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.
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 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 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 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?
(Photos by Andrew Hollingworth & Kiel Christianson)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For over a decade, I’ve been writing a Valentine’s Day Golf Gift Guide. But realisticly, that’s not a day for golf gifts.
What should be a holiday though, at least for those of us with green running through our veins and visions of birdies dancing through our heads, is Masters Week. If you live in a colder climate, this is the start of golf season. You wait all winter for the televised panorama of azaleas and dogwood, of verdant fairways and roaring patrons. Your heart flutters when you hear Jim Nantz intone, “Hello, friends.” I mean shivers, amirite?!?
This. This is when we should be buying gifts. Doesn’t matter if you’re buying them for yourself or for others. Time to restock, retool, re-enter the world of sun and fun and golf. So if you’re looking to treat yourself or someone else to some new swag for a new season, here are a few of our top suggestions.
Sun Mountain Speed Cart V1R
I don’t know about you, but this pandemic has been hell for my physical fitness. Walking the golf course a few times a week is the best chance I have for exercise, and a quality pushcart is key to getting in 14,000 steps while saving my back and shoulders. The Speed Cart V1R ($270) by Sun Mountain 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.
FootJoy FUEL and Field Golf Shoes
Along with a great pushcart, a summer of 18-hole walks requires some comfortable shoes. My very first pair of golf shoes were FootJoys – leather, metal spikes, and no padding. For a couple years, I associated golf with blisters and pain. But shoe technology has come a long way since the Taft administration, and 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.
The FJ Field ($200) is the newest addition to the FootJoy Premier Series. It will be 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. Don’t you deserve both timeless fashion and modern comfort, too?
Cole Haan ZERØGRAND Overtake Golf Shoe
Iconic shoemaker Cole Haan is expanding its golf offerings in 2022. If your footwear tastes run toward styling reminiscent of crossfit or basketball shoes, the ZERØGRAND Overtake Golf Shoe ($150) is for you. Superb traction and comfort are guaranteed, and the mesh bootie inner lining hugs your feet and wicks moisture away from them. These shoes really feel like a second skin.
Galway Bay Vests
Luxury golf outerwear leader Galway Bay is introducing a new line-up in April, 2022, just in time for the Masters. If the golf season where you live can bring some unpredictable weather, this new collection will help keep you dry and warm. I have no idea yet how much anything will cost – in fact, actual photos haven’t even been released yet. But I’ve seen the concept drawings of the vests, and I’m a sucker for a cozy, stylish vest. So keep your eyes peeled come April.
Bushnell Phantom 2 GPS
Whether you walk or ride, having a handy, quick, light GPS will help you routinely choose the right club. The Bushnell Phantom 2 GPS ($130) is the lightest, most compact GPA device that is also easy to read and easy to keep track of. Numbers are large and easy to read, providing front, center, and back of green yardages. There’s also a green view mode with moveable pin placement. Best of all, the integrated magnet locks the Phantom 2 firmly onto any ferrous surface on your pushcart or golf cart.
My son’s summer job for a couple of years has been as cart boy at the local course. If he had been allowed to keep and resell all the sunglasses he found in carts, he would have made more than he did from his actual pay. The point is, people spend lavishly on sunglasses and then lose or break most of them. Enter Tifosi, maker of high-quality, stylish shades that you don’t want to lose, but you can afford to lose—and replace—if that’s how your day goes. Tifosi’s newest model is the Swank XL ($30), which has classic “Wayfarer” styling in six different frame and lens color combinations. If you’re into more of a wrap-around look, the Crit, Veloce, and Seek FC models ($50) all feature the Enliven Golf lens, especially designed to accentuate contours and contrasts on the course.
Circle 15 Golf Glove
Circle 15 Golf is the brainchild of PGA Tour Pro Chris Smith (whose family owns the hidden gem Rock Hollow Golf Club in Peru, Indiana). Circle 15’s flagship product is The Genesis golf glove ($25). According to Smith, the golf gloves that pros wear on tour are nothing like the ones amateurs buy in their pro shops – until now. The suppleness and thickness of the sheepskin leather is like no other golf glove you’ve ever worn. At present, the Circle 15 website says The Genesis is sold out—and there is a very good reason for this: it is honestly the softest, most form-fitting glove I’ve ever put on. They do seem to run a bit narrow, though, so keep that in mind when deciding on your size.
I have two traditions for the start of the golf season: Clean my clubs and replace all the old balls in my bag (which have been frozen solid all winter in my car trunk—I know, I know) with brand new sleeves. 2022 is a big year for golf balls, with all my favorite companies introducing upgrades of their respective popular models.
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. I may hold a PhD, but it’s not a PhD in material science, so I have no idea how to differentiate these high-tech pearls. The best heuristic I can come up with is to think about each of the various balls’ properties in terms of the Tour pros who play them. 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 you REALLY want to feel like Tiger when you play, 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!
Everyone Here Is From Somewhere Else, a novel by Jeff Wallach (Open Books)
For evenings after a round, or rainy days when you can’t play, a good book like this is a must-have to start off a new golf season. Jeff Wallach has written for a dozen national magazines on topics ranging from finance to golf and travel. His previous novel, Mr. Wizard, introduced Phillip and Spencer Elliot. His newest novel centers around the physical travels and existential expeditions of these brothers after the death of their intrepid mother. Wallach weaves together scenes both humorous and poignant, along with evocative descriptions of Irish golf as the Elliot brothers come to terms what their mother wanted for them and what they want for themselves.
There you have it, friends – all you need to embark on another summer of golf. Enjoy the Masters, and may every bounce be favorable.
Cleveland Golf is historically known for its wedges and putters. Recent Cleveland driver offerings have also been extremely strong, however. In 2021, Cleveland’s Launcher Driver line literally expanded Cleveland’s august reputation with the Launcher XL.
The Cleveland Launcher XL ($399) lives up to its moniker. The driver head is 6.7% deeper front to back, which adds an 11% in MOI (5,200 g*cm²). The effect of this design on performance is a 27% tighter dispersion over the previous generation of Launcher Drivers. The company promises “long and straight” drives with the Launcher XL. And hey, I like long and straight. So I decided to give it a test.
Playing the Cleveland Launcher XL Driver
The Launcher XL boasts a number of features both visible and invisible to the naked eye. Most visible is the adjustable hosel, which allows tinkerers to optimize launch angle, distance, and shot shape with up to 12 different loft settings. Invisible features include a Rebound Frame, described by Cleveland as “alternating zones of flexibility and rigidity [that] direct more energy into the golf ball.” Another is called “Action Mass CB.” The “CB” bit stands for “counter-balance,” and refers to an 8g weight in the grip-end of the shaft. Some all-time greats—Jack Nicklaus, for example—swear by counter-balancing. Average golfers like me (or, likely, you) might not notice the effects of counter-balancing, but if Jack likes it, it can’t hurt.
Sure, these features are swell and all, but for me, press releases pale in comparison to actual hands-on performance. So I played the last few rounds of the 2021 golf season at Lake of the Woods Golf Course with the Launcher XL. Late-season rounds in central Illinois can mean cold temperatures and plenty of wind. The testing would not be easy.
