It has almost been a year since my last visit to the amazing Westin La Paloma and oh what a difference a year can make.
This north Tucson landmark resort has always been known for its amazing service, incredible grounds, diverse activities and an unequaled foothills location. Now, it is in the final stages of a complete and transformative makeover. As of January 2013, the entire 27 hole Nicklaus golf complex and all the resort’s guest rooms have been renovated. By Fall 2013 renewal of the pool areas, meeting spaces, lobby, tennis and health center as well as the dining venues will also be complete. Yet there is no need to wait. This is a fantastic place right now and it is only going to get better.
This is old school Nicklaus desert golf and it is visually stunning, challenging in every way and a good test for players of every ability. Forced carries, desert washes, elevated tees and good decision making are all aspects of this layout. As my host Kent Instefjord (GM of the La Paloma Country Club) pointed out, what you typically will find here are generous landing areas off most tees paired with challenging green complexes. In other words, the holes tend to get tougher the closer you get to the pin; placing a premium on your short game, sand game and putting.
A big help in that regard is that over the past year and a half the entire 27 hole layout has received new putting surfaces and renovated bunkers. The mini verde Bermuda grass greens now offer the consistent year round playability we all look for. In addition, the top notch white sand bunkers offer a perfect compliment with their look and feel. I highly recommend you play all 27 holes to get the full flavor of the Westin La Paloma golf experience.
Without question the biggest and most important change to date has been the complete makeover of the resorts 487 rooms and suites. With even the standard rooms starting at 475 square feet (Tucson’s largest) and suites measuring in up to 1900 square feet, this has been a monumental upgrade and the results are impressive. The rooms are bright yet warm and homey. At the same time they are also modern but not cold or sterile as so many contemporary rooms seem to be. In short they are a true oasis in the desert.
All units now feature: Radio Frequency locks (just wave your room card in front of the lock), Westin’s own Heavenly Bed® and outstanding linens, dual-sink granite vanities with full width backlit mirrors, expanded walk-in showers with Heavenly® Rain Forest Showerhead and hand held wands, deep soaking tubs, robes, Starbucks coffee, three phones, wireless internet, in-room safe, mini-fridge and so much more.
Perhaps the most appreciated items were the extra large 42” HD television, iHome Bluetooth digital clock radio and the LED reading lights perfectly built into the beds headboard. For TV viewing, there were ample stations as well as a variety of on demand features. The iHome clock radio is a very nice touch and allows guests to play their own music collection from an iPad, iPod or iPhone through the clock’s speakers. And the LED reading lights had separate switches allowing two to be on and two off so one guest can read while the other may sleep. A very nice touch.
The rooms, each with a patio or deck, are set in small buildings (20 rooms or so per complex) which ring the property. No room is more than a short walk to the pools, lobby, sports complex, golf course or restaurants. I found that this layout gave the resort a very warm and intimate feel and not the dominating huge main building housing all the rooms, restaurants and common areas as found in most large resorts nowadays.
There is no shortage of choices when it comes to eating at the Westin La Paloma. Options here range from the casual poolside Sabino’s to the elegant Mediterranean inspired fare at Azul. In addition, guests here will find the Espresso coffee shop in the main lobby as well as the Courtside Deli at the health center.
Sabino’s is a swim up bar and grill offering casual fare such as appetizers, grilled sandwiches, snacks and beverages for all ages. Azul is the resorts main restaurant and serves everything from daily breakfast to Sunday brunch as well as lunch and an exceptional dinner menu.
This trip I had the luxury of being the dinner guest of Executive Chef Serge Delage at Azul. Chef Delage is from France and has been with Westin for over 35 years and at the Tucson resort for more than 15 years. It was a special treat to be able to savor an inspired six course Chef’s Table dining experience. More on that in a minute but first a few short words about Azul.
Azul is located on the lower level of the main lobby and is dominated by two story floor to ceiling windows that frame the absolutely amazing views of the Santa Catalina foothills rising dramatically just to the north. I had both breakfast and dinner here but if you are lucky enough to come during sunset you will be treated to an amazing light and color show as the mountains turn from brown to orange to red as the sun goes down.
Not surprisingly, Chef Delage’s hand prepared and delivered sampler menu was equally inspiring. Each course was a smaller tasting size portion of a menu item and Chef Delage brought them tableside and explained each one. My first course was an appetizer of pan seared scallops over risotto accompanied by bacon and peas and paired with a very nice California Chardonnay. Delicious!
The second course featured the Hot House tomato salad which combined delectable house made mozzarella, arugula, marinated olives and a balsamic reduction. This fantastic collection of flavors set the tone for what came next. For the third course the chef prepared a juicy herb seared piece of Atlantic salmon. It was accompanied by fresh asparagus and a mix of mushrooms lightly bathed in olive oil and chili sauce. It couldn’t have been better and was a delightful mix of tastes and sensations.
