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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Pinehurst - America's Golf Town Gets Better and Better


I have just returned from a glorious four days in Pinehurst, North Carolina. It’s a straightforward drive down from DC, especially in the Covid-19 times with considerably less traffic on the roads, especially around the beltway (oh, and my brother in law was driving too)! From the north it’s less than five hours to the Mike Strantz gem, Tobacco Road.


We stayed at the Pine Crest Inn in the village, as we often do, but it is beginning to show signs of its age and needs some serious TLC in the rooms and public areas. We love the history of the place (the Ross family owned and operated it for decades) and the staff are terrific, but with so many other good options in the town owned by the Resort for only $50 more a night, we may choose another hotel on our next visit.


Day One - Tobacco Road


Golf, pure, crazy golf! This is the late Mike Stranz’s gift to the world of golf. If you haven’t played Tobacco Road, you have missed something very special. I would throw out one caveat - you need to be able to play a reasonable game or you will shoot 150! My advice is not to keep score, simply enjoy the view, the sheer audacity of what he pulled off and the trust the owner had in allowing this course to get built. It is truly like nothing you have ever played, or will play. From the opening tee shot through two huge hills, with ball spotter perched precariously on the right hill, to the blind tee shot on 18 it is sensory overload. And so much fun! Forget the scorecard, this is a matchplay golf course and makes no apologies for that. Go. Enjoy! I recommend playing Tobacco on the way to Pinehurst or as your final course on the way home as it is a 30 minute drive from the village of Pinehurst.



Day Two - The Cradle and Thistle Dhu at Pinehurst Resort


Just outside the clubhouse are two magnificent additions to Pinehurst Resort. The first you’ll likely encounter is a HUGE putting green, Thistle Dhu. For those who have played The Himalayas Putting Course at St. Andrews, you’ll notice some similarities. It’s impossible to play without a huge smile on your face. You can play the 18 holes as laid out by the superintendent or simply choose a hole 30 to 100 feet away and go for it. Three putts is quite an accomplishment on many holes! This is not the place to work on your stroke - it’s a place for a beer and a great time. The Pinehurst mascot, Putter Boy, is situated in the middle of the green overseeing the action. Thistle Dhu is an inspirational idea that more and more clubs and resorts would do well to copy.


Next up, grab a wedge or two and your putter and wander down to the starters hut for The Cradle. We were informed by the delightful starter there had been 500 holes in one around the short course, but sadly we didn’t add to the number. Designed by Gil Hanse, the short holes vary in length from about 50 yards to 110 yards. Several allow the option of using a putter off the tee, which I did to great effect. There was an eightsome a few holes ahead of us and groups of kids, groups of mums - golfers and non golfers having fun - isn’t that what we are all here for?! It’s a wonderful innovation and what’s better than making a few twos on the scorecard.



Day Two - Number 2


Designed by the legendary Donald Ross in 1907, Number 2 is a must play course on any trip to the Pinehurst area. You’ll get more out of it if you can play a bit, for sure, but even if you can’t, enjoy the subtlety of Mr. Ross’ work and also marvel at the 2010 restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The greens that seem like upturned saucers are tough to hit and sometimes tougher to read. The course is an absolute joy to play with short walks from greens to tees, variety of short holes, glorious par fives and degree of difficulty that can “go to eleven” when the greens get quick. The next time we see that will be the U.S. Open, scheduled for 2024.

Day Three - Pine Needles


About 10 minutes from the village of Pinehurst is the magical combo of Pine Needles and Mid Pines. On opposite sides of the road, but sharing similar topography, both are designed by Donald Ross, with restorations by the skilled architect Kyle Franz. Kyle’s pedigree is first class, having worked with Tom Doak, Coore & Crenshaw and Gil Hanse. His own work here at “Pine” and “Mid” is exceptional. From the uphill opening par five to the sweeping downhill par four Pine Needles is a joyful experience.



