Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pasatiempo - A Must-Play For Golf Purists

Pasatiempo 11th Hole
11th Hole, Pasatiempo. Photo courtesy of Rob Babcock/Pasatiempo Golf Club
California has so many great golf destinations it's easy to overlook one of the best courses in the state--if not the nation--simply because there's no resort attached to it and the professional tours don't stop there. I'm talking about Pasatiempo, the classic Alister Mackenzie gem roughly midway between San Francisco and the Monterey Peninsula, home to one of his other famous designs, Cypress Point (not to mention Pebble Beach, Spyglass, et al). No matter where you're playing otherwise in Northern California, Pasatiempo is well worth the short side trip. It's a must-play for serious golfers not to mention students of golf architecture. How good is Pasatiempo? When Bobby Jones played it on opening day in 1929, he immediately hired Mackenzie to design Augusta National.

Pasatiempo is only 6,521 yards from the tips, but it plays to a stalwart 72.4 rating/143 slope. Its dramatic elevation changes and seemingly endless natural hazards make for a rugged course whose difficulty is cranked up several notches by Mackenzie's strongly contoured greens and sprawling, glorious bunkers. Every hole seems to offer a risk and reward tactical choice and every green runs fast, true, and convoluted.

Each successive tee box presents you with a unique challenge. The opener is a 457-yard par four that requires a long, accurate approach as well as a powerful drive. The third hole, a magnificent 235-yard uphill par three, is protected not just by its length but by four menacing greenside bunkers along with a mind-messing cross bunker. The first par five you play, the sixth hole, is 567 yards, but believe it or not, accuracy counts more than length on every shot due to the tight fairway, cross bunkers, and long, narrow green. Next up is the shortest par four on the course, the 348-yard seventh hole, where trees from both sides nearly meet overhead to practically form a tunnel over the fairway. Needless to say, a controlled tee shot is essential.

Natural hazards abound on the back side. A bottomless ravine threatens both your drive and your approach on the 392-yard eleventh hole, then comes back into play guarding the green on the 373-yard twelfth. Fifteen is a 141-yard one-shotter perched behind another deep fissure in the earth's crust, as is the 169-yard finishing hole, which also slopes--and putts--more like an icy ski slope than a golf green.

Pasatiempo 16th Hole
16th Hole, Pasatiempo. Photo courtesy of Rob Babcock/Pasatiempo Golf Club
The number one handicap hole on Pasatiempo is the 387-yard sixteenth, a hole Mackenzie himself considered the best two-shotter in the game. The drive is uphill, blind, and rewards a high draw if you can pull one off. The approach is what separates the men from the boys, however. It's back over the ravine you've encounted on several holes and into a brutal three-tiered green that is a full 49 yards deep and has a frightening false front. Coming up short is not an option, nor is leaving your ball above the hole. In other words, par on this hole is almost always a function of a perfect second shot. It's easy to see how Pasatiempo was built to enhance match play, the predominant form of competition in its day.

The club has hosted numerous USGA championships and is the permanent home of the Western Intercollegiate Golf Tournament where everyone from Ken Venturi and Gene Littler To Johnny Miller, Dave Stockton, and Tiger Woods competed during their college years. LPGA star Juli Inkster literally grew up on the course and Alister Mackenzie chose to live there--his home is along the fairway on the sixth hole. And here's an aside for New York area golfers: Mackenzie is believed to have worked on Century Country Club in Purchase while he was a partner with Colt & Allison, the official designers of the course.

One of the best features of Pasatiempo is its status as a semi-private club. Certain tee times are reserved for members, but you can book a time online as much as 365 days in advance. If you treasure the classical traditions of golf architecture or otherwise want a spectacular golf experience, book yours today!

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Half Moon Bay: Perfect Northern California Golf Weekend

The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay epitomizes the perfect golf weekend destination. Just 30 minutes from San Francisco International Airport, the resort offers accommodations at a fabulous Ritz hotel, two very entertaining golf courses, and guest pampering that won't stop.

Golf is the heart of the resort and two excellent and completely different golf experiences are available to both resort guests and daily fee players. The Old Course, a traditional parkland-style track that opened in 1973, was designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane. Its18th hole along the ocean has been ranked among the 100 best in America. The Ocean Course was designed by Arthur Hills to pay homage to Scottish links-style courses. It debuted in 1997 and was remodeled in 2009 to make it play even more true to the style.

Half Moon Bay Old Course 18th Hole
18th Hole on the Old Course. Photo courtesy of the resort.
The Old Course stretches 7,001 yards from the tips. The generous fairways and gentle greens are perfect for the resort player who chooses the right tees (the whites are fine at 6,323 yards). The better player will be rewarded by well-placed tee shots and aggressive pin-seeking approaches while the less-than-perfect golfer won't be decimated by a miss or two. The Old Course ends with two thrilling holes on the Pacific, a 167-yard one-shotter that plays dead into the prevailing wind followed by a risk-and-reward 405-yard par four with the ocean on the right and a ravine crossing the fairway smack in the middle of the range of just about everybody's tee shot. A driver should probably be your last choice off the tee on the final hole. The shot into the tiny 18th green is a simple short iron or wedge made a bit more demanding by the audience typically watching from the hotel patio and fire pit adjacent to it.

