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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.

2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLC 63

2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLC 63

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.

Golden Bear Tees

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.

Great Waters #11

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.”

Great Waters #18

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.”

Jack Nicklaus

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.

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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.



  1. James

    Nov 7, 2019 at 10:53 am

    Why wasn’t it done right the first time?

  2. Boo

    Nov 6, 2019 at 10:48 pm

    Kuch is a disgrace to Georgia and GT.

  3. Georgia Boy

    Nov 6, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    Matt Kuchar is a big donkey.

  4. Bill Olive

    Nov 6, 2019 at 4:52 pm

    Hey man I love that part of Georgia. Cool Mercedes!

  5. Doug McManus

    Nov 6, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    Arnold was and is the king and he always. Jack is an Icon and legend. Tiger is a legend!!
    We are graced with all they have done for the game of Golf!! God Bless!

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An interview with Bill Coore



With the impending completion of the final course at Bandon Dunes, the Sheep Ranch, the golf architecture world focuses on the incredible trace that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw fit into a piece of land that confounded experts.

It is appropriate to revisit a 2016 interview with Bill Coore on his background in golf and his thoughts on golf course architecture and the game.

The interview is reprinted from our Ronald Montesano’s website, BuffaloGolfer.Com, with permission of the interviewer.

If you’ve never been on a golf trip, I bet you’re tempted to go to Myrtle Beach or someplace like that. If you do, you’ll have fun and you might stumble onto a course designed by Mike Strantz, a terrific designer. If you want to see some great, great golf course architecture, you might end up in Bandon (Oregon) Pinehurst (North Carolina) or Inverness (Nova Scotia), any place you can find a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw golf course. Soon you’ll be able to play one at Sand Valley (Wisconsin), and there are many others. Bill Coore spoke to us from a site that he was then assessing, near Charlottesville, Virginia. He SPOKE with us for AN HOUR, as he was mucking through the woods and grasslands of the site. No interview subject has ever given us that much time (over on hour on the phone) and we are humbled. 

RM: Tell us about yourself and your history with golf, prior to embarking on your chosen career.

BC: I grew up in rural North Carolina, in Davidson county. I was introduced to golf by my neighbor, Donald Jarrett. He loved to play golf and he would go on weekends and play local public courses in the area. I would caddie for Mr. Jarrett some when I was a kid and he would say, every once in a while “Here, hit one.” He had some old clubs that he let me use and I’d make up some golf holes in his yard or in the corn field, just hitting shots. It wasn’t a formal way, but it was a fun way to be introduced to the game. When I would caddie for him, he would show me the proper way to do things, the rules, etiquette, conduct? I was fortunate in that way. I didn’t grow up in a family with a club membership. I learned what I still think of as proper golf from Mr. Jarrett.

We actually formed a golf team at my high school, my senior year. We talked the baseball coach into letting us play a golf schedule, even though it coincided with the baseball schedule. I went to college at Wake Forest, and played a bit of golf there. And that got the process started, of why do I like this and not that? Why do I like this course? Why do I like Old Town (Winston-Salem, N.C.) so much? I did my own assessment, of why I liked certain courses and not others. I took a serious interest in golf, and from there, a serious interest in golf courses.

RM: How did an interest in golf course architecture lead you to choose a career in the field?

BC: I was fortunate enough, being in North Carolina, which has some very good courses. The Pinehurst courses, in the 1960s, were very affordable, very accessible, particularly in the summer, their off season. Mr. Jarrett would go there once in a while and I would caddie for him, and we would go there once in a while to play golf. I got to experience playing golf there, on Pinehurst #2, and all the other courses there. There is no question that that experience, of being introduced to golf at Pinehurst, and then when I was at Wake Forest, at Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, a Perry Maxwell course, helped me. Pinehurst #2 is basically flat and Old Town is quite hilly, so there were two extremes of land forms and visuals. I just was so fortunate to play those on a regular basis. You don’t appreciate how good they really are, and when you see other courses built or being built, it’s the beginning of an awareness where you gravitate toward a certain style of golf course architecture more than others, and perhaps it was dictated to some degree by my game. I was never a long player, I depended a great deal on short game, finesse, and the ability to run the ball on the ground a lot. And Pinehurst #2, a championship golf course of the highest caliber, would allow you to do that. And a lot of the other, so-called, championship courses, that were already built or being built, just didn’t allow that to happen. I got to the point where I thought, Number two allows me to play my game and it would allow the longest player on tour to play his game, and although we might play from far different spots, we both had the ability to succeed. And that came upon me quite early on. And the man who taught me to play golf, Mr. Jarrett, we were playing our little public course that we had played many times, with a little par three down the hill with a creek that stuck out on a peninsula, with a creek in front, on the right, and behind, and a little hillside to the left. And I would invariably aim at the flag and come up in the creek. (At this point, our phone call dropped, and then my recording app dropped, but the gist was to use the hillside to feed the ball to the green, another revelation for Mr. Coore.) Playing golf at Old Town and at Pinehurst #2 was the foundation for my understanding of what exceptional golf and golf course architecture were all about.

