Santa Lucia Mountain splendor: Carmel Valley Ranch

By Travel ArticlesNovember 10, 2011, 6:29 pm

CARMEL, Calif. -- When your competition is Pebble Beach, you've got to offer something different to attract visitors. At the Carmel Valley Ranch resort, different and fun are its specialties, whether it's the Pete Dye-designed golf course or simply gathering around the campfire at night, enjoying S'mores and storytelling.

That's exactly the way John Pritzker envisioned the transformation of Carmel Valley Ranch when his company bought the place in 2010 and sunk $35 million into this 500-acre, warm, sunny nature escape.

Pritzker likes to explain his vision with a treasure box. One by one, he pulls out curious items, such as a feather, a bird caller, a package of squash seeds or a stalk of lavender. They all have significance here, and the symbol for the resort is a rope swing hanging from a tree (which is actually on the resort).

'We wanted to give our guests the opportunity to do things that are fun,' said Pritzker, the founding partner and director of Geolo Capital and chairman of Joie de Vivre, which owns Carmel Valley Ranch.

'Children at heart, children at play,' is how Pritzker characterizes the experience.

For some, the Ranch is a great place to take a family, with more than 50 complimentary activities. For others, it's the perfect place to rekindle romance. Or for the sports and fitness enthusiast, excellent golf and tennis await, only to be topped off by an exquisite spa treatment and a tasty but healthy garden-fresh dining experience.

Carmel Valley Ranch's scenic backdrop

Set in the sunny foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains of Carmel Valley, the Ranch backs up to the 4,400 acres of Garland Ranch Regional Park. From the new, luxuriously appointed 139 suites, guests can step out on the balcony and take in the views of the vineyards on the hillsides or the golf course below.

The views were already there when Pritzker arrived, but the amenities -- at least the way he envisioned them -- were not. That's why there are new fitness centers, tennis courts, outdoor saltwater pools and fire pits in a separate family area called River Ranch.

The suites, which range from 600 to 1,200 square feet, are exceptional. Each have large soaking tubs and separate showers, electronic fireplaces, flat screen TVs, a separate living room area, deck and beds that rival the world's most luxurious hotels.

One of the most unique aspects of this resort, however, is its harmonious natural environment.

Not only does the dining room at the renovated Lodge pick from an organic garden that changes month by month, but the resort is also ripe with wild turkeys, deer, vineyards and lavender. The purple flower attracts bees, which the resort takes advantage of, harvesting honey from the Italian honeybees that make their home here. In turn, guests can not only sample the honey, but they can take part in a guided 'beekeeping experience,' which is just one of the many activities the resort offers.

Along those lines, guests can also hike among the resort's scenic trails, make their way to a yoga platform overlooking the golf course or take a tour of the organic garden.

Golf and tennis at Carmel Valley Ranch

Carmen Valley Ranch

Not to be lost in the resort experience is the Carmel Valley Ranch golf course. While it may not seem daunting at 6,117 yards, it's anything but easy, exactly what you would expect from a Pete Dye-designed golf course.

Having undergone renovations just a few years earlier, the course is in excellent shape and provides plenty of dramatic views, especially on the back nine. The par-3 16th, for example, provides a vista of the whole valley.

Dye integrated water hazards, unusual angles and doglegs to create a course that forces players to think their way around it. The short holes, such as the 293-yard second, are offset by a few longer ones that play fairly difficult, such as the 426-yard 11th and difficult 444-yard 18th that has water off the tee.

If you're like Jack Nicklaus and play tennis as well as golf, Carmel Valley Ranch has you covered there, too. Not only are there seven resurfaced hard courts, but two clay courts as well. Plus, the staff offers tennis instruction and clinics. Golf instruction is also available from Carmel Valley Golf School, headed up by noted instructor Todd Southard.

Spa and dining at Carmel Valley Ranch

The Spa Aiyana, named in honor of the Indian word for 'eternal flower,' stands out among pampering experiences. Treatments are based on four specialized gardens: lavender, herb, aiyana and alchemist, using 'invigorating, restorative energy found in the natural world.' (The lavender is distilled on property and is included in a number of spa products.)

Treatments range from facials to massages, with the latter exceptional. Carmel Valley Ranch hired the best talent in the area to administer everything from its signature Lavender Garden Swedish massage to its reflexology massage to a couples massage, using the natural ingredients found on the property.

After the royal treatment, guests can retreat to the Lodge, where Chef Tim Wood creates seasonal menus, using the freshest ingredients from his garden, local fishermen, artisans and other farmers in the valley. Tantalizing starters such as the Carmel Valley Ranch honey-Chile chicken wings (yes, they're that good) and Dungeness crab cake whet the appetite for entrees -- line-caught sea bass, black Angus Filet or organic English Pea Risotto. It's complemented by a great dessert selection and wines from the surprisingly good Carmel Valley and Monterey Peninsula wine producers such as Figge Cellars.

And for those who would like a cooking lesson or two, Wood also conducts the Adventure Kitchen, an interactive cooking experience where Wood reveals many of his secrets to preparing ultra-fresh and flavorful meals -- perhaps the capper of a summer camp for adults.

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.