Last week, golf returned to the Las Vegas Strip as the Wynn Golf Course made its debut. In fact, it was a grand re-opening of a course that had hosted top pros and celebrities for years before closing in 2017, with the land earmarked for development. Other land was found, and now the track is back and better than ever.
Tom Fazio was chosen as the architect for the re-imaging of the course. It now plays as a par-70 with three par 3s and two par 5s on each nine (that’s two Full Houses, if you are a poker type) and a total yardage that stretches from 4,810 to 6,722 with a choice of four tees. The course plays a lot longer than the number, so wisdom dictates that you choose one tee box forward if you want to score.
Those that have played the old design will see that the changes begin on the first hole, which has been rerouted from its original design to dogleg right instead of left. All told, there are eight brand new holes and ten that have been re-worked. Highlights include a 486-yard par 4 (no. 16) and a par 5 (no. 11) that tops out at nearly 600 yards. The signature 18th hole has been transformed from a par 4 to a par 3, which can be stretched to 249 yards, culminating on a green framed by a 35-foot-tall by 100-foot-wide waterfall for a truly Las Vegas-style finish.
More than 400,000 cubic yards of earth and 300 trees were relocated to accommodate wider landing areas, contours, and elevation changes to fairways throughout, as well as bunker alterations that make for easier access and egress. Each hole received an approximate 300-square-foot green expansion as well as a redesign and recontour to create new hole locations, while resort golfers will appreciate that green surrounds were made more receptive with the addition of collection areas shaped to feed balls toward putting surfaces instead of away from them. That’ll also get you around the course and back to the tables in a reasonable amount of time.
Visually, the course is a knockout. As you would expect for opening day, the conditions were immaculate, but the management is committed to daily perfection. There is a kind of surreal feeling as you play in a combination of lush greenery while you use the Wynn Tower and other landmarks as your aimpoint on the horizon. Full disclosure; I love Fazio designs and this one was the man at his best. Generous fairways to get the hole started, and approaches that are challenging without being absurdly difficult.
“We are so excited about the return of the Wynn Golf Club,” said Fazio. “The quality of the Wynn golf experience matches the ultra-high level that everyone expects from a Wynn resort. The playability of the course is second to none and the challenge of play for all golfers is exceptional.”
Fazio is right; as a hotel, the Wynn is, like, a 7-star experience, and they did their best to extend that to the golf course. You’ll find a top-notch caddie program featuring several PGA members, new on-course culinary program, lithium-powered golf carts (with lights and a horn!), expansive pro shop, and a luxury clubhouse.
The Wynn Golf experience does not come cheap; green fees are $550 in-season not including caddy. But in the context of a city where you can lose $600 in less time than it takes to say, “Six hundred dollars,” it might be the best value proposition that many visitors get during their stay. And by the way, if you ace 18, you can win up to $25K.
Golfers with a room reservation at Wynn Las Vegas or Encore can secure tee times 90 days in advance. Non-resort guests can reserve tee times 30 days in advance.
Jack’s back! A first look at Reynolds Great Waters reopening
I was happy to accept a recent invitation to attend the grand reopening of the Great Waters course at Reynolds Lake Oconee. Over the last five years, I have come to know Reynolds Lake Oconee quite well. It is a gated community that is cozied up next to a man-made lake halfway between Augusta and Atlanta, Georgia (fun fact: almost all of the lakes in Georgia are man-made) and is populated by a lot of people who have that increasingly rare ability to be well-off and well-behaved, which makes it a really pleasant place to reside.
Reynolds Lake Oconee also has a Ritz-Carlton hotel for those that want to soak up some southern-style luxury; one of the things that I like most about RLO is that the place is golf-centric without having that “golf monastery” feel of some of the newer multi-course golf destinations. It is a prime location for Masters ticket holders to stay during tournament week, and I have been there a couple of times myself for their version of Monday after the Masters.
