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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles

What a way to start the 2011 golf season!  Love him or hate him, "The Donald" certainly does love golf, and that passion definitely comes through in the design and attention to detail at his signature course in LA.  A couple of high level takeaways from my day at Trump National: 1) Bring a camera because the views from this course are spectacular, and 2) bring alot of golf balls because you will lose them.  Lots of them.

The Experience

From the first sights that you get of the course perched atop the cliffs looking out over the Pacific Ocean, you get the feeling that you are going to have a special day.  Getting to the course was a snap, and from the minute you pull into the driveway fronting the clubhouse, you are well taken care of, in true Trump fashion.  From the valet to the pro shop staff, everyone I met was very friendly and eager to talk about the course.  They are all very proud of what they have to offer, and rightfully so.  I had a couple of great conversations with Manny, the starter, who gave me the lay of the land before I went out, which was much appreciated!  The carts have built in GPS and come stocked with two bottles of "Trump Ice" spring water, complete with Trump's picture on the label.  The locker room is more than adequate, with nice size lockers available for players' use.  All in all, it is definitely a top-notch facility.  You can also see the Pacific Ocean from every single hole, which is a rare thing even for a true ocean golf course, so one of the first challenges that you have to overcome is not getting distracted by the incredible views!

The Course

The course is an incredibly difficult track, no question.  Ten hours after I finished, I am still looking for my first flat lie of the day.  We played from the white tees, which is only about 6,000 yards, but there is no doubt that it was the most punishing 6,000 yards I have ever played.  This course is about target golf in its purest form -- you simply cannot try to overpower Trump National.  First, on many holes there is absolutely no advantage to hitting driver.  Second, there are so many blind landing areas, and the landing areas narrow so significantly right where your driver would land that on most holes driver is a risky proposition.  The course's severe slops are a great protection against people trying to use length to beat the course into giving up some low scores.  You have really got to think your way around this course, which makes for a fun and interesting round.  I bet if I add up the amount f 6 or 7 irons I used to tee off on a par 4 all of last year it would not equal the amount of times I did it today.  The more I think about it, it was probably a great round to have at the start of a season because it forces you to be patient, play smart and take what the course gives you -- an important lesson that we could all benefit from and use to our advantage throughout the season!

As an example, on the first hole I hit a 6-iron off the tee (first swing of the year a 6-iron -- talk about a knee knocking experience) and had only a sand wedge into the green from about 125 yards.  But the ball was about a foot above my feet, and I was looking at an approach shot  over water to a severely sloped green with a waterfall (yes, a waterfall) behind the green.  Not an easy way to get out of the gate!

There are two other ways that the course protects itself against the mashers:  1) the course is extremely narrow, and 2) the greens are simply brutal.  There is trouble left and trouble right on every single hole.  The way the course is laid out, there are no holes that you can just blow it out left or right and track it down and still have a shot into the green.  A pull or a push off the tee will probably find you in a losing battle with an environmentally sensitive area, where more likely thank not, your ball will remain from that moment until the end of time.  There is so little margin for error at this place, and so much slope in the fairway that even well struck shots don't need to look too far for trouble.  The greens, in a word, are slippery.  They were running 10.7 on the stimpmeter, far faster than the greens you will find at your local muni.  They are also large and full of ridges and mounds that play havoc with your line.  It takes a few holes just to get used to the speed, and longer putts are especially difficult because you are not only concerned with controlling the speed but you are also often dealing with a foot of break to boot.  They were silky smooth though and rolled true though.

There are more than a handful of memorable holes.  For longer hitters, the par 5s are all reachable in two, but given the bunkering and hazards, it is tough to be too aggressive.  Its the kind of course where you need to pick your spots if you want to attack.  When you get to 18, be sure to walk back to hit one from the black tees.  The black tee box is about 150 yards behind the white tees, on an elevated tee (about 40 yards in the air) that provides an expansive view of the whole course, right next to the ocean.  Its a spot that will give you chills.  The shot on the left is a picture while standing on the 18th.  It is a 512 yard Par 4, and plays every bit as long.  There are some great par 3s as well.  The 11th calls for a downhill shot of only about 130 yards, but it offers one of the coolest views on the course, and it looks like you are hitting it out into the Pacific.  Another in a long line of breathtaking shots you will get to hit while playing here.

Value and Overall Satisfaction

The course is expensive -- no doubt about that.  I paid $215 for the round, which is a steep price to pay for a round of golf and probably outside the budget for many people.  But I will tell you that I believe it was worth it, and I am glad I played there, and if you get the chance, I think you should too!  It is also the kind of course where you would be well served to pair up with someone who has played there before, because there are plenty of subtleties that you could only learn by playing there.  Luckily, one of the guys I played with had been there before, and his advice saved me at least five shots.  Local knowledge here is king.  It was a great day on a great course.  I wish I could have played a little better (I grinded out an 87), but for the first round of the year on a tough course, I will surely take it.

Next up, Torrey Pines on Thursday morning!  I think my MasterCard is going to do some damage in that pro shop!      

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Healthy Golf Obsession West Coast Swing!

