Friday, March 8, 2019

Good bye Old, Hello New!

Back in 2013 I visited Totally Driven in Eden Prairie to get custom fitted for new golf clubs.  You can read about that in my blog from then.  At the time, I was fitted for Taylormade Rocketbladez tour irons, Titleist 913D woods (driver and 4 wood), a Taylormade Ghost tour DA12 putter, and Edel wedges.

That was my first foray into custom fit clubs and I loved the experience.  However, the cash outlay on replacing nearly everything in my bag was sizable and I vowed to stick with my new wonder sticks for quite a while.

And all in all I have been very happy with my clubs (despite an ongoing "dispute" I have had with my woods for the last 2 seasons).

And then time passes...

Early in 2019 I was at the Braemar golf dome hitting balls in their range, trying to find some of the golf swing muscle memory in preparation for a trip to Scottsdale.  The dome happened to have Callaway representatives there.  It was a weekday afternoon and no one was talking to the reps.  So after I hit my balls I went over there to check out the new clubs they had available.  I really had no intentions of buying anything, I just wanted to see what the new clubs looked like before they came out to the public.

The reps asked if I wanted to hit any of the new clubs.  I said "sure, why not?"  I have not tried to hit any new clubs since I got my custom clubs so had now idea what to expect. After seeing what they had, and discussing my game, they gave me a 7 iron in the Callaway Apex Pro 19 iron.  This is a forged club, and an update to the Apex irons that originally were released in 2016.  The original Apex Pros have been very popular for Callaway and the fact that they have not updated the clubs for 3 years in the world of manic manufacturing release cycles says something.

I went and hit the iron back at my station to see how it felt.  The first thing I noticed, compared to my 7 iron, was it was noticeably lighter.  The top line was also thinner, making them look a little more blade-y that my Rocketbladez.  The feel when playing them was very nice.  I remember at Totally Driven, I had tried the forged Mizuno MP-59 and absolutely loved how they felt, though their spin characteristics were not optimal to my game.  And while the forged Apex was not quite as buttery as what I recalled the Mizunos to be, they did feel really good. Certainly better than my Taylormades.

The trajectory of the Apexes seemed to match pretty close to the Taylormade.  They maybe got up a bit higher in general.  The ball also seemed to zip off the club too.  But maybe I was just imagining things?

After a while one of the reps came over to ask how I liked the club.  I told him that they felt really nice and seemed much lighter than my current irons.  He asked if I wanted to try to hit some more with the launch monitor to see what the numbers actually were.  They had brought a Trackman to provide analysis for the day, and so we went over and got set up.

He started off by having me hit my current irons again. I hit a couple dozen until I felt like I had hit a pretty good representation of quality shots.

Then he had me switch to the Apex Pros.  I hit maybe a dozen shots with them, all of them again decent, though nothing I would consider to be absolutely pure.

At that time, he and a couple of the other reps were back at the monitor kind of chuckling at my numbers.  I stopped and said "what's the deal?" He let me know that my average carry had gone from 154 yard to 178 yards.  24 yards! 

I though no possible way this is true! They must be fudging the numbers or something  So I started to mix up the clubs and look at the numbers they were producing. Sure enough, the Apexes were significantly longer.  I think most of the increase came down to the club speed I was delivering.  With the clubs being lighter I was able to get faster clubhead speed. But beyond that, the ball speed also increased disproportionately.  So the smash factor I was getting was higher than what the club speed alone would account for.

I won't bore you with a repeat of more of this, but every club I tried was longer.  The peak height trajectories were pretty close (a little higher) and the spin numbers, though a little lower (~10%), were within ranges that could be accounted for by strike variances.  Taking into account the amazing distance increase and comparable spin and peak height numbers,  I was pretty gobsmacked by the performance.

With originally having just stopped over to look at the new clubs, it was now a couple of hours later. After  trying different shafts and checking lie angles and lengths and all of that, I was pretty tired.  I was also pretty enamored.

