Ventana Canyon – Distinguished Desert Hideaway

Just north of Tucson, nestled against the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, awaits a wonderfully luxurious old school golf resort and spa – Loews Ventana Canyon.

While not on the ocean like Pebble Beach, or nearly as large as the enormous Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, this resort’s is a hidden gem. The terrain has the feel of Troon North in Scottsdale or the Vista Vallarta golf course in Puerto Vallarta. The resort itself may conjure up visions of classic American resorts such as the Arizona Biltmore, also up the road in Scottsdale.

Don’t be misled, this is a modern, up to date, “has it all resort”. By “old school” I simply nod to the architecture, beautiful grounds, not too big size (398 rooms), friendly staff, and excellent service. Swimming pools are large yet peaceful with no waterparks or man-made rivers in sight. Add on two Tom Fazio designed championship golf courses, a tennis center, spa, excellent dining options and you have just begun to experience all there is to do here.

Ventana Canyon is only a 30 minute drive from the Tucson airport but a world away as you climb north from the desert floor into the Catalina foothills. Ventana Canyon begins as the road is about to end at the base of the mountains.  Loews at Ventana Canyon sits nearly camouflaged as you approach its commanding site high above the Tucson valley.

The Golf

The Loews Ventana Canyon resort shares the Mountain and Canyon golf courses with the private Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club. Play is alternated each day between the two courses. I highly recommend you play them both.

The courses are blessed with a great site including elevation changes, arroyos, rock outcroppings, trees, cacti, lakes and myriads of other distractions and attractions. The Mountain Course has its famous Hole #3, a 105 yard Par 3, with a tee shot over a ravine to a green that looks to be no bigger than your average backyard swimming pool. My favorite might be the next hole, the Par 5 fourth. From the elevated hillside tee, a swooping dogleg left beckons. Desert and sand guard the corner. The second shot offers no breather as the fairway narrows and water now comes into play. This liquid disaster guards the entire right side all the way through the green. Great hole!

The Canyon Course is equally challenging as it rolls around and through its many ravines, hillsides, cactus and undulating terrain. There are many fun holes and a really nice collection of 3 Pars. The Canyon Course culminates just below the resort lobby where an island green, complete with waterfall and even a few spectators, lays waiting at the end of this challenging Par 5 finishing hole.

The extras

Besides great golf, the resort has the intimate Lakeside Spa (with its own private pool and Jacuzzi), exercise classes, tennis center and a fitness path that meanders between the golf courses. The Flying V Bar and Grill is just one of the resorts dining options. It occupies the top floor of the spa building and offers amazing views of the 18th hole and the valley below. Dinner here is resort casual yet sophisticated and the guacamole made table side is amazing. Nearby hiking and biking trails are just the start to the myriad of outdoor activities in the area.

Loews Ventana Canyon is just minutes from the excellent shopping, dining and entertainment found throughout this modern north side of Tucson. Be sure to visit Shlomo and Vito’s New York Deli and Gavi’s Italian restaurant. Tell them Gordy sent you.

All in all this is one of my favorite spots for great golf, peace and quiet, as well as all the other amenities one might need for a great vacation.

TPC Scottsdale – Stadium Golf, The Rowdiest Hole and You

Certainly you have seen the famed Par 3 sixteenth hole at the TPC Stadium Course in Scottsdale, Arizona. Annually it hosts the PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open where the pros must negotiate the most daunting 160 yard arena in golf. But more on that later.

The TPC Scottsdale complex is made up of two courses, the tournament hosting Stadium Course and its not so little sister the Champions Course. The adjacent Fairmont Princess resort is one of the finest in all of Phoenix. Together they combine to form one of the best golf/spa resort destinations in the country.

The Golf

My initial visit to The Stadium Course was over 20 years ago. It was the first time I had played a golf course that was host to a PGA Tour event. I returned this year to find the layout just as I remembered it. Carved from nothing, this open Links style layout has matured into a good test of golf for all levels of players.

