Now that I’ve confirmed the pending third HOG World Tour trip to St Andrews, Scotland, I can’t help having Scotland on my mind. It is a magical place. Sadly 99.999% of the courses in the United States do not play like true scottish links courses. Scottish golf is a natural, hard style of golf I far prefer to the overly-soft, over-watered, too green, over-manicured courses here in the USA.
One thing most golfers who have not been to there don’t realize is that there are a ton of courses in the town of St Andrews, not just the Old Course. That’s why I’m always giving people grief when they refer to the Old Course as St Andrews. “Hey have you played St Andrews?” they ask. I say, “which course?” St Andrews is the name of the town, not the course(s). In the town itself the other courses besides the Old Course include the New Course, Jubilee Course, Eden Course, Strathtyrum Course, The Dukes, and the Balgove Course. All but the Balgove are within walking distance. In a few minutes by car one can find even more courses: Castle Course, Torrance Course, Kittocks Course, Saint Andrews Bay Course, and Kingsbarns Golf Links.
The closest course to the Old Course is the New Course. While the Old Course dates back to around 1400, the “New” Course opened in 1895. Yeah, that’s “new” alright. The New is literally next to the Old. You can miss a fairway on the Old and the ball may end up on the New, and vice versa. I don’t recommend that though, because the New is out of bounds if you are on the Old and vice versa.
New Course Overview
Old Tom Morris is the architect of the New Course. The new is a par-71 course which tips out a 6,625 yards, short by modern standards. The new has many very similar designs and feels as the Old does, but is a little more straightforward and less quirky.
The course rating is 72.8 with a slope of 127 from the tips. For those of you in the UK, the standard scratch score (SSS) is 73. The rating would make the New just a tiny bit tougher than it’s next door neighbor, the Old.
From the tee, the new presents some great challenges. The course can be a wee bit (as they say in Scotland) tight. Errant tee shots will be penalized by bunkers, deep rough and in the worst case, gorse. If you don’t know what gorse is count yourself lucky. Gorse is a very nasty dark green bush with thorns which feasts on a strict diet of golf balls and the occasional golfer. Going into the gorse after a ball is usually not a good idea, unless you like scratching the hell out of yourself and ripping your fine golf apparel to shreds.
Some tee shots can be intimidating
Given the shorter nature of this course and the typical hard ground, driver is not necessary on many of the par-4 or even par-5 holes. The longest par-5 is 518 yards. Once again, distance isn’t the most important part of the tee shot at the New. Accuracy is.
The fairways can be tight on the New Course, but fairly flat in most places. If the golfer has managed to avoid the pitfalls mentioned in the tee description, the approach from the fairway is fairly straightforward.
Left rough approach on the 18th hole
If the golfer misses the fairway but avoids bunkers and gorse, the rough can be very thick and inconsistent. Difficult lies in the rough may be tempting for the golfer to hit the hero shot, but it is often wise to be more conservative and get the ball back into play.
The greens at the New are quite different than the Old. They’re considerably smaller and less undulating but still guarded well via bunkering and adjoining gorse and rough areas.
Because of the smaller greens, the hard ground, and the ways the greens are protected by bunkering or natural obstacles, I find the greens at the New fairly hard to hit. This puts a premium on short game. A green reached in regulation is not an overly difficult two-putt proposition like the gigantic greens on the Old.
The St Andrews Links Clubhouse is a very spacious and large facility featuring the pro shop, Swilcan Restaurant and lockers with showers. I’ve enjoyed a few meals in the Swilcan Restaurant and knocked back some refreshing beverages while overlooking the 18th green. Such a great spot.
St Andrews Links Clubhouse
Next to the clubhouse is a nice practice green for getting the feel and working on short game. There is no driving range. The nearest range is a bit of a walk or very short drive to the St Andrews Links Golf Academy.
The St Andrews Links Trust sells a few different great golf packages. I highly recommend purchasing a three-day or seven-day “ticket.” These packages allow the golfer to play unlimited golf in either three days or seven days on the six Links Trust courses other than the Old. In the middle of the summer there is so much daylight that a hardcore golfer could literally play 3-4 rounds in ONE DAY. I’ve done the 3-day twice now and loved it. In one day I played 18 on the the Jubilee, 18 on the New, and a relaxing 9-holes on the Strathtyrum Course.
The New is a fantastic links style golf course. It’s a great course on its own and serves as an excellent alternative or backup for times when the golfer is not able to get a tee time on the Old Course. Plus the cost is a fraction of the Old.
I highly recommend experiencing the New Course when traveling to St Andrews to play golf. The New provides a tremendous and satisfying links experience.
Kingsbarns Golf Links Review
Balcomie Links Golf Course, Crail Scotland
Fairmont Hotel St Andrews Review
Ardgowan Hotel St Andrews Review
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
Journey’s routing brings it in the hills behind the resort, and gives the course some great elevation changes and views.
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 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.
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
I almost aced 17 on my first go-round. Unfortunately my playing partners just missed out on some free beer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pechanga Practice Green
The clubhouse is quite an architectural piece. Inside are the pro shop, locker rooms, and a great restaurant called Journey’s End.
