Desert Willow Golf Resort – A two course public gem in Palm Desert

Desert Willow Golf Resort is a high end public facility that is far more than its two spectacular Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry designed championship golf courses, Firecliff and Mountain View. It is located just minutes from the Palm Springs airport in the city of Palm Desert.

In addition to the two marvelous golf courses Desert Willow's stylish clubhouse, well stocked pro shop and meeting/event areas are what you might expect at a private club. And then there is my favorite...the expansive multi-tiered outdoor patio that overlooks Firecliff’s 9th and 18th holes. It is one of the best outdoor spots for food and drinks of any course I have seen. This beautiful outdoor venue is where they hold the popular Music and Dining Under the Stars events.

Beautiful Par 3 17th hole Desert Willows Firecliff course


The two courses at Desert Willow are as good a duo as any 36 hole public venue I have played. It all starts with a beautiful driving range and practice putting green that in winter look out at the incredible snow capped peaks looming just to the west of town. These spectacular mountain vistas are a constant backdrop to your round of golf on either course. I must say there are few places I have been where palm trees and snow capped peaks can be mentioned in the same breath. Amazing!! This also might be one of the most natural looking and beautifully landscaped golf venues I have played.

The Firecliff Course – Without doubt his is one of the prettiest and most interesting courses I have played in all of greater Palm Springs. There is a wonderful mix of short and long holes along with numerous bunkers and water features to keep your attention. Stretching from 5,000 yards all the way out to 7,000 yards and a slope of 138 this is a true test of golf. Played from the correct tees for your ability it is both fair off the tee yet challenging. Strategically placed traps, water hazards and sloping greens will keep you on your toes and demand the use of every club in your bag and all your imagination.


Firecliff #6 from behind the green. Short, tough and beautiful


While there are truly a dozen or more really great holes, here are three of my favorites. The 6th hole is a short dogleg right Par 4. The entire right side is guarded by water and the putting surface is but a peninsula of green angling out into the lake surrounded on three sides by liquid danger. A truly great short hole.

While all the Par 3’s here are challenging and beautiful the 17th might be my favorite. This mid length tester has a desert waste area and water running nearly from tee to green on the right side. A sand trap guards the left side leaving little room to bail out. Behind the green is a stand of tall shaggy palms that that have to be seen to be believed. This is simply a gorgeous hole.

A Great finishing hole Firecliff Par 5 18th

A Great finishing hole Firecliff Par 5 18th

Firecliff’s 18th hole has to be one of the best, most challenging and prettiest finishing holes you could ever hope to play. My friends and I have dubbed this Par 5 “Gilligan’s Island”. From the tee there seems to be nothing but tall shaggy palms as far as you can see. It is a visually intimidating tee shot going slightly downhill to what actually is a decent width fairway. Your second shot must navigate a small stream that crosses the fairway from left to right where it empties into a lake that guards the right side of this green. This hole demands three exacting shots if you want to make par. Did I forget to mention the extra pressure of finishing directly below the multi tiered patio? It is often filled with fellow golfers watching to see how you do. This is simply an amazing end to eighteen outstanding holes of golf.Firecliff Clubhouse

The Mountain View Course - While I have not yet played the Mountain View track those who have say it is a gem in its own right. While designed to be a bit more forgiving than Firecliff it none the less can stretch to 6913 yards from the tips with a slope of 130. From the tee you should find it more forgiving but then again there is also more water.

What it does share with Firecliff is the same amazing conditions, excellent design features and jaw dropping scenery. The only way to fully appreciate all that Desert Willow has to offer in the way of golf is to play both courses and judge for yourself. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Desert Willow truly has earned all the accolades and rave reviews you might have read or heard about. This is without question one of my favorite places to golf in the entire valley.


Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert is one of the top public golf and event venues in the valley. Their two championship quality golf courses are beautiful, challenging and exhilarating. The stylish clubhouse has a large and well stocked pro shop. In addition, there are indoor and outdoor dining facilities highlighted by one of the best outdoor patios anywhere. It is used for their popular dining and music under the stars events, which I have attended and highly recommend. Finally, there are event spaces perfect for corporate outings and private parties of all sizes. All in all this is a Do Not Miss location if you are in Palm Springs!

