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
Lesson with Woods fetches $210K for Harvey relief
A charity event featuring more than two dozen pro golfers raised more than $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, thanks in large part to a hefty price paid for a private lesson with Tiger Woods.
The pro-am fundraiser was organized by Chris Stroud, winner of the Barracuda Championship this summer, and fellow pro and Houston resident Bobby Gates. It was held at Bluejack National in Montgomery, Texas, about an hour outside Houston and the first Woods-designed course to open in the U.S.
The big-ticket item on the auction block was a private, two-person lesson with Woods at Bluejack National that sold for a whopping $210,000.
Other participants included local residents like Stacy Lewis, Patrick Reed and Steve Elkington as well as local celebrities like NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.
Stroud was vocal in his efforts to help Houston rebuild in the immediate aftermath of the storm that ravaged the city in August, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he plans to continue fundraising efforts even after eclipsing the event's $1 million goal.
"This is the best event I have ever been a part of, and this is just a start," Stroud said. "We have a long way to go for recovery to this city, and we want to keep going with this and raise as much as we can and help as many victims as we can."
LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse
The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.
While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.
The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).
The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.
An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.
The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.
The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.
“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”
While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.
For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.
Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:
Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million
Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million
Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million
March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million
March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million
March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million
March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million
April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million
April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million
April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million
May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million
May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million
May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million
May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million
June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million
June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million
June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million
June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million
July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million
July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million
July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million
Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million
Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million
Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million
Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million
Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million
Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million
Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million
Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million
Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million
Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million
Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million
Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million
Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth
Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.
And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.
Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.
Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent.
Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.
Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.
Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.
In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.
Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)
U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)
The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)
PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)
TWO REGULAR TOUR WINS
AT&T Pebble Beach
FUN OUTSIDE OF TOUR LIFE
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates:
No. 3: Dec. 14
No. 2: Dec. 15
No. 1: Dec. 18