Connect with us

Travel

3 money-saving tips for your golf trip

Published

on

When it comes to saving money on your golf trip, there are no shortage of suggestions. We’re leveraging our expertise to present you with a trio.

  1. Travel during the off-season
  2. Choose the right destination
  3. Book a rental home/villa

Travel during the off-season

Every golfer enjoys playing in ideal weather and course conditions: sunny and warm with manicured fairways and rolling greens. However, playing in such conditions can come at a premium price which is why you should consider booking your golf trip during the off-season. Off-season golf trips give golfers the opportunity to play amazing courses without the high price tag of peak season and courses are usually quieter so you will be able to enjoy your round without feeling rushed! 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the off-season by destination:

Florida, Scottsdale, Vegas, and Palm Springs. If you can take the heat, you will get the lowest prices of the year when you travel during the summer months (June – September). Make sure to book your tee times early so you can enjoy your round before the heat of the day and enjoy an afternoon to chill by the pool or explore the local attractions!

North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama. The Southeast states usually have mild weather during the winter months (mid-November to mid-March) with temperatures in the 50s/low 60s, but you can still play great golf at a fraction of the cost.

Choose the right destination

Every golfer in the world dreams of playing bucket list golf courses like TPC Sawgrass or Pebble Beach, but it can be a sticker shock when it comes to the cost. If you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck, there are plenty of other golf destinations to choose from. Two of the best value destinations for a golf trip are Orlando, FL and Myrtle Beach, SC.  Both destinations offer a wide variety of courses, hotels, and resorts so that you can play more rounds of golf and stay on budget!

Here are some customer-favorite golf itineraries from Orlando and Myrtle Beach:

Barefoot Resort  – Four courses and villa accommodations all onsite

Orlando Golf Tour  – Hotel stay in the middle of the action and play the area’s popular courses

Myrtle Beach Golf Tour  – Oceanfront villa accommodation and your choice of over 100 courses to play

Omni Orlando at Championsgate  – Beautiful resort with two courses onsite and a range of accommodation options

Book a rental home or villa

One of the lesser-known secrets to getting good value on your golf trip is to book a rental home or villa. While hotel rooms might seem more convenient, a rental home gives you more space to stretch out, the option of cooking your own meals (save money on the pricey restaurant bills), and a comfortable “home away from home.” Many of the golf resorts across the country have rental homes or villas onsite so you don’t have to leave the property to play golf. If you’re looking to go to one of the bigger golf destinations (Scottsdale, Palm Springs, Orlando, and Myrtle Beach), there is an abundance of rentals to choose from. 

Here are some of the top picks for rental homes and villas:

Villas at Kiawah Island Golf Resort  – From comfortable villas to luxurious homes, this fantastic resort is ideal for groups of all sizes

Encore Resort at Reunion  – Centrally located to many of the courses in Orlando, you’ll have a choice of 4-13 bedroom homes — perfect for large groups

Myrtlewood Villas  – With two golf courses onsite and many more a short drive away, you will have plenty of golf to choose from

Scottsdale Homes and Condos  – Choose from hundreds of rentals from across the city with great golf just a short distance away

Editor’s note: This article is presented in partnership with Golfbreaks. When you make a purchase through links in this article, GolfWRX may earn an affiliate commission. 

 

Your Reaction?
  • 4
  • LEGIT2
  • WOW1
  • LOL0
  • IDHT1
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK1

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

19th Hole

The biggest golf resort you never knew (but should)

Published

on

As a Korean-Canadian and an avid golfer for over 35 years, I am fortunate to have played on many beautiful golf courses in the West and the Far East. I still have a boatload of courses like Pebble Beach and St. Andrews on my bucket list, but I came to learn that Asia had plenty of such places to visit as well.

I have recently had the good fortune of playing the iconic Blackstone Golf Club at Mission Hills Resort in China, which is consistently ranked as one of the best courses in Asia. Blackstone is particularly famous for hosting the Tiger Woods vs. Rory McIlroy exhibition ‘The Match at Mission Hills’ in 2013. The event brought international attention to the sprawling luxury resort and boosted the level of interest in the game in the region.

Before delving into my amazing experience at Blackstone Golf Club, here is a little bit of information about the best golf resort you may never heard of.

Tiger and Rory faced off at the very course I was at in 2013. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it by telling you who won.

The Best Golf Resort in The World?

