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Golf Course Review – Journey at Pechanga

Written by: Tony Korologos | Monday, August 31st, 2015
Categories: Course ReviewsGolfGolf CoursesGolf For WomenGolf LifeGolf LifestyleHOG World TourReviewsTravel
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I’ve heard a lot about the golf course at Pechanga and I’m glad I was finally able to make the short trip down to Temecula, California to check it out.  The course is called Journey, or sometimes referred to as Journey at Pechanga.

Location Location Location

Journey at Pechanga is located on the property of the fabulous Pechanga Indian Reservation resort/casino in Temecula, California.  Temecula is in a perfect location roughly midway between San Diego and Los Angeles.  When booking my flights it was nice to be able to choose between the LA airports or San Diego.  I ended up choosing San Diego this time around because the cost was a little lower.

Pechanga Hotel Left - Golf Clubhouse Right

Pechanga Hotel Left – Golf Clubhouse Right

Journey’s routing brings it in the hills behind the resort, and gives the course some great elevation changes and views.

Overview

Pechanga is a very challenging golf course featuring five sets of tees.  With five sets of tees players can choose how much of the challenge, or journey, they wish to bite off.  From the tips, the Copper tees, the course plays to a par-72 with a course rating of 74.8 and a slope of 142.  In plain English that’s one tough journey.

The course architect for Journey is Arthur Hills.  I’ve played many of Mr. Hills’s courses and while he has some architectural signatures, his design at Pechanga is quite unique and original on a few levels.  Part of the uniqueness of the course design is the challenges Hills had in preserving sacred areas and sacred items on the property.  Players who are unaware of these sacred items might complain or wonder why there’s a large tree in the of the fairway.  After solid drives I found myself directly behind a couple of those large trees with no shot at the green.  I was irritated for only as long as it took me to remember these are sacred trees.  Then I took my bogey and moved on.

There are several spots on the course where huts can be found, and some very old historic structures.

Modern huts, homes, are not on the course and never will be.  I love courses like this which aren’t developed for the strict reason of selling lots.  Major points scored on this for Pechanga.

Tee

Tee shots at Pechanga are probably the strength of the course design.  Hitting the tee shot accurately is perhaps the most important shot on just about every hole.  Many tee shots present forced carries and very large elevation changes, requiring precision and good math skills at figuring out the yardage to elevation change difference.  Coming from a mountainous area, the elevation changes were right at home for me.

Tee shots sometimes present the player with risk/reward options, like the par-4 5th hole.  At around 300 yards a bomber could play aggressive and try to drive the green.  There’s not much room for error though with a stream dissecting the landing area and a lake the player must carry.  On my first time around the course I chose a conservative route on that tee shot, hitting hybrid to the left fairway.  From there it was a sand wedge to five feet and my first birdie of the day.  The second time I played it I played more aggressive and ended up making bogey.

The next hole (#6) is a par-4 that provides the most dramatic elevation drop of about 300 feet.  Drives seem to stay in the air for an hour or two from that tee box.  In the photo below I’m about to launch one on #6.

golfer hitting golf shot from elevated tee

Par-4 6th Hole Tee

Another great tee is on the par-3 17th (pictured below), with a large drop and a view of the resort and parts of Temecula in the background.

Pechanga Golf Course 17th Green

Pechanga Golf Course 17th Green

I almost aced 17 on my first go-round.  Unfortunately my playing partners just missed out on some free beer.

Fairway

The fairways at Pechanga are generally fairly wide and not terribly difficult.  If you’ve managed to find the fairway, you won’t be faced with a tricky or unfair stance, but you might have issues due to the aforementioned sacred trees.  It happened to me twice, once on the first hole and once on the par-5 9th.

First fairway before the early morning marine layer has burned off. Note the trademark tree in fairway…

A few fairways are split, giving the player two routing options.  One option is often for the more aggressive player and one for the conservative.

Green

During my round at Pechanga I found the greens to roll smoothly.  They were receptive to good shots, even spinning a few back.  Some greens like the 18th featured large undulations and tiers while others like the 2nd and 3rd were more flat and subtle.

golf green

15th Green at Pechanga

Many greens are guarded by some stern bunkering.  Greens located on the hillside often had a favorable uphill side to help deflect errant shots above the green onto the green.  But that same slope would severely penalize errant shots which hit the downhill side.  I know this first hand.