As it turns out, “long and straight” is not an empty promise. Despite the conditions, I hit some of my best drives all year. For example, the 13th hole is 330 yards from the white tees. It plays fairly steeply uphill from the tee to the 150 yard marker, where it flattens out until the green, which is another 6-feet uphill. OB runs tee-to-green on the left, and trees lurk to the right. I’ve hit some big drives here this summer with the driver I put in my bag this spring, ending up just 20 yards short a couple times in hard, dry, fast conditions. With the Launcher XL, in soft, wet, cold, windy conditions, I came up just 30 yards short. With only a few yards of roll. Dead straight, too.
“But,” you may say, “I want to work the ball. I don’t like long and straight.”
To you, I say, “There’s always one.”
Seriously, I enjoy shaping shots. But I don’t enjoy fiddling with adjustable hosels. So the real test is whether the neutral settings of the drivers I test still allow for draws and fades (like, intentional draws and fades—I know they all can handle the unintentional ones). Fast-forward to hole 7 during the penultimate round of the season. The 7th at Lake of the Woods is just 292 yards from the white tees, but over a pond, uphill, and with a right-to-left bend around towering trees and an awkward fairway bunker to a green surrounded by more sand. The prudent shot from the tree is a hybrid to the 100-yard marker. It’s more fun to try to bust driver around the corner, which is precisely what I did with the Launcher XL – ended up 25 yards short of the green, despite a persistent headwind. Even my HS golfer son, who now hits it past me nearly every time, uttered the word “Beautiful.” Eat your hearts out, Tiger and Charlie Woods.
Cleveland XL Driver: The verdict
2022 is going to be tough at the beginning, because I am going to have to decide whether to keep the Cleveland Launcher XL in my bag. Its performance is comparable to the $500 driver I’d been using most of the 2021 summer. Tough call.
If there is one knock against The Launcher XL, it is the sound at impact, which is a big “clangy” compared to some other drivers I’ve tested over the past year. One of my son’s friends broke his driver during the fall, and I lent him a couple to choose from for his final junior tour event. He loved the XL’s distance, but didn’t like the sound.
As for me, well, I’m older, and my hearing is not as acute. It would be nice to have a driver that matches my wedges and putter. And, Hogan help me, I do like “long and straight.”
(NOTE: The Launcher XL also comes in LITE and LITE Draw versions ($349), for golfers who want extra swing-speed with or without draw-bias.)
Routines are powerful. In golf, routines are especially valued. How many times have you heard top players talk about the importance of maintaining their pre-shot routine, or their practice routine, or their fitness routine? For amateurs, just working regular play into your routine is key to improvement. You’re not going to lower your handicap playing just once a month. One positive consequence of the pandemic has been more people playing golf more regularly.
There are bad routines too, though. And when productive regular routines get disrupted, it can be tough to get them back. Supply chains are essentially routines, and we’re seeing what happens when a global pandemic disrupts them. If you usually procrastinate, it would be wise to adjust your shopping routine and order early this year. Here’s a selection of gift ideas that will help keep golf part of your routine in 2022.
BIG MAX Blade IP push cart
Maybe the best routine in golf is walking when you’re able. 18 holes works out to a 6-8 mile walk on most courses, which is fantastic exercise (and saves loads on cart fees). Lots of golfers replaced gym workouts with walking over the past couple of years, and this trend is continuing. Serious walkers who want to reduce strain on their backs are recognizing the benefits of push carts. One of the most compact and sturdiest on the market is the BIG MAX Blade IP ($350). BIG MAX is Europe’s top cart manufacturer, and the Blade IP is their most popular model. It folds to just 5” deep, so it easily fits in cars or lockers, and it’s built to last with a 5-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Galway Bay rainwear
Walking the course sometimes necessitates some extra protection against the elements. Galway Bay is renowned for high-quality outerwear that breathes while still keeping you warm and dry. Their new line of rainwear is constructed out of Hydro-Flex 32 fabric, which is extremely lightweight and quiet. My son received a Galway Bay all-weather long-sleeve rain jacket ($329) toward the end of his high school golf season and wore it during a couple of tournament rounds. His characteristically to-the-point evaluation? “That jacket kept me bone-dry—it really works!” Matching rain pants ($184) are also available to complete the ensemble.
Piper Golf Balls
Boutique golf ball brands have proliferated over the past decade. With golf’s popularity exploding during the pandemic, the market has expanded to make room for these innovative, quality, affordable pearls. One of the newest is Atlanta-based Piper Golf. Founder Mike Gottfried finally had enough of not knowing which ball suited his swing, so he developed a line of golf balls calibrated in construction, materials, and performance for players of all levels. Piper Green ($20/doz) is a 2-piece Surlyn-covered ball for slower swingers and higher handicappers. Piper Blue ($25), their most popular model, is a Surlyn 3-piece for 5-15 handicappers. Piper Black ($30) is a 3-piece urethane ball for players with mid-fast swings who consistently score in the 70s-80s – it competes with ProV1s. Piper Gold ($35) is the top-of-the-line 2-piece urethane ball for fast swinging top players. I’ve played all four and found all of them to perform as advertised. Brand loyalty is basically a routine. If it feels like it’s time to break your old routine and try something new, Piper is a solid option.
Clean Flight personal ball washer
One routine interrupted by COVID is cleaning your golf ball on each tee, as lots of courses removed ball washers to cut down on points of contact between players. But no matter what brand of ball you play, you’re going to want to keep them clean. The Clean Flight personal ball washer ($35) fits into a cart cup holder or clips onto your bag and comes with a tube of cleaning gel. I’ve used it with the gel and also with just a bit of soapy water in it to great effect – really handy in sloppy, muddy conditions!
Bushnell Phantom 2 GPS
Whether you walk or ride, having a handy, quick, light GPS will help you routinely choose the right club. The Bushnell Phantom 2 GPS ($130) is the lightest, most compact GPA device that is also easy to read and easy to keep track of. Numbers are large and easy to read, providing front, center, and back of green yardages. There’s also a green view mode with moveable pin placement. Best of all, in my opinion, is the integrated magnet, which locks the Phantom 2 firmly onto any ferrous surface on your push cart or golf cart.
Claw Pro golf glove
One golf routine I do not appreciate is paying $20 for a new glove every month or so. I much prefer my new routine of wearing one Claw Pro ($25) glove for an entire season. The Claw Pro is constructed of durable and breathable synthetic suede and mesh on the top with a ribbed silicone web coating on the palm, which keeps its grip seemingly forever.
Orca 16oz Chaser Tumbler
You know how Phil Michelson became the oldest major winner in golf history when he won the 2021 PGA Championship? Routine. Stretching, practice, diet, super-charged iced coffee – routine! Seriously, you don’t see Phil playing anymore without a tumbler of iced coffee (suped-up with nutritional additives). If you are thinking about adding a similar on-course drink to your routine, put it in the Orca 16oz Chaser Tumbler ($28). The doubled-hulled, vacuum-sealed stainless-steel construction will keep your drink—whatever it is—cold (or hot) for the entire round. And the hammered pearl model has a finish attractively reminiscent of a golf ball.
