IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Pacific Grove Golf Links in Pacific Grove, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: Known as the "Poor Man's Pebble Beach," Pacific Grove Muni is not nearly as famous as its high-priced neighbors on the Monterey Peninsula but definitely is more fun for your money.
"Pacific Grove is one of those sleeper courses," said Howard Kihune, former director of golf at Makena Golf Resort on the island of Maui in Hawaii. "It's one of the best muni courses in the world.
"When I go to the Monterey Peninsula, I play Pebble Beach and all of the high-end courses, but I always make sure that I get in a round at Pacific Grove, too."
The front nine was designed by Chandler Egan, who won the U.S. Amateur in 1904 and 1905, and the course opened in 1932. The back nine was the creation of Jack Neville, who designed perhaps the best seaside golf course in the world, Pebble Beach, right down the road.
Pacific Grove Muni measures only 5,732 yards through landscape that mirrors Pebble and the Links at Spanish Bay -- with the sand dunes, cypress trees and ice plant -- making it one of the best walking courses anywhere.
A par-70 layout, it plays to a USGA rating of 67.7 and a slope of 119.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Joe Riekena.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: This is one of those layouts that actually is two courses in one. The front nine winds through the pines and cypress on a hill at the edge of the Del Monte Forest in the old English rural style, affording the golfer spectacular views of Monterey Bay.
The back nine provides classic seaside links golf, playing through the sand dunes and ice plant along the beach.
The Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove opened in 1855 and is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. The lighthouse is located at the end of the 355-yard 16th hole, giving Pacific Grove a touch of the great Scottish seaside courses.
The 153-yard par-3 17th is the most photographed hole on the course, with the tee located on the ocean near the lighthouse and requiring a shot across Crespi Pond (named for Father Juan Crespi, chief subordinate of Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions) to a green surrounded by a grove of Monterey cypress.
The best hole on the course probably is the dogleg right, 513-yard par-5 12th, which plays right along the ocean.
Highlighting the front nine are back-to-back par-5s, the 520-yard fifth and 533-yard sixth.
Before or after, stop for a bite to eat in the acclaimed Point Pinos Grill, centerpiece of the $3.5 million clubhouse that opened in 2006.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: The Monterey Peninsula and surrounding area offer a smorgasbord guaranteed to satisfy the appetite of any golfer.
Everyone knows Pebble Beach and its neighbors Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills, but there is much, much more.
Nearby are the Bayonet and Black Horse courses in Seaside, Laguna Seca Golf Course in Monterey, Rancho Canada Golf Course in Carmel Valley and Del Monte Golf Course in Monterey -- which opened in 1897 and is the oldest course in continuous operation west of the Mississippi River.
Only a short drive away are other acclaimed courses such as the Half Moon Bay Golf Links and two in Santa Cruz -- DeLaveaga Golf Course and Pasatiempo Golf Club, the latter designed by the great Alister MacKenzie and where he lived in a house near the sixth hole for several years until his death in 1934.
WHERE TO STAY: If the Lodge at Pebble Beach and the Inn at Spanish Bay are too rich for your blood, there is ample lodging to fit any golfer's pocketbook. Included are the Green Gables Inn in Pacific Grove, Casa Munras Hotel in Monterey, Carmel Valley Lodge, the Carmel Mission Inn, Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa, the Pacific Grove Inn, the Monterey Bay Inn, the Adobe Inn in Carmel and the Highlands Inn, which is perched on a hillside across Highway 1 from the Pacific Ocean a little south of Carmel.
ON THE WEB: www.pggolflinks.com
THE LAST RESORT: Reunion Resort in Reunion, Fla.
THE LAYOUT: Before the recession hit, real estate entrepreneur Bobby Ginn created a golf paradise a few miles south of Orlando, Fla., off Interstate 4 where guests can play with one of the game's most decorated foursomes -- Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson
, Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam.
The Legacy Course, designed by seven-time major championship winner Palmer, is a par-72 layout created in 2004 that measures 6,916 yards from the back tees, with a USGA rating of 73.4 and a 137 slope from the back tees.
The Independence Course, designed by five-time British Open champion Watson, also opened in 2004 and plays 7,154 yards from the tips, with a rating of 74.7 and a slope of 140.
Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all time, designed the Tradition Course, which opened in 2006. It stretches out to 7,244 yards from the back and plays to a par of 72, with a 76.7 rating and 147 slope.
Sorenstam, the 42-year-old Swede who is one of the greatest players in LPGA Tour history, realized a lifelong dream a few years ago when she opened the Annika Academy on the back end of the driving range at Ginn Reunion Resort.
Even if you are not staying on the property, book a lesson at the 5,400-square facility, which offers a fitness room, two large hitting booths, Callaway club-fitting and video training.
Sorenstam has retired as a touring pro, so you might be able to book a lesson with her because she is spending more time at the academy. If not, her sister, Charlotta, herself a champion on the LPGA Tour, also is an instructor at the Annika Academy.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Kevin Baker.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Reunion was host to the best women golfers in the world for three years in the Ginn Open. The title was captured by Lorena Ochoa, then No. 1 player in the Women's World Golf Rankings, in 2008 when she set a tournament record of 19 under par. Brittany Lincicome and Mi Hyun Kim of South Korea were the first two winners of the tournament.