Toscana Country Club – Luxurious lifestyle in a desert oasis

Toscana Country Club – Luxurious lifestyle in a desert oasis

When my travels take me to wonderful golf destinations like Palm Springs I am reminded how fortunate I am to visit some of our country’s finest golf courses and resorts. Visiting one of the finest private clubs an area has to offer is always a special treat. Such was the case when I was able to experience Toscana Country Club in all its amazing glory.

The Community

Toscana is one of a small handful of luxury private country clubs in the Palm Springs area. Centrally located in the town of Indian Wells, Toscana is comprised of a Tuscan inspired “village” center surrounded by two Championship Jack Nicklaus courses, over 800 estate homes and homesites and a full slate of first class amenities. My host and tour guide was Crista Collins, Director of Membership. She had a wealth of knowledge about Toscana, seemed to know every member by name and made a strong first impression regarding the level of customer service Toscana members expect and enjoy.

Club Villa area and Il Forno

Club Villa area and Il Forno

Toscana is a very active and health oriented club and offers its members everything they would want, or need, when choosing to belong to a club of this stature. From the moment you enter the impressive gates your senses are soothed by the beauty of the landscaping, the impeccable service and welcoming atmosphere. A true oasis. A place to escape. A land where arid desert is the last thing you think of and serenity the first.

The core of Toscana Country Club is its Club Villa or central village. The beautiful brick buildings (surrounding the large main courtyard/carport) house all the community common areas and amenities. They are separated by very short walks along covered walkways, landscaped paths and through classically designed gardens.

On one side you will find the Golf Shop, driving range and putting green plus the separate Men’s and Women’s locker rooms and lounges. In the middle is the Il Forno Trattoria complex with its dining room, bar and covered porch. A short stroll across a lovely patio is the large indoor/outdoor Event Center and the soon to be completed pool, casual restaurant and Sports Club Pavilion. A few steps further bring you to the outstanding Sports Club, Spa Bella Vita and Charlie Pasarell Tennis Center.


Toscana golf members have the choice of to two amazing, and very different, Nicklaus designed golf courses. The South Course, opened in 2004, might remind you of being in Florida with its wall to wall grass, sand, water hazards and soaring palm trees. The North Course, whose back nine holes opened in November 2015, has a completely different feel. It looks “desertish” and features arroyos, native vegetation and playable waste areas. It looks more like the traditional desert layouts so many of you have seen.

South course #9 and #18

South course #9 and #18

This trip I played the South Course with my friend Richard and the aid of a very helpful forecaddy. If I had to sum up the South I’d say think of a land with emerald green carpet as far as the eye can see generously sprinkled with sugar white sand and watery blue depths. From the tees to the fairways and onto the greens one sees nothing but perfectly manicured turf with hardly a divot or ball mark in sight.

Although I love desert golf, too many courses are quite flat with man-made terrain and little visual interest. That is not the case here. The South offers a rolling landscape that belies its desert location. While very playable and with generous landing areas, this is a difficult golf course. It rises and falls, swoops left and fades right sometimes all on the same hole. Sand, water, uneven lies, large undulating greens and Nicklaus’ strategic design will test every aspect of your game.

South course #7

South course #7

While many courses strive to feature a signature hole or two the South at Toscana has a bevy of beautiful and memorable holes. Two of my favorites were the 6th and 7th holes. The Par 4 sixth may be the prettiest and most treacherous on the course. It is fairly long and disaster lurks. The landing area for your tee shot is guarded on the right by sand and squeezed from the left by water…which continues all the way to the putting surface. From here, the fairway, narrows and curls left along the shore. The large angular green wraps further around and into the lake giving it a peninsula feel. Any far left pin placement leaves little room for error. Simply a beautiful hole.