Most holes offer generous fairways off the tee but trouble abounds should you miss the short grass. The putting surfaces have always been above average both in speed and condition. Like almost all Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish designs, you will find a great mix of holes and often a drivable Par 4 like the 332 yard 17th hole.

But the most famous hole is the Par 3 16th. At only 160 yards, distance is not the main concern here during tournament week. Tuning out the thousands of spectators sitting in grandstands that line nearly the entire hole is the major obstacle here. When you tee it up, the stands and the fans will be gone. Yet, imagine the throngs, silent for a split second while you swing then bursting into cries of “You’re the man” and “It’s in the hole” ala Tiger Woods ace during the 1997 event. Memorable!

While the Stadium Course gets all the accolades, The Champions Course is no slouch. The holes here are much narrower than on the Stadium Course and the greens more severe. Keeping the ball in play is a bit more difficult making accuracy off the tee crucial for good scoring. Approach shots need to be well planned as being on the wrong level on some of these greens is a three putt in waiting.

The Resort

The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is a large upscale resort with every imaginable amenity and luxury. From the Willow Stream Spa to the tennis complex and fine dining at Bourbon Steak or The Hacienda restaurants, this resort has it all. Accommodations range from oversize rooms all the way to generous casita living. Like the nearby Phoenician, Westin Kierland and JW Marriott Desert Ridge resorts, this is another fine example of today's world class resorts.

The Fairmont's pool areas are large beautiful spaces that front part of the Stadium Course. It is here, on the fourth hole right by the main pool, where your author recorded a hole in one the year the course opened. I have fond memories and a slight bias for this place.

Come on – Hit It Already – I’m Falling Asleep Over Here

August 26, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Entertaining News, Golf Tips 

It used to be I could keep my attention focused during a round of golf. Am I losing what patience I have left? Or, is it not just charity events that take over five hours to play these days? Seems as if it is a persistent problem wherever I play.

Blame the pros – kind of

How often do we see Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, etc look at a putt from every conceivable side of the hole and then have their caddy peer in as well? And what’s with the Camilo Villegas human crab position as he reads a putt? But remember, this is their livelihood so I guess they deserve some slack. But hey, even tour rounds are out of control as there is little or no enforcement of their own slow play rules. I swear I could get a massage at the Broadmoor and Sundara during some of their pre-shot routines.

It’s time to play by, and enforce, some semblance of pace of play on the pro tours. Now is their time to show the average golfer that they need not consult a wind gauge, yardage book, laser, trusted putt reader, topographical map and course psychiatrist before every stroke.

Some Suggestions

  • Whoever gets to the tee box first….tee it up! Honors is best reserved for education.
  • If one of your group hits it in the woods…..you didn’t all hit it in the woods!  Have one person help out (remember there is a time limit to look) while the rest go to their balls and hit.
  • Have a pre-shot routine….just don’t have it include a beer, a smoke, a laser reading, phone call, an audience, and a Sergio Garcia like 16 practice swings.
  • If you take a cart……drop one person at their ball and take the cart to your ball. Don’t sit, wait and watch the first player hit! Also, always take one club more and one less than what you think the correct club will be. Don’t walk all the way back across the fairway to get another club.
  • If you’re having a horrible hole or round…….feel free to pick up your ball on occasion and put it in the safety of your pocket before things get worse. The game is freaking difficult…….this will ease your frustration and keep things moving for all.
  • If you shoot over 80 and/or are aged 40 or over, please do not attempt the Villegas crab (as I recently witnessed on a public course) when reading greens. It’s embarrassing to need help getting up only to be carted off to your chiropractor.

These are but a few of the many things you can do to speed up play, enjoy the game more, save your marriage and avoid a police APB for being gone from sun up to sun down for one round of golf.

