One of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I played in 2019 was at the often overlooked Pinehurst #3 course. While visiting the North Carolina Sandhills on assignment for The Golfer’s Journal, I had the opportunity to venture out and see some of the great courses that make the area so special. Because Pinehurst and the Sand Hills region is such a hub for golf activity, I was able to play with a wonderful assortment of good friends who had gathered there for various reasons. We took on Pinehurst #3 late one afternoon and played as a seven-some. It was a highly enjoyable experience that provided further evidence as to why the Pinehurst Resort is among the best places for golf in the United States.
Over the past decade, the Pinehurst Resort has undergone some incredible upgrades to its long storied collection of golf experiences. Among the most notable enhancements are the restoration of Pinehurst #2, the renovation of Pinehurst #4, the newly added Thistle Dhu putting course, and the creation of the Cradle Short Course. With all of those efforts gaining so much attention it is easy to see how an impressive overhaul of the #3 course could get lost in the coverage.
Pinehurst #3 is an original Donald Ross design that has been altered in a variety of ways throughout its existence. Said to be among his favorite works in the area, the #3 course still maintains much of the original Ross routing. Despite many changes over time, some holes were carved off to create the #5 course while others were lost to resort expansion, the course still has a ton of golden age charm. Now, after an extensive renovation led by architect Kye Goalby the Sand Hills aesthetic has been brought back and the course once again has a strong and attractive identity within the resort.
As the shortest of the resort’s 18 hole courses, Pinehurst #3 is perfectly tailored for a fast-paced round of golf with friends. At just over 5,000 yards long and with a par of 68, the #3 course is reminiscent of some Brittish courses that don’t adhere to the more standardized scales of modern golf. Don’t be fooled by the small ballpark appearance though. With difficult greens, tight lies, native sand areas, and many dogleg holes, #3 still can pack a punch.
Built over an attractive hilly terrain and offering many delightful Donald Ross features, Pinehurst #3 makes for a great add-on round during a visit to the resort. With six par 3 holes on the course, a good day of ball striking is required to score well there and the course serves as a great introduction to play the more famous tracks on site. In my estimation, a visit to the resort would be incomplete without spending a few hours tackling the #3 course.
To get a more full picture of the Pinehurst #3 experience, take a few minutes to enjoy the latest installment from my Golf is Everywhere Youtube series. With seven friends playing such a fun course, my afternoon there made for a few good memories and a real desire to come back soon. I think you’ll enjoy the scenes I captured from the round while gaining some insight into why the course is a must-play at the resort.
Shoutout to my friends Dave Baysden, Joe Zwickl, and Robbie Wooten along with others for recommending the course and making the walk so enjoyable.
Some of my favorite golf course discoveries have been in small towns and obscure places. The Palatka Golf Club certainly fits that bill. Located about an hour south of Jacksonville, the small town of Palatka is home to a community golf course that has a curious story and a big personality.
Founded in 1925, the Palatka Golf Club has a wonderful golden age routing that falls over a delightfully hilly piece of property. The club proudly celebrates Donald Ross as its designer, but many historians and golf architecture aficionados have called that into question. Palatka is one of many golf courses around the country and a handful in Florida whose claim to be an original Ross design is a bit questionable. There is significant evidence that the architect may have actually been fellow Scotsman W.D. Clark, but the locals in Palatka are quick to dismiss that idea.
I have long heard about how enjoyable the golf was in Palatka and have also followed the story of its unproven design lineage. Earlier this year, I finally got the chance to make it over to Palatka to see the course for myself. What I found is a fabulous golf experience that packs a large amount of interest into a small package.
Coming in at just under 6,000 yards, the course looks far more getable than it really is. Small greens with great contours make for a real challenge and the land movement throughout the routing is highly unique for Florida. What I walked away with from Palatka was a big smile and a strong desire to come back soon. If you are anyone you know is traveling through Northeast Florida, the Palatka Golf Club is worth going to see and play. I believe that there is something special about the place regardless of who gets the credit for the course design.
I fell in love with quite a few places in 2019, but nowhere has left as deep an impression on my golfing soul as Tobacco Road Golf Club. I spent the better part of six months working on a special project for The Golfer’s Journal in which we documented the history of this remarkable place. That story appeared in issue #10 of The Golfer’s Journal and included a companion podcast(see below) featuring recordings of Tobacco Road’s designer, the late great Mike Strantz. While I was visiting the course for my story, I took a lot of video, but didn’t want to share it until after the piece had published in the magazine. Now that the story has been out in the world for a few weeks, I thought it would be great to share the video as part of my Golf is Everywhere series on Youtube.
I can’t think of a better way to close out 2019, then to share my video essay from Tobacco Road. The course, its designer, and certainly its owners and staff have had a huge impact on me and my writing career this year. That being said, I’m happy to share this latest video. Give it a watch when you can and if you haven’t had a chance to subscribe to my Youtube channel, I hope you will!
Golf is Everywhere – Tobacco Road
The Golfer’s Journal Podcast – The Lost Strantz Tapes
To be a golfer is to be a wanderer and that is my identity. The game is, at its very essence, a walkabout through the fields, forests, towns, and dunes of the world. For that reason, a golfer’s soul yearns to journey. As a golfer, my thirst for adventure is unquenchable.
For those like me who are inflicted with such a love for the game, one foot will always be compelled to follow the other. Each round of golf creates a longing for the next. In my mind there lies an uncontrollable urge to stray and a sense that each new course needs to be further from home than the last.
The golfer is a traveler and an explorer. No destination will ever satisfy the desire to see another. I am a golfer and I am increasingly compelled to roam.
The passages of golf books become the places that yield sunburns on my skin. Reading about distant lands isn’t enough to cure my curiosity though. I have to see it with my own eyes and play the course with clubs in tow.
There is a brilliant sun shining on the fairways in my mind and if I can muster up a willingness to set forth I can find that warmth in living color. When presented with the opportunity to travel for golf, I exhaust every means to make it happen.
