The College Buddy Trip
But, who among us doesnt need a few days to be selfish about our own game? For me, it happens every year, and the 'bug' hasnt left since I joined The Golf Channel in 1995.
Im out in Aloha, Ore., this week for the JELD-WEN Tradition, but I came in fresh off a buddy trip to the great state of Michigan. I played 166 holes between Thursday afternoon and sundown Monday. Thats right, 166 holes in a marathon-long weekend that found us weather-challenged to say the least during a late-fall-like snap that locals said 'came out of the blue.'
As a little background, I round up three of my college fraternity brothers each year and venture off for a reunion on the greens (somewhere between June and September), with the simple goal of playing as much golf as possible in a four-day stretch.
One man from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; one from Houston, Texas; one from Eau Claire, Wis.; and me ' the trip organizer ' from Orlando, Fla. Among the group there is a 2 handicap, a 4 handicap, a 6 handicap and a 12 handicap -- all 'serviceable' to accomplish the goal of moving along at the proper pace and not spend the majority of the time searching for golf balls.
Michigan was a new venue for us this year. In nine past trips weve headed west each time to either Palm Springs, Calif., or Las Vegas, Nev., where weather has never done more than rain out nine holes. And that happened only once.
In the California desert, weve hit all of the courses at famed PGA West, and found success at other gems like Rancho La Quinta CC, Desert Willow, Mission Hills CC, Shadow Ridge, Indian Ridge, Tamarisk CC, Desert Falls, Indian Wells CC, Landmark Golf Club, and the Citrus, Mountain and Dunes Courses at La Quinta Resort. Simply put, you cant beat the weather. And when the temperature soars into the 100s in August, not too many folks have the desire to keep up with our breakneck pace.
Vegas, Baby? We start each time with Rio Secco Golf Club and have worked our way around courses like Dragon Ridge, TPC at the Canyons, Anthem CC, Revere at Anthem CC, Paiute Resort, Wildhorse, Badlands, and a real cool spot called Primm Valley just across the border in California.
Why Michigan? Youd be silly to miss it. The Great Lakes State ranks as the eighth-best golf destination in the United States and 12th best in the world, according to Golf Digest. And Ive got some local knowledge to help back up the claim.
Before working at The Golf Channel, I spent four terrific years in the Kalamazoo-Grand Rapids, Mich., area working as a local sportscaster. To play golf in Michigan is a treat to say the least. Some of the best golf courses you will ever play are found on the western half of the state and heading north means heading toward some spectacular spots.
Phil Mickelsons instructor Rick Smith has been on my case for years to drag my men up to Michigan. So this year, I took TGCs Troubleshooter up on the request and rallied the troops.
We flew to Traverse City (nice new airport by the way) on Thursday with just enough time to meet, greet and get to Belvedere Golf Club for 18 holes -- a practice round of sorts on a terrific golf course with rolling hills and views you dont find in the desert.
We played for a score to set the handicaps wed play off of the next day. (Each round sets the handicap we play off of in the next round; low total net score at the end of the week gets his name engraved on the traveling trophy.)
Immediately after play we made the drive to Boyne Highlands where we set up camp at one of the Donald Ross cottages. Spectacular. For the first time in our 10 years of doing this trip, we were able to hang out in one house and not in separate hotel rooms.
Our Friday got off to a late start because of some rain that put a hold on tee times until the noon hour. We still got in our mandatory 36 that day with a round at the Arthur Hills course and then the Donald Ross. Amidst some tougher-than-normal conditions everyone posted rounds in the 70s or 80s. Superb venues and a big dose of hospitality.
Saturday was the toughest to deal with. Bay Harbor Golf Club is among the best youll find in any state. Bay Harbor boasts a Links 9, a Quarry 9 and a Preserve 9 to give every player a different look and a different challenge. The state we found it in was 'wet.' Never really got the round started before weather rolled in off the big lake. After waiting and hoping for three hours, we decided to head for our next spot in hopes of staying ahead of the weather.
So we drove to another gem ' Cedar River Golf Club at Shanty Creek. Unfortunately, Tom Weiskopfs first design in Michigan was a bit waterlogged as well -- closed, not only to us, but also to the PGA Professionals competing in their sectional.
Off we headed to Treetops Resort. Rick Smiths home, and home to The Golf Channels Big Break I a few years back. Wow. No rain and what a welcome mat. Director of Golf Scott Head knew we were on the way and made sure we wouldnt go to bed Saturday night without at least 18 holes. We played the Fazio Course where the excitement of just playing resulted in a few rounds in the 70s.
Sunday was another battle. But we toughed it out amidst unseasonable temperatures in the 60s and 50s, with high winds and some rain to the tune of 45 holes. The Fazio course to start off the morning, followed by a nine-hole round on the now famous 'Threetops' (par-3 course ' and home to the Par-3 Challenge) and then another 18 holes on the brutally challenging Jones course. Through it all, we battled and did what we do best ... which is, get in some golf.
A little local knowledge from Treetops Assistant Travis Coker didnt hurt. And by the way, that par-3 course is worth the drive alone! Elevation drops and greens running 12 ' good luck breaking par. None of us did.
Monday was the last day, and we made the most of it. The rain gear and wind shirts came off and we found out that Rick Smith is more than just a great instructor. Hes got a real sense of design. We teed off on the Rick Smith Tradition which was exactly that ' traditional. Fair, challenging and scenic. Two of our four broke 75 and one of the rounds was a 71.
The afternoon was spectacular. The Rick Smith Signature course was worth putting a stamp on -- great rolling fairways with room to land it, elevation changes and quick greens. Somebody saved the best for last with a round of 75.
We finished it off with a final round of nine holes at Threetops with our buddy Kevin Frisch, a former golf professional for Smith at Treetops who now works for Resort and Golf Marketing. Frisch, by the way, showed us up with a 1-under 26, claiming he had a bad back.
A week in Michigan was nothing like a week in the desert. But both leave you wanting more. And while this week in Michigan left us mired in an unseasonably freakish bit of bad luck with the weather that started 30 minutes after landing in Traverse City, we realized that the trip is about both the game ... and the guys. One-hundred-and-66 holes over four-and-a-half days ' not a record for us ' but a success story about sticking to our mission despite any weather
For us, its not about fancy breakfasts or late-night filet dinners. Instead, its about the quick breakfast bar, the club sandwich between 18s and the nachos and pizza at night. We pride ourselves on great conversations about the family and the old school days. Were not late party guys ... just guys around 40 quick to get to sleep and ready to get up and get back to the course. .
Next years venue for these four college buddies? Who knows. Maybe back west. But a week in Michigan without playing Bay Harbor sure seemed a little incomplete. Maybe buying the logo ball before we officially played the course was the jinks. But weve got our rain check, and we certainly left some things unpurchased in the pro shops at Boyne Highlands and Treetops. So maybe well say 'Yes to Michigan' as the 11th edition of this great get-together rolls around.
Im sure you can relate. At least I hope you can. Im sure you have stories to tell. At least I hope you do.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.