Dusk at Pete Dye's Kiawah Island Ocean Course - site of the 2012 PGA Championship J Bruno photo
On July 1st LinksNation hit the road, embarking on a tour of some the
best courses and clubs up the east coast (actually we started on June 29th close
to home base at The Dye Preserve Golf Club in Jupiter). We will detail each club
and layout later in our Course Review/Travel section.
A group of four started out on a journey towards Kiawah Island, South Carolina . . .
yours truly, Scott Baker, Peter Cunnion, and former Augusta National looper Erik
Shullstrom. Our usual rendezvous point, the Burger King at Florida Turnpike exit 109
(a pitch and putt away from PGA of America Headquarters) was once again the scene
of the pre-dawn send off.
After a trek of some 500 miles or so, we arrived at our destination, Kiawah Island
Resort.We were set up at the resort villa with a partial ocean view, just a few dozen
yards from the beach itself.If there is a better setting for a resort in the eastern U.S,
I'll gladly accept the invite to such a destination. Pebble Beach Resort, The American
Club in Kohler, Wisconsin & Kiawah Island are the Gold standard when it comes to golf
resort destinations in the United States.
The Kiawah Resort is a perfect place to bring the family, or for a group to get away
for a hard core golf experience.
The beach and villas at Kiawah Island Resort
One evening while trolling outside the confines of the resort looking for a bite to eat,
(restaurants outside the resort are not plentiful), we found one such place deserving
of mention: Chez Fish on Kerrison Parkway in John's Island, South Carolina.
The cuisine was low country seafood specialties, so of course I went with the chicken.
Kudos to Baker for pickin up the tab that night . . . as he reached for the check and
uttered "this one's on me boys", Erik launched a verbal "Atta Boy" that had us in stitches.
If you decide to buy & cook your own food at the resort villa (for budget conscious groups
this is an option). . . the Piggly Wiggly just outside the resort has what you need, and as
their slogan goes: "I'm big on the pig", otherwise I would go with the resort cuisine choices.
Mike, Pete, J.B, Baker, Big E, and Hugh - Kiawah 1st Tee
We had a 10:50 tee time the next day (July 2nd) on the Ocean Course (home of the
1991 Ryder Cup and 2012 PGA Championship), but couldn't resist an early peak. We
spent the evening hours chipping and putting on the practice green that sits just beside
the 18th green, clubhouse and shoreline . . . not many better surroundings to experience
the expiring daylight. It was so intoxicating, we repeated this ritual the next evening
after our round.
The Ocean Course lived up to it's billing, and is an instant top ten in my rankings.
The Resort is an absolute must for anyone who enjoys visiting beautiful destinations,
look for the detailed review of the Ocean Course, coming soon in the Course Review
July 3rd it was back to the road again, headed due north towards Philadelphia and
the famed Merion Golf Club, site of Bobby Jones' Grand Slam in 1930 and Hogan's
improbable U.S Open victory in 1950.
We (the group scaled down to Peter & I) arrived in the "city of brotherly love"
at around 9pm, staying in perhaps the exact opposite accomodations of our
base camp at Kiawah.To be kind, lets just say The King of Prussia Motel 6 is not
recommended by this website.
Driving into Merion for me is just like driving into Winged Foot, Seminole, Pebble,
Calusa Pines, Whistling Straits, Atlanta Athletic Club, Bethpage, Quaker Ridge, Erin
Hills, Kiawah, and now Hamilton Farm . . . the giddy nervousness that accompanies
the drive into such places is an adrenaline boost, akin to the feeling of kissing a girl
for the first time . . . just nothing like it.
Walking around the clubhouse and lockeroom at Merion was like being in a surreal place,
knowing that legends had historical victories here just adds to the atmosphere at Merion.
Unfortunately, our scheduled plans to play the East Course were not tidy, so after doing
an interview with Director of Course Operations Matt Shaffer, he took me on an
extensive tour of the East Course and described in detail what modifications have and
will be made prior to the 2013 U.S Open, as well as spots on the property where historical
events took place.I was honored that Mr.shaffer thought highly enough of these writings
to give me the amount of time that he did. I found his candid views about many things
in golf refreshing, and quickly came to the opinion that he is one of the most interesting
and knowledgable people I've encountered in this game.Thanks to Matt, Pete and I
were set up to play the West course just down the street in Ardmore. (I would return 7
days later to take on the fabled Hugh Wilson designed U.S Open East Course).
The West Course is also a Hugh Wilson design, and was quite unique in its own right.
Since the camera was not permitted on the courses at Merion, I will use previous
published photos of the courses when describing each in the Course Review Section.
After playing the West, and scoffing down a great cheeseburger that Markos had just
pulled off the grill, we raced to Newark to get Pete to his 5:30 flight back to Palm Beach.
Afterall, it was July 4th and I had a family barbecue to get to in New York. Later that evening
I went to a minor league baseball game (with my nephew Kevin), the Staten Island Yankees
(home team) vs The Brooklyn Cyclones . . . for the record the Cyclones dominated 9-2.