That being said, to reach an awareness of the available adventures in the sport is to suffer madness. This comes from the knowledge that I’ll never be able to experience them all.
Which brings me to the following passages.
No golf traveler is alike, yet there is a kinsmanship found among those of us who spend hours searching out the next stop on the journey. Opinions on courses, clubs, and destinations for golf will vary, making it important to remember that the objective of traveling is to form your own. Every course in the world has something to offer the golfer on the move, but how can one best discern what to seek out next?
For that question, I offer you these thoughts.
Where to go…
Go in search of great walks.
Not every golf course can be walked, but those most worthy of your time will be of the variety you explore on foot. The game was meant for walking and the best golf in the world will always be that which is tailored to such methods of play. When traveling, the walks should actually be the reason for the trip. Golf is just an excuse to go for the hike. Take these considerations to mind when evaluating where you’d like to walk next.
Seek out an understanding of architecture.
Architecture is the field in which art and science meet. The designing of golf courses is consistent with that truth. Golf course architects are both artist and engineer. No two sites for golf are the same and every architect has a different lens on the world, therefore each individual course is a separate and unique expression of those who built it. The seasoned golf traveler is keen to this and through earned knowledge of the subject one can find a greater appreciation for all aspects of the game. The study of a course’s design should be a leading factor in choosing where to play.
Account for the history of a place.
History provides the context for how a place came to be. Strive to be a traveler who wonders why things are a certain way and you’ll find history has the answers. When traveling to a new golf course, a review of its history should always be the appetizer before the main course of playing there. Golf has long been a game with a reverence for its roots and an appreciation of its past. Many clubs and courses offer visitors the chance to learn their story and others can be found through simple research. To not seek such details is to willingly avoid the full experience. Not every great course has a long history, but those that do often offer a more interesting destination.
Consider the available accommodations.
The place in which you lay your head should never be an afterthought. Some locations offer luxurious quarters while others are more spartan, but I would suggest proximity to places of interest as a more pressing need. Look for lodging that serves as a window into the community or perhaps a room located on-site that may yield additional time spent at the course. The hotel by the highway may suffice for bedding and such, but a better experience can be found at the course cabin, bed & breakfast, or charming hotel downtown. Where you stay will dictate where you eat, where you drink, and where you roam while visiting a place for golf. With that in mind, be sure to choose wisely and aim for places that increase the odds of serendipitous discoveries and a better understanding of the destination.
Making a decision on where to go is only the first step. There is also the matter of being in a place. How does one compose themselves when traveling for golf and what should you be looking for?
These are my recommendations.
How to be there…
Observe the presentation of the golf course.
Golf courses are works of art constructed on a medium of grass. With a live and growing canvass, the state of a golf course is always in flux. Knowing this the golf traveler should make sure to appreciate the state of the course. The superintendent whose role it is to oversee the presentation of the playing surface is often times the unsung hero of the golf world. The agronomists that maintain the turf are essential to every pleasant golf experience and the traveler should take note of the conditions that were carefully arranged for them. Be sure to thank the agronomy staff should your paths cross while playing.
Speak with those who work there.
To best understand a place, one must speak with those who tend to it. The staff members of any golf facility are the keepers of valuable information and important details. Some professionals will offer delightful details about a golf course unsolicited, but others may require the spark of conversation. Engaging with staff is a wonderful way to make a new acquaintance while also seeking out the best ways to enhance your visit. Present yourself and your questions with a genuine curiosity and often times you will be rewarded with local tips, unique stories, or perhaps even a tour. These are the interactions that often lead to repeat visits and intimate discoveries during your stay. Travelers need not be shy, the staff is there to answer your questions and ensure you have a great day at the course.
Cater to the customs of the regulars.
When visiting a club or course it is best to try and enjoy the facilities in the same manner as the regulars do. Whether you are an invited guest or simply paired with strangers, be sure to yield to the resident customs. There may be a particular game you will be asked to join or perhaps the norm is to play from a closer tee box than you are accustomed, either way – go with the flow. Those who play there the most likely know how to play it for max enjoyment and as a traveler that should be your aim as well. You never know, by following the regulars you might just find something worth changing in your own golf routine.
Look for where the locals go.
When traveling for golf, the time spent on the course is only part of the trip. There should be dining, shopping, sightseeing, and other exploratory activities on the itinerary. Some research before your travel is critical, but more importantly, ask the locals where they like to go. More times than not the best places in town will be those which the residents frequent. This also holds true for golf. Be sure to save some time in your travels for the course you didn’t expect to play. A local recommendation can make for a splendid emergency 9 holes or a quick round before heading home. Ask around for advice on all counts of your trip and allow for pleasant surprises.
The trip doesn’t end on the final green or even when you put the clubs back in your garage. Some trips never really end at all. The best travels are the kind which are permanently extended in our memories. The trips that change how we see things become chapters in our ever-evolving story.
Here are my recommendations on how to maximize the impacts of your travel.
What to remember…
Document your days spent away from home.
There has never been an easier time in history to chronicle your observations from traveling. Technology allows us to record the details of our trips via a wide variety of social media, applications, and other means. Of course, there is always the more traditional route of handwritten journal entries or even blogging. No matter your preferred method, be sure to take some time each day of your trip and make a few notes on what you have seen. There is great joy to be found in recounting your travels while reading the details of days gone past.
Take time to reflect on your experiences.
In many ways, golf is a meditation. Arranging your thoughts from a golf trip is a healthy way to find some peaceful appreciation for what you have seen. Beyond the time you spend on the golf course, it is important to set aside some moments for the quiet contemplation of your experience. It is in those minutes, spent reflecting on your trip, in which clarity can emerge in your thinking. Often times, I have found that my most meaningful takeaways from golf travel occur long after the initial experience has happened. Through a deliberate search of my thoughts, I find new ways of seeing the places that I visited months or years before.
Tell your friends about where you went.
