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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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King-Collins Golf adds 18-hole design to portfolio with Landmand GC

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Master plan for Landmand Golf Club. Credit: King Collins Golf Course Design

King-Collins Golf’s first design, Sweetens Cove, has received a seemingly endless amount of praise over the last several years. Both the course and the design team have been the darlings of golf social media since the community discovered Sweetens Cove. And yet, it has taken Rob Collins and Tad King a while to add a full 18-hole course to their design portfolio. All of that is about to change.

King-Collins Golf has certainly received many inquiries in the past few years, but the cold hard truth of the golf course design business is few of them ever really get legs. Then, Will Andersen reached out to King-Collins in April of 2019 through the contact form on their website and things changed rather quickly.

According to Rob

“I could just tell by the way he was talking that it was the real deal. He said that he had had some other big name architects out there, but none of them really clicked and some of them didn’t even take the project seriously. It sounded like he had a little chip on his shoulder and, to be honest, that really resonated with me because Tad and I have dealt with very similar issues after Sweetens Cove. You know, we’ve been fighting so hard for our big break and it’s like every time a good piece of land comes up, you hear the same four names and just irritates the heck out of me. Anyway, I called Tad and said, ‘Hey, we got a real one here.’”

Rob Collins and shaper Gus Grantham discussing their plan. Credit: Rob Collins

Will showed Rob and Tad around their family’s land in Homer, Nebraska, which lies on the Missouri River near the Iowa and South Dakota borders. The land had been farmed by their family for several years (Landmand is Danish for farmer, by the way) until it wound up in the government’s Conservation Reserve Program.

Will tells the story of how they decided to turn it into a golf course

“I had been working at Conway Farms near Chicago and was going to be a golf professional when I decided to move back to Nebraska in 2008.  At that point, I said something to my dad about building a golf course, and he was like, ‘Well, we’re not going to do anything else with the land. We’ll probably leave it in the CRP program or at some point we might sell it.’ That was obviously not a great time to be building a golf course, so we signed another 10-year contract with the CRP program.”

“Then, I looked at him this year [in 2019] as they were about to renew the CRP contract and I said, ‘Either we’re going to do something now while the economy’s pretty good or we just don’t ever do it.’ And he said, ‘Alright. Let’s just do this golf course.’ I know that sounds simple, but that was it. What’s funny is my dad’s never once played golf in his life. The only person that played golf in my family was my mom’s dad. He’s the one that got me into it.”

Upon seeing the land, it’s safe to say Rob, Tad, and Will saw eye-to-eye rather quickly.

From Rob’s perspective

“They have some spots down by the Missouri River that were really pretty, but they were prone to flooding and then he took us up to another site up in the hills and it was like, ‘Okay wow. This is the one right here.’  The site we’re working on was actually clear cut by Will’s grandfather, so there’s only one tree on the whole property (near the 11th fairway). It’s really an extraordinary piece of land.  Tad and I talked about what we wanted to do to the site and the type of golf course we wanted to build (lots of options, emphasizing the ground game, and using as many natural contours as we can). We also talked about our design-build method where we do the vast majority of everything in-house, which keeps our cost very low compared to a lot of other folks. I think all of that seemed to be music to their ears.”

The site of Landmand Golf Club. Photo credit: Rob Collins

Will echoed that sentiment

“Rob and Tad were basically giddy when they saw the property and that was a good sign for me. According to Tad, all they really had to do was ‘massage the land’ and it’d make a great golf course. That’s exactly what my dad needed to hear too because he didn’t want them to completely dismantle the whole property. It wasn’t until after we hired them for the job that we found out they hadn’t built an 18-hole golf course from scratch yet.”

As for design features, Rob shared some thoughts on the course itself

“There’s going to be a giant Sitwell green [a nod to Alister Mackenzie’s original design of the 12th hole at Sitwell Park] as well as some smaller greens here and there. Some holes will play along the ridges, some more in the valleys. The golf course just has a real nice rhythm to it, and I don’t think it ever really gets stagnant anywhere. There’s one particular stretch of the course where there’s a 575-yard par 5 followed by a short 310-yard par 4, and then a 110-yard par 3 and a longer 420-yard par 4. There are parts of the golf course where you can see 14 or 15 holes meandering across this super bold terrain. Ultimately, it’s a great piece of property for a great client and you can’t ask for much more than that.”

