The season is winding down, but there is still some green grass to be found here until the snow flies. At lunch a couple of days ago I flew the aerial photo/video hexacopter over a corner of Salt Lake City’s Meadowbrook Golf Course.
Meadowbrook Golf Course Aerial – click for more
If you need golf aerial photos or videos, contact me!
This past summer the Hooked On Golf Blog World Tour was in fabulous Michigan for some amazing golf. Michigan has become a golf home away from home. The courses there are fantastic. I’d much rather play there than Florida or Arizona, though there are some great choices there as well. I lean toward more elevation change, more interesting terrain, and love the trees.
For this past summer’s Michigan golf trip, the temporary world headquarters for the HWT was the MGM Grand in Detroit. I know what you’re thinking. “Detroit?!?”
I’ve not spent any time in Detroit until this year. It is certainly an area which has seen better days, but there are still great reasons to visit, top notch lodging, and dining to be had, like at the MGM Detroit.
MGM Grand Detroit Overview
MGM Grand Detroit is an Art Deco style design featuring 401 rooms/suites. This luxury resort opened in 2007 and is one of a small number of casinos in the Detroit metro area.
The gaming space is very large, clocking in at 100,000 square feet. All of the possible gambling games one might want to participate in are there, including 4,000 machines and almost 100 table games. Having been a very heavy gambler back in the day, it was quite something for me to spend 4-5 days there and not even wager a nickel.
The hotel/casino is located in the heart of Detroit, walking distance from many downtown attractions and restaurants. Tiger Stadium, the home of the Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers, is a short walk from the hotel. I was able to catch a Detroit Tigers game. Kansas City came to town and thumped the Tigers. Despite the loss, Tigers Stadium was really a great baseball stadium and the atmosphere was fantastic.
The rooms/suites at the resort are very spacious and well appointed. The service level of the rooms is great, with turndown service and a nice robe with slippers prepared every evening.
MGM Grand Detroit Rooms
The shower and bathroom is very large and nicely constructed with slate tile floors and a cool flare to the design. There’s even a screen built into the mirror in the bathroom (see image below).
There are many restaurants and bars in the resort, including Wolfgang Puck Cucina and Wolfgang Puck Steak. I had the pleasure of enjoying both and they’re as good as you’ve heard.
Also located inside the resort is a great sports bar called TAP, which is packed on a nightly basis. TAP serves great food, stiff drinks, and provides viewing of dozens of sporting events via countless screens.
TAP Sports Bar MGM Grand Detroit
The resort is home to large 30,000 square foot meeting/event space as well as multiple lounges and entertainment venues.
Finally for those like me who like to relax, there’s an on-site spa, pool, fitness area, steam rooms, and private jacuzzis.
MGM Grand Detroit is an upscale, high quality, clean, classy, safe hotel in the heart of Detroit. Whether in the area for business or some of the great golf in Michigan, MGM Grand Detroit is a great choice for accommodations.
This is going to be a tough review. There is no way I can cover all of the fantastic features and offerings one can enjoy at the all-inclusive Bahamas resort, Sandals Emerald Bay on the island Great Exuma. I will focus on my personal experiences and the key features of the resort, which were absolutely fantastic.
Great Exuma Island Bahamas
Sandals Emerald Bay Location
As the saying goes, “location, location, location!” Sandals Emerald Bay is an all-inclusive resort on Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas. Great Exuma Island is a very short 40 minute flight from Miami or southern Florida. The island is southeast of the southern tip of Florida and northeast of Cuba. See the attached imaged to the right.
Because of its proximity, the weather on Great Exuma Island is always warm. The lowest temperatures in the winter average at a lovely 77 degrees and the highest temperatures in the summer average at 89.
The waters of Great Exuma and its surrounding islands are a brilliant coral blue color and crystal clear. The water temperature is nice and warm. Combined with the crystal clear water, the swimming, snorkeling, and diving in the area is as good as it gets.
Sandals Emerald Bay Resort Overview
As one might deduce from the name, the resort is located in a circular bay of water bordering the east coast of the island. The bay wraps around several miles of shoreline. Within the bay all sorts of great water-based activities are available from snorkeling to swimming to sailing.
The resort occupies 500 acres of sandy, palmtree laden paradise with most of its 249 suites and villas facing the ocean. There are so many different accommodation levels ranging from suites to stand alone villas, that it could take an entire article to cover all of them. All suites feature floor to ceiling windows, mahogany furnishings, stone floors, and fresh ocean breezes.
There are three pools, the main which is the largest pool on the island. See the aerial photo below, which I captured with my smaller aerial photo/video multi-rotor helicopter.
Sandals Emerald Bay From Above
The resort offers seven restaurants, providing a wide variance of food options, most of which are included in the resort fee. From French to Italian to grub from an English Pub, there is culinary joy for everyone.
Six bars located throughout the resort insure that one can always have a fabulous tropical drink in hand, if so desired.
