Golf Bucks County

By Bob Oliver

Middletown Country Club

Middletown is a compact 80 acres of challenging golf, with rolling hills and large specimen trees that have watched many golfers travel its fairways over time. It has retained its old time feel with tees and greens in close proximity, allowing golfers to walk the course if they choose.

The Traveling Golfer

With host Tony Leodora will travel both near and far to bring viewers a look at some of the most spectacular golf destinations in the world!

United States

Does Crenshaw argue with Coore?

Written by Bob Oliver on .

There is no doubt that when two successful artists work on a tandem product, there is often disagreement.  Sometimes emphatically as each wants their thoughts heard. 

One would think that over the nearly 30 years they've worked together on the design of golf courses, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw would have had some of those knock down, drag out discussions?

Who could blame them? Each has a distinct personality and each has his own thoughts on the design of a golf course. 

The team has created outstanding layouts. Having played Streamsong (Red) in Florida, the Dormie Club near Pinehurst, Bandon Trails in Oregon, Sand Hills in Nebraska and Hidden Creek in New Jersey, I know first hand that Coore-Crenshaw develop outstanding, fun and challenging courses.

But do they always agree, and when they don't, who wins the argument? 

"Wow, that's out of left field," said Coore at the Saguaro Course at Wi Ko Pa in the Valley of the Sun near Phoenix.  The Saguaro  Course is heralded by many rankings as the top public access course in the golf happy state. 

"I can't say we never disagree on something, but truthfully its never a real argument," said Coore. "We may disagree on shaping or direction or aspects of a design, but we generally come to the same conclusion in the end. We see the same land, understand what we are trying to accomplish, and while we might not totally come up with the same ideas we are professional and friends enough to talk it out and in the end have a great result."

Crenshaw is a PGA Tour Hall of Famer while Coore is a disciple of Pete Dye with a long background in the game. Each has their own ideas, but each also knows what looks and feels great to golfers.  Minimalists in design, their creations are well received by players of all abilities. 

At We Ko Pa, for instance, they teamed to create a course that has fangs that attack the strong player but enough freedom to challenge and keep higher handicap players in the game assuming they play from the correct tees. The fairways are wide, the desert does not impede every shot, and the chipping areas large enough to give a player options. 

The course penalizes poor shots and decisions, but rewards smart play. Its greens are full of challenge and quickness, and the course conditioning is immaculate. 

This Coore-Crenshaw design is outstanding, and hey, there was not a lot of arguing in its development and design. 

"Ben and I are proud of this course," explained Coore. "We are happy so many golfers find enjoyment and challenge here."

 

Fall Golf in Ocean City, Md.

Written by Bob Oliver on .