RM: What sort of preparation/training did you do post-college for golf course architecture? Was your undergraduate degree helpful?

BC: My undergraduate degree was in Classical Greek. Most people would likely say I can’t imagine how that could be applicable in any way, but I might disagree somewhat and say, it was helpful because it taught me discipline. Translations of classical Greek in the classroom and preparation for the classroom are quite tedious, very detail oriented, and it takes great patience and attention. I happen to believe that those are attributes that work well in the golf architecture business: attention to detail, patience, and persistence at times. Though it would seem that they don’t have any connection, I would think that the discipline gained, that process, when I was at Wake Forest, was very helpful. I don’t have any technical training. I spent a couple of years in the Army after graduating from Wake Forest. When I was getting ready to get out of the Army, I saw the work that Pete Dye was doing at a public course called Oak Hollow (in High Point, N.C.). It was different, in the Harbor Town mode. It was shorter, it was finesse, it was quirky, with the railroad ties and pot bunkers. It was things you didn’t see and it just fascinated me. I managed to badger Mr. Dye to the point where he just gave up after telling me No so many times. He offered me a job, working as a laborer, and then as an equipment operator on another course he was starting to build in North Carolina, called The Cardinal golf club (in Greensboro.) All my experience and background, my preparation in golf course architecture, doesn’t really relate directly to what I studied in university. It was a process of acknowledging an interest and then starting at the bottom. Mr. and Mrs. Dye were both kind enough to allow that to happen. It was just one of those extraordinary, fortuitous occurrences, just like when Mr. Jarrett took me to play golf, stumbling into Pete Dye building a golf course, not knowing who Pete Dye was. There’s nothing glamorous about any of it, the labor, wearing hip waders, cutting trees three feet deep in water. It was just a process and it all led to today.

RM: How did you and Ben Crenshaw meet, and what led the two of you to believe that a partnership would be both manageable and fruitful?

BC: I had started a design company. I had been given an opportunity to design a course in south Texas with one of the guys who still works with us, in 1980. It was a place with extraordinarily limited funds, so they were desperate enough to give me a chance to work on it. We built nine holes and then skipped a year, and then built the next nine. This takes us to 1984. I had been asked a number of times, You’re designing some golf courses that are pretty good (at this time there were only two) and why don’t you have a partnership with a well-known tour player? It was just not something I had given much thought to, to be perfectly candid. One day, a potential client, also on a site in south Texas, asked me a question: I’d like you to come down and look at another site. It was never going to be a golf course; it was impossible for it to be a golf course. Right along the gulf, it went under water at high tide, and it was salt water at that. The man took it upon himself, in the course of the conversation, he said Why don’t you work with someone? It was 1984 and Ben had just won the Masters, and I had read some articles, and in those articles, it was mentioned several times about his interest in golf course architecture. And I could tell by the comments, that he knew something, that he had studied. When the potential client kept pressing the issue, I said, Well, I guess if it was going to be anyone, it would be Ben Crenshaw. He got in touch with Ben’s business manager and mentioned something about this project. He’s the one who actually got us together. Ben had heard of the golf course we had already done, close by, and he came to look at this other site. The project manager introduced me to him. We never worked on that golf course, of course, and we had no intention of working together, but we started talking about golf architecture over the next year, off and on, and we became friend first. At some point, we said, well, maybe we should try one of these things together. We both felt comfortable enough with each other, both personally and philosophically, regarding golf course architecture. It was no great plan, it wasn’t something that was programmed from the beginning, or something that I had given serious thought to, or something Ben had given serious thought to. Again, it was simply another one of those fortuitous things that happens. That was thirty years ago, and then in December of 1985, we formed our partnership. This past December was the 30th anniversary of our partnership.

RM: Does each of you (Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) have easily-defined roles in the partnership? If so, can you tell us what they are?

