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TPC Deere Run in Silvis Brings Tour Dreams to Life

TPC stands for “Tournament Players Club.” The TPC network spans North America, and includes some courses in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia. Over half of them are private, many more are exclusive resort courses, and a handful have hosted PGA Tour events.

TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois, is the long-time venue of the John Deere Classic, traditional PGA Tour stop the week before The Open (British). It is unique among TPC courses not only because it is a regular Tour host that is fully open to the public, but also because it is easily the most affordable of all TPC courses.

And when I say “affordable,” I mean it. Rates at Deere Run top out at $119 – that’s peak time, inclusive of cart and unlimited use of practice facilities. But savvy and flexible players who are non-local residents can find rates as low as $59. Local residents never have to pay more than $69, and they can play for as little as $49.

Let me repeat that for the readers who just joined us: You can play the self-same course where the pros play every year for less than $60.

The tournament that is today The John Deere Classic was born in 1971 as The Quad Cities Open, at a local private course. The ensuing years as a Tour event were tenuous, to say the least, but after Tiger Woods turned pro and made a splash at the 1996 playing, Illinois native D.A. Weibring negotiated with John Deere and the Tour to design and build a TPC on the banks of the Rock River. When TPC Deere Run opened in 2000, the 7,213-yard par-71 layout was ranked as the 8th Best New Public Golf Course by “Golf Digest.” And it’s been hosting the Tour event ever since.

Playing TPC Deere Run

If you watch the pros on TV, they can make it look like a pushover. Paul Goydos carded a 59 here in 2010—and didn’t win, because several other players went ultra-low, too.

But don’t let the super-humans on Tour fool you: TPC Deere Run is all the course amateur players will ever want. Conditions are impeccable, and the variety of holes is outstanding: Long and short par 3s, 4s, and 5s. Some open fairways, some tight fairways. Over 70 bunkers, and plenty of water. Opportunities for both greatness and disaster.

The variety of holes will allow you to hit – or try to hit – a full array of shots off the tees, though most par 4s on the front set up best for fades. There are seven sets of tees, including two sets of blended tees to allow players of all skill level and all lengths to find a fit for their games, from 5,179 yards up to 7,213 yards. Generous landing areas provide opportunities to approach greens from multiple angles, only a few of which are truly optimal.

The 561-yard 2nd is one of the favorites of anyone whose played here before. From the elevated tees, the vista is expansive. The Rock River flows serenely in the distance beyond the huge fairway, which bends gently to the right on the second shot. The green is protected by a small desert’s worth of sand, and a small barn behind it harks back to the agricultural roots of the area and the sponsor of the tournament played here.

The tee shot on the par-5 2nd at TPC Deere Run is a beauty, and all about position and length.
The green on the 2nd hole is a Midwestern classic.

At the 454-yard 4th, you realize that you are in for a day of one gorgeous golf hole after another. The sentinel oak in the center of the fairway makes the tee shot thrilling, and form the fairway, it feels like the river lurks just beyond the putting surface.

The green at the par-4 4th looks from the fairway like it’s ready to fall into the river.

The 158-yard 16th is one of the prettiest short par 3s in the entire Midwest. The green is cut into the bluff overlooking the river. A rock wall runs in front of the green, and the bluff drops away precipitously to the left, making the entire left side a very penal hazard. When the tournament bleachers are still up behind the green, this is a hole that gives anyone the chance to hit a good shot and feel like a pro.

The 158-yard 16th: Can you say, “Aim right?”

The 17th and 18th are two fun closers – the stuff that memories are made of. The 557-yard 17th is a reachable par 5 that plays out of a chute of trees to a wide-open fairway and green complex that allows for run-up fairway woods. The 463-yard 18th has seen its share of drama during the tournament, and amateurs can feel some degree of the same exhilaration by carving in a slight draw to the front of the green and watching their ball trundle back toward the pin. Over-cook it, though, and you’ll find the pond that borders the entire left side of the green; fade it instead, and a tricky pitch or sand save will be required, á la Jordan Spieth’s first PGA win.

The par-5 17th is reachable with two good shots.
Experience the thrill of hitting it stiff on a PGA Tour closing hole.

The word on TPC Deere Run

The front side of the TPC at Deere Run is tighter than the back, with nearly every hole framed by trees on all sides. The back nine is more open, with some room along the fairways, but there are many more fairway bunkers in play on the back. There is not an awkward tee shot on the entire course; all the trouble is laid out clearly before you on the tees and approaches (with the exception of the approach on No. 4).

The greens are ideal – receptive but fast – and many are basically pear-shaped, with narrow fronts that make for some devilish pin positions. Despite some tiers and undulations, though, putts within seven feet are generally flat. Most greens are also surrounded by closely shaved run-off areas that will test all the short shots in your bag.

The clubhouse is a grand fieldstone structure, and houses a first-class restaurant and bar, with a lovely shaded patio overlooking the 18th green. The pro shop is consistently rated one of the best in the country, so take some time to browse. The walls are filled with memorabilia from the PGA Tour event that has been played in one form or another in the Quad Cities area since 1971. It is well worth coming early and staying late not only to avail yourself of the luxury of a TPC, but also to bathe in golf history. After all, how often do you get to play where the best in the world play?

The 14th at TPC Deere Run is a short, lovely, and vexing par 4.

(Photos by Andrew Hollingworth & Kiel Christianson)

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Wilson D7 Irons set pace in “players distance” category

There are a number of iron categories: “tour,” “player,” “game improvement,” “super game improvement.” Then of course there is the distinction between “forged” and “cast” irons.

Another new category has gained steam and fans over the last few years: the “players distance” iron. The target audience for this category is low double-digit handicappers, and maybe even high single-digit players, who find themselves losing distance either on off-center hits or with – ahem – advancing age.

One of the real class acts in this category is the Wilson D7 Iron. The D7s are packed with technology, including progressive “power holes” and progressively thin, very “hot” faces. Best of all, they maintain a more sleek, traditional profile than many irons that straddle the “game improvement” line.

The D7s come in both forged and cast versions. The former, new for 2020, list for $1000 (GW-5), and the latter for a very reasonable $600). It has been many seasons since I switched to forged irons, so I thought I’d take the “working man” version out for a test to see what all the engineering and materials advances over the past decade or so have done to improve feel and performance of more budget-friendly clubs.

Playing the Wilson D7 Irons

I played a set of the Wilson D7s with stock KBS regular flex shafts. I was concerned about that shaft choice, as I normally play stiff shafts. But I have noticed no increase in tendency to hook (which I do at times) or slice (which I almost never do with my irons). The tips of these KBS seem somewhat stiff, so perhaps that’s the reason. To be honest, though, sometimes I wonder whether the differences in stiffness in steel iron shafts is even a thing.

So how did they perform? Let’s cut straight to the chase: I put them in my bag for what I thought would be one test round. Seven rounds later—including a semi-final win in my course’s Match-Play Tournament and my low round of the year just yesterday (75)—they’re still in the bag.

Compared to my usual forged irons (by a major and universally respected iron maker), the Wilson D7s bring several benefits. Tops among these, is their incredible forgiveness. I have mishit a dozen or more shots – fat, thin, toe, high on the face – and on well over half of those misbegotten swings, the ball has ended up on the green (or near it, anyway).

Along with forgiveness, these irons are long. This is expected, given that the lofts are jacked up, averaging 1.5-clubs stronger than “traditional.” In fact, the lofts are even stronger in the D7s than those in the Wilson Launch Pad Irons, which are in the super game-improvement category. This ratcheting up of lofts doesn’t make it harder to get the ball in the air, though, as the center of gravity is as low and as far back as can be managed without sacrificing a somewhat more “players iron” look.

Length isn’t always a plus, though. I was pretty dialed in on my yardages with my old irons. Well, to be honest I was last year. This year, I was feeling like I needed to step on some swings to get them to their “normal” yardages. I blamed lack of practice. I blamed swing changes. I blamed COVID-19. But frankly, it’s probably because (a) I’m getting old, and (b) I wasn’t striking the ball very consistently. The D7s allow me to pull my “usual” club for the “typical” yardage. If I really stripe a shot, it may go long, but aside from on greens that are very hard, this isn’t usually much of a penalty.

The only drawback to the D7 design, as far as I can tell, is their rounded sole (where you’ll find the progressive power holes, configured specifically for each iron). The leading edge of the face is protected from digging in by this sole, which adds a small bit of extra bounce angle to the clubs. Like the Launch Pads, I’m sure the D7s incorporate this design in order to help players avoid fat shots. And, when the turf is soft, it is a useful feature, indeed. But when the turf is baked out, and your swing is a little too shallow, the club tends to deflect off the ground and up into the ball, resulting in thin shots. In dry conditions, you really need to focus on descending into the ball; however, doing so will deloft the face even more and likely add yards. The rounded soles also require some practice with punch shots—a typical strength of mine, thanks to lots of practice—which don’t come out quite as clean as with irons whose leading edges are sharper.

Long story short: “players distance” irons might require some adjustment because they do, in fact, give you extra distance.

Finally, let’s talk about feel. I can’t compare the standard D7s to the Forged D7s, as I haven’t tested the latter. But to be honest, the standard D7s feel plenty soft to me. I can draw and fade them well enough, and I can feel quite clearly when I pure a shot, compared to off-center strikes.

Scorecard

The Wilson D7 Irons are ideal for players who are seeking to maintain distance without sacrificing feel or looks. They’re stable and powerful – so much so that you may find your best shots going a little too far until you recalibrate. Golfers who play well-manicured, softer courses will find the sole design particularly forgiving.

If you’re looking to buy, see below!

Discount Code: WilsonGolf15-8

A few rules to mention:

  • The codes give 15% off all full-priced Golf Items, including Custom. However, outlet items are excluded. 
  • All codes expire 12/31/20

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Wilson Launch Pad Irons elevate the ball and your game

Golf is a lot harder than it looks on TV. Upon hearing of my affection for the game, a friend of mine told me that he had gone to a driving range just one time. I asked him why only once. He said, “I hit a large bucket of balls. Didn’t get one in the air. It just seemed like way too much work.”

It was several decades ago that this friend of mine had tried his hand at golf. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince him to give it another go, with more modern, more forgiving equipment. It was just too late for him.

But it’s not too late for your buddy, or you, for that matter. There is a whole new generation of golf clubs – often called “super game-improvement” clubs – whose sole purpose is to help high-handicapper recreational golfers enjoy themselves more. To help them get the ball in the air.

This is the sole purpose of the new generation of the Wilson Launch Pad Irons ($700 steel shafts; $800 graphite shafts), and their sole is their purpose. Let me clarify.

The irons’ moniker refers to the Launch Pad sole, featured throughout the set, from 4i to PW (and other wedges, which you can buy separately to match). The sole of the club is wide, wider in longer irons and narrower in shorter irons, which keeps turf interaction to a minimum. The idea is for the sole design to reduce chunked shots, while the hollow composite heads allow for a thinner, “hotter” face and move the center of gravity away from the face, which will get the ball in the air faster and with more “pop.” Along with the wide soles, the bounce angle serves to “float” the leading edge above the turf, which, according to Wilson, reduces chunked shots by 73% among testers.

Playing the Wilson Launch Pad Irons

All of this sounds great in theory, but how do they play?

Two of the more common mishits by occasional or high-handicappers are the chunk and the blade. After several range sessions with the Launch Pad Irons, it is very clear how they protect against the chunk: those wide soles and leading-edge bounce mimic hitting regular clubs off a mat. If you hit a little behind the ball, the club tends to “bounce” up off the turf, especially if the ground is firm. If you’re hitting off carpet-like bent grass, you can still chunk the occasional shot, but you almost have to try to do it.