 
It had been a slow day at the office, that day when summer was soon ending and my mind was on a much needed fall golf trip. 
I love fall golf, when the courses aren’t crowded, conditions are superb and the weather pretty darn good.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time off, and the office was badgering me about a big project due by the end of the year. I could surely tack on a couple days to a weekend and head with the guys on a golf vacation, but time was of the essence.
As a Pennsylvania guy, I have to admit trips to Myrtle Beach or Pinehurst were attractive. Shoulder season meant lower rates and deals could be found. But time, well, that was another story. Couldn’t get more time off, and the drive alone would take the better part of two day. Ugh.
Brainstorm.
What about a getaway to Ocean City, Maryland, where golf courses are plentiful, there’s nightlife and great accommodations? Where some of the game’s top golf course architects have samples of their work? Where value is abundant?
Problem solved. An OC long weekend means great golf at the beach and, if desired, golf on the way down and on getaway day.
The Ocean City drive is relatively easy, and the courses are challenging. It’s a win-win situation. Off season golf means less crowded fairways and excellent conditions. Plus, if you haven’t visited in a bit would be undoubtedly be surprised at the quality of golf courses in the area.
“We are blessed with good weather, wonderful amenities and of course some very challenging and fun golf courses,” explained Steve Cooper, Director of Golf at the Pete/P.B. Dye designed Rum Pointe Seaside Links course. “Fall golf is outstanding, as the course conditions are wonderful and from a golfer’s perspective the rates are cheaper. Your dollar goes farther while the drive from Pennsylvania is shorter!”
Rum Pointe is part of the Ruark Golf Group, which also oversees outstanding sister courses the Links at Lighthouse Sound, Nutter’s Crossing and two courses at Glen Riddle, Man O’War and War Admiral.
Also in the vicinity are the Ocean City Golf Club, Eagles Landing, River Run, the Bay Club and Ocean Pines among others. Just beyond the Delaware State line are outstanding tests such as the beautiful Baywood Greens, the Jack Nicklaus designed Bayside, The Rookery (North and South courses), The Salt Pond and Bear Trap Dune.
Suffice it to say, there is superb golf available within the friendly confines of the greater Ocean City destination. There’s also ample accommodations, stellar dining, fishing and a boardwalk to boot.
“The area has so much to offer and we’re an east drive from just about anywhere in the Northeast,” added Cooper. “We have a great array of course options designed by superb architects and some unbelievable scenery. It’s a great destination.”
Rum Pointe offers great views of Assateague Island across the bay, with many offering views that one just has to say can be breathtaking. Of course, those water views mean difficulty for players who don’t pay enough attention to placement of their shots.
“But I have to say our course can be tough, but it’s fair,” added Cooper. “We have players who visit year after year.”
Bayside is a Jack Nicklaus signature design ranked number one on statewide places to play by several golf magazines, and rightfully so.  It winds through magnificent pine trees and features simply stunning holes along the Assawoman Bay coastline. Golf shots can be made difficult by Mother Nature’s best hazards, like salt marshes, ponds and of course the seemingly ever-present winds.  
Nearby Baywood Greens is, in a word, unique. The awesome, beautiful flowers alone will awe you! The course is challenging but fair, and has been described by some as an “Augusta of the North”. Its course has been named among Delaware’s best by Golfweek and Golf Digest, and offers excellent practice facilities including chipping and putting tests.
The Woodside nine is carved out of beautiful hardwood trees. The Waterside nine features ponds on nearly every hole. Add in strong bunkering, mounds and hazards and one has to play a thinking, strategic game to score well.
The Gary Player designed River Run Golf Club prides itself as being in pristine condition throughout the year, and Fall is a great time to sample. Player’s designs are always pleasing to the golfer, and River Run is no exception.
The Links at Lighthouse Sound, an Arthur Hills design, is among the top-ranked courses to play in Maryland not only because of its architecturally sound course but spectacular views. Just across the bay from Ocean City, there are 10 holes bordering marshlands. Play runs through stately hardwoods, and the courses gives one a links feel.
The fourth hole (stretching to 430-yards) offers obstacles such as marshland all the way down the right side while strategically placed bunkers guard the left. A true challenge, as is the par-3 fifth which can play anywhere from 100-220-yards and features guarding three sides of the green. Throw in prevailing winds and trouble is everywhere.
It’s interesting to note that the longest cart bridge in the US – some 1,500 feet – can be found heading to the back nine.  Challenges await! And to send you home smiling is the reachable par-5 18th hole, a true risk-reward test. Play it right and hit a couple good shots and birdies are there for the taking. Mishit a shot and, well, a dreaded big number awaits.
Eagle’s Landing overlooks Sinepuxet Bay and offers views of Assateague Island National Seashore, but unless you have binoculars you won’t see the wild horses who frolic in the area. What you will see is a series of well thought out challenges that will bedazzle you. The Signature hole is the par-4 18th, with its salt marshes and tight landing areas. A true test. 
Ocean Pines features a design by Robert Trent Jones, one that has matured since its opening in 1972. The course is nestled between natural wetlands and scenic woodlands and has five sets of tees as well as tees for the PGA of America’s Family Course program. A par of 72 awaits.
The Ocean City Golf Club offers 36 championship holes on its Newport and Seaside layouts. Located a short drive from the Boardwalk, these courses are filled with challenge.
There isa cornucopia of options when thinking of golf in the greater Ocean City, Md. vicinity, and when you combine this with all the accoutrements of the area as well as its proximity to Pennsylvania it must be considered or a fall golf destination. The courses are outstanding, and Fall is a great time of year to sample.
The weather is superb, the courses memorable and the value of the dollar works for most wallets. It’s a can’t miss destination. Fall golf at its finest.

America's Golf Capital

Written by Bob Oliver on .

 

 

MYRTLE BEACH, SC ---

 

Where is the capital of American golf?   

 

Depends who you might ask, as various destinations claim the title. But long ago the 90-mile stretch along the Atlantic Ocean centered around Myrtle Beach, SC, laid claim to the unofficial title. Any why not?

 

The Grand Strand has, depending on who is counting and what day it is, more than 100 golf courses that tantalize players of all tastes and playing abilities. There are courses designed by the best, including Nicklaus, Ross, Jones, Dye, Garl and Fazio. You name it, they have it, along with great food, sparkling beaches and a bevy of nighttime activities.

 

While Mother Nature has wielded her wrath in recent years, from Hurricanes to more than 100 inches of rain last year like many east coast venues, the beauty of the Grand Strand is that the great weather outweighs the bad, and even the bad days can be just wonderful.

 

We found that out in March when visiting the Myrtle Beach area for the first time in more than a dozen years. As Jon Bon Jovi once crooned, “Who says you can’t go home again?” Because March or April was an annual home for many years before we visited new and different places. Quite frankly, at the end of the week we wondered why we ever stopped going there.

 

Yes, there was chilly air. But the hospitality was top notch, the courses first rate, and the overall experience a stellar one.

 

Oh, there was a difference from the old days. Right off the bat Route 31, a newer bypass, allowed travel north and sound a whole lot easier. The competition for food and lodging as well as green’s fees kept prices affordable, and the pace of play on the courses we sampled was in a word brisk.

 

In its hay day the Grand Strand – stretching from Georgetown, SC, to the south to above Little River, NC, to the north – was generally accepted to have approximately 130 golf courses. The economic challenges of 2008 along with growth such as roads and infrastructure caused some elimination of courses, as well as a sort of natural selection of some venues being better than others.

 

These days there are approximately 100 courses available for play, the majority of them open to the public or available with package plans from some hotels. For this trip, we spent most of our time along the gateway to Myrtle Beach proper, areas like Calabash, Loris, Sunset Beach and North Myrtle Beach. But no matter where you stay, you can play outstanding venues.

 

One learns early on that traversing the entire Grand Strand on a single trip isn’t time effective, as with some 90 miles of shore line one could spend a lot of time in a vehicle rather than on a golf course. So our return trip saw us centered in the northern gateway vicinity. And with 135 holes played in six days, golf was the top priority. 

 

“The area provides something for everyone, from golf groups to families who have varying tastes,” explained Jamie Roderick, the Director of Golf Operations of Sea Trail Golf Club.  The Sea Trail golf complex boasts layouts designed by Rees Jones, Willard Byrd and Dan Maples. “We know golfers have a whole lot of choices, so we do our best to provide excellent service to go along with our find golf product.”

 

Similar sentiments could be heard from Tim Tilma, the General Manager of Sandpiper Bay in Sunset Beach.

 

“It’s no secret we’ve been called the golf capital of the United States,” said Tilma, a long-time veteran of the Grand Strand. “Just look as you drive to our club. One drives past Thistle (27-holes), The Pearl (36-holes) and Sea Trail (54-holes) so there are many options for the player. Our 27-hole facility has a strong resident base and we do all we can to offer a challenging layout, service and pace of play.”

 

One layout which we hadn’t seen in 20 years was Rees Jones first solo design, Arcadian Shores, a layout which at one point was listed among the top-100 ranking of courses in the United States. Ample fairways beckon players, but challenges such as bunkers, lakes and contoured greens make par an excellent score. It was great to be back at this Grand Strand classic course, which also displays beautiful and well-trimmed oak trees. 

 

“We, like all the courses in the area, have been hurt by the more than 100 inches of rain in the last year, but we’ve gone the extra mile to bring the course back strong,” said General Manager Frank Coughlin. “There has been heavy work done on enhancing the course.”

 

Arcadian Shores was closed for nearly five months last year, as it totally reworked its greens with Sunday ultra-dwarf Bermuda glass, while also re-paving its cart paths. The greens have matured and are stellar putting surfaces, and the ride around the course contains less bumps. A new circa 2016 clubhouse is an added accoutrement.

 

“The feedback since reopening has been wonderful, getting positive comments really makes it all worthwhile,” added Coughlin. “People love the greens, and the course, well, it’s a strong classic design.”

 

The Glens Golf Group offers four stellar challenges: Glen Dornoch, Shaftesbury Glen, Heather Glenn and Possum Trot. Each has its own set of design features and each is fun to play.

 

At Glen Dornoch, a Clyde Johnston creation, one finds a course designed as a tribute to Donald Ross carved through trees and featuring holes along the intercoastal waterway. It also has elevation changes of about 35 feel along the way, something unique of Grand Strand courses.

 

There is water to be evaded – ponds, lakes and the intercoastal waterway – on 13 holes and carries over marsh and strategically placed bunkers can be found on other holes. Add in rolling greens and trees and one has a course where precision is at a premium.  The Glen Dornoch clubhouse is a good one, and the service is stellar.

 

Many courses have invested in protecting their greens in cold weather by purchasing tarps. Tidewater, Sandpiper Bay and Thistle led the way, and as a result the greens were, in a word, superb.

 

“Some of the area courses were hurt, losing greens, and we just couldn’t afford not to protect ours,” explained Sandpiper Bay’s Tilma. “We don’t use them a great deal, but as you can imagine on those very cold days in the winter it just makes common sense to protect our greens. The feedback from visitors has been awesome and you have to believe we listen to our customers.”

 

Likewise, Thistle’s General Manager Doug Donner echoed his competitor’s statement. “We want to offer that quality experience, and that includes greens devoid of problems. The tarps help our superintendent make that happen.”

 

Thistle has an immaculate stately club house and Donner prides himself on promoting a player friendly experience. The three nines each offer outstanding challenges put together by designer Tim Cate. Its practice area is top notch, and includes not only a driving range but also short game area and a putting green that mimics undulations found on course.

 

“We are proud of our facility, and do our best to make our visitors happy, starting with our wonderful clubhouse, our practice facility and our 27 holes of championship golf,” said Donner. “We offer tee times in 10 minute increments. And each and every one of our holes has beauty and challenge.”   

 

On getaway day we picked a course along the northern border of the strand in Longs, S.C., Aberdeen Golf Club, as we were glad we did. There are 27 challenging holes, and GM Steve Shaffer promises his facility includes 27 holes of “challenge”.

 

“To say there is some water around is an understatement,” said the GM. “There are water hazards on 23 of our 27 holes. (Designer) Tom Jackson created a real test and you will use all the clubs in the bag.”

 

There are trees throughout, but not overbearing, as Jackson wanted the club to have a Scottish feel. That, as well as four sets of tees, offer all levels of golfer a challenge.

 

The unfortunate part of our trip was the number of superb courses we didn’t sample, from the classic Dunes Golf and Beach Club (No. 3 on Golfweek’s places you can play in South Carolina) to Caledonia. Add in True Blue, Tidewater, The Surf Club and Pine Lakes International the Grand Strand has great golf chops. Nobody can sample all the greats of the Grand Strand in one visit.

 

Still, that just means a return trip is not going to be years away, as we are plotting a return visit sooner rather than later.

CHIP SHOTS:  Great golf holes are endless along the Grand Strand. The 13th at the Dunes Club, a double dogleg par-5 along a lake and featuring an ever-present alligator, requires three pin point shots (although yes, it has been hit in two)...The 13th at Arcadian Shores has an Augusta National "look". A 370-yard par-4 which requires a sweet second shot over water is outstanding and challenging....THe short par-3 fourth on the Cameron nine at Thistle can be breathtaking or heartbreaking depending on how your tee shot goes on the 135-yard island green... Shaftesbury Glen is another Clyde Johnson creation, with its spacious fairways and elevated bent grass greens. Fourteen holes have some sort of water to evade, this challenging layout will tantalize. 

Innovative Garl designs are fun, playable

Written by Bob Oliver on .

It is raining - again - and not a time for fall golf. Cleaning out the reporter's notebook, I noticed 2018 saw a number of new courses played on my drive for 1000.

That is a lot of golf courses. Heck, 81 of those I've played have been closed, but through no fault of mine.

In looking at 2018 I realized that one of my friends, a golf course designer who continually comes up with stellar works, bedazzled me with several wonderful opportunities.

Ron Garl is a guy who simply designs fine layouts that are challenging, interesting and definately playable for all levels and abilities.

This year saw a return visit to a course played a couple years ago, Golden Ocala, which features 8 "replica" tests among it's 18 finely manicured holes. Simply loved it!

Got to play Money Hill Plantation with the "Man" himself, and was so very impressed with his outstanding knowledge of how golfers view a course and its challenges. This layout is superb. 

While on that same trip we played Lakewood Country Club, which Garl refined and refurbished. The course had been site of New Orleans Open on the PGA Tour for years, and Garl brought back and improved endlessly. 

Two Orlando area courses, Eagle Creek and Victoria Hills, found their way on to my list of courses played and the only thing I can wonder is how I had not sampled their challenges before. These are superb tests. 

"Every course design is different, because every parcel of land is different. I don't have a cookie cutter approach," said Garl. "We strive to make the best use of land, challenge the player by offering multiple tee boxes and such, but in the end we want not only challenge but playability."

Playing a Ron Garl designed course is always a pleasure. We highly recommend you do so. 

CHIP SHOTS: Details can be found at www.rongarl.com

 

 

Bulle Rock an evolving masterpiece

Written by Bob Oliver on .


It is an intriguing question – how does one improve on greatness?  

Ponder that for a moment. 

Heck if you have already received recognition and respect you obviously want to maintain that level of greatness and so work a little harder to find areas where you might improve.
 
For a golf course, it’s a never-ending battle with Mother Nature to maintain a level of greatness. But improve?  

Bulle Rock Golf Club, the Pete Dye masterpiece located just off Interstate 95 in northeast Maryland, has been recognized with the respect of players and golf enthusiasts since being unveiled in 1998.   

You want chops? The LPGA played five major championships between 2005 and 2009 and saw an impressive list of Hall of Fame caliber champions such as Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak hoist the trophy.  Other winners included Anna Nordqvist, Yani Tseng and Suzann Pettersen. Numerous state and regional competitions have been held there, to say nothing about USGA qualifying for national championships.
 
A 148 slope on its course rating tells a story about its difficulty, and numerous plaudits have been given by players of all abilities on the venue itself as another chapter of its own. Bulle Rock is a special place.

For 20 plus years Golfweek magazine has recognized Bulle Rock as one of the best modern courses in United States.  It also has the layout as number one course “you can play” in the State of Maryland.

After her win Pak said through a translator, “What a win!  And over such an outstanding golf course.   It was a major challenge for the players, as a major championship should be.   I am thrilled to have won.  This golf course is an intense challenge.”

