Champions Retreat prepares for its partnership with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur

Augusta, Georgia is a golf town in which the legends of the game are remembered with a particular reverence. Each Spring, Augusta welcomes the world to the Masters tournament and the unofficial beginning of golf season. No other event or host community celebrates the game and it’s champions on a grander scale. It is in that spirit that a unique golf club called Champions Retreat was founded just outside of Augusta.

Champions Retreat is a private club with a direct connection to some of golf’s greatest ambassadors. The club was founded at the turn of the century with the idea to create a retreat near Augusta with golf courses designed by three of the most beloved Masters Champions. Today, Champions Retreat is the only golf club to feature designs by each of “The Big Three”; Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. The club is widely known in corporate circles and among golf personalities as the premier place to stay and play during Masters week.

This Spring, there will be a new tradition in championship golf beginning in Augusta and Champions Retreat will play a major role. The week before the Masters will now include a new tournament called the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in which a different crop of the world’s best golfers will compete over the fairways of Augusta. The event will be produced and hosted by the Augusta National Golf Club and the opening rounds of the tournament will be held at Champions Retreat.

I believe the Augusta National Women’s Amateur(ANWA) is already one of the most important tournaments in golf and not a single shot has even been struck. The Augusta National Golf Club is changing how it interacts with the broader game of golf and this new championship is a big part of that. The ANWA is a bold initiative and it will undoubtedly have an impact on how golf fans see the women’s game. I am fascinated that Augusta National is adding a tournament to its calendar and that they have partnered with another club to make the event a reality. This April the world will be watching as the best women amateurs in the game play in the inaugural ANWA and the majority of the competition will be at Champions Retreat.

I know the event will be a resounding success and as a father to a young daughter I’m excited to see where the tournament goes in the future. I’ll be there in April to see it all first hand and in order to better understand the setting I traveled to Champions Retreat to get to know the course and club as they prepare for the ANWA. After spending some time on site, I’m happy to report that the ingredients for something special are all in place.

A culture of comfort and camaraderie

When I arrived at Champions Retreat I was immediately struck by the old world setting. Instead of a large clubhouse, Champions Retreat has a collection of rustic buildings that create the feeling of a small village. The pro shop, locker rooms, and grill occupy the main buildings that surround a small green space and each has a wraparound porch that offers views of the club’s golf courses. The golf village at Champions Retreat will serve as the hub of all activity during the ANWA and the setting will certainly create a memorable ambiance for both players and patrons.

Everything about the setting of the club is designed to inspire members and guests to enjoy their stay. The cottages are all within short walking distance of the golf village and there is a beautifully crafted barn that serves as a gathering place and event space. During my stay I couldn’t help but feel as if I was at someone’s private estate with an invitation to make myself at home.

I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to speak at length with Cameron Wiebe, General Manager at Champions Retreat. When I asked Cameron about the culture at Champions Retreat he told me that his mission was to “lower the barrier to comfort” for anyone who comes on property. I can attest that he and his team are succeeding in that work.

Beyond the buildings in the village and the cottages, the laid back culture extends to the golf courses as well. I was thrilled to discover that the golfing members of Champions Retreat have created a culture that is built on the traditions of the game and decorated with their own tastes. For example, members are inclined to play matches not for money, but for the pride of taking their opponents golf ball. The loser of a match at Champions Retreat signs his or her golf ball and offers it to the victor as a memento of the match. Many members maintain bowls full of balls in their homes and offices to remember their victories and the friendships in which they forged.

There are also a number of rituals at Champions Retreat that the members regularly participate in. When a guest or potential new member plays the course for the first time they are invited to hit a drive over the Savannah River from the tee box of the sixth hole on the Island course. The river serves as the border between Georgia and  South Carolina and this ritual offers players the chance to hit from one state into the next. There is also a large cast iron bell at the golf village that is intended to be rang only when a hole in one is recorded. Typically this signifies to all members and guests that the bar in the grill house is open until further notice. I imagine it will be a memorable scene should  a competitor ring the bell during the ANWA.

The Island, the Bluff, and the Creek 

Champions Retreat has many splendid amenities, but the main reason for visiting the club will always be the golf. The story of how the club came to be has become a legend of sort for those who know the place. In 1999, Gary Player approached his good friends and fellow Masters champions Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus with the idea of creating a new club near Augusta. This conversation at the champions dinner led to each of them and their respective design companies coming together for a one of a kind project.

As the story goes, Player devised a blind draw process for who would get which pieces of land to design their nine holes over. Player drew up three index cards to denote the varied features of the property. Arnold Palmer pulled the first card as the most senior member of the group. His card read “the island.” Jack Nicklaus went second and drew a card that read “the bluff” and finally Gary Player was left holding a card indicating “the creek.” Each team had their land and set forward to design a course that spoke to their varied approaches to the game.

The three courses share similarities, but they are also decidedly different from each other. During the ANWA the competition will take place over the Island and Bluff courses. That decision was made largely due to logistics and should not be viewed as any indication as to preference of the designs. I played both the Island and the Bluff courses to experience what the players will see during the ANWA and I was impressed by the routing.

The composite of these course creates a layout that will take players across the property in an adventurous fashion. The Island course will serve as the front nine and the Bluff as the back. Players will venture from the golf village down towards the confluence of the Savannah and Little Rivers where they will play over the small island that is created there. Palmer’s Island course features fabulous views of the rivers that run through the property. These will be the holes that many will remember from watching the ANWA on television.

The Island course returns to the golf village and players will move over to the Bluff and its pine covered hills. The Bluff course has a rolling topography and the Nicklaus team created nine beautiful holes that climb and dive over and down through the wooded landscape. This is the course that most resembles the Augusta National Golf Club. Player will be challenged here with uneven lies and testy greens as they come down the stretch in search of a score good enough to make the cut for the final round.

