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Review: Michigan’s Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

Written by: Tony Korologos | Monday, March 19th, 2018
Categories: Golf For WomenGolf LifeGolf LifestyleReviewsTravel
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Michigan is home to over 800 golf courses and I’m doing my best to experience as many as possible by traveling there about once per year.  It might take a while to finish off the task, but it will be worth it.  Michigan golf is tremendous, especially in the north.

Now that I’ve convinced you to plan a golf trip to Michigan, you’re going to need a great place to stay.  Grand Traverse Resort and Spa has you covered.

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

Location

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is located just outside of Traverse City in Williamsburg, Michigan. There are endless nearby attractions for golfers and non golfers alike.  The resort is close to the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay, an arm of Lake Michigan. It’s a beautiful area.

Golf

On property are three very fun golf courses which boast widely different architectural styles, the Resort Course by William Newcomb, the Gary Player Wolverine Course, and the Jack Nicklaus Bear Course.  I had the pleasure of playing The Bear and The Wolverine during my stay.

The Wolverine Course (Gary Player Design)

Rooms/Suites

Grand Traverse offers various rooms in their tower and hotel as well as condos and suites.  I stayed in the tower and my room was very spacious, warm, roomy, and comfortable.  Plus I could watch the golf courses from an eagle’s vantage point (image below).

Room With a View (of the golf course!)

Amenities

Other than golf the resort offers WiFi, HDTV’s, two indoor and outdoor pools, three outdoor and one indoor hot tub, indoor water playground, private beach club, spa, salon, large fitness center, tennis courts, day care, nearby gaming/casino, business center, watercraft rental.

Marketplace

I did some shopping in the Marketplace during my stay.  There are numerous shops offering all sorts of great gifts, apparel and more.

Lobby

Dining

There are five restaurants and lounges at Grand Traverse.  I enjoyed a couple of meals at The Grille, which is conveniently located near the golf, the place I need it.  The foot there was very well prepared, with generous portions and a great selection.

On the fancy night out I enjoyed the 5-star Aerie Restaurant and Lounge, which is one of the highest rated in Michigan.  Fantastic steak.

Staff

I found all of the staff to be very friendly, helpful, and professional.  No matter what I needed or where I was, the staff was well prepared and able to provide a great customer service experience.

Final Thoughts

You MUST plan on Michigan for your next golf getaway or a golf buddy trip.  Aside from the on property courses at Grand Traverse, there are dozens of amazing courses you can play. Check out the other Michigan golf course reviews here at Hooked on Golf Blog.  Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is a great choice for a home base on your Michigan golf trip.

Related

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa Gallery

The Bear – Jack Nicklaus Course

The Wolverine – Gary Player Course


Course Review: Punta Espada Golf Club, Dominican Republic

I’ve sat here for about 10 minutes staring at my blank screen. Nope this review isn’t going to write itself. I’ve been a bit stumped because I know it’s going to be hard to express how fantastic a time I had at Punta Espada Golf Club, and just how amazing the course is. I’ll give it a shot.

Punta Espada Golf Club Overview

Punta Espada is a Jack Nicklaus signature design golf course located on the east coast of Dominican Republic. The course is oceanside and features hole after hole of fantastic views of the Caribbean. We’re not just talking a hole or two. Most of the course is on the water.

The course plays to a par value of 72 (36 front, 36 back) with a slope of 137 and rating of 77.0.  In other words, the course is difficult, but not extreme. There are five sets of tees.  The longest tee (Black) plays to a total of 7,396 yards.

Tee

The best club to pull off of most of the tees at Punta Espada may be your camera. Every tee my camera was my first instinct before picking a club! I walked to every tee with a camera and a club or two. Every one.

Playability wise the tee shots at Punta Espada are fun and challenging. The fairways are wide enough to accept moderately accurate drives. Players who want to play away from trouble, like the Caribbean, can be smart and save themselves from potential danger, a.k.a. big numbers. There are some definite proper places in the fairway to place the tee shot for the best approach angle to the green.  There are several situations where proper placement means a shot over land, not an all-carry shot over water.

