5 underrated Donald Ross courses in the Carolinas

Camden Country Club is the only 18-hole Donald Ross design in South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Camden Country Club)

The great golf course architect Donald Ross was prolific in the Carolinas, particularly North Carolina, designing a number of the best courses in the state. Here are five that you might not know about:

Country Club of Salisbury: Perhaps the best-kept secret in the Piedmont, CC of Salisbury is pure Ross from first tee to 18th green. Sometimes gentle and sometimes significant elevation change throughout the property certainly had to fit Ross’ eye when he was laying out the course. Greens and bunkers are vintage Ross and the membership and superintendent have done a marvelous job of maintaining every Ross characteristic. The CC of Salisbury is private but the club opens its doors to a number of charitable efforts, thus allowing the public to experience once a year what the members enjoy every day.

Camden Country Club: Ross re-designed Camden CC in the late 1920s and remains the only 18-hole Ross design in South Carolina. It’s a favorite of good players in the area, owing to the fact that the Carolinas Four-Ball Championship, conducted by the Carolinas Golf Association, has been held at Camden for more than 50 years. Numerous CGA and South Carolina Golf Association events have been played at Camden over the years. It’s only 6,350 yards from the back tees, but players quite often use every club in their bags.

Southern Pines Country Club: Known locally as the Elks’ Club course, Southern Pines CC is open to the public and is a local favorite in the Sandhills. Ross provided the playing corridors in 1914 and Frank Maples converted the greens from sand to grass in the late 1930s. Says Golf Club Atlas, “… the golfer keeps expecting to find an ordinary or indifferent hole but instead only encounters one enticing shot after another, the kind that makes you play golf until dark.”

Catawba Country Club: Designed by Ross in 1946, two years before he died, this hidden gem in Newton is a delight to play. It contains all the Ross features, especially the green complexes, which include challenging bunkers. It’s not a long course but takes a great deal of local knowledge. As with most of Ross courses, it has short, risk-reward par-5s and long, tough par-3s.

Wilmington Municipal Golf Course: A group of Wilmington residents, led by Walker Taylor, encouraged the city to restore the greens and bunkers that Ross designed in 1926. John Fought, who oversaw the restoration of Pine Needles – a well-known Ross course – in 2005, was chosen for the job that was finished in 2014. The course gets about 60,000 rounds a year.

 

Ping fairway clubs built for speed, forgiveness

Ping’s G400 fairway woods use a maraging steel clubface for more ball speed and greater distance. (Photo courtesy of Ping)

Ask any tour player and they will tell you that once they find a 3-wood they like, they hang onto it. The 3-wood is the hardest club to pry out of their hands.

Ping is hoping to engender such loyalty with the introduction of its G400 fairway clubs. To maximize distance in the fairway woods, Ping has turned to maraging steel for use in the clubface. It’s one of the strongest alloys and is often used in the aerospace industry. It’s also quite flexible so the face of the G400 fairway woods can produce faster ball speeds and therefore more distance.

“Our main goal in the G400 fairway woods and hybrids was to introduce significant distance gains while maintaining other performance benefits such as forgiveness and the ability to launch the ball easily,” said John A. Solheim, Ping Chairman and CEO. “With maraging steel, we have a material that allows us to go extremely thin with the face to give us the faster ball-speed gains we’re seeking for more distance and higher launch. The results have been amazing as we’re seeing face flexing equal to the thickness of the face.”

The G400 fairway woods are available in 3, 5, 7 and 9. The 3, 5 and 7 are also available with SFT (Straight Fit Technology) that will straighten out a slice for right-handed players. There is also a Stretch 3, which is a stronger 3-wood than Ping’s normal 14.5 degrees of loft.

In the G400 hybrids, the center of gravity (CG) is on the toe side in the 2- and 3-hybrid to help offset a left bias. The 4-, 5- and 6-hybrids are designed to help players launch the ball higher with more forgiveness.

For more, go to www.ping.com.

