Ireland for golfers

Yes – Ireland is for golfers. And it has castles galore. But it’s the people and their culture that are the true highlights of the Emerald Isle. Although my husband and I set out with three other couples on a 10-day excursion touted as a ‘golf’ trip – and golf we did – we also absorbed the love of life the Irish have perfected. You certainly don’t go to Ireland for the weather – although we did experience a couple of truly nice weather days with no rain, no mist, no fog and only a light wind. But you definitely need to go for the music, the beer, the music, the smiles, the music, the beautiful architecture, the music, the golf, the music, the lush green countryside, the music. Did I mention the music??

Our days, no matter how long and arduous, always ended up in a local pub listening to local Irish songs regaling us with their entertaining folklore. It was amazing how you could enjoy listening to so many songs you’ve never heard of in a style most are not accustomed to hearing. There was music everywhere – you didn’t need to search it out. Almost every pub, on almost every night had live music. And if it was a nice evening, there were street performers everywhere we turned. They were young, they were old; they were father and son, they were brother and sister; they were the wife of the pub owner; they were a random gathering of musicians.

But more on the Irish culture and people in the next post. As this was intended to be a trip focused on the amazing golf in Ireland, I’ll share our golf experiences in this post and share all the other highlights of Ireland in a follow-up post.

Golf in Ireland. A bucket list dream of mine for the 40+ years I’ve been playing golf. Check that one of the list – but not one and done – I’d head back tomorrow. We arrived on the heels of an abnormal summer drought. The courses were in tough shape, but you don’t expect pristine conditions where they use very little artificial irrigation methods. This is walking with caddies golf, which can be uncomfortable if you’re not used to having somebody looking over your shoulder on every shot. But ‘buggies’ a/k/a golf carts are generally only available for medical reasons. Some courses don’t have any on hand, or are only provided by a handful of members.

Many courses individually name each hole – often to coincide with a story that goes along with that hole. Which adds to the historical element of playing these amazing tracts of land that often have a lot of local influence into their success. The locals love their golf as much as the tourists. All of our caddies had single digit handicaps, so even though you really just want them to carry your clubs and give you the yardage, their local knowledge of where to aim your drives and approach shots, and read the greens, was imperative to navigating these challenging courses. Caddies ranged from a couple of college aged knuckleheads out to make a few bucks for beer, to ‘professional’ caddies who were a wealth of knowledge. Some tended to get a little too deep into your psyche – thinking by the end of the round they knew more about your game than you did. The right caddy can make your golf experience, but the wrong caddy can break your golfing spirit.

We started in Dublin and made our way along the coast of Southern Ireland until we reached Galway and then we shot straight across the country to finish in Dublin. The courses were all links courses – defined as being the ‘link’ between the land and the sea, built among the natural sand dunes and lay of the land, void of trees. Can you say WINDY!! Nothing to stop those coastal breezes as you buffet your way around these courses. We rarely golfed with less than a few layers on top, thermal pants, and kept our rain pants handy as much to cut the wind as to counter any rain. But there was no complaining about the conditions, and we were never ‘chilled to the bone’. We wanted to play in whatever the coast or Ireland could throw at us, and she didn’t hold back! We mixed up our pairings – couples and couples, just guys and just gals, mix of guys and gals.

A map showing all the amazing golf options – in Ireland (aka Southern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.)

1st round – the brainchild of one John O’ConnorOld Head Golf Links, circa 1997, Kinsale. This was to be thee golf photo-op of the trip. Driving in you come up over a rise and apparently below sits the diamond shape of one of the most amazing tracts of a golf course property ever developed. All we saw was fog so thick we did well to see the road or fairway in front of us. But we were there to play golf – and golf we did! Among the rows of thick fragrant hydrangea and wild rose bushes, 400-year-old ruins, an austere lighthouse, and 300-foot cliffs with no barriers to the sea below. We may have missed a great photo opportunity of the peninsula as a whole, but we did get some great on course shots of this very unique golf setting. We’ll be back! Signature Hole: #12 – a 564-yard par 5 – perched along the 300-foot cliffs, from tee to green. You better hope the golf Gods are on your side with this hole or you might as well put down your max.