BC: I think the answer to the first part of the question is No, we don’t have easily-defined roles. There are some things, given the amount of time that we can spend on the site, that gravitate more toward one or the other. The routings, just because I have the freedom of time, over Ben and his playing career, have come a bit more in my domain, but in no way exclusively. Take the Austin Golf Club, for example, it’s totally Ben’s routing. We’ve collaborated on almost all of them, but if you had to say that one of us concentrates on a certain aspect more than the other guy, well, Ben has certainly taught me so much about the details of the land forms that affect the best players in the world and how they think, and how small details can influence the best players in the world. Little slopes here, little contours or hollows there, tilts of the green, angles, the way the wind blows, wind directions. Ben is so extraordinarily perceptive. You could say that if you’re trying to categorize us, it might be those two things, but basically, we overlap. We use each other as sounding boards and we talk to each other about the concepts of the courses, the routings, we go walk them together and make adjustments together. We talk about the concepts of the holes, the bunkering schemes, the greens, and the contouring of the putting surfaces. We bounce ideas off each other, as well as listing them to the guys who work with us, who are extraordinary. In many ways, we’ve both become editors. We do the routing and then we are adamant with the guys that we work with that nothing is set in stone. If something neat begins to happen, go with it. Every one of our guys has the freedom to abandon the original concept at any point, if they think that something better could materialize. In that regard, sometimes, we give a main concept, they work on it, and sometimes you walk back up there and a green complex or a bunker has been roughed in, and you think, well that’s not exactly what we talked about, but it’s better! We’ve always tried to maintain flexibility in the process.

RM: Please describe your process for assessing a piece of land and determining a routing.

BC: When we’re called to look at a piece of land, the first thing we do is go walk the property. We try to get a sense if the land, in its actual state, looks and feels like golf. We try to get a sense of whether you could lay a golf course on that landscape, without huge amounts of alteration to the land forms. If so, we’re very comfortable with that. We’ve done courses where you’ve had to do major alterations, but it’s not our preference. After walking the property (sometimes it can take two or three weeks) if we determine that this property can yield a course to attain the owner’s goals, with us working on it? There are some sites that we have looked at, where someone else could do a great job, but we would spend a lot of money and not do a very good job. We’ve looked at other sites and thought that other architects would be way better at it than we would be. And there are some sites that we look at and say, well, no one could ever do a good job on this. And finally, there are sites you look at and say, this is right in our comfort zone. We try to understand our limitations. The worst thing that can be done is to spend a lot of money and build a bad golf course. The owner needs someone who can sit across the table or stand on the grounds and say, I can do this. I’ve seen some sites where I’ve not known what to do, and Ben hasn’t known what to do, and [another major architect] has built beautiful golf courses on those sites.

RM: You have established a successful working relationship with Mike Keiser. How did that come about and what makes both sides click together?

BC: It was like we won the lottery. Mike Keiser was a founding member at Sand Hills in Nebraska (a course designed by Coore & Crenshaw, recognized as the best new course of the 2nd half of the 20th century), so we had met Mike, but neither one of us really knew Mike. He called me on the phone and he said Bill, I’d like to talk to you and Ben about doing the third course at Bandon. I’m going to be very candid with you: it’s not on the ocean, a lot of it’s going to be interior, back in the woods, most people will probably perceive it as an inferior piece of property to what Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes are on. We had seen what he had done out there with David Kidd (the original Bandon Dunes course), with Tom Doak and Jim Urbina (the Pacific Dunes course) and it was fantastic. We wanted to look at the site at the very least. We went out and looked at it and the results of studying it for a fairly long time, and after various conversations about where the golf course should be, it ended up being Bandon Trails. We knew that it had some difficult spots; there is a big ridge that runs through it that we had to work around.

Ben and I felt that All we want to do here is build a golf course that complements the other two somehow. We don’t want to build a golf course that nobody wants to play, but we think we can do something hopefully good enough that people will appreciate it. He gave us the chance to do that and in that process, he became not only an extraordinary client, but a very, very good friend. Mike Keiser has incredible insight from the standpoint of, as he calls it, the retail golfer, what the paying customer looks for, and the experience they hope to have, as well as an affection for seaside or sand-based golf. We got to work at Bandon Trails, Lost Farm at Barnbougle Dunes (Tasmania) and then more recently, up at Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia, and last the par-three course, the Preserve at Bandon, so Mike has been so generous to us, that I would never know how to thank him. He has given us opportunities that anyone in this profession would be thrilled for. In my mind, he is the patron saint of modern-day architecture. He affords people in our business opportunities that we could have never dreamed of, spectacular sites to work with, and the freedom to work with them. I’ve enjoyed every walkabout, whether it’s to assess a new property or a course under construction, like the first course at Sand Valley, in Wisconsin (designed by Coore and Crenshaw, that will open for play in 2017.)

RM: Give us a sense of where you see golf course architecture heading in the next 25 years, and what you hope your firm’s role will be.