Players competing in the ANWA will finish their rounds on the final hole of the Bluff course which ends adjacent to the golf village. As I walked up this hole, I was delighted to imagine the area filled with patrons and surrounded by the excitement of the inaugural ANWA. Those who earn their way into the event will surely walk away with a collection of special memories at Champions Retreat and a select few will exit the courses knowing that they have punched their card to the final at Augusta National.

Welcoming the ANWA

Champions Retreat has built a strong reputation for providing world class hospitality to its members and guests. The club is home to a fine collection of cabins and amenities that fill up each year during the Masters and now the club will have an opportunity to showcase their hospitable nature on a grand scale when the ANWA begins in April.

Every golf fan knows of Augusta National and their reputation for precise execution and for them to choose Champions Retreat as its partner for the ANWA is quite the endorsement. The event is large in its scale and ambition yet it is clear that the aim is to create a intimate environment for the competition to unfold in. In that effort, Champions Retreat will be the perfect paring to Augusta National.

The format for the event will undoubtedly create some drama for both players and patrons. The field will be comprised of 72 competitors and after 36 holes at Champions Retreat only the top 30 will advance to the final round at Augusta National Golf Club. There will be no ties for the final 30 spots so it is highly likely that a playoff will occur to determine who gets to move on.  The team at Champions Retreat is paying special attention to insure the staging of the tournament and its early rounds is as perfect as possible.

Players will be greeted by a world class staff and a first rate environment for golf. The team at Champions Retreat is preparing an ideal setting for this important new championship to be held. Although competitors will be playing with the hopes of reaching Augusta National for the final, most will only have their time competing at Champions Retreat to remember the event by. Cameron Wiebe and his staff are well aware of this and they are on a mission to make sure every moment at Champions Retreat is unforgettable.

The Augusta National Women’s Amateur may be the most intriguing new golf event in the world. As time draws nearer to the opening shots, golfing enthusiasts are starting to turn their attention to this ground breaking tournament. Champions Retreat will take center stage as golf fans will be watching closely to see which players earn the right to play at Augusta National. Because of the ANWA, Champions Retreat will soon be known as an integral part of an important and unfolding chapter in the history of golf. After a few days on the property, I am convinced that the club will flourish in that reality.

Be sure to tune in this April for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur as the event is broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC. The tournament takes place April 3-6, 2019.

If you are interested in learning more about why I believe this event is so important for golf, you might enjoy a previous piece I wrote about my perspective as the father of a young daughter. See Winnie Could Win at Augusta for more.

-J

 

Bunker the Beloved Ballyneal Cat Passes Away

There is sad news to report out of Holyoke, Colorado as Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club has announced the passing of Bunker, their longtime resident cat, and special friend of the club. Anyone who has visited Ballyneal can attest to the unique presence that Bunker had at the property. The affection shared for him by both members and guests of Ballyneal was readily apparent. The famed cat was often the first to greet anyone arriving at the club and he was an unforgettable part of the Ballyneal experience.

The club shared the news on social media with a heartfelt message on Instagram that has received over sixty comments and 400 likes from all over the golfing world. More than a mere mascot, Bunker may best be described as the spirit animal of Ballyneal. Bunker lived his days against the backdrop of the rugged beauty of Eastern Colorado where he was considered part of the club’s family. Bunker took in the world from his perch on the pro shop porch and proudly roamed the common areas of the club in search of members and guests to visit with.

Ballyneal is one of America’s great golf clubs and Bunker was one of the many reasons why. In addition to the charm of this fabled cat, the golf courses there are of a rare and spectacular variety. Recently, the club’s Tom Doak designed golf course was ranked #46 in Golf Digest’s top 100 courses in America. There is a unique quirkiness to the club that fits well with its otherworldly location and the presence of Bunker was a distinct part of that. Ballyneal is one of the most remote clubs in the country, but for many staying there Bunker made the club feel like home.

Bunker was a real-life legend in golf’s wild West. Ballyneal sits in the chop hills of Colorado and that distant setting was the perfect place for the adventures of a cat like Bunker. He was known to venture into the dunes to forage for smaller mammals and his expeditions on that frontier were often discussed on the course. Tall tales of his adventures on the property have been told by many a caddie and enjoyed by every player who frequents the club. During my visit there, I asked a looper who was friendly with Bunker how the cat had lost his tail and he told me, “It was a prize fight with a local coyote. The odds were stacked highly against him, but you should see how bad the other guy looks.” As they say in the West, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Bunker spent many years at Ballyneal, arriving there during the infancy of the club. His curious personality and comforting demeanor made members fond of the feline. A search of Instagram images taken at the club shows the vast popularity that Bunker enjoyed. His likeness appeared on t-shirts in the pro shop and the club’s signature craft beer was even named in his honor. Bunker enjoyed distinctions that were uncommon for golf club cats.

Kent Hiller, Director of Operations at Ballyneal reflected warmly on Bunker’s time at the club. Hiller said of his favorite cat,  “Bunker usually started his day by playfully stealing golf balls from our visitors on the Commons putting green and ended it by lounging in his favorite chair awaiting groups to approach the clubhouse after a day on the links. His presence will be missed, but he will live on forever through his dedicated clothing line and draft beer which is served daily in the Ballyneal Turtle Bar.”

Sunset over the Ballyneal Commons

They say cats get nine lives, but if any of them was ever deserving of nine more it would be Bunker. The club celebrated their courageous cat and proclaimed him to be an essential part of the experience there. I was proud to meet Bunker while exploring Ballyneal last year and I’m confident that he will be sorely missed by the members. We should all hope that heaven looks a lot like a Ballyneal sunset and that if we make it there a friendly feline like Bunker will be there to greet us.

