How to Travel for Golf – thoughts on where to go, how to be there, and what to remember.

The Swilcan Bridge by Dave Baysden

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.

The Aiken Golf Club by Dave Baysden

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 Cliffs by Dave Baysden

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.

Kiawah River by Dave Baysden

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.

How I’d Improve Pebble Beach – strategic concepts for enhancing the experience at America’s most famous golf resort

 

The seventh hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links by Dave Baysden

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…

Strengths

  • 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.

Weaknesses

  • 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.

Opportunities

  • 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.

Threats

  • 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.
Imagine an afternoon on a putting course laid across a massive green with this view.

——-

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.

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.

Cheers,

-J

The Zen of Backyard Golf

I am standing on the tee box of my new favorite golf hole. There is a club in my hand and hope in my heart. The crispness of the air wraps around me like a calming blanket as I watch the ball sail through the evening light. I observe the orb fall victim to gravity as it lands so close to the pin that my heart pauses to consider the possibilities.

There is glory at this moment and I am one with the game that I love. My connection to another plane of existence is only broken by the sound of a baby crying through the screen door behind me. Mentally, I am at a links course on the coast of the Scottish Highlands, but in reality, my feet are planted firmly in my backyard.

Suddenly the cliffs of the north coast turn back into boxwood hedges and I notice my wife is looking at me through the window. I can smell the pasta sauce wafting from the kitchen and hear my one-year-old daughter break into a series of baby sounds. I wiggle my toes to make sure this is real and I look back at the red flag waving in the gentle breeze some twenty paces away. For ten minutes each night, I come to this place to get lost in my golfing mind. Standing in my yard I search for some sliver of inner peace while sorting through the list of things I still have to do before the sun goes down.

A few swings of a golf club each day are good for my mental health. Golf is much more than recreation or leisure for me, it’s a form of meditation and a release of stress. I don’t need eighteen holes to find some stable ground in my mind, but I am a better man when I get some dosage of golf into my system. There is something euphoric about the moment when the club meets the ball and the chemicals released in my brain bring me to a place of balance and tranquillity. Being a father, husband, and full-time executive is not conducive to finding time for golf course therapy, but those duties make me need it more than ever. That’s why I built a golf hole in our backyard.

At a certain age life just starts to accelerate. Family happens, the office consumes you, and at some point, every part of your life feels like work. That is especially true for golf as now I have to make a serious effort just to play. I don’t have the luxury of playing whenever I want anymore, instead, I have to negotiate that time against all my other responsibilities. That means that golf gets put on the backburner, but because of my dependency, I have had to make other arrangements. A backyard golf hole allows me to find the mindfulness that only the ancient game can create for me.

I’ve always been a bit of a schemer and one night while scooping up some dog poop in the yard I devised a plan to bring golf closer to home. I drew my inspiration from some of my favorite accounts on social media that showcase unique golf holes only a few steps away from where folks live. Backyard golf holes are not a new phenomenon, but it seems as if the idea is having a renaissance in the age of Instagram. Like many who have come before me, I found myself drawing up ideas for a golf hole just off our back patio.

I had to have a golf hole that I could utilize during the moments in between changing diapers and doing dishes.  Space is limited in the back yard, but after a few walks around with a beer in hand I was able to conger up an ideal layout. It had to be more than just grass though so I called up the superintendent at our golf club to gain some needed supplies. After explaining my plight to him, he gave me some proper tools to help create my architectural debut. I found some old tee markers and a flag in the cart barn and proceeded to put things in motion.

The hole I designed for myself is a short pitch shot playing downhill from East to West. I built the tee box in a patch of grass between a pathway of brick pavers and the dusty trail my dogs have created. The green site is pitched from left to right between a large pine tree and a small garden bed. The hole is framed by boxwoods and azaleas and if you squint a little at sundown you’ll swear that it resembles Augusta National. To create some added character I put up a cast iron bell that is to be rung only in the case of a hole in one.

The variety of grass is not ideal but it suffices for a playing surface at my low budget course. It actually has responded quite well considering that it receives natural fertilizers from the dogs and I cut it at the lowest setting possible with my Honda push lawnmower. There is nothing fancy here, but I have found that when I need some minutes to myself and time at the golf course isn’t in play, I can retreat to the yard for just enough swings to keep my mind sharp. It is in those brief interludes away from my daily stresses that I remember all that I am grateful for.

What I have created is a place where I can improvise my moments of Zen. Maybe its some form of escapism, but whatever you want to call it I have found it to be therapeutic. One small pitch shot for golf, one giant leap for Jay’s mind.

I visit my short hole at odd hours. Some mornings I wake up early, pour a tall cup of black coffee and venture out into the yard in my black robe and well-worn slippers for some peaceful swings before the baby wakes up. Other days I show up at home on my lunch break and hit pitch shots before having to return to the office. There are other times as well like after my wife and I have a debate in the kitchen or I just need to listen to some music and make swings to calm my nerves. In every instance I find myself standing on the tee box of lawn turf focussed on the hole and making a small turn to advance the ball toward the target. The simple rhythms of this are soothing to my soul.

A little bit of golf can go along way towards finding happiness in life, business, and relationships. For me to be effective in any of those realms I have to be able to be in a good place mentally. Golf gets me there. Despite not being able to run out to the course and play on a whim, I have found a convenient way to create a golf outlet in my very own yard.

My neighbors must wonder about me when they see me standing in my yard holding the finish on a pitch shot. They know I’m up to something related to golf because they see a flagstick waving and balls scattered across the lawn. I doubt they realize its just my version of yoga.

When I wrap my fingers around the grip of my old rusty wedge I can tune out my troubles and transport to places far away. Somedays I’m walking the fairways of Augusta and on other occasions, I’m standing on the cliffs of Scotland’s north coast. Maybe I’m listening to the birds chirp through Georgia pines or perhaps I’m smelling the salty air and gorse blooms near Dornoch. Either way, I’m at ease with the world around me and I can still make it back to help give the baby a bath.

Golf can be anywhere you want it to be. The benefits of the game, in particular, the mental side of it, are not reserved for 18 holes on a Saturday morning. Instead, golf can be unpacked quite easily just about anywhere you need it.

There are so many variations of the game and as my time for playing it increasingly disappears  I have found new joy in chasing golf just outside our bedroom window. I think my wife likes this version of the game much better as I’m always within earshot and I’ve found a whole new motivation for keeping the grass cut. When she hears the bell ring she knows I’ve made another ace and perhaps that I’ve found some peaceful moment before dinner. Thanks to a backyard golf hole, I’ve got everything I love all within the confines of home.

-J