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WarSpec Alignment Chip

The WarSpec (fka MilSpec) Alignment Chip is a flat round disc with branding and design on one side, and alignment markings on the reverse to assist in lining up your ball with the intended line of putt.

Undoubtedly leveraging the production of poker chips at a U.S. manufacturer, the MilSpec Alignment Chip is a ceramic disc 39mm in diameter (not 40mm like those low-end poker chips!), and is just a hair smaller than a USGA and R&A Confirming Golf Ball. The Chip is 0.37 ounces and 0.130″ high, and is easy to carry in a pocket. It can gather dirt fairly quickly, but is easy to clean with the same towel you use for the ball and club. The chip size, weight and material is the same regardless of design. Each version features the same alignment markings used to line up the putt on one side, with differing graphic designs and branding on the other. The chip is easy to carry and see in a bag or on the green with its bold designs.

MilSpec WarSpec Alignment Chip

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We use the Alignment Chip as follows:

Step 1. Place Alignment Chip behind ball and align the tool as best you can with the intended putting path. This is really just a first guess, so don’t spend too much time here. After you have a decent guess at the path, you can go ahead and pick up your ball (no violating Rule 16 here!).

Step 2. Take a look at the green and path from however many angles as you want, but don’t take up so much time as to upset your playing partners. Finish your process positioned behind the ball, seeing what line you want for the putt and how that line compares to the current alignment provided by the WarSpec. Figure out if and by how much you need to adjust the line of the WarSpec to the correct putting line.

Step 3. Place your ball down in front of the Alignment Chip and then adjust the Chip as needed to the point down the desired putting line.

Step 4. Align the main line/arrow/writing on your ball with the main line on the WarSpec Alignment Chip.

Step 5. Commit to your read and knock in the putt.

Step 6. Take playing partners’ money.

Some might argue that it is worthwhile to take another look at the Alignment Chip versus the intended line of putt following Step 3 by stepping back, but we find that the Alignment Chip is usually accurately lined up to our intended path at that point, and to go through the process any more would just make for a longer round of golf than anyone wants to play. Plus, we’re just not that good anyway.

So does it work? We think it is a great tool for players who rarely (if ever) take a look at their putting path (which can include everyone from beginners to low handicappers players) and it does help us both focus on and identify our line. At only $8, it’s hard to say that you are getting taken to the cleaners with a purchase of the WarSpec (hey, it’s inexpensive enough to also use as a gift item or for corporate schwag) and its rare to find an item of such low cost that could demonstrably improve your putting…without requiring any additional practice time.

The Competition

The Competition

There are other tools that have additional lines that are intended to help players adjust the alignment, but we are skeptical whether that really provides any accuracy beyond the dashed center alignment mark and tapered track design on the WarSpec (particularly since the radiating lines are not parallel to the main center alignment line). The closest competition is the $5 PUTTINGTOOL COIN (note to marketing people: enough with the trend toward branding products with ALL CAPS; it will not make us ANY MORE LIKELY TO PURCHASE THE PRODUCT), which is also a disc, but smaller in size (24.5mm diameter and 0.1 ounces) and made of metal. Aside from size and material, the main difference is that the PUTTINGTOOL features additional alignment lines, like rays of the sun – the center one intended to line up the ball and putt, and the others to help make adjustments when lining up the ball. There is also the PUTTINGTOOL SHIELD, which retails for $10. This design is similar, though the tool is shaped like a shield (31.75mm across, 30.1mm deep and 0.2 ounces), allowing it to match the curvature and tuck under the ball when lining up.

The other alignment marker available at the high-end of the market is the Scotty Cameron Ball Tool. No longer available on the Scotty Cameron website, the tool can be found on eBay. Depending on design, the Scotty Cameron Ball Tool sells in the range of $40 to an absurd $130 (clearly we are in the wrong business).

MilSpec WarSpec Alignment Chip

Click for larger image

Since introducing the product, WarSpec has increased to the number of colors available to include lime, orange, pink, blue, and grey. There also are five different limited edition designs available for those looking for a chip with a bit more personality; we bet there are more to come (Hey WarSpec, how’s about a limited edition CriticalGolf version?).

Retail price: $8.00 ($12.00 for Limited Edition Chips)
MilSpec: Available only from MilSpec


Lectronic Kaddy Dyna-Steer

Out of Canada comes Lectronic Kaddy’s (yes, alternative spellings seems to be the norm…and it pains us) Dyna-Steer, the “#1 selling remote controlled Kaddy in the world.” We are fairly certainly this means it is the #1 selling Lectronic Kaddy in the word, as opposed to the top-selling electronic caddy. Ah, marketing!

This remote control electronic cart has an operating range of up to 150 yards with its included remote, which provides another operating option in addition to the soft touch control panel on the handle. There are five present distance settings, a battery level indicator, and anti-theft function. The Dyna-Steer is powered by dual motors and 12-volt battery. If ever needed, wheels can be made free-wheeling at the push of a hub cap lever. To keep things stable, there is an anti-tip bar to allow the cart to tilt back to a maximum of 15 degrees, and wheels are placed 28 inches apart to provide stability.

Lectronic Kaddy Dyna-Steer MX9

Click to enlarge

But it’s not all about technical details, right? For those concerned about fashion, the Dyna-Steer comes in more color options than any other electronic caddy: yellow, green, silver and a hot pink!

The total weight for the Dyna-Steer is just over 26 pounds, excluding battery (which tacks on another 24 pounds). It comes with a 2-year warranty on parts and labor and a lifetime warranty on Dynasteer (we aren’t going to try to correct that to be “Dyna-Steer” since it’s pretty clear from their site they haven’t settled on Dyna-Steer, Dyna Steer or Dynasteer) drive axles. Ah, marketing!

Retail price: $1,595
Amazon.com: Check price now


Encore Resort at Wynn Las Vegas

The Encore is the sequel to Steve Wynn’s eponymous hotel in Las Vegas, and together the two resorts are home to the Wynn Golf Club, one of only two golf courses located on the Strip (Bali Hai is the other, and it is expected to close in the near future). The Wynn Golf Club was ranked #66 in Golf Magazine’s 2012 “Top 100 Courses You Can Play.”

The 5-star Encore glitters at the end of the modern Strip. Note that if you want to step it up a notch, you can stay at the even more exclusive Encore Tower, which has a completely separate entrance, while the 4-star Wynn is a more economical alternative. The lobby at Encore isn’t overly ostentatious – one might even consider it to be unassuming, particularly when compared to the Bellagio and the like. The décor emphasizes red (presumably playing upon its symbolization of prosperity in Asia), with a bug and butterfly motif. There’s a discernable light floral scent, but it’s nowhere near as overpowering as the wafts of vanilla you’ll get at Aria just down the street.

The rooms are spacious and modern (no Louis XIV chairs and floral doilies), the fitness center is spectacular, and the spa is in a class all by itself. As would be expected in a resort of this size, the service doesn’t feel particularly personal, but the staff is professional and attentive.

For hardcore golfers, the resort suffers a bit in not having any golf “feel” to it – golf is obviously just one type of entertainment available in Las Vegas, and it isn’t featured in any way that you would notice. While we try to steer clear of reviewing the actual golf courses themselves (there are plenty of other sources for opinions on that), we did note that while the course is visually interesting and features a multitude of trees, thick shrubbery (in which we were frequently digging for lost balls), rolling fairways and other natural touches, the fact that massive surrounding hotels are always in your sight lines means that you never really forget that you’re in the middle of Las Vegas.

If you want a Las Vegas experience and also enjoy golfing, the convenience of having a highly rated course right outside of a hotel located on the Strip, along with an out-of-this-world spa and a top-notch gym, make the Encore an extremely attractive option. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a zen-like golf experience that will help you find your inner Bobby Jones, this ain’t the place.

SCORE
92
GRADE
A-
Service
93
Accommodations
94
Fitness Center
94
Spa
98
Pro Shop
84
Food
89
Integration
88
Value
88

Expedia: View Wynn Las Vegas deals

Pros:

  • Large rooms with modern design
  • World-class spa facility
  • Excellent fitness center
  • The only golf course/hotel combination on The Strip

Cons:

  • Expensive greens fees – $500 (gulp)…per person (double gulp)
  • Doesn’t have the feel of a golf sanctuary

93/ A-

SERVICE

Service at the Encore is polite and efficient. It would be unreasonable to expect the Encore, with its more than 2,000 rooms on 63 floors, to feel intimate, but the size of the staff seems to be more than sufficient, and they attended to our needs quickly and professionally.