Case in point is the 2nd hole above, a par-5. The 2nd shot (if not going for it) can be placed to the far left of the fairway for the best approach. The green juts out to a sliver of land, with water on both sides, but mostly short right. That left placement puts land between the 2nd shot and the green, and saves strokes if the shot comes up short because it ends up on grass instead of wet.

Fairway

Once on the fairway, the lies and stances aren’t too bad. Not a ton of sloping, humps bumps, or craziness. The condition and health of the grass is so nice that there’s never a bad lie. The ball feels like it’s teed up just right.

Fairways missed can mean a wide variance of rough, bunkers, desert style waste areas, or the Caribbean. Shots from the rough are very manageable, provided there’s a clear shot at the target. Shots from the Caribbean? Not so much, unless your 15th club is a snorkel.

Green

The areas around the greens at Punta Espada allow the golfer to be creative. This is one point I’m very sticky on. I’m not keen on architects who force the golfer into one shot or way of getting the ball on the green. Personally I prefer a Scottish style low-game with the putter or low bump-and-run shots, but I’m not afraid to lay open a 60 and take a full swing either. At Punta Espada the golfer can choose either most of the time, unless there’s a carry of some sort over a bunker or hazard.

I found the putting surfaces at Punta Espada to be fantastic. See the photo below and look closely at the cut and quality of the green. There were some tricky reads where the grain went one way, and the slope went the other. How putts can break uphill is still hard to fathom for me, a bent grass no-grain-playing mountain golfer from northern Utah. It can happen, so that’s when relying on the caddie or some course knowledge comes in.

Photo by Greg Corbo

The sloping of the greens for the most part was not to crazy. Very manageable. That’s not to say there weren’t some places that had some insanity to them. The sloping of those areas of the greens was extreme enough to allow the golfer some creative ways of approaching lines. One could putt off the edge and bring it back down the slope, or take a straighter line and end up close to the same place. That was more the exception though.

Overall putting was enjoyable and controllable. I won’t say “fair” because I’ve decided to try to use some less, shall we say, “overused” descriptions in my course reviews.

Amenities

Punta Espada offers a full driving range, practice green, pro shop, locker room, library, snack bar, 19th Hole Bar, Restaurant, and Members Room.

Final Thoughts

I’ve played more Jack Nicklaus designs than I can remember. Many of them are easy to spot as they share architectural similarities, typical “Nicklaus” features or styles.  Punta Espada has those, but the course does not scream “Jack” to me. The course is the least “Jack” of any of Jack’s designs I’ve played. This is neither good or bad, just an observation. What does scream out to me is that this golf course is as scenically pleasing as any I’ve played, yet provides a perfect balance in it’s challenge, playability, and its use of the terrain.  Some courses look fantastic but sacrifice playability or playing qualities, while others may play great but don’t cut it aesthetically.  Punta Cana is tops across the board.

There’s a reason Punta Cana is the new #1 course in the Caribbean and Latin America, it’s that good.  I strongly suggest putting Punta Cana on your must play list, your bucket list, your golf buddy trip list, or your golf getaway list.  I don’t even need a list. I just need to get back there and play it again, as soon as possible!

Related

Hooked on Golf Blog Punta Espada Photo Gallery

Nearby is a fantastic all-inclusive Caribbean resort, Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa. Check out my review.

La Cana Golf Club Review

Teeth of the Dog (Pete Dye) Course Review


Course Review: Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic

I’m truly thankful for the opportunities my hard work on this blog has produced.  Case in point today is a course review I’ve been hoping to be able to do for a long, long time.  Teeth of the Dog is a Pete Dye design, considered by most to be his masterpiece. That means it beats out other amazing courses Pete Dye designed like TPC Sawgrass (home of THE PLAYERS Championship), Harbour Town Golf Links, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort, Dye Course at French Lick Resort, Straits Course at Whistling Straits, and Southern Hills Plantation Course. Let’s take a look.

Teeth of the Dog Par-3 5th Hole

Location Location Location

A masterpiece has to start with a great canvas, and boy does this one.  The canvas is the southeast shores of the Dominican Republic at the Casa de Campo Resort and Villas. What a place. Casa de Campo is a tropical paradise with tremendous weather, unmatched ocean views, and stunning topography.