One of my favorite golf routines is a drink with my buddies after the round. My new favorite libation for this ritual is Wyoming Whiskey’s Small Batch Bourbon. This smooth 88-proof bourbon is hand-crafted in Wyoming and aged 5 years. It has a floral nose with notes of cinnamon, caramel, and browned butter on the palate. It’s a great entry to an increasingly complex line of bourbons and semi-ryes that prove that great whiskey, like great golf, can be found in every state in the nation.
Big ticket item: Indoor golf simulators by GIMME Simulators
The best routine for golf is practice. And if you have the wherewithal to practice at home, a daily practice routine would be easy to develop. For the ultimate big-ticket item this holiday season, check out the extensive line of golf simulators and launch monitors offered by GIMME Simulators. GIMME not only helps you plan and construct the simulator package that best suits your needs, but also installs and maintains it for you. Their simulator packages run from $10,000 up to $34,000, depending on manufacturer and accessories.
Bonus Stocking stuffer: On Point 3D Ball Markers
If the golfer on your list is the kind of player who looks for an edge in every part of their game, slip one or two 3D Ball Markers by On Point Golf ($20) into their stocking this year. These 2-piece ball markers consist of a domed top half with one of several types of aiming rails or lines on it, and a flat coin bottom half with similar alignment lines. The idea is that the domed and dimpled top half mimics the golf ball and improves alignment. And having a ball marker that is two markers in one comes in handy a couple times a round, too.
May we all return to healthy and happy routines in 2022 and develop some new ones, including playing more and better golf. Happy Holidays!
Let’s be very clear: There is MUCH more to The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, than The Straits Course at Whistling Straits. This iconic and unique resort offers four Pet Dye courses, not to mention the Kohler Waters Spa (try the Rain Man or Woodsman Massage treatments), one of the best restaurants in the Midwest (The Immigrant Room), and a host of 5-star amenities.
But The Straits Course, venue of the impending 2021 Ryder Cup and three past PGA Championships, is definitely the show pony of this breathtaking golf-centric resort. Golfers will want to plan their visit around The Straits Course at Whistling Straits ($410, walking only, caddie required, $65 plus gratuity). Just be sure to play the appropriate tees. For the Ryder Cup, The Straits will be stretched to about 7,800 yards, so it will give the pros all they can handle, especially if the wind is whipping in from the northeast over Lake Michigan. The holes perched above the lake are ideal for TV audiences and your photos alike.
For all of The Straits’ splendor, though, most of the dunes and bunkers (all man-made, by the way) are eye candy. Pete Dye described the course as “popcorn” but added that “you can choke on popcorn.” Mike O’Reilly, head golf professional at Whistling Straits, says, “If you can get over the visual intimidation, you’ll be fine.” Of course, it helps to have a caddie, and to play off the appropriate set of tees. “The Straits is a big, brawny course, and it does its best to intimidate you,” counsels O’Reilly. Keep your wits about you, though, and it offers easy bogeys, but make you work for par or better.
Depending on who you’re talking to, The Straits Course isn’t even the hardest course in the American Club’s collection. My nod for most difficult is The River Course at Blackwolf Run. This 7,404-yard gauntlet is demanding from all the tees, as many holes run along the Sheboygan River and are densely wooded. It’s a completely different feel from the stark links-scapes of both The Straits and Irish Courses at Whistling Straits.
The Straits is the ideal layout for matchplay, however, with plenty of birdie opportunities combined with severe penalties for stray shots. It’ll bait the pros into swinging for the fences, and if the wind blows or swings get loose, the lies and angles can change dramatically.
The General at Eagle Ridge Resort is the centerpiece of the Eagle Ridge Resort. The 6,820-yard Roger Packard and Andy North design is the newest of the four golf courses at the sprawling four-season resort just outside the historic town of Galena, and it’s the track that guests plan their golf vacations around. The resort’s other two 18-hole courses, The North Course (6,875 yards) and The South Course (6,727 yards), along with the 9-hole East Course (2,648 yards), all traverse the same heaving and plunging “driftless zone” topography unique to this northwest corner of Illinois. But it is The General that takes the best advantage of the dramatic landscape, presenting golfers with hole after hole after hole characterized by two words that sum up the very best resort golf: “Fun!” and “Wow!”
In talking with some of the resort management before I teed it up on the North, South, and General Courses, a frequent comment I heard was that The South (or North) was equally deserving of praise as The General, which is true. Lots of locals and regular vacationers at Eagle Ridge say The North, in particular, is their favorite. But The General has that wow-factor: It’s all carry off the tee – if you can get off the tee, you’re golden. But even if you don’t get off the tee, you’ll have fun trying. Because therein lies the very secret to The General’s brilliance: It allows you to enjoy those tee shots.
The North Course, opened in 1977, and The South Course, opened in 1984, are both stout tests, with narrow fairways snaking through dense woods. But the combination of elevation changes and multiple doglegs have the effect on both of these older layouts of taking driver out of the hands of longer hitters or severely penalizing crooked hitters. In the yardage books, there are numerous holes on both courses where the “preferred” landing area lies around 225 from the regular men’s tees. Moreover, many of these landing areas are blind or semi-blind – over hills, around corners, or uphill from the tees – so players don’t quite get to enjoy watching their balls land safely in the fairway (or see where the balls go if they are offline).
Over the past few years, though, Both North and South have widened a bit. “Lots of trees have been taken out,” says Colin Sanderson, Director of Sales and Marketing, “many because of damage from the emerald ash borer.” So players who haven’t visited for several years need to return to experience the kinder, gentler North and South Courses.
The General opened in 1997, and the input from 2-time U.S. Open champ Andy North produced a somewhat different philosophy. Here, almost every features an elevated tee with broad, clear views out over the fairways below. Players get to watch drive after drive sail majestically out over generous, beautifully framed landing areas. Rarely is anything hidden – not bunkers, not hazards, not water – so even first-time players can see the lines they should try to take. One notable exception is the fiendish 398-yard 7th, where a pronounced draw is required around a fescue-matted hill on the left. Long, straight drives are likely to be lost beyond the fairway’s bounds.
The General is still a stern test for golfers of every playing level—one of the best tests in the state, according to several publications. But it is the sort of test you do not have to study for during multiple rounds. During my two visits to Eagle Ridge, I ran into dozens of groups of golfers, all of whom had been coming back to the resort year after year for 12, 16, 20, even 25 years. Without fail, these players said their favorite course was The General, but the ones who’d been coming back the longest were also more likely to express appreciation for The North and The South Courses as well – they just take time to grow on you. Sanderson, who has been with the resort for about 15 years, admits that The North is his favorite, and the tree-thinning is one of the reasons.
Highlights from The General
The General, named after former Galena resident Ulysses S. Grant, grabs your attention and imagination from the very first hole – which used to be the 10th. The nines were flipped recently for a few reasons. One of the major ones is that the former 9th, now the 18th, plays uphill to a green tucked directly below the clubhouse’s new cantilevered deck, which stretches out behind the completely renovated Highlands Restaurant and Lounge 289. It’s one of the most memorable closing holes I’ve played in Illinois—with a tee shot over a wide ravine to a narrow fairway bordered by trouble on both sides. Now diners at the clubhouse can share in some of the memories.
