Wintergreen Golf – Love at First Sight

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By ED TRAVIS

Some may think “Virginia Is For Lovers” is just another marketing slogan but at least in the case of Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort and from a golfer’s perspective there’s a lot to like if not love.

Wintergreen has a well-deserved reputation as a family-oriented ski resort but the rest of the year it’s a destination where the same mountains offer visitors the chance to play some really memorable golf. The 11,000-acre Resort is located in the jaw-droppingly-beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains which if you have never been there should be immediately put on your list of places to visit. Near the Blue Ridge Parkway on the eastern side of the mountains southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia, Wintergreen is about a two hour drive from Richmond and three hours from Washington, D.C.

Wintergreen’s two courses, Devils Knob for resort guests and Stoney Creek open to the public, are very different and each is worth playing.

Describing Devils Knob the first and most important thing (you will thank me for this) is bring your camera and don’t think you can get by with the one in your smartphone. The 1976 Ellis and Dan Maples design has views and vistas deserving the best pictures you can take.

ThDevils Knob Elevation signe sign near the practice green lets you know this is mountain golf and in fact Devils Knob is the highest course in Virginia at 3,523 feet. Laid out before you is the panorama of the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys with some of the furthest mountain peaks 50 miles away.

Devils Knob is a very playable 6,712 yards par-70 from the back tees but to have the most fun be sure to select the proper tees for your game. There are three additional sets from which to choose allowing golfers of all skill levels the opportunity for an enjoyable round: white 6,123 yards, gold 5,625-yards and red 4,443-yards.

As you might expect many of the holes play either up thWintergreen Devils Knob #16_640x425e mountain or down the mountain and the routing traverses through tall stands of oaks and maples. There’s also the opportunity to see lots of wildlife including both deer and bears since the 6,000-acre Shamokin Springs Nature Preserve adjoins the course. Run by the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, the Preserve’s Nature Center can be seen near Devils Knob’s 17th hole.

The greens of mountain have the tendency to break towards the valley and though we found them to be receptive to a well struck iron shot, mishits had the annoying habit of running down into greenside chipping areas or one of the many bunkers. There are also lots of granite outcroppings, mostly out of the line of play, but some very odd bounces into some unfortunate places can be the result of ball-rock contact.

The very first hole shows what to expect during your round at Devils Knob. The par-4 (411-yards from the blue tees) bends slightly to the right around a bunker and with a drive in the fairway the green should be easily reachable. But be cautious with your second shot. The putting surface is not very large, only 27 paces deep, and from the fairway looks like there’s a bit of a false front but that’s an illusion created by the elevation change. Number one however does offer you the opportunity to get your round started with a par or even a birdie.

The strength of Devils Knob is in the par-4s and 16 is one you will enjoy. Again downhill from the tee but your attention will be challenged by the spectacular view of the valley below. And speaking of views, on fourteen before hitting your drive through the chute of trees leading to the fairway, look behind you. The miles and miles of mountains you see are worth a second or even third look and are a real photo opportunity.Wintergreen Devils Knob #4_320x480

The other course at Wintergreen is Stoney Creek and it’s not on the mountain but below in Rockfish Valley. The difference in elevation, almost 3,000 feet, and topography makes a totally different experience than Devils Knob. There are three nines here; the original 18 holes, now the Shamokin and Monocan nines, and the Tuckahoe nine. All are Rees Jones creations with Shamokin and Monocan opening in 1988 and Tuckahoe in 1998.

Jones is often called “The Open Doctor” because of the many times the United States Golf Association has called in him to overhaul courses in preparation for holding our national championship. Seven times in all Jones has worked his magic on Open venues including Congressional Country Club and Bethpage Black plus his talents haven’t been missed by the PGA of America since he has redone eight PGA Championship venues including Baltusrol for this year’s PGA Championship.

His talent and inventiveness are apparent at Stoney Creek with each of the nines having a distinctive character. Perhaps the one of the best memories visitors will take away from a day of golf at Stoney Creek (aside of the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains rising above you) is that there is something for every skill level of player.

The 8th hole at Tuckahoe for instance plays 165-yards over water from the back tees but is only 100-yards from the forward tee which is positioned so the water does not need to be carried. Or number 4 on the Monocan nine which plays downhill with mounds on the right and bunkers on the left from the tee. Playing the tips from 420-yards necessitates a long straight drive however the most forward tees are 80-yards less, setting up a chance for a drive that could roll all the way to the bottom of the slope.

Completing the Wintergreen golf experience is the Golf Academy which is located at Stoney Creek and there are several one-day and multiple day packages to get your game the fix it needs.

Not matter how you look at it both Devils Knob and Stoney Creek are fun to play and best of all will provide a challenge to every player.