The Par 3 seventh is quite the opposite… very moderate in length but with a premium on accuracy. The tee shot is all carry across a small lake to a green that looks like a sliver of land that angles nearly 450 from front right to back left. A large trap guards the back of the green while there is safety for those bailing out to the right. The 7th is fun, short, sassy, pretty and intimidating.

North course

North course

Two other holes of note are the finishing holes on each nine. Both are challenging par fours. They wrap around opposite sides of the lake that sits just below the beautiful Il Forno dining room and patio. These are great holes for a heroic finish especially if you are being watched by those enjoying their after golf refreshments.

Spa Bella Vita and the Sports Club

The spa and the sports club share a beautiful facility just a short walk from the dining area, golf pro shop, tennis complex and soon to be opened community pool area and casual dining restaurant. This is another stately stone structure with vaulted beamed ceilings throughout.

The Sports Club occupies the right half of the building with Spa Bella Vita housed on the left and a very nice little pro shop, reception area and cozy sitting room in the center. Sports Club members have the use of a fully equipped gym as well as separate designated spaces for Pilates, stretch and strength training. There is also a comprehensive program of classes including, yoga, spinning and dance. Just behind the Sports Club a stroll through the Tennis Gardens brings you to the Charlie Pasarell Tennis Center. It features a luxurious center court, surrounding hard and clay courts as well as dedicated pickle ball courts. Members enjoy lessons, leagues, clinics and social play. This was one of my favorite areas of Toscana. Secluded, beautiful, vibrant and inviting.

Spa Bella Vita is a 5 star spa experience for Toscana members and guests to enjoy. I was fortunate to have enjoyed a few hours here including a wonderfully relaxing massage. To say that the matching Men’s and Women’s facilities here are nice would be a vast understatement. As with the rest of Toscana, everything is exquisitely designed and executed leaving an air of quiet and welcoming sophistication.

Grand Suite

Grand Suite

Men and women each have access to their own steam room, sauna, aromatherapy shower (think scented water) and outdoor whirlpool in a garden setting. You start your journey with a locker complete with robe and slippers. Since I had an hour before my massage the sauna, whirlpool and steam room provided the perfect way to ease into my afternoon. After a nice rinse in the refreshing aromatherapy shower I bundled up in my robe and headed to the “Quiet Room”.

The quiet room is a warm and comforting space to decompress, read or even nap before your treatment. The room has a vaulted beamed ceiling, large fireplace and 5 oversized chaise lounges complete with reading glasses, tea, water, fruit and nuts. I could have stayed there for hours. When my therapist did arrive, we stepped outside and into a small, intimate water filled courtyard which is encircled by the treatment rooms. This is a Zen like space and a perfect setting to further set the mood and slow the heart rate. The treatment rooms are large and cozy and members can pay by the hour to stay and just relax when their treatment is done. You can even have food delivered. Feel like a couples massage? There are two Grand Suites that can’t be beat. Each has a fireplace, two massage tables, a claw foot tub, plenty of relaxing seating and, of course, a private little courtyard and outdoor shower.


Toscana Country Club is a top notch private club in the heart of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs area. The overall quality of the common areas, buildings and amenities instill a feeling of comfort, quiet and home while simultaneously transporting you to a far away Tuscan village magically set in the middle of the California desert. With Member’s having access to two championship golf courses, a wonderful spa, excellent dining, tennis center, gym and so much more it is not hard to see why so many are calling Toscana Country Club home. For more information see their website at

Omni Rancho Las Palmas – A Classic Desert Resort and Spa

If you are seeking an all around classic Palm Springs vacation the Omni Rancho Las Palmas in the heart of Rancho Mirage would be an excellent choice. With 27 holes of golf, a newly remodeled spa, good dining options, an adult pool as well as a children’s oriented waterpark, a large tennis center, and very nice rooms... this place has you covered.

rancho las palmas plaza


Rancho Las Palmas Country Club features 27 holes of golf designed by architect Ted Robinson. While not a long course by today’s standards it is a challenging layout none the less. The course is laid out on gentle rolling terrain and plays in and around six lakes, a desert wash and 1,500 palm trees that line the fairways. While many of the holes are reasonably wide and forgiving, many more are quite narrow off the tee putting a premium on accuracy not distance. This makes it a very fun course for players of all skill levels.