One of the consequences of reversing the nines, however, is that the lovely downhill 10th used to be a gentle opening hole. Now the 1st hole is 396 yards from the back tees, playing over a pond to an uphill fairway – this is one of the five toughest tee shots on the course, and it serves as quite a welcome. The second shot here isn’t any easier—in fact, it is arguable harder than the drive. The green falls off on both sides and the back, so any shots that miss the green may end up lost.
It is the tee shots at The General that players will remember the most, though. My notebook is filled with the phrase, “Another great driving hole!” The reason is that, with only a couple of exceptions, the landing areas are fully visible off the tees, as is the trouble you want to avoid. The most memorable is certainly the 357-yard 5th hole, where a nearly 100-foot drop from tee to fairway allows bombers to try to play it like a par 3. If you’re going to allow mulligans, do it here until you succeed in really sending one out—and down—Into the fairway.
The green complexes are also memorable, with pristine putting surfaces. Take the green at the 372-yard 17th, which is cut into an amphitheater of limestone, the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else. Several other greens require precision as well, with trouble on all sides. The 13th only plays 374 from the tips, but miss the green anywhere, and you might not have any chance at all to get up and down, even if you do find your ball.
Finally, the collection of par 3s are only the 10, 11, 17, and 18 handicap holes, but all are visually intimidating, and all demand careful consideration in pulling the right club.
There is a reason that The General is perennially named among the top 10 best public courses in Illinois. Having played several of the higher-ranked courses myself, I would say it deserves all the accolades.
Highlights from The South Course
The South Course challenges first-timers with difficult club selections off the tees. Fairways curl around doglegs and disappear over hills, sometimes resulting in well-struck shots ending up in poor positions (or lost). There is an abundance of left-to-right doglegs with dense woods on the right of the fairways, setting up for confident fades but punishing slices severely.
This is not to say The South Course is not enjoyable – it has some very fun holes, and if your tee shots generally end up in the short grass, some of the approach shots will stay with you for a long time. It’s just that if you are unfamiliar with the course, you’ll need to pick a line and a club based on the yardage book, and hope the ball goes where you aim.
The 406-yard closing hole is probably the most fun to play, as it is one of the few holes with a landing area that is wholly visible from the tee. Club choice is still key, though, as a stream cuts across the fairway about 250 yards down the hill. If you want to carry it, you’ll need to drive cover least 280 yards in the air.
Highlights from The North Course
The North Course is the best one to start out on to get a feel for the landscape and the large greens. After a wide-open first hole, the fairways tighten back up on the 533-yard, par-5 2nd hole, where the S-shaped fairway calls for a controlled draw around a row of towering trees.
The fun really begins on the 165-yard, par-3 8th hole, which plays 50+ feet downhill to a massive green partially obscured by the edge of the teeing grounds. To the left of the green is a picturesque natural limestone stack, and, when you head down the hill, you realize you were also teeing off over a small inlet of Lake Galena. This is one of the most memorable holes on any of Eagle Ridge’s courses, and one of the prettiest one-shotters in the state.
On the back nine, The North Course opens up off the tee, starting out with a the 512-yard 11th hole, which is reachable in two. But take heed of the barn left of the fairway and green, which sports countless pockmarks and broken windows from wayward hooks. The 16th (180 yards), 17th (439 yards), and 18th (420 yards) holes are three artfully designed closing holes that will beckon you back to this original layout. Even though The General has the wow-factor, The North Course is well worth more than one round.
Summing up golf at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa
Eagle Ridge Resort is the original Illinois golf resort, and it is still the king. In 2018, Mark Klausner took over Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa, and improvements have been underway ever since. “Coming from the ‘inner’ south side of Chicago, quite by happenstance, Kathy and I ‘discovered’ The Galena Territory,” says Klausner, who moved his wife and six kids to Galena some 20 years ago. “As a serial entrepreneur,” explains Klausner, “I was most fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. Ensured that the finest staff continued in their employment, I proceeded with the greatest venture of my career. Kathy and I proceeded in our quest to expand the horizons of Eagle Ridge Resort and make it even a greater place.”
“We’re trying to get the courses back to how they were originally designed,” said Sanderson. “The native grasses and scrub had grown up all over, and players were losing balls right off the first tee. No one wants to spend their day looking for balls. We’re filling in nearly all the bunkers on the East Course, too, to make it more fun for families to play.”
These measures are reviving the true spirit of resort golf, striking the perfect balance between challenge and fun, so that guests will return year after year. Even if you don’t golf, there is so much else to do on the expansive resort property itself and in the historic Galena area. For more details, see the companion article about Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa here.
In the early to mid-1800s, Galena, Ill., was the most prosperous and important city in “the West” – much more so than a quiet lakeshore trading post 170 miles to the east named Chicago. Galena was a bustling riverboat and lead mining city, with 14,000 inhabitants, famous for its related, often scandalous, industries: alcohol (Red Stripe Beer actually originated in Galena), tobacco, “hospitality,” and politics. Ulysses S. Grant had a home here (which is now a museum), and the DeSoto House Hotel, the largest hotel in “the West” when it opened in 1855, was the site of famous speeches by both Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. The ironwork balcony that both stood upon during their historic orations still looks out over Galena’s main street. Along with Grant’s home, there’s a Civil War encampment, the oldest wood-structure home in Illinois, and several historic mansions offering tours. The Galena River, once the lifeblood of the town, silted up in the early 1900s due to lead-mining activities, and now is largely contained by a bulwark of levies and, on occasion, massive steel flood gates at the entrance to the postcard-perfect downtown. Clues to the rich, industrious, and boisterous past remain on historical markers and signs throughout town. Multiple options exist for Galena “ghost tours” for tourists who have an urge to try to meet some of the city’s past residents.
The surprisingly rich history of Galena is not the only thing that makes this northwestern-most corner of Illinois unique. The topography of this “driftless zone” is characterized by bluffs, hills, valleys, and exposed rock outcroppings, due to the fact that it escaped glaciation during the last ice age. (The only other area in the otherwise flattest state in America that was not scraped flat by ice is the very southern tip.) As such, the Galena territory is the only place in Illinois where you’ll find downhill ski slopes. It is also the location of the first, and largest, true golf resort in the state, Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa.
Eagle Ridge Resort comprises over 200 homes and villas, 80 hotel guest rooms, the 3,500 square-foot Stonedrift Spa, and 63 holes of the best resort golf in the state, along with tennis, swimming, marina, fishing, equestrian center, several dining options, the aforementioned ski slopes, and nearby attractions including ziplining and craft cocktails. The sprawling 6,800-acre grounds of Eagle Ridge, with all the hills and valleys—and even a waterfall—feel more like northern Michigan than northern Illinois.
New owner, lots of improvements
In 2018, Mark Klausner took over Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa, and improvements have been underway ever since. “Coming from the ‘inner’ south side of Chicago, quite by happenstance, Kathy and I ‘discovered’ The Galena Territory,” says Klausner, who moved his wife and six kids to Galena some 20 years ago. “As a serial entrepreneur,” explains Klausner, “I was most fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. Ensured that the finest staff continued in their employment, I proceeded with the greatest venture of my career. Kathy and I proceeded in our quest to expand the horizons of Eagle Ridge Resort and make it even a greater place.”