Course number four was a little breather and a very clever take on mac and cheese; it was chipotle flavored. This little morsel came paired with a very good Mark West Pinot Noir. The fifth course was a Dijon crusted rack of lamb served with a side of Yukon gold potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Again, no complaints what so ever as everything was cooked to perfection with tastes to match. The Chef’s final surprise was an outstanding dessert sampler. It was a beautiful trio of sweets: tiramisu, fresh wild berry cobbler and lime sponge cake. With a cup of hot coffee it was the perfect end to a fabulous dining experience.
All in all the Westin La Paloma in Tucson has everything you could ever hope for. An amazing location, 27 holes of championship Nicklaus golf, fantastic new rooms, sports activities of all kinds, pools for the young and old alike and excellent dining from sunrise to sunset. With the finish of the property’s revitalization in Fall of 2013 this stellar resort will continue to be a go to destination for discriminating travelers for years to come.
Whistling Straits. Blackwolf Run. Pete Dye. The American Club. The Kohler Company. Kohler Village, WI. And yes, so much more. It is not often I find myself at a loss for words especially with so much to talk about. But that is exactly the case when trying to put down on paper my 5 day experience at the amazing Kohler Village in Wisconsin.
To say this is one of the finest golf mecca’s on the planet would be true. To overlook the two hotel properties, spa, more than half dozen dining options, sports center, shops and Kohler factory would be criminal. Did I forget to mention horseback riding, trap shooting, kayaking, fishing, biking, hiking, archery and garden tours? All this within the utopian village called Kohler.
As I mentioned, this is a village and not a resort. It covers a few square miles of property just west of Sheboygan, WI on rolling wooded and open landscape with the Sheboygan River meandering throughout. While the various hotels, shops, golf courses, restaurants, spa, sports complex, Kohler Design Center, etc are mostly within walking distance of each other there is convenient free shuttle bus service connecting all these locations.
This four course, Pete Dye design showcase, is a world renowned golf destination. There are two separate, and very different, venues each with two championship level courses; Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits. I played all but the Irish course at Whistling Straits on this trip.
This complex is located within the village and is home to the Meadow Valleys and River courses. These two courses occupy the rolling hills, wooded river bottom and once open farmland that predated the golf courses. Opened in 1988 as the River and Valley course, the Meadow nine was added in 1989 and nine more holes finished the 36 hole layout in 1990. They share a wonderful hilltop log cabin clubhouse that is home to the Pro Shop, a bar, restaurant (more on this later), locker rooms and meeting facilities.
Blackwolf Run has twice hosted the U.S. Women’s Open (2012, 1998) on the original 18 hole course. In addition, the River Course was home to the men’s Andersen Consulting Championship of Golf in 1997, 1996 and 1995.
The Meadow Valleys course is set on more open rolling terrain than its River Course cousin. The expansive vistas and apparent generous fairways belie the often subtle yet diabolical Dye design features that make his courses so challenging. Hitting to the wrong side of a fairway may leave a shorter but blind shot to the green. Missing the putting surface can result in cavernous sand traps, watery disasters or impossible short sided up and down pitch shots.
Of the two courses at Blackwolf Run I would say that this is the more playable for the average golfer yet by far no walk in the park. Fast greens, wind, challenging design features and the need for placement and execution will no doubt add a dozen or more strokes to the average score you shoot at home.
The River Course is one of the most beautiful Midwest woodland style courses you will ever play. It meanders alongside the Sheboygan River which comes into play on nearly half the holes. If the sheer beauty of the course does not distract you then the temptation of its risk/reward design certainly will. Whether it’s the long and challenging water lined Par 3’s like the 4th and 13th or the elevated tee shots from the 5th and 8th holes, you will be hard pressed whether to grab your club or your camera first.
The greens here are some of the truest and fastest I have ever played. They were absolutely amazing. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to play from the correct tees to match your ability. This course is not for the faint of heart or golf beginner. Teeing it up from too far back is a recipe for both disaster and frustration when enjoyment should be your only goal here.
As at Whistling Straits, caddies (or fore caddies) are available and if this is your first time here they are quite invaluable. Gary was my forecaddie on the River course and his insights, course directions and club selections were a big help in ensuring an enjoyable round. FYI: Gary pointed out that his average patron shot well over 100 so be forewarned about course length and difficulty.