The course was in very good condition with winter overseeding keeping nearly the entire layout looking very green and very playable. The greens themselves were very nice and many were quite undulating serving up another way that this classic course uses to defend par. The toughest holes for me were the shortest and the tightest. These were often lined on both sides by homes as the holes wound through portions of the property. This made the ability to shape your shot off the tee more important than distance when trying to keep it in the fairway. For settling bets after golf or just a place to reminisce there is a very nice clubhouse with excellent food and drink and a wonderful view of the challenging finishing holes.

west hole
The Resort

The Omni Rancho Las Palmas is set on 240 acres and it has wonderfully landscaped grounds, soaring palm trees and glistening lakes. There are 444 guestrooms and 22 suites clustered in small buildings around the property. The rooms are very generous in size and each has either a patio or balcony. They feature large flat screen TV’s, free WiFi, nice bathrooms and a sense of privacy as they are not in one large building. I liked being in Building 3 as it was close to the main complex which houses the spa. bar, restaurants and adult pool.

For relaxation there is a newly remodeled (2013) 20,000 square foot spa with 26 treatment rooms. It features body treatments, facials and its own amenities including a peaceful courtyard and private pool. In addition, there is the adult Azure pool just off the main plaza and overlooking two of the golf courses signature holes. For families and the more active among you there are many ways to get your exercise in. For kids and the young at heart there is Splastopia. This water wonderland land features two 100 foot slides, a lazy river and a sand beach. In addition, there is a fabulous 25 court tennis complex as well as walking paths throughout the resort grounds.

There are many dining options on site to suit all your needs. The signature restaurant is bluEmber. This lovely spot is right on the main plaza, serves three meals a day and offers both indoor and outside dining as well as live music a few days a week. Other choices include Palms Café for coffee, pizzas and light fare, R Bar for for drinks and the poolside Splash Grill. If you feel the need to dine off site, directly across the street is The River. This is a beautiful upscale area well known throughout the valley and features a wide array of shops, restaurants and entertainment.

All in all the Omni Rancho Las Palmas will provide you with a classic desert vacation experience. With its prime location, abundance of activities and pleasant customer service it is hard to go wrong.

The Grand Del Mar – Luxury and Sophistication in the San Diego Hills

It is not often that amazing service, great location, quality golf, outstanding food and abundant amenities come together in one place. Yet that is exactly what you will find at The Grand Del Mar in the hills north of San Diego.

This upscale resort is at once large yet intimate and offers something for everyone. From golfers to spa goers, tennis players to equestrians and hikers to fitness gurus The Grand Del Mar has you covered. Its location is just a short drive by car (or complimentary shuttle) to the shores of the Pacific and the famous beaches and shops of Torrey Pines, La Jolla and all the other wonderful sites of this southern California vacation wonderland.



The Grand Golf Club features a dramatic Tom Fazio design that stretches from hilltops to ravines and all the terrain in between. Measuring over 7100 yards from the back tees, this Par 72 layout demands play from the correct tees to fully enjoy your round. With a starting yardage of 4824 yards, the course is playable for all levels of golfers but the demanding greens, dramatic bunkering and devilish elevation changes are sure to test every shot and club in your arsenal. Be sure to bring them all as I can guarantee you will need them some time during your round.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of this Fazio design is the constantly changing variety of holes. You will find short ones and long ones, straight ones and doglegs, uphill and downhill, and holes that play on windswept hilltops to tree lined canyons and everything in between. A number of holes offer dramatic elevation changes with soaring tees playing to small ribbons of fairways off in the distance.


Adding to the great service found throughout the property is the Forecaddie that accompanies each resort foursome. Your Forecaddie will help navigate the course, read greens, find stray balls and assist with club selection for everyone in your group. If you have never played with a Forecaddie it is a wonderful experience and well worth the recommended gratuity.


