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Landfill Golf Part 2- Paul Miller, Architect Interview

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After a recent and very enjoyable round of golf at the Phoenix Golf Links (which was constructed atop a former landfill) in Columbus Ohio, I had several design related questions running through my golf-oriented mind.

I decided to contact a golf course architect who is currently designing just that, a golf course atop a former landfill. I contacted Mr. Paul Miller of Miller Golf Course Design, and he was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions about golf courses that are constructed atop former landfills.

A little about Mr. Miller himself. Paul Miller is the President of Paul Miller Design, Inc., a golf course architecture firm in Northfield, Minnesota.  Mr. Miller entered the profession of golf course architecture with a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Minnesota in 1987.  He has 31 years of experience in the golf course design, landscape architecture and golf course maintenance fields. Over the past 17 years he has successfully managed numerous golf course design and construction projects for all levels of private golf clubs and public golf facilities throughout the United States.  Prior to opening Paul Miller Design, Inc. in July of 2004, Paul was a partner at Gill Miller, Inc. At Gill Miller his design portfolio included The Legends Club and The Meadows at Mystic Lake, that were both named top ten new golf courses nationwide by Golf Digest magazine. Currently PMDI has golf course projects in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

 
How many courses have you designed or consulted on that were built atop landfills?
 

The firm I was with until 2004 had completed several landfill golf course projects prior to the Burnsville landfill project that I am currently working on:

Paul Miller Design has established a multi phase golf course implementation strategy for Waste Management at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill where an 18 hole public golf course will be the end use product when landfill operations are completed.  The golf course at Burnsville Sanitary Landfill will be developed as the landfill cells are brought to final grade.  The development is proposed to take place in 4 major phases starting with a practice range and four golf holes.  The final phase will see the creation of an 18 hole, 6,900 yard golf course that takes advantage of the dramatic views into the surrounding river valley and Minneapolis skyline.  The golf course will have a distinct Scottish flavor with hummocky mounding, rugged sand and turf bunkers, waving grasses and native plantings that will enhance the unique golf experience that this “island in the sky” will offer to area golfers.

Is this something that will become more "commonplace" as land becomes more expensive?

Landfills tend to be municipal projects or partnerships where the golf course is a valued end use project.  The front-end regulations, construction costs and long time maintenance issues would offset the cheaper land.   I think landfill projects will continue to represent a specialized sector of the golf course market.  Landfills are generally located in highly populated areas with good access so the potential golf market at landfill sites is good.  Revitalizing the area around a landfill with a golf course as part of the development seems to work well.
 
Is landfill land cheaper, what I mean is, can the course developer get this land “on the cheap”?

The land is cheaper.  However there are long-term restrictions on the land that cloud the legal liabilities for the new owner.  I would envision development partnerships where the land would be leased or developed without taking responsibility for methane collection and environmental issues.

Assuming the developer buys this land, who remains responsible for what lies below?

My understanding is that regulations call for up to 30 years of responsibility for the after treatment of the landfill.  This is not something that developers would be able to provide in most cases.  There was some legislation enacted in 2002 that offers some protection from long-term liability issues.  Older landfills would possibly have less long-term legal issues but it invariably costs more for construction and maintenance on a landfill golf course.

Could one get the federal or state governments to provide money in exchange for building a golf course on a brownfield or superfund site?  

The history of most landfill golf course projects represents some involvement in the government in reclaiming the land as a viable commercial development.

What sorts of hardships are encountered when planning a course on top of a landfill area? (i.e. collapse, gasses, etc…)

Settling, methane collection / release, and ground water issues are the big three.  Newer landfill regulations with improved capping and methane collection reduce some of the problems that were inherited on older landfills that were not properly capped.  Generally the golf course features are built above the landfill and final landfill cap so that you have a minimum of 3’ – 5’ above the cap over the landfill.

 Are these types of layouts destined to be of the LINKS style? Can trees be planted or do the root structures cause instability?
 

