Monday, March 23, 2015

Desert Willow Golf Resort Firecliff Course

I have a new favorite course in Palm Desert.

Desert Willow Golf Resort's Firecliff Course has to be considered one of the Coachella Valley's most demanding venues.  This course is a special course that offers a challenge, a great lay-out, amazing vegetation, a beautifully manicured setting with a world class clubhouse.  It's not as playable as the Mountain View Course and forces carries from almost every tee box. 

From start to finish, this course keeps you on your toes.  Firecliff plays over 7,000 yards from the tips with many bunkers and water surrounding the greens.  In fact, there are over 100 bunker complexes on this course.  The carries mentioned earlier don't often come into play, usually only around 200 yards, but they do create a visually stunning view of the desert landscape juxtaposed against the bright green manicured greens and fairways.

Standing on the tee box of #18 is now one of my favorite views of any golf course I've played.  Standing over your ball, the tee box is lined with flowering cacti, palms and oleander bushes with only a view of the mountains and a stream that cuts across the fairway about 280 yards ahead.  Not until you leave the tee box and make your way toward your ball for an approach do you see the imposing clubhouse sitting behind a green, a green that is approached by hitting your ball 140 yards over water.

Par 3 at Desert Willow Firecliff Course

Hole #18 Tee Box at Desert Willow Firecliff Course

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hotel Review: JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort

Katie and I visited San Antonio in October and stayed at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort.  It was a beautiful property that was buried deep in the green rolling hills about 25 minutes from San Antonio.  It was difficult to see the property until we turned up the driveway, and it's a very large resort.  The property was laid out very similarly to the JW in Phoenix.

We spent much of our afternoons poolside.  It's a huge pool with swim up bar that had tons of lounge seating.  The pool was surrounded by a lazy river and also had a water slide.  There was also an adult pool that overlooked the first fairway of one of the TPC courses.  I would rank this pool area in one of the top 3 pool areas of any of the resorts we've stayed in along with the JW Phuket and Ayana Bali Resort.

The staff is about what you'd expect in Texas, very friendly and easy to talk to.  They offered up a few great suggestions of place to eat off property.  They were even smart enough to recommend that we try Rudy's, a place we know and love.  Down at the pool, all the staff was very courteous and made sure we were well attended to.

The rooms were pretty typical of a JW Marriott.  I did think that the solid wood doors were beautiful.  There was also a Juliette balcony that from our room had an excellent view of the pool.

The hotel restaurants were delicious.  They had a couple high end restaurants and a sports bar.  The breakfast buffet at Cibolo Moon was standard Marriott breakfast, but did have some southwestern cuisine twists with many dishes featuring jalapeno.  I really enjoyed the homemade jalapeno jelly with my bagel and lax.  There was an option to sit on the patio and enjoy the morning.

I really enjoyed this resort because of the access guests have to play the TPC golf course.  I always take every opportunity I can to play a course that is played on the PGA tour.  The Valero Open is played annually at this course.  The course is about what you'd expect from a TPC course as it relates to conditions.  Beyond the conditions, I just really enjoyed the course.  It required accurate tee shots with crowned fairways, lots of bunkers and extremely fast greens.

Katie and I had a great time at this resort and would certainly go back.

View of the JW Marriott San Antonio pool from our room

JW Marriott San Antonio pool with TPC San Antonio in the background

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beach Review: Long Beach, British Columbia

Long Beach, British Columbia is the complete opposite of Long Beach, California.

Long Beach, California is known for:  Cargo ships, Pollution and the Home of Snoop Dogg,
Long Beach, British Columbia is known for:  Rugged Coasts, Lush Temperate Rain Forests and Surfing.

Long Beach, British Columbia sits on the western shore of Vancouver Island.  The drive from Victoria takes about 4 1/2 hours across the center of the island.  The drive alone is amazingly beautiful and gives perspective to how large the island is.  The road trip along the Pacific Rim Highway alone is a drive that rivals the most beautiful rides we've ever been on, passing Sprout Lake, following the Kennedy River and seeing Cathedral Grove with its 800 year old Douglas Firs.