In fact, so taken was I by these numbers that I placed an order for the clubs.  With a demo day discount, and a 50% trade-in bonus on my clubs I am now officially a convert to team Callaway.  On the day that the clubs went on sale to the public, three shiny new boxes arrived for me.

One last thing I have to mention is how the Callaway staff was really accommodating with me.  I spent at least 3 hours on the Trackman and trying out different shafts and lie angles.  I am sure had they been busy I wouldn't have gotten this service.  And while the process at Totally Driven was wonderful and allowed me to try all manufacturers, the numbers I saw during this session were just too incredible to ignore.

My "what's in the bag" for 2019 is now dramatically different:
  • Driver: Callaway Epic Flash 10.5 degree
  • Hybrid 1: Callaway Apex 19 20 degree
  • Hybrid 2: Adams a2 OS 23 degree
  • 4i-7i Callaway Apex 19 irons
  • 8i-GW Callaway Apex Pro 19 irons
  • Wedge 1: Edel "Driver"  54 degree
  • Wedge 2: 58 degree  Edel "Driver" 58 degree
  • Putter: Taylormade Ghost tour DA12

One thing I did have to do was ditch the head cover for the driver.  Man that thing is garish.  Luckily Stitch was having a sale and I snagged a super sick shamrock cover for a great price.  I think it matched my Lahinch putter cover really nicely.

Getting used to these clubs is going to take a while.  I am not sure if my current hybrid line up will stay.  I am now hitting my 6 iron nearly the same distance as my 4 hybrid.  I also have currently ditched a fairway wood.  With the numbers I was getting with the new Apex hybrid I just couldn't see the justification for having one now.   I am going to have to take some time to gap out the top end of the set and figure things out.

Now if we can just get through the 14 inches of snow on tap for tomorrow.  Hopefully the world will be turning green soon.  It should be an exciting golf season!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Royal Golf Club Part 2

Onto the Back 9.  As I mentioned, the back 9 here is the last course that featured the design work of Arnold Palmer.  While he did not live to see it completed, it has to hold a special place simply for this fact.

Hole 10 Par 4

350 | 330 | 322 | 297 | 280 yards

The 10th offers an elevated tee to a hole that runs adjacent to the 13th hole.  The 10th plays slowly uphill as it bends slightly to the left.

A single bunker sitting down the right gives you something to aim at, however it is reachable off the tee.  Avoid the left side, where trees run up the length of the hole.

The approach into this green is uphill, guarded by a single pot bunker short of the green.

Hole 11 Par 4

464 | 419 | 364 | 329 | 234 yards

One of the toughest driving holes on the course, the 11th plays straight ahead but has OB down the entire left side.  Bailing out to the right can find your next shot hindered by one of the few trees on that side.  Some uncut rough is also down the right, separating this hole from the 12th tee boxes.

Your second shot on this hole will require avoiding a massive green short and left that is protecting the elevated green.  The right side of this green offers a slope that can be used to funnel balls back onto the green.

Given the choice between the enormous green left or missing right, missing right is the play.  When we played the area to the right was under repair but normally this offers by far the better miss.

A look back down the hole shows the difficulty off the tee and the elevation up to the green.

Hole 12 Par 3

143 | 122 | 105 | 90 | 80 yards

A beautiful short par 3.  The green is protected by a pair of bunkers short and another set behind the green.  To the left of the hole the green slopes off into a collection area.  Off the front, a false front will repel shots down and away.

A shot from the left side of the green showing the slope falling off the green.  While this hole is short, it is not easy.

Hole 13 Par 4

466 | 432 | 412 | 396 | 315 yards

A long par 4 requires a straight away tee shot over the crest of the fairway.

Once you come over the rise in the fairway, the hole traveles downhill before rising up to the elevated green. For those you didn't hit the best drive and want to lay-up, a large bunker sits down the right side of the hole just inside of 100 yards.