Most trees exist in the upper couple of feet of the soil so its not impossible to plant trees on a landfill.  The nature of the starting terrain suggests more of a links layout with naturalized areas less impacted by settling or shifts in the terrain. In the mounded areas there could be 10 – 15 feet of fill, which can easily accommodate tree roots. There is remedial value in trees, particularly poplars, taking up some of the water, minimizing leachate issues and providing root structures that minimize erosion and potential cap exposure.  Since the majority of the settling happens in the first few years after closure a tree planting master plan will allow the trees to be planted at a time when the landfill is stable.

Is the EPA heavily involved in all facets of the construction? 

Landfills are highly regulated and various agencies on the federal, state and local levels review and approve the construction plans.  The agencies are most actively involved on the front end to ensure proper construction methods.  Site reviews during construction vary by locale and project requirements.

Is the landfill "capped" with concrete and then fill dirt added over the top of it?  

Landfill caps are designed based on the specific requirements of the remediation site.  Clay or geo-synthetic liners are frequently used as the landfill cap with the golf course built on top of the landfill cap.    

Are there limitations as to what types of heavy equipment can be used to shape the holes?
 

From a practical standpoint bulldozers are more manageable than earth scrapers.  Since the golf course is constructed entirely out of fill, placing of the fill is the largest component of the earth moving.  Heavier equipment would move the material in place to be shaped by bulldozers.  Like every construction job the amount of moisture in the soil impacts the use of heavy equipment.  Landfill operations are a large enough industry to have a strong track record of construction equipment that performs well on landfills.  Haul roads developed and used during landfill operations are the most stable access points for large equipment.

Are you familiar with Phoenix Golf Links in Columbus, Ohio? It was built on a former landfill.

I know of the golf course but I have not played it.  Landfills by definition are elevated so you have dramatic views into the surrounding area.  The Burnsville site has been described as “an island in the sky”.  You can get a sense of the golf course by being on the landfill in the early evening with a bit of a surreal mystical quality that you wouldn’t expect being on top of a landfill.  People love the views.

Again, thanks for answering a few simple design and construction questions about landfill golf courses. I would bet, that a lot more of these types of golf courses will be created in the future.

Golf Course architect Paul Miller.

Stop by and check out some of Paul’s current and past course designs at PaulMillerGolf.com
 

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  1. Jerry Greupner

    Mar 22, 2009 at 12:56 am

    I am lucky to live in Mr. Miller’s area and to have played nearly all of his designs. They are truly wonderful golf courses.
    The Ponds at Battle Creek is a 9-hole layout that will test the skills of the very best players. A friend who is a panelist fof GD states it is the toughest 9 hole course he has ever played. It could be one of the toughest of any 9’s most anywhere. Tough, in this case anyway, is still fair and lots of fun. Just don’t expect to play to your GHIN and be sure to bring plenty of golf balls.

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PGA Frisco: A GolfWRX first look with Gil Hanse and Beau Welling

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PGA Frisco in Frisco, Texas, is the new home of PGA of America. The two courses on-site, Fields Ranch East and West, are original designs by Gil Hanse and Beau Welling, respectfully, but they aren’t set to open for public play until the Spring of 2023. However, GolfWRX was given an opportunity to take an early look, play both courses, tour the facilities, and meet with the course architects ahead of the much-anticipated unveiling for the golf world.

The PGA Frisco location, which also shares the property with a brand new Omni Resort, a short course called The Swing, and a 75,000 square-foot putting course named The Dance Floor, appears to be joining the conversation as one of the country’s best buddy trip and family trip golf destinations.

The Omni resort is going to be complete with 500 luxury guest rooms and suites, 10 private ranch house residences, 13 different dining options, four pools, including an adult-only rooftop infinity pool, and a full-service salon and spa. They are going big with this place. All the facilities are currently under construction, but the plan is for them to be open by the Spring of 2023 as well.

The Swing is a ten-hole, lighted short course that provides a nice nightlife compliment to the larger courses, Fields Ranch East and West. Collaboratively designed by Hanse and Welling, The Swing is just steps from the Omni hotel, The Dance Floor putting courseboth championship courses, and a sports bar with bays for hitting into the driving range. The golf isn’t going to stop when the sun goes down. And no shuttle is needed at PGA Frisco.