Conversely, if you tend to blade shots – hitting them so thin that they don’t get into the air – you’ll still need to work on your swing to impart a descending—or at least level—blow with the Launch Pad Irons. However, even a more “sweeping” swing produces much higher, much longer trajectories than standard clubs.

My son, a high school player who hits the ball a mile high with his regular clubs, found the short irons in the Launch Pad set to be TOO helpful: shots just skied into the stratosphere. But once he worked into the 6i-4i range, he admitted his surprise at the consistency of the Launch Pads, in terms of both trajectory and dispersal. This made me think that for a lot of players, a blended set of more traditional shorter irons and Launch Pad mid- to long-irons would be worth considering.

As for me, I noticed an immediate increase in the height of my shots: about 5 feet higher across the set compared to my normal irons. As for distance, the Launch Pads may have increased center-struck shots just a bit, but any gain was negligible. Off-center shots were improved by several yards, though—noticeably longer.

Are the Wilson Launch Pad Irons all rainbows and unicorn farts? Not exactly, but no club is. The extra “pop” you experience in distance comes with a literal “pop” in sound. It’s sort of a hollow pop, which takes a little getting used to. The sound matches the heads in a way, whose somewhat rotund profile also takes a short while to grow accustomed to.

And if you do struggle with bladed shots, they won’t fix that flaw; however, you’ll be able to work on swinging exactly the same with your PW as you do with a fairway wood – a shallow, sweeping swing will still get the ball in the air.

One final note: it is true that “game-improvement” irons tend to decrease lofts so recreational golfers will think they’re getting more distance. The Launch Pad Iron lofts are a touch stronger than “normal,” but only by 3-4 degrees (i.e., a club stronger). So your 4i is 21 degrees, which is a typical 3i loft. That’s less than many competitor sets, and even less than many “regular” iron sets these days.

And a final, FINAL note: The stock steel KBS 80 shafts are excellent. I normally play stiff shafts, but requested to test regular shafts, as they seemed to fit the overall goals and design of the Launch Pad heads better. To be completely honest, I have noticed no adverse effects from the change in stiffness – I don’t hook the KBS shafts (in the Launch Pads or the new D7s, which I’ve also reviewed), or find them hard to control, even on full-bore swings.

Scorecard

Altogether, if you’re looking for irons to help you enjoy the game, and work less on hitting the “perfect” shot, the Wilson Launch Pad Irons are a solid bet.

If you’re looking to buy, see below!

Discount Code: WilsonGolf15-8

A few rules to mention:

  • The codes give 15% off all full-priced Golf Items, including Custom. However, outlet items are excluded. 
  • All codes expire 12/31/20
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Cleveland Golf CBX Full-Face wedges are forgiving and consistent

Some amateur golfers are just afraid certain clubs. High on the list for most amateurs is the lob wedge. Visions of chunked and bladed shots skitter across the gyri and hide in the sulci of their brains as they address those delicate touch shots over bunkers to tucked pins. And then, well, sometimes that’s exactly what happens.

My son, a high-school junior who plays on his school’s golf team, was a victim of those waking nightmares last year. He was missing greens and having to hit mini-flops to try to get close to save par or bogey. But he just didn’t have a club he felt good about: the sand wedge had too much oomph—and bounce—but the lob wedge he was using (one of my old ones) was digging into the turf.

Enter Cleveland Golf and their legendary wedge designers. I ordered a new 60-degree CBX Full-Face wedge ($150) for my son, and when it arrived, I regaled him with the design features that I thought would engender some confidence in him and fit his short game.

First, as the name implies, the Rotex and laser-milled Tour Zip Grooves on these wedges go all the way across the face—all the way to the edge of the toe. This is a brilliant feature, as it ensures spin even on toe-hits (which my son tends to do). These keep the ball from knuckling out of the rough if contact is widely off-center.

The second feature is the half-cavity design, which moves the center of gravity a bit more toward the toe and also provides rock-solid stability no matter the contact.

The third is the high-toe face, which stretches the toe-end of the club higher than normal, in case the club slides a bit too far under the ball. Even if this happens, you can still make decent contact.

Finally, the range of bounces can fit anyone’s game. On my son’s, we went with a 10-degree bounce, which is around 2 degrees more than most lob wedges. This bounce keeps him from digging into the turf and works well for bunker shots, but still allows him to get the club under the ball on those flop shots.

The skinny on the Cleveland Full-Face Wedges

So how did all this engineering work out for my son? After just one round, the quote that sums it up is, “I really like this lob wedge!”

Almost immediately, confidence grew in the quality of the contact he was making, and he was able to swing more freely, even on those more delicate shots. No more fear.

And the joy of telling my son, “Nice up and down!” is, as they say, priceless.

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Sun Mountain 4.5 LS 14-Way Stand Bag

I don’t carry my clubs too often anymore—maybe just for a quick evening 9. I walk most of the time, though, using a push cart. So I’ve been looking for a golf bag that is light but spacious enough for me to stow all my extraneous gear—cigar holder, range finder, lots of extra souvenir ball markers and divot repair tools, rain jacket, beverage or two, etc. The Sun Mountain line-up of golf bags is pretty fertile hunting ground for just such a golf bag.

The new 4.5 LS 14-Way Stand Bag ($230) weights just 4.5 lbs. and has 14 full-length club silos, as the name implies. There are 9 spacious pockets and, best of all, the fiberglass legs are amazingly sturdy. The bottom is cart-friendly as well, including pushcart-friendly. There are elastic cords to keep the legs in place when not using them. This bag allows me to carry 9, walk 18, or hop on a cart for a luxurious round now and then.

The best features of the 4.5 LS is the legs: wide feet, sturdy graphite fiber, and a springy retraction action. If something is going to go wrong with a stand bag, it’s the legs. These feel rock-solid, and the springy retraction ensures you don’t have a floppy leg hanging down to catch on your own leg as you’re putting it on your shoulder or your car trunk as you’re loading or unloading it.

Another critical feature of a stand bag is accessible, well-placed pockets. You want to be able to reach some pockets while the bag is still on your shoulders. You also want to make sure that storage space isn’t sacrificed in pursuit of lightness. The bag has, happily, plenty of room for all the necessities and some extras. I can get a rain suit to the big side bag, loads of balls and tees, various cigar paraphernalia, and valuables in a felt-lined, water-resistant pocket. At first, I was skeptical of the efficacy of the cooler sleeve – as opposed to a cooler pocket (with a zipper) – but the open-top sleeve is quite capable of keeping most drinks cool for most of a side even on 90-degree days with 90-degree humidity.

The Skinny on the Sun Mountain 4.5 LS 14-Way Stand Bag

This is a workhorse of a golf bag. It’s suitable for all forms of on-course locomotion, and constructed well enough to last for many, many years. The straps are nicely padded and perfectly positioned, the handles are well positioned and rock-solid. The silos keep club grips from getting jammed up, and those legs won’t collapse on you. In short, however you like to get around the course, this bag will work like a charm.

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Get in the zone with the 2020 Cobra King SpeedZone Xtreme Driver

Press releases for Cobra’s SpeedZone drivers, new for 2020, tout six different performance “zones” which they claim are based on design features of the world’s best sports cars. I’m not totally sure what that is supposed to mean, but these zones are listed as Power Zone, Strength Zone,  Light Zone, Low CG Zone, Aero Zone, and Stability Zone.

That is, indeed, quite a lot of zones. Conspicuously lacking is the namesake “Speed Zone.” But never mind that now. As they say, “the proof is in the pounding.” (Well, no one has said that before now. If you like it, it’s mine. If you don’t, forget you read it here.)

Playing the Cobra King SpeedZone Xtreme Driver

Golf Magazine’s Clubtest 2020 spotlighted the tour-model King SpeedZone ($450) and the SpeedZone Xtreme ($449),  focusing on one specific aspect in which both of them performed better than the competition: ball speed. Specifically, when tested with the swing robot, off-center strikes retained more ball speed than any other driver, displaying nearly no decrement on to-hits compared to center strikes.

When I took the King SpeedZone Xtreme—which is the model geared toward average golfers—out to the practice tee, the feel was what stood out to me first. In particular, the feel was incredibly solid and the sound was remarkable consistent. One thing I really liked about my current driver (at the time) was how well I could tell where I’d struck the ball with it – toe, heel, low, high, center all felt and sounded (and behaved) very distinctly. The King SpeedZone, on the other hand, felt practically the same no matter where I made contact with the ball, and the sound barely fluctuated, either.

So, the question is: do you consider this a good or bad trait? At first, I wasn’t sure. My contact is pretty inconsistent, so the feedback I get from sound and feel help me figure out what my swing flaw du jour is. The SpeedZone Xtreme is SO solid, the differences in sound, feel, and distance are extremely subtle. During my first couple of rounds with it, this sort of threw me off a little.

After playing it six rounds though, I have learned the minute differences between a slight toe-hit and a slightly thin strike. And when I do find the sweetspot, it feels like a perfect hammer strike driving a nail in with one swing. I cannot recall any driver I’ve tested (close to 100) that has felt more rock-solid heel to toe, crown to sole.

What does this solid feel get you, distance-wise? My best swings are rewarded with distances as long or slightly longer than any driver I’ve tested. Honestly though, improvement in overall distance on “good swings” is not dramatic. This said, however, distance on off-center contact—which, much to my chagrin, is a large percentage of my swings—is considerably improved. Where before I’d occasionally toe-hook my driver 200 yards, now even those ugly shots consistently end up 20 yards farther than before. My less tragically awful “bad” swings produce even better results.

The SpeedZone Xtreme has just one extra tungsten weight (compared to two in the SpeedZone), deep in the sole, and it comes in 9.0, 10.5, and 12.0 degree base lofts, with each of these lofts adjustable +/- 1.5 degrees and in draw, fade, or standard bias. My 10.5 degree standard loft really launches the ball high, even when I tee it down a bit. The 458-cc clubhead sets up beautifully behind the ball, without any hint of feeling “oversized” (which it isn’t, but some drivers just look bulkier than others; this one’s sleek). Finally, the stock 60g HZRDOUS Smoke shaft is a powerful, consistent, low-spin engine driving the power.

Cobra King SpeedZone Xtreme Driver: The verdict

I thought I had found a driver last year that would be in my bag for many seasons to come. Well, I was wrong. The King SpeedZone Xtreme is my new go-to, especially on those days when I’m not sure what kind of contact the next swing will deliver (which is, frankly, most days). It’s nice to know that even poor contact will not be penalized as much, and mistakes off the tee will generally be minimized.

Extra Features

The 2020 King SpeedZone Drivers (along with all King SpeedZone irons, fairway woods, and hybrids) include COBRA CONNECT™ Powered by Arccos, the award-winning smart golf system that helps players of all skill levels make smarter, data-driven decisions. Electronically enabled sensors are embedded into the grip, automatically recording the distance and accuracy of every shot so golfers can track performance round-to-round and use analysis to improve practice sessions. Golfers also have access to Arccos Caddie, which utilizes Artificial Intelligence to make better on-course decisions for lower scores.

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“The Old Man and the Green” – Father’s Day Golf Gifts for Dad’s Eternal Pursuit of Perfection

When I was a boy, my dad was always busy working. So busy that he didn’t have time for golf – had never even set foot on a course until he was well into his 70s, when he rode along in the cart with my daughter and me once. He said he really enjoyed that, and it was one of my best later memories of him.

