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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Full supporting facilities in the form of practice areas, pro shop, and dining are offered at U of M.
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.
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 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.
First hole heads toward the Las Vegas Strip – click to zoom
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Two days ago I had intended to write a great blog post and course review featuring Carnoustie Golf Links in Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland. At that point in time writing a single word became as difficult as this legendary golf links is to play. Where would I start? How could I possibly convey how special of place it is? I felt like my limited blogging/writing skills could not do justice to this golf course which is known by many as the toughest test of golf in the world, a place which has hosted seven Open Championships, a senior Open Championship, the British Amateur Championship, and Women’s British Open.
Carnoustie Golf Links – click for larger image
I’ve decided to do two articles about Carnoustie. One will be a standard course review and one, this one, a recollection of what it was like for me to play the course and what my thoughts and impressions were. (more…)
For close to 10 years I’ve been blogging about golf. One of the greatest benefits of this blog has been the opportunity to travel and visit some amazing places. There are a few very “special” places I’ve visited which are head and shoulders above the rest. Some of those special places include Black Mesa Golf Club, Ballyneal Golf Club, The Old Course, Kingsbarns and Sand Hollow.
Add another special place to the list.
Diamante – Dunes Course – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
On my last trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico I had the pleasure of playing the Diamante Dunes Course. Diamante Dunes opened in 2009 and quickly attained the ranking of #1 golf course in Mexico and #52 in the world. The Dunes course is the first course on the property at Diamante. The 2nd course is under construction right now, a Tiger Woods design.
Designed By Davis Love III
Speaking of design, I was intrigued and excited to learn that the course designer at the Dunes course was none other than Davis Love III. I’m not completely immersed in the golf architecture genre like some golf writers, so this is the first DLIII design I’ve heard of.
The course measures out at 7,300 yards from the tips, a.k.a. “Tee I.” Course rating from Tee I is 75.4 with a slope of 146. At sea level that’s as much golf course as any player on the planet needs. I played from a more reasonable tee, you guessed it, “Tee II.” In all there are five sets of tees, “Tee V” measuring out at 5,151 yards.
Location Location Location
Cabo San Lucas may have the best overall weather on the planet. The average temperature year-round is 78 degrees. There are 350 days of sunshine per year and very little rain. Perfect golf weather 24/7/365.
Diamante is located six miles from downtown Cabo and occupies 1.5 miles of beachfront property overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The area is comprised of fantastic pure white sand dunes and natural desert vegetation.
Diamante Dunes is routed through some of the most stunning topography I’ve ever seen. The beachside views along with the massive sand dunes provide a canvas which Davis Love III brilliantly painted with perfectly green grass, pure white sand and an occasional red or yellow accent from the native desert vegetation. In the distance are the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean along with the thunderous sound of waves pounding the shoreline.
That perfectly green grass I mentioned? Its a rare breed of grass which is salt and warm-weather resistant, perfect for a seaside course. The paspalum at Diamante is so perfect and trimmed to such precision, that it almost doesn’t seem real.
The strength of paspalum is astounding. In trying to pull up some blades to throw up into the wind for club selection, I almost fell over. The grass is so strong that it takes quite an effort to pull out some blades.
Tee shots at Diamante set up perfectly for not only great golf shots, but great photos. I spent more time shooting pictures than I did hitting my golf shots. Multiple teeing areas are located at different elevations and angles to provide a multitude of options from day to day or from handicap level to handicap level.
Golf pro Rodrigo about to let it fly… click to zoom
Tee shots at Diamante can be quite dramatic, featuring large elevation changes.
The fairways at Diamante Dunes run through, over, between, or around massive sand dunes. What fun DLIII must have had envisioning hole routings and shots. The fairways are fairly wide and not terribly penal.
Par-5 14th Hole From The Tee – click to zoom
Errant shots which miss the fairways find the soft sand which is far more penal and difficult to navigate. Missing the fairways for the sand doesn’t mean a guaranteed bogey or worse, but making par or better from the sand is an accomplishment.
The greens at Diamante may be the most perfect putting surfaces I’ve ever putted. I could not find one dry spot, one ball mark, one inconsistency. Putting on surfaces like this is almost a religious experience.
