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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pound Ridge Accolade

Congratulations are in order for Ken Wang and Pete Dye--Golf Digest has named Pound Ridge Golf Club one of America's Best New Courses for 2009. The high-end daily fee course in Pound Ridge, New York, is ranked fourth in the listings to be published in the January, 2010 issue. Wang owns the course and Dye designed it. Another new Dye course, his track at the French Lick Resort in Indiana, was ranked number one in the listing. Pound Ridge is Dye's only design in the Northeast.

Pound Ridge opened in mid-2008 to general oohs and aahs both for its tight, drama-filled layout and its steep greens fee of $235. The price to play can be lowered somewhat if you take advantage of various packages and deals, but you'll still need a bucket full of balls to make it through the round if you can't hit 'em straight.

Owner Ken Wang says,
"Our rating is a distinction that validates the exceptional commitment that Pete gave us when he agreed to craft Pound Ridge. My goal in bringing Pete into the project was to create a golf course for the ages, and I believe our high ranking validates that we have created something very significant at Pound Ridge."
The course is truly unique for Westchester county, where more traditional designs by A.W. Tillinghast, C.B. Macdonald, Devereux Emmet, and Seth Raynor tend to dominate. Dye blasted thousands of tons of rock to carve the fairways, then used the debris to build walls buttressing the landscape. He also left the odd hillock, boulder, and hundred-year-old tree in the middle of a few fairways just to make things interesting. Pound Ridge is a visual and mental challenge.

I'm sure this past year's economic woes weren't kind to the cash flow of the club, but the well-deserved honor bestowed by Golf Digest is bound to help in 2010.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, December 18, 2009

Two Westchester Golfers Advance Careers

Andy Svoboda and Nan Hill took big steps forward in their professional golf careers this month with excellent finishes at Q School. Next year should be exciting for both of them.

Hill, a Pelham, NY, native I first interviewed when she was beating the boys in high school, finished in a tie for 22nd in the five-round LPGA Tour Q School tournament in Daytona Beach, FL. That's good enough to gain her Category 16 on the Priority list, which means she should be playing in several LPGA events next year. Combined with her planned stops on the Duramed Futures Tour, Hill will have a busy schedule.

Svoboda tied for 48th in the PGA Q School tournament at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach. That earns the Larchmont, NY, native thirteen starts next year on the Nationwide Tour, where he finished in the top 25 in three of the six events he played in 2009. Needless to say, he's looking forward to leaving the bag room at Old Oaks to compete full time. With any luck, he'll line up a couple of sponsors and play his way onto the big stage for 2011.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, December 11, 2009

LPGA Exits New York Market

Among the many sidelights and lowlights (there aren't any highlights) of the LPGA Tour schedule for 2010 is a big zero in the number of events to be held in New York. The Sybase Classic was unable to come to terms with Upper Montclair Country Club in New Jersey where it's been held for the last three years. The tournament organizer, Octagon Worldwide, tried but failed to make a deal with Essex County Country Club and the event is now officially off the tour.

From 1990 until it moved to Upper Montclair, the event was held at Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle, NY. The last LPGA event held there was the HSBC Match Play in 2007, which lasted only a year.

Octagon says it's diligently trying to find a venue, sponsors, and a date that works for the LPGA in hopes that 2011 will be a different story. If the 2011 LPGA schedule is anything like 2010's, finding an available date should be the least of their problems.

In the meantime, the ShopRite LPGA Classic will be held June 14-20 at the Seaview Resort in Galloway Township, marking a return to the Atlantic City area after a three-year absence. That's close, but it isn't New York.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, December 4, 2009

Another Bethpage Jewel

Can't get a tee time on the Black Course at Bethpage? Opt for the Red instead and I guarantee you won't be disappointed. It may not have the aura of the U.S. Open around it, but the Red Course is just about as long (6,555 vs. 6,684 yards from the white tees), a little tougher to score on (par 70 vs. 71), and every bit as much of a Tillinghast gem, with fluid, natural bunkering, several back-busting elevated greens, and enough dog legs to populate a greyhound track.

There are differences, of course, mainly because Rees Jones hasn't put his hand on the course. Most notably the greens are smaller and there are fewer bunkers, making the Red a little less punitive. It doesn't have quite as many dramatic elevation changes, either, although several of the holes, notably the first and eighteenth, will make you look around for the chairlift as you approach the green. One notable difference: the 18th on the Red is much more challenging than the closing hole on the Black. If they toughened up the fairway bunkers on the Red, it would be far and away a better hole.

Both courses have seven par fours of over 400 yards, and both total about the same yardage on them - just over 3,000 yards. The par threes on the Black are stronger and certainly more memorable in addition to being at least a full club longer. The best one-shotter on the Red is the fourth hole, 171 yards to a green protected by a moat-like bunker.

The opening hole on the Red is a 459 par four monster that's nearly impossible to reach in regulation without a gargantuan drive. The green sits atop the same hill as the Black's 18th and 16th tees, which gives you some idea of how elevated it is. The closing hole on the out-going side is another killer: 449 yards that bend left around trees and an expansive bunker complex off the tee. The green is surrounded by four very serious traps, too.

Perhaps the most interesting hole on the Red Course is the 13th, where a bunker stretches down the middle of the fairway from about 200 yards off the tee nearly to the green. You have to choose the route you want--right is a wider landing area than the left but leaves you with an approach shot over a huge greenside bunker--and hope for the best. The green is small and heavily contoured, too.

One final note: the Red Course is kept in just as good condition as the Black, with fast, true greens, near-perfect fairways, and clean but tough rough. Like all the courses at Bethpage, the Red is a testament to how good public golf can be.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, November 27, 2009

Olympic Greens Protect Lake Course

18th Hole at Olympic Club Lake Course
photo under Wikimedia Commons license
Precision will be the name of the game when the U.S. Open field returns to tackle the recently refurbished Lake Course at San Francisco's Olympic Club in 2012. While a great many trees were removed to open sight lines and improve turf conditions, the course remains a short (6,934 yards) but demanding track off the tee. The real defense will be the greens, though, which are small and severe.

They also played very firm when I was there not long after the course reopened after its most recent renovation. High feathery approach shots didn't hold and you even felt the firmness beneath the grass when repairing ball marks. Two more seasons of turf dressing will soften them somewhat, but it will be very interesting to see how the pros attack them without sharp-edged square grooves on their wedges.

The Lake Course has a proud history of competition at the highest levels. It hosted the 1958, 1981, and 2007 U.S. Amateur Championships, the 1993 and 1994 Tour Championships, and the 1955, 1966, 1987, and 1998 U.S. Opens. It will again host the U.S. Open in 2012.

The three finishing holes are among the best in the game. They are each distinctive and require the player to have a full arsenal of golf skills. The 16th is a lengthy par 5 (609 yards) that is virtually unreachable in two. It doglegs left and plays basically level off the tee, but the elevated green is small even by Olympic standards. It's also well-bunkered.

The 17th hole, which members play as a par five, is a 522 yard par four for the tournament. The fairway slopes left to right and the second shot is strongly uphill even from the left side of the fairway. There is no bailout area, either, and only a small alley between bunkers to roll the ball onto the green. It's only accessible from the left side of the fairway, though, so don't plan on using it.