Flow

The gap between the 5th and 6th holes is literally about a five minute drive in a golf cart, including a massive elevation change.  That may be the “Journey” right there!  There’s another big gap between 16 green and 17 tee.  Because of some of these long gaps between holes and the steepness of the hills I really don’t see walking the course as an option.  The walk from 5-6 could take a fit individual 15-20 minutes.  Those gaps make some of the routing/flow a bit on the funky side.

Practice Areas

Pechanga has a great driving range with high quality range balls.  There are actual greens and bunkers in the range providing players the opportunity to play real golf shots at targets with forced carries.   This is a great alternative to the ranges on some courses where the target is “north.”

The short game area is perhaps the best of the practice facilities at Pechanga though.  There are several short game greens with side-hills, chipping pitching slopes, and bunkers to practice from.  That’s where I should have spent most of my time, and where most players would benefit as opposed to pounding drivers all day on the range.

golf practice area

Short game practice area

Finally the practice green (below) provides an accurate representation of the speed and feel of the greens on the course.  More importantly though, there’s a bar/cafe about 20 feet away.

golf green

Pechanga Practice Green

Amenities

The clubhouse is quite an architectural piece.  Inside are the pro shop, locker rooms, and a great restaurant called Journey’s End.

pechanga clubhouse

Journey at Pechanga Clubhouse

The pro shop is full of a massive apparel and equipment selection.  If you forgot something or need some new gear, they have it.

I had breakfast at Journey’s End a couple of times and the huevos rancheros was fantastic, along with the pancakes.

Conclusion

The Journey produces some very fun resort golf between all the great amenities the hotel and clubhouse have to offer and the Arthur Hills designed golf course itself.  The course can play as relaxing or as challenging as a player may want with it’s diverse set of tees.  Bring some extra balls and bring a camera.

Related Links

Journey at Pechanga photo gallery.

Pechanga Resort/Casino photo gallery.


Review: Balcomie Golf Links, Crail, Scotland

Written by: Tony Korologos | Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015
Categories: Course ReviewsGolf Course ArchitectureGolf CoursesGolf LifeGolf LifestyleHOG World TourOlympic GolfReviewsTravel
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Not far from the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland is a fabulous, authentic, old-world links course in the town of Crail called Balcomie Links.  Balcomie Links is one of two courses on the property.  The other course is Craighead Links which opened in 1998.  Craighead Links was designed by Gil Hanse, one of today’s most popular golf architects, and the architect of the 2016 Rio Olympics golf course.

Old Tom Morris is the architect of Balcomie Links.  Old Tom finished up Balcomie the same year he finished up the “New Course” in St Andrews, 1895.  The course plays to a par of 69, and a total yardage of 5,861.  If you are a yardage snob you’ll have to adjust a wee bit.  Once you do, you’ll truly appreciate the splendor of this course and the overall par and length will matter not.

Balcomie Golf Links

Fantastic Balcomie Golf Links in Crail, Scotland

Perfectly Understated

The personality of Balcomie Links is fantastically understated.  The pro shop has to be the coolest shops I’ve ever seen.  I imagine golfers sitting on this bench as children, learning to golf from mom and dad.  They grow up sitting on this bench.  They grow old sitting on this bench, and life is good for them.  I’m envious.

Balcomie Links

Coolest Pro Shop in the World!

Location

Located a 20-30 minute drive from St Andrews, Balcomie Links is located on an unbelievable stretch of land which borders the North Sea. I can’t think of more than one or two holes which don’t have a view of the North Sea, and most of the holes are right on the water. If this course was in California it would give Pebble Beach a run for its money.

Pebble who?

In fact, the whole time we played the course my group of pals kept playfully looking around and saying “Pebble who?”

Tee

Tee shots at Balcomie Links are so enjoyable and fun.  Tom Morris was quite creative with the layout, and there are tee boxes in some very interesting places.  Some tee boxes are by old buildings (below), while others cross holes.  Some are by mortar and rock OB walls that must be hundreds of years old.

balcomie links crail scotland

Par-5 2nd Tee – “Ower The Knowe”

Fairway

The fairways at Balcomie links welcome golf shots and don’t provide too much penalty if they’re not perfect.  The wide fairways provide an enjoyable walk, but on rare occasions present challenging angles and blind shots if the ball finds the wrong resting place.