Encore Resort

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  • Checking In. As we pulled into the hotel, we were met by a bellman, and given the option to have our golf travel bags taken directly to the golf course. We deferred, because we still needed to pull some other clothing out of the travel bags, and didn’t need an audience watching us re-pack our skivvies. The bellman was, however, kind enough to take away all of our luggage so we weren’t encumbered while waiting in the hotel registration line.

    The line to check in moved surprisingly quickly – perhaps because of the presence of an attendant monitoring the length of the queue. It was no more than two minutes before we were standing in front of a well-mannered desk clerk. We experienced no hiccups in getting squared away and were off to our rooms in a jiffy. One great feature of the Encore is that the elevators to the room are right around the corner from the front desk – in most of the hotels in Las Vegas, you have to trudge for what seems to be miles through the main casino floor before you reach the room elevators.

  • Housekeeping. We found everything to our satisfaction on the housekeeping front. The room was kept clean and well-stocked with towels and amenities, and the staff was virtually invisible in the performance of their tasks.
  • Concierge. The concierge staff was extremely friendly (and attractive), to the point of a very sincere apology for making us wait…when there was only one person in front of us! They were helpful in resolving a dinner reservation foul up (which was entirely our fault) and securing a new table for us.

94 / A

ACCOMMODATIONS

The Encore is generally considered to be a 5-star hotel, and the room lived up to our expectations. We booked a Panoramic Queen Suite for our two-night stay. The stunning view down the Las Vegas Strip (which included a partial view of the golf course) presented us with a “Hangover” feel to start the weekend. To assuage the worries of our spouses, however, let us be clear that there were no illicit drugs, tigers, lost teeth or ladies of the evening involved in our trip.

The room was spacious (745 square feet) and had a modern feel, working in a bit of the requisite red coloring (muted as more of a burgundy) with light shades of wood and dark accents.

Encore Resort

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Other features included:

  • Two queen beds
  • A couch area
  • A flat screen TV
  • Access to a Wi-Fi connection within the room is included within the $25 daily resort fee (we truly hate “resort fees” on top of room rates)
  • A very futuristic master touchscreen that controlled the lighting, curtains, and privacy/housekeeping indicator
  • A bathroom with a small flat-screen TV, shower, tub and double sink, and a toilet in a separate room
  • iHome alarm clock/stereo with iPhone/iPod dock
  • Toiletries made by Lather, Inc., under the Encore’s house brand
  • A selection of drinks and snacks in the minibar – just remember not to remove any items you won’t be indulging in for more than 60 seconds or you’ll find a charge on your bill.

94 / A

FITNESS CENTER

The Fitness Center in the Encore is located on the same floor as the Spa. It’s an extraordinary facility, on par with high-end health clubs/gyms, and far superior to what you usually see in hotels. One negative note is that (much like all of Las Vegas) there is no natural light inside the fitness center, so while the lighting is generally pretty bright, there is no sunshine or view to perk you up.

Use of the Encore Fitness Center is included within the daily $25 resort fee charge. As noted below, there are separate spinning and pilates/yoga studios, but we didn’t avail ourselves of any exercise classes (which require payment of a fee).

In addition, there is a juice/coffee bar located inside the fitness center, should you develop a craving for a high calorie smoothie or cappuccino during or after your workout. These drinks are priced at $7-8 apiece.

Encore Resort

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Features include:

  • A host of cardio machines – we counted 9 ellipticals, 15 treadmills, 5 upright stationary bikes, and 2 recumbent stationary bikes
  • Individual televisions on each cardio machine, and complimentary use of headsets
  • Your choice of complimentary bottles of refrigerated or room temperature water
  • Free apples (the fruit, not the consumer electronic devices)
  • Towels
  • Cold wet towels in the refrigerator
  • 18 Cybex weightlifting machines
  • A rack of barbells
  • A rack of dumbbells
  • A Smith machine (a bar fixed into steel rails, which can be used for squats or, in conjunction with a bench, for chest or overhead presses)
  • A collection of BOSU balance balls
  • A spinning studio
  • A yoga/pilates studio

98 / A+

SPA

The Encore’s Spa is truly over the top. We’ve been to some of the finest spas in the world, and when we say Encore is over the top, we mean absolutely RI-DONKULOUS. After checking in for your treatment (more on our specific choice of massages in a moment), you are escorted to gender-specific wings (there are no co-ed hot tubs or other facilities). You initially enter into a lounge area, complete with a fireplace, flat-panel televisions tuned to ESPN, complimentary fruit-infused ice water and more free apples. From there you can enter the traditional locker room, equipped with wood lockers, robes and slippers. The adjoining shower area is stocked with combs, brushes and other toiletries.

Encore Resort

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What truly sets the Encore Spa apart is the cavernous wet area comprised of the sauna, steam room, and hot and cold pools. Be sure to allocate plenty of time to spend in the facility before or after your treatment, because the variety of amenities is breathtaking.
The wet area features include:

  • Two huge hot tubs, each as long as some swimming pools. One nifty feature of the hot tubs is that the walls are designed as a series of little arcs, enabling you to nestle within an arc that shelters you from the awkwardness of accidentally making contact with someone else in the water.
  • Two cold plunge pools, maintained at different temperatures
  • A row of stone lounge chairs that are heated (and surprisingly comfortable)
  • A sauna
  • A steamroom (scented with eucalyptus) where you literally cannot see more than a foot in front of you because of the density of the steam
  • Two “waterfall” showers – these literally gush gallons of water out of wide spouts that simulate a waterfall. In a token (and we do mean token) attempt at water conservation, they will only be activated for up to two minutes at a time, but in those two minutes, there must be hundreds of gallons of water cascading over you. It’s extremely soothing, and a pretty unique experience
  • Three other sophisticated showers, each with nine nozzles positioned in various places and controls for the type of spray, the temperature of the water, the music, and even the lighting. To be honest, the number of options seemed to be a bit of overkill
  • Complimentary bottles of ice water.

Note that whether you wear a swimsuit or not in the wet area is at your own discretion.
You must make your own way to a waiting area in time for your treatment, which is attached to the main locker room/changing area. The massage therapist will retrieve you and lead you to the treatment rooms down a walkway that feels like a combination of a Buddhist temple and an eastern palace, complete with water features, lamps and a giant Buddha at the end of the corridor. It’s both grandiose and tasteful at the same time, and you really have to see it to believe it. Of course one of our reviewers didn’t wear his contact lenses, so all of the opulence went unnoticed by him.

A 50 minute massage is priced at $160/$170/$180, depending on the amount of pressure you prefer. If you’re one of those people who tries to game the system by asking for the lowest priced massage and then requesting deeper pressure, you’ll be out of luck, as they will make an adjustment to the price (which is certainly not unfair on their part). The quality of the massage was solid – not anything that was unforgettable, but certainly on par with our expectations.

We highly recommend that you make time for the Encore Spa during your stay – the very spectacle of it is worth the price of admission. Oh, and the combination of the hot tub, steam room, sauna and massage might actually loosen up your back muscles enough to play 36 holes the next day…


84 / B-

PRO SHOP

The Wynn Golf Course Pro Shop is surprisingly small. The staff is friendly and helpful, but if you’re looking for a sumptuous selection of logo gear, you won’t find it here. Sure there are a few golf shirts and caps, but the facility is in such a cramped space that there isn’t sufficient square footage to display a broad range of clothing or equipment. The store is divided into men’s and women’s sections, which exacerbates the problem by ensuring that they can’t display enough products to properly service either gender.


89 / B+

FOOD

The strength of the Encore is that there are a number of diverse dining options – we sampled four different restaurants within the Wynn/Encore during our stay, as described below. The flip side of the coin is that the options are all on the expensive side.

