Golf: Oh the places it will take you!

The front image of my blog is of a golf ball lying inches from the hole – the closest I have come to having a hole-in-one in 42 years of trying. The image is an inspiration to keep trying. It’s the journey – not just the destination. This goes for everything in life – not just golf. As my smart-alack friends keep telling me – “…aim at the hole.” And one day that little white ball will go in.

The closest I've come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

The closest I’ve come to a hole-in-one of playing golf for over 40 years!

Golf has been a part of my life since I was eight years old. In my family you learned to golf and ski or be very lonely while the rest of the family was hitting the long ball or shooshing down the slopes. Growing up in Minnesota was always a challenge to be an avid golfer. During the first signs of spring my three older brothers and I searched the large open fields in our small town for a patch of grass to show through in the piles of snow. We dropped our shag bag full of balls and hit balls into the snowy fields, preparing for the upcoming golf season.

My summers were spent, sun-up to sun-down at the golf course. If I couldn’t play, I was chipping and putting. While all my friends hung out at the public pool a block away perfecting their golden swimsuit tan lines, I was working on my ‘farmer’s’ tan. You could always tell a golfer at the pool. The weekends were sacred family golf time. Our family of six had two standing tee times – one on Saturday morning and the other after church on Sunday. A family bond was created that still binds my family together to this day.

As the years wore on, golf became my main sport. I played tournaments ranging from the local club championships to the USGA National Junior Girls Championship. In my junior year of high school I moved to Arizona so I could have the opportunity to play golf year round to see if that was what I wanted my life to be full-time. Instead I felt burn-out, and at age 18 I hung up my golf clubs – for about 5 years.

After that much-needed break from the game I returned with a refreshed outlook and desire to play golf – for fun. Golf had taken me to some amazing locations in my youth. But because of the tension tied up in trying to play well in the tournament that took me to these places, I never got to fully enjoy the surrounding area.

For me, golf is as much about getting to experience new places as it is in trying to play a great round of golf. Because of the years I spent as a youth working on my swing and my knowledge of the game, I have a strong foundation from which to tee it up with every time I step to the first tee. I’ve been able to hold on to hitting a long ball and keeping my handicap around a 5, but I’ve let go of getting upset with a bad shot. My frustration lasts only until the next shot instead of ruining my whole round, because I figure there are a lot worse places I could be at that given moment.

Over the years, my love for the game of golf has taken me to places that even the most ardent of non-golfers could appreciate. During the winter months in Minnesota, my brothers and I would take large sheets of tag board and design our own golf courses. If I had to do it all over again, I would have followed through on those dreams and become a golf course architect.

Instead, now I get to witness the creativity of some of the world’s top golf course developers and architects by playing golf courses like: Pebble Beach (California) with the rugged beach property that lines so many of the holes; Gleneagles (Scotland) with its deep gorse and wild grasses and naturalized setting; Interlachen (Minnesota) with its lush thick grass and towering trees that line every hole; Calusa Pines (Florida) with untouched swamplands and grasslands; Firerock (Arizona) a true desert golf experience with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Phoenix valley.

Mark Twain may have said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But he either needed an attitude adjustment on how to enjoy the game or was playing the wrong courses.

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The holes at Pebble Beach lining the rugged cliffs along Carmel Bay, CA

The thick long wild grasses and gorse at Gleneagles, Scotland

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

My 80 year old father pipes it down the middle of the heavily tree lined fairway at Interlachen CC, Edina, MN

The naturalized swampland and grasslands of Calusa Pines Golf Club, Florida

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

First and second holes of Firerock Country Club nestled into the desert landscape with the Phoenix valley and mountains off in the distance

Even though most traveling I do these days does not revolve around playing golf, most golf vacations I take do revolve around the location being appealing to the senses. If I am going to spend the better part of five hours in a specific area, it better offer me more than a just long strip of greenish grass with a tee box on one end and a 4 1/4″ hole on the other end.

