Golf with benefits
Six courses with innovative perks that’ll change the way you play — and pay for — the game
The golf industry in North America has been in a slump since the economic meltdown of 2008. Golf courses are too long, too tough and too expensive for the average handicapper. But there is light at the end of the fairway. A number of courses are offering golfers extra perks and innovative ways to both speed and spice up the game.
Hawaii: break the rules
Ka’anapali (kaanapaligolfcourses.com), once the playground of Hawaiian royalty, was the first planned resort community in Hawaii. For over a decade, Ka’anapali beamed a backdrop of gorgeous tropical scenery into the homes of TV viewers of the Senior PGA Tour’s Ka’anapali Classic, making them want to grab their clubs and fly to paradise.
Today, there are more reasons to take a swing at Ka’anapali’s two 18-hole courses, the Royal and the Kai. Ed Kageyama, general manager of Ka’anapali Golf Courses, which are managed by Billy Casper Golf, was recently recognized by Golf Inc. magazine as one of the “Most Innovative People in Golf,” awarded to only 18 industry professionals worldwide.
Kageyama’s creative programs include Golf My Way. It helps golfers manage their schedules by allowing them to play 18 holes over seven days. For example, an avid swinger could play four holes while the family is asleep, return for a few holes after an afternoon at the beach, then play a few holes another day before dinner. Also new to Ka’anapali are motorized GolfBoards to carry your clubs. The one-passenger vehicles combine elements of snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding, and offer users an outlet to burn extra calories as they guide their vehicles by leaning into turns. Named “Best New Product” at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show, GolfBoards provide traction on steep hills and allow golfers to traverse the course more quickly and easily, thus reducing the time between shots.
Ka’anapali began its Juniors Play Free program in 2003 before it became the “norm.” From June to August, juniors aged seven to 17 play free when accompanied by a paying adult.
On the Kai course after 3:30PM, Ka’anapali has introduced FootGolf played with soccer balls that must be kicked into 21-inch cups. It’s $15 per person (ball rental $5) and has proven to be a family hit.
Ka’anapali’s Breakfast Fore Two package starts at US$489 and includes one night of accommodation, one round of golf for two, rental clubs and breakfast.
BC: join the posse
Re-opening this summer, the previously private Sagebrush (sagebrushlife.com) near Merritt, BC is now a public course managed by Troon. It’s part of a new evolution of minimalist/naturalist courses meaning that Mother Nature has designed the layout with limited dirt moving. In this case, the land is part of a sprawling cattle ranch where Nicola Lake and surrounding mountains cradle the course.
Whitman (who also designed the much-acclaimed Cabot Links in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) has created a course that tumbles and rolls with natural rhythm. The bent grass greens are huge and the generous fairways are seeded with fescue to be hard and fast with authentic links-style playability. Bump and run is encouraged and rewarded. With ragged dunes and bunkers that chew into landing areas, your score at Sagebrush will depend on the wind and hole locations on what might be the biggest and most tumultuous greens you’ll ever play.
Because of Sagebrush’s remote location (three hours from Vancouver), golfers are encouraged to take their time. The green fee ($175) gets you unlimited golf for the day and there are no tee times.
Aside from the 7400-yard course, golfers can try their luck fly-fishing for feisty Kamloops Rainbow Trout when they stop for refreshments at the pond between the 12th and 13th fairways. The new Tap House offers craft beers, fine wines, and gourmet dogs and burgers. Unlike some golf courses where you have to rush your “halfway house” visit, at Sagebrush you can pause for as long as you want.
The “Sagebrush Experience” starts at $800 per person (minimum four) and includes three days of unlimited golf, two nights accommodation in a two-bedroom suite and two dinners.
Mexico: eat and play
Los Cabos has become one of Mexico’s finest golf destinations. Nowhere else do craggy mountains and desert palettes meet the cobalt Sea of Cortez to create such a compelling backdrop for verdant fairways.
The most spectacular public course is Quivira (quiviragolfclub.com). I was there when Jack Nicklaus officially opened his epic layout in December 2014. With a view of the Pacific from every hole, Quivira has more oceanfront exposure than any other course in Los Cabos. From December to March, you’re likely to spot whales leaping in the wild blue yonder.
An all-inclusive golf day here starts with complimentary shuttle service to the club from the Pueblo Bonito resorts. Warm up on the range where full array of beverages are available. Light bites like tuna sliders and fish tacos are also served. After the first four holes, golfers will experience the “greatest drive in golf” as they manoeuvre their carts to the first comfort station perched 200 feet above the ocean where more snacks are offered.
You’ll need fortification to tackle the 5th hole. The fairway, slanted below a shouldering dune on the right, traces the edge of sheer granite cliffs to the left as it tumbles downhill to a transition zone before dropping to a rock-walled, cliff-hanging green 106 feet below the tee. The putting surface is defended to the left by a huge deep bunker. Long hitters can attempt to drive it, but it’s adios if you miss the rock-walled, cliff-hanging green.