Mission Hills Golf and Resort is located in the southern part of China on Hainan Island, which is about the size of Maine. Often referred to as the Hawaii of China, its tropical location gives the island year-round sunshine with temperatures between 75~90°F in the winter and 60~75°F in the summer. Along with dozens of other notable golf resorts and courses on the Island, the resort is a popular destination for golfers from Asia, Europe, and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Mission Hills first opened its doors in early 2010 with the aim of becoming the best resort in the world. I’m not sure if they achieved their goal, but before you smirk at their ambitiousness, Mission Hills is currently listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s largest golf resort with a total of 10 world-class golf courses. That is an astounding 180 championship-class golf holes in one resort! The courses are designed by the talented Schmidt-Curley Design team who are behind some of the best courses in Asia and around the world.

The Blackstone Golf Club is considered the “crown jewel” course at Mission Hills Resort and gets its name from the plethora of black lava rock that is found all over the course as part of its beautiful charm. But don’t be fooled by its rugged beauty, as the monster-long Blackstone has hosted several World Cup of Golf championships (guess who teamed up for the US to win in 2011?) and the annual World Ladies Championships. It also hosts the annual World Celebrity Pro-Am attended by an amazing A-list of screen stars, pro golfers, and elite athletes from around the world.

So yeah, the course is quite good.

On top of that, the resort holds another world’s best distinction, with a total of 168 different hot springs and pools within the resort. Unfortunately, I was too immersed in playing golf to take advantage of a good hot soak, but it will be on the top of my list to do with my whole family next time.

Now, let’s take a close look at what the Blackstone course was all about, and keep in mind that the course descriptions and opinions are all my own from experience and perspective.

The early morning view outside the hotel room overlooking the course and resort is breathtaking

Greens

The green condition was quite superb, albeit a bit slow from Western standards. According to the caddie, the green speed was measured at about 2.9 meters, which translates to about 9.5 on the stimp meter. A speed of 7 is considered to be slow, and the average PGA Tour event is said to be about 12, so for us average folk the greens were rolling well.

The green size is quite large with nearly 5700 square feet average in size with less-than-subtle undulations and big rolling plateaus. The pins were placed slightly towards the front left of the green this day, and the approach shots were challenging for us amateurs to stuff close. The ball rolled straight and true to where it was aimed, and I only had myself to blame for missed short putts.

I don’t know if its an Asian thing, but we seem to have many courses with big greens and sometimes ridiculously big undulations and plateaus on them. We even have bunkers in the middle of the green, sometimes!

Fairways

Unlike many of the Korean courses I’m used to, the fairways are lush and readily yielded nice dollar-sized divots from well-struck iron shots into the greens. The course itself is huge and it was reflected in the long wide fairways stretching from tee to green.

Most of the fairways seemed to be free of readily noticeable trouble areas, meaning that what you see was what you got. However, upon close inspection, there were many subtle undulations which caused the stance to be slightly uneven at address. It wasn’t like St. Andrews level of fairway undulations, but it was there.

Also, the big prominent fairways bunkers often came into play and caused me to consciously aim away from them, which left longer approach shots into the green. We were somehow feeling confident this day and were playing from the blue tees. And for a guy who averages 240-yard drives on my best days, those small detours inevitably added 1-2 clubs more to the next shot.

Fairways were rolling nicely but were still a bit damp due to the sporadic short rain bursts.

Most fairways were quite wide, though it didn’t keep our balls from escaping into the jungle.

Rough

Truth to tell, the rough wasn’t all that intimidating, as it was only modestly long, and the wide fairways pushed the rough back considerably. As it wasn’t tournament season and the course was set up to mostly cater to vacationers, it made sense not to make the rough too punishing.

Beyond the rough was mostly deep jungle-like vegetation, which made it next to impossible to hit the ball out of, let alone find it in the first place.  Thanks to our amateur ball-striking abilities, however, we easily overpowered the hapless wide fairways to appease the jungle gods with our many golf balls.

The rough is almost non-existent from tee to green, except for a little bit around the bunkers and extreme sides of the fairways. The course is very long, so I guess they want golfers to relax and not get high blood pressure?

Fairway and 1st-cut rough

Bunkers

Blackstone had no shortage of fairway and greenside bunkers to daunt the average golfer. The many fairway bunkers were often quite large, and despite the mostly wide fairways, some were placed just at the right (?) places to catch drives that strayed left or right off the tee. Standing on the tees, the presence of so many bunkers was aesthetically pleasing yet intimidating at the same time.

