Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nature and History of a River Town

I happened to be visiting my family in St. Joseph, Missouri, the day the new Remington Nature Center opened. The new museum on the banks of the Missouri River presents a fine look at both the flora and fauna of the area and the history of the old river town from the first Native American settlements to the early 20th century.

The museum is equally divided between the two types of exhibits, providing something to entrance just about everyone in the family. Visitors are greeted by a 10,000 year-old wooly mammoth at the front door, then meander past a collection of fossil remains found in the area. A 7,000 gallon aquarium holds fish endemic to the Missouri River flowing just a hundred yards from the front door. One of the most intriguing displays is a sand table where you can watch the tracks of various Missouri animals appear and disappear as if their ghosts are strolling across the sand before your eyes.

There's a full-scale model beaver home with exquisite detail as well as several interactive environmental displays where you can hear everything from the call of an eagle to the buzz of the honeybees that make the region their home.

A surprisingly complete history of man's impact on the area is contained in a stroll-through section that includes dioramas of Native Americans in the Mississipian period making pottery, a fur trapper's tent, and a trader's cabin modeled after the one used by Joseph Robidoux, the town's founder. Theater productions include presentations about St. Joseph's role in the California Gold Rush and the Oregon Trail. You even walk through a section of a street from the early days of the town and peer into storefronts re-created by merchants of the pioneer era.

The Remington Nature Center is located at 1502 MacArthur Drive in St. Joseph, Missouri. The easiest way to find it is to follow signs to the riverfront casino.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Make Tracks For Tampa

Anyone who says Florida golf is flat and water-bound hasn’t played at Innisbrook, home of four fine courses on the Gulf Coast near Tampa. Both the Copperhead, the 7,340-yard (from the tips) home of the PGA Tour’s PODS Championship, and the newly-renovated Island Course, with a tight 7,310 yards, have elevation changes as dramatic as any you’ll find at your favorite course—-and there’s nary a palm tree in sight. Instead, fairways are sharply and picturesquely defined with cedars and pines with plenty of Spanish moss to give them a Carolinas feel.

Both courses, as well as the North and South Highland tracks, have lots of water and sand, though, which keep them honest and make you earn your pars. The Island Course has all new greens and several new tees, the result of a $1.7 million renovation that started the day after resort owner Sheila Johnson closed on her purchase of the property in 2007. With tighter fairways, water on nine holes, and some dramatic doglegs, it’s actually a tougher course than the Copperhead, as reflected in the 73.5 rating/140 slope from the back (Green) tees.

The renovation of the Island Course is the first step in Johnson’s plans to revitalize the property. The resort’s first full-service 12,000-square-foot spa is scheduled to open in 2008 along with a state-of-the-art fitness area. There is no central hotel-style lodging facility at Innisbrook—-you stay in roomy, comfortable low-rise condos scattered around the 900-acre resort—-and a remarkably responsive shuttle takes you anywhere you want to go on the property. There are four restaurants, 11 Har-tru tennis courts, a nature preserve, and six pools, including the water-park-style Loch Ness Pool.

Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club
(800) 456-2000
Nearest airport: Tampa (30 minutes)
Golf package: $299 per person per night includes room and breakfast, one round of golf, daily golf clinic, and other amenities.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Family Champion Destination

For a family-oriented golf vaction, where else would you go but to Orlando, home of more kid-friendly attractions than anyplace on earth. You can do the whole Disney thing (and there are some fine courses in Mickey land), but a destination worth considering is one that’s sort of under the radar in Orlando—-but it shouldn’t be. It’s Championsgate, home to two world-class Greg Norman-designed courses, David Leadbetter’s Golf Academy, a magnificent Omni Resort Hotel, and just fifteen minutes away from the Magic Kingdom et al. There are multiple dining choices, too, including my favorite, David’s Club, an upscale sports bar/steakhouse.