The 18th hole isn't what you normally expect from a finishing hole on a major venue. At 347 yards, I suppose there will even be a Bubba or two who tries to drive it, but the green is about the size of a Lamborghini's hood and just about as fast, so even a flop shot in will be no guarantee of a birdie putt. Protests at the 1998 Open led the club to flatten the green somewhat in 2000, but slightly steeper contours were restored during the recent work.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Bisconti Caps Memorable Season With Met Player Of The Year

Congratulations to Greg Bisconti for a stellar golf season capped by being named Met PGA Player of the Year. Bisconti, an assistant at St. Andrew's in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, came on strong with wins in two of the last three events of the season to edge out Century's Frank Bensel in the point standings. Bisconti won The Treiber Memorial Tournament of Champions at Wheatley Hills Golf Club and the Assistants Fall Meeting at Round Hill, adding to a win he chalked up in September at the Assistants Tour Championship at Tamarack CC.

Winning the Met Section is quite an honor, but Bisconti performed on the national stage as well. He earned Low Club Professional at the PGA Championship in August at Hazeltine National Golf Club, putting him on the 18th green with winner Y.E. Yang for the award ceremony at the end of the tournament. He says he felt a sense of calm as he stood on the green in front of hundreds of millions of TV viewers around the world to accept his trophy. It was Bisconti's third appearance at the PGA, where he also qualified to play in 2006 and 2007.

Bisconti played the first round at Hazeltine three over, but put together a string of three birdies during the 2nd round to make the cut. Once he came to the 18th hole he had to get up and down out of a bunker from 30 yards in three strokes or less to secure his spot on the weekend at Hazeltine. He parred the hole and says it was a moment he had dreamed of forever.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, November 13, 2009

In A Fog At Half Moon Bay

18th Hole at Half Moon Bay Old CoursePlaying golf in thick fog really tests your confidence in your swing, something I tried to keep in mind while playing the Old Course at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, CA. When we stepped on the first tee, fog obliterated the view of everything beyond the forward tee box, giving us no indication of the line of the fairway or what hazards lay where. We played the first six holes in deep fog. It was a little disconcerting, but it also added some excitement to the round.

If, as I do, you believe that one of golf's greatest pleasures is the adventure of playing under challenging conditions that vary with every round, it's easy to swing away with full confidence.

Half Moon Bay is one place you can play that way, fog or not. The fairways are accommodating, the bunkering generally friendly, and the greens are large and not too severe. It is, after all, a resort course where showing the guests a good time is more important than beating their handicaps into submission. The course was built in 1973 and redesigned by Arthur Hills in 1999.

While the Old Course is a fairly unremarkable parkland track that winds through the residential neighborhood around the Ritz Carlton resort, the finishing holes are spectacular. The 17th is a 157-yard par three with the Pacific Ocean filling the vista behind the green. The 18th plays along the ocean for its full 384 yards, giving both your tee shot and approach an added element of danger. It is essential that you play the left side of the hole since an errant fade will send your ball over the cliffs to the beach far below.

I was told that the survival of this beautiful hole is very much in doubt since erosion apparently threatens to send it crumbling into the sea. A few years ago, the developers of the property built what turned out to be an illegal seawall in an effort to protect the green, but it was ordered removed after vehement protests by the Sierra Club. The bluffs continue to fall away and the hole may disappear in a few years, so schedule your round there sooner rather than later.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, November 6, 2009

Round Wrecker At The Black

When I play a tough track like Bethpage Black, I always start out with the best of intentions. Forget distance--keep it in the fairway. Lay up anywhere you can't make it without a miracle. When you're in the rough, wedge out. Still, sometimes it only takes one hole where even the best of intentions don't count for much.

This is the eleventh at the Black. It's a 421-yard par four that I usually do fairly well on. This day, feeling cocky for parring the more difficult 10th hole, I pulled my drive hard left. Not quite a duck hook, but maybe a goose with a crooked neck. Anyway, I wasn't lucky enough to land in the bunker but rather found the ball about three feet short of it. The rough was so deep and I was so far from the fairway, I knew I couldn't get out sideways. I would take an unplayable, but the nearest drop would still have been in the ka-ka--and I couldn't drop in the bunker because that would be closer to the hole.

Finally, I took one hearty swipe to try to hit the ball into the bunker. It moved a foot closer but still in the hay. Got there in the second try though, hit to the center of the fairway with an eight iron from the sand, and eventually walked off the green with a triple.

My thanks to playing partner Tom Ralph, who was playing the Black for the first time that day and brought along his camera to memorialize the occasion.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Golf Education At Yale

The Course At Yale
The most important club in your bag the first time you play The Course At Yale is a yardage book. In fact, I suspect it would come in handy every time you tee it up at the Charles Blair Macdonald masterpiece in New Haven, CT. Macdonald and his collaborators, Seth Raynor and Charles Banks, took full advantage of the twists and turns of the rolling topography to hide bunkers, bring sneaky water into play, and create some general confusion (if not outright panic) in the player's mind throughout the course. It all makes for great golf, but having an accurate map with precise distances in front of you is essential to scoring.

Take the third hole, a 411-yard par four with a serpentine fairway that hides the green on both your first and second shots. I misunderstood my playing partner's instruction and spent several minutes lining up my approach to the wrong "white pole" in the distance. Fortunately, I discovered my error before I fired away at the pond on the right instead of the green on the left--both hidden behind fescue-covered hills.

Or the number one handicap hole, the 437-yard fourth. The direct route to the green brings water into play--maybe. The lake on your right turns back toward the fairway at about 230 yards, but a carry of 280 will put you in the fairway dry and on the other side. There's plenty of room left, but that will leave a long, long, second shot to a green protected by four big bunkers.

The Course At Yale has remarkable features on just about every hole. The par-three ninth hole is not only 231 yards over water, but the green is about the size of California (it's 65 yards long!) and is divided by an eight-foot-deep swale right through the middle. The green on the 396-yard tenth hole is so elevated I literally walked out of my shoes trying to climb up the front after putting my approach into the bunker at the bottom. The twelfth hole is one where you'll definitely find that yardage book handy. A massive bunker stretches the width of the front of the green--except you can't see it at all from the fairway.

The finishing hole really tests your faith in your long ball. It's 621 yards, which makes it challenging enough, but both the tee shot and the second shot are basically blind! The second shot is steeply uphill to a narrow fairway, although there is an optional route to the right which leaves a long, blind third shot into the green. Two-putt birdies are tough if not impossible to achieve on this hole, but a player who puts his or her third shot in front of the green can manage a pretty easy up and down for a welcome par.

The Course At Yale, 6,749 yards from the tips, is tough but playable. The greens are huge, fast, and fun. They're full of both striking contours and subtle breaks yet eminently putt-able as long as you don't get too greedy and try to ram home those sixty-footers. Fairways are tight and twisty, but not claustrophobic, and the hazards, while plentiful, can be avoided with good tactical ball striking.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tiger Woods In Black & White

Tiger Woods In Black & WhiteJules Alexander sees Tiger Woods differently from you and me. His eye captures the nobility of the struggle of player against the course, the intense quest for perfection on every shot, the sheer joy of a man doing exactly what he is fated to do. You and I sense those qualities in Tiger Woods; Jules Alexander captures them on film.

His seminal work, Tiger Woods: In Black and White, gives us an intimate look at the man in action. These aren't staged pictures of Tiger endorsing a product or posing for a golf magazine how-to article. This collection shows the man on the course, musculature perfectly defined, eyes fiercely concentrated on the target, mind fully focused on the moment.

Most of all, though, Alexander's photographs show the same quality in Tiger Woods he captured in Ben Hogan years ago. Then and now, Alexander shows us their grace.