The bunkers were meticulously raked and pristine, with the sand looking visually heavy but being very soft. Maintaining the bunkers to this level of readiness cannot be easy, as there are 10 courses at this resort! Even if there were just two bunkers per hole, that’s still 360 sand traps to rake and prep each day! Add to this the fairways and greens, not to mention the decorative foliage, the level of course maintenance at this level is quite mind-boggling.

I also don’t recall seeing any flat bunkers, as most seemed to have a healthy amount of incline at the front to make it harder to move the ball forward a long way. The greenside bunkers were also deeper and usually presented an upslope lie, and the shots had to have some climb to escape from them. If you have trouble hitting the ball straight, be sure to sharpen your bunker play when you visit Blackstone.

With the frightening number of bunkers at Blackstone, I only managed to get into two of them. I even managed to get up and down on one of them.

Bunkers and blackstones aplenty.

Despite being only the second time in a bunker, this one on the 18th cost me a devastating double bogey.

Tee To Green

Blackstone’s monstrous 7808 yards should satisfy most golfers’ urge to go all out on their shots. From the blues, it was still a challenging 6722 yards, and I don’t mind saying it felt longer than that all day.

Most of the pins can be seen from the tee box, and despite some slightly rolling fairways, Blackstone is a mostly-level parkland course without any significant drop or rise in elevation. Sprawling over a huge area of land, the holes do not double back in parallel but stretch forward through dense foliage, making for a scenic ride in the golf cart. One thing I also appreciated was the leisurely pace of play. The group ahead and behind were not visible for nearly the entire round, despite our less-than-quick pace of play.

From tee to green in its entirety, the course was in amazing shape and condition. The unexpected tropical golf experience was nothing short of amazing, and if I had to make a comparison to some of the other memorable tracks I’ve visited, the Hoakalei Country Club and Turtle Bay Resort (Palmer design) in Hawaii come to mind, along with Korea’s own Haesley Nine Bridge Club, which consistently ranks as one of the best courses in Asia.

The pictures below don’t do justice to the course, but I’m sure you’ll get the idea.

The sky was particularly blue and the course beautiful; so much so that my foursome didn’t seem to mind carding doubles and triples over and over again. What a joy.

For us short-hitters, we had to aim for the middle of the many bunkers and hope for the best.

If I had a dollar for every time one of us wished we owned a penthouse in one of the many condos dotting the resort…

Many holes are carved right through a lush jungle with a huge modern condo looming in the background.

Cluster bunkers are to be avoided at all costs.

The view from the 1st hole tee at Blackstone.

Looking like a pro in front of the picture board at the 18th tee… then promptly topping a drive 100 yards out. At least I looked good on camera.

Caddies & Carts

Unlike most courses in the West, golf clubs in Asia require each golfer to play with a mandatory caddie and golf cart. Also, if you each decide to have an additional caddie to help hold the umbrella, it can make for a sizeable group of 12 (greens keepers would be tossing in their beds in the west)! So how do the caddies move if you’re driving a power cart, you ask? They simply hop onboard the back of the buggy.

On this day, we ‘only’ had four caddies to attend our play, and they were fantastic. Despite my initial concerns, the language barrier was not an issue as they were conversant in all the needed terminology in English and Korean. This was a pleasant surprise, as I was able to ask more about the course to help my play, and there was always Google Translate.

The caddie fee was 500 yuan each, which is about $70 US. They were highly professional and quick on their feet, and I could tell that the resort had gone to good lengths in training the caddies (said to be 2000 in number!) to make the golfing experience enjoyable for their international guests.

Each foursome of caddies had a ‘master caddie’ that led the other three and acted to translate longer dialogues as needed. They had a good knowledge of the course and general breaks on greens. But don’t expect them to be like the actual caddies like for the pros. They are mostly for offering simple advice on reading greens, cleaning and handing over your clubs, and helping you to find your balls.

Not gonna lie… having a personal caddie wait on your every shot was nerve-wracking at first.

Resort & Facilities

Mission Hills Haikou has a 500-room hotel with several fine-dining restaurants and high-end boutiques within the main wing and the adjoining annex. They also have a shopping mall within the hotel featuring global brands like Taylormade, Adidas, and Skechers, along with a slew of high-end golf brands to luxury watches and whiskies.

