Millwoods Golf Club (Golf Course Review)

Millwoods Golf Club (Golf Course Review)

The City of Edmonton operates a few of their own golf courses sprinkled throughout the city, and while we may think of them as being run down, neglected courses, this is not the case.

The Millwoods Golf Club is a nice course inside the city, and one that is perfect for beginners, given its wide open fairways and lack of hazards throughout the course.

millwoods2The course is located just past the Millwoods Park, a popular destination for families in the area during the summer time. But the course is tucked away behind all the picnics and screaming kids, and offers a nice, secluded area to play for the day. The clubhouse is warm and friendly, housing a great staff that is very kind and helpful. It is nice to see a clubhouse where the people inside know things about golf, and care about the sport, making them able to either help you with any questions, or joke around with you. There were no surly teen workers texting away to be seen here.

The rates at Millwoods are very reasonable. I paid $56 for 18 holes and a power cart, which is a great price. I did receive a $10 discount on my green fees as they had recently aerated the greens (which ended up being fine, it did not affect my terrible putting one way or another).

At the first hole, there is a starter who is there to tell you when to go, and she did a good job of making sure all was in order. She will also offer you a complimentary bottle of water. This was welcomed, since it was one of the smoking hot days of the Edmonton summer in which we decided to play there.

As I said, the course is very wide-open, which is perfect for the golfer who wants to play, but doesn’t want to lose 10 balls over the course of the round. Even with my impressive hooked shots, I didn’t lose a single ball during the day, which is always nice. The rough is not too surly, and can be fairly forgiving if you are not dead-on with your tee shots.

millwoodsOne great thing about this course was that it wasn’t very busy. Granted, I golfed there during a weekday, but at one point, the beer cart girl told us that we were the only people on the back nine. This is always nice, allowing you to play at your own pace, and not feel the pressure from the people behind you. We started behind a foursome, but with the starter being sure to space things out nicely, we never ran into them again, and never needed to wait for them at another hole. This freedom makes for an extra relaxing day.

The views on the course are not the most beautiful you will find in the city, that is for sure, but this is a public course that serves the purpose of letting people play golf in a relaxed environment on a not-overly challenging course.

The greens were the roughest part of the course, as they had been recently aerated, leaving them hard and fast. As I mentioned, my putting is atrocious, but the speed of the greens often made them difficult to read. Aside from that, they are pretty straightforward, with very little break on the majority of the holes.

In all, for the price, Millwoods golf course is a great place to play. Higher end players will be able to put up some of their career best scores, and newer players will be able to play without absolutely lighting up the scoreboard.

I would definitely recommend Millwoods Golf Course, especially for those who live close, on the south side of town.

Sherwood Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

Sherwood Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

Sherwood Golf and Country Club is a 9-hole course located in Sherwood Park, Alberta, just off Wye Road on Range Road 233.

The first indication I got of the quality of this course was the very poor signage leading up to it. There is nothing on Wye Road indicating a course coming up, and I passed the exit I needed (also, I hate the road signs in Sherwood Park, so hard to read from a distance). Once you are going down the Range Road, you will come to a strangely placed roundabout, which finally provides the first indication of the course. The course itself isn’t viewed from the road, but the big, dusty parking lot is, and the shanty/clubhouse is sort of seen from behind the poorly organized cars in the lot.

Inside the plain clubhouse, the service is quite slow, as the employees seemed to get confused quite easily. While our tee times were approaching, the girl at the counter took several minutes to figure out that she didn’t make a tee time for the group in front of me in the first place, probably why she was having trouble finding it for them. So, eventually she decided to make them a tee time. Makes sense. It took a while for me to simply pay for my round. There was a distinctive lack of friendliness from her as I paid.

That was the worst part about the round. Poor signage getting there, and poor, very slow service inside. Aside from that, the round started promisingly.

sherwoodThere is a starter on the first hole, but he seemed equally as confused as to who was up at what time as the people inside the shop, so he was not exactly needed. We worked it out with the other players, and got our round underway.

