Geeked on Golf

A Celebration of the People & Places that Make Golf the Greatest Game


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Exploring America’s Great Golf Clubs

As the pre-season comes to an end, and the rainy days in Chicago delay the start of the peak season, I find myself reflecting on the year-to-date, which has already been filled with great golf adventures.  My favorite experience thus far was my visit to Calusa Pines.  The course at Calusa Pines, created by the design team of Hurdzan & Fry, is a marvel of architecture, engineering and natural beauty – my photos from the day are below.  The Calusa Pines Golf Club is much more than the course though, and that is what makes it so special.

What makes a golf club great?  Certainly, in order to be great, a club must have an outstanding golf course.  A top-notch course is not enough to make a club truly great though, especially for the discerning golf geek.  Great clubs resonate at a deeper level – they evoke the spirit of the game.

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of visiting several modern golf clubs in addition to Calusa Pines that have stood out to me for their all-around greatness – The Kingsley Club, Boston Golf Club, and Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club.  They have common characteristics, which can be linked back to the progenitors of the modern golf club.

Exploring the lineage and elements of greatness begins in the early-1990s at two clubs with the dreams of two men – Dick Youngscap and Mike Keiser.  At Sand Hills Golf Club and The Dunes Club, respectively, each man realized his vision of being able to get away from the demands of the workaday world to play the kind of golf they wanted to play, among kindred spirits.

Architecturally, Sand Hills and The Dunes Club were rejections of the chest-thumping “championship” golf of the Fazio-Nicklaus-Jones era that was prevalent at that time.  The courses were built on sandy land and inspired by the best of the architecture of the British Isles, as well as the American golden age.  These courses were the spark that lit the fire of modern minimalism.

Culturally, the clubs are a reflection of their benevolent dictator founders.  They are exclusive, but not exclusionary.  Those members and guests who “get it” are welcomed and encouraged to get lost on fields of play that delight the senses, challenge the skills, and fill the heart with golf geeky joy.  Days of play are complemented with relaxed times of camaraderie around patio tables and fire pits.  Ego and pretense have no place, and those seeking opulence are happily pointed in other directions.

Sand Hills and The Dunes Club feel both polished and personal at the same time. The love that has been poured into them by their founders, architects, and staff is palpable.  It is that love of the game and fellow players that inspired the follow-on generation of club founders and members.

THE KINGSLEY CLUB

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On my first visit to Kingsley, a long-time member named John joined our group as a fifth for four holes.  He shared stories of the club’s founding by Ed Walker and Art Preston, and its connections to Crystal Downs.  John’s pride in the course and its history enriched my experience that day, and it wasn’t long before I joined.

On my first visit to Kingsley this season, I was reminded of this pride when Mr. Walker took close to an hour to walk me through his plans for our new clubhouse.  He is a busy man, and I am newish member.  He didn’t need to do that, but he did because he has poured his heart and resources into the club and he knows that I share his love for it.

BOSTON GOLF CLUB

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My first time at Boston GC, I was on a buddies trip to Boston, and I fell in love with the course.  On my second visit to BGC, I was hosted by a member, John C.  Walking the fairways with John was like being at Kingsley.  His depth of feeling for his club was infectious.  Knowing the story of founder John Mineck’s labor of love, and his tragic death on site, it is no surprise that members feel a special connection to this place.

As we sat and relaxed in the dining room after sunset, we shared the joy that permeates the memberships of these great clubs.  Part of fitting in to these cultures is realizing how lucky we are to get to spend our hours playing this game, among friends, on such wonderful courses.  That off-putting sense of entitlement is absent, and in its place, gratitude.

BALLYNEAL

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Ballyneal is the golfiest place I have ever been.  The members there love the game and they love their club, which now includes 18 holes by Tom Doak, the Mulligan short course, and The Commons putting course.  It is a golf geek’s fantasyland, a decade’s long dream in the making for founder Jim O’Neal, now come to fruition in the Chop Hills.

My buddies and I arrived the evening before we were scheduled to play with our host, Stephen.  We met another member while hanging out on the driving range and after chatting us up for a bit, he insisted that we go play.  His love of the game and welcoming spirit is the norm at Ballyneal, and I am counting the days until I can head back to enjoy it again.


CALUSA PINES GOLF CLUB

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A view from the highest point on the property

My day at Calusa Pines was generously set up by a member, Eric.  In our correspondence prior to that day, Eric expressed a sentiment that I have experienced at every one of these clubs.  The members love hosting for two reasons: they are proud of their clubs and like to share them with others who can appreciate them, and they prefer not to play anywhere else when they are in town.  Before Eric said it, I had never heard it put that way, but I know exactly how he feels.

I was joined by the General Manager Walt Kozlowsky, Head Professional Mike Balliet, and a member, Rob.  They are good players and people, and tremendously knowledgeable about the club.  As a bonus, I cannot recall ever laughing more during 18 holes of golf.  They embody the culture of Calusa Pines – a love of the game coupled with a commitment to keeping it fun.

THE COURSE

Dr. Michael Hurzdan & Dana Fry wrote a Vision piece that is on the club’s website.  This statement stood out for me in summing up the experience of playing the course:

“Calusa Pines will be a golfer’s golf course meaning that you will never tire of playing it, there are an endless variety of golf shots required each time you play it, and every hole will be distinct and memorable.”

Several months later and I am still amazed at the description of the construction process that Walt, who has been at Calusa since ground was broken, shared with me as we walked.  The land started as basically flat.  The top layer of sand was removed from the entire property and stored.  The bedrock beneath was then dynamited.  After blasting through the rock, the system of lakes was excavated and that material along with the rock was used to build hills, rough contours and some features.  Smaller rock was then used for additional form shaping.  The original top layer of sand was then brought back to sandcap the land and do finished shaping.  The result is a course that seems natural, even though it is entirely engineered.

Calusa Pines impresses with its broad strokes, but it is even more impressive at the detail level.  Obviously, great care was taken with the bunkering and greens.  They are both visually striking and a blast to play.  The naturalization of the site is also outstanding.  As we walked along Rob and Walt explained to me that the founder Gary Chensoff insisted that the system of lakes be designed such that a player can never see all shores at once – they disappear around corners and out of view, giving the player a feel of wandering around in a river valley.  Large trees were preserved or planted to create a sense of maturity, and a wide variety of vegetation creates interest in color and texture throughout.

Throw in one of the cooler clubhouses you’ll ever see – beautiful with just the right level of comfort and amenity – and Calusa Pines qualifies as the total package.  On to the course…

(click on circle images to enlarge) 

Hole 1 – Par 4 – 389 Yards

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The opening hole is a slight dogleg left that plays to an elevated green.  It introduces the player to Calusa’s stunning bunkering that makes the player feel as though they have been transported to the Melbourne Sandbelt.