Getting there is fairly easy. The Punta Cana International airport is a mere 45 minute drive away. Punta Cana International is a destination most major airlines service, only a few hour flight from the east coast of the USA.

Teeth of the Dog Overview

Ranked #43 in the world and #1 in the Caribbean many times, Teeth of the Dog is 18 salivating inducing holes of great golf, with seven holes right on the water like the par-3 fifth hole pictured above.  The course rating from the tips is 76.4 with a slope of 137. That rating means the course is very tough. Thus the “teeth” part. The course features six sets of men’s tees and two sets of women’s tees.  Total yardage from the tips is 7,471. I didn’t play the tips. With the high humidity and sea level, that 7,471 would probably play more like 8,500 for Mr. high altitude desert golfer.

Tee

Tee shot after tee shot I found myself humbled and amazed and the scenery and course architecture. Pete doesn’t use as much deception off the tee as I thought he would. It isn’t necessary. The golfer can choose to be aggressive or take the conservative route.  Executing either strategy properly produces great rewards while poor execution of either strategy comes with the proper level of punishment.

The tee shots on the first few holes aren’t tremendously difficult unless one plays particularly poor shots. Upon reaching the 5th hole that changes.  On the par-3 5th there’s no bail-out. Nowhere to miss.  It’s either on the green or in the bunker surrounding it and anything worse is watery Caribbean grave.

Tee shots for the next three holes run by the water. Conservative players aim well away while those who want to take a bite off can give it a shot and hope they have enough power to carry their intended line.  Holes 9-14 are inland holes the golfer can play more aggressively off the tee. 15-17 require very good tee shots to avoid ocean hazards, a good example is the par-3 16th below.

Teeth of the Dog Hole 16

Fairway

I found the fairways at TOD to be less sloped and narrow than I thought they would be. If one is able to find the fairway, a good lie is highly likely with very few shots blocked by trees.

Caddies wait in the fairway

The fairways are fairly wide. Missing a fairway will often mean finding the Dye-esque super-long waste bunkers, or the Caribbean.

Green

Here I am below, happy to be on the green!

Putter? I don’t need a putter!

Having played a few of the more “extreme” Pete Dye courses like the Dye Course at French Lick, I found the greens at Teeth of the Dog to be quite manageable. Putting them was enjoyable. Breaks were as they looked like they should be. Not too extreme.

I found the green complexes to be challenging and creative. Strategic bunkering was in play on most approaches to the greens.

Par-5 3rd Green Complex

Perhaps the best part of the the greens for me as that Pete Dye gives the golfer numerous options. The golfer could choose to hit a high shot with a lofted club, or like me, play a more Scottish approach with a putter or bump-and-run type shot.

Caddies

Golf is best experienced with a great caddie who can support your golf game, gives valuable course management advice, helps with green reading, and provides friendship. I had a great caddie named Soni Pache, who came highly recommended by a friend.

Soni and I are ready to take on Teeth of the Dog!

Soni was fantastic. He helped me keep in in play, gave me great reads on the greens, and clubbed me very well.  WHEN you play Teeth of the Dog, get Soni on your bag and give him a real big tip.

Amenities

The amenities available at Teeth of the Dog and Casa de Campo are endless. The course boasts a great clubhouse, restaurant, locker room, practice facilities and more for the golfer. At about 90 degrees and 90% humidity, I was so thrilled to find showers in the locker room to clean up before going on with my day.

Once the golf is over, there are so many other fantastic ways to enjoy the Caribbean like spending time at the private Casa de Campo beach area (below), exploring the resort, boating, fishing, hiking, working out, shopping and more.

Casa de Campo Private Beach

Casa de Campo Private Beach

Final Thoughts

Teeth of the Dog is a golf bucket list item without a doubt. Make it a point to get to the Dominican Republic and play this stellar golf course. I suggest turning it into a golf buddy trip or a golf getaway with the significant other.  The Dominican boasts a ton of great golf courses other than Teeth of the Dog, many are Dye designs.

