Best Of GT: Golf

Jul 1, 2013
2013 / July 2013

When I came up with the Global Traveler concept, I wanted the magazine to be written for people who take every aspect of travel and make it part of their lives, people who travel for business but also take a significant number of vacations. Many of our readers play golf with friends, when traveling and, often, to entertain clients.

Over the years, I have played with clients, business partners, friends and relatives on almost every continent. The great equalizer around the world is golf: No matter where you are from, what language you speak or what your occupation, golf remains a standard.

The Golf article in Global Traveler has evolved and become unique. Beginning as an overview of the course history and any corresponding resort, the article now reviews the most challenging and enjoyable holes and some of our amazing shots. I had difficulty selecting the best; unlike rankings in golf publications, this is about the enjoyment of the game and the quality of the experience. Here are my top 10, in reverse order.

I PLAYED THE Guarapiranga Golf & Country Club in São Paulo, Brazil, in the early days of Global Traveler. I was in São Paulo to firm up relationships with our Brazilian clients and took a day to play golf. Language was a barrier, but the hotel secured a tee time and a driver to take me to the course. Part of the fun was the trip to the course, through the streets of São Paulo and on a dirt road with chickens running back and forth (they do cross the road). I was the only foreigner as I went to the first tee with Carlos, my caddie, who communicated with me via sign language. Hole 7 stood out as a magnificent, 565-yard, par-5 dogleg right. I hit a great drive and used a driver off the deck for the second shot, much to Carlos’ dismay — he was correct, by the way.

PLACING THE OLD COURSE at St. Andrews Links ninth on the list would be a sacrilege in golf publications, but with the world as my fairway, this is where it falls. I was invited to play the Scottish course by a friend who had an “in.” Although the course is public (tee times are sometimes booked a year in advance), the Royal and Ancient Club and Clubhouse are strictly private. We not only played the course, but we also enjoyed lunch before the round and cocktails after in the club. The high point of the day was sitting next to Sean Connery during lunch. My pal, Dixon Hunter (who shot a 76 that day), said, “Look who is sitting next to you — James Bond.” I turned, and Connery was right there! On the way out, I told him I enjoyed his movies; he thanked me and said, “Enjoy your round.”

The other high point was shanking a ball on the 18th fairway and launching it over the wall, hitting the sunroof of a parked car. The ball ricocheted to the second floor of the Old Course Hotel — nearly hitting bystanders at the bar who where hanging out the window watching our play — and landed on the fairway to cheers from the bar. I am sure that has never been topped, and I did not card a 76.

THERE ARE LOTS OF PLACES to play golf in Hawaii, but none has been reviewed by me twice in 10 years. Since the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel spent $175 million to get it back into pristine shape after the earthquake of October 2006, I felt it was worth a redo. Robert Trent Jones, Sr., designed the course in 1965; after the earthquake, his son, Rees Jones, took the lead and restored the course to its original “toughness.” Known as the “U.S. Open Doctor,” Rees pumped new life into the course, refurbishing all the bunkers and adding new ones, to a total of 99 — many of which I found when I replayed the course. He also changed the greens, building in more undulations and adding more subtlety to the “reads.” The greens grass was replaced with a hybrid Bermuda grass called TifEagle. With a name like that, I was expecting a few eagles, but that was not to be.

The K Club Palmer Course © The K Club

The K Club Palmer Course © The K Club

THE K CLUB at the Kildare Hotel, Spa & Country Club in Ireland hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup, and I traveled with my brother and a childhood friend to play the best courses around Dublin. The Ryder Cup was the week before, and the grandstands and tents were being dismantled. The K Club has two courses: the Palmer (designed by Arnold Palmer) and the Smurfit (designed by Palmer and Dr. Michael Smurfit, the creator of The K Club). We played both, but nothing could top Bobby Hancock’s hole in one on the second hole of the Smurfit Course. I looked at him and said, “You did nothing to plan this trip and you got a hole in one.” Hence the nickname, “Lucky Bob.”

WHEN THE NORWEGIAN government asks you to play golf at midnight, what do you say? Chris Ottaunick (GT’s staff photographer) and I simply said yes. What an exciting trip to Tromsø Golf Park to play during the midnight sun and the summer solstice! Our tee time was 10 p.m., and after a nice dinner in town we drove to the course to find no one there. The pro shop was closed, but you could sign in and pay your fee. We took a couple of scorecards and realized the pull carts had no handles. (As at many European courses, you get the handle when you pay the fee.) So I took a stick and jammed it where the handle belonged and off we went. We had a great time, finishing around 1 a.m.