“With The Swing, we started off by saying you do five holes and we will do five holes but it turned into a true collaboration,” Hanse said when discussing designing the short course alongside Welling. “When you start to think about designing a golf course with the shot values and how is it going to be perceived, what are the players going to think…then that creeps into your design. But when you are designing something just for unbridled joy, you don’t think about those things and that just makes something super fun.”

As good as the atmosphere and vibes are going to be, people are going to come for the golf. And major championships are coming too.

Fields Ranch East is already set to host the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2023, as well as 26 additional championships through 2034, including two PGA Championship events, and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Fields Ranch West Architect Beau Welling, who is probably best known for his work alongside Tiger Woods on the TGR Design projects, was excited about this property and opportunity right from the very beginning. “The original vision of this idea of multiple golf courses and a short course and practice course and all this fun stuff immediately resonated with me,” Welling said. “I remember thinking that this could be the coolest thing ever. It’s the PGA brand around this super accessible thing where people could not only visit to learn the game but also be the place where major championships are to contend.”

The East Course

The East course is the Gil Hanse design that is set to host all these majors. The course itself could either play incredibly long or as short as you’d like it, with huge flowing tee boxes being a feature that stands out immediately. Big fairways also immediately reveal themselves as the scale of this course is big. Very big.

“You have to think about how you are going to design for a major championship but also make it approachable and playable,” Hanse said.  “We worked really hard to create a playing ground where you can accomplish both. The level of precision required to go out and play the golf course should be pretty low. Wide fairways, hit your ball, find your ball, and hit it again. But the level of precision required to score should be off the charts if we are trying to challenge the best players in the world. There are opportunities to tuck pins and lengthen the East course to 7,800 yards. We feel like we have the setup for a major championship course in place.”

After working on the renovation at Southern Hills, Hanse drew from his experience on the Perry Maxwell design to utilize the site’s meandering Pather Creek and natural dry outs throughout the par 72 track. The course features smallish greens to contrast with the large fairways, making it a second-shot course to put a premium on accurate approaches. The fairways and rough use the same grass type to allow for flexible widening and narrowing of hole corridors to adjust for championship play.

The course maintains a prairie-like feel throughout the routing, but the back nine really shines with Texas character. The creek comes into play on many of the closing holes, including a gorgeously long par three thirteenth hole, and an 18th-hole par five that will hopefully provide some incredible major finishes.

“When the stage is set, we would rather see positive outcomes to determine champions as opposed to negative ones,” Hanse said.  “We really enjoy watching golfers make birdies and eagles to win as opposed to some guy making double bogey and the guy who made a bogey barely hangs on to win. So we set up our finishing holes with some tough stretch of holes to start the back nine and then the driveable 15. Then 17 is the shortest par three on the golf course. And then 18 is a reachable par five. So they will have to make decisions and then hopefully positive outcomes will determine how it unfolds.”

There are also rumors of a Ryder Cup coming to PGA Frisco.

“If we ultimately get the Ryder Cup,” Hanse said, “we thought about most matches not making it to 18. So what can we do with holes 14-16, where generally most matches end. So we wanted to set those up for interesting golf and put it in an amphitheater that is set up really nicely for viewers. So whether it is a PGA championship, LPGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship, or Ryder Cup, we feel like that stretch is going to provide a really interesting way to finish a golf course as opposed to just a long slog to the finish.”

The West Course

The West Course, which is the Welling design, is a playable compliment to the East course, providing another glimpse into big golf in Texas. The expansive fairways average 75 yards in width but the green complexes on Fields Ranch West tend to be much larger than its sister course. The size and scale were both something that Welling wanted to provide as a hat tip to its host state.

“Everything is big in Texas,” Welling said. “There are big weather events and big wind. But there is also incredible passion around the game here in Texas. Frisco is going to get famous because of the major championships on the East golf course, but long term it is going to have such an impact on the game as 28,000 members of the PGA come here to Omni and see golf presented in such a fun and modern way.”

