Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Great Offer for 2015 Open Championship

Photo little

Have you made your plans for the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews?  If you still have some options, consider a unique offer from the author of St. Andrews – In the Footsteps of Old Tom Morris. Golf historian Roger McStravick has produced a beautiful photo-rich book that guides readers around the historic sites of this ancient town known as The Home of Golf.  The new book presents remarkable new findings about St. Andrews and legendary Old Tom Morris, who is considered golf’s founding father.

In order to publish St. Andrews – In the Footsteps of Old Tom Morris, McStravick, who resides in St. Andrews, has turned to the fund-raising site Kickstarter with the goal of raising $38,000 to cover the print and production costs for 2,000 books with an anticipated late fall or winter 2014 release.  To make a donation to help publish this engaging guide, visit

Here's the unique offer: A pledge of $8,500 will reward the first donor with use of a two bedroom house for seven days during the 2015 Open Championship in St. Andrews, plus a personal tour of the town and lunch in The St. Andrews Golf Club, overlooking the 18th green of the Old Course. Short of a spot playing in the Open, I don't know how you could top that!

McStravick’s exhaustive three years of research in the University of St. Andrews’ golf collection archives resulted in the discovery of new information about Old Tom, many unpublished rare photographs, and unknown stories about the Old Course, including the naming of its bunkers. The 240 page book offers a fresh perspective on St. Andrews and the town’s famous 19th century residents who made it truly special.

An important part of McStravick’s mission in writing St. Andrews – In the Footsteps of Old Tom Morris, is a campaign to get signage on the town’s historic sites so visitors can identify and locate the homes of famous past golf champions. The book’s guided tour starts at Old Tom’s house at 6 Pilmour Links and ends at his grave in the ruins of the cathedral’s cemetery.

McStravick recently produced and wrote scripts for an iPad application, “Golf History with Peter Alliss.”  Roger is an avid collector of rare books on St. Andrews and a keen competitive golfer.  For the 2014 St. Andrews Links Yearbook, he has written a history of the Eden Course, which is enjoying its centenary year, and a story on the evolution of St. Andrews’ Old Course.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Monday, July 21, 2014

Banff Springs Eternal

As many places as I've been in the world for golf and otherwise, I'd never been to Canada until recently. My introduction to the land of the loonie was a golf trip to the Canadian Rockies that began in Banff Springs, one of the world's most spectacular golf destinations.

We have the railroads to thank for great golf in the Canadian Rockies.  The Banff Springs Hotel opened in 1888, built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to attract more travelers to the region, an idea promulgated by Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, General Manager of the railroad, who reportedly said, “If we cannot export the scenery, we will have to import the tourists.”  Golf came a few years later. The Stanley Thompson Eighteen was added in 1928 and is today part of the Fairmont Banff Springs Resort along with the Tunnel Nine, a nine-hole course built in 1989.

The Thompson Eighteen delights by design and setting.  It sits between the snow-capped peaks of Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle so it’s scenic, of course, but the course plays off the scenery in many subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. Almost every hole frames a mountain view, some more than one from different locations on the hole, and many have equally stunning views looking back from green to tee.  Early in the round, the mountains seem to loom right next to the fairways and craning your neck to look up at them can bring on some serious vertigo.

There’s a unique visual rhythm to the course, too. Look carefully at the outlines of many of the bunkers and you’ll discover they reflect the jagged peaks of the mountains behind them.  On some holes like the 442-yard twelfth, as you advance toward the green you first experience the nearby Bow River by its rushing, bubbling sound, then catch glimpses of its sparkling water though the trees, and finally realize the river is fully in play as the trees clear and the riverbank appears just a few yards from the green.

The course is generous to the golfer looking to score.  Fairways are wide and the 150-plus bunkers are judiciously placed to guide, not punish, the player who can tear himself away from the views long enough to play a shot. Fairway bunkers are styled according to their function, with cross bunkers featuring high, forbidding faces to make you play around them while those to the sides are generally shallow to allow for a recovery shot at the pin. Most greens are subtly contoured and approachable with either a running or airborne shot. Four sets of tees are available, playing from 4,478 to 6,938 yards.

The signature hole on the Thompson Eighteen is the fourth, known as the Devil’s Cauldron.  It’s aptly named, too, since the 192-yard par three sits on the sides of a water-filled canyon that only a demon could love. Your shot has to carry the water, avoid the five bunkers surrounding the green, and land below the hole on the steeply-canted putting surface. With Rundle Mountain looming over it and the eerily still water lying like a mirror below, it’s easy to imagine a smirking Satan watching you play.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel makes a fabulous base for your Canadian Rockies trip (although a night or two at its sister property in Jasper Park is a good idea, too). Known as the “Castle in the Rockies,” the hotel offers eleven excellent restaurants, an award-winning European-style spa, and legendary hospitality.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tom Watson on the Golf Channel

Tom Watson's timeless swing
Every time I need a little uplift in my game (which is often), I turn to my copies of the Tom Watson DVD set, Lessons of a Lifetime.  Tonight, I'll be tuning in to the Golf Channel to watch the eight-time major champion and 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain on a special instruction episode of the Golf Channel Academy with Martin Hall. The segment will air 13 times through the end of September including July 16, 18, 20 and 23rd.