Related

Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa Review

Hooked on Golf Blog Teeth of the Dog Photo Gallery

La Cana Golf Club Review


Review: The Inn at Bay Harbor, Northern Michigan

Written by: Tony Korologos | Monday, October 9th, 2017
Categories: Golf For WomenGolf LifeGolf LifestyleReviewsTravel
Tags:

Northern Michigan is one of my favorite places in this great country of ours. It’s a special recipe featuring the waters of Lake Michigan, dense Michigan forest, fresh air, interesting topography, and friendly people. It is always a fantastic time when I can take the HOG World Tour to Northern Michigan, an opportunity I’ll always take advantage of.  On the last World Tour leg to the area I had the pleasure of staying at The Inn at Bay Harbor, an elegant resort right on the shore of Lake Michigan, minutes from the town of Petoskey.

Inn at Bay Harbor Map

Inn at Bay Harbor Overview

The Inn offers nine different types of accommodations, from a standard guest room to a penthouse suite.  The property offers access to some great recreation in the area, like golf in the summer and skiing in the winter.

The Inn at Bay Harbor

Located directly on the shore of Lake Michigan, guests can enjoy the pool or take a dip in the Lake. Other activities on property include kids activities, spa, dining, biking, shopping, and wine tasting from local vineyards.

Accommodations

I’ve been in the Penthouse Suite and the Master Suite, so I can speak to what they offer and show a few photos.  Let’s go big first, with the Penthouse Suite.

The Inn at Bay Harbor

Penthouse view

Suitable for large groups, the 3,000 square foot Penthouse offers five individual bedrooms and common living and dining areas.  There are two full kitchen areas for food prep (below).

Penthouse Suite Kitchen and Living Areas

Penthouse Suite Kitchen and Living Areas

There is also a laundry room with washer and dryer.  The best feature of the Penthouse is the huge deck area overlooking the grounds and Lake Michigan.  The view is stunning, especially at sunset.

The 720 square foot Master Suite offers a single isolated bedroom and large bathroom. The living area is spacious, including a kitchenette, fireplace, large screen TV, and a Murphy bed.

Master Suite

A comfy deck is also enjoyable for enjoying some fresh air.  Unlike the Penthouse there is no washer/dryer in the room, but down the hall is a shared washer/dryer setup. This was great for me as I had been traveling for many days, and ran out of clean threads.

Master Suite

Dining

There’s some excellent dining on property at The Inn:  Vintage Chop House & Wine Bar, Sagamore Room, Inn Cafe, Cabana Bar.

The Vintage Chop House served up amazing cuts of beef which I really enjoyed, and the atmosphere overlooking Lake Michigan was terrific.  The breakfast buffet at the Sagamore Room had a large selection of very well prepared breakfast items.

Final Thoughts

There are many great reasons to visit northern Michigan: golf, water sports, skiing, biking, or just relaxing on a hammock on the shore of Lake Michigan. I strongly recommend staying at The Inn for your northern Michigan trip.

Sunset on Lake Michigan as seen from The Inn at Bay Harbor

Sunset on Lake Michigan as seen from The Inn at Bay Harbor

Think golf buddy trip here. Your group of buddies could all chip in and book the Penthouse Suite. Golf in the day and poker, or whatever your fancy is at night in the shared living space.


Review: Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa, Dominican Republic

If you were considering a Caribbean vacation but thought otherwise due to recent hurricane damage, think again.  The Dominican Republic was not directly hit by Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Harvey, and their tourism industry is 100% open for business. If you’re looking for an all-inclusive Caribbean resort suggestion or Caribbean stay and play golf ideas, read on.

Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa

Overview

Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa is a sparkling brand new all-inclusive, adults only Dominican Republic resort which opened in November of 2016.  The resort features 457 suites in several different buildings.  Some rooms feature lovely swim-outs as seen below.  In addition there is a spa, fitness area, beach, and massive pool area with bars all over so one isn’t far from a tasty and refreshing island beverage of choice, all included of course.

The resort features a spectacular open-air lobby area which contains resort registration, a bar, shops, coffee shop, and live entertainment most evenings.

Suites

My suite at Secrets Cap Cana was comfortable and spacious.  The bed was so fantastic I wish I could have taken it home with me. I slept so well on it.  Inside the room is a desk, sitting furniture, linen closet, large screen TV, safe, dressers, and secret box. The secret box is where you can request staff to put items you request, like room service.

The shower in the room was huge with three water spouts, two in the ceiling. The bathroom featured two very cool sinks, great lighting, and an isolated toilet.