This book makes a perfect fifty-year milestone for Alexander. He created a place for himself in the golf world in 1959 with his photographs of Hogan competing in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. A golfer himself, Alexander brought that same expert eye to his self-assignment to put the essence of Tiger Woods on film.

He also called on friends in golf journalism to contribute some wonderful essays about Tiger, giving the book additional gravitas. As fascinating as the words of Dave Anderson, Jim Nantz, and Johnny Miller might be, however, none of them are as insightful as Alexander's photography.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, October 16, 2009

For The Pure Joy Of It

2009 has been a difficult weather year for golf, but many of us are still swinging away regardless of the conditions. Yesterday's round at Anglebrook in Lincolndale, NY, proved that if you don't worry too much about your score and play the game for the pure enjoyment of it, you can have a great time regardless of the stuff falling out of the sky. Good companionship helps, which I had with Ralph Wimbish and Dan Berger. Anglebrook GM Matt Sullivan joined us for a few holes, but corporate duties called him back to his desk before things got interesting.

When we started the round, it was cold but dry. A little spitting rain started to fall as we made the turn, but hope springs eternal--especially on the golf course--so we pressed on. The snow didn't really start until the thirteenth hole and by then we were wet anyway, so what difference did it make? Besides, there were only a few more holes to play.

Sixteen at Anglebrook is a short but challenging par five. A fair poke off the tee (250 yards) puts you at the end of the fairway landing area looking downhill to the green 235 yards away. Anything much longer leaves you with a severe downhill lie in the rough, so bombers beware. But from the end of the fairway, you just gotta go for it. Aside from the bunkers, all you have to fear is fear itself, right?

Donelson takes his stance
Berger couldn't resist snapping a quick pic with his cell phone and yes, that is snow pelting me as I take my stance and take dead aim at the flagstick on the sixteenth hole. My shot landed just in front of the green and would have made it easily to the putting surface (or so I told everyone within earshot) if the ground had been dry. I attributed my miss of the birdie putt to the weather, too, since at that point in the round I had no feeling in my right hand.

Did I care? Not one whit.

As Wimbish said, "We're playing golf. What do we have to complain about?"

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Neat Idea

Golfers I Met And LikedI recently received a clever gift...a diary-sized book titled "Golfers I Met And Liked." It's 160 blank pages waiting to be filled with names, dates, scores, and anecdotes about people with whom I've played the game. While I collect scorecards, yardage books, and other memorabilia from courses I've played, this makes a neat addition to the library.

I particularly like the idea because it serves as a reminder that the best part of the glorious game of golf is the camaraderie inherent in the sport. I remember plenty of great golf holes and a few exceptional shots (while successfully blocking out all reminders of the many, many horrible ones), but the memories I really cherish are of rounds enjoyed with people I like.

The book is part of a series of titles issued by www.archiegrand.com.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bull's Bridge Is A No-Bull Course

Bull's Bridge Hole 1
Sorry, couldn't resist the title. Bull's Bridge is a relatively new (2003) gem of a course in Litchfield County, CT. It's a Tom Fazio design set in the foothills of the Berkshires, making Bull's Bridge one of New England's most picturesque tracks. The 6,992 yard course takes full advantage of sweeping vistas and routing up, down, and around some breathtaking elevation changes.

Like most first-timers at the club, I took a quick look at the card, saw a bunch of short par fours, and assumed Bull's Bridge was going to be a push over. When I stood on the first tee (a 534-yard par 5) and saw how steeply downhill it fell, my confidence soared. No reason not to be on in two and putting for an eagle! Five strokes later, I approached the second tee with a little more caution.

Bull's Bridge is a golf tactician's dream. Nearly every hole brings both distance and direction decisions into play for almost every shot. The second hole, a 322-yard par four that also plays steeply downhill is a prime example. It's easily driveable, but watch what you wish for. The large, inviting green slopes away from the player, so even a shot carefully played from the tee to the front edge will run off the back of the green and end up in deep rough, trees, or even a marshy area behind the putting surface. After the first few holes, I'd hit a dozen scrambling shots just to keep my head above water and was already plotting another round to recoup my self respect.

The CSGA (Connecticut State Golf Association) Tournament of Champions will be held September 24 at Bull's Bridge as it has since the event's inception. The tournament will bring together a field of club champions and winners of other CSGA major tournaments in an 18-hole stroke play event. I'm sure even these top players will find the course a worthy test of their games.

The club has many other great member-friendly features. There's a fairly-new clubhouse with golf shop, locker rooms, and dining and bar area that opens out onto an airy patio. Bull's Bridge also recently added a six-acre practice area with two sets of tees. You'll be able to hone just about any shot you'll play on the course with six target greens, two fairway bunkers, and an uneven lie area (which will come in very, very handy). There's also a 3,000 sq. ft. putting green that replicates both the speed and contours of the Fazio-designed greens you'll play on the course.

I can't wait for another invitation to come back and apply a little of my hard-earned local knowledge to this hidden gem.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, August 31, 2009

Westchester Golf - A Fascinating History

An often-quoted but much-disputed belief holds that New York's Westchester County is the birthplace of golf in America, a claim based on the undeniable date of the establishment of St. Andrew's Golf Club in Yonkers in 1888. The details of the club's founding--along with a delightful collection of other facts about golf in Westchester--are to be found in a fascinating double issue of The Westchester Historian, the publication of the Westchester Historical Society.

Westcheser Historian"Under the Apple Tree: The History of Golf in Westchester County" was written by Dr. William Quirin, official historian of the Metropolitan Golf Association and the author of 40 books on golf and racing. I had a tiny role in the work when I had the pleasure of reading an early version and offering a (very) few editorial suggestions last year.

Among the issue's many treasures are dozens of pictures, old and new, of golf then and now in Westchester county. Among them are sketches of the the clubhouse at Pelham and photos of the 1911 Men's U.S. Amateur Championship at Apawamis, Gene Sarazen playing night golf in Briarcliff and Annika Sorenstam teeing off at the JAL Big Apple Classic at Wykagyl. The pictures are worth revisiting time and time again.

While Quirin gives plenty of ink to important events in golf history like the role Wykagyl played in the founding of the PGA, Knollwood's grill room discussion between Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones that led to the establishment of the Master's Tournament, and Winged Foot's storied role as a championship venue, he also dug up some slightly more obscure tales that I found even more interesting. Briarcliff Golf Club, for example, was a nine-hole course built in 1902 by Walter Law for the guests of Briarcliff Lodge. Quirin says,
"...it boasted a most unusual first hole--a 250-yard par 4 starting from a tee atop the pro shop in front of the Lodge, with a toboggan-slide drop of 250 feet down the hill to a green nestled in the valley below near Dalmeny Road. Gene Sarazen made a famous hole-in-one there in the 1920s."
You won't find the course today, but nearby is Trump National, built on the other side of the road on the site of a course originally known as Briar Hall, designed by Devereux Emmet and opened in 1922.

The public courses aren't ignored, either. Quirin gives an excellent account of the beginnings of daily fee golf in the county with the building of Mohansic Golf Course in Yorktown, which was opened in 1925 by the County Parks Commission.

This publication belongs in every golfer's library no matter where you live. Copies are available for only $15 directly from the Westchester Historical Society. While you're ordering, consider a membership to show your support for the organization's work to keep our past alive.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Arcadia Bluffs - The Real Links Deal

One of my many pet peeves is a links course that isn't. Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, comes quickly to mind. It's a beautiful test of anyone's golf game and it may look like a links course, but it doesn't play like one. Granted, there aren't any trees in sight and the rough is tall, tangled, and gnarly, but the fairways are soft so there's not much roll and you have to fly your approach into almost every green. One the other side of Lake Michigan, though, is a real modern links course, Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, Michigan.