Hey, You’re Charles Barkley Not Tiger Woods So Play the Correct Tees

August 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Entertaining News, Golf Tips 

Maybe my biggest pet peeve in golf is amateur golfers who insist on “playing from the back”. You’ve seen them. Without checking the yardage or course slope and rating they automatically take their ego inflated selves to the far reaches of the back tees. There they proceed to take out their Pro V1’s and smash it an amazing 200 yards……right off the fairway. Why play Pebble Beach from the back tees when you can't break 80 on your local muni?

What’s up with that? Please take your stylish clothes, un-needed top of the line equipment and your weekend warrior swing up a few tee boxes and help all of us enjoy our day at the golf course a lot more. Shooting 100 from the tips during a five hour round cannot be enjoyable for either you or the groups behind you who are ready to remove your playing privileges after the first hole.

If you are a scratch golfer then feel free to play from 7,000 yards. If you are good enough to break eighty then maybe 6700 yards. For the rest of us, drop the masochistic tendencies and get your butt up to a more comfortable yardage. We’ll all feel better if you do.

Course Design

Let me explain why playing from the correct tees is important. A well designed course has certain features based on distance. For example, a short 380 yard hole is designed with the idea that players will be playing a very short iron, with lots of loft, into the green. There are no openings to “run the ball up” onto the green. Any lack of hole length is compensated for with well trapped, small and unforgiving greens.  So, if you only hit it 200 off the tee and are hitting long irons to a tiny green meant to hold only wedge shots then you are in for a very long day.

If you played that same hole from the proper tees for your ability then you too would be hitting wedge into the green. You not only will score better and have a more enjoyable day, you will get to understand and appreciate all that goes into a well designed course.

Thank You

So please, keep the logo’d shirts, fancy pants, too good golf balls and spit polished shoes if you must. But leave the oversized ego at home, move up to where you belong, and everyone on the golf course will have a  more enjoyable, and shorter, round of golf.

New Technology, Obsolete Courses and Phil Mickelson Did What?

August 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Entertaining News, Pro Insider 

Have the rest of you noticed how far the ball is going these days? It’s no longer just with the driver but every club in the bag. I think even putters are being used from 100 yards out.

Sure distances have been creeping up over the years. But the last few years have wrought extraordinary damage to the game as we know it. We all recognize that some of this new found machismo is the result of better conditioned athletes. But most of it can be attributed to new technologies.

The PGA Championship 2011

Were you watching the recent 2011 version of the PGA Championship? Did you happen to notice the course was over 7400 yards AND was only a Par 70? I wager this is nearly 1000 yards longer than the courses most of us play while also being 2 strokes less than the typical Par 72’s. Did you happen to watch Phil Mickelson play a 450 yard Par 4 by hitting 5 iron and 5 iron? That’s right! He hit 5 iron off the tee of a 450 yard hole. Ridiculous.

There was a time when the professional game had some relation to the game the rest of us play. We might have hit a 7 iron 150 yards and the pros would do the same with an eight. Now they hit a sand wedge 150 yards while we maybe hit an eight. The average golfer can no longer relate in any way to the game the pros are playing.

How long will it be before more storied courses such as Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Shinnecock Hills, etc are no longer considered suitable for tournament play because they do not have the room to lengthen them to keep up with today’s technology? What about the great golf course in your own area that has become outdated only because of their inability to add length?

Caddies Agree

I just finished watching the David Feherty show and his guests were caddies “Fluff” Cowan and Jim “Bones” Mackay. Fluff is a lifelong caddie having carried for Peter Jacobsen, Tiger Woods and now Jim Furyk. Mackay has been on Phil Mickelson’s bag for Phil’s entire career. Both of these legendary caddies took note of their players being 3 – 5 clubs longer since they began their careers as caddies.

It is time to de-tune the equipment. We need to keep the professional game relevant to the amateur game. We need to stop the demise of the classic courses that have been sacrificed to modern technology before it is too late. Hitting 5 iron – 5 iron to a 450 yard hole benefits no one and in fact only serves to drive the proverbial wedge between the pros and the rest of the game.