This venture has been multi-faceted to date, with a significant amount of work taking place at the clubhouse perched above The General. The pandemic lockdown provided an unprecedented opportunity to hire all local contractors to completely renovate the old Spikes and Woodstone restaurant into the Highlands Restaurant and Lounge 289. Included in this project are almost too many changes to list. First, the old restaurant was completely rebuilt. The old outdoor patio was enclosed to create a private dining area, and a new cantilevered deck with seating for 45 and sliding garage doors was added to look out over the 10th tee and 18th green (formerly the 1st tee and 9th green, but the nines have been flipped to provide a more dramatic closing experience). Lounge 289 was the old proshop. Now, after adding 30 extra feet to it, it is a homey, happening 19th Hole. Relive your round at The General with your foursome while splitting a massive Bavarian pretzel, fall-off-the-bone Buffalo wings, and a pitcher of Leinenkugel Screaming Eagle Ale, brewed exclusively for Eagle Ridge.
Downstairs now houses a greatly expanded Golf Shop with easier access and a wider selection of everything. My son, a high school golfer, said, “This might be the nicest pro shop I’ve ever been in.” Finally, the General Store, renamed The Country Store, was moved up to the Highlands complex and includes a convenience along with coffee, pastries, and light breakfast fare.
Whew! That all seems like a lot, but the facelift is not stopping there. Work on the new stand-alone Stonedrift Spa is underway, after a considerable planning and permitting process. According to Colin Sanderson, Director of Sales and Marketing, the spa alone will be approximately a $2.5 million project. The new spa will sit on the site of the old General Store, across the street from the Inn. It will be about 2.5 times the size of the current spa and will add hair and make-up rooms (for the resort’s robust wedding clientele – there’s even an in-house wedding boutique). There will also be a separate Men’s Relaxation Room and a dedicated Bride’s Room.
My wife was lucky enough to enjoy a signature Swedish massage in the current spa and returned extremely relaxed. A separate Men’s Relaxation Room will be welcome, though, as she felt a bit self-conscious in the current coed room, in which a few male golfers were lounging as well. Even so, “The spa was very down-to earth,” she reported. “It wasn’t at all stuffy, which was nice. Everyone was so friendly and relaxed.” Precisely how a spa should feel!
Along with improvements and expansions in the facilities, Eagle Ridge as a whole is moving toward going green. Solar panels have been installed throughout the resort that will provide energy to all buildings. As for golf renovations, the exteriors of both the North Course and South Course clubhouse have been redone. Most of the sand bunkers on the short East Course are being converted to grass bunkers. At The General, all the bunkers have been redone. But the big change is that the two nines have been switched in order to take full advantage of the former 9th hole (now the 18th), which requires a long carry over a deep gulley to a fairway that snakes and rises rather dramatically up to a green hunkered into the hillside below the newly refurbished clubhouse.
Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa soaring again
We all hope that the pandemic is winding down, but there are no guarantees. “We’re the original ‘socially distant’ vacation destination,” notes Colin Sanderson, “thanks to our family vacation homes.” My family and I were treated to one of these idyllic retreats in the woods, complete with screened-in porch and a Jacuzzi in back. It was a perfect home base not only for golf and spa, but also a zip-lining excursion at Long Hollow Canopy Tours. Long Hollow’s basecamp is just a few minutes off of the Eagle Ridge property. The zip-line tour is guided by extremely competent and fun experts along a progressively longer, higher, and faster series of cables strung through Galena’s dramatic and picturesque valleys and ridges. (I believe I hit 50mph on the longest line.)
Along with zip-lining, there’s a host of activities at Eagle Ridge itself and in the Galena area. “Guests of Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa have miles of nature to hike, bike, golf, fish, kayak, canoe, horseback ride, and even take a hot air balloon ride,” says Sanderson. “They can order in pizza or anything from our restaurants and enjoy the great outdoors without worrying about coming into contact with others.”
Homes can be booked directly online, and families can bring pets, celebrate family events together, or even spend some mid-week time e-learning and working while being close to nature and all the activities the resort has to offer. In addition to the private homes, Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa guests can stay in the Inn, as well as enjoy a wide variety of open-air dining options.
“Our new ownership, unlike previous owners, is re-investing the money we are making and putting it back into the resort,” says Sanderson. This stewardship and all the improvements will ensure that Eagle Ridge Resort remains a yearly destination for golfers and families throughout the Midwest. Now that things are opening up again, I ran into several groups who have been visiting every year for 25 years. It is easy to see why: There is honestly nothing else like Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa and nowhere else like Galena anywhere else in Illinois.
“O Romeoville, Romeoville, where the hell art thou Romeoville?”
That’s how I tried to identify a route to Mistwood Golf Club on my phone. Siri, however, just got confused. “Artificial intelligence,” my ass.
Anyway, once I got the directions sorted, I headed north to an area I perhaps unfairly associate with over-crowded, expensive courses with a pace of play best described as glacial: Chicago.
I soon discovered that none of my prejudices against Chicago golf are applicable to Mistwood Golf Club. The Raymond Hearn design opened in 1999 and in 2012-2013, all 18 holes were reimagined and redesigned by Hearn in a multi-million dollar upgrade of the entire facility. Owner Jim McWethy sought to turn Mistwood into the premier public golf course in the Chicago-land area, and when GOLF Magazine named Mistwood as the “Best U.S. Renovation You Can Play” in 2013, McWethy was well on the way to this goal.
Mistwood’s motto is “Public course, private experience,” and it could not be more apt. The club has about 150 members, but is open to the public at all times, and most play is public daily-fee. Greens fees range during peek season from $65 weekdays after 2pm to $110 weekend mornings, with generous junior and senior discounts. All rates include cart and range balls at the Performance Center, but walking is allowed at all times and is $15 cheaper.
Let’s talk about the Performance Center. Mistwood GC boasts the only indoor/outdoor golf practice and clubfitting facility among the Top 100 courses in the Midwest. There are two heated hitting bays and both mats and grass hitting areas with tables behind and a stocked bar and full pub menu inside with service outside. The fitting center includes a putter fitting studio, which is, again, one of the only such facilities in any public course in the Midwest.
Lest you think the Performance Center houses Mistwood’s only source of libations and victuals, note that the clubhouse itself houses McWethy’s Tavern and the Great Hall. The former is the epitome of a clubhouse sports pub, and the latter hosts events for up to 260 guests, and both feature panoramic views of the course. It is a facility ideally designed for indoor and outdoor weddings. After a round (or any time, really), take the opportunity to sample the amazing lamb burger or tuck in to an all-you-can eat fish-n-chips dinner.
Although the course is gorgeous from the vantage of the clubhouse, it is truly something to behold as you play it. Nearly every hole challenges players with shots along or over water of some sort. Sight lines off of tees can be tricky, especially for first-timers, and the land pitches and rolls on every hole in mostly delightful–though sometimes vexing–ways. From the par-5 8th hole onward – with its crazy sight lines off the tee, water all down the right, and wild, snaking, two-tiered green – there is no let-up in difficulty or beauty.
The 183-yard par-3 9th hole, which plays up to the clubhouse to a large, relatively flat green, is a quirky joy. It’s a great birdie opportunity, if you can find the green, before you head out to the watery back nine. From the back tees, though, it is a brute if the wind it right (or wrong).