Naturally a big reason I’m reviewing this property is the golf travel angle. Sandals Emerald Bay is the home of the very challenging and beautiful Greg Norman designed Emerald Reef Golf Club. I had the pleasure of playing the course a few times, as well as discussing the course design with Greg Norman himself.
Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Course Aerial View – click to view more
Sandals Emerald Reef is a tale of two different nine-hole golf courses. The outward nine winds through the tropical jungle, providing challenging tee shots which reward accuracy. The inward nine travels along a sliver of land on the edge of the bay. Most of the back nine holes featuring fantastic seaside views.
Check out the video below which I captured with my small aerial copter. The lighting isn’t great as the weather was sketchy, but you still get an idea of some of the great holes on the back nine.
My full review of Emerald Reef Golf Club is in the works. Stay tuned.
Naturally one of the biggest features of the resort is the beach. There is a one mile stretch of brilliant sand overlooking Emerald Bay. On that stretch the lovely wife and I enjoyed relaxing and a myriad of water activities.
Looking back at the beach and Sandals Emerald Bay from over the water
Water sports which are included in this all-inclusive Bahamas resort include snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, and swimming with the pigs (see below).
The sand is perfect on this wonderful beach and the waves are light. I could spend a lifetime in the sand and in that warm blue water. The experience is fantastic.
Swimming with the Pigs
The HOG World Tour has done and seen some amazing and unique things, but this one may be the most bizarre. Each day a tour is provided for guests of the resort to “swim with the pigs.” Resort guests are shuttled to the resort’s own marina, which features 150 deep-water slips. A short and enjoyable boat ride through the pristine blue waters ends up in an area full of tiny islands with very shallow water. Guests get in the shallow water and are greeted by very friendly and anxious pigs who walk off a small island right into the water.
Many years ago a pig farmer moved his pigs to the island because of complaints from locals about the odor. The island pigs eventually became a tourist attraction and are fed by passers by.
Enjoy my swimming with the pigs video below.
My accommodations at Emerald Bay were great. The bed was comfortable and the rest of the suite was roomy and relaxing.
Sandals Emerald Bay Suite – click for more
The lovely wife and I enjoyed the spaciousness of the suite, especially the balcony. We enjoyed room service breakfast on the balcony on the occasional morning, and wine with cigars in the evening.
A Day In The Life
Here’s a typical day for us at the resort:
In the early morning we would walk down to Cafe de Paris, a “Parisian-style patisserie with pastries, crêpe, coffee and tea.” We would order a latte and enjoy some French pastries.
Following the latte we would make our way to the buffet at the Bahama Bay restaurant. Bahama Bay serves buffet style breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are different themes there on a daily basis. Some mornings we opted for a room service breakfast which we would enjoy on the deck of our suite (image below).
Breakfast on the deck at Sandals Emerald Bay
Following breakfast the wife and I would head back up to the suite, dawn our bathing suits, and head for the beach. We would enjoy a few hours of beach time, then make our way to Bahama Bay for lunch or perhaps one of the other restaurants, depending on what mood we were in. We enjoyed eating right in the sand near the water at the Barefoot by the Sea restaurant.
Tropical drinks! Often I had no idea what they were, but they tasted fabulous!
More relaxing beach time after lunch, plus we would get in some snorkeling in the beautiful waters. Through the day we would visit one of the many bars at the resort and enjoy some fantastic tropical drinks and local beer. On occasion we would visit the quiet pool and hot tub, as the big pool was often quite raucous.
On different days we would enjoy various activities. I would hit the golf course and the wife would enjoy the beach. On another day we hit the spa (more below) in the afternoon after a day of snorkeling.
In the late afternoon and early evening we would drag ourselves away from the beach and get ready for the night’s activities which would be dinner in one of the restaurants and live entertainment on site.
To cap off the day, we would relax on the deck of our suite with a nightcap and a cigar. Cuban cigars are available in the gift shop by the way.
Red Lane Spa – Sorry, no photos of the bride and myself getting our “treatment”
Red Lane Spa
Red Lane Spa at Sandals Emerald Bay offers “European-style massages, facials, body wraps, scrubs and more – all with Sandals’ tropical signature twists.”
The lovely bride and I enjoyed a very nice couples massage.
In every review I write I try to point out areas of critique, in hopes that the company featured can make adjustments and improve its product. The experience at Sandals Emerald Bay is top notch, but resolving these few issues would make it even better:
Following the couples massage at Red Lane Spa the wife and I were escorted to a room together to have a sip of water, relax, and recover. The room was freezing and that compromised the experience. The poor shivering wife could not relax.
The concept of time in the Bahamas is not quite what one might be used to in the big city. One example was the room service. Even when specifying that we needed the order to arrive at 8 a.m. so we could make our other morning activities, it arrived at 9 a.m. On another occasion room service took so long we decided to cancel and get on with our day. I do understand that people on vacation at the resort are relaxing and “laid back,” so there’s an element of “no problem” there.