Over the years, Reynolds Lake Oconee has very quietly become one of the country’s great golf destinations, kind of a Georgia peach-flavored version of Pinehurst. The property boasts six championship golf courses, including designs by Nicklaus, Bob Cupp, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones. Great Waters (Nicklaus) and The Oconee (Jones) are ranked it the Top 100 public courses in America, with Great Waters at #2 in the state. And to top it off, the Kingdom of Golf by TaylorMade is located at RLO. Gearheads will know that The Kingdom is one of the highest-regarded instruction and club fitting facilities in the country. Make an appointment to try it out and you can tell your friends that you got fitted for a new driver or set of irons at the same place Jason Day and Rory McIlroy tweak their bags during Masters Week.
Great Waters was the first course that I had played there—five years ago I was invited to play in the Big Break Invitational. It was very cool to hang out with Tommy “Two-Gloves” Gainey, Don Donatello and the rest of the gang that I had watched on TV for years. I got to play a few holes with Tony Finau right before he jumped to the PGA Tour (you forgot he was a Big Break-er didn’t you?). I knew he was going to do OK when I saw him dismantle a short par-4 with a 290-yard 3-wood to the front of the green that led to a tap-in birdie and a big ‘ole Finau grin. Great Waters’ credentials also included hosting the WGC Match Play in its early days, as well as a slew of local and regional championships.
But after almost 30 years of play, Great Waters was in need of maintenance, repair, and upgrades to some infrastructure, so the word was that Nicklaus and the owners would do the maintenance and also take the opportunity to apply the wisdom and the advancements gained since the original launch and make some structural changes to the layout.
I flew into Atlanta and picked up my ride to Greene County, a 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG C63, a 500-horsepower SUV coupe that made the ride to RLO infinitely more comfortable and considerably shorter than the same trip in the hotel shuttle. As I cruised the satellite radio bands and dodged state troopers on I-20, I was thinking about how Jack might have changed the course. Nicklaus is nothing if not prolific as a golf course designer; he has over 260 course designs to his name and if you include co- and re-designs that number gets to 300. But the honest truth is that while every Nicklaus course is a challenge, they can take on an air of the familiar.
It’s not all his fault; a developer from Argentina plays your track in Florida and then wants to pay you a million dollars to do roughly the same thing in Caracas, you do it. And many of the Nicklaus tracks can be extremely penal, especially for resort courses. For that reason, I have developed a shortlist of favorite Bear tracks that, in my humble opinion, got the balance of challenge, opportunity, beauty and fun exactly right. The Manele Golf Course at the Four Seasons Lanai is my absolute favorite Nicklaus course, and Great Waters was just behind it. I was hoping that Jack wasn’t going to respond to the advances that had been made in club design and the ever-expanding length of the golf ball to fortify the layout to the detriment of playability. Great Waters was great fun to play, and I selfishly wanted it to stay that way.
As I arrived at the practice facility before the opening round at Great Waters, the first thing that struck me was the practice facility itself. It was opening day for that facility too, and it was immaculate. I noticed that there were a lot of thin shots being hit because no one wanted to take a divot from the immaculate turf on the practice tee. I went to the practice green to roll a couple of putts; the TIFF Eagle surface was rolling at a speed roughly equivalent to a gym floor. Not a good sign for scoring on the potato chip greens that I remembered from my previous trip around Great Waters.
The first and most predictable difference was the length of the course. It was expanded with the addition of “Golden Bear” back tees that play a robust 7,400 yards; to put that in perspective, on the first hole, they actually had to place the Golden Bear tees on the practice green! But there were also new tees placed at 4,500 yards to increase playability, pace-of-play and birdie opportunities for the less prodigious. I was playing with three 30-somethings, so I swallowed hard and played from 6,900-plus, all but assuring that most of the birdies I’d see that day would be perched in the Georgia pines.
The opening holes are classic Georgia golf, meandering through the pines with glimpses of the lake As I went through the front nine, the changes I saw were mostly technical. Extensive tree clearing took place to reduce shade and improve overall turf quality. Speaking of turf, the grasses that were used for the renovation are state of the art, with Zeon zoysia for the fairways and TifTuf Bermuda rough, both of which should hold up well with minimal water and chemical treatment in the sweltering heat of Georgia summers.