Encore Resort

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  • Society Café – a casual dining restaurant located in the Encore that focuses on comfort food. The reviews for Society Café are generally quite effusive, but we couldn’t understand the fuss. Dinner was fine, but not memorable, and at $150 for two people (one of whom wasn’t drinking alcohol), it isn’t really budget dining. We sampled the Caesar salad, Roasted and Shaved Beet Salad, Filet Mignon Sliders and Sea Bass. The only dish that stood out as exceptional was the beet salad, which was undeniably tasty.
  • Terrace Pointe Café – a casual dining restaurant in the Wynn offering variations on traditional American food. We were quite pleased with the hearty breakfast that we had here in advance of our round, but don’t expect a Denny’s price tag – we wound up spending about $80 for two people. The Pulled Pork Benedict, which consists of poached eggs on jalapeno cornbread with pulled pork and a barbecue hollandaise, came together quite nicely, and the side of Sour Cream Coffee Cake that we ordered turned out to be both massive (probably enough to feed a family of four) and delicious. The Baguette French toast with bacon and caramelized apples was solid if unspectacular.
  • Botero – high end steak and seafood at the Encore. Botero features artwork by notable Colombian artist Fernando Botero (note there were no holes in any of the paintings), including a large sculpture around which the main dining room is centered. I guess if you have a collection worth hundreds of millions of dollars, you might as well name your restaurants and shows after your purchases. The art wasn’t particularly compelling for us, and ultimately, neither was the cuisine. We quite liked the Crudo Tasting (which includes tuna, scallops, hamachi and salmon), but the Bone-In Ribeye (prepared Chimichurri style) wasn’t particularly memorable, and the Kobe Short Ribs were tender but not extraordinary (though truly, can you ever go wrong ordering Kobe Short Ribs?) Dinner for two (again with only one person drinking alcohol) was $240.
  • The Country Club – described as a “New American Steakhouse”, the Country Club is located near the Wynn Golf Course. As mentioned below, a $75 credit for the Sunday Jazz Brunch at the Country Club was included in our package – after applying the credit, we paid an additional $78 for two people. The brunch, which, as advertised, features live music) is opulent in its variety, although it is presented in a relatively small space. There were seafood choices galore, the usual prime rib and other carvery options, pastries, egg dishes, and the like. One distinguishing feature is that you can order anything you like off of a menu of entrée options (avoid the hot dog, which was shamefully bad) – you are encouraged to sample multiple entrées, and the portion sizes are small enough to make this feasible. We give it thumbs up at the subsidized price point we paid, wouldn’t choose it if we had to pay full freight. If you are dining later in the morning, consider sitting in the adjacent dining room, which also looks out onto the golf course (get the outdoor seating if it’s a nice day to enjoy the view of the course and plan your strategy for the 18th hole).

88 / B+

INTEGRATION WITH GOLF COURSE

The resort does a fair job of integrating golf into your stay.

Encore Resort

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  • Golf Club Storage: When we were ready to send our golf bags to the course, we called the bell captain, and they arrived at the room in minutes to pick them up. Similarly, they were efficient in delivering the clubs back to our room when were ready to pack up and leave.
  • Getting to the Course: The walk to the Wynn Golf Course from the Encore is just a 5-10 minute stroll that winds its way through the casino and the shopping area. It’s a little bizarre, since you don’t see much natural light until you actually arrive at the course, but it’s not that unexpected in Las Vegas. The overall proximity to the course is the real selling point to the resort for golfers. If you’re looking to play one of the other highly top-rated courses, such as Shadow Creek or Cascata, you’ll be in for a drive of around 25 minutes.
  • Practice Facilities: The Wynn Golf Course does not have a driving range – your full swing warm-up is limited to an astroturf hitting area with nets. There is a small area where you can take shots up to approximately 120 yards off of grass, and you can also work on your short game on their putting green and practice bunker

88 / B+

VALUE

We booked the Wynn’s “Golf Getaway” package for $1,722 (two nights), which included:

  • Two nights in a Panoramic Queen Suite in the Encore – you can adjust the overall price of the package by customizing the lodging portion, choosing a room in the Encore, Encore Tower, Wynn, or Wynn Tower, as well as the type of room (in Vegas, the single King rooms are less expensive, but since our reviewers each wanted their own sleep space, we had to go with the pricier double Queens )
  • Golf for two at the Wynn Golf Course
  • Prix fixe lunch for two at The Country Club – as it turns out, you have the flexibility to choose the Sunday Jazz Brunch at The Country Club instead, although we were limited in that case to $75 credit.
Encore Resort

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Given that the normal greens fees at the Wynn Golf Course are $500 per round, you could argue that you’re getting the hotel for $360/night (which is reasonable for weekends in Las Vegas), with a free $150 lunch thrown in. Of course the fundamental premise of $500 greens fees pretty much obviates any claim that it’s actually a BARGAIN. Make no mistake about it – staying at the Encore and playing the Wynn is a high-end experience, with a high-end price tag. The golf course, the hotel, and the service and amenities are all excellent, but we couldn’t quite shake the feeling that the entire marketing strategy is in part based upon having a price tag that far exceeds that of other golf courses, which left us a bit cold.


The Inn at Spanish Bay

Just for you, loyal readers, we sacrifice another of our weekends just to bring you more Critical Golf resort reviews. This time we trek down to the Inn at Spanish Bay, owned by the Pebble Beach Company and located within the famous 17-Mile Drive. The reasons to stay at the Inn at Spanish Bay are clear: exceptional views, its location on the gorgeous California coastline, and a golf course next to the Inn amidst dunes overlooking the Pacific. The staff is extremely friendly, capable and attentive though not overbearing, and the environment is warm and welcoming with California informality…no stuffy awkwardness you might find at some old school resorts.

Within the Inn at Spanish Bay you will find rooms well-kept and of moderate size, though they lack the latest and greatest features such as power-curtains, massive televisions with HD, or the like. Well, there is a wall-mounted phone right next to the toilet (remember when that defined luxury?). There are approximately 270 rooms in total, so the resort is still small enough to maintain a sense of intimacy, even with a dedicated conference room wing of the Inn (sounds like a prime location for a future Critical Golf company retreat!).

Adjacent to the Inn and overlooking the 1st tee of the Links at Spanish Bay is the Clubhouse, which houses the Pro Shop, a dining room/bar and the Spanish Bay Club. The Links at Spanish Bay isn’t our favorite course in the area (I’ll save the complaints about the greens and the relative unforgiving nature of the course for later), but no matter how many balls you lose, you can’t help but enjoy the ocean views. Make sure to get in rounds at Spyglass and Poppy Hills as well. If you’re flush with cash you won’t want to miss Pebble Beach, and if your wallet is feeling light, Pacific Grove Golf Links is a fun low-cost alternative with some dramatic ocean scenery.

While the primary draw for the Inn at Spanish Bay is the golf course, there isn’t an overbearing feel of a golf-specific resort, which means that visitors who don’t play golf won’t feel like outsiders. There is lots to enjoy, including the fire pits outside the Lobby with glimpses of the Links and magnificent ocean views and the walking trail that winds through the dunes and course down to coastal trails and beaches. There is also the Spanish Bay Club fitness center, which has a wide selection of equipment and weights along with a pool, and a tennis center next door. Though guests can have massages in-room or at the Club, one of the downsides is the lack of a full spa on-site. For those that need the full experience, it is a 4.5 mile trip over to the Spa at Pebble Beach – bummer (although they do offer shuttle service if you don’t have a car). For shoppers, there are a handful of retail stores at the entry to the Inn, with an assortment of items including resort wear (lounge it up!), jewelry, spa products, and even bedding. If that isn’t enough, you are only 6 miles from the town of Carmel-By-The-Sea with lots of shopping, art galleries and restaurants. There are a handful of dining options at the Inn, from bar menus to fine dining. We didn’t find a standout, with views exceeding the food.

If you are looking for a resort that is brightest/shiniest with the highest level of accommodations and dining across the board, the Inn at Spanish Bay may leave you wanting more. What you will get, however, is very good service from an attentive staff, exceptional views, and proximity to the California coastline. And every night, a bagpiper closes the course in Scottish tradition, winding his way from the Links to the fire pits at the Inn. Not a bad a way to end a day indeed.

SCORE
89
GRADE
B+
Service
91
Accommodations
90
Fitness Center
91
Spa
N/A
Pro Shop
92
Food
87
Integration
88
Value
88

Inn at Spanish Bay: View accommodations

Pros:

  • Unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean
  • Attentive and helpful staff
  • Who doesn’t like bagpipes?

Cons:

  • No spa facility on-site
  • The level of accommodations are not commensurate with the $800/night price tag

91 / A-

SERVICE

Throughout our stay the service level was extremely strong, from contact prior to arrival, check-in, on the golf course and when dining. The staff was friendly, unfailingly polite, and never left us waiting.