Arcadia Bluffs is a collection of roller coaster fairways lined with prairie grass rough and protected by huge shaggy bunkers. Howling winds off the lake sweep the course and there's nary a level lie in sight. Speaking of sight, there are numerous blind first and second shots where you really have to trust your swing to play for par. The turf is firm and low rollers will play as well if not better than high booming tee shots or feathery pitches--especially in the wind. Best of all, most of the holes are designed to give the player the option of a bump and run approach to the green. The combination of unexpected bounces and optional playing strategies is what makes links golf my favorite.

Arcadia Bluffs was designed by Warren Henderson and Rick Smith to not only have some of the best views of Lake Michigan but to be one of the toughest courses in the state. At 7300 yards from the championship tees, it challenges the best players with a 75.4 course rating and slope of 147. It's no pushover at 6,702 from the black tees, either. From the whites, though, Arcadia Bluffs is perfectly playable--although still testing--at 6,244 yards with a 70.3 rating and 129 slope.

Choose the tee box appropriate to your handicap or you'll be faced with challenges like the 13th hole, a par 3 that plays 240 over a ravine from the championship tees but a manageable 160 from the whites.

A perfect example of how links golf works is the 441-yard (from the whites) par 4 16th hole. It's downhill from tee to green and the day I was there it played down-wind. My drive rolled out like a marathon runner, my nine-iron approach landed just where I intended in front of the green and bumped on into birdie range.

Arcadia Bluffs is one of the many excellent courses you'll find in Northern Michigan. Because the season is short in that part of the country, you'll want to make your tee times as far in advance as possible since the great daily fee courses like this one fill up prime times early.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, August 22, 2009

18 Dream 18s

David Barrett has written another golf book to make you drool. In Golf's Dream 18s: Fantasy Courses Comprised of Over 300 Holes from Around the World, he draws on his vast knowledge of the world's great courses to complete 18 fantasy tracks sure to make every golfer want to grab his sticks, wave goodbye to the wife, kids, and job, and spent the rest of his life trying to break par on some of the most fabulous golf holes around the globe.

I had a particular interest in seeing Barrett's work since I'm a golf writer myself and have one of the best assignments in the business: compiling a fantasy course for Westchester Magazine. I research (that is, play) storied clubs like Winged Foot, Westchester CC, Fenway, Century, and Quaker Ridge each year to choose holes for the feature article. Once I saw Barrett's new book, I got jealous.

Barrett did a great job of thinking through numerous themes for his fantasy courses. Among them are courses featuring 18 scenic holes, strategic holes, historic holes, mountain holes, and links holes. He's also built tracks based on Continental European holes and Australia/New Zealand holes. I book-marked that one with particular interest.

The photography alone makes the book well worth buying. Barrett's book features the work of a pantheon of masters of golf photography. L.C. Lambrecht, Russell Kirk, John and Jeannine Henebry, David Scaletti, and Evan Schiller are just a few of the artists whose dramatic shots tell stories of their own.

You can only play most of these courses in your dreams, of course, but Barrett's descriptions of each hole, its dangers and options, tips on playing strategies, and historic and sensory appeals make them come alive. Barret is formerly an editor at Golf Magazine and also wrote Golf Courses of the U.S. Open, which also graces my coffee table.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Take A Lesson, Stupid

Want to improve your scores? Cut strokes from your handicap index? Beat your buddies' brains in? Forget bout achieving these golf miracles with a new $400 driver or three days at a $3,000 golf school. Take a lesson from your local PGA pro instead. In fact, take one even if you think your game is perfect---you might be surprised.

A lesson with a PGA pro will cost about as much as a round of golf at a good daily fee course, but I guarantee it's the very best thing you can do for your game. Don't know where to go? Start with a phone call to the nearest golf club. Even if it's private, most club pros eagerly take on students who aren't members--and you'll get to use the practice facility at the course when you take your lesson, too.

I struggled on the course more than usual early this season, but for no good reason violated my practice of going for a lesson or two to tune things up before I did too much damage to my handicap in the spring rounds. I shot several scores I was ashamed to post (although I did) and was rapidly approaching a hara-kiri state of mind. That is not the way you want to start your golf year. I put the belly-slicer away, though, and went to see Rob Davis, head pro at Anglebrook Golf Club in Lincolndale, NY. I like Rob; he's an excellent player and a knowledgeable teacher. Because we're friends, I also knew he wouldn't pull any punches.

"What the hell are you thinking?" he said after watching me hit a half dozen balls, none of which went in the same direction. As I started to explain my lame-brained excuse for a swing thought, he told me to be quiet and address the ball. Before I could massacre another piece of turf, he put a tee in front of each my feet and told me to step away. Then he pointed to the position of the ball, which was exactly in the center of my stance. Even I knew that was the wrong place. I couldn't explain how it got there, either, although I had been consciously trying to make contact with the ball before the grass all year. As soon as I moved the ball forward to where Rob told me to put it (about in inch inside my left heel), good things started to happen.

It was a simple fix, but one I never would have figured out without another set of trained, knowledgeable eyes on my swing. With the help of Rob Davis, I knocked two points off my handicap index within the next month.

As time goes on, I'm sure some other little flaw will grow into a major carbuncle on my swing. When it does, you can bet the first dollar I spend to fix it will be with a PGA pro.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sublime Crystal Downs

One of the greatest pleasures of this golfer's life is playing a fine course for the first time. I remember my first rounds at Pebble Beach, Winged Foot West, and St. Andrews Old Course as vividly as if they were yesterday. Add Crystal Downs to that list.

Never heard of it? I must confess Crystal Downs was just another name high on the Golf Digest Top 100 list to me. I never would have had the opportunity to experience it without the kind generosity of a member who happened to know one of the guys on the buddy trip I took to Northern Michigan this summer. I've always said I'd rather be lucky than good.

The course was designed by Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell and I venture to say Crystal Downs lives up to the pedigree. Crystal Downs is perched between Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan (with spectacular views of both) in Frankfort, Michigan, which is one reason you'll never see a PGA Tour event there. It's also the private domain of a couple hundred very lucky members, so you won't find it on any Northern Michigan tourism brochures.

In appearance, I liken Crystal Downs to a cross between Winged Foot and Bethpage, with varied and devilish green complexes, demanding elevation changes, and native grass rough that absolutely and completely swallows your ball if you're foolish enough to challenge it by trying to overpower the course. The layout is short (6518 from the tips), but no one is going to bomb their way around it without a few bruises to show for their effort.

There are so many holes worthy of note. Both the first and tenth are par fours with tee boxes set high above the fairways, offering the sublime pleasure of watching your drive sail forever against the brilliant blue sky. There are only two par fives, the eighth and the sixteenth, but both are man-sized three-shot tests, with the latter measuring 588 yards.

One of the more fascinating holes is the short (353 yard) fifth hole. MacKenzie used the undulating topography to build two alternative routes to the green from the tee. The lower fairway to the left and the higher one to the right are divided by the "Three Sisters," a bunker complex that lies in the straight line from the tee to the green, which you can't see from the tee box. Another large bunker sits in front of the green, which means you have to have perfect distance control to take the straight route to the putting surface. The right side route is a longer carry that brings a large tree and out of bounds into play but leaves a better angle to the green while the safer left route leaves a blind approach to a green sloping away from the player from that angle.

