and through the trees that protect the fairway on the left, hit a solid wedge shot 20 feet from the pin, and two putted for par. What made it so special was the grin on my caddy’s face as he collected a 100-peso note from a fellow caddy. Unbeknownst to me, after my horrible drive, my caddy, in a real show of bravado, had bet I would par the hole...a bet I wouldn’t have made. As “West Coasters”, we rarely think of the Dominican Republic when we think of island golf. Hawaii, yes...but the Dominican Republic...not very often, if at all. My suggestion is that the next time you want to enjoy an island golfing vacation, head east to to Hispaniola and the Dominican Republic. There you can add your name to the list of celebrities, PGA Pros, and U.S. Presidents who have played and enjoyed the challenge of Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog. When you play the “The Dog”, you will understand why year after year itis rated the No. 1 golf course in the Caribbean. You will also come to realize why Casa de Campo, with its ideal climate, gorgeous ocean views, and luxurious accommodations, has been voted one of the 100 World’s Best Places to Stay by the readers of Conde Nast magazine, and the No.1 Golf Resort in the Caribbean by Travel and Leisure magazine. For more information on the Dominican Republic, Casa de Campo, The Teeth of the Dog, and the resort’s two other outstanding Pete Dye courses, The Links and Dye Fore, visit www.casadcampo.com.
For many years, every Monday morning during the PGA Tour season I have checked the sports section for final results of the past week’s PGA Tour event. In most cases I have heard the winner’s name and sometimes that of the runner up on Sunday night TV. However, I have always been interested in not just the winners, but all the players. As I have gotten older, and the familiar and not-so familiar names are no longer playing the tour, I have often wondered… “What are they doing now?” In doing research for this column I found that some former touring pros are now leading lives as club professionals, some teach golf, some like Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player are famed golf course architects, some like San Diego area native Billy Casper have become celebrity speakers, and some are just plain retired. One name that I remember from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s,and 90’s, and have often wondered about, is Butch Baird. Baird, known for his famed Panamanian hat, played professionally on Tour from 1959 to 2000; won 13 PGA Tour events including the 1965 PGA National Four-Ball (with Gay Brewer), the 1961 Waco Turner Open and the 1976 San Antonio-Texas Open, and twice on the Seniors Tour. Recently, at San Diego Country Club’s 50 th Anniversary Celebration of Billy Casper’s first tour victory, the 1956 Labatt Open, I happened to play in the pro-am event with a gentleman by the name of Jack Mishler from Fountain Hills, Arizona…you know, one of those “Zonies” who invade the San Diego beaches every summer. You have heard the cliché, “It’s a small world!” Well it’s true! It turned out Mishler answered my curiosity about Butch Baird as he is Baird’s partner in a very unique golf memorabilia company. Both Mishler and Baird, who met in 1994 at the Tradition Tournament in Scottsdale, are avid collectors of golf memorabilia. In 2000, when Baird was nearing the end of his professional golf career and Jack was in semi-retirement, they met again and discussed their mutual interest in golf history through memorabilia. One thing led to another. They decided to manufacture some golf plaques for their own collections featuring logo golf balls from the venues where golf greats Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player had won their 37 major championships. Thanks to Baird’s friendship with Nicklaus, Palmer and Player, he was able to get each ball autographed. When Baird showed what he had made to his friends, the feedback was very positive. So Baird went back to golfdom’s “Big Three” and asked for them to participate commercially, which they did…and Baird and Mishler’s golf memorabilia company, was founded. Baird and Mishler have added Billy Casper, Gene Littler and 1958 U. S. Open Champion Tommy “Thunder” Bolt to the list of collections produced by their company, BBJM Golf Ventures. Bob Goalby, Rob Rosburg, Doug Ford and Gay Brewer have also agreed to participate and their plaques are currently in the design process. Baird was originally told he wouldn’t get anyone to participate. But he pulled it off utilizing his easy-going personality with these golf legends. An artist at heart, Baird put together the design and manufacturing team to meet the quality requirements that were prerequisites of the golf stars and now his unique plaques commemorate the achievements of some of golf’s greatest golfers. I had never seen the Billy Casper plaque containing signed balls from Casper’s 51 PGA Tour winsand his nine Ryder Cup appearances until Casper’s 50 th Anniversary Celebration. Mishler showed me the one mounted over the fireplace at the San Diego Country Club. It not only highlights Casper’s phenomenal career, and is a true tribute to his golfing prowess, it is an amazing and wonderful golf collectible. Casper’s plaque, the commemorative collection of signed golf balls by “The Big Three”,and the soon to be released collections of other former Tour pros, is what Butch Baird has been doing and has developed since his days on Tour. Not only does Baird, who lives in Ruidoso, New Mexico in the summer and Carefree, Arizona during the winter, develop these unique golf ball commemorative collections, he also works with a charity to promote golf to Native American children, and is assisting in the development of a golf museum. That’s what one Tour player has done with his “Life After The Tour”. For more information about Baird’s unique commemorative collections of signed golf balls, visit, www.bbjmgolf.com or contact Jack Mishler at 1-480-620-2555.