So this blogger is heading west tomorrow -- leaving the rainy, gray and miserable confines of the Big Apple for the warmth (well, sort of), hope and promise of California (much like those original 49ers did in search of gold so many years ago).  But the treasure I seek is not gold, but something far more precious and valuable...the start of the 2011 golf season!

My wife and I are going to be heading to Los Angeles and San Diego for a week and I have a great round lined up at each location!

Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m.:  Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles

I really thought long and hard about where to play when we make our first stop in LA.  There are some good public golf choices around, but as I was exploring the options, I just couldn't help myself from continually coming back to Trump's crown jewel.  Trump, in his typical understated fashion, proclaims this course to be the best course in America and a better track than Pebble Beach.  While that seems a little outlandish, it is the most expensive golf course ever built and tricked out with all of the Trump bells and whistles (including a couple waterfalls).  Personally, I am a fan of "The Donald" so I am predisposed to wanting to give this course a try.  Also, after seeing a couple of episodes of Trump's show on the Golf Channel, where he brings out celebrities and Tour pros to play there, I must admit the course looks pretty cool.  I have read a bunch of reviews over the last few days about the course, and they really "explore the studio space" as Christopher Walken would say, ranging from people calling this the best course they have ever played to others complaining about it being too tough and not worth the money.  Erika and I are staying about 10 miles from the course, so I figured this was as good a time as any to tee it up and check it out for myself!

Thursday Morning at 8:49 a.m.:  Torrey Pines (North Course)

The second round of HGO's West Coast Swing tees off bright and early on Thursday morning.  Torrey is truly one of those special places that you have to make a golf pilgrimage to visit at some point.  With two golf courses right on the ocean, it is an annual Tour stop, and in 2008 went down in U.S. Open lore as the site of Tiger's epic playoff victory over Rocco Mediate on a bum leg.  I was lucky enough to play the South Course back in 2007 and it was fantastic.  I figured that since I will be in San Diego, I had to make a stop there to play!  I was torn on which course to play -- the South Course is amazing, but I have also heard about how great the North Course is (I'm told it plays more like the way the South did prior to the Rees Jones re-design that Phil Mickelson is still angry about -- also I hear it has more holes along the ocean).  When my college roommate and golf partner for Thursday, Josh, found out that they are going to be aerating the South greens, the choice became an easy one!

So that is the itinerary -- in between there is some good sightseeing to be had in LA, my first trip to Disneyland in California and a stop by the San Diego zoo.  I will post updates about how things are going and tweet some thoughts and pics from the courses, so if you want in on the info, be sure to follow me on Twitter! @rtbgolfer

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

March Madness - Golf Style...Who Ya Got?

With March Madness just around the corner, the golfing word gets into the action a little bit early with the start of the World Golf Championship Accenture Match Play Championship.  Defending champ Ian Poulter (who seems to always play better in match play than stroke play events) is in Arizona tweeting his rear off and getting ready for the opening match tomorrow, where he will play Stewart Cink in one of the more intriguing match-ups of day one.

While it is not nearly as fun (or potentially financially lucrative) as filling out your NCAA tourney bracket, I have filled out my match play bracket and wanted to share my picks.  You can find the full bracket here so you can match your golf picker skills against mine! 

Here is my bracket, which hopefully you can read...

Some interesting picks to note:

-I am picking GMAC to go all the way.  First off, he has the great match-play vibes that he can call on from the Ryder Cup.  Second, he is coming off a nice long break, so he should be well rested and has been working with his swing coach so he should be sharp.  Third, he is still one of the hottest players on the planet and I expect him to do well.  Fourth, GMAC is a great name, he likes beer and he seems like an awesome guy, so you can't help but root for him.

-I have Tiger going out in the second round.  Tiger's inconsistency right now will prevent him from going far in the tournament because here, it doesn't matter if you shoot 65 on the first day, a bad second day and you go home.  I think that will do him in early here.

-Note that Tim Clark just pulled out of the tournament and is being replaced by J.B. Holmes.  Luckily I had him going out in the first round to Villegas anyway, so no harm done.

-Potential first round upset alerts:  I have Haas over Bubba Watson (sorry Bubba, I still love you), Jason Day over Kyung-tae Kim, Villegas over (now J.B.Holmes), Ryo Ishikawa over Charl Schwartzel, Manassero over Stricker, and Ryan Moore over Francesco Molinari.

-Speaking of Bill Haas, he is playing great and is going to be a tough draw for anyone to have to play.  In fact, I think he is playing so well, he will make a long run...all the way to the finals!

-I really hope the Poulter-GMAC Sweet 16 match-up happens.  The twitter traffic leading up to that match would be epic (topped only by a Poults-Westwoon Final Four match), and it would also be a great match.  Poulter could try to atone for GMAC's caddy taking all his money the other night in their 30,000 foot poker game detailed on Twitter.

-I like Westwood to avenge his early exit from last year with a run to the Final Four.  It will be nice to see him playing in the US!

