The Champion at PGA National Resort

One of the biggest thrills in golf for us amateur hackers is the opportunity to tee it up on a course where the pros play. The chance to walk the fairways which host the PGA Tour, a major championship, or even a Ryder Cup, is the equivalent of the Magical Flying Unicorns softball team being invited to play a game at Wrigley Field. Needless to say, it was particularly special when I stepped onto the first tee of The Champion at PGA National Resort, a course which has hosted all three.
PGA National Bear Trap
The greeting at The Bear Trap

Common sense was in desperately short supply, as I set up my Pro-V1x behind the black markers on #1 tee. The heady experience of my dream round at Pebble Beach, fooled this barely-better-than-average golfer into believing that I was up for all 7100 yards of the challenge. Never mind that The Champion is often called the hardest course on the PGA Tour. For you non-golfers, this would be like Michael Jordan's Charlotte Bobcats spotting 10 points to his 1996 Chicago Bulls.
The Champion PGA National
High noon...

The best way to get ahead in any sport is to understand the competition. In golf, the adversary isn't another person or team, but the course. I knew very little about The Champion, outside of what I'd seen on television during the PGA Tour's Honda Classic. Its finishing stretch of holes nicknamed "The Bear Trap" are some of the toughest on tour, but that said nothing of the other 15 which I foolishly decided to take on from the black tees. Still, my confidence was high, and my expectations of a great score even higher. That is until I blasted my tee shot on #2 straight into a row of condominiums...
The Champion PGA National
Don't be short on #1

Shaken by this brush with reality, I forged ahead in my quest to tackle this beast. Like any reasonable golfer, I shunned the driver which was responsible for my encounter with the condos - because it's always the club's fault - and gave the nod to my trusty 3 wood.  The 3 wood could be relied upon to avoid shattering glass doors, but made this 7100 yard monster even more frightening. Still, I plodded along and finished the front 9 holes with an uninspired score of 43.
The Champion PGA National
...or #5

The back 9 picked up right where the front side left off. A couple encounters with "Old Man Par" mixed with a few boring bogies, brought me to the 15th hole, and the start of "The Bear Trap," standing at 10 over par. This put me on pace for a score of 84, a respectable number given the insanely difficult layout of The Champion. All that stood in the way was the most difficult stretch of holes on the PGA tour.
The Champion PGA National
"Um...can I help you?"

Thanks to a solid bounce on the cart path, my tee shot on #15 came to a rest about 10 feet from the flag...on the 12th hole. Particularly embarrassing considering another group was still on the green. This brought on the golfing equivalent of the "Walk of Shame," an exchange between me - the golfer that just yelled "FORE!" and nearly maimed a foursome - and the group targeted by my disgraceful excuse for a golf shot. Thankfully, they were pretty cool about it, and didn't take the golden opportunity to rub salt in my open wound.
The Champion PGA National
#15. Yes, there's a green out there somewhere...

Things didn't get any better on the 16th hole, a monstrous par 4 with water all down the right side of the fairway and short of the green. My trusty 3 wood was no use here, because it would have left me too far away from the green on my second shot. So I pulled the driver back out of my bag - trying to block out my run-in with the condos on #2 - and proceeded to hit the exact same shot I did 14 holes earlier, straight into the water. Two swings...two nearly identical results...and one very frustrated golfer.

The Champion PGA National
Nothing like still having this for a 4th shot...

Two-thirds of the way into The Bear Trap and I was already caught. All I could do was try and survive the last two holes, before the momma bear brought her cubs over for a snack. What little was left of my concentration went into blocking out the water which surrounded the small green of the 17th hole. The ball took flight, drifted in the air toward the right edge of the narrow peninsula that was it's target, took one bounce on dry land, and splashed into its watery grave. I wanted to use the 5 iron as a shovel to dig my own....
The Champion PGA National
#17... The Bear Trap ends with a bang...

This was the first time I can remember truly giving thought to quitting in the middle of a round. I was beaten to a pulp, and the thought of getting back in the ring with this heavyweight for one more hole was unimaginable. Almost as unimaginable as encountering water, sand, and trees all on a single hole, but that's exactly how the 18th played out. Apparently, The Champion has no problem kicking a man while he's down.

The Champion PGA National
The wind certainly didn't make things any easier...

The foolish dreams of a respectable score that floated through my head at the beginning of the round, were a distant memory as I drove away from the 18th green. Perhaps I was a little delirious from the heat and the mind-numbingly difficult golf, but I swear the scorecard laughed at me as I wrote down "90" in the last box. I considered defending myself, but then I realized two things. People would think I'm crazy, but more importantly, I deserved it...