The view from my room on the 9th floor was something to write home about, along with the impeccable services. Truth to tell, I had previously heard several horror stories of less-than-friendly services which led me to refrain from visiting China prior. That must’ve been a different country, as Mission Hills pulled out all the stops to impress and awe its visitors, and it certainly worked on me. We were treated like kings on and off the course, and the hotel personnel was on hand to assist us everywhere we went.

The entire resort complex was like a huge labyrinth of spas, pools, shops, and golf courses. They nearly had everything, including an incredible hotel buffet and several ethnic cuisines, a nightclub and karaoke, and an entire museum-like wing dedicated to the many celebrities and pro golfers that have played here. I could have stayed for hours simply looking at their vast collection of golf memorabilia. My golf buddy called it a golf heaven on earth, and I couldn’t agree more.

Again, the pics won’t be able to fully capture the experience, but they’ll give you an idea of the enormous size and quality of the place.

Spic and span to receive guests after a long hiatus during COVID-19, I bet.

I stayed in a nice-sized suite on the 9th floor with a good view overlooking the resort and course.

The tub is actually quite big and probably could fit three of me in it comfy.

The hotel service had complimentary ramen and beers, along with the local fruit.

Early morning view out the window showed the course shrouded in ground fog.

I wasn’t planning to do any swimming when I initially packed for the trip. Next time.

The pool behind the main hotel had sandy beaches!

A huge maze of trails and covered walkways branching off to a vast number of pools, hot springs, and saunas.

The morning buffet was one of the best I had in a while, with a full line up of both Asian and Western foods.

A sign at the entrance of the buffet showed the daily condition of the 10 golf courses.

Hotel Shops & Amenities

The shops inside the lobby were all high-end as well as ones I didn’t think to expect like the NBA-themed shop, Hennessy whiskey and Tabasco hot sauce shops!

Then there were dozens more shops in a whole other building next to the hotel, lined with the palm prints of celebrities and stars. The sheer size and scale of Mission Hills was outrageous.

Trip Overview

Hainan is a tropical Island in the South China Sea and can get quite hot and humid during the summer monsoon season. By plane, it took 4.5 hours from Korea to Hainan.

Interestingly, Hainan Island is designated as a tourist zone by the Chinese government and does not require a visa prior to arrival. It is issued when you arrive at the airport and go through customs.

During the end of 2023 when the trip took place, COVID-19 restrictions were largely over and there were the simplest of checks (1-2 minutes) using a machine to detect any virus before entering and exiting the airport.

The resort itself was only about a 15-minute bus ride from the airport. For those who travel often to Asia, they’ll know that courses and resorts can be up to two hours from the airport.

A brief warm-up on the range and armed with complimentary golf balls, we were off to the first tee.

True to its name, the course had stone walls and fences made from the igneous black lava rock.

Except for the absence of the sound of waves, the ambiance reminded me of courses in Hawaii.

Loved the open skies and the awesome panoramic views!

Be sure to pack some strong sunscreen and sports drinks or salt candy. The tropical climate can get quite hot and humid at midday.

Blackstone plays to par 73 and 6722 yards from the blue. I was happy with the score especially when the caddies told me it was the best they’ve seen in a while, LOL!!!

It looked like they were planning to build even more courses and condos. These folks sure like to think big.

Wall-to-wall memorabilia on display from past majors, champions, and legends of the game. So this is where all those signed Masters flags were!

The three-day stay went by all too fast… (T^T)

As part of the package, we were also shown to the largest duty-free shop in Asia. These guys have a thing for being the biggest, grandest, and most opulent; and it was awesome.

It seemed as if every brand of luxury was represented here, and it would’ve taken hours to see it all. If your partner is into this kind of stuff, leave them at home in case they get in the way of your golf.

A final meal at a popular restaurant before heading to the airport. Can you guess the menu? Yup, Chinese, but like nothing you see in the West. It was all delicious to boot.

Met a new friend while waiting for the limousine bus to take us the rest of the way. Even these guys were BIG.

After a rather simple and quick immigration and boarding process, we were safely on our way home to Korea. I have to give credit to the authorities for making the immigration/airport customs process simple and quick. Sometimes everything can be great, only to be ruined by a last-minute glitch or hold-up at the airport, and there were none.

A short nap and back in Seoul. I can’t wait to go back again soon with the whole family to jump in the hot springs. Now if I can only find a way to go visit Pebble Beach and St. Andrews similarly, I’m set. Wish me luck.

 

Your Reaction?
  • 31
  • LEGIT4
  • WOW5
  • LOL1
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB3
  • SHANK10

Continue Reading

Courses

The Scottsdale Experience, Part II: Boulders, Troon North, and Camelback

Published

on

It’s been four years since my last desert golf trip in Arizona. For an area so rich in good golf, that’s too long to wait for a return trip.

Our last visit to Scottsdale brought my family to the Fairmont Princess during the Christmas season. We just like to visit this time of year because everything is decorated for the holidays. While there, I was able to play at TPC Scottsdale, Grayhawk, and We Ko Pa–all stunning tracks for every handicap level.

For this trip, now four years removed, we wanted to experience two different types of Scottsdale resorts: The first two nights at Boulders Resort and Spa, about 30 minutes north of town, surrounded by (you guessed it) boulders and nature. For the second two nights, my wife wanted to be a bit closer to the city life so we picked the JW Marriott Camelback Inn, minutes from Old Town Scottsdale.

There are many differences between the two resorts, but both somehow maintained the vibe of being in the Valley.

BOULDERS RESORT AND SPA 

The Boulders Resort and Spa sprawls out across an enormous piece of property, which includes two award-winning, Jay Morrish-designed golf courses that both rank well as playable golf courses in the state. When you check in, they give you a map and a flashlight to help you navigate the grounds at night.  The rooms (or casitas) are villa-esque, complete with your own fireplace and wood to burn on cold nights. The place just smells like fresh air and chimineas.

 

The lodge itself is nestled beneath a small mountain with accessible hiking trails along both sides. Behind the main lobby sits a good-sized pool, which was heated when we visited and allowed for swimming in November. Temperatures this time of year are typically pretty chilly, especially for early morning golf, so to be able to swim in warm water was a nice treat.

The two courses are both on the property, making Boulders Resort a truly ‘never have to leave’ type of resort. There are also multiple restaurants on-site, including Bogey’s Bar near the pro shop and 18th greens for both courses. Boulders is home to about 400 golfing membership families but also remains open for public play as well. The members and public alternate courses each day, which apparently works great and keeps a high-season traffic light on both courses. I played the North Course but also walked the South to get a good feel for each.

View from clubhouse over 18 of South Course

Boulders Pro Shop

Number one tee- Boulders North

The North course tips out at 6,959 yards but can play as short as 4900 from the red tees. There are six tee box options in total, which helps on a desert course like this because between the frequently watered green grass come many different varieties of wasteland carries and sandy ravines. With options on tees and course length, many of the challenging shots can be added or taken out depending on skill level.

You can expect a lot of uneven lies at Boulders, as most of the fairways and playing surfaces undulate to blend right in with the surrounding mountains. Saguaro cacti are in every site line, but the predominant feature of both courses is the elephant-sized boulders on nearly every hole. Some appear to teter on their end, ready to roll down into the bunker where your ball is resting.

Of course, like most desert-style courses, errant shots are findable in the sandy soil, but not without risk of being pricked, poked, or bitten. My general rule is that if I can’t see it from the green grass, I’m better off not wandering too far out in search of what might be painful to find. Drop a ball and take my medicine. That proved to be true at Boulders as well. There are many thick areas just off the fairway where man should not be. And a better golfer than myself would only look in that direction to view the beauty of the Sonoran Desert.

Both courses do have a few splatters of water hazards here and there. Most folks I spoke to on the property noted that the South Course has a couple more breathtaking views and elevation changes than its counterpart North, but the North Course provides a wider array of shot-making options for the more serious golfer. I thought both courses were stunning to the eye, but it wouldn’t shock me if, had I played South, I found it a bit easier and more resort-style friendly.

      

Non-member tee times can be booked online or through the pro shop but if you are staying at the lodge, you’re more than likely going to get a better hotel rate to play. In November, which is almost peak season, mid-week greens fees range from around $100-$200 with dynamic pricing throughout the day. Both courses are incredibly walkable and a caddie or pushcart can be available upon request.