So there you have my picks.  Get yours done and let me know what you think!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Top 5 Golfing Presidents

In honor of President's day, and since 15 of the last 18 Presidents have taken to the game with varying levels of enthusiasm and skill, here is a list of the top 5 Presidential golfers.  My rankings reflect a combination of passion for the game and actual level of golfing ability:

1) Dwight D. Eisenhower:  Ike loved golf, no doubt about it, and even took alot of political heat from Democrats who said that he spent too much time on the golf course and not enough time actually governing.  Ike showed them though -- he had a putting green installed outside the Oval Office that is still used today.  I got to see the putting green on a trip to the White House with Notre Dame back in 2001, and it is very well maintained (not too big) and has balls with the Seal of the President on them.  Very cool!  Ike played somewhere around 800 rounds in the White House, and was a member of Augusta National.  You have all probably heard reference on the Masters telecasts over the years to "The Eisenhower Pine" -- this is a tree that is on the 17th hole that Ike hit so many times over the years that he proposed that it be cut down at an Augusta National members meeting.  The powers that be at Augusta politely refused the 34th President of the United States' request, but the name stuck -- as did Ike's golf balls in the tree's branches!

2)  John F. Kennedy:  It is generally widely acknowledged that JFK was the premier golfer to have taken up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Kennedy was a great athlete with a smooth and powerful swing and played in the high 70s and low 80s.  He may well have topped the list, except that his chronic back problems limited his rounds, as did his predecessor's (our #1) passion for the game.  Ike was such an avid golfer that JFK viewed golf as a political liability he could not well afford, and kept his love for the game on the down low.

3)  Franklin Delano Roosevelt: This may come as a shock to many people, given that the image of FDR that endures to this day is being President while confined to a wheelchair as a result of having polio at the age of 39.  But in the years prior to losing the use of his legs, FDR was an avid and skilled golfer.  In fact, after graduating from Harvard he won the club championship at a course on an island off the coast of Maine.  FDR's passion continued even after polio robbed him of his ability to play the game, and he used his Works Progress Administration to put the nation back to work during the Great Depression in part by building golf courses.  The men of the WPA even went to work on one of my favorite places, the courses and facilities at Bethpage State Park on Long Island.  From now on, when I go to Bethpage, I will definitely tip my cap and say thanks to the 32nd President of the United States.

4)  Bill Clinton:  President Clinton certainly has a well-known passion for the game and enjoyed carting around quite an entourage when he would hit the links as Commander-in-Chief.  Clinton is not a bad golfer, and can play around 80 when he has it going, though he is perhaps best known for some creative math out on the golf course with mulligans and foot wedges a usual part of his arsenal.

5)  George Herbert Walker Bush:  "41" enjoyed the game as much as anyone, and his family has a well-known golfing lineage -- the Walker Cup, where the United States' top amateurs take on the top amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland in a team event every other year similar to the Ryder Cup -- is named after Bush's grandfather, George Herbert Walker, a former President of the USGA.  At one time, Bush was able to get his handicap down to around an 11 and is well-known for his notoriously fast round (including one 18 hole round he boasts he played in less than 90 minutes).  Bush is a huge supported of the game, and in May will be enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Paul Azinger's Cracking the Code

There is no event in golf quite like the Ryder Cup.  Getting the best players in the world together once every two years to play for nothing more than pride and love of country makes the Ryder Cup one of golf's must see events.  In Cracking the Code, Paul Azinger takes you behind the scenes of America's 2008 Ryder Cup victory over a heavily favored powerhouse European team captained by Azinger's rival Nick Faldo.  The result is a great book that is an easy and quick read that takes you into the mind of the man who broke the mold of traditional Ryder Cup thinking to create new strategies to get the American team back on the winning track.  Azinger's new approach to the captaincy paid off in a big way, as the Americans scored a 16.5 - 11.5 victory at Valhalla.

Given the popularity of the Ryder Cup, a book offering behind the scenes access to the event is always worth a read.  What makes this book even more compelling is learning about the process that Azinger engaged in to get twelve world class players who play a truly individual game to gel as a team and deliver a peak performance under intense pressure.  The book details Azinger's pod strategy, where with the help of Dr. Ron Braund, Azinger copied the training methods of the Navy SEALS to put the players into three four-man teams based on their personalities in the hopes of getting them to feel comfortable playing together and put them in a position to succeed.  Azinger also reveals in this book, for the first time, that three of his captain's picks were actually player's picks -- Azinger let each of his three pods pick the last player to round out the pod.  Given all of the attention and analysis that is devoted to a Ryder Cup captain's picks, this was a gutsy and unconventional strategy that ended up paying big dividends for Azinger and the American team.

What struck me most about the book was Azinger's willingness to shed the traditional thinking as to how things are supposed to be done as the Ryder Cup captain and think outside the box to develop a new approach to leading his team.  Given that the game of golf in general, and the Ryder Cup in particular, are steeped in tradition and not always open to change, Azinger's strategy took real courage. It is also a great lesson in speaking truth to power, as he needed to convince the PGA that their old ways of doing things weren't working and needed to be shaken up.

