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TRAVEL GUIDE

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Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa - Lajitas, TX
Article by Richard Dearborn @spookyrods
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Golf in the desert? Yes, it’s possible and it’s happening as you read this. If you’ve never heard of Lajitas Golf Resort in...you guessed it...Lajitas, TX, then are you even from Texas? Well maybe you’re not, but that shouldn’t hold you back from visiting this hidden gem.

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Let’s start with the town of Lajitas and their mayor. He is a goat. Not like a Tom Brady G.O.A.T., we mean an actual “baaaa” goat and his name is Clay Henry. It’s amazing. Clay enjoys a cold one in the evening time while watching the beautiful sunset sights his town has to offer. Sitting on a whopping 20 thousand acres, Lajitas has a lot more to offer than just golf and a goat mayor, although who needs anything more than? Set in the rocky desert hills just outside of Big Bend National Park and bordering the Rio Grande River, Lajitas houses a 5,000 sq.ft. private airport, a 5 star resort and spa, a nationally recognized golf course (Blackjack’s Crossing), horse stables, an arena, and more. We took a trip out to the resort to see what the hype was all about and to say the least, we were in awe. Read about our trip below.

 

We left the kiddos home for this one, but that’s not to say that the resort and town of Lajitas isn’t extremely welcoming to the entire family with plenty of activities and sights to see. Prior to our arrival to our “Lajitas AirBnB”, for lack of better words (private homes reside on the 20k acre ranch of Lajitas and I suppose the owners have an agreement with the resort for visitor vacation rentals), we were graciously welcomed by the staff during check in at the “diamond in the desert” of a resort. A quick 5 minute drive to our house and our vacation was officially in session.  A relaxing evening of catching up and cooking served as the preface to the many memories to be made. 

 

Upon arrival to the clubhouse for our mid morning tee time, I was caught off guard as the parking lot was constructed of solely desert sand. Some players may not like this, but I loved it as it served as a subtle reminder of where you really are; in the middle of the desert. Pro shop and all staff were extremely accommodating as expected...A quick check -in and we were eagerly off to the range to hack up some beautiful green grass they worked so hard to achieve...A few holes in and I really started to notice the massive footprint that Blackjack’s Crossing resides on. I’m accustomed to a 10-15 second cart ride at most from green to tee-box, as most players probably are, but not at Blackjack’s. How about a 5 minute cart ride, if not longer, between many of the greens and tee boxes to follow. It’s a really nice touch as it allows for some time to take in the sights, feel the desert air, and converse with your partner (if you have one). The distance between holes also gives you a false sense that you’re alone on the course, even if it’s not true. With multiple tee boxes boasting jaw dropping views, it’s easy to forget you’re there to play golf, and not to simply joy ride through the desert hills. Named one of the most beautiful holes in America, no. 12 is one I’ll never forget, and for obvious reason. Elevation drop from tee box to green is too much to mention but one way to describe it is; “if you typically use an 8 iron for this distance, use a sand wedge.” After talking with a staff member, we were given an insider's tip" to one of the most beautiful views the course has to offer. Regardless of what tee box you are playing from, when you reach number 14, be sure to play from the black tees, where you will find a jaw dropping view of the course and surrounding hills, as well as the Rio Grande and even a glimpse into Mexico. I highly encourage you to look into Blackjack’s Crossing whether you’re an avid golfer or just a weekend hacker. It’s a blast either way.

 

We did more than just play golf during our trip out west. We ventured off the resort grounds into Big Bend National Park for the short yet scenic hike on the Santa Elena Canyon Trail one day and even had dinner at the Starlight Theatre in Terlingua, TX. Although none of us were in “hiking” condition, the mere 1.6 Mile Santa Elena Hiking Trail deemed itself “doable” and surprisingly enjoyable for all of us. Terlingua, Texas was quite the experience! If you blink, you’ll miss this quiet little town but much to our surprise, The Starlight Theatre had a line of people around the building prior to it’s evening opening. Although it sounds dreadful, we enjoyed this wait time...a couple six packs and conversations with strangers made for an easy wait! The food was fantastic and the music was enjoyable. 

 

Finally, our most thrilling activity was among us, Ziplining, and I have to be honest...some of us were a bit nervous of the extremity. Lajitas offers different zipline packages to cater to the “adventure” level in their customers. The three tours include the Flying Goat Tour for beginners, The Clay Henry Tour for those with a bit of a wild side, and the Quick Silver Tour for the advanced/ experienced “Adrenaline Junkie” type. Naturally, having never been ziplining before, we chose the Quick Silver Tour. Upon arrival to our first zip station, we caught a glimpse of what was to come; a zipline high above a deep canyon and I would be lying if it didn’t tickle my tummy a bit. Once you step off the wooden platform, there’s no turning back and you’re reaching speeds up to 55mph in “no time”. A couple stations in and we were hooked. Such a great experience and gorgeous views through the canyons. Our final morning felt like it came so quickly, and we were sad to leave but it was time to get back to reality. I seriously cannot say enough about this resort, the area, and what all it has to offer. 10/10 Recommend.

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Gruene Hall - Gruene, TX

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Article by R.L. Hayden

As the screen door slams behind me the room goes silent like a scene out of a western movie.  The locals lined up along the long wooden bar turn in unison, as do half of the people scattered out among the handful of tables.  Other than the infamous local radio station KNBT playing lowly through the house speakers the only sound is the creak of the boards beneath my boots as I step into the front room of Gruene Hall.  To the first time visitor it might seem intimidating but in an instant the silence breaks into a warm and authentic welcome.  For me it’s comparable to coming home for the holidays with family.  Handshakes, hugs and beers all around.

Over the years there have been a growing number of people in the New Braunfels, TX community that have become like family to me.  They’ve watched me grow from a teenager singing George Strait and Robert Earl Keen covers to a thirty five year old man with a family of my own singing songs that I’ve written with George Strait and Robert Earl Keen.  

 

I’ve been invited to share in the most personal and meaningful moments in some of these people’s lives.  From birthdays and graduations to weddings and anniversaries.  Friends I might have never had the honor of having had it not been for Gruene Hall.  It’s not a story that is unique to me however.  The Hall is Texas’ oldest continuously running dancehall and has been the center of the social and entertainment scene in the New Braunfels area since 1878.

To put that into context - in 1878 the notorious outlaw Bill Longley was hanged in Giddings while Sam Bass was killed in Round Rock by Texas Rangers.  Billy The Kid and Jesse James were both still active and wanted.  Gruene at the time was a small community of just a few dozen families.  However it was a popular stop for the stage coach that ran between Austin and San Antonio.   Gruene Hall became the host to everything from high school graduations to weekly dances and even badger fights.  A true tourist destination from the beginning.  

The mid 1870s saw the popularity of cowboy songs begin to rise.  Instead of being confined to campfires people began to hear singing cowboys (troubadours) perform songs like Home On The Range and Red River Valley at their local dancehall or community center.  I’ve played both of these songs in the front room of Gruene Hall, on the middle stage as well as the main stage and every time that I do I feel transported.  For that brief moment I feel a real connection with those who were here before us.  

The locals, the travelers, the tourists and troubadours.  We are them and Gruene Hall is the center of it all.  It connects you and I to the past, present and future.  I can feel my song mixing with the troubadours who first sang these words here:

Home, Home on the range

Where the deer and the antelope played

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word

And the skies are not cloudy all day

While the world out there seems to continuously grown crazier and scarier to me it’s nice to have a place like Gruene Hall.  It’s important to come home and see family and friends.  To feel welcome and safe.  To share stories and songs.  To remember who you are.  

The Owl Cafe

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A Gem on the Forgotten Coast

 

Article by Michael Pendley 

Photos Courtesy of  Dan Anderson & Cheryl Pendley

Traveling along the sugar white coastline of the Florida Panhandle, it is easy to see why the stretch from Mexico Beach up to St. Marks has been dubbed “The Forgotten Coast”. Absent are the high rise hotels and endless t-shirt and trinket shops that blanket other areas of the panhandle. Instead, old fishing towns still dot the highway. Shrimp and oyster boats vastly outnumber pleasure craft at the docks. This is what the Florida Coast used to look like, back before tourism swallowed it whole.  A drive down Highway 98 as it hugs the coastline leads to the bustling town of Apalachicola, Apalach to the locals. Nestled along the Apalachicola River as it spills into the Bay, Apalachicola is still very much a working fishing town. Even though the catch has been down the last few years, the vast majority of Florida’s oysters still come from the fertile waters of Apalachicola Bay. Shrimp and fishing boats supply a thriving wholesale seafood industry along its downtown streets.

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Alongside the seafood businesses, Apalachicola’s downtown has undergone a revival of sorts over the past several years. Art stores and galleries, museums, and shops of locally made wares now line the streets. Fully restored B&Bs and small hotels fill the old buildings that once housed net makers and 19th century ship chandleries. Amid all of this renewal, a thriving restaurant scene has quietly grown into one of Florida’s finest.

As one might expect, many of these restaurants showcase seafood from the surrounding waters. One of the best in town is the Owl Café. Situated in the heart of downtown, with a gorgeous view of the bay, the Owl is a treat for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch. 

The building’s unassuming appearance and inviting wooden doors lead to an unexpected casual yet elegant interior. With the dining area located on the second floor, many of the tables have a spectacular view of the bay where diners can watch fishing boats head in and out as they enjoy the fruits of their catch. An outdoor seating area offers an even better view with the added bonus of the fresh salt air to whet your appetite. If you decide on outdoor seating, be aware that the mosquitos can be thick at times in the late evening. 