Whether you're a golf architecture devotee or just a regular hacker with champagne tastes, Crystal Downs is worth the trek.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yet Another Demagog Takes A Shot At Golf

Apparently, Venezuela's Caesar Chavez is running out of scapegoats. How else could you explain his recent tirade against golf and moves by his supporters to shut down two more of the country's golf courses? You'd think nationalizing the oil industry and seizing the assets of coffee growers, cattle ranchers, and tomato farmers would be enough to keep the demagogy engine chugging along, but I guess those elitist golfers proved just too easy a target to pass up.

Julio L. Torres, director of the Venezuelan Golf Federation, says the number of courses in the country has fallen from 28 to 18. Chavez and his supporters vaguely promise to turn the fairways and greens on the closed courses into housing for the poor...or at least to keep the bourgeois capitalist pigs from enjoying themselves by indulging in the decadent sport.

Somehow, I suspect the poor people of Venezuela won't get much out of the crusade. I know they certainly won't see any of my tourist dollars any time soon.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, July 13, 2009

National Championship Golf -- Free!

If you want to watch some great golf without spending a hundred bucks for a ticket, parking a hour away from the course and elbowing your way through 50,000 spectators, check out the 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Girls' Junior Championships next week at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ. They're played concurrently over the two courses July 20-25. Admission is free, there's plenty of free parking, and the golf is guaranteed to be as good as you're going to see anywhere.

But these are kids, right? Yes they are--and fine golfers, too. Entrants must be 17 or under to play in these USGA events, but boys are required to have a handicap index no higher than 6.4 and the girls an 18.4. These may not match U.S. Open requirements, but some of the best players in the game compete in these tournaments. The Girls' Junior helped launch the careers of Mickey Wright, JoAnne Gunderson Carner, Nancy Lopez, Amy Alcott, and Hollis Stacy, who won three consecutive titles from 1969 to 1971. More recent winners include Michelle McGann (1987), Brandie Burton (1989), Aree (Wongluekiet) Song (1999), and 2008 US Women's Open Champion, Inbee Park.

Another three-time title holder is Tiger Woods, who took it in 1991-1993, then turned around and won the U.S. Amateur the next three years. Woods was 15 years, six months, and 28 days old when he won in 1991, making him the youngest champion so far. Other Junior winners include Johnny Miller (1964), Gary Koch (1970), David Duval (1989), and defending champion Kevin Tway (2005), son of professional golfer Bob Tway.

And here's a little bit of history: The first U.S. Junior Championship was played in 1948 and was won by Dean Lind of Rockford, IL, who defeated future U.S. Open champion and legendary golf commentator, Ken Venturi.

The Trump courses won't be baby-fied for these events. The Old Course will play at 7,100 yards and a 75.8 rating and 146 slope for the Junior Am while the New Course will clock in at 7,159 yards with a 74.3/144. They'll play at 6,203 yards (Old) and 6,294 yards (New) for the Girls' Junior. Both courses require accurate games off the tee and masterly putting.

The first two rounds will be played as stroke play, with match play beginning Wednesday, July 22. Two rounds of match play are scheduled for each day, Thursday through the Saturday final. Players will alternate courses, with the boys ending on the New Course and the girls on the Old. If you can't make it in person, the Golf Channel will carry the semifinals on July 24 and the finals on July 25. NBC will air highlights of the tournaments on August 1, 2-3 PM.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Swing In The Balance

Connecting your brain to your body sounds like a dangerous approach to the golf swing, especially if you're like me and try very hard to eliminate swing thoughts. But I recently experienced a brief demo of a workout regimen that promises to make that connection the right way--by using bio-mechanical feedback to increase your stability, strength, and flexibility--and I have to say it makes a lot of sense.

It's the Flexor Swing Training Method developed by sports physiologist Skip Latella. The system is based on a set of exercises and movements that train proper position and movement patterns to improve your balance, a key component in a solid golf swing.

In the demo, Latella had me take a few warm up swings, then take the club back to the top of my backswing and hold it for a moment while he touched me lightly on the back, almost knocking me over. It was a shock how tenuous my balance was at that key moment, although considering how erratic my driving has been lately, it shouldn't have come as any surprise.

Then he put me through three short exercises with a three-foot foam roll while standing on two inflatable balance disks. Each movement replicated the golf swing in increasingly difficult patterns, although the hardest part was staying steady on the balance disks. After just three reps of each movement, he had me take the driver back to the top again, then pushed me from behind. I stayed stable, which convinced me that the method has a lot of promise.

I could see how a longer workout would build strength and flexibility, too, since just staying upright on the balance disks is a chore. Latella's program consists of a minimum of six sessions with a certified trainer (several club pros offer it now), with practice workouts between to reinforce the lessons the body is learning. He's offering the program at Club 1133 in White Plains, NY, which is where I saw it.

I've fought an unfortunate sway in my swing for years. From just this brief demo, I can see how the Flexor training could help eliminate that problem while building a stable base for better control and greater distance.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good Luck To Francella and Hill

Two women golfers I've followed for several years are competing in this week's U.S. Women's Open at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, PA. My best wishes for a successful tournament go to both of them.

Meaghan Francella of Port Chester, NY, came onto the LPGA Tour in 2007 with a bang by defeating defending champion Annika Sorenstam in a four-hole sudden death playoff at the MasterCard Classic in Mexico City, just her third tournament after moving up to the big show.
“I was a little intimidated when I first shook her hand on the tee,” she told me at the time. “But after that I just tried to stay in my game and play patient.”
It was an auspicious debut that led her to 29th on the money list that year. She also scored three other top-ten finishes in 25 events, taking home over $500,000 in winnings for the year.

Twenty-two-year-old Nan Hill qualified her way into the Open this year. Nan's no stranger to competition, having tied for sixth at the 2009 NCAA Division I Championship and finished fourth at the 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. She also won the 2007 Landfall Tradition, leading Wake Forest to its first team title since 2004.

I talked to her the first time when she was a senior at Pelham (NY) High School, where she anchored the boys golf team. By that time, Nan had won the NY State Girls Amateur three times.
"I love the pressure. I love that it's just me out there. No matter whether it's golf or whatever sport I play, I think I would always try to be the best because that's always how I am."
She'll have a great chance to test her mettle this week at Saucon Valley.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, July 3, 2009

Trump Waits For Economy In Scotland

I had an interesting conversation recently with real estate impresario Donald Trump, who uses "The Greatest" in a sentence more often than Muhammad Ali. "What's up with the project in Scotland?" I asked. Here's what he said:
"We have all the permits and everything is ready to go, but I'm not going to build anything until the depression is over."
That's too bad, since I was really looking forward to visiting Trump International Golf Links, which is scheduled to have two world-class golf courses and a luxury hotel sited on 1400 acres of sand dunes at Balmedie Beach in the northeast part of the country.

Martin Hawtree is to design the courses. He's known for his expertise in links courses and worked on Royal Birkdale, Portmarnock, Lahinch and Carnoustie to name but a few. Tom Fazio II, nephew of designer Tom Fazio, did some original routing work on the Aberdeen property, but Hawtree took over when Fazio turned his attention to the New Course at Trump Bedminster.

Trump went through some battles to get permission to build on the property, fighting farmers and others who want to preserve the property in its present state. The chance to bring new tourist dollars to the area--with the accompanying jobs in construction and resort operation, won the day, however, and Trump's project is now clear for takeoff as soon as the economy permits.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Trump Bedminster New Course - Impressive Test

The rolling hills of New Jersey's Somerset County make not only great horse country, but great golf country as well. Among the gems in the area is Trump National Bedminster, just a few minutes off I-78. Donald Trump opened the New Course last year after receiving rave reviews for the Old Course that debuted on the property in 2004. Tom Fazio did the first one and his nephew, Tom Fazio II, designed the New Course. The two will host the 2009 USGA Junior Amateur Championship and Girls' Junior Championship concurrently July 20-25.