Hole 2 – Par 5 – 551 yards

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The first of Calusa’s three-shotters gently bends right and demands precise positioning of the second.  Leave yourself short-sided, and you’re in trouble.

Hole 3 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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A great little three par with an all-or-nothing character to it.  Hit the green and birdie putts are makable.  There is no bailout on this hole though.  Miss the green, and kiss your par goodbye.

Hole 4 – Par 4 – 379 yards

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The fourth is the first hole to encounter the course’s system of lakes.  The cape design allows the player to be as aggressive as the wind and their nerves will allow.

Hole 5 – Par 4 – 378 yards

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The fifth doglegs right with a tee shot up over a rise.  The green is elevated and guarded by deep bunkers right and a steep runoff left.

Hole 6 – Par 5 – 513 yards

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The challenge of the sixth is a function of width.  There isn’t that much to begin with, and the hole feels even narrower as it winds along the lake.  Blocking out the borders and confidently focusing on the target for each shot is a requirement.

Hole 7 – Par 3 – 186 yards

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A terrific and tough par three, the seventh plays through the goal posts created by the trees to a green guarded left by a massive bunker.

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Hole 8 – Par 4 – 280 yards

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The eighth is a wonderfully creative short four with sand along the entire left side and a green benched into a hillside.  Longer hitters can drive the green, but failed attempts can find all manner of nasty fates.

Hole 9 – Par 4 – 421 yards

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The ninth plays from an elevated tee, with an approach over the lake to a green set just below the clubhouse.  A visually stunning hole that provides one last stiff test on the outward nine.

Hole 10 – Par 4 – 376 yards

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The par four tenth features artful bunkering up the right and a sculpted sandy hillside that creates one of the coolest looks on the whole property.

Hole 11 – Par 3 – 171 yards

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Another stellar three par, the eleventh green is set at a slight angle.  With the swirling wind, judging the line and distance is no simple matter.

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Hole 12 – Par 4 – 419 yards

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Climbing the hill to the twelfth tee provides one of Calusa’s best reveals.  This beauty is a beast though that demands two well struck shots to find a subtly contoured green surrounded by runoffs.

Hole 13 – Par 5 – 554 yards

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The thirteenth turns hard right and allows for a daring attempt to carry the large bunkers on the inside of the dogleg.  Success gives the player a chance at reaching the small elevated green in two.

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Hole 14 – Par 4 – 293 yards

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The fourteenth is the second of Calusa’s risk-reward par fours.  The deep fronting bunker and firm elevated green add plenty of challenge to this shortie.

Hole 15 – Par 4 – 374 yards

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Otherworldly bunkers line the right side of the fifteenth, all the way up to the bunkerless green.  A brilliantly imbalanced and contrasting design.

Hole 16 – Par 3 – 161 yards

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The final one-shotter is the most visually intimidating, playing downhill to a peninsula green.  A breathtaking spot on the beautiful property.

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Hole 17 – Par 4 – 390 yards

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The seventeenth works around the lake from left to right with the main challenge on the approach.  The large greens is one of the most creative on the course.

Hole 18 – Par 5 – 487 yards

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The closer turns hard left off the tee, giving the player a chance to cut the corner and get home in two.  The green sits up above one last large bunker, in the shadow of the clubhouse.  A thrilling finish that is perfect for dramatic conclusions to matches.


IN CONCLUSION

Whether it is in golf architecture, or the experience of a golf club, greatness will always be subjective to some degree.  From my personal perspective, there are two final elements of the greatness of Calusa Pines and the other great modern clubs.

First, a key difference between these places and others for me is that I walked off the 18th green wanting to go right back to the 1st tee.  There is a depth of strategy and thoughtfulness to the design that makes repeat play exciting and enjoyable.  Beyond wanting a replay, I also wanted to ask for an application.  The combination of course and culture is that appealing.

Second, these clubs are deeply about love of the shared experience of this wonderful game.  It is built into their DNA, but it is not necessarily a love that takes itself too seriously.  There is a heavy dose of fun, and that is why I love the game of golf.  For some it is the challenge or the competition.  For me, it is the fun of experiencing those aspects in the company of my fellow geeks.

What do you think makes a club great?  Feel free to brag on your club or share your personal experiences in the comments here.


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Creative Range – An Interview with Architect Mike Benkusky

MikeBenkusky-ALPlansIn 2015, when I heard about the innovative planned changes to the Arlington Lakes community golf course, my interest was piqued.  When I found out that the architect responsible was also involved in the creation of one of the highest end private courses in the midwest, I was downright intrigued.

In June 2015, Mike Benkusky was kind enough to take me on a walk around Arlington Lakes to discuss his philosophy and vision.  He hit all of the high notes for me as he shared his plans for this cool, little course which is deeply embedded in its community.  I realized that Mike isn’t just another talking head giving interviews about the troubled state of the game.  He is on the front lines of restoring golf to its roots of interest, fun, and natural beauty.

We agreed to circle back when Arlington Lakes reopened to talk more, in light of player reaction to experiencing his ideas on the ground.  Mike graciously answered my questions, but first, a bit more about the renovation.

(Special thanks to Joann Dost for use of her beautiful Canyata photos.)


ARLINGTON LAKES

Arlington Lakes is on a unique piece of property, located in Chicago’s north suburbs.  Like many older courses, the Lakes was tired and suffering from tree, turf, and drainage issues.  In renovating the course, the community could have simply addresses these problems and called it a day, but they chose a more innovative path when they bought into Mike’s plan for fast, fun, and flexible golf.

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The keys to Mike’s proposal were:

  • Making the green complexes interesting and fun.  They are the focal point of the design.
  • Removing “junk” trees and replacing them with oaks and other natives.
  • Removing 68 bunkers, and renovating the remaining bunkers to reduce maintenance and improve playability.
  • Downplaying distance, and playing up interest and fun for golfers of all ages and skill levels.
  • Adding actual forward tee boxes for juniors to give them a sense of ownership of the course.
  • Resigning from the “cult of par”.  It is just a number and breaking free of it unleashes creativity in design.

Central to Mike’s plan was a rerouting of the holes to allow golfers the option to play 3, 6, 9, or 18 holes loops.  The work has been a hit with players, and is now serving as a model for other course operators looking to breathe new life into tired, old facilities.  For even more on the renovation, read the USGA’s article – Loop of Faith.

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The par-3 11th

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The par-3 14th

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The par-4 15th

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The par-3 17th


THE INTERVIEW

How were you first introduced to golf?

My parents both played golf and got me started when I was five.  I have an older brother and both of us played.  We lived within walking distance of a nine hole course in Marion, IA, next to Cedar Rapids, where we were members.  It was a great way for our family to spend time together.

When did you know that the game had a hold on you?

We spent our summers at this club.  They had certain hours where kids could play and we planned our day around those times.  Friday mornings were always kids day and they had events.  You started out in a five hole league and moved up to 9 and 18 as you got older.  I started winning the events and then entered local tournaments, doing well in them as well. I enjoyed the competition and playing against the course.