They signed contracts in the summer of 2019 and construction began around Labor Day. The course will be grassed in 2020 (bentgrass greens and a drought-tolerant bluegrass/rye mix in the fairways) and open for play in 2021. The plan is for a par-73, 7,075-yard course with wide fairways, firm and fast conditions, and a heavy emphasis on variety. Landmand will be a public facility with a small number of season-pass holder-style memberships.

Stay tuned for more information as the project develops.

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The New Orleans Golf Experience

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I love New Orleans. I first visited the Crescent City in 2010 and for the past decade, the place has seeped into my soul. It’s my home away from home. My family and I make a habit of visiting as often as we can, and it has become a bit of a tradition to take a weekend trip to NOLA in December just before Christmas. My 18-month-old son has already been twice, and this last trip he discovered the wonder that is creole gumbo.

But in all my visits to the Big Easy, I had never once played golf. Typically, one of our trips only lasts a weekend and, quite honestly, it’s hard to pull myself away from the city for half a day to play 18. This time, I finally did it. Twice.

The first day of our weekend excursion, I crossed the Mississippi River and headed out to TPC Louisiana, home of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic. The next day, I enjoyed an early morning walk around Audubon Park Golf Course, a city run and operated par-62 deep in the heart of Uptown. Two very different experiences…

But First, Let’s Talk about Nawlins

For the past three years, my family has stayed at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel in the middle of the French Quarter. I’ve actually stayed here many more times than that, including for my bachelor party, because I think its the best combination of location and comfort that you can find in the quarter. There are, of course, countless other options nearby, but the Omni really just does it right. It’s going to be tough for us to pick a different hotel from now on.

Hotel Room Balcony at Omni Royal Orleans

The hotel’s entrance is a wonderfully classic southern lobby with marbling throughout. Our room was spacious and included a balcony overlooking Royal Street, the most charming of the French Quarter roadways. Jam-packed with antique stores, boutiques and bistros, Royal is where we spend most of our time…as opposed to the long days and longer nights on the Bourbon Street of my younger years. But if some time on Bourbon is what you are looking for between golf rounds, the Royal Omni is still only one block away.

When we go to New Orleans, the primary purpose is food. The city is known for its food and some of the best restaurants in the world are located right here in NOLA. Typically, we eat a big meal at Antoine’s, Irene’s, Mr. B’s Bistro or Mother’s Restaurant, and then we walk around town and window shop until it’s time to eat the next big meal.

I made sure both of my rounds of golf were early in the morning so I could get back to town for both lunch and dinner. It’s tough to miss an opportunity for a good meal in New Orleans.

TPC Louisiana

TPC Louisiana is a 20-minute car ride across the river from the quarter, in a town called Avondale. The clubhouse is a true-to-form southern structure adorned with columns and ferns. Typical for the area and exactly what I was hoping for. Bayou through and through.

The pro shop and the rest of the clubhouse are well decorated and outfitted. Not many major brands missing in the shop but it is typically merchandised for a TPC course. Athletic brands like Under Armour and Adidas rule the roost here. And the TPC Louisiana logo leaves much to be desired, just like its sister courses. The Zurich Classic apparel is sprinkled throughout as well. And photos from past champions line the entrance, which always legitimizes a clubhouse a bit, I think. It’s fun to play a course that Justin Rose has won on.

It was a foggy day in Avondale, which suited me just fine. Out from the city and into the swamp, TPC Louisiana should feel a bit spooky the first time you play. There is water on a great many of the holes, which means alligators are also sure to be near. My dad and I put on some Creedence Clearwater and attacked the course, trying to hit each shot far enough into the fog to make the ball disappear.

TPC Louisiana is a Pete Dye design, and true to form, some of the holes are most certainly “Dye-abolical.” For the PGA event, the par 72 course can stretch out to 7,425 yards. In damp conditions, this place can be a real beast. Just the way Dye likes it.