The Pacific is in view from every hole on the Ocean Course, but is in play (kind of) only on the 184-yard par-three seventeenth hole, where an errant tee shot can easily find the beach at the bottom of the cliffs next to the green. The ocean breezes (or gales), though, shape every shot you make on the 6,854-yard track--especially on the back nine. The course plays much like pure links, with rolling, contoured fairways where odd bounces prevail and approach shots into generous greens demand careful consideration of the humps and bumps of the greenside terrain. Shot values matter more than sheer length and power. The fairways are generous but the rough is mowed short around bunkers to bring the hazards into play on tee shots. Greenside surrounds are cut to “just above green” mowing height to foster ball movement on the ground and native fescue between holes provides you with visual cues about how to direct your shots.

Half Moon Bay Ocean Course 18th hole
18th Hole on the Ocean Course. Photo courtesy of the resort.
With a little planning, it's easy to play both courses in a day. Just be sure to leave time for a generous lunch break in Mullins Bar & Grill in the clubhouse or in the Conservatory Lounge in the hotel. The sliders of pulled pork cooked for 48 sweet hours deserve your full attention, so allow enough time between rounds to enjoy them.

Other dining options include the nautically-inspired Navio, which serves fine coastal cuisine from a 1,000 sq. ft. display kitchen and ENO, a wine bar that contains over 5,000 bottles of international wines and includes sommelier-selected wine flights. Other resort amenities include a 16,000 sq. ft. Spa and Fitness Center with a unique co-ed Roman mineral bath, an immense patio perched on the cliffs above the beach, and soul-searing views of the Pacific from nearly every room. There also a scenic trail that winds along the cliffs and activities nearby include horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, whale watching, sea kayaking, hiking, biking and antiquing.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Kiawah Island - Not Just For PGA Champions

Shrimp ‘n Grits. Even if you don’t want to play one of the most exciting golf courses in the country, bask on a top-ten beach, or luxuriate in a five-star spa, it’s worth the trip to Kiawah Island just to chow down on Shrimp ‘n Grits, a dish you’ll fortunately find on many menus at the resort. I liked it so much I had it for breakfast one day.

The dish is a lot like the entire experience at Kiawah, the oceanfront resort just 21 miles from Charleston, South Carolina. Each mouthful seems to combine the briny breeze off the Atlantic with the nutty grist of the dunes, all smothered with the creamy gravy of Southern hospitality. The resort melds into a 10,000-acre barrier island, home to egrets, loggerhead turtles, and alligators, not to mention ten miles of perfect Atlantic Ocean beach. You can stay at the ultra-luxury 255-room Sanctuary Hotel or rent one of the 600 charming villas and private homes on the island. There are world-class tennis facilities, a nature center with on-staff naturalists, bike rentals, three swimming pool complexes, a 21-acre park, and year-round family activities.

But the prime attraction at Kiawah Island—or at least the reason we went—are the five championship golf courses headlined by Pete Dye’s Ocean Course, once named America’s Toughest Course by Golf Digest, home of the 1991 Ryder Cup, and home of the 2012 PGA Championship. Not to be overlooked are the other four courses at the resort, all creations of the world’s top golf course architects. They are Osprey Point by Tom Fazio, Turtle Point by Jack Nicklaus, Cougar Point by Gary Player, and Oak Point by Clyde Johnston.

Golfers with a sense of history remember very well the “War By The Shore,” the 1991 Ryder Cup that poured gasoline on the spark of rivalry ignited by the European win in 1987 and the jaw-clenching tie of 1989. When the matches came to Kiawah, they took on a death-before-dishonor tone that they’d never really seen before. Corey Pavin and Steve Pate wore combat-style camo hats in their second day match, the fans were beered-up and raucous, the course was windswept and fast, giving the golfers on both sides fits as they tried to navigate the tough layout and hit the tiny target greens. As the final day dawned, the teams were tied. The singles matches went back and forth, with one memorable moment after another including Mark Calcavecchia’s choking finish that culminated in a missed two-foot putt. The Americans won the event on a missed putt, too, this one the last putt of the last hole when Bernhard Langer’s four-footer slid past the cup.

There may not be chants of “USA! USA!” when you play the Ocean Course, but that won’t make it any less thrilling. The 7,296-yard, par 72 layout runs back and forth along the dune line, giving you views of the ocean on practically every hole while forcing you to play the wind differently on each one as well. The course doesn’t play flat like some other tracks in the region, but has many not-so-subtle elevation changes Dye carved into the fairways to add to the fun. Among the stand-out holes is the 543-yard par-five second, a double dog leg that features a cross hazard in the landing area for the second shot, forcing either a heroic effort to carry it or a precise layup to avoid it. It’s followed by the shortest par four on the course, the 390-yard third hole where the green is perched on a natural sand dune that requires a perfect, high, soft approach to hold the green.