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Canyata Golf Club #2

How did you get into the business?

In 1975, when I was 10, my parents went to the US Open at Medinah. They brought back the program that included a layout of the golf course.  I began to redraw the golf holes and later would begin to draw my own golf holes.  I had teachers remark that I was the only kid who doodled golf holes.

After some research I knew I wanted to go into Landscape Architecture and Iowa State has a great program.  I played on the golf team my first year and also got a job on the grounds crew at Cedar Rapids Country Club.

CRCC was THE club in town and is a Donald Ross design.  It’s unknown if he spent much time on the course, but he provided the layout on one of his trips around the country.  I enjoyed working there and got to play the course often.  It is here where I met Bob Lohmann, who was doing a Master Plan for the club.  I mentioned I wanted to get into golf design and he had just started his firm.  The next summer I went to work for him as an intern.  After graduation I worked there for 17 years before starting my own firm in 2005.

Who are your favorite Golden Age architects and why? 

It’s always easy to say the best known ones, Ross or Mackenzie and for me those still are two of my favorites.  Ross is easy since I knew Cedar Rapids was a Ross design.  But I really didn’t get exposed to his courses until I moved to Chicago.

Bendelow was another one I got to know early on as he designed Medinah and I read about that in the US Open program.  I think he may have completed more courses than Ross but doesn’t get as much credit since Ross and others remodeled much of his work.  I work on a couple of his courses now and they contain a lot of interest.

I got to know about Mackenzie through Perry Maxwell’s work.  Maxwell designed the University course at Iowa State, Veenker Memorial Golf Course.  Arnold Palmer won the NCAA Title at Veenker in 1949.  When you think of Maxwell’s rolls, Veenker has them.  Some of the greens are still intact and I still get out to see them if I get back to Ames.  When I studied more about Maxwell it lead me to Mackenzie.  I’ve read a lot more about Mackenzie throughout the years.

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Canyata Golf Club #4

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking a golf course project? 

One of the first things they should realize is that we do this work for a living.  Golf design is not just placing bunkers or greens, but involves a long, thoughtful process.  Just because I know math doesn’t mean that I can do finance, and just because you play golf doesn’t mean you can design a golf course.

If I was going to tell them one thing, it is that everything relates together on the golf course, especially the land.  Many times someone will say a bunker would look good in a certain spot.  Then you explain to them that the land doesn’t work due to drainage or other issues.  One thing they never think about is drainage, which is probably the most important thing to consider.

It is fun to go through months of planning for a Master Plan and educating the members.  They begin to gain an appreciation for what we do and realize that is why they brought in a professional.  Once you have their trust the project and final result is very rewarding.

Who has influenced you the most, in your work and your life?

My father was easily my biggest influence and still is.  He worked hard in life and played hard as well.  He knew how to balance his time between work and family life.  He was also smart when it came to competition.  He taught us how to handle pressure during a round of golf and to realize everyone feels it.  Those who handled it the best are the ones who succeeded.  You carry that with you the rest of your life.

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Canyata Golf Club #8

What is your favorite element of a golf hole to work on?

Too many to list.  Every element of a golf hole is important.  A proper teeing ground sets up the golf hole.  When you look at fairways you look at how it follows the land.  Bunkers set up the strategy and give the golf hole, and course, its identity.  I could go on about bunkers but I’m beginning to feel they are starting to lose their appeal as a hazard to the better golfer.  We could talk about that for hours.

We always say that greens are the face of the golf course and designing a good green may be the most rewarding.  A good green design can impact the approach shot in many ways.  From bunker placement, runoffs and chipping areas, to green contours dictating where you need to place your shot.  That is what makes Augusta National so great.

Finally, tree management is something that we are constantly working on.  Golfers are becoming more aware that trees and turf don’t always mix.  Educating them that the loss of a tree will make the turf better, (i.e. better, thicker rough), and will even make the golf hole more difficult takes years of work.  Once you get there you don’t hear many complaints about necessary tree removal.

What were some of the highlights of working on Canyata?

I worked for Bob Lohman when we designed Canyata.  It was one of those dream-come-true designs.  First off, you had an owner who wanted the best and would spend the money to get the best.  Second, he had a piece of property that had many desirable traits.  Deep ravines with large Oak trees were great to work around.  The most difficult part was that, except for the ravines, the rest of the site was very flat.  When you talk about drainage, we needed to build that in.  Therefore, we needed to create many ponds throughout the course and create elevation change on the golf holes. I get a kick out of showing guests the non-golf course land and explain that the rest of the site was this flat before construction.  The par 3 12th is a great example.  The site was flat except a ravine that cut in front of the proposed green site.  We lowered the green site 20 feet and elevated the tees 20 feet to create the 40 foot change.  We also extended the ravine up to the tees to make it appear that the hole was placed along the ravine, when in fact it was all built together.  The same thing was done on the par 5 15th.

Lastly, the owner trusted us to do what we do best, design golf courses.  He never questioned anything and I took it upon myself to look at the project as if it was my own golf course.  It gave me a great sense of pride.  When we started the back nine I told him it would be better than the front, which he found hard to believe.  When we finished he said I was right.  It’s fun working for people like that.

Ever since 2005 the owner has continued to have me make visits to the golf course.  He wants to make sure it keeps current with today’s golf market.  We’ve added some tees and bunkers to improve playability and strategy.  As with all golf courses it continues to evolve.

Canyata Golf Club - Hole #12

Canyata Golf Club #12

Did the remoteness or uniqueness of that site present particular challenges?

There were a few challenges but the remoteness was also a blessing.  The owner knew a lot of people in the area and when we needed something he knew who to call.  We had a local earthmover move the dirt which was a great help.  It made it easy because the owner paid them direct and we never had to worry about change orders or anything else.  If we wanted to move something or make changes we just did it.  It’s a fun way to build a course.

Since we had nothing around we didn’t have to worry about neighbors or any complaints about what was being completed.  We ended up moving enough dirt to line the property with mounds.  Nobody can really see into the golf course and when you are playing you never see out.  It creates a surreal feeling when you are out there.

Courses like Canyata are quite the contrast to a project such as your renovation of Arlington Lakes.  Is your approach different?

Really your approach is different on every project.  You take certain design concepts and mold them into each golf course.  At Canyata the goal was to create a top 100 golf course.  The owner did want a certain length and we achieved that.  The site also had a large scale so we needed everything to balance.  Wide fairways, big bunkers, and large greens were needed to tie it all together.  Canyata is destination golf and if it takes 5 hours to play you don’t mind.  It is similar to what golfers say about Augusta National.  You can’t wait to get to Amen Corner.  But once you are there you realize the round is almost over.