Ginn terminated its sponsorship of the tournament because of the losses he was enduring in the troubled housing market. However, amateurs still can play the tournament course, which consisted of the front nine of the Legacy Course and the first nine holes of the Independence Course, both located at the Reunion Grande, a luxury hotel and centerpiece of the resort.
The second hole of Palmer's Legacy Course is a gorgeous par 3 that measures 162 yards from an elevated tee to a green surrounded by a stand of tall trees. But don't lose your focus while admiring the view because the 50-foot drop in elevation requires careful consideration to select the right club for a shot to a green that slopes toward the bunker on the right.
The par-4, 13th hole measures 443 yards from the back tees, but from the resort tees it gives the high-handicapper a chance to go for the green in Arnie's typical go-for-broke style.
The Independence Course, the first Tom Watson-signature course in Florida, is what the British would might a traditional parkland layout, but with sand traps scattered throughout the landscape.
There are no water hazards, but 119 bunkers are strategically placed on the course, which is enhanced by 15 varieties of native grasses, azaleas, hibiscus, camellias and other foliage.
Watson starts the course with a dramatic par 5 that measures 562 yards from the back tees. Big hitters can reach the green in two if they get past the bunkers on both sides of the fairway, but there is plenty of trouble waiting to turn an eagle or birdie opportunity into bogey or worse very quickly.
The fifth hole is rated No. 1 in the card, a 461-yard par-4 that gives the golfer a choice of right or left off the tee because a large bunker sits in the middle of the fairway. Play the right side to get a better angle of approach to a large green that runs away from right to left and is guarded by traps on either side of the hole, which plays through a scenic wooded area.
All three courses are playable for golfers of all abilities with five sets of tees, but the Tradition Course gives more of a challenge than most resort layouts, as the numbers indicate.
The Nicklaus-designed course is a short drive from the main property and does not yet have its own clubhouse, with employees on the site working out of a trailer. However, it does offer its own practice area.
Best stretch of the Tradition Course comes near the start, where the 440-yard, par-4 second -- No. 1 on the card -- is followed by a 585-yard par 5 and a 414-yard par 4, which play along the shores of a large lake.
Be careful of the blind approach to the fourth hole, because another lake awaits below the green on the left.
When you are finished with a heated round, head across the street to cool off at Reunion's water park.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Walt Disney World Resort in nearby Lake Buena Vista offers golfers five courses, including the Magnolia and Palm, which hosted the Walt Disney World Classic from 1971 until last year, when he lost its spot on the PGA Tour because it could not find a new title sponsor.
Also at Disney are the Lake Buena Vista, Osprey Ridge and Oak Trail courses, the latter a nine-hole walking course tailor-made for families.
Celebration Golf Course is not on Disney Resort property, but it is a nearby cousin designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr., in Celebration, a town built by the Disney Corporation.
Hawk's Landing Golf Club in Orlando wraps around the World Center Marriott, the largest property owned and operated by the J.W. Marriott Corporation.
Also in the neighborhood are Kissimmee Bay Country Club, Mystic Dunes Golf Club and Falcon's Fire Golf Club in Kissimmee, the Crooked Cat and Panther Lake courses at Orange County National Golf Center, Royal St. Cloud Golf Links and 45 holes at the Grand Cypress Resort, all in Orlando.
Across Interstate 4 from Ginn Reunion Resort is ChampionsGate Golf Club, with a course designed by Greg Norman, and the David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
WHERE TO STAY: Reunion resort remains under development on 2,300 rolling acres about six miles from Walt Disney World Resort to the southwest of Orlando and about 60 miles east of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
The resort offers guests more than 300 guest rooms, from luxury hotel accommodations to spacious townhomes and luxury villas scattered around its three magnificent golf courses.
All of the accommodations are equipped with luxurious furnishings, flat-screen televisions that include DVD players, high-speed Internet access and high-end kitchen appliances.
In addition to golf, the property includes the Tennis Centre at Centre Court Ridge, the Seven Eagles Pool Pavilion, a private water park, a full-service fitness center, biking and hiking trails, a convention center and a boutique spa.
The Kids Crew for children 4-12 and several playground areas around the property keep the youngsters occupied while the grownups are out on the golf course.
Dine at the Reunion Grande at Forte, an upscale chophouse, or Eleven, a rooftop lounge serving tapas and an eclectic fusion of new world and Asian cuisine. Or grab a quick meal outside at the clubhouse or poolside at the Seven Eagles Grill across the street, or simply enjoy a snack while watching the big-screen television at the Grand Lobby Bar.
Guests at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Contemporary Resort, Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian Resort, Caribbean Resort, Beach Club Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boardwalk Inn and Yacht Club Resort receive vouchers for free cab rides to and from the Disney courses.
The Orlando World Center Marriott, built on 220 lush acres of tropical landscape, is only a mile and a half from Disney World and Orlando's other tourist attractions, including Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Discovery Cove.
Also nearby are Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Resort and Lodge, the Celebration Hotel, the Wyndham Orlando Resort, the Renaissance Orlando Resort, the Omni Orlando Resort and Spa, the Grand Cypress Resort, the Grande Lakes Orlando and at Universal, the Portofino Bay Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel and the Royal Pacific Resort.
ON THE WEB: www.reunionresort.com
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