Mid-Pines


I last played Mid Pines prior to Kyle’s 2013 renovation and his injection of drama to the golf course is extraordinary. He has breathed life into the par fives by opening up the vistas and the set of par threes match up to anything in the country. For the first time ever I played using a golf scooter - a fun way to zoom around the course. Your clubs rest on the handlebars and we were encouraged to drive everywhere except the greens. The renovation at Mid Pines has, quite rightly, put it back in the “Top 100 courses you can play.” I highly recommend you take the short drive to this Ross/Franz gem.




The owners of Pine Needles and Mid Pines recently announced their purchase of another Ross gem, Southern Pines, a course that has fallen from grace after year of neglect. Sounds like a good reason to revisit!


So, there you have it, three nights, four days and five courses. My favorite golf town in America, Pinehurst. 


PS - Whilst you are there, stop off at the newly opened Pinehurst Brewing Co. The food was great, the beer plentiful and it’s a short walk from any hotel in the village.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Things That Make Me Hot (an homage to Dan Jenkins)


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I have been re-reading all the Dan Jenkins books I can get my hands on, following his death recently. He wrote so much wonderful prose and if you are looking for a great sampler of his work, look no further than Fairways and Greens. It comprises many pieces he wrote for Golf Digest and was published in 1994. One of my favorite articles is Jenkins’ “Things That Make You Hot”, so with a huge nod to him, here is my version.

Range Finders. Great, so after taking a minute trying to find the flag you know it is 145 yards to carry the front bunker. The only problem is you have no ability to consistently hit the ball 146 yards. If your handicap is higher than, say, five, use the money you would spend on one of these electronic widgets and get a lesson!

The Double Logo. Ok, your insurance salesman got you on at Pine Valley and you paid $5,000 in an auction to play Winged Foot. At both you hit the shop hard….but it doesn’t mean you should wear both logos at the same time. It is a cardinal sin and you need to leave the course immediately.

Fixed Height Tees. Do you have a ruler to decide how much milk to put in your coffee? No, you just know right? Same goes for putting your tee in the ground. Feel it and it will likely be correct. Try different heights on the range to see what works for you. If you don’t know how high to tee your ball you shouldn’t be out there.

Golf Carts. The scourge of the game and the biggest reason for slow play in America. Let’s both drive to you ball and watch you hit your shot and then drive to my ball and watch that. No! I don’t need to see you hit your shot - I’ll see you on the green! In the UK, there are few courses with carts and play is one to two hours quicker, mainly because players walk to their own ball and play ready golf. I grew up in the UK playing in less three hours and am bewildered that US golfers think four hours plus is normal. The game of golf is a walking game!

Putting Out. The four hour plus rounds are also caused by golfers feeling the need to putt out on every green. If it’s inside the leather pick it up and get off the green. No one cares except you and this ludicrous obsession with keeping score is another fatal reason for the lack of interest from millennials and Z gen kids. They want to have fun and they want it quick. Grinding over a one-foot putt is madness. I get it, I played competitive golf and there is a place for that, but not on a wet Wednesday at any course. It’s often worse at private clubs where the mentality seems to be, I’m paying big bucks for this and the sense of entitlement is heightened.

The Air Hug. This is peculiar to the women’s professional game. After the final putt drop the women give each other this odd “air hug”. It’s not an actual hug, it’s more of an obligatory embrace with a sort of pat on the back. It looks fake and I guess feels fake. Just shake hands and be done with it. I do wonder how this odd ritual started and I just wish it would finish!

Pitch Marks. It still ceases to amaze me how many players don’t repair a pitch mark on the green. Maybe they don’t think they make one as they thin a wedge onto and over the green. If I were a superintendent and had to waste budget on sending out staff to fix pitch marks (which they do!) I would be apoplectic! It starts with higher handicap players who don’t for some odd reason think they make pitch marks. Fix you mark and help out the super!

Iron Head Covers. Enough said!