In the last 3 months, I have played the host course for 5 different PGA Tour events, and without a doubt The Champion was the most challenging of them all. Golfers who love putting their skills to the test on the most difficult of layouts will fall in love with this Jack Nicklaus designed masterpiece. The torture I described was mostly self inflicted, but like any lover of this great game, underneath the agony and pain was a smile that even a bear trap couldn't take away.

Enjoy Your Stay 

Special thanks to PGA National for hosting me on The Champion. All opinions, especially that of The Bear Trap, are my own...

PGA National Resort - Check-In Florida

Welcome to this, the first edition of Check-In Florida... A new monthly series here on The World of Deej spotlighting the great hotels and resorts around The Sunshine State. From the cities to the beach with theme parks in between, once a month we'll check-in to the best accommodations that Florida has to offer. So without further ado...

Ask just about anyone with a passion for travel and they'll often identify childhood family vacations as the beginning of their adoration with wandering. For some, it was the annual trip to Cape Cod, a visit to the home of a favorite aunt, or maybe even an ill-fated road trip to Wally World, which planted the seed for a lifetime love of travel. In my family, these adventures often centered around trips to Atlanta, Disney World, and the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
PGA National Resort

For the better part of half a century, golf was the family business. My great-grandfather and grandfather were both accomplished professionals, and many of my first impressions with travel centered around trips to various tournaments throughout the country. One of which was the Senior PGA Championship, which was held every year at famed PGA National. A place we visited so often, that my grandmother once told my aunt that she didn't need directions for our journey, because her 9 year old nephew knew the way.
PGA National Resort
The rooms overlooking the golf course...

Fast forward 20+ years, and those directions led me to PGA National once again, but to a very different resort than the one I remembered. Some of that is due to the faulty memory of a 9 year old kid, but the majority is thanks to a $65 million renovation that the property has undergone over the last few years. A huge investment for one property, especially given the economic environment, but one that is primed to pay huge dividends.


PGA National Resort
Ironwood Restaurant - My kind of dining room...

Walking through the front door, one is greeted by everything that signifies a great resort: a spacious bright lobby, a sleek bar serving tasty libations, and a view to the pool which beckons all who come near it in the Florida heat. To my delight, there is free WiFi, so I scope out a comfortable spot to get in a little work, before heading to the golf shop for my tee time on one of the resort's five championship courses.
PGA National Resort
The Lobby


PGA National is first and foremost a golfing destination - the resort hosts The Honda Classic on Tour each year - and spread throughout the property are countless pieces of memorabilia which serve as a reminder of the resort's role in the game's history. As I walked down a corridor from the lobby to the golf shop, I stumbled upon a poster from the 1989 Senior PGA Championship. There amongst the signatures of all the competitors was that of my grandfather, a touching reminder of so many great memories at this resort.
PGA National Resort
I probably looked a bit odd scanning these signatures...

After 18 holes of mindbogglingly lousy golf on The Champion course, I pulled up a chair at the lobby's iBar, and drowned my sorrows in an ice cold Sam Adams. Since it was dinner time, I decided to give their burger a try - always a good test for the full menu - and after two bites the 3 double bogies I made to finish my round were long forgotten.
PGA National Resort
Yeah, it tasted as good as it looks...

Although golf is the centerpiece of PGA National, there is plenty for the non-golfer as well. The resort features a world class tennis facility, and a health club which offers numerous classes each day from yoga to ballet, all of which are complimentary for guests. There's even a croquet lawn, for anyone like me that's dreamed of dressing in all white while tossing around the word "wicket" in proper context.


PGA National Resort
Croquet anyone?...

What I really needed after a frustrating day on the golf course, was to unwind in the resort's spa. Their "Waters of the World" experience is truly intriguing, allowing guests to soak in the mineral rich water of far flung locales. If you think a bottle Evian is expensive, imagine ordering an entire pool of water from the Dead Sea...
PGA National Resort
Seriously, a pool of water from the Dead Sea...

Instead of floating around in European water, I opted to head back to the pool which had teased me upon my arrival. I am a huge fan of big comfortable lounges for hanging out pool side, and here I had row after row of them to choose from. It wasn't long before I started to question the decision to torture myself on the golf course, rather than spending the afternoon right here.
PGA National Resort
Not a bad place to kill an afternoon...


Exhausted from a full day of outdoor activity, it was time to head back to the room and crash. The final stage of the resort's massive renovation is a head to toe transformation of the guest rooms. When fully complete on October 1st of this year, the rooms will go from an "Old Florida" theme such as this....
PGA National Resort
My Room...

To a comfortable, yet contemporary layout like this...