The approach here must navigate the bunker framing the right side of the green and a steep uncut slope on the left that the green wraps around.  With the green sloping front to back, and multiple levels, a back pin location makes for a challenging putt.

A view of the green complex from the 9th hole, shows the demanding approach required into this long green.

Looking back down the hole from behind the green, you can see some big elevation changes on the green.  Hitting to the correct distance into this green is important.

Hole 14 Par 4

425 | 438 | 360 | 318 | 205 yards

After the 13th green you are routed back by the clubhouse.  The 14th hole is to the right around the side of the clubhouse.  This tee shot is again a straight ahead drive.  There are no real hazards to speak of on this first shot.  Favor the right side for the best angle into the green.

On the fairway, the left side, a slope can kick balls back towards the center.  Balls hit down this side have a more obstructed view of the green due to this same slope that runs almost to the green.

This green is a demanding target.  While no bunkers ring the green, missing on either side will leave a less than favorable pitch. There is a bit more room to miss left, though that leaves you with a chip to a green sloping away.

A miss to the right will find the swale off to that side.  A shot from here can be to the green 10 feet above your shot.

Even if you hit the green, a spine that runs down its center makes for one of the trickier putts.  The left side of this spin slopes front to back, while the right side of the green is canted opposite, from back to front.

Hole 15 Par 4

309 | 282 | 250 | 188 | 141 yards

This hole is probably the most "gimmicky" hole at Royal.  It is also one of the more obvious holes on the course that this golf course is the center of a residential community.

The elevated tees shows the path of the hole as it travels down and the the left before wrapping around a pond to a tucked green.  This hole is drivable, but with that aggression you take on the water hazards.  Alos, if you hit it too long the trees behind the green can be in play on your second.

A more conservative line can play at the green but short of the water.  This just requires carrying the fescue between the teeing ground and short stuff.

A shot played short to the fairway will require carrying some water on the appraoch.  The green helps with this though as it slopes from left to right.  This means you can play your shots away from the water and have it drift back to the center of the green.  There is also a collection area to bail out on short left of the green.

Hole 16 Par 3

190 | 175 | 158 | 125 | 94 yards

Another pretty par 3.  This is a mid length hole that plays a little uphill.  The green is framed on the left by a pair of large elm trees.  A large bunker sits short left, and another sits over the top of the green. This is a deep green so take the extra yardage into account if playing to a back pin.

Hole 17 Par 5

583 | 532 | 482 | 425 | 343 yards

The final 2 holes are both par fives, a little unusual.  The first is the longest hole on the course.  The tee boxes are level with the fairway, so there is not a lot of the hole you can see.  The best play is just to the left of the bunkers you can see running down the right side.

A shot hit down this right half of the green will give you a view towards the green.  A shot down the left offers an obstructed view on your second, due to a hill between you and the green.

This is a wide open fairway off the tee, so feel free to rip away.  From the fairway, you should be able to see the pin over the top of a small rise further up the hole.  The second shot offers a lot of room.  There is really no danger as long as you find the fairway.
Over the top of the rise, you can finally see the green which has a single bunker short right.  This green is turned perpendicular to your approach so that you hit into the narrowest dimension.  A second shot played down the left side offers the best angle to attack the green on your third shot.

Hole 18 Par 5

505 | 485 | 452 | 428 | 205 yards

The final hole is the shortest par 5 on the course.  A borderline really long par 4 gives this hole a fairly easy feeling par 5.  Even with my horrendous driving lately I was nearly able to get on in two.

A center fairway bunker invites taking it on.  There is planty of room to miss on either side of this hazard though.

The only real danger off the tee (aside from that lone bunker) is a pulled tee shot to the water running down the left side.

I missed my drive to the right of the fairway but from atop that hill you actually have a great vantage point to the green.  You can see down below how large of a landing zone you have for shots played traditionally up the fairway.