It was cold. It was windy. It was links golf, void of trees but scenic in a rough and barren way. It was the toughest golf course I have ever played. It was Northern Ireland’s Royal County Down, perennially rated one of the top ten golf courses in the world. My adventure began with an hour’s bus ride from the port of Belfast. I was but one in a group of golfers from Crystal Cruise Line’s Serenity who were enjoying a 10-day golf themed cruise around the British Isles led by Hall of Fame golfer Billy Casper and PGA Golf Professional John Clark of the Golf Academy of San Diego. We drove south from Belfast to the picturesque seaside town of Newcastle and our ultimate destination, Royal County Down, the second of six courses on our golf theme cruise. Our relaxing ride, past rows of tidy homes and lush green fields, was described later as, “the calm before the storm”. Royal County Down’s championship course, site of the 2001 British Senior Open and the 2007 Walker Cup match which will pit the US against Great Britain and Ireland, was designed in 1888 by Old Tom Morris, one of the most revered men in the annuals of golf and golf course design. Morris captured the true essence of links golf with this masterpiece, which turned out to be difficult beyond belief for yours truly. Having played mostly on California courses where rough, fairways and greens are manicured for ease of play, I was overwhelmed by Royal County Down’s multitude of five to ten foot deep crater-like bunkers; its thick, omni present yellow flowered gorse bushes with their sharp protective needle-like thorns, and its gnarly grass rough. My day on the course was more a test of my durability than my golf capabilities. Since playing in a the wind here in Southern California is something I avoid at all costs, I was ill prepared for the conditions at Royal County Down. However, testing my golfing skills in 30 mile-per-hour winds on one of the world’s top courses was not only a real challenge, it was also a real treat. Our group was relegated to the ladies tees, which at 6243 yards were more like the white tees on most courses. If we had played the yellow tees at 6651 yards, the whites at 6881 yards or the championship blues at 7181, I shutter to think what my score would have been…my red tee twenty-four over par 95 would have been much higher. I might still be looking for errant golf balls in the calf high grass rough or the beautiful but thorny gorse. The wind obviously played a big role in my play. Of the 18 holes, only the last four were played down wind. The other 14 were played either directly into the wind or into a crosswind. Did the wind intimidate me and affect my game? No question about it. I played the last four holes in one under, birdying the 490-yard par five 18 th hole. On the other 14 holes, I was lucky to be only 25 over. It was a battle. Some quick observations about playing Royal County Down:
- No easy shots.
- Hit the fairway or lose your ball.
- Have your picture taken surrounded by gorse but don’t hit into it.
- Approach shots to the greens are difficult to hold as the greens are slick and fast.
- In the fairway, play bump and run shots from 10-20 yards off the green.
- Only one water hole on the course to worry about, the par 5 18 th hole.
- The course is challenging, difficult, exhilarating, scenic and enjoyable. Would I play Royal County Down again if the opportunity were to arise? Yes, a definite yes. I would want to try and improve on my blind shots to its tight fairways; to see if I could avoid its cavernous bunkers and thick, ball swallowing rough; to improve on my bump and run shots to its fast greens…and to once again view Royal County Down’s simple, stark, natural beauty. For those interested in a shorter, less formidable course, Royal County Down is also home to the Annesley Links, a scenic par 66 course at 4708 yards from the tips. For information about Royal County Down, visit www.royalcountydown.org. For information on golf theme cruises on Crystal Cruise Line, call your local travel agent or call Crystal Cruises at 1-800-804-1500.