     

The trees are typical for the region. Large and covered in moss, a signature natural feature for golf in the south. And to me, it might be the most important feature of golf in New Orleans. One of the reasons I love the French Quarter is the feeling you get just being there. The Spanish influence of the architecture. The rod iron balconies with hanging ferns as big as a Volkswagen. Live music on every other corner. The feeling of age. This place has been here for a long time, throughout hurricanes and depressions, and it came out vibrant on the other side. And it isn’t going anywhere.

Golf in the deep south can give those same feelings. Floods can come and take some of the course with them, but the tall, strong, century-old cypress and oak trees remain, decorated with moss. TPC Louisiana was built in 2004, so it’s a relatively new course. But the feeling is still old here. The land allows for that feeling. You’re in the bayou here and everything feels mature. A great place for golf.

It wouldn’t be a Pete Dye track without some phenomenally punitive bunkering. Gorgeous to look at but hell to get out of. Most greens are surrounded by coffin bunkers and awkward lies. The wet weather does give these greens lush conditions, too. The mini verde bermuda grass was in perfect shape for our round and each putt rolled true. But we did learn the greens don’t break as much as they look.

       

For the tour quality layout and conditions, the price for golf isn’t bad at all. The course offers dynamic pricing, meaning the cost will change depending on the month, day and even time of day. But in December, a round can run anywhere from $70 to $150 depending on when you want to tee off. That’s not unreasonable.

The ninth hole is one of my favorite holes on the course. A delightful little par 3 with water on the left and a green structure held up by railroad ties. It’s just quintessential Louisiana. The clubhouse watches gracefully behind the flag and it just feels like a good shot will be rewarded with a mason jar of sweet tea at the turn.

9th Green

Large waste bunker hazard

  

The signature hole is undoubtedly the closing par-5 18th. Water all along the right side is beached with a bunker structure that has to be 200 yards long. On warm days, this is a popular sunbathing spot for all the mamma gators.

The hole only plays 565 yards from the Dye Tees, which makes getting home in two a possible task for the longer hitters. A definite birdie hole with a well-placed drive, it’s a great finishing hole for the tour players and spectators alike. But with all that water looming along the right side, the tee shot can be a knee buckler.

  

We walked off the course with plenty of time to head back to the French Quarter and enjoy the rest of the day before dinner. Like I said, time in NOLA is best spent waiting on the next great meal.

Dinner for us was at The Rib Room, a favorite spot of mine that is conveniently located in the Omni Royal Orleans hotel. In 2017, a group of my best friends toasted to my upcoming nuptials here at the Rib Room at the ultimate bachelor party dinner. So this will always be a special place to me. It also just happens to cook up a first-class rib-eye steak, which I order every time. Also, make sure you get the New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp to kick things off. So damn tasty.

Maybe the best thing about the Rib Room, however, is that after a long meal with lots of red meat and red wine, I can just stumble upstairs to my hotel room overlooking Royal Street. It’s certainly one of the perks for staying at the Omni. And it means my kiddo can get into his pajamas and play with his mardi gras beads for the rest of the night.

Spend Some Time in the French Quarter…

I think in order to truly appreciate golf in New Orleans, you need to appreciate New Orleans. TPC Louisiana is a great golf course in its own right, but if you have a certain affinity for the bayou culture and lifestyle, you’re going to love the golf in this town. So if you take a golf trip to New Orleans, I hope you still leave an empty day on your schedule for the city. Walk around the town, see the sites, enjoy the food.

It is tough to keep my dad away from the casino. If you’re a gambler, Harrah’s is a fine substitute for Vegas. It’s a large, beautiful structure at the end of Canal Street and backed up to the mighty Mississippi River. It houses every game and drink your heart might desire.

   

We have dear friends that live in Cleveland, Mississippi, named Matty and Suzette. They’ve made it a tradition to come into town this same weekend each year for a visit, too, and to share good food and stories. We always convene at Antoine’s for a “three-hour lunch” that typically culminates in too much buttery french white wine and still not enough time for all the shared memories and laughs. It’s my favorite meal of the year and always a great time to see Matty and Suzy. New Orleans is about community, after all. And I love my community of people.