Spanish Bay Resort

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  • Checking In. Upon arriving at the Inn we were greeted by a bellman who valeted our car (noting it was complimentary), and whisked our bags away. Walking into the Inn we were welcomed at the reception area, and the polite woman behind the front desk quickly assembled resort information for us and directed us to our room.
    We weren’t thrilled with the first room with which we were presented (take note that if your room is by the elevator bank you will be able to hear the dinging of the elevators, and the rooms can both be slightly smaller in size and lack a walk-out deck), and headed back down to Reception. There they quickly and apologetically helped get us another room (they noted the Inn had actually been at 100% capacity for the week…no recession here…) at the far (we do mean far) end of the hotel, which was much quieter and slightly bigger, with higher ceilings and a small deck looking out at the forest trees.
  • Housekeeping. The room was well kept, and housekeeping provided a daily room refresh, ice delivery, and evening turndown service. Though our room was the farthest from the front desk, they quickly delivered both drinks and our requested change to foam pillows.
  • Concierge/Guest Services. Even before our arrival, a “Special Services Concierge” emailed us to provide information (we won’t kid ourselves, we know it wasn’t tailor-written for our visit) on a variety of activities and offering to assist with helping arrange dining, spa or golf reservations. They also confirmed our time of arrival and asked if we were spending a special occasion at the Inn (why yes…the special occasion is kicking off reviews for the Resorts section of Critical Golf!). In an interesting marketing relationship, the Concierge also mentioned the “Lexus Driving Experience.” While we didn’t take them up on the offer, 2-hours of a complimentary Lexus may be just what you need if you didn’t already rent a car for your trip – enjoy top-down cruising through the 17-Mile drive and head to Carmel for a quick picnic lunch at Ocean Avenue Beach!
    We did ask for assistance with dining reservations and for additional information on bicycle rentals at the Inn, for which we quickly received responses.

90 / A-

ACCOMMODATIONS

We were booked in the Inn’s “Forest View” room, which is one of the more, ahem, fiscally responsible of the options. Others include the Garden Room (with a view of some trees, some grass, and some parking lot, but just fine for those looking to save some dollars), Scenic View (which might more accurately be called “Not Really An Ocean View’) and Ocean View. All rooms are approximately 460-470 square feet. Most rooms, but not all, have a small balcony or patio, and a gas fireplace.

Spanish Bay Forest Room

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Our room was clean and well kept, more cozy than glitzy, but certainly comfortable. As advertised, we looked out into the pines of the Del Monte Forest, with a view of a sliver of the 11th hole tee box. Rooms also featured complimentary Wi-Fi.

Other features included:

  • One king bed
  • Two chairs and a small table surrounding the gas fireplace (which will turn off in 20 minutes automatically, for all those visitors who would fall asleep with it on)
  • A 32″ flat screen TV, with alas, no HD
  • Small desk
  • A bathroom with a single sink, tub (deep but on the short side), and a toilet facing the separate shower
  • A make-up area with another single sink.
  • Cambridge Soundworks Table Top Stereo with iPod
  • Toiletries made by June Jacbobs for the Spa at Pebble Beach
  • A selection of drinks and snacks, a number of which are…hold on to your hats…complimentary! This includes tea and coffee, water and small soda bottles, and snacks such as pretzels, chips and granola bars. Who says there is no such thing as a free lunch! (ok, for the $800/night cost of the room)

91 / A-

FITNESS CENTER

The Spanish Bay Club, a two-floor fitness center, is just a short stroll away, located in the Clubhouse building next to the Inn. The use of the Club is included in the daily $25 resort fee, with no additional fees for the exercise classes.

Spanish Bay Club

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The Club is just off the main entrance to the Clubhouse. You’ll walk past the pool area, which includes seating around a 25 meter heated pool and whirlpool, to the welcome area. Off the entry lounge is a complimentary juice/water bar area, an exercise room just behind the front desk, and a small assortment of workout gear available for purchase lining the walls leading to the workout room. Downstairs are men’s and women’s locker rooms, which were quite nice even though this wasn’t a full-service spa, as well as 2 massage rooms. The locker room features a steam room and sauna, and ample space to get ready for your workout.

The fitness center was clean and up-to-date with a very helpful staff. The area with machines and free weights is not overly large, with a confined area off the main workout area for free weights and stretching. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to enjoy views toward the coast from one of the three window-facing treadmills, which may ease the pain somewhat.

Features include:

  • A number of cardio machines: we counted 3 ellipticals, 7 treadmills, 5 upright stationary bikes, and 1 recumbent stationary bike
  • 14 FreeMotion fitness equipment machines
  • Barbells and dumbbells
  • An exercise studio, for classes including pilates mat, yoga, step, cardio and more. Most classes are available during the week, with far fewer on the weekend.
  • Complimentary water and juice bar just off the entry lounge.

In addition to the Spanish Bay Club, just across the street is the Tennis Pavilion, featuring eight courts, two of which are lit for night play if you still have enough energy after golf and drinks. There is an additional fee for use of the courts ($15 per person per day). There is a full Tennis Pro Shop here as well, and a number of options for lessons – both private and group clinics. Also available at the Tennis Pavilion are bicycle rentals for an additional fee ($20 for a half day, $30 for a full day).


N/A

SPA

One of the negatives of the Inn is the lack of an on-site spa. Massages are available in-room (50 minutes for $210) or at the fitness center (50 minutes for $145) but other than this, you’ll need to travel 4.5 miles over to the Spa at Pebble Beach (located at Casa Palmero, adjacent to the Lodge at Pebble Beach). You should allocate between 15 and 30 minutes depending on whether you are driving or taking the complimentary shuttle. When we are looking for some R&R at a spa, particularly this high-end, we much prefer it to be on-site.

If you do venture over to Pebble Beach, know that you will in the blink of an eye do as much damage to your wallet there as you would paying for the course’s greens fees. If your wife or girlfriend is going to be spending time there while you are on the links, make sure your credit card limits have been adjusted appropriately. There are a tremendous number of massage options, body and facial treatments, flotation wraps (I don’t even know what those are), a full salon for hair and nail care, and “Shave Services” for the fellas. There is even “chakra balancing” with gemstones, if your game is really on the rocks (bada-bum-bum). Hey, whatever it takes to shave a few more strokes…


92 / A-

PRO SHOP

The Spanish Bay Pro Shop, located steps away from the first tee of the Links, has a very good selection of both men’s and women’s golf clothing and a variety of accessories – and in case you are worried about missing the televised tournament that day you can keep on top of the action with one of the four televisions in the store.

Carnoustie was the brand most prominently displayed in the shop during our visit, though there are also selections from Nike, Fairway & Greene, Ashworth, and (since you very well might need it, depending on the day) Zero Restriction. They have a good-looking selection covering all types of apparel, from jackets and shirts to shorts, pants, and a number of shoe options (we are partial to spikeless golf shoes).

Outside of clothing, there is a limited range of clubs (primarily putters), and an assortment of accessories from logoed Spanish Bay golf bags, hats, flags, balls, flasks, shot glasses (seriously?), and coasters. If you are looking for a bagpiper logo, you’ve come to the right place.


87 / B+

FOOD

Within the Inn at Spanish Bay are two primary restaurants, Roy’s and Peppoli, with more limited bar menus available in the Lounge and bar. At the neighboring Clubhouse is another informal restaurant with attached bar. Though not required, we do highly recommend reservations at either Roy’s or Peppoli. Virtually all restaurants offer exceptional views over the dunes and course to the Pacific Ocean.

The pricing at the restaurants wasn’t exorbitant, and though we continued to be impressed by the service, we found the food to be below our expectations. We were happiest with the appetizers by the fire pits and live music in the Lobby Lounge than anywhere else.

Spanish Bay Resort

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  • Lobby Lounge – the lounge is a casual environment with a selection of drinks and a limited food menu. Chairs and couches are scatted throughout, as well as a few tables with views towards the course and ocean, and a welcoming fireplace. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights there is live music in the lounge. We took advantage of the nice evening and enjoyed an appetizer of Ahi Poke with Wonton Honey Chips and two glasses of wine ($47) by one of the outdoor fire pits. Even on a relatively busy night, the staff was quick to take our order, and drinks and food soon arrived. If you time things right, you can enjoy the end of the bagpiper’s walk (which is every evening of the week) from the first tee to the fire pits, where he had attracted quite the crowd of groupies on the night of our visit.

    Fleece blankets are also available if the fire pits aren’t kicking off enough heat for your liking. If it’s a nice night, a cocktail and snack by the fire pits is an absolute must – and be sure to get out there early enough to secure yourself a spot.