Sharing the stories of your golf travels is an important part of being an explorer in our game. Please note, this is not an invitation to display braggadocious behavior. Your aim should be to provide valuable insights into the places you have been. Be a guide to those who may want to set forth on their own discovery someday. Do not instruct them, but instead offer some seeds from which they can grow their own ideas and opinions. Discussing a trip with those you shared it with or others who saw the same place on another occasion is one of the great joys of golf.
Contemplate how the trip has changed your perspective.
The best travels are the ones that change how you see the world. For golfers, that can occur in a wide variety of ways. Perhaps a course has shifted your thoughts on a particular architect or maybe a previously undiscovered golf culture made you swoon for a new city. The possibilities are as endless as your list of courses yet to be seen. The notes you write, the conversations you have, and the memories you make while traveling for golf all add up to shape your unique perspective on the game. When you think you have finally landed on a set of beliefs about golf then it’s time to hit the road again. The next course may just be the one that changes your mind forever. The only way to know is to go and once you’ve been, only you can determine what it all meant.
Traveling for golf is a means for replenishing my soul. The game has always had a hold on me and with each trip I take I find new inspiration for living life as a golfist. Some places speak to me more than others, but with each new stop along the way, I find small traces of the games deeper meaning. For me, traveling for golf is a transcendent pursuit.
So my charge to you, my fellow golf traveler, is this – go forth and seek out the courses that call your name. Find the time to venture for golf and be sure to savor each step. Seek out stories, architects, history, and new scenery. Search for the places that will shape you for the better and never stop discovering what the game can mean in your life. There are many people who share your passion for golf and the best way to find them is to start looking wherever you may roam. Golf is a grand adventure, but it’s up to us to take it.
I hope to see you out there on fairways near and far.
You can learn a lot about someone by playing golf with them. The ways in which a person conducts themselves on a golf course is a window into their character. Golf provides an ample display of one’s disposition and playing with others is an invitation to question our own comportment. Every so often, I have been graced with the chance to play golf with someone who challenges my assumptions and provides a model for how I might improve my own outlook on the game. Ran Morrissett is one such person.
Ran Morrissett is the founder and proprietor of Golf Club Atlas. CGA, as it is commonly called, is a website made for the study and discussion of golf course architecture. Instituted in the early days of the internet, GCA has become the go-to place for golfers to gain a deeper appreciation for the design of the best courses in the world. I have been a fan and message board member for a few years now and Ran’s writing and opinions on golf are among my favorite things to read. When the opportunity arose for me to travel to his home town near Pinehurst, North Carolina, I reached out to Ran to see if he may be available to talk some golf.
Ran is the kind of gentleman golfer with whom I find great delight in sharing a conversation. He is well-traveled and fluent in the language of the game. These attributes became apparent upon my arrival at his home for our afternoon appointment. Ran was kind enough to take me up on having a chat and he extended me a sincere and warm greeting. Ran suggested an itinerary for the evening that included a few holes of golf and some dinner. I was thrilled to join him for both and it turned out to be quite the learning experience.
After a tour of his home and a brief walkthrough of GCA world headquarters, Ran and I loaded into his car and headed for his favorite golf hang – the Southern Pines Golf Club. On the ride over, he gave me some backstory on Southern Pines and its current state. The club has a rich history. Donald Ross designed its first nine holes in 1906 and eventually expanded the golf there to include 36 holes. Only 18 remain in play today. The club is owned by the local Elks lodge which at one time made for steady traffic and a healthy level of revenues. Today, the club is dealing with the many effects of the ever-changing golf market.
When Ran and I pulled up to the club I could immediately sense the aging of the place. In many ways, it reminded me of my home club. Time had moved on, but the club stayed behind. The large hulking and empty Elks lodge casts a shadow on the first tee and serves as a monument to days gone by. Beyond the parking lot and the lodge, the property falls away into a pine forest that is populated with rolling hills. It is over those slopes that the routing of Donald Ross and the many charms of Southern Pines comes alive. It’s the perfect place for Ran to have a hit in the fading sunlight of the Sandhills each day
After checking in we were joined on the first tee by the delightful Chris Buie. Chris is one of the great resident writers and historians of the Pinehurst area. He also serves as Ran’s regular playing partner at Southern Pines. Between the two of them, they figure to have logged a few thousand holes played under the evening sun there.
The preferred game for Ran and Chris is a fast-paced walk around the course. The score is largely irrelevant. Some nights they may only play a handful of holes, but most times they aim for around twelve. It is just enough golf to get some exercise and have a well-rounded conversation between the swings. For me to join them in this ritual was a great treat.
To say that Ran and Chris play briskly is an understatement. Even as a seasoned walker, I found myself having to adjust my pace to keep up. I would classify their methods as “reactionary” golf. The process of each shot was short and decisions were made quickly. Approach the ball, pull a club, swing, then start walking. It’s that simple.
The way in which these gentlemen play is sporty and is in keeping with the traditions of the game in the United Kingdom. That can be attributed to the amount of time these gents have spent pursuing golf experiences around the globe. As Ran told me, “In other golfing nations the pace just isn’t an issue.” Playing quickly is just common courtesy. “Nobody wants to see folks take two minutes over a three-foot putt. Just hit it and keep moving.” During the course of our time together at Southern Pines, it occurred to me that this was a mindset worth emulating.
If I conjure an honest assessment of my game, I have to admit that my pace is often too slow. Perhaps it is due to the lingering effects of my junior golf career and all the crap I got fed about pre-shot routines and other manners of dragging on. Then again, it may just be that my inner demons won’t allow me to carry as quickly as I should. Either way, my pace has been and remains something I must work on.
My conversion back into a walking golfer these past few years has helped a great deal. If you are the lone walker in a group that reality necessitates you play fast enough to keep up. My pace has steadily improved, but it was my evening with Ran Morrissett that allowed me to see what I should be aiming for.
As we ventured around the course that evening I became intoxicated by the rhythm that we were enjoying together. This was a pace in which many of the game’s best aspects were made more readily enjoyable. For Ran and Chris, the golf being played was secondary to the pleasure of the walk with good company over a stunning layout.