So long Bunker, you will be missed by many.

Cheers to a fine feline… swing, walk, and repeat.

-J

 

 

Seamus Golf Announces Portland Golf Park Project During PGA Show Gathering

Golf is meant to be fun and few organizations embody that belief quite like Seamus Golf Company. The Portland, Oregon based company is now pushing their golf lifestyle brand into new territory with the announcement of a daring initiative in their hometown called Seamus Golf Park at the Children’s Course. The new course is a bold investment for the company and an important step for golf in their hometown.

This needed children and family friendly golf park will serve as a place for newcomers of the sport to learn and grow in the game. The course is being designed by distinguished architect Jim Urbina and was inspired by places such as the Cradle at Pinehurst, Goat Hill Park in San Diego, and Winter Park Golf Course in Florida. The announcement of the project was made at the Winter Park course during an annual gathering hosted by Seamus Golf held the day before start of the PGA Merchandise Show.

Seamus Golf Company and the products they make are reshaping how many players approach golf accessories. The good folks at Seamus began with hand crafted tartan headcovers and today their lines have expanded to forged markers, walking bags, shoes, and other beautifully made and durable golf goods. Companies have long used the setting of the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando as an opportunity to promote their wares, introduce new products, and entertain buyers, but Seamus has taken that to a new level with their annual golf gathering at the Winter Park Golf Course.

The Seamus event at Winter Park has become an important yearly reunion of golf influencers, popular brands, and other interesting personalities who, like Seamus, are changing how the masses see the game. Golf Channel talent and Winter Park resident Matt Ginella was on hand to emcee the event and share the story of how the WP9 came to be a beloved golf gathering place. Course architects Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb were also on present to discuss the course. Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary was in attendance as well.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the event by my good friend and incredibly talented artist Dave Baysden. Dave has worked on a number of projects with Seamus, including the development of hand painted headcovers used by Matt Kuchar during the Masters. The Seamus event at Winter Park included nearly 100 players and was one of the most fun golf outings I’ve ever attended.

Billed as golf for a good cause, the Seamus event was the launching point for the new Seamus Golf Park, but it also served as a showcase for what golf can be like when having fun is the top priority. The competition that day consisted of a fabulous format. Each team was comprised of eight players arranged in four alternate shot sides. The best two scores of the four sides on each team counted as the group’s score. Playing in groupings of eight may sound like a recipe for a long day, but alternate shot made for speedy golf. Large groups and funky formats are just par for the course at Winter Park.

The kind of golf that is found at Winter Park is designed with the every-man in mind. The course is short, architecturally interesting, and affordable. Players can make their way around the course in less than two hours and children, dogs, and t shirts are all part of the formula. These are the elements that serve as the inspiration for the new Seamus Golf Park at the Children’s Course in Portland.

Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chisti was onsite with Jim Urbina to discuss the vision for the project as players were enjoying cold drinks and food after the golf scores were tallied. There will be more details to be released soon, but there were renderings and routing maps available for guests to review during the event. After hearing from the leaders for the new golf park I am confident that project will be much talked about and adored once complete.

The weather in Winter Park was perfect for an evening of golf to learn about an important new project and kick off the PGA Show. Seamus Golf was the host but they were not alone in creating this idyllic event. There were a number of partners participating in the event including Pinehurst Brewing Company, Golf Advisor, Linksoul, The Golfer’s Journal, Caddie Magazine, and more. The diverse crowd made for many smiles, laughs, and new acquaintances and introductions while celebrating the things that make golf so special.

Stay tuned for more information on Seamus Golf Park at the Children’s Course in Portland, Oregon. Also be sure that if you venture to the greater Orlando area go and check out the Winter Park Golf Course. The Winter Park 9 is truly one of the best family friendly golf experiences in America and with the help of Seamus Golf there will soon be another course like it on the West Coast.

Until next time…swing, walk, and repeat.

-J

 

Golf on Common Ground

There is no bond quite like that which exists between brothers. It is also true that there are few arguments as intense as those that involve siblings. Often times those disagreements can last for years if not decades and I’ve always been afraid of that happening in my family.

My brother and I could probably pass for strangers. Our parents insist that we are of the same blood but upon first glance, most folks might need some convincing. Sometimes I do too. We don’t look alike, act alike, or think alike, but we do have one great commonality…we both love golf.

Hilton and I live and often feel far apart from each other but golf remains our shared language. Even still I’m certain that we speak different dialects. However distant our worldviews and idiosyncrasies may be, we have found some ability to bridge our divide when golf serves as our translator.

Hilton and I tend to be the yin to each other’s yang and that is especially evident on the golf course. The game brings us together in a way that we both need. Despite our differences golf allows us to be close with each other even if it’s only in four-hour increments.

When my brother and I play golf, we are separated from the worldly matters that drive our holiday conversations into debates. Golf provides us the chance to be together in deliberate isolation and find our common ground again. Although our differences are as stark as day and night, golf tends to blur the lines a bit.

Hilton has long dark hair and he wears it regularly in a ponytail or man-bun. He prefers hiking sandals to shoes and enjoys living in the lax Colorado legal environment with his longtime girlfriend. He’s about my height, but skinny and a naturally gifted athlete and musician. His politics are left of Bernie Sanders and he regularly speaks about offbeat political matters and conspiracy theories. He is nearly my polar opposite in every way.

I work for a business interest group in Florida and have a bit of what I call “office weight”. I’m a married man with an infant daughter and I can’t get enough of my family. I’ve got a mortgage and a country club membership to match my master’s degree and generally conservative disposition. My brother often looks at me like I’m an asshole and sometimes I’m afraid he might be right.