In the hour-long episode, Watson reflects on several memorable moments that helped establish his career and demonstrates the keys to developing a strong skill set and mindset on the golf course. Watson and Hall also discuss the tools necessary to creating an ideal swing and highlight the fundamentals for developing an excellent touch around the green.

Watson also discusses the time he spent with his first swing instructor, Stan Thirsk, at Kansas City Country Club, as a youngster trying to mimic Jack Nicklaus' swing. Since Tom and I are about the same age, that would have been about the same time in not-so-recent history when I was learning the game as a caddie at Fairview Municipal Golf Course about fifty miles away in St. Joseph, Mo. The Golf Channel episode was filmed at Loch Lloyd, a course Watson designed in his native Kansas City.

"One of the many great things about golf is that it can never be mastered," says Watson, who is also promoting his brand-new Tom Watson Lessons of a Lifetime II DVD set. "Sure you can have a good run of play, but sooner or later the wheels will come off. I've been experiencing the game for half a century, and I promise you I'm still learning."
His new DVD set is an addendum to the very popular original that was released in 2010. While that rendition has become one of the best-selling golf instructional video programs of all time -- selling 70,000 DVD sets in 40-plus countries -- the new series covers many advanced topics, including pre-shot routine, the importance of the bottom of the arc, head movement, getting maximum benefit at the practice tee, handling pressure, the 40-yard wedge shot, controlling trajectory on chips, chipping with a putting set up, and much more.

These DVD programs are available at TomWatson.com, Amazon.com, and select golf and sporting goods retailers. Both programs can also be purchased by calling 800-993-5589. A portion of the proceeds from all sales will be contributed to the Bruce Edwards Foundation for ALS Research.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Add Ballamor to Your Atlantic City Golf Itinerary

Ballamor Golf Club
While no one wants to see clubs go under, one of the silver linings in the cloud over the game has been the conversion of some excellent private clubs to public daily fee operations.  Leading that movement has been the Ottinger family in New Jersey, who took the bankrupt Ballamor Golf Club public in 2010.  The course had opened just nine years earlier.

Today Ballamor offers a wonderful golf experience within a few miles of Atlantic City.  The 7,098-yard course has a strong Pinelands feel, with routing through and around environmentally-sensitive wetlands on a huge 350-acre piece of property without a home in sight.  The architect, Dan Schlegel, then of Ault, Clark & Associates, moved a great deal of earth to create rolling terrain out of what was originally a fairly flat, featureless pine forest.  The result is a manicured and highly playable golf course.

Ballamor opens with a fairly benign 522-yard par five (from the 6,681-yard blue tees) that, like much of the course, features wide fairways and a green to match.  One of the most interesting holes on the course is number 15, a 347-yard par four with a mentally challenging tee shot.  Water is your first test, but then comes the real choice: carry the massive bunker on the left corner of the dog leg with a 220-yard drive or play it safer to the right, leaving a long, bunkers-everywhere-in-site second shot?

The Ottinger family group includes nearby Scotland Run and the tradition-laden Atlantic City Country Club.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Back to Back, Problems That Is

Last week, more than half a dozen Tour pros—including Fred Couples, Jay Haas, and Craig Stadler—had to withdraw from the U.S. Senior Open Championship due to back issues. If you're a normal weekend hacker, you've probably experienced some back issues yourself. There's an orthopedic surgeon that can tell you about mine!

So why do so many of us have bad backs?

Ben Shear

According to Ben Shear, Director of Performance at New York City’s Golf & Body and trainer to a number of PGA Tour stars, for the pros it’s the volume of balls they've hit for so many years. "The speed they generate and the millions of balls they hit, and swinging in only one direction, throughout their lifetime takes a toll," Shear says. "Three or four hours of exercise a week is not going to undo years and years of overuse."

But amateur golfers, says Shear, have a different set of problems, and there’s a lot they can do to limit the damage.  "The biggest problem amateurs have is sitting too much—behind a desk, in the car, in front of a computer. We sit and stand in a rounded position, hunched forward, constantly stretching our muscles along the posterior [rear] side of our bodies and pulling them tight. Therapists call that ‘locked long,’ and it puts constant stretch and pressure on the muscles in our back, shoulders, and hips.