Whisling Straits is made up of the world famous Straits Course and its sister track the Irish Course. This two course complex is a 15 minute drive from Kohler Village (7 miles north of Sheboygan) by car or shuttle bus and could not be any more different than Blackwolf Run. It is located right on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Having yet to play in Ireland, Scotland and the like from which it has been modeled, I can best describe this as a place of soaring sand dunes as far as the eye can see with a bit of grass thrown in for good luck. It is a cross between a moonscape with a few fairways and greens and a seaside (Lake Michigan) sand box with enough grass planted to make it look unlike any golf course you may ever see or play in your lifetime.
The Straits course is hard by the shores of Lake Michigan. It has twice hosted the U.S. Men’s PGA Championship along with a Senior Men’s U.S. Open. It consists of nine holes out and back to the south of the clubhouse and nine more holes of the same to the north. This course is walking only and caddie mandatory and if you are not in shape for a sometimes rigorous 6 mile, 5 hour trek then this might not be the venue for you. The course is stunning and intimidating, beautiful yet treacherous, demanding and diabolical and every bit as fabulous and memorable as a day at storied Pebble Beach or any other course for that matter! All this and a flock of Scottish Blackfaced horned sheep that are free to roam the course (or in my case occupy a tee box) and only add to the mystique that is Whistling Starits.
The Straits course may have the most amazing and fantastic collection of Par 3’s I have seen, heard of or played. Each one hangs precariously to the dunes above the shoreline with greens seemingly perched as if ready to tumble into the surf below. Grab your camera as this may be the only great shot you take on any of these treacherous lakeside three pars.
I can only tell you to listen to your caddie, bring your “A” game, know how to play from sandy traps and lies of every size, shape and description and don’t be too proud to put your ball into the safety of your pocket should one of these holes prove more than you can give.
The Irish course is just inland of the Straits course and is a very close cousin excepting a lakeshore setting. The Irish is cart path only, or caddy, due to its rugged dune setting. This is also no slouch of a course and an amazing test in its own right.
There are actually three separate lodging options in the village: The American Club, its adjacent Carriage House (home to the Kohler Waters Spa). and a short distance away the Inn on Woodlake.
The American Club began life in 1918 as a 115 unit rooming house for immigrant workers at the Kohler factory. It has a long and storied history as a state of the art facility. By 1942 it had grown in size and underwent a total remodeling with larger guest rooms and was transformed from a workers dormitory to a public inn. 1978 saw the building added to the National Register of Historic Places and another complete renovation took place. By 1991 two additional wings were added bringing the total to 237 rooms, multiple restaurants and 21,000 feet of conference space.
With ample size rooms, to die for bathrooms, great gardens and the most beautiful greenhouse with stained glass walls that serves as a coffee shop, The American Club will grow on you.
Next door, above the spa, are rooms in the Carriage House. These rooms are a bit more modern in feel and offer free and direct access to all spa facilities. A short distance from these two lodging options is the newly renovated Inn on Woodlake. This small boutique hotel is dog friendly, on Wood Lake and immediately adjacent to the village shops and sports center with its indoor pool, tennis and small beach.
The Kohler Waters Spa occupies the first and lower levels of the Carriage House. The first level is for manicure, pedicure and salon services, The lower level is where the real fun begins. The spa has a quiet room, treatment rooms and separate Men’s and Women’s locker rooms. Each has its own hot tub, cool soaking tub, sauna and steam room along with the expected showers and lockers.
Between the two locker areas is a shared quiet pool that can best be described as a small lap pool with a large waterfall at one end. This coed area has plush chaise lounges around the perimeter and is the perfect spot for relaxing before or after any massage or other Kohler exclusive body treatments.
The top floor of the Carriage House is a very private glass enclosed room with a large whirlpool tub. Again, chaise lounges ring this comfortable and relaxing private retreat.
This trip I ate at five of the great dining options available across all the Kohler properties. In the American Club there was an amazing Sunday breakfast buffet and brunch in the Wisconsin Room. This beautiful and stately setting begs you to dine slowly and savor every moment. In the lower level is the Horse and Plow. This is a fun and lively sports pub with food and drink to match. It is the most casual of the dining options with great happy hour prices.
Perhaps the biggest dining surprise at Kohler is the outstanding food in the two golf clubhouses. The log cabin setting at Blackwolf Run belies its excellent food, While it is open for breakfast and lunch it is the fine dining menu for dinner that stole the show for me. I highly recommend the enclosed veranda portion of the dining room with its floor to ceiling windows looking down on the 18th hole of the River course.
The stone clubhouse at Whistling Straits offers both a warm and welcoming dining room as well as an outdoor patio overlooking the Straits course and Lake Michigan in the distance. The food here is simply excellent whether at breakfast, lunch or dinner. But like Blackwolf Run I must say that dinner was my favorite. From the fantastic appetizers to the wine and all the way through to dessert this is a fine dining experience rarely found (or unexpected) in a golf clubhouse.
I encourage you to visit their website (www.americanclubresort.com) for comprehensive coverage of the golf courses, dining, lodging, spa and all else that is Kohler.