This is a book that can be (and is) found in the management section of book stores, not just the sports section.  While only a handful of people in the world have the opportunity to captain a Ryder Cup squad, the principles discussed in the book -- team building, communication, managing different personalities -- are directly applicable to our own lives.  Whether you are managing a company, coaching a team, or participating in a committee for your favorite cause, this book has lessons in it that you can take away and use to become a better manager.  Azinger shows that his coaching career did not end when the final putt was made at the 2008 Ryder Cup.  It is alive and well today as he is teaching us how to take those same strategies that helped make the improbable dream come true in Kentucky and implement them in the leadership roles we are each engaged in today.

The book is also a great trip down memory lane, chronicling Team USA's great victory with a team that included 6 rookies.  There are also a ton of great pictures throughout the book that bring the action to life.  And I must admit, listening to Azinger describe the raucous and partisan crowds and the pride he felt walking around that week definitely gave me goosebumps.

Azinger has a great story to tell and tells it in a very engaging way.  If you like the Ryder Cup, this is a must have in your golfing library!      

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tour Stops at "Hogan's Alley"

As The PGA Tour gets ready to kick off The Northern Trust Open today at historic Riviera Country Club, I wanted to give a nod to "The Hawk" -- Ben Hogan.  As will continue to become clear in this space, I am a devoted Ben Hogan fan. The man created the idea that you can improve your golf game through practice and had an iron-willed work ethic.  Moreover, after his devastating car accident in 1949, where he and his wife Valerie were hit head on by a bus while returning from a tournament, Hogan had one of sport's greatest comeback, defying intense pain to play arguably the best golf of his career.  Hogan's determination in the face of pain has always been an inspiration to me, as I have suffered from arthritis since I was 2 years old, making many days out on the course pretty painful.

The reason for today's tribute to The Hawk is because of the site of The Northern Trust Open, Riviera Country Club, also known as "Hogan's Alley".  The course was given the name by Hogan's contemporary (and frequent team match playing partner) Jimmy Demaret after Hogan won the Los Angeles Open twice and the the U.S. Open at Riviera all in a span of a year and a half.   It was a course Hogan loved to play, and a course he dominated like not other.

So today, as many of the best players in the world will write a new chapter in Riviera's storied history, I think Hogan is looking down today and saying to his playing partners in the sky, "I owned that place."

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Season, New Vokey Wedges In The Bag!

A beautiful sight...two brand new Vokey wedges that belong to me!
With the dawn of a new season just around the corner (for those of us living in the North Pole-like Northeast corridor), it is time to start getting excited for the first tee ball of the year.  Mine will come in a couple of weeks -- though I am cheating winter a bit by heading to California to play Torrey Pines for my first round of 2011.  Not a bad way to start! 

Part of the excitement of beginning the new season (besides being even par for the year) is getting to try out the new equipment that you purchased over the summer.  For me, I made three major purchases -- two Vokey wedges and an Odyssey 2-ball putter (which will be the subject of a later post).

I am PUMPED about the new wedges.  I first started really paying attention to Bob Vokey and his Vokey Design wedges after I saw Vokey and his work profiled on Golf Channel's show, Golf in America, last summer.  I suppose the thought about getting some specialized wedges had been percolating in the back of my mind because of the new groove rules and the full court marketing press by wedge companies about buying new wedges last year.  I had not really paid too much attention to specialized wedges (other than the Cleveland 60 degree I have always played), but after the Vokey episode I started to do some research and was, in a word, impressed.    Vokey's resume as a master craftsman of the golf club and the list of devoted Vokey followers both on Tour and off piqued my interest.

I have never been a great wedge player, much to my chagrin.  I waste so many shots from 150 yards and in that it is truly maddening.  I had a case of the (golf word that shall not be named that starts with an s) in high school one summer, and 15 years later, my confidence still has not fully returned.  So, instead of feeling like I am about to make a birdie when I have a wedge in my hand, I play tentative shots that end up much father away from the pin than they should.  With that in my mind, I decided to upgrade my wedges and make becoming a better wedge player my #1 goal this year.

I decided to start with a new Vokey Oil Can 56 degree, standard 11 degree bounce to replace my Sand Wedge and an Oil Can Vokey 52 degree, standard 8 degree bounce to use as a Gap Wedge.  I chose to go for the old-style Spin Milled grooves (as opposed to the new Spin Milled C-C grooves that conform to the new grooves rules right now).  I hope to be able to drop my 8.5 handicap enough in the next couple of years to try to qualify for the U.S. Mid Amateur, and since the old grooves are conforming for that tournament until 2014, I figured that I had plenty of time with the old grooves and did not want to disadvantage myself by playing the new conforming grooves now.  On the Gap Wedge, I have never had one before, but on many of the courses I play, on Par 4s I find myself able to play a driver and then a wedge to the green.  I think that adding another wedge option that will allow me to use a full swing to attack the pin makes alot of sense.

I have been out to the range with the new wedges a few times during the offseason and the results have been spectacular.  The feel of the wedges at impact are so pure.  The feeling is immeasurably better than what I felt when I used my old TaylorMade wedges that came with the set of Burner irons I got a few years back.  It is difficult to describe on paper how good they feel, so I highly suggest heading out to your local golf shop and trying them out if you are considering new wedges.  The clubface is very forgiving, with mis-hits still ending up in decent position.  The ball flight was very consistent.  I felt like I was building confidence in the wedge game with each shot.  In fact, during my last range session with them, when hitting the 56 degree, I hit the stick twice from 115 yards! 