There were times during my walk with Ran and Chris that I felt myself falling behind. Those guys really flew around the course. To tell the truth, It made me feel a bit inadequate. I can certainly see how newcomers to the game may feel completely lost in such a dizzying pace, but that was not an excuse that I had any room to enjoy. As a seasoned player, I needed to be better and as I watched my playing partners, I picked up on a number of customs that could easily be transferred to my own game.
The key to keeping up with Ran and Chris was to never stop moving. They showed me what is possible if you go to play with the intent of moving quickly around the course. For those of you wondering how this might play out in your own game, it means three things:
Be ready to hit as soon as it is your turn
Once you start putting don’t stop until you hole out
If you lose a ball, drop one and keep playing quickly
Thanks to Ran and Chris, I found a strategy to improve my pace of play while having more fun on the course. The pace of play in golf continues to be a hot topic in the game and with today’s ever-growing social media conversations, there seems to be real momentum for speeding play across the globe. That is a good thing. For many years I shrugged when my friends commented about my pace because I didn’t believe them. “Surely it isn’t me,” I thought. But guess what – it was. Like anything else in life, I had to want to change if I ever hoped to improve.
By the time I arranged my meetup with Ran and round of golf with him and Chris, I was already on the path to improvement. They helped further my education and ever since I have made serious headway in reducing my round times. With a hard-working wife and rambunctious toddler at home, I need to gain back all the time I can. It’s still a work in progress, but I like where things are headed.
When Ran, Chris, and I finished our round at Southern Pines we scurried over to a local pub for some beers and a meal. For a guy like me, I could sit there and listen to their tales of golf trips all night. However, much like the way they play golf, dinner was straight to the point. We enjoyed every second together, but we all had other things to get to. That’s the kind of golf I try to play more of these days. Fun, faster, freewheeling, and far from caring about too much about the score.
I’m not sure we will ever see that kind of pace catch on across the entirety of the American golf landscape, but it is an idea worth spreading. The concept of playing quickly is something golf and the folks who play it all need to embrace. I’m still working on it, but it feels good to play faster. For those who may need a lesson in picking up the pace, I suggest stopping into Southern Pines some evening and see if you can keep up with Ran and Chris.
Life is hard and so is golf. I suppose that makes it odd that I use one to escape the other. When things get overwhelming, I always look for my clubs and a good long walk to save me from myself and the world around me. I run to the golf course in an effort to create separation between me and whatever might be troubling my mind. I have found peace through playing alone, but it is when I play with others that I discover just how wonderful people are to be around. It is in those moments when the problems of our lives are put on the shelf that I find great joy in being with my fellow man. Golf is a game meant to bring people together and god knows we need more of that these days.
The world we know today is filled with difficulty and unrest. Things don’t quite seem right and I think we can all feel that change is needed. The news stories we find on our timelines and TV screens seem to get worse each week. Shootings at home, tensions abroad, and a never-ending stream of disagreement among political factions are all symptoms of the same problem. We have lost our ability to treat each other with respect and dignity. In these troubling times, we need to forge new ways for people to find one another and enjoy our common traits. For this reason, I believe we could all use a little more golf in our lives.
Despite the occasionally grim realities of our time, hope has not been lost. The good people still outnumber the bad and if history tells us anything, we will someday find solutions to sort all this madness out. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but in order to make a course correction, we have to learn to be around each other again. In my experience, that is exactly what golf offers the world.
Golf is a means for spending time with your friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors. Our game has always been intended as a pastime and today we need social agreements like this in the worst of ways. I have known many truths about golf over the years and the greatest of these is that because the game strips us of our differences, it opens a window to create new and lasting relationships.
Golf offers those who play it the chance to see others as fellow travelers on the same journey. Golf reminds us of our shared struggle and connects us through a camaraderie which only our agonizing game can create. On the golf course, we all have much more in common then our backgrounds and beliefs would allow us to appreciate. To put it simply, we are all just trying to move the ball down the fairways of life and golf serves as a way to see that truth.
This past weekend, when greeted with another morning of disturbing headlines, I picked up the phone and called my parents. In that call, I invited my dad to come over and play golf with me. We made some plans for a quick nine holes and dinner afterward at the house. Perhaps it was because the horrifying stories of another mass shooting got me thinking about my family, or maybe I just wanted to see my folks, but either way, I set up some time for golf and I sure am glad I did.
Dad and I have had our differences over the years. Sometimes they have been over politics and on other occasions, it may have just been family issues. Our relationship is great these days and golf is a meaningful way to spend time with him. When he and mom got to my house, I took him up to the course for a brisk evening walk before dinner. With my dog at our side, we walked nine holes under a brilliant summer sunset.
During our round, we spoke about the joy my daughter has brought us both, my budding career, his pending retirement, and other matters of interest to the two of us. No debates, no bother, just a father and son connecting on the course. The walk was splendid and our dinner afterward was delightful. Having my family sit down at the dinner table and enjoy a meal and conversation was exactly what I needed after a weekend filled with bad national news. As my parents left for the night, I couldn’t help but think how wonderful the time together had been. It made me consider how fortunate we all are to have each other. I was also reminded of how much the world could use the kind of fellowship Dad and I shared on the course that night.
Spending time playing with Dad and enjoying a nice dinner with my family left me with a peaceful feeling. When I woke up the next morning to start my week, I felt a renewed hope for a better world. Imagine what more of that feeling could do for us all.
Having golf in my life has granted me an improved mental state and more stable relationships. Through the years, golf has taught me how to build new friendships and rekindle old ones. The game has shown me how to overcome my prejudices and led me to build upon my best qualities. Golf has saved my life on more than one occasion and it has unquestionably made me a better man.
I don’t have all the solutions to the world’s problems, but I do know this – if we can all commit to spending time with one another in search of our better angels then things will certainly improve. To do that, we need systems that allow for a certain kind of nearness with the ones we love, folks we know, and even those we disagree with. Golf is one of those systems.
I want to play more golf because the game makes me feel better about myself and the world around me. It’s therapeutic and it activates the best of my thoughts. I believe that to be true of others who play as well. Beyond self-improvement, golf gives us enough time together to see how much we have in common. If I can make a commitment to playing more golf with my family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors then perhaps I can have a small impact on the world.