So what do you get when you combine an architect, an author and organic cotton? Would you believe a line of men’s and women’s polo/golf shirts? No really, I am not kidding!
I have just returned from sunny southern California and am happy to have had the chance to test drive the Criquet line of Thin Striped Player’s Shirt (in beautiful Carolina Blue) on the golf course. Let me say that this line of vintage inspired shirts are great both on and off the course.
When long time friends Billy Nachman (The Architect) and Hobson Brown (The Author) found themselves bemoaning the demise of their much loved, perfectly worn in and worn out favorite polos they did what any dynamic duo would do……they started their own shirt company. Based in Austin, Texas the Criquet line of organic shirts now encompasses 4 styles for men and one for women.
So what makes these shirts organic? First, the cotton is grown using certified organic methods meaning minimal use of pesticides and harmful dyes while maximizing other environmentally friendly practices. In addition, these shirts are Made in the U.S.A.!
So what does an organic shirt feel and wear like? Well I must say that they feel great. The one I tested was neither too light or too heavy nor too tight or too loose. In fact, the material has a bit more “body” to it than many of the new ultra light stay dry type shirts so common in today’s golf shirt market. I liked that the shirt was not too sheer leaving you with that annoying see through feeling.
The men’s shirts come in four styles. The “Player’s Shirt” is a four button model with buttoned chest pocket and is available in 7 solid colors. The “Thin Striped Player’s Shirt” is also 4 button, has no pocket and is offered in 5 colors. The “Wide Stripe Player’s Shirt” has 4 buttons, a non-buttoned pocket and in two colors. Finally for men is the two button “Perfect Pique” in 5 colors with open chest pocket. All of these can be seen on their entertaining and informative website at http://www.criquetshirts.com/men/.
For the women, the “Ladies Player’s Shirt” is a 4 button shirt without pockets and available in six different colors.
So if you are looking for that stylish classic polo that is neither too preppy nor too over the top I suggest you give the Criquet line a look. We all know how that well worn shirt or hat feels and how we hate to give them up when they are past their prime. Here is your chance to start a new tradition.
I could make this review of The Resort at Pelican Hill my shortest ever. Great accommodations. Two Fazio designed eighteen hole gems. A Forbes 5 star rated spa. Fine dining and one of the world’s largest circular pools. Go there. Now! End of story.
But there is so much more to this fabulous property that even a full look inside may not do it justice. From the enormous Roman viaduct that marks the entrance (actually a golf cart bridge in clever disguise) to the expansive piazza which serves as the lobby courtyard and autocourt, you know you have arrived at somewhere grand.
Pelican Hill is set high on a hill about a half mile from the beach. It covers over 500 acres from hilltop to seaside. The courses reach from the high ground all the way to the sea dunes. As many of you know, Tom Fazio is one of my favorite course designers. His noted ability to blend a golf course into its natural surroundings is very evident on both the North and South courses.
The South Course is tighter than the North and is set lower on the property including three outstanding oceanside holes before working its way back up to the clubhouse. Many holes are treelined and narrow while others are open but with challenging carries over canyons and ravines.
The South Course feels somewhat like Spyglass Hill on the famed Monterey Peninsula. This is especially true at the seashore 11th, 12th and 13th holes. The eleventh is a short but tight downhill Par 4 of only 350 yards. It plays directly toward the ocean to a green set in the dunes and framed by an enormous complex of bunkers. The 12th and 13th are back to back Par 3’s. Both play through the ocean dunes with amazing views of the sea. The 13th has two greens, plays only 125 yards but the greens are set in what only can be described as an ocean of sand. Great holes!
The North Course is set high on the property and offers sea views from nearly every spot on the course. It is more open and a bit longer than the South and has the feel of Kapalua on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
It is hard to pick out favorite holes here as they are all good. With no shortage of fun and challenging holes, the last two offer an unforgettable finish.
The 17th hole is an incredibly grand dogleg right of 540 yards. A slightly downhill tee shot is guarded right by water and offers a tee to green vista. The second shot must avoid a small canyon on the right as the fairway climbs toward a green that clings to the edge of a hillside with the blue Pacicific serving as the backdrop. Fantastic!
The 18th hole starts out innocently enough with a tee shot to a wide fairway pinched somewhat by traps on the left and right of this 412 yard Par 4. Here is where the fun begins as below you, to the right and across a ravine, sits a smallish green angled away and guarded short and right by traps and the natural chasm. This can best be described as Pelican Hill’s version of the famed 8th hole at Pebble Beach. Great finishing hole.
Two special notes about the golf experience. Forecaddies accompany each foursome and offer hole guidance, ball finding, club cleaning and putt reading. Curtis was my forecaddie both days and his knowledge and professionalism were most appreciated.