We act as most brothers do. Competing for parental affection and approval is a constant. We still like to bicker and fight over trivial things as we did in the back of mom’s Ford Explorer on the way to junior golf tournaments. I know I’m right and so does he. We are four years apart in age and from what I can gather that’s just the right amount of time for the habits and traits of one brother to not rub off on the other. We don’t have much in common besides our ancestry, but thankfully we grew up on a golf course and the gravitational pull of that childhood love still brings us together on occasion.

Golf is a release for each of us in very different ways. Hilton sees golf as pure fun. He checks out from work, forgets about the ring he’ll need to buy someday and looks to catch a buzz while chasing birdies. Meanwhile, I see golf as a meditation. I find peace in the solitude of the game, hear poetry in the sound of a swing, and believe that golf is uniquely tethered to my soul. Hilton equates golf to a Grateful Dead concert and I treat it more like a day on Walden Pond. When we play it is the equivalent of a disk jockey teeing it up with a transcendentalist.

Hilton normally plays where he can find a good deal. He hates golf shoes and tucked in shirts and plays barefoot when allowed. He enjoys nice courses and loves the game but couldn’t care less about my passion for its history and architecture. Based on his attire he could probably be a good stand-in at any municipal course in America, but one look at his game would give away his pedigree.

Our grandfather taught us how to play when we were kids. Gramps was the head pro at our small-town club and he nurtured our games all the way through high school. Our uncle played on tour and we spent many summers watching him on the road. Golf was an everyday obsession in our family. Most nights after dinner were spent in chipping contests with Dad and many days we played until dark while walking our dog. Golf runs deep in all of us and it remains the strength of my relationship with Hilton.

When Hilton and I play together it is as if the golf gods are overseeing peace talks between regularly warring nations. The golf course is sacred ground and no battles are to be fought there. When we cross the threshold from the parking lot to the grass, we enter a sort of demilitarized zone. Golf becomes a buffer between us and the bullshit that we have a hard time letting go of in other settings.

There were many years in which we didn’t play so much. We both became lost in the journey to who we are as adults and our days on the golf course together were seldom. It was in those times in which the differences we had developed on the way to adulthood became a breeding ground for animosity. Playing golf together became a relic of our childhood and I was worried about whether or not we’d ever reconnect. Fortunately for both of us, the maturity of increasing age has resurrected our feelings for both golf and each other.

Golf makes us more capable of being civil. We will always have tense moments, but an invitation to play with each other is an olive branch that we both can recognize. That revelation has opened the door to a whole new chapter in our lives.

In my office, I keep a vast assortment of golf memorabilia, trophies, and other objects that denote my adventures in the game. Among those treasures, my most prized possessions are from memories made while playing with Hilton. I have our small-town newspaper framed above my desk which features a headline about how the Revell brothers once won the biggest two-man tournament in town. In addition to that glorious achievement, I have a photo on my bookshelf of the two of us standing on a dune ridge in the vast reaches of the Colorado chop hills at Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club.

The newspaper clipping makes me smile because it was the first and only time, I won that tournament. Even more importantly it reminds me that in order to win, I had to partner with my oldest and best friend. That was the weekend where Hilton and I found out how to best overcome the barriers between us. Amazingly it resulted in a series of moments that I’ll never forget.

The photo on the shelf is another story entirely. Until we ventured to Ballyneal, the two of us had never traveled together on our own. We steered our way to a place that is as remote as you can imagine in America and the golf we found there washed away the layers of life that have made us seem so different.

Days like those enshrined on my wall are why I get excited to know when Hilton is coming home next. They are also the reason I stay up late and plot the potential places that we can visit for golf in the years ahead. The game will always be a part of who we are and it still binds us to our better angles. We have many more holes to play together in this life and there is still some room in my office for a few more memories to hang.

It is hard to pinpoint where my brother and I chose our different paths in life, but both of them lead back to a small-town country club and a home with our loving parents. I remember when our folks built that house for our growing family to live in. Hilton was just my baby brother and the golf course was just home. We likely would still be different no matter where we had laid our heads, but because of the game we learned there, we will always know how to find each other. Golf is at the root of our souls and because of that we really aren’t so different after all.

Maybe there is someone you are overdue for a walk on the course with too. Drop me a line and tell me how golf has helped you build a better relationship with either friends or family. Those stories are always my favorite.

I hope to hear from you…until then, swing, walk and repeat.

-J

Special thanks to my good friend Dave Baysden for providing a wonderful sketch inspired by these words. Dave is one of the most talented artists I know and his work in golf is the best in the game today. 

One Last Walk – A Farewell to My Favorite Clubs

A good set of golf clubs can be hard to let go of. Replacing old clubs feels a lot like breaking up and I’ve never really been any good at that. I’ve got a new set of irons that just arrived in the mail and once again I have found myself wondering how to bid adieu to a beloved collection of hard used forged irons.

My old set has been with me for a few years now. They have a buttery feel that I can sense in my fingertips and their faces are worn brown in a spot the size of a quarter. They bare the marks and bruises of thousands of miles traveled and many hundreds of holes played. Each of those blemishes represents a swing or a memory from some of the best golfing years of my life, but it’s time to turn the page.

I’m quite excited about my new clubs. The steel has an untouched look to it and they almost have that new car smell. They don’t know it yet but they will see the shores of distant lands and soon strike the ground of foreign soil. I needed something new for the next chapter of my travels and I’m confident in my selection. Yet, my old clubs still arouse a feeling of trust and longing when I walk by them in the garage.

