November 18, 2010
Walking up the 18th fairway I try to absorb the energy of the crowd cheering me on, without letting the excitement affect my concentration on the task at hand.
One shot, reasonably close to the pin, will make a two-putt green achievable. Stay focused and I will raise the trophy to the cameras and take home the dollars that go with the victory.
But first, I must make the shot.
From hacker to scratch player, this is the vision that most of us who love the game of golf allow our imaginations to formulate as we watch the best of the best compete on the PGA or LPGA circuit.
To follow in the footsteps of champions!
The thought took hold as I trailed after Tiger Woods around Minnesota’s Hazelton National Golf Club track during the 2009 PGA Championship.
Perhaps as a foreshadow of things to come, it would be Y.E. Yang who would garner our attention as he kept his cool long enough to be the first Asian-born player to win a major championship.
The idea became even more of a mission watching Michelle Wie achieve her first LPGA win at the 2010 Canadian Championship held at Winnipeg’s St. Charles Golf Club.
Having played the course a number of times over the past few years, it was exciting recognizing the kinds of shots players need to make to remain competitive.
A goodly number of championships from all levels take place in Florida.
Here, would be the starting point.
Travelling with my son Carey, I start the quest in late November in Florida around the week of Black Friday. This is the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, when retailers put on their biggest sales of the year to trigger a successful and profitable (hence the name Black Friday) Christmas shopping season.
The Blue Monster
Perhaps the most famous of the courses we would play on was Doral’s TPC Blue Monster near Miami.
It is here where Ernie Els, the Big Easy as he is known, signaled his return to the top of leader boards by winning the CA Championship in 2010 following Phil Mickleson’s win in 2009.
Water, water everywhere... and nary a drop to drink.
Since the English poet Coleridge wrote his Rime of the Ancient Mariner around 1798, it is safe to say he was not envisioning such emotion would be attached to a future golf course. But he might as well have.
It is the preponderance of water hazards on this golf course that has given the Blue Monster its designation.
With lakes that meander along eight of its fairways, presenting some sort of water challenge in 14 of its holes, we knew that sooner or later one of these hazards would rise up to swallow a wayward drive or short iron shot.
And, like the would-be champions who might face the same dilemma in a championship round, our hearts would sink each time we watched the rings of waves form around our disappearing golf balls.
To stand on the 18th green and recall the images of Els and Mickleson hoisting the winning trophy, as though giving thanks to the golf gods above, was a thrill that will stay etched in our memories for a long time.
Fairmont Turnberry Isle
The Soffer Course at this resort, in the Aventura region of Miami, has played host to both an LPGA event and two NBC/ADT Golf Skills Challenges. It was a natural place to continue my quest.
Redesigned by golf hall of famer Raymonde Floyd, with the goal of making it one of the highest rated courses in the state, it was indeed a worthwhile choice in my goal to retrace the steps of those great golfers who had been there before.
But equally memorable, the Fairmont Turnberry Isle would turn out to be the most impressive hotel property we would stay in as we moved from place to place.
Situated directly across the street from one of most upscale malls in the state of Florida, the Turnberry Isle is a jewel in the Fairmont chain. This is stating a lot since quality defines most of the properties under its banner, whether in Canada or around the world.
Since it is situated inland, it has created a water world of its own, featuring an 800 foot lazy river, waterslide, waterfalls, 3 pools, private cabanas and a children’s play area.
With award-winning dining facilities, the Fairmont Turnberry Isle is clearly much more than a golf resort.
Again, the challenges the Soffer track presented did bring us back down to earth from the lofty service and environment we experienced each time we went back to the hotel.
PGA National Resort and Spa
Situated in Palm Beach Gardens, this golf resort has hosted several ‘seniors’ tour events, and is the annual home of the Honda Classic PGA event.
The street the resort is on is called Avenue of Champions. While we were there the name could have been modified to the Avenue of Future Champions. The resort was hosting one of the most prestigious events of the American Junior Golf Association.
Here, 156 of the world’s best ‘under 18’ golfers competed for the Polo Golf Junior Classic title. As amateurs, winning here is not for money, it is about the desire to compete, and the recognition that comes to the top players who will be earmarked as tomorrow’s major championship winners.
You can be certain that many of these players, in the next few years, will be walking these same courses with insignias of brands like Nike, Calloway, or Srixon sewn on to their hats and shirts.
LPGA Tour Championship 2010
Many golf courses in the Orlando area could have been featured on a ‘footsteps of golf championships’ tour, but I chose this one as the most recent.
I was able to play the Grand Cypress North and South nines twice just a short time before the ladies descended for their season ending event this month.
This Jack Nicholas designed course, with loads of bunkers, lots of water, and tricky greens was created to be tough from the back tees but enjoyable for golfers of all levels from the front ones.
Playing the course as it was being prepared for the LPGA players, with longer grass to greet you when you strayed off the fairway, and from the narrower perspective from the championship tees was an eye opener.
It really underscored how skilled the women who play in this league are and why the LPGA has been gaining more and more adherents with each passing season.
The PGA in Mexico
In a departure from the Florida courses that host PGA events, I was also able to play on the single Mexican course that hosts a PGA championship.
Played in February at the El Camaleon Golf Club not far from Playa Del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera, the Mayacoba Golf Classic is the only sanctioned PGA event in Mexico.
It has become an important stop for those many players who have not qualified for the limited field in World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play Championship played at the same time.
The course itself is worthy of a tour event.
Course designer Greg Norman did what was expected of him in creating a course that would challenge the best in the world.
Carved out of lush wilderness along the Caribbean Sea, the winds off the water make golfers of all levels think long before they set their targets for each shot.
It was because of these winds that I was able to meet one of the best players the LPGA tour has ever known.
As I was approaching one of the holes I noticed a woman who appeared to be practicing shooting iron shots about 50 yards out from the green.
They stopped to let me proceed with my game as I recognized the person who was trying to perfect her wind shots was none other than Lorena Ochoa, the pride of Mexican golf.
She would retire shortly after her first 2010 event, but having an almost private view of her practicing for a half hour was a learning experience unto itself.
Golf vacations are no longer a trend in tourism. They are an important segment of the travel industry.
While not long ago they seemed to fall under the ‘mancations’ designation, that is trips where groups of men agree to escape to a region for a week or so of often twice a day golf, that definition no longer holds true.
Women have taken up the sport in increasing numbers over the past few years and they, with a group of other women or their spouses, now look for destinations where they can combine other attractions with at least a few days of golf.
And they too, as I did, would like to step onto the tee boxes where previous greats have been introduced to live and television audiences.
With golf interest growing around the world, and major tournaments following, there are yet many more footsteps to be taken in a journey that has no end.