Second, special mention must be made about dining at The Pelican Grill located in the beautiful golf clubhouse. Hillside views of the golf courses and Pacific set the stage for truly fine dining, Whether you sit in the more formal dining room, its much sought after outdoor veranda (with glass walls and overhead heating) or opt for the grand sports bar this will be a meal to remember. Head chef Chang Sivilay, General Manager David Brown and Kevin, our outstanding waiter, provided an exceptional dining experience. From the produce off their own farm to the pretzel bread, spiced tortilla soup, Hawaiian big eye tuna with mushroom dumplings down to the last bite of soufflé this was a meal one might expect in the finest of dining rooms. Delectable!
Set on the rolling hills overlooking the Pacific, Pelican Hill commands a setting like few other resorts. While just over three years old, its Italian inspired Palladian architecture, neighborhood styled layout and mature landscaping add to a sense of having landed in a small and cozy village.
The property can be thought of as four separate yet interconnected sections: the Main building and Coliseum pool, the bungalows, the villas and the two golf courses.
The main building is home to the lobby, coffee shop, spa, Andrea Ristorante, the Newsstand and a library room that also hosts the Concierge. It offers expansive views of the surrounding golf courses, pool and the Pacific from nearly every space. The lobby is majestic, warm, comfortable and luxurious and serves as the resort’s living room. The coffee shop is bright and inviting. Andrea is award winning as is the luxurious spa with separate Roman bath inspired sanctuaries for men and women.
The Coliseum pool building is a two story structure that borrows its architecture from the remnants of its namesake in Rome. It is a short walk (or complimentary ride by Cadillac Escalade) from the Bungalows and directly adjacent to the main building. The large semi-circular structure encircles the pool. The upper level is home to a restaurant, and private rental cabanas that feature flat screen televisions and ceiling fans. The lower level offers shaded cabanas and a deck that rings the 130’ plus diameter pool (made up of over one million hand laid tiles).
The Bungalows and The Villas are two separate “neighborhoods” on either side of the property. The feel is that of a small grouping of luxury townhomes in a warm Italian village. You can drive, and park, right at your unit on your own private street. The oversized Bungalows start at 850 square feet and include a living room area, gas fireplace, private veranda and marble bathroom with a separate shower and soaking tub. The 2,3, and 4 bedroom Villas offer the added convenience of full kitchens. They also feature their own main building and private swimming pool for discriminating travelers.
All in all, Pelican Hill is a must visit for golfers, spa goers and nature lovers who savor exceptional service, fine dining, southern California climate and beaches and welcome a retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
If you are going to be in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (or already live there) and are looking to play golf, you owe it to yourself to visit Legends Golf Club. Just a short drive south of either downtown, it is one of the top public courses in a metro area known for its quality golf and avid golfers.
My home town is Minneapolis and I have played nearly every public course, and many of the top private courses, our Twin Cities have to offer. Except for the elite courses (Hazeltine, Interlachen and TPC), where PGA, LPGA and Senior Tour events have been held, Legends Golf Club is one of my all time favorites.
What you can expect to find here are country club course conditions, excellent service, a wonderful clubhouse, good food, friendly people and incredible golf.
What Makes This Course Special
- The course has a masterful mix of holes. No two look or feel the same. You will find a 100 yard Par 3 and 600 yard Par 5 and everything in between. There are straight holes, doglegs, open spaces, tree lined fairways and enough water, traps and elevation changes to challenge the best of players. Holes play to every direction on the compass making wind an ever changing factor.
- Strategy is paramount. I have enjoyed over fifty rounds here and let me tell you there are many ways to play this course. Approach shots can be flown onto the greens or played low and running. The shortest route is often not the best route. A poor shot almost always leaves a more difficult shot. Tee shots safely down the middle often dictate more daunting approach shots than those that challenge the preferred side of a fairway.
- Course condition. For those who appreciate a well groomed course Legends Golf Club is for you. The fairways and tees are excellent but it is the undulating, smooth rolling, putting surfaces that take the cake.
- Best of all, each hole seems isolated unto itself. You rarely see other players, or even other holes, from where you are. Since few holes run parallel (unlike so many courses), the chances of someone straying from a neighboring hole into your fairway is remote. This sense of solitude and quiet maybe the single biggest factor influencing the relaxed, natural and quality experience of playing here.
A Few Examples
The Par 5 fourth is a dogleg left playing to 510 yards. From the elevated tee, one sees a very wide fairway with a complex of traps guarding the corner some 230 yards out. It looks tempting to cut the corner, but finding the traps or even successfully flying them, leaves an exacting second shot. You are left with a tough angle to a narrowing fairway pinched on the left by trees and a hidden brook and on the right by a series of bunkers. The better tee ball is to the middle of the fairway. Did I mention the hole ends at a narrow two tier green that is three club lengths deep? Be sure to check the GPS. Par here….excellent!