The course itself it quite nice. The holes are generally well taken care of, and the greens were in great shape. There was a couple spots of standing water from the rains the day before, but nothing serious. There were also a couple of muddy places that really needed some work, but generally, the fairways were nice, the rough is definitely not too intimidating, there is a decent number of white sand bunkers along the way, and some nice rolling hills on a couple of the holes.

They really pack people in there with their tee times, however, which causes waits at nearly every hole. They should consider expanding the time between players, so you won’t need to have three groups waiting on a par-5. The player skill level, from what I saw, was not the highest at this course, so you could be stuck behind the group that takes three shots to get it past the tee boxes (not that my game is anything to write home about). This level of player probably comes from the very reasonable price of $26 for nine holes.

The difficulty on this course is not high. There are hazards, like some forest, many bunkers, and the occasional water that pops in and out of the course, but they are not crippling, and are generally pretty easy to avoid. I managed to play the whole round while only losing one ball, a rarity in my game.

There are definitely issues at Sherwood Golf and Country Club that could easily be fixed. Some signs, a competent and organized staff, a little more love on fixing the parts that need repair, a couple of extra minutes between tee times, and maybe a net that protects drives from the highway on hole #2. It doesn’t take much of a slice to send a ball screaming into the traffic, which is dangerous for everybody involved.

If you are a drinker, the advantage of a nine-hole course is that the beer cart girl is much more present than on a full course. During our round, she came by three or four times, which is great. She was very friendly. The marshall will typically do a couple of laps as well.

I don’t think that I would go running back to this golf course. It is decent, but I feel that there are better options out there, for a similar price. There are parts of the course that look really nice, and you can tell where they put all of their money in. The green on the ninth hole has a nice little bridge leading over water to it, which looks great. Many of the later holes are lined by massive houses, which gives the impression of the country club feel, and makes the course look that much more impressive. But, probably not enough to get me back.

Battle Lake Park (Campground Review)

Battle Lake Park (Campground Review)

About 10 kilometers west of Ma-Me-O Beach lies Battle Lake, a pleasant, and usually calm, lake that provides a solid alternative to the much larger, and busier, Pigeon Lake. Battle is a long, and thin lake, where you can easily see the shore across from you, but will have to spend some time making it from one end to the other.

The main place to stay is at Battle Lake Park, a decent little campground that is actually kind of tough to find, due to poor signage in the area. It’s maybe a 10-15 minute drive from the Pigeon Lake Village, down some of the gravel roads off the main highway.

The boat launch area.
The boat launch area.

Here are the good and bad about the campsite:

The Good

  1. Lots of spots (about 40) for trailers.
  2. There is an indoor washroom, if you don’t want to brave the outhouse for an extended number of days.
  3. Free firewood, which saves a lot of money.
  4. Proximity to Edmonton. It is only about a 45-minute drive away, which is nice.
  5. The lake itself is solid. The waters are usually calm, and it is not infested with boats. There is plenty of space. There are often canoes or dingies out there fishing, which speaks to the calmness of the lake.
  6. The fishing is pretty good. There is a zero limit on walleye, however, which is unfortunate, because you can catch some pretty decent ones out there. You can keep jackfish if they meet the length requirements.
  7. The day use area has a small little beach, some spaces for cooking, and some grass to lounge on. Battle Lake isn’t nearly as busy as other places, so there always seems to be lots of room for people just out for the day. The water is a decent temperature during the day.
  8. Some of the camping (tenting) sites allow you to park your boat in the water right at your site. This is extremely convenient, but only available at a few of the dozen campsites.
  9. $25/night is reasonable.
  10. Closeness to Pigeon Lake Village. If you forgot anything and feel like overpaying for it, you aren’t far away.
  11. All tent sites are right on the water. There may be trees in the way, but it is right there. You aren’t buried in a forest at Battle Lake.