I like to keep my old clubs around in case I decide to take them for a spin again. As my wife can attest, I have an ever growing collection of clubs that occupy almost as much garage space as her Christmas decorations. Every club that I’ve ever hit a significant shot with still lives in one of my varied golf bags that lean against the wall between a water heater and a shelving unit. My latest addition to that space hasn’t quite gotten comfortable there yet. When I walked by them on New Years Eve they asked me in a whisper for one last walk.

The afternoon of the last day of the year was fading fast and I got permission from my wife to go out for a few final swings. I didn’t tell her that it was a walk aimed at giving my clubs a proper send off. She already thinks I’m crazy. No need to confirm it. The clouds of winter had parted and the sun was flirting with the horizon in a beautiful way. I loaded up my dog Leon and grabbed my clubs to head to the course.

The parking lot was emptying and the first tee was wide open. My dog led the way and my clubs got to clang their way down the hill one more time. My game has been as rusty as the faces of my irons, but after finding the first few greens in regulation I began to get the feel of it again. The old clubs were showing me they still had some magic.

Something was clicking and it wasn’t just the dog tags. My swing was in rhythm and my clubs were reminding me of all the places we had been together. In each approach I could recall the swings we made on the Monterey Peninsula and the steps we took around Kiawah Island. I was hearing the call of Colorado again and humming the song of Sweetens Cove. The sunset was lighting up the sky and I remembered all the ones these clubs and I had seen together.

I knocked it stiff on the fifth and remembered holing out for eagle there the day after my daughter was born. These clubs were with me through life as well as golf. There was the tournament I won with my brother and the nine holes I walked with dad when we found out my grandfather had his stroke. There were some good days and some difficult ones but we were together for them all.

Before I knew what was happening I had made three birdies in four holes. My trusted old friends were showing me what they were still capable of. Maybe they thought it was an audition for another year in the bag. Things just came easy that evening. Much like it did for the few seasons before fatherhood that saw me learn how to win again. It was these clubs that made that run happen.

When we walked up the ninth hole the sun was all but gone. The kids in the neighborhood were starting to lite firecrackers and my beloved dog was getting twitchy. My clubs and I had made some fireworks of our own for our last nine holes. When it was over I had managed to shoot one under par for the walk. It was a score that was not only unanticipated but one I likely would have forgot to keep had I not snapped out of my trance.

These clubs had put a spell on me again. They let me swing them once more in the way that I once knew how. I hit all but one green and smiled from start to finish. Had the sun not disappeared into a new year we would have probably stayed out all night. Unfortunately we were done with the round and done with our time together.

I gave the clubs a good wipe down before we headed home and Leon kept them company in the back of the car. When we got to the house I opened the garage and there in the corner my old clubs found their new home. The next time I walk they won’t be with me, but I’ll always have them close by just in case.

I’ve had a few fun nights on New Year’s Eve in my life, but I think the nine holes I played with these old sticks was my best. December 31st isn’t an ideal date for a breakup, but then again I’ve never really been good at that. You never know when I might need them again.

Cheers to a new year and new memories on the course. Keep it simple in 2019, just swing, walk, and repeat.

-J

The Nine Virtues of Golf

The game of golf and it’s role in the life of those who play it is worthy of regular contemplation. In particular, the virtues associated with game require constant consideration. The golfer who seeks out these virtues is one who searches for a more properly balanced life.

Golf was created with specific etiquette and rules as a way of designing a game that mirrors life. Those rules and traditions are all modeled from virtues that are commonly believed to be the pillars of a successful existence. There are three sets of virtues that are inherently built into the fabric of golf. These are the Foundation Virtues, the Attitude Virtues, and the Realization Virtues.

The Foundation Virtues

Every structure must begin with the building of a strong foundation. The golfer is no different.

Accountability

Golfers must look inward to find the source of both good swings and bad. Only the player can swing his or her club in this game. The strokes that are tallied on the scorecard are made by the golfer and nobody else. Every golfer must understand this and make ample preparations through practice in order to find success. To be a golfer of any regard you must learn to be accountable to yourself.

– Patron Saint: Ben Hogan

Integrity

There are rules here and you are asked to enforce them on yourself. No task is more difficult in the chase of victory and no test is more revealing about one’s character. Integrity must be developed through a devotion to higher ideals. The golfer’s sense of honesty should be beyond reproach.

– Patron Saint: Bobby Jones

Patience

Good things take time. There are no shortcuts in golf and the game’s greatest hazards are disguised to entrap those who seek them. Golf is designed to challenge those who are hurried the most while rewarding the more methodical mindset. Golf requires a steady offering of the one thing we have the least of, golf asks us for our time. Well rewarded is the patient golfer.

– Patron Saint: Nick Faldo

The Attitude Virtues

Attitude is everything in golf. The mindset that you bring to a challenge will determine whether or not you can rise to conquer it.

Humility 

Humble thyself or the game will do it for you. No other sporting pursuit will bring an impassioned player to their knees like golf. The golfer must know the limits of their game and appreciate the will of the golf gods. Understanding the boundary of one’s ability and the fate of uncontrollable outcomes is the key to achieving the best possible score. Always be prepared for the bad bounce and the winds of misfortune as they find us all at some point in the game.

– Patron Saint: Roberto DiVincenzo

Gratitude

Be gracious at all times and remember that golf is a game for ladies and gentlemen. It is an honor to be a golfer and any day on the course is deserving of robust appreciation. The golfer should be thankful for the privilege of playing and conduct oneself in accordance with the knowledge that every round could possibly be their last.

– Patron Saint: Byron Nelson

Confidence

As a golfer, you must believe in your abilities in order to score well. To play good golf you must first believe that you can do so. The golfer must stand tall and swing with conviction. Pitches and putts should be struck with authority. Confidence is not an invitation to display bravado nor is it a tool of the braggadocios, but instead a fuel for a golfer’s best possible performance.