18th green water feature at The Grand Golf Club © The Grand Del Mar

18th green water feature at The Grand Golf Club © The Grand Del Mar

JUST OUTSIDE San Diego is a little piece of paradise called The Grand Golf Club and the corresponding hotel, The Grand Del Mar. The readers of Global Traveler introduced me to The Grand Del Mar, voting it the Best Hotel in the United States. I can’t tell you how many relationships our readers have generated from their travel experiences and votes. The club supports a true caddie program, which separates The Grand from other courses. Each group has a trained caddie to help them battle the Tom Fazio design. The hotel is one of my favorites; not a penny was spared in its construction. It’s a wonderful combination of a beautiful, well-designed course and a luxury hotel.

GOLF FRIENDS ARE the best, and golf friends with connections are superb. Playing Royal Zoute Golf Club in Belgium was equally superb. I traveled to Brussels and met my good friend, John Louis, and off we went to Le Zoute, stopping in beautiful Bruges on the way. J.L., of Brussels Airlines and formerly of Sabena, is friends with the club captain, Jean Croonenberghs (who was a Boeing 747 captain for Sabena), and the club president and mayor of Le Zoute, Count Leopold Lippens. After a fantastic round, we sipped wonderful French wine and enjoyed local gray prawns. I raised a glass to the count and exclaimed, “It is nice being friends with the king” — resulting in roars of laughter. A beautiful Belgian experience.

The green at Hole 18 at The Royal Portrush Golf Club © Donald Ford Images

The green at Hole 18 at The Royal Portrush Golf Club © Donald Ford Images

TO PLAY ONE OF the top-ranked courses just before the Irish Open is something one cannot pass up. Ireland is a special place made more special since the peace between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Having the Irish Open in the North is a testament to this change. Royal Portrush Golf Club is located near the epicurean delight known as the Bushmills Inn and a stone’s throw from the Giant’s Causeway. Finn McCool used Portrush as his backyard, and you will find it a refreshing and traditional course. The Duke of York and Prince Andrew declared the course re-opened after clubhouse renovations in 1997.

HOW MANY COURSES do you know with a waiting list of more than 20 years, as well as ancient temples? This is standard operating procedure for The Lodhi Course at The Delhi Golf Club. When the British moved the capital from Calcutta to New Delhi in 1928, the prevailing authority felt it best to build a golf course on a strip of land between Barakhamba and the Lal Bangla tombs. With a multitude of bird species in the area, each hole is named after one of our feathered friends. The course is narrow and difficult, the caddies extremely helpful and necessary. During the last few holes, we were betting beer money — they were happy that night.

WEIHAI POINT GOLF & Resort in China has a beautiful course, and I had the privilege of playing here at least three times. The course was assumed by the Khumo Asiana Group, which evaluated the design flaws to create a truly spectacular and challenging course. Overlooking the Yellow Sea in China’s Shangdong province, Weihai is not just a golf course and clubhouse but a cultural experience. They do not often see people like me in this region of China; not only are there few non-Asians, I appeared a giant to them.

Although 330,000 cubic yards of rubble were removed in the redesign, no native trees were uprooted or disturbed. Every inch of the course was topped with sand from Qingdao to create a perfect growth medium for the hybrid grasses.

Min Sung Jin, a world-renowned architect from Seoul, designed the clubhouse, which overlooks the course and the Yellow Sea. During the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, the Meijin of Japan and the Qing of China fought the Battle of Weihaiwei here and in the Yellow Sea. You can feel the battle — man against nature, wind and terrain.

In all my travels over the 10 years of Global Traveler, Weihai Point is the best course I played. I invite our loyal readers to hit the links whenever they travel, be it India or China, San Diego or St. Andrews.

The Delhi Golf Club
May 2012

The Grand Golf Club
April 2010

Guarapiranga Golf & Country Club
October 2004

The K Club
January 2007

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
August 2006/February 2011

Royal Portrush Golf Club
June 2012

Royal Zoute Golf Club
August 2012

St. Andrews Links
February 2005

Tromsø Golf Park
October 2009

Weihai Point Golf & Resort
January 2010

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