battle3The Bad

  1. The price is per unit, meaning if you have two tents, all of a sudden you’re paying $50/night. This is not good, and that is too expensive for this campground. At that rate, you might as well just take up extra camping spots instead of putting up two tents on one site. Then you would get double the space.
  2. Some of the tent spots are just field, with trees obscuring the view to the lake. Others provide you with direct access to the water. Choose well!
  3. All tent sites are in a long row. This means that you will have people walking past you all day. Only a mild nuisance, but one nonetheless.
  4. The owner is not the friendliest man.
  5. There seems to be very little upkeep to the sites when there are not people there. Meaning, the fire pits are consistently filling up with ash, the sites are littered with goose feces, and other minor problems that could be fixed with some TLC by management to make for a more pleasant camping experience. I understand that geese make a mess, but if there was someone cleaning up now and then, it would allow you to set up without having to take an hour cleaning up bird crap before putting any of your belongings on the ground.
  6. Not much for privacy. Because the sites are in a row along the lake, you had better hope your neighbors are cool. Sound travels, and you will be seeing a lot of them.
  7. Unloading your stuff. If you are in the first couple of sites, you are okay. You have to haul all of your stuff from the parking lot, which is extremely inconvenient. We load everything in our boat and drive it up to the site. Much easier, if you have a site with boat access. It can be painful watching people make 20 trips to get all their stuff to one of the distant sites.
  8. Pay showers. If you want to get clean, bring loonies.
  9. Cash only, no change. The owner will not make change for you, claiming that he “never carries cash,” even though all he accepts is cash. Make sure you have the right bills to pay for your stay.
  10. No power at the site, including for RVs and trailers. If you need it, you’ll need a generator.
  11. Parking. There simply isn’t enough spots for people tenting. Even though people aren’t supposed to park there for day use, they do. This leaves the possibility of having to park near the entrance to the camp site, which is a long ways from where your tent would be.

The Battle Lake campground has its issues. By no means is a perfect place to camp, but some of its advantages are worth the trip. Going during the week would be nice, to avoid some of the crowded problems, but in the end, this really is a quiet alternative to Pigeon Lake. I’ve never seen all the tenting sites filled up, which is always good. With a few minor adjustments, this campground could be extremely good. For now, it is simply okay, and a decent place for a quick escape from the city.

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Part of the Boston experience is so uniquely intertwined with the Boston Red Sox experience. You need to try and take it all in, in one of the cities that truly is a baseball-first place. In a massive market like Boston, there are plenty of sporting options. The Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, Revolution, all take their draws from the citizens of the city.

But no draw compares to the popularity of the Red Sox.

Based on this, the Fenway area of Boston is one that must be visited when in town. A big part of this, are the sports bars that surround the legendary Fenway Park, the largest being the Cask n’ Flagon.

caskThe Cask n’ Flagon does what sports bars are supposed to do. It offers a wide selection of bar food, and a really strong list of beers to keep you entertained while the game is on the multitude of TVs placed around the bar.

First, a couple of negatives from my trip there.

  • The lines are really long on game days. Be aware of that if you plan to go when the Sox are playing at home. I was there when they were on the road, so it wasn’t an issue.
  • The TVs aren’t as big as they should have, or could have been. For a bar that thrives on sports, there should be some monster screens in there, in my opinion.
  • The staff couldn’t seem to figure out how to get the Red Sox game on. Seriously? The place was packed with people, there specifically to watch the game. And it took them nearly an inning to figure out which channel it was on, and how to get their TVs to the right place.
  • We ordered some wings. They forgot to place that order. After watching tables around us get the food they ordered, and an hour having passed, we finally asked about them. Our waiter was very apologetic, and we did get our wings. On the house. With some extra wings on there. This is excellent service, and they more than corrected their mistake.

Some of the good.

  • They fixed their mistake, and not having to pay for the wings was an added bonus.
  • The wings were actually incredibly delicious and filling.
  • Very good beer selection, especially for a sports bar. And quite reasonably priced.
  • Huge establishment, with tons of seating to help deal with their game day crowds.
  • A fairly attentive staff, definitely friendly.

The Cask n’ Flagon does not merit a special trip or anything, but if you are in the area, it is a good, sports-centric place to pop in for a beer and a snack, maybe before or after a game, or when the Sox are on the road and you want to watch the game surrounded by their fans.

Eating Boston: Cheers

Eating Boston: Cheers

Of course, as a tourist in Boston, you want to go where everybody knows your name.