Another good risk/reward hole is the fifteenth. It is a beautiful Par 4 of just 384 yards. It is fairly straight, plays slightly downhill, and has a wide fairway but a pond guards the front and right side of the green. A tee ball right down the middle leaves an all or nothing shot over water. A better tee shot challenges the far left side of the fairway. While this takes the water out of play on your approach, it brings a naturalized area just left of the fairway very much into play.
The eighteenth hole is one of the best, and toughest, finishing holes around. At 420 yards, the view from the elevated tee is pure intimidation. A narrow crescent moon fairway, wraps from right to left around a large pond before heading uphill to its finish below the clubhouse. Long hitters who successfully challenge the entire width of the pond are rewarded with a short iron approach to a devilish green. Bailing out right of the pond off the tee may be wise (or even necessary) but will leave a long iron or more to the green. Never mind the people watching from the large patio off the back of the clubhouse. This is no guts no glory. Birdie or triple bogey. Great finishing hole!
Legends Golf Club has a very large driving range with multiple greens, including bunkers, set out at varying distances to give a real course feel to your warm up routine. In addition, there is a separate sand trap and pitching green to hone your short game along with a sizable practice putting green.
The clubhouse is large (24,000 sq. ft.) and inviting. It features stone accents, warm woods, great natural lighting, a commanding view of the property and a cozy atmosphere. Inside you will find a well stocked pro shop, an excellent restaurant, men’s and women’s locker rooms along with banquet and meeting spaces. Not to mention the great food available at the turn from the spacious outdoor grill. You can pre-order your burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and drinks from the carts GPS system.
You can visit their website, www.legendsgc.com, and see why this is one of the top rated golf venues in all of Minnesota. Whether you are one of the many visitors to the land of 10,000 lakes or a lifelong resident you owe it to yourself to enjoy a day of play at Legends Golf Club.
It is not often in my columns that I write about private golf courses and gated communities. On rare occasions, such as Stone Canyon in Tucson, it is necessary to make an exception.
Typically my travels take me to the better resorts and public or semi-private links that are open to all golf and travel connoisseurs. Many of you have read my stories on Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Puerto Vallarta and the like. Well here is your chance to get inside the gates at one of Arizona’s premier golf communities. It features a stunning and award winning Jay Morrish designed desert masterpiece.
My host for this trip was Todd Huizinga (PGA Professional) who is Director of Club Operations and one hell of a nice guy. Todd leads perhaps the best trained staff I have encountered anywhere during my golf travels. From the moment we arrived at the fortress like iron gates to the time we left the property, we were welcomed like family.
Pulling into Stone Canyon involved driving up a scenic entry road leading to a stone gate-house from which emerged a friendly gent in dress shirt and tie. After giving him my name and tee time we were welcomed with “Nice to meet you Mr. Ginsberg and Mrs. Ginsberg, enjoy your day at Stone Canyon”. And off we went.
Next up was Dennis. He met us at the entrance to the parking lot and amazingly, greeted us by name, showed us to a parking spot and once parked, welcomed us and took my clubs. I went inside the clubhouse to meet Todd who offered me a brief history of the club as well as an overview of the course, the facilities and the community as a whole. More about that later.
As I headed out to the range there was Dennis. He showed us to our cart and led us to one of the most beautiful practice sites you can imagine. With Titleist golf balls and giant iron cauldrons for cleaning your clubs, this seemed more like a driving range for Roman nobles than mere mortals.
Dennis stayed with us on the range giving us tips on the course, saying hello to members by name, cleaning my clubs as I finished hitting each one, offering putting tips on the practice green (the greens here are bentgrass, very fast and break away from the mountains) and eventually leading me out to the first tee. While this may not be an everyday occurrence, it certainly was a level of service I will never forget. Dennis, you are the best!
The course is very simply a masterpiece of design. It is set on a piece of land like no other desert layout I have seen and I have played quite a few. In Morrish’s own words he says of Stone Canyon “It’s the most remarkable desert site I’ve ever seen. It has everything but an ocean – changes of elevation, beautiful rock formations, desert flora. It’s an awesome piece of land.”
The course starts innocently enough with a 390 yard Par 4 dogleg left that is fairly flat with minimal trouble off the tee and a generous green. It ends with a heroic 420 yard (503 from the tips) Par 4 that starts with a tee box perched in the heavens with an endless view of the Tucson area valley and a distant green at the end of a narrow ribbon of fairway too pretty to be believed.