I was hitting driver well that day and was loving the way that zoysia “tees” the ball up for approach shots. The greens complexes are all new and have also been converted to TifEagle Bermuda, a grass that performs better in the shade and holds color in the fall. That, along with the lowering of some embankments allow for wider fairways and more views of the lake. The fairway bunkers, somewhat surprisingly, had not been moved, but they were in perfect condition, as were the greenside bunkers. The greens, as expected, were table-top hard, but they will definitely soften as they mature and settle after the rebuild.
As I was making the turn, I was pleased; the course so far had been improved without fundamentally changing an already exceptional experience. But if the front nine is a sonata, the back nine is a rock anthem. Perhaps the most stunning hole is the 11th, a gorgeous 311-yard par-4 that is the dictionary definition of “risk-reward” (and the hole where Tony Finau had given me a look into his future). Lowering the hillside on the left side of the hole allows the players to see much more of the lake that frames it. Deciding to go hero mode and hit driver is a common mistake on the hole; if you dunk it in the lake on the left you’ll probably find at least a sleeve of Pro V1s left by previous victims waiting for you in the grass near your drop.
Great Waters saves the best for last, as every hole except No. 10 has Lake Oconee either visible or in play, and on a perfect fall day like we had it is a lovely sight indeed. The final four holes are a chorus line of beauties that offer some of the best views in American golf, and the par-3 17th and the massive par-5 18th rank as one of the best finishing combinations in the Nicklaus portfolio. I went par/bogey on the finish, but from the distance I was playing, I couldn’t complain. On the contrary, I walked off with the same feeling that I had when I played the first time: ”I’d love to play it again tomorrow.”
The great man of Great Waters gave a press conference the day after the opening round, and he was reflective when speaking about the project in terms of his life and career.
“I think that I have learned some things over the years, and you see that [at Great Waters],” Nicklaus noted. “But the members and residents here have always wanted a property they can be proud of, and I think that’s what we gave them.”
In all, Great Waters is just as challenging and just as much fun, if not more, than before. The aesthetic changes to the course have made it more picturesque than ever, but if you want to want to score well, you’ll need to spend more time lining up your putts than your pictures.
“The thing a course designer wants to hear from golfers when they see a hole is, “Wow,” said Nicklaus.
For sure, Great Waters has provided its share of “wow” moments, and with this project completed, it is sure to be providing them for years to come.
The Streamsong Experience
Streamsong Resort is in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know that was possible in Florida, but a flight into Tampa Bay and then an hour or so drive to the center of the state gets you there. The middle of nowhere. Swamp and sand. Dunes and gators. One windmill and three world-class tests of golf. The remoteness is actually a great thing because it separates you from everything else going on in your world. You stand on a tee box, look around and see golf. Only golf. If that’s your focus, Streamsong fits the bill.
I was there in mid-October for a golf trip with three of my best friends. I had seen all the pictures on instagram and read several articles, so I was really looking forward to seeing these courses in person. I knew very little about the lodging or restaurant accommodations, however. I did not leave disappointed.
We flew into Florida from Fort Worth, Houston, Dallas, and Nashville and shared an Uber from the Tampa airport to the resort. The ride cost about $120 but the resort does offer a more expensive shuttle service option, which we utilized on our way back to the airport. Due to the remoteness of the resort, calling for an Uber is somewhat difficult for the return trip to Tampa.
We arrived on property with only minutes to spare for our 2 p.m. tee time on Streamsong Black so our Uber driver dropped us off at the clubhouse. The Streamsong property is essentially three buildings separated by swamp and dunes-land: the main lodge, the Red/Blue Course Clubhouse and the Black Course Clubhouse. A shuttle bus service runs regularly between the three, getting you where you need to go swiftly and easy.