The wonders of the Mississippi

Cafe Du Monde Beignets. A must for all tourists, young and old.

Audubon Park Golf Course

Not far from the quarter, just past Tulane University on a darling thoroughfare called Magazine Street, sits Audubon Park. Approximately 350 acres of actual park land in New Orlean’s Uptown neighborhood, the park is bordered on one side by the Mississippi River and on the other side by the stately St. Charles Ave and it’s wonderful streetcars.  The golf course proudly declares that they are the only course in America that you can get to by street car. Charming.

And the whole experience of golf at Audubon Park is charming. The course was built in 1898 and is completely circled by a jogging and walking trail, which is always well populated due to it being such an absolutely beautiful area for a walk. I hit several shots under the watchful eye of stroller pushing moms and leashed golden doodles. The presence of so many non-golfers around the course makes the place feels very European.

Audubon Park Clubhouse

 

The clubhouse is a perfect complement to the course. Small but classic, with a pro shop big enough for a couple of groups of four at a time. Pay your green fee, maybe buy an 1898 logo hat and then head to the first tee. This is true public golf. And it is fun as hell. I decided to walk this round in order to get the full experience.

     

Audubon Park Golf Course is a unique layout. The 18 hole design is only 4,220 yards and a par 62. This includes 12 par 3s (six on each side), four par 4s and two par 5s. It’s the perfect spot for a game. The surplus of par 3s make the course incredibly walk able and I didn’t see many carts on the course at all.

Because of the park presences and the short hole designs, you do see a lot of other people during your round. The whole place feels communal and everyone was quick to say hello and share a smile. That’s New Orleans. Friendship defines Audubon Park.

Despite the shortness of the course, the place didn’t feel small at all to me. There are some real deal par 3s out there. And the two par 5s play like real par 5s. I didn’t walk away from the course feeling like I had just played some par 3 mini-golf design. It still feels like real golf. And honestly, it’s the most fun I have had on a course in a long time.

  

The conditions were phenomenal for a city park course. The greens were pure. Having just played TPC Louisiana, a site for a PGA Tour tournament, I didn’t feel like there was much of a downgrade in quality at all. The course certainly lacks some design creativity that you get with more land to work with. But the par 3s often have carries over water and peninsula greens. I never once felt bored with the routing or design.

When I told people I was playing Audubon Park, the common reaction was always “oh you’re going to have so much fun out there. That course is a blast.” I think there is something to the fact that par is only 62 that adds to the enjoyment. The pressure of traditional scoring and trying to “break 80” or “break 90” goes away and you are just out there to enjoy the game. Also, there is just something really fun about playing three par 3s in a row.

When I checked into our hotel at the Omni, the man behind the counter asked me what I was doing in town. I told him I was here to play some golf and he said “A bunch of us always head out to Audubon Park after work once a week to play. It’s a blast and we can get in around in 2 hours before the sun goes down.”

Audubon Park Golf is good for the game. Accessible, communal, and honestly cheap enough for everyone to enjoy. The green fees are $28 for resident and $38 for non-resident walkers. Only $10 to walk 9 and $20 for a twilight round. For the fun, that is damn tough to beat.

 

After my round, I left my bag with the pro shop and took a walk through the park. It ended up being a beautiful day. I crossed Magazine Street and met my family at the neighboring Audubon Zoo. It amazes me that such a wonderful golf course can be a part of the same park family as a first-class city zoo. Combine the two with your family and I had a really amazing four hours in Audubon Park. New Orleans has a gem here and it feels like the soul of the city.

 

New Orleans Golf

It just doesn’t get a ton of talk in the golf community, but a weekend golf trip in New Orleans should be higher on people’s lists than it is. TPC Louisiana is first class and a real test of golf with a touch of Pete Dye’s diabolical influence. Audubon Park might be the exact opposite but it is the epitome of what fun golf should be. Just a delightful place to swing the club.