As one of the main spots on the tourist trail in the city, it speaks volumes about the lasting impression that the TV series Cheers had on people. It was one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, and people still love it.

cheersThe exteriors of the show are based on the Bull and Finch pub in the Boston Back Bay area, and walking up to it, it looks exactly as it did on the TV show. The insides, however, are not the same. Even though the Bull and Finch has officially changed its name to Cheers, it is not the same bar when you walk inside, but you should know that before going in. There is a replica bar elsewhere in the city. This is just the place that served as the inspiration for the show. Walking down the stairs, you hear the theme song to the show. Not just in your head, but actually. They have it playing constantly down the stairs, so you definitely know where you are.

It is still a really good bar, though. Of course, we sat up at the bar, next to the spot that has been deemed “Norm’s spot.” There is a nice selection of local beers here, along with some regular American classics that you see everywhere else. The food is pretty basic, all named after characters from the show, but it tastes good. It is definitely your average bar fare, as Cheers was supposed to be the average American bar.

cheers2There is a good atmosphere inside the place, which is much smaller than I remember it being from a previous trip to Boston. There is a good crowd (mainly tourists, of course), and it really is a good place to go for a pint or two after work, or after a day of touring around the city. The prices are fair, and thankfully not over-inflated knowing that the majority if the patronage is from out of town and looking to have a drink at a place made so famous by the long running TV series.

The staff was very friendly, and efficient. Our bartender was fast at refilling our drinks, and engaging in regular bar conversation.

Overall, Cheers is a good place to go, and for fans of the show, you definitely need to stop in and have a beer.

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

For baseball diamonds, Fenway Park was always the ultimate destination. It was the one place I had to see games, no matter what. It was a bucket list item. Fenway is home to the Boston Red Sox, my favorite baseball team, the team I have cheered with for years, being fortunate enough to watch them through three glorious World Series runs.

And it did not disappoint.

On the streets of Boston, Fenway is nestled in there, almost unnoticeable until you are standing right in front of it. It is not a gargantuan behemoth of engineering placed far away from the city, surrounded by parking lots and a couple of bars. It is right in the heart of it all, lined by the famous Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street, which is chock full of bars and restaurants, all geared towards the Red Sox crowd. From the outside, you see the green that has been made so famous by the ancient stadium (going on year 102 now).

And you simply can’t wait to get inside.

I took the ballpark tour, because, come on, this is Fenway. The tour was good, and the guide was an excellent source of knowledge, telling stories about the park and about the teams that had played there.

monsterFirst walking into the stands behind home plate, you have arrived. You stare out at the field, you look at the Green Monster in left field. You see Pesky’s Pole out in right, the famous scoreboard on the Monster, the current AL East standings, the signs for W.B. Mason. It is all so iconic, and it takes a moment to stand there, take it all in, take your pictures.

The tour was good, taking us to some of the most memorable and historic parts of the park. The ancient stands, the bleachers and the lonely red seat (which denotes the longest home run hit inside Fenway, by none other than Ted Williams), the press box, the outdoor patio high above left field, the Red Sox museum, and of course, the seats on top of the Green Monster, which have become the most coveted tickets in all of baseball.

The only disappointing thing about the tour was that we didn’t go to the locker rooms, or onto the field. This is understandable, as it was the day before Opening Day, but still…to stand on the shale of Fenway would have been something incredible. For $17, the tour was a good way to spend a little over an our, in the baseball cathedral that is this park.

My initial impression, walking up that ramp to see the field for the first time, was that this park is small! Fenway is intimate, and this only adds to the lustre of the place. It is not a mega-stadium that sits fifty-some-thousand. It is a small place, where fans gather to cheer for their beloved Sox. The beautiful thing about the smallness of the park, is that there is not a bad seat in the house. Wherever you are, even though it may seem like miles away from home plate, you still get a really strong view of the game. That is, of course, unless you are stuck with one of the obstructed view seats, but you would know that going into it.