Anything played up the fairway will have a third shot approach to the green that looks something like this.  The green is perched at the top of the hill.  A green protects things short right.   Another is hidden from this view behind the green.

The green has three sections, rising up from front to back.  A back pin is a much harder proposition that the front pin I faced.

A view of the green taken from the back right shows the three tiered putting surface.


The opening of a new course in the Twin Cities is a big deal.  With the golf industry down-turn you are more likely to count off the courses that have closed in any given location, than those that have opened.

The fact that two such big names signed on to re-do this course certainly made headlines.  I think that they did a great job with this routing.  While Annika's side undoubtedly benefits from the better topography, both sides feature some great holes.  The front nine is blessed with the prettier holes.  It takes advantage with great elevated tees.  Holes 1-5 are a great string of opening holes.  Really, the front nine is outstanding, with maybe the exception of the more pedestrian 4th, 8th, and 9th holes.

The back nine does not offer the same brilliant elevation changes that make the front nine such a stand out.  However it does offer some really good holes.  11-13 are probably the strongest string of holes.  While some might not like 15, I think it is a really fun risk-reward hole that is uncommon in the area.
16 (like all the par 3s is a pretty little hole) and the 18th is a great finishing hole to have a real scoring chance on.

While it is not the longest of holes, there are some real challenges that make this not an easy course.  Chiefly among these are some wicked undulations and movements on the greens.  When we played, the greens were not exceptionally fast.  I suspect that might generally be the case because with some of their slopes, if the greens were lightning, people would spend hours trying to putt out.

Pricing for 2018 was $59 to walk 18 and an additional $20 for a power cart.  This lines up with the types of courses that I think this course competes with.  Places like Stoneridge, Chaska TC, etc.
This is really a great addition to the Twin Cities golf scene.  If you haven't given it a try, I highly recommend you do so!  

The Royal Golf Club
11455 20th St N 
Lake Elmo, MN 55042
651 505 9070

The Royal Golf Club Part 1

The Royal Golf Club is the exciting new course that opened this year at the sight of the former Tartan Park, which was the sight of the former 3M private course.  3M has owned the property in Lake Elmo since the 1950s.  It first opened to 3M employees in 1963.  In 2012 it opened to the public but this only lasted until the end of 2015.  At that time 3M decided to cease golf operations citing decreased play and major spending needed to replace and repair course infrastructure, including the irrigation system.  During its former life it evolved from an original 9 hole design to a 27 hole routing.

In 2016 a bevy of developers all looked to snatch up the land for a new housing development.  However Hollis Cavner stepped in and ultimately purchased the land with a unique vision of not bulldozing the course.

Instead, the first metro course to open in 19 years took shape. (Canver also opened the second to the last course, the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine).  The course layout was trimmed to 18 holes and housing  was included into the 428 acre development.   Making excitement before the first back-hoe moved earth, the design was handed over to 2 people who would each do half of the holes. Annika Sorenstam and Arnold Palmer were tapped for the job.  It would turn out to be Palmer's last design project as he passed away in 2016 as the project took form.  The design work from Annika was her first US design.

The course is designed around a 300 unit housing development.  During its inaugural year the housing was not too distracting from the course.  I think the general consensus is residential developments with a golf course in the middle are often not a great golf experience, but at least so far I would say that the houses are not a deterrent from the golf.

The course itself features 5 sets of tee boxes, bent grass fairways, large landing areas, and some of the most devilish putting surfaces in the Twin Cities metro area.

Aside from the 18 hole course, there is a full driving range.  There is also a 6 hole short course located adjacent to the full driving range. The short course is free to people under 18 and a $10 donation is requested for those over 18.  The short course ranges from 34 to 98 yards for the 6 holes with a total of just over 413 yards.  This is such a great idea for growing the game!  I wish more courses offered things like this.  And to offer it free for under 18 is just brilliant.  Kudos to the Royal Golf Club.