From the 369-yard 13th hole through the 166-yard par-3 17th, the holes ring Loch St. James (where I’m told the fishing is excellent). This is called “Kelpie’s Korner,” and even without a mythical beastie prowling the ever-present water, it can be a horror show if your swing is off. The 583-yard 15th is the number one handicap hole for a reason. It’s a monstrous cape hole where you should pick your line carefully, and then adjust to be more conservative–the carry is always longer than you think.
The course culminates on the 527-yard par-5 18th, where the fairway slithers between water right and bunkers left up to a rushing stream in front of the green (where a few years ago, I actually spotted a den of what I believe were mink on the opposite bank)
Conditioning at Mistwood is impeccable, and the greens are fast and true. This summer, torrential rain tested the drainage. Aside frome a few low areas that collected water, playability remained remarkably consistent, considering the relatively low land and high water table. Not only does the course offer a discount for walking, but the modest elevation changes and reasonable placement of tees and greens make the layout quite walkable. Course length reaches from 5,332 yards from the forward tees up to 7,005 yards from the back tees. There are five sets of tees and seven combination tees, all with handicap ratings, making Mistwood both enjoyable and challenging for players of all skill levels, including the very best. Mistwood GC just hosted the 90th Illinois State Amateur Tournament, testifying to its stature as one of the best in the state.
For Chicago-area golfers who want to keep swinging year-round, Mistwood also operates the Mistwood Golf Dome in nearby Bolingbrook, where you can order food and drinks and hit balls while every shot is tracked to within a foot using TopTracer technology. Groups have been known to stay for up to nine hours here.
Mistwood Golf Club is a storybook golf escape that feels a thousand miles from the city, even though it is just a short drive from Chicago’s Miracle Mile. It’s also easily accessible for visitors from downstate, situated just off of I-55 as it is. The staff are among the best, friendliest I’ve ever encountered anywhere. They make visitors feel like they’re a part of one big happy family, which is precisely the way Jim McWethy wants it to be.
The year was 1963. Darl Scott, the golf course superintendent at Gull Lake Country Club in Kalamazoo, Michigan, decided to build his own public access course, the West Course at what would grow to become Gull Lake View Resort. Over the ensuing decade, the Scott family would build their East Course, followed by the Stonehedge North and South courses. In 1988, the family bought the popular William Mitchell designed Bedford Valley, site of multiple Michigan Opens.
Despite the collection of outstanding courses already comprising Gull Lake View, in 2018, the Scott family collaborated with Renaissance Golf Design (Tom Doak’s design company) and its panel of senior associates, Brian Schneider, Eric Iverson, Don Placek, and Brian Slawnik. The result is Stoatin Brae – “Grand Hill” in Gaelic. The 6,742-yard, par-71 layout, located on a ridge of the highest land in Kalamazoo County, is indeed grand, and it is collecting national awards and “must-play” list designations like Meryl Streep collections Oscars.
Stoatin Brae at Gull Lake View Golf Resort (courtesy Gull Lake View Resort)
Gull Lake View: Pure golf resort in Pure Michigan
Gull Lake is situated in the Richland/Augusta area of southeastern Michigan. The lake is 1 mile wide by five miles long and is an angler’s dream, teaming with rainbow and lake trout, salmon, small mouth bass, and bluegills. It’s 16 miles from Kalamazoo, with two casinos (Firekeepers, Gun Lake) within 30 miles. This is all to say that there’s plenty to do, if you feel you need more than golf at Gull Lake View Resort’s six courses. During our visit, we saw dozens of groups—boys’ trips and couples—and to be honest, they all looked thoroughly golf-obsessed. After rounds on the links, they were tossing money down on the expansive putting greens in post-round contests. After that, they were sitting around firepits and on patios outside the dozens of well-appointed condos and houses enjoying cigars, bourbon, and tales of the day. Over dinner at the resort’s Charles and Darl’s Smokehouse (where the wings are some of the best I’ve ever eaten), my 17-year-old son and I overheard one group talking about their 54-hole day. We were sore after 36, but I think several rounds of drinks had soothed their muscles. Witnessing two days of the camaraderie and joie de golf vivre all around us, my son said, “This is the perfect place for a group of friends. I hope I have a bunch of friends who like to golf when I get older.” Me too, son, me too.
One of the spacious houses at Gull Lake View Resort — 2 bedrooms with 2 queen beds, two baths, full kitchen.
Stonehedge South and North
As described already, Gull Lake View Golf Resort is a family affair, and the family did an outstanding job routing Stonehedge South and North through the rolling, wooded landscape. Both courses have an authentic “Northern Michigan” feel, despite being in the southern third of the state. There are towering pines and hardwoods and dizzying elevation changes. The “stonehedge” moniker derives from the stone walls that snake through both South and North courses, from which players (thankfully) receive a free drop by local rule.
Stonehedge South has the trickier and slicker of the greens – there’s a steep learning curve. The breaks are very subtle, mixed in with some dramatic undulations. I failed to make a putt outside 4 feet until the 435-yard, par-4 18th hole, where I finally sank a birdie putt that made me eager for my afternoon round on the North. The South plays between 5,087 and 6,628 yards with five sets of tee boxes. Although there is OB on several holes (e.g., 1-5), choosing the correct set of tees will keep you out of most of the trouble. The stretch from the 490-yard, S-shaped par-5 7th through the 374-yard 15th might be the most enjoyable stretch. The second shot on the 7th is blind, and the green is tucked behind two massive bunkers if you want to go for it in two. The 396-yard 11th and 321-yard 12th both play down into a valley and then substantially back uphill to the greens. Neither my son nor I could do better than bogey on either hole, yet my notes still say, “So much fun!” It is indeed the mark of a good course if you can have fun playing it even when you’re struggling.
Top to bottom: Stonehedge South Hole 2, Hole 12, Hole 7, Hole 4,
Stonehedge North stretches from 4,991 yards up to 6,712 yards, and although its slope and course rating would suggest that it is harder than the South, both my son and I played it better (my son carded his first sub-80 score, in fact—a 77). Maybe we were just warmed up? The routing here is also quite expert, with three par 3s, 4s, and 5s per side – why don’t more courses do this? – so there are more chances to impress with both length and variety. The par 3s are especially varied, ranging at the tips from 207 yards (8th) to 157 yards (11th). The 173-yard 17th is maybe the most memorable, though, with about a 50-foot drop over fescue and bunkers to a steeply back-to-front canted green—Pure Michigan golf. The North Course offers a peaceful, seamless set of holes ranging from thick woods to open grasslands. There’s a “tasteful” smattering of water throughout, mostly on approaches and around greens, along with prudent bunkering. Modern-day architects would be wise to follow the Scott family lead and consider more grass bunkers as cheaper alternatives to sand bunkers.
Top to bottom: Stonehedge North Hole 14, Hole 17, Hole 16, Hole 11, Hole 10, Hole 7, Hole 3.