Chef/Owner Cassie Gary and crew turn out a varied seasonal menu that relies heavily on local ingredients. From the best Apalachicola oysters to all types of fish and seafood, along with exceptional steak, chicken and pasta dishes, there is something to appeal to everyone at the Owl. Each meal starts with a basket of fresh baked breads and muffins and goes from there. The salad dressings are made in-house and the greens always seem to be freshly picked. I highly recommend starting with a bowl of the blue crab dip for an appetizer. 

To go along with the outstanding food, the Owl also boasts an extensive wine and spirit list. With over 3000 bottles, their cellar has become highly regarded as one of the best on the panhandle. To go along with the vast collection of wine and spirits, the Owl has also boasts an impressive list of craft beers.

That beer collection comes into its own next door at the Tap Room, also owned by Gary and her partners. With a slightly more laid back attitude than the Owl, the Tap Room features its own menu but shares the Owls devotion to fresh, local ingredients. Besides the great food, the Tap Room features an awesome lineup of over sixteen craft beers along with the standard mega brewery offerings labeled simply as swill on the menu.

That devotion to fine beer led Cassie and her partners to yet another venture. In 2014, the group founded The Oyster City Brewing Company to brew the freshest of craft beers for the Owl and the Tap Room. Located in the same building as the other two restaurants, Oyster City Brewing is currently turning out three brews, with seasonal varieties planned for the future. Do yourself a favor and try one of their Hooter Brown Tupelo Honey Ales. Just watch out, with 8.4 percent alcohol by volume, it packs a kick.

So the next time you are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, wishing you had a view of something besides taillights and open signs, putt putt golf courses and fast food joints, head on over to the forgotten side of the panhandle to enjoy some peace and quiet, some good food, and a slice of old Florida that isn’t easy to find these days. Stop in at the Owl and enjoy a great meal and a beer while you are there.

Old Head Golf Club

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"Most Spectacular Golf Course on the Planet"

 

Article by Greg Gardner

No other golf course in the world boasts more oceanfront holes than Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale, Ireland. Named “Most Spectacular Golf Course on the Planet” in 2011 by Links Magazine, Old Head is famous for its holes located at the top of steep 300-foot cliffs with the Atlantic Ocean crashing on the rocks below. With nine oceanfront holes, the links include an unusual layout of five par threes, five par fives and eight par fours.

           

 “Old Head is like Pebble Beach on steroids,” said Pat Gorman, head golf pro at Ben Pine Golf Club in Vero Beach, FL. “It is the most scenic course I’ve played hole for hole. All 18 holes are pretty amazing. It is a great piece of land and they built a great golf course on it. It is like playing No. 18 at Pebble Beach a bunch of times. It is the most spectacular course I have ever played in terms of scenery on each and every hole.”            

Gorman, who has played golf all over Ireland and Europe, says you have to budget two days to play Old Head because of the sometimes nasty coastal weather. “We couldn’t play the first day. They were afraid we would fall off a cliff or something. But our overnight stay at a bed and breakfast in Kinsale resulted in our best meal in Ireland. It is a little out of the way (from the Ring of Kerry courses) but it is definitely worth the trip.”“Sometimes they close the course when there is fog because they are afraid of people walking off the cliffs,” says Gerry Knebbels, head golf pro at Willoughby Golf Club in Stuart, FL. “Old Head is so picturesque and unique. The cliff drop-offs are dramatic. When the wind is blowing, that is the obstacle.  To stand on the tees and look down to the Atlantic Ocean is incredible. If you are an avid golfer, it is a bucket list club.”There is a disclaimer in red on the score card. “For your safety and enjoyment, please exercise caution and strictly observe hazard and cliff edge warnings.” Those red stakes really do say, “Don’t do it. It is only a golf ball.” Robert Watson, once a starter on the University of Florida golf team, is a Stuart attorney who has played golf in six countries. “Old Head is as beautiful a golf course as any course anywhere,” he says. “It would be hard to keep this course out of any top ten list in the World in total experience. The wind comes off the ocean and across that point. And that is always the challenge.”  One minute you could be hitting a driver into the face of ferocious wind on a par three and the next hitting a driver and short wedge into a par five. “I was in awe of the views and ambiance,” says Peter Castle, president and general manager of the Legacy Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL. “The clubhouse was built into a hill. It is a cross between the new and the old age. It looks like it could have been there 200 years. Everyone who goes to Ireland wants to play Old Head. If you played it ten times, nine times you would have trouble with the wind. People don’t realize that in bad weather the waves are crashing against the lighthouse. They have expertly trained caddies with one of the best programs I have ever seen.”