The view of Old Head as we would’ve experienced it had we arrived on a clear day. The signature 12th hole lies along the right side of the neck heading towards the point that is Old Head. (picture courtesy of Old Head facebook page.)

The 4th hole at Old Head. During our visit, the lighthouse stood shrouded in fog. And the remains of the Lusitania sit in the deep waters off Old Head, where it was sunk in 1915.

Last year during a horrific storm, the storm surge threw 160 golf balls back up onto the 17th green at Old Head.

2nd Round – the Arnold Palmer designed Tralee Golf Club, circa 1896, Killarney. No fog, nor rain, but plenty of wind. Even the inland holes were a solid 2-club wind on what the locals considered a pretty normal day. Built along an expansive beach open to the wild Atlantic Ocean, the salty sea breeze was intoxicating. The vistas are as impressive as the course is challenging, and we all battled the uniqueness of each hole while absorbing the history of the area. Signature Hole: #17 – Ryan’s Daughter – a 361-yard par 4 – where the ocean scenes from the epic movie Ryan’s Daughter were filmed in 1970.

The Arnold Palmer designed Tralee Golf Club has a statue to commemorate him and his legacy in golf.

The beach along Tralee Golf Club where the epic film Ryan’s Daughter was filmed in 1970.

3rd round – modern era designers John Mulcahy, Eddie Hackett, Claude HarmonWaterville Golf Links, circa 1889, Killarney. Rated as the #1 links golf course in Ireland, it was easy to see why. We hit a great weather day, and I finally got to experience the beauty of this layout my brothers and father have raved about from when they played here some 30 years ago. Each hole just feels right – nothing quirky, all magical in their own way. Mark Twain may have said, ‘Golf is a good walk wasted,’ but I think if he had ever played Waterville he would have changed his mind. And I liked it so much I can’t wait to go back. Signature Hole: #12 – The Mass hole – a 200-yard par 3 – a very low spot protected by high dunes was used by Irish Catholics to hold secretive masses during a time when British rulers disallowed the religion. When the course was being built the local Irish would not touch the sacred ground so now the tee boxes sit high atop one dune and the green on a high flat top across the untouched mass grounds.

One of the very few truly flat holes at Waterville, carved along the seaside beach.

The vista showcasing some of the holes on the back 9 at Waterville. A truly beautiful links course.

4th round – Dooks Golf Club, circa 1889, Dingle. Dooks almost closed in the early 1960’s due to lack of funds, but the members rose up bought the land and literally, with shovel in hand, built another 9 holes, creating a championship level course that is today still owned and run by the members. Signature Hole: the members are the highlight of this club – dubbed the ‘friendliest golf club’ in Ireland – and that’s saying a lot – Dooks is the envy of golf clubs everywhere in how they treat their guests while giving them a great golf experience.

Not a true links course, but plenty of gorse and other elements to battle. (Photo courtesy of Dooks Golf Club website.)

5th round – Tom Simpson designed the modern era Ballybunion Golf Club Old Course, circa 1893, Lahinch. Mother Nature was in prime form the day we came visiting and had us looking for extra layers and cement shoes to battle the elements. The course is beyond tough in the best of conditions – today we were truly humbled – ie. hitting a 3-wood to a 125-yard par 3 and coming up short. This course was hardest hit by the drought, but the lack of grass on the fairways did not diminish the experience of a full line-up of 18 challenging holes. Each hole had a unique quality that had us saying wow over and over again. So much so that I need to go back an re-experience this whole round. Signature Hole: #11 – Watsons, because Tom Watson calls this the best golf hole anywhere. Riding the ridge along the ocean, you have to be brave enough to ride the boundary line with your tee shot to have a chance of landing in the fairway. The approach shot is blind, up a narrow neck, that is all carry to the green – the only safe landing area. We earned our Guinness that day!

The 1st hole at Ballybunion Old Course where it is said that whoever puts their drive into the cemetary buys the first round of Guinness.

One of many blind shots at Ballybunion. The walkways are artificially irrigated, but the fairways are left to Mother Nature to tend to.

“I’m flying!” – to take a line from Titanic. And you could have almost taken flight with the gale force winds we experienced off the west coast of Ireland along the 12th hole at Ballybunion.

