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Archive for the ‘Golf Travel’ Category

It had been too many years since I last visited Jamaica, so when I was invited to participate in an annual resort golf tournament, I accepted. I had played the Sandal’s Golf Course ten years ago and I knew it wasn’t maintained as pristine as the Doral, Pinehurst, or other well-known courses, but it was a fun course to play with small greens and Jamaican caddies.

AirTran departed early from both Richmond and Atlanta and we actually arrived early. Sandals has a comfortable private lounge in the Montego Bay Airport; refreshments and light snacks are provided as they arrange your transportation to your resort. Ocho Rios is a 90-mile drive from MoBay but I was glad to see that the improved highway (the one that had been promised for ten years) was FINALLY completed, so the drive time has been somewhat shortened. A rest stop complete with cold Red Stripe beer makes the 1 ¾ hour drive endurable.

 By the time I went to register for the golf tournament, stopped to grab a light snack, and got to my room, my luggage had been delivered to my room. At Sandals, one of the original and luxurious all-inclusive resorts, everything at the resort is included in a pre-paid price. My room was stocked with a complete bar, refrigerator with cold drinks, mixers, and beer, so I got into the island culture with a rum and tonic as I unpacked. At the opening reception and dinner that night, I met the hotel’s General Manager as well most department heads and many Sandals’ executives.

After a breakfast buffet featuring just about anything you could want, including mimosas and every variety of tropical  fruit that I’d ever heard of, we spend time reviewing the many Sandals’ upgrading projects currently being executed. We then headed to the golf course where we were assigned caddies for our entire stay, and off we went. “StarBoy” and Payne headed down the fairway and watched all four first drives find the fairway. As we approached the first green, we could see that the greens weren’t all “green”, in fact a lot of sand on the greens made them half-brown. I was pleased that although slow, the greens actually putted fairly smooth and even. It only took a few holes for us to realize that the caddies did know the way the greens broke, although after mis-clubbing me several times, I started getting my own distances and pulling my own clubs. Most holes were well-marked with 100, 150, and 200 yardmarkers, so calculating distances was not hard. All of the caddies were dressed alike in khaki shorts and yellow polo shirts ~ this gave a very nice and professional look. A well stocked refreshment cart circulates frequently. After golf, we tried the course’s 19th hole. This covered patio features an adequate food menu of chicken, burgers, hot dogs, and a fully stocked bar.

Our outdoor dinner at “MysticMountain” was cancelled because of threatening weather, so in its place, we were invited to the villa of Sandals’ chairman, Butch Stewart. Over one hundred of us had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in his home and then dined under banquet tents that had been erected in just a few hours. We left the villa and returned to our host hotel, Sandals Grande Ocho Rios, where the piano bar was just getting cranked up.

After golf and a relaxing afternoon the next day, we were hosted for dinner at Sandals Royal Plantation. Located next door to our host hotel, the Royal Plantation, is Sandals’ first boutique resort and has earned membership in The Leading Small Hotels of the World. Our buffet was set on the resort’s elevated patio that overlooks their private beach set fifty feet below. A magnificent buffet of everything tropical awaited us including oysters, shrimp, lobster, lamb, jerk chicken and pork (of course, what’s a Jamaican’s meal without one of these) assorted veggies, and a dessert table that must have kept the pastry kitchen busy all day.

Time did not allow me to visit the Red Lane Spa, but from past experiences, a trip here will relieve most things that ail you.

Jamaica continues to receive undeserved “bad press”. If you observe common sense and stay on your resort after dark, Jamaica is as safe as any other island in the Caribbean; the weather is great and the people are friendly. Don’t expect U.S. service levels and you won’t be disappointed.

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The last time that I stayed at the Greenbrier was two years ago. At that time, it was two months from bankruptcy and its future was uncertain. It was still a great resort, but small cracks were evident in service levels and offerings. Small things like rotating dining room menus and finger bowls in the dining room had been cut. I actually overheard an employees’ meeting discussing ways to cut services to cut costs; employee relations were low and therefore morale was also low.

 Now out of bankruptcy and under the ownership of Jim Justice, I am pleased to tell everyone that the Greenbrier is better than ever. My wife and I along with seventy-five other couples just returned from a three night golf trip to the Greenbrier and things have really changed – all for the good. Employee morale is very obviously at an all time high. Every employee (except one banquet waitress) was obviously excited to be working and wanted the guests to know that fact; smiles and pleasant greetings were received from all employees from the bellmen and front doormen, to the registration clerks, to the golf shop employees, to the dining room wait staff, to the new casino employees. Every employee with whom I came into contact convinced me that they wanted to do anything they could to enhance my stay.

 The classical architecture, the Dorothy Draper decorated interior, the three world-class golf courses, and the wonderful main dining room all continue to wow guests, but the new dining venues and the new casino really enhance the Greenbrier’s offer. The new casino, open only to hotel guests and certain other Greenbrier associated clubs, is more like a European casino than Las Vegas. A hundred thousand square foot casino is small by Las Vegas standards but is plenty for the Greenbrier. The resort was full during our stay and the casino had lots of patrons, but it did not feel overcrowded. One very obvious and welcomed difference from “Vegas” was the casino’s no smoking policy. The ten o’clock complimentary champagne toast of luck to all guests was a nice touch although my comment card included a suggestion to eliminate the dancing performances in the casino.

 Perhaps the biggest changes have come from the enhanced dining choices. The main dining room, Draper’s, and Sam Snead’s at the Golf Club continue to provide guests with the same offerings that they have for years. A new steak house, equal to most steak houses that I’ve ever visited now occupies the space once housing The Old White Lounge.  Order one of several choices of prime steaks or dry aged beef, or splurge and order a Wagyu beef steak that is ordered and priced by the ounce. Friends dined here and reported a wonderful meal.