The Black Course clubhouse is modern and predominately walled with large windows and metal posts, providing incredible views both inside and out. The building comes equipped with a nice sized pro shop, stocked mostly with gear with the Black Course logo. Bone Valley Tavern, the on-site restaurant, is a gastropub with plenty of TV screens for game watching. The bar is huge and well-stocked. The views of the course and sunset complete “BVT” as an ideal post-round dinner spot. And that is exactly what we did when we walked off the Black.
Streamsong is primarily for walking golfers, but carts are available upon request. However, in order to get a cart, they require the use of a forecaddie as well. Cart rentals will run you $35 per man and a fore-caddie is $100 for the foursome. We decided to walk each round of our trip, but if I were to suggest the services of a fore-caddie or caddie for any round, it would be for Steamsong Black.
The rounds at Streamsong aren’t cheap by any standard, but the particular time of year can certainly make or break a budget weekend trip. In October, they weren’t overly crowded, either. We saw plenty of other golfers but didn’t spend much time waiting on shots. And, the pro shop staff was more than accommodating if we wanted to push back our tee times a bit. Honestly, everyone we met that worked at Streamsong was incredibly friendly and professional.
The Black is a par 73 design by Gil Hanse and the newest of the three resort courses, having only opened in 2017. Everything on this course is big. The fairways, the bunkers, the green complexes, the undulation–all big. I would say that the greens are tricked up, but I was told that the preferred language at the resort is to say that the Black greens “have character.” A caddie could do wonders for you and if you do decide to splurge for one, again, I’d do it here on Black.
The large features do present some breathtaking views. Golf here is beautiful.
Several holes require blind shots into those large greens, which can be frustrating if this is your first time playing the course. Blind shots into greens with character might turn good shots into bad ones once you walk up and see the end result. We only played this course one time, but I imagine a second loop around would’ve been a completely different experience.
The windmill, which is the course logo, can be seen from pretty much everywhere on the course. It’s a cool reminder that you’re at Streamsong playing one of the top courses in the nation. A welcomed reminder for me as I struggled most of the day to figure out exactly where I should be hitting my ball on this links-style track. The greens here run a little slow but that makes sense due to the severity of their slope. Any faster and they would be downright not fun. But that’s links golf.
The Black course is the longest of the three at Streamsong, playing 7,331 yards from the tips with more room to stretch it out if they wanted. Length is the obvious advantage here but course knowledge is perhaps even more important. If you can read these greens and find your two putts, you will have a tremendous leg up on your playing partners. With that said, the fairways are HUGE. Which is actually fun as hell. Grip it and rip it on every tee box.
The par-5 closing hole is absolutely fantastic. If you can find a way to play the Black in the afternoon, maybe for your discounted replay round of the day, the walk down the final fairway as the sun is dropping–magic. A good drive will leave you with a challenging but doable long iron or metal into this green under regulation. It’s a carry over water, which is rare on the Black, but the glass clubhouse serves as an inviting backdrop for the approach. Birdie 18 and then head to the tavern for a cold beer and to watch the sun go down. Ain’t nothing better.
A two-acre putting course called “The Gauntlet” surrounds the Black clubhouse, offering even more post round fun with a beer in hand. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at the Bone Valley Tavern and the Thai chicken wings are no joke. One of the great things about Streamsong is that each clubhouse can serve as your all-day hangout spot for each round. If you are on the Black course in the afternoon, for instance, you can get there early to hit balls, have lunch (the lobster rolls from the snack stand on the course was incredible), play 18, get back for beers and the gauntlet, use the locker room to freshen up and then have dinner. No real need to head back to the hotel room if you don’t want to.
After dinner, we did finally make it to the main lodge for check-in. The resort hotel itself is quite large, with several restaurants on-site and a rooftop bar called Fragmentary Blue. We got into our rooms, showered and changed and then headed up for one final drink before bed. The bar was lively and they had a full array of top-shelf liquors. The rooftop patio offers great night time views of the neighboring pond, full of alligators, I’m sure.