Arlington Lakes is community golf.  In this case you design for the broadest range of golfers possible.  We placed minimal sand bunkers to add interest.  We eliminated carry hazards to speed play and increase enjoyment.  Each of these projects are important and provide a role in the golf market.  Understanding each role and designing towards those strengths helps to make the project successful.

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Canyata Golf Club #15

Why do you believe that community golf is important?

Because that is where the masses of golfers play.  We have far more public golf courses than private courses.  This is where most learn the game and is an added amenity to any community.  The first goal of a community golf course is to make it fun.  If someone doesn’t enjoy a course, they won’t return to play it again.  A strong golf market will include a variety of golf courses.  In Chicago, we have many golf courses that will challenge every part of your game.  These courses are too difficult for many and that is where we need courses such as Arlington Lakes and your Canal Shores project.  Every golf course has a niche and when you realize that, and make changes to embrace that niche you continue to prosper.

What role does sustainability play in your plan for Arlington Lakes?

As a Park District golf course it needs to be sustainable.  To do that we first needed to start with the operations of the course.  When you start with that aspect the rest will start to fall in place.  Arlington Lakes has its niche as a short, fun golf course.  The changes we made enhanced those aspects.  Even though it is short, we added more tees to make it even shorter.  We knew that this would help attract more beginning golfers, junior golfers, and appeal to families.  As I said, there are many golf courses that will beat you up – Arlington Lakes is for pure enjoyment.

The other thing that attracts golfers to Arlington Lakes is the time it takes to play.  In today’s time strapped world, golfers don’t want to spend 5 hours on the golf course.  Golfers come to play Arlington Lakes because they can play in 31/2 hours.  Our design changes highlighted that by removing unnecessary bunkers, going from 106 bunkers down to 38.  This still kept strategy in play and aided in enjoyment.

To further help with time constraints we reworked the golf course to have the 3rd, 6th, and 9th holes return to the clubhouse.  This helps with the junior program, as you can get young golfers on and off the course before they become bored or frustrated.  Accepting their short attention spans is important in growing the game.  We can also use this layout for families that want to golf together in the evening.  You can get home from work, have dinner, and then get 3 holes of golf in before dark.  That is a large draw for a community golf course.

The renovation of Arlington Lakes has been very well received. What were the keys to success?

Understanding where they stood in the golf market and not looking to reinvent that.  The worst thing you can do as a designer is take a golf course that meets a need and try to change it into something it is not.  Sometimes as architects we let our ego get in the way and try to force a design concept on a course where it doesn’t fit.  At Arlington Lakes we wanted to keep things playable and maintainable.  If I had built greens with big slopes and bunkers ten feet deep that course would now struggle.  It is not what the golfers wanted and that is not something the Park District could maintain.  When you talk about sustainable golf that is what it is all about.  Golf courses and golfers are similar to cars.  Some people want to drive a Chevy and some want to drive a Cadillac.

Which courses are on the top of your hit list to play or see next?

Through the ASGCA I’ve been fortunate to play many top 100 courses.  In the US I’ve played Pebble Beach and Cypress Point.  I’ve been to Augusta National three times, though I would love to play it.  I have not seen Pine Valley so that would be on the list. And a buddy’s trip to Bandon Dunes is in the works.

Outside the US I’ve played in Australia, England, and Ireland.  It may sound sacrilegious as an architect, but I have not been to Scotland.  I’ve had the chance but at the time it conflicted with too many other things, and home life always comes first.  It is still on the radar and I will get there sometime.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

Every course and every day is different.  They say if you do what you love to will never spend a day working.  That is how I feel.  When you tell people you design golf courses they have two comments.  First is that they didn’t know people did that.  The second is that they can’t believe you get spend a day on the golf course and call that your job.  I’ve been very blessed with being in this industry.  You get to meet so many great people and some of my fellow architects are my best friends.  Our ASGCA family is just that.  A family of brothers and sisters that help each other whenever we can.  My best week every year is the week we spend together during our annual meeting.

When you are not working or playing golf, what are you doing?

Most of it involves spending time with my wife and dog.  We don’t have children so we cherish our time together hiking and biking.  We love to travel and always look to go to a new place each year.  Our goal is to visit every continent and gives us something to work towards.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 16 (Super Changes)

There is only one constant in life – change.  Life at Canal Shores is no different.  The course continues to evolve, as do our plans for its future.  This season, those plans changed when we learned that our team was not going to be the same.  Tom Tully, our Superintendent, decided to relocate to Colorado.  He will be missed.

After a brief moment of panic, the search for Tom’s replacement began.  Our Board President Chris Carey and Grounds Chair Steve Neumann shoulder the work, and scored us a winner – Tony Frandria.  Tony is a highly experienced Greenkeeper, who was most recently at Glen View Club.

I am excited to be collaborating with Tony and wanted to learn more about him.  In the midst of getting prepared for the season, he gracious agreed to a GoG interview.

Before getting to the interview, there is more change news to spread – the Canal Shores Grounds Committee now has its own blog that will have frequent updates on course improvements, volunteer opportunities, master planning and more.  Check it out here.  I will continue to write about golf geeky aspects of the Canal Shores transformation, but for the full story, the G&G Blog is the place to go.

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Our volunteer Jeff Hapner created multiple headers for the blog and this one didn’t make the cut.  It was too good not to share (yes, that is Steve Neumann playing the role of Spackler).

On to Tony’s interview…


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

When I was a Senior in High School, the town I grew up in, Palos Hills IL, built a 9-Hole municipal golf course (Palos Hills Municipal Golf Course).  I was looking for a summer job so I went over to the course when it opened to see if they had any openings for summer help.  I started working in the Pro-Shop, which at first was just a small trailer, taking tee times, working in the snack shop, driving the beverage cart, washing golf carts and then eventually working on the grounds.  I got my first set of clubs soon after and began to play golf every day.  The best part about the job was that it was free to play!  That’s when I developed a passion for the game, and that’s when I also took a real interest in working on the golf course grounds.  As time has passed my passion for the game remains, but I currently don’t play as much golf as I did when I was younger.  I plan to change that moving forward, but I still have a tremendous passion, admiration and respect for the game of golf.

When did you know that the game had a hold on you?

The 1991 Ryder Cup matches at Kiawah Island “The War on the Shore”– that was when I really began to love and appreciate the competition and truly understood the deep passion that the game of golf can bring out in people.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned in your career thus far?

There are several lessons I’ve learned in my career, but the most important I would say is communication on so many different levels is imperative.  Being transparent with the people you represent is also important.  People want to know what’s going on – that’s why I really enjoy sharing information to let people know what they can expect when they come out to the golf course.

Another lesson I’ve learned is you can’t be too hard on yourself – I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and sometimes take things too seriously.  That can be a good trait, but you must learn how to manage yours and your employers’ expectations because there are so many factors that you can’t control when caring for a golf course – like weather!