When I was a teenager, one of my strongest memories of Dad was of him growing uncharacteristically sad once and saying how much he envied me for having so much of my life yet in front of me. “There’s so much I still want to do,” he said softly, looking out the car window, “and so little time left.”

Point is, us guys are always chasing something, be it an allegorical giant fish or a literal hole-in-one. We golfers catch our bliss, if perhaps only fleetingly, chasing a little white ball around a verdant pasture for a few hours, spending time with friends or family, pursuing fictional perfection. Really, we’d do about anything just to get back to “even.”

Here are a few gift ideas for the Old Man in your life as he heads out onto the roiling greens and casts his eyes down the fairway in eternal hope.

Good Walk Coffee

Good Walk Coffee is a new coffee company that is specially blended and named for golfers. Does Dad need a tasty, rich pick-me-up to get him out for that first tee time? Try Good Walk’s Dew Sweeper French Roast ($18). If you’re like me, and happy to take a tee time slightly later in the morning, Breakfast Ball Columbia Medium Roast ($15) is ideal. Good walk has other blends, as well as 3-month subscriptions and a nice little shop of swag (hats, tees, ball markers, clubhead covers), all of which is great for decking Dad out in style and taste.

Volvik Marvel and Bridgestone Tour B Golf Balls

One of my favorite activities with my son, besides golf, is seeing superhero movies together. For dads who are fans of the Marvel Universe, Volvik has followed up last year’s wildly popular offering of Marvel Avengers balls with a 5-hero pack, featuring Thor, Black Panther, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Hulk ($22/set). These matte-finish balls are engineered with Volvik’s new oversized high-energy core and are incredibly soft around the green. The colors also really pop against the sky and turf. And he’ll never get confused about which ball is his.

For more traditional dads, Bridgestone’s Tour B line for 2020 ($45/doz.) has been redesigned with the company’s proprietary REACTIV cover to maximize both feel and distance. The Tour B X is played by the likes of Matt Kuchar and Lexi Thompson. The Tour B RX and Tour B RXS are designed for players with swing speeds under 105 mph, which tends to be most amateur dads. You simply won’t find better all-around performance in a golf ball.

Tattoo Golf

Now that Dad is awake and has new golf balls, let’s get him dressed. It’s still chilly in some places, and the absolute best full-zip golf jacket I have ever worn is the new Tattoo Golf Men’s Clubhouse Full-Zip Jacket in black and gray ($70), complete with Tattoo’s distinctive dimpled golf-ball-skull and cross-irons logo. I’ve worn mine for several rounds now, and I have never had a golf jacket that maintained the exact level of comfortable warmth and breathed so well. The price is right, too! Seriously, I cannot overstate how good this jacket is. If Dad would rather have a new pair of shorts, Tattoo has a new line out for 2020 that will ensure Dad looks good no matter how his game is.

Royal Albartross, ASICS, and ECCO Golf Shoes

Next, shoes – because shoes make the man!

ASICS DUAL-COURSE Duo BOA

The growing juggernaut Srixon/Cleveland Golf/XXIO has recently announced a partnership with athletic shoe manufacturer ASICS and the joint development of their flagship golf shoes, the GEL-COURSE Duo BOA ($180) and GEL-COURSE Glide ($130). Both models look and feel like ASICS gym shoes. The BOA features its namesake lacing system, which consists of wire laces that tighten and loosen with a dial on the side of the shoe, and also have softspikes. The Glides are spikeless with traditional laces. Both models are also waterproof. I took my pair of Duos out of the box to walk 18 holes with my son. Conditions were extremely soggy, but my feet stayed dry. Equally impressive, my feet experienced no fatigue or hotspots despite it being only my second round walking of the season. The arch support and padding are what you’d expect from the best athletic shoes. The BOA lacing system seemed to work a little loose during the first 4 holes, but a quick turn of the dial re-tightened them. And after those first holes, they stayed snug throughout the remainder of the round.

ECCO BIOM COOL PRO

Although all golf shoes are becoming more comfortable, ECCO still holds the Number One spot in “Most Comfortable Right Out of the Box.” ECCO doesn’t make the lightest golf shoes, nor the cheapest, but sliding on a pair of ECCOs is one of the great pleasures of the game. The new BIOM COOL PRO shoe ($230) is no exception: it has a wrap-around Gore-Tex design that actively ventilates your feet as you walk. The yak-leather outer is amazingly soft, and the sole features little tunnels running all the way through which make them lighter and “springier” than any previous ECCO model I’ve ever tried (and that’s a lot of them). I wore my BIOM COOL PROS during a hot but beautiful round in the Bahamas in January (before the world shut down) and several times since (walking all the way), and I cannot believe how cool and dry my feet stayed.

Royal Albartross

When the name Royal Albartross appeared in my inbox, I had to admit that I’d never heard of it before. Wow, was I missing out! Royal Albartross is a premium golf and lifestyle brand from London that offers handmade golf shoes, belts, and bags. And when they say “handmade,” they mean it. Their products are constructed of the finest Italian leathers and stitched together by craftsmen in Italy and Portugal. The results are exquisite. When I got my peasant paws on a pair of Cutler Greys ($230), I literally ran around my house and showed my wife and two kids how gorgeous they are—they even came with their own cloth shoe bag! With leather outsole, insole, and trim, The Cutler represents a brilliant blend of fashion sneaker and spikeless golf shoe fit for the fairways and grill rooms of even the poshest private club. I have taken to wearing them on walks around my neighborhood during this time of social distancing, because they honestly make me feel better about myself. I will wait to wear them on the course until the vernal pools dry up and, I hope, fellow golfers can get close enough to admire the workmanship. In the meantime, I’ve got my eyes on the Saxon Claret model ($259), new for 2020—absolutely beautiful. I guess I’m a shoe person now.

Dune Jewelry Divot Repair Tool

Time to get a little sentimental. Do you and Dad have a favorite course? Or maybe a special beach? Dune Jewelry has an ever-expanding “bank”of sands from around the world, including golf course bunker sand, that they use to fill all manner of gorgeous women’s jewelry. The Hamptons Rope collection, a co-collaboration between Ann Liguori and Dune’s founder Holly Daniels Christensen, make great Father’s Day gifts. Dune even has some treasures just for golfers. The new Divot Repair Tool ($30) is both sleek and functional. Fill it with sand from St. Andrews Beach to commemorate a trip to The Birthplace of Golf. Or with sand from Hawai’i to remember a wedding or honeymoon. Or even send in your own from the beach at a family cabin. There are ball markers ($30) and wine stoppers ($40) too, which are all also very cool. Speaking of weddings in Hawai’i, I have a ball marker with sand from the beach where I got married over 25 years ago. Reminds me to keep things in perspective on both good and bad days.

Sun Mountain 4.5 LS 14-Way Stand Bag

Lots of states are limiting playing groups to twosomes. And some are not allowing carts. What better time for Dad to start getting more exercise and walking 9 or 18 holes? The Sun Mountain line-up of golf bags is tough to beat. You can find something for pretty much any golfer’s needs. My new 4.5 LS 14-Way Stand Bag ($230) weights just 4.5 lbs. and has 14 full-length club silos, as the name implies. There are 9 spacious pockets and, best of all, the fiberglass legs are amazingly sturdy. The bottom is cart-friendly as well, including pushcart-friendly. There are elastic cords to keep the legs in place when not using them. I love carrying 9 for exercise and walking 18 with a pushcart. This bag allows me to do both without undue burden on my back or shoulders.

Arnold Palmer Framed USPS Stamp

What better way to tell day that he’s “The King” in your eyes than with the Arnold Palmer Framed Stamp ($40)? The USPS introduced Arnold Palmer stamps this year, and this framed artwork features an enlarged version of the stamp along with an insert of one of the actual stamps. It also includes day-of-issue information. I’ve got mine hanging in my office to remind me to “Swing my swing.”

Flying Dog Night Putting Pale Ale

This year is the 40th anniversary of the release of “Caddyshack,” a movie that taught us how integral wise cracks, obscene amounts of cash, and a cart full of C4 are to golf. Also integral to the game is a nice, cold adult beverage. Flying Dog, America’s most disobedient brewery, has introduced Night Putting Pale Ale in honor of this monumental anniversary. Night Putting is a medium-hopped ale with a 5.5% alcohol content. It’s crisp and light and easy to drink by itself or with a hot dog at the turn. Dad will thank you after every delicious sip.

Mr. Wizard by Jeff Wallach

For rainy days—or as a companion to Night Putting Pale Ale on a quite evening at home—how about a great golf read for Dad? Golf fiction can be hit or miss, but the debut novel by veteran golf and travel writer Jeff Wallach is a definite hit. It interweaves a story of two brothers trying to unravel their genetic history, deal with their wild mother, and figure out who they are along the way. Lots of twists and turns along a rich golf backdrop (Open Books, $18, paperback).

I hope by the time it’s Father’s Day, we’re finding ourselves and our nation to be safer and progressively more widely opened. After all, there’s a lot of golf to play in this world, and precious little time. My golf rounds with my own kids are one of the few things keeping me sane over the past months. I wish nothing less than that sort of joy for every one of my fellow fathers out there as we chase the sun, trying to stay as close to even as we can.

Be well, play good golf, and keep in touch.

Featured

Mother’s Day golf gifts fit for the Queen of the Pandemic

We’ve been stuck inside for a while. And for the good of everyone, we should largely remain inside for some time to come. But golf is one of the few social activities that lends itself to social distancing. Stand apart at the tees, hit your tee shots, walk after them, see you at the green. Maintain distance putting. Simple.

Now that courses are opening up in a majority of states, Mom deserves some time away from you—some time with her friends on a nice walk under the late-spring sunshine. And she deserves a little thank you from you for holding the realm together during this pandemic.

Here’s a list of our favorite golf gifts for Mom this Mother’s Day.

Good Walk Coffee

There’s a foursome of ladies at my home course that usually get the first tee time of the day on weekends. They always walk. We call them The Borg, after the inexorable, unstoppable alien foe on “Star Trek: Next Generation.” Heaven help you if you’re in front of them, because if you dawdle to look for a lost ball, they will catch you, and you will be assimilated.

These fast-walking, straight-hitting, never-stopping women always have their coffee travel mugs with them. Good Walk Coffee is a new coffee company that seems to be specially made for golfers like The Borg. You want that tasty, rich pick-me-up to get you out for that first tee time? Try Good Walk’s Dew Sweeper French Roast ($18). If you’re like me, and happy to take a tee time safely behind The Borg, Breakfast Ball Columbia Medium Roast ($15) is ideal. Good walk has other blends, as well as 3-month subscriptions and a nice little shop of swag (hats, tees, ball markers, clubhead covers), all of which is great for decking mom out in style and taste.

Volvik and Bridgestone Golf Balls

Is Mom a fan of the Marvel Universe? Maybe she just likes seeing some of the actors all heated up? In any case, Volvik has followed up last year’s wildly popular offering of Marvel Avengers balls with a 5-hero pack, featuring Thor, Black Panther, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Hulk ($22/set). These matte-finish balls are engineered with Volvik’s new oversized high-energy core and are incredibly soft around the green. The colors also really pop against the sky and turf.

For more traditional Moms, Bridgestone’s Tour B line for 2020 ($45/doz.) has been redesigned with the company’s proprietary REACTIV cover to maximize both feel and distance. The Tour B X is played by the likes of Matt Kuchar and Lexi Thompson. The Tour B RX and Tour B RXS are designed for players with swing speeds under 105 mph, which tends to be most moms AND dads. You simply won’t find better all-around performance in a golf ball.