 A “pizzeria and wine bar” now occupies the space previously housing Draper’s. We found this more of a full Italian restaurant than a wine bar and everyone in my party had a four course dinner. We ordered personal pizza, calamari, a veal steak, baked chicken, and shrimp and lobster pasta and all were delicious.

 Part of the new underground casino construction included a new sushi and Oriental restaurant. Although no one in my party tried In-Fusion, the menu looked great and I look forward to eating there next time I visit.

 How do you enhance an already outstanding golf program? You start at the entrance. A modern, colorful sculpture of golf tees now sits at the golf club entrance – it’s a nice addition. The large locker rooms and pro shop have not been touched and remain world-class. New uniforms for all starters and course marshals included neckties. Although they didn’t do much to improve my game, they really added a touch of class that was observed by all with whom I played.

 In summary, the always classy Greenbrier has just become more so. The noticeable high employee morale coupled with the enhanced dining and entertaining venues have come together to make the Greenbrier one of the country’s top resorts. Its aggressive pricing packages now make the Greenbrier more affordable than ever before. You owe it to yourself to spend a few nights at the Greenbrier and enhance your “return on life”.

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As we drove into Hot Springs and I looked up over the tree tops and saw the clock on the Homestead’s impressive and distinctive red brick clock tower, I realized that this was no ordinary deluxe resort. This first impression was over twenty years ago and yet I still get that excited feeling when I drive into the small village and look up and see the Tower.

After checking in, we were walking to our tower room when we ran into friends in the lobby. Surprisingly, my wife recalls that years ago this couple had said how much they loved the Homestead, but had also said “put me in the ‘old section’, not the new part”. Our room, located in the “old section” was beautifully and freshly decorated and the bathroom was newly renovated. The wallpaper appeared new as well as the rest of the room’s furniture but nothing could mask the distinct slope of the floor – something that’s charming and prevalent in buildings as old as this one.  Thirty five percent of all rooms have been renovated this year.

We had a very late dinner reservation so we ate a late lunch and then met our friends at the outdoor pool. Quite a few guests were trying to get cool at the pool as the temperature rose into the nineties; something that rarely happens in the mountains. There were plenty of lounges and umbrellas and the well attended bar was busy serving various adult beverages until it closed at 6 p.m.

The dining room was still busy as we arrived a few minutes early for our 9 p.m. reservation.  The trio of musicians was playing easy to listen and dance-to music, and husbands danced with wives next to young dads dancing with their pre-teen daughters. Greeting us as we walked in was Woody Pettus, the every present maitre d’ of the Main Dining Room for fifty years. Whether he really remembers you or not, he sure makes you feel special and lets you know how much he enjoys seeing you that evening.   Among our party, we ordered the Sautéed Mountain Trout “Homestead” with peeled grapes and almonds in lemon butter sauce, duck breast, and medallions of pork – all prepared as you would expect from the finest restaurant. The Homestead offers two other elegant dinner venues, the 1776 Grille and Sam Snead’s Tavern, but we all agreed the Main Dining Room was one of the Homestead’s truly unique experiences and we decided to eat here every night.

The next morning I arose early for an 8:20 a.m. starting time on the Homestead’s Cascade golf course, considered by many to be the finest mountain course in the US, host of several USGA championships, and ranked by Golf Digest #12 on its Best American Resort Courses. The Cascades course is one of three championship courses at the Homestead. I am glad to say that my driver kept me in the fairway most of the day and the greens are usually reachable if your irons are straight, which by some unusual circumstance mine were that day. But, as those of us who play a lot of golf have come to understand, it’s tough for everything to be working all in the same day; my atrocious putting prevented me from having a great score on this impeccably groomed course – but I will putt better the next time I play it.

While Bill and I were enjoying the Cascades, our wives decided to enjoy the services offered by the Homestead’s world class spa.  Built on the centuries-old tradition of “taking the waters,” the spa brings you the most innovative of luxury spa treatments available today in a unique historic setting. Whether you want a typical spa offering such as one of eight different massages, hydrotherapies, body therapies, skin care or hair and nail therapies, the spa offers you many choices to help you relax and to revitalize yourself. My wife and Barbara each reserved a different treatment and each complimented their individual therapist as being extremely professional.

The boys met the girls after golf and spa appointments for a quick lunch and we all lounged for the rest of the afternoon; I got a little more pool time and one more frozen margarita! High tea is served complimentary in the main lobby each afternoon, but we passed on this today. There are too many other activities to list here, but suffice to say, they have something for everybody; fishing, horseback riding, carriage rides, sporting clays, falconry, just to name a few.

Both couples met the next morning to enjoy the Homestead’s legendary buffet breakfast. Served every morning in the Main Dining Room, it offered a wide selection of fresh fruits, ham, bacon, eggs and omelets cooked to order, pancakes, waffles, pastries, and much more; the woman ahead of me at the cooking station ordered chocolate chip pancakes!

After a few purchases in the shops located in the hotel, it was time to pack and say goodbye to one of Virginia’s finest resorts, if not THE finest. If I went to the Homestead every month, perhaps it wouldn’t be so special, but since I don’t go often, it is truly a wonderful experience that everyone should enjoy periodically.

  

Since this is a Virtuoso property, our clients always receive the best price available either for a room or for one of numerous inclusive packages, plus the value-added Virtuoso amenities. These amenities include FREE breakfast daily (that’s a $50 per day bonus), a $100 activity credit per stay, early check-in and late check-out based on availability and a FREE upgrade at check-in if available. By Dan Smith.

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