The West Course also plays about 500 yards shorter than the East, tipping out at 7319 yards. The greens are larger but much more complex, with lots of undulation and hills to navigate. While the fairways and greens are big, you need to be in the right spot of each if you want to score. Nearly every green has a false front or false side waiting to shoot an errant approach back down the hillside.

Still, the scale allows for any handicapped golfer to play this course with enjoyment.

The course also uses the local terrain and elevation changes to both challenge and support each hole. The shorter par 4’s are often uphill, adding length where it isn’t otherwise there. The marshland and Panther Creek are more prevalent on the West course as well, utilizing the hazard to create more necessary carries.

The end result for Fields Ranch West is an approachable compliment to its companion course. There is an obvious feeling of connection between the two courses, but the style of play required for each is unique.

With the partnership and resources of the PGA of America and Omni Hotels and the design leadership of Gil Hanse and Beau Welling, the PGA Frisco campus is primed to rival the best in the world as a premier golf destination.

 

 

 

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Inside Pebble Beach’s “The Hay” Short Course (designed by Tiger Woods/TGR)

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This is my first trip to Pebble Beach since Tiger Woods’ new “The Hay” short course opened up in 2021, so I had to see the new setup for myself. Preferably, I would have actually played it, but the course was closed for maintenance ahead of the 2022 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am festivities.

Luckily, though, I had my camera handy as the fine folks at Pebble Beach’s short course allowed me to walk around and check it out. Below, I’ll take you along my walking tour, but first, some brief backstory and information.

The short course, formerly known as the Peter Hay Golf Course, sits just across the road from Pebble Beach’s driving range, and it’s been a fixture at the resort since 1957. The course was originally named after Peter Hay, the head professional at Pebble Beach and Del Monte. He created the short course to provide a way for junior golfers and families to more easily access the game, regardless of their abilities.

In 2021, Pebble Beach teamed up with Tiger Woods and the TGR Design team to give the course a redesign (without moving any trees or dirt, according to a Pebble Beach representative).

The new 9-hole short course is open to the general public for $65, and juniors under 12 years old play for free. The putting course, which sprawls about 100 yards in length, is open to the public at no cost, as well.

“We know not everyone who comes to Pebble Beach will have a chance to play the U.S. Open course, so we wanted to create the opportunity for all visitors to experience one of its most famous holes,” said Tiger Woods, according to The Hay’s website.

There’s also a restaurant/bar – called “Hay’s Place” – that has views of the entire course, and of Stillwater Cove. It’s not a bad spot to grab a drink before or after the round, and I hear the fish tacos are phenomenal. Just saying.

Enjoy the photos below from Tiger’s new-and-improved Pebble Beach Short Course, called “The Hay.”

The 100-yard putting green course

Hole No. 1: “Hay”

Hole No. 2: “Seven”

Hole No. 3: “Watson”

Hole No. 4: “Bing”

Hole No. 5: “Grace”

Hole No. 6: “Lanny”

Hole No. 7: “Jack”

Hole No. 8: “Kite”

Hole No. 9: “Tiger”

Hay’s Place

Check out more photos from the 2022 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am here.

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The Jamaica Golf Experience

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I love Jamaica. I have been to the island for several trips with my family and the feeling I get every time I think about a next visit is always exciting. On past trips, I have made Jamaican friends that I will remember for the rest of my life. The people there are so happy and good. One Love. The “no problem ‘mon'” culture just becomes a part of you when you’re there, creating a special atmosphere that lets you escape it all. I keep Red Stripe beer in my fridge at home in Fort Worth, Texas, all year — a reminder of the island I love with every sip. So when I received an invitation to play in The Jamaica Pro-Am, I was quick to accept.

The Jamaica Pro-Am (aka Annie’s Revenge — more on that later) is an annual tournament held each year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Four-man teams constructed of three amateurs and one PGA Professional, the tournament is typically played on three of Jamaica’s finest golf courses — Half Moon, Cinnamon Hill, and White Witch. I attended this year’s tournament as a playing observer, confined to the “media team” and partaking in the festivities. Ya’mon.

