Monday, February 27, 2012

Round #6: Oregon: Bandon Dunes - Pacific Dunes Course

We planned a stop-over in San Francisco on our way home from Hawaii to spend more time with the grandkids. It was also a good opportunity to jump in a car and head up to Oregon to cover one more state. Our arrival back in San Francisco on Friday, 17 Feb coincided with a business trip for Matt. He flew out to New York CIty on Sunday which provided Jill with two live-in babysitters during his absence. As it turned out, Jill caught a touch of the flu after our arrival so she was more than happy to have help with the kids.
On the following Thursday we headed out for Oregon after the kids went down for their afternoon naps. Our original goal was to avoid the rush hour traffic of a Friday morning departure, but we stretched the drive to 270 miles for a late evening arrival in Eureka, California. With a 9:40 AM tee time on Saturday morning, we thought we had plenty of time for the road trip to Bandon, Oregon. A check on the weather Friday morning made us re-think that plan. 
Bandon is on the Pacific coast. Winter is the rainy season with more than 9” of rain per month starting in November tapering off to more than 7” in February and March. I was hoping to play golf on a warm day (average February temperature = 56 degrees) and squeeze the round of golf in between rain showers. The weather report for Friday was sunny skies with temperatures reaching 56 degrees. With a storm front blowing in from the Pacific, cold rain was expected on Saturday with temperatures only reaching a day time high of 42 degrees. We called the course and moved my tee time up to Friday afternoon. 
We had 200 miles left to drive from Eureka to Bandon, a distance we would normally cover in under 3-hours. The most direct route is a scenic drive through national parks. The narrow road climbs over hills, weaves through redwood forests, and curves along the coast at posted speeds that varied from 35 to 65. Light traffic enabled us to make the drive in 4-hours. The good news was I arrived in time to play the round of golf in daylight; the bad news was I had no time to warm-up.

Round: #6
Location: Bandon, OR
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #1
Date: 24 Feb, tee off at 1:20 PM
Conditions: cloudy, 11 MPH wind, 52 degrees
Yardage: 6,142
Lost balls: 1
Score: 95 on a par 72
Bandon Dunes is a course built in the spirit of Scotland’s ancient links; a rugged wind-swept course built on rolling terrain covered in sand traps and patches of thick grass. It is a walking course only - no golf carts. Caddies are available to carry your clubs and provide guidance, an option I selected to avoid carrying my own clubs. Two sales representatives from a New York based medical company decided to play golf on Friday afternoon and were paired up with me. Blake and Dave were from Portland, Oregon. They were working in the Bandon area and finished up early enough to squeeze a round of golf into their schedules. They specialized in selling medicines used in the treatment of spinal meningitis.

Blake, Garret, Dave

Sunny skies provided great scenery on the drive to Bandon that morning. In the distance we could see the approaching storm out over the Pacific, which grew steadily closer as we approached Bandon. The sun had disappeared behind clouds as I walked up to the #1 tee, but the weather remained warm and dry. 

476 yard par 5 hole #3 (view from the tee) 

Hole #3 (view from the fairway toward the green)
As expected, the challenge of Pacific Dunes is made more difficult by the wind. What I should have also expected was stiff back muscles from the 470 mile trip coupled with a lack of any opportunity to warm-up. When playing golf, I always strive to avoid carding double bogeys (2 over par) at all costs. That lofty goal was not realized Friday afternoon when I began to card double, triple and quadruple bogeys over the first 8 holes. I flipped a switch on the par 4 hole #9 when I hit a drive uphill into the wind, followed by a long approach shot into the green where a 2-putt gave me the 2nd par of the round.