Long Beach is the longest beach of Pacific Rim National Reserve and spans 10 miles along the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Tidal pools are homes to crabs, sea urchins, starfish and shells.  It is known as Canada's premier surf spot with crashing waves, but you won't a surfer without a wet or dry suit.  The powdery soft sandy beach is a very gradual drop off and you can walk 100 feet into the water and still be have waist deep water.

The beach is lined by a thick temperate coastal rain forest that adds a backdrop of vibrant green to the white sand, blue/silvery water, rocky islands and towering mountains.  At times, you're even lucky enough to enjoy clear blue skies, and then get to enjoy watching the transition as a storm rolls in.

The fact that Long Beach, BC is not within a 2 hour drive of a major city, keeps it slightly off the grid.  You won't have the beach to yourself, there happens to be a fair amount of lodging and camping in the area that draws a decent summertime crowd.  That said, the beach isn't lined with taco trucks, Quicksilver stores, or a seaside amusement park.  Couple the lack of typical beach side commerce with the raw nature with the width and length of the beach, even several thousand people on the beach seems quiet and peaceful.

Long Beach, BC

Long Beach, BC

Gwen and Mason building "sandcastles" at Long Beach, BC

Rustic beauty of Long Beach, BC

Gwen and Katie at Long Beach, BC

Mason weightlifting on Long Beach, BC

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Holiday Inn Express and Suites Langley

This was our first time staying at a Holiday Inn Express.  Apparently if you stay there, you're ready to perform brain surgery the next day.

The Holiday Inn Express in Langley was certainly adequate for our stay in Vancouver.  The staff was friendly and helpful at check-in.  The property was very clean.  It looks like the lobby and breakfast area were recently remodeled.  There was also a nice garden area in the back to enjoy breakfast if you're lucky enough to have a sunny day in Vancouver.

Likes: They had a washer/dryer that guests could use.  Free breakfast.  Very convenient to freeway access, restaurants, grocery store, movie theater and Tim Hortons.  Clean.

Dislikes:  The beds were not good.  The property is "dog friendly" which means we got to listen to our neighbors dog bark for an hour while they left it in the room to go to dinner.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hotel Review: The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa, Victoria

This is an excellent property for a golfer and above average if you're not a golfer.  I've said it before, we like to stay a bit outside the city and since I'm a golfer, this property was perfect for our family.

Bear Mountain sits about 20 minutes from Victoria.  It is convenient to the highway, grocery stores, restaurants and most conveniences, but is just a bit off the beaten path.  A road winds up Bear Moutnain, past several neighborhoods, until you reach the top of the mountain and find a few condo buildings, a couple restaurants and the The Westin Bear Mountain Resort & Spa.  It is also home to a two 18-hole Jack Nicklaus designed courses: The Valley Course and The Mountain Course.

The lobby of the hotel is gorgeous with huge rock balconies overlooking the golf courses.  The rooms themselves are a bit unusual, but very nice.  We stayed in the efficiency and were able to tell that the property was originally built as a timeshare and then Westin took on the management contract.  It is not marketed or sold as a timeshare and Starwood timeshare owners can't trade into the property.    Because it was built as a timeshare, there were a couple different things, both good and bad.

What we liked: Each room was longer and larger than normal.  Each floor had a shared washer and dryer.  The bathrooms were excellently decorated.  Complimentary (well if you ignore the steep resort fee) use of mountain bikes.  The room also had a bar, sink and dishes.  The beds were very comfortable.

What we didn't like: Shared balcony. Gym and pool were in a separate building.  The resort fee was steep.

I would absolutely stay at this property again.  Gwen and I used the resort mountain bikes to climb to the top of Bear Mountain and get a good look at Victoria below.  Mason loved the pool.  The only regretted the fact that I didn't have my clubs, the courses looked amazing.

Hole 1 on Valley Course at Bear Mountain Golf Resort

The back side of Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort

Nearby Butchart Gardens

Mason and Gwen at Butchart Gardens

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