– Patron Saint: Jack Nicklaus

The Realization Virtues

Golf is a journey. The destination is not found but realized through a deliberate process. Inward reflection leads to outward improvement.

Generosity

To be a golfer is to be a giver. Remember that someone once gave you the gift of golf and it is your duty to share the game with others. Golf will offer you an endless amount of personal growth and only you can know how to best give back to the game. The golfer should be charitable with both their time and money as a means for helping others through the game. The rewards of such giving far outweigh any other achievements in golf.

– Patron Saint: Arnold Palmer

Respect

Be a golfer who subscribes to the golden rule. To earn respect one must first give respect to others. The game should be respected as well. Hold fast to this fading commodity and you will benefit while lifting those around you. Begin each round with a respect for the course, your fellow players, and everything that golf stands for and you will never have a bad experience. This begins by finding and appreciating the value in everything. Do so and others will find the same in you.

– Patron Saint: Payne Stewart

Wisdom

The journey of a golfer is a lifelong search for understanding. The game holds many secrets, but they can only be mined through years of careful study. The path to discovering the truths of golf is winding and erratic, but every step along the walk will yield some trace amount of wisdom. Heavy is the bag that is filled with the collection of these lessons from a lifetime in golf. The weight of this wisdom is no burden, but rather the ballast used to steady your vessel. Be ever seeking the wisdom that only golf can grant.

– Patron Saint: Ben Crenshaw


Golf reminds us that life is best enjoyed in accordance with the virtues reflecting the most laudable of human qualities. The well-lived golf life is firmly grounded in a strong foundation, an appreciative attitude, and a firm realization of what makes the game stay so uniquely tethered to our souls. The virtuous golfer will relish the opportunity to play the game knowing that it is a means to achieving the betterment of oneself.

Hopefully these thoughts will inspire some further contemplation in us all.

Swing, walk, repeat.

-J

Happy Trails Forrest Fezler

Forrest Fezler has passed away, but his impact on golf and on me will be felt for many years to come. I was fortunate to get to know Forrest in recent years and after a few meetings he agreed to let me tell his story. Forrest was a world class player, a risk taking entrepreneur, talented golf designer, and all around good guy. He lived a life in golf that was always played slightly out of bounds. Like his best friend and partner Mike Strantz, he was a maverick until the end.

I first met Forrest when I was President at Capital City Country Club in Tallahassee, Florida. Forrest had taken a liking to Capital City in his final years and we talked him into building a few bunkers for us. I had long known the highlights of his life story but I was curious to know more. We scheduled a lunch that turned into a long afternoon conversation about his career. That conversation led to another lunch and even more conversations about golf.

I asked Forrest if he would mind me writing his story and he agreed. Through a few months of chats and texts I got a great sense for who he was. The story became a narrative about his life, the life of Mike Strantz, and how the fates brought them together to build some of the most interesting new courses in golf. Together they made Maverick Golf Design one of the most cutting edge firms in the game.

I spent a couple of months building out their story and I couldn’t wait to share it with Forrest. The day I sent him the final draft was the day he told me about his tumor. I remember sinking in my chair when I read his message. I could tell it was a bad diagnosis from his tone.

Forrest was struggling to read the story due to the effects from the tumor, but he trusted me to go ahead and release it. I published the story and it quickly became the most read piece I had ever written. A few days later I got a text from Forrest. He had finally gotten through the story and he let me know what it meant to him.

This is what he sent me:

“It has brought tears in my eyes all night.

Especially reflecting on this new chapter in my life. Your kind words are more healing now than you will ever know or appreciate

That means the world to me.

Thanks for being there when I needed it so.

Forrest”

I’ll never forget that text and I’ll never forget my talks with Forrest.

I’m so glad that I got know his story. I found Forrest to be a humble man with many talents and someone who clearly loved everything about golf. He was a champion in the sport but he will likely be best remembered by friends as someone who championed them and the game many of us adore.

If you’d like to learn more about Forrest Fezler, his life, and career you can check out the story here.

The Maverick Lives On

Happy trails Fez. Golf will surely miss you.

-J

Saved by the Only Caddie on the Course

A good caddie never stops believing in his player. I brought a caddie to my club championship and even though he was 16 years old he taught me a lesson.

My country club doesn’t have a caddie program, but occasionally I like to find a friend to carry for me in some of our annual tournaments. Usually, that means employing the services of a player from the local high school golf team.

For our recent club championship, I secured the services of a young local golfer named Mason. We struck up a quick friendship over a chat about golf and made a deal for him to caddie for me in the tournament.

Mason met me at the driving range before our first round tee time and the wisecracks from my golf buddies immediately ensued. These guys roll their eyes at me a lot and the smack talk is in keeping with the true spirit of our club. Besides the enjoyment of walking my home golf course with a caddie, part of me wanted to do it just to give everyone a stir.

“Oh here comes the tour pro with his caddie” and  “I sure hope he’s paying you well for this misery” were the kind of things Mason heard as we walked to the first tee. I was feeling pretty good despite not playing much of late, but our first tee is right next to the practice facility. Each player in the tournament started their round amid the glaring stares and snickering comments of their fellow competitors who were warming up to play. It’s a difficult theater to perform in.

The first tee jitters are real at our club, but I can usually handle it just fine. Not so much this go round. I would love to know what Mason was thinking as I made a hefty swing with my three wood and sent the ball rocketing straight up in the air. I hit a dreaded first tee sky ball and it quickly made for a few chuckles in the peanut gallery. I looked down at the fresh dummy mark on the club head and handed it back to Mason with a nervous smile. The game was on and it was ugly front the start.