379 yard par 4 hole #9 (view from the tee) 

Hole #9 (view of approach shot into the green) 

Hole #9 (view from the green back toward the tee box)

The storm front kicked up as we made the turn onto the back 9 holes. A light rain began to fall as the wind increased to 16 MPH (gusting to 25 MPH) and the temperature dropped to 44 degrees. I continued to hit the ball well, following the par on hole #9 with three more pars in a row. The light rain became steady by hole #12. With the blowing wind, staying warm & dry became increasingly difficult. My cold weather golf gloves became water soaked turning my hands icy cold; I began to stick my bare hands into my pockets in an attempt to keep them warm. The rain felt like small pieces of hail as times. I could feel my back tighten up under the cold conditions. Double bogeys started to re-appear, as did one more quadruple bogey (an “8” otherwise referred to as a “snowman”). Blake and Dave decided to give it up and walked off the course after hole #13. As the two young men walked off, I continued on with Garret, my 47-year old caddie. I did score one more par on the 189 yard par 3 hole #17; the heavy rain had running water rolling off of the green. The rain subsided as I played the final hole #18, were I missed a par putt to finish with one last bogey.

335 yard par 4 hole #2

131 yard par 3 hole #11

We awoke Saturday morning in Bandon; it was not raining but the pavement was wet from a recent shower. The temperature was 40 degrees under cloudy skies with a 70% chance of rain and a 26 MPH wind gusting to 31 MPH (windchill = 29 degrees).  The question of whether I had made the right decision in moving up my tee time to Friday afternoon was on our minds as we drove away from the hotel. The answer arrived within the first two miles when a quick shower began to pelt the car and cover the road with small hailstones. At least I stayed dry for 11 of the 18 holes of play on Friday.

Hole #18 (view from the green at the time of tee off)

575 yard par 5 hole #18 (view from tee at the end of the round)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Warm-Up #5: Stinkin Lincoln

Jill took me to a neighborhood bar for a couple of beers during our Christmas visit to San Francisco. We walked about a 1/2 mile to the “Dirty Trix Saloon” on Clement street where we could enjoy their large selection of beer. It was the Christmas season, so it was not difficult finding a seat with only the bartender and two other patrons in the bar. It was quite natural to strike up a conversation with the bartender as we sat at the bar. After hearing some remarks from Jill about Frisbee golf he expressed his opinion that throwing a Frisbee is not “real” golf. The conversation turned to a discussion of San Francisco’s golf courses, a subject that drew my interest since I was considering where I might play on New Year’s Day. Based on his comments, I kicked off 2012 with a round of golf at the Presidio golf course.

Dirty Trix Saloon

Our conversation that evening also included a discussion of a public golf course in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. The bartender stated the Lincoln Golf Course would provide the best scenic views of Golden Gate bridge and San Francisco, but would also provide the worst playing conditions. It’s location on the bay produces heavy fog that can roll in at a moment’s notice, restricting visibility of both the holes and your ball. The course is not well maintained nor well drained so muddy conditions are normal. For these reasons, he referred to the course as “Stinkin Lincoln”.
San Francisco’s weather the past few days has been unusually warm & sunny. Julie & Jill were strongly suggesting I needed to get out of the house and play some golf. I was not going to argue with their logic. I headed out to play the Lincoln Golf course. 

Round: Warm-Up #5

Location: San Francisco, CA
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: Not ranked
Date: 22 Feb, tee off at 9:20 AM
Conditions: sunny, 5 MPH wind, 57 degrees
Yardage: 4,948
Lost balls: 0
Score: 75 on a par 68
Another single player was warming up as I approached the first tee. I asked if I could join him and we teed off together. Joe was a 57 year old single man who worked in the service parts area of the San Francisco’s mass transit system maintenance department. He had recently completed a night school program that would enable him to qualify as an electronic technician for vehicle maintenance and was hoping to move into a new position within the department. Joe lived in his mother’s home on Point Lobos Avenue, an area walking distance from Lincoln Park where the price of a home would run from $600K to $1.2M. His 85-year old widowed mother spent her winters in Florida and summers in San Francisco. Since he has played golf at Lincoln Park for many years I was glad he provided his insights on how to approach the tee shot on each hole. 


The “golf gods” were good to me - - - I enjoyed a good swing through the round (a reference to Buddhism where they seemingly have a different god to honor for everything in life). Public courses usually offer fewer sand traps, shorter grass in the rough and slower greens to putt on which is what I encountered at Lincoln. My best moments were a downhill drive on the short 260 yard par 4 hole #11 that finished rolling to within 8 yards of the green. A chip shot and one putt gave yielded a birdie. A drive onto the green and a 20 foot one putt also yielded a birdie on the long 229 yard par 3 hole #16. The course was short on distance but demanded accuracy, factors that  help me since my game is not strong on distance; I carded 1 double bogey, 7 bogeys, 8 pars, and 2 birdies. It was unusual to play a par 68 course. The average golf course has four par 3’s, four par 5’s and ten par 4’s; by contrast Lincoln had five par 3‘s and only one par 5.  