Mike Purkey: The dilemma of growing the game

Banks Wilson takes a swing at TopGolf in Charlotte. TopGolf is credited for a major increase in off-course participation in golf, according to the National Golf Foundation. (David T. Foster III photo)

Let’s face it: Golf is too difficult, too expensive and takes too much time. Yet, once those barriers to entry are broken, chances are that you wind up with an enthusiastic golfer who can’t seem to get enough of the game.

So when golf’s powers talk about growing the game, it’s about overcoming obstacles to get new people into golf and keep them there. And no one, thus far, has found the secret formula to make that happen with any degree of effectiveness.

Golf participation in the U.S. has basically been flat since the great recession of 2008. The National Golf Foundation reported that 23.8 million people played golf on a real golf course in 2016, down 1.2 percent from the year before and the lowest number reported in the Tiger Woods era.

The game got itself in trouble in the 1990s when the NGF said that we needed to build a course a day for 10 years to meet the latent demand. When Woods emerged in the mid-90s, the great golf boom got underway. Golf was suddenly cool and everybody wanted to play.

But by the end of the decade, there were as many people leaving golf as there were new people coming to the game and we found we were badly overbuilt where golf courses were concerned. And at the turn of the century, for the first time, a significant number of golf courses started to close.

Since the 2008 recession, new golf course construction has ground to a halt and there were a number of years where more courses closed than new ones opened. People were proclaiming the death of golf.

The fact that golf needs to face eye to eye is that the game is a niche sport and is not for everyone. Those barriers for entry are considerable and not to be taken lightly. The PGA of America, the USGA and the PGA Tour have scratched their collective heads to generate new ideas to bring new people to golf.

They tried making the hole bigger. They tried Foot Golf — having kids kick a soccer ball around the golf course. They are now trying nine-hole, six-hole and three-hole loops. The First Tee is a groundbreaking program, but there’s no indication that the kids going through that program are playing golf regularly aside from First Tee activities.

The number of new golfers rose to 2.5 million in 2016, an almost 14 percent increase over 2015. Non-golfers who say they are interested in playing grew to 12.8 million, the largest segment of which are millenials – 18-to-34-year-olds.

The NGF decided to include off-course participation in its yearly report and that number is 20 million, an 11 percent increase. Most of that number can be attributed to TopGolf, which has taken off since it arrived in the U.S. and is attractive to millenials.

There are things that can be done that aren’t happening at present. First, golf needs to take care of its existing players. The number of what the NGF calls “committed” golfers – those who consider golf their favorite activity or one of several recreational pursuits – rose to 20.1 million.

If every one of those golfers played at least one more round in 2017, think of what a shot in the arm it would be for the game. That’s 20 million more rounds and if 80 percent of those rounds came from a daily-fee course at an average of $75 total expenditure per golfer – greens fees, sleeve of balls and snack bar purchases – that’s an additional $1.2 billion (yes, billion) spent on golf per year.

Secondly, all juniors 18 and younger should play for free everywhere after 2  p.m. At the very least, a junior card should cost no more than $100 per year. How many of today’s golfers grew up playing the game in the summer when their parents dropped them off at the golf course in the morning and picked them up in the afternoon.

Harold Varner III has said more than once that he couldn’t overemphasize the value that the municipal course he grew up on in Gastonia had a $100 fee for juniors for unlimited golf. He never would have played the game if not for that accommodation.

Third, take your kids to TopGolf once a week, even in the winter. Get a club in their hands in an environment that they will find fun. The video game atmosphere at TopGolf is attractive to today’s kids, which should make it easier to get them to hit golf balls and by extension, maybe get them to a real golf course.

The death of the game is highly exaggerated and there are some things about golf that are encouraging. But, as in politics, all golf is local. Get out to your favorite course – and play.

Pine Lakes restores long-standing traditions

Pine Lakes Country Club in Myrtle Beach is the birthplace of Sports Illustrated. (Photo courtesy of Pine Lakes Country Club)

By BOB GILLESPIE

When golf began in Myrtle Beach 90 years ago, there was one course: Ocean Forest Country Club. Today, there are nearly 100, but only one “The Granddaddy”: Pine Lakes Country Club, which occupies the same footprint as Ocean Forest and, more recently, has decided to return to honoring its heritage.