New kid on the Scott Block: Stoatin Brae
Renaissance Golf created a real beauty atop the highest point in Kalamazoo County. Ranging from 4,943 to 6,742 yards and at par 71, Stoatin Brae is grand indeed. There is not a tree on the course proper, just around the edges. With its heavily-fescued, windswept conditions, it feels a bit like The Loop at Forest Dunes, another Renaissance Golf creation. And, given the layout’s lofty perch above the Kalamazoo bottomland, Stoatin Brae also recalls echoes of The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort in Indiana. This said, Stoatin Brae is a bit more refined than The Loop and much, much less expensive than The Dye Course.
13th green on Stoatin Brae with several other holes fanning out across the hill behind.
Stoatin Brae opened fully in 2017 to rave reviews. It’s made the “Top 100 You Can Play” lists in both GolfWeek and Golf Magazine. As Bill Johnson, Gull Lake View General Manager describes construction, “We didn’t move hardly any earth here. The idea was to just set the course on top of the hill.” Indeed, the minimalist design takes full advantage of the firm, well-drained, sandy soil atop the hill, along with the constant winds. The greens are slower than on the Stonehedge courses, but they also tend to be crowned and firm, which tests your chipping game. Angles are the key into these greens, and staying below the hole will pay off in the end. The first two holes, a 359-yard par 4 and a 225-yard par 3, don’t have a single sand bunker between them. Distances between greens and tees are short, and like all great Scottish links, the course is extremely walkable, with a routing that affords multiple passes near “The Bunker,” the poured concrete hallway house built into the side of a hill.
“The Bunker” on Stoatin Brae
Stoatin Brae crescendos on the back side, where one hole after another offers downhill shots, uphill shots, blind shots, birdie opps, and bogey threats one after another. The 548-yard closer is one of the most fun I’ve played in a while, with a narrow fairway snaking through the fescue to a turtle-back green. As evidence of how the wind and angles affect play, consider that I just missed birdie on 18 the first time out, but triple-bogeyed it the second time – and frankly, I felt like I didn’t play it much worse the second day.
Top to bottom: Stoatin Brae Hole 14, Hole 11, Hole 9.
Despite the love Stoatin Brae has received from golf media, it and Gull Lake View Resort are still sort of a “sleeper” destination in golf-rich Michigan. Chicago-land golfers can be hammering drives at Gull Lake View in less than four hours, and hammering BBQ and beers at Charles and Darl’s four hours after stepping onto the first tee. Johnson notes some big plans for the panoramic site of Stoatin Brae including an expanded wedding and event venue and larger practice range. And in what might be one of the best membership deals in all of golf, members can play all six resort courses with one membership. When my son and I heard this, he turned to me and asked, “Why don’t we live here?” And I have to admit, I asked myself the same question.
The idyllic Lake Michigan shoreline town of Benton Harbor, Michigan, became a major industrial site during WWII, when hometown Whirlpool and other manufacturers were enlisted by FDR to make parts for fighter planes. In the 1950s and 1960s, these same companies produced many of the home appliances and auto parts that fueled America’s post-war boom.
Then came the 1970s: companies moved their production overseas, over 6,000 well-paying jobs disappeared from Benton Harbor in an 18-month period, and the city’s population dropped from 30,000 to 16,000 within a decade. The exiting companies and people left behind mountains of trash and vast fields of toxic waste. According to Joshua Doxtator, PGA Professional and General Manager of Harbor Shores, the Paw Paw River, which meanders through Benton Harbor and Harbor Shores Golf Club, “was so overgrown and clogged with garbage, you couldn’t even see it from the air. You would have never known it was there.” Today, there are kayak and paddleboard rentals on the river, and a hundred species of birds.
What triggered this revitalization of the land and the area in general? The simple answer is “golf.”
“Where am I supposed to build a course?”
Aside from the windblown linksland of Scotland some 800 years ago, golf doesn’t just happen. (Even 800 years ago, golf had help from sheep and bored shepherds.) And a championship-caliber golf course doesn’t just emerge from the sludge of a toxic wasteland without a lot of work and help from the greatest golfer of all time. Jack Nicklaus was brought in in the early 2000s to take a look at the site where a group of local community leaders hoped a world-class golf course would anchor an entire city’s revitalization.
“Where am I supposed to build a course?” said Nicklaus the first time he was shown the site. The Golden Bear’s reaction was understandable. “All the land from the clubhouse through the first green was an auto wrecking yard,” Doxtator says as we putted out on Hole 1. Holes 4 and 5 were a dumping site for a company that made automobile brakes. Holes 14 and 15 were a former Superfund site once occupied by a company that used radium and mercury to manufacture components for fighter planes. Near every tee box today, you’ll find photos of what the land there looked like pre-golf – the transformation is miraculous.
Nothing like Harbor Shores anywhere else
Thanks to Herculean engineering and vision—and a $500 million investment—the 6,852-yard, par-71 championship golf course today runs across four remarkably diverse and beautiful terrains including a photogenic setting along the coastal dunes of Lake Michigan. Holes 1-6 occupy an inland terrain with occasional appearances by the now-pristine Paw Paw River. Holes 7, 8, and 9 wind along a dramatic exposed dunes-scape with panoramic views of Lake Michigan, especially on the devilish 7th green. Holes 10 through 13 play through woodlands, rolling hills, and ravines. To close, Holes 14 through 18 return to the Paw Paw River, Ox Creek, and its wetlands. It’s like playing through the best terrains Michigan golf has to offer, all in one round.
Michigan has some of the greatest golf terrain anywhere in the U.S., with more exellent affordable and accessible courses than any other state. But you would be hard-pressed to find any course, even in the embarrassment of golf riches that is Michigan, with 18 more memorable holes. There is not one hole in the entire Nicklaus design that resembles any other hole on the course. No wonder Jack has called it one of his 18 all-time favorite projects. (Speaking of Jack, as you head from the half-way house to the 10th tee, take a peek over the edge of the wooden bridge—you might spy another Jack, a gigantic snapping turtle. If you do, know that he LOVES hot dogs but doesn’t care much for bread. So share accordingly.)
Playing Harbor Shores
Harbor Shores Golf Club opened in 2007 and hosted the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018, and will host the event in 2020, 2022 and 2024. KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship winners at Harbor Shores have been Roger Chapman, Colin Montgomerie, Rocco Mediate, and Paul Broadhurst.
The notoriety of hosting a Champions Tour major comes at a cost, however. “We suffer from the misconception that we’re private,” explains Doxtator. Indeed, the first-class practice facilities, fully stocked pro shop (check out the barware for sale, btw), the cuisine at Jack’s Place, and the absolutely pristine conditions all do belie the daily fee nature of Harbor Shores. The greens fees, on the other hand, suggest a luxurious experience, ranging from $90 during shoulder seasons up to $175 during peak season. One option is the $375 Score at the Shore, which gets you one day of unlimited golf and unlimited food and beverage.
Given the difficulty of Harbor Shores, and the value of local knowledge in navigating the labyrinthine routing through wetlands, woods, and neighborhoods, that all-day option might just be the best deal in town. Despite being only 6,734 yards from the championship tees, the par-71 course rates a whopping 73.6 and has a slope rating of 146 (and maybe the longest stretches of wooden bridge cartpaths on Michigan). Fortunately, there are six sets of tees or combined tees. But even the 6,159 gold tees present perhaps the most difficult challenge I’ve faced on any course in several years.
What, exactly, makes Harbor Shores so difficult? Imagine a hybrid of Harbor Town Links (where Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA), with water and wetlands on basically every hole, combined with Northern Michigan-style woods and elevation changes, all woven together by Jack Nicklaus, whose courses always rank as some of the most difficult in the nation.
“This is a second-shot course,” said Doxtator as we began our round. “Distance off the tee isn’t critical on most holes.” My son and I found this to be very true; however, we also quickly found out that if our tee shots were slightly off line on many holes, they were either unplayable or lost. Even on the relatively benign 318-yard 3rd hole, any careless swing could bring the Paw Paw River, which runs from tee to green down the left side, into play.
Doxtator’s admonition to attend carefully to second shots was well founded, as the green complexes are some of the most dramatic you will find. The 430-yard 7th hole is perhaps the most picturesque. Here, a necessarily big drive must hug both water and sand on the right in order to keep as far away as possible from fescue-covered dunes that tower on the left and obstruct the view to a dramatically elevated green. Said green is not nearly as deep as it appears from below in the fairway, as it drops off down to a Lake Michigan beach immediately past the putting surface. However, when and if you finally successfully summit the dune to putt, you’re treated with a stunning view of Lake Michigan. The 7th Hole was one of three holes carved off from a state park for the course. Residents weren’t thrilled about this and sued, but the Michigan Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of Harbor Shores.
As splendid as the 7th green is, it isn’t the most famous. During the 2016 Senior PGA, Johnny Miller was critical of the green at the 530-yard 10th hole. To be fair, this green is perhaps the most dramatic I’ve ever seen: it’s got two tiers and the upper tier is about 7 feet higher than the lower tier, with a veritable ski-slope between them. Miller was standing on the bottom tier and proclaimed, “You can’t putt this. There’s no way to putt it.” Nicklaus took offense and asked, “You want me to show you how to putt it?” So Jack trundled town the slope, tossed down a ball, barely set his feet, and smacked his putt up the slope and into the hole, some 60 feet away. The crowd went crazy. You can see the video here for yourself — it truly is one of the most amazing alpha-male moments in golf.
As luck (or lack thereof) would have it, my son had the exact same putt. Unlike Jack’s, his ball did not crest the incline, and as a result, it rolled back past him and off the front of the green. I told him how fun it was to have been able to try the famous putt himself, but he was not as impressed by the moment as I.
The Inn at Harbor Shores
Opened in 2010, The Inn at Harbor Shores is a 92-room luxury hotel on the St. Joseph River that features 14 luxury suites, two top-floor condominiums, and a rooftop meeting space. The Inn offers a selection of dining options (including Plank’s Tavern on the Water, Torch & Tapas, and Rise & Vine), a full-service spa, indoor and outdoor pools, fitness center, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, and wedding venues for up to 300 guests. Next to the Inn, guests and locals may enjoy a 100-slip deep-water marina that can accommodate boats up to 90 feet long; sport fishing charters are available here for a real surf-n-turf experience. The rooms are luxurious and appointed with every fine detail. As for the dining fare, both my son and I highly recommend the Wagyu beef burger at Plank’s – without question the most delicious burger we’ve ever tasted. Nearby downtown St. Joseph boasts a charming business district full of eateries, art galleries, and gift shops.
Between the championship golf course and the luxury resort and spa, Harbor Shores has pulled Benton Harbor out of the abyss. The photos on each hole of what the property once looked like emphatically drive home the dramatic transformation of the land. The sculptures at each tee box commemorating all 18 of Nicklaus’s major wins (including US Amateurs) convey the deep sense of pride in the course’s partnership with the greatest of all time. Harbor Shores deserves mention in any list of “Best Of” in a state brimming with spectacular golf. Any golfer who plays it will immediately remember nearly every hole, as well as the numerous balls they probably lost. Harbor Shores is no pushover, for sure, but neither is Benton Harbor – thanks to golf, the city is fighting its way back.
Japan is home to dozens of high-end, high-quality golf club manufacturers, only a few of which have most Americans ever heard of. Honma has been in the golf club business for over 60 years now, but they remain largely unknown to most American recreational golfers.
That’s too bad, given that Honma produces some very impressive sticks. I lent the last Honma driver I tested and reviewed to a buddy of mine—a scratch-handicap who bombs his drives. He hit it well but needed an X-stiff shaft. So he lent it to his father, a 65 year-old club pro who loved it so much that I’ve never seen it again.
Happily for me, I got my grubby mitts on a Honma TR20 460cc Driver ($599) – a model that came out in 2019/2020. I had long been intrigued with this model, as it sits firmly a-straddle the “player” and “game-improvement” categories. It’s got an ET40 carbon crown and a carbon sole surrounding a titanium frame, all of which combines into a light, immensely strong clubhead, whose Ti face features vertical grooves and variable thickness. There are three adjustable weight ports on the sole, and a no-rotation adjustable hosel that keeps the spine of the Vizard shaft precisely positioned no matter how you adjust the lie and loft.
What does this all mean? Well, in February, 2021, the top golf-testing website MyGolfSpy.com ranked the TR20 as the Most Forgiving driver it tested. And in the most recent Golf Magazine equipment testing, one of the club testers was quoted as saying, “This driver is a beast!” So what all the engineering—and some rather substantial coin—will get you is a powerful beast of a driver that will still do its level best to keep you in, or at least around, the fairway.
Playing the Honma TR20 460cc Driver
As I say, I was chuffed to get the TR420 into my hands and onto my home course. From the very first drive – long and down the middle – I could feel the exquisite feedback from the face, up through the Honma Vizard TR20-60 S-flex shaft, and into said hands. Contact in the sweetspot is so pure, I worried for a split-second that I had completely missed. If it weren’t for the sound, which is somewhat singular, I would barely have known I’d hit the ball. Contact toward the toe or towards the heel was similarly identifiable. I quickly got to the point where I would hit my drive, tell myself something like, “1-inch toward the toe” or “1/2-inch toward the heel and a ¼-inch low.” Then I’d check the ball mark on the clubface to see how accurate I was. The feel was so precise, those descriptors were remarkably accurate. My playing partners got irritated, to be honest, because I kept showing them.
But what of that forgiveness in the off-center hits? Well, here’s an example: The 330-yard 13th hole of my home course plays rather steeply uphill to a more level plateau that rises only slightly to the green. I blasted a drive with the TR20 into a faint breeze, and I felt the contact was perhaps half-way off the sweetspot – a bit of a toe-hook. The ball climbed into the breeze, carried the bunker some 210 yards up the right side of the fairway, and disappeared as it drew toward the center of the fairway. Once I walked up the hill (and caught my breath), I saw my ball 40 yards short of the green. Imagine if I had made pure contact!
The Honma TR20 460cc Driver lives up to its billing as both “a beast” and as “most forgiving.” Think: The Incredible Hulk in Endgame. I can think of no driver I’ve ever hit with better feel and feedback. And it’s plenty long—plenty. None of Honma’s gear is cheap – but no premium equipment is. So don’t let lack of name recognition deter you if you’re looking to upgrade your clubs. Honma knows what it’s doing.