Our times may be troubled, but we have to avoid the convenience of isolation. We must choose to lean in and engage with one another. I propose that we spend less time in the bowels of the internet and more time crossing paths on the fairways and greens of the local golf course. Golf can be a mechanism for change and it starts with those of us who play the game deciding to bring more people into it.
The world may be in peril and the situations of our daily existence often seem dire, but there are still means for bridging our divides. My preferred method involves a small white ball and club with which to hit it. The pursuit of this game has always been a path to my best self and if a lost soul like me can find a way to improve so might others. So the next time you read a bad headline or experience a tense moment in your day, think of someone you know who may be in need of nine holes and a walk with a friend. Go play golf and remember all the things right with the world and with the people in it. The game we love is a simple one, yet its impacts on those who play it can be profound. Golf can’t solve all our problems, but it is certainly a good place to start.
The hangover was a serious problem. I felt it as soon as the alarm went off and it hit me right between the eyes. Reaching for a glass of water by my bed, I climbed out of another hazed awakening in the rental condo that was ground zero for my golf vacation. Our annual guys trip always makes for a few tough mornings, but that day was the worst yet. We had a high noon tee time on the hardest course in America and my head felt like I had been kicked by a mule.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort has one hell of a reputation. It hosted and roasted the best players in the world during both the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship. From the tips, it boasts the highest course and slope rating combination in all of America. Architect Pete Dye carved the course out of the South Carolina coast, creating a Molotov cocktail of sand, water, and wind. From its debut in the Ryder Cup matches to everyday resort guest play, the Ocean Course has been dismantling golfers for nearly three decades. Trust me when I say that trying to tackle such a place while battling the demons of the night before is ill-advised.
The steady decline of my alcohol tolerance had been brought on by my rapid acceleration into marriage, fatherhood, and life in my early thirties. I am reminded of this each time I travel with our gang. As I shuffled my way through a muddled morning routine it became increasingly evident that I may be trading birdie putts for blowing chunks on the Ocean Course. It was a terrible feeling.
The first time I played the Ocean Course was on my honeymoon. It was a glorious day with my new bride and I loved the golf course, but my game was not up for the test. I’ll never forget how much the wind blew my shots around while inflating my score that afternoon. I spent four years dreaming of a redemption round and as that tee time finally approached I was laid up on a couch watching the ceiling spin.
The heat index was creeping up on triple digits as we pulled up to the bag drop and the stiff wind made it feel like we were under a hairdryer. I was headed for sweaty mess territory, but I had to press on. If I bailed on our group of fifteen guys I’d never live down the shame. The only way through that black hole was straight on to the other side.
After consuming an anecdote of Gatorade, Aleve, and CBD oils, I managed to make it to the driving range for a warm-up session. That’s where I met Mike, my looper for the day. We made some small talk and he chuckled as guys were giving me hell for my obvious struggles. The ball was flying all over the place and the pounding headache made it hard to find any rhythm at all. The sun was straight above our heads and I was sinking low as we boarded the transport to the first tee.
Nausea did seem to displace the nerves at least. I remembered the first hole well and I asked Mike to hand me a hybrid to start the day. “I need to ease into this thing,” I told him. With a deep breath and a slow turn, I sent the ball on its way. Through my squinting stare I watched the shot sail out in front of our group and I found the first of many fairways that day. I grabbed another water and prayed that I could repeat that move a few more times. Luckily someone was listening.
The bogey-bogey start was less than impressive, but I felt like the ball was going where I wanted. On the third hole, I faced dire straits when my approach bounded over the buried boxcar green. I needed an up and down to get a par on the board but my wedge game was feeling less than great. “Let me see that putter Mike.” My caddie companion obliged and from twenty feet off the green I rolled the ball up to within a snuggly distance to the pin. It was just the spark I needed. Mike gave me a nudge of encouragement and we pressed on.
Somehow I was able to string together a series of par saves that included a wide variety of results. I putted from off the green a few more times to kick in range and even managed to clip the pin on an overcooked bunker shot. I knew that the scores were being authored by a shaky hand, but somehow they kept coming in at par. I was managing my game and my condition about as well as I could have hoped for. There was no way to know what would happen next.
The wind continued to intensify as we walked up to the ninth hole. It was blowing something fierce and through the clouds of my mental state, I recognized the prevailing winds from my first time on the course. As my playing partners sized up their challenges I stood on a hill facing the same shot I had four years prior. That’s when I heard a faint voice whisper “Ride the wind.” I’m not sure if it was Bagger Vance, Shivas Irons, James Earl Jones, or God, but something told me what to do and suddenly I was overcome with calmness. The peaceful feeling was unlike anything I’ve ever felt on a golf course.
I focused on the shot at hand and made a mighty swing of a six iron. The ball climbed high up against the gusting wind to form a towering draw. I could see the flight pattern illuminate before me and the ball nestled to within ten feet of the cup. I missed the putt, but when we climbed into the shuttle for the tenth tee I became convinced that I had just unlocked some new form of my highest potential.
If you have ever found this feeling before you will know what I mean, but if not you may think I’m nuts. My mind was entering into what felt like a trance. I had experienced this before, but it is rare and I never know how long it will last. On a day when my body was ready to give up on me, my mind found the extra gear I needed. Dare I say it, but I was in the zone.
The ensuing back nine was a bit of a blur. Facing 30 + mile per hour winds I was sliding into some sort of hypnotic state. There was chaos all around me as my playing partners were losing their balls and their patience, but I barely saw them. Mike was there with me for yardages, but in hindsight, I don’t remember a word he said along the way. While my friends were battling the course, I felt like I had found the cheat codes to a video game.
Then the putter got hot.
After a series of swings that set me up for scoring, I made birdie putts at 11 and 12 while nearly clipping a “turkey”- three in a row, at the 13th. The cup was starting to look like a basketball hoop and on each stroke I saw my immediate future. I could visualize my arms raised and a confident fist pump gesture following another holed putt. All I had to do was let it happen and I did.
