Golf Bucks County

By Bob Oliver

Middletown Country Club

Middletown is a compact 80 acres of challenging golf, with rolling hills and large specimen trees that have watched many golfers travel its fairways over time. It has retained its old time feel with tees and greens in close proximity, allowing golfers to walk the course if they choose.

The Traveling Golfer

With host Tony Leodora will travel both near and far to bring viewers a look at some of the most spectacular golf destinations in the world!

10 Apr
2019

Players settling in to new rules

Written by Bob Oliver
 
 
 
It has been said that rules are made to be broken. But in golf, for real golfers, rules are the standard of play wanted and desired so that all competitors can battle evenly. 
Oh, sure, 80% of golfers do not have a "real" USGA handicap. 
One hears on the first tee, "I'm a 15". And then you watch that player shoot 80....or 100.
Still, even casual golfers tend to frown upon mulligans on every hole, gimmie putts of 20 feet for par, or moving a ball from outside the stakes inside the playing course.
The USGA completed a massive re-write of the rules with goals such as speeding up play, making rules more understandable, and overall simplifying a difficult game. While this reporter consistently points out strangeness of the USGA brain trust, the rule changes implemented for 2019 do make some sense. 
Right off the bat, one may leave the flagstick in the hole while on the putting green. There is no penalty for hitting the stick.  
For me, this makes sense. Heck, my eyes are bad. It's a whole lot simpler to leave flagstick in the cup while putting than having this guy stomp here, that guy wanting you on other side of hole, pulling and leaving on green for one player, tending pin for another.  While this can still occur, many of the regular players I compete with leave the pin in at all times. 
On a January day in Florida, nobody removed the flagstick from the hole the entire round. Not once.  And there was nary a problem. 
Another change was dropping ball from knee height.  Other than some asking what is knee height, it seems simple enough.
Also, on those pesky lost balls, you have three minutes to look for it rather than five. A time-saver. 
One can ground their club in a penalty area, repair spike marks, remove loose impediments in bunkers and play ready golf. 
A few seconds here and there and minutes are cut from the length of time it takes to play a round. 
One major play change that affects most golfers is the alternative to the former stroke and distance penalty for a lost ball or out of bounds shot to add two strokes to their score and drop a ball in the fairway rather than trudge back to the tee and take another stab at things. Now, this is not the case if one has played a provisional ball. In such a case you check for the circumstances of the first ball (OB?, Lost) and if it is either playing the provisional ball is the option. 
Overall, the new rules appear to be speeding up play, which for most means a more enjoyable game. It's nice the USGA is taking a step forward in this area. 
 

 

30 Mar
2019

Benvenuto fighting the fight

Written by Bob Oliver

 

Brittany Benvenuto is fighting the fight on ladies professional golf, playing on the Symetra Tour after a short season on the LPGA Tour.

 

The Symetra Tour - the top developmental circuit for the LPGA - offers outstanding competition and a place to hone one's game. Last year, playing on a medical exemption, made a couple cuts while getting into a few LPGA events. This season she's working hard on her game on the Symetra Tour, which visits Montgomery County May 31-June 2 at the Raven's Claw Golf Club in Pottstown.

 

Benvenuto, a native of Langhorne where she attended Neshaminy High School, has been consistent this year in three Symetra Tour events, making the cut in each. 

 

She was 31st in the Skyigolf Championship (77-69-67--286), 37th at the IOA Championship (71-76-77--224) and 48th at the Florida Natural Charity Classic (71-72-73--216).  She stands 40th on the money list.

 

A year ago at Seaview playing in the Shop-Rite LPGA Championship, Benvenuto spoke about the highs and lows of her career. "I've built my game so that I'm giving myself a shot, but there is a whole lot of work to be done," said Benvenuto, who was 38th in the season ending Symetra Tour Championship. "The injuries have set me back, but I'm optimistic."

 

She played in nine LPGA events and loved the taste of play at the highest level of women's golf. And she's hoping her game continues to improve in 2019 to get back to the LPGA next season. 

16 Mar
2019

America's Golf Capital

Written by Bob Oliver

 

 

MYRTLE BEACH, SC ---

 

Where is the capital of American golf?   

 

Depends who you might ask, as various destinations claim the title. But long ago the 90-mile stretch along the Atlantic Ocean centered around Myrtle Beach, SC, laid claim to the unofficial title. Any why not?

 

The Grand Strand has, depending on who is counting and what day it is, more than 100 golf courses that tantalize players of all tastes and playing abilities. There are courses designed by the best, including Nicklaus, Ross, Jones, Dye, Garl and Fazio. You name it, they have it, along with great food, sparkling beaches and a bevy of nighttime activities.