Wintergreen was purchased in 2012 by coal billionaire Jim Justice for $16.5 million and, before reselling it in 2015, invested a reported $12 million in capital improvements. Justice, who is currently running for Governor of West Virginia, is also owner of The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The present owner of Wintergreen is the publicly traded EPR Properties, a real estate investment trust (NYSE: EPR), and Pacific Group Resorts, Inc. operates Wintergreen under a long term lease.

So, Wintergreen Resort is not just for skiers. The rest of the year it’s a mecca for outdoors activity with lots of stay and play packages plus an extensive tennis program, the Wintergreen Spa, hiking trails not to mention several restaurants. The one we liked the best is the Copper Mine Bistro with the menu alternating some really interesting choices. Visitors also like the Edge Restaurant with its casual atmosphere and what can only be labelled as a spectacular mountain view.

Wintergreen Resort should be on your short list for golf especially if you’re looking to for a break from summer heat or the opportunity to see the autumn colors along the Blue Ridge.

Why Not Olympic Caber Tossing?

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After more than a century golf is again an Olympic sport and perhaps it would be a good idea to consider also adding that other sporting contribution from the highlands of Scotland, caber tossing. You know, when really big guys in kilts pick up a log slightly shorter than a telephone pole and flip it in the air. The winner is the one who tosses it the furthest and presumably can remain standing long enough afterwards to accept the trophy. Adding the caber toss to the Olympics would provide immediate international exposure to the sport and probably result in a surge of participation around the world.

Makes sense or at least the same amount of sense as Olympic golf.

What does make an international competition important, exciting and memorable? Let’s see:

Representing your country – check

International visibility – check

Best players – check

Established historic courses – check

Interesting format – check

Scheduled allowing proper preparation – checkGolf,_Rio_2016

Pretty much what is found in the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup, the Solheim Cup, the Walker Cup, the Palmer Cup, the Eisenhower and Espirito Santo Trophies…well you get the idea.

The Olympics, for all the mythic qualities it may have for some sports, doesn’t have many check marks on the above list when it comes to golf. Not only are world class players dropping out left and right (with the top Americans still to be heard from) but the course outside Rio de Janeiro, while probably another of Gil Hanse’s first class designs, is anything but a historic venue having been just completed.

The format is a yawner. Two limited 60 player field 72-hole events, one for men and one for women. More to the point, and at least in the case of the men, for a variety of reasons not all the best will be there. Not only because some, like world number one Jason Day, have announced they won’t go but a country’s team may only be four players and all have to be in the top 15 of world ranking. Otherwise the national team is no more than two.  

Scheduling is also a huge problem. Olympic golf is sandwiched into an already crowded season. The British Open is followed by the Canadian Open, the week after is the PGA Championship then the Travelers Championship and then the Olympics concluding for the men on August 14. The FedEx Cup playoffs of four tournaments start August 25th concluding Sept. 25th and the Ryder Cup begins Sept. 30th.

Putting two major championships almost back to back, the PGA only two weeks after the Open, would be laughable if it weren’t so serious a compromise necessary to accommodate the Olympics. It about guarantees players, not just those going to Rio, will be unable to maintain their best games for the latter part of the season. It will be “burn out’ with capital letters.

The world’s top Brazil Olympic Games Emblemplayers have a full dance card or should I say top professionals since in another of the myriad inconsistencies surrounding the Olympics, amateurs are not eligible. But then again the professionals’ sponsors, who pay large amounts of money to gain exposure, get no Olympic benefit since team uniform, bags, etc. have no brand logos…at least there’s something in common with the Ryder Cup. NBC and the International Olympic Committee are making money from the Games and the athletes, professional or amateur, aren’t. Seems somehow inconsistent.

Brazil and the city of Rio de Janeiro have real problems. The country has both a major political scandal and a financial crisis while street crime in Rio has been called an epidemic which authorities have promised to have under control during the Games.

And then there’s the Zika virus, transmitted by mosquitoes or sexual contact, adding measurably to the gamble should a fan or competitor be planning on having children. The Olympic Committee and the World Health Organization have said Zika is a small risk but nonetheless it is real. But it’s not just the fact several hundred thousand visitors to Rio will be potentially exposed to disease, when they return home they could be carrying the virus with them.

Finally, golf already is a worldwide sport with a long history of international competition so it can presumed not every touring professional feels competing in the Olympics is an absolute career highlight. Maybe to them it’s just another play-for-no-pay exhibition that interferes with their personal lives and playing schedule. Add the situation in Brazil, Rio and ho-hum format and one can see why enthusiasm may be lacking and the list of dropouts growing.