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.
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.
Journey at Pechanga photo gallery.
Pechanga Resort/Casino photo gallery.
The big HOG World Tour vacation is currently in London. I did not bring my sticks on this trip, just my cameras. Enjoy this one…
Big Ben front right
My trip is coming to an end and I’m sad about that, but happy to be heading home in a couple of days and getting back to golf blogging!
HOG World Tour vacation in Greece continues from the seaside village of my grandfather on the southeastern coast of Greece.
As you can see, the place is beautiful. I have a few more days here in Greece, then off to London to cap off the trip. Then back to the regularly scheduled blogram here.
A few have expressed concern for me while here in Greece during their financial crisis. Tourists for the most part are fine here and able to access money from ATM machines with no limit. No worries.
Golf Digest, or is it Golf Magazine… or maybe it is both… always coming up with their top 100 courses lists. Top 100 courses in the world. Top 100 courses in the USA. Top 100 public courses. Top 100 private courses. Top 100 courses you can play. Top 100 courses built in a leap year. Top 100 courses built before 1987. Top 100 courses built after 1987. Top 100 listings of top 100 course lists…. You get the idea.
Time For MY List
I’m not sure I’ve even played 100 courses, so I’m now setting out to do a couple of things: post my list of top 10 “favorite” courses I’ve played, and create a list of all the courses I have played.
My criteria for these ratings is simple. First and foremost is the total “experience” at the course. High influence goes to the quality of of the golf, shot by shot. I take into account playability, course architecture, scenery, originality. From there I factor in the facilities, location, and staff. Regarding course architecture I’m not a snob like some golf writers. The course doesn’t need to have X number of redan holes, X number of dogleg-left and dogleg-right holes and all that. I consider playability, strategy, and the number of options available to play a particular hole or shot. For instance, does an approach to a particular green offer the golfer two options, high carrying shot or a run-up shot?
Drum roll please… Below is the list my top 10 favorite golf courses played, and links to the course review/photos/blogs if available.
#1: Black Mesa Golf Club – La Mesilla, New Mexico
Black Mesa Golf Club has stolen my golf heart. From the first round I played this Baxer Spann design in 2007 through the last eight years, there isn’t a course I’ve played that has given me more enjoyment. There isn’t a course I’ve played which places so much value on EVERY shot, on every hole. There are no sleeper holes. There are no boring shots. None.
Aerial Photo of New Mexico’s Black Mesa Golf Club – © 2014 by Tony Korologos
Combined with the serenity and scenery of a high New Mexico desert there is no place like it. To top it off the pro and director of golf Tom Velarde has become one of my best friends in golf, a relationship I value deeply.
The course has had some maintenance issues recently, which is tough. The staff is working hard to bring the course back to the condition it was in for the years that it was ranked the #1 course in New Mexico.
#2: Kingsbarns Golf Links – Kingsbarns, Scotland
Another course which owns a piece of my golf heart is the fabulous Kingsbarns Golf Links. Kingsbarns is a “modern links” course a short 15 minute drive from the town of St. Andrews. I could spend the rest of this month describing how beautiful this layout is, with so many waterside holes looking over the North Sea.
Look at the precision maintenance at Kingsbarns
With the standard prevailing winds this challenging links course has razor sharp teeth. Nowhere else have I been beaten up on a course and loved it so much. I fondly remember crushing a four iron to the 132 yard 8th hole, downhill. So much wind that shot, which would have normally gone some 225-230 at home, went 125 yards…. DOWNHILL! Then on the next hole, the par-5 9th, I remember debating going with 3-wood or hybrid, from 134! I went with hybrid and killed it. Nice shot, about 20 yards short.
The course architecture at Kingsbarns is fantastic. Credit designer Kyle Phillips. The facilities tremendous. The Kinsgsbarns chili is to die for. The “wee pints” are frosty.
I also have a great friend in director of golf Alan Hogg. Yes, HOGG!
#3: Carnoustie Golf Links – Carnoustie, Scotland
One of the most satisfying and amazing golf experiences I’ve ever had was playing Carnoustie Golf Links. Carnoustie is regarded by many as the toughest golf course in the world. Carnoustie is a “links” course and water is nearby, but not visible from the course. Carnoustie does not feature any notable elevation change, unless you count the elevation change between being in a bunker and out of one. Then it is huge. The bunkering on this golf course is the most amazing I’ve ever seen, or played.
Try and get this bunker shot up-and-down at Carnoustie
The layout is so enjoyable yet challenging, especially when the wind kicks up. Playing the par-5 6th hole “Hogan’s Alley” was such a thrill, and I made a hell of a bogey after my tee shot went out of bounds left. Yes, made birdie on the 2nd ball. No, I don’t play mulligans.
The layout at Carnoustie is stunning. I can’t wait to get back there. Two supposed “friends” told me (1.5 handicap) I couldn’t break 100 there and I did so easily, an 88 without losing a ball. I started off great, even par after the first five holes. The course slowly consumed my shots from that point on, and I loved every second.