BC: We hope that golf architecture evolves in a fashion that maintains people’s interest in the game. That may be in the form of shorter courses, courses with less than 18 holes. I grew up on a nine-hole course and most of the public courses around me were nine-hole courses. Certainly, Ben and I are not dismissive of courses with less than 18 holes, or of shorter courses. If there are ways to make golf more accessible and more enjoyable for people, that’s fantastic. You only have to look at the two, non-18 hole courses at Bandon, to understand this. The one we did, the Preserve, is absolutely chock full of people, all the time, playing it over and over. It’s tremendous fun. It doesn’t require excessive strength or excessive skill to enjoy. The Punch Bowl, which Tom Doak did out there, is a giant putting course. Now, do you call that a golf course? Well, I guess it depends on your definition, but you could certainly spend all day out there, or an hour. That’s just as much golf as any of the big courses at Bandon. Those are just two examples of things that could happen. The world is so fast-paced, and families have so much going on, that it’s almost unreasonable to ask people to go spend the entire day at a golf course. Any type of golf course architecture that provides interesting golf and which can be experienced in a shorter period of time, be it three hours or an hour, is the way that golf out to go.

RM: What question haven’t we (or anyone) asked, that you would love to answer? Ask it and answer it, please. This was a challenge for me and Bill. It ended up being more of an idea than a question, and here it is:

BC: Any question that would allow us to express how talented the guys who work with us are.

I said earlier that Ben and I often fulfill the role of editors rather than authors. The fellows that work with us are so often referred to as shapers or bulldozer operators; they are that but so much more. There are several of them that have done their own designs. Dave Axland and Dan Proctor did Wild Horse (Nebraska.) Dave Zinkand who worked with us for twelve years, has redesigned Desert Forest (Arizona.) These fellows have all done their own designs, and yet they come out and work with us on equipment, help us build bunkers. Rod Whitman, the Canadian architect, has three or four of the top ten courses in Canada. He has worked on greens, bunkers, fairways and tees on our golf courses for years. Our list of about ten guys who are so extraordinarily talented, there’s not one of them who could not go out on his own, if circumstances presented themselves, and design one heck of a golf course, that we would all be proud of. They are just extraordinary: Jimbo Wright, Jeff Craig, Jeff Bradley, the premier bunker guy in America. It’s fun to see them, to see the talent, and to be a part of it.

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I played nearly 150 courses last year. Here are my 6 favorite



Summer is most definitely here! After a brutal winter, many of us are looking to use the coming summer to play A LOT of golf. For those looking for recommendations, I wanted to list a couple of my favorite courses from this past year. These courses were selected from the nearly 150 different courses that I played in 2018. So why did these make the cut? Simple: playability, course condition, and overall experience.

Here’s my list, in no particular order

TPC Colorado

Much has been written about the course based on its length; almost 8000 yards from the backs but to me, the beauty of the course is the combination of breath-taking views of nearby mountains, as well as the reservoir with comes into play on several holes. Beyond the scenery, TPC Colorado offers generous landing areas and large greens. Whereas many modern greens have significant undulation, these are subtle allowing for a lot of makeable putts! Really fun to play!

Mossy Oak

Owned and operated by the outdoor life brand company, Mossy Oak is located near Starkville, MS. The course is a Hanse design that is forgiving off the tee but requires strong approach shots to a melee of different sized targets, from different distances, allowing you to hit every club in the bag. When you get the pleasure of playing here, make sure to listen to your caddy and stop in after for a bite in the clubhouse….food is wonderful!

Turning Stone Resort

This casino resort, located in upstate New York, offers golfers a great combination of upscale golf and nightlife in one location. Perfect for a guys trip, the hotel rooms are luxurious and the golf is amazing; boosting three different golf by famed designers Fazio (Atunyote), Jones (Kaluhyat) and Smith (Shenandoah). My personal favorite is the newly resigned Shenandoah; a beautiful parkland course with generous landing areas off the tees and nice big greens, but you cannot go wrong with any of the courses!

Sand Creek Station

This course has a well-deserved reputation as the best low-cost golf course in the world. At about $30 per round, you will not find a finer experience. Don’t let the price tag fool you, Sand Creek Station is meticulously maintained. The course treats people to two different sides; the front is a little more links, with the back a little more parkland. The front can be demanding off the tee, especially if the wind is up. A true gem and certainly worth the trip to play!

Half Moon Bay Links

Located just south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean with a wonderful golf experience. With generous fairways, nuanced elevation changes and a wonderful variation of holes with my favorite finishing holes in golf; a par 3 on the ocean (17th) and a reachable par 5 to finish. If you are lucky to finish around dusk, you will play up the last to the sounds of bagpipes. Brilliant end!

TPC San Antonio

Home to a PGA Tour event, TPC San Antonio boasts two excellent golf courses; the Oaks and Canyons. While the tour event is played on the Oaks, my preference is for the Canyons; I think it has more variation and is less demanding, which made it more fun to play. Family-friendly, the course is located footsteps from a Marriott with an amazing water park that will quickly become a favorite for kids of all ages!