              

After my round, I took my son on a hike up the mountain above the lodge for some pretty stunning views of both courses. My wife escaped to the spa for a 90-minute hot stone massage, which was my way of saying thank you for another golf trip for the family. The least I could do. She said it was incredible and unlike any other massage she has ever had in her life. They even put hot stones between her toes, which I suppose feels good.

We wrapped up our stay at Boulders with a fantastic dinner at Palo Verde, located at the resort headquarters. We were able to sit outside under the stars with the help of a few closely placed heaters. With the golf, the restaurants, and the natural activities available, Boulders proved to be a wonderful spot to relax and get some swings in. If your partner is a fan of spa days and calm settings, this is the golf resort in Scottsdale to stay at. The food, drinks, and lodging are all upscale.  I would say it is a perfect couples’ getaway resort. We didn’t see any other kids so there may be better places to stay if you’re bringing the little ones along, though. With kids, I’d stay closer to town (see below) and head up to Boulders for a round of golf only.

Palo Verde dining room at Boulders

TROON NORTH

The next morning, I took an Uber just a few minutes away to the Troon North campus for a round at the Pinnacle Course. Troon North is home to two tracks, both designed by Tom Weiskopf and both immaculately maintained year round. The Pinnacle course is more links-style than its sister, the Monument Course, which is widely considered the signature course between the two.

The clubhouse is first class, with a well-stocked 2,200 square foot pro shop, and a legitimate locker room for public use. And the logo is fantastic.

Troon North offers a membership plan as well as public play, and daily fees are dynamicly priced. 

    

Pinnacle course plays over 7,000 yards from the back tees but provides seven different tee boxes allowing you to play the course as short as 4831 yards. Though more links style than Monument, the course still provides a very Sonoran desert feel and carries over thorny brush on nearly every hole.

Both courses were ranked in the “Top 10” best courses you can play in Arizona by Golfweek.

I thoroughly enjoyed my round at Troon North. The facility is about 35 minutes north of the Phoenix airport so it’s a bit closer to downtown Scottsdale than Boulders. It is also closely connected to the Four Seasons should you be looking to stay nearby.

The course felt pristine and special. You can tell the place pays attention to detail and takes great pride in the condition of the courses. The layout has some elevation changes so it may not be the easiest to walk. The routing never really brings you back to the clubhouse until the 18th hole, either, but there is a comfort station out there and beverage carts making the rounds.

     

The bunkering is fair and not very deep, but they are strategically placed right where you don’t want them to be. The par 71 has only one par 5 on the front nine but boasts a 609-yarder on the back that plays every bit as long as it reads. The par threes are scenic but lengthy as well, generally playing around 200 yards from the backs except for the short 140-yard 16th.

 

The fairways are bermuda grass and the greens are bent. Overseeding is done in the fall but the schedule is posted online to help avoid any unpleasant rounds. There are valley quail all over the course that walk in front of you on fairways and tee boxes like schools of fish.

The course is just so scenic and first-class. The mountains are in view the entire time and the course provides a wide array of options and shotmaking opportunities. I played early and alone and I genuinely enjoyed my time on the course. It was my favorite round of the trip.

The 18th green is huge and it blends into the practice green near the clubhouse, snaking around a giant rock to protect the practice green from shots gone long. It is a very unique site from both the clubhouse and the 18th hole but adds some character to the facility.

             

CAMELBACK INN RESORT AND GOLF 

The JW Marriott Camelback Inn is an incredible hotel. I am not really sure how else to describe it. Being there feels the way an in-city Scottsdale hotel is supposed to feel. You’re surrounded by Camelback mountain on one side and Mummy Mountain on the other. The adobe buildings feel like they have been there forever and yet are still perfectly maintained. There are sitting areas near fireplaces around every turn and the landscaping is quintessentially desert floral.

We heard from more than one person that the Camelback Inn is Mr. Marriott’s favorite hotel within his entire company and he spends one month there every year. That is saying something!

Our room was standard size but wonderfully located just a hundred yards or so away from the main lodge and restaurants. Between us was a green space with lawn activities for guests of all ages. There is a playground and putting green on site and several pools (some heated) for swimming year-round. And the views are just spectacular. To be only minutes away from Old Town while still being able to hike up multiple mountains of your choosing is one of the most special things about Scottsdale.

We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Rita’s Cantina and Bar…simply because the menus change for each meal and the outside patio seating is so incredible. Hoppin’ Jacks at the pool is another dining option but the Lincoln Steakhouse and Bar is the upscale dinner spot…and the gem of the dining options.