Day two of our trip was a 36 hole doubleheader beginning with breakfast at P2O5, the lobby restaurant. They offer a solid breakfast buffet or full menu…much needed before a full day of walking close to 15 total miles. Then you hop on the shuttle and head for the Red/Blue Course shared clubhouse.
The Red/Blue clubhouse is big, equipped with the main pro shop, locker room with day lockers and showers, and a surprisingly phenomenal steakhouse called Fifty-Nine. Same situation at this clubhouse, though. If you want to spend all day here away from the resort, you can easily do so. Showers on-site and all you’ve got to do is ask the pro shop for a key to a guest locker and they will hook you up.
The Red course is incredible. There’s no other way to say it. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw delivered another home run here, and for a number of different reasons. First, it’s fair. The 2012-built course plays to 7,148 yards from the back tees with several of the tee boxes elevated, offering tremendous views. In fact, there aren’t many holes out there that play longer than the scorecard indicates. The Red does present a bit more trouble (water, tall grass, etc.) than the other two courses, but the fairways are wide enough to avoid the bad stuff on every hole without much stress.
The Red absolutely provides the best scenery on property. It weaves in and out with the Blue Course, as both tracks share property lines, but the Red’s use of dunes and marsh gives you some truly phenomenal Florida golf holes. By contrast, the Black feels more desolate. The fairways on Black are surrounded by natural waste bunkering rather than tall, lush grass that waves in the wind. For my eye, give me the Red course all day long.
Length just isn’t as important on the Red Course. Though Coore/Crenshaw don’t punish long hitters, there are several holes that reward the best decision off the tee instead of the longest drive. Accuracy and smarts are prioritized here. Like so many other of their designs, the fairway bunkers often can be found right in the landing zone of a good drive. Swing hard with the big stick and try to carry it or play it smart just short? Decisions like this make golf fun.
And the best part about those decisions is that you know what the choices are when you are standing on each tee. The designers laid it all there in front of you. No blind shots to tricky greens. No hidden bunkers behind dunes. It’s all in front of you. You see the options and you decided which route to take. Brilliant. Hitting the shot is another thing entirely, but Mr. Coore and Mr. Crenshaw didn’t hide anything from you here on the Red Course. Your first time around will be just as fun as your tenth. And I would absolutely love to play this course ten more times.
Some of the bunker complexes are ginormous. The kind of bunkers that make you say “wow, I hope I don’t hit it in there.” The land on which Streamsong is built provides some great soil and sand for these types of bunkers. But there were some green-side bunkers that were a little too “natural” for my group’s tastes, however. Weeds and pebbles present. And I get it…it’s a links course and manicured conditions just isn’t the name of the game here. Maybe I’m just soft. Still, I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed my overall experience on the Red.
Golf Digest’s most recent “Top 100 Greatest Public Courses in America” lists the Red Course at number 19. Comparatively, Streamsong Blue comes in at number 24 and the Black is ranked number 32. Not a bad little three-course weekend for you bucket-listers.
The Blue Course is happy mix of both Red and Black, which is funny to say since it was also built in 2012. The fairways and greens aren’t quite as large as they are on the Black Course, but many of the greens are just as severe. Just a classic Tom Doak design, in fact. If you’ve played any of his other tracks, you know what I mean. His trademarks are unmistakable. Hidden pins tucked just over false fronts are a regular occurrence. A second shot course, for sure.
The first tee of Blue sits on top of a massive sand dune, immediately giving you the best view you will have of the course all day. In front lays the inviting fairway, setting the table for what to expect the rest of the day. Tee shots are easy, but don’t miss on your approach. If you look behind and to each side, you can see several holes on both the Blue and Red Courses, including the signature par three 7th hole on Blue. Just phenomenal views. And the clubhouse sits comfortably nearby, wishing you good luck with sunny reflections off its dark tinted windows.
It’s clear that Doak wanted to set the tone with that first tee shot. Leave your bag at the bottom of the hill because its a no joke hike up to the tee. The view makes it worth it, but don’t be in a rush. I absolutely had to catch my breath a bit before hitting my drive.