Fairway approach to the double green on the 11th

Some fairways, in old Scottish links golf style, cross each other.  Keep a keen eye open for other players and rest assured the locals who know the course will do the same for you.

Green

Due to typical high winds, the greens at Balcomie Links only run between a seven to a nine on the stimpmeter.  In other words fairly slow.  American golfers may be used to faster greens, so it takes a few strokes to get used to whacking putts that hard.

crail balcomie

Forced carry to an elevated green with the North Sea in the background. Fabulous!

The greens are not severe, but are tastefully protected via bunkering and other hazards, like the North Sea!  A few holes feature some strong elevation change approaching the green.

Crail Golfing Society

The town of Crail is the home of Crail Golfing Society, the 7th oldest golf club in the world.  The clubhouse overlooks the links, with the beautiful blue water in the background. Crail Golfing Society was kind enough to allow us to enjoy their fine food and a wee pint following our round.  One of the best meals I had on my last Scotland trip was accompanied by one of the best views, as seen below.

crail golfing society

Room With A View – Crail Golfing Society – click for more

Final Thoughts

When trying to come up with words to describe the experience at Balcomie Links the first two which came to mind were “authentic” and “true.”  Golf here is authentic, as are the people.  There’s nothing gaudy or commercial here.  Balcomie Links is about TRUE and traditional Scottish links golf and is uninfluenced by the outside world.

Boy is it a world I’d love to live in.

Related Links

See the whole gallery of Balcomie Golf Links images!

Carnoustie Golf Links Review

Kingsbarns Golf Links Review

Ardgowan Hotel St Andrews Review

Fairmont Hotel St Andrews Review


Michigan’s Shepherd’s Hollow Golf Club Review

Written by: Tony Korologos | Friday, August 15th, 2014
Categories: Course ReviewsGolf Course ArchitectureGolf CoursesGolf For WomenHOG World TourReviews

I could move to Michigan, at least during the warmer months.  Winter?  Not so much.  The golf in Michigan is so astoundingly good and interesting.  The topography and vegetation lend themselves to such fantastic golf which can compete and even crush competitive golf destinations like Florida, South Carolina, California, or the northwest.  The terrain with its great rolling hills and elevation changes makes a great canvas for golf architects to paint their masterpieces.

shepherd's hollow golf michigan

Secluded is an understatement… click to zoom

One such masterpiece is the Arthur Hills designed Shepherd’s Hollow Golf Club, located northwest of Detroit about 45 minutes in Clarkston, Michigan.  Shepherd’s Hollow is secluded in a densely wooded area, not near any kind of visible development.  Each hole has its own space.  Nothing shared.  No side-by-side fairways.

Courses

Shepherd’s Hollow features 27 holes.  Unfortunately I was only able to play 18 of the 27 during the HOG World Tour stop.  I MUST get back there soon to play those again and experience the nine I missed.

There are five sets of tees at Shepherd’s Hollow, allowing the course to accommodate players of all ability levels.  The tips for each set of 18 runs roughly 7,100 yards.  The primary 18 is an absolute beast of a golf course, rating at 76.0 with a slope of 147.  A scratch player would do well to break 80 from the tips.

Tee

Tee shots at Shepherd’s are impressive.  The view from each tee is of a hole lined by trees on each side and landing areas which are anything but flat.  Tee placement is crucial to have a chance at par, and on this course pars are good.  Nearly every tee shot features some kind of elevation change, requiring good strategy and calculation from the golfer.

I really like the different tee sets at Shepherd’s.  Different tees don’t just mean a change in yardage.  The angle and even elevation of each tee shot is different based on the play of the day.

A very unique feature with regards to the tees is how they are marked.  Rather than having two tee markers sitting on the ground which the player must tee off between, one pole on the side marks the teeing area.  See image below:

Tee marker above left, working the tee shot right-to-left above right!

Fairway

If you manage to hit the fabulous fairways at Shepherd’s Hollow, you’ll be presented with challenging lies and approaches.

The stance may promote a draw but the approach may require a fade.  One other course does that very well, Augusta National Golf Club.

Green

Ah the greens.  What lovely surfaces these are.  Such great conditioning and such fun to putt.  Tiers, slopes, and swells make putting a fun (but fair) challenge.

A challenging two-putt prospect…

Hitting the proper area of the green on approach is as challenging, for finding the wrong spot makes two-putting an accomplishment.  Once again, not unfair, but very challenging.