  • Spanish Bay Resort

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  • Roy’s – a small chain that features a wide selection of Hawaiian-fusion food. The large open dining room precludes any intimate experience, but with the restaurant facing the ocean, virtually every seat has a view. Our meal included a Nori Wrapped Blue Shrimp Salad, Dynamite Crab Crusted Halibut with tea and Rainbow Mud Pie for dessert ($65). The salad was decadent though quite tasty (combining fried onion rings with a salad still allows you to claim you are getting your greens). The halibut was a combination of flavors that seemed confused (the flavor of the rice seemed too dominant, and the richness of the crab overpowered the fish). If you are eating here, you are coming for the convenience and the view. Roy’s is also open for breakfast and lunch.
  • Spanish Bay Resort

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  • STICKS – located in the Clubhouse, STICKS serves casual American fare in an environment of 16 flat-screen televisions (just in case you get tired of the incredible view). We had breakfast of Huevos Rancheros, a recommendation from our waitress, who said that “people drive long distances for it,” french toast, berries, and a side of bacon and juice ($58). The Huevos Rancheros didn’t live up to the billing, and the French toast also disappointed due to its sheer density. STICKS is also open for lunch and dinner, and is a convenient and easy spot to grab a quick bite.

Following our round at the Links at Spanish Bay, we had drinks and appetizers at the bar adjacent to STICKS overlooking the first tee. There are televisions throughout the bar and a fireplace in the corner. We found the service and food fair at best, consistent with past visits.

The other dining option at the Inn at Spanish Bay is Peppoli, a quieter and more fine-dining atmosphere with a main dining area about half the size of Roy’s serving dinner, also with views to the Pacific. Next to Peppoli is Traps, a bar with televised sports that serves drinks and dinner or late-night suppers, and on the weekend of our visit, featured live music as well.

We weren’t enthralled by the dining, and would recommend that visitors who have the time consider other alternatives in the area.


88 / B+

INTEGRATION WITH GOLF COURSE

Given the number of guests that come to play golf, it isn’t surprising that the Inn and course are closely connected.

  • Golf Club Storage: The bell team can deliver your clubs to the course upon arrival, or if you are playing prior to check in, can take your clubs at the drop-off area and have them waiting for you at the 1st tee. Curiously the bag drop-off area at the Clubhouse is not always staffed –you may need to go into the building to ask the Pro Shop to have your clubs brought around to start your round, and the same upon leaving (they do not recommend leaving clubs unattended in the drop-off area for long periods of time).
  • Getting to the Course: The Pro Shop is located in the Clubhouse, which is just a few minutes walk from the Inn, with the first tee located right outside the door. As far as proximity and ease of getting from your room to the course, it doesn’t get much more convenient than this.
  • Practice Facilities: Unfortunately the course doesn’t have a practice range on-site (or even hitting nets), so those looking to warm-up will have to make the drive over to either the Pebble Beach or Spyglass Hill ranges. There is a complimentary shuttle that runs between the Inn and the practice areas, both of which are available at no charge to those staying at the Inn. At the Links there is a small chipping area and a large green next to the first tee to get your short game ready before your round. Just don’t blade any practice flop-shots into the neighboring Spanish Bay Residences.

88 / B+

VALUE

Our Forest View room ran $815/night, taxes and resort fee included. The resort fee covers parking, access to the Spanish Bay Club, Wi-Fi, and gratuities for all staff with the exception of the dining rooms and golf course. The $9.75 entrance fee to 17-Mile Drive is also waived – you’ll get a placard for you car that allows for quick access through the 17-Mile Drive gates during your stay…take that to the bank!

Unlike some golf resorts that have reduced greens fees for guests, at Spanish Bay you’ll pay the full fare for a round on the Links, though a cart is included at no cost to resort guests. We deferred as the course is quite walkable. For those staying multiple nights and playing two or more rounds, packages are available, but you won’t necessarily see a price break. As an example, a package consisting of 2 nights at the Inn, plus one round at Pebble Beach (value $495) and a round at Spanish Bay ($260) or Spyglass ($360) runs for $2,000, excluding tax and resort fees. Like In-n-Out, just because you are buying a bundle doesn’t make it any cheaper.

For those wondering, there aren’t many advantages to staying at one of the Pebble Beach Companies when visiting the other Pebble Beach hotels or golf courses – you can consider them entirely separate properties. The few benefits you receive are the ability to charge back items to your room, the shuttle service running between locations, and perhaps the most important, the ability to make tee times further in advance than non-resort guests (up to 18 months in advance).

Spanish Bay Resort

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At more than $700/night all-in for the least expensive room, the Inn at Spanish Bay certainly isn’t an inexpensive option. Your dollars get you a friendly and attentive staff, an Inn that features exceptional views to the Pacific, and a course on-site and in close proximity to other courses that should be on your list to play. With all non-suite rooms roughly the same size, we would recommend either saving your dollars and selecting a Garden View room, or, if this is a particularly special trip, considering the Ocean View rooms. Whichever type of room you select, keep in mind you are saving money…compared to The Lodge at Pebble Beach and the intimate Casa Palmero, that is.

For those looking either for a special vacation away, or a guys’ trip for golf during the day and cards in the bar at night, it’s an incredibly relaxing setting and one we recommend.


Pronghorn Club & Resort

Pronghorn Golf Resort blends top-notch golf with a family-friendly environment within the natural beauty of Central Oregon. The resort includes the public Nicklaus Course and the private Fazio Course (play on the Fazio Course is available to guests at the resort). The Nicklaus Course was ranked #28 on Golf Digest’s 2013 list of “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses” and #38 in Golf Magazine’s 2012 “Top 100 Courses You Can Play.”

Pronghorn is located in Bend, Oregon (which, somewhat confusingly, is nowhere near North Bend, the home of Bandon Dunes). Bend claims that it has 300 days of sunshine per year, and the clear blue skies we experienced did nothing to lead us to believe otherwise (the 1-hour frost delays each October morning, on the other hand, were a bummer). Our trip started with a one-hour direct flight from San Francisco to Redmond/Bend airport, followed by a 30 minute drive to the resort. Don’t forget to have your smartphone on and Waze up and running to make sure you don’t miss any turns.

Auberge Resorts took over management of the resort and its 48 guest units in May of 2012. Our sense as of our visit in October 2012 is that Auberge has not yet fully imbued the resort with their vision of luxury – Pronghorn still struck us as somewhere between a 4 and a 5-star experience. If you’re looking for something more permanent, there are also Pronghorn fractional ownership options and homes for sale.

As befits its location in central Oregon, the design of the resort has a lodge-like feel, with recurring notes of timber and stone, and numerous fireplaces and outdoor firepits. The Junior Suites we booked were spacious and comfortable – the full-blown 2-to-4 bedroom Villas (aimed no doubt at families) take things to another level, with full kitchens equipped with Viking appliances. The staff is friendly and eager-to-please, but not quite operating at the efficiency level of the top resorts.

Our resort reviews don’t rate the courses themselves, but the on-site Nicklaus Course is challenging and interesting – though the inclusion of an obligatory waterfall felt a bit forced. In terms of course layout and design, we preferred nearby Tetherow (ranked #66 on Golf Digest’s 2013 list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses), which we felt was better integrated with the surroundings.

One thing that took our breath away at Pronghorn was the view of the night sky. Pronghorn is set within a 20,000 acre juniper forest, and the lack of ambient light enables you to take in a spectacular panorama of constellations. The resulting perspective on your place in the universe produces a lasting sense of calm and well-being…at least until you push a 3-footer that lips out for a four-putt.

Pronghorn doesn’t provide the single minded dedication of the greatest golf resorts, and doesn’t have the service level of ultra-luxury hotels, but it is a fine establishment that would be a great place to bring an entire family to experience outdoor activities such as golf, swimming in the pool, tennis and fly fishing.

SCORE
88
GRADE
B+
Service
87
Accommodations
87
Fitness Center
88
Spa
N/A
Pro Shop
88
Food
85
Integration
92
Value
91

Pronghorn: View Accommodations and Packages

Pros:

  • Beautiful setting
  • Tremendous value

Cons:

  • Paper-thin walls between rooms
  • Ho-hum culinary choices
  • No dedicated spa staff – be sure to book ahead!

87 / B+

SERVICE

The staff at Pronghorn is friendly and well-intentioned. There was not the same level of crispness that one experiences at a 5-star resort, but this could just be in keeping with the culture of the surrounding area, or perhaps Auberge hasn’t been able to impose its training on the staff yet.