Add all that to the fact that you get to spend a weekend in one of the coolest cities in the world, surrounded by culture, music and phenomenal food. I’m not sure why golfers aren’t flocking to the Big Easy. In fact, I think maybe you should.

If you want help planning your next golf experience or just have any questions about some of mine, reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram and shoot me a message. And feel free to check out my other golf experience articles. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Follow the sun: 3 winter golf trips where the PGA Tour plays

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golf, beach, ocean, Puerto Rico

Winter hasn’t begun and you’re already more sick of it than hearing another opinion about Patrick Reed’s sand play. You’re not alone. Approximately 433 million North American residents live in four-season climates where winter and golf aren’t always compatible. You can beat the winter blues and scratch your golf itch by following the PGA Tour this winter. Here are three places to consider.

ocean, cliffs, sunshine, travel, hawaii

Hawaii hosts two PGA Tour stops in January, and it’s one of the best golf states in the U.S. (Pictured: Poipu Bay, Kauai)

Aloha Hawaii in January

It doesn’t get better than this Pacific Ocean oasis for winter golf. The PGA Tour plays here in the Sentry Tournament of Champions (Plantation Course, Jan. 2-5, Maui) and the Sony Open (Waialae CC, Jan. 9-12, Honolulu). Xander Schauffle and Matt Kuchar are defending champions, respectively. With five major islands and scores of courses to choose from, it’s hard to make a poor choice. Perhaps start by identifying what style place you prefer. Want nightlife and action on and off course? Honolulu fits the bill. More into the laid back vibe? Kauai is calling. The Garden Isle is lush and serene, with courses including Puakea, Poipu Bay, Wailua, and Hokuala.

Inside tip: expect omnipresent trade winds that invite shot imagination and wildly unusual club selection. It’s not atypical to need 3-4 clubs more than normal (or less).

cactus, Arizona, desert, golf, golf course

Arizona – the land of cactuses, deserts, great golf courses, and ideal winter golf weather

Waste Not Arizona

You know about the Waste Management Open (TPC Scottsdale, Jan. 30-Feb. 2), home to electric stadium golf and stands full of wasted minions who particularly worship defending champion Ricky Fowler. But you should also know that there are more great golf courses in Arizona and around Phoenix-Scottsdale than you can count. Many are owned by Native American Tribes that were designed by some of the game’s greatest architects, including Tom Doak and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. They’re particularly compelling because they mix top-rated courses with Native American cultural influences. Talking Stick, We-Ko-Pa, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, Wild Horse Pass. You get the desert picture.

Inside tip: Desert golf can be point-to-point golf. Keeping the ball on the green stuff is paramount, considering all of the sand, rocks, cactuses, and scorpions that lie outside of it.

ocean, golf course, Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, Tom Fazio

With 17 golf courses , beaches, 4,000+ restaurants, and more than 80 direct flights daily, Puerto Rico is as convenient and satisfying a winter golf getaway as they come. (Pictured: Tom and George Fazio-designed Ocean Course at Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Golf & Beach Resort) 

Puerto Rico Fore February

While Hawaii and Arizona are relatively convenient to many, it’s not so much for those living in the eastern part of the continent. Puerto Rico is particularly traveler friendly for them. Not only because there are more than 80 direct flights to the Caribbean Island daily, but no passport is required for U.S. citizens. While Martin Trainer is defending his Puerto Rico Open title (Feb. 20-23, The Resort at Coco Beach), you could be playing one of the Island’s 17 courses, including a worthy collection around capital San Juan. These include TPC Dorado Beach (36 holes) – which GOLF named one of the Top 5 Luxury category places in out 2019 Top 100 Golf Resorts compendium – Rio Mar Golf & Beach Resort (36), and St. Regis Bahia Beach (18). Playing Coco Beach is another Capital Region option. Home to two Tom Kite designed 18-hole courses (Championship and International), Coco Beach was formerly a Trump International golf licensed venue.

Inside tip: Puerto Rico is the most exotic of the three winter golf destinations listed. But it’s bilingual and welcoming, just like its courses, all of which offer public access.

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