 

While Mother Nature has wielded her wrath in recent years, from Hurricanes to more than 100 inches of rain last year like many east coast venues, the beauty of the Grand Strand is that the great weather outweighs the bad, and even the bad days can be just wonderful.

 

We found that out in March when visiting the Myrtle Beach area for the first time in more than a dozen years. As Jon Bon Jovi once crooned, “Who says you can’t go home again?” Because March or April was an annual home for many years before we visited new and different places. Quite frankly, at the end of the week we wondered why we ever stopped going there.

 

Yes, there was chilly air. But the hospitality was top notch, the courses first rate, and the overall experience a stellar one.

 

Oh, there was a difference from the old days. Right off the bat Route 31, a newer bypass, allowed travel north and sound a whole lot easier. The competition for food and lodging as well as green’s fees kept prices affordable, and the pace of play on the courses we sampled was in a word brisk.

 

In its hay day the Grand Strand – stretching from Georgetown, SC, to the south to above Little River, NC, to the north – was generally accepted to have approximately 130 golf courses. The economic challenges of 2008 along with growth such as roads and infrastructure caused some elimination of courses, as well as a sort of natural selection of some venues being better than others.

 

These days there are approximately 100 courses available for play, the majority of them open to the public or available with package plans from some hotels. For this trip, we spent most of our time along the gateway to Myrtle Beach proper, areas like Calabash, Loris, Sunset Beach and North Myrtle Beach. But no matter where you stay, you can play outstanding venues.

 

One learns early on that traversing the entire Grand Strand on a single trip isn’t time effective, as with some 90 miles of shore line one could spend a lot of time in a vehicle rather than on a golf course. So our return trip saw us centered in the northern gateway vicinity. And with 135 holes played in six days, golf was the top priority. 

 

“The area provides something for everyone, from golf groups to families who have varying tastes,” explained Jamie Roderick, the Director of Golf Operations of Sea Trail Golf Club.  The Sea Trail golf complex boasts layouts designed by Rees Jones, Willard Byrd and Dan Maples. “We know golfers have a whole lot of choices, so we do our best to provide excellent service to go along with our find golf product.”

 

Similar sentiments could be heard from Tim Tilma, the General Manager of Sandpiper Bay in Sunset Beach.

 

“It’s no secret we’ve been called the golf capital of the United States,” said Tilma, a long-time veteran of the Grand Strand. “Just look as you drive to our club. One drives past Thistle (27-holes), The Pearl (36-holes) and Sea Trail (54-holes) so there are many options for the player. Our 27-hole facility has a strong resident base and we do all we can to offer a challenging layout, service and pace of play.”

 

One layout which we hadn’t seen in 20 years was Rees Jones first solo design, Arcadian Shores, a layout which at one point was listed among the top-100 ranking of courses in the United States. Ample fairways beckon players, but challenges such as bunkers, lakes and contoured greens make par an excellent score. It was great to be back at this Grand Strand classic course, which also displays beautiful and well-trimmed oak trees. 

 

“We, like all the courses in the area, have been hurt by the more than 100 inches of rain in the last year, but we’ve gone the extra mile to bring the course back strong,” said General Manager Frank Coughlin. “There has been heavy work done on enhancing the course.”

 

Arcadian Shores was closed for nearly five months last year, as it totally reworked its greens with Sunday ultra-dwarf Bermuda glass, while also re-paving its cart paths. The greens have matured and are stellar putting surfaces, and the ride around the course contains less bumps. A new circa 2016 clubhouse is an added accoutrement.

 

“The feedback since reopening has been wonderful, getting positive comments really makes it all worthwhile,” added Coughlin. “People love the greens, and the course, well, it’s a strong classic design.”

 

The Glens Golf Group offers four stellar challenges: Glen Dornoch, Shaftesbury Glen, Heather Glenn and Possum Trot. Each has its own set of design features and each is fun to play.

 

At Glen Dornoch, a Clyde Johnston creation, one finds a course designed as a tribute to Donald Ross carved through trees and featuring holes along the intercoastal waterway. It also has elevation changes of about 35 feel along the way, something unique of Grand Strand courses.

 

There is water to be evaded – ponds, lakes and the intercoastal waterway – on 13 holes and carries over marsh and strategically placed bunkers can be found on other holes. Add in rolling greens and trees and one has a course where precision is at a premium.  The Glen Dornoch clubhouse is a good one, and the service is stellar.

