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From heaven to hell: Fond memories, new tragedy at Abaco

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Last year, I got a call from the public relations people for Southworth Development about taking a trip to visit the Abaco Club in the Bahamas. I had heard about the Abaco Club as a retreat for the elite and one of the most popular stops on the Korn Fery Tour. Golf superstars like Darren Clarke and Nick Price had residences there along with other celebrities from the sports and entertainment worlds.

The beach at the Abaco Club

Abaco exceeded my expectations. The location was as beautiful as any in the world, with white warm tropic breezes and sandy beaches on a secluded bay. The water is a surreal kind of blue; actually, it’s a series of blues that range from turquoise to a deep royal blue.

Staff at Abaco Club

The only thing more sparkling that the water and the sunshine were the smiles of the people. From the time that you arrive the warmth and hospitality of the staff at Abaco surrounds you. It’s not the kind of hospitality that you learn from a class or an employee manual. It’s a more honest and genuine variety that comes from a culture of courtesy and welcoming others into your world.

Abaco Club owner David Southworth

I made some great friends on and on the golf course in Abaco. David Southworth, who along with business partner Joe Deitch form the ownership group of the Abaco Club, is one of those people who has a kind of easy charm and grace. When he talks about Abaco, he deflects credit from himself and shives the spotlight on his staff and support team. “These are the people that make it possible,” I remember Southworth saying again and again.

Abaco Golf Course

We had an opportunity to play the golf course there, one of the most fun tracks I had ever played. Most of the writers on my trip were travel writers and bloggers who didn’t play golf so my group all three days included Southworth Director of Marketing David De Smith, golf videographer Dave Lockhart and Instagram model Katie Kearney, who had just started working in the golf world. The staff made sure that we had everything that we needed including a new Abaco shirt every day. At one point, Katie and I were thinking it would nice to have a cocktail on the course. A quick call from De Smith and a cart arrived with a shipment of tropical goodness.

We were invited to the home of European Tour pro Thomas Aiken to talk about his career and his connection to Abaco. When we arrived, Nick Price was downstairs in the hot tub; we decided to just stick with Thomas. He talked about coming to Abaco for the first time and knowing that he wanted to make it a part of his life. I did meet Price the next day on the range; we had met several times before and he is generally a very relaxed fellow, but I honestly didn’t remember seeing him as relaxed as he was at Abaco.

Nick Price and Thomas Aiken

I had a chance to go snorkeling, and to see parts of the village where the local folk lived. We saw charming little shops with locally made crafts and restaurants serving delicious conch fritters next to the beach where the ingredients had been harvested.

All of it is gone now. All of it.

Marsh Harbour

Ever since my visit to Abaco I have pointing people in that direction, encouraging everyone to go there and experience the place and the people. As Hurricane Dorian was bearing down on Abaco, I texted David De Smith to see how it looked. He spoke of catastrophic damage and already seeing bodies. And as the days go by, the damage and death toll are continuing to rise.

The storm turned heaven on Earth into hell on Earth. As of this writing, the death toll stands at 50 but is certain to go higher. Over 70,000 people have been left homeless and are seeking assistance and refuge. With people leaving the island on anything that will fly or float, Grand Bahama will be a ghost island in very short order, with only relief workers remaining behind to pick through the rubble.

When describing Abaco, I would often say that it was one of those magical places that brings out the best in you. The beauty of the place, of the people, of the experience; they combined to extract from the guest the calm and contentedness that isn’t possible in most of the workaday world. Abaco gave me memories for a lifetime. Now, in their time of need, many have been compelled to act. A slew of PGA professionals have posted on social media expressing the need for help. The ubiquitous Josè Andres is already on the island providing meals.

Abaco After Hurricane Dorian

Both Joe Deitch and David Southworth have pledged that the Abaco Club will host its Korn Ferry Tour event in January 2020 as planned. Aid is beginning to flow and people all over the world are pledging their support in the short term and the long term. More is needed now and will be for.a very long time. Eventually, the spirit of the Bahamian people will prevail, and Abaco will rise again. For now, I will give what I can in time and money as I pray nightly for the living and the dead of Abaco.