Phoenix Arizona: from the rims of the surrounding mountains to the valley below

I grew up in the midwest, but spent enough time in Arizona to call it my second home. Like millions of other snowbirds that swoop down from the northern states or the frozen tundra and mountains of Canada during the winter months, my husband and I will eventually make our Arizona vacation home our permanent home upon retirement.

Why Arizona? I am often asked – mainly by people who have never been there. Understandably a good question when Arizona finds itself in the news because: of haboobs (dust storms) that can be 50 miles wide and 5,000+ feet high; high temperatures that reach 110+ for weeks on end in the summer; critters that include rattlesnakes, tarantulas and scorpions; and cactus that have thorns sharp enough to pierce car tires.

Showing the size of the fast moving haboobs.

Showing the size of the fast-moving haboobs.

Western Diamondback rattlesnake scurrying across the cart path.

Western Diamondback rattlesnake scurrying across the cart path.

Over the years I traveled to other warm weather destinations across the country, but I always found myself being drawn back to Arizona. Coming from the hot humid summers of Minnesota, the dry arid weather of Arizona is a welcome relief. August has become my favorite time of year to be in Arizona. When temperatures rise into the triple digits, the pool becomes perfectly heated by the warm air and works as a natural cooling element for the body, allowing you to spend hours outside in those kind of temps.

One of my sons showing me his Adonis pose while his buddies cool off in the pool on a 115 degree day

One of my sons showing me his Adonis pose while his buddies cool off in the pool on a 115 degree day

And then there’s the golf. There are a multitude of golf meccas across the country – but generally isolated to a resort or small concentrated area of golf courses. Not many states can call themselves a golf mecca – Arizona can. I have been going to Arizona for almost 40 years, and am an avid golfer, but I have only played a small percentage of all the amazing courses available. The public courses rival some of the better private clubs in other states. The topography varies from a dry naturalized desert course to pine tree-lined mountain courses.

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

View from a high point in Fountain Hills, east of Scottsdale, looking down on one of many valley golf courses.

The views from some of these courses are un-matchable. Looking back across the flat valley of Phoenix and Scottsdale, you can see for miles to the mountains across the valley. And the views on these courses are like walking through your own private zoo. On any given day I have been up close and personal with: bobcats, deer, coyotes, javelina (looks like a wild boar but is actually a large rodent) and rattlesnakes. If you respect their space, they will respect you. The only time you hear of a run in with any one of these critters is when someone is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, like reaching into a blind area.

A lazy bobcat strolling across the 16th fairway.

A lazy bobcat strolling across the 16th fairway.

And then there’s the food and the shopping and the dine-in movie theaters – which by the way all have great air conditioning to escape to during those hot summer days. Mastro’s Steakhouse has become a family favorite and a tradition. Fashion Square Mall can compete with some of the best shopping in the country being anchored by Barney’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s and Macys. And who could resist being served wine and dinner while kicking back in a reclining leather chair, blanket and pillow provided, to watch their favorite new release at iPic Theaters.

But it is the sunrise and the sunset that really showcase the beauty of Phoenix. The hiking in the Valley of the Sun is plentiful, giving you ample options to climb peaks allowing you vistas rarely replicated anywhere in the country or the world. Enjoying a cup of coffee while watching the sunrise over Four Peaks east of Fountain Hills is tough to beat. But sipping an Arizona wine while watching the sun set over Camelback Mountain, a mountain in the shape of a sleeping camel with a praying monk perched on the camel’s nose, is matched only by the brilliant red earth tones lit up by the setting sun on the appropriately named Red Mountain at the east end of the valley.

Sunrising over the mountains rimming the east valley of Phoenix.

Sunrising over the mountains rimming the east valley of Phoenix.

Sunsetting over the back edge of Eagle Mountain and the Phoenix valley.

Sunsetting over the back edge of Eagle Mountain and the Phoenix valley.

 

What to do: Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s western abode, Taliesan West. Check out the Desert Botantical Garden, especially when the Chihuly Exhibit is there. Sports lovers are covered: besides golf, check out any one of the professional teams or high level ASU sporting events. Hiking: Camelback Mountain for a good workout and a test of climbing skills or Pinnacle Peak for a well trodden path for an easy to moderate hike.

