Friday, October 15, 2010

NEW PRODUCT: Sunice Elliott Gore-Tex Paclite Pullover

In the 1980's hit film E.T., all that cute, yet homely little alien wanted to do was go home, right? You remember..."phone home, phone home, blah, blah, blah". Well, who was there to help little E.T.? Elliott was there to help, wasn't he? That's right, it was Elliott.
You may also have recently noticed the brouhaha during the 2010 Ryder Cup over there in rainy Wales, that the U.S. Team got stuck with some less than effective raingear made by Sun Mountain. Yup, sure enough, when the rains came, the players got wet, and assistants were sent scurrying to the merchandise tents to buy better gear. Having played in the rain while wearing it, I can tell you that they should have chosen Sunice, just as the 2011 U.S. Women's Solheim Cup team already has for their tournament being contested next year in Ireland. 
What, may I ask, is the state of your current raingear? Do you even have raingear? Don't tell me that you're one of those scampering off the links at the first sign of precipitation! Didn't you see Caddyshack? Seriously, the Bishop would never have been able to play the greatest round of his life, nor find a truer calling, if he had run for the clubhouse when the rains came. Imagine how much better he might have shot if he were wearing a stylish and snugly fitting Gore-Tex jacket complete with stretch inserts at the shoulder blades so as not to restrict his natural swing. Seriously, he shot that round wearing a hefty bag with a hood on it for heaven's sake! 
Given your current raingear, I'll bet when the clouds let loose during your round, going home, just like little E.T. is indeed all you want to do. But, how many chances do you get to play golf anyway? Like most of us, you get out at best once a weekend, and if that round is rained out, it is another week of the 9 to 5 grind before you can smell the sweet smell of closely mown grass again.
Don't let the weather spoil your time on the course! Go to and get yourself the brand new, already on sale Sunice Elliott Gore-Tex® Paclite® Pullover, and stay in the game. Golf was invented for this weather, so don't shy away. This rainy day friend is ultra lightweight, yet is completely waterproof - and even comes with a LIFETIME WATERPROOF GUARANTEE! With such rain fighting features as wrist rain channels to keep water from running down to your hands and waterproof YKK zippers to prevent water from finding those weak points in the zippers, this jacket will keep you dry even in a heavy persistent rain. 

Staying dry isn't all that's important though. Ask Mrs. Corey Pavin who has taken more than a fair share of heat for her idea of style on the U.S. Ryder Cuppers. A close-to-the-body fit and stretch inserts at the shoulder blades provide ultimate freedom of movement, keeping your swing easy and on plane all while keeping you warm and dry. 
So, next time it rains during your round, don't go home - just pickup this Sunice pullover and rely on the Elliott to see you through.
Fairways and Greens!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bless Me Beavers, For I Have Sinned...

By Beaver Golf Contributor: Don Moorhead

As you can tell by the clever title, I have a confession to make. I have an excuse, but still. See, I gave up golf.

I can explain, if you'll just put down those pitchforks and douse the torches for a minute. I've been unemployed. The details are not important, just I was a midlevel marketing guy who suddenly and involuntarily became a former midlevel marketing guy in February of 2009. Come last spring, I had what some would consider an ideal situation, golf-wise. I had nowhere to go during the day, and a golf-obsessed roommate who was also unemployed. We had an impromptu range in the back yard, littering ours and the neighbor's yards with those little foam practice balls. Every week or so, we headed out for 18, or at least a quick 9. My game improved. I was putting pretty well, and I was even hitting it somewhat straight off the tee, believe it or not. I started slow, every round. I'd put a monster number up on 1 or 2, or maybe 3, then settle into a rhythm. The blow-up was weird, but I didn't think too much about it.

Then, in August, it happened. The blow-up became the round. I couldn't hit it straight, couldn't put it anywhere close, and couldn't make a putt if you put a funnel in front of the hole. The range in the back yard was useless. The actual range was a house of horrors.

Took me a while, and a couple of rounds, to figure it out. I wasn't able to let go. The whole time I was out there on the course I was thinking about the $37.50 (or the $59 or the $25) I had paid for the round. Every lost Nike one-piece was another buck down the drain. But it was more than the money. Remember that feeling you had in college, especially around exam week, when you felt like you were never done? You could always spend another hour studying, and any time you spent doing anything else was time taken away from that. Job searching for a living is a lot like that, especially during the day, which coincidentally is also when you play golf, um...mostly. No matter how much you do in a day, you're never done. Granted, that doesn't apply to weekends as much, but do you really think I'm going to ask the wife, who by the way, works 50 hours a week most of the time, to babysit the 5 year old while I go play golf? If you answered yes to that, then you're not married, now, are you?

It's the classic conundrum; when you're working, you have no time to play. Then, when you have time, you a) don't have the money, and b) you really don't have nearly as much time as you think. So, why am I telling you this? Because I'm here to help. Because statistically speaking, somewhere between 9.7% and 11.2% of you are unemployed. And I don't want you to suffer like I suffered. Here's what you do.

1. Make a plan. Your household will need to have a budget anyway, but here's the thing. Include a line item on that budget for golf. It's ballsy, pardon the semi-pun. But now, more than ever, you're going to need to play.

2. You will, however, want to economize. Twilight rates are there for a reason. Don't look down your nose at the local muni, even if you're used to fancier digs. Eat before you play. I would never suggest that you sneak beverages onto a course that prohibits them, but there's a reason those Gatorade bottles fit so well in the side pocket of a carry bag.

3. Don't hide it from your spouse. Bargain if you can, beg if you must, but this is one of those times when you need to be up front. You won't enjoy yourself if you're sneaking around and hiding the scorecard. If you need to get permission, suck it up and get it.

4. This is the most important one. Give yourself permission. Take the time off, just like you would if you were working. Hit the job search hard the day before, and again before you play. You won't feel done, but you'll feel like it's OK to go. It's a well-known fact that most HR professionals take Friday afternoons off. That's not even remotely true, but it was my experience that I rarely got calls on a Friday afternoon. If you just can't stand being out of contact, check your messages at the turn. Not every hole, not every shot, but once.

Do this right, and you'll make it through. The game is an awesome way to put the real world off for a while. It won't be the same, it'll still feel weird. But here's why you have to try. I got a job. And, given the wacky nature of the modern economy, I interviewed on a Thursday, came back for a 2nd on Monday, accepted their offer on Tuesday, and started the following Monday. And a couple of those days in between, it rained. I didn't get a celebratory round in, and now, guess what? I don't have time to play again.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

GOLF EQUIPMENT REVIEW: Scratch Golf 1018 Wedge

We've all heard the phrase "Drive for Show, Putt for Dough", and chances are we've all uttered it at some point during our rounds. It is both easy to relate to and entirely misleading all at once. The truth is that every shot during a round is as important as the next. Bad drives can not only change your entire approach to a hole, but can also cost you stroke and distance if those dreaded white stakes are stationed near your errant shot. Good putting can definitely save you strokes, especially if you are making everything inside 6 feet, but putting for dough is reliant upon both good ball-striking with the irons, and perhaps even more so upon deadly accurate wedge play.

For me, scoring well seems to be most dependent on good ball-striking and hitting lots of greens in regulation. This takes pressure off of my putter and wedges, helping me gain confidence in the rest of my game. I play to an 8 handicap, which means that I am capable of playing any hole very well and generally strike the ball well, but also means that I still suffer through bouts of inconsistency when I will miss bunches of greens during a round. Regardless of whether I am hitting a lot of greens or not, one club I hit as often as any other is my 58 degree wedge. I feel very comfortable with this club, and hit it from all kinds of lies be it sand, deep rough, chips to tight pins, pitches from 75 yards in, and full shots inside 100 yards. I love to manipulate the openness of the face to achieve different results depending on what the shot calls for.

For the last 14 years I have played exclusively Cleveland wedges in various styles and loft combinations. Most recently I settled on my trusty Cleveland CG10s. For a few years I used a 52/56/60 combination, but wanting to get an additional hybrid in my bag, I decided to switch to a 52/58 combo in addition to my Mizuno MP-32 P-Wedge back in 2007. In early 2008, I received a Cleveland CG14 as a gift, and after putting it in my bag for 5-6 rounds, the CG10 quickly reclaimed its spot where it has remained until three weeks ago. The problem for me with the CG14 was the "over-engineering" in it. I have grown to love the feel of a simple and solid forged clubhead, and with the vibration dampening inserts and different sole grind, I just never felt comfortable with the CG14.