 Pronghorn Club & Resort

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  • Checking In. We arrived in the evening, having rented a car for the 30 minute drive from the local airport (the hotel offers complimentary shuttle service from the airport, but we needed a car to get to Tetherow on our own). There is a surprising lack of lighting within the grounds of the resort, which makes for fabulous stargazing, but didn’t help much as we were trying to navigate our way to the Clubhouse building. Signage also left a bit to be desired – we ultimately found ourselves driving the wrong way on a one-way street. The Clubhouse is the centerpiece of the resort, and houses two restaurants, the pro shop, the spa, the fitness center, and the front desk. It wasn’t that late when we pulled up, and not at all busy, so we were surprised that we weren’t immediately met by a bellman (it turns out he was in the lobby chatting with the lone desk clerk). Hey, no worries, I can open the door for myself.
    Pronghorn Club & Resort

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    We were the only ones checking in, and the friendly desk clerk processed us through all of the appropriate paperwork quickly. The guest units are in clusters surrounding the Clubhouse. Because our units were about a block away, we hopped back into the car (there is ample parking near each unit). We didn’t inquire about club storage right away because we were playing a course that wasn’t part of the resort the next morning. The best part of the check-in process was the chocolate chip cookies that greeted us when we walked into the rooms.

  • Housekeeping. The housekeeping staff kept the rooms clean and stocked with towels and toiletries. Note that there is no evening turn-down service, so the rooms are only tidied once a day. Our only complaint was that on our first night there, they left the bedside alarm clock set for 3:30 A.M…and activated. That was not cool at all.
  • Concierge. There is no independent concierge desk – standard concierge services are instead available at the front desk. We utilized them to try to make a spa appointment for the next day. As described below, there are no resident massage therapists on staff, so Pronghorn calls external contractors that they regularly use. Ultimately they were not able to secure anyone for our desired time. This in and of itself wasn’t troubling, but we only found out about it by following up with a call to the front desk. They said that they had called the room, but that no one answered. We forgot to confirm whether the phones had voice mail services, but even if they didn’t, a note slipped under the door would have been appreciated. Given that there isn’t a dedicated staff at the spa, we highly recommend making appointments prior to your arrival.

87 / B+

ACCOMMODATIONS

Pronghorn is currently poised somewhere between a four and five star hotel. We booked a pair of Junior Suites for our two-night stay. Pronghorn is composed primarily of two-story residence villas ranging between two-to-four bedrooms. The Junior Suites are appended to a villa and take up only a portion of the ground floor – thus each Junior Suite shares a common wall with the villa and part of the villa is directly above the Junior Suite.

Pronghorn Club & Resort

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The room was spacious and featured high ceilings, and the design matched the thematic timber and stone found throughout the entire resort. The room was clean and up-to-date, with the only noticeable wear found in the towels.

Features included:

  • A king bed (rooms are not available with two queen beds)
  • A walk-in closet
  • A coat closet in the hallway
  • A gas fireplace
  • A small semi-private outdoor patio
  • A 32″ flat screen TV with a Bose surround-sound audio system integrated into the ceiling
  • Access to a free Wi-Fi connection within the room (a good thing, since cell coverage can be spotty)
  • A large bathroom with a freestanding shower, tub and double sink, and a toilet. If you are a hotel toiletries collector, you’ll be disappointed, as shampoo, conditioner and body wash are all in large dispensers mounted on the wall of the shower.
  • A kitchenette with a mini refrigerator (no minibar, but tea, coffee and bottles of water are provided free of charge), microwave and coffee maker

The biggest problem with the rooms (and what drove the rating down in this section) is the lack of insulation between the Junior Suite and the adjoining villa. Conversations could be clearly heard through the wall, and the thumping noise as people pace back and forth upstairs was enough to raise the dead (or at least someone who had just finally been able to fall asleep after the 3:30 A.M. alarm incident). Thankfully, the adjoining villa was unoccupied on the second night, providing for much more blissful slumber.


88 / B+

FITNESS CENTER

The Fitness Center at Pronghorn is located in the Clubhouse, so it was a short walk (about a block) from the room. It was of a respectable size and featured a good deal of natural light. There is no additional charge for use of the Fitness Center.

Pronghorn Club & Resort

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Features include:

  • Seven different cardio machines – 2 ellipticals, 2 treadmills, 2 steppers and 1 recumbent stationary bike
  • Individual televisions on each cardio machine – but no headsets were provided, so be sure to bring your own
  • Complimentary bottles of refrigerated water, as well as a water cooler with paper cups
  • Towels
  • A squat rack with a bench and a collection of plates
  • A rack of dumbbells
  • A pulley machine with a variety of handles
  • A collection of BOSU balance balls
  • Yoga mats for stretching or ab work.

N/A

SPA

Like the Fitness Center, the Spa is located in the Clubhouse, a short walk from our rooms. As we mentioned above, there is no permanent spa staff on site, and we were unsuccessful in our attempts to make massage appointments 24 hours in advance. As a result, we didn’t visit the spa and can’t comment on the facilities. We did visit the outdoor hot tub, which was also a short walk from our rooms. Pronghorn’s pool area features two hot tubs, one of which is set slightly apart and reserved for adults only.


88 / B+

PRO SHOP

Pronghorn Club & Resort

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The Pronghorn Pro Shop is good-sized, with a variety of logo gear available for men and women. They had a particularly strong selection of high-end clothing. The staff seemed a bit too preoccupied with helping someone spend untold riches from a store credit, but when they finally turned their attention toward us, they were helpful and pleasant…plus we happened to be there on a day when seemingly everything was twenty percent off. Score!


85 / B

FOOD

We sampled each of the three restaurants at Pronghorn. It’s a bit of a drive to anyplace off of the resort, so you’re pretty much stuck with what they have on site. Based upon our sampling, Auberge has yet to have upgraded the culinary options, so perhaps there will be improvement in the coming months. The prices were overall reasonable, even with the mandatory 20% service charge.

Pronghorn Club & Resort>

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  • Chanterelle – a fine dining restaurant located in the Clubhouse. We visited Chanterelle on our first night at Pronghorn. Our stay in early October was just at the end of their season, and we arrived at about 8:00 P.M. with no staff to be seen in the restaurant. After searching for a bit, we found someone and then were seated next to the only other occupied table in the dining room. The service was attentive and professional. We sampled the Spinach salad (which came in an enormous portion) and Braised Warm Beet salad to start, with the Crab Cakes and Halibut Cheeks (a special for the evening) as our entrees. Nothing struck us as being particularly flawed, but neither did anything stand out. Without any drinks, the total bill came to $100 without alcohol.
  • Cascada – the bar area with outdoor patio within the Clubhouse, offering a variety of small plates. As befits a bar, there are multiple flat-screen TVs along the wall that are tuned to sporting events. In two different meals at Cascada we tried nearly three-quarters of the menu. The Kobe Sliders, Deviled Eggs and Pot Stickers were all tasty – but skip the Spicy Chicken Wings, which came heavily battered and dry. Dinner there ran about $90 (no alcohol).
  • Trailhead Grill – a free-standing breakfast and lunch restaurant located across the parking lot from the Clubhouse. Trailhead Grill has a casual ski lodge feel to it, with wood everywhere. The Cinnamon French Toast was excellent, but the scrambled eggs were too dry. The Buttermilk Pancakes were slightly underdone, and the eggs over-easy overcooked. We think they might need a food-timer… The fresh-baked croissant was resplendent with butter – too much so for one of our diners, but just perfect for the other. Breakfast for two was $46.

92 / A-

INTEGRATION WITH GOLF COURSE

The resort does a fair job of integrating golf into your stay.

  • Golf Club Storage: Because our first tee time was at Tetherow, we didn’t drop off our clubs at Pronghorn until later in our stay. Since the resort is very auto-friendly, we just drove over to the Clubhouse and left them at the bag drop. The clubs were stored overnight and ready for us when we arrived at the course the next morning. When we were ready to leave, we just drove the car over to pick up the clubs, and thus didn’t test the efficiency of their bellboys in delivering them to the room.
  • Getting to the Course: The Pro Shop is located in the Clubhouse, which was about a 5 minute walk from our units. Both the Nicklaus and Fazio courses originate from and end at the Clubhouse.
  • Practice Facilities: Pronghorn has a full grass driving range, and there are multiple putting greens and a practice bunker.