260 yard par 4 hole #11 

486 yard par 5 hole #13

230 yard par 3 hole #17

The weather really helped the scenic views from the course. I could not have picked a better day to capture some great clear pictures of the Golden Gate bridge.

Palace of the Legion of Honor (as viewed from hole #11 tee)

Golden Gate Bridge (as viewed from hole #17 tee)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The “Perfect Vacation”

The airline tickets to Hawaii were booked using frequent flier miles on United Airlines. We made the reservation, picked out seats and enjoyed priority boarding with ease. No hassle. I wish the hotel industry would sit up and take note.
Our hotel in Honolulu on Waikiki Beach was also booked using points earned in the Starwood Preferred program. I spent way too many nights in Asian hotels, but at least this was one benefit from all of the business travel. You might think that hotels would provide special attention when their frequent guests return, but that was not our experience at Waikiki. The Royal Hawaiian hotel is a beachfront property on Oahu. Ocean views are always a premium, so when we booked a “garden view” room we expected to be on the back side of the hotel with a view of beautiful landscape (after all, we were visiting an Hawaiian island!). We checked in and walked to our room, which happened to look out onto a busy entrance into a neighboring shopping mall and Sheraton Hotel. I was not impressed with their idea of a “garden”. Upon informing the front desk of our displeasure, we were provided with a much more suitable room with a garden view.

View of Waikiki beach from the Royal Hawaiian 

Garden view at the Royal Hawaiian

I wish that had been the end of this story. Jack spent way too many nights in Hilton hotels as a single man working for Deloitte. A portion of his Hilton Honors program points were gifted to us for our stay at the Hilton Waikola Village on the Big Island. It was a great gift at a beautiful hotel. Again you might think that the hotel chain would take notice when a room is paid for using points from their frequent guest program, but you would be wrong again. The Hilton is a huge property, providing over 1,200 guest rooms in 3 different buildings spread out over a 62 acre property. The hotel utilized both a tram and boat taxis to move the guests between hotel rooms, convention center, shopping, restaurants, pools, beach, and the single hotel lobby where everyone arrives & departs.

The reviews on TripAdvisor accurately described trams that moved more slowly than you could walk. The reviews did not mention the 3-5 minute delay encountered at some stops prior to departure to the next station. The proverbial “slow boat to China” would run laps around the water taxis if they entered into a race. We value our time when on vacation, preferring to spend it on enjoyment as opposed to waiting in line. Missing a tram could mean a 17 minute wait for the next one to arrive (someone timed it while sitting on the balcony drinking a beer!). Hawaii gets less than 12-hours of sunlight in mid-February so lengthly waits for a tram ride is important to us. The TripAdvisor reports were enough for us to specify a room in the Lagoon Tower building due to it’s proximity to the lobby, pools and the only guest parking lot on the property. The reservation was submitted 11 months ago and confirmed for a “partial ocean view room with a lanai”. (Footnote: a lanai is defined as a veranda or roofed patio often furnished and used as a living room). Julie called the hotel twice prior to our trip to insure we would be provided a room in the Lagoon Tower.

Our arrival at the hotel was met with a long line waiting to check-in. One of the outgoing flights from the Kona airport encountered mechanical problems and passengers were being provided with overnight accommodations at the Hilton. When our turn finally arrived we were informed that the only a few rooms remained in the Lagoon Tower, all on the back side with no ocean views. Our options were a room on the top floor in an area where rood repairs commenced each day at 7:30 AM or a room on the 4th floor room. We picked the 4th floor and departed the lobby for our first ride on the tram. The TripAdvisor reports were accurate; we needed no further proof that a turtle could make better time.
Upon our arrival at the room, we opened the drapes to check out our view. We stepped  out onto a small porch; it was just enough space for two chairs and one small table  (note: re-read the definition of a “lanai” above if you have a problem with short-term memory loss). The view from our lanai was a roof-top! We could have easily jumped over the railing to the roof 6 inches below us and played tennis on the flat expanse before us. With no tennis rackets in hand, we opted to return to the lobby to request a different room. We waited in line at reception for the 2nd time before our turn in the queue arrived. Upon explaining that our room was unacceptable we were informed that no other rooms were available in the Lagoon Tower. We reluctantly agreed to an ocean view room on the 7th floor of the Ocean Tower building - - - the farthest point possible from the lobby requiring heavy reliance on the trams. (Footnote #2: “reluctant” in this case means the lady upgraded our room to a beautiful ocean view, provided us with $20/day in hotel food/drink coupons, provided us with a dozen free coupons for bottled water, free valet parking and free internet service). 