So, as much as I love my CG10s, they were beginning to suffer a loss of spin as I had hit 1000s of balls with each. I had been coveting the new Cleveland CG15s, but had been more than a bit infatuated with Scratch Wedges since "discovering" them late last year, then meeting their team at the 2010 PGA Merchandise Show where I got my first face-to-face hands on look at their beautifully spartan designs. I was impressed that corporate sponsorship averse Ryan Moore not only chose to play Scratch clubs without being paid to do so, but also was sporting their logo cap while playing on tour. Of course, a highlight of this year for Ryan was his ace on #16 at Augusta National during the 2010 Masters using his Scratch SB-1 Irons. I decided with some trepidation to give the guys at Scratch a call, and get myself a couple of new wedges. At least, I thought, I could write a legitimate review of them if I put them in play for a while, and if they played well, it would be great to get a few of you to come buy them from on my recommendation.

So, while I did get the wedges at a discount, I did purchase the clubs with my own money, lest you think I am simply a shill for Scratch Golf. I bought the 8620 model in 53 degrees bent to 52 degrees in the Driver/Slider TNC Grind. I  also bought the 1018 model in 58 degrees with the Driver/Slider EGG Grind, and this is the club I'll be reviewing today. I use the 58 degree club at least 3 times as often as I use the 52 degree, so have already gained a great deal of experience hitting the 58, thus a better review. Also, the 8620s are not available until mid-September due to higher than expected demand.

The special thing that Scratch Golf does is create clubs that are shaped and ground to better match your current swing and shot preferences. While they do offer a full fitting experience which requires you to visit their facilities down in Chattanooga, TN, they have plenty of options available in their standard line of wedges to fit most of our swings. The first thing one needs to determine before shopping for their new Scratch wedge is to determine what they use their wedges for most, and what the most common results of good shots and bad shots are in terms of divot size and fat versus thin contact. The steepness of your attack angle when swinging from various lies generally determines the characteristics of your wedge play that need to be better accommodated by a custom grind.

Here are the short explanations of the three swing types as defined by Scratch Golf:

Digger / Driver: Players in this swing profile tend to be very “steep and deep” with the club at impact. Their aggressive angle of attack causes the club head to dig into the ground requiring greater bounce angles to get the club head back out of the ground and maintain contact between the face and golf ball. Miss-hits for this profile are commonly fat.

Driver / Slider: This swing type encompasses a vast majority of golfers. These players will try and trap the ball between the clubface and ground, taking a shallow, even divot. Driver/Slider’s moderate angle of attack requires a mid-bounce angle providing assistance in maintaining the club head’s path through the turf and ensuring crisp, clean contact. Driver/Sliders tend to miss both thin and fat.

Sweeper/Slider: Often a favorite of course superintendents, Sweeper/Sliders have a very shallow angle of attack and take little to no divot at all. This swing profile requires a low bounce angle, which helps combat the thin miss-hit for Sweeper/Sliders.

Chances are that you can accurately fit yourself into one of these three types of swings, but that isn't where they stop. In each of the three swing type categories are two different grinds for the lower and higher of the wedge lofts. As I mentioned above, I am a Driver/Slider, so got a grind that fits my swing tendencies and allows me to open up the face of my 58 degree with the leading edge remaining closer to the ground.

So, on to the point of the has the club performed? Well, the first shot I hit with it during an actual round was a 35 yard pitch on a long Par 5 after my decent drive and excellent 3-wood finished there. Good swing, solid contact, flew to the front edge of the green, bounced twice, then rolled out about 20 feet downhill and directly into the hole for an eagle! OK, great start, I thought, but that was just luck. Well, no more eagles over the next five rounds, but this club is staying in my bag for a long time.

It took me about 9-10 shots to get used to the extra feedback this club gives me with its forged head and KBS Tour shafts, but now that I have, I love it. I have been able to hit both tight fairway shots as well as from the deep rough with spin from all kinds of distances inside 100 yards. My favorite shots with it have been from 60-75 yards when I just open the face slightly and take about a 90% swing. The ball lands, bounces twice, then checks up...awesome! The sound off the face is solid and confidence-building.

If I have a knock on this club at all, it might be out of greenside bunkers. It is likely that is due more to my sand game than the club because the last couple of years I have been dreadful in the sand, but it is possible that I sacrificed too much bounce in opting for the ability to open the face more. I am going to work on it and give it a few more rounds, but I might need to grab a 56 degree with more bounce to use out of the sand. I also may try hitting the 52 degree more often out of the sand to see if that helps. My guess is that the customized grind will assist most players with their bunker shots despite my troubles.

The Scratch 1018 forged wedges are for sale right now at for $169.99. That is a savings of $10 off the $179.95 MSRP! Of course, with a single wedge exceeding our $75 shipping threshold, you will not pay a penny for shipping on these wedges either. While there, make sure to check out their irons and Hybrid clubs as well.

Wedges are a very personal thing, and I play with lots of people who have been using their same wedges for a very long time because they have developed a comfort level with how it performs. While I can understand and relate to that, I think for most people, a wedge with new grooves and better matched to your own swing can only help your scoring...and closer wedge play means you'll make more putts. So, instead of "putt for dough", shouldn't it be "wedge for dough"?

Fairways and Greens! 

Monday, July 19, 2010


Directly in between Chicago and Milwaukee in Northern Lake County, IL lay one of the most interesting and scenic golf courses that I have ever played on. This is a golf course that has gotten better with time as the fairways and greens have matured into firm yet receptive conditions across the course. This is a golf course that manages to put a premium on accuracy off the tees despite offering ample landing areas and tee placements to accommodate high and low handicappers alike. This is a golf course that was the first of only two courses in Illinois to achieve Audubon Signature certification marking it as a shining example of maintaining a first class golf experience while minimizing the damaging impacts on the local environment. A haven for golfers and wildlife alike, this is Thunderhawk Golf Club.

Surely, you haven't heard of Beach Park, IL, so give yourself ample time to get to Thunderhawk from wherever it is you are coming. Sitting on the cusp of the Illinois/Wisconsin border, and a good 15-20 minutes from I-90/94, I have seen many a playing partner take their first swing of the day on the first tee box due to a longer than expected commute. Do not, under any circumstances, let that keep you from seeking out this course and giving it a go.

If you have read my past golf course reviews, you will know this about me, I love a good value, and I really love courses that offer a wide variety of holes with risk/reward options. Thunderhawk Golf Club has both of these in spades. In the recent past, Thunderhawk, for me, was a once-per-year kind of course both due to the fact that it was so far away from my home in downtown Chicago, and because the rates were nearly prohibitive at almost $100 for prime time weekend rounds. Though they can not move the course location, I recently moved much closer to this course, eliminating the travel factor. What the course did accomplish was something that many, many other courses need to do as well, they lowered their rates! I don't know how many half empty Saturday tee sheets a course has to see before realizing that by lowering their rates they will attract more golfers, but Thunderhawk got the message. Not only do they offer compelling twilight rates of $55 after 1:00 and $47 after 3:00 on weekends, but their standard rate of $85 from open through 1:00 on weekends is worth the cost - and they let you replay for $25 more! If you can play during the week, it gets even better with an early bird special of $39 from open through 8:00 am. That is quite possibly the best value in all of Chicagoland.

The clubhouse fits the landscape like a glove, and the staff, though often confused by their own multi-tiered pricing structure, is always friendly and accommodating. Though the snack bar is out of the way from the turn, and offers nothing compelling beyond a hot dog or turkey sandwich, the restaurant is very nice, and regularly hosts medium-sized weddings on it's beautiful brick patio overlooking the stunning 18th green. They offer a nice selection of apparel in the pro shop, and the restrooms are clean and spacious. The driving range is nowhere close to the 1st tee, so if you are walking (and, really, you should be walking), give yourself a good 10 minutes to get over to the starter, and more if you want to take a few practice putts (also highly recommended as these greens can run pretty quick and are laden with undulation). My commentary below is from the Brass tees, so adjust accordingly should you decide on the tips or the two shorter options.

The first hole is a very well designed first hole. Nothing too fancy or tough on this straight and short par 4, allowing for a variety of club choices off the tee (I almost always opt for the 3-wood unless the wind is really howling in either direction). Don't take this hole too much for granted, however, as you will not find your ball in the tall stuff well left, and you have OB all the way up the right side. The green is large, and offers one of the flatter putts you will face today.