In between are a mix of long and short, straightforward and deceptive, dry and water guarded holes of every imaginable shape and design. Yet there are some startling and consistent features to this layout. First and foremost, the views. Many of the holes are played from elevated tees that offer superb vistas not only of the hole at hand but of the entire surrounds as well. Second, nearly all of the interior holes are lined with hills seemingly made up from nothing but gigantic boulders. It looks as if some kid piled rock on top of rock on top of rock until a mountain was made. Spectacular, weird, eerie and the reason no doubt for the name…Stone Canyon.
The Par 3 6th is only 131 yards but plays across a desert ravine to a smallish green with a steep false front with trouble left, right and behind. Did I mention the 80’ tall waterfall cascading over a field of boulders just short and left? Just a minor distraction.
The Par 5 10th is a demanding risk/reward hole like few others. A good tee shot brings you near the edge of a lake across which lies the green; a mere 200+ yard carry over water. A small peninsula extends from the green into the lake and offers about the only safe landing spot should you go for it in two. For the timid and/or shorter hitter, a crescent moon shaped layup area skirts the entire left side of the lake. While this is dry ground it is also very narrow and quite difficult to hit in its own right. Par here…amazing!
I could on to describe every hole but this is somewhere that must be seen to be appreciated.
As I mentioned, Stone Canyon is a premier gated community in Tucson, Arizona and is only open to play for property owners and their guests. Being from Minnesota, it was nice to find so many of my home state snowbirds living part or full time in Stone Canyon. Owners do not need to join the golf club and those who choose not to still have full access to the community’s Health and Fitness Facility. Here they can take advantage of state of the art fitness equipment, swimming pools, tennis courts, yoga, Pilates as well as specially trained health and wellness instructors.
For those seeking a retirement location or second home I highly recommend you check in to all that is Stone Canyon. They have an excellent website describing the golf, community and real estate options. If you are fortunate enough to visit, be sure to say hello to Todd, Dennis and the rest of the staff and tell them that Mr. and Mrs. Ginsberg say hello.
With 2012 nearly upon us, it’s time to bid adieu to 2011 – a topsy-turvy year in golf that managed to entertain, start to finish, with or without Tiger Woods on stage. Here are one blogger’s picks for the year’s best – and best forgotten – people, moments and assorted objects.
Putter of the Year: Long (by a grip handle over Belly)
Putt of the Year: Keegan Bradley, PGA Championship, 17th hole of the final round
Quote of the Year: “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.” – Ernie Els on using a belly putter
Prize of the Year: Cured Spanish ham
Headline of the Year: Saltman wins body eight in ham for hole-in-one
Ham of the Year
Ham of the Year: Ben Crane
Player of the Year, Men: Luke Donald
Player of the Year, Any Gender: Yani Tseng
Youngster of the Year: Lexi Thompson
Streak of the Year: Donald’s 449 holes without a three-putt
Meaningful Meaningless Win of the Year: Tiger Woods, Chevron World Challenge
Performance for the Ages of the Year: Rory McIlroy’s eight-shot victory at the U.S. Open
Cutthroat of the Year: McIlroy, who dumped his girlfriend and his agent in 2011
Gag-Inducing Celebrity Couple Nickname of the Year: Wozzilroy (McIrloy and his new squeeze, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki)
Resurrected Career of the Year: Tie — Sergio Garcia and Thomas Bjorn
Celebrator of the Year: Open champion Darren Clarke
Beverage of the Year
Beverage of the Year: Guinness Stout
#$!*& of the Year: Steve Williams
Innocent Bystander of the Year: Adam Scott
Captain of the Year: Fred Couples (Presidents Cup)
City of the Year: Jupiter, Fla. (aka the “new Orlando”)
Amateur of the Year: Patrick Cantlay
Lowlife of the Year: John Daly (who has officially retired this dubious honor)
As a guy who grew up playing woods made of a strange substance called wood, I find many of today’s drivers unappealing to the eye. There’s only one form a driver should take, and that’s pear-shaped.
So my heart skipped a beat when I saw Cleveland Golf’s new Classic Driver, due out early next year. Mahogany finish. Brass-colored face “insert” and sole plate. The word “Classic” scrolled on the crown as an alignment aid. Even a black leather head cover in a shape the company calls “RetroBarrel.”
Cue Homer Simpson drooling sound.
In a word, this is one gorgeous golf club. But that’s the end of the Cleveland Classic’s similarities with its ancestors. (You know, the ones made from trees.) The Classic maxes out the USGA volume allowance at 460cc, about three times the size of a persimmon driver head. Its face is massive – the deepest on the market, according to Cleveland. And off-the-rack models are powered by an ultralight Miyazaki graphite shaft.
While it’s not yet for sale to the public, the Classic has already been tested on Tour. In fact, 2011 Rookie of the Year Keegan Bradley used it en route to winning (with Brendan Steele) the Franklin Templeton Shootout last weekend.