In those moments my hands weren’t my hands. In my mind, I was Seve Ballesteros. There was new and radiant energy emitting from my body as I glided from shot to shot. The feeling was euphoric.
At the 14th hole, we turned our backs to the wind and began the home stretch march to the clubhouse. I could sense that the round still had much to give. There was more joy yet to come and it was predetermined to be my day. Despite a bogey, I rebounded by pouring in par putts at the 15th and 16th to keep the momentum alive. As I walked over the dune to the difficult 17th hole I found myself wandering in and out of consciousness. The everyday noise that stifles my thoughts had gone silent and at that moment I was one with the game.
From the tee box, I could see the ocean to my right. The waves were crashing up and down the beach and the timing of it all acted like a metronome in my mind. Perched on the horizon was the stately clubhouse with a series of flags waving at a frantic pace. This would be the site of another special moment. I unleashed the smoothest of swings and the ball carried dutifully towards the flag. It landed in the center green and careened off a slope towards the hole. I walked up to the green knowing I would make the putt.
In the pond between the dunes and the green, there was the largest alligator I’ve ever seen in my life. My confidence had reached such a level that I felt like I could ride him in the same fashion as the mechanical bull I vanquished the night before. Everything was in slow motion and once again the people playing with me disappeared. The putt slid slightly down the hill and found the center of the cup. I stuck my putter in the air and turned my attention to the finale.
Mike the caddie pointed to the left side of the clubhouse and said, “put her right there and let it ride.” I just nodded at him with a quiet affirmation. Like many swings that day, I made a pass at the ball that resulted in something magical. The cut spin on the shot was shaping the ball flight perfectly into the fairway and I looked back at my caddie as if the day would never end. Unfortunately, there was an end and as we walked up the 18th hole it was clearly in site.
We walked at a steady but slowing pace up the fairway of the final hole. The crowded clubhouse veranda was now populated by the late afternoon onlookers who watch golfers come off the course each day. Draped in summer attire with cocktails in hand they were the gallery who bore witness to the best round of my life. But like many stories, the ending was amiss.
When I arrived at my ball in the 18th fairway I looked up to take in the scene around me. For the first time in hours, I became cognizant of my friends. They were looking at me from forty yards away in the same manner that baseball teammates stay away from a pitcher with a perfect game on the line. Seeing them and the crowd of onlookers and the sea crashing nearby brought me back to where I was. I’ll never know why, but as I took a long gaze at my surroundings the cloud I was on seemed to lower back down to earth.
My approach the final green came up well short and I could feel myself returning to my body. I wasn’t watching from above anymore. I was on the ground and in my shoes again. Perhaps it was because I realized a birdie would yield an even-par round, but either way, the golf gods had determined that my time was up.
Instead of a perfect finish, I tapped in for a bogey. It didn’t matter though. I had just come through something that defied logic. It was supernatural. I had floated and glided and sailed gently around the hardest course in the country while battling a hangover and a two-club wind. Mike put on a big smile and congratulated me on a special round. My friends stood and stared at me like I had just performed some sort of miracle.
“Holy shit man.”
“That was really something.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that.”
We exited the green and the round came to an end. The sun was beginning to lay down over the dunes and happy hour was in full swing. I strolled up the gentle slope to the clubhouse veranda and finally paused to appreciate what I had just done. My score was 74. It wasn’t the lowest of my life, but that round was by far the best I ever had. By this time, my hangover had subsided and our larger group was anxious to know how our foursome had fared. After all there was money and pride on the line. I walked into the Ryder Cup bar and a smile climbed across my face. It was the happiest I’d ever been in golf.
What began as a dreadful morning had morphed into a day that I’ll never forget. I don’t know what happened out there on the Ocean Course, yet I’m confident that it was metaphysical in nature. People will call me crazy for suggesting that the game of golf left me with an out of body experience, but it happened and it was incredible. My round of golf that day was only possible because I allowed myself to go into something that I didn’t fully understand. I’ve got a feeling that the hangover from those feelings won’t be so easily shaken.
There is no way to know if I’ll ever find that state of mind again. The golf gods are cruel and fickle. They tease us all with a poor sense of humor, but on occasion they breathe some powerful wind into our sails and carry us to newfound places. Such magic is real, but fleeting. Just when we think we have harnessed its power, it disappears like a kite lost on the breeze. On my day at the Ocean Course, golf became a portal to another plain of existence. Perhaps, if I’m lucky and mix my spirits just right the night before, I can ride that wind again someday.
If you like underdog stories in golf then Ben Bates is a good man to root for this week. Ben is a 58-year-old golf professional who spent the majority of his life chasing mini tours and golfing glory all across America. That pursuit hit its peak during the turn-of-the-century years when he spent four seasons on the PGA Tour. Before and after that stint, he was busy racking up a record-setting amount of starts on the often renamed Korn-Ferry Tour. Today, he’s part of a company that manages four golf courses in Pensacola, Florida, but this week he’s back on the road en route to try his luck at the U.S. Senior Open.
Ben earned his way into the Senior Open via a runner-up finish in the Montgomery, Alabama sectional qualifier earlier this summer. Staying busy with his duties in the golf business, he doesn’t have time for practice and playing much these days. Not exactly a recipe for winning the Open. However, after a long hiatus on the professional circuits, he was able to find lightning in a bottle and make it in on the number for the chance to compete for a national championship. The Senior U.S. Open kicks off later this week at the Warren Course at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana and for the first time in four years, Ben will be making a start at the highest level of Senior golf.
I should mention that I have a familial rooting interest in Ben’s career. He is my uncle on my mom’s side of the family and seeing him return to competitive golf at the Open is a big deal for those of us in his small but dedicated fan club. In my childhood, our family spent many days watching closely online to see where he would finish each week. These were the days when we got our golf news via dial-up internet, flip phones, and print journalism. Once on a Sunday, we spent hours in front of a Comfort Inn computer station in Dothan, Alabama hitting the refresh button as he plotted his way through a seven-hole playoff to capture his second win on the Korn-Ferry Tour. This week family and friends will be watching again but with much-improved technology and a hunger to see our guy play well in the big leagues once more.