As you stand on the 2nd tee, the first of many risk/reward decisions come into play. If you can't hit the driver more than 245 yards, or want to hit a shorter club on this par 5, knocking one straight up the left fairway is a safe and more than acceptable decision. If you, however, have notions of eagle right off the bat, it is a shorter carry than it appears over the wetlands, and left of the imposing tree protecting the right side. About 210 yards is enough to sneak over that right side. Accomplish that or better and you will be staring straight at a wide open green and ample fairway in front of you making both a big swing or layup viable and comfortable options. Beware, this green can be tricky, and you don't want to be chipping back from behind the green, so if you do miss, short and right is usually best.

The third hole is a bear of a par 3. On a busy day, this is normally a bottleneck on the course even with the mandatory drop rule that is well-signed on the tee. Generally you will be facing a tee shot of about 190 yards with almost all of that being carry over wetlands. The green is a big saddle with a low are in the middle between two shelves left and right. Par is a good score on this hole, and don't be too hard on a bogey either.

On the fourth hole, an average length par 4, everything on the tee tells you to hit it into the big open right side of the fairway, and there is nothing wrong with that play. Don't be too aggressive nor too far right, however, or your ball will have surprisingly disappeared into the ubiquitous wetland weeds, and you will be hitting your 3rd shot from 180 yards. My suggestion, if you can carry your driver 225 or so is to hit your tee shot directly over the right side of the big fairway bunker in the middle of the fairway. Clear it, and you will be hitting a short and trusty club into another well protected green. In 14 rounds here, I have played this hole to an average of 4.14 strokes, and never taken worse than a bogey, so I practice what I preach.

I am not the best spokesperson for the 5th hole which is an otherwise straightforward and slightly shorter than average par 4 with a wide fairway. For whatever reason I am forever hitting pull hooks into the forest guarding the entire left side of this hole, and from a drop there have little chance of doing better than double bogey. For most of you, anything from long iron through driver relatively straight should put you in position for an easy approach shot to a rather huge green. The putts can be tricky depending on pin position, but I would think this isn't one of the most challenging holes out here.

Turn the corner through the woods and feast your eyes on one seriously cool par 3. This really big peanut shaped green offers the course loads of options for how to punish the golfers on any given day, but at most you will face about a 160 yard shot - over a small pot bunker to the tiny portion of the green, of course. On front pin placements, short and right is a very acceptable miss as it could leave you with an uphill putt or chip from a closely mown area. The key to hitting it close here is being aware of a ridge running from the front to back of this green that will funnel your ball to the pin as long as you catch the correct side of it. For the tricky left pin, aim just right of the right edge of the bunker fronting the green then let the green funnel the ball down for a good look at birdie.

Remember that risk/reward comment? You've got a whole bunch of options on the next two holes, beginning with the super-fun Par 5 7th hole. This very reachable par 5 offers a huge landing area to the right off the tee for those so inclined, but better be short right or your ball will roll right through the fairway and into the woods making your conservative play quite penal. With the prevailing SW winds, I much prefer to take the drive right over the bunkers bordering the left side of the dogleg. It's a 225 yard carry that plays shorter than it looks, and if you carry the ridge just beyond the bunker complex, you could be coming into this par 5 with a scoring iron in your hands. This green can be tricky with a back pin, but front pins are pretty straightforward.

On to number 8, a drivable par 4 that offers another risk/reward decision. Again, with the prevailing winds, I actually think what looks like the risky shot is actually the safe play, and that is a drive over the small lake directly at the green. Often, the pin is around 270 yards from the tee, and the carry over the lake is a hair over 200 yards. You can definitely bail out to the right with the routing of the fairway, but if you do, I recommend you leave the driver in the bag as there are bunkers very well placed to catch any errant shots. If you do find yourself in one of these fairway bunkers, you might as well kiss any chance at par goodbye, and you have likely made a cautious decision that cost you 2-3 strokes.

After a couple of great scoring chances, Thunderhawk slaps back hard on the long par 4 ninth hole. If you've got the shot, a hard, long, controlled draw that wraps right around the 150 barber pole is the best drive. For the other 99% of you, hit this drive as far as you can, or play it as a par 5. Wetlands guard the right side making a ballooning fade sure death. The left side is guarded by tall weeds followed by woods making a shorter shot left of the barber pole a nearly impossible approach shot, most of the time requiring a short chip into the fairway beyond the dogleg left. The approach shot is significantly up hill with woods bordering both sides of the fairway, and the large green well protected short and right by a handful of deep bunkers carved into a steep slope. Bogey is a good score here, and pars are great. If you are able to manage a birdie, you have taken a good amount of bite out of this course.

Make the turn to number 10 and take a breath. This is a pretty simple driving hole as any shot over 210 yards in the fairway will trundle down the hill and add 20-30 yards to your drive. 200 yards or so will even carry the bunker on the left. Don't knock it too far left, however, or you'll be hitting three from the tee. Back pin positions on this green can be a challenge as it slopes pretty severely from back to front and has a ridge separating the left and right halves, but relatively speaking, this is one of the easier holes on the course.

Take a good look from the par 5 eleventh tee, and hopefully you've read this review before playing it. Don't be afraid of those bunkers on the left side of the fairway as the entire landing area right of the bunkers slopes hard left to right ad well struck shots will easily run all the way down to the weeds on the right side of the hole. It's another 210 or so yard carry over the far right of the fairway bunkers and will leave you with a flatter lie and a fairly easy approach to any pin on the right 2/3 of the green. Even with an inaccessible left pin, this is still the best play as the green will always be in view. The green is pretty flat as these greens go, so once on, a two-putt is common.

The short par 4 twelfth offers options off the tee once again, but I like to think that a hybrid or fairway wood is the correct option. A pull hook off this tee is certain death, and the further right you hit it, the quicker you bring the short but thick line of trees into play. It is a short hole, so after a decent drive, you should be holding a comfortable iron or wedge in your hands. That is a good thing because this is a very long and contoured green making putting here a challenge once on the green.

Onto the long par 3 thirteenth hole, one which seems to give everybody fits. I'm not exactly sure why it plays so difficult, even at 200+ yards. Perhaps it is the narrowness of the peanut shaped green guarded on both sides by bunkers. If you miss right or left, you will be short sided regardless of where the pin is located. The best miss is simply short, and, of course, hitting the green is always the best option. This is another hole where par is a very good score.

Now onto the very short par 4 fourteenth hole that is not much of a challenge if you play it correctly. A solid 200 yard shot straight up the fairway will put you in great position to hit a very short club into this elevated green. What challenge this hole presents is in the contouring of the green along with the severe drop off fronting the green making short or heavily spinning shots roll down to that fun little tight lie straight up the slope. Just keep you head on the shots here, and you should score well.

The par 3 fifteenth is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Go ahead and take one extra club here no matter how you feel. I am pretty sure I've never seen anyone hit it past the pin off this tee despite its relatively short yardage. Everything rolls off the front and right into another fun collection area, so be long, be long, be long! Interesting note here...this hole features one of the most ridiculous forward tees I've ever seen. From this tee box, you really could putt the ball onto the green, and a bump and run is probably the most appropriate play. Pretty silly tee box for any ladies with even a reasonable amount of game. You'll see it, and I think, agree with me on this one.

I have mixed feelings about the par 5 sixteenth hole. It is a beautiful hole, but visually confusing, and the final approach can be intimidating and confounding. Furthermore, nearby lives a  very vocal rooster who apparently wants you to know the sun is up all day long. If you are a big hitter (and I do mean BIG), and can lace a draw that carries a good 265+ yards in the air, then you can wrap it around the big trees on the left side and reach the second fairway over a ball-eating creek. The much more prudent play is a driver directly up the right fairway that rolls out right in front of you. This is not a hole reachable in two shots for the vast majority of players, so stay patient, and stay left as the lake on the right side is waiting to receive any shots fading even a bit too much. This green is well protected short left, short right, and short straight by bunkers and that stinking lake again. If you've got a great lie after your drive, a fairway wood about 40 yards left of the green is not the worst play as you could get past all the bunkers on the left side, and open up a great pitch and run angle to the green. This hole is hard, plain and simple, and requires both good decision making and well struck shots. Don't forget to enjoy the view.

The par 3 seventeenth can be a lot of fun, as long as you keep your tee shot left. Usually a short or mid iron off the tee, there seems to be a tendency to leak shots just a bit right and the lake will collect each and every one of those shots. Get onto the correct portion of this "L" shaped green and you could grab yourself another birdie here.