The deck area in my room had a great view (night shot above).  On the deck was a nice sitting area as well as a bathtub.  I quite enjoyed my evening outdoor bath. It was, liberating.  Yes I washed behind my ears.

Next time I get back, and I hope it is soon, I hope to get a “swim out” room.  They’re rooms on the ground level with their own semi-private swimming area. See picture below:

Dining

Secrets features eight gourmet restaurants, all included with the all-inclusive resort fee. If you want to eat sushi every day of your vacation, there’s no extra cost.  There are also restaurants featuring French, Italian, Japanese, buffet, snacks, and more. I really enjoyed the spectacular buffet for breakfast and lunch (below).  There are numerous themed areas for meats, fruit, beverages, breads, entrees and custom prepared items.  The meats and cheeses were fantastic.  My go-to places were the buffet and the coffee shop. I enjoyed numerous lattes, shakes, and snacks in the coffee shop.

The resort occupies a massive acreage on the southeastern shore of the Dominican Republic, just 30 minutes or so from the Punta Cana airport. The Punta Cana airport is home to flights from most major airlines.

Activities

Naturally the fantastic weather and warm shallow waters of the Caribbean provide many possible activities.  On property of course is the beach, with soft, fine sand.  The water is very shallow and warm, and the shallow area extends hundreds of feet out. My guess is 500 feet. I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on the beach as the service folks came by with my beverages of choice. One must stay hydrated of course.  Other water activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, boating, fishing, yachting, water sports and even working out in resort provided classes on the beach.

My group enjoyed a catamaran excursion which was very fun.  The excursion included a scenic cruise along the shoreline, snorkeling, and even chilling out sipping beverages served up in a floating bar.

Secrets Cap Cana features a huge pool area.  Sections and slivers of the pool wind in many directions.  Numerous areas have a small connected pool area which is surrounded by a small number of lounge chairs.  The pool could easily accommodate hundreds of people, yet each person would feel like it isn’t crowded because of the layout. 

There are several bars in the pool area and plenty of service people to make sure the fun is flowing.  There’s also a hot tub, but it didn’t make sense to use it when I was there.

The Dominican Republic is undoubtedly the golf capital of the Caribbean.  It’s home to the 39th ranked golf course in the world, Teeth of the Dog, the masterpiece of famed architect Pete Dye. Teeth of the Dog is located at Casa de Campo, roughly a 60 minute drive from the resort.  A mere 30 minutes away is Punta Cana, a Jack Nicklaus signature design which is ranked the #1 course in the Caribbean and Latin America.  These two courses produce some of the most scenic and dramatic oceanside golf you’ll ever experience.  There are nearly 30 other courses to choose from in the Dominican as well, including another famous Pete Dye called Dye Fore.

On most nights one can enjoy live entertainment at Secrets, ranging from small combos to full bands, and DJ’s.

Meetings/Banquets

If you have a group or business need, there is a business area with computers.  There are some great meeting areas and banquet rooms which can handle very large groups.

Staff

Service is very important in the travel industry. The staff at Secrets works hard to provide their part of a fantastic experience. Despite only being open for about a year, the management at Secrets has their system down and have trained their staff to be courteous, knowledgeable, and ready for anything. 

Photo courtesy of Greg Corbo

I was warmly greeted by every staff member and all were extremely polite and helpful throughout my entire 5-day stay.

Weather

The weather in the Dominican Republic doesn’t fluctuate much, except in rainy season.  I was there in rainy season and it rained for 10 minutes on the way to the resort from the airport. That was it. Year-round the temperatures are always going to be somewhere between 75-90.  The humidity is quite high and I did have to adjust, coming from a desert. Be ready to sweat when not in the pool or the ocean. Stay hydrated and bring plenty of sunscreen.

Final Comments

Secrets Cap Cana Resort and Spa is a fantastic choice for a romantic, all-inclusive trip with your loved one. The crisp new facilities are warm and welcoming with great dining and activities and of course, great weather.

Secrets and the fantastic golf courses nearby would also make for a great golf buddy trip.  Forget Florida, South Carolina or other golf destinations.  Make the Dominican Republic the location of your next golf buddy trip.


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