Slice of Life
In the midst of another fall golf season, I'd like to take pause to ponder my "best" list for the past year.
Best course played in Florida this winter: Southern Dunes, in Haines City, has been around for years, but kick me for not playing it until this January. A "players' course" in the best sense of the overworked phrase---smart, challenging design (by Steve Smyers who did the well-regarded LockenHeath in Traverse City), and top-notch conditioning with some of the purest and quickest greens you'll ever three-putt.
Best Suggestion after Tiger Won the '01 Masters: Famed architect Pete Dye offered this jewel of a suggestion to Masters officials on controlling the dire effects of technology (ProV1, better shafts, clubheads) on classic golf courses like Augusta National: "The club should use its clout to contribute to the game. Only the Masters could require that every player use the same type of ball, a decelerated one, and not have to worry about lawsuits from ball manufacturers." Sad to say, the "Green Jackets" in Augusta have ignored the prescient Dye and have spent big bucks lengthening its course again. What other club can spend such huge sums for these renovations that'll affect only elite players for a single week? And doesn't adding length only play to Tiger's strength? If Major League Baseball wisely protects itself and its ballparks from the velocity of an aluminum bat on a baseball, why won't the Masters and better yet the PGA TOUR similarly adopt an official and tightly regulated golf ball standard?
Best new additions to my golf club arsenal: A loft-enhancing 7-wood (if it's good enough for Shingo Katayama, it's good enough for me) and the hybrid iwood both by Adams. Mindful of the 14-club rule, I'm regularly consulting with the former caddie of Ian Woosnam, Myles Byrne.
Best Late Spring Golf Tour Taken in Michigan This Year: Golf at Bucks Run in Mt. Pleasant, overnight at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, then next day at Red Hawk in Tawas, overnight at Lakewood Shores, next day golf at Blackshire and The Gailes. Bucks Run is an eminently playable and scenic design by Jerry Matthews (Jerry: kudos on careful routing around and over the Chippewa River.) Well-maintained and customer-oriented under the watchful eye of Jim Zeh, Bucks Run enhances Mt. Pleasant as an attractive golf-tourist destination. Bonus: The nicely done putting course at Bucks Run is a charmer. Art Hills' Red Hawk is another winning course with bolder stripes than Buck's Run but in no way overly penal. Amid a parkland setting with lots of different looks and nuances, Red Hawk has it all: strategic short par fours, reachable par fives, minimal forced carries, forgiving forward tees, and sensibly designed greens. And get this: better players can actually play the back tees on this par-71, 6589 yards layout and still score. Bonus: the Italian food in the clubhouse restaurant. Molto bueno! Up the coast, the newest course on the Sunrise Side block is Kevin Aldridge's Blackshire, his worthy homage to Pine Valley in New Jersey. Kevin is one of the most underrated builders and course designers in golf today. Though not a frequent or avid player himself, Kevin has an artist's eye for designing golf holes matched by a tireless work ethic. His woodsy Blackshire is noteworthy for its waste areas, bold bunkering, classic rectangular tees, and some gargantuan greens (see its 18th.). What really surprised me after playing was learning the course has only eight feet of elevation change. Yet due to Aldridge's shaping magic the course seems to roll up and down the flat landscape. One constructive suggestion: Kevin, please mow the grass in front of the greens to fairway height to allow for more run-up shots. Bonus: Blackshire now joins its sister course--the links-inspired The Gailes--as a terrific one-two punch of golf.
Best New Course Played in Beautiful Weather: With perfect temps and under clear blue skies, Tullymore in Stanwood couldn't look any better. Designer Jim Engh has delivered a dramatic test of golf that winds its way around wetlands and thick vegetation. Most appealing about Tullymore is its collection of short par-fours where the choice between length and accuracy is expertly offered. Although noting a few quibbles such as a too tight opening hole as well as a dicey cart path leading to the 3rd tee, Tullymore in toto is a must-play course for west Michigan. Bonus: Director of Golf Kevin O'Brien is an affable 4-star general when it comes to customer-service.
Best New Course Thankfully Played with a Cart: Oakland University's R & S Sharf Golf Course must be played in a cart, especially when the heat index rises above 100 degrees as it did for our group in August. Named for its benefactors (Rita and Stephan) who donated $2 million dollars to help build the Rick Smith-designed layout, this course should be mandatory for those pursuing their bachelor of golf degree. The prerequisites? An appreciation for a wonderful grow-in with slick, devilish greens and firm, fast fairways. Throw in too a liking for smart bunkering and open-front greens that afford lots of chipping options. In sum, you won't have to pull an all-nighter on a lighted range to pass this test. Sure, a walkable layout for a campus course would've been my preference, but this is not your typical university layout. At its core, this course along with the adjoining Katke-Cousins are virtually private, attracting members to the OU's President's Club, a philanthropic arm of the OU Foundation. While on the par-three 7th tee savoring an expansive view of the campus, I muttered to myself: Rita and Stephan Sharf sure know how to say thank you. Bonus: Smith serves up a well-conceived short-game course that sits behind the 1st tee and 18th green.
Best time to ask a legend for an autograph: Speaking of Rick Smith, congrats to him and the Treetops team for the exciting Par-3 Shootout this summer. In its third year, this made-for-TV event finally delivered the prime time goods: an ace worth $1,010,000 by Lee Trevino. What a timely publicity boost for Michigan golf. Afterwards in the press area, I took the rare opportunity to ask Trevino to sign my hat which I later donated to charity. Suffice to say, The Merry Mex was in a good mood. Bonus: watching Trevino earlier on the practice range repeatedly hit 100-yard cutshots with his driver (!) onto the target greens. Amazing.
Best quote about not moving the Buick Open from Warwick Hills: Said Peter Jacobsen, "This is really the way the PGA Tour started--with communities like this supporting their events completely, with a lot of heart and soul. It would be very sad to see it move, because the golf course is so good and the community supports the tournament so well."
Best new golf phrase while playing cart golf: Uttered in Myrtle Beach by ball-hacking but lovable John Stewart, golf writer from Baltimore, after giving up on another lost ball. "Okay, that's a FIDO. F--- it, Drive On!"
All the best,
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