 

The view from the back of the stadium.
The view from the back of the stadium. (not my photo)

The seats: I was lucky enough to be in Boston for Opening Day 2014, where the champs raised their banners and got their rings, celebrating an amazing season that culminated in an almost improbable World Series win last October. I will write a separate post on Opening Day itself, so for this one I will stick to the stadium. For Opening Day, we sat in the bleachers, section 62 (same section as the red seat), row 50 (actually the last row in the place). Tickets cost us $30 (we were lucky enough to buy them at face value before going to Boston, on StubHub before the game, those seats were going for close to $200- Opening Day!). Despite being as far from home plate as possible in right field, the seats were still great, and this speaks to how intimate the stadium is. There was a good view of the action on the field, and although you can’t call balls and strikes from that far away, it is still pretty awesome. You can soak in all the views from the bleachers, watch as balls ring off the Monster, and see the plays made in the infield with amazing clarity.

The seats, for being the bleachers, were pretty comfortable, and you are never too far from a beer stand, concession, or washroom. There is definitely a passionate fan base that sits in the bleachers, which gives the game more personality than it already has. I have never been to a sporting event where the fans are as knowledgeable as they were in Boston. They love baseball, and they LOVE baseball. It was amazing. No fair weather, just checking out a game because it sounds fun crowd here. The people of Boston live and breathe the Red Sox. I loved this.

Fenway_Park05The Monster: For the second home game of the season, of course we needed to sit on the Monster. This was a life goal, and both of us were pretty giddy to actually be able to get seats. Since we hadn’t initially planned on a second game, this one was more last minute. We paid $90 for standing room tickets on the Monster, for a night game on Saturday night. Even before getting there, we knew it would be worth it. And we were not disappointed.

There is no better place to watch a game than from the Monster seats. Standing room, while it sounds like a massive inconvenience, was actually kind of perfect. It gives you the chance to move around (which was great, considering it was bone chillingly cold that night). There are under 300 seats and standing spots on the Monster, so it is like a little community up there. There are two concessions just for the Monster people, with beers and Monster dogs (definitely better than the Fenway Franks!), and very close access to a bathroom. For those going for standing room, get there earlier than you normally might, claim your spot, and enjoy. Plus, if you are on the Monster, you really need to get there for batting practice, as the odds of snagging a home run ball are pretty good. All standing room seats are lined up against a bar, where you can lean, and rest your food and drinks. It makes the whole standing thing much more comfortable, as you don’t have to stand awkwardly in one position for hours at a time.

On the Monster, there were some of the nicest, and well-educated, fans I had been around. We made friends with all of the people in our standing section, and looked out for one another by saving spots when they would have to go to the washroom, top up a beer, or need to walk to warm up. Out little piece of the Monster was a nice one, and the great people made this one of the most fun ball games I have ever been to.

The views from on top of the most famous wall in baseball are incredible. In the crisp, cool night of April baseball, under the lights of Fenway, you see it all. You are on top of the action, and even closer to it than I would have thought. You look down at the left fielder, you see the pitches clearly (which makes yelling at the umps easier), and you are literally on top of the action.

If you are planning on going to Fenway as a vacation, see a game from the Monster. Despite the steeper prices, you will not regret it. Apparently standing room tickets are normally about $60, which is well worth it. Plus, as it was freezing cold, and the game ended up going in to extra innings, we ended up with Monster seats for about half the game, as some who were not as prepared for the temperatures ended up leaving early. Since it was so frosty, we still ended up standing, but we had moved closer to the famed edge of the Monster, and it was glorious. Plus, it gave us the chance to sit if our legs were feeling tired.

Prices:¬†It is not cheap to go to Fenway. But I’m sure there isn’t anybody out there who are hoping for a cheap night out by going there. Beers cost nearly $9 for a can, a Fenway Frank is $5 (they are not large), and a Monster Dog is $9 (but good!). The service is fast and friendly.

champsAtmosphere: Simply put, there is no better place to watch baseball than at Fenway Park. Period.

The combination of the team, the city, the fans, the knowledge, the history, and the ballpark all make Fenway THE place to see a game.