PGA National Resort
The final product...

After surveying a room which was under construction, I walked away with a high level of respect for the resort's ownership. Just about every day, a landmark resort announces a "renovation," but all they're really doing is exchanging some linens in the guest rooms, swapping out the lobby furniture, and changing the name of one of the restaurants. Not so at PGA National. Their renovation was a complete top to bottom overhaul of the property. From the lobby to the guest rooms to the golf courses, no portion of the facility was left untouched, solidifying PGA National's place as a world class golf destination that would rival any of the great resorts around the state of Florida.

It's not every day that one can reconnect with a destination that holds so much personal history. What was even more satisfying, however, was seeing PGA National's dedication to moving into the future. The resort has a rich history, but rather than sitting back and resting on their past, PGA National is marching into the future, ready to make cherished memories for the next generation.

Enjoy Your Stay

Special thanks to PGA National for hosting the Check-In Florida series. As always, all opinions are my own.

California Route 1 - Big Sur to San Francisco

For the better part of a decade, the top slot on my travel bucket list has been partially held by California's famed Highway 1. The dream was to start in San Diego and work my way north, with stops at Torrey Pines, Disneyland, and Pebble Beach sprinkled in along the way. On our recent California adventure I accomplished one-third of this dream, and in my book, that's close enough for horseshoes.

The journey on Highway 1 was split into two sections. First, we spent a day working our way south to Big Sur from our home base in Pebble Beach. In the beginning, I was a little disappointed because Highway 1 appeared to be just that...a highway. From Monterey until somewhere around Point Lobos State Park, we traversed a four lane highway at speeds of up to 65 mph. A far cry from the narrow, winding, cliff-side road of my dreams. They tell me patience is a virtue....

California Highway 1
Now that's more like it!
California Highway 1
We just started...already time to stop...
California Highway 1
Yes, this will do...

California Highway 1
"Whoa, we're driving that way?"
California Highway 1
Stop #2 a full 3/4 after the first one
California Highway 1 Bixby Bridge
Crossing the Bixby Bridge
California Highway 1 Bixby Bridge
"Keep your eyes on the road, I'll take the pictures."
California Highway 1
One lane road ahead...weirdest red light ever.

It was right about here that MJ and I decided it was best to turn around and head back to Pebble Beach. My driving skills are questionable even under normal circumstances. Putting me behind the wheel on Highway 1 is like going to Vegas...If you play long enough, eventually the house wins.

Fast forward two days, and we were off on the second leg of our journey up Highway 1. According to Google Maps, the trip from Monterey to Yountville in Napa Valley should have taken about four hours. Given our propensity to pulling off for pictures ever 3/4 of a mile, we set aside an entire day for the trip, just in case...
California Highway 1 Scott Creek
California did well during the New Deal...Every bridge seemed to date to the 1930's
California Highway 1
Scott Creek flowing into the ocean
California Highway 1
Hey! Stop flying through my pictures!
California Highway 1
Random pull off...not sure where, but it was pretty.
California Highway 1
The canvas next to our car was a makeshift tent... Hippies...
 
California Highway 1
More awesomeness ahead
California Highway 1 Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Naturally the clouds came back when we reached Pigeon Point Lighthouse
There's also a hostel for you backpackers out there...
California Highway 1
Pescadero State Beach
California Highway 1
Another one I'm not sure of...Do you know what this place?

There was a short break in the action until we started to reach San Francisco. On our way into the city, I asked MJ to navigate us to The Olympic Club so that I could snap a photo of the gate. We did better than the gate...we just drove right in like we owned the place. 
Olympic Club San Francisco
2 US Open hosts in as many days...Not too shabby.

Rather than remain on Highway 1 into San Francisco, we decided to continue hugging the coast by turning onto Great Highway. This was an awesome stretch of coastal road, and a far better lead in to the city than a boring old interstate. 
California Highway 1
Top down on Great Highway
California Highway 1
MJ taking backwards photos...

After winding through the streets of San Francisco to get back on to Highway 1, it was time for the grand finale...a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. 
California Highway 1 Golden Gate
Naturally, it's fogged in
California Highway 1
"Hows the painting coming?"
California Highway 1 Golden Gate
MJ having fun...
California Highway 1 Golden Gate
See the reflection off my head? Sunshine!
California Highway 1 Golden Gate
"We feel your pain..That was us 4 days ago!"
California Highway 1
Farewell Golden Gate...until we meet again...

In the end, the four hour adventure up Highway 1 took us twice that, and I loved every minute of it. The old phrase "You have to see it to believe it" really is appropriate here. Photographs and words on paper can only go so far to describe the beauty of the California coast. To label Highway 1 a "Scenic Drive" might be the biggest understatement of all time. The fact is there aren't enough adjectives to fully capture it, so that's my queue to stop trying...