#4: The Old Course – St. Andrews, Scotland
Hell of a list when the Old Course is in 4th place! Realistically the Old Course should be in its own list of one. This is the most unique golf course I’ve ever played. There is nothing like playing this layout, which has been serving up pars and birdies for over 1,400 years. The architecture of the course is so unlike anything else with it’s shared greens, amazing bunkering, criss-crossing holes, wind, weather, caddies, history. All the greatest players the game of golf has ever seen have competed on this course, from Tom Morris to Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros (except Ben Hogan)… I could go on.
Picking the ball out of the hole after holing out from 196 for par on the Road Hole
The Road Hole? What a golf hole. We have a love/hate relationship. My only par on the 17th was following an out of bounds shot that hit the Old Course Hotel observatory, an all glass building. No worries, it is bullet-proof glass. The price I had to pay for that amazing par? Nothing better then a double-bogey on the rest of my rounds on the Road Hole.
The finishing hole and I have a deeply loving relationship. In the four times I’ve played the 18th during a round of real golf* I’ve carded two pars and two birdies. Two-under lifetime!
*I have played the finishing hole a few times with a putter, a ball, golf partners, and a wee bottle of scotch at around 2 a.m.
#5: Ballyneal – Holyoke, Colorado
Back in 2006 I had the distinct opportunity to play the Tom Doak designed Ballyneal two weeks before the course officially opened. At that time my round there was the most pure, enjoyable, and amazing golf experience I’d ever had. I had not been to Scotland yet.
Tom Toak is an amazing golf architect and his product built in a set of dunes in the middle of the flat plains of central USA is tremendous. The course played like a true links, hard and fast. The routing and layout found a great path through the unique dunes situated in the middle of thousands of acres of cornfields.
Blasting out of a bunker at Ballyneal
I haven’t been back to Ballyneal since, but I’m aching to. Need to get there soon.
#6: Sand Hollow Championship Course – Hurricane, Utah
Pretty cool that one of my top 10 courses is in my home state of Utah. From my garage it is exactly a 3.5 hour drive to Sand Hollow Resort, with its Championship Course and 9-hole Links Course. I’ve spent many rounds enjoying what could be the most stunning back nine anywhere.
Sand Hollow’s 11th hole aerial shot by me
#7: Diamante Dunes – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Diamante Dunes is rated the #1 course in Mexico, and for good reason. The Davis Love III design sits next to the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez. It sits on top of, winds through and around huge white sand dunes left there by the constant thrashing of the ocean over hundreds of thousands of years.
Diamante Dunes is the sister to the new Tiger Woods design which just opened called El Cardonal.
Diamante Dunes 16 Green
My experience at Diamante Dunes was pure golf, ocean, wind, air, and dunes. A marvelous experience. Soon (perhaps already) the holes will be lined by real estate development, high end homes and such. That purity will forever be gone, except in my memory.
#8: Balcomie Links – Crail, Scotland
A short 20-30 minute drive southeast of St. Andrews, Scotland lies the very salty and wonderful town of Crail. Crail is home to Balcomie Links, a Tom Morris design which opened in 1895.
Fantastic Balcomie Golf Links in Crail, Scotland
Balcomie Links is not about length, difficulty, or even par-72. Balcomie Links is authentic Scottish links golf and absolutely bleeds character. This is perhaps the most enjoyable walk I’ve had in Scotland.
The golf was fabulous too.
#9: La Cima Club De Golf – Andes Mountains, Colombia
One of the world’s best ski areas is a 20 minute drive from my house. The highest ski lift at Alta Ski Area dumps skiers off at 10,450 feet. Colombia’s La Cima Club De Golf’s highest green is a mere 450 feet lower, at 10,000 feet above sea level.
La Cima Club de Golf – Click to enlarge
La Cima is not an architectural masterpiece. The course is not designed by a famous designer (to my knowledge). It isn’t the home of major championships. It isn’t in the heart of Scotland, on the coast of Monterey, or in Florida. Though it is none of those things, it is truly one of the coolest golf experiences I’ve had, especially teeing off “above the clouds” and watching my ball disappear into them.
#10: Colonial Williamsburg Gold Course
Picking number 10 was tough. There are many courses which could occupy this spot, and picking one means the rest are left out. I narrowed it down to two courses, oddly enough both designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. The first option was Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, the second, Colonial Williamsburg’s Gold Course.
When looking back at some of my experiences on so many great courses, I couldn’t help noticing my body and mind felt “it” when I came across my Colonial Williamsburg Golf Course review. What a special place.
Island Green built decades before the 17th at TPC Sawgrass
Colonial Williamsburg’s Gold Course is on nationally preserved real estate and will never be altered or developed. There will not be homes on the course, nor will there be a Red Lobster near the entrance. The Golf Course was designed by one of golf’s all time great architects Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and plays fantastically.
The whole experience at the Golden Horseshoe is a bucket list worthy item.
Gil Hanse’s home course: Applebrook in Pennsylvania. Hanse is the architect for the 2016 Olympic golf course in Rio.
Cabo Del Sol in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (Nicklaus). Best tacos of any course…
Black Lake Golf Course in northern Michigan.
Oasis Palmer Course in Mesquite, Nevada.