Finally, one of my favorite finishing holes anywhere, the par 5 eighteenth hole at Thunderhawk. This drive calls for a draw, but unless you already drove it onto the second fairway on 16, don't bother risking a wild shot. Yes, I've seen people try for this green in two shots, but generally the longer you drive, the shorter you iron that you will be laying up with. See, the second shot is all downhill all the way to about 50 yards short of the green where a rocky creek bed runs across the front of the green complex separating it from the end of the fairway, and providing one final challenge to your round. The front of the green is significantly downhill from the back, so make your club choice count on the approach so you have a decent chance at making your putt. If you pull it off you could walk off with a birdie, and par is there for you if you keep your attention through this hole.

So, in summary, I strongly recommend playing Thunderhawk at least once, and I'll bet you will find yourself wanting to come back again and again. If you do play it, or have played it, let me know if you agree, I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Fairways and Greens!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

GOLF BOOK REVIEW: Straight Down the Middle, by: Josh Karp

Funny thing about this blog of mine, it is bringing me opportunities to meet others whom I otherwise would never have met, and who share with me a love for and addiction to the game of golf. Case in point, about a month ago, Josh Karp reached out to me via e-mail, and asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing his new book "Straight Down The Middle". I, of course, replied that I would love to, and that just as soon as I moved (my family and I recently moved from Chicago, IL to Grayslake, IL) I would find some time to do just that. The book showed up a few days later direct from the folks at, and was promptly packed into one of my "Open Immediately" boxes.

Well, the move happened on June 7th, and I started reading the book on June 9th. Five days later I completed the last chapter (I never knew there was a Shivas Irons Society), and I can tell you I am impressed. Now, the truth be told, I've never actually reviewed a book before, so forgive me if this seems a little proletariat for you. I will also do my best to avoid giving away anything that might make reading this book irrelevant, but honestly, that would be hard to do. As with many golf books I've read, and I have read many, "Straight Down The Middle" can easily be read more than once.

The basic premise is that Josh, a self-proclaimed Agnewish (Agnostic Jew) father of four - yes FOUR young boys, has decided to try to improve his golf game using a veritable cornucopia of Zen-inspired methods and techniques as opposed to the purely mechanical route of hiring Hank Haney and thoroughly embarrassing oneself on television. Josh begins the story as an 18-handicap (meaning he is capable, but struggles to break 90) who, like most of us, frequently melts down after imperfect shots, blaming his own ineptitude as an athlete and even as a person for all the troubles he is made to suffer while on the course. Josh also reportedly has some significant issues with pessimism and worry in general as evidenced by his certainty that any day some fatal malady is going to befall him.

As a father of two children myself (aged 1 and 3), I found the experience he undertook to be both inspirational and unbelievable all at once. Josh's wife should have gotten her name in the title in addition to her top billing in the acknowledgments. His travels and frequent playing, researching, and writing surely had to have put a strain on their marriage and only through her great understanding and patience was Josh able to pull this off, to be sure.

The number of methods available to a golfer in search of a better swing are countless, and Josh legitimately tries many of them. From quantum mechanics to martial arts and meditation, Josh patiently accepts and experiments with each one in turn, allowing each new technique the time it deserves to integrate with Josh's game. I found it particularly interesting when two methods would come in conflict with one another to hear how Josh handled it. One particular case of this was between Steve Yellin, media relations director at Maharishi University in Fairfield, IA and Jim Waldron, owner of the Balance Point Golf School. Josh handles the conflict between Yellin's "feeling your swing" and Waldron's bio-mechanics inspired methods with ease slecting the best of each method and blending them in his own practice.

Josh is an avid golf book reader himself, and is continually drawn to comparisons of these methods with moments in the great golf novel "Golf in the Kingdom" by Michael Murphy, the first of many golf-themed books that I have read myself, and that woke me up to the potential of energy fields, and playing golf in the now. This journey that Josh undertakes culminates with both a trip to golf's Mecca itself in Scotland (though, disappointingly not the Old Course at St. Andrew's) followed by a tournament at the famed Straits course at Whistling Straits in Haven, WI, a course that is, disappointingly, still on my must-play list.

"Straight Down The Middle" is very well-written, engaging, and effortlessly blends Josh's experiences both with playing golf and with learning from the teachers and gurus themselves. Josh also uses his lessons in his personal life, partially exorcising some of his daemons, and helping him to yes, play better golf, but perhaps more importantly, to enjoy the golf he plays.

I think that final point is what I found to be the single most important lesson shared by Josh through his experience, that, for most of us, playing better golf will result from, rather than lead to being happier with how we play. Easier said than done, but something to which each one of us should strive to do more often. I look forward to meeting Josh in person, and to see if I can't garner some deeper nuggets of wisdom while playing swing.

I encourage each of you to click the link below and grab yourself a copy of "Straight Down The Middle". This book will fit very nicely on your bookshelf next to your copies of "Golf in the Kingdom", "Zen Golf", and Harvey Penick's "Little Red Book".

Fairways and Greens!

Monday, June 14, 2010

GOLF COURSE REVIEW: Cog Hill Golf & Country Club #4 - "Dubsdread"

Frequently, when you meet a golfer from Chicago, the conversation will begin with a pitiful whine about the weather, and how much better life would be if he or she could just live somewhere that golf is played year round in warm idyllic conditions. In fact, I promise you that if an when you meet me, I will do the very same thing. Chicago is a tough climate to endure for the avid golfer. While we might sneak out for a round or two on unseasonably mild days during the winter months, generally speaking we Chicagoans must hop on an airplane to play meaningful golf from late November until early March, and many of us simply take the clubs out of the car and try to rediscover our swings at around the first thaw.

So, why don't we all just gather our things and move down south? OK, so, lots of Chicagoans actually do just that. There must be something keeping the rest of us here, though, right?

Something that we are blessed with here in the upper Midwest states is fertile land upon which to grow, without a doubt, the greatest grass on which to play golf. Yes, if you haven't played on true bentgrass fairways and greens, then you need to take a trip up here. To top that off, Chicago features within an hour's drive in every direction some of the greatest public golf courses in the country (and from what I've read and heard, quite a number of the private ones as well). Among my personal Top 5 are Pine Meadow, Thunderhawk, Cantigny, and Prairie Landing, but the crown jewel of public golf in Chicago has to be the famed fourth course at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club. Better known to the masses as "Dubsdread", Cog Hill #4 is the current home of the FedEx Cup's BMW Championship after having hosted the PGA Tour's Western Open from 1991-2006.

Unfortunately, "Dubs" is also quite expensive to play relative to the other great public courses in the area, so it limits my rounds on the course to once every 2-3 years. In my four complete rounds at "Dubs" I have grown to enjoy the course more and more as one is prone to do as they become more familiar with the course and it loses some of that intimidation factor. Just prior to writing this review I shot an 84 on "Dubs", my best round of my four on the course, and am currently an 8.4 handicap, so a very good score for me. This despite being marred by an awful start during which I went 7-over through the first four holes, including a par on the Par 3 2nd. With that said, don't you dare ever pay more than $100 to play any of Bolingbrook Golf Course, The Glen Club, or Ruffled Feathers if you can get on "Dubs" might just be better than all three of those courses combined!

The round I just finished there was also my first at "Dubs" since they closed for the entire 2008 season while "The Open Doctor" Rees Jones undertook a fairly massive renovation project that took a once outstanding course into the realm of unbeatable. Most of the renovation was to make the course more playable after the frequent heavy rains that befall it during the summer months. All 18 greens were rebuilt over a new Sub-Air System which actually sucks the moisture from right underneath the green complex. It appeared to my group that this was working under the bunkers as well.

Three weeks prior to the round I completed, we tried to play, but only finished 7 holes before a long and torrential Memorial Day downpour halted us at the halfway house. Following a 90+ minute delay, most everyone packed it in, collected their rain checks and went home, but my buddy and I tried to wait it out. Though we attempted unsuccessfully to play the eighth hole before another wave of rain drenched us, we got right up to the green and realized that despite taking on about two inches of rain in 90 minutes, there wasn't even the smallest of puddles on either the green or the 4 million bunkers that front the eighth hole...that is unprecedented drainage for the Chicago area, or perhaps anywhere.