Starting in October, Pine Lakes – located on Granddaddy Lane, of course – resumes a number of history-laced amenities that once were trademarks of the historic course.

When golfers arrive, they’ll be greeted by bag attendants clad in black knickers, red shirts and red knee socks, and by starters wearing Royal Stuart tartan kilts, white button-down shirts and tartan bow ties. The pro shop staff will don similarly-themed outfits of black slacks, white shirts and tartan ties.

And in March 2018, players reaching the course’s sixth tee will be greeted by attendants serving mimosas in champagne flutes. That fall and winter, the offerings will change to 6-ounce cups of clam chowder, to help warm chilled players.

Those special touches, once part of the Pine Lakes agenda, had been missing since around 2006, after course renovations by a previous ownership group, which modernized the old course (good) but did away with traditions (not so good).

Adding those back, says head professional Jonathan Brock, was a “no-brainer.”

“We wanted to bring back what Pine Lakes was known for,” said Brock, a native of Anderson, S.C., and the club’s top man since early 2016. “We had longtime customers who’d always talk about how Pine Lakes used to be, and our (Founders Group International) CEO, Steve Mays, was completely on board with going back to our old traditions.”

The notion of bringing back kilts, mimosas and clam chowder emerged in 2014, when Founders Group, which operates 22 Grand Strand golf courses, took over Pine Lakes. It was time, Brock said, for “The Granddaddy” to start looking and acting its age.

“(Mays) wanted each course (under the Founders’ umbrella) to stand out from the others, and tradition is that for us,” he said.

In fact, Pine Lakes – especially its clubhouse, originally designed by Robert White – is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. White, the first president of the PGA of America, also was co-founder of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. The 18,368-square foot clubhouse began life as a resort hotel, and was refurbished in 2009.

In 1954, the club also became the birthplace of Sports Illustrated, which began when a group of 87 Time-Life employees met en route home from Florida. There, they outlined plans for the first-of-its-kind magazine. The clubhouse’s History Hall displays old photos and other memorabilia of that meeting, which was held in the now-restored Snug Pub.

More recently, Pine Lakes also is home to the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame, which has 14 members (two more will be added this fall) enshrined in an outdoor courtyard behind the bar and dining area. Plaques honor each Hall of Fame member’s career, as well as SI’s founding. There are also plaques for White and for famed professional golfer Gene Sarazen, who once shot a round of 78 – his age then – at Pine Lakes.

“We saw the memorabilia, and we listened to our guests,” Brock said.

Pine Lakes originally had 27 holes, but was later consolidated into 18 holes. Then in 2006, architect Craig Schreiner’s renovation kept 16 holes’ corridors but replaced two others, using 1937 aerial photos of White’s original design to maintain the course’s feel. Today, the par-70 layout plays as long as 6,675 yards, with four sets of tees. The signature hole is the par-3 11th, short by modern standards but with a green – the smallest on the course – tightly guarded by a pond in front and buffeted by ocean breezes from the Atlantic, just 2 miles away.

Brock is considerably younger than his course, but he has an appreciation of its history. “It (the restoration of the amenities) had been on my mind since I took over,” he said. “Other courses in Myrtle Beach all have their niches, and I thought, ‘What do we do to stand apart?’ And the answer was: go back to our traditions.

“Those traditions had faded away as ownership changed,” Brock said. “Now they’re coming back, which we think shows our management’s vision.”

Not to mention a vision of the past, too.

 

5 must-play courses in the Triad

The Champions Course at Bryan Park hosted the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Park)

The Triad of N.C. – the region that includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point – is well known for its wealth of public access golf. Here are five must-play daily fee courses in the Triad:

Bryan Park (Champions), Browns Summit: Just outside Greensboro is the Champions Course at Bryan Park, designed by Rees Jones – the son of Robert Trent Jones, Tanglewood Park’s architect. When it opened in 1990, it was met with a number of accolades by the national magazines that rank courses. In fact, it is consistently ranked in the top 10 courses you can play in N.C. The USGA brought the U.S. Amateur Public Links to Bryan Park in 2010. The Players Course, designed by George Cobb in 1974, is the other course at Bryan Park. For more, www.bryanpark.com.

