A couple of beautiful par threes at Paa Ko Ridge Albuquerque, NM
Grand Junction, Colorado
Leo smashes a drive at Oakcreek CC in Sedona, Arizona
MOE'S 2002 CALIFORNIA GOLF TRIP
On Tuesday, September 3, 2002, my wife and I departed Spencer County Kentucky on a cross country auto trip to California and back. Our guideline for all trips now is 300 miles and 18 holes per day. We drove 5,685 miles in the 26 days we were on the road this trip. We played 18 rounds of golf. We didn't get in a round of golf everyday because that would be obsessive and because we actually visited friends or relatives at 5 different stops along the road.
As you may know by now I am somewhat of an Arthur Hills groupie. On this trip we played 6 more of his designs to bring my total played to date to 32. It was interesting for me to note that 3 of his courses were in the top half of the 18 we played, but 3 were not. We also played a real nice Michael Hurdzen design in Kansas City and a great Robert Trent Jones, Sr., in Sedona, Arizona.
In addition to finding good golf courses when we travel, we also try to find the best restaurant in the area we find ourselves at dinner time. So in addition to recommending some golf courses in the western half of the United States, I will suggest several fine dining restaurants that you should try if you are in the area.
The best golf course we played on this trip is Paa-ko Ridge and it is located just northeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Paa-Ko Ridge was designed by Ken Dye, who is no kin to Pete, but works with Joe Finger out of Houston, Texas. Golf Digest voted Paa-Ko Ridge the "best new affordable course" for 2000 and we paid $57 on a Thursday. Paa-Ko Ridge has Blue Grass fairways which surprised me, but the grass was so lush you needed to be in the fairway to have a shot at the green. I played the course at 6707 yards but at the 6500-foot elevation it didn't seem quite that long to me. The course is a must play if you are ever in Albuquerque.
The sister Ken Dye course to Paa-Ko Ridge is called Pinon Hills and is located in the northwest corner of New Mexico near Farmington. I'm not sure when I can get back out there, but that one is on my new list of courses to play.
We also played the "best new affordable course" for 2001, The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, and it is also highly recommended. It was designed by Jim Engh and cost us $73 to ride. Every hole is a photo op. The fairways and rough were lush and the large greens were medium speed but very smooth. The course had many bowl type green areas set in and around the red rock canyons and cliffs. It is a beautiful western course located just south of Grand Junction, Colorado.
If you are into rock formations, you should also take the drive around the Colorado National Monument that is just up the road.
Our third favorite course on the trip was the Oakcreek Country Club located in Sedona, Arizona that is about an hour south of Flagstaff. We played this 35 years old Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design with Leo Eggers, who was an 84-year-old club member with a pretty good golf game. I couldn't hit it straight, shot a 90 and got my butt whipped by an 84-year-old. It may not be the last time either.
Sedona, Arizona is at 4000 feet elevation and 10 degrees warmer that Flagstaff, which is at 7000 feet. We had a beautiful day on a very traditional country club course with mountains in the background. Leo could tell us the names of all the bluffs and mountains and rocks. The course also had the best cart path I have ever seen. We played $70 to ride. After golf at Oakcreek we drove back up to Flagstaff and had dinner at The Cottage Place restaurant. It is not a place I discovered since they've been voted Flagstaff's restaurant of the year for quite awhile, but they win the best of the trip award for food, service and ambiance. If you were in Flagstaff you'd be a fool to miss it. With a bottle of wine, great Creme Brulee` and tip, it was $100 a couple.
My golf course manager at home got us on two private Arthur Hills designed courses on our trip. Southern Trace C.C. in Shreveport, Louisiana was our Fourth place finisher. It was a beautiful Country Club in a beautiful, expensive neighborhood where everything was first class except my golf swing. It was all Bermuda with tightly cut fairways and deep fluffy rough. The greens were about as fast as Bermuda greens get and that's too fast for me. It was however a great Arthur Hills design and worth the $97 each to play.