To give, go to www.theabacoclub.com and click on the link for the GoFundMe page there. Southworth Chairman Joe Deitch has committed to match the first $1 million in donations.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Thomas

    Sep 12, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    Abaco shills on the prowl. Brutally honest “negativity” trumps lollypops and unicorns all day every day. Don’t blame us and lash out like spoiled children for your failure to respect the power of nature.

  2. Not James the 3rd

    Sep 12, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Couldnt agree with Not James anymore. Its sad that some people choose to live their lives with such negative mindsets specially towards others. If only they were taught how to ask better questions… I was affected by hurricane Dorian though only a cat 2 when it passed us. Its just a trade off for living in such a cool location and its really cool to see people come together when things like this pass.

    Im sure the Abaco Club will rebuild and be stronger/better than ever.

  3. James

    Sep 12, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    Why is it that rich idiots think they’re bigger than Mother Nature? Did they honestly think that a hurricane would never touch this place?

    • Not James

      Sep 12, 2019 at 12:48 pm

      Most rich people are not idiots and I doubt that any of them believe that they are bigger than Mother Nature. It’s terribly sad what happened to this place (and the surrounding areas). The good news, is that those same “Rich Idiots” will help rebuild this place- what’s your contribution? Maybe instead of spending your time being an angry keyboard warrior you could use some of that whit to make some money for yourself so you don’t have to take it out on the world.

      • James

        Sep 12, 2019 at 3:48 pm

        Nice unhinged libtard trust fund snowflake projection! Well said. Regardless, they honestly thought that a hurricane would never touch this place. Hence the complacency. Hence the lack of hurricane shelters. One is a total idiot to build such a non-hurricane proof destination in a region that gets wiped out by a hurricane every 10-20 years. Overpaid idiot golf pros (because they don’t know anything else besides hitting a little ball) asking others to help? That’s rich! A handful of them could entirely pay to rebuild, if it’s so important to them. They just want to be seen as pretending to care or get bailed out for their straw hut arrogance.

      • L. Schwartzman

        Sep 13, 2019 at 9:59 am

        The Abacos have been settled and prosperous for 300 years (or longer). This storm is the worst thing to happen to any of The Bahama islands EVER in recorded history. Granted, it could have happened before… BUT, to have a Cat. 5 storm sit over your island for 3 days, is just excruciatingly awful. No place could survive such devastation and we will probably never have an accurate approximation of the actual loss of life. When hurricane Harvey sat over Texas for 3 days, no one suggested that everybody should leave Texas and not rebuild. This will take a enormous amount of time, but when they do rebuild, it should be done with these much stronger storms in mind. No more frame housing allowed, only concrete construction. In the Keys, there are even houses with concrete roofs. What a great idea. It would cost a lot more, but, it could withstand a storm and need minimal rebuilding. The infrastructure should definitely be rebuilt this way, and, if you are going to invest and rebuild in any of these islands, this should be the answer. I genuinely feel so sad for the people of Grand Bahama and The Abacos, but, eventually, it will come back (with lots of monetary help).

    • Also Not James

      Sep 12, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      Good lord. James is on another level of stupid. You realize the island of Bahama aren’t just a collection of rich idiots, right? Of course you don’t, because you’re the idiot. Just look at the picture in this article for Christ’s sake. It’s middle/lower income housing all leveled to rubble. Not gigantic beach side mansions. Just think of all the jobs that the Abaco Club provides for locals. All of those people are now without work. Thank you for the article, Michael. More attention needs to be brought to the people of the Bahamas.

    • Not James IV

      Sep 12, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      No one plans for a category 5 hurricane to settle down over your home/business for 72 hours straight, James. Matter of fact, I believe a Cat 5 hurricane has hit landfall only one other time in recorded history (1920s/30s). This is exactly why “rich idiots” have all sorts of expensive insurance policies. I’m sure their resort will be re-built with insurance dollars. They’re simply looking to be charitable for the surrounding community.

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Rocky Mountain High: An adventure in Colorado golf

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Back in May, I was in Denver Colorado on a weeklong business trip. While I was out there I had a chance to play three fantastic courses. When I decide to do a course review, I try to pick courses that the public can play without having a country club membership. In this case, I stopped at Colorado National, Todd Creek, and Broadlands Golf Course. All of them were fantastic, and I would recommend them to anyone that is in the Denver area.