6th round – the Old Tom Morris and Dr. Alister MacKenzie designed Lahinch Golf Club, circa 1892, Lahinch. Probably in the best condition of any of the courses following the drought, the thick grass covered giant dunes and the ocean breeze made sure Lahinch still stood as a strong test of links golf. The gals took a raincheck on golf today, and after hearing the guys rave about the condition and the layout, I absolutely have to return to Ireland so I can experience Lahinch. Signature Holes: #4 – Klondyke Hill – 475-yd par 5 – a blind approach shot over Klondyke Hill has you waiting for the flagman on the hill to give you the all clear – failing to take enough club to clear the hill will surely result in a bogey or worse; #5 – Dell – 154-yard par 3, the only indication of where to aim your tee shot is a white stone sitting atop another giant dune that blocks your view of the green.

The goat is the Lahinch Golf Course logo/mascot – for good reason. When the weather apps go on the fritz, rely on the reliable on course goats to tell you what’s ahead for the day’s weather. Goats on the hill – all is clear; goats by the clubhouse – nasty weather is near.

Lahinch had the best recovery from the drought of any of the links golf courses we played.

7th round – Portmarnock Golf Club, circa 1894, Dublin. Filling the whole of a flat barren peninsula just north of Dublin, this course has hosted major amateur and professional events over its history as well as some of the games greats dating all the way back to Harry Vardon who held the course record of 69 over what was then at a full course yardage of 5800+ yards. It has been called the fairest test of links golf due all the holes laying out in front of you – no hidden shots. No wonder my husband enjoyed this course the most. Signature Hole: #15 – 204-yard par 3 – this iconic Irish style hole parallels the ocean and a straight shot is needed on this long hole and well bunkered green to have a chance at par.

The 15th hole at Portmarnock. (Photo courtesy of Portmarnock Golf Club website.)

8th and final round: The Island Golf Club, circa 1890, Dublin. Surrounded by water on 3 sides it looked like an island from across the bay and until the 1970’s it was only reachable by boat. Sitting on the north end of Dublin, it is a comfortably challenging links course with a few wow holes. Being so open to the water, the wind had a big influence on our ball flight, but its a fair track and one I’d definitely return to play. Signature Holes: #13 – a 197-yards par 4 – Broadmeadow– a classic short par 4 that’s all carry over a large grassy bowl and along the water; and #14 – a 333-yards part 4 – Old Clubhouse – behind the tee box is where the old clubhouse stood when the course was only reachable by water and boasts the narrowest fairway in all of Ireland with water along the whole right side.

At the Island Club we had a great caddy, and that made the experience all the more enjoyable and necessary with blind shots such as this one.

The 18th hole at The Island Golf Club – a unique private club started by a group called the ‘Syndicate’ and is still run by the members today.

More amazing pictures from the golf courses in an upcoming Ireland photo gallery in the Global Gallery.

“Top Golf” – not just for “top notch” golfers

It’s yet another sweltering day in Arizona. But even though the daily threat of monsoons brings in some humidity, this low humidity combined with temps in the low 100’s is still more bearable – to me – than 85 and high humidity in some of the mid-western states like Kansas or Minnesota.

The heat certainly has not stopped me from enjoying one of the many golf courses in the Phoenix valley: Blackstone Country Club, Peoria; Outlaw Golf Course at Desert Mountain, Cave Creek; and my home course of Firerock Country Club, Fountain Hills. My friends and I enjoy golfing this time of year probably more than any other as you have the course to yourself. We were the only tee time on the tee sheet in two of those three rounds. With no waiting for the group in front of you, fast playing partners, finding shade where we can, ample supply of cold water and cold towels – we cruise right through our rounds in comfortable fashion.

But…if you’re looking for a golf option that doesn’t throw you directly out into the elements, Top Golf Riverwalk, Scottsdale might be for you. It’s a new triple-level outdoor target practice range. I know – outdoors, in 100+ degree weather??? With east facing hitting platforms, fans with misters, and good selection of cold drinks to quench your thirst, it is beyond bearable – it’s a blast! A girlfriend and I went at 4 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. I would estimate that 2/3rd’s of the hitting bays were booked. We started out with an hour session, and figured you would need to add another hour for each two-some added to the group of players.

Top Golf Riverwalk, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Top Golf Riverwalk, Scottsdale, Arizona.