TecTecTec ULT-X Rangefinder

Rangefinders have really grown on me over the years. I used to love the thrill of the guess, but now I enjoy verifying the yardage with laser precision. One of the more advanced rangefinders on the market is the ULT-X by TecTecTec ($250). It’s lightweight, uber-precise, and has an elevation mode that is easy to turn on and off. Doing so is accomplished by pulling the lens housing out or pushing it in. When the elevation mode is engaged, a bright yellow band is revealed, so players like my son, who play in tournaments in which measuring elevation is not allowed, will be less likely to forget to turn it off. I’ve also recently found that another handy use of the ULT-X is keeping an eye on other golfers around the course to maintain social distancing. You can ID friends from 100+ yards away and wave – that’ll have to do for now.

Royal Albartross Golf Shoes

So I received a pair of Royal Albartross golf shoes earlier this year, and I literally ran around the house showing everyone. I mean, they are hand-made in Italy of the finest leather – seriously the nicest shoes I own of any kind. Now, I don’t want to play into stereotypes, but if I get this excited about Royal Albartross golf shoes, Mom is going to go crazy.

Royal Albartross of London has three new styles for this Mother’s Day. The Amalfi ($299) is a laced sneaker with perforated upper leather.  The soft, breathable leather lining and the lightweight Apex sole is designed for multi-directional traction. Available in white, black and navy, the Amalfi is handmade in Portugal.

The Chelsea ($199) is a slip-on loafer with tassel fringe available in tri-color patterns with white and black base colors. The ergonomic insole is designed to provide support and breathability, and is extremely resistant to lateral slipping. 

The Sahara ($299) features a snake print, leather upper with gold/rose eyelets.  Its ultra-cushioned insole unit and lightweight VIBRAM® Pro Golf out-sole provide excellent stability.

Swiftwick Golf Socks

Mom’s going to need some socks under those posh shoes. The best golf socks on the market are by Swiftwick, and my favorites (which also come in women’s sizes) are the new Maxus Zero-Tab golf socks ($12), but the ASPIRE and FLITE XT (pictured) are pretty sweet, too. Swiftwick’s offerings are all compression socks that wick moisture, improve circulation, and promise no blisters.

AHEAD’s Kate Lord Line for 2020

Well, shoot. Now that Mom’s going to need a couple of new golf outfits to wear with her posh kicks and comfy socks. AHEAD’s Kate Lord Line introduced a number of new styles for 2020 at the PGA Show in Orlando. “Our Kate Lord styling is perfect for the customer who wants great, easy-to-wear pieces for both on and off the course,” said Scott Stone, National Sales Manager, Golf. Colors include Iris, Limelight, and Poppy, and styles include sleeveless and sleeved polos, skorts, quarter-zips, and shorts. It’s pretty easy to mix-n-match an entire month’s worth of outfits on their website.

Dune Jewelry by Ann Liguori

I’ve written about Dune Jewelry before, and it’s still the most innovative line of keepsake jewelry I know of. Dune has a massive and ever-increasing Sandbank from which they draw sand and stone and crushed shell from beaches, lakes, and other landforms all over the world and incorporate into their fine jewelry. This year, there’s also a Dune Golf Collection, which includes ball markers and divot repair tools also filled with sand. You can search their giant repository for locations or send in your own sample (you know, that little vile you snuck out of Augusta National that one year?) and have it used in Dune’s stunning creations. In the past, I’ve gotten a ball marker for me and a necklace for my wife (The Hamptons Rope Collection) with sand from the beach where we were married. This year, I’m getting her the new Luxe Marquis earrings ($180) filled with sand from Japan, where we used to live. Seriously, there is nothing more meaningful than giving her not only beautiful jewelry, but jewelry filled with a little piece of a place that the two of you have shared.

Mr. Wizard by Jeff Wallach

Golf fiction can be hit or miss, but the debut novel by veteran golf and travel writer looks intriguing. It interweaves a story of two brothers trying to unravel their genetic history, deal with their wild mother, and figure out who they are along the way. Lots of twists and turns along a rich golf backdrop (Open Books, $18, paperback).

They you have it. Gifts to pamper the Queen of the Pandemic from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to sleep. This is the least you can do for her.

The Forge at Palmer Hills: The family that putts together has fun together

The Quad Cities of Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, offer bountiful golf. Nearby Silvis, Illinois, even hosts a PGA Tour Event, The John Deere Classic, at the spectacular TPC at Deere Run. But the area’s courses don’t just cater to the core golf demographic. There are also plenty of opportunities for novices, juniors, seniors, and the “golf-curious” to explore and experience beautiful facilities without investing hours of time or hundreds of dollars.

Most people don’t realize that St. Andrew’s Links in Scotland is a massive municipal facility. Similarly, the Quad Cities’ municipal courses epitomize the best of America’s daily fee, public-access, community-owned golf, carrying on the long history of accessible, affordable golf. Palmer Hills in Bettendorf is one of the best examples in the nation of a municipal facility that feels and looks like a country club. With the addition of The Forge, its new 18-hole putting course, Palmer Hills seeks to engage even a wider swath of the golf-curious public.

The Forge at Palmer Hills is an 18-hole putting course laid out over four enormous bentgrass greens.

Palmer Hills Golf Course is a William J. Spear design that opened in 1974. The par-71 layout stretches to just over 6,500 yards from the back tees, and has served as the venue for multiple local and state championships. It’s the home course for local high school teams, as well as the training ground of one of last year’s Drive, Chip, and Putt competitors, who competed in the finals at Augusta National. About 14 years ago, the clubhouse was completely redone, and the Palmer Grill draws large crowds of non-golfers for its lunch and brunch specials. Conditions rival those of any course in the area, including private clubs. Nevertheless, green fees max out at just $46 (with cart) on weekends.

Head Greenkeeper, Brian Hickey, has a degree in turf management from Iowa State and has earned awards from national greenkeepers’ associations for his stellar work at Palmer Hills. Under his watch, the course has expanded the driving range and practice facilities as well as added The Forge.

The Forge itself consists of 4 separate greens, the second of which measures 30,000 square yards. Each green contains at least a couple of the 18 holes, which are routed out and back. Tee stands and holes are placed daily in new positions to reduce wear, and tee markers are designed with extremely useful drink holders. (A putting course is ideally suited for pairing libations and competition, after all.) The pristine bentgrass greens run at the same speed as the main course, right around 11 on the Stimp meter.

Custom-made tee markers at The Forge also provide handy places to hold your drinks.

There is no par on any hole – the scores just are whatever they are, harkening back again to the roots of golf when par didn’t exist. The flexible routings at The Forge bring to mind The Loop, the reversible Tom Doak course in Roscommon, Michigan, which plays in both directions, alternating from day to day. Tee boxes there are also just sort of positioned in the ground daily at various spots.

At just $8 for adults and $5 for kids, the tournament-quality putting course is competitively priced with and far more enjoyable than your standard “putt-putt” golf courses. There can be some severe breaks, but nothing is tricked up – players of The Forge will get a feel for what it’s like to putt on a REAL golf course, and might just catch the bug to get out and try the full-sized course. The lovely views from parts of The Forge onto the championship course are also quite enticing.

From The Forge, the view of the 14th tee of the main course provides the golf-curious with a taste of the beauty of Palmer Hills.

“Golf” means different things to different people. But golf should NOT mean exclusivity or inaccessibility to anyone. Municipal courses like Palmer Hills stand as exemplars of what golf can mean to everyone: accessible family fun in a beautiful, sustainable environment. The main course has instituted a new teeing system that allows for enormous flexibility in teeing forward, allowing for a more pleasant and competitive experience for seniors and beginners. And The Forge serves as a gateway for anyone—golfer or not—to experience this jewel of the Bettendorf Parks system.

The future is bright for Kokopelli Golf Club in Marion, IL

(Credit: Kaitlyn McCurdy)

Kokopelli Golf Club in Marion has seen its share of ups and downs over the past 25 years. The Steve Smyers design has seen multiple changes in ownership since its founding, including a group that included Smyers himself. The most recent owners are Rodney Cabaness and Shad Zimbro, local businessmen who have been at the helm for nearly two years. And they are revamping, reinvigorating, and reimagining everything from the restaurant to stay-and-play packages to bunkers and tees to the course’s social media presence – top to bottom, soup to nuts.

Opened in 1996 to great acclaim and anticipation, Kokopelli Golf Club takes full advantage of the 210-acre property. A former coal strip-mine, the land heaves and falls, and a gaping ravine grabs wayward shots on a number of holes.

The unique topography, along with the difficult grass-growing climate and soil type, however, engendered problems early on. There were also man-made faults in the course construction, which worsened over time. For example, many of the 98 original bunkers were not fitted with proper drains, and the silty clay soil beneath the sand and clogged them, creating gloppy messes every time it rained.

There are still 76 bunkers dotting Kokopelli’s rolling landscape.

Although some of these issues were addressed over the years by previous owners, Cabaness and Zimbro – owners of a local Harley-Davidson dealership, Rent One minor-league baseball park adjacent the course, and several other businesses – are committing impressive resources and as much time as necessary to address the remaining ones. Some of the problematic bunkers have been or are being removed or repositioned (there are now 76), and all are being rebuilt with the Billy Bunker System. Tees have been stretched out on several holes, and priority has been given to maintenance, with a new fleet of mowers and associated equipment. Smyers doesn’t believe in water on golf courses unless it is a natural feature of the land, so the original layout had none, aside from the quarry lake that hugs the 5th green. The new team is finding low spots on the course – such as between the tee and the fairway on 12 – and digging out some water features, too.

The par-3 5th Hole at Kokopelli Golf Club

Player experience is also being enhanced in other ways. There’s a fleet of new electric chrome-wheeled golf carts with GPS and integrated Bluetooth – you can take phone calls and play music right through your cart. In the clubhouse, players find craft cocktails and a completely new gourmet menu in The Turn. When you convince a local chef to close down his restaurant and take over your restaurant, you signal a real commitment to providing a first-class dining experience.

Literally everywhere you look on the course—and beyond it—you will find improvements in progress or in planning. Kaitlyn McCurdy, Kokopelli’s golf and social media/marketing manager, describes the continuous work as “Mind-blowing and exciting.” Says McCurdy, “We are planning and working towards making Kokopelli Golf Course your oasis and ‘The Destination of Southern Illinois.’”

Playing Kokopelli

Kokopelli Golf Club plays to a par of 71, and from the championship tees, it stretches to 6,992 yards. But this could change. Iterative tinkering has necessitated several rounds of new ratings and scorecards. As a result, the GPS in the carts needs to be updated, as some holes were about 10 yards off. That GPS is indispensable, too, as Smyers plays with your depth perception throughout the course. Just about every approach looks longer (and occasionally shorter) than it really is. I cannot recall any course that was not designed by Pete Dye that messes with your eyes as much.

On the front side, the strip mine pit comes into play quite picturesquely on the 426-yard 4th, where, depending on which tee box you choose, you might need to carry a large portion of the yawning morass. At present, the fairway is occluded by brush and trees growing up from the pit, but the plan is to shave them down so players can see most of the fairway, even form the tips. Even so, keeping everything well right of the pit is critical here, as it runs from tee to green.

The par-4 4th Hole at Kokopelli is pretty but dangerous any time of the day. (Credit: Kaitlyn McCurdy)

The picturesque 146-yard 5th is about as daunting as a short par-3 can be, as the green is 40 feet below the tees and the putting surface is framed by water front, left, and some of the back. Club selection is critical. (Pro tip from McCurdy, a Marion HS golf stand-out: Use the US flag at the house on the hill behind the green rather than the flagstick to check the wind.)