Tanglewood Park (Championship), Clemmons: If you want to play a course that has hosted a major championship in N.C., you don’t have to know a member at Quail Hollow or pony up to play Pinehurst No. 2. Instead, you can take on Tanglewood Park, just outside Winston-Salem. Tanglewood hosted the 1974 PGA Championship, won by Lee Trevino by one shot over Jack Nicklaus. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Tanglewood opened in 1958. Tanglewood also hosted the 1986 U.S. Amateur Public Links and hosted the Vantage Championship on the Senior PGA Tour from 1987-2002. The Reynolds Course is also on property, if you’re in the mood for 36 holes. For more, golf.tanglewoodpark.org.

Grandover Resort (East), Greensboro: Grandover Resort was the dream of real estate developer, the late Joseph Koury. He built two golf courses and a luxury hotel and spa on the 1,500 acres that includes the surrounding community and office space. Both the East Course and West Course were designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, who mostly plied their trade out west. The East Course opened in 1996 and is considered the better of the two. There were serious discussions about bringing the Wyndham Championship to Grandover when it left Forest Oaks Country Club. Instead, the Wyndham returned to Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro. For more, www.grandover.com/recreation/golf.

Greensboro National Golf Club, Summerfield: For those looking for a kinder, gentler course, Greensboro National is 17 miles north of Greensboro. Says Shane Sharp on Golf.com, “To paraphrase an old television network slogan, this is a golf course for guys who like golf courses. The fairways are wide; the greens are large; the hills are gently rolling; and conditioning is immaculate.” And if the pictures on the menu are to be believed, you must make time for lunch. For more, www.greensboronationalgolfclub.com.

Oak Hollow Golf Course, High Point: Owned and operated by the Parks and Recreation Department of High Point, Oak Hollow is a Pete Dye design that when it opened in 1972, received a lot of national attention. It was immediately ranked in the top 25 courses you can play by a national magazine and for years was consistently in the top 75 of that same ranking. It has typical Dye features – railroad ties, pot bunkers, several peninsula greens and an island tee. For more, www.oakhollowgc.com.

 

 

 

TaylorMade M CGB irons longer, more forgiving

TaylorMade M CGB irons built for high launch and more distance throughout the entire set. (Photo courtesy of TaylorMade Golf)

When you use words like “longer” and “more forgiving” when referring to golf clubs, you usually associate those terms with drivers. But technology has advanced to make those words describe irons, as well.

TaylorMade introduces its M CGB irons, super game improvement clubs designed for mid-to-high handicap players. The M CGB starts with technology that has made other TaylorMade irons successful.

Face slots allow the iron face to flex and along with the Speed Pocket, is designed to increase speed and create more distance. Each M CGB club is designed with high Coefficient of Restitution (COR), which is the transfer of energy from the time the ball is contacted to when it leaves the clubface.

In other iron sets, COR is progressive and is maxed out in the long irons. In the M CBG, the COR is consistent throughout the set and results in high launch and maximum distance from the 4-iron through the pitching wedge.

Each clubhead is designed with tungsten weights that create high Moment of Inertia (MOI), which is the club’s resistance to twisting on off-center hits. The higher the MOI, the more forgiving the club is all over the face, no matter where the ball comes in contact with the club.

The M CGB has also been designed for draw bias. The company’s Inverted Cone technology has been moved toward the toe of each iron in this set. And the company says its Geocoustic technology create improved sound and feel.

“The CGB name is iconic and represents some of the longest and most forgiving irons we’ve ever created at TaylorMade,” says Tomo Bystedt, Senior Director, Iron Product Creation. “The concept has now been re-created with all our latest technology to bring never before seen performance to golfers of all skill levels.”

The M CGB irons will be available at retailers beginning Sept. 29.