The other lesson I would say is something that a mentor and great friend of mine told me a long time ago.  Don’t fall too much in love with the property because it’s not yours.  One day you will leave the course for whatever reason, but the course will remain and the operation will go on without you. The most important thing is that you do the very best job you can during your tenure so you can leave the course in great shape when you move on and someone else takes the reigns.  Then, hopefully you’ll be able to look back at your achievements and be proud of what you and your team accomplished.

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Where do you see agronomy and course maintenance headed from here?

Water usage is going to become a greater and greater issue as time goes on.  Creating agronomical conditions that can allow turf to thrive with less water use is going to be a huge challenge moving forward.  Pesticide and fertilizer usages are also becoming more and more scrutinized which challenges turfgrass breeders to develop more sustainable turf species that need less water, are more disease resistant, and tolerant to adverse weather conditions.

We as turfgrass professionals, as well as golfers, must manage aesthetic expectations and accept the fact that lush/green turf doesn’t necessarily promote the best playing conditions.  I like the “firm and fast” slogan – which is also better for the environment.

The technology we have at our fingertips is also moving very fast.  Now there are computer programs for just about everything – programs that track your chemical, fertilizer and water usages. Programs that track labor, equipment maintenance, and weather.

Turf equipment is also becoming more and more complex as nearly everything has some sort of computer module that operates the engine, cutting units, etc.  It’s all commonplace now.  Therefore, it’s very important to have a solid Equipment Technician on staff in some capacity to maintain the multifaceted pieces of equipment needed to maintain fine Turfgrass.

It’s vital to keep up with these trends, and in the future, I’m hoping to implement many of the technologies currently available to the Canal Shores operation.

You have worked with Dave Esler and Jim Urbina.  What is it like to collaborate with architects of that caliber?

I’ve been blessed to have worked with these two fine architects.  Both have their own style and personality, and like me, they possess an unbelievable passion for classic “Golden Age” golf course architecture.

The most significant lesson I learned working with these two guys in particular is that I needed to allow them to do their job and to support their vision, but to also offer input on design aspirations that might affect future maintenance.  Golf course architects are basically artists and the golf course is their canvas.  When a golf course engages an architect, they do so for their design expertise, so the architect must be allotted the space to compile multiple renderings and concepts, particularly in the early stages.  It’s important to allow them to be creative without too much scrutiny from outside sources.

Why did you decide to take on the Canal Shores opportunity?

The future vision for the property is what truly intrigued me about the position.  In my career, I’ve planned and managed several high end and multi-faceted golf course projects.  I love planning and executing projects – it’s something within our profession that can add variety to the responsibility of everyday maintenance.  The proposed project at Canal Shores is so unique, and the passion I felt from Chris and Steve during the interview process was really refreshing.

I’ve worked at three private country clubs in my career – this opportunity will also allow me to utilize my experiences in the private sector to build the Grounds Department into an even better functioning facet of the overall facility – much the same as a country club’s Grounds & Greens Department, but on a lesser scale considering the size of the property at Canal Shores is much smaller than what I’ve worked with in my past experiences.

What do you anticipate being the biggest “shock to your system” coming to Canal Shores after 13 years at a prestigious club like Glen View?

First and foremost is obviously the budget.  Canal Shores’s budget is significantly less than what the budget was at GVC.  This isn’t a negative thing, as you must take into consideration the expectations of the golfer, the size of the property and the overall dynamics of the operation on a 12-month basis.

At GVC we had activities occurring all year long. When the golf course closed for the season we had to maintain the grounds surrounding the fall and winter activities available to members such as the paddle tennis facility, skeet and trap shooting, winter ice skating, sledding hill, cross country skiing, and snow removal so it was necessary to keep a sizable staff on year-round.

Canal Shores is clearly a much different operation.  The size of the property is 20% the size of GVC, and the golfer expectations will vary greatly from a private country club.  When the snow flies the operation will mostly be dormant.  I look forward to managing every dollar wisely to exceed expectations in both property maintenance and the overall golf experience of each golfer’s visit.

What are the keys to successfully managing a large golf course construction project or renovation?

Planning and communication.  I’ve seen so many projects within the industry fail due to improper planning and communications.  If the plan isn’t properly vetted in can end up drastically over budget and even if it turns out great, in the end, being over budget is never a good thing.  Every last detail must be properly planned for and budgeted.

It’s also important that the planning is taken on by a sub-committee of the Grounds and Greens Committee.  From my past experiences, I’ve learned that too many irons in the fire can be detrimental to the success of any project, particularly large scale projects with a lot of moving parts.  Typically, four or five committee Members along with the Golf Course Superintendent, Construction Project Manager, and Golf Course Architect are plenty for a successful sub-committee.

It’s also important to always budget for the unexpected – I like to call it “contingency budgeting” as it’s a certainty that some sort of adverse situation will arise at some point during the project that will cost money to rectify.

Communication is extremely vital when taking on a large-scale project.  The clientele should be kept in the loop as much as possible.  Taking pictures and posting them on a blog is a great way to easily allow others to keep up with what’s occurring and how the project is progressing.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

The job can become pretty stressful at times, but when a plan comes together and things look great and the course is playing well, the job is really rewarding.  It’s also a real privilege to be able to work outside and not be confined to an office all day.  I would go crazy if I were locked in an office all day.  I really enjoy driving around the course in the evenings near dusk – there’s something about watching the sun set on the golf course that just relaxes me.

What courses do you most want to see or play next?

I’m extremely fortunate to have developed relationships with so many talented Superintendents around the country.  These relationships allowed me to visit some of the finest courses in America and to become part of a network of Superintendents that’s become a brotherhood.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited some great courses throughout my career – Oakmont, Merion, Pine Valley, Saucon Valley, Augusta National, Riviera, Cypress Point, Oak Hill, Winged Foot, Philadelphia Country Club, Huntington Valley, Muirfield Village, just to name a few off the top of my head.

I’ve never been to Long Island though – so I would love to see Shinnecock Hills, Maidstone, and National Golf Links of America.  My colleague and former GCS at Chicago Golf Club Jon Jennings is the GCS at Shinnecock Hills – they’re hosting a US Open in two years, so hopefully that will be my chance to see Long Island as I plan to volunteer during the tournament.

I would also like to get to Scotland one day.

When you are not working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

My family is extremely important to me, so when I’m not on the golf course I like to spend time with them.  My family and I are also die-hard Cubs fans so we try to get to as many games as we can throughout the year as well.  Go Cubs Go!!


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Old Town Club Tour by Jon Cavalier

OLD TOWN CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Winston-Salem, NC – Perry Maxwell

Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, NC is a 1939 Perry Maxwell original bordering the campus of Wake Forest University.  I had the great pleasure of playing several rounds at OTC on a perfect early-November day.  And while I am a few months late in getting this tour together, OTC’s recent near-miss on garnering the threshold number of Golf Digest rater plays necessary for inclusion in the Top-100 make this a particularly appropriate time to shine a bit of a spotlight on this architectural gem.