As a keen golfer, I am always looking for new places to play. So let’s hear from you GolfWRX fans…where did I miss? Have you played these places, what did you think?

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The Whistling Straits & Sand Valley Experience



I’d never been to Wisconsin. Neither had my dad. It might not be on the top of mind as a golf destination, but perhaps it should be. Ever since I heard about Mike Keiser (of Bandon Dunes fame) opening his new project at Sand Valley, I was interested. As a Bandon Dunes devotee, I knew I needed to get to Sand Valley sooner rather than later. No better time than the present.

And as I started planning this little weekend excursion to the Northern Midwest, another course quickly came to mind. Whistling Straits…host of the 2020 Ryder Cup and the PGA Championships in 2004, 2010 and 2014. I’d seen the layout and watched the course on TV countless times, and pairing the Straits with Sand Valley seemed like a perfect combination for 3 days of summer Wisconsin golf. And you know what…it was.

We flew into Milwaukee, which turned out to be a shockingly easy place to navigate and rent a car for a city of its size. No shuttle ride required, which means a ton when you are lugging around travel golf bags. From there, it’s an hour-or-so drive due north to the city of Kohler. That’s where you’ll find Whistling Straits…in all her glory.


We checked into the American Club hotel, a bigger-than-it looks building that once served as the dormitories for the workers at the nearby Kohler company factory. The entire town of Kohler revolves around the history of the Kohler Manufacturing Co., famous for its plumbing products. Destination Kohler is the hospitality arm of the company and it handles the tourism activities within the village of Kohler. The town and company trace back to John Michael Kohler, an Austrian Immigrant who began the family business in 1873 by making farm equipment. Since then, the family has operated the company and created what we see today.  Herbert Kohler, grandson of the founder and avid golfer, was responsible for bringing golf to the area. The Kohler name owns both courses at Whistling Straits, The Straits and The Irish, as well as two courses at Blackwolf Run, the River Course and Meadow’s Valley. Interestingly, the Kohler family also owns and operates The Old Course Hotel, which borders the Road Hole at St. Andrews. Just an incredible family and company.

The American Club opened in 1918 and the charm has survived all of these years. The rooms are spacious, decor is dark wood and antiquitous, and several great dining options are under one roof. To be honest, I was surprised at how nice everything was. Not just the hotel or the restaurants and shops on-site, but also the town itself. Every yard and garden was perfectly maintained. It felt like the whole town took a great deal of pride it itself. It made you feel good just being there.

Lobby bar at The American Club

Horse and Plow Restaurant

My dad and I got in late on our first night but we still had time for dinner at the Horse and Plow, a casual tavern type restaurant with a sizable beer menu. The food was very much Wisconsin–cheesy and meaty and tasty. They had Spotted Cow beer, from New Glarus Brewing, on tap at the bar. I’d never tasted it before but apparently you can only get it in Wisconsin. It was pretty dang good and would serve as my beer of choice for the rest of the trip. It pairs well with the schnitzel. Pro tip.

We woke up and had coffee in the greenhouse, a coffee shop on-site in the back gardens of The American Club.  The weather was perfect and everyone was sitting outside, enjoying the morning sun. We had a few hours before our round at Whistling Straights and we used it walking around the town of Kohler. This is something I highly recommend. The American Club is surrounded on two sides by Victorian-style neighborhoods. Street after street of American charm. And the stroll can take you to a nearby shopping center that is built around Wood Lake. There’s additional restaurants, shops and activities to enjoy here…including yoga on the lake and the Kohler Swing Studio and Golf Shop, full of local course merchandise. Also, this is the location of The Inn on Woodlake, another lodging option within the Kohler family.

We got back  to the hotel and enjoyed the full breakfast buffet at the Wisconsin room inside the American Club. Once our legs were sufficiently stretched and our bellies full, we grabbed our clubs and waited for the shuttle to Whistling Straits, which runs on the top of the hour every hour.

Wisconsin Room Breakfast

Whistling Straits is a Pete Dye designed monster that tips out at 7,790 yards with a rating of 77.2 and a slope of 152. Par is a traditional 72 but that’s just a number. The course plays tough.  The clubhouse was built in an Irish castle style, with Celtic cross windows that peer over the majestic (and somewhat frightening) 18th hole. Three flag poles frame the front entrance with the American, Irish, and Ryder Cup Flags waving proudly. There was to be no mistake that this course was a tribute to Irish links golf. The inside of the clubhouse is full of memories from the 2004, 2010, 2015 PGA Championships, the 2007 US Senior Open, and with reminders all around that the 2020 Ryder Cup is on its way as well. The pro shop is professional and first-class. Everything you’d want, they have.