My friend showcasing her "red neck cooler!" at Top Golf. (Happy 50th!)

My friend showcasing her “red neck cooler!” at Top Golf. (Happy 50th!)

Some bays are set-up with cushy patio seating, others with table and chairs. A server comes around to take your drink and food orders. There are event rooms – that line up with two hitting bays – and would be a great way to enjoy a special celebration, or just to get a bunch of friends together. There is also a (air-conditioned) full service bar with glass windows to look out on the hitting bays. You can bring your own clubs or they have clubs you can use.

Cushy seating under the fans and misters at Top Golf.

Cushy seating under the fans and misters at Top Golf.

The concept for Top Golf came from two British brothers – hardcore golfers who wanted more out of their golf experience. To know how far they were hitting their shots and to be challenged when at a driving range to perfect their skills. Top Golf was born, and at present there are 20 Top Golf centers in the U.S. and several more in the works – three in the UK. The centers draw not only other hardcore golfers, but since 2000 when the first Top Golf Opened, nearly half of the golfers who visit Top Golf or self proclaimed non-golfers. And from what I saw during my visit to Top Golf – that number sounds about right! 🙂

With a multitude of different games to play – there is a game for everyone of all levels of golf. The games are set up on a touchscreen in each bay challenging all aspects of your golf game from chipping to eventually driving. Unfortunately no drivers on fairway woods are allowed at Top Golf at Riverwalk. The closest target is 50 yds. The furthest target is only 185 yards away, and even though the back of the net is listed at 240 yards, apparently several of the first patrons were able to hit drivers and other clubs up and over the netting and shattering car windows in vehicles parked in the neighboring parking lot of Talking Stick Casino. Apparently they are working on this issue.

The color coded targets dot the range at Top Golf. Distances are 50 yds., 90 yds., 125 yds., 150 yds. and 185 yds.

The color coded targets dot the range at Top Golf. Distances are 50 yds., 100 yds., 125 yds., 150 yds. and 185 yds.

Concave design of three levels of hitting bays at Top Golf.

Concave design of three levels of hitting bays at Top Golf.

Upon entering the center you are directed to a counter to purchase a $5 membership card – a one time sign-up, and then you are directed to a different counter to be set up in a hitting bay. A Top Golf employee, in their bright colored golf shirt, then takes you personally to your bay and runs you through the whole experience. In an hour, my friend and I hit approximately 80 shots each, playing two different styles of games, feeling competitively challenged. We will definitely return!

To find out more about Top Golf – go to:  http://topgolf.com/us/

 

 

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

Hole by hole leads to personal triumph at Pebble Beach

Growing up in a family of golfers, I spent my development years trying to keep up with three older brothers out on the course. It was their influence that made it an easy decision in choosing how to play the hallowed grounds of Pebble Beach – “Grip and rip it!” I could already hear my brothers voices telling me I was a wimp for playing the ‘forward’ tees being a long hitter with a 4-handicap. But the course starter said the course played a solid 400 yards longer than the card said – which put me right in my comfort zone of a 5,600+ yard track. The whites, or next set of tees, were listed at 6116. That is within my reach, but I was out here to have fun, and I figured the natural layout of the course would provide plenty of challenge.

This was my third time playing Pebble Beach. Previous rounds came as a 12-year old in 1975 – I shot a 93. This was during a family outing – what a special week. But the cost back then was as relatively expensive as it is now, and my Dad paid me $20 to NOT play again. My next trek back to Pebble didn’t come until 1998. I played with my middle brother and the round was comped because he was a golf apparel rep and Pebble was one of his accounts – good to have contacts! This time around my husband and I paid full price, so we were determined to make the most of the Pebble Beach experience.

Hole 1: Par 4. Up to the first tee I stepped – slight dog-leg to the right. Small crowd gathered. Do I play conservatively putting it in play with my 3-wood, or take my driver and hit a hard high cut, over the evergreens at the corner? No sense starting off soft. I undercut it a bit, but hit it solid enough to carry the trees and land over the corner about 5 yards from the fairway. If I had gone down the fairway – I would’ve missed the opportunity to walk within 5 feet of some of the most domesticated deer I have ever seen. I punched out of the heavy sticky rough with an 8-iron, getting a flier. The ball rolled through the green.  Caught another flier coming back and pitched the ball back over the green, 2-putt for a double bogey. Not the start I was looking for – but lots of holes left!