Locals know to try to go low on the front side, as the back is considerably harder. The stretch of holes from 11-13, in particular, serve up one tricky tee shot after another, in terms of club selection, line, blind landing areas, and hazards. In fact, there are a good five or six mostly blind tee shots throughout the course, so again, that GPS is very handy.

The 9th green ends the “easier” part of Kokopelli. (Credit: Kaitlyn McCurdy)
And the 19th green is where the back-nine adventure begins.

The 525-yard par-5 closing hole is one of those blind shots, playing uphill over some fairway bunkers. A good drive sets you up for an eagle chance, but unless you’re knowledgeable or lucky, chances are you’ll be laying up from left of the fairway to the mounded, undulating green.

The best opportunities for birdies at Kokopelli are the four par 3s, which rank 15-18 in terms of their handicaps, yet there are always plenty of risks. The 204-yard 17th, the postcard hole on the back side, plays a bit downhill but is encircled with bunkers and mounding. Missing the green in the wrong spot makes for a tough bogey, not to mention par.

The par-3 17th at Kokopelli is as artistic as it is challenging.

Upgrading everything

As mentioned, the new owners are working and investing continuously in upgrading every aspect of the player’s experience. Three houses behind the 4th green have been purchased and are being renovated to accommodate groups of 6-8 right on the property.

The Turn restaurant offers pub fair to fine dining options, and plans are in place to expand and grow to allow for bigger groups, with more room for patrons to enjoy the best dining experience in town.

The Bacon Jam Burger at The Turn — with pickle fries! — hits the spot after a round.

Because Marion is so far south, most winters are warm enough to get out at least now and then all year. The owners are installing Turf Hound Product hitting mats at the practice range (which is also being expanded to resemble a circular stadium-style range) that will be open year-round, and there is a simulator in the Koko Simulator Suite in the clubhouse for cold snaps and rainy days.

The Koko Simulator Suite in the Kokopelli clubhouse is great for rainy days. (Credit: Kaitlyn McCurdy)

The verdict

From day one, Kokopelli Golf Club has had enormous potential. It has hosted numerous regional and state championships over the years. Now, though, its full potential is being realized. At present, rates are just $49 with cart on weekdays and $59 on weekends, which is a bargain. Once all the improvements have come to fruition, rates may go up, but the extent of the upgrades will almost certainly be worth the price of admission, whatever the rate.

Kokopelli Golf Club has its sights on becoming THE Southern Illinois Golf Destination. (Credit: Kaitlyn McCurdy)

Grand Geneva Resort and Spa: From bunnies to birdies

The Lake Geneva area of southern Wisconsin has been the preferred getaway for Chicagoans ever since 1871, when Chicago burned and industrialist families fled the remains of the city smoldering in the sweltering summer heat. The shores of Lake Geneva are lined with the “summer cottages” of families with names like Wrigley and Maytag – “cottages” with bedrooms numbering well into the double-digits.

In 1968, another famous Chicago millionaire – Hugh Hefner – opened the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. Movie, sports, and TV stars flocked to the resort to enjoy the amenities of the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired resort. There they found first-class service, gourmet dining, and a host of outdoor activities, including 36 holes of championship golf.

Today, the Grand Geneva Resort maintains the tradition of excellence in a completely family-friendly environment, with upgraded facilities and even more outdoor activities. Along with horseback riding, zip-lining, mountain biking, tennis, swimming, skiing, snowmobiling, and the total relaxation of the WELL Spa, golf remains the centerpiece of the picturesque property.

One of the many memorable tee shots on The Highlands course

It is rare to find a Midwestern golf destination with two courses designed by very different course architects. The Highlands (originally dubbed The Briar Patch) was one of the earliest Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye collaborations. The Brute was laid out by Robert Bruce Harris, who was one of the more underrated Midwestern golf course architects of the second half of the 20th century. About 20% of play comes from resort guests, about 50% from day-trippers from Chicago, Milwaukee, and elsewhere, and the rest are members. Standard rack rates hover around $160 in peak season, but there are fabulous stay-and-play packages, some of which include unlimited golf or even “free” golf during certain seasons when booking a room at the resort.

Playing The Highlands

Early Nicklaus-Dye designs were notoriously difficult, and The Briar Patch was one of them. In the 1990s, Bob Cupp and Bob Lohman pruned the sharpest thorns from the course, and the redesigned layout was renamed The Highlands. At 6,625 yards from the back tees, length is not the only – or even main – defense here. Only four par 4s stretch to 400+ yards from the tips, and only two do so from the “members’” tees (including the stout 461/450-yard 9th). So club selection, shot-making, and ball placement are all vital to scoring. The Nicklaus-Dye strategic game is strong here.

One highlight is the bucolic 192-yard, par-3 4th, where the tee shot is nearly all carry over wetlands and a stream to a wide but shallow bowl of a green. Choose the right club and find the green for par; miss it, and a double-bogey or worse awaits.

Choose your club wisely at the par-3 4th hole on The Highlands.

On the back side, the 594-yard 11th stands out. It is a snaking par-5 with an awkward landing area off the tee. The elevated green resists shots of any length, especially foolhardy second shots. The putting surface is long and narrow, and it is set at an angle such that only a perfectly placed lay-up towards the front will have a chance to hold. If the pin is down front, where the surface is rather devilishly mounded, even a short wedge might trickle off.

The 11th hole on The Highlands is a strategic and difficult par 5.

Although The Highlands allows for some wayward drives today thanks to the 1990s redesign, its softened name belies its difficulty from tee to green.

Playing The Brute

The Brute is longer than The Highlands at 7,029 yards from the tips, and it is rated over 2 strokes more difficult (74.3 vs. 72.0), hence its moniker. Course architect Robert Bruce Harris was a master at what is now revered as “natural” course design. He largely allowed the land’s natural contours and flow dictate routing and shaping, and he could design interesting courses conforming to whatever budget he was given. In 1968, Hugh Hefner had a pretty large budget.

The tee shot on the 9th hole of The Brute is a fun, and challenging, one. How close to the water will you dare to get?

The Brute features numerous blind shots off the tees and occasionally elsewhere, so the GPS in the golf carts is extremely helpful. There is plenty of water and woods to swallow misbehaving golf balls. And the greens are a mixture of turtlebacks and potato chips, varying widely in size. There are some stark elevation changes from tee to fairway – most notably at the 500-yard par-5 11th, which teeters at the highest point of the property. Perhaps the most visually striking feature of The Brute is the bunkering: many bunkers are enormous, shallow circles that resemble gigantic dinner plates.

The wide, shallow bunkers on The Brute make for a lot of long bunker shots, even in greenside hazards.

Although power is at more of a premium here than on The Highlands, shot-making is still critical. At the 374-yard 3rd, for example, the steeply downhill fairway only levels out as it is pinched off to about 15 yards wide between two ponds. It is from here where you have the best chance to land your second shot on the domed green perched some 30 feet back up above the ideal landing spot. Stay too short off the tee, you’ll have a severely downhill lie for your second. Miss the flat spot right or left, you’ll be wet.

That sliver of fairway between the ponds is the ideal place to hit your second shot to the 3rd green on The Brute.

The closing three holes are where you’ll experience both the “beauty” and the “brute” of Harris’s design. The 190-yard 16th is a lovely par 3 playing from an elevated tee to an elevated green. The 420-yard 17th presents a gorgeous tee shot to a fairway set at an uncomfortable angle across the corner of a fountained pond. The 464-yard 18th rewards even a hammered drive with a long approach. If you do find the enormous green with your second (or third) shot, this is a very easy green to three-putt.

The tee shot on the 17th of The Brute calls for a big power fade…or a draw out over the pond back into the fairway.
The 18th green on The Brute is probably the largest on the course — the site of my only 3-putt of the day.

The Resort

As noted, the resort itself pays homage to Wright’s Prairie style – long, low, horizontal lines, mixtures of textures and materials, and strong central geometric features. Moving between floors and buildings can be somewhat disorienting, but the plentiful signage reassures you that people like Sonny and Cher and Sammy Davis, Jr., used to get turned around in the same hallways.

The rooms have been updated and retrofitted with all the modern amenities. If you spring for a suite—some of which overlook The Brute – you’ll have plenty of room to spare.

Dining options are plentiful, with the Grand Café offering fine seasonal fare, and the Geneva ChopHouse serving up fine dining options. The bar in the main lobby overlooking the pool is a classy and classic place for a pre- or post-dinner drink.

Whenever I bring up the Grand Geneva Resort to an older golfing buddy of mine, he regales me (again…and again) with the story of how he hung out with Axl Rose and Stephanie Seymour at the pool during a golf trip to the resort in the early 1990s. I can’t promise a brush with the rich and famous today, but I can guarantee a luxurious, historic vacation – and golf! – experience in the heart of the Midwest.

Behind the 3rd green of The Brute

SentryWorld reasserts dominance in Wisconsin destination golf

Before Whistling Straits. Before Erin Hills. Before Wild Rock. Before Sand Valley.

Before all of these Wisconsin “destination” golf courses, there was SentryWorld.

The 2023 U.S. Senior Open will culminate on the 18th green of SentryWorld in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

SentryWorld debuted in 1982 in Stevens Point, when Sentry Insurance commissioned Robert Trent Jones, Jr., to build a course to cater to locals and business colleagues as well as attract golfers from the entire Midwest. In 2013, Jones and his team returned to renovate the layout. When it reopened in 2015, SentryWorld joined some of those upstart “destination” Wisconsin courses on numerous “Top 100 You Can Play” lists thanks to rebuilt bunkers, a new routing, and fully restructured green complexes.

Jones’s crew returned once again in 2020 and 2021 to make a few more tweaks to the course in anticipation of the 43rd U.S. Senior Open, which will be held June 29-July 2, 2023, the third USGA championship to be contested here. On top of the course upgrades, further “destination” features have been added, including two refreshment stations on the course, each of which players pass two times in the round, and the luxurious Inn at SentryWorld, overlooking the 18th fairway. Add these to the existing fieldhouse and multiple dining options, and SentryWorld is once again flexing its muscles as a premier golf destination.

The Inn at SentryWorld, which opened in March, 2022, blends first-class comfort with rustic charm.

Playing SentryWorld

Not only is SentryWorld a destination course, but it also offers perhaps the best “country club-for-a-day” experience I’ve ever had. Greens fees are $275, all inclusive. Director of Golf Danny Rainbow explained just how “all inclusive” it is.

“Of course GPS carts and range balls are included,” says Rainbow. “So is all food and drink on the course. There will be chefs and bartenders in the refreshment stations [which will replace the temporary tents once final construction is complete] to make whatever you want as you wait. No payment necessary, and no tips.”

“Wait, what? Anything?” asked a certain disbelieving golf writer.

“Anything,” reassured Rainbow. Because this seemed too good to be true, that golf writer had to ask a couple more times out on the course, and Rainbow—the nicest director of golf you will find anywhere—patiently reassured him every time.

Another innovation Rainbow has implemented are 20-minute intervals between tee times, rather than the customary 8- or 10-minute intervals. This means that you will likely not see another group ahead of or behind you during your round, even if you stop into the snack shacks four times for freshly-grilled burgers and custom cocktails.

Beyond the sumptuous victuals and relaxed pace of play, the course itself packs a smorgasbord of challenge and beauty into 200 acres. There are five tee boxes and four combination tee sets such that players can choose a comfortable yardage from 4,652 yards all the way up to 7,320 yards. The greens, which run between 11.5 and 13 on the Stimp meter, are brilliantly contoured and the bunkers are almost blindingly white. In 1982, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., went so far as to call the 204-yard, par-3 16th – aka “The Flower Hole” – his “Mona Lisa,” with 33,000 flowers surrounding the idyllic green. In the 2013-2014 redesign, 1,000 trees were removed to improve sight lines and make off-line shots easier to find and play.