A round at Whistling Straits will cost you north of $400 but twilight and super twilight rates are available for nearly half off. And the sun doesn’t go down in Wisconsin in July until 8:30 pm. So the smart play is to book a late afternoon round at a major discount. That being said, this course is a bucket lister. It ranks as the #3 public course in America in Gold Digest’s latest rankings. Sometimes you just have to pay up for one of those. And the rest of the courses out at Kohler are much more reasonably priced to complete your visit. We played on the 4th of July and honestly, the course wasn’t overly crowded at all.

Upstairs in the Straits clubhouse is the Irish Pub, a neat bar/lunch spot that opens at 11. My dad and I  had a pre-round meal ahead of our late afternoon tee-time. The bratwurst sandwich was outstanding and just thinking about it now, my mouth is watering as I write this. Do yourself a favor and make this a must-order item. We sat next to a window overlooking that 18th fairway, preparing ourselves for what lay ahead.

View from Irish Pub

Clubhouse Restaurant

Straits Pro Shop

18th At Whistling Straits from back patio

We hired a caddie for this round, and I’m thankful we did. The course is as difficult as you’ve probably heard. In fact, I’d put it up there with the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island as the toughest track I’ve ever played. The wind will inevitably be blowing off Lake Michigan, which is a big deal since 14 or so holes are on the water. And thousands, literally thousands of bunkers surround this course. Pete Dye even put bunkers parallel and eye level with many of the tee boxes, certainly not in play but just a subtle reminder that there is danger to be found around every turn.

But as difficult as this course plays, it is equally beautiful. We were blessed with a clear day and the water on the lake was as blue as the Caribbean. That isn’t an exaggeration. The course felt like we were playing alongside the ocean and only the absence of seagulls and saltwater in the air reminded us that we were, in fact, in Wisconsin.

Nice drive.

The course meanders along the shore with the internal holes often sitting a few feet higher than the coastline. The views from there hide the holes in between and create a shoreline feeling even though you are a couple hundred yards from the water. Its a brilliant architectural design by Dye. The four par 3s all resemble one another…a long carry over beach, sand and tall grass with the lake either on your right or left. Two holes play north, and two play south, making the wind different for each pair. And while my description might sound repetitious, obvious, and dull, the par 3s at Straits were probably my favorite set of “short” holes on any course I’ve ever played. The holes are similar but that’s a great thing because they are all gorgeous and perfect. Obviously, each green complex is unique and the distances on each hole vary (188, 221, 163, 249!) but the theme remains the same…you stand on the tee, admire the view, figure out the wind, build up your courage and swing. I wish I could play them again right now.

Some of the internal holes are also quite scenic. It’s tough to beat the tall grass waving in the wind as a backdrop to all that green space and all those bunkers. The par-5 fifth hole is a bit too quirky for my tastes. A double bending, 600-yard hole that forces the longer hitters to either hit driver over a pond on the right to a narrow fairway, or hitting something less than a driver straight away, making it a guaranteed three-shot hole. But even that hole is beautiful.

5 green

But the best hole on the course is 18. Nicknamed “Dyeabolical” as a hat tip to the designer, the par 4 plays 520 yards from the tips. And it’s so much better from back there.  A creek splits the fairway in two towards the hole and, though scenic in front of the clubhouse, 18 is the hardest finishing hole I’ve ever played. You have to keep your ball right and hope long iron is enough to find the sloping green in regulation. I was fortunate enough to walk off the green with a four on the scorecard…something I will always remember.

18 Tee – Straits

We finished off our day at Whistling with dinner on the back patio of the clubhouse. The restaurant there is high quality and several tables were full of non-golfing patrons who came just for the food. My dad and I were exhausted. Walking Whistling Straits (no carts allowed) is a tiring experience…both mentally and physically. But a glass of wine and a nice cut of meat was just what the Irish doctor ordered. A great finish to a truly world-class round of golf.

My overall takeaway: Whistling Straits is a must-play for the true golf fan. High handicappers will struggle mightily, but the experience of simply being there is worth the money once in your life. And when you pair it with the fantastic accommodations at nearby Kohler and the American Club, this place is a must visit. I’m excited to come back and see the other three courses someday….and maybe try to tame The Straits again.

Now it was time to get some sleep and then head to Sand Valley in the morning.


The drive to Sand Valley is a bit longer this time…taking us every bit of 2 1/2 hours. But, we got to see a ton of the countryside along the way. Each road was lined with black and white dairy cows and red barns and silos. Of course, dairy farming is the state’s claim to fame and they don’t let you forget it. Cheese shops and advertisements are around every corner. My personal favorite was, of course, the “Mousehouse Cheesehaus.”

It was neat to see the state transition from cornfields and farming to pine woods and sandy soil the further we headed west.  And as the pine trees grew thicker and thicker, I knew we were getting closer to the spot Mike Keiser picked out for his next great golf mecca.