Deer on the 1st hole of Pebble Beach

Deer on the 1st hole of Pebble Beach

Hole 2: Par 5. A chance for me to make up some of the ground I lost on the first hole. Hit a solid, low hook-draw to the left side of the fairway, leaving me 170 yards in. I pulled out my 4-hybrid, playing left of the pin to allow the howling left to right wind carry it into the middle of the green. The wind stopped – my ball dropped out of the sky into the green-side bunker, hole high. Decent bunker shot, but two putts left me with a disappointing par. Oh, well – lots of holes left.

Hole 3: Par 4: This is a grip and rip opportunity – and rip it I did. Perfect contact and my ball comes to a stop 20 yards short of the green. Should be an easy up and down for a birdie. Shoulda, woulda, coulda – I bladed a 56-degree wedge over the green; flub a gap wedge shot barely on to the green. Two-putt for a bogey. Off to an auspicious start.

Looking from the green back towards the tee on the 3rd hole at Pebble Beach

Looking from the green back towards the tee on the 3rd hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 4: Par 4: Another grip and rip it hole – so much so I actually have to hit my 3-wood so as not to fly the green. I play for the left side of the narrow long green, going from front to back. This time the big left to right wind did not die down, and my ball got hung up in it, and found the beaches of Stillwater Cove. But I was pin high, played a soft flop shot over the bunker, ending up twelve feet away from the pin. Two-putt bogey.

4th hole at Pebble Beach

4th hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 5: Par 3. Feeling caught between clubs, short was better than long. I hit a gap wedge perfectly, but the ball landed short. Soft hands I reminded myself. For once I listened and a nice little bump and run left me in the circle of friends. Par.

Hole 6: Par 5. The beginning of the ocean holes. My caddy, now knowing the strength of my length, suggests hitting it hard up the left side to leave me with an opportunity to go for the green in two. I carry the three fairway bunkers, hit a hardpan along the left side and it bounds forward and hard right – everything leans to the right on this hole. And right is right into the ocean. I have a good lie in the long rough that bisects this hole, but on the incline of steep hill, feet way above the ball, 170 yards from the hole. Perfect set up for a huge cut. My caddy lines me up to take this into account. I hit it solid, but with a little more cut than I’d counted on. As I reach the ridge, I see I could have and should have aimed at least another 30 yards to the left. Upon reaching the green my hopes are dashed of catching the green-side bunker when I see an empty bunker, but a ball lying in the rocks some 30-feet below. My wedge shot flies over the green, pitch on, two-putt double bogey on yet another reachable par 5. Oh, what a humbling game.

Hole 7: Par 3. The infamous 7th at Pebble Beach. Views from a golf hole do not get any better. It may be short, but golf holes do not get any harder. Yardage – 80. Downhill, wind from behind. Ocean on right, back and left. Bunkers front. Did I mention the greens at Pebble are very small? I undercut a 56-degree wedge and my ball lands in the front bunker. I splash it out and the ball trickles past the pin to the back edge. Bump it on into one-putt range for a bogey.

Me playing the 7th hole at Pebble Beach

Me playing the 7th hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 8: Par 4. The infamous horseshoe-shaped 8th. I lay up with a 5-wood as I don’t want to even risk trickling over the edge into the abyss some 60 feet down a sheer rocky cliff. I’ll leave that thought for my second shot. I am on the edge of the left rough with a fluffy lie. The pin sits 180 yards over one of the most daunting drop-offs on any course, anywhere. But playing around the horseshoe vs. over is not an option I would ever consider. I pure a 5-wood and watch as it seems to float endlessly through the air, trying to use enough body English to coax it over the cove and to the green nestled between two large bunkers. Mission accomplished or close. I landed just short, and with a nice bump and run up the green to one-putt range I was able to come away from the very tough 8th with a par.