91 / A-

VALUE

We booked the Nicklaus Stay and Play package for $514 (two nights), which included:

  • Two nights in a Junior Suite
  • Golf for one person at the Nicklaus Course
  • Forecaddie during the round (but gratuity for the forecaddie is not included)

A package can also be designed around the Fazio Course (which is only accessible to those staying at the resort – the Nicklaus Course is open to the general public). The typical greens fees on the Nicklaus Course are $175 per round, so the cost of the hotel works out to about $170/night. The pricing struck us as a pretty fair deal – it isn’t a five-star experience yet, but it was extremely pleasant.


Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain

Set in the high Sonoran desert against the Wild Burro Canyon, the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain requires that you expend a little effort to get there – it is a 45-minute drive from downtown Tucson, or in our case, a scenic 2-hour drive south from the Phoenix airport on I-10 that passed more dust devils, speed traps, and “adult boutiques” than we would have expected.

The Ritz-Carlton is comprised of a main hotel, spa, pools, and a group of more private villas set a short walk from the main buildings. The resort caters both to those on vacation as well as corporate events alike, with 209 guest rooms (plus 44 additional individual and casita suites), two main pools, a separate spa area (with yet another pool, adults-only), and four dining areas plus a “to-go” coffee and snack bar at the main resort. The golf course, featuring 27 Jack Nicklaus-designed holes, is located just a short shuttle ride away. The resort has more of a corporate feel than a cozy one, though it is certainly comfortable.

Our room was up-to-date and in good condition, with some minor quibbles, and of a good size. Rooms are available with different desert views, though be warned that what you select might not be quite what you expect (“Canyon View” = resort/pool view with canyon surrounding). Also take note of the restaurant areas when selecting your room as you might find, as we did, that having the Ignite restaurant and bar just below your room can mean noise later into the evening than you might want if you have an early tee time.

The adjoining spa is a well-maintained 17,000 square foot facility that features 10 treatment rooms, a full salon, fitness center, private pool and cabanas. Visitors who aren’t receiving a treatment can also pay a daily fee for use of the facilities (which we recommend). The spa pool isn’t to be missed, and is particularly enjoyable at sunset when you may have the run of the place prior to closing. The treatment rooms were, disappointingly, far from being as quiet as desired (see details under ‘SPA’).

The Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain is somewhat remote, and as a result will have greater appeal to certain people and less to others. With the Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain you get an exceptionally attentive and obliging staff, with very good accommodations. Some may prefer a resort that is within striking distance of more activities and dining options, but for a long weekend of golf and spa treatments, the Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain could be all that you need.

SCORE
92
GRADE
A-
Service
94
Accommodations
95
Fitness Center
88
Spa
92
Pro Shop
90
Food
91
Integration
87
Value
92

Expedia: View Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain offers

Pros:

  • Exceptional service
  • Great sunsets
  • High quality rooms
  • Water slide and a flautist

Cons:

  • Room views might not be what you expect, check the hotel map before booking
  • Can be a wait for the shuttle to and from the course
  • Rooms above the restaurant/bar can be loud

94/ A

SERVICE

The service at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain is what makes the resort stand out. The staff was exceptional throughout our trip, and all of our requests were met with a smile and willingness to help.

Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain Resort

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  • Checking In. We first gave our names to the friendly gate monitor as we entered the Ritz Carlton property, and when we pulled in to the hotel a few minutes later we were welcomed by name, setting the tone for the rest of our stay. As our car was valeted and golf clubs bustled away to the golf course, we were escorted to the reception desk and introduced to the desk staff and bellman who would assist us. There was no waiting to check-in, we were warmly welcomed and provided with our room keys, hotel information and shown to our room. Er, shown to multiple rooms (one of our traveling party is somewhat particular…which includes an insistence upon the quietest room available). The bellman carted out luggage around all the while with the smile, and the front desk staff was happy to help us find the right room. Soon after we settled in another member of the Ritz staff arrived with a snack of Prickly Pear Tonic and Mesquite Macaroons.
  • Housekeeping. The room itself was well maintained, though we were disappointed to find oil on the top of our bed sheets, and a large stain on one of the robe elbows. While this fell below what we expected at the premium price point that the Ritz commands, the housekeeping staff quickly and politely responded to our call to replace the sheets and bring another robe.
  • Concierge/Guest Services. Before our arrival the Ritz sent an email that provided information on the hotel and available activities, and provided a link to their “online concierge” service. Through this service you can request times for a variety of activities, in effect distributing your requests to the different Ritz teams, which will then contact you to confirm availability for your preferred time(s). Separate from this, we were also emailed by the Guest Recognition Coordinator, who offered personal assistance in arranging activities. If you have a number of requests (transportation, dinner reservations, golf tee times, spa, etc.) you may find it simpler to contact this coordinator for help. The email also pitched amenities for our arrival, including bottles of champagne ($197 for Veuve Clicquot), or a rose petal turn down service ($75). Not for us, but if you need it, these types of services are available. At the resort we used the Front Desk for all of our questions and assistance, from preferred hiking trails to mailing envelopes. There was never any waiting, and they always were able to help.

95 / A

ACCOMMODATIONS

The rooms we will describe as “Contemporary Southwestern”, and featured dark woods, rich fabrics and light stones. The guest rooms are all 450-511 square feet in size, and all include the same set of amenities. Suites are available with approximately double the space. And if you would like something a bit more exclusive, consider the Casitas (from one to multiple bedrooms), which are short walk from the main hotel and are a nice option for those looking for a bit more privacy. The balcony (included with all guest rooms), is more than large enough for a table and two chairs, and we found a wonderful place to start the morning with breakfast, as well as relax at the end of the day as the sun set and the flautist played in the distance. Oh, and watch the bats fly around.

Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain Resort

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If you are thinking “Canyon View” means a view of wilderness, you may be surprised to find yourself having to first look past the pool area and villas before reaching the view of the surrounding canyon. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still a nice view…but it might be more reasonably be called a “Canyon and Resort View”. The Canyon View rooms cost a bit more than the other views, which are of the mountains, partial resort, and the resort entry. Though we requested a quieter room at the timing of booking (which they can never guarantee), our room was above the Ignite restaurant and bar, which made it louder than we would have liked in the evening (hey, you have to get drunk and tell your golf stories somewhere I guess…). If you are looking for something more tranquil, be sure to request a room at the end of one of the wings of the hotel (learn the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain hotel map), or consider a room with a different view (though we did pass on a Mountain View room that overlooked the men’s hot tub area in the spa (not kidding)).

Other features included:

  • One king bed
  • Two chairs and a small table
  • A 42″ flat screen HD TV
  • Small walk-in closet
  • A good sized bathroom with small television, large tub, double sinks, and separate rooms with opaque glass for a shower and toilet
  • iPod docking station/clock AM/FM/alarm
  • Ritz-Carlton branded soap, lotion and shampoo

88 / B+

POOL AND FITNESS CENTER

The pools are the main hub of the hotel during the day, and are open 24 hours a day if you are looking to cool off in the evening as well. The main pool is occupied mostly by adults, complete with chairs that sit in a shallow end, which is just the ticket for a relaxing afternoon. The second pool, located in a lower level of the resort adjacent to the main pool, is more family-friendly, featuring a water slide (fun for adults too) and multiple pool areas for kids and adults, along with surrounding cabanas. We found the staff slightly less attentive by the main pools, though we did appreciate the complimentary crushed ice treats they would offer. Both pool areas can get reasonably full during the days, and though we always found chairs available, the adults-only pool at the spa (see ‘SPA’, below) is worth considering if you want something quieter.

Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain Resort

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The hotel has a basic fitness center, consisting of an equipment room with cardio machines and weights, and an exercise room next door, both located just off the main lobby of the hotel and open 24/7 (not staffed). The equipment room is quite simple in look and feel, and is made up of 6 elliptical machines, 6 treadmills, 3 stationary bikes, 8 Precor machines, and dumbbells. Private personal training and yoga sessions are available (reservations required). Classes in the fitness room includes pilates and yoga, with water aerobics classes available in the pool. Neither the equipment room or exercise room offers much in the way of views. No locker room is attached, but the spa (and its locker room) is just a few steps away.

In addition to the fitness center and pool, there are also four tennis courts located next to the golf course just a short drive from the main building. Both the fitness center and tennis courts are part of the required daily “Resort Activity Package” fee (see details in ‘Value’, below).


92 / A-

SPA

The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain spa, while adjoining the hotel, has an independent entrance accessed by first exiting the hotel. The full use of spa facilities is available to guests who are having a spa treatment on that day or can also be purchased for $25/day. The staff kindly waived our fee for day use of the spa facilities the day following our treatment as we had booked the last massage time before close.

Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain Resort

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The spa features an entryway with a reception desk for checking in for appointments – a small assortment of retail goods are also available for purchase. The locker room includes both wet and dry saunas, an outdoor hot tub (with fireplace), and a quiet area with lounge chairs where patrons can relax and wait to be called for their massages. The hotel is curiously designed such that parts of it overlook the hot tub and spa areas. As a result, bathing suits are required in this area, even though it is not coed.

Outside of the locker room are the coed waiting area, treatment rooms, and a beautiful pool and hot tub set against the mountain. If you are looking to get away from the busier main pools, this is a wonderfully relaxing place to spend the day and we highly recommend it even if you aren’t having a spa treatment. It was also phenomenal at sunset, when we had the place to ourselves just prior to closing. The spa has a limited food menu available, which allows guests to build their own lunch of a salad, sandwich/entrée and dessert, from a selection of light and healthy options.

Our largest complaint was the amount of sound that could be heard during the massage. All of the treatment rooms are unfortunately directly accessed directly from a small courtyard that guests pass through when leaving the locker room and walking to the spa pool. We could hear people talking right outside the room throughout our massage as they either stood in the courtyard or walked past. Though our massage was above average in quality (50 minutes for $150 or 90 minutes for $210), the noise was distracting throughout. The design seems very poorly thought out and is unlike any other spa we have visited, where treatment rooms are generally accessed through dedicated quiet hallways to minimize ambient noise. Compare this to our experience at the Encore spa in Las Vegas for example, which is significantly larger and has far more guests, but at which we could hear not a peep from adjoining rooms or hallway during our spa treatment.


90 / A-

PRO SHOP

Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain

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The Pro Shop, located within the Clubhouse is a good-sized facility with flat-screen televisions, a fireplace, and a good selection of hats, balls and clothing with the Dove Mountain logos. The Pro Shop seemed relatively lightly staffed during our stay, so there can be a bit of a wait to check-in for your tee time if other guests are loading up on Dove Mountain gear.


91 / A-

FOOD

Within the resort there are four main dining areas. This includes two restaurants within the hotel, (as well as a “To Go” bar), one just off the main pool, and another restaurant at the golf course. The environment, food quality and service among the restaurants varied widely, from the exceptional to the mediocre.

  • CORE. Our experience at CORE was at the top of the list. Located on the ground floor of the hotel, CORE features a contemporary, slightly more formal setting (though we were unfortunately seated in a largely empty room next to a guest that was busy tippy-tapping on their computer for the duration of the meal in an otherwise relatively quiet setting), with service that was exceptional. For dinner our first night we sampled the Ahi Tuna ($14) and Roasted Baby Beet Salad ($12), followed by a Vegetarian Polenta (an off-menu request that they accommodated without hesitation; $24) and Pan-Seared Salmon ($28), which was enjoyable but a bit heavy on the relish. We enjoyed our appetizers and entrees, and capped off the meal with the Apple Cobbler ($9). Service was exceptional, with even the manager stopping by during our meal to see if we were enjoying ourselves. CORE also serves breakfast, and brunch on Sundays. Note that if you opt for the breakfast package, you’ll be able to select from the CORE menu. We opted for in-room dining on our patio, which was a great way to start the day. Dinner reservations are recommended.
  • Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain Resort

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  • Ignite. After our round of golf our second day we enjoyed a late snack on the patio at Ignite surrounded by fire pits and live music (Thursday to Saturday). Set within and just off the main lobby, Ignite offers a basic bar menu. The service was flawless and while our food was acceptable, the informal setting and fire pits are the draw. We tried a pair of sliders ($10) and chopped salad ($14), along with the avocado fries ($6), which might sound intriguing (who doesn’t like fries or avocado?), but we recommend avoiding. Ignite serves both lunch and dinner. Reservations are not required.
  • Turquesa Grill. Located poolside is traditional Latin fare at the Turquesa Grill. The family-friendly restaurant is open for lunch through the early evening only, and offers casual fare consisting of wraps, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, and appetizers. A light lunch of three small steak tacos ($15) and some guacamole ($9) was fine, though the staff seemed rather ambivalent to us and service was spotty both at the tables at the restaurant and while sitting by the pool. It is, however, an easy way to grab lunch while lounging poolside or between water slide rides (yes, we did partake). The Ritz also has joined the food truck craze with their Roadrunner Food Truck, which we spotted once during our three-day stay located just a few steps from Turquesa, offering a variety of drinks, “bites” and ice cream depending on the day and season.
  • Cayton’s. Cayton’s offers American food at the clubhouse. Given the proximity to the hotel, this is another option for either lunch or dinner, even if you are not hitting the course. We had a light meal there as we watched the sunset, though the service was only fair (as was our $11 shrimp quesadilla), and far from the level of the main hotel , though the staff was extremely polite. There is seating both indoors and out, with a fire pit next to the outdoor tables, and an attractive main dining room and bar. Cayton’s offered the best view among the resort restaurants, so it may be worth visiting just to enjoy a desert sunset. Depending on the day of the week, Cayton’s also features other activities such as stargazing and live music as well.
  • We didn’t have an opportunity to try the sushi bar, available on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, located off the main lobby next to Ignite, or TO/GO bar, which offers coffee, smoothies and other beverages and treats (everyone needs some gelato to cool off on a hot Arizona day), and regularly had a line of guests who were starting their day.


    87 / B+

    INTEGRATION WITH GOLF COURSE

    A short drive down the road from the main hotel is the 27-hole Golf Club at Dove Mountain, home of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

    • Golf Club Storage: The bell team can transfer your clubs from the hotel for storage at the course. For our first day of golf, our clubs were waiting on carts as we arrived for our tee. The second day the clubs were still in storage, though the staff was quick to retrieve them.
    • Getting to the Course: The Golf Course and Clubhouse are just a few minute shuttle ride from the hotel. Shuttles run fairly regularly, though we found it always best to mention to the nearest staff that you are waiting for a shuttle. We had one occasion when we were left waiting for about 15-20 minutes at the Clubhouse (after multiple check-ins with the woman at the front desk of Cayton’s restaurant at the Clubhouse). You can also drive to the course, but given the proximity, it is easier to simply take the shuttle.
    • Practice Facilities: The course offers a full practice range and multiple putting areas.

    Oh, and if you are taken with the course but the hotel just isn’t enough for you, there are numerous (and we do mean numerous – it was clear that the planned community around the golf course took a beating with the market) opportunities to purchase a lot right on the course at The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain. Just remember to send us a housewarming invitation.


    92 / A-

    VALUE

    Our Canyon View room runs approximately $300-$525/night depending on the day of the week and the season. A required “Resort Activity Package” will add another $40 a night. This fee covers valet parking, shuttle service to the golf course and tennis courts, Wi-Fi access, and business center (again, someone needs to explain to us (and the FTC) why hotels think that we haven’t caught on to their pricing smoke and mirrors). Room price generally varies depending on the available view. Room prices are certainly on the high end, and there are Suites offered that can break the bank, but in the world of Ritz resorts, this is about average. Resort fee taxes will bring your total for most guest rooms to a range of $400-$650 per night. If you’re flush with Marriott points, don’t forget Marriott and Ritz-Carlton are part of the same family, so points are interchangeable!

    Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain Resort

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    There are, of course, a number of packages available as well. We selected a breakfast package (which you can use at the CORE restaurant or for in-room dining). Take the time to do the math, as we have found that some hotel packages (and golf packages in particular) fail to provide any significant savings versus a-la-carte purchases. A tip to save a few dollars versus the packages or booking golf upon arrival: book your tee times in advance via the Ritz website and you’ll be able to see the available times along with pricing (which can vary higher and lower even within a particular hour; for example, the 10:20AM tee time may have a higher price than the 10:10 or 10:30 time).

    At an all-in price of $400/night for the least expensive room, the Ritz Dove Mountain stacks up reasonably in terms of value versus other high-end resorts. Given the location, odds are that most visitors to Ritz Dove Mountain won’t leave the resort for the duration of their stay (Phoenix is a 45 minute drive away), so don’t forget to factor in the other expenses that you will incur for food and extras. And toss in $25 or so a day for a more peaceful experience at the spa pool if you would like some quiet child-free time, which we felt was certainly worth the additional fee.

    The service and well-maintained resort are what you are paying for when at the Ritz. Some may prefer a resort that is within striking distance of more activities and dining options, but for a long weekend of golf and spa treatments, the Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain could be all that you need.