Sand Valley is home to three (so far) golf courses, each one full of uniqueness and fun. The first course, Sand Valley, was built in 2017 by the design team of Coore/Crenshaw and immediately won “Best New Course of the Year” by Golf Magazine. Not to be outdone, that same award was given one year later to Mammoth Dunes, the David McLay Kidd designed course which sits just behind the main clubhouse and bar. Coore/Crenshaw were back again in May of 2018 to open The Sandbox, a 17-hole par-3 course. And you guessed it…the short course took home the “Best New Short Course of 2018” Award. Three new courses. Three awards. All within the friendly confines of Sand Valley Golf Resort.

The Sand Valley clubhouse and lodging are built in a modern farmhouse style, complete with the sleek and attractive necessities only. The rooms are spacious, the windows are large and the golf is just off the back patio. Sand Valley has several different room options but they all are within walking distance of the main clubhouse.  And within that clubhouse, you’ll find the pro shop, the caddie shack, Aldo’s restaurant and the Mammoth Bar. Our room was large and on the second floor of the main building’s lodging. Our window overlooked the No. 1 teebox at Mammoth Dunes and the putting green behind the lodge, which had action on both days from 6 am to 9 pm.

Mammoth Bar

Aldo’s Farm & Table

Summer green fee rates are $215 for Mammoth and Sand Valley, but your second round of the day is 50 percent off. Sandbox costs $65. That’s not exactly cheap, but if you don’t mind walking 36 each day (I recommend it) then the price per hole goes down dramatically. And with the limited alternative options at Sand Valley Resort, playing as much golf as possible seems to be the thing to do. There is, obviously, the bar and restaurant to spend your time…and grass tennis courts are available as well if that’s your thing. But lets face it, we come for the golf. Might as well take advantage of that discounted rate for round 2 and get a couple rounds in per day.

The town of Rome, Wisconsin is near the resort and I heard several golfers make plans to travel there for dinner on some nights. As Sand Valley continues to grow, I am sure more dining options will become available but for now, you are left with only Aldo’s and Mammoth Bar as your traditional dining options. Craig’s Porch, on the top of the hill near Sand Valley’s first tee, does serve breakfast and tacos at lunch as well. But it is more or less a halfway snack house with really good tacos and an even better view.


Our first round of the visit to Sand Valley was at Mammoth Dunes. The first tee is steps off the Mammoth Bar patio and putting green, providing entertainment for all to view. The first hole really paints the picture of what to expect with this course, too. The fairway is monstrous and inviting, a slight bend up the hill surrounded by impressive sand dunes and little else. Wiry fescue does provide some natural backdrop between fairway and pine trees, but if you aren’t finding the short grass of these ginormous fairways at Mammoth, you might need to invest in a new driver. Keiser and McLay Kidd share the desire to return public golf to its Scottish roots…beautiful landscapes and strategic, yet fair golf courses. Mammoth Dunes is incredibly beautiful…and also incredibly fun.

Mammoth Bar Patio. First Tee far left.

The sheer scale of Mammoth Dunes can be a bit overwhelming. The fairways are so large, you’re tempted to swing as hard as you can and send it. But there is a course within the course at Mammoth. The ground contours are as important here as any course I’ve played, and each hole provides you with options to take the tight, aggressive line, or the safe play to a not so good angle to the green. The greens are just as big as the fairways, which only helps the confidence grow. Especially after playing a course like Whistling Straits.

Mammoth offers tremendous playability and options. It’s one of those courses I would be happy to play every day for the rest of my life. Fairways and greens, sure…but options, aggressive angles when desired and always the chance for recovery after a miss. Golf as it was meant to be, indeed.

#1 Green

There’s a hot dog/sandwich stand after the 10th hole…serving beer, water, and liquor as well. And after the climb to 10 green, it was a welcome sight. The course offers more undulation than I imagined it would. There are some tremendous elevation changes on the front 9 that provide remarkable views all the way back to the clubhouse. The course offers six different tee boxes, ranging from 6,988 yards from the tips all the way to 4,055 yards from the royal blue tees. It’s a par 73 from all tees, with three par 5s on the back nine, including the gorgeous 536-yard finishing hole to the green just below the patio tables of Aldo’s Farm & Table Restaurant.

18th green just off back patio

The par-3 13th hole might be the best on the course. Only 130 yards from the back tees, the entire hole carries over one of the most dramatic dune complexes on the course. The green, as you might expect, is large but tricky, giving protection to any pin placement on the surface. A tree creates a fear of the miss left. It’s one of those holes that widen your eyes as soon as you step on the tee.