Bradley, who strikes me as the traditional type, instantly fell for the club’s old-school aesthetics. “When I looked at the new driver, honestly, I loved it,” he gushed. “I love the gold face on it… You look down at the face and the thing that you focus on is the sweet spot. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s gonna change the way drivers are made.”
Of course, Callaway, Ping, TaylorMade et al will have something to say about that. In fact, TaylorMade just introduced its new wood lineup, which carries a decidedly non-traditional name: RocketBallz.
May the best club win.
Could 2011 have ended any better for golf fans?
All signs point to a thrilling 2012, and beyond, as the stars aligned in spectacular fashion during the latter stages of this season. Here just a few recent developments that signal a looming golden age:
- Tiger Woods regains winning form at the Chevron World Challenge.
- Luke Donald cements No. 1 ranking by topping the U.S. and European money lists.
- Wunderkind Rory McIlroy follows up his U.S. Open triumph with another victory (Hong Kong Open) and six top-sixes in his last eight starts.
- Sergio Garcia claims two titles in his native Spain.
- Young Americans Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Bill Haas dominate the FedEx Cup playoffs.
- Jim Furyk goes 5-0 to pace the U.S. Presidents Cup effort.
Luke Donald aims to keep his No. 1 ranking.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Professional golf is flush with great players in or entering their prime, aging stars with gas left in the tank, and emerging lads with big games and matching personalities.
Never has golf’s international talent pool been this deep or wide. For proof, here’s a breakdown of current standouts by age group:
Young guns (under 30): Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Alvaro Quiros, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley, Bill Haas, Ryo Ishikawa, Matteo Manassero
Prime-timers (30-somethings): Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Aaron Baddeley
Elder statesmen (40-plus): Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, David Toms, K.J. Choi, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez
Getting excited yet? Me too.
Grrrr... The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
Back in the day, Golf Digest’s list of America’s toughest courses was its de facto list of the country’s top courses. When folks stopped equating difficulty with quality, the magazine introduced new criteria – like design balance and shot values – and changed the rankings to America’s best courses.
Now it’s doing both. Golf Digest is out with an updated list of the 75 toughest tracks in America, and it is indeed a Murderers Row.
No. 1 is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, and I can vouch for its nastiness firsthand. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the remainder of the top five: 2. Pine Valley GC (N.J.) 3. Oakmont CC (Pa.) 4. Spyglass Hill (Calif.) 5. Bethpage Park, Black Course (N.Y.)
Others of note include TPC Sawgrass (7), Pinehurst No. 2 (10), Pebble Beach (14) and Augusta National (31).
Of course, tackling any of these courses is even tougher when you’re paired with one of Golf Digest’s 18 Most Annoying Golf Partners, whose aggravating ranks include our personal No. 1, the Cart Girl Schmoozer.
If the cart girls at these places are as mean as the courses, methinks our buddy would incur a rather harsh penalty.
Most of Tiger Woods’ wins take one of two forms: epic blowout or last-hole Houdini act. His latest victory fell squarely in the latter category, appropriate since it saw Woods finally escape the clutches of mediocrity.
Tiger was almost this happy after winning the Chevron.
Woods’ breakthrough at the Chevron World Challenge, where he birdied the final two holes to spear Zach Johnson, ended two years of winless, meandering golf. Of course, now everyone wants to know what comes next.
Check that: Everyone wants to predict what comes next. It’s a pointless exercise for sure, since only time and Tiger will tell. But it’s worth analyzing using the evidence from Woods’ recent play, going back to his solid efforts at the Australian Open and Presidents Cup.
Let’s break it down into three parts:
Tiger’s swing: I’m having trouble adjusting to Woods’ new, Sean Foley-crafted action; his hands are lower than before, and he has to rotate the arms abruptly on the backswing to get the club on plane. So I can only imagine how tough it’s been for Tiger to integrate these new positions and moves.
But darned if he doesn’t seem to have it almost down pat. The spectacular shots have returned and, more importantly, he’s making the routine shots look routine again.
Tiger’s health: We have to go by our eyes and Tiger’s words, both of which assure us his Achilles and knee are A-OK. No telling if they’ll stay that way, but for now, we pronounce Tiger fit as a flagstick.
Tiger’s mind: It all boils down to this, doesn’t it? I have a personal theory, based on one enlightening semester of introductory psychology, that Tiger felt something completely foreign in the wake of his sex scandal: shame. His self-loathing subconsciously undermined him on the golf course, telling Tiger he didn’t deserve to win. The result: Poor play, especially on the greens, any time he got into contention.
Or maybe he just wasn’t releasing the blade properly. Either way, it appears Tiger’s finally licked the issue.
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