Sundara – World Class Spa in the Wisconsin Dells

Heaven on earth may be hiding in the Wisconsin Dells, disguised as Sundara, a luxury destination spa. An area long known as the water and amusement park capital of the world now offers a first class retreat for discriminating adults.

Sundara is part of the Wilderness Resort family of properties. It lies concealed in the woods just north of the main Wilderness Resort and shares the site with a championship golf course, Wild Rock. The secluded setting is the antithesis to the normal Dells experience.

The resort is comprised of a luxurious main building and stand-alone villas. The main building contains the spa, a 3 story dining rotunda and  luxury suites. Suites feature a fireplace, king size feather bed, writing desk, Sundara bath products and Kohler fixtures which rain, mist and shower you in water.

The Spa itself occupies most of the main floor. Upon checking in, a staff member will take you on a brief tour of the facilities. You will be assigned a locker for the day and if it is your first visit to Sundara, they will explain the bathing ritual to you. After the tour, I returned to the locker room to begin my day of rest and relaxation. Separate women’s and men’s locker rooms have private showers and changing areas, complimentary bath products and an endless supply of thick, cushy towels.  From there, the ritual begins.

Step One: change into your bathing suit and step into the Purifying Bath Ritual area. This intimate, cathedral-like room leads you through the multi-step ritual. In the center is a large whirlpool bath. Shower enclosures and a steam room occupy the perimeter. Step Two is a warm rinse in one of the small shower alcoves where you polish your skin with exfoliating sand. Step Three, the steam room, to cleanse your pores and relax. Step Four, another rainfall shower to rinse clean. Step Five offers you a choice: a dip in a cool water pool or a hot water whirlpool. Whichever you choose, the idea is to alternate between them for the best effect.

If you plan to stay awake or care to nap, the Quiet Room and the outdoor pool area are next. In the Quiet Room you can enjoy complimentary coffee and juice along with fruits and trail mix while you doze or read while overlooking the pool just outside. The outdoor area is the perfect place to sun, swim and nap. The infinity edged pool appears to flow into an adjacent water feature. Small alcoves built into the pool offer locations for rest and quiet conversation. A large whirlpool is located on the pool deck. Completing the space is an outdoor bar serving lunch and snacks, and a gas firepit for evening gatherings.

Spa services are abundant. I opted for a massage. The service was excellent. From choosing your own scent for the oil, to the level of massage pressure, this was a blissful time of relaxation. After a full day of bathing, napping and massage it was time to go back to our room.

On this trip we stayed in a private villa. Our unit had over 900 square feet that included a high-end kitchen, separate sleeping room and an amazing vaulted spa room overlooking the Wild Rock golf course.

The kitchen featured stainless appliances, slate floors, cherry cabinets and granite counters complete with dishes and utensils. Next, a modern and spacious sleeping room. It was large and beautiful with curved wet bar, flat screen TV and the most comfortable feather bedding you could imagine.

French doors led to the best surprise yet, an even bigger room that resembled a modern day beach hut. This oasis had a barrel vaulted cedar ceiling with walls of windows in all directions. The highlight? A 2 person whirlpool with underwater mood lighting. For good measure, throw in a writing desk, bistro table and two cushy chairs with ottomans.

Sundara has set a new standard for Wisconsin Dells luxury accommodations and pampering. I can’t wait to return and in the mean time, I am thinking of keeping this gem as my own little secret.

Wild Rock Golf Club – Championship Play in the Wisconsin Dells

If you are coming to the Wisconsin Dells and have time to golf, then a round at Wild Rock Golf Club should be on your agenda. Part of the Wilderness Resort, Wild Rock opened in the spring of 2009 and is claiming its place as the best the Dells has to offer.

First of all, this is championship caliber golf at a first rate venue. The course can be stretched to over 7,400 yards in length for the pros among you. Numerous tee boxes offer a fun round for all players with the forward tees coming in at just over 5,100 yards.