The New Course has six sets of tees, with the tips stretching a monstrous 7,534 yards, including a par three that plays 270 from the black tees. It's slightly downhill, but still..... That hole, like most of the others on the course, has a spacious green full of not-so-subtle (would you expect anything else from Trump?) humps, bumps, curls, and contours.

Another consistent feature of the design is really well-placed fairway bunkering that turns what could be mediocre short and medium-length par fours into strong tests of driving skill. The 17th and 18th holes are particularly challenging. The 17th is only 374 yards from the blue tees, but a nasty bunker intrudes from the left and cuts the fairway in half at the landing area about 210 yards out. It takes a 250-yard carry to clear it. The second shot is a tester, too, with a two-club elevated green protected by bunkers right front and left side. It's probably one of the smallest greens on the course.

The finishing hole is 420 yards from the blue tees and plays uphill all the way. There's a particularly deep swale in front of the severely-humped green, so many players are going to end up playing it as a three-shot hole whether they intended to or not.

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but the man builds good golf courses. The New Course at Trump National Bedminster is an impressive test of golf.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, June 22, 2009

U.S. Open Won By Qualifier Lucas Glover

Lucas Glover photo C USGA/Michael CohenOne of the great but overlooked stories of the 2009 U.S. Open is that three of the top four finishers all got into the event through the sectional qualifying tournaments. Lucas Glover, the winner, played his way into the tournament by shooting 133 in the qualifier at Columbus, Ohio, as did runner-up Ricky Barnes.

Barnes, who led after the first two rounds, has been playing on the Nationwide Tour. David Duval, who tied for second, was also a qualifier, having rebuilt what looks to be a promising game after years in the cellar recouping from a precipitous drop from his British Open win in 2001.

The last time a qualifier won the tournament was New Zealander Michael Campbell in 2005. Steven Jones did it in 1996, which was the first time in 20 years. In other words, Glover is one of only three qualifiers to win the U.S. Open since about the time Tiger Woods was born.

A record number of golfers entered the U.S. Open this year, according to the USGA. 9,023 players entered the qualifying tournaments. Entries were received from golfers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 71 foreign countries.

The stellar performance by qualifiers is particularly apropos at Bethpage, where top tour pros and weekend hackers are equally welcome to play.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A U.S. Open Green With Teeth

Another significant change the USGA has made to the course setup for this year's U.S. Open is to strive for consistent green speeds over all four days of the tournament. In my opinion, this will improve scoring as well, since the players will not have to make daily adjustments as greens get faster during later rounds as has been the case in the past. The weather, of course, is going to make it harder for the goals to be achieved, but the principle remains the same.

Mike Davis, USGA senior director for Rules and Competitions, said this morning:
Last night, after six days of trying, we finally reached the lower end of our desired range – an average of 14 feet on the Stimpmeter. With the rain overnight and early Thursday, the greens have likely slowed to the low- to mid-13 range.
That's still pretty speedy. As a note of comparison, the faster greens at most private clubs will peak out around 11, with an occasional masochist greens committee chairman who presses the superintendent to push them up to 12 or 13. Most public and resort courses will register closer to 8 or 9.

Most of the greens at Bethpage aren't particularly severe. Unlike Winged Foot, they lack the huge undulations and steep slopes that make putting a hit-or-miss proposition much of the time. That's one reason the USGA is pushing the envelope with speed this year.

There are exceptions, however. The eighth hole slopes significantly from back to front and the extension of the green toward the pond in front, coupled with a shaved bank, will make putts above the hole a real test of nerves. Eleven has a substantial false front, too, and seventeen is split by a ridge that can keep things interesting.

Nothing compares with the fifteenth green, however. Without question it's already the toughest hole on the course, requiring a laser-accurate drive to stay in the fairway followed by a second shot to a blind putting surface perched fifty feet above the player's head. The green is brutal, with a six-foot drop from back to front exacerbated by tiering. According to the NY Times, only three percent of the green's surface is level enough for a hole. Check out their graphics for a great overview of the hole.

I've putted (and chipped) from above the hole under normal conditions and can guarantee it's no fun. Honestly, I can't imagine doing that at U.S. Open speeds.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

US Open Holes To Watch

As I wrote earlier, this year's US Open at Bethpage Black will be a substantially easier scoring event for the pros than the 2002 tournament. Here are a few holes where you're going to see lower numbers, especially from big hitters:

Number 6 - 408 Yards Par 4 - The hole is short under normal conditions, but will play much shorter this year. As traditionally laid out, you had to play a conservative shot to a tiny landing area on top of the hill between two fairway bunkers, leaving a short iron to the green that's 50 feet below the driving area. Hit anything longer off the tee and you were in the rough that covered the hillside to prevent balls rolling down to the bottom fairway. The USGA did away with that rough for the Open this year, which will allow a tee shot over the left fairway bunker to catch that slope and roll down to within flip-wedge distance to the green. It won't have to be a driver, either, since the carry is only about 270 yards from the back of the back tee. I can envision some bigger hitters going with a driver, though, and making the greenside bunkers, which aren't particularly punitive by Bethpage standards.

Number 7 - 525 Yards Par 4 - The USGA is touting this as the longest par 4 in US Open history and, at 525 yards, it sure looks like it on the scorecard. Again, though, the hole won't play that long especially since the tees may be moved up to encourage more risk-taking. Even from the back, a 300-yard drive will clear the dog leg and leave less than 200 yards to the green. The USGA has actually widened the fairway to encourage players to challenge the oak trees that guard the right side. Count on that happening a lot. Even a player that doesn't cut the dog leg will be left with a mid- to short-iron.

Tiger Woods at Bethpage, courtesy of USGA/John Mummert
Number 9 - 460 Yards Par 4 - This was the easiest hole in 2002 and, despite a new tee some 40 yards back and a new bunker off the fairway to the left, I still don't think it will pose problems for the big boomers. They'll be able to carry that bunker, possibly with something less than a driver, and leave themselves a wedge to one of the easiest greens on the course.

Number 13 - 605 Yards Par 5 - The new tee and new deep bunkers left of the driving zone will make this a harder hole for everyone but those guys who hit 320 yard drives with regularity--which includes an awful lot of players in the US Open field. The green will be reachable in two by those guys, with the vaunted cross bunkers not a factor for them (or really for anyone else). There is a bunker that appears to guard the approach to the green that should make someone think twice about trying to reach on the second shot, but it's actually 30 yards in front of the putting surface, so running the ball onto the green will happen fairly often. Even the player who lays up for some reason will have an easy third shot that should set up plenty of birdies. There is no real punishment for taking a chance here, so players who shoot par will have definitely lost a shot to the field.

For a really good overview of the entire course--with expert commentary by my friend Brian Crowell--check out the NBC flyover videos. Brian and I may be friends, but we definitely have a few differences of opinion!

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Succeeding At Ping - Part 4 of 4

This series looks at what's next for Ping Golf as the company celebrates it's fiftieth anniversary this year.