If You Go...
  • Get a convertible...It's the only way to fly
  • Stop for lunch in Half Moon Bay
  • Take advantage of the numerous pull-offs. 
  • Better yet...use them all...
Enjoy Your Stay

Check Out Time - The Week in Travel

Happy National Dog Day! Be sure to give your furry pal some extra love today... This from a cat guy...

Here's what you may have missed around The World of Deej and Beyond...
  • I lived every golfer's ultimate dream with a round at Pebble Beach

This is MJ's dog...I just walk him...

And did you see?
Here's to an insanely great week ahead, wherever you might be in the world.

Enjoy Your Stay

Pigeon Point Lighthouse - Pic of the Week

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Highway 1

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse along California's Highway 1. 

Tune in Monday for our journey up one of the most scenic drive in America. 

Enjoy Your Stay

A Stroll Through Monterey's Cannery Row

California seems to have a knack for transforming old industrial areas along its waterfront into vibrant tourist attractions. The history of these areas, however, is often buried in the rubble of t-shirt shops and chain restaurants, sorely overlooked by the majority of visitors. During a brief stroll through Monterey's Cannery Row, we found its history right on the surface, with even a few additional surprises along the way.
Cannery Row Monterey
One of the old canneries...Also home to some special java...

The name Cannery Row refers to the numerous sardine canneries which were once found along Monterey's waterfront. The more surprising history of the area, comes from its role in American literature. John Steinbeck chronicled the lives of the area's residents during the Great Depression in his novel titled...Cannery Row. This piece of history was unknown to me, mostly because I only complete about 2.4 books per decade, so I tucked away this nugget of useless information for use at a time in the future when I need to sound smart.
Cannery Row Monterey
Tribute to John Steinbeck on the promenade.

It is safe to say that Cannery Row looks far different today than it did during Steinbeck's time. The last of the sardine canneries closed nearly four decades ago, but many of the buildings have since been restored, turning the area into a popular destination for tourists to part with their cash.
Cannery Row Monterey
Cannery Row

Before setting off to explore, we popped into Cannery Row Brewing Company for a quick bite to eat. There I indulged in a couple of the 73 beers on tap - no joke - and basked in the glory that was their truffle fries.
Cannery Row Brewing Company
The heavenly truffle fries and MJ's chower

As we walked up Cannery Row, the familiar green logo of Starbucks pulled me in like the Death Star's tractor beam. Inside I found one of the rarest of treats for us Starbucks junkies....the Clover machine. I learned about the Clover in the biography of Howard Schultz - one of the 2.4 I read this decade - but had yet to experience the magic it is said to brew. Call it a hunch, but I got the feeling from the barrista that she hadn't encountered someone so excited to watch her make an iced coffee.
Cannery Row Monterey
One happy Starbucks junkie

Continuing our stroll we poked our head into a few of the souvenir shops, where I failed to convince MJ to let me buy a shirt which read "Nice Cans." She did approve a purchase of more Pebble Beach gear from their shop on the Row, which seemed like a fair enough compromise. Marriage...
Cannery Row Monterey
Mine! Mine!

Eventually we came upon the most famous landmark of Cannery Row...the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Since opening in the early 1980's, the aquarium has been one of the most highly regarded in the country, and occupies the building which once housed the last sardine cannery to close on the row. Sadly, they were already closed for the day, but after a few visits to the Georgia Aquarium, I'm pretty sure I got the gist.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
No caption needed

We killed a few minutes on the deck outside the aquarium, watching sea otters feed on kelp, and enjoying the last rays of sunlight. As I took in the surroundings, it was difficult to imagine that such beautiful property was once used to can sardines....
Monterey Bay Aquarium
The deck outside the aquarium

Bringing our stroll to a close, we crossed over into the town of Pacific Grove, which apparently is also known as "Butterfly Town U.S.A." That piece of useless information didn't make the cut for permanent storage... There's only so many safe deposit boxes in the Grigott's Vault upstairs.
Pacific Grove California
Who knew?

What did make it's way into the vault was the spectacular sunset looking out on Lover's Point. While the canneries are long gone and replaced with a borderline tourist trap, looking upon this scene it was easy to understand why John Steinbeck was inspired by Cannery Row. A truly perfect end to our visit to Monterey...
Lovers Point Monterey
Lover's Point
If You Go...
  • Don't skip the Aquarium
  • Cheap parking available off David Ave ($5)
  • Say hello to the Clover machine for me
Enjoy Your Stay