The tournament field gets to stay at the beautiful Iberostar Grand Rose Hotel, conveniently located near all three courses and more importantly, right on the beach. The hotel is indeed grand and all-inclusive, providing guests with a wristband that gets you whatever you’d like to eat or drink from any of the onsite bars and restaurants — no questions asked. Less than 30 minutes from the airport, if Montego Bay is your desired city for your next Jamaican vacation, I’d imagine this hotel is tough to beat.

The first night of the tournament is the welcome dinner and reception on the beach. A full Jamaican buffet complete with jerk chicken and pork, beef patties, fried plantains, rice and peas, and cabbage. A true taste of the Caribbean, accompanied of course with whatever rum drink your heart desires. Appleton is the island favorite, and it mixes well with pretty much everything when you’re toes are in the sand. There was a live reggae band playing the Bob Marley songs everyone knows.

While the festivities were for the tournament participants, there was still plenty of activity and vibe for the other hotel guests. This is Jamaica. There was music and fun all around the hotel every moment of this trip. No worries, everything is irie. I have a real love for the island. The people are kind, the food is fantastic, and the waters are the finest in the world.

Day One: Half Moon Golf Club 

Quite understandably, Jamaica has been hit hard by COVID-19, with tourism taking a substantial dip in the past year and a half. The golf has seen a dip in numbers as a result, but the courses are in gorgeous shape with foot and cart traffic just now picking back up.

Half Moon was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and it opened in 1962. The course rests between the Blue Mountains and the sea, playing a mostly flat 7,120 yards from the back tees. Half Moon does offer several tee box options and could be played as short as 5,032 yards, making it a pleasant resort course, should that be your speed.

The course is beautiful and very well maintained. The greens were a bit shaggy, but luscious, playing at a slower pace than I am used to. I am not sure if that is by design or a side effect of the pandemic, as I do know the Jamaican golf courses have been short-staffed and without the usual supplies this past season. That appears to be a thing of the past, however, as the course looks to have turned a corner.

Most fairways are lined by palm trees, adding something to avoid off the tee, but there is enough space between each trunk to give you a full swing if you do miss left or right. The coconuts that drop, luckily, are loose impediments.

Half Moon is a resort course through and through. There are elements of character and excitement, but it mostly just provides a beautiful and benign setting for fun island golf. The fairways are dressed with multiple well-placed bunkers which provide the only designed protection against low scores. The driver could be used on virtually every non-par 3, but the course is better suited to be thought around and played to avoid the sand.

Built on a retired sugar cane estate, the other real hazard (water doesn’t come into play much at all) is the coastal winds that pick up mid-morning each day. With little besides the coconut trees to protect your ball from gusts, the wind becomes a real challenge on this bow-tie routed design. Holes into the wind were a beast, and when we finally turned with the wind at our back, it was time for a Red Stripe and a sigh of relief.

Those winds are a big reason why this tournament is called “Annie’s Revenge.” Named after Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall, the namesake is one of Jamaica’s most famous local legends. Rose Hall’s Great House, just down the road towards Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, was home to Palmer, a Haitian-born white woman who grew up studying voodoo and witchcraft. Thus the nickname, the White Witch. She moved to Jamaica when she married John Palmer, the owner of Rose Hall, and unfortunately, her practice of dark magic proved too powerful for those around her. Legend tells she murdered her husband (and two more after that) along with many of her slaves. She herself was eventually killed, but to this day, the locals claim to have witnessed Palmer’s ghost riding her horse around the Jamaican plantations.

The strong coastal winds are Annie’s Revenge on any golfer trying to enjoy the land she once owned. They got the best of me a time or two.

Days Two and Three: Cinnamon Hill 

Both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch Golf Course are members of the Rose Hall family. Typically, in the “Annie’s Revenge” tournament format, the courses are played once each in the three-day event. However, White Witch is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its owners made the financial decision to proceed through these tough times with only one course due to the limited play and the costs of upkeep. While disappointed to not play White Witch, playing Cinnamon Hill twice instead more than satisfied my appetite for Jamaican golf. This is my favorite course on the island.

Cinnamon Hill was designed by Rick Baril and opened in 1969. It was later renovated and redesigned by Robert von Hagge. The greens here were much quicker than those at Half Moon, which I certainly appreciated. The two nines of Cinnamon Hill play in complementing contrast to one another, with the front providing low coastal play while the back nine rises into the tropical Blue Mountains.