Par-3 13th hole

13th green

The finishing stretch at Mammoth Dunes has some good opportunities to score. The 14th hole is only 325 yards from the elevated back tees, but the hole plays much shorter than that. Aim your ball well right of the green and allow the shape of the fairway to funnel your ball towards the hole. I hit my best drive of the week here but luckily missed right of my target. I walked up to the green and the group on the next tee box were applauding me. My “miss” right ended up 15 feet from the hole for eagle. Looking back towards the tee box, the hole shape really reveals itself. I am not sure it’s possible to be too far right on the fairway on this hole, as everything is going to funnel towards the green. You just need to know where to hit it…or get lucky like I did. Oh, and I missed the putt.

14th green towards tee box

18 fairway


I knew Sand Valley was going to be a different test than Mammoth Dunes. Having played several Coore/Crenshaw designs in the past, I was well aware that the “send it” mentality wasn’t going to work on this course. The fairways, while still bigger than most, are littered with dangerous slopes, pot bunkers and awkward distances that require thinking off the tee rather than reaching for the one wood on every hole.

The first tee is a long walk or a short shuttle ride from the main clubhouse, up the hill toward’s Craig’s Porch, the cabin bar/restaurant/starter’s shack. From the porch’s patio, you can see half the holes on Sand Valley, as well as a beautiful view back down towards Mammoth Dunes and the main clubhouse. The tacos at Craig’s Porch are $1.50 and the beers are $2.00. Life is good at Sand Valley.

The course itself plays 6,938 yards from the tips and is a par 72 (35/37) layout with three par 3s on the front and three par 5s on the back. The first hole is a short par 4 at 335 yards where longer hitters can vie for the green in one. Smart play is to lay your spoon out on the right for the best angle into this green with a wedge. Danger all down the left side and and a push with the big dog will get you in trouble through the slight dogleg left fairway. And that, in a nutshell, is Sand Valley. Pick the right club off the tee first…and then make sure you hit it to the right spot.

The second hole is no different. A 431-yard par 4 with an intersection midway through the fairway created by large bunkers and an elevated second half of the hole. Driver will get you in trouble with a very narrow landing zone. But iron off the tee creates a very long approach uphill. Choose wisely. Coore/Crenshaw make you think.

Number One Tee. Green is behind my head.

Driveable 9th hole from tee box.

View of 18 Green from Craig’s Porch.

The green complexes at Sand Valley are still very much epic in size. Even on this course, which I believe is the tougher of the two Sand Valley layouts, the playability and fairness is still ever-present. Not a ton of lost balls on the property. Greens can be hit in regulation from pretty much anywhere on the hole. The bunkers are prevalent but playable. The true test is in the angles and I have a feeling it would be a much better track the second and third time you play it because you can begin to see what the choices the architects were wanting you to grapple with on each hole. If I had more time at Sand Valley, I would devote my extra rounds to this course rather than Mammoth Dunes. Use Mammoth as your “fun” round and Sand Valley as your true test of golf.

Drive-able 9th green


And finally, the short course. The other Coore/Crenshaw design on site, the Sandbox is simply 17 holes of uninterrupted fun. And that is evident as soon as you walk to the first tee, a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the main clubhouse, and see a giant canoe filled with ice and $2 beer waiting for you. You only need three or four clubs, as the shortest holes are 50 yards and the longest is 150. Most players grab their wedges and a putter and then use the Seamus carry bags that are provided to you on the first tee.

The Sandbox allows tee times right up until sunset, with many golfers using it as a third round of the day. You can get around the course in less than two hours and the beer canoe is accessible about five times during your round. It’s a great place to unwind, hit some fun shots and get a few swings in before sunset and dinner at Aldo’s. The greens also are just as tricky as the ones you’ll find on both courses, so it’s a pretty solid place to tune your short game, too.

This was our last round of the trip. In fact, my last full swing was a 100-yard sand wedge to 12 feet on 17 at the Sandbox. I didn’t even attempt the putt. The ball was purely struck and it was a ton of fun watching it land close to the hole and stay there. And that’s what golf at Sand Valley is supposed to be…fun. It’s not just about scoring well or making birdies…even though that’s always fun, too. It’s about enjoying the walk. Drinking a beer and then hitting your shot. Taking a look around at the beauty of the land and being thankful for a wonderful game. Golf, as it was meant to be, is about enjoyment. And if you are a true golf fan, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself at Sand Valley.

Three days of golf in Wisconsin and we played one of the toughest, most beautiful courses in the world at Whistling Straits. Then we followed that up with three rounds of pure enjoyment golf at Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes and the Sandbox. If I didn’t believe it before, I believe it now…Wisconsin is a golfer’s paradise.

If you want to hear more about my experience, have questions, or want help planning an experience of your own, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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