The Blue is a par 72 that plays 7,176 yards from the tips. None of these Streamsong courses are necessarily short, but the links-style of play does allow for firm fairways and lots of roll. I didn’t hit many shots with my 56* loft at all. There just isn’t much need off of the tight lies. In fact, some of the groups best shots came from 7 iron bump and runs. I gotta admit, it is fun to watch one of those shots maneuver the contours of a big, Doak green and nestle in close to the hole.
The par three 7th is a special hole. By far the most memorable hole of the Blue Course, and probably the entire Streamsong property, it is a full carry over alligator-infested water to a green that is beautifully framed by dunes and bunkers. It could play as long as 203 yards, but the elevated tee shot provides some confidence. And the hole is just so much better from back there. To get to the green, you leave your bag at the bottom of the hill and cross a long bridge with only your putter (hopefully.) Once you’ve holed out, you walk back across and up to the next tee. The feeling on that green, isolated and surrounded by hills and water, was unlike anything else on site. Like I said, it’s a special hole.
Many of the holes on the Blue course don’t have as much tall grass and sandy dunes as the Red, giving it more of a similar feel to the Black. It’s true links-style golf and not nearly as strategic as the Coore/Crenshaw design. While I think the Red course makes you think more on your tee shots, the Blue allows you to swing a bit more freely. The strategy comes into play with your approaches into these greens and course knowledge could definitely benefit you in that regard.
The closing hole on Blue is a long and tough par four headed back to the clubhouse. Two dunes frame the fairway and gives the hole a much grander feeling than several of the previous holes. It’s probably the best finishing hole of the three courses and I would imagine Doak is proud of it.
We finished up our round and headed into the clubhouse for dinner at Fifty-Nine, which serves a beyond good steakhouse-style menu. Shared sides, three huge NY strips and one order of chicken was just what we needed. The showers and locker rooms on site were just enough to make us feel comfortable for dinner and the service was excellent. I wouldn’t miss a chance to eat at Fifty-Nine if you are planning your Streamsong visit.
Streamsong needs to be on your list. It has a lot of the same qualities of Bandon Dunes, but it’s much easier to get to for many of us. The golf courses are unique enough from one another to present you with different challenges and feelings each round while still giving you that satisfaction of knowing you’re on a top track in the nation. The hotel and amenities are as good here as you’ll find at any similar type golf resort. Probably even better. The food is fantastic and the rooms were large and comfortable.
There are tons of things to do outside of golf (that’s not my thing…sorry) as the resort also offers fishing, clay shooting, and archery. There is also a pretty amazing lakeside swimming pool, something I haven’t seen offered at the Bandons or Sand Valleys of the world. It’s clear that Streamsong is trying to separate themselves from other buddy trip golf destinations by offering things to do other than 36 holes each day. And I can respect that. But if golf is your only focus, Streamsong checks all those boxes as well.
I loved the Red Course. That was easily top of the rankings for me. The blind approaches to greens with character on the Black Course frustrated me, but looking back on my round, I have began to appreciate that uniqueness of the course more and more. I would rank it second and Blue would be third. I think Blue had some of the best individual golf holes of the trip (#7 & #18) but there were times in which I think the course dragged on a bit. Definite highs and lows on Blue. But the highs are really high.
What’s funny is that my buddies ranked them differently. And adamantly so. One in our group swears up and down that Black is the best course on site but it no doubt fits his game the best. We spoke to several other resort guests and they each had their own favorites as well. There is something for every golfer at Streamsong. It is absolutely worth the visit to middle-of-nowhere, Florida.
Loose Leaf Notebook: 10 places for great fall golf
I love fall golf; in fact, it’s by far my favorite season to play. Spring is great with the flowers and blessed relief from Ol’ Man Winter, but it also features muddy fairways and ambitious mosquitos. Give me sweater weather and leaves turning anytime. No humidity, no problem. Also, many of the best courses drop their rates for the rest of the year, and the only thing as good as saving a couple of stokes on your round is to save a lot of cash.