The Ocean Course plays progressively harder as you proceed through the round. At the fourteenth hole, the wind is either your best friend or your worst enemy. Your only choice on this 194-yard par three is to hit the green, which is surrounded by a waste area on the left and a steep collection area on the right from which it’s almost impossible to get up and down. The seventeenth hole strikes fear into the heart of every golfer who stands on the tee and tries to muster the strength and courage to carry the water to the green as much as 221 yards away. The average player at the resort loses two balls on this hole—and most play from the forward tee boxes!

Turtle Point, the Jack Nicklaus design that opened in 1981, is almost the opposite style of golf course, although not much less challenging. It’s a low-profile track where fairways and greens blend into the existing landscape without the artificial mounding and radical features that have become so popular elsewhere. At 6,914 yards from the tips and five par fours measuring 420 yards or longer, the course offers a fine test. The 412-yard fifteenth hole, with its tiny green tucked into the dunes, is part of a three-hole oceanfront duo and possibly the hardest hole on the course.

Tom Fazio’s Osprey Point features four large natural lakes, fingers of saltwater marsh, and dense forests of ancient live oaks, palmetto palms, and magnolias. The 6,871-yard, par 72 course has a great mix of golf holes including the 453-yard par-four ninth and two 200-yard-plus par threes, as well as some short par fours that tempt the big hitter to take a trip on the wild side.

Cougar Point, designed by Gary Player, is known for its three-hole stretch through the front nine bordering the tidal marsh and offering panoramic views of the Kiawah River. The countless wading birds, wave-skipping pelicans, and soaring osprey can easily break your concentration on par—in a good way. The 6,861-yard, par 72 course has an excellent finishing stretch that begins with the 542-yard par five fifteenth hole and ends with the dramatic 415-yard eighteenth.

Oak Point lies just outside the Kiawah gate. It’s a more typical parkland course and makes a good break from the on-island courses. It’s not to be taken lightly, either. At 6,701 yards, it’s long enough to keep your attention and tricky enough to put a big number (or two) on your scorecard.

Kiawah Island is one of the country’s prime non-golf vacation destinations, too. Tennis Magazine ranks it among the top tennis resorts in the nation, based on the quality of instruction as well as on the two separate tennis facilities, one with 14 Har-Tru clay courts, two lighted hard courts and a backboard, the other with nine Har-Tru clay courts (one lighted) and three hard courts (one lighted) as well as a zoned practice court with a ball machine and automatic retrieval system. Family activities include swimming, canoeing, kayaking, bicycling, cookouts, oyster roasts, sing-alongs, and nature walks. Staff naturalists conduct marsh creek canoe trips, sea kayaking, birding walks, night beach walks, and bike tours. Guests at Kiawah enjoy a uniquely pristine beach that stretches ten miles along the Atlantic—and 100 yards wide at low tide! Island homes are set back behind the dunes and the Sanctuary Hotel is the only one on the beach, so it’s much like enjoying  your own private beach.

After all the fun and games, you’ll need a place to lay your head, of course. You have two options. First is the Sanctuary, an ultra-luxurious oceanfront resort and spa that opened just seven years ago. Ninety percent of the guest rooms—which are among the largest you’ll find anywhere—have ocean views and all of them have five-fixture bathrooms with walk-in showers and deep soaking tubs. The hotel’s spa has a Five-Star Mobil rating and features 12 treatment rooms, sauna, steam room, and whirlpool as well as a beauty salon and fitness center. Indulge yourself—or a treat a special someone—to a Mint Julep facial, Lowcountry Verbena Body Polish, or a Body Wrapture—a treatment with warm grain- and herb-filled wraps used to induce deep relaxation.  For an additional housing option, you can rent a private home or condo through the Villas at Kiawah Island.

Now, back to the Shrimp ‘n Grits. Kiawah offers an array of dining options—all of which offer more than just my favorite dish. The Ocean Room at the Sanctuary is the resort’s premier restaurant. It specializes in serving local, grass-fed beef, helping to earn it both the Forbes Five-Star and the AAA Five-Diamond awards. Jasmine Porch, the more casual restaurant at the hotel, serves up Lowcountry cuisine in a setting of authentic Charleston brick, oak-planked floors, and a breath-taking view of the Atlantic ocean. Yes, this is the prime destination for Shrimp ‘n Grits, but you can also enjoy She Crab Bisque, house-made charcuterie, and other local specialties. There are also several casual eating spots on and around the property and each of the golf courses offers dining options as well, although some don’t offer dinner. The Atlantic Room at the Ocean Course concentrates on fine local seafood while Tomasso at Turtle Point is an Italian eatery

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Free Books To Celebrate Read An eBook Week

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Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.