Tour bags. I love Tour Bags. I have three in my office, but I would never, never use one. There is one group and one group only who need a 10-inch Tour bag - professional golfers. They need a bag stuffed with stuff – waterproofs, towels, band aids, tees, golf balls, gloves, energy bars, their lucky rabbit foot. We need a few balls, some tees, a glove and a Mars Bar and frankly you’ll look like an idiot showing up with a Tour bag and then hitting the first tee shot 157 yards.

The Rules Guy. He’s read the new version of the rules and will dispute the height of your knee drop from across the other side of the fairway. There are several in every club and I’m not picking on the men here - the women are at it too! If you are any good at golf, you’ll know the rules and also appreciate that very few games are ever played without one or two rules being broken. And you know what, that is just fine if you are out having fun. We are not playing in a USGA event! If you want to be rules guy good luck to you, just know your options to play in a regular fourball and enjoy the game diminish with each holier than though ruling.

The Cheater. Reading the above, don’t think for one second, I am advocating cheating. I am not. I once played in the club championship with a very good golfer who I saw physically move his ball nine times. Fortunately, I beat him and then walked into the Secretary’s office to report him. Every club has them, golfers who think the basic rules don’t apply and move their ball in the rough, the bunker, the trees. We know who you are and that’s why we don’t play with you!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Go West Old Men!.....to Machrihanish

Thanks Tom Coyne! I was lucky to have dinner last year with the English professor and author of fine golf books and discovering my love of all things Scottish he said, "You must play Machrihanish!" Now, I went to University in Glasgow, so have been very fortunate to play most of the wonderful links and non-links course in Scotland. Somehow, I have never found the time to visit Mull of Kintyre and its golf courses (maybe it was the dreary Paul McCartney number one song that put me off!)
In the last couple of years Coyne has become the "Rick Steves of golf." His books on Ireland and Scotland have promoted off the beaten path courses (let's not call them "hidden gems") and hopefully led to increased revenues for courses worthy of a golf travelers time and money. And so it was, as the unofficial golf booker of our motley crew that we found ourselves on the road from Glasgow to Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre.

Here's our route from Glasgow to Macrihanish. It's around four hours through the most glorious countryside and coastal roads you'll see. No need to rush - enjoy the views! We stayed at The Royal Hotel in Campbeltown, a delightful fishing town. Fair warning, there are very few dining options (very few!) in the town, so we had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Royal - all were excellent.

Opened in 2009, Machrihanish Dunes brings another fine golf course to Kintyre. Designed by David McLay Kidd, the course rests comfortably in the natural dunes and is a gem. We played it on a five-club wind day and despite that we thoroughly enjoyed it. It does feel modern, which is certainly not a criticism and the greens complexes are remarkable. The course is a 10 minute drive from Campbeltown with a tiny pro shop that also serves food and drink.

The original Macrihanish course was built around 1876 and expanded from 10 holes to 18 by Old Tom Morris in 1879. Further modifications were made by J.H. Taylor and Sir Guy Campbell, so its pedigree is beyond reproach. This was our only planned 36-hole day and what a glorious day we had. The course was everything we had hoped for - great holes out in the dunes, completely natural and short walks from greens to tees. Go play it!
The Road South to Dunaverty
Another recommendation from Tom Coyne was the shortest course we played at just 4,600 yards, Dunaverty. It was founded in 1889 and is on the southernmost tip of Kintyre. It was designed by no one in particular and is a pure delight. Measuring 4799 yards from the back tees it is the definition of fun - there are seven par threes and a single par five. With a long drive north on the books, we needed a short, fun walk and boy did we find one! We left our money in the Honesty box in the modest clubhouse and headed to the straightforward short par four first hole. After scrambled pars there we embarked on a series of the most extraordinary and fun holes you will play - short threes, long blind threes, drivable par fours - it is breathtaking and I will be back.
A Long Drive North to Dornoch
With our change in plans we had the opportunity to reinvent the trip. So, one of the greatest venues in golf beckoned, Royal Dornoch. It's a long and scenic drive from the southernmost tip of Mull of Kintyre to the town of Dornoch, about 40 minutes north of Inverness. With a stop along the way and driving the full length of Loch Ness (with no sign of the monster) it took us about six hours. If you haven't played the course bestowed as a "Royal" in 1906 then I highly recommend you make the journey. The weather can be changeable at this time of the year, but the golf gods were with us and we had two fresh, but fine days. On both occasions we were round in three hours, despite taking photographs and admiring the gorse filled views. Dornoch was laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1886 and is justifiably ranked in the top 10 courses in the world.