But first things first—-golf at Championsgate. You’ll experience two completely different style courses, both of which are worth your time and attention. The International, which plays host to the Father-Son Challenge in December, carries one of the highest rating and slope of any course in Florida, a whopping 76.8/143 from the tips, which measures 7,363 yards. It’s no pushover from the blue tees, either, stretching 6,792. Norman designed a true links course, with wind-swept, treeless fairways, run-up approaches to hard, fast greens, and a plethora of pot bunkers in truly inconvenient locations.

The National is a (somewhat) kinder and gentler parkland layout. It’s a little shorter at 7,128, but much, much tighter. Spanish-moss-draped trees, thick stands of palmettos, and ball-swallowing waste areas frame nearly every hole—none of which play very straight.

Mom doesn’t have to entertain the kids while Dad plays golf at Championsgate, either. There’s the Omni Kids Club to keep them occupied while Mom joins Dad on the links or enjoys the spa. For whole-family fun, the Omni offers the 850-ft. Lazy River tube-float, a zero-entry family activity pool, lighted tennis and basketball courts, a sand volleyball court, and a really entertaining lighted nine-hole par-three golf course, with holes ranging from 55 to 85 yards. On second thought, who needs to fight the crowds at Sea World?

(888) 558-9301
Nearest airport: Orlando (30 minutes)
Golf package: $367 per night (for two persons double occupancy) includes room and breakfast, and as many rounds on both courses as you can play in one day. After dark, the lighted par-three course is included, too.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Putting On The Ritz

It’s hard to say which is more enjoyable at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort at Tiburon in Naples—-the championship-caliber golf courses or the wonderful amenities at the posh hotel. There are two sophisticated Greg Norman-designed courses, both highly playable by golfers at all skill levels, the Rick Smith Golf Academy, and a magnificently-appointed Ritz-Carlton where guests are pampered with premium-class service at every turn as well as goose-down comforters and pillows, Frette linens, marble baths, and Bulgari toiletries in the luxurious rooms.

But golf is why I was there, and it was some of the best I've ever played in the Sunshine State (or anywhere else). The Gold Course is a 7,288-yard gem (from the tips) where they play the Merrill Lynch Shootout during golf’s silly season each December. It offers mostly wide, inviting fairways leading to generous greens, but watch out for the sprawling bunker complexes and/or water on every hole.

The Black Course at Tiburon may not host a professional golf event, but it’s the harder—-and better—-course in my book. At 7,005 yards it’s shorter, but the landing areas are considerably tighter. It’s also a more scenic course, with many holes framed beautifully by Spanish-moss-draped live oaks and stands of majestic pines. Even the ball-gobbling waste areas are picturesque in a Southern-Gothic kind of way. The number one handicap hole on the Black Course is the second hole, which looks quite tame on the scorecard at a straightaway 436 yards. Step onto the tee box, though, and you’ll see why it’s rated the hardest hole on the course: your drive has to thread a pine-lined chute the width of a single lane in a bowling alley to find the fairway.

Then there are the accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton. Actually, there are two Ritz properties to choose from in Naples. The beach hotel is a short shuttle from Tiburon so you can catch a few rays on the sand (instead of blasting out of it with a wedge) when you’re ready for a break from golf. There’s also an expansive, exquisite spa there. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort has a small but opulent spa as well, and offers five restaurants, led by the signature dining experience, LemonĂ­a, a Tuscan grill featuring contemporary Italian cuisine in Mediterranean surroundings and an excellent wine list. There’s also Sydney’s Pub at the golf club house, a more down-to-earth place where you can enjoy a cold one while you settle the day’s wagers.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort
Nearest airport: Ft. Myers (40 minutes)
Golf package: $949 per night (for two persons double occupancy) includes room and breakfast, and one round of golf for both or two rounds for one golfer.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Virtual Book Tour

I'm touring the web this month to talk about Heart of Diamonds and the situation in the Congo. Three of the early stops tell the story behind the story and how I came to write a romantic thriller about blood diamonds. You can read more at Beyond The Books, The 1st Page, and The Story Behind The Book.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the