The two above critiques are minor but the following was my biggest issue at the resort. The wife and I love peace and quiet, and greatly enjoyed the relaxing sound of the ocean waves and the breeze on the deck of our suite. On one evening however, a stage directly below our room’s balcony was the site of a band playing. As a musician I could appreciate the skill and quality of the band members, though I was not a fan of the song selection. The music was so loud that the wife and I could not hear each other talking on the deck. “I love you honey,” I’d yell. “What?!?!?” she would yell back. Not exactly romantic. In order to hear each other talking we had to shut the windows and close off the sliding door to the deck until the band stopped. Thankfully the band did not play too late.
My favorite part of the resort was the beach. I’m landlocked at home. Beach time is a special thing for me and the lovely bride. Nothing better than looking out over the coral blue water, walking in the sand, and swimming in the warm waters of the Bahamas.
Second is the great golf course. Though not known primarily as a golf destination, the resort’s Emerald Reef Golf Club is a very challenging test, and the back nine scenery is stunning.
Late in the evening we would find a comfy chair near an open fire pit in one of the pool areas and stare up at the stars.
Pool area at night…
This is the first true all-inclusive experience I’ve had. It is quite nice to order a latte in the morning with French pastries, then have a breakfast buffet, enjoy all sorts of drinks (alcoholic and non), enjoy lunch and dinner, without ever whipping out my credit card or signing a tab for the room. That even includes the water sports activities.
The weather and conditions at Sandals Emerald Bay are fantastic year-round. The water is warm and blue, and the temperature is perfect. All that combined with the activities and amenities this 500 acre resort has to offer adds up to an experience of a lifetime. I hope to get back there very soon.
It is July 2, 2013 and I’ve arrived in one of my favorite places in the world, St. Andrews, Scotland. Though my Greek genes are dominant, I’m actually half Scottish. Greek mixed with Scot. That means I love links golf and feta cheese, often at the same time.
After checking in at the hotel in St. Andrews the first place my pals and I went was to the Old Course to get on the waiting list. The good news was that I’d be playing the Old with my good friend and caddie John Boyne, and my best friend Al Nelson.
While waiting, John and I were watching players coming home on the 18th hole. Our vantage point was directly behind the green. There’s a small fence there where locals hang out and watch the “gophers” come in.
Behind the 18th Green – Old Course – St. Andrews, Scotland
A ball goes through the green, a “wee bit” hot and settles in some long grass behind the green and about five feet in front of us. The grass is long enough that it has gone to seed. In comes the group, obviously Americans, to survey their shots. The player who hit the long shot is loud and obnoxious. This guy epitomizes the opposite of what I wished we Americans portrayed in foreign countries.
When Mr. Obnoxious American gets to his ball he surveys the situation. He’s presented with 10 inch long grass behind and around his ball and a very tricky, fast shot with a ton of break in it. He reaches down, presumably to move a few loose impediments, but that’s not what he did. Instead, he started pulling the grass right out of the ground. It was no accident. He was improving his lie. John and I were, as they say in the UK, “gobsmacked.” We looked at each other in silent disbelief.
Mr. Obnoxious then walked his line, checking out the break. Upon returning to his ball, as if to confirm to John and me what we weren’t sure we just saw, he started pulling grass again! By now his lie isn’t too bad. He hits quite a good shot which ends up about 14 inches from the cup.
We thought we had seen it all at that point but to our horror, we had not. Mr. Obnoxious then went up to tap his putt in. He stood over it for a second, concentrating, then took a huge swing at the ball and knocked it off the green, nearly to The Links road and the Tom Morris golf shop. Laughing proudly at himself he looked at his group and sarcastically shouted “oops!”
John and I were astonished.
I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “you spend thousands of dollars to go on the golf trip of a lifetime to the Home of Golf. You’ve waited your whole life to get to this place. You are playing the 18th green of the most famous and historic golf course in the world, where every one of the greatest golfers in the history of the sport have played. You then cheat twice by pulling grass from your lie and then sarcastically and intentionally miss your 14 inch finishing putt, in front of the ghost of Old Tom Morris. You never bother to finish the final hole, or the round.”
I know Americans in St. Andrews are a double edge sword. The caddies love us and hate us at the same time. They hate us because of obnoxious jerks like this guy who make us all look bad. They love us because, well, we are the biggest tippers of all the tourists who go to St. Andrews.
I can’t imagine the agony this obnoxious American’s poor caddie had to endure, and the wee tip he probably received for his services. Surely the prior 17.5 holes must have been a nightmare. Who knows what other asinine things this guy did or said. Somehow I wish I could buy the caddie, hell, the rest of this guy’s group, a wee pint to kill the pain.
To my friends and caddies in Scotland: we’re not all like that.
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.