8th hole at Pebble Beach

8th hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 9: Par 4. Beauty is beguiling. The 9th and the impending 10th line the shorelines of Carmel Bay – with the little hamlet of Carmel by the Sea just slightly off in the distance. The generous fairway slopes hard to the right to the beaches below. This drive gets away from me and I slice my shot hard towards the ocean, but my caddy assures me there is a landing area down below the hill in the middle of the fairway that I should catch. Catch it I did, barely. Sitting on a fluffy lie in the rough, 160 yards out, time for my favorite club – 6-hybrid aka ‘little whitey’. I pure it, catch the green and come away with a two-putt par.

9th hole at Pebble Beach

9th hole at Pebble Beach

Font nine score: 42. The play was better than the score. Starting off with that double hurt. Missed opportunities on 2 and 3 and 4 hurt. Miscue on 6 hurt. But hey the sun is shining, the temps are perfect and I’m playing Pebble Beach.

Pebble’s front nine does not return to the clubhouse, but there is now a snack shack between nines, that a waiting cart shuttles you up to for a quick pee break and a snack. Welcome relief and opportunity for that extra energy to finish the second half of my stroll through one of the most beautiful ‘parks’ in the world.

Hole 10. Par 4. The march down the 10th hole along elevated shores of Carmel Bay started with a low pull draw drive into a fairway bunker. I was not going to flirt with left to right flow of this fairway after hanging on by a blade of grass after my drive on 9. I had 180 yards out of a flat lie. I love hitting a wood out of a fairway bunker, but apparently the excitement of pulling off the shot was too much and I push topped the ball, which proceeded to run downhill left to right and into the long grasses bordering the drop off to the beaches below. Unfortunately unplayable and beyond the hazard line, I took my drop and proceeded to slam my pitching wedge into the ground, leaving my shot 10 yards short of the green. A nice bump and run put me in one-putt range to salvage a double bogey – my limit.

Hole 11. Par 4. Uphill and into the wind, moving inland. Not a good time to hit a pop fly to left field. I caught it solid, but I still had an uphill shot into the wind of a 140 yards. I pulled out my 170 yard club and pured it. The ball spun in the wind and took a nose dive short into the bunker – fried egg. I made a mighty swing with a closed down lob wedge and blasted the ball barely over the edge of the bunker where it trickled down a small ridge, but past the hole beyond the circle of friends. Two-putt bogey.

Hole 12. Par 3. A 180 yards to a shallow green fronted by a deep faced bunker. I throw my 170 yard club up into a big right to left wind. The ball hits pin high and bounds to the back of the green. A soft handed bump and run curls away from the hole, but ends up pin high. I make a 6-foot putt for par.

Hole 13. Par 4. Another uphill hole. But the right to left wind plays right into my natural draw. I smoked the best drive of the day with a baby draw and the ball settled 100 yards out. I’m feeling maybe I can still salvage the round if I can birdie this hole and get me back on track. The pin is middle left – again a perfect set up for my baby draw. But my energy must be waning as I slam my wedge into the ground, again, and the ball goes about 70 yards. I pick myself and my spirits up off the ground, remind myself where I am and how many of my golfing buddies would trade places with me in a heart beat. A decent pitch puts me 12 feet away and I two-putt for a bogey.

Hole 14. Par 5. Number 1 handicap hole. Big dog leg right, up hill, into the wind on the approach to a very narrow double tiered green tucked behind one of the deepest bunkers on the course. Nothing to it. I hit a solid drive down the left side of the fairway to the corner of the dogleg. I have a great lie to hit a shot to give me a perfect set up into the green, but somehow I cut-shank a 5-wood from a hook lie – out of bounds. Drop another ball, pure it, 100 yards out in the middle of the fairway. Always hit your second shot first. Tired of leaving my short approach shots short, and a tad bit fearful of that bright white sand of the bunker looming between me and the pin, I go after my wedge and blow it over the back of the green. Okay – deep breath, soft hands – ‘fluff’, the next shot barely makes the fringe. My putt lips out and leaves me with a 7X, a max double bogey.

Hole 15. Par 4. Time to regroup. A fairway so wide it’s almost impossible to miss, but I tried really hard and almost succeeded. I hit a solid drive, but my baby draw with a helping right to left downhill wind and my ball ended up a yard short of a nasty deep fairway bunker. Another 100-yard shot, and another slam of the club into the ground, and my ball landing in the right green side bunker. I catch my sand shot thin and it trickles up hill over the back of the green. Which left me a ticklish downhill pitch shot to a pin sitting high on the slope of the green. ‘Zip’, past the hole it goes by 12 feet, but I make the putt coming back for a bogey.