An oft cited benefit of golf returning to the Olympics after a century’s absence is exposure on a worldwide scale which will help to “grow the game,” words which have been used to rationalize any number of efforts to attract new players and reverse declining participation. People play golf for a variety of motivations stemming from their own character, social needs and culture plus of course if they have the time and money.

Golf in the Olympics changes none of those factors.

It almost like convincing yourself Olympic caber tossing would all of sudden cause Dads and Moms to rush out and buy 20-foot long wooden poles for their kids.

Golf has the Walker Cup, the Solheim Cup, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup which truly pit the best against the best and that’s the key difference when evaluating golf inclusion in the Olympics.

From a rational viewpoint golf doesn’t need the Olympics and at best it’s a sideshow exhibition for a limited number of truly world class golfers to compete in a field filled with players of less skill.

Nicklaus Nine for Disabled Veterans

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The “Nicklaus Nine” at American Lake Veterans Golf Course (Lakewood, Wash.) opened this weekend appropriately during Jack Nicklaus’ own PGA Tour event, The Memorial presented by Nationwide.

The Golden Bear donated his design services for the new nine to encourage more veterans to participate and enjoy golf. It is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and the 400th course worldwide since his first in 1969.

“It is a very interesting thing to watch these guys that come home after serving our country and to help them transition back to society. Golf has been a big, big booster to a lot of the guys that have post-traumatic syndrome,” Nicklaus said.

“We’ve got a lot of men and women coming back home, and they need our help,” he added.

The Nicklaus Nine opening coincided with American Lake’s annual volunteer appreciation tournament with a ceremonial ribbon cutting by Joanne Hatner, whose father was the director of the VA Hospital during the first ribbon-cutting ceremony for the course in 1957, an event she attended.

Ken Still, a member with Nicklaus of the 1969 Ryder Cup squad hit the first drive representing close friend Nicklaus while the Golden Bear is in Dublin, Ohio at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.

“Kenny called me, oh, I don’t know, six or seven years ago,” said Nicklaus, “and he told me, ‘Jack, I need your help. We’ve got nine holes of golf out here, and it’s playing 40,000 rounds a year. We need more golf. All these veterans, they’re unbelievable, and I want to help them.”

“’I want you to design another nine holes,’” Nicklaus recalls Still asking him, “‘and fix up the other nine.’ Well, we’ve raised the money. We’ve done the renovation work on nine holes. And we’ve gotten the [additional] nine holes built.” The much-anticipated expansion will be open for others to play beginning Sunday, June 5. The course is ADA-accessible and is run by 200-plus volunteers and operates without any federal funding or paid employees.

“I could not be happier that American Lake turned out to be Nicklaus Design’s milestone 400th golf course,” Nicklaus said. “Everything that American Lake stands for parallels our mission at Nicklaus Design, and that is to give people a place to recreate and congregate, and to design a course that best services the needs of the people who play there. It’s been a labor of love to be involved in the planning, fundraising, groundbreaking and design of the Nicklaus Nine at American Lake. I have always said that, in some ways, golf course design is a vehicle for me to give back to the game of golf. This time, we get the opportunity to give back to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives and limbs so we can live free in this country. To thank our nation’s heroes in this small way really is my privilege. It is the least we can do for the 1% of Americans who protect the other 99% of us, reminding us that there is nothing free about freedom.”

DV8 “Deviates” From Tradition

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The reaction upon first seeing the DV8 golf clubs was, “Right…a set of clubs in a backpack.”
But it’s true and according to the company the goal is to “Deviate” from traditional thinking about golf clubs to encourage more golf and particularly more travel golf without having to lug around a bag of clubs.
The question everyone asks is how do they do it and that’s simple. First of all there’s a backpack and the standard set includes 10 club heads: a driver, 3-wood, 5-hybrid, 5-iron through sand wedge and putter with a three piece graphite shaft. The key is the shaft which uses stainless steel couplers, one lower to change clubheads and one upper to change shaft length should a second shaft be purchased.DV8_PLAY-250x250
A Play Set is $900 with a shaft and 10 clubheads in the backpack bag and reports are playing with them though different is certainly OK for many circumstances.
There’s also a starter set with a driver and four irons (5, 7 and 9-irons) with the backpack and one shaft for $500 and the Full Monty with 14 clubheads for $1,200.
The DV8 bag also has a compartment for a tablet on the inside of the front flap so users can take a video of their swing or watch instructional videos and even snap the ubiquitous selfie. Plus there’s an added bonus—and this is really an example of inspired thinking—the loaded backpack fits in the airplane overhead bin so your golf clubs become a carryon rather than a hassle.
Finally, according to the company’s testing, clubs with the couplers in the shaft hit the ball essentially the same distance as their shafts without couplers.