The resort features a number of fine dining and casual eating options including Southern California’s only Five Star, Five Diamond rated restaurant named Addison. It is located on a hilltop above the main resort and is adjacent to the golf clubhouse. This beautiful setting offers views of the surroundings equal to the great food from the kitchen. While I did not have the privilege of eating at Addison this time around its impressive menu, credentials and consistent reviews make me look forward to my next stay.

I did dine at the resorts other fine dining option…Amaya. It is a beautiful room with its own lovely bar in the lower level of the main resort building. Amaya serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a warm and inviting atmosphere with a well rounded menu. Dinner at Amaya features a full array of tasty appetizers and entrees ranging from Scottish Salmon to Colorado lamb to free range chicken. A Three Course Chef’s Tasting menu is also available. No matter your choice you will not be disappointed with the options or the quality of the excellent food and service at Amaya.

Besides fine dining there are a number of casual eating options including poolside service, a wonderful coffee shop that offers sandwiches (and much more) as well as Club M which is also located in the beautiful golf clubhouse complex. In addition, room service is never a bad option.

The Resort

The Grand Del Mar is a luxury resort with amazing pool areas, spa, tennis, an equestrian center, extensive grounds and amazing common areas including a luxurious lobby, library room, lobby bar, patio and boutique shops. What sets these types of properties apart is the attention to detail, quality and service. Grand Del Mar offers everything from complimentary shuttle rides within a generous radius of the property to underwater music in the pool to rooms equipped with doorbells when turn down service arrives at night.


What impressed me the most at The Grand Del Mar were the outstanding rooms, great customer service (from the Valet to the front desk and from housekeeping to the golf shop) and the overall relaxing feel of the entire property. Rooms and common areas deserve special mention as they exude the well appointed feel found throughout the entire resort. Guest rooms are very spacious with comfortable beds, a sitting couch, large flat screen TV’s, free WiFi and spacious marble bathrooms with separate showers, soaking tubs, dressing area and double vanities.

I encourage you to visit their website and plan a stay at this amazing place. In my work as a travel planner, personal concierge and private tour guide I get to visit a lot of great resorts. Let me assure you that Grand Del Mar ( is on par with all of them. Its location and feel reminded me of another top notch southern California resort...Pelican Hill. Its service brought to mind that of the venerable Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. And the grounds were reminiscent of the beautiful Phoenician in Scottsdale. Not bad company if you ask me.

The Resort at Pelican Hill – World Class Golf, Spa and more in Newport Beach

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.

The Golf

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.

Special Mention

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!

The Resort

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.

Spy on Golf: Countdown to 2012

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

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.

Tough stuff

Kiawah Island Ocean Course

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.

Spy on Golf: Week’s Headliners Span the Globe

A quick trek around the golf galaxy, with stops in South Korea, Oregon and Jupiter on the itinerary.

Your in-flight movie is “Drive,” so we can all figure out how the film inspired a California man to toss a hot dog in the general direction of Tiger Woods last Sunday. Sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction…

Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler

Fowler wins, draws yawns: Much debate this week about Rickie Fowler’s victory at the Korean Open, a stop on the OneAsia tour. Thanks to its remote dateline, Fowler’s first win as a pro was met with a collective so-what by a large chunk of pundits.

But considering he won by six shots over fellow wunderkind Rory McIlroy, we’d say Fowler deserves some credit. Former PGA champion Y.E. Yang finished 11 shots behind despite the home-country advantage.

Prediction: Fowler wins at least twice in 2012. On the PGA Tour, that is.

A-Bandon hope, Pebble Beach: All hail Bandon Dunes, the new king of North American resort golf. So says Golf Digest, and – having yet to make the Bandon pilgrimage -- who am I to argue?

Frankly, I have no desire to debate GD on this one. Given Bandon’s expansion to four courses, all of which rank among America’s 100 best, it was only a matter of time before Mike Keiser’s pure-golf wonderland knocked Pebble Beach Resorts from the top spot.