John K. Solheim is often considered the heir apparent at Ping. Yet, he says,
"Talking to my dad, I don't get a lot of that. He hasn't anointed me. Both of my father's brothers retired at 65, but I'm not sure what the plan is for him." Andy says he'd like the CEO job, too. "I don't know what my dad's plans are," Andy says. "I look at the third generation, and most of us are pretty young."
Leslie Dashew, a family business advisor in Scottsdale, says it makes sense for a business leader to take a cautious approach to succession decisions.
"When families are [carefully] thinking through this process, it provides a great deal of security to employees," she says. "If you want to run the business well, you run it like a business. You find the best talent. That may or may not be a family member."
Doug Hawken, 58, Ping's non-family president and COO, says he's not privy to the succession planning but feels good about the prospects.
"We have a good balance of family members and non-family members at leadership levels," he says. Hawken might be considered a prospect to succeed John, but the two men aren't that far apart in age. Hawken says he only wants one thing: "Whoever takes on that leadership role at this company has to have the same passion as Karsten had and John has. You don't just assign somebody that passion -- they either have it or they don't."
John turned the company around, streamlined it and worked through many of the rough spots, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Golf in the U.S. isn't a growing sport, but the international market is just waiting to be tapped.
As John K. points out, "In Japan, we don't even have 1% of the marketplace. And that's the second largest golf market in the world!"
In recent years, Ping opened new assembly facilities in both Japan and Europe as part of its strategy to take its rapid delivery system to the international market.

There is also some low-hanging fruit domestically, according to John K.
"We've been a little slow to adjust to the market's move from green-grass [golf course pro shop] outlets to retail stores," he says. "They've really taken over the hard goods side of the business. We have great relationships with the golf course owners and operators, but, at the end of the day, the consumer isn't buying product there."
Doug Hawken watched the generational transition from the vantage point of a non-family insider and offers a positive outlook for the future:
"Since John has taken control, we've returned to a good position within the marketplace," he says. "We've had four years of growth now, but he's willing to listen to the fact that we need to get our group together to go forward."
This article appeared in Family Business Magazine, Summer 2008

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lost At The Open

The famous "difficult course" sign on the first tee at the Black might also apply to the freeways on Long Island. I went bright and early to Bethpage this morning to pick up my media credentials, managing to beat most of the crowd and avoiding the lines, probably for the last time this week.

It was fun watching a little of today's practice rounds. I also hung around the practice tee for awhile, then went over to the practice green, where at least half the spectators on the course were gathered to watch Tiger. He wasn't practicing, you understand, just standing there chatting with Steve Williams and Hank Haney and a couple of guys I didn't recognize. As far as the crowd was concerned, though, he was putting on a show. You could see them just drooling for him to walk along the fence and shake a hand or two, which was the furthest thing from his mind, of course.

I had to get home, however, so I walked back to catch the shuttle to the media parking lot where I'd left my car. Considering how far away it was from the course, I might as well have parked at home. When I asked one of the helpful USGA volunteers where to catch the shuttle, they directed me to a trailer. When I told the even-more helpful volunteer inside where I wanted to go, she hopped right to the task, called a driver over, and handed him the keys to a courtesy car!

The volunteer driver, an older man from Farmingdale, drove over an orange traffic cone in his eagerness to be of service, told me he knew exactly where I had parked, and we were off.

As we left Bethpage State Park, nothing looked familiar to me, but the driver assured me he knew where he was going, so I sat back to enjoy the ride. Thirty chat-filled and wrong-way minutes later, we pulled into the wrong hotel parking lot. Finally, I convinced him to follow the directions I'd been trying to give him all along. Eventually we got there.

Next time, I'll wait for the shuttle.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, June 14, 2009

GlenArbor Teaches Life Lessons

Not all the good things that happen on a golf course involve little white balls. The fine folks at GlenArbor in Bedford, NY, have found a way to make great use of their facility for another fun--and very worthwhile--endeavor: environmental education.

GlenArbor Environmental Education
A group of kids from West Patent Elementary School recently visited the course for a hay ride tour with Superintendent Ken Benoit that included stops at a bluebird nest box where they discussed nesting and predators and at a stand of rare Dawn Redwoods where the talk was about the importance of trees to the air we breathe as well as the aesthetics of the golf course. They made a visit to the 17th green to talk about grass as an oxygen-producer and the many substances that make up healthy soil, and finished at a lake on the course where they observed fish, two types of turtles, and ducks, swans, and a Great Blue Heron.

Near the 15th tee they stopped to see the wetlands where the swans nest, then it was off to the 14th tee to see the nearby wild flowers and their pollinators, the bees, butterflies, and humming birds. Along the way, they looked for other wildlife that inhabits the course and surrounding countryside including fox, coyote, deer, turkeys, hawks, rabbits, raccoons, and skunks. The day included a honey bee hive demonstration, slide show, and even a box lunch served near the short game practice facility.

The kids had a great time and learned a bunch about the world we live in.

Next time I'm searching for a ball in the tall grass or cursing that big tree between me and the green, I hope I can step back and enjoy the place I'm playing the same way these kids did.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ridgeway For Sale?

Ridgeway CC #8
Officially, Ridgeway Country Club in White Plains, NY, is on the market. A recently-published article says the asking price is $20 million for the 130-acre tract which is zoned for single-family homes on three-quarter-acre lots. When I was there recently for a MGWA event, though, club president Henry Shyer said a sale will be a last resort. He's hoping to attract members to replace the 50 or so who resigned this year by offering sharply reduced membership fees and a monthly payment plan.

Head pro Pete Donnelly, a White Plains native and congenial chief of the Ridgeway pro shop for 29 years, said changing lifestyles are making club memberships less attractive to younger people, which only compounds the difficulty of replacing the members who left because of the sharp downturn in the economy. The club membership has been declining for several years.

Donnelly added that the club now regrets its deal-killing hesitation to accept an offer from local real estate developer Louis Cappelli to buy 150 memberships for use by guests of his nearby Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which opened last year. Given the economic climate, that offer is most certainly off the table now.

It would be a shame to lose this venerable member of Westchester's golf community. The course was built in 1923 and has gone through several iterations resulting in today's version with narrow fairways, tiny, slick greens, and some interesting bunker complexes. The club also has 10 tennis courts, an Olympic-size pool, and a fitness room. It's also known for fine dining. Having sampled the fare, I can attest that the food is as good as the golf.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Succeeding At Ping - Part 3 of 4

This series looks at what's next for Ping Golf as the company celebrates it's fiftieth anniversary this year.

When John Solheim took over the management of Ping in 1995, the change supercharged the company. He expanded the product line into metal woods, set up a rapid-delivery system to hold on to the company's position in the custom-fitting market and hired Ping's first advertising agency. He also divested several other operations that weren't directly related to the company's roots as a club maker.