Since I have not been out on the course yet, I have not been able to test them out in round conditions, and I am especially looking forward to seeing the spin rates.  But my early review of the clubs are that they are exceptional!  I am planning on adding the pitching wedge (48 degree) and the lob wedge (60 degree) as soon as I can to round out the set.

The bottom line -- hopefully with lots of practice, and with these new wedges in hand, I can finally be dialed in from within 150 yards and drop that handicap!       

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Bethpage Golf Experience - All You Need To Know To Play Bethpage

By far, the BEST part of living in New York for me is the chance to play at Bethpage whenever I want.  Pulling into the golf complex -- a veritable treasure trove for the golf obsessed -- it is impossible not to get a rush of adrenaline as you are surrounded by so many other eager golfers, ready to test their skills on one of Bethpage's five tracks.  I wanted to give you all a flavor of the Bethpage experience, and strongly encourage you to make this pilgrimage whenever you are in the New York City area.

Getting A Tee Time

There are a couple of different options for getting a tee time at Bethpage.  As many golf fans know from the coverage of the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens, one fun way to get out on A.W. Tillinghast's crown jewel, the Black Course, is to camp out in the parking lot the night before.  This is a great way to get together with your buddies, pack a few coolers, bring a grill and some chairs, and have a 12 hour tailgate before your round begins.  Let me give you a warning though -- don't drink too much in the parking lot, because you need all of your faculties to tackle the Black.  Trust me. 

There is a section of the parking lot that is reserved for the die hards who want to go this route.  As long as there is not a major championship imminent, getting to the parking lot around dinner time the night before you want to play will get you a spot near the front of the line, where you will get your wristband that will entitle you to get out in the morning.  Bethpage reserves the first hour of tee times, and one per hour after that, for the walk-ups (or more accurately, the "sleepovers").  So the earlier you get there, the earlier you will get out the next day.

For those of you who enjoy the comfort of your own bed as opposed to comfort of the backseat of your Ford, you can call ahead to make tee times, but there is a catch.  You have to be registered first.  Registration is easy -- you just have to fax your driver's license with some additional info to Bethpage and they will give you a registration number to use when calling for tee times.  The number to call for tee times is 516-249-0707.  Little insider tip -- when the recording starts, press # to skip the very long intro and get right into the tee time reservation system.  New York residents can get tee times seven days in advance and non-residents can call two days ahead of time.

There is also always one course that is designated as the walk up course for a particular month, so walk-ups are always welcome and can usually get out on either the Blue, Yellow or Green courses.  If you are a single, you can usually get out on the Black if you want, and almost definitely on Red as a walk-up.  Twosomes can often get out with a couple hour wait.  Threesomes and Foursomes need to get lucky for Black or Red.  There are large electronic boards in the check-in area that tell you available times on other courses and how many people could play at that time.  Its a neat system -- when you get to the window, if you want to switch to a different course and there is availability, you can do it without any problem.

The official Bethpage information and registration document can be found here.

Getting There

Bethpage is located in Farmingdale, New York, out on Long Island.  There is lots of free parking, so if you can drive, that is usually the most convenient way to get there, but given how bad New York traffic is, the drive out there can be S-L-O-W.  Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time because if you don't check in an hour ahead of your tee time, you risk losing it.  I have seen it happen -- don't take any chances!  The address to put into your GPS to get you to the right place in Bethpage State Park where the golf courses are is 99 Quaker Meeting House Road, Farmingdale, NY 11735.  The drive from New York City takes about 50 minutes, traffic permitting.

A good alternative option is the train.  the Long Island Railroad has a station stop about 5 minutes from the course.  I usually go to the Farmingdale stop.  When you get off the train there are taxis lined up to take you out to the course.  It costs $7 per person to get there in the cab.  A little steep considering how close it is, but you don't really have any other options.

The Facilities

Bethpage is a true destination for golf fans.  When you walk toward the old school clubhouse, which harkens back to days gone by, the first thing you see is that sign that says it is "The Home of the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Open."  That is cool.  The complex has five different courses, a driving range, a clubhouse with an excellent pro shop (all the U.S. Open gear you could ever want), and numerous putting greens.  There is a restaurant, a bar and a snack bar that is set-up so you can eat outside on nice days.  The only negative is that on the driving range, you can's hit drivers because it is not that deep of a range, and there is a road right on the other side of it.  The clubhouse is adorned with awesome photos of past pros who have walked the same steps where you are standing, most recently shots of Tiger and Phil doing battle with the Black.  It is just a great golf venue.

Ranking The Courses

Given that this post is reaching a length that would make even The Sports Guy proud, I will save detailed reviews of the courses for other posts.  But I wanted to give you my ranking of the five courses so that you have some guidance if you are trying to decide which one to play.