The Camelback Golf Courses, Ambiente, and Padre, are not on site, but the resort provides you with a free shuttle service for your tee time. The ride is only about five minutes and they start at 7:00 am.

The clubhouse is large with a spacious golf shop. The Camelback logo, while a bit cartoony, is pretty fantastic in a 1960s Bob Hope Classic kind of way.

I played the Ambiente course, which I was told has a bit more character than the Padre. Ambiente goes straight out for 3 miles, following along a gulch on your right the whole way, and then turns around and comes right back to the clubhouse for the back nine. If you are walking, make sure you’re in it for an entire 18-hole round. There’s no stopping after nine if you are on foot and three miles away from the clubhouse.

These courses are more parkland than desert. That’s especially true of the Padre course. But even Ambiente, which translates to ‘environment,’ is not very ‘deserty’ in comparison to Troon North or Boulders. There are a lot more grassy rough areas off the fairway and very little cactus. The gulch, which is seen on nearly every hole, feels more native and marshy than anything I saw in my previous rounds. It’s a gorgeous course, but not what you imagine when you think of Scottsdale golf.

The course itself, with its unique straight-out, straight-back routing, lengthens out to 7,225 yards from the tips and 5,538 from the forward tees. The par 72 Jason Straka design is not an easy course. Many of the holes require precision tee shots and a bit of course knowledge doesn’t hurt as the driver is not always proper. The par threes play long, with the shortest being 185 from the back tees. The 8th hole can stretch back to 241 yards and then number 15 goes even longer to 245. Of course, you don’t have to hit back there unless you’re a glutton for punishment.

    

The bunkering is deep in certain areas, which you realize as early as the greenside on the first hole. Playing this course after the other desert layouts I have played made me wonder if this is the true ‘nature’ of the area and perhaps the other desert courses are a bit more…manufactured. Ambiente feels native. I think I enjoy the other desert style aesthetics of the other courses more, but from a pure golf perspective, Ambiente at Camelback is a real deal course.

  

SCOTTSDALE LIFE

The beauty of Scottsdale as a golf destination is that no matter which courses or resorts you decide to enjoy, you are still always within 30 minutes of a fantastic city center, with great shops and world-class restaurants. Old Town is only one little pocket of what Scottsdale has to offer, but because of the neat stores for our kiddo and walkability, we spent most of our time away from the resort here.

Like any great city, anyone who has visited will be able to give you a list of their favorite places to play, shop, and eat.  For us, we loved going to Popstroke, the Tiger Woods-designed miniature golf course, as well as Mavrix for bowling and laser tag. When you’ve got a five-year-old, you do what makes him happy too. We also went to Isabella’s Kitchen for lunch on one of our days, which overlooks the McDowell Mountains and Grayhawk Golf Course. The food is always delicious and it’s a really fun location for the kiddo to run around while mom and dad can have a margarita.

We went to The Montauk in Old Town for our only dinner outside of the resort and it did not disappoint. It’s a really neat atmosphere and the menu was a mix between The Hamptons and Southwest tastings. They had live music and friendly staff. It doesn’t get much better.

And if you find yourself out and about for breakfast, you need to stop in at the Daily Dose for some Cinamon Roll Pancakes or Breakfast Nachos. We made a quick stop here on our way to the airport and didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!

Having been traveling for golf for some time now, people always ask my opinion on my favorite courses or favorite city to go to for a golf trip. My answer always starts with “It depends on who you are going with…”

If you are heading out for a golf trip with your family, I don’t think you can pick a better city than Scottsdale. The travel itself (airport, rental car, etc..) is always a breeze. The resort options (and spas) are plentiful and offer a variety of different setups for couples or kid-friendly atmospheres. And there are hundreds of golf courses to choose from. All the while, Scottsdale has one of the best restaurant and entertainment scenes in the United States.

I’m sure I will keep getting the question. But if you are thinking of a golf trip with the family, the answer is Scottsdale.

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

Your Reaction?
  • 145
  • LEGIT50
  • WOW5
  • LOL2
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP3
  • OB1
  • SHANK5

Continue Reading

Courses

The Jamaica Golf Experience

Published

on

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.

Your Reaction?
  • 75
  • LEGIT41
  • WOW15
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK1

Continue Reading

WITB

Facebook

Trending