Aside from the greens, Mr. Jones also added and/or deepened many of the fairway bunkers that give pause to anyone used to cutting off some of the corners out there. Being the absolute worst part of my game, the fairway bunkering was terrifying, apparently enough to keep me out of them on all but the first hole which I double bogeyed. On the 7th hole which had been arguably the easiest hole on the course, Rees went and dug a small lake on the inside of the dog leg right that now makes cutting the corner a tremendous risk.

The renovation also included the addition of several sets of tees, which along with a "Combo" course that uses different tees on different holes, allows for a much better dispersion of golfers to play a course fair to their ability. The course rating/slope for men stretches from 70.2/130 on the forward tees to a killer 77.8/151 from the tips and for women from 72.8/135 on the forward tees to an unbelievable 80.2/150 from the Blue tees with two unrated tees behind it (my foursome played these blue tees at 73.9/138 for us).

The greens fees for Cog Hill #4 are a flat $155 no matter the time of day or the season. This fee includes your 18 hole round, complementary range balls at a very nice facility just adjacent to the #4 course, and a golf cart with Laser Link distance finder. I stuck to my practice of walking when allowed as did Brad, but the other two took the cart (though with the Laser Link oddly absent).

I have now played this course four times (plus the additional 7 holes on Memorial Day) and have never played it without having to stop for at least a few minutes to let some heavy rain/thunder/lightning pass through. Coincidence? Probably, but I can't help feeling a bit cursed. Alas, this past round was delayed by 45 minutes due to T-Storms, but we got underway in dry, but humid weather only to be delayed for another 45 minutes again after hitting our drives on 16. Disappointingly, Cog Hill has chosen not to install a lightning alarm system on their courses suggesting that all players may play at their own risk. Of course, some players being less sensible than others, this policy creates some odd and uncomfortable moments as groups change position as some take shelter and others play on. Not a big deal, but worth noting.

For the following course review, please note that I am describing how the course exists now, and will not take the words to describe every little change Rees Jones made during the renovation. If you've played this course before the renovation, suffice it to say, it got even better, and if you've never played it before, it won't matter to you what changes were made. If you are really interested in the depth of the changes, click this link to view it in full.Also, any yardage and par references are from the Blue tees.

The first hole, while not the most challenging on the course, is also not one that eases you into your round. A long dog leg left, this 425 yard hole hardly even dares you to try to cut the corner as a plethora of deep fairway bunkers and trees block that path sufficiently well for the vast majority of us mortals. Following a safe drive in the fairway, you will probably be faced with a long iron or hybrid into a very well protected green which will slope from back to front and left to right on most pin placements. Bear in mind, however, that on almost every hole at "Dubs" different pins will create very different slopes, and there are very few places on the course where you can "bail out" long, short, left, or to hit the green as often as you can. As bad as the bunkers appear, they are almost always better than missing the green into the lush rough growing along the steep sides of the green complexes. You will almost never get a greenside chip from either short grass or a flat lie, and the first is no exception.

The second hole can be played from an alternate hole I have never experienced, so if you have that chance, you're on your own, though I would encourage you to come back and tell us about it. As you consider your club selection on the 182 yard Par 3 2nd hole, be aware that going long is just as bad as short, so choose your weapon wisely, aim for the center of the green and put a good smooth stroke on it. The only exception might be a back right pin placement where long won't kill you.

For whatever reason, the Par 4 3rd, at a very manageable 407 yards is a nightmare for me. I've missed right, I've missed left, and I've 3-putted this green multiple times. There really isn't that much to this hole. Sure, there are small water hazards off the right and left sides of the "landing area", but they are small. The green can play difficult, but it isn't the worst complex on the course, so don't follow my lead...try to get yourself a par here while you still have some confidence (assuming you brought any of that to the course with you).

Side by side back and forth holes are not my thing, but Cog Hill handles them with grace. The fourth is a Par 4 of "only" 397 yards. Better to miss left back into the 3rd fairway than right into another small water hazard that simply eats golf balls. Even if you find your ball near said water hazard, you will be lucky to have a window through which to chip you approach through a stand a big old willow and oak trees. This is one of those greens that can present nightmares depending on the pin position, and another one where bailing out long is bad news.

Turning onto the fifth hole, hopefully you have maintained some sense of yourself, and haven't let the course get into your head. This uphill 479 yard hole may or may not be a Par 5. It is listed as 4/5 on the card, but gives no indication of how that applies to different tees, gender, etc. Just to forewarn, I played it in four shots for a par/birdie which included a well struck driver followed by a well struck 3-wood, a chip from just in front of the green and a putt. We called it a par 5, though I guess what the par is doesn't matter much when compiling your score. I do wish they would better clarify what the intent of the course is here.

The sixth hole is the longest, and arguably the most difficult Par 3 on the course (though I would give all four of them plenty of respect). If Cog Hill doesn't allow you one thing, it's a break on a Par 3. All four of them are over 180 to the center of the green, and all four have some very penal areas into which you can deposit any number of less than perfect shots. On the 194 yard sixth hole, best to take the extra club and hit the middle of the green. This green is enormous and has all kinds of tiers, but best to be on and bogey at worst. I hit my 3-Hybrid the last two times I played it and was on the back portion of the green.

The seventh, even with the added water hazard is still a little bit of a breather, though much less than in the past. At 385 yards, my advice is to forget about clearing the hazard, and just aim down the left side with your drive. This is a very challenging green with four "arms" to it. Even a middle pin isn't a piece of cake as it will challenge your green reading skills to their fullest.

If you hadn't already done so on four or seven, go ahead and leave the driver in the bag on the 341 yard eighth hole. Staying in the fairway is important here as you are going to have a blind shot over an army of bunkers fronting the green. This isn't the deepest green on the course, and there is more trouble behind, so getting a ball to stick on the green is important to avoid making this hole more difficult than it needs to be.

Put on your marching shoes on number nine. At 586 yards, this is the longest hole on the course, and provides you a very narrow fairway upon which to focus with large trees on both sides of the hole. Don't try to do too much here, are not getting home in two, seriously. Hit the clubs that get you to a good manageable mid to short iron for your third shot, and make it count. This is a big green, but one of the flatter ones on the course. get your par, you can do it!

Number ten is a good birdie opportunity if you can keep anything from a long iron up to a driver right of the trees without getting into one of the many bunkers lining the right side of the fairway. At 353 yards, you don't need more than 200 yards to get into a good approach position to this green.

Leave on the left side of the tenth green and head across the street to tee off on the reachable 547 yard Par 5 11th hole. Despite OB up the right side, that is where you'll hit the ideal tee shot to have a chance to cut off the dog leg left and go for the green in two. If you simply don't want to risk it, birdie is still very achievable after hitting a drive up the left. A solid layup will leave you with a short pitch shot to one of the bigger and flatter greens on the course.

I believe that the 194 yard Par 3 12th is where "Dubs" really begins taking on mythic status. This big downhill shot for an incredibly picturesque tee box at the height of the property makes you feel like you can't miss this shot. Ah, but you certainly can. Settle down and pay attention because those bunkers down there are very deep, and going long of the green will get you absolutely nothing good. Enjoy the hole, but don't pay it too much's still a downhill Par 3.

The thirteenth hole begins a stretch of holes lasting back to the clubhouse where slicers must beware. The rest of the way into the house, the right side is bad news, and the 383 yard 13th is no exception. The length won't kill you here, so hit a manageable club off the tee. Once you begin planning your approach, try to make a miss be long rather than short. Thought they have cleared away the tall fescue and weeds which once guarded the front, it is still a steep face of rough with a creek down in the ravine.

Climb your way up to the barn which stands guard over the 14th tee. This 184 yard Par 3 can cause some major fits of anguish even with shots finding the green, much less those finding one of the many greenside bunkers ringing this hole. It seems as though all shots on the green funnel to the back middle, so hope for a favorable pin, or putting could be an adventure.

At only 482 yards, the Par 5 15th hole is a great opportunity to get some strokes back...unless you are like me and choose to ignore the few gifts this course offers. A healthy shot in the fairway should set you up for a good attempt at reaching in two, but I witnessed several golfers try it on this hole with nary a one finding success as we waited out the rain next to the 15th green. Most of the trouble here is along the right side, so whether going for the green or laying up, stay to the left for the best outcome. Another big green with less contouring than most of the Cog Hill greens.

