Golf is a game of history. So every golfer should know that long before shepherds were knocking featheries around Scottish linksland, Ponce de Leon arrived in Florida with soldiers, pigs, a priest and new irons. He promptly knocked three balls into the water surrounding the TPC Sawgrass 17th green, flung his clubs into a thicket of pines and resumed searching for the Fountain of Youth. Itll be easier than finding my swing, he said.
Were kidding, of course. Any historian can tell you theres no way Ponce got a tee time on such short notice at the TPC, a must-play on one of the richest golf coasts in the New World. Make that two of the richest, giving Florida a unique geographical dilemma. East or west ' which is the better side for a fall golf getaway?
Golf isnt the only factor, of course. As de Leon could have attested, theres a lot more to Florida than sand traps ' and he didnt even live to see attractions like Walt Disney World, Kennedy Space Center and Jackie Gleasons Mausoleum that draw 80 million tourists a year to the state.
The inscription on Gleasons gravesite is his trademark, And Away We Go. But to where? Florida has 1,197 miles of coastline, 1,000 golf courses and a half dozen distinct cultures.
Before our road trip, a word or two about Orlando: Never mind. Nothing against central Florida as a golf destination; you could drive to many fine resorts without putting more than 20 miles on your rental car. But if you really want to experience the variety that is Florida, you need to go coastal.
Whether you head toward the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico is a matter of taste. For an idea of the differences, consider who lives where. The east coasts residents include Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Nick Price and once hes through with his $40 million fixer-upper, Tiger Woods. The west has John Huston.
To put it another way, are you more into substance, like the varying, natural landscape? Or are you into style, like one of the worlds most amazing topographical features? Were speaking, of course, of Donald Trumps hair.
Atlantic Coast: How Sweet It Is
Trumps mane can be spotted on the east coast, usually at his golf club in West Palm Beach, the northernmost spot of the cultural mishmash that is south Florida. Its not hard to find frijoles negros (black beans), a real bagel shop and $14 martinis on the same block, thanks to untold thousands of immigrants from Cuba, South America, New Jersey and whatever planet produces the Beautiful People who traipse along Miamis South Beach.
And golf architects. Actually, they have it tough in Florida, where their canvases usually are plots of flat pine brush. The highest point in Florida is only 345 feet above sea level, or roughly the height of the ice sculpture at Dorals nightly buffet.
Doral is the granddaddy of Floridas golf resorts, home of the Blue Monster and for a time, Gleason himself. The course has been redone so many times that the Great One wouldnt recognize it, but history alone makes it worth playing.
Head north and youll hit Ft. Lauderdale and the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, a favorite vacation spot for celebrities, recently reopened after a $100 million renovation. Another hour north is PGA National Resort, which has hosted a Ryder Cup and two PGA Championships and is the current haven of the nomadic Honda Classic.
The quickest way up the coast is I-95; the scenic route is A1A. Jimmy Buffet named an album after this two-lane stretch, so you know it has certain native charms. Like mom-and-pop hotels, fluttering sea oats, surf shops and traffic.
Try to stay awake at the wheel driving along the central coast: Theres nothing to see for hours unless you get to Titusville and NASA has a rocket launch scheduled. For all its waterfront, Florida has few golf holes on the ocean. It seems almost any developer with a bulldozer can build a waterfront condo, but a par 3 almost requires an act of Congress. When it opened in 2000, the Nicklaus course at Ocean Hammock was the first seaside course built in Florida since 1930.
The historic district of St. Augustine, Americas oldest city, is a nice change from prefabricated tourist options that have made Florida the worlds leading exporter of mouse ears and alligator wrestlers. St. Augustine even combines history with golf at the World Golf Village, where youll never play like Sam Snead, but you can at least gaze at one of his hats.
You know all about the Sawgrass Marriott Resort. Before dying, every golfer has to try to hit the island green. Added bonus: You might spot Vijay Singh on the range hitting his 94th bucket of balls that day.
Other than golf, this is the area of Florida that tourism forgot. For decades Jacksonville was the punch line for redneck jokes. In truth, the downtown, with the St. Johns River flowing through it, is more scenic than 99 percent of the cities on earth. And restaurant options have expanded beyond Waffle House, although youll still find one at every highway exit.
And then theres Amelia Island Plantation, an enclave outside Fernandina Beach. Its the kind of sumptuous resort you have to see to appreciate, which means it would feel right at home on the opposite side of the state, or at least the southern part of it.