Lagoon view from 7th floor room in the Ocean Tower

Ocean view from 7th floor room in the Ocean Tower

The story does not end here as you might have expected. We took the painfully slow tram ride to our new room. The view from our lanai (ok, call it a small balcony) was indeed gorgeous. The tranquility was interrupted every half hour by a warning sound intended to alert any nearby geriatrics that the approaching tram might hit them if their walker became stuck on the tracks. The remote location and reliance on trams conjured up images of checking into the “Hawaii Hilton” with Johnny Cash singing the Folsom Prison Blues in the background. (Note: elderly readers will know who Johnny Cash was and can understand a satirical reference to the “Hanoi Hilton”). When I tried the internet connection I discovered a free wireless signal was only available in limited areas on the ground floor. 

The icing on the cake was in the envelope provided at check-in containing a message from the General Manager hoping we had the “perfect vacation”. Our phone contained a similar voice message, with an invitation to merely lift the receiver and hit the “Perfect Vacation” button if ever the staff could be of any assistance. I took the bait. My first call went unanswered. That did not help my mood. My second call went unanswered. Now my dander was up. I switched tactics and dialed the hotel operator - - - again to no avail. I than proceeded to push any button that might yield a staff member on the other end. I ended up speaking with a young man from customer relations who heard a description of our Hilton “vacation from hell”. A follow-up call from the Night Manager yielded a promise to find a suitable room in the Lagoon Tower. The next day we moved into an upgraded room on 2nd floor of the Lagoon Tower directly above the dolphin lagoon. We were able to enjoy watching the dolphins from our balcony at any hour of the day - far away from the sound of a tram. It was wonderful!

Time for breakfast!

View of dolphins from Lagoon Tower room (Ocean Tower is in the distance)

It was disappointing that we were not provided an acceptable room from the onset, but the situation finally rectified itself and the remainder of our stay was truly wonderful. A lack of good management usually implies I can expect to see a final bill with errors. I was not disappointed. A $90 charge for internet and parking fees was quickly remedied with a quick call to the cashier. I was left with a good impression.

The most favorable impression occurred a day earlier when the local police pulled me over for speeding through Waikola Village. The speed limit had dropped to 35 just before I headed downhill through town, but excuses aside, I was at fault for not watching my speed. The policeman looked at my license, asked me to slow down and told me to have a good night as he sent me on my way. That is the kind of customer service I really love!

View from Lagoon Tower of swimming lagoon & beach

Lagoon Tower pool

Lagoon Tower pool

Ocean shoreline near Lagoon Tower (Ocean Tower in the distance)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Touring the Big Island

Waipio Valley
We thought we might gain a view of a waterfalls when we traveled to Waipio Valley on the northern edge of the Hamakua Coast. The Waipio Valley is often referred to as the "Valley of the Kings" because it was once the home to many of the rulers of Hawaii. The valley has both historical and cultural importance to the Hawaiian people.We knew the steep road down into the valley was limited to 4WD vehicles, donkeys and hikers - which meant we were likely to only see the valley from the ridge unless the donkeys were available for hire. The valley now used exclusively for growing taro, since a tsunami destroyed the village and convinced it’s surviving residents to relocate to higher ground back in 1946. After arriving at the look-out, we learned the waterfalls is located 6 miles inland from the sea. Since there were no donkeys in sight for hire, I hiked down the road just far enough to face the reality of my 60-year old legs. Where is a good ass when you need one?

