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!


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