Global Golf Guide

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Now available free of charge at the iTunes App Store is an app that will give you help finding courses anywhere in the world with course ratings to aid you make your choice.

Called the Global Golf Guide & Logbook it is was developed by Yves C. Ton-That author of the best-selling “Golf Rules Quick Reference” and creator of the iGolfrules app. 

“It’s very convenient to see so many great rounds of golf saved in one spot,” says Ton-That. “Recently I had a friend ask me the name of a course we played near Naples, FL. He was quite impressed when I looked it up in my logbook and found the course name within seconds. He was even more impressed when I tapped on his name in my logbook and five other rounds we’d played together that he had forgot about appeared on my screen”. 

Golf Guide & Logbook app for the iPhone documents rounds played so rather than buying another logoed golf ball or crested shirt as commemoratives of the day users can keep a log of the experience and store the information on their iPhone. The app also gives them the chance to rate the courses adding to the overall pool of knowledge all users can access and it may be shared directly with friends.

The Golf Guide portion of the app contains every golf course in the world with GGolfGuide_Screen2contact data, route planning and ratings making it easy to book a tee time while the personal Logbook stores a variety of information such as photos, scorecards, players and results. The amount of information stored is determined by the user who can then display golfing history chronologically or on a map and sort entries by rating, frequency, countries, playing partners, etc. They can also share rounds they’ve played with friends via email, Twitter or Facebook.

The app stores all the user’s rounds in one place, accessible at any time so all of the great on-course moments are never forgotten. And it’s all free of charge.

A Special Place for Golf—Reynolds Plantation

I had no more returned from a stay at the Reynolds Plantation east of Atlanta than I found Golfweek magazine had placed four of the courses on their list of “Best Courses You Can Play.” From firsthand knowledge the magazine is certainly correct in their evaluation.

Reynolds Plantation Ritz-Carlton Lodge

Reynolds Plantation Ritz-Carlton Lodge

Of the six courses at Reynolds Plantation the Jim Engh-designed Creek Club is private but visitors shouldn’t feel short changed because the remaining five provide a great way to spend a week. You can stay at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge and Spa or in one of several cottages on the property but in either case be prepared for a really fun golf experience.

Start your visit with a lesson at the Reynold Golf Academy run by director Charlie King who is ranked as one of the best instructors in the country. Follow up with a club fitting session at The Kingdom, TaylorMade Golf’s state-of-the-art fitting center which until recently was reserved for use by TaylorMade’s tour staff.

The real fun begins on the course and you might start with the Bob Cupp designed Plantation and Landing 18s. The Landing which opened 1986 was the first course on Lake Oconee and renovated by Cupp in 2014. It plays to a par-72 with the rearmost tees 7,048-yards. His Plantation course has had an updating of fairways, greens and bunkering in 2005 and the original layout was designed in conjunction with two U.S. Open champions, Hubert Green and Fuzzy Zoeller.

The 11th hole on Great Waters

The 11th hole on Great Waters

We especially liked Great Waters which for three years, from 1995 to 1997, was site of the Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf. This Jack Nicklaus design is a dramatic layout with the front playing through forests lining the hills overlooking Lake Oconee. As you make the turn, the lake which you have been seeing from afar, is all at once the major feature you must play around…and over.

A quotation from Nicklaus is very appropriate. “The first time I went to Great Waters, I knew we had the potential to have a great golf course, but we had to find it. I think we found it. I think we have great balance on the golf course. I think we have great tree-lined holes. We have great water holes. We’ve utilized the lake to a large degree for some of the difficulty of the holes. But we’ve also taken the holes and utilized the lake for view and kept the holes off of it. It’s one of the really great pieces of property that I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with.”

The other Reynolds Plantation course that was really appealing were the three nines of the National by Tom Fazio with the Ridge and Bluff nines opening in 1997 followed by the Cove in 2000. Fazio oversaw a major remodeling last year tweaking what was already a fine experience into one you will really remember.

The 6th hole on the Ridge nine at the National

The 6th hole on the Ridge nine at the National

If you play at the right time of the year you will be treated to the flowering of the dogwoods sprinkled along the hillsides as the fairways above the lake provide views worth stopping to make a record of with your camera.You will also like the Oconee layout, a Rees Jones design that he refurbished in 2013. Jones, who is known as the “Open Doctor” for the work he has done in preparing sites for the U.S. Open, routed the fairways along the shoreline and made it a track where prudently taken risks can be rewarded with relatively easy scoring opportunities.

Reynolds Plantation has a number of other ways to spend time when not on the course from bass fishing, boating, water skiing to the Peter Burwash International Tennis Center and the Lake Club Wellness Center.

So, whether it is golf trip with “the guys” or a family vacation Reynolds Plantation is a place to build warm memories.