The Broadlands

I will start at the Broadlands it is located in Broomfield northwest of Denver. The course offers spectacular views of the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains as well as fantastic practice facilities. The course has some great holes that will challenge all levels of players. Some holes like the par-4 eighth hole require both distance and accuracy off the tee. With water starting on your right and then a second pond showing up about 200 yards down the fairway on the left a good accurate shot is required. Other holes like the par-3 14th offer you a chance to get a good look at birdie with a well-placed tee shot. The course was in fantastic shape with lush fairways and greens that rolled well. It’s not an easy course, but for the money, I would recommend it to anyone.

Todd Creek

My next stop was Todd Creek in Thornton. This course is built inside a retirement community, but it has all the luxury of a country club. The day I played it was a little cold and the ball wasn’t flying as far as it normally would have at a mile high, but that didn’t change my opinion of the course.

Like always, I start my round at the range, and during my warm-up, I got a glimpse of a pair of Bald Eagles flying over. To a guy who used to work with birds of prey in his youth, it was a great way to start the day. The practice facilities are outstanding with both chipping and putting greens as well as a well-measured driving range. The wind is definitely something that comes into play and is something to factor when choosing your shot.

Holes six and 14 are normally blind approach shots, and in my mind were the most fun on the course. I had a great time out here and finished the day off sitting in the restaurant surrounded by other golfers watching Brooks Koepka win the PGA Championship. It’s a little bit of a drive from downtown Denver but worth it.

Colorado National

The last course I played was Colorado National. Like the other two courses, it was north of Denver in Erie, Colorado. This course is home to the University of Colorado golf team, and like other university courses I have played, this one was amazing. Each hole had a unique personality to it with some being very friendly and others being absolutely nasty.

This course is one that allows you to tee it up and let it fly on some holes and on others it requires very accurate shots. The layout of the course has taken advantage of the natural layout of the surrounding rolling hills and uses that to add a little bit of extra flair to the course.

The par-5 15th is by far the hardest hole on the course measuring 666 yards. It is straight down the hill with a marsh area off to the left but you must have a good drive and a good 3-wood shot to even attempt a par. Most of the greens are at least two levels and a few have three. It’s a well-designed and well-maintained course that is a must-play if you are in the area. The spectacular views of the mountains coupled with manicured fairways and greens made this course my favorite of the three.

Denver is an amazing city that offers a ton of stuff to do and plenty of chances to enjoy the best parts of the state. The golf in Colorado is amazing and there are plenty of courses you can play and enjoy the clean air and amazing sights. If you live in Colorado, consider yourself lucky, and if you are going for a visit, take your clubs!

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Play the best of the Emerald Isle for less green!

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There are over 400 golf courses in Ireland, and the great majority of them are good to great. Most golfers who set their sights on the Emerald Isle are looking to bag one of the “trophy” courses like Waterville, Lahinch, Ballybunion, The K Club and others in that strata. There’s nothing wrong with that, because all of those courses offer an exceptional golf experience. But those memories come with a price tag: a round at one of the big-name golf courses can easily cost $300 or more, and that’s if you can manage to secure a tee time for you and your group. If you play a few of those on the same trip, you will have the cost of greens fees putting a serious dent in your overall budget for the trip.

But with a little effort, great golf can be found at courses that have equally special golf experiences at a fraction of the cost.

And you can take the money you save to visit some of the great foodie destinations around Ireland, buy plenty of swag from the pro shops (I am partial to bag tags and club ties), extend your trip by a day or two or even upgrade your flight (the latter of which I highly recommend; Aer Lingus Business Class has good pricing, even in-season, exceptional service and the extra real estate will ensure you get there and back with a smile rather than a limp.)

Check this list of lesser-known but highly regarded tracks.

Please note the prices listed are estimates that reflect the range of pricing based on time of year and day of the week. Check with the course for exact pricing and also current exchange rates from U.S. Dollar to Euro.