15th hole at Pebble Beach

15th hole at Pebble Beach

Hole 16. Par 4. A decision hole. Grip and rip it over the hill to the right or play safe and short to the left. No sense in changing my game plan now. I haul off and catch the ball flush on the sweet spot of my driver. My caddy thinks it is okay, but it was going a bit right. Luckily I caught the ball good enough that it carried the trouble on the right and landed in the fairway on the low lying landing area. Another 100-yard shot to an elevated green. Another slam of my wedge into the ground. Another plop in the powdery abyss of the green side bunker. I take a mighty swing and leave it in the bunker. Focus. Breathe. Open the blade, finish the swing, the ball floats up and out and into the circle of friends for a bogey.

Hole 17. Par 3. One of the most interesting, picturesque, photographed par 3’s in the world – second only to the par 7th of the same course. The pin is in the front lobe of this two lobed green. Let’s finish strong, I tell myself. The yardage is perfect for my most favorite club in the bag – ‘little whitey.’ I pull out my 6-hybrid, hit it solid and catch the left edge of the green – pin high. I have been told that 95 % of all putts left short never go in. I make a smooth stroke and the ball glides by the high, pro side of the cup. I make the short one coming back and finally get back on the par train. Too little too late, but it feels good.

17th green at Pebble Beach

17th green at Pebble Beach

Hole 18. Par 5. Thee most photographed golf hole in the world. Even non-golfers know what this hole looks like. Shaped in a crescent along the rocky shores of Carmel Bay. The tee box sits on a block land that juts out into the bay. Your aiming point is two Cypress trees, purposely located right in the landing zone. The decision is to go left and chance bringing the water and/or the fairway bunker that dissects the fairway from the ocean, into play OR to the right and hope you catch one good enough to get past the second tree for a clear shot to the green.  My baby draw is a perfect fit to taking it down the left side of the trees leaving me a clear shot to the green. I hit a solid drive, but block it a bit right and it floats to the right of the trees, halfway between the first and second tree. I have low branches in front of me and if I leave it too far right, I will get stuck behind one of the most photographed trees, guarding the green. I take out my 3-wood, put it back in my stance, close my stance and keeping my head still I catch the ball clean. It makes a low climb under the branches and with a little draw it carries long and rolls out to guess where – 100 yards from the green. Taking this all in and remembering how privileged I am to be witness to these hallowed grounds and having the opportunity to leave my mark on this course, I take a deep breath and tell myself I can do this. I steady my feet, keep my head still and clip my chip shot perfectly, landing 12 feet to the left of the hole. It is 6:40 pm and dark. We will most likely be the final group to finish. I am a feel putter, and standing over the ball I feel good and make a smooth stroke dropping the ball in the bottom of the cup. The previous 17 holes melt away in the mediocre play I displayed on them. I just BIRDIED the 18th hole at Pebble Beach – life is good.

18th hole at Pebble Beach

18th hole at Pebble Beach

Back nine score: 43

Total: 85

A wee bit outside of my handicap range – but hey this was was Pebble Beach where it is easy to get sidetracked by a natural beauty that overrides the need to score.

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From the hills of San Francisco to beaches of Carmel-by-the-Sea

One would need weeks to take in all there is to see in California. But my husband and I had one week, so we concentrated our efforts in Northern California. We started the week in San Francisco. Walking the hills to the Pier from our hotel in Nob Hill, and back – a great workout for the heart and the calves. Walking the flats of Golden Gate Park, through the Japanese Botanical Garden and along the parkway canal, was calming.

Marina at the San Francisco Pier

Marina at the San Francisco Pier

Japanese Botanical Garden, Golden Gate State Park, San Francisco

Japanese Botanical Garden, Golden Gate State Park, San Francisco

We were up early the next day to take the 3 hour drive from San Francisco to Carmel, via Santa Cruz and part of Highway 1 aka the Pacific Coast Highway. The ocean views were breathtaking, the sand dunes monstrous, and the fields of veggies and fruit were plentiful.