 Waipio Valley

Sign on road into Waipio Valley

Rosanne Barr
The Big Island is home to several macadamia nut farms. I knew Rosanne Barr moved to Hawaii a few years ago after buying a macadamia nut farm. It seemed like we must be in the area, which I verified on Google while Julie was shopping in nearby Honokaa. The local shop keepers were pretty tight lipped about Rosanne’s home but I was able to find out it was only a few miles north of town. For lack of anything better to do, we drove off in search of her home. The journey took us down a side road that proved to be very interesting but did not produce any views of Rosanne sitting on her porch. It turned out to be a similar to our Hana trip when the journey is more valuable than the destination.

Side road in search of Rossane

Saddle Road
Highway 200 cuts across the middle of the Big Island. It is known locally as Saddle Road, a term that likely refers to the climb and descent in elevation as you cross the island near the base of the inactive Muana Kea volcano (elevation 13,796 feet). The drive provides some great views of the island; it also takes you from sunny 80 degree weather into fog, rain and 56 degree temperatures within the hour long drive. We saw wild turkeys and erckels francolin (partridge) along the roadside in the grassy foothills. 
From what we observed, free range chickens are quite normal on the Hawaiian islands. A drive around the northern coast took us into the small town of Hawi. I pulled over to the side of the road to check our bearings when the sound of crowing roosters caught my attention. The chickens were running underneath some cars on the opposite side of the road. We ate lunch at a sidewalk cafe on the main street through Hawi. While we were eating I looked out from our window table to see two roosters strutting across Highway 270.
Volcanoes National Park
It is hard to imagine that volcanoes formed the Hawaiian islands - until you visit the national park. We booked a 1-hour helicopter tour from Hilo that took us out over an active crater named Pu’uO’o. The pilot expressed surprise that the crater had filled with lava overnight and appeared poised to overflow down the hillside. The town of Kulupana used to lie on the coastline below Pu’uO’o before an 30’ wall of lava buried 217 homes and a park visitor center in 1990. A few residents thought it would be a good idea to rebuild, and lost their homes a 2nd time to a lava flow last year. Two small areas on the hillside had escaped the lava, each contained a building that remained untouched. One was a vacant art studio; having lost his home the artist had relocated. The 2nd building belonged to a good friend of the pilot who remained in the home he used as a B&B for risk seeking volcano enthusiasts. His home sat directly below the Pu’uO’o crater that we had just observed brim full of hot lava. As we circled over the area, glimpses of red hot lava were visible within 500 yards his home. 

View of the B&B (orange roof visible on left side) 

Closer view of the B&B

Pu’uO’o is just one crater within the Kilauea volcanic system inside the park. We saw a dozen craters along the ridge where it sat, although smaller in size all of them had steam spewing forth. The Kilauea volcano has been erupting non-stop since 3 January 1983, although it does not draw much attention since it typically fills to over-flowing by contrast to a dramatic eruption like the Mount St. Helens volcano.

Ridge of craters leading up to the Pu'uO'o crater

Halema'uma'u crater (another portion of the Kilauea volcano)

A portion of the Kilauea caldera

Our helicopter ride took us over a rainforest north of Hilo. It was amazing to look down and see dozens of waterfalls in our flight path. With an annual rainfall of 300 inches/year there is no shortage of water flowing downhill within the forest. Although it sits a mere 6 miles away on the coastline, by contrast Hilo’s annual rainfall measures a mere 120 inches/year.

Rain forest above Hilo

No tour of a Hawaiian island would be complete without a snorkel trip. We rented gear and got some advice on where to go from Snorkel Bob’s. We headed out to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau park; the reef was in 10-15 feet of water on the shoreline but visibility was reduced by the high surf. At the completion of our snorkel diving, Julie waded into the water near a boat launch. Within a short time a 3’ green sea turtle swam up to where she stood in the water. We now felt completed having seen sea turtles on all three of the islands we had visited.
Donkey Balls
Kona coffee beans are grown on the Big Island which produced a multitude of coffee shops around the island. We dropped into a coffee shop in Kealakekua that also sold chocolate. The store had incorporated a donkey theme into their products that was derived from the use of donkeys to carry bags of macadamia nuts from the farms. Local Hawaiians used to refer to unshelled macadamia nuts as “donkey balls”, a name that was now used on balls of chocolate covered nuts. One flavor of their coffee was sold under the label: “Wild Ass Coffee”. 