Cruit Island Golf Club
County Donegal
Greens Fee: $40

The least known on this list is also the most unique. Cruit (pronounced “Critch”) Island is a 9-hole layout that has two sets of tees so that you play around it twice to get the 18-hole, par-68 links experience. Built by a group of golfers who bought the land and built the course because they didn’t want to go 30 miles to the next closest course, Cruit Island is perched along a craggy shoreline that on a clear day rivals anything you find on the Monterey Peninsula for sheer beauty. The wind is a factor on every hole, and you could well find yourself hitting 3-wood into a 150-yard par-3 depending on the gusts that day. Speaking of par-3s, the 6th is one of the best in links golf.

Because it is wedged into a relatively small space, some of the holes feature severe doglegs and daunting blind shots; it is up to the player to interpret it as wicked or whimsical. The course is not as meticulously maintained as some other tracks but that is part of its charm. The clubhouse is just as cozy as the course, the perfect place to warm up with a Jamesons and soak in more of the stunning views of the Atlantic Coast. Easily one of the best golf bargains to be found in Ireland or anywhere else.

County Sligo Golf Club – Colt Championship Course
Rosses Point, County Sligo
Price: $120 – $200

Perhaps the best known of the lesser-knowns, County Sligo is a classic links layout that has tested the best for over a century. Founded in 1894, the course was redesigned to its current form by the great Harry Colt in 1927. Defined by the rugged coast of the northwest Atlantic where it sits, the course has had players like Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, and others establish themselves as champions to be reckoned with there. The course has all of the wind and terrain that you would expect from an Irish links; The first two holes play almost 500 feet uphill, but the golfer is rewarded for the hike on the tee box of the par-5 3rd, which has a 360 degree view of the Benbulben rock formation and Atlantic coastline that is second to none in the country.

The par-4 5th hole plays from a cliffside into a valley of holes that will challenge the skill, stamina intellect of the players, but the inherently fair nature of an exceptional links design mans that less than stellar players will have tee boxes and shot options that make the course playable and enjoyable. The par-4 17th hole brings the golfers back over the mountain in spectacular fashion and the blind tee shot at the 18th will bring joy and/or pain depending on your courage and accuracy. The course used to play for under $60 as recently as five years ago but the word has gotten out and rack rates have pushed upward. But if you call in advance of your trip, the head pro has been known to negotiate a better price for groups.

Donegal Golf Club
County Donegal
Greens Fee: About $55 – $140

Another links course set on a promontory that juts into the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal Golf Club offers a quintessential links golf experience.  The course, a par 73 for both men and women, consists of five par 5s, four par 3s, and nine par 4s, stretching over 7,400 yards from the tips, with five regulation tees from each hole, plus a beginner tee. The outside loop plays along the dunes and the ocean, providing stunning views of the surrounding area. The inner loop is more protected, however, the constantly changing sea breeze provides a continuing test for both skilled and amateur golfers. The course is long, but it is a relatively easy walk, and unlike many courses in Ireland it can provide a cart with advance notice. Originally designed by the legendary Irish golf course architect, Eddie Hackett, the course is yet another links being tweaked by the now-ubiquitous Pat Ruddy. No less an authority than 2011 Open Champion Darren Clarke called Donegal Golf Club ‘one of my favorite courses in the world.’ Full disclosure, he is a member. Facilities include a driving range, warm-up area, and putting, chipping and bunker practice areas. And don’t leave without trying the fish chowder after the round.

Narin and Portnoo
County Donegal
Greens Fee: $80 – $140

You might be noticing a pattern here; there are some mighty fine golf courses in the Northwest coast of Ireland known as the Wild Atlantic Way. Another wonderfully windblown offering is Narin and Portnoo (named for the two towns that the course sits between). While not very well known outside Ireland, many locals consider it one of the must-play courses in the country. The par-73 track is known for the natural beauty for the course and the surrounding land, both exceptional even by Irish standards. It’s a big golf course from to back and side to side, but the wind and white stakes will require good decisions and consistent precision from the golfer. Golf has been played at Narin and Portnoo since 1905, but the membership has hired superstar designer Gil Hanse to take it into the next 100 years; the course changes are made on the fly while the course is open so you may see some of the new greens that will be in play in 2020. One major plus is that Narin and Portnoo has a forecaddie program, a big help in planning your way around the course. As with all of the courses on the list, make sure your phone battery is full to capture the stunning views of Gweebarra Bay. After the round, order up a dozen of the best raw oysters anywhere with your Guinness.