After some discussion on the matter, our group seemed to agree that the Par 4 16th, a dog leg left measuring 381 yards, might just be the most memorable and beautiful holes on this course which would put it pretty high up there on most "best holes in America" list. The tee sits up high over the fairway with a forest of trees blocking the view of the last 100 or so yards of fairway and the green. Once down in the fairway, you are shooting to a very elevated green guarded by deep bunkers front right and left, while shots hit long and left will careen down a steep hill leaving a ridiculously difficult recovery attempt. The green along with the rest of the hole slopes from left to right, but is surprisingly flat on the back portion. Simply a great hole that will challenge the best of golfers, but rewards good shots in kind.

The seventeenth suffers somewhat due to the fact that it is wedged between the 16th and 18th in terms of beauty, challenge, and memorability, but I would advise you to not take it too lightly. At 399 yards, this Par 4 features a slight dog leg to the right, with an open entry to the green on the front left side. If you are going to miss right off the tee, it better be WAY right as balls finding the 16th fairway you just finished will have a much better chance of finding the green than anything remotely close to the trees that separate the two holes. The 17th green is another enormous one, with subtle breaks throughout. This hole plays a lot harder than it looks.

The eighteenth tee will likely have you feeling a combination of relief and remorse. You probably have shot several strokes more than you normally do, but have that nagging feeling of desire to simply head back over to #1 and start again. This extremely difficult finishing hole still has plans for you, however, so snap out of it! This 431 yard monster of a Par 4, snakes around some maintenance buildings on the right side, with bunkers and willow trees standing guard there as well. The green sits perilously close to a large lake that you will immediately recognize from seeing it so often on television. What better way to finish your round than striping a long iron or hybrid through an opening to the green mere feet from a watery grave? If you, like me, can walk away with part here, enjoy the smile because you deserve it.

Cog Hill #4 is an absolute masterpiece and should be on everyone's must play list. This is a course worth traveling to play. I guarantee that if you have the means or the method to scratch up the $155 to play the course, by all means, take your shot. The conditioning of the course is as good as anywhere you've ever played, the service, while not uber-friendly, is acceptable, the practice areas are outstanding, and the course is challenging, long, and imminently fair for what it is. Try not to come with lofty expectations, but more to enjoy the experience...heck, maybe that approach will even help you play a great round! "Dubsdread" is definitely back at the top of my list of Chicago's public courses, and I'm guessing it'll top your list as well.

Finally, a moment of marketing for Cog Hill and the Jemsek family. This renovation was clearly done with a U.S. Open in mind, and in no way did it fail to meet those goals. I have played on Bethpage Black, and as great as it is, "Dubsdread" is every bit its equal...maybe better. Cog Hill is ready for a major championship, can easily accommodate the crowds, and will provide the pros every bit of challenge they need to face in an Open. I know those spots book up fast, but the USGA was onto something when they brought the Open to a public facility. There is something very special about the fact that anyone with the means necessary can head to Bethpage for a round on an Open course, and "Dubs" would be just the same. So, despite their stature, let's put Shinnecock, Pinehurst, and Oakmont on the shelf for a rotation, and bring the Championship to Cog Hill! 

For some great 360 degree photos of Cog Hill #4, check out

Fairways and Greens!

Friday, May 07, 2010

BEAVER GOLF REVIEW: Sunice Bowen Waterproof Jacket

Your rain gear isn't as good as mine is! Unless you are wearing the Bowen, or a similar piece from Sunice, it really isn't. OK, perhaps there are arguments to make against that statement, but I'm telling you right now that I have never owned a jacket that has come close to the level of performance I get with the Bowen. Though I will profit from your purchasing Sunice products from, I am not being paid by Sunice to review this product, nor was I provided with free product to self-test. I have now been wearing mine for a couple of weeks, and really put it to the test this morning as I walked without my umbrella about a mile in a moderate shower...not a drop of moisture made it through this jacket, keeping me warm and dry in the wet windy morning.
Some of you may already be aware of Sunice, but for those who aren't, a quick informational upload. As they inform us all on their own website, Sunice was created in 1976 by the combination of two Canadian companies - one which designed clothing, and another which manufactured firefighter uniforms. The goal of Sunice clothing is to free up the golfer from the discomfort and worry that adverse weather can bring so you can focus on your game instead of the weather. With their corporate headquarters in Canada, they know bad weather, so rest assured that these products are designed by experts who understand the importance of range of motion while keeping you warm or cool and dry. Pulled right from their own literature:
Contrary to popular belief, adding layers to your golf wardrobe can enhance your overall physical performance and ultimately improve your golf game. Properly designed performance layers become an integral part of your game enhancing equipment. Sunice Performance Layers are designed to create the ultimate golf apparel layering system that allows golfers to play their very best in all weather conditions.
The Sunice Shells collection is broken down into five categories, each offering a unique level of performance and weather protection features that allow you to choose the optimal shell designed specifically to meet your needs.
The Bowen jacket headlines the Sunice Tornado Collection which is defined by breathability, stretch, ultra lightweight and ultra quiet products backed by a 4-year waterproof guarantee. Truly inspired by the active golfer, Tornado offers highly breathable, waterproof stretch fabrics combined with game enhancing features. Perform at your best in even the toughest conditions.

The first thing I want from my go-to rain jacket is, of course, protection from the rain. The Bowen features a WxTECH coating providing a waterproof seal measuring 20,000 MM. To get this measurement, the testers will put a column of water on the surface of the jacket and measure at what level the water begins to seep through the fabric. So, in the case of the Bowen, that answer is 20,000 MM - probably more than you will even need for a round of golf, or even keeping you dry in the shower! To assure you of this protection, Sunice offers a 4-year waterproof guarantee with the Bowen, nice!
You may hear some out there boo-hoo the perceived overkill of 20,000 MM because it will also hurt the jacket's breathability causing you to overheat inside while keeping dry from the outside. While that may be true in general, the Bowen jacket also features ultra-breathable and lightweight FLEXVENT fabric with a breathability measurement of 20,000 MVT which measures the amount of water vapor the fabric allows to escape from inside to out. 20,000 MVT appears to be at the top of the chart meaning this jacket successfully keeps liquid from getting in without preventing vapor from getting out - that adds up to you staying comfortable and dry even in a heavy rain - assuming you want to keep playing in that stuff!
Not enough for you yet? Well, allow me to continue. Sunice tells us that the Bowen has an ultra-quite and soft hand feel, which means quite simply that despite being highly waterproof, the fabric feels comfortably soft and resilient and doesn't make the "swish-swish" sound that a more "rubbery" jacket makes as your arms move through a swing or while walking. The exposed zippers are YKK, a multi-industry standard in zipper quality, and are sealed to add to the waterproof protection of this jacket. The zippers also lock down keeping the zipper at the level you want it.
Don't worry about the wind getting in from the bottom either, the Bowen comes with the Pro-Trim waist cinching system allowing you to control the seal around your waist from inside the pockets of the unzipping necessary to make subtle adjustments as the wind rises and abates. Additional adjustments can be made at the hem and wrists allowing you to control the seal between you and the elements even further. One last bonus in the left pocket is a snap-in microfiber towel to clean your ball or clubheads when not near your towel...the snap, of course, allows you to remove the towel for occasional cleaning.
The collar is designed to stand up, zipping into a mock turtleneck when needed. When it is warmer out, and it is partially zipped, many similar jackets will rub incessantly on your neck, and while Sunice hasn't solved this problem with the Bowen, what they did provide is some relief to the effect with the ultra-soft fabric and a "soft-touch chin guard" that provides a soft layer between the zipper and your skin.
The final, and perhaps highest on the coolness scale is the X-Static stretch lining in the jacket. The X-Static liner has a layer of pure silver bonded directly to the textile surface providing several helpful benefits from the silver itself. These benefits include thermal conduction and reflection to help regulate body temperature, moisture transfer to help perspiration more efficiently evaporate to keep you drier and more comfortable, anti-microbial properties helping prevent odor, and anti-static properties to prevent, well...static. The X-Static technology has been used in the Olympics, and by the NASA Space Program for these incredible technological properties.
Yeah, at $250.00 MSRP, the Bowen is a little pricey for some, but think of it as a $62.50 per year comfort insurance policy over the 4-year waterproof guarantee - and most likely will last even longer. The Bowen will actually keep you dry on the course while allowing you to swing naturally, unencumbered by the thick layers or noisy, flapping fabric you are wearing now. Rain and wind are hard enough on your game to be worrying about the jacket you are wearing, aren't they?
Right now, for a limited time, the Bowen ($224.99), and the rest of Sunice's outstanding collection of outerwear and thermal layering apparel are on sale at with Free Shipping. Ladies, if you are intrigued by the Bowen, please check out the Evelyn, which is essentially the women's version of the same jacket.