Facilities

The clubhouse and its setting are tremendous.  The clubhouse’s classy architecture perfectly fits in with the environment.

Such a great clubhouse…

Inside the clubhouse is very warm and inviting.  The pro shop is full of great gear and apparel while the food and beverage provides some fantastic selections.

The back patio is magnificent!  I could hang out there all day.  See below.

Nice place to collect your winnings and enjoy a frosty beverage…

Conclusion

If asked to come up with one word to describe the whole experience at Shepherd’s Hollow I’d use the word “pure.”  The whole experience from the facilities to the course to the area… PURE.

Links

More Hooked On Golf Blog Shepherd’s Hollow Golf Club photos.

Other Michigan golf course reviews


University of Michigan Golf Course Review

Written by: Tony Korologos | Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
Categories: Course ReviewsGolf CoursesGolf LifestyleHOG World TourTravel
Tags:
University of Michigan Golf Course

University of Michigan Golf Course

I was just entering the 2014 college football schedule into my calendar for my Utah Utes. Tough go for us being fairly new in the Pac-12, but I digress. The 3rd game on the schedule this season is at the “Big House,” also known as the University of Michigan’s football stadium. The place holds something like 12.2 million fans. A few weeks ago I was across the street from the big house playing golf at the University of Michigan Golf Course. What a fantastic place. The course is not quite publicly accessible, but there are several ways one can get a round in on this wonderful layout. If you get the chance, do it.

The course is the home of the Michigan golf teams and is closed for play during competitions. The course is also closed on football days, where it doubles as a parking lot.

Design

Ever heard of Alister MacKenzie? He designed the University of Michigan Golf Course, which opened in 1931. He’s the same golf course architect who designed Augusta National Golf Club (home of the Masters Tournament) with the help of Bobby Jones. One other highly ranked architectural masterpiece he created was Cypress Point.

Having visited Augusta National many times, I could definitely get the feel of MacKenzie’s style and creativity at the University of Michigan course. The way he utilized the rolling hills, angles, and elevation changes on the property is magnificent.

Arthur Hills performed a restoration on the course in 1994, which according to the University of Michigan, “restored the grandeur of the University Golf Course to the ranks of MacKenzie’s other classics.”

Total yardage for the golf course from the tips, also known as the Wolverine Tee, is 6687 yards. The course rating is 72.0 and slopes at 135. These numbers translate to a strong challenge, but not over the top in terms of difficulty. There are three other tee sets for players of varying age, gender, and ability level.

Tee

I’m not sure which club I prefer the most on the tees at the University of Michigan Golf Course, my driver or my Nikon. The framing of the holes from the tees is fabulous.

Tee – click to zoom

Tee shots are not extremely difficult, but with the movement of the course, trees lining the fairways, and some deep native grass areas, errant tee shots are one-way tickets to bogey land.

Fairway

Like Augusta National, the fairways at U of M roll with the hilly terrain. Challenging lies await, producing approaches which are a fine test of shotmaking. The fairways are not overly narrow, but due to the movement of the holes, proper placement is a big advantage on approach shots.

Fairway – click to zoom

There are many “course management” scenarios. On some par-4 holes and even one particular par-5 (3rd hole) driver may not be the perfect club to hit off the tee, but is still an option.

Green

The greens are very fun and unique at the U of M course. First, they are not terribly large so hitting them in regulation is a solid accomplishment.

University of Michigan Golf

Green – click to zoom

There are very large undulations and tiers in the greens which can break those medium to small sized greens into even smaller areas. If an approach finds the wrong one, two-putting is a challenge but not impossible.

The shaping and framing of the greens on this course is very pleasing to the eye.

Facilities

Full supporting facilities in the form of practice areas, pro shop, and dining are offered at U of M.

Conclusion

Playing the U of M golf course was a fantastic experience. I loved the layout, the flow, routing, scenery, and especially the conditioning. I strongly recommend playing the course if you get the chance. I cannot wait to get back and take another shot at it.

Related Links

Hooked On Golf Blog University of Michigan Golf Course photo gallery.

Other Hooked On Golf Blog Michigan golf reviews.