Not long after, his own sons moved into management positions in the company.
"At our age, the third generation has a lot more influence than the second generation did at the same age," David Solheim observes. "That's a credit to the second generation for allowing us to get our hands dirty."
Andy Solheim, 31, is director of customer relations. Domestic and international customer service, credit and club fitting and repair all fall under his aegis. Like his brothers (and his father, for that matter), he's never worked anywhere else. He says he learned what it means to be a Solheim early in his career.
"One time, I had just finished my master's degree and had helped do a video for a national sales meeting," Andy recalls. "I was just going to show up, watch the video then go back to the office, so I was wearing shorts and a casual shirt. My father gave me 'the look.' Fifteen minutes later, I had a suit on."
John's oldest son, known as John K., is 33 years old and the one who inherited his grandfather's engineering talent. He holds an MBA as well as a degree in mechanical engineering. As vice president of engineering, he says, he has tried to expand the design function beyond the one-man-one-idea operation it was under Karsten. He's hired several design engineers with backgrounds in the sport and has concentrated on speeding the time to market for new products. One of the company's biggest changes came with the purchase -- at John K.'s urging -- of a supercomputer, which shortened the wait time for design analysis from 15 hours to 15 minutes.
"The Cray Supercomputer was one of those times when my dad and I were on the same page," John K. says. There were plenty of other times when they weren't, including several disagreements over product design. In fact, their relationship bears some resemblance to the one between Karsten and John, according to John K.: "We may have to name another road 'John's Way.' He has his own way of doing things."
That may not bode well for the looming management transition from the second generation to the third, although John says he's working to ensure a smooth handover of operations.
"My dad was well into his 80s when he finally turned it over, and I don't intend for that to happen," John says. "I'm not in any hurry to leave, but, at the same time, we have to have the best person for the job. The family members have to compete with everybody else."
The family is working with consultants to help them address succession issues.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rye Golf Club Leaps Forward

One of the best surprises I've had in a long time came when I played the Rye Golf Club for the first time in about five years. Since I was there last, the venerable municipal course has undergone some major revisions and taken giant leaps forward in conditioning. Now, I'd rank it among the best publicly-owned courses I've seen.

One of the unique features, as head pro Mike Rapisarda never tires of telling people, is that it is the only course in Westchester where you can hit a ball into Long Island Sound. In fact, there are two holes where that dubious feat can be accomplished. One is the 315-yard par four twelfth hole that just begs for a big hitter to drive the green, thereby bringing the sound into play on the left. The other is the tortuous par three seventeenth, seen below at low tide. The green is about the size of a dinner napkin and the wind can easily take your ball out to sea if you're not careful.

Rye Golf Club #17
The par 71 track was originally laid out by Devereux Emmet in 1921, but I don't imagine the old boy would recognize it today. The course has been stretched to 6500 yards, every tee and bunker has been rebuilt, the fairways converted to bent grass, and hundreds of trees have been taken down to open more of the course to those wonderful Sound views. All of the work, by the way, has been designed and carried out by Superintendent Chip Lafferty, who came to the course in 2003.

The course is owned by the City of Rye, NY, and is open to members and their guests. I recommend you find a member and beg an invitation.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, June 4, 2009

U.S. Open Hopefuls Vie In Westchester

Only those with a ticket can get into Bethpage to see the U.S. Open, but you can get a good taste for free Monday, June 8, at the Sectional Qualifiers. The drama is just as intense and the golf just as good as top players vie for slots in the big show. In my neighborhood (literally), Old Oaks and Century host the qualifying rounds in Purchase, NY. There are some interesting players in the field whose names will be familiar to Westchester golfers.

2008 NY State Open winner Rob Labritz, Director of Golf at GlenArbor will compete here along with Mike Diffley, head pro at Pelham CC, and Ben Hoffhine, head pro at Wykagyl. Also playing is Gregory Bisconti of St. Andrew's, Anthony Casalino from Willow Ridge, and Keith Dicciani of Metropolis. An amateur of note in the field is 2007 Carter Cup champion Max Buckley of Rye, N.Y.

Andrew Svoboda of Larchmont, NY, finished 71st at last year’s U.S. Open after getting into the field as an alternate. He was a semifinalist at the 2004 U.S. Amateur and also played in the 2006 U.S. Open. Both of those events were at Winged Foot, where his parents are members and where he has won the club championship.

Michael Allen of Scottsdale, AZ, recently won the 2009 Senior PGA Championship in his first start as a 50-and-over player. He has played in five U.S. Opens, tying for 12th in 2001. He is a former assistant pro at Winged Foot.

Andrew Giuliani of New York City, the son of former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani and a former member of the Duke University golf team, earned the final qualifying spot at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn.

Brad Faxon is a member of the PGA Tour who has played in 20 U.S. Opens. His best finishes came in 1989 and 1994, when he tied for 33rd. He played on the victorious 1983 USA Walker Cup team.

French-born Jean Van de Velde of Dubai has played in two U.S. Opens, including a 45th-place finish in 2002 at Bethpage. He is best known for his runner-up finish at the 1999 British Open. Other prominent Tour professionals in the field include Mathias Gronberg of Sweden and Scott Dunlap.

Former Met Junior champion Michael Quagliano of White Plains, N.Y., will attempt to qualify on June 8 in Memphis, Tenn.

The field of 77 players will compete over 36 holes of stroke play for one of four spots in the championship. The event is open to the public and spectators are welcome at both clubs. Food service will be available.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Succeeding At Ping - Part 2 of 4

This series looks at what's next for Ping Golf as the company celebrates it's fiftieth anniversary this year.

As with any family business, Ping's path hasn't always been smooth. Karsten Solheim, who suffered from Parkinson's disease and died at age 88 in 2000, was a brilliant engineer, but his management style evokes mixed reviews from family members and longtime employees. "Karsten's Way," the name of a street on the company campus, also describes the man's strong grip on the corporation's direction.
"Growing up, I was told there was the right way, the wrong way and Karsten's way," says John's youngest son, David, 28, who works in corporate communications. "Whenever you start up your own company, you can tell people the way you want things done. It's been a while since he was here, but that idea has not left the place."
"Part of the Karsten way is doing things right because it's the right thing to do, not necessarily the right business thing to do," says Stacey Solheim Pawels, Karsten's granddaughter and John's niece, who is vice president and corporate secretary.
Karsten's way brooked no opposition, whether from within the company, the family or the powers-that-be in the golf world. In 1961, he created another revolutionary product, the cavity-back iron. The initial primitive version became the Ping Eye2, a forgiving, game-enhancing club that, along with an innovative custom-fitting system, gave Ping a commanding 40% of the market for irons in the 1980s. The clubs also caused immense trouble for the company and the family. In 1988, the United States Golf Association ruled that the clubs didn't conform to the rules of the game. The next year, the PGA Tour announced they would ban the clubs, too. A long legal battle ensued.

That battle was a source of friction between John and his father.
"The USGA thing really strained our relationship," John says. "I wanted to get it over with because it was draining him so much."
Karsten also refused to introduce any new irons until the suit was settled. In 1990, the USGA settled by approving the old clubs while Ping agreed to design changes for new ones. The PGA Tour suit wasn't resolved (with acceptance of the design) until four years later. While Ping litigated, the rest of the industry moved forward technologically, beating Ping to market with lucrative metal and titanium woods.

The relationship between the two men had always been somewhat problematic. Even when he was making clubs as a teenager, John writhed under his father's management. One early issue was money:
"There was a shopping center that came into the area and I went there and applied for a job. It was only after that that I got paid [for working in the family business]," he recalls. "I got $2.50 a putter, but if I needed help to get the job done, I had to pay the employees out of my own pocket. I had some of my high school friends helping."
The real internal battles came when it was time for Karsten to step aside.
"My dad didn't want to let go," John says. "He would never talk about not being there. That made the planning pretty difficult."
It was even more difficult when Karsten became ill.
"When the Parkinson's started to get to him, I realized I needed to step in," John explains. "I discussed it with him, but he didn't want to do that [step down]. Finally, before a board meeting, I told him I wanted to nominate him for chairman, which we'd never had before, and he would nominate me for president. He had a few words in private with my mother, and that's the way it happened."
John later learned that his father had made the decision to turn over voting control of the company stock to him some time earlier but kept it secret as he held on to the bitter end. His two older brothers were co-executive vice presidents until they retired.

This article appeared in Family Business Magazine, Summer 2008

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the