No doubt Bulle Rock has the credentials to beckon daily fee players throughout the East Coast, whether for a day trip or a stop on the way to destinations such as Ocean City, Md., Williamsburg, Va., Pinehurst, NC or Myrtle Beach, SC.  It’s an easy stop along the way, one which will have you talking about the facility during the rest of your trip.
But improve as a golf course?  You bet! 
One guy who knows is Operations Director Damon Klepczynski, PGA, who was brought on board a while back to do just that as the club was placed on the sale market. You see, through all the plaudits and the greatness Bulle Rock was not a --- well --- profitable facility.
Its green’s fees were high, as in above $125, and many players extolled its virtues but couldn’t find a way to play more than one or two rounds a year. It’s a difficult layout, and up to six hours was needed to truly play the course as its course rating indicates.
In many respects, Bulle Rock epitomized Lee Trevino’s views of the state of the game. “Golf is too expensive, it takes to long to play, and it is just plain hard!” the Merry Mex told me few years back.
That about described Bulle Rock to the casual observer. Klepczynski addressed that statement and more when he arrived at the facility.
“Basically, I spoke with our customers. What did they love about Bulle Rock, what they didn’t like? How could we improve the overall golf experience? We knew we had a demanding course, a classical layout, but we knew we needed to improve the bottom line,” said the native of Bucks County, Pa. “Nothing was sacred, we considered everything.”
It was clear to Klepczynski that upending the applecart was important. No idea was too small or large. He drew from the yield management playbook, he talked to customers, he looked at the entire operation and broke things down in increments. He realized he could turn things around and still maintain the course’s prestige.
First off, the golf course is legendary, one of Dye’s best works and that is saying something. But for most players it was over the top penal. A slightly offline shot found its way, many times, in tall fescue grass that was hard to hit from if findable at all.
“We addressed this my taking down the historical fescue on 13 holes, providing for challenge and difficulty with less lost golf balls,” explained Klepczynski. “That enhancement alone cut about 45 minutes out without severely impacting the natural general difficulty.”
The players loved the revision, it made a world of difference. An errant shot was penalized by the rough, but it didn’t necessarily lead to a lost ball.  
 Another revision was to add a fifth set of tees giving visitors an option to play the right distance for their game. Additionally, there is a separate set of youth tees to enhance the experience for all levels of player.
Small enhancements to the bunkering were completed, sodding a couple of what started as more than 140 bunkers on the site. This eliminated a couple, say, dreaded 60-yard bunker shots and enhanced playability and cut a couple minutes from what was a marathon.  
The club owner, MTBR LLC, has had the club on the sale market for a bit, and while there has been lots of interest at this writing there is no deal complete. Under Klepczynski’s oversight the financials have improved as rounds are up as is the club’s food and beverage revenue stream.
Daily fees were refreshingly lowered, and more players came…more than once or twice. Course enhancements reduced the amount of time to play, and the restaurant business was buoyed by a new golfer friendly menu and addition of numerous TV screens to allow viewing of golf and other sports while enjoying a beverage or meal.
Also introduced were up to 100 golf memberships to attract more play from the local community, something that was absent in prior years.
“We created a little bit of buzz,” laughed Klepczynski. “All of these things have been well received, and all we have to look at is the increase in business as an indicator of success. The momentum meter moved in the right direction.”
Heck, some even believe the facility will be in the green for the year!
Dye carved Bulle Rock over acres of rolling terrain in Harve de Grace near the junction of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay. Its signature hole is, well, all of them. Each hole stands on its own as a unique test, with obstacles to snare errant shots and pristine greens that tantalize.
The tests are endless. The par-5 second, a 489-yard rolls downhill with trees to the left and OB to the right, is a classic Northeast hole. The green is well protected, slightly uphill from the fairway, making club selection imperative. The hole stretches out to 572-yards for the long knockers. Of course, diabolical Dye worked his magic around a stream less than 100 yards from the green that acts as a magnet. Beware!
Dye offers a respite in the par-3 third hole (116 to 177 yards) so a player must take advantage and score before the next two demanding par-4s. That’s the beauty of a Pete Dye design, as all the holes have difficulty and uniqueness, but some are just plain angry bears.
Trademark railroad ties are woven into the design, but not overbearing. Bunkers are strategically placed and seem to jump out to bite at the most inopportune times. Dye’s creations seem to lull into a sense of security at times, but clearly force the player to take their medicine when required.
The par-3 12th hole (138-190 yards) requires evading of a lake all along the right side. The green protrudes into the lake so shots short, right or even a bit long can easily find a watery grave. Bunkers guard the left to force players to pick their poison.
The closing hole, the par-4, 377-yard (485 from the back tees) 18th, is a test that brings fear to the heart and swing of every golfer. Water blankets the left side of the hole, a hill on the right, while the pin position on the green allows for multiple opportunities that can cause a couple club difference for the player. Many a match is settled right there below the clubhouse.
“It is an exciting hole,” explained Klepczynski. “So many variables, so many nuances, it promotes strategic play.”
Today Bulle Rock continues as a challenging “must play” course, one that is not only difficult but playable and surely memorable. And the public agrees with its wallet, as rounds played increase by more than 1,000. The small membership base provides some financial stability and the buzz from visitors gets around and leads to more play.
Clearly Klepczynski and his team did the things that the public liked, as the guest comments sung praises.
Players find their challenging rounds more enjoyable. Tough, but fair. And they spend more time in the tavern after their round, as they don’t have to quickly leave after what was a 6 hour march.
Clearly, the club is well on the way toward providing a better experience and better value, something that is providing a nice shot in the arm improving an already great test of golf and overall free-standing golf experience.
All was accomplished without upending the designer’s approach. As the legendary Pete Dye said, “I did not undo God’s work.”