I managed to keep things somewhat respectable for a bit by making a couple redeeming swings and a few pars to balance out the early onslaught of bogeys. Mason was full of encouragement even though the bad breaks were starting to mount against us. I could really feel the wheels getting shaky as I had to line up my third putt on the sixth hole. The golf gods were calling my number and not in a good way.

Mason kept rooting me on,  but the problems persisted. A hard hooked hybrid at the eighth hole made for a double bogey and I soon matched it with another thanks to a fried egg lie on the eleventh. Twelve was a disaster and I lipped out another par on fourteen. I then bogeyed the easiest par five in America and followed it up with a triple-bogey 6 on the seventeenth where I missed my tap in for a double.

I limped home to an earth-shattering 86 in round one. My score was so bad that it probably won’t even count for my handicap. Mason walked with me from the scoring table to the parking lot and somehow was all smiles. When he loaded my clubs in the car he looked at me and said, “Maybe we will flip that number around tomorrow. 68 sounds like a winner.” The pep talk was much needed.

I wasn’t angry or embarrassed about my poor play, but like anyone who cares about competing, I was disappointed. My caddie made sure I didn’t sulk though. He tells me, “I shot an 86 in a tournament a few weeks back. No big deal. Tomorrow is a new day.” Mason still believed.

I don’t get to play golf on back to back days much anymore. My wife and young child don’t yield that kind of time for me. Quite frankly, I was lucky to be playing in the club championship at all so for me to let one bad day bring me down is just dumb. When I pulled up to the course on Sunday I kept that in mind. I arrived with a smile and a sense of joy derived from the wisdom of a teenager. It was indeed a new day and I was going for a walk on my favorite course.

The golf didn’t start much better for the final round as I made a double bogey straight out of the gate. I shrugged it off and told Mason, “Not my hole, but the next one may be.” My swing started to settle after the first hour and things gradually improved as we walked our way around the course. I made some good swings that day and as the round progressed I earned a couple of solid fist pounds from Mason. A few birdie putts even burned the edge of the cup and he reminded me that things were looking up.

When you shoot a big score in your club championship its easy to get down on yourself and a bad attitude will make you miss out on how wonderful it is to be able to play at all. I’ve got an awful lot to be grateful for and there was something about having Mason walking with me that reminded me of that. I suppose youthful optimism can rub off on you when you listen to your caddy.

Mason was upbeat and he had a positive attitude from start to finish. During our Sunday walk, we talked about all things in life and golf. I kept looking for birdies and we both had a bunch of laughs listening to jokes from my over-served playing partners. We were a mile behind the leaders, but I’m thinking our group had the most fun.

By the time we made it to our final hole I was much improved from the first day, but still without a birdie for the tournament. We walked up the steep hill on the eighteenth hole and found my ball in a great place to attack the pin from. Mason looked at me with a grin and said, “Let’s get one for the road.” I liked what he was thinking.

Despite all the missed shots and messed up bounces Mason was there to make sure I powered through. I’m not much for quitting and we both wanted a birdie to finish. “I think you’ve got about eighty-five yards here and you are straight into the gas” he said. “Let’s stuff that sand-wedge,” he told me as he handed over the club. After a long weekend of bad swings, I finally flushed it.

We crawled up to the green to find that I had an uphill ten footer for birdie. I called him in for the read and made sure to give the putt my purest roll all weekend. A smooth stroke landed the ball in the back of the cup and a raised putter and fist pump soon followed. Mason’s smile grew across his face and with a firm handshake, I thanked him for sticking with me.

The birdie didn’t help my position on the leader-board much, but it damn sure made lunch taste better. My game was in shambles most of the weekend, but I had a great walk with some good company. Most people saw me bringing my own caddie as a cheesy gimmick, but it turned out to be my saving grace. Mason reminded me about the many reasons why golf is the best game there is. His adolescent optimism even made me feel better about the future of our country. When the whole world is still ahead of you shooting an 86 doesn’t seem to matter so much.

There were many reasons for me to give up over the course of the club championship, but Mason kept me in the game. I could have quit, but his persistent support kept me in it. He was the only caddie on the course and luckily he had my bag on his shoulder. Mark Twain’s famous line was that “Golf is a good walk spoiled”, but with Mason’s help, I didn’t let bad golf ruin a great walk.

Like Mason said, “Maybe we’ll get’em next time.”

Until then friends swing, walk, and repeat.

-J

My new MacKenzie Golf Bag.

This month I announced a new partnership with MacKenzie Golf Bags. I’ll be sharing a number of dispatches from my travels on their company blog as a way to invite their fans further into the MacKenzie lifestyle. The star of those stories will be my beautiful new MacKenzie Golf Bag(pictured).

If you are unfamiliar with MacKenzie bags I would highly encourage you to browse their website a bit and get to know their work. Each of their golf bags is carefully crafted by the skilled hands of their team members. MacKenzie bags are perfect for walking golfers. Light weight, durable, and timeless.

My MacKenzie arrived just in time for Christmas and I can’t wait to take our first walk together. Check out my first post on the MacKenzie blog to learn more about my new bag and our fun new partnership.

Cheers mates. Swing, walk, and Repeat.

-J

Florida Field Trip: Golf at Black Diamond Ranch

Golf in Florida is about as varied as the population at your local zoo. There are some really fascinating and highly interesting stops, but there is also a lot of stuff you just pass by because you’ve seen it somewhere before. Some Florida courses are expensive and not very good and others are cheap and incredibly enjoyable. There are great private enclaves with prestigious courses and there are plenty of low key munis. Golf in the Sunshine State is a total grab bag. As a lifelong Floridian and an eighth generation native of the state, I find it part of my duty as a citizen to help educate folks on where to look for the good stuff.