Course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., called the par-3 16th at SentryWorld “My Mona Lisa.” Today, the staff call it “The Flower Hole” because of the 33,000 flowers planted around it every season. They’ll be in full bloom for the 2023 U.S. Senior Open.

But don’t let the beauty and pristine conditioning fool you – SentryWorld has some sharp teeth, too. Jones, Jr., fully embraces his father’s mantra of “easy bogey, difficult par.” Unless players choose wildly inappropriate tees, there will be plenty of scoring opportunities. But this doesn’t mean that low scores will materialize. For example, on the par-5 5th, the number-one handicap hole, players face a crescent-shaped cape hole around a lake with a huge tree guarding the approach. Pick your line wisely off the tee, and you’ll have a nice look to make the green in two shots. I was over the green in two, actually, in a bunker behind the green. Three shots later, I had to settle for par. Danny Rainbow, on the other hand, dunked his tee shot, reteed and reclubbed, and hit his third next to my drive. He stuck his approach and made the putt for a rare eagle-par.

If you pick your club and line correctly off the tee of the par-5 5th, you’ll need to contend with the tower tree that stands “sentry” at the green on your second shot.
Sometimes the best vantage point for truly brilliant holes is behind the green, like here behind the 5th.

The par-5 9th is similarly difficult, despite only measuring 501 from the championship tees. There’s a stream that meanders down the right side of the fairway before splitting it further toward the green. The green complex is magnificently devious, just as likely to punish two good shots as to reward them.  

It’s rare for the four most difficult holes on a course be the par 5s, especially when only one is over 600 yards. The stream meandering through the 9th at SentryWorld provides plenty of strategic difficulty.

The 436-yard 18th is a stout two-shot closer with OB (and The Inn) left and a completely new green complex, sternly bunkered and elevated above the fairway so that some parts of the green are blind, depending on your angle.

In short, SentryWorld is quite brilliant in conceptualization and in execution. It is extremely difficult to design a “destination” resort course that is also capable of challenging top players in a U.S. Open, “senior” or otherwise. One of the newer USGA-requested tweaks was that fairways would be shaved leading up to the edges of bunkers and that the bunker lips would be rounded to encourage balls to funnel into them. Another one was a few green alterations, creating some narrow fingers for pin positions accessible to only some of the best players in the world.

Not much room for error short or long at the par-4 4th.
The 611-yard 10th is the third-hardest hole on SentryWorld and the only par 5 to stretch to over 600 yards from the tips..

The Inn at SentryWorld

The Inn at SentryWorld opened in March, 2022, and when I visited, it still had that new-inn smell. Everything was crisp and immaculate. I would call the motif “northwoods chic,” first-class luxury framed by charming rusticity. Rates are around $255 per night, depending on room type. I know the mattresses are all new—like the entire inn—but nevertheless, my bed ranked easily in the top three most comfortable I’ve ever experienced on a golf trip.

Comfy beds and great views of the 18th hole at The Inn at SentryWorld
The patios at The Inn are great for watching the day, and golfers, go by.

The Fieldhouse, connecting to The Inn via a covered outdoor promenade more reminiscent of northern Italy than northern Wisconsin, houses indoor tennis and volleyball courts, golf simulators, meeting and event space, the pro shop, and the cavernous PJ’s restaurant and pub, perfect for a casual post-round drink or meal. If you’re in the mood for a formal dining experience, Muse at SentryWorld delivers gourmet fare in an elegant atmosphere.

The verdict

SentryWorld is not only ready for the best senior players in the world in 2023, it’s ready for players of all skill levels now. Walking is allowed, and there is a caddie program if golfers call ahead to arrange for a caddie. With the addition of The Inn, SentryWorld is ideal for weekend getaways, weddings, events, and family vacations, too. The all-inclusive greens fees make the original Wisconsin destination course one of the most reasonably priced, too.

Honma TW757 Fairway Woods boast tradition and tech

Japan is a golf-crazed nation. The sport is associated with status, leisure, and wealth. When I lived there in the early and mid 1990s, I would sometimes spend $200 in an evening just at a driving range–and the range was packed with golf nuts like me.

Honma is one of the top golf equipment companies in Japan, and it has the second-largest following outside of the Land of the Rising Sun, after Mizuno. Dozens of players on professional tours around the world fill their bags with Honma’s high-tech, high-performance sticks.

Honma’s TW757 line includes drivers, fairway woods, hybrids, and irons. Because fairway woods are particularly difficult for amateurs to strike consistently, this is an excellent entry point into Honma equipment – if the fairway woods perform for you, you can be confident the rest of the clubs will, too.

For a decade, my 3-wood – which used to be one of my favorite clubs – has been balky. It seems I can only hit low hooks. So I was eager to test the Honma TW757 3W ($415) to see if it would address this chronically dismal state of affairs.

How it plays

The TW757 3-wood has 15 degrees of loft and a 175cc clubhead constructed of a 455 maraging steel cupped face and an ultra-light carbon fiber crown. Honma builds all of its own graphite shafts in its Sakata plant, so even the stock Vizard shaft for TW757 is precisely tuned for performance with Honma clubheads.

There’s a slot on the sole parallel to the face to expand the effective hitting area and maintain ballspeed even on mishits. The center of gravity is extremely low and deep (with a standard 9-gram tungsten weight at the back of the sole). This weighting scheme delivers the most solid, powerful-feeling strikes I have ever experienced with a 3W. The compact head feels like a true fairway wood, unlike the oversized semi-drivers some companies call “fairway woods,” so contact from the fairway or rough is extremely consistent.

Most importantly for me, though, I’m finally once again able to get the TW757 in the air. I can even hit a high cut with it – something I have been vexingly unable to do for so many years now. At least, I can hit that shot on the (much cheaper American) driving range; we’ll see if I can transfer it to the course regularly. In any case, confidence is beginning to return to my long game.

The verdict

Golf is a passion in Japan, and Honma builds top-quality clubs to fuel that passion. The TW757 fairway woods are rock-solid, with tour-proven performance and power. I’ve even hit it off the tee a few times on the course to see how it stacks up to my driver, and the distances are not that different. It makes the round much more fun to have confidence once again to stand 250 yards out from a par-5 green and think, “Gambatte-yo!” – “Go for it!” in Japanese.

Bloodline Vale: Stand up for your putts

You’ve likely seen the infomercials for the putters that stand up behind your ball. This review is NOT about those putters. The Bloodline Vale (HPP) ($299) does stand up on its own, but there is no infomercial for Bloodline putters, the original self-standing putters.

The Vale is Bloodline’s newest addition. It’s a mallet with a “sabretooth” head shape – two “fangs” (flanges) extending from the rear to provide heel-toe balance and a big sweetspot in the center of the face. The head is exquisitely face-balanced. Two of the three alignment lines on the top of the putter head extend from face to the tips of the flanges, with the short line in the middle. This system precisely frames the ball, too, so when the putter is standing up behind the ball, the optics are ideal.

I played The Vale for several rounds, testing on faster and slower greens. Although a couple of my old-school playing partners (like, playing for 60+ years old-school) ridiculed it as a gimmick, after they saw putt after putt struck on the precise line I was trying to hit, even they had to admit it worked.

How does it work, exactly? Well, The Vale (HPP) has a high-performance polymer head that is quite heavy, and the carbon fiber shaft and custom grip are extremely light.  (You can find several other models at Bloodline, including The Vale (AA), with aircraft-grade aluminum head construction.) There are four small nubs on the bottom of the clubhead to level it out and stabilize it when it stands alone. The Vale comes with a tiny Allen wrench to adjust the lie angle, too, though if it is set too flat, balance might be affected.

As already noted, when I played with The Vale, it felt like every putt took the line I intended. Sometimes my reads were off, but I never questioned what line I *thought* was right.

I made this downhill putt, by the way, immediately after my old-school playing partner mocked The Vale.

The one detractor from The Vale’s performance for me was due to the weighting scheme. The balance point (when you balance the putter across your finger) is just a couple inches above the putter head – again, that’s how it stands by itself. This weighting is opposite that of putters with counterbalanced grips and shafts, which has become extremely common in recent decades. So it was difficult for me to dial in the speed with such a head-heavy putter. The Bloodline Vale rolls the ball beautifully off its grooved face, and during my first couple of rounds, many putts either flew past the hole or, as I tried to adjust, came up just short—but online.

The verdict

“Vale” means “farewell” in Latin. With some practice to dial in the speed, you’ll be saying “vale” to a lot of putts as they dive into the hole like homesick gophers. Don’t listen to the old farts who needle you about your self-standing putter – just tell them you’ll show them the line.

The Bloodline Vale is a visually striking putter, too, aside from the stand-alone capability. The headcover is made from bright red vinyl with a knight and coat of arms (evoking the Knights of the Vale from Game of Thrones) and a magnetic closure. The quality throughout is top-notch – definitely not the stuff of infomercials.

Fyre Lake Golf Course is a magical place

PGA Certified Director of Golf Mark Krizic took over ownership of Fyre Lake Golf Course in July, 2020. Nearly two years later, his initial assessment of the Nicklaus-designed course has only grown more certain.

Fyre Lake Golf Course, 8th green

“When I first came here, I said, ‘This is a top-10 Illinois course,’” remembers Krizic. “Look around at this property. There’s nothing else like it in Illinois. It can be a top-10 course, easily.”

The unique layout rises and falls along the shores and inlets of Fyre Lake (which is one of the best unheralded fishing lakes in the state, by the way). Ever since opening in 2013, it’s been sort of legendary for local players in the golf-rich Quad Cities. Until now, though, ownership and conditions have been inconsistent. Krizic has changed that, turning the myth into something both real and magical.

Length is not the primary defense of Fyre Lake Golf Course; the members’ tees are 6,192 yards, and the championship tees stretch to just 6,544 yards. Rather, uneven lies, tucked greens guarded by the lake, deceiving yardages, and ever-present prevailing winds conspire to make Fyre Lake play at least 500 yards longer that it says on the scorecard. In other words, it’s a challenge and a thrill, and under Krizic’s ownership, the assessment of its eventual recognition appears fully within reach.

Bunkering, elevation changes, visual tricks, and plenty of contouring provide plenty of challenge at Fyre Lake.

“It’s a great design,” repeats Krizic. “I’ve played golf all over the world, and this land and layout are special. It’ll take some time, but we’ve made a lot of progress already.”

The most obvious upgrades affect both the playability and the visual aesthetic of the course. “We’ve removed hundreds of trees already,” explains Krizic. “Look out at the lake,” he says, pointing from the small clubhouse deck. “None of those trees are supposed to be there, according to the original design.” More trees—nearly all of them throughout the property in, or even adjacent to the lines of play—will be coming down within the coming year. The grassy areas, which had been allowed for years to be taken over by weeds, will be returned to the original fescue. “Imagine in late summer,” opines Krizic. “That fescue will be golden brown. It will be beautiful.”

“All the money we make is going first into the course itself,” explains Krizic. “I’m old-school. The course itself, not the clubhouse or amenities, will keep golfers coming back.”

Playing Fyre Lake Golf Course

As noted already, Fyre Lake Golf Course should not be underrated due to its length. The par-70 design forces precision from tee to green, and plenty of power is also required on several holes. The 440-yard 1st is one of the prettiest opening holes in the state, with the back tees set basically off the edge of the practice putting green next to the clubhouse and the namesake lake in the distance. The bank between the higher first fairway and lower second has been mown, so opening drives that are pushed or sliced are now findable and playable, improving both vibe and pace of play. All three times I’ve played Fyre Lake, my first drive has gone right, so I immediately noticed this improvement.