Why not head over to the store right now, and pick out your next jacket or collection of apparel from Sunice to take the weather out of the equation on the golf course?
Fairways and Greens!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

GOLF COURSE REVIEW: Makray Memorial Golf Club

Lots of golf courses have stories behind them. Many stories are steeped in history with great figures in golf architecture at every turn of a sentence. Some are too crazy to be true, while others are so true, that it is what makes them crazy. Well, Makray Memorial Golf Club has some stories of its own, and though they may not fill the criteria I listed above, I find them, and the present day course, to be interesting and challenging.

Perhaps a very brief history lesson is in order after that intro. Paul Makray purchased the course that is now named for him back in 1962. What was once Hillcrest Country Club became Thunderbird Golf Course and opened to the public. The authenticity of this part of the history is dubious, but even the staff at Makray Memorial believes that Thunderbird was once Hillcrest, which is certainly possible as the current private Hillcrest Country Club in nearby Long Grove, IL did not open until 1968, and appears to have no relation to what might have been its predecessor in name only.

In any case, Makray ran the old Thunderbird course as a sporty, family friendly course with an emphasis on enjoyment if not on conditioning. I never took the opportunity to play Thunderbird prior to its rebirth, but from what I have read and heard, it was a pretty ragged course with an unimaginative design, and LONG rounds with only 7 minute tee time spacing. Perhaps a good place for beginners and beer swillers, but not necessarily for the discerning (read: snobby) golfer like me who likes a good lie in the fairway after a well-struck drive, and hates playing from water-furrowed sand traps. The condition of the course aside, it is reputed to have had a regular schedule of players and a top notch staff who kept them coming back - that along with the very affordable greens fees, that is.

When Paul Makray passed away in 1999, his family chose to honor him in one of the best ways I can imagine. They set about to gutting the course completely, redesigning the entire lay of the land, bringing in premier grasses and conditioning, and an unmistakably grand new clubhouse complete with excellent dining and even wedding facilities. The new course was renamed Makray Memorial in Paul's honor, and opened for public play on June 8th, 2004.

As I mentioned earlier, I had never played the old Thunderbird course, so can not make a true comparison between new and old, but now having played the new course many times, I can't imagine the improvement being anything but a complete metamorphosis and revival. Makray Memorial is in phenomenal condition, has (mostly) very interesting routing, is not short of challenge, and still offers affordable options (though I do have a bone to pick with one piece of their pricing that I will get to later).

One oddity to this course becomes clear very quickly...there are no fringes on the greens! The transition from grabby rough to smooth green is striking, and can wreak havoc on your short game. I often remind my buddies that there are a couple of ways to think about this, it could be that they grow the rough over what would be fringe, but it is just as likely that they cut the green to the edge of the rough. Either way, it will challenge your touch around the edges, and behooves you to aim for the middle of the greens.

The first five holes are an incredible test, and make it imperative to get a few swings in on the range prior to your round. The second hole is particularly tough as it calls for a slight draw around a grove of big mature trees on the left, but miss the draw long and straight, and you are blocked out again by a grove on the right. Once you do get your position, you still need to strike a crisp shot over a creek fronting the slightly elevated green with a good sized bunker protecting the front as well.

The long Par 4 5th is no picnic either, especially into the wind which often prevents your drive from catching the downhill in the fairway and robs you of up to 75 or 80 yards! Once you get yourself within striking distance, you need to take aim at a noticeably undulating green fronted by two very deep bunkers. Par is a good score here. Final tip for the tee - it is a blind tee shot with OB to the right, so if you tend to slice, just hit it out to the left edge of the fairway, but if right isn't your fear, aim right along the tree line for a major distance bonus.

The Par 5 6th hole is one of my least favorite on the course, completely because its routing feels forced by the houses along the right. With the tendency of the vast majority of golfers being to slice, yet calling for a draw off the tee, I feel like the OB comes into play far too quickly, and even juts out into a good line for the second shot. Once you get through here though, the front nine finishes strong with a great risk/reward hole on 8, and an incredibly difficult green complex on the homeward bound Par 4 9th. Miss the 9th green and saving Par becomes a faint hope.

Makray Memorial Golf Club, Barrington, Illinois

The back nine begins well with a straightforward Par 4, then a long and difficult Par 4, but hole number 12 becomes the story of this great new-ish course. The 12th hole originally played as a 360 or so yard Par 4 with OB all up the right side where houses lined the course. Well, at right about 210 or so yards from the tee lay a home where some cantankerous homeowner who apparently hates the game of golf, and was not consulted on the new layout which called for his backyard to be pelted with hundreds of balls on a daily basis, lives. He filed suit against Makray several years back (after he confiscated a couple of my own Titleists), forcing Makray to reduce the hole to a 150 yard Par 3 for several years.

A Par 3 might not have been such a big deal, but it did feel a bit rinky-dink as the course laid down an odd piece of artificial turf for the tee, and took a good year to get the course re-rated, making anyone's handicap there questionable. It appears that they are now on their way to solving the issue, however. They are building a new tee complex which will create another short Par 4 risk/reward hole. To make it a bit more risky, they are cutting the green by about 30% growing up the back side into rough. The work they have done so far looks really nice, and I am satisfied with this solution (though I am still tempted to blast a couple of low punch shots into that guy's house as I cruise by).

From this point, the course finished very strong, with a nice variety of holes culminating in a wonderful risk/reward Par 5 18th leading right back to the fantastic clubhouse. Unless the wind is howling in your face, which is more common than not, a well struck drive up the right side will offer you a very reachable green, but with a carry over lake, rough, a bunker, then the green. A very easy layup awaits to the left, so missing the "go for it" shot will have you kicking yourself.

Makray offers a walking rate of $49 Monday through Thursday and $74 Friday through Sunday which I believe is reasonable given the competition nearby and the quality of the course. Where I have issue (as I often do) is when the carts come into play. The cart rental fee is $18, so jacks up the cost for those wishing to ride (silly ninnies) to a hefty $67/$92! That is too much for this course, and many courses in my opinion. BUT...I don't walk, so why should I care about the cart fee? Well, Makray offers specials, you see, after certain times, as many wise courses do. The problem is that once the specials start, they automatically include the cart fee, so I suppose they look at it like they are giving you a discount plus $18, but not if you walk the course anyway! To make things just a touch worse, pull carts cost $8! Really? For a pull cart, really? Pull carts should be complementary for Pete's sake!

I understand that carts are a source of revenue for courses, but so are caddies, merchandise, food, and the greens fees. So, we play during their "special" rate of $59 including the cart we don't use beginning at 2:00 on weekends. Get this, from 12:30-1:50 on weekends, their special rate is $76 with the included cart, so during that time, I would actually have to pay $2 MORE to walk the course...ridiculous!

I don't know about you, but my group has played golf on some pretty deserted courses early this season than we typically do. When are these courses going to learn that it is the greens fees that keep golfers away? For the time being, I like it because the rounds have been pretty manageable from a time perspective, but I won't like it very much when the courses start cutting back on conditioning and service to keep their profits in order...and even less so when they start closing their doors.

So, all in all, I give Makray my Beaver tail slap of approval due to their course design and conditioning, their friendly service, and very good food. A notch down the tree just a bit for their wacky pricing structure, but high enough to stay comfortably in the rota of courses I play in Chicagoland. If you are in the area and haven't yet tried Makray, make a tee time, and bring your ball striking irons to hit as many greens as possible. If you are in town for a few days, it's not the first course I'd recommend, but if you did put it on your list, you won't likely be disappointed.

Fairways and Greens!

Friday, April 23, 2010


I am, and always have been a firm believer that the equipment you choose to play will definitely have an impact on your game, either for better or for worse. I hesitate to over-emphasize that point because in today's golf industry there are many high quality options in every piece of equipment one might need, so choosing one brand over another, for most of us, will have little noticeable impact on our game.

Choices in equipment must be made in the apparel, glove, and shoes you choose to wear, the clubs you choose to swing, the putter you carry, and even the sunscreen you decide to trust. With all of those choices, who needs yet another, but is there a more important choice to make than what kind of ball to play? I'll let that point be argued about, but in all seriousness, without the ball, what is golf?

There exist many schools of thought on the golf ball decision. I have heard many say that with their swing, they are just going to lose a bunch of balls anyway, so why spend any good money on them...just grab the cheapest bunch available and swing away. Fortunately for that golfer, there exist options, but if one wants to improve, and have the best chance of achieving success, that mindset needs to change.