After a few days in the Apple, the next destination was Siwanoy CC in Westchester County.
Siwanoy was the site of the very first PGA Championship in 1916, and was also the site
of the 1920 exhibition matches with Harry Vardon and his partner Ted Ray.
This classic Donald Ross layout hosted the 1st PGA Championship in 1916 Bruno photo
Thanks to Grant Turner and Mike Mulhearn (a.k.a "Spike") for hosting us. Spike was the perfect
tour guide and obviously takes much pride in his club, and with good reason . . . the place was
just a pure Donald Ross gem. Thanks also to Steve Cunnion for driving down from the Hudson
Valley to join me for the round.Stevie saw my best ball striking of the entire trip, a solid 71
that felt like it shoulda been better if I had rolled the rock a little better.
Spike(left) hosted Steve Cunnion (right) and I at Siwanoy
Later that evening I headed north to Boston.Staying at the Cutter's gorgeous palatial estate
in Hopkinton, was a treat. My better half flew in to have a few days of R&R of her own, and on
the 8th I headed for TPC Boston. Thanks to Brad Williams for having us, and to longtime friend
and golf professional Bobby Brown and his buddy Shaun Noonan (yep that's his real
name) for joining me for the round. Mother nature did not cooperate, but having Ed
Rollo as forecaddie certainly helped us enjoy the day and finish the round.Gil Hanse and
Brad Faxon did a nice job of reworking this layout, home of the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank.
By the way Brownie, you're 3 down in the match when you return to Florida.
Leo the starter at TPC Boston, gave Brownie and I the rundown on the Gil Hanse/Brad Faxon Layout
Caddie Ed Rollo, and Noonan post round at TPC Boston
After 4 days and some site seeing at and around Boston proper, I headed back to Merion . . .
a six hour trek mind you, but it's Merion! I enjoyed seeing Matt Shaffer again, he did a nice
job pairing me up to play with Dave Petfield, Greg Bellen, and George (who is a superintendent
at a nearby club called Raven's Claw).The East Course is a design marvel, a true classic,
I'm just quite simply in love with Merion.It was a struggle to feel comfortable early in the
round because of a lack of yardage markers and the non allowed use of rangefinders (seriously
old school).I know no one is crying a river for me because I had to play Merion without
my rangefinder, I'm not sure how Hogan and the boys played purely by site in the old days.
As Matt Shaffer would say, "Americans are over indulged". . . I'm guilty as charged.
A great sunny day to walk Merion, and the 95 degree temps made me thankful
that I loaded up on the spf 70.
The entry to Hamilton Farm was my first clue that the day would be special
My last stop was on July 12th at Hamilton Farm Golf Club, in Gladstone, New Jersey.
If there is ever a day to just go through the motions, it would be on the final leg of a
two week journey, but this experience was anything but that. As I reached the entry,
the black wrought iron gates, Hamilton Farm sign and a speaker box were all that were
there.I was greeted through the speaker: "Mr.Bruno welcome, we've been expecting you".
After a one mile drive through a winding road and gorgeous foliage, I finally made my
way to the clubhouse.
From the moment I arrived at Hamilton Farm, I was treated as a member and if this is
how members are treated . . . sign me up. A personal thanks to all of these people:
Teaching Professional Gia Bocra Liwski for passing along our request months ago to
Membership Director Erin Walsh. Erin who set up the day, took me on a tour of the club
and really took the time to make sure I had what I needed to experience Hamilton Farm
in all it's glory.
Paul in the locker room, for giving me the VIP treatment and Matt Lauer's locker for the
day, as well as convincing me that I had to play the par3 "Hickory Course" . . . You were
right Paul, it was beyond words.
The measure of a great golf club beyond the clubhouse and the property it sits on, is the
people involved with running the day to golf operations.Director of Golf Matt Freitag and
his staff are as good as it gets (not to mention that Matt hits the sweetest soft high draw
I've ever seen . . . and holds the course record on both the Highlands & Hickory -
64 & 48 respectively), Head Pro Vince Pulizzano was my guide around the Par 3 Hickory
Course, and Assistant Professional Nicholas Ingram steered me around the
Championship Highlands layout with the best caddy I've ever encountered in Dave August.
I could play golf with this group everyday, it's just a special group of people.
Kudos to Superintendent Patrick Husby, Paul Ramina and the grounds staff for their
magnificent work, both layouts were in pristine shape.
The 18th at Hamilton Farm
The Hurdzan/Fry designed 36 hole routing is perhaps the most underrated in the U.S . . .
it was flat out as quality a design as any I've played in recent memory. In a few weeks we
will feature Hamilton Farm in our course review section, and the photo's will blow you away.
After two weeks and 126 holes, it was back to Palm Beach . . . Thanks to all that were part
of the journey, looking forward to seeing you all again down the road and looking forward
to the next destination (which is North Carolina).
By the time all was said and done, 3796 miles were logged.