A "must stop & see" for every tourist

Good coffee and great chocolate!

We saw memorials to dead relatives multiple times along the roads, and on an occasional beach. No where was this more pronounced than on the Big Island. The roadsides were littered with white stones placed on the black lava in commemoration. We did spot a few personal messages as well: a wedding proposal, a political message in favor of Ron Paul, etc). Hawaiians believe the deceased are able to watch over them and occasionally reappear in the form of an animal. This was explained to me by the lady who sold us coffee & chocolate when I inquired about her tattoos. She was using her left arm to display artwork in memory of her grandmother, the right arm for her grandfather and her back for Hawaiian culture. She believed your ancestors watch over you and physically reappear in the form of an animal. An unnatural encounter with an animal is a visit from one of your deceased relatives. Such encounters with a lizard and a turtle were motive for incorporating these animals into her tattoos in remembrance of her grandparents. 

Memorial on Makapuu beach on Oahu

Roadside memorials on Big Island

Jackie's tattoos in memory of her grandparents

Friday, February 17, 2012

Warm-Up #4: Mauna Kea Golf Course

On Saturday we flew from Maui to the Big Island where we checked into the Hilton Waikoloa Village hotel. This was the third Hawaiian island we were visiting and I thought it was a great idea to take advantage of an opportunity to play golf on each of the islands. That turned out to be a good decision. 
It is quite evident you are visiting an island formed by a volcano upon landing at the Kona airport on the Big Island. The airport is built on top of a 200 year old lava flow that looks like it just cooled off last week. As we drove north along the shore to our hotel, the landscape was one big lava field. Hotel resorts looked like a lush oasis in the midst of the black lava. 

Lava field surrounding the Kona Airport (tower in the distance)

I selected the Mauna Kea Golf Course to play, while not as challenging as the Kapalua course it certainly was the most beautiful course I played in Hawaii.

Round: Warm-Up #4
Location: Kamuela, HI
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #6
Date: 13 Feb, tee off at 11:00 AM
Conditions: partly cloudy, 8 MPH wind, 77 degrees
Yardage: 6,806
Lost balls: 3
Score: 87 on a par 72
Once again I was paired up with two other couples for the round of golf. Frank & Susan were a 65+ year old retired couple from Boston. Frank had been in the publishing business specializing within the biotechnology field. They rented a house within the Mauna Kea compound, situated on a hill above the hole #17 green with a view of the ocean. The publishing business must have been quite profitable! At the other end of the age spectrum was the 2nd couple I played with, Tom & Kelly from Seattle. Tom looked like he could be pushing 30. He worked in internet marketing for X-Box. His girlfriend, Kelly, rode along and took pictures as he played. Tom said his parents always thought that playing video games would never amount to anything, and he was proving them wrong.

Frank & Susan, Kelly & Tom

Tom complained about the number of sand traps that kept finding his ball. Susan also became very familiar with her sand wedge during our round of golf. I was striking the ball well and using good club selection to hit several greens in regulation. WIth 8 pars and 7 bogeys you would think I might have carded a lower score. I did card two double bogeys while losing a couple of balls in the tall grass but it was the 2nd easiest hole on the course that took me for a ride. All I can say is that I took a nap when I played the par 4 sixth hole where I took 8 strokes to complete the hole.

205 yard par 3 hole #3 (bogey)

214 yard par 3 hole #11 (par)

Mauna Kea is the name of the tallest volcano in Hawaii. Perhaps that is why the course provided the most elevation change from tee to green I have experienced. The wind was still a factor but not anything like I faced on Maui.

357 yard par 4 hole #2

375 yard par 4 hole #9

431 yard par 4 hole #18

I expected to see different species of birds on the Hawaiian islands during my visit. It was surprising when the sound of gobbling turkeys range out across the Mauna Kea course. At the completion of play, I drove up to the pro shop where the distinctive sound rang out again. I walked around to an outside eating area where a tom was trying to scare away his reflection in the window. He was not having any success.

Mauna Kea lunch area