The look of this golf course is big, broad and brawny. The layout actually encompasses three distinct and unique environments. The first and last few holes were once farm land and while not flat, they are nothing like what you will find on the middle holes. There, the course takes a turn into the hills and offers some of the most outstanding views and golf shots you will ever see or have to hit. There is nothing better than soaring tee boxes looking out over emerald fairways and greens lying far below. If you survive the elevation changes and intoxicating scenery you are then deposited in a stone quarry for a couple of holes. Claw your way through here and you will enjoy the final holes back to the clubhouse.

The layout has some very consistent design features while still providing eighteen unique and very interesting holes. Three things stand out in my mind. First, most fairways start out as wide as landing strips, offering generous play off the tees provided you avoid the ever present pot bunkers that guard the landing areas. These wide and forgiving landing areas were meant to aid the average golfer while challenging the better golfer to hit a tee shot to the preferred side of the fairway. Second, and by leaps and bounds my favorite part of the design, is the natural feel and look of the entire course. Great attention was paid to make the course blend seamlessly into its natural environment. Almost all of the holes are lined with long Fescue grass acting as a Bermuda Triangle for errant shots. Sand traps feature ragged edges and irregular shapes and look as if they somehow eroded into their current locations. Finally, the green complexes are stunning. Many are well bunkered and most are undulating with multiple choices for great pin locations. If you love the short game and putting then you will absolutely have the time of your life at Wild Rock.

All in all this is one of the better resort courses in the Midwest. The property has a beautiful new clubhouse, excellent driving range and a north woods feel to the entire setting. And if you really want to end your day in style, the renowned Sundara Spa is right next door and is a world class facility on its own. Good golf is now abundant at the Wisconsin Dells and Wild Rock has upped the ante by providing a truly great golf experience for all those lucky enough to seek it out.

Grand View Lodge – Great Golf at a Minnesota Institution

For over 80 years Grand View Lodge has been providing hospitality to Minnesota visitors. Started as a small lodge, it has evolved into an award winning (Conde Nast, Golf and Golf Digest magazines) family resort, spa and golf destination. Grand View’s golf operations include three championship caliber golf courses: Deacon’s Lodge (an Arnold Palmer design), The Pines and The Preserve.

If you have not been fortunate enough to play golf in the Brainerd lakes area, what you will find are courses set in mature forests with towering trees, natural wetlands, lakes and marshes. In general, the scenery alone is worth the trip.

The Preserve is a Par 72 layout that plays 6,601 yards from the tips and is located on rolling wooded terrain that includes 40 acres of wetlands. It has a great combination of holes and while not overly long, it makes up for it with swooping doglegs, elevation changes and large greens with plenty of undulation. Accuracy, both off the tee and into the greens, is paramount to posting a good score.

While The Preserve is just a short drive from the resort, the 27 holes at The Pines are just across the street from the main lodge. There are three nines: Marsh, Lakes and Woods. Each hole of each nine is very private and secluded. A beautiful clubhouse overlooks the property and offers amazing views of the surroundings.

The first question everyone wants answered is, “Which of the nines is the best?” Often times I have played 27 hole layouts where the original eighteen holes are wonderful while the additional nine holes are of lesser quality. This is certainly not the case here.

What I can tell you is that the condition of the entire course was top notch. The greens were fast, the fairways smooth and the rough was, well, rough. There are a number of nice design features throughout. Often a single towering tree, or stand of trees, was left in place to emphasize certain shots. Other times, a lone, well placed, skyscraper of a tree could be found protecting a putting surface as if that was what it was born to do.

The signature holes at The Pines may be the Par 3’s. Most of them are medium length holes but with small narrow greens that tended to angle away from you. Throw in the ponds and marshlands that guard many of them and you have quite a grouping of outstanding three pars.

The third course in Grand View’s championship trio is the Arnold Palmer designed Deacon’s Lodge course. Here again you will find a true test of golf set in a beautiful north woods setting. If you have the time, play all three of the courses. You won’t regret it.