"Now take those stretched muscles, rounded shoulders, and weak hip flexors, and glutes to a golf lesson or to the course, and, without doing any stretches, start swinging. That locked upper back and those weak, tight hips can’t turn, and what’s caught between them? The lower back. It takes the brunt of all that turning and torqueing. That’s enormous pressure on one part of the body and it’s going to give."

Shear’s advice? "I say it all the time.  If you play golf, start by getting a physical assessment from a trainer or therapist who understands golf.  Learn what your body can do and don’t ask it to do something else. Then find a golf pro who will teach you moves that you are capable of making. Don’t go to a pro who only teaches one method if your body can’t make the moves that method demands. That’s a waste of time and money, and could do your body more harm than good."

Combining physical training and golf instruction is the mission of Golf & Body NYC, where the therapists, trainers, and golf pros work together for the golfer’s greatest good both on and off the course. "We assess the golfer’s whole body," explains Shear, "looking for limitations and other concerns. Then we coordinate with the great team of golf instructors here so they don’t try to teach something that the student can’t do. Once the golfer knows more about his or her body, we hope he’ll start an exercise program to work on any deficiencies and fix those weak, stretched muscles. But even if you’re never going to exercise, get assessed."

In the spirit of the British Open, which tees off at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in northwest England this week, Shear offers some advice for golfers making the trip of a lifetime to play in Scotland, Ireland, and elsewhere in Britain where it is often cold and damp. "Warm up before you play," he says. "You need to get the blood flowing and increase your core body temperature. Stretch, do some basic activation exercises, spend a few minutes first on an exercise bike or treadmill. It’s absolutely critical that you get the blood flowing before teeing it up when it’s cool and wet."

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Steinbreder's 18 Ways to Play Better

If you want to play better golf, your first stop should be at the lesson tee with a PGA professional.  To find out just how good these guys are--as teachers--check out John Steinbreder's 18 Ways to Play a Better 18 Holes.  The veteran golf journalist got eighteen of the best PGA pros to talk about their approach to various aspects of the game and the results are exceptional, no-nonsense nuggets of wisdom just like they would convey to you on the lesson tee.

The list of PGA pros in this book reads like a who's who of America's best golf teachers at America's best country clubs.  It includes Bob Ford from Oakmont and Seminole, Darrell Kestner (Deepdale), Scott Nye (Merion), Eden Foster (Maidstone), and Brian Crowell (GlenArbor).  Topics covered range from sound basics like driving, putting, and bunker play to strategies for competition, fitness, and course management.  Suzy Whaley (TPC River Highlands) even gives a lesson on taking a lesson!

The lessons are based on Steinbreder's interviews with the pros, who were given a chance to read and correct the entries before the final version was published along with a scattering of illustrative photos.  The result is eminently readable and will serve every golfer well.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Happy Tenth To Vineyard Golf at Renault

7th hole Vineyards Golf Par 4

Vineyard Golf at Renault, a delightful course in Egg Harbor City, NJ, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.  It's great addition to the long list of excellent golf opportunities within a few minutes drive of Atlantic City. With a fine hotel, restaurant, and namesake winery, Renault Winery Resort is actually a worthwhile destination of its own.

The unique 7,200-yard golf course was designed by architect Ed Shearon and features intriguing views of the vineyards as it meanders through the south Jerseys Pinelands.  Every hole seems to offer risk/reward opportunities and thoughtful strategic elements. Wide fairways are inviting but reward the well-placed tee shot, fairway bunkers and water are in play often enough to provide some variety, and the undulating greens place a premium on an accurate approach game.

Five sets of tees give golfers a course to suite every game, ranging from 5,176 to 7,213 yards.  From the recommended white tees, Vineyard Golf measure 6,358 with a 70.2/123 rating/slope.  Any number of holes are standouts, but the seventh is perhaps the most memorable.  From the whites, it plays 400 yards from an elevated tee box surrounded by the vineyard. The right-to-left dog leg is protected by bunkers on both sides of the curve and the approach to the green is guarded by trees left, so club selection off the tee is critical.

The owners of Renault Winery Resort created the golf course ten years ago, but the winery itself dates back to the 1864.  The first vines were brought to America from his native France by Louis Nicolas Renault.  Opened to the public in 1870, the Renault Winery eventually become the largest producer of champagne in the United States at one point; a distinction it was able to claim (and retain) since it was made before the term "champagne" was reserved by French producers.

The winery once had 600 acres of grapes but a large portion of the space was developed into a resort starting in 1983 with the opening of a restaurant. The resort's Tuscany Hotel opened in 2001 and golf was added in 2004. In addition to the small, European-style hotel, Vineyard Golf at Renault features a gourmet restaurant, a historic winery building offering tours, lavish banquet rooms for weddings and celebrations and, of course, a golf course that is as fine as the wine.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf