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TPC Deere Run in Silvis Brings Tour Dreams to Life

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

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

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

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

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

Playing TPC Deere Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word on TPC Deere Run

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

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

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

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

(Photos by Andrew Hollingworth & Kiel Christianson)

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Wilson D7 Irons set pace in “players distance” category

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

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

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

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

Playing the Wilson D7 Irons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scorecard

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

If you’re looking to buy, see below!

Discount Code: WilsonGolf15-8

A few rules to mention:

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

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Wilson Launch Pad Irons elevate the ball and your game

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

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

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

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

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

Playing the Wilson Launch Pad Irons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scorecard

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

If you’re looking to buy, see below!

Discount Code: WilsonGolf15-8

A few rules to mention:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The skinny on the Cleveland Full-Face Wedges

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

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

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

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Sun Mountain 4.5 LS 14-Way Stand Bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing the Cobra King SpeedZone Xtreme Driver

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cobra King SpeedZone Xtreme Driver: The verdict

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

Extra Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Walk Coffee

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

Volvik Marvel and Bridgestone Tour B Golf Balls

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

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

Tattoo Golf

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

Royal Albartross, ASICS, and ECCO Golf Shoes

Next, shoes – because shoes make the man!

ASICS DUAL-COURSE Duo BOA

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

ECCO BIOM COOL PRO

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

Royal Albartross

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

Dune Jewelry Divot Repair Tool

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

Sun Mountain 4.5 LS 14-Way Stand Bag

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

Arnold Palmer Framed USPS Stamp

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

Flying Dog Night Putting Pale Ale

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

Mr. Wizard by Jeff Wallach

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

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

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

Featured

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

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

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

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

Good Walk Coffee

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

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

Volvik and Bridgestone Golf Balls

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

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

TecTecTec ULT-X Rangefinder

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

Royal Albartross Golf Shoes

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

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

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

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

Swiftwick Golf Socks

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

AHEAD’s Kate Lord Line for 2020

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

Dune Jewelry by Ann Liguori

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

Mr. Wizard by Jeff Wallach

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

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

The General rules over The North and The South at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa

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!”

The golf courses at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa take full advantage of the unique “driftless zone” topography.

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 357-yard, par-4 5th on The General, with its 100-foot drop. “This is crazy!” — author’s son

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.

Tee shots are king on The General. The daunting 370-yard 8th plays all uphill, but all the glory and trouble are directly in front of you.

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.

nThe tee shot on the 410-yard 18th seems infinitely harder now than it did when it was the 410-yard 9th.
The “new” 18th Hole at The General

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.

The opening tee shot on the 396-yard 1st of The General is a fine how-do-you-do.
And the approach on Hole 1 doesn’t get any easier than the drive. Is there even a green up there?

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 group ahead of you looks like ants on the 5th green from the tee box.

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.

Don’t miss the 13th green on The General. Just, don’t.
12The limestone-encircled 17th green on The General is a great golf hole and a great place for an ambush.

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.

The 170-yard 12th looks easy, but none of the three players in front of us hit the green. Choose your club wisely.

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.

Above the 15th green on The General

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.

Hole 18 on The South Course tumbles downhill to a creek and then rises again up to the green.

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.

Follow the straight and narrow to the 5th green on The North Course.

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.

The 165-yard 8th Hole on The North Course has it all: elevation, sand, rocks, trees, and water hiding below the teeing ground.

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.

Appreciating the design of Hole 17 on The North Course

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.

Aerial view of Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa (courtesy of Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa)

Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa: The original Illinois golf resort

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 and Spa Entrance

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.

The waterfall on the Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa property (where fishing is good, I’m told)
Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa lobby

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.

The new clubhouse deck at The General invites diners to watch groups come up to the tricky 18th green.

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.

Rendering of the in-progress Stonedrift Spa (courtesy Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa)

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.

The “new” 18th Hole at The General (formerly the 9th Hole).

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.)

The author’s son enjoying a Long Hollow Canopy Tour

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.

One of the houses available for rent at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa — complete with Jacuzzi tub out back!

“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.

Aerial view of Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa (courtesy of Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa)

Mistwood Golf Club: Private club experience, public course rates

“O Romeoville, Romeoville, where the hell art thou Romeoville?”

Mistwood’s stone bridge and Performance Center add some romance to the golf experience.

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.

The Mistwood Golf Club clubhouse overlooks the expansive practice green and course.

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.

Mistwood’s Performance Center is second to none 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.

The Great Hall in the Mistwood Clubhouse is ideal for wedding receptions and other events.

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 8th green at Mistwood GC is both beautiful and devilish. Off the tee, the split fairway of the 8th hole offers a lot of options.

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).

The par-3 9th hole at Mistwood GC is a welcome birdie opp.

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.

Golfer beware! Make sure you’ve got plenty of golf balls in your bag as you enter Kelpie’s Korner.

The par-3 14th plays 233 yards from the tips. So choose your tees (or combination tees) carefully!
The par-3 17th marks the end of Kelpie’s Korner — just carry the wetlands and split the trees, and you’re home free…

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)

Your final approach to the green of the par-5 18th at Mistwood GC needs to carry a rushing stream and any wildlife that may be prowling thits banks.

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.

Mistwood GC is an excellent walking course — not a bad swimming course, either, to be honest.

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 sun goes down on another storybook day of golf at Mistwood GC.

Stoatin Brae at Gull Lake View Resort in Augusta, Michigan: One of the best in the nation

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.

How Golf Can Save a City: Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor Michigan

Harbor Shores, 10th tee

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.”

This is what Harbor Shores looked like before the land was reclaimed for a golf course.

“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.

Signs near every tee box remind golfers what the land used to look like.

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.)

Jack, the snapping turtle. Share a bit of hot dog at the turn.

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 approach on the 566-yard, par-5 5th Hole at harbor Shores.

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.

Water lurks everywhere at Harbor Shores, even on the 137-yard 11th, the easiest and shortest hole on the course.

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.

The 7th Hole at Harbor Shores ends at a green perched above Lake Michigan. (Courtesy 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.

The (in)famous 10th green at Harbor Shores.

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.

My son, Erik, standing where Jack made the putt in 2016, and where Erik himself would miss the same putt the next day.

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.

The view from our room at The Inn at Harbor Shores, looking toward the marina.

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.

Signs and sculptures commemorate each fo Jack Nicklaus’s 18 majors (including 4 US Amateur titles).

The 6th greeen at Harbor Shores. It is hard to believe that this land was once toxic.

Honma TR20 460cc Driver is a “forgiving” “beast”

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 Verdict

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.

Golf Gifts for Father’s Day 2021: Vax-up & gear-up

Father’s Day 2021 feels much more hopeful than Father’s Day 2020. We have vaccines, and we now know that outdoor activities – like golf – are extremely safe. So the best thing you can do for Old Dad this Father’s Day is make sure he’s fully vaccinated. The second-best thing you can do for him is shower him with golf gifts. Here’s a selection of our favorite gear this year!

Arnold Palmer Umbrellas by Weatherman

The Arnold Palmer Umbrella Collection by Weatherman offers shelter from the rain for golfers and non-golfers alike. The Arnold Palmer Classic Golf Umbrella ($89) has Arnie’s trademark color pattern and measures 68”. That’s big enough to keep a threesome dry, if you like each other well enough and don’t need to socially distance anymore.

PUMA Arnold Palmer Collection

Speaking of Arnie, PUMA has come out with its second collaboration with Arnold Palmer Enterprises, a collection of apparel and accessories that embodies The King’s timeless style as it would come to life today. The PUMA Golf x Arnold Palmer Collection celebrates the life and excellence of golf’s global icon through nostalgic pastel colors, unique prints, and personal detailing on each piece. Caps run $35, polos around $85, and quarter-zips around $140.

Ocean Tees

Plastics may be necessary for some things, but golf tees ain’t one of them. And chopping down hardwood timber for tees doesn’t seem quite right, either. Enter Ocean Tees, made from Moso bamboo farmed exclusively in the company’s 100-hectare plot in Jiangxi Provence, China, under strict environmental controls. This kind of bamboo is 4x stronger than hardwood. The packaging is even made from recycled (and recyclable) material. The tees come in short, long, mixed, and “castle” versions (4 British pounds per box online, and they accept PayPal). I’ve found the castle tees to be most durable in dry turf conditions where even my previous plastic tees snapped every few drives—and the height is ideal for my driver. If you feel like exploring the Ocean Tees website further, you’ll find that they also sell golf apparel. Their polos, sweaters, and other apparel (from 49 British pounds) are produced in the only factory in Europe that meets Greenpeace’s textile procurement standards. The apparel is woven from blends of organic cotton and proprietary degradable elastane. None of the process or packaging contains any virgin plastic, either.

BIG MAX Blade IP Push Cart and Dri Lite Sport Bag

With walking rounds more popular than ever, Europe’s #1 push cart and golf bag brand BIG MAX is ready to make this Father’s Day memorable for golfing Dads across the country with the Fold Flat Blade IP push cart and Dri Lite Sport Golf Bag. The Blade IP has won multiple awards for its compact folding mechanism. Perfect for a Dad who needs their push cart to take up as little room as possible in the trunk of the car or when packed away. The IP’s ultra-flat design leaves it less than 5” deep when folded and features a host of practical features, stylish looks and a 5-year manufacturer warranty ($349.99). The Dri Lite Sport is a water-resistant cart bag that constructed from 100% waterproof fabric with specially designed waterproof zippers. The Dri Lite Sport boasts a 14-way 9.5” organizer top with oversize putter well, 9 water-resistant pockets, and an oversized cooler pocket all in a 4.85 lb. bag ($249.99).

Bushnell Wingman GPS and Bluetooth Speaker

If Dad’s gone all-in on technology and all the ways it’s changing golf, the Bushnell Wingman ($150) is for him. Essentially the Wingman is a top-notch Bluetooth stereo speaker combined with one of the best GPS systems in golf. Integrated into the speaker is a powerful magnet so you can stick it on your golf cart (or on your pushcart), and there’s a detachable remote control you can keep in your pocket to click for audible yardages to the front, middle, and back of the green.

But wait – there’s more!

Pair the Wingman with your phone to play music from your own library or streaming service, if the gentle strains of birdsong and the breeze in the leaves are not soothing enough. Then download the Bushnell app onto your smartphone to display detailed maps and yardages of 36,000 courses, keep score, and more all on your phone.

High Camp Fairway Flask

Since the Dri Lite Sport has such a convenient cooler pocket, maybe toss in something classy to fill that pocket. The High Camp Fairway Flask is brilliantly crafted and ruggedly built for the course. It keeps half a bottle of your favorite spirit at the perfect temperature all day long and comes with the Ultimate Fairway Bar Glass: the 6-Shooter design pays homage to the traditional American West, and it holds 11oz (325ml) of your favorite beverage. The cleverest part is the Integrated Magnetic Locking System, which allows you to seamlessly attach your tumbler to your flask. It fits perfectly in the cart drink holder, and the magnetized cup keeps it from tipping over. It’s constructed from durable 18/8 surgical steel, has a no-drip lip, requires no funnel to fill, and keeps Dad’s libation hot or cold 24 hours. Get your flask either in the standard version ($85) or custom engraved ($109). High Camp offers a wide range of other flasks and barware, too.

Bardstown Bourbon

Bardstown Bourbon Company produces unique bourbons of the highest quality. Steve Nally, the Master Distiller, had the same role at Maker’s Mark for 18 years before leaving to found Bardstown. Their mashbills are fascinating to read, and the Fusion Series (around $55) offers blends that are proposed by everyone in the company and go through a March Madness-style taste-off to find the best one. Ask about engraving a bottle to commemorate Dad’s ace or low round (like in the photo below, engraved to recall my first sub-80 round of this season).

Callaway and Bridgestone Golf Balls

You know, if Dad loads his High Camp Flask with Bardstown Bourbon, he might need some help lining up his putts. Callaway’s new ERC Soft and Supersoft golf balls ($35) feature “triple-track technology”—three lines that might look like six lines when that flask is empty. These balls are arguably the softest on the market, yet they have succeeded in squeezing every possible bit of distance out of a design optimized for feel.

Some extra visibility might be useful, too, given Dad’s condition. Bridgestone has recently introduced a high-contrast yellow version of its TOUR B XS—the ball Tiger played before his accident. The yellow version ($45), like the white, features REACTIV cover technology, which employs an “impact modifier,” to allow the urethane to behave differently based on swing speed.  For example, when struck with a driver or any longer club, the REACTIV urethane cover “reacts,” as a firmer, more resilient material, providing more speed and distance. However, on slower swings with a wedge or short iron, the cover performs like a softer material, creating more shot-stopping spin and control. I wonder if the cover is made of cornstartch…but that might be the Bardstown talking…

Club Champion Fitting

If Dad’s clubs need a tune-up or an upgrade, now’s a great time to lock in some savings on the fitting process. The #1 clubfitter in the U.S., Club Champion, has a limited-time offer from now through Father’s Day. Buy Dad a gift card for $150 or more and get $75 toward an equipment purchase.

Stix Golf Clubs

Now, if Dad doesn’t want to go through a fitting, or if you’re just leading him to the game, a new budget-friend equipment option is Stix Golf. Never heard of Stix Golf? Well imagine if Dollar Shave Club made golf clubs – same idea, sort of. Stix makes high-quality golf clubs – entire sets, bags, apparel, etc. – and offers them directly to consumers in the same sort of marketing model as Vice Golf Balls (with whom Stix partners). The result is affordable, solid equipment with minimalist design and consistent performance. At the Stix website, you can find all combinations of gear for Dad, including a full 14-club set plus golf bag for $924. If he doesn’t need that much stuff, 11-piece and 9-piece sets are available, or just wedges or woods – basically whatever he needs or wants.

PrecisionPro Golf R1 Smart Rangefinder

PrecisionPro’s new Smart Rangefinder ($320) has more features packed into it than any other rangefinder on the market. Pre-orders for the official July release are closed already, but maybe give Dad an IOU. The Smart Rangefinder is “smart” because you can pair it to your phone with the PrecisionPro app, and it will provide a list of information including your personalized slope (based on your stock club yardages, elevation, and real-time wind and weather conditions). It even has a “Find My Rangefinder” function to allow you to track it in case Dad leaves it lying on a teebox in his Bardstown fog.

Over-the-top Pebble Beach Getaway

In 2008, I took my father-in-law with me to cover the US Open at Torrey Pines over Father’s Day. Now that he’s gone, I am more grateful every year that we had that time together. If you’re looking for a bucket list gift and escape with Old Dad, what better place is there than up the California coast a ways — Pebble Beach Resorts? At Pebble Beach, you and Dad can savor five legendary golf courses, including The Hay, the resort’s brand-new short course designed by Tiger Woods, world-class accommodations, and seemingly endless dining options – that’s the way to Dad’s heart. Here’s how to treat Dad to the ultimate Father’s Day or guy’s getaway trip: A round on Pebble Beach Golf Links – the number one public golf course in America – is a must. Post-golf, spots like The Bench and STICKS provide options for casual drinks or a celebratory meal. When it’s time to call it a night, the guys can retreat to one of two four-bedroom cottages located at Fairway One at The Lodge. Cottages feature a luxurious living room flanked by big screen TVs, a stacked-stone fireplace, and an open kitchen and wet bar. An outdoor terrace overlooking the famed first fairway at Pebble Beach Golf Links is ideal for post-round cigars.

Want to dial up the experience a notch higher? Check out the  Lexus Performance Driving School. Lexus, the official vehicle of Pebble Beach Resorts (and the company that sent me and my late father-in-law to Torrey Pines in 2008), is offering a full-day racing experience at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Dad can drive this thrilling, iconic circuit while building his driving skills and confidence – on and off the track. Summer school dates include June 25, 26 or 27, and Aug. 20, 21 or 22, 2021. Fall and winter dates are also available. The experience is $995. To order a gift certificate or to register a participant as a gift, contact the Lexus Concierge at 888-211-8522 or Concierge@LexusPerformanceDrivingSchool.com.

I know my father-in-law never forgot that trip to watch Tiger win his final U.S. Open. And I’m positive that your father will never forget a trip to Pebble Beach. None of us will forget 2020, but we can pile some amazing memories on top of it. This Father’s Day is a great time to begin!

Srixon ZX5 Driver: Balancing power, forgiveness, and control

Here’s why I don’t completely believe golf simulators or launch monitors: it’s really easy for recreational players to get wrapped up in the numbers. Any avid, average golfer has read about how the pros try to optimize “low spin, high launch” in their drivers. Then they get on one of these high-tech machines and flail away, scrutinizing numbers and subconsciously changing their swings to try to fit the ideal they’ve pictured in their heads.

Me, I prefer to test out clubs on a course I know well, where my normal shots, strategies, and yardages provide a baseline for comparison.

Such was the story of the 2021 Srixon ZX5 Driver ($500). When it arrived on my porch in February, snow was still falling, and the only place to swing it was on the simulator of my home course. So off I went with it and my go-to big stick from the previous season for a head-to-head.

Overall distance was similar between the two, but the ZX5 launched a lot higher, due, I thought, to more backspin – like, 3,000 RPM more. Beguiled by numbers, I thought, “Hmmm. They say low spin is better.” I put my current driver back into my bag and took the ZX5 back home to wait for spring.

Playing the Srixon ZX5 Driver

If the proof is in the pudding, then when it comes to golf clubs, the pudding is the golf course. Springtime came, my home course opened, and I took the ZX5 out for my first two rounds. Conditions were cold, damp, and blustery. Nevertheless, the first drive of the year launched high and long, and it split the fairway. Already better than the simulator.

The main feature of the ZX5 is a 15% larger carbon crown compared to previous iterations, which moves weight lower and farther back and boosts MOI and COR (more numbers recreational golfers use a lot but know little about)—hence the reported backspin, I suppose. The ZX5’s sister driver, the ZX7 ($530) has a deeper face and two adjustable weights in the sole, compared to the one in the ZX5. I’m not much of a fiddler, so the single weight of the ZX5, along with the standard adjustable hosel, is plenty for me.

It was on the 12th hole – one of my several nemeses holes – where the ZX5 revealed its true stripes. The 12th is a 510-yard par 5, with OB all down the left and water on the right about 260 yards off the tee. I haven’t hit driver here regularly for probably 10 years because I can reach the water and I can rope-hook OB without equal likelihood. But I’d hit so many fairways already, I figured I’d give it a try. Watching my ball rocket over the hill 160 yards from the tee, right of the trees and left of the tall red post marking the start of the water, one of my playing partners said, “That Srixon is doing some good work for you today.”

The result: the best drive I’ve hit on 12 in over a decade, with only 198 yards left into the green. (I hit the front of the green with my 2nd and proceeded to 3-putt for par.)

The verdict

Srixon might not be the first manufacturer that comes to mind when you’re shopping for new clubs. But you’d be wise to give them a chance. Their tour-level clubs are as good as any on the market—as evidenced by Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters victory. Their standard clubs are equally competitive. The ZX5—like all the new ZX woods—feature the Rebound Frame, which increases ball speed, especially on center-struck shots, along with the aforementioned carbon crown, which provided remarkable forgiveness. In my two rounds (so far) with the ZX5, I’ve hit 50% of fairways, which is a significant increase over my normal 32.5% of fairways hit.

Now that’s a number that I can believe.

But wait, there’s more!

If you’re looking for irons to complement a new ZX5 Driver, the ZX5 Irons ($1,300) are the perfect match. Forged yet forgiving, the AI-designed face delivers both feel and power. I’ve tested a few of these on the range, and, for whatever range work alone is worth (everything is easier on the range), workability was impressive – calling my shots was a breeze. Better players might opt for the ZX7 or the ZX blades.

Mother’s Day Gifts 2021: Honoring Mom, Mother Earth, and Golf

When COVID-19 is said and done—hopefully sooner rather than later—one of the unexpected beneficiaries of a mostly tragic event could be golf. As an outdoor activity that naturally allows for social distancing, golf has become an outlet for people who only played once or twice a year in the before times.

And at my local course, anyway, these new, recently “regular” players include a lot of kids, teens, and women. So if you kids, teens, and partners are listening, this means you have a good chance of getting Mom hooked on the game. This is your time, and this is your Mother’s Day.

And this is a list of ideas for gifts to take advantage.

Ocean Tees

Plastics may be necessary for some things, but golf tees ain’t one of them. And chopping down hardwood timber for golf tees doesn’t seem quite right, either. Enter Ocean Tees, made from Moso bamboo farmed exclusively in the company’s 100-hectare in Jiangxi Provence, China, under strict environmental controls. This kind of bamboo is 4x stronger than hardwood. The packaging is even made from recycled (and recyclable) material. The tees come in short, long, mixed, and “castle” versions (4 British pounds per box online, and they accept PayPal). I’ve found the castle tees to be most durable in dry turf conditions where even my previous plastic tees snapped every few drives.

If you feel like exploring the Ocean Tees website further, you’ll find that they also sell golf apparel. Their polos, sweaters, and other apparel (from 49 British pounds) are produced in the only factory in Europe that meets Greenpeace’s textile procurement standards. Both women’s and men’s lines are woven from blends of organic cotton and proprietary degradable elastane. And none of the process or packaging contains any virgin plastic.

Srixon, Callaway, OnCore, Wilson golf balls

We’re living in a golden age for golf balls. It wasn’t long ago that all we had to choose from was one good ball and a gaggle of rocks. And the good ball was 3x the price of the rocks. Now the market offers a cornucopia of golf balls, from behemoths like Titleist to smaller boutique manufacturers. All of them offer a range of feel, firmness, and price to appeal to players of any levels and preferences. And the colors! Reds, pinks, yellows, fluorescent greens, blues, oranges – practically any color you can imagine. Heck, there are even multi-colored balls now. Srixon’s Q-Star Divide ($33) is one-half yellow and one-half red. The company claims this combination aids in aligning putts and seeing the ball in the air.

If Mom is a bit more of a traditionalist, Callaway’s new ERC Soft and Supersoft golf balls ($35) feature “triple-track technology”—three lines, to help line up putts. These balls are arguably the softest on the market that have succeeded in squeezing every possible bit of distance out of a design optimized for feel thanks to Dow PARALOID Impact Modifier technology.

If Mom wants to go alternative, the Buffalo, New York-based Oncore offers a range of balls at three price-points—the Avant 55 ($20), Elixr ($30), and the new tour-caliber Vero X1 ($40).

Finally, if you want to personalize your gift, check out the Wilson Duo Optix with custom text ($22). Mom will be pretty sad when she loses one of these!

Wilson Staff Eco Stand Bag

Show your love for Mom and Mother Earth at the same time by giving her the Wilson Staff Eco Stand Bag ($150). This bag is made from over 50 recycled plastic water bottles (verified by Global Recycled Standards 4.0). Durable, functional, and stylish, the Eco Stand Bag also helps keep plastic out of landfills.

“The Golf Lover’s Guide to England”

If Mom is champing at the bit to do some traveling, maybe she’d like to read up on golf courses in Merry Olde England so she can plan her first post-pandemic golf trip. “The Golf Lover’s Guide to England” by Michael Whitehead ($27, White Owl) is a comprehensive yet digestible field guide to some of the oldest, most famous, and best courses in the world. Mom will find everything from local 9-holers to Open Championship venues here.

Alright, there are a host of equipment recommendations I could make for Mom, too, but the best advice I can give is to get her a gift card for a clubfitting (e.g., at Club Champion). If you want to get Mom hooked on golf, she should have clubs that fit her. After all, she’s no off-the-shelf mother, is she? She deserves better than off-the-shelf clubs.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, and I sincerely hope to see you out on the links this year!

Titleist TSi woods and hybrids: Terminate the golf ball

Remember the Terminator movies? Skynet was the artificial neural network-based conscious group mind and artificial general super-intelligence system that built the Terminators. And the Terminators were nigh-indestructible metal killing machines.

Imagine if Skynet made golf clubs instead of cybernetic monsters, and the only killing was the murdering of golf balls.

Oh, what a wonderful (future) world it would be.

Titleist’s TSi drivers, fairway metals, and hybrids (TSi1, TSi2, TSi3, and TSi4) all feature faces forged from Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI) 425 titanium alloy. This alloy is made in the US near Pittsburgh originally for use in ballistic armor and then in aerospace, including the Mars rover. It’s light, strong, and has tighter tolerances than typical titanium. The crown is also titanium, combining with the face to be arguably the strongest, lightest, fastest, and best-sounding driver on the market.

The TSi models differ with respect to specs and the players they target. The TSi2 is sort of the “standard”: more forgiving, with a higher, straighter “stock” trajectory than the TSi3 or TSi4, and sole weights that can be adjusted. The TSi3 has a more compact head (though still 460cc) and a lower trajectory and features sole weighting adjustment capabilities (both drivers have adjustable hosels). The TSi1 is ultra-light for slower swingspeeds, and the TSi4 is played by several Tour players.