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Old Town Club

When it became apparent that time had taken its toll on this old beauty, the members and their Golf Chairman, Dunlop White, chose Coore & Crenshaw to perform an extensive restoration of the property.  For a more detailed discussion of this process and the work performed by Coore & Crenshaw, be sure to check out the excellent profile at http://golfclubatlas.com/courses-by-country/usa/old-town-club/ .  Suffice it to say, the duo did a magnificent job.

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Late Afternoon at Old Town

Before we begin, a few notes about OTC and these photos.  I was told, on good authority, by members of OTC and by Dunlop White, that the absolute peak time of year to play the course is November/December.  I certainly cannot disagree.  OTC played firm and fast throughout, and given the exceptional green- and green-side features, this made for some very exciting golf.  OTC is not built for lush, soft, ultra-green conditions.  My first round of the day was played during a persistent light rain under continual cloud cover, and the course stayed firm as ever.  After a quick lunch, the sun came out, dried the course immediately and put an entirely new look on it.  So, while these photos were all taken on the same day, you may notice differences based on the time of day that a particular photo was taken.

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The Spectacular 8th/17th Double Green

I hope you enjoy the tour.

OLD TOWN CLUB

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At a macro level, Old Town Club has a few standout architectural features that demand mention at the outset.  The first thing that GCA aficionados seem to talk about when they talk about Old Town is Maxwell’s brilliant routing of the golf course.  To me, the routing of a golf course has always seemed equal parts engineering discipline, artistic ability and black magic — I’ve never quite been able to grasp how it’s done, much less done well.  But when it’s done well, I know it when I see it.  And OTC is it.  Maxwell’s routing begins a three hole loop to the south of the club house in a Par 4, Par 3, Par 4 arrangement.  The members must love this feature.  Beginning with the 4th hole, the course meanders up, over and around various landforms and features such that no two holes play similarly, no part of the walk is too steep, and never is there a hint of boredom.

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The 17th, 8th and 9th Holes

The second feature is the openness of the property and the manner in which the golf course uses that openness to bolster the way the course plays.  Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw and Dunlop White deserve great credit for this feature.  From the first tee, the player can view most of the three hole starting loop.  From the crest of the fourth fairway, more than half the course (and its wonderful landforms) are in full view.  And from the double green at 8/17, the player can look back and see four connected fairways — the 17th, the 8th, the 9th and the 18th — quite an amazing sight.  Coupled with the minimal use of encroaching rough, the openness of the course provides for a wide array of options on every hole (in fact, the rough is so minimal, it is possible to walk up 4, across 7, up 17, across 8, across 9 and up 10 back to the clubhouse without every stepping on a line of long grass).

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From the 4th Fairway

The Clubhouse

Old Town’s gorgeous brick clubhouse fits in perfectly with the rest of its surrounds. The fried chicken special on the lunch menu is spectacular.

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THE COURSE

Hole 1 – Par 4 – 407yds

A round at Old Town begins on the first tee in the shadow of the clubhouse, looking out at the generous first fairway, which disappears from view down into a valley before rising to meet the green.

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Often, players will face an uphill shot from a downhill lie into the first green.

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Though the first green looks inviting, it has serious teeth.  The false front is visible in this photo, as is the abrupt falloff to the left of the green.  Indifferent approaches can land on this green and still end up 15 yards from the putting surface.

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The view back down the 1st hole, illustrating the rolling terrain and the spaciousness of the first fairway.

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Hole 2 – Par 3 – 145yds

A short par 3 that has been beautifully reworked by Coore & Crenshaw, the second plays slightly downhill over the same small creek that bisects the first fairway.

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The second green is wide, shallow and full of undulation.

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This view from behind the second green reveals some of the terrific available pin positions on this hole.

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Hole 3 – Par 4 – 361yds

The third hole plays back toward the clubhouse and ends the opening three-hole loop.  From the tee, the player sees only the flagstick and the looming bunker planted high on the right shoulder of the fairway.

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Cresting the hill reveals the low-left bunker, which, due to the firm and fast conditions and the slope of the fairway, plays much larger than its actual footprint.

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This view from behind the third reveals the internal mounding and the importance of being on the proper tier of the green.

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Hole 4 – Par 5 – 520yards

A quick walk past the clubhouse and down a small pathway brings the golfer to the fourth tee.  The remaining 15 holes at Old Town are laid out on the northern side of the clubhouse.  The first par 5 on the course, the fourth hole becomes reachable with a well struck tee shot, as any ball that clears the crest of the hill will bound past the trees at the corner of the dogleg.  For longer hitters, however, this is one of the tighter tee shots on the golf course.

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After reaching the crest of the hill, the course opens up to the golfer.  The hole itself doglegs right and follows the tree line down the hill.

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Those who don’t (or, like me, can’t) reach the green in two face either a short, sharply downhill approach or a half-wedge from the bottom of the hill into the third green.

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This view from the right side of the fourth green reveals the wonderfully nuanced putting surface.

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This view from the right rear portion of the fourth green shows both the fairway’s long descent and the expansive nature of the property.

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Hole 5 – Par 4 – 354yds 

The fourth tee is carved into a sheltered nook on the side of a hill.  The sixth green is visible to the left.  A perfect draw will shorten this hole considerably, as it is possible to carry the bunkers set in the inside corner of the dogleg.  Another tee shot with a variety of options for the player.

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The fifth green is benched into a small hill at a far corner of the property.  This green slopes substantially from high left rear to low right front, making accuracy critical on this short approach.

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This view from behind the fifth green shows the contour of the fairway and the steepness of this green.  The sun is providing a helpful spotlight on the area from which you do not want to be putting at today’s hole.

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Hole 6 – Par 3 – 173 yards

The beautiful sixth hole plays back toward the fifth tee.  This hole offers a clinic in visual deception.  From the tee, the large bunker on the right looks to be greenside, but in fact there are forty-plus yards between its back edge and the putting surface.  Add to that a horizon green with no landmarks between it and the far hillside and a green that falls away dramatically on all sides and the player is confronted with a fun puzzle. Long or left is no picnic.

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The view from the sixth green is one of the prettiest on the golf course.  No fewer than half the holes on the golf course are at least partially in view from here.

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Hole 7 – Par 4 – 340yds

Once more, the player is confronted with options off the tee.  Challenge the bunkers on the left and have a better angle and a flatter lie into the tiny seventh green, or bail out to the ample fairway to the right and face a more uphill second from a less favorable angle?  A gorgeous, fun hole.

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The approach to the seventh green, seen here through the morning raindrops, presents one of the more difficult short shots on the golf course.  In addition to the small green, the player must contend with a long bunker running along the high side of the green (no easy task getting up and down from there) and more bunkers and a falloff to the right.

