Good golf, eats and a lot of Elvis make for a memorable road trip to the Northeast

By Mike BaileyAugust 8, 2013, 7:08 pm

HOUSTON, Tex. -- From Houston to Boston, back through Pennsylvania and parts of the Midwest, last week I returned from the longest golf road trip I've ever taken – 5,000 miles and 17 states over 26 days.

 Accompanied by my girlfriend Nancy, we made plenty of discoveries. Here are five revelations from our nearly month on the road:

Elvis hasn't left the building: I can now cross Graceland off the bucket list, and quite frankly, I never want to go back. I got enough Elvis mania in one day to last a lifetime. While I can certainly appreciate his immense career in such a short span (he was 42 years old when he died), Graceland is over the top. The mansion is smaller than most people realize, but there are more than a half-dozen areas outside of the mansion to explore. Graceland seems to have more gift shops than Disney World, hawking every imaginable keepsake and trinket. Overall, it's impressive with the cars, planes, early life, Hawaii and Vegas jumpsuit exhibits; it's just a little too much for a casual fan like me.

As for the golf, Justin Timberlake owns a course in the Memphis area -- Mirimichi (formerly Big Creek) --- and the PGA Tour plays the St. Jude's Classic at the TPC Southwind. But if you're looking for some affordable, fun golf, you might want to check out Orgill Park Golf Course in Millington, Tenn., just north of the city. Opened in 1972, Orgill Park has no bunkers, but it's built around a lake so it's certainly interesting. On the way, be sure to pick up a pulled pork barbecue sandwich or slab of spare ribs at Payne's or Central Barbecue. Memphis is famous for it.

Lobster-golf combos: With a local's guidance, we found some great lobster (pronounced lobstah) spots. First, the Plymouth, Mass., area is littered with them, like Wood's Seafood, where you get the whole thing, claws and all, fresh from the sea on a paper plate and affordable (under $20). Even a local chain restaurant, the Ninety-Nine, offers an incredible lobster roll, dripping with butter, if you like it that way.

For golf, I'm a big fan of short courses and the Plymouth area has a couple of really good ones. Squirrel Run is a cool par 57 course with three par 4s to satisfy the need to hit the big stick off the tee. (I don't care where you play, but walking off the course after you just shot a 62 is great ego booster.) The other course is Village Links, just down the road. Both are designed by Ray Richards and excel in fun. They're in great shape and easy to play for beginners, but a blast for good players as well.

Penn golf rocks: When we first arrived to the Northeast, it was as hot there as it was here in Houston. But right around July 20, things began to cool off in Pennsylvania, where the highs remained in the low 70s for about a week. Combine that with some spectacular topography and you've got a winning combination in the summer.

This part of the journey started in the Scranton area, where the Italian food was to die for (check out Gubbio's in Dunmore, Pa.). We played a private club, Elmhurst Country Club, which used to host a Tour event. Elevated tees, perfect temps and endless views of the Endless Mountains combine for a memorable golf experience. A couple of hours south, in the Philly area, I got to check out Gil Hanse's first American solo design, Inniscrone Golf Club in Avondale, Pa. It had a couple of quirky holes, to be sure, but was definitely memorable. Later, about 300 miles west, we found ourselves in the Pittsburgh area. With the Allegheny Mountains as a backdrop, this region of the country doesn't get enough credit. At the Madison Club just outside of Pittsburgh, for example, it was pure serenity -- no homes, plenty of deer and elevated tees with views of the Allegheny Mountains as far as the eye could see.


Gil Hanse-designed Inniscrone Golf Club in Avondale is a Pennsylvania standout. 

No winning against Pete Dye: As we made our way through the Midwest, we landed in the remote town of French Lick (famous for being the home of Larry Bird) and the French Lick Resort. While I was there, the PGA of America announced that the Pete Dye Course would play host the 2015 Senior PGA Championship.

Simply put, the course is one of the most difficult in America. It can be tipped to more than 8,000 yards, but that's hardly the biggest problem. No matter what tees you play, the landing areas off the tee are tight, and if you miss, you pay the penalties with rough, awkward lies and perhaps a lost ball. (I think I hit one fairway all day.) The course is hard, no doubt, but Pete wins if you fight what he wants you to do. I hit driver on almost every par 4 and par 5, and that was a mistake. Getting it in the fairway is more important, which means I should have played 3-woods and hybrids off of most of the tees. With that said, the Dye Course is one of the most scenic in America. Built on one of the highest points in Indiana, the views are breathtaking and conditioning if flawless. It should make for an interesting Senior PGA in '15. Plus the resort – home of the famous domed West Baden Springs Hotel -- has another championship course, and it's awesome. The Ross Course has a great history with some pretty good views as well, and it's considerably cheaper to play than the Dye, which has a $350 rack rate.

Casino golf and more BBQ: Nothing against Dye – I really do appreciate his style, and Indiana is home of the Pete Dye Golf Trail – but one of the most enjoyable courses I played in the Hoosier State was in the Cincinnati, Ohio area just across the state line. Belterra Casino Resort has a top-notch Tom Fazio track that takes advantage of the Indiana terrain and then some. Again, with no homes, the Belterra Casino Course is a pure joy to play with lots of memorable holes, including a finishing stretch that ends with a fun risk-reward par 5 in front of the hotel.

Once we left Indiana, there were more surprises ahead. We went through Metropolis, Ill., which, has a giant statue of Superman in front of the town's square. And having been tipped off by Good Morning America weatherman Sam Champion, we checked out Starnes Barbecue in Paducah, Ky., which was still pretty much as it was in the 1950s. Pulled pork sandwiches on buttered toast topped with Starnes' spicy house sauce is as good as it gets. Later, as we finally made our way back into Texas, there was more barbecue heaven at Tommy's in Atlanta, just south of Texarkana. Tommy has a lot of great stories (he used to drag race and hang out with Richard Pryor, for example) to go with his home-style cooking. Maybe it's just me, but barbecue tastes better with a good story… And now that I think about it, golf's better with a good story as well.


Starnes Barbecue: No American road trip is complete without good bbq. 

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”