Of the five courses you can play at Bethpage, obviously the Black is the best course there, since it is one of the best courses in the country, currently #6 on Golf Digest's Top 100 courses you can play.  The Black is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those lacking at least passable golf skills.  It is a brutally difficult test, so if you have a tough time knocking it around your local muni, you might want to start elsewhere.  But it is one of the most spectacular courses I have ever played.

The Red course is one of my favorite courses.  It is not set-up to be as challenging as the Black, but it is a great golf course with alot of character that will really test all phases of your game.  I highly recommend it.  It is a similar experience to playing the Black, but not quite as tough.  #1 and #18 are terrific golf holes.

The next best course is the Blue course.  The last of the three Bethpage courses designed by Tillinghast, it is a neat course that is much more playable (read forgiving) than the Black or the Red.  A fun course with some great holes and worth a play.  If you are a little unsure of your skills but still want to play a very good course, I would start off on the Blue.

The Green and the Yellow courses come in 4th and 5th, respectively, in my book.  These two courses remind you of what a typical state or municipal golf course looks like.  The courses are nice to play, usually fairly well maintained, and a fun round.

The best part of all of these courses?  The price.  With the price of rounds seemingly increasing with no end in sight, you can play Blue, Green or Yellow on the weekend for only $43.  The Red will run a non-resident $86 ($48 for New Yorkers) on the weekends and the Black will cost you $150 ($75 in state), but to me, the price is worth every penny.

So there you have it -- the full report from my second home in the summertime here in the Big Apple.  If you have never been to Bethpage, put it on your golf to-do list.  You will not be disappointed! 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Understanding the World Golf Rankings

You can't really go more than a day or two following golf without hearing talk about the World Golf Rankings.  With Tiger's record 281 straight weeks at the top coming to an end a few weeks ago, the race for the top spot is wide open, making the rankings as relevant now as they have ever been.  

Putting aside for another day the debate about whether or not the Rankings are the best way to measure the best golfer in the world, I wanted to lay out for all of you, in plain English, the basics about how the World Golf Rankings are calculated.  As a public service for those of you who, like me, chose your career in part because of a desire to avoid doing serious math, I will try to keep the algebra out of it.  Because let's face it, math is hard.

Drumroll please...

-Ranking points are given to a player based on their order of finish in a tournament

-The amount of points available in a tournament is generally determined by the strength of the field -- tournaments with the strongest fields have the most points available

-Points are tracked for each player over a two year period

-The World Golf Rankings are weighted toward recent performances with a focus on the last thirteen weeks -- after that a player's points earned are decreased fractionally from beyond thirteen weeks up to the two year limit

-The actual ranking is based on each player's average points per tournament; a player needs to have at least 40 tournaments to yield this calculation and can include up to his last 58 events

-The majors have their own rankings system, since they are the crown jewels of the golfing world.  Winning a major nets you 100 points.  To give you a basis for comparison, the minimum number of points for winning a regular PGA or European Tour event is 27 (it is higher when the field is stronger)

-The winner of the Players championship is also in a league of his own, piling up 80 points for a victory.  A BMW PGA Championship victory on the European Tour is worth at least 64 points

So there you have it, hopefully plain and simple if I have done my job correctly.  The latest rankings can be found here, so check them out.  Now the next time you hear someone talking about the World Golf Rankings, you have a little context for how they are actually calculated.

My current World Golf Ranking is somewhere in the billions.  But I like my chances to move up.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why You Must Care About Golf Ball Fitting

Let me start by asking a series of questions...

1) How many of you have ever been fitted for a driver?  (My hand is raised)
2) How many of you have ever been fitted for irons?  (My hand is still raised)
3) How many of you have ever been fitted for a golf ball?  (Awkwardly looking around the room with my hands at my side...)

Why Getting Fit For The Right Ball Matters

One of the coolest trends in golf in the last few years is that custom fitting for equipment is no longer reserved for tour pros.  We all have the ability to take advantage of the advances in equipment technology to get clubs that fit our needs.  In fact, golf stores are actively and aggressively advertising their custom fitting programs to try and get golfers in the door and try it out.  But the funniest thing is that most people, when getting fitted for equipment, go for the big ticket items like a driver or irons.  But think of it like this -- you are going to hit maybe 8 - 10 drivers in a round, and you will certainly hit a good deal more irons, but the only piece of equipment that you use with every swing is the ball!  It is also the least expensive piece of equipment to change.  Yet it oftentimes gets overlooked.

I must admit to being a bit of a ball slut...I have played tons of different balls over the years.  I fall in and out of love, but have not really spent too much time thinking about why the particular balls I play are good for my game.  But just like how a custom fitted suit is going to look alot better than one off the rack from Macy's, and a driver that is tailored to your swing will give you more confidence and better results off the tee, a ball that is matched to your game will certainly increase performance.

Don't Just Take It From Me...

