There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.
If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.
For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…
The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.
The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.
The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl. The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.
Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.
While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.
Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!
Hole No. 1
Hole No. 2
Hole No. 4
Hole No. 8
Hole No. 9
Hole No. 13
Hole No. 14
Hole No. 16
Hole No. 18
Ari’s Other Course Reviews
PGA Frisco: A GolfWRX first look with Gil Hanse and Beau Welling
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 course, both 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.
Inside Pebble Beach’s “The Hay” Short Course (designed by Tiger Woods/TGR)
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”
The Jamaica Golf Experience
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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