            

There are 12th century Norman ruins in the middle of the course with the few modern structures made of stone, blending into the Irish countryside. The functional lighthouse is visible from a few of the holes, but the whole property is now closed to the public, much to the consternation of the locals when four years of construction began in 1993.  And there is the legend of Hole No. 15, “Haulie’s Leap.” It seems that during construction Michael (pronounced Me-hole) Haulie was moving earth and stone along the 300-foot cliffs when his bulldozer began to slide into the Atlantic Ocean. He managed to leap out of the enclosed cockpit and the expensive earth mover rests on the sea bottom to this day. As the legend goes, people were calling his cell phone for weeks afterward, hearing his voice mail. The resort emits zero carbon emissions, using geothermal steam for heating, cooling and hot water. Once a year the impeccably manicured grass is fed time-release fertilizer. Old Head is about as eco-friendly as a golf course can be. There are several tunnels under the course that you can drive a small boat through at low tide.  Kinsale is known as the gourmet capital of Ireland. The five-star dining room at Old Head – with sweeping views of the course, lighthouse and ocean – offers an abundance of Irish hospitality and locally caught fresh fish, lobster and game. Old Head is a walking course, but you can rent self-propelled golf caddy carts that operate like the Mars Rover. You set the speed, point it and the cart rolls at your pace until you get to the ball. And the cart will climb any hill you can – by itself. The ups and downs of Old Head make this invention, foreign to much of the Gulf coast states, a nice labor saving device when you are already humping up and down the Irish coastline.

           

            No. 12 Courcean Stage is a 564-yard par five. If you face the ocean and walk back to the tips and turn around you will see one of the most daunting tee shots ever. It is a 226-yard uphill carry to a plateau with a narrowing fairway leading into a small green. You go left you are in the Atlantic. You go right you are in the Atlantic.

            No. 2 Gun Hole is a par four 402-yard dog leg left that leads downhill to a green surrounded on two sides by cliffs. If you don’t stay right on the approach shot you will end up in the drink as the green naturally feeds left.

            No. 3 Bream Rock is a 178-yard par three with half the green posted with red stakes right on the edge of the green. Any shot slight left is gone.

            No. 4 Razor’s Edge is a 427-yard par four with slight dog leg left that narrows into an elevated green. With its spectacular views to the left, it is rated as the fourth hardest hole on the course.

            The No. 7 Legal Eagle is a 192-yard par three with danger to the right, a front left bunker and a steep hill to the left.

            No. 8 God’s Acre is a 549-yard par five dog leg left that goes uphill leading into a green that sits in the bottom of a bowl. There are several bunkers in the landing zone, but the real problem is the rough that will eat you for lunch.

            The most difficult hole on the course is the No. 14 Raven’s Run 452-yard par five. Three bunkers threaten a good tee shot with wide ocean views to the left. Two more bunkers guard the approach from the right.

            If you have the guns, go for the green on the 324-yard par four No. 18 The Sanctuary. Tiger Woods did. From the tips to the green it is nothing but an abyss of cliff and water unless you play it safe out to the right. It looks more like danger than sanctuary. Beginning the front nine with just five golf balls was more than a bit daunting with the same thick rough you always see lining the British Open courses’ fairways. With no one else around, ball hawking was the order of the day. You lose one, find two. Lose two, find one. It’s hard to concentrate on the game with the incredible natural beauty everywhere you look. It was happy days to finish the front nine with one golf ball. Unfortunately, it was too late in the day to play another nine and still make the last bus back to Cork.

            

The nine hole score – with only one five to talk about – will remain classified. But it was an amazing round of golf at one of the most breathtaking courses in the world. No longer a secret, more than 15,000 golfers visited Old Head last season including the game’s top golfer, Rory McIlroy.

Old Head, Kinsale, Ireland

          

 Course opens from Mid-April to Late October. 18-hole rate ranges from 160 to 220 Euros, low/high season. Senior caddies earn 45 Euros per round and the push cart is 60 Euros for 18 holes. A caddie for this menacing track could be money well spent and a wonderful extension of the experience. There are packages which include breakfast. The clubhouse with a terrace overlooking the 18th hole and the lighthouse has the Hibernian Room, Lusitania Bar and five-star de Courcey Restaurant named for a family that owned the property for generations. The Thermal Spa offers “a full range of beauty and spa indulgencies.” From Ireland’s second largest city, Cork, 45-minute bus ride (11 Euros roundtrip) and 30-minute taxi (50 Euros roundtrip). Sea view Suites at Old Head, 275 to 325 Euros, low/high season. Presidential Suite, 475 to 525 Euros. There are four hotels, numerous boutique bed and breakfasts, 12 internationally known Good Food Circle gourmet restaurants and 30 pubs in Kinsale.