Best driving ranges
Sports Illustrated senior writer John Garrity was a 42-year-old 8-handicapper when he suddenly lost his swing. Since December 1989 he has been looking for it -- a modern-day Odysseus adrift on the troubled waters of swing theory. As Garrity travels the world reporting on golf, he visits as many driving ranges as he can, avoiding the dreaded "mats only" ranges that prevent him from teeing it up. Here is the third installment of his story.
This week's column was supposed to open with my announcement of the "Sports Illustrated Top 50 Driving Ranges of the Century Gala," to be held Dec. 10 at the Treasure Island Hotel in Las Vegas, co-hosted by Roger Maltbie and Leslie Nielson and telecast live by the Discovery Channel. Unfortunately, the threat of an escort-service strike in Vegas and a misunderstanding over television rights fees (we thought the Discovery Channel was paying us) has forced us to postpone the gala until the year 2099. Instead, here's my personal list of the most pleasurable practice facilities I visited in the last 12 months:
1) World Woods Golf Club, Brooksville, Fla . I wrote about this Tom Fazio- designed masterpiece in October '99. A couple hundred grass hitting stations scattered over a variety of tee complexes surrounds a veritable Elysian field of target greens and fairways set into natural terrain. It gets my vote for best practice facility in the world.
2) Mira Vista Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas. One of the highlights of my year is playing range games with my SI colleague, Jaime Diaz, the day before the Dan Jenkins Goat Hills scramble. The Mira Vista range has nice, tight turf, good targets and perfect pyramids of shiny range balls.
3) Ala Wai Municipal Driving Range, Honolulu, Hawaii. You wouldn't expect a crowded, mats-only commercial range with mongrel range balls to make my list, but I take a cab to Ala Wai whenever I lay over in Honolulu. Trade winds, palm trees, Diamond Head at your back, rainbows -- who needs grass?
4) Duxbury Yacht Club, Duxbury, Mass. The range at this private club is just a clearing in the woods with a rustic barn behind the tees and ball buckets on a shelf. It's a golfer's Walden.
5) Westin Mission Hills Resort, Rancho Mirage, Calif. This is still one of my favorite ranges, even though it's the place where I lost my swing a decade ago. It's double-ended with elevated tees and smooth sandy turf. It has fine views of the mountains. And here's the best part: $7 for all the balls you can hit.
6) Commercial range across the harbor from downtown Auckland, New Zealand. I have forgotten not only the name of this covered, mats-only range, but the name of the suburb it is in. It's on my list because I hit balls there last December in a sun squall, staying warm and dry while Mother Nature tried to make up her mind.
7) The Legacy Golf Club, Sarasota, Fla. Here's another fine practice facility that's open to the public. Great turf, good targets, a first-rate, sand-and-short-game green -- and you sometimes run into young stars from the David Leadbetter Junior Golf Academy.
8) Gigha Golf Club, Isle of Gigha, Scotland. Not a driving range, actually, but a nine-hole farmland course that served as my private practice ground when I went there for a story in July. Bleating sheep, harbor views and a golden sun that refuses to set in summer.
9) Del Mar Country Club, Del Mar, Calif. This private club's practice tee looks like a bowling lawn. I felt guilty when I took divots.
10) Nick Faldo Golf Academy, Orlando, Fla. This spinoff from the Leadbetter- Nick Faldo divorce has a nice public range with lots of grass and a mammoth putting green. And there's always a chance that Faldo will come by and ask you to look at his swing.
Perfect Places to Practice in Florida
By Derek Duncan,
Golf Publisher Syndications
ORLANDO, FL (July 16, 2002)-Some say the state of Florida, with an excess of 1,200 golf courses, offers the best golf in the country. Others disagree, claiming lack of variety and too many flattish courses keep it out of the top spot. What is less debatable, however, is that Florida is the ideal locale to practice the game. As testified to by the large number of professional golfers who make this their home, Florida is in a league of its own when it comes to year-round climate, access to first-rate instructors, and modern, high tech practice facilities. Some of the country's largest and most versatile practice areas are located in Florida- most built in the last 10 years - and perhaps only Arizona can offer competition when it comes to offering so many quality venues at which to perfect your game. Furthermore, most of the better practice facilities are open to the public. Fittingly, one of the best practice areas in the United States is located at one of the best public golf clubs in the United States, World Woods Golf Club in Brooksville (approximately one hour north of Tampa).
The World Woods range, built in 1993 along with its two courses, Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks, was innovative among Sunshine State facilities for its configuration. The immense circular range covers a full 23 acres and is surrounded by tees playing in four different directions toward the center. As if this spacious complex weren't enough, World Woods also provides a 9-hole Short Course featuring seven par 3's and two par 4's, a 3-hole Practice Course, a large chipping green with several bunkers, and a 36-hole Putting Course over two acres in size. Combine this with putting greens near the first tees of both courses and a wooded, secluded golf-only environment and World Woods must rank among the greatest practice outlets in the country.