The opening hole at Fyre lake is one of the prettiest in the state.

The 521-yard 2nd is the only par 5 on the front. It plays from a tee sitting below the level of the fairway all the way uphill to a well-bunkered green perched on a hillside high above. It feels more like a 700-yard par 5, but the view from the green back down the fairway toward the lake is worth the trek.

The putting surfaces themselves are full of movement, and many of them have multiple tiers, but they roll true; conditions are much improved from two years ago. A curious aspect of the greens is the lack of collars: no fringe, no “frog hair.” According to Krizic, this is a hallmark of Nicklaus designs. “He doesn’t like collars. It makes the greens really pop visually.” Krizic and his greenskeeper are currently in discussions about whether to add collars, though.

The 436-yard 3rd, which thanks to the only triple-bogey of my most recent round I now refer to as “The Devil’s Cloaca,” tumbles back downhill toward the lake, with no level spot on the fairway until it ends short of the thick rough on the lakeshore. Your approach here has to find a rock-walled green with no bailout right and H2O left.

Choose your club and line carefully at the downhill 3rd Hole at Fyre Lake.

As pretty as the front nine holes are, with multiple elevated tees reminiscent of Michigan golf, the real magic happens after the turn, with one memorable hole after another. The 190-yard 12th is a daunting par 3 from the tips – actually a totally different hole from the back tees compared to all the other tees. From there, it’s a 180-yard carry between trees and over a deep ravine. From the more forward tees, there’s progressively less and less carry required, but the angle to the putting surface becomes more awkward—a thrilling design for players of all skill levels.

The 401-yard 13th plays way downhill to a semi-blind landing area, and then further downhill to an island green that you just might see in your dreams or your nightmares, depending on how well you hit your approach. One of Fyre Lake’s rare design drawbacks is here. The back tees for the 386-yard 14th are located on the same island. So if the group in front of you is playing the tips when they shouldn’t be and are hitting ball after ball to try to get back over 230 yards of water to the 14th fairway, you’ll have plenty of time to ponder the tricky approach.

The green of the 13th Hole at Fyre Lake shares the same island as the back tees for the 14th Hole.

Personally, I also find the 372-yard 15th problematic, but probably because in the three times I’ve played Fyre Lake, I’ve averaged at least double-bogey. From any tees, there’s little visible fairway to aim at, and the reedy shore of the lake borders the left side from tee to green. If you’ve got a reliable power fade with your driver or fairway wood, you’re fine off the tee. But then your approach will need to carry water again to a small, mounded peninsula green. I have come to call this hole “The Devil’s Bathtub.”

If you can hit the 15th fairway, you’ve got this tiny green to aim for next.

The 430-yard 18th is a swooping, downhill right-to-left cape hole over water and bordered by bunkers and water. End with a good drive here, and your round will feel magical.

The 18th Hole at Fyre Lake is an outstanding closing hole, requiring precision and power.

The verdict on Fyre Lake Golf Course

Magical is a good word to describe Fyre Lake. The name sounds like the title of a fantasy novel series, and mystical things will happen to players here, thanks to the fantastical design’s use of the whimsical topography. Elevation changes and forced carries make all targets appear farther away than they really are – almost like a spell that plays with your eyes. There can be horrors too, though, from drowned balls to rolled carts.

“As I say,” explains Krizic, “I’m a purist. You saw the one and only sign on the course coming off the tee on 6, right?” I had – it said, “Slow down!” This was wise advice as the tee towered a good 60 feet above the fairway. I suggested a few more of those might be needed on stretches of cartpath that felt more like a rollercoaster. “No, that’ll be the only one,” Krizic replied with a smile.

The old-school approach also applies to the green fees. There are just three rates: $65 (Fr-Su), $55 (Mo-Th), $45 (Senior Mo-Th). “We don’t mess with that dynamic pricing stuff,” Krizic says.

One off-course upgrade already implemented is the hot dogs. Don’t laugh. They’ve all-beef and served on pretzel buns, which are transformative. Seriously, treat yourself to one (with high-end condiments, too).

For those who have played Fyre Lake and wonder about the future of this almost mythical layout, Mark Krizic wants players to know this: “The vision for the course is always the same. Make sure the greens are consistent, maintain the golf course. But you have to put money into the golf course to make it happen. We’re improving customer service and amenities. But our very first focus is the golf course” – a course like no other in Illinois.

Edison Wedges: Invented for the average player

Terry Koehler has been in the golf equipment industry for 40 years. He began with Ray Cook Putters in the early 1980s. He joined Ben Hogan Golf in the early 90s. He founded both Eidolon Golf and Scor Wedges, where he developed the first progressive weight wedge system. Then he brought Ben Hogan back to life. He planned to retire and write as “The Wedge Guy.”

Edison Wedges feature weighting targeted at amateurs, but without the usual “chunky” profile.

But Koehler felt he had some unfinished business. So he founded Edison Wedges. What makes Edison Wedges different from the wedges of big-name companies? In a recent interview, Koehler opined about Edison, wedges in general, and what average golfers need in their wedges.

Terry Kohler: In all major companies’ wedges, the top two-thirds of the clubhead in most wedges is thin. The biggest wedge mis-hit for most amateurs is high on the face. The smash factor decreases dramatically when impact is above the 5th groove. Spin decreases, too. 87% of spin on full shots comes from wedge weighting; only 13% comes from the grooves. The gear effect is also accentuated because the weight is below the ball. So most amateurs hit wedges too high, offline, and with not enough spin.

Kiel Christianson: What’s keeping major manufacturers from making wedges for average golfers?

TK: They make wedges for their tour pros. Wedges are the only clubs that don’t have many game-improvement elements. Less than 2% of recreational golfers play blades as their irons, but 98% play wedges designed for pros. Impact is optimized between grooves 2-5. This is where pros hit it. Average players usually contact the ball between grooves 4-8. Edison wedges are built for center of impact between grooves 3-8. This is what 8-20 handicappers need. All companies are trying to sneak weight higher in the face, but hampered by what tour players will let them do. Iron Byron proves what is good for pros is not appropriate for the vast majority of recreational players.

KC: What about those wide-soled, anti-chunk wedges?

TK: I call those one-hit wonders. They’re good for getting out of the sand, but not for full shots or creating shots around the green. Nobody knows what their next lie is going to look like, or what the conditions will be. When I looked around at wedges on the market, I said, “For Pete’s sake, let’s build a sole that will work in all conditions.”

KC: So what features of Edison Wedges are specially designed for average golfers?

TK: Edison has more weight above impact than anyone has ever done before, and they’re forged. The top section is 34% heavier than low section – this makes for a more penetrating flight and more spin. Testing shows that Edison wedges without the grooves cut in yet produce more spin on a dry ball than our competitors’ grooved wedges. Again, grooves only account for 13% of the spin equation. On short shots around greens, grooves matter more.

KC: Do they look chunkier at set-up?

TK: Our wedges are obviously thicker from back or in cross-sections – about 2x as thick on top half of the clubface than big-name wedges. At address the topline is slightly thicker, but not distracting.

How Edison Wedges play

The Edison Wedges website features a Wedgefit page, where shoppers can enter information about their game, tendencies, and current wedges. Koehler personally inspected my profile, and set me up with a three-wedge set: 49-deg., 53-deg., and 59-deg ($184 each). The lofts were somewhat surprising when I opened the box, as I usually play a 52, 56, and 60 set. And, importantly, I know precisely what my yardages are with these lofts.

Nevertheless, I took the Edisons to my local course (and some not-so-local ones) to play them for ten rounds. I remember quite clearly what I thought when I hit my first shot with one, too: “Wow—Koehler wasn’t kidding.”

You can feel immediately that Edison Wedges are forged, as they feel rock-solid yet exquisitely soft. The soles have worked perfectly in both the sloppy early-spring conditions and now in what has become a very dry early summer. Bunker shots with both the 53 and 59 have been better than ever – I got up and down for three rather improbable pars at Fyre Lake Golf Course from some very deep greenside bunkers with the 59, despite being short-sided every time.

Not only is the feel of Edison Wedges fabulous, but as Koehler described, the ball flight is generally lower than most wedges, and the ball spins more. I have “backed up” these wedges more than ever before (except, perhaps, Koehler’s old Scor Wedges, which I also reviewed).

The only downside to the wedge set are the yardages of the unfamiliar lofts. The 49-deg. Edison traveled considerably farther than my old 52-deg., about the same as a soft pitching wedge. So it was difficult to figure out how hard to swing for a standard 125 yard “gap” wedge. The same went for the 53-deg., which required trying to swing softer to hit my normal 100-110 56-deg. yardage. As a result, I found myself over the back of more greens during those ten rounds than I recall all last season.

On the other hand, I had given up trying to hit full 60-deg. wedges, as they often came out soft and right because they were contacted so high on the face. Edison’s weighting has put an incredible 80-yard full-swing option into my bag. In fact, the 59-deg. now gets the call for any shot less than 80 yards.

The verdict

If you’re not a pro golfer, and if you struggle with your wedges, Edison is well worth a try. According to Koehler, most Edison customers come for one wedge to try them out first, “And they come back for a whole set after a round or two.”

“I’ve got Iron Byron data from 60,000 average golfers,” says Koehler. “There’s not another wedge on the market that’s built like Edison.”

In other words, they were invented specifically with players like you—and me—in mind.

Glynns Creek Golf Course: A municipal gem in the Iowan countryside

The mighty Mississippi meanders serenely between Illinois and Iowa, separating the two Illinoisan cities of Rock Island and Moline from the two Iowan cities of Davenport and Bettendorf. Together, they constitute the Quad Cities, an area rich in history, food, entertainment, and golf.

Riverboat gambling is the biggest tourist draw, but well over a half-dozen public courses (and several private clubs) dot the surrounding countryside. All of these are reasonably priced, well maintained, and challenging in their own ways. The trove of hidden gems among these courses promises intrepid golfers a far richer pay-off than they could ever reap from the slot machines on the river.

One of the longest of the courses in the Quad Cities area is Glynns Creek Golf Course, located in Long Grove, Iowa, just north of Davenport. The 7,036-yard Dick Watson design opened in 1992, and it’s owned and operated by the Scott County Park District.

The peaceful green at the par-4 3rd Hole at Glynns Creek Golf Course

I first visited Glynns Creek in 2006, and I had forgotten just how isolated it feels to visitors. You drive from what seems like quite some time across the rolling farm fields among the predominantly white and sandstone-red colored farmhouses and barns, thinking to yourself, “I must have missed a turn.” Then you catch a glimpse of a fairway that’s a different shade of green from the emerging crops.

Great municipal facilities like Glynns Creek have a real family feel to them – everybody knows everybody. So when a stranger like me walks in, people notice. I introduced myself to Josh Bowlin, Head PGA Professional, noted that I hadn’t visited since 2006, and asked, “So, what’s changed since then?”

The question was rightfully met with a deep chuckle – 2006 is longer ago than I fully realized when I asked the question.

“Lots of changes,” said Bowlin. “The biggest change is that we’ve mowed down the high grass between holes, so there’s more room on many holes. We also removed a ton of trees that were killed by the emerald ash borer.” So “more open” is a general theme throughout the layout. “There’s also a new driving range and a new short-game practice area.”

“And the greens are much faster,” added Bowlin. “They’re running at a 9 on the Stimp meter now, but we’re working on getting them to 10. So the biggest tip I have for visitors is to play to the centers of greens and keep the ball below the hole.”