I recently had a great conversation with a friend of mine, Daniel Klevanosky, who runs the PGA Tour Superstore in Plano, Texas (600 Accent Road -- check it out for sure if you are in the area).  Daniel, besides having an incredibly cool job, is a 5 handicap and further cemented in my mind the need to get fitted for a golf ball:

"There are so many options out there for each and every individual that it is important to try different golf balls to get different results.  I went through a golf ball fitting to see what I needed to play.  I actually have 3 balls that I like and will play depending on the course and outside conditions.  I have a driver swing speed of 121 with an approx. carry of 280-285.  I was a huge fan and player of the Pro V1x.  I picked up 5 yards with tighter dispersion from the Penta, and 8 yards from the Callaway Iz.  On colder days, I move to the Bridgestone B330 RX and picked up 14 yards on average over the other balls, due to the ball being a 3-piece ball and able to compress it."

Ball Fitting Will Help You Reach Your Golf Goal

Golfers of all skill levels will benefit from upgrading their equipment.  Playing equipment that is tailored to your game will only lead to better results on the course.  But I think a ball fitting will be especially beneficial for low handicap golfers who are trying to get those last few shots off their handicap to get to an elite level.  I am sitting on an 8.5 handicap right now.  My ultimate goal is to be able to drop the 5 shots I need in the next couple of years to try to take a shot at qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur (handicap must be less than 3.4).  I hit the ball well, but there are a few shots that get away from me each round that turn a possible 75 into an 80.  It could be a drive that leaks a little bit too far left, or a ball that doesn't hold the green and ends up bounding past the stick leaving me with an incredibly difficult shot coming back.  If I have a ball that is going to respond to the way I play the game, that might be the difference in cutting off those last few shots I need to get to where I want to be.  

So it is least for me.  I will be heading out to a golf ball fitting soon, and will keep good notes and bring you all back a full report.  I suggest you go out and do the same, and if you do, please let us know how it turns out and if you think it helped!

Here is a link to the Retail Store Locator for both the PGA Tour Superstore and Golf Galaxy, where you can get fitted:

Get out, get fitted, and get better!


Friday, February 4, 2011

Cool Idea from Cleveland Golf

Wanted to let all of you know of a neat idea from Cleveland Golf.  The program is called "Play it Forward" and if you go to the link included below, you can register to be one of 10,000 golfers selected to try out Cleveland's new CG16 7 iron.  The full set of CG16 irons is slated for release in stores in the middle of this month.  The idea is that they will send you the 7 iron, you play it for a few rounds, and then "Play it Forward" by giving it to one of your friends to try.  Pretty cool idea, and it only takes about a minute to sign-up:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Top 5 Coolest Shots in Golf

This week, the PGA Tour stops at the TPC Scottsdale, where there is always much talk about the 16th hole, which, if you have never seen or heard about, is one of the best holes on the Tour each season.  Its not as much a golf hole as it is a combination of a football tailgate and a frat party.  The fans pride themselves on their rowdiness, and the players really get into it, which makes it pretty fun.  When you think of the stereotypical golf fan -- the polite, reserved, jeffcap wearing golf clapping fan -- well, this is the exact opposite of that.  There is chanting, there is taunting, there is singing, and there are random people running across the fairway.  Its an awesome atmosphere.  It you want a taste, this is a great video that captures the essence of golf's version of debauchery -- the reaction to Tiger's hole in one here is epic:

So with this as a backdrop this week, it got me thinking -- what are the top 5 coolest shots in golf?  Obviously if you are a Tour player, and it is a Sunday, and you are playing 16 at Scottsdale and there are 20,000 crazy fans ready to erupt, that pretty much defines cool.  But since most of us will not be in that situation, what are the top 5 coolest shots in the game today?

#1) 18th at Pebble Beach.  Pebble Beach is the dream golf destination for most amateur golfers.  It has to be on your golf bucket list -- you have to play Pebble once before you die.  And when you are out there, is there any shot you look forward to more than that majestic tee shot on the home hole?  Standing on that tee, I'm thinking that the fact that you are 30 over par matters less than it otherwise would...

#2) 12th at Augusta National.  Any list of the coolest shots in golf has to have at least one from Augusta -- just the notion of having the ability to fake play Augusts in the new version of the Tiger Woods game gives me the chills.  There are so many great shots to hit there, it is hard to pick just one.  But if I had to choose, I think trying to stuff it close here at #12 (or more realistically, just keeping dry), right in the heart of Amen Corner, is it.  I think #16 would be a close second.  

#3) The Road Hole at The Old Course, St. Andrew's, Scotland.  It is the home of golf, and it really doesn't get much cooler than that.  You want to talk about a knee-knocking shot -- how about teeing off and aiming directly at a brick wall right in front of you.  And in case that is not enough to get you going, you are also aiming out of bounds to a blind fairway.  No problem.  But its another one of those holes that you just have to play before making your way to that 1st fairway of the great beyond.  Now once the tee shot is behind you, all you have to do next is avoid the Road Hole Bunker.  Because if you are in there, you are basically toast.

#4)  17th at TPC Sawgrass.  You know you are putting together a good list of awesome golf shots when this one is #4.  There is something exhilarating and terrifying about an island green.  The notion of trying to hit a golf ball to a sliver of land in the distance that is essentially floating in a body of water is enough to strike fear into the most confident of golfers.  We have all seen this on tv and wondered how we would fare if given the shot-- would we take glory in our ball finding land (and telling everyone in the bar after the round that we did it) or would our ball do a Luca Brasi and go sleep with the fishes?  Its only about 130 yards, but it is the longest 130 yards in the game.