Just the name, Carmel-by-the-Sea evokes visions to attract anyone’s attention. The creatively named 17-mile Drive is bookended by Carmel and Pacific Grove. It is along these points my husband and I spent the next three days.

Upon arriving in Carmel, my husband and I headed straight to the sea to take a walk on the beach. It was a perfect fall day, ripe for a wardrobe of jeans, a big comfy sweater and bare feet. The sun was shining, but the breeze off the bay was cool. We strolled down the beaches admiring some of the most photographed golf holes in the world, perched atop sheer cliffs – Pebble Beach. We set our eyes on a home we decided would be a great retirement retreat – until we later learned it was listed for $79,000,000. California dreaming – maybe in another lifetime!

View of Pebble Beach from the beaches at Carmel-by-the-Sea

View of Pebble Beach from the beaches at Carmel-by-the-Sea (overhanging smoke from a nearby controlled burn)

The streets of Carmel consist of galleries, boutique shops, galleries, restaurants, did I say galleries, and boutique hotels. I would have loved to spend more time perusing the shops of Carmel, but it was time to head to our ultimate destination to the afore-mentioned Pebble Beach.

There are no less than seven golf courses on this small track of land making it one of the most sought after golf destinations in the world. Pebble Beach, at $495 a round, is not a cheap date, but the walk through golf history and a natural beauty that has not been replicated anywhere in the world, is priceless.

Walking down the 9th hole at Pebble Beach

Walking down the 9th hole at Pebble Beach

The course was designed to be walked. The space between greens and tee boxes is very short. So walk we did – with a caddy named Pat. Caddies at Pebble generally double bag to make as much money as they can in as short amount of time as possible. Pat caddies to pay the bills, so in his off time he can focus on his passions of writing a novel, writing poetry and painting.

We stayed at The Lodge, and our room looked out at the 18th green. For a died in the wool golfer it does not get any better than this. Listening to the waves crashing against the rocks along the 18th Fairway to lull you to sleep every night. Walking the hallowed grounds and think of the golf royalty, political royalty, royal royalty and too many athletic and entertainment celebrities to mention having walked these same grounds, was surreal.

The Lodge at Pebble Beach

The Lodge at Pebble Beach

Monterey Peninsula is a golfer’s destination, and I am an avid golfer, but the drive along 17-mile drive is eye candy for anybody. The Lone Cypress sitting precariously on an outcropping jutting out into Carmel Bay. Bird rock, that is so covered with seals, sea lions and fowl that from afar it looks like the rock is moving. The sounds of the barking seals can be heard far inland. The waves crashing along the craggy rocky coast. The white sand dunes incorporated into the golf courses lining the sea shore.

Lone Cypress, Carmel-by-the Sea. Patented trademark for all facilities on the Monterey Peninsula

The 250-year-old Lone Cypress, Carmel-by-the Sea. Trademarked by Pebble Beach as it’s logo.

Seal Rock, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Bird Rock, Carmel-by-the-Sea – covered by more seals than birds

Further along the picturesque 17-mile drive, sits Spyglass Hill Golf Course. Where Pebble Beach is built along the natural lines of the coastline of Carmel Bay, Spyglass Hill is cut through the heavily forested inland, offering vistas from one of the higher points on the peninsula, looking out at the Pacific Ocean. The walk is more challenging through this hilly course, and golf is equally if not more challenging with it’s tight fairways than even Pebble Beach. Two very different golf experiences.

View from Spyglass Hill Golf Club

View from Spyglass Hill Golf Club

What to do: Golf, golf, golf! Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay and Del Monte for public options – $100-495 including cart. Cypress Point and Monterey Peninsula if you know somebody. Drive 17-mile drive – free. Walk the streets and beaches of Carmel-by-the-Sea – free, unless you find a piece of artwork you can’t live without!

Where to stay: The Lodge at Pebble Beach – $725+. The Inn at Spanish Bay – $635+. Or numerous boutique hotels in Carmel covering all kinds of budgets.

Where to eat: Peppoli’s at Pebble Beach (which is actually located at The Inn at Spanish Bay) for great Northern Italian cuisine. Stillwater Bar and Grill for contemporary seafood – ask for Anthony, a great attentive server. Grasing’s in Carmel – the chef uses locally grown ingredients in all of his dishes.

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Next stop: Napa Valley.