Where to eat: For the steak lover, a perfectly seasoned steak served on a 400 degree plate at of three Mastro’s Steakhouses ($$$$) is a solid choice. For great appetizers Wild Fish and Sapporo have a tantalizing selection ($$$). For an outdoor fine dining experience Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn is a unique and flavorful experience ($$$$).

Check out extra pictures in the Global Gallery: Arizona

Thanksgiving: not about the where, all about the who!

In a travel writing course I took, the main ideal was a travel story did not have to revolve around the actual act of traveling. The story can be about an event or a gathering or an experience.

This week’s blog is dedicated to Thanksgiving – one of the biggest travel weekends of the year. But this post is not about the journey to get to where the turkey is being served. It is about the opportunity to spend this special day with loved ones – related or not. A tradition that started in our family 21 years ago, when my son was born the day before Thanksgiving. I was in no condition to cook a large dinner, so my husband did most of the cooking (which has now turned into a tradition of it’s own), and invited his college roommates to join us under the condition they each brought one side dish.

In recent years, we have taken this tradition of spending Thanksgiving with whoever is front and center in our lives that year and celebrate those relationships. These gatherings have culminated in many gatherings inclusive of non-family members either because of circumstance and location. We have celebrated from Regina, Saskatchewan (Yay Roughriders – 2013 Grey Cup Champions!) to New York, New York to Calgary, Alberta to Phoenix, Arizona.

Friends sharing turkey carving duties, Regina, SK

Friends sharing turkey carving duties, Regina, Saskatchewan

Thanksgiving spread, Regina, SK

Thanksgiving spread, Regina, Saskatchewan

Family and friends sharing a Thanksgiving meal in Arizona.

Family and friends sharing a Thanksgiving meal in Arizona.

Yes. U.S. Thanksgiving in Canada. No, it is not also Canadian Thanksgiving – Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October, and not nearly the massive celebration it is in the U.S. So why you ask would we leave our beloved U.S. to travel to a place where we can’t even buy a turkey without special ordering it a week in advance?

Family! As my 22-year-old daughter, who lives in New York, said, “I don’t care where we celebrate Thanksgiving, as long as we are together and celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day!” Touche’! For years this has been an ongoing challenge for a family that is spread far and wide across many states and two countries. Whether it was because of our son studying at a Canadian university or my husband working in Canada, we have learned to work around these differing schedules.

Stuffing the bird, Calgary, Alberta

Stuffing the bird, Calgary, Alberta

Thanksgiving spread, Calgary, Alberta

Thanksgiving spread, Calgary, Alberta

Often we found ourselves in locations that our immediate family was our only family. As it is a near impossibility to make a Thanksgiving meal for only four people, the quick and easy solution was to open our doors to expand our ‘circle of love’ to friends when we celebrate in these ‘out of the norm’ locations.

When in Canada we have had Canadian friends join us to experience a real, full-out Thanksgiving dinner (request for return engagements have been made.) Or, we have had Thanksgiving dinner for many of our displaced American friends living along side us in Canada.

Our Thanksgiving in New York was the first time we did not fix the actual Thanksgiving dinner. We found other ways to make this experience equally special. Taking in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; eating a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner at a riverside restaurant in Brooklyn looking across the East River at the New York skyline; flying in my son’s girlfriend to surprise him for his pre-Thanksgiving birthday; having my daughter’s boyfriend join us because he could not get home to his family in California.

Catching the end of the Macy's Day Parade, NY, NY

Catching the end of the Macy’s Day Parade, NY, NY

Snoopy floating down Central Park West, NY, NY

Snoopy floating down Central Park West in the Macy’s Day Parade, NY, NY

Family and friends enjoying a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner in Brooklyn, NY

Family and friends enjoying a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner in Brooklyn, NY

Thanksgiving is about making memories, sharing time with loved ones – related or not, and overloading on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all the other fixins’!

From one of our many extended family and friends gatherings to yours: Happy Thanksgiving!

From one of our many extended family and friends gatherings to yours: Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! No matter where your Thanksgiving Day plans take you or who is sitting at your table!