Ben hardly has any business playing in a major championship these days, but sometimes the golf gods smile down on forgotten sons like him and offer another chance to prove their worth. To say that his presence at the championship is a long shot at this point would be an understatement. He is particularly proud of the fact that he made it in the Open using clubs and balls that are a decade old. Both are remnants from the last days of his tour contracts with Callaway Golf. He still has a closet full of unused gear that he plays with including his “brand new” Nike shoes that were made twenty years ago but are just now seeing daylight. Despite aging equipment and a rusty game, Bates still has the drive to compete and some serious ball striking skills. That’s what got him to the Open and if he has any success there it will be because he can still call it up when needed.
I spent a few hours with Ben last weekend at Marcus Point Golf Club, the blue-collar course that has been his office these past five years, as he was preparing to depart for the Open in Indiana. We played a few holes on a hot Saturday afternoon as he put in a few final swings before taking off for what could be his last shot at making a big splash in golf. Driving around the property, we hit a few shots throughout the course as he found openings between a busy tee sheet that day. It was tough to play much though because everyone wanted to say hello. Due to his qualifying for the Open he was getting even more shout outs than normal. Ben has a huge personality and everywhere he goes people wave for him to come over and talk or tell a story. On this day, those short visits were all filled with good luck wishes and other congratulatory remarks from the players that frequent his club.
Ben has always been beloved by the golfers he surrounds himself with. On tour, he was always the life of the party and a repository for side-splitting jokes. You might think of him as a dream Pro-am partner. Whether he is in the locker room at a tour event or the grill room of a Golf Now paradise, he is still the guy that folks flock to. This was evident as we sat around the bar at Marcus Point having a few beers as the men’s golf association was tallying the scorecards for the day. Sitting there next to him I watched player after player stop by to extend a fist pound, handshake, or call for him to “kick some ass” at the Open. It was quite the pep talk for a guy about to chase his dream again.
Life has brought Ben a long way since his days on the big tour. When he was coming off his final days as a PGA Tour member he was a brand new father. Now, he’s heading to the Open with his son Angus slated to caddie for him. Angus is a high school graduate as of earlier this month and will most certainly be the most green of loopers at the Warren Course this week. Fortunately for him, he will be carrying for a seasoned old pro who won’t need much advice. Ben’s support group goes well beyond just young Angus though. He’s got folks from all over the country watching from afar and a few special fans are making the trip. In the crowd will be his parents, Ed and Louise(my grandparents), who are thrilled at the prospect of taking another road trip to see their son tee it up.
Back in the late 90’s we all made a ritual out of traveling to watch Ben play. My grandfather had a old Dodge travel van that we all called “big red” and every summer we took trips to hunt down the chance to watch Ben go up against the big guns on tour. I remember those days well as they were the beginning of my decent into golf infatuation. We had clubhouse passes and an all access life for a few years and it was glorious. Especially for me as a kid just shy of being a teenager and meeting my heroes at each stop. I can’t make the trip this go round, but Gramps and Weezy wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Ben last teed it up on the Champions tour in 2015 at the event in Biloxi, Mississippi. He had to qualify his way into that outing as well. There just isn’t much room on that tour for guys who don’t have a healthy resume of winning. He spent some time chasing out there though. He damn near got a spot via the limited Q-school tournament and one season he even set a record for most successful attempts at Monday qualifying. It’s hard to describe just how on brand that is for him. Either way, those swings and misses led him home to Pensacola and into a new role in golf.
Ben is the perfect guy to run a golf course. He has never met a stranger and he makes everyone feel at home. When he and his partners took over Marcus Point it was closed and in serious disrepair. It still isn’t perfect, but the tee sheet now stays full every week. I believe Ben to be a major part of that success. If every club in America had a Ben Bates behind the counter there would be no issue growing the game. Despite such talents I know he misses the old life on tour and he is definitely happy to be back in the game this week.
When I asked Ben what excited him the most about the opportunity to play in the Open, he surprised me with his answer. He didn’t mention the cheering crowds or the swanky accommodations for players at the course. There was no talk of luxury courtesy cars or the thrill of the chase either. “I’m most excited to be back on the road…even for one week” he told me. “Its been a long time and I’m glad to be able to get out on the road and go after it again.” I think that’s where he has always felt most at home.
It’s a twelve hour drive from Pensacola to South Bend and for Ben he’s got plenty of memories to keep himself entertained. He has burned up more than his fare share of miles over the years, but this road trip will be different. He will have his son riding shotgun and perhaps one last shot at immortality laying in front of him. Odds are he will go through the vast array of the Elvis catalog while singing along the way and there is a good chance this trip will be the end of his career, but no matter the outcome he will be able to enjoy one more opportunity to let it fly with the best in the world. For some folks that can be a lot to think about during a long ride, but for Ben its just one more chance to chase what he loves down the open road. His love for golf has kept him in the game for decades and the pursuit of his passion has always remained relentless. In my heavily biased opinion, that’s what makes him worth rooting for.
Pebble Beach Golf Links is turning 100 this year and despite playing host to the US Open, I can’t help but feel like the course and renowned resort are falling behind the times. The sprawling resort on the shores of the Monterey Peninsula is home to a number of breathtaking golf experiences, but compared to other places in its peer group there isn’t much to celebrate these days. Golf resorts have entered a new kind of arms race in which courses are being renovated, varied amenities are being added, and fun is the new driving force for golf based entertainment, yet the Pebble Beach Company who owns and operates the resort doesn’t seem to be in the game. Every major resort in the country is seeking to create new means for attracting guests via reimagined golf facilities, but the folks at Pebble Beach seem to think they don’t need to.