Concra Wood Golf Club
County Monaghan
Green Fee: $45 – $90


This parkland golf course is the perfect way to either start or finish an Ireland trip. It is a parkland course, meaning it plays on terrain and turf more familiar to American players. The course opened in 2008, not a great time to start any enterprise and especially not a 5-star golf course. The course has recovered from financial troubles and has emerged better than ever. Designed by Irish golfing legends Christy O’Connor Sr. and Jr., the course winds its way along the hills and valleys surrounding Lough (or Lake) Muckno. Some of the looks are beyond dramatic; the 340-yard 2nd is a drivable par-4 that features a 40ft. drop from the tee…but it pales in comparison to the back nine, starting with the 430-yard par 4 10th. A good drive to a flat spot in the fairway leaves an approach that resembles dropping a ball from a low-flying helicopter to a green well-protected by bunkers and the lake.

That leads to a stretch of holes that play beside the lake that ranks as one of the best four-hole stretches in the country. Ironically, this non-links track is one of the toughest walks in Ireland—think Augusta National-type elevation changes. If you are not fit, don’t be ashamed to take a cart. And get a yardage book to prevent nasty surprises on some of the blind shots on the course!

 

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The Myrtle Beach World Amateur: At 35, it’s better than ever

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When I was a kid, my best sport was basketball. I started off playing at school and established myself as one of the best there. But I didn’t know how much I had to learn until I started playing at the big, well-known playgrounds around DC that were the incubators for great players. It was on those playgrounds that I learned how to compete and also how competition makes friendships for life.

Golf is the same way. Sure, it’s fun to beat up on your friends and relations on your home course but you won’t know how good you are or how good you can be until you get into a real competition.

There are a lot of choices for that but perhaps the best and most popular competition is the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Championships. Held annually in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the World Am hosts thousands of golfers in a handicapped event that is played on some of finest courses in the state.

There are tight knit flights that accommodate a wide range of golfers’ abilities from scratch to 36 and over. Says Tournament Director Scott Tomasello, “The World Am has lasted 35 years by providing a proving ground for the everyday golfer. It also just so happens to take place in the Golf Capital of the World. Players of all ages, skill levels and backgrounds get together for 4 rounds of competitive golf. Some players use it as a chance to test their game while others use it to make friends for life, which is what makes the tournament a great time for everyone.”

I had heard about the event for years and finally had the opportunity to play last year for the first time. Even before the first ball was struck, I had an amazing experience. At the opening party I found myself standing behind a guy who was my boss during my summer internship in my senior year of high school, and his son, just happens to be the aforementioned tournament director.

It was a nice reunion and was the first of many happy accidents that week. I met people who grew up around the corner from me, and people that lived in Hong long at the same time as me. I met distant relatives and friends of friends. With the way that the tournament connects people, it could rightfully be called the Kevin Bacon open.

The tournament is four rounds and each golfer is assigned four different courses to play, including one “premier” course (I lucked out by getting exactly the course I was wanting to play, the Mike Stranz-designed Caledonia Golf and Fish Club). But all of the courses in the rotation are in great condition and set up to play challenging but fair. I must say that I didn’t play my best golf because I was also being a reporter, but I finished sixth in my flight and made a passel of new friends who I expect to see every year at the World Am.

Entry into the World Am includes the four rounds of golf, the famous nightly 19th hole that features unlimited food and open bar for you and a guest, huge gift bag and chance at over $100,000 in prizes; at only $535 (good until May 16) it’s a bargain bordering on a steal.

If you are looking for great golf, keen competition and the best of Myrtle Beach on and off the course then get registered now for the Myrtle Beach World Golf Am. Like me, once you play, you’ll have it as one of the fixtures on your annual golf calendar.

 

For details and to register, go to https://myrtlebeachworldamateur.com

 

 

 

 

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