This said, the TSi2 is still—like all Titleist offerings in my experience—“playable” and “workable” for even semi-skilled players like me, assuming the shaft and specs fit your game.

The metal woods and hybrids are equally well-built and powerful. Without getting too far ahead of myself, I will say that the TSi2 3-wood is the first 3-wood I have hit regularly and without trepidation on the course in over 5 years. My swing is regaining some old form…and the TSi3 is both easy enough to hit and long enough to make it both a reliable AND powerful weapon. Like when the original Terminator started protecting John Connor.

Playing the Titleist TSi2 line

I normally play a 9.5- or 10.5-degree lofted driver. The TSi series comes in whole number lofts. So 10-degree it was. The reason for these lofts is the weighting and spin characteristics add approximately .5 degrees of loft. Despite the TSi2 ($549) being the “higher launching” model, it would be completely wrong to say that you can’t hit lower, boring drives with it. Just put the ball back in your stance a bit. Move the ball up a titch, and you get towering shots. Speaking of lower drives, the first time out with the TSi2 driver, my son and I both semi-topped drives – and then watched as both balls seared the turf all the way out to where many folks hit their regular drives.

“That face is hot,” said my son after he stopped complaining about his “bad” drive that rolled out 230 yards, dead straight.

The face of the TSi line is composed, as mentioned, of a novel material in the golf world. And the ATI 425 titanium is sort of pebbled in texture, too. This might strike some as weird. But the important thing is that it strikes the ball with other-worldly power. The head of the TSi2 is somewhat flattened and sort of flared at the back compared to the TSi3—a shape that some purists may object to. Frankly, until reading about it in the press release, I didn’t even notice. What I did notice is that in four rounds playing and testing it, I have hit more fairways and have driven the ball consistently farther than I have in any round during the past few years.

When I mentioned to a clubfitter colleague at Club Champion that I was testing the TSi2, his reply was, “That is one hell of a driver!” I can’t disagree.

The TSi2 3-wood ($299), as noted above, performs like a smaller carbon-copy – or rather titanium-copy – of the driver. The low profile and consistent launch of the 15-degree metalwood imbues even this shell-shocked fairway wood player with confidence.

Rounding out my testing set is the TSi2 23-degree hybrid ($279), and it has has truly become the workhorse of my bag. In one fell swoop it replaced a 21-degree hybrid and a 24-degree hybrid, which were the two longest-tenured clubs in my bag (8 years and 7 years, respectively). With the ATI 425 construction of the TSi2 hybrid face, I can hit it as far as the old 21-degree with the control of the old 24-degree (and just choke down a hair if I need to play shorter).

Best of all, I have three spectacular matching clubs to use on the tee on nearly any length or design par-4 or par-5 I can imagine. All three are decked out with Tensei AV Blue Raw (stiff) shafts—one of a handful of featured shafts. The Tensei AV was my choice (absent a personalized fitting) as a fairly straightforward mid-launch, mid-spin shaft, excellent for most recreational players.

The Verdict

There are sort of “flashbulb” moments with any club—both good and bad. Iconic shots that stick in your head. For me, the TSi2 line’s moment came on the 508-yard 3rd hole of Lake of the Woods Golf Course in Mahomet, Illinois (my home course). OB runs from tee to green on the right, and trees line the left side of the fairway. Starting 110 yards into the green are two ponds, right and left. I haven’t hit driver here regularly for 10 years, as it will invariably be the one hole where I hit a slice OB, or protect from the slice and pull it into the trees. And hell, I’m too old to go for it in two these days, anyway.

But the third time out with the TSi2, there was a bit of a tailwind, and I’d hit the fairways of Holes 1 and 2 already. After a good swing, I watched my ball sail high and straight over the hill in the fairway. When I crested that hill to see where my ball ended up, I was 190 yards from the green, dead center of the short grass. I put an easy, choked-down swing on my TSi2 hybrid and ended up pin-high, just right of the green. As easy as any par 4.

As I slid the hybrid cover back on, put it in my bag, and looped the straps over my shoulders, I swear I heard the trio of TSi2 clubs say to me, “Play us if you want to live.” Indeed, these three clubs are going to serve as my personal golf ball-killing machines well into the future.