Gulf Coast: Circuses, mythical creatures and Ernie Els favorite layout
The Ritz-Carlton Naples is a luxurious place to start on the west coast, although youre only cheating yourself if you dont head into the Everglades and check out the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters. The Skunk Ape is Floridas version of Bigfoot. Skeptics abound, but theres no scientific evidence that Mickey Mouse is real either, and that hasnt stopped the sale of millions of his T-shirts.
The way southwest Florida is growing, you might soon find the Skunk Ape sipping a latte at a Starbucks. Imagine a modern-day Oklahoma land rush, only most of the Sooners are retirees from the Midwest looking for arthritis-friendly weather.
Built in 1930, the Naples Beach Golf Club was the first golf course in the area, which remained relatively quiet (compared with South Florida) for decades. Until recently. A new course has not been built for every new resident in the past 20 years. It only seems that way.
But that doesnt mean every city looks and feels the same, mainly because there are no real cities. Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota and Bradenton have historic cores surrounded by miles of real-estate developments. Tourists come here for the beaches, not the attractions.
Circus pioneer John Ringling was one of the first. He bought a few islands and set an aristocratic tone that still rings around Sarasota. If you want to spend $450 for a pair of sunglasses, St. Armands Circle on Lido Key is a good spot. For a bit less, Longboat Key Club has 45 plush holes.
Leaving Sarasota, you can take I-275 and enjoy the view from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Youll end up in St. Petersburg, which isnt entirely comprised of retirees, but you will have no problem finding an Early Bird Special.
One of the toughest layouts in Florida, and one of the most revered on the PGA Tour is at the Innisbrook Resort, home of the PODS Championship. The best golf course the PGA Tour plays in Florida, Ernie Els says of the Copperhead layout.
This is where the look and feel of the Gulf Coast start to change, and you know youre no longer in Sarasota when you see the Spongeorama in Tarpon Springs, near Innisbrook. For years Tarpon Springs main industry was fishing sponges from the Gulf, and Spongeorama pays homage to this timeless pursuit with a gift shop, exhibits and a film that explains why the wool sponge is the Cadillac of Sponges.
Heading north from Innisbrook, youll realize why you never hear much about the mid-central coast. The area makes Titusville look like Manhattan. Its mostly marsh, rocky beaches and abandoned fishing trawlers blown ashore by the last hurricane.
You also wont find golf resorts, but in an area where Florida starts to roll with elevation changes, you can stumble onto one of the states most distinctive courses. The clubhouse at World Woods, about 10 miles north of Brooksville, wouldnt qualify as a cart barn at Sawgrass, but golfers come from all over to play Tom Fazios Pine Barrens layout.
From there the coast meets Floridas last golf frontier. Panhandle residents dont like it when their area is referred to as the Redneck Riviera. But the sugar-white beaches are as good as any in the Mediterranean. Who could blame all those folks from Alabama and Mississippi for coming down and enjoying them?
Theres plenty of golf, although the ultimate destination is the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, 72 holes between the Gulf and Choctawhatchee Bay. To which your buddies back home would say Choctaw-what-chee? The area doesnt carry the cachet of Key Biscayne or Boca Raton, so if your goal is to impress, choose the east coast.
But if you want to taste as much of Florida as possible, choose the, umm... Pardon the copout, but it really is a matter of taste. If youre into bag tags and celebrity spotting, go east. If youre into hidden gems, superior beaches and glorious sunsets, go west. You wont end up like Ponce de Leon. On his first trip to Florida, he came ashore on the east coast. His second voyage, which began on the west coast, was ended quickly by a poisoned arrow.
Ponce never found the Fountain of Youth, but he explored a peninsula that would become a fountain of golf. Youll discover plenty of riches whichever coast you take. And if youre really lucky, you might even spot the Skunk Ape.
by David Whitley, LINKS Magazine
Florida golf abundant in North South East and West
Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88
MELBOURNE, Australia – Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 88.
Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members on Wednesday morning.
Born on Aug, 23, 1929, Thomson was two months short of his 89th birthday.
The first Australian to win The Open Championship, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by Tom Watson.
On the American senior circuit he won nine times in 1985.
Thomson also served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years, designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.
He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.
In 1979 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.
Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were to be announced over the next few days.
Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M
In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.
This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.
Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.
Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.
The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.
Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout
CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.
Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.
Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.
“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”
Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.
“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”
Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break
Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.
Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.
Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.
“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”
Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.
“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”
Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.