If you’re thinking of visiting all 75 properties, you’d better be well funded. Nineteen of them feature nightly room rates of $500 or more, including the breathtaking $1,445 commanded by Sandy Lane in Barbados.

At a paltry $250, Bandon’s a relative bargain, too.

Jupiter is the new Orlando: If it often seems the pros’ games are other-worldly, this might be why: A large number of them have relocated to Jupiter.

Sorry, wrong Jupiter. Apparently, Jupiter, Florida, is the hot place to be for the PGA Tour’s elite. Everyone knows Tiger Woods recently moved into his $54 million palace on Jupiter Island, but the likes of Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel have also set up shop in or near the Palm Beach County golf haven.

As luck would have it, this blog is based in Jupiter as well. Here’s hoping some of that pro golfer mojo rubs off on the locals.

Els supplies belly laugh: We nominate this paradoxical gem from Ernie Els, addressing his use of a belly putter, for Quote of the Year: “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.”

Now that honors for the year’s best quote and headline (Saltman wins body weight in ham for hole-in-one) are wrapped up, all that’s left are trivial titles like Player of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Leading Money Winner.

We almost forgot: Brandon Kelly of Petaluma, Calif., the man who threw the wiener at Woods, is our Tosser of the Year.

Pebble Beach – The two most famous words in golf

No two words in all of golf elicit such praise and reverence as these…..Pebble Beach.

Ask anyone who has played there, or even anyone who has watched glued to their television, and to a person this is the Holy Grail of golf. Heaven on earth for those who play the game. A once in a lifetime experience for those lucky enough to have walked its hallowed grounds. And a dream yet to come true for the majority who someday hope to tread these seaside links on the Pacific shores of the Monterey Peninsula.

From the moment you arrive, hopefully via the famous 17 Mile Drive, the suspense builds. The gleaming white clubhouse and the small gathering of shops, cafes and the Pro Shop nearly envelop the practice putting green and first tee. You smell the salt water, stare at the Rolex starter clock, and if you are lucky, try to settle your nerves as you greet your caddy and fellow players.

The first hole is a short 377 yard dogleg right Par 4 but the tee shot may be the most nerve wracking you will ever have on any golf course. People in the shops, cafes and Pro Shop stand in silence and watch as you attempt to put a swing on the beginning of what may be the most memorable round of golf in your life.

If you survive the first few inland holes intact be prepared for what lies ahead. The fifth through tenth holes all front the Pacific and Monterey Bay and contain some of the most iconic holes in all of golf.

The postcard 7th hole is a downhill Par 3 of only 106 yards from the tips. It plays to a tiny green set on a peninsula jutting out into the bay. Many call this the most beautiful hole in all of golf. With no wind it is an easy wedge. If the ocean breezes are blowing this can play three or four clubs longer!

The 8th hole tee shot features a wide flat fairway that ends precipitously at the edge of a towering chasm. Another small green beckons from far below you and across a gaping watery grave for golf balls. This is one of the most heroic and intimidating shots on the course (or any course for that matter).

And on it goes. Holes nine and ten continue along the ocean which swallows any wayward shots to the right. Now the course turns inland again and back towards the safety of the clubhouse. Holes gently rise and fall amongst tree lined fairways and the 17 Mile mansions of the rich and famous.

Finally you’ve reach the famed 18th tee box, seemingly perched out in the water, overlooking perhaps the most well recognized golf hole on the planet. The ocean lines the entire left side. A large tree sits menacingly in what seems to be the middle of the fairway exactly where you need to hit your drive. Take some time to admire the view from the tee as it may be the last opportunity to relish one of the most incredible finishes of any golf course you will ever set foot on. Then thank the golf gods that the comforts of the clubhouse await your return. When your last putt drops, wave to the imaginary crowds, shake hands with your caddy and playing partners and take one last glance back at the famed finishing hole. Then go inside and have your beverage of choice in The Tap Room and reminisce over what was or could have been.

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