I’ve written before about my opinions on Pebble Beach Golf Links. The course is majestic, yet it still leaves me wanting. The details seem overlooked to me, but I do love the place. In fact, I’m planning a return trip as I write this. Pebble Beach occupies my golfing thoughts on a frequent basis and I find myself pulled into debates about it often. Some folks think I’m crazy and others see the nuance in my thinking, but after some further reflection, I decided to author some thoughts on how the resort can make some much-needed improvements.
Not that they asked for my opinion, but as a repeat customer of the resort and its many delights I feel compelled to share my thoughts. For the purpose of this exercise, I am assuming the position of an experiential consultant. My background in placemaking with passions for golf design and travel give me a unique perspective on how Pebble Beach can secure its position as America’s best golf resort. I believe that if the Pebble Beach Company would give some of these ideas further consideration they’d see some seriously good press, illicit strong customer reactions, and inspire travelers to revisit the resort more often.
As a means for constructing some strategic priorities for Pebble Beach, I began with a simple SWOT analysis from the perspective of how the resort measures up to the competition. I also considered what today’s golf resort customers are looking for in a destination.
Let’s dive in…
The Pebble Beach Resort is located on one of the great landscapes in American golf.
The Pebble Beach brand is one of the most recognizable in all of golf.
The resort controls four 18 hole golf courses and one short course.
On-site lodging and dining are top-notch.
Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill are routinely ranked among America’s best courses.
People dream of spending a vacation at Pebble Beach.
Round times are too long across all courses, but especially Pebble Beach Golf Links
There are hardly any golf activities that can be viewed as added value for guests( Putting Course, Short Game facility, etc)
The Peter Hay Par 3 course is treated as an afterthought and not a focal point.
The architecture and presentation of the four golf courses are in need of renovation and stylistic upgrades.
There is a significant fall-off in perceived quality from the resorts best course to its worst.
Design and build the world’s most scenic putting course at Pebble Beach Golf Links between the 18th green and The Lodge
Redesign the Peter Hay Short Course utilizing an up and coming architect with an exciting resume.
Enlist one of the “Big 4″(Doak, C&C, DMK, Hanse) architects to reimagine Del Monte Golf Course as an English inspired sub 70 par course.
Hire an in-demand consulting architect for each course who can guide strategic changes, stylistic upgrades, and improvements from year to year.
Establish a strong walking culture and a faster pace of play across all courses by eliminating and or sharply reducing golf cart usage.
The costs to play golf at the resort’s premier golf course are exorbitantly high and its sister courses are also expensive outings.
Competitor resorts are investing millions to create more enjoyable atmospheres and compelling golf amenities while Pebble Beach has little to point to in that arena.
The painfully slow pace of play across all facilities flies in the face of what modern golfers are looking for.
There is a lack of personalization that permeates through the Pebble Beach hospitality.
In an age where consumers are seeking “handcrafted” and “live like a local” experiences, Pebble Beach still feels more like an amusement park.
Based on this simple SWOT analysis, I have prepared the following suggestions on how the Pebble Beach Company could begin to turn the tide as it enters a new century at America’s most famous golf resort.
I recommend the resort adopt a set of guiding principles for its golf business that can serve as the reasoning behind every investment and improvement for years to come. These guiding principles can become the bedrock for which strategic priorities can be established moving forward.
Below each guiding principle is a list of strategic priorities that are aimed at achieving the stated goal of the principle.
Build the best golf experiences in America
The Pebble Beach Golf Resort will invest in both new and existing golf facilities as a means of creating experiences that define excellence in the industry.
Enhanced golf experiences will include…
Putting on “Morse’s Hill” – Guests will be able to enjoy the best golf view in America on a new 18 hole putting course located between the Lodge and the 18th Green of Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Playing the new Del Monte Golf Course – Guests can play on the oldest golfing grounds West of the Mississipi while enjoying a reimagined routing and the superb architectural features of one of America’s most interesting new courses designed by(Insert Big 4 name here).
Enjoying an extra nine holes at the new Peter Hay Short Course – Guest will be able to play the best “emergency nine” in golf on the scenic short course that is designed to reflect the atmosphere of the early days of Pebble Beach.
Exploring the grandest golf landscapes in America – Guest can enjoy a wide array of changes to Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill, and Spanish Bay that are designed to highlight the architecture and natural features of these world famous golf courses.
Jumping in on the Pebble Beach discussion: I started a deep dive blog post awhile back about how the course could get closer to its 1929 Egan self.This is a rendering containing some of those ideas. Totally hypothetical and for fun—I know nothing of their current design situation pic.twitter.com/vm3Kce8pwC
See an outstanding vision for pebble beach golf links improvements from architect Brett Hochstein.
Create a golfing culture that promotes the very best aspects of the game
The Pebble Beach Golf Resort will be a place where golf is a fun and sporting pursuit which is enhanced by the on-course experience, uncompromising attention to detail, and world-renowned hospitality.
A new golfing culture will offer…
The best walks on earth – Guests will have the opportunity to walk the most scenic golfing grounds on the planet with fewer distractions and more intimate experience.
Select play during twilight hours – Golfers staying at the Pebble Beach Resort will be eligible for reduced rate replay opportunities on all courses in the twilight hours. Subject to availability after all full rounds are in play each day.
Foursomes play during Winter mornings – During the months of December through February resort hotel guests are eligible for foursomes play at a reduced rate on all courses before 9am.
America’s best caddie program – Pebble Beach Caddies will be versed in the details and history of the golf course and the surrounding areas serving as in round concierges during every playing experience.
Creators in Residence – Guest will be able to enjoy unique lectures and art showings that feature the work of America’s best golf writers, photographers, and artists who are staying on site at the resort during seasonal residency.
My vision for Pebble Beach may sound like a pipe dream, but I honestly believe that with a few strategic changes the resort could elevate itself far beyond any of its competitors. The Pebble Beach Company has every piece needed to create hands down the best golf destination in America, but to achieve that level of prominence there need to be a series of smart enhancements to the overall product.
There are few places that inspire golfers to obsess over the possibilities as Pebble Beach does. Count me among the many that hope to someday see improvements like these made to one of the most amazing places for golf in America.