In my own experience, I have gradually evolved from that 15-ball bonus pack mindset to playing top line models for most of the last decade. Though I haven't bought them new for more than 2 years now, the staple in my bag has been the Titleist outstanding ball, but one that has, in my opinion, gone beyond the acceptable price limit for a semi-disposable commodity. Additionally, during my endeavor to build the Beaver Golf online store, the Titleist companies chose to pass on allowing me to sell their products to my faithful fans. I was not pleased.

Wilson Golf based here in my hometown of Chicago, IL chose a different business practice, and allowed my to become an online vendor of their products. Over the years I have played a handful of Wilson balls, most recently the "True" back about 5-6 years ago. One of my longtime playing partners religiously used his Wilson irons for many years, and still swings his Wilson SW despite the grooves being worn down to slicks. So, what better time to try out Wilson's new offerings to the golf ball world with their premium 3-piece ball, the FG Tour.

The FG Tour has a simple, clean, and elegant look right from the sleeve. The outer layer feels soft as you might expect, and inspires confidence before placing it on the tee. Off the Driver, the distance and feel might be just a fraction off the ProV1x, but equal to, or better than all other premium balls I have played, such as the Nike One Tour D, Callaway Tour i, Bridgestone B330-s, and the TaylorMade Penta. The slight loss in distance could very easily be attributed to my rusty swing or the colder spring weather, but I think it is about 5 yards shorter than the ProV1x.

Distance is far from everything on the course, however, and off irons and wedges, the FG Tour feels amazing. I haven't noticed any loss of distance off these shots with the FG Tour, and as mentioned the feel is top-notch...soft and buttery, but solid! That feel continues onto the green where I have found the FG Tour to really stand out. Off the putter the soft feel is brilliant, and inspires confidence on long and short putts equally.

One final area where the FG Tour takes a slight back seat is on chips and pitches. The spin is just a little off of the ProV1x, but again, equal to or better than the other premium balls I mentioned earlier.

At a $49.95 MSRP, the FG Tour will impact you wallet right along with its premium counterparts, but you can score big right now at Beaver Golf where through April a dozen will only cost you $34.99, FREE shipping, AND earn you $3.00 Beaver Bucks! I would strongly recommend that you give them a try.

If the premium balls aren't your bag, or you've got a slower swing speed so benefit from fewer compressions, the FG Tour's siblings, the C:25 and D:25 are also on sale now!

Fairways and Greens!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

GOLF COURSE REVIEW: Mistwood Golf Club

We have all heard the old saying, "if it's not broke, don't fix it", heck, we've all probably said it many times ourselves. That sentence has always been one of my favorite idioms for two reasons. First, its meaning is crystal clear. Second, I couldn't agree with it more...especially in golf! There are great examples everywhere you look, perhaps most notably the Old Course at St. Andrews (they haven't changed that course much, right?)

Well, the reverse of the idiom rings as true, i.e. If it is broke, then FIX IT! Take, for example Augusta National, home of the well known PGA major, The Masters. Way back in its earliest years, the nines actually were reversed due to the fact that Amen Corner (then playing as holes #2-#4) was prone to frequent frost delays in the early mornings. Switching the nines created arguably one of the most exciting back nine holes anywhere in the world. Then and since Tiger Woods blew away the star-studded field en route to his first win back in 1997, Augusta has made additional frequent and significant changes to the course to better protect Old Man Par against the massive advances in technology that had nearly reduced the course to nothing more than a beautiful pitch-and-putt. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but I assume you get my point. The changes appear to have allowed the tournament to continually test the players games, often forcing them to hit clubs they are less comfortable hitting into those treacherous greens.

The same rings true at Mistwood Golf Club, located in the Southwestern Chicago suburb of Romeoville amidst a collection of courses that, in my opinion, are easily the best bang for your buck anywhere in the area. Mistwood opened back in 1998 and though it was a enjoyable layout, conditioning was lacking, customer service sucked, and the price was a bit high making nearby alternatives such as Prairie Bluff and The Links at Carillon much more appealing. I played the course two or three times back then, but learned that it simply wasn't worth it at some point, and consciously avoided the course for several years. I wasn't the only one. Mistwood went through some pretty hard times and had loads of financial problems leading to partner, Jim McWethy to become the primary owner of the course in 2003.

Since then, Mistwood has made several key changes. They put a tremendous effort into improving course conditioning, and it shows. The greens are fast and true (though it doesn't seem to help my putts drop), the fairways are in great shape, and the hole designs have always been a lot of fun to play. Next, they changed customer service philosophy, treating guests like...well, guests! The bag boys greet you in the lot with exuberance, and insist on bringing your bag to the front even if you are walking. The starter (I've got to remember his name next time) is extremely pleasant, and accommodated our foursome before Noon on a Saturday, despite half our group being almost 40 minutes late (inexcusable). Finally, and not to be underestimated, they changed the routing on the front nine. What used to be holes #7, #8, and #9 are now the opening three holes, and though they aren't pushovers, provide a much more gradual start to the course in terms of difficulty. I really like courses that give you a few holes to find you swing before featuring areas where a wayward shot can devastate your score, and the change of routing allows that at Mistwood.

Their value is off the charts, especially right now as they chose to extend their special spring rates, and on a Saturday morning it costs $40 to walk! For a course of this caliber in Chicagoland, $40 is an absolute steal! It defies comprehension that Bolingbrook Golf Club, just minutes north of Mistwood somehow gets away with charging over $100 at the same time of day. I don't think I could even begin to listen to an argument over which course between the two is more fun, more challenging, and more interesting to play, and for 40% of the price, c'mon!

So, how about the holes themselves? It is hard to think of a single one that doesn't have something interesting and different to it. Risk/reward abounds at Mistwood. Between mounding, doglegs, well-placed hazards, and out-of-bounds on a few holes, Mistwood really forces you to think your way through the entire course.

Though most of the Par 4s measure less than 400 yards, none offer simply a straight shot up a flat fairway. Notable among them are the fourth hole (formerly the 1st before the re-route) which runs like a chasm between large mounds on either side of the fairway. It is a relatively mild dogleg left that look more severe than it is due to that mounding which almost blocks your view of the pin from the tee. The bunkering that must be carried to cut off the dogleg seems to cause missing to the right quite common, and poorly struck balls landing on the mounds on that right side will very often leave a severely side-hill lie and a long tough shot to the green. The short 12th hole protects the front of its two-tiered green with a deep gaping pot bunker that demands every bit of ingenuity and skill to get out of, in fact, hitting backwards away from the green might be the best escape from there. Don't fall asleep on 16! Though the wise play off the tee is a mid to long iron, the green is guarded in front by water (more good changes happening right now) and falls off sharply behind. The green is tough to hold, and if you miss it, recovery is no picnic.

The Par 5s are all reachable for longer players, but like their shorter siblings, all come with some degree of potential peril. The 3rd hole has a ridiculously tough green guarded by a creek directly in front. The 8th, which might be their signature hole, has a split fairway, and though the right side might offer a good chance to get home in two, it brings you dangerously close to the water all the way up the right side. The 15th is a severe dogleg left, and forces the player to avoid water guarding the entire left side from tee to green. Though it can be fun, the 15th might also be my least favorite hole on this course because it feels a little forced into the corner of the property. Finally, the 18th doesn't allow for any late round letup as shots to the large green must carry another creek to be safe, while woods, and a small lake guard the right side against wayward drives and poorly struck layup shots.

The Par 3s are probably the easier holes collectively, but the 200-ish yard 14th hole will take your breath away with almost the entire flight from tee to green over the corner of the 60-plus acre, Lake St. James. When a northwesterly wind is howling, you might just want to cross the bridge to the drop zone and hit your third saving yourself the ball.

The clubhouse and practice area are adequate, and the service from start to finish is outstanding at Mistwood. I highly recommend this course not only as an incredible value, but as one of the most enjoyable and challenging tracks in the Chicago area. I hope for their sake, that Mistwood's staff continue their current path to success, and not forget the lessons in their past. With all the quality options in the area, they need to keep their service high and their prices reasonable. They are winning on both counts right now, so get there, and let them know what you think! If you haven't played Mistwood since before 2003, trust me, it's time to come back for another try, you will be impressed with the change.

For some great 360 degree photos of Mistwood, check out here:

Fairways and Greens! (by the way, I lifted that ending from Mistwood)


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