And Back Down South to North Berwick
Back into the car for a drive down through Edinburgh (choose your timing carefully to miss the choked ring road) to the seaside town of North Berwick. The town, the golf course/s, the putting courses, the food, the people. It's all quite lovely. The West Links course is in the middle of the town with the first and eighteenth sharing a single fairway and the Glen Course is at the far end of the town and played on a bluff. Yes, I love the West Links, but having played it many, many times we opted to drive east down the coast road to another personal favorite, Dunbar Golf Club.

East to Dunbar
If you are planning a trip to the East Lothian area, do not miss Dunbar. Improbably wedged between the sea and an old deer park wall this true links golf course is an absolute gem. The staff are wonderful and despite a rainy day we once again spent three lovely hours enjoying the scenery and delightful holes attributed to James Braid and Ben Sayers in the 1920s.
And on to Gullane
Gullane hosted the Scottish Open a couple of years ago, won by Rickie Fowler and it is the perfect warm up for the professionals warming up for The Open. There are three courses in Gullane (well, four if you include Luffness) and they are called One, Two and Three - inspired! The number does determine the quality too, with Number One being the course of choice for most visitors. That said the view from all three at the top of Gullane Hill is equally inspiring. With the Forth Road Bridge and Edinburgh in the distance and the North Sea in the foreground the view is wonderful.

By the way, if you haven't read Tom Coyne's books, they are a must read. He walked around Ireland (no, really, he did!) with his golf bag on his back, but sense prevailed for his Scottish jaunt and his musings are delightful. You can buy A Course Called Ireland here and A Course Called Scotland here. Oh, and I hear an American book is in the offing. I'm not a betting man, but I'm guessing it's called A Course Called America! Also a shout out to my friends at Holderness & Bourne for the best quarter knit sweaters in the game!

PS - if you want to see many more pictures visit @macduffgolf on Instagram.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Christmas Golf Gift Guide


Here’s our 2018 Golf Gift Guide that checks the boxes on authenticity, great value and are “MacDuff Guaranteed” to bring a smile to the face of any real golfer. 

LEE WYBRANSKI - GOLF ART
Lee has had another outstanding year in 2018 creating official artwork for the majors and the Ryder Cup. Lee's work has become highly collectable and his website features his iconic posters as well as one off originals. www.leewybranski.com

MACDUFF CANDLES - SWEET SMELLING CANDLES
We introduced our own golf themed candles in 2017. This year we have a number of gorgeous Christmas scents including Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon Stick, Cranberry Crush and Peppermint Candy. Beautifully packaged and ready for the tree. We also have a gorgeous Yoga themed gift collection, called The Chakra Range. www.macduffcandles.com

SEAMUS GOLF - PORTLAND CRAFTSMANSHIP
We have always been big fans of Portland based, Seamus Golf. Their core products are unique headcovers designed from literally hundreds of tartans and other fabrics. They also have introduced all manner of new items that continue to amaze us. These include ball marks, hand made golf bags, hip flasks, restored golf clubs and pitchforks. You'll find great gift items and different price points on their site, each one handcrafted by our friends in Oregon. www.seamusgolf.com


TIN CUP - THE BEST BALL MARKER
This is a golf gift you can safely give golfers and know they will use it. The rules of golf state that you should mark your golf ball before playing and Tin Cup has made this a simple process for hundreds of thousands of golfers since 2010. www.tin-cup.com

TOM COYNE'S A COURSE CALLED SCOTLAND - MY FAVORITE READ
My favorite golf book of the year, Tom's book is a worthy follow up to his Irish tome about golf in Ireland. www.amazon.com