Back to the main course, there are the following tee options:


The front nine is the side designed by Sorenstam.  I think it might have the most interesting topography of any course in the cities.  There are plenty of elevation changes and many of the holes offer some tremendous elevated tee shots overlooking some dramatic holes.

Lets get into the golf.

Hole 1 Par 4

405 | 387 | 363 | 336 |240 yards

There is no easing into the round on the first hole.  A demanding elevated tee shot requires avoiding the water that runs all down the left side, while avoiding the tree lined slope on the right border of the hole.

The left rough off the fairway falls down into the water, while trees cut into the right and potentially block shots being played up that side.  A cross bunker juts across the fairway, visually constricting the landing zone.  That bunker is about 120 yards  from the green so it is reachable off the tee with driver.

While the tee shot looks tough, the landing area is actually fairly generous.  At the widest, the fairway is about 40 yards across.  If you can avoid that cross bunker, the second shot is a wide open approach to a green that is exposed in the front.

The green is essentially level to the fairway so running shots up is no problem.  A single bunker sits to the left of the green.  To the right is a very large collection area. In general the tee shot is the hardest part of this hole.  Success there leads to a fairly accessible hole.

Hole 2 Par 5

520 | 481 | 471 | 455 | 305 yards

The second hole offers one of the best vistas off the tee you will find during you round.  This par 5 makes up for its lack of length with another demanding tee shot.

From the tee you must avoid the wetlands with a forced carry to the fairway.  There is also water running up the entire right side of the hole.

Missing left brings trees into play.  The fairway here squeezes down within driver range.  It is a well designed hole in that you can be more aggressive and take on the narrowest part of the fairway for a shot to get on in two.  The other approach is to play back to the heart of the fairway and layup to around 90 yards from the green for an uphill approach to the elevated green.

Getting too aggressive on your second shot layup can be disastrous if you find the left bunker.  The approach into this green is obviously uphill with a bit of a false front.

This green is very deep and offers a bank on the right side to feed the ball back onto the surface,

A view looking from the back of the green towards the tee shows how uphill it plays at the end and how deep the green is.  Aside from the bunkers you can see as you play up, this green is unprotected.  It does offer a sizable chipping apron around the green.

Hole 3 Par 4

333 | 322 | 283 | 256 | 220 yards

This short par 4 offers the ability to go for the green off the tee but also offers a lot of trouble should you miss the elevated oval-shaped green.

From the tee you can see a bunker down the left that is actually well short of the green and is in play for those laying up.  To the right of the green is a deep bunker that rings that entire side.

A shot to the left of the green will fall off the steep bank there.  The back side of the green is similarly sloped.

A layup here is the smartest play off the tee but your second shot must be precise to hit the green and avoid any of the trouble.  The green is elevated a good 6 feet from the fairway so anything that comes up short will be repelled back to the fairway.

Hitting from the right bunker is not a good place to be.  It offers the narrowest angle of the green and anything long will run away off the slope.

Looking back from the green shows the generous landing area this hole offers.

Hole 4 Par 3

216 | 188 | 170 | 148 | 120 yards

The first par 3 is a longer hole that plays uphill.  A single bunker sits short left.  This guards the back corner of this huge kidney-shaped green.

This green is one of the larger ones on the course.  A front right pin is significantly easier than trying to get to the back left corner.  The green falls off to the left and front. It is also sloped back to front.

This green offers a view to the next hole, one of the prettiest on the property, the par 4 5th.

Hole 5 Par 4

362 | 340 | 308 | 290 | 220 yards

Another elevated tee here actually plays semi-blind over the crest of the hill.  You can see water off the tee but you have no idea how far that water comes into play.  It would be nice if the course added signage to define how far it is to the water. 

From the forward tees the landing area is visible.  The further left you play the further up the fairway you can go.  Playing to the right brings in the water depending on your yardage.  Also, a shot from here requires a forced carry on your approach shot to the green over the lake.