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The view back down the seventh hole.

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Hole 8 – Par 4 – 358yds

The tee shot on the eighth hole is blind to the player, as the fairway drops out of view past the first bunker.  Like Lanny Wadkins was fond of saying, the dome and steeple of the Wake Forest library provides an aiming point (barely visible in this photo at the tree line above the bunker).

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Reaching the crest of the eighth fairway provides one of the most thrilling views at Old Town – the downhill approach to the immense green shared by the eighth and seventeenth holes.  The eighth plays to the red flag on the left.  An absolutely exceptional use of a double green, and a truly special feature of this golf course.

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This view from the left side of the double green shows just how much contour this massive green contains. The two pins are about 200 feet apart.  The high point of the green is in the middle, and each side has plenty of interest of its own.  During our round, Will was faced with a nearly 100 foot putt from the high rear portion of this green — his picture perfect putt hit the hole and somehow lipped out.

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From behind the double green, the player is presented with a panoramic view of the seventeenth, eighth, ninth and eighteenth (out of frame to the right) fairways, each of which join together to create a swath of fairway several hundred yards wide.  Quite a sight.

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Hole 9 – Par 4 – 360yds

In sticking with the shared theme, the ninth and eighteenth holes share a tee box, with a directional stone pointing the golfer in the right direction.  Both holes play back toward the clubhouse.

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The refreshing openness of Old Town is felt during the walk up the shared eighth and ninth fairways.

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The ninth doglegs right around the trees, with the sharply banked fairway and firm conditions helping to scoot the well struck tee shot around the corner and into a position from where the green can be reached.  On the flip side, not many level lies are to be found on the ninth, making the approach to an elevated green more difficult.

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The view back down the beautifully natural ninth hole (one of my favorites at Old Town).

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Hole 10 – Par 4 – 389yds

Holes 10 through 13 play along the edge of the property at Old Town.  The tenth begins with a tee shot over a rise in the fairway that obscures the landing area from the player’s view.

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The approach to the tenth is one of the most enjoyable on the golf course.  While all golfers profess to love firm and fast conditions, it is only when a golf course takes advantage of such conditions to enhance the playing experience that a player really sees their true value.  Old Town’s tenth is such a hole.  The approach plays slightly downhill to a small green that slopes left to right.  Target golf is available here, but a miss right is deep trouble.  The golfer also has the option of playing a low running shot over the left bunker, which is far short of the green, and watching his ball take the natural contours of the land to bound down and to the right on to the putting surface.

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As this view from behind shows, the terrain and the seamless transition from fairway to green practically begs the player to show off his ground game.

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Hole 11 – Par 3 – 170yds

One of the prettiest holes at Old Town, the eleventh hole plays downhill to a green guarded up the right side by a small creek.

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Again, the player has the option of running the ball on to this rather well defended green.  This view from the left side of the eleventh also shows the shared fairway of the eighth and seventeenth holes.

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A gorgeous setting for golf.

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Hole 12 – Par 4 – 409yds

Options – there are many at Old Town.  At the twelfth, the player must navigate an alley of trees before reaching the wide, open fairway.  But before hitting the shot, the player must decide whether to play up the high left side of the fairway, leaving an approach that is slightly shorter but blind to the green and likely from a sidehill lie, or to play right to a lower, flatter part of the fairway from which the green is visible, but from which a longer approach is required.

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The twelfth green is benched nicely into a small hillside, and again, this green is receptive to a low, running shot.  The massive back left bunker provides visual interest and makes the green appear far smaller than it is.  The bunker is visible from many different parts of the golf course.

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The variety of the landforms and terrain at Old Town is staggering, as this view back up the twelfth hole shows.

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Hole 13 – Par 4 – 419yds

The thirteenth hole plays slightly uphill initially and over a small rise.  The ample fairway can be deceiving, as the approach from the left side is far preferable to the right.

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Some golfers will find the approach on 13 the longest of the day.  This green occupies the westernmost extreme of the property at Old Town, and once again, a low running shot is welcomed here . . .

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. . . as the fairway runs downhill and seamlessly into the green.

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Hole 14 – Par 4 – 354yds

The fourteenth hole at Old Town is, quite simply, one of the best short par four holes I’ve played.  The fairway slopes high right to low left, with the ideal position off the tee largely dependent on which way the player likes to work the ball on the approach.  A tee shot to the high right side leaves a perfect look at the green but presents a hook lie, while playing to the low right side off the tee leaves a flat lie but requires an uphill approach to a green largely out of sight.

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The right side of the fairway allows a full view of the green but increases the likelihood of the deadly left miss.

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The steep fall off short and left of the fourteenth green is severe.  The approach is complicated by the subtle false front – anything coming up short will roll all the way back down the slope, leaving a very difficult pitch back up to the green.

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Shots that miss long left run the risk of reaching the hazard.  It’s a short approach, but one rife with challenges.

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A spectacular hole.

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Hole 15 – Par 3 – 180yds

The last, and the longest, par three at Old Town, the fifteenth plays back along the creek bordering the previous hole.

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Though the fifteenth green is generous in size, the internal contours allow for pin placements that can change the dynamic of the hole considerably, as this picture from the fourteenth fairway shows.  Pins on the right side are particularly challenging.

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Hole 16 – Par 4 – 354yds

A short hole that plays longer due to the change in elevation, the sixteenth sits on some of the most “extreme” terrain at Old Town.  The tee shot plays uphill to a landing area canted from high left to low right, making the ideal aiming point farther left than it appears from the tee.  The righthand bunker is not in play but frames the tee shot nicely.

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The sixteenth fairway crests and then plunges downhill, where it flattens briefly before abruptly rising again to the green.  Longer hitters can reach the downslope, but must decide whether they prefer a shorter shot to a green far above them, or a longer shot to a green at the same elevation.  The sixteenth was one of my favorite holes at Old Town.

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This view from behind the sixteenth green shows both the varied slopes within the putting surface and the rolling terrain that must be negotiated to reach it.

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Hole 17 – Par 5 – 555yds

The seventeenth is a gorgeous par 5 that proudly displays the best of what Old Town has to offer.  From the elevated tee just steps from the sixteenth green, the player is afforded one of the best views on the golf course.  The small creek forces the player to a decision – to the left is an easier carry but will require the high route into the green, while to the right provides a better the approach shot along the low route.

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The large ridge that must be negotiated on the second shot.  The bunker in the center of the fairway breaks up the visual while providing a small but menacing hazard.

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After cresting the ridge, the player once more gets to play to the wonderful double green, this time from an oblique angle and to the right hand side.  The high left side allows a full view of the green . . .

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. . . while the low side allows a shorter third from a level position.

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This view from just behind the green illustrates how the seventeenth provides plenty of room but requires careful thought and solid decision-making for each shot.  A standout par 5.