The surrounding area: Is there more famous streets that surround a ballpark? Yawkey Way is the place to be on game day. The bars are lined up around the block, and the street is jammed full of people, elbow-to-elbow. There is a buzz there that is unprecedented in my experience. I can’t even imagine it during the playoffs. There are plenty of options for food and drink before and after the game. Either get there early (most places were open at 8:30 AM for Opening Day), or be prepared to wait in line for a decent amount of time. It is cool, because everybody is there for the same reason: because they love baseball, and they love the Red Sox.

Final Comments: Having the opportunity to fly across the country to watch baseball is one that I am grateful for. Seeing a game at Fenway really was a dream come true, and getting to see two was just adding to the perfection. Leaving the park after the end of the 11th inning on Saturday night, I simply thought to myself that I can’t wait to go back.

At the Ballpark: PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)

At the Ballpark: PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)

I want to visit every ballpark in the major leagues. And having been to a small handful already, I think I have found the one that will stand as the one to beat: PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

An incredible view.
An incredible view.

For 20 years, the Pirates have been an awful team, but they began to enjoy a rebirth over the past couple of seasons. They threatened a couple of times with solid first halves, before falling off the map in the home stretch.

Then, last year, finally, the Pirates returned to the playoffs. They won the 1-game playoff and eventually lost to the eventual National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, but the city was swept up in Pirates fever for the first time since the early 1990’s. That is a long time for a town to go between playoff appearances. Even longer to go without having a decent team.

Years of penny pinching and trading away their best players seemed to work out for the team, as a stellar bullpen and young players playing their best and coming together at the right time brought the fans back to the park.

And PNC is one hell of a place to watch baseball.

I was lucky enough to get to do a park tour the day before the game, and it is a wonderful place. The details that went into building it, down to the original rivulets, is truly impressive. Wandering through the suites, and the pressbox was really cool, a way to see how the other half lives. Then we got to go down in to the depths of the stadium, where the dressing rooms are, the batting cage, and eventually, wandering into the dugout and onto the majestic field itself. Standing on a major league ball diamond is something truly amazing, to see the field in the same way that the players see it, and to feel the shale crunch beneath your feet. This was something unforgettable for me.

As far as the game itself went, it was extremely exciting. The fans were great, all clad in black and yellow, and they were there, fired up for their team. This was during the 2012 season, and the Pirates were still very much in the hunt when I saw them. The people of Pittsburgh were fired up. The park is beautiful, and after so many losing years, the prices was right. A $40 ticket got me fifth row seats behind the visitors dugout (they were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks), on the first base side. Couldn’t ask for better seats, and as I arrived, I was even surprised by how good they were. I wasn’t expecting them to be that close.

Standing room only for the young, exciting team.
Standing room only for the young, exciting team.

On my trip, I had lived off junk for too long, so I didn’t have a hot dog at the park, but I did indulge in a few beers with the friendly people in my section. They were nice people, and they made the game that much more entertaining, as we cheered for the Bucs together, dove for foul balls at the same time (made it on the big screen and on the local broadcast!), and roared as the Jolly Roger was raised at the end of the game, to signify a Pirates victory.

I loved everything about my experience at PNC. Great employees, very friendly ushers, a mascot that was fun and not obnoxious, and a young, exciting product on the field all made for a great night. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the view…

Looking in from the river.
Looking in from the river.

Looking into the outfield of PNC Park is one of the best sights in the majors. Downtown Pittsburgh sits across the Allegheny River, and a couple of the yellow bridges that cross the river sit in the beautiful view. It is something beautiful to behold, yet another city that has done it right with the location of their ball park.

The whole area around PNC is also perfectly done, as there is a long cluster of nearby bars and restaurants ready to handle the pre- and post-game crowds. A short walking distance away is Heinz Field, home of the legendary Steelers. The setup is similar to that of Seattle, with the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums being right next door to one another.

Pittsburgh is a surprisingly awesome town, and I was glad that I had the chance to visit there. It was even better having a hotel across the street from the ballpark, but that was an indulgence I would not be able to afford every time.

PNC Park, in my opinion, is my favorite ball park I have visited so far, and it is one that I would truly love to go back to in the future.