Diamante Dunes #2 Green – click to zoom
The green complexes at Diamante are brilliantly laid out, with rugged bunkering guarding them and natural sandy areas surrounding. The challenging undulations and slopes require solid putting for good scores, but are definitely fair.
Diamante Dunes is built on perhaps the world’s largest bunker. 1,500 acres of light beach sand line all the holes. Many of the natural bunkers are simply filled with the native sand.
Playing The Course
Playing the course is an amazing experience. From the sand dunes, routing, the sound of the ocean waves pounding the shore, to the perfectly manicured greens, this is a golf experience like no other.
I’m damn proud of my 86 as a two handicap. Hear me out. I almost never play well on media trips due to not knowing the course, focusing on photos, taking notes, being a little tired from the late nights schmoozing and probably having one to many adult beverages. This 86 was more special because of the conditions. I experienced Diamante during a full dose of Baja Peninsula winds. The sand was flying sideways as were the golf balls. Following the round I was cleaning sand out of places on my body I didn’t know existed. I managed that round in those conditions with one golf ball. ONE GOLF BALL.
Diamante is a private facility. Members can enjoy one of the best golf courses in the world of course.
Along with golf the facility offers plush lodging, golf villas and estates, restaurants, spas, a 10 acre crystal lagoon, horseback riding and of course, 1.5 miles of beach to enjoy.
At a few strategic locations on the course there are what I will call “relief shacks.” In these shacks are all a golfer needs: restrooms, tequilla bottles, a bar, fully stocked fridge and snacks. Grab a tequila bottle and take it with you. When you reach the next shack, pull another full tequila bottle out and put your empty one in.
I particularly loved the hard boiled eggs, available in the shacks. The egg goes in a small plastic cup and there are salsas to dress the egg with. Those eggs saved my life. The tequila helped quite a bit too. Much better than the aspirin.
My Favorite Holes
A friend and “golf journalist” (I consider myself a blogger, not necessarily a journalist) gave me grief for using the term “signature hole.” I suppose he’s right. The term is overused for sure. So I’ll post my “favorite” holes from Diamante.
Island in the Sand 16th
Hole #16 is a fantastic par-3, which is right next to the shore. The green is what I like to call an “island in the sand.” 16 is a prime example showing that a great par-3 need not be long.
Diamante Dunes 16 Green
From the back tees this par-3 is only 154 yards but a small group of dark green desert foliage guards the front, looking quite like gorse in St. Andrews. The green slopes front to back and has a large tier dissecting it perpendicular to the tee.
My next favorite hole comes up right after 16. The 17th is a fantastic par-5 which measures at 588 yards, uphill. The tee shot is challenging, with gorse-like bushes dictating that shots come up strategically short. Long hitters can take on the challenge of flying it over.
Diamante Dunes 17th Hole – click to zoom
The approach to 17 is severely uphill to a large green with two levels. I happily hit my 3rd shot, a sand wedge, to the correct tier and left myself with a 15 footer for birdie. Unfortunately the bird did not drop, but the tap-in par was rewarding, especially as I looked out from the elevated green to miles of virgin Mexico shoreline. That was a “stop and soak it in” moment. I stood there and took some deep breaths. I can still smell the ocean.
In the video below, I pan from the 16th green through the 17th tee. You can hear how windy it was that day, which also makes the video quality a little rough because of the sand flying through the air.
As I played golf on this fantastic layout I was saddened a bit. The serenity, purity and remoteness of these golf holes in the dunes will soon be tarnished by residences. Lots are already being excavated for course-side estates. In a way I feel even more privileged to have played the course in its original pure form with no real estate development.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against high end golf real estate per se. If I could sell about 12 million more ads this year on this blog, I’d happily be one of the first to call Diamante home. I’ll take the lot between 16 green and 17 tee please.
Though it is private, Diamante can be experienced if you’re not a member. There are ways to get on. If you can swing it (so to speak) when you’re in Cabo next time, do it.
Bring your A game and bring your camera. I’d bring more than one golf ball, just in case.
For the millionth time I must say I have one of the coolest gigs in the world. To be able to travel to fantastic golf vacation destinations like Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for the purpose of reviewing world class golf courses, is a privilege I don’t take lightly.