Tipping out at 6,828 yards, the front nine marches and builds towards the ocean, with two phenomenal holes hugging the coastline. This is unusual for Jamaica, as most of the shore is saved for sandy beaches and rum-flavored sips under thatch umbrellas.

I played Cinnamon Hill with my cart partner, Jason Deegan of GolfPass.com. Our hosts for our rounds at Rose Hall were Keith Stein, the Director of Golf Course Operations for both Cinnamon Hill and White Witch, and Donnie Dawson, the Deputy Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Keith is a very good golfer with a smooth swing. He is originally from Toronto but has lived in Jamaica for 30 years. Donnie is a world-class storyteller who grew up in Kingston and has been playing these courses his entire life. It was a real treat to be able to play the course with both fine gentlemen, see how they play each hole, and hear their tales. The best story came on hole four, a 170-yard par 3 over marshy ponds.

Donnie Dawson and one of his stories

As we approached the fourth tee box, Donnie pointed out a concrete wall just behind the markers and informed us that a cemetery lay just beyond. Peering over, we could see the gravestones in this centuries-old burial plot for the family of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The grass is grown tall because the golf course staff, local Jamaicans, refuse to go inside.

Donnie told us 20 or so years ago, he was playing this course with a caddie named “Teeth,” a moniker he was given based on the looper’s colored and decorated top front teeth. As they approached the fourth tee box, a man was sitting on the concrete wall bordering the cemetery. He tossed Donnie a ball and said “hit this one, mon.” Donnie complied and the three men watched the shot bounce twice and roll directly into the cup. A hole-in-one with accompanied celebration. When they reached the green, Donnie and Teeth looked into the cup to retrieve the ball, and, to their surprise, it had vanished. Disappeared from the hole. They looked to the tee box and the kind stranger on the wall was gone as well. Perhaps a ghost from the ancient graves. Donnie said Teeth, a believer in local legend, took off running and didn’t stop for three miles.

Hole Four Green, site of the vanishing ball

Holes five and six provide tremendous views right along the quietly crashing waves. The par-3 sixth hole, arguably the prettiest hole on the island, is a 178-yard carry over the Caribbean with bailout room to the left. Just a gorgeous hole that I would have been happy to play all day. Cinnamon Hill does not waste their par 3s.

Hole five fairway

Keith Stein, yours truly and Jason Deegan

Par three sixth hole

The course is also home to an ancient aqueduct that winds through both the front and back nine. The now-ruins provide an interesting backdrop to island golf, whereas they used to be a working part of the sugar cane plantation and used to grind and transport one of Jamaica’s top export products for commerce.

The back nine brings you up the mountains, with the 17th tee box sitting nearly 400 feet above sea level. What that provides, obviously, is wonderful views of the ocean through and over jungle leaves, along with challenging golf shots. On the fairway of the 14th hole sits one of the few homes on course, but one has some historical value: The Cinnamon Hill Great House was the second home of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash for 30 years.

Cinnamon Hill Great House

The 15th hole is another tremendous par 3 measuring 220 yards from the back but playing much shorter straight down the hill to a large green nestled beneath a waterfall. The waterfall, in case it looks familiar, was the backdrop of a famous scene in “Live and Let Die” — one of the best James Bond films ever made. Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond series, lived and wrote many of the books here on the island at Golden Eye.

Cinnamon Hill takes the driver out of your hand on many holes, forcing you to find the right club on every tee shot. You need to be prepared to hit mid-irons off some par fours as angles are often more important than distance. And with the undulating back nine, distances are sometimes deceiving. Cheers to my caddie for keeping the right club in my hand all trip.

Back to the hotel for the final ceremony and last sleep on the island. The Jamaica Pro-Am is open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee, but if you come to Jamaica for just a family vacation, don’t forget about the golf. Most travelers to Jamaica come for the beaches and the island lifestyle, and they aren’t wrong to do so. But next time you visit, I suggest you bring your clubs, mon.

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