#5)  16th at Cypress Point.  Par 3, 231 yards, over the ocean, wind probably in your face, and a 200 yard carry.  Oh yeah, and you can't lay-up -- don't even think about, at least if you want to walk off the tee box with your dignity still intact.

What do you think?  What did I miss?  Let me know!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: The Match

One of the recurring posts that I will be running at HGO is book reviews of various golf books out on the market.  I am definitely a golf book junkie, and it is fitting that this series starts with this book because it is the one that really got me very interested in the genre.

The Match, by Mark Frost (The Greatest Game Ever Played, The Grand Slam), is an absolute must for any golf fan.  I had a hard time putting it down.  Frost effortlessly transports the reader into a time long since past to tell a fascinating story involving some of the greatest characters in the history of the game.  What's more is that the book also takes the reader hole-by-hole through one of the most exclusive courses in all of the world, Cypress Point on the Monterey Peninsula.  What follows is a fascinating story that will capture your attention and leave you wanting more.

The Context 

Bing Crosby was a man who loved golf.  He decided to marry his love of the game with his top notch Hollywood connections by putting together a golf tournament where Hollywood A-listers would play with the pros on the then fledgling (and struggling) pro golf tour.  Called "The Clambake," the tournament was a must for the top pros and the top Hollywood stars alike.  The tournament survives to this day (though some of its luster is surely gone) as the AT&T National Pro-Am.

The Protagonists 

The Match never would have happened without two of golf's true characters, Eddie Lowery and George Coleman.  Lowery is perhaps best known for his role in the greatest shock in U.S. Open Championship history, when Francis Ouimet stunned the world by winning the 1913 U.S. Open as an amateur.  Lowery was Ouimet's caddy.  Lowery was also a member of the USGA Executive Committee and supported the game's amateurs by employing them as car salesman at his dealership.  George Coleman was an epic businessman (he controlled the world market for both lead and zinc), an accomplished golf amateur and a member of Cypress Point.  He hosted a cocktail party at The Clambake on 1956 that set this stage for this once in a lifetime affair.

The Bet

At this particular time, Lowery had two top notch amateurs working for him.  On this particular night, he couldn't stop talking about how great they were, boasting that "there isn't anybody in the world who could beat these two boys."  "Anybody in the world?"  Coleman asked.  Lowery said yes.  Coleman asked Lowery if he wanted to bet on that, and since both men never met a bet they didn't like, it was on.  The amount of the bet started at a ridiculous price and only got higher as the Match progressed (and the years went by).  And what players did Coleman round up to take on Lowery's two can't miss amateurs?  Why it was none other than Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, two of the greatest golfers who ever lived.

The Players

The two amateurs that Lowery was pinning his hopes on were Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi.  Kenny Venturi is probably best known to people of younger generations as an excellent golf commentator.  In fact, I can't tell you how many times I have been out on the course and heard in my head Kenny telling Jim Nantz that I had two putts to win the Masters.  But before his broadcasting career, Venturi was one of the games best amateurs and went on to have a great pro career as well, including an incredible win at the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional where he almost collapsed from heat exhaustion on the back nine of the grueling 36 hole final.  Ward, an amateur who at one time bore the mantle of Bobby Jones' successor to the title of best amateur golfer in the world, had a distinguished playing career that included two U.S. Amateur wins and a British Amateur crown.

Their opponents on that perfect California January day hardly need an introduction.  Byron Nelson  and Ben Hogan met each other as caddies catching loops at the same golf club in Texas.  Nelson went on to win 52 professional events, including 5 majors, and in 1945 won 11 tournaments in a row (12 actually, but the 12th was not an official event).  He and Hogan were partners, but not really friends.  But then again, nobody was really friends with Hogan.  "The Hawk" was known on tour for his unparalleled practice ethic and his superhuman ability to concentrate on the golf course.  Hogan, who famously remarked when asked how he learned  the game, responded that he "dug it out of the ground," won 64 times on tour, including 9 majors.  To say they were a formidable duo is the understatement of the century.

The Course

But perhaps the greatest character in Frost's tale is Cypress Point, the near mythical golf course nestled among the cliffs guarding the Pacific Ocean.  Frost paints a stunning picture of the course, taking the reader from hole to hole and step-by-step with some of the greatest players in the game.  "The view from the ninth tee box was described by Alistair MacKenzie as one of the wonders of the world.  High atop the crest of the dunes, all of Cypress Point spreads out below in either direction, back into the woods and out toward the sea."

The Match

Frost's meticulously researched the book is built from eyewitness accounts of approximately 75 people who were connected to the Match in some way, including Nelson and Venturi.  There were no press accounts of the event to rely on.  But the book is far more than just the description of a golf match.  It is a chronicle of the life and careers of these incredible players, and it is a tale told at a time when it was still an open question whether the future of American golf was best served by the career amateur or the touring pro.  Frost takes us back to a day and a place where we all wish we could have been, seeing an epic battle for the ages on a course that ranks among the world's best.

A must read if there ever was one!
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