 

Many courses have invested in protecting their greens in cold weather by purchasing tarps. Tidewater, Sandpiper Bay and Thistle led the way, and as a result the greens were, in a word, superb.

 

“Some of the area courses were hurt, losing greens, and we just couldn’t afford not to protect ours,” explained Sandpiper Bay’s Tilma. “We don’t use them a great deal, but as you can imagine on those very cold days in the winter it just makes common sense to protect our greens. The feedback from visitors has been awesome and you have to believe we listen to our customers.”

 

Likewise, Thistle’s General Manager Doug Donner echoed his competitor’s statement. “We want to offer that quality experience, and that includes greens devoid of problems. The tarps help our superintendent make that happen.”

 

Thistle has an immaculate stately club house and Donner prides himself on promoting a player friendly experience. The three nines each offer outstanding challenges put together by designer Tim Cate. Its practice area is top notch, and includes not only a driving range but also short game area and a putting green that mimics undulations found on course.

 

“We are proud of our facility, and do our best to make our visitors happy, starting with our wonderful clubhouse, our practice facility and our 27 holes of championship golf,” said Donner. “We offer tee times in 10 minute increments. And each and every one of our holes has beauty and challenge.”   

 

On getaway day we picked a course along the northern border of the strand in Longs, S.C., Aberdeen Golf Club, as we were glad we did. There are 27 challenging holes, and GM Steve Shaffer promises his facility includes 27 holes of “challenge”.

 

“To say there is some water around is an understatement,” said the GM. “There are water hazards on 23 of our 27 holes. (Designer) Tom Jackson created a real test and you will use all the clubs in the bag.”

 

There are trees throughout, but not overbearing, as Jackson wanted the club to have a Scottish feel. That, as well as four sets of tees, offer all levels of golfer a challenge.

 

The unfortunate part of our trip was the number of superb courses we didn’t sample, from the classic Dunes Golf and Beach Club (No. 3 on Golfweek’s places you can play in South Carolina) to Caledonia. Add in True Blue, Tidewater, The Surf Club and Pine Lakes International the Grand Strand has great golf chops. Nobody can sample all the greats of the Grand Strand in one visit.

 

Still, that just means a return trip is not going to be years away, as we are plotting a return visit sooner rather than later.

CHIP SHOTS:  Great golf holes are endless along the Grand Strand. The 13th at the Dunes Club, a double dogleg par-5 along a lake and featuring an ever-present alligator, requires three pin point shots (although yes, it has been hit in two)...The 13th at Arcadian Shores has an Augusta National "look". A 370-yard par-4 which requires a sweet second shot over water is outstanding and challenging....THe short par-3 fourth on the Cameron nine at Thistle can be breathtaking or heartbreaking depending on how your tee shot goes on the 135-yard island green... Shaftesbury Glen is another Clyde Johnson creation, with its spacious fairways and elevated bent grass greens. Fourteen holes have some sort of water to evade, this challenging layout will tantalize. 

27 Feb
2019

Shore Club a south Jersey gem

Written by Bob Oliver

 

CAPE MAY COURTHOUSE, NJ ---

In just a bit over a year the rebranding from the former Wildwood Country Club into the Shore Club has been a near complete success. 

Hardly a month goes past without visitors noticing improvements to the clubhouse and other facilities as well as the wind swept 1921 Wayne Stiles design. And why "near" complete? Well, the enhancements are still occuring. 

"We are very happy with the upgrades around the entire facility, from the golf course to our structures," explained Fred Reidel, the Director of Golf who has worked at the Cape May Courthouse club for 17 years. "We have our plans and we are following them and you can see many of the improvements already with more happening."

On our recent visit, roof work was being completed, while the club's pub was drawing nice reviews for food, drink and ambience. Further enhancements are being completed. Gazing toward the golf course, there was hustle and bustle as renovations are ongoing.

"We are in the process of reworking sand bunkers on holes one, six and nine," explained Reidel. "We've complete several bunkers, and will have a handful more to do before summer as we present players with challenges."

There has been small harvesting of overgrown bush and trees to facilitate movement of air to help with turf growth, something that naturally occurs over time. It also helps with pace of play and overall beauty and challenge.

And what a challenging course The Shore Club provides. A bayside layout, the course can be blanketed by the breezes which in turn makes ball flight and club selection critical. 

The Shore Club continues to host numerous weddings and functions which go on hand in hand with stellar golf.

When making plans for shore golf, The Shore Club is a must visit attraction. 

CHIP SHOTS - For information on all aspects of The Shore Club contact 609-465-7824.