While in parts of the Northeast the summer is doing its impression of a friend who won’t leave your house party even though they see you loading the dishwasher at 3 a.m., Fall golf is right around the corner, so here’s a list of 10 places that will make you feel like Mr. (or Ms.) October.
Resurrected from the scrap heap by billionaire and current Governor of West Virginia Jim Justice, The Greenbrier has become one of the most popular destinations on the PGA Tour calendar among the players that attend. The hotel has been beautifully restored, and the sprawling mansion-style structure is an attraction in itself. Great restaurant options at the Greenbrier include a steakhouse named after NBA legend Jerry West, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see him there. The TPC Old White Course is the best known of the four courses available to the public, but The Meadows is the local favorite and more picturesque. That thing I mentioned about cheaper fall golf does not apply here; the courses are kind of pricey in October. But you can make it up at the on-property casino that is reserved for guests only, and therefore 80 percent less skeevy than most casinos.
The Omni Homestead
If it was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it’s good enough for me; yes, T.J. was one of the first patrons of this hot springs resort located on the other side of the mountain from The Greenbrier. It’s dripping with history, and the acquisition by the Omni hotel group has made sure that antique and modern peacefully co-exist. The golf is superb, led by the Cascades course where Sam Snead caddied as a young man. Follow that with a round on the Old Course. If you need a tune-up, visit their golf school where you just might get a lesson from J.C. Snead. After walking the courses, visit the hot springs for a soak and a massage. And when you want to get your adrenaline going again, visit master instructor David Judah at the award-winning shooting range.
One of the best things about Primland is that it’s under the radar. Ok, close your eyes imagine that a James Bond villain decided to build a kick-ass golf resort complete with a missile silo disguised to look like…a silo? That’s Primland. Tucked in the Blue Ridge mountains just over the North Carolina border, Primland is truly next level in every category that you could rate a modern resort. The rooms are the apex of comfort and high tech, a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. Jay Hass and Fred Couples are staff pros and they spend a lot of time there so keep a sharpie and cell phone handy for an autograph and a selfie.
The property was originally purchased as a nature preserve, and you can enjoy the gorgeous landscape on foot or on one of the off-road vehicle tours. If you like sporting clays, they have a great facility where you can blast some plates. The Highland golf course is a pristine Donald Steel layout that is an excellent combination of risk and reward combined with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. If you have some disposable income and are looking for a unique experience, book the Observatory suite. You won’t be sorry.
I know; saying that you should visit Myrtle Beach is like saying you should listen to some jazz; there’s a lot of it and it’s all very different. That said, autumn is kind of the perfect time to visit Myrtle. It’s after Labor Day so the crowds are gone. Rooms and tee times are easier to get and for better prices. Not to mention that the summer heat is replaced by some cool ocean breezes. There are literally dozens of golf courses to choose from, too many to mention here, so I’ll just recommend that if you haven’t had a chance to play Caledonia and True Blue, make it a priority. The courses are the work of Mike Stranz, a genius who died young and left a small but stunning body of work that begs the question, “What if?”. Off the course, you can find restaurants up and down the Strand that range from gourmet to Krispy Kreme. Challenge yourself to find a bar that no one had heard of.
Bethpage State Park
I started my golf life operating golf courses in national parks, so I have always had a soft spot for Bethpage. I watched with envy as a public/private partnership turned a frog into a prince. The Black course gets most of the ink and deservedly so; it is one of the difficult courses in the world, but it is also one of the most ingenious. Every hole is interesting, many of them memorable. You can’t help but think about the major championships that have been played on the ground under your feet as you make your way around the course. Caution; it is also a very difficult course to walk and they don’t allow carts. But even the out of state rate is a bargain at $135 on weekdays and the Red course is almost as good and easier to walk and afford. Save plenty of time to have a beer and a dog on the terrace at the back of the clubhouse to enjoy the changing colors of the trees and the equally red faces of golfers coming up #18 on the Black.