A shot down the center or right of the fairway challenges you to take on the water on your approach.  It also provides the narrowest width of the green.

This green is extremely wide but not that deep.  A spine bisects the green making putts from the wrong half of the green more challenging.  Sitting behind the green is the only bunkering on the hole.  Also, if you take an extra club to ensure carrying the water you can bring into play the naturalized grassy slope behind the green.

A couple of shots looking back up one of the most picturesque holes on the course.

Hole 6 Par 4

443 | 413 | 399 | 324 | 270 yards

This par 4 has a seemingly narrow chute you must play off the tee.  Water sits between the teeing ground and the fairway, causing a bit of visual drama.  Also across the fairway a large tree and bunker further shrink the appearance of the right turning dogleg.

For long hitters this hole should not be a problem.  Playing over the stand of evergreens is possible.  There is even room to miss to the left of those, though more trouble is in play over there.

From behind that stand of trees, the right side of the hole still provides an open approach to the green.

From the surprisingly generous fairway,  you have an uphill approach to a green with an apparent backstop.

 The backstop is an illusion however as this is a very large but somewhat domed green.  There is plenty of room to miss around the green as there is no sand in play here other than the single bunker visible off the tee.

This is a massive green with plenty of undulations.  A green in regulation does not guarantee a par here.

Hole 7 Par 3

220 | 181 | 163 | 154 | 125 yards

A beautiful vista to this longer par 3 is presented from the elevated tees.  The green wraps around the back side of a small pond.  A back right pin is a much harder location then a pin front left like I faced.  With the front left pin you have plenty of room to miss to the left away from the water.

This green is relatively level with the surrounding apron so you have a variety of ways you can play from around the green.

Hole 8 Par 4

437 | 407 | 381 | 371 | 245 yards

The 8th is one of the more open driving holes.  A dogleg to the right, you don't need to cut the corner too much on the drive.  Around the bend, over the tree on the right, a sloped ridge can kick tee shots here back onto the fairway.

A shot hit too far to the right will find the top of the hills here though, which is uncut rough.

At around 140 yards the fairway rises up to a plateau that runs level all the way to the green.  A drive that carries this slope leaves leaves an easy shot to the green.

The approach shot requires missing the large deep bunker front right.  This is the one place you absolutely do not want to hit to- so of course it is where I did.  This bunker is actually 10 yards or so short of the green, so if in doubt take an extra club to clear this.

Another bunker sits off to the left side of this deep green.  Missing either side, or deep of this green will leave a tough uphill shot back onto the putting surface.

A view of the green taken from off on the left while standing on the 9th tee.  You can see how deep the green complex is, as well as how that front bunker actually has a bit of room over the top of it before you reach the green.

Hole 9 Par 5

437 | 407 | 381 | 371 | 245 yards

The final hole on the nine designed by Annika is a  straight away par 5.  A shot hit down the left gives a better angle to go for the green.  From the right side, the mounding down that side, near the grove of evergreens, blocks you view into the green.

Another fairly generous landing zone off the tee is offered here.  Your second shot also plays to a fairly wide landing zone before narrowing down as you approach the green.

There are no bunkers to worry about as you approach this kidney shaped green.  It offers its longest dimension to shots coming up the hole.  However, a long approach into the green is not the easiest, as this is not one of the larger targets on the course. The green's small size makes up for its lack of defenses.

Speaking of defenses, missing to either side is not good.  There is not a lot of room to miss on the left, as the trees come into play here.

If you layup, the third shot into the green is one of the easier shots you will have.

Speaking of defenses,  Missing right is also problematic as a slope here kicks off wayward shots down a slope.  An uncut fescue area just right of the green and cart path makes even wider shots likely to be lost.

While this green is not enormous it still features a bit of undulation.  This makes putts across the green a bit of a challenge.