Our Fifth place course was the last one we played before getting home. Ross Creek Landing is part of the Bear Trace in Tennessee that now includes 5 Jack Nicholas signature courses located in various remote parts of the state. Ross Creek Landing just opened this year and even though we played it on the day after Tropical storm Isadore dumped over 5 inches of rain on it, we were very impressed. It passed the drainage test with flying colors and the design is scenic, challenging but very playable. I hit the ball straight for a change and ended the trip by shooting 81 on a pretty tough course. If this course is typical of the Bear Trace, then I intend to spend some time next year driving around the back roads of Tennessee playing the other courses.
We played only one Michael Hurdzan designed course on our trip but I may try to improve on that in the future. Dr. Michael Hurdzan designed Lassing Point in Kentucky as well as Gibson Bay, The Willows at the Courses of Kenton County, and more recently the new Wasioto Winds in Pineville. Three of those courses are on the MoeRon Top 10 in Kentucky. Next year a new course of his will open in English, Indiana.
The Hurdzan course we played on our trip is Ironhorse Golf Club and it is in Leawood, Kansas just southwest of Kansas City. It was a nice design with many forced carries off the tee to generous zoysia fairways. There were many huge bentgrass greens with subtle undulations, that led to many lengthy putts. The only negatives I noticed were crisscrossing cart paths, which always make me wonder why that was necessary, and many distant train whistles. A creek winding through the course was used well and added difficulty.
For dinner in Kansas City, we found a small French Cafe called Café Province. It was located in a large suburban shopping center but was easily a three star restaurant for food and service. Our filets were excellent and they had a wonderful Raspberry Sorbet for the perfect finish. The restaurant is in Prairie Village if you are in the Kansas part of Kansas City.
I should mention here that before we start any trip I have golf courses and restaurants picked out and a pretty detailed itinerary to guide us. On this trip, on the way out to California, we played all 9 targeted courses. On the way home we played only 4 of the scheduled 8 for a variety of reasons. Long trips are always harder to schedule, but there are great golf courses everywhere. It's just a question of being able to adjust and make the right decisions with less information. On this trip as is usual, most of my adjustments didn't measure up to the original plan, but a round of golf on any course sure beats driving all day in the rain.
Pevely Farms was the first course we played on the trip. It is southwest of St. Louis, Missouri, designed by Arthur Hills in 1998 and it started the trip out well. I can also recommend Bonapartes Brasserie for dinner in the historic district of St. Charles. If you're an artsy-craftsy shopper go early for dinner and shop the streets around the restaurant.
I would also like to mention Buffalo Dunes Municipal Golf course in Garden City, Kansas. You probably won't find yourself in Garden City anytime soon, but if you do, they have a great city owned course. It had thick lush grass all over it and a 30-knot wind on the day we visited. It was our cheapest round at $28 and about a 90% better course than you would expect when you look at Garden City on the map. We also had an interesting 'topless' swimming pool at our motel in Garden City. They called it topless because it did have walls around it but no roof. Thirty-knot winds are not unusual in Garden City. I should also mention the Grain Bin restaurant that is a happy hour hangout, a steakhouse, and then a 70's style disco with DJ and Flashing lights. And you thought you knew all there was to know about Kansas. Let me put it this way...If you get a chance to visit Los Angeles or Garden City, I recommend Garden City.
The last course I will mention is Entrada @ Snow Canyon in St. George, Utah. This 1996 Johnny Miller and Fred Bliss design is a beautiful western course that rambles through red rock canyons and ends with three very tough holes through a field of black lava rock. The course is worth a visit and there are other new courses just down the road in Mesquite, Nevada. For a golf outing Mesquite, with a St. George side trip, would save you about $100 per round over Las Vegas.
When you are in St. George, be sure to drive up on the bluff and have dinner at Sullivan's Rococo Steak House. They have good food and a great view of St. George as the sun sets and the lights come on. There are a few other nice restaurants I could mention but since they are in California, I'm not going to do it. I recommend you avoid California altogether. I may visit Texas again or Nevada or even Kansas, but I don't think you'll ever catch me in California again. I won't bore you by naming all of their problems, but it starts out with too damn many human beings. If you're not in Agra-Business or wine production, don't go that far west.
Winter's coming on so our next trip will have to be South, perhaps to the Mobile area where I can get another catch of the day at Pillars restaurant. If you can name a course as good as Kiva Dunes down that way, please email me at the website.