That being said, I’m kicking off a new series called “Florida Field Trip” where I’ll show you a few interesting stops while I’m scooting around my home state. To kick things off I take you to the private club of Black Diamond Ranch which is home to the renowned Quarry Course. The Quarry at Black Diamond Ranch is a Tom Fazio design that has been recognized as one of the top courses in the state and heralded for its scenic routing around a unique landscape.

I was invited to visit Black Diamond Ranch as part of a charity event benefiting the Florida Coastal Conservation Association. Events like this can make for a great way to experience otherwise private clubs like Black Diamond. The club is located in the town of Lecanto, Florida which is about an hour north of Tampa. I made the trip down and back from Tallahassee in a day but felt the drive was well worth it to see such a heralded  course. I’m certainly glad that I made the trip.

The Quarry course at Black Diamond Ranch is very much a part of a housing development. The project was built in the late 1980s as an upscale community for retirees and the Quarry course is the centerpiece of that strategy. Developers hired fabled course designer Tom Fazio to craft a course that could incorporate the varied landscapes of central Florida along with a former rock mining quarry. In addition to the Quarry, there are two other Fazio courses on property.

I arrived at Black Diamond Ranch on a cold December day, but I was warmly greeted by friendly staff and delightful bloody Mary. The club and its trappings are certainly top notch and its appeal to retirees, local club members, and seasonal guests is certainly evident upon arrival. After a quick warm up and a brief browsing of the clubhouse, we suited up for some golf.

Ideally, I would prefer to not play a course with a reputation like the Quarry in a scramble format, but I was pleased to be invited to participate and the tournament was run quite well. Like most charitable events, the teams were ushered onto the course in a shotgun start. I was surprised to see that our squad would be headed straight to the quarry holes to begin our day.

The quarry itself is a massive crater filled with a sprawling lake at its center. This startling land-form is one of the most interesting sites I’ve ever come across for golf. I’ve simply never seen anything like it. Holes 13 through 17 cross, enter, climb, and bend around the quarry making for the most visually stunning five hole stretch in Florida.

I began my round at Black Diamond Ranch in the midst of the quarry holes where we teed off on number 15. It is hard to decipher  which of the quarry holes would be the “signature” hole for the course, but 15 would likely get a lot of votes. The tee shot is from the rim of the quarry and a well struck ball will fly high and mighty to a tight fairway that straddles the crater lake. The green sits tucked beneath the quarry wall and any hollers of joy will echo through the limestone canyon. The routing is meant to reach a crescendo here, but for my group it felt like we jumped right into the guitar solo of a rock anthem.

The fun doesn’t stop at 15, The 16th hole snakes around the top edge of the quarry and players are dared to take off as much as they can handle. Miss your mark and face certain doom. This par four wraps around the quarry and provides stunning views of the preceding hole. From this perch the wilder side of Florida golf is well within sight.

The final hole in the quarry is the 17th. A one shotter played across the back end of the quarry to a green in the most troubling of hollows. There is simply no room to miss. The shot requires precision and is made even tougher because the views are decidedly distracting.

The quarry holes came to and end quickly in my round, but I knew I would get to revisit the remaining holes there later in the day. After leaving those curious cliffs the course turns back to the prevailing features of the property and finishes with a fun par five in a parkland setting that is much more on par with the norms of other nice courses in the state.

Leaving the quarry and returning to a more lush and predictable setting for golf is jarring.  Holes 1 -12 and 18 are vastly different from the showstoppers on the quarry and they can seem quite pedestrian compared to the stars of the course. These holes are in immaculate condition and are not without interest, but you can’t help but feel that you have played two wildly different courses that happen to share the same scorecard.

After a quick stop back at the bloody Mary bar, we were ready to take on the remaining parkland holes. Most of these holes are pretty good and on the day we played the course was presented incredibly well. As we made our way through the more pedestrian holes at Black Diamond we were eagerly anticipating a return trip to the quarry.

We reached the Quarry again when we climbed the steps to the 13th tee box. Peaking over the hill top of the 13th revealed a remarkable view of the entire quarry ecosystem. Despite the quarry being a man-made landscape, its features feel as if they were carved by god for the express purpose of building a golf course. I was glad to return to that corner of the course.

We finished our round on the 14th hole. The 14th is  deceivingly difficult par five that plays alongside the cliffs of the central crater. We took our time and took in the views as we approached the final green. The angle to the putting surface is semi-blind and the shots required to score well there are demanding. Although the routing does not typically end at this point of the course, I’m glad we saw it this way.

Before heading for the clubhouse we decided to play the 15th one more time for good measure. We backed up to the tips and let a big drive go over the cliff and towards the fairway. As the course cleared of teams in the scramble we walked down one last hole in the quarry. A few swings and a yell to test the echos of the canyon walls was a good way to end it.

Back at the clubhouse we had a cold adult beverage to settle ourselves and collect a few thoughts on the round. The team came up short in the scramble, but somehow I managed to win the long drive championship. I got a nice plaque to pair with some good memories from the day. Shortly after a quick meal we said our goodbyes and prepared to part ways from Black Diamond Ranch, but before I could leave I had to pay my respects to Tommy Bolt.

Tommy Bolt was the 1958 U.S. Open champion and in his fading years he called Black Diamond Ranch his home. Lecanto, Florida sounds like an obscure place to settle in for the sunset of you life, but after a turn around the quarry holes I can see why Tommy made his final years there.

Black Diamond Ranch is home to one of the best five hole sequences in golf. The course is more than just those holes around the rocky edges, but make no mistake they are the main attraction. Tom Fazio’s portfolio contains both the wonderful and the unheralded. That does not make him unique, but his eye for building world class landscapes is always worth seeing in person. Black Diamond is a fine example of Fazio’s range as an architect and I’m glad I finally got to see it.