Admirably, the considerable upgrades have not brought with them a steep rise in green fees. In fact, at $44/weekend and $39/weekdays (with GPS-equipped cart), rates have only risen about $4 in 16 years.

How it plays

From the tips, Glynns Creek is long enough to challenge the best players. Even the blues, at 6,700 yards, require considerable skill and power. The whites, at 6,295 yards, are reasonable for most amateurs, especially newcomers.

With only about 15 sand bunkers on the entire course, and very little water, the major hazards are the occasional stands of trees and the ever-present rough. “Keep out of the rough,” cautioned Bowlin before my round. “It is so thick, one of two things will happen: you’ll either catch a flier, or you won’t get out.”

The green of the 5th Hole at Glynns Creek provides a sampling of difficulties without requiring any sand bunkers.

My experience with all but two shots from the rough (and there were many) was the latter – it was like trying to chop out of a hay bale. Anything more than an 8-iron just got eaten up, and the ball was lucky to go 30 yards.

In this rough, however, lay the subtle genius of the low-cost muni: opt for lush rough and artful grass-bunkers over sand bunkers, remove excess trees, don’t mow at all where balls really should not be hit, and focus care and money on the greens to get them fast and true. Glynns Creek offers a master class in this approach to affordable golf.

Above the 9th green at Glynns Creek: thick rough in the fairways and mounding all around the green
Some of the artful mounding around the greens complexes (10th Hole)

Many of the greens are framed by mounding, and depending on pin position, missing the putting surface can be hugely penal. Several of the greens are tiered, and finding the right tier is critical. The back nine really shines, including the final four holes, starting with the par-5 15th, followed by the par-3 16th, the longest par-5 (the 17th is 600 yards from the tips), and the strong 426-yard, par-4 18th. In front of the final green, you’ll find a single, sublime pot bunker – dead in the middle-front of an elevated kidney-shaped green. Well anyway, I found that bunker, but I was able to get up and down from the heavy but nicely consistent sand to end with a par.

The few bunkers that dot Glynns Creek Golf Course are expertly positioned, like this pot bunker smack-dab in front of the elevated 18th green.

The verdict

About 80% of play on Glynns Creek is local, but visitors from Chicago and Rockford regularly make the trip to the outskirts of the Quad Cities to enjoy the value and challenge here. Aside from the cabbage-like rough, the only frustration was the persistent cloud of gnats that one finds here in the early summer. I actually was able to skip lunch because I swallowed so many bugs. On the other hand, pace of play was not a frustration at all, as the staff in the pro shop monitor the carts’ GPS units and will go have a talk with slow groups. This may be a muni course out in the countryside, but the staff and players at Glynns Creek take their golf seriously, and they have a serious golf course to show for it.

Firm, fast greens with plenty of contouring require no additional defenses.

If you go

Stay right in downtown Moline at Stoney Creek Inn. It’s within walking distance of many restaurants and bars and other attractions. It’s where lots of players and caddies stay during the John Deere Classic PGA Tour event.

2022 Father’s Day Golf Gift Guide

This Father’s Day, I’m particularly reflective.

My son—the younger of my two kids—just graduated from high school, and he’ll soon make his way out of state for college. He won’t be playing golf there, but I hope he takes the work ethic embodied in the photo below with him when he goes. This was his sophomore year on the golf team, as I waited for him in the parking lot while he conscientiously completed a putting drill. It’s my favorite phot of him in 4 years on the golf team, where he played well—consistently low-man on the team in post-season play.

I guess, in the end, all that fathers can hope for is that they’ve equipped their children with sufficient life-lessons before they leave home. It’s sort of like making sure they’ve got golf balls and tees, a towel, a scorecard, and decent clubs before teeing off. This Father’s Day, return the favor and make sure your old man is equipped to handle whatever the next round – of golf or of life – has in store for him. Here are my favorite golf gifts for Dad this year.

Fuzzy’s Vodka

You know what? I think I’m going to start this gift guide at the 19th Hole for a change—it’s been a rough year already. In 1979 Fuzzy Zoeller, one of golf’s biggest personalities, burst onto the scene with his surprise win at the Masters. Today, his eponymous Fuzzy’s Vodka is made from 100% American corn, five times distilled and ten times filtered, and a portion of each batch is rested in new American oak barrels. The result is crisp, smooth, and incredibly clean. In response to Russia’s war on Ukraine, Fuzzy’s is promoting the American Stallion – same ingredients as a Moscow Mule, but different name and only all-American Fuzzy’s Vodka.

Arnie and Jack: Stories of My Long Friendship with Two Remarkable Men by Charlie Mechem

Maybe the Dad in your life is feeling reflective like me, and maybe a little bit sentimental after an American Stallion or two (also like me). Roll with the mood and gift ol’ Dad a book about two of the nostalgic icons of golf, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The author, Charlie Mechem, had a long and remarkable legal and business career that included serving as a longtime advisor to both Palmer and Nicklaus. “I was honored and privileged to know Arnie and Jack for many years as good friends and to be blessed by those relationships,” said Mechem. “My life has been greatly enriched by my friendship with these two men.” Nobody has stories like Charlie of a couple of the great “fathers” in golf. To learn more about Mr. Mechem and to learn more about the book, visit HERE.

SkyCaddie GPS

As a golf writer, I play a lot of different courses around the world, from the Bahamas to Iceland. It’s often tricky to get a feel for a course or for certain holes never having seen them before. The SkyCaddie SX550 GPS ($400-$480) is the newest release from SkyGolf. WiFi connectivity, a 5-inch touch screen, IntelliGreen® and Holevue® technologies, with contours of all greens for 35,000 preloaded, ground-verified, error-corrected courses. Frankly, there are too many features and functions to list here. Suffice it to say you will be able to pinpoint every shot yardage to every feature of the course and track all your shots and stats, too. The basic unit comes with a free 1-year subscription, which can be expanded to a 3-year subscription for a fraction of the cost. Totally worth it, especially if Dad plays lots of new courses or is planning a bucket-list golf trip.

GOLFFOREVER Swing Trainer and Fitness System

GOLFFOREVER is a comprehensive, customized at-home training system ($199) that takes a science-based approach to maximizing golfers’ performance by improving flexibility, core strength, balance and rotational power. Think Peloton for golf. It is the first golf-specific home training program to combine home exercise equipment with streaming instruction. Then GOLFFOREVER takes it one step further by customizing each golfer’s exercise routines just for them, based on a proprietary strength and flexibility test users take when starting. This consists of three videos and associated exercises to see where you’re at. It is used by more than 50 PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players—including World #1 Scottie Scheffler—and thousands of everyday golfers alike. For more information visit HERE. The equipment comes with a 30-day free trial of the video lessons, which cost $25/mo month-to-month or $16.58/mo billed annually.

FootJoy FUEL and Field Golf Shoes

FootJoy has redefined comfort while maintaining its spot at the top of the golf shoe pyramid. The FJ FUEL ($130) is new for 2022. Available in men’s, women’s, and junior’s sizes, the FUEL has a sneaker-inspired design that features the StratoLite foam compound. These shoes cradles your feet and weigh practically nothing. I walked 36 holes in these straight out of the box, and my feet felt fantastic. And the stability is really impressive.

If Dad is more of a traditionalist, he FJ Field ($200) is the newest addition to the FootJoy Premier Series. It was the most-worn shoe in this year’s Masters, so you know the quality is second to none. The spikeless outsole is constructed of multiple compounds to provide both traction and stability, and the OrthoLite insole is luxurious—ideal for protecting the feet of the best golfers on the planet. Doesn’t Dad deserve both timeless fashion and modern comfort?

Cole Haan ZERØGRAND Overtake Golf Shoe

Iconic shoemaker Cole Haan is expanding its golf offerings in 2022. If Dad’s footwear tastes run toward styling reminiscent of crossfit or basketball shoes, the ZERØGRAND Overtake Golf Shoe ($150) is for him. Superb traction and comfort are guaranteed, and the mesh bootie inner lining hugs your feet and wicks moisture away from them, making blisters nearly impossible. These shoes feel like a second skin.

The go-to gift: Balls

Titleist is most famous for the ProV1/V1x models, but their lower-priced balls, geared towards various amateur players, boast the same top-tier quality control and consistency. The Titleist Velocity ($30/doz) is geared toward squeezing the most distance as possible out of your long clubs while maintaining acceptable greenside feel. On the other end of the spectrum, Titleist’s softest ball is the Titleist TruFeel ($25/doz). It still generates distance, but its real strength is exquisite feel and control around the green. Finally, the Titleist AVX ($50/doz) is a 3-piece performance ball that produces low spin and low ball flight with tremendous greenside control If the ProV1 is made for pros, the AVX is for the scratch handicappers at your club.

My first review of Srixon golf balls—which appeared some 15 years ago—introduced them as the best ball whose name you can’t pronounce. Today, Srixon has become a household name amongst avid golfers between their high-quality equipment and their high-profile sponsorships on Tour. At the top of these high-profile Srixon staffers is Brooks Koepka, who plays the brand-new Z-Star Diamond ($45/doz). The Z-Star Diamond is a 3-pc Urethane ball, with high greenside spin, mid driver spin, and mid-high iron spin. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better all-around balance in a golf ball. The redesigned Q-Star ($28/doz) is a low-compression ball for higher handicap players who want all the benefits of a premium ball without the premium price tag.

Maybe the most aggressive ball marketing campaign this season has been rolled out by Bridgestone. The Tour B Series (all $50/doz) consists of four ball models, with one model in two versions. The Tour B X has been designed in consultation with Bryson DeChambeau, and he and Matt Kuchar play it on Tour. The Tour B RX is played in competition by Lexi Thompson. The Tour B RXS is played by Fred Couples. The Tour B XS was designed with input from Tiger Woods himself, and Tiger plays it in competition (well, limited competition, so far). And finally, if Dad REALLY wants to feel like Tiger when he plays, pick up a box of the limited-edition Tour B XS – TW Edition, stamped with the “TIGER” name. After Bridgestone introduced these last year, you’d see the occasional Twitter post by people who found them at their local courses and were convinced Tiger had played there!

Golf Pride CPX Grips

Golf Pride’s new CPX is the first grip completely concepted and developed at Golf Pride’s new Global Innovation Center in Pinehurst, NC. CPX, which stands for “Comfort Performance Extreme,” is constructed from a very soft and responsive rubber compound that molds to the golfer’s hands for the ultimate in comfort and stress relief. The soft and tacky material features a 45-degree diamond pattern inspired by the grips on BMX bikes. In addition, the innovative Control Core® in the grip’s end-cap complements the soft rubber compound to afford the best of both worlds: maximum softness and maximum control. I love the texture of these grips, and even though my previous grips still had some life in them, I regripped everything to take full advantage of these innovative grips.

Sun Mountain Speed Cart V1R

Give Dad the gift of more golf-related exercise with a new push cart. Sun Mountain’s Speed Cart V1R ($270) is updated for 2022. The V1R opens and closes with the flip of two levers. It has an ergonomic storage console and a headcover basket, is available in 10 different colors, folds down to W 37” X H 16” X D 13”, and weighs just under 18 lbs. When folded, the V1R is long and narrow – perhaps a bit too long for many sedan trunks, but ideal for a pick-up or SUV. And it fits perfectly in full-sized golf course lockers. This is probably the smoothest-rolling cart I’ve ever used. It feels like your bag is floating down the fairways.

There you have it – a wish-list fit for any golfing Dad. My only wish is for a few more rounds with my son before he heads off to college. So maybe find some time to play with your old man, too.