Review: Rhodes Ranch Golf Club in Las Vegas, Nevada

Written by: Tony Korologos | Thursday, May 29th, 2014
Categories: Course ReviewsGolfGolf CoursesGolf LifeGolf LifestyleHOG World TourReviewsTravel
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There are many amazing golf choices in Las Vegas and I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing quite a few. For non-residents the cost of a round of golf in Las Vegas can be quite painful, upwards of $300-$500. There are great values to be found in the area though. With great weather most of the year, conditioning is usually quite good even on courses which are not as expensive. Today’s review features one of the lesser known and better values in Vegas golf, Rhodes Ranch Golf Club.

Rhodes Ranch Golf Club - click to zoom

Rhodes Ranch Golf Club – Aerial photo © by Tony Korologos – click to zoom

Rhodes Ranch Overview

Rhodes Ranch is roughly a 30 minute drive southwest (depending on crazy Vegas traffic) from the Las Vegas Strip. From the south end of the Strip it could even be as short as 15-20 minutes.

Rhodes Ranch opened in 1997. The course occupies over 160 acres which feature very undulating topography. Those undulations were masterfully used by course architect Ted Robinson Sr., to produce fun challenges and interesting shot options for the player.

The course measures 6,909 from the tips, not terribly long. Length is great, but the course plays better with a more strategic approach. There are many risk/reward opportunities and holes which one can take conservative approaches or opt for more aggressive play. Much of the course is lined by tall, mature palm trees.

Rhodes Ranch Golf

First hole heads toward the Las Vegas Strip – click to zoom

Tee

Tee shots at Rhodes Ranch are visually pleasing and not extremely threatening, barring a few forced carries. Landing areas are usually obvious, some tempting the player to cut the corner of doglegs.

Errant tee shots will be rewarded with odd lies on the rolling hills which frame the fairways and may be stymied by adjacent palm trees. Poor tee shots will find the Nevada desert. In both errant tee shot cases, players are able to recover without sending their scorecards into oblivion.

Fairway

The fairways at Rhodes Ranch are wide and inviting, with undulations which can produce challenging lies. Some undulations require some strategy in shot placement for the player, who must pick a proper landing spot in order for the shot to finish in a flat area or a position with a good look at the green.

There are fairway bunkers, arroyos, and a few other challenges which can be penal to poor shots, but not scorecard busters.

One of the best parts about the fairways at Rhodes Ranch is the conditioning and maintenance. See in the photo below how perfect the grass is. Having walked the grounds for the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club many times, I can say without hesitation that the fairways at Rhodes are a very close second. When I asked regulars who play the course often about the conditioning, they told me the course is perfectly maintained year-round.

Look at how perfect the fairways at Rhodes Ranch are!

Green

The green complexes are very scenic. Many feature beautiful landscaping, palm trees, and are framed by fine bunkering.

Putting the greens at Rhodes Ranch was just as fun as playing the perfectly groomed fairways. The conditioning was fantastic and they rolled true, albeit slower than the mountainside greens I’m accustomed to.

The greens were smooth, yet completely receptive to golf shots from even long irons.

Rhodes Ranch Scenic 3rd Hole

Rhodes Ranch Scenic 3rd Hole – click to zoom – © Tony Korologos

Facilities

The clubhouse at Rhodes Ranch is impressive. On one side is a fully stocked pro shop with lots of great gear and apparel. On the other side is the restaurant, a great place to have a beer or other cold beverage after the round. In my case, make that two.

The practice facilities are top notch, with a large desert driving range and a very large practice green which could accommodate dozens of players.

Value

For a non-resident player during a primetime slot, rates at Rhodes Ranch hover around $100. That’s very reasonable for Vegas. If players are willing to brave the heat, twilight rates can cut that cost in half. Resident rates hover around $60 with twilight rates in the $30’s.

Rhodes Ranch Golf Club Las Vegas

Rhodes Ranch Golf Club Las Vegas

Staff

From the moment I pulled up to the bag drop to the time I finished off my 2nd frosty beverage in the restaurant, the service level at Rhodes Ranch was excellent. All staff courteous, attentive, and helpful. A special mention goes to the great service of assistant pro Jeff Bricker in the pro shop.

Conclusion

Before booking a round of Vegas golf at the Wynn Golf Club, Bali Hai, Rio Secco, or Cascata, consider Rhodes Ranch. The course is fun to play, manicured brilliantly, and will not beat you up. Plus, you could play this fun course several times for the cost of playing the expensive Vegas courses once.


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