Cabo del Sol Ocean Course – Los Cabos – click for more
On my recent Hooked On Golf Blog World Tour stop to Cabo, I had the pleasure of playing Cabo del Sol, a Jack Nicklaus signature design course built in 1994. The course is ranked by many top publications in the top 100 in the world, as well as ranked #1 in Mexico.
Part of what makes Cabo del Sol and the other golf courses in Cabo so great is the location. Los Cabos is located about 1,000 miles south of Los Angeles on the Baja California peninsula. That’s barely a 2.5 hour flight from Denver.
The weather in Cabo is fantastic all year, averaging 78 degrees. There are 350 sunny days per year, meaning one could take 10 days break from golfing per year for other activities, like going to a spa.
Jack Nicklaus had some fantastic real estate to work with when designing Cabo del Sol. Nearly half of the course’s 7,091 yards are on the ocean in the form of holes 5, 6, 7, 8, 16, 17 and 18. Can you say “Pebble South?” Jack Nicklaus himself said about the course, “the best piece of golf property I’ve ever seen.”
There are five sets of tees at Cabo del Sol. The longest playing set of tees (Black), measures at 7,091 yards. Slope from the back tees is 145 with a course rating of 74.4. In other words, the course is plenty of challenge even for scratch players or pros.
One of the most dramatic parts of the course is the stretch from hole five green through hole eight tee. Hole five is ranked the toughest on the course, a 490 yard par-4. From there holes six (pictured above) and seven are back-to-back par-3’s on the sea. Absolutely fantastic stretch of golf.
Carve this tee shot left to right. Try not to let the Sea of Cortez distract you!
Teeing areas at Cabo del Sol are typical of desert target style courses. The tees are mini islands in the desert, framed by finely manicured desert foliage and large cacti.
Many tee shots require some forced carries but nothing crazy. They’re completely manageable. Movement of the ball in both directions can help the player navigate the course from the tee and many tee shots tempt the player to hit driver when perhaps a more conservative play may be a better idea.
Cabo del Sol’s fairways are much wider than they appear from the tee. The landing areas are spacious. Missing the wide fairways is possible though, and penal. Native desert areas are often the last resting place for a chance at par.
Looking at the fairway and the Sea of Cortez as a pirate ship passes by in the background. Where else does this happen?
Hitting approaches from the fairways can be a challenge. Stances can be slightly uneven, influencing shot lines which may be opposite what may be optimal.
Approaching the greens at Cabo del Sol is challenging, Nicklaus style. Jack’s bunker complexes and design angles make approach shots the most critical shot on most of the holes. Proper approaches are the key to making par or birdie here.
Not a bad green complex, if you like tremendous scenery. Click to zoom.
The greens at Cabo del Sol are quite fun to putt. They’re large, with some very tasteful and fair undulations. Good reads and properly executed putts won’t produce any unwanted surprises. They’ll produce birdies and pars.
Make your own tacos! Brilliant – click to zoom
One of the highlights of my ENTIRE trip to Cabo was the taco stand at Cabo del Sol. The course is world famous for their tacos, to such an extent that sometimes the tacos get more press than the golf. Please note that I dedicated only one paragraph to the tacos…
The practice area is very well maintained with high quality range balls and cleaning stations. I was happy to hit the range before my round. The back was not happy. But after a few swings and loosening up in the warm Cabo weather, my back was back…so to speak.
There’s a practice putting area right next to the 1st tee, surrounded by large cacti and beautiful desert foliage.
Clubhouse as seen from #1 tee. Click to zoom.
The 40,000 square foot clubhouse at Cabo del Sol is home to a well appointed and classy pro shop. The open air building also boasts fine dining, men’s and women’s lounges, lockers and meeting facilities.
Even better than the courses and the places I get to see on my golf press trips are the fantastic people who run them, like my new friend and director of golf at Cabo del Sol, Greg Tallman. I had a fantastic time playing my round with Greg. I’m still amazed by the driver “off the deck” shot. Brilliant…
The service at Cabo del Sol was impressive, as has been my experience with just about every course and resort in the area. On the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, customer service is as good as anywhere I’ve been.
Cabo del Sol deserves all the accolades and awards it has received. The golf experience at Cabo del Sol does not disappoint. The facility has no weaknesses. From course design to amenities to course conditioning, throw in one of the best locations on the planet, the golf experience is tough to beat.