Silvies Valley Ranch
Not all of the great fall golf is on the East Coast, and Silvies Valley Ranch is proof of that. In just a few short years of operation, Silvies has gone from zero to Top 100 among golf destinations. With a reversible 18-hole track (known as Craddock in one direction and Hankins in the other) and two fun short courses, Silvies offers a satisfying golf lineup. And where else are you gonna find goat caddies? But SVR also offers fishing, off-road driving, shooting, biking and a brand-new state of the art spa facility. Set on a huge ranch next to a national forest, the colors are beautiful during the day and the stars are just as beautiful at night. Bring an appetite, because the family-style meals are super large and super delicious.
Big Cedar Lodge
The brainchild of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, Big Cedar Lodge is positioning itself to be the number one golf destination in the country; you read right, number one. Morris gave his team an unlimited budget and they have exceeded it in creating a family vacation fantasyland. The golf courses now include tracks by Fazio, Coore-Crenshaw, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and in 2020 Tiger Woods. You can stay in individual rooms or multi-bedroom cabins, with a ridiculous variety of places to eat and play when you aren’t golfing. Heck, the man built his own state pate and his own natural history museum…’nuff said. If you are the romantic type, stop by the chapel where my friend/arch-nemesis Matt Ginella got married.
If history is your thing, Williamsburg is your place. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, bringing to life America’s colonial past. But the golf is mighty good as well. Golfers can choose to partake of the Golden Horseshoe Golf course, a gorgeous Robert Trent Jones course that was recently renovated under the supervision of his son Rees. The course is in immaculate condition and gives you a look at holes that are reminiscent of the work that RTJ did on the back nine at Augusta. On the other side of the city, Kingsmill Resort offers a championship River course that is among the toughest tests on the LPGA Tour. Play a bunch of golf, but do tour the historic part of the city.
Reynolds Lake Oconee
Built on the shores of a massive man-made lake halfway between Atlanta and Augusta in Georgia, Reynolds Lake Oconee is blessed with a beautiful natural setting where almost anything would be a pleasure. Fortunately, golf has been a big part of the plan form the start at RLO. The resort offers comfortable cabins and houses for rent but live a little and stay at the Ritz-Carlton hotel on the property. Before you go out to play, stop by the Reynolds Kingdom of Golf presented by TaylorMade, an equipment and practice mecca where you could find guys like Justin Rose or Jason Day tweaking their driver or working on their swing in the bay next to you.
There are six championship courses at RLO, led by the freshly renovated Great Waters, a Jack Nicklaus signature track that is one of his most enjoyable. Fazio, Rees Jones, and Bob Cupp have bylines at RLO as well and all of them are in superb condition. If you know somebody who knows somebody, you can get on the ultra-private Creek Club. Boating, hiking, biking and one of the best sporting clay facilities in the world highlight the outdoor activities.
Traverse City/Petoskey Area, Michigan
People on the coasts are beginning to discover what Midwesterners have known for years, that life is good on the shores of Lake Michigan. With miles of shoreline and acres of pristine forests, The Traverse City area is one of the most popular summer destinations in the country for residents of Midwestern cities. And the golf is none too shabby, with some of the top-rated courses in the county within a short drive of the local airport. My favorites include Boyne golf’s Bay Harbor Club, which features three nine-hole courses that can be fashioned into an 18-hole round (all their options are good, but the Links/Quarry combo is exceptional).
A short drive away is Forest Dunes, where you can stay and play the Forest Dunes 18 and the much talked about Loop, reversible 18 that will challenge the limits of your short game prowess—or lack of the same. While you’re in the area, stop by Belvedere Golf Club and enjoy a classic golf course that has tested players from Walter Hagan to Tom Watson (who called the par-4 16thone of the best holes in the world). Off the course, craft breweries and cherry pies will keep you happy or take a walk by the lake and try to find a Petoskey Stone.
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