The best bet if you are playing Grand View is to book a stay/play package. They come in various weekend and mid-week arrangements with optional meal plans. This is a perfect trip for your foursome or entire family at one of Minnesota’s iconic resorts. Throw in their nice beach, indoor pool, boat rentals, beachside bar, lavish breakfast buffet and the Glacial Waters Spa and you too will find it very hard to leave this historic Midwest oasis of golf and relaxation.

Cragun’s – 54 Holes of Robert Trent Jones Jr. Golf and so much more

In all of Minnesota, only Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd can boast of having 54 holes of Robert Trent Jones Jr. championship golf. Two 18 hole courses (Dutch 18 and Bobby’s 18) and a reversible 9 hole course make up the Legacy Courses at Cragun’s. In addition to providing great golf, these courses have been granted Signature Sanctuary Status with Audubon International. The Signature status is reserved only for courses meeting rigorous and extensive natural resource management plans. The Legacy Courses are the first in Minnesota and the second nationwide to achieve this designation.

Set on over 300 acres of woods, wetlands and lakeshore, the two 18 hole courses provide challenging golf for all levels of players. More than many of the other courses you may play, I found that choosing to play from the proper distance was the key to an enjoyable day at Cragun’s. I played my round from the Blue tees which measure in at just over 6200 yards. While this may not sound long to many of you the proof is in the pudding.

Like almost all Trent Jones Jr. courses, a premium is put on shot selection, strategy and placement. Many of the holes offer numerous routes to the green with risk/reward shots in abundance. If you have played a Trent Jones Jr. course then you are aware that perception and deception play a big part in his designs. This holds true for many of the shots at the Legacy. You will come across holes with split fairways making you choose a route before you swing. The 14th hole on the Dutch course has two greens! Declare your choice ahead of time and hang on. And, like all good Jones courses, a myriad of tee boxes offers up just the right look for all players. Can you believe the 13th hole has nine tee boxes? That’s right, nine.

My round on the Dutch was very enjoyable and quite challenging on a windy day. Over the course of 18 holes you will be faced with drives over wetlands to rolling fairways, wonderful par threes and many different “looks” including wooded, lakeside and marshland holes. Perhaps it is the variety of hole designs and shot selections that make the Legacy courses so interesting. This is a course designed as much for “thinkers” as it is for long hitters. One of the best parts of the layout is that it is unencumbered by homes or other development crowding the course. This is golf at its natural best. This is why you come to the famous Brainerd Lakes resort area of Minnesota.

A day of play at Cragun’s can only be topped off with your favorite refreshment and/or lunch and dinner at their beautiful clubhouse. At 35,000 square feet, it is home to the Legacy Bar and Restaurant which offering outstanding views of the 9th hole and 10th tee from inside or out on the patio area. You will also find a fully stocked pro shop here with everything you need in the way of clothing and equipment. The balance of the facility is designed to host large events and tournaments.

Make sure to include the Legacy courses at Cragun’s Resort on your next golf outing to the Brainerd area. You will love the challenging golf, excellent course conditions, the secluded and upscale atmosphere, the quality of service and all of the first class facilities that make for a great day on the links.

Spy Golfer Pro Tour Wrap Up

August 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Golf News, Pro Insider 

Pro Golf Wrap Up

PGA

PGA Championship   August 11 -14

Atlantic Athletic Club

First Round Leaders

Steve Stricker -7

Jerry Kelly  -5

Shaun Micheel  -4

Notes:

Steve Stricker comes within one stroke of all time low PGA score

Rory McIlroy injures wrist but plays on

Tiger shoots 77 – his worst PGA score ever

 

LPGA

Safeway Classic     August 19 - 21

Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club

North Plains, Oregon

 

Champions Tour

Constellation Energy Seniors Players Championship   August 18 - 21

Westchester Country Club

West Harrison, New York

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