The Oasis, which serves as a halfway house for golfers transitioning from the 8th and 11th holes, showcases the culinary talents of the resort’s chefs with inventive takes on classic Baja cuisine. Players may refresh themselves again at the 16th tee, which sits high above the course and marks the layout’s return to home.
When asked to predict how Quivira will impact his legacy, Nicklaus said, “I think some people will say it’s the most spectacular and best golf course they have ever seen and others will say, ‘You have got to be kidding.’ I don’t think there will be a lot of middle ground.”
You have to be a guest of one four Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spas to play Quivira. This summer’s Stay and Play packages start at US$329.
Arizona: golf in a kilt
If the 27 fairways at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa (kierlandresort.com) aren’t challenging enough, try tackling them on a Segway while wearing a kilt. It’s the only resort in Scottsdale where golfers can opt to ride the three desert nines — Acacia, Ironwood and Mesquite — on Segways, bicycles or GolfBoards (motorized “surf the earth” boards) customized to hold your bag. If you really want to get into the Celtic swing of things, try the Scottish Experience and play your round in a rented kilt and sporran, laddie. After the game, retire to the Scotch Library for a tasting and freshly rolled cigar.
Friday Night Lights (in spring and fall) offers fun for all ages on the driving range: golf contests, clinics with pros, a nine-hole glow putt course, music and beverage cart service. Admission is $US10 per person, kids under six free when accompanied by a paying adult.
In keeping with the Scottish theme, a piper clad in full Highland regalia squeezes the bagpipe every evening at sunset on the Dreamweavers Canyon patio. Now you know why Golf Digest named Kierland “one of the most cheerful courses in America.” The Ultimate Golf for Two package starts at US$219 through August. In addition to unlimited golf for two at 27 holes, climate-controlled golf carts and Segway golf are included.
Alberta: swing back in time
In 1928, Stanley Thompson was hired to design the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course (fairmont.com/banff-springs/golf) in Alberta’s Rockies. Banff was the first track on the planet to cost more than one million dollars to construct. Today, it’s one of the top ten courses in the world, with the Devil’s Cauldron signature hole touted as one of the best.
In 1989, the course was re-routed, and to celebrate its 75th anniversary, architect Les Furber upgraded the green sites and restored the bunkers to Stanley Thompson’s original design.
Banff’s Heritage Golf Experience allows you to play the course as Thompson originally routed it — and with the appropriate equipment in tow. For the ultimate 1930s-style round, your caddie, clad in period plus-fours, will help you chose from a selection of hickory-shafted clubs, including a brassie, spoon, jigger, mashie and niblick. You’ll also get three balls pressed to replicate those gutta percha orbs used in the 1930s and some tips on how to swing your mashie. For your Heritage round, the distance from the tips has been reduced from 7083 to 6301 yards to compensate for the antique technology. Tip: bring along some vintage duds for a photo op.
The “Heritage Golf Experience” starts at $369 per person or $699 per twosome (minimum of two golfers per tee time booked). Tee times must be booked seven days in advance.
Nova Scotia: get a package deal
At the Links at Brunello (thelinksatbrunello.com), 15 minutes from Halifax in Timberlea, Nova Scotia, I discovered not only a fabulous new course designed by Canadian architect Thomas McBroom, but also some smart marketing ideas.
Brunello’s Advantage Card allows golfers to buy a package that suits their budget and schedule. The bronze card costs $650 for 10 mid-week rounds; the platinum $1950 for 30 rounds anytime. All packages cost less than regular green fees, which range from $95 to $125. The Advantage Cards are fully transferable so your friends, family members and business associates can play on your card with your permission. You don’t have to accompany them.
“We are trying to energize golf to fit people’s lifestyles,” explained general manager, Miles Mortensen.
Another innovation is the opportunity to play by the hole. If you don’t have time for 18 or even nine, you can play as little as one. Your card will be charged accordingly. If you don’t have a card, you can pay $7 per hole.
The Links at Brunello has the largest fleet (12) of Precedent 4Fun Club Cars in Canada. These carts transport four golfers in front-facing seats. It’s a terrific way to socialize during the round.
Mortensen and his team understand the importance of introducing the next generation of golfers to the game so they’ve created a comprehensive Junior Academy program to teach kids starting at age five. They offer rental clubs to juniors at no cost. Technically, there are nine tee options at the 7076-yard, par-72 championship Links at Brunello. Heavy hitters can let it rip from the black tips. There are five regular tee blocks from which to choose with the forward tees set at 5271 yards. In addition, there are four “4Fun” tees for beginners ranging from 1118 to 2216 yards.
Thomas McBroom’s design, named “3rd Best New Course in North America” by Golf Digest magazine, winds its way through stands of pines and over wetlands and rocky outcroppings. Big greens, wide fairways and only 38 bunkers are all part of the plan to make golf at Brunello fun, fast and playable.
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.