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Hole 18 – Par 4 – 417yds

The finishing hole at Old Town plays parallel and to the right of the ninth hole.  The bunkers on the left side of the fairway gather everything in the vicinity, as the fairway slopes and feeds directly to them.

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The approach to the well-bunkered eighteenth green provides one final test for the golfer.

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The view from behind the day’s final pin shows the long, gentle climb up from the seventeenth to the eighteenth green.

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Old Town is a true gem with a wonderful vibe and is, most importantly, an extremely fun place to play golf.  The members here are a happy, welcoming, friendly bunch and with a golf course like this, it is easy to see why, as they must always be in a good mood.  Many thanks to Will Spivey, my excellent host and playing companion, who was kind enough not only to invite me for a round but generous enough to share his substantial knowledge about his course.  Many thanks also to Dunlop White, a great ambassador for Old Town and a true asset to the club, who was nice enough to chat with me at several points throughout the day about the course and the improvements made.

The beautiful home green and clubhouse as dusk approaches.

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Thanks for reading.  I hope you enjoyed the tour.


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Sleepy Hollow Course Tour by Jon Cavalier

SLEEPY HOLLOW COUNTRY CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Scarborough-on-Hudson, NY – C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, A.W. Tillinghast

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Full disclosure: I love this place.  Sleepy Hollow is, quite simply, one of my favorite places in the country to play golf.  Exceptional golden age architecture, spectacular views, exciting shots, fabulous conditions — Sleepy Hollow has everything a golfer could want.  And to top it off, Sleepy Hollow is the course that sparked my interest in the work Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor, and subsequently my love for golf architecture generally.  So I’m biased.

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15th and 16th Greens

And of course, I’ve been wanting to do a photo tour of Sleepy Hollow for quite some time.  As with my tour of Old Town Club, Sleepy Hollow’s recent near miss on Golf Digest’s Top-100 list provided a perfect impetus and incentive to pull this tour together and shine a bit of a light on a place that, for me, is ranked about 100 spots too low.

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The “lesser” of the par-3s at Sleepy Hollow

The photographs you see below were taken over the course of two visits to Sleepy Hollow (which is the reason for the differences in light, course conditions and pin positions).

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Waking up at Sleepy

I hope you enjoy the tour.

SLEEPY HOLLOW COUNTRY CLUB

Sleepy Hollow was built on the 338-acre Woodlea estate, which the club acquired in 1911.  C.B. Macdonald designed the golf course, with Seth Raynor on the ground as engineer, and the original 18 holes were completed that same year.  In the late 1920s, AW Tillinghast expanded the course to 27 holes, creating several new holes for the 18-hole “Upper” and 9-hole “Lower” courses.  Via the passage of time and the intrusion of several interim architects of more modern vintage, the course lost touch with its golden age roots for a period.  George Bahto and Gil Hanse were brought in to restore the course’s rightful Macdonald heritage.

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The result speaks for itself.  In its present form, the main course at Sleepy Hollow is rife with beautiful interpretations of many of the Macdonald templates, including Redan, Punchbowl, Double Plateau, and one of the most gorgeous Shorts this side of Fishers Island.  While the property has been owned by Colonel Eliot Shepard and William Rockefeller, and the course has been worked on by some of the great architects in golf, including Tillinghast and Hanse, Sleepy Hollow today stands clearly as a shining example of CB Macdonald’s design tenets and as a fitting monument to George Bahto.  Quite a lineage.

The Clubhouse

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No tour of Sleepy Hollow is complete without at least a brief discussion of its magnificent clubhouse.  Some of the best courses in the country are identifiable by their clubhouses alone, and in a few instances — Winged Foot, Oakmont, Myopia Hunt, Ridgewood, and Shinnecock, to name but a few — they become iconic in their own right.  Sleepy Hollow’s is one such clubhouse.

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Looming high above, the clubhouse, designed by Stanford White in 1893 as the manor house, is the first thing the golfer notices about Sleepy Hollow upon entering the gates, and it provides quite the first impression.  As the long entrance road makes way up toward the building, the loping route provides views of several holes on the lower course, the driving range, the stables, and the many rock formations that remind the golfer that he’s in Westchester.  But all the while, the presence of the massive clubhouse dominates.

The entrance road culminates at the south face of the clubhouse, seen in the photo below.  The parking lot is in the rear, to the right.

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The clubhouse has been the scene of several television shows and movies, and has hosted countless events.  And with views like this from its spacious lawn, it’s easy to see why.

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It is a beautiful building and a fitting way to begin a day at Sleepy Hollow.

The Scorecard, Logo and Haunted Bridges

A golfer senses a theme at Sleepy Hollow.  The club has named each of its holes in reference to Washington Irving’s story, which was set in the surrounding hills.  The course itself stretches to 6880 yards and plays quite pleasantly at 6377 yards from the white tees (which I use for this tour) to a par of 70.

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The club’s logo of the Headless Horseman, likewise taken from the Irving story, is one of the best in golf.

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Finally, the Haunted Bridges, encountered on the 3rd, 10th and 16th holes, appear to have been built by Irving’s contemporaries and provide a unique and fitting touch.

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THE GOLF COURSE AT SLEEPY HOLLOW

Hole 1 – “Sunnyside” – 406yds – Par 4

There is no more enjoyable way to start a round of golf that from a first tee that sits in the shadow of the clubhouse, as is the case at Sleepy Hollow.  The Hudson river just peeks out above the treeline, giving the golfer a small taste of what’s to come.

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The first hole is a downhill dogleg right which, while tree lined, has a more generous landing area and more room to work the ball than it first appears.  The ideal position is the left half of the fairway.

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The first green is of a good size, but the bunkering on both sides and the visually deceptive framing bunker short left make for a challenging first iron.

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The fairway runs seamlessly into the green, allowing for the ball to be run on to the putting surface, but the green slopes up from front to back.  The deep Macdonald bunkering is felt immediately.

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The view back up the first hole — steeper than it appears, and a solid start to what will become a memorable round.

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Hole 2 – “Outlook” – 321yds – Par 4

Reminiscent of the first hole at Myopia, the second hole is a short, uphill par-4 defended by a relatively severe, well-protected green.  The “eyeglasses” bunkers short of the fairway are not in play, but make for an appealing visual effect.

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The approach to the second green will almost always be from an uphill lie, making for frequent short-right misses.  This deep-and-steep wraparound front-right bunker is waiting to catch those misses.

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The climb to the second green at Sleepy Hollow is the first point on the course where the golfer is treated to both the stunning views of the Hudson River . . .

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. . . and to the sight of Sleepy Hollow’s one-of-a-kind walking bridges.  This is the point in the round where the golfer knows, beyond a doubt, that a special day awaits.

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Hole 3 – “Haunted Bridge” – 153yds – Par 3

Aptly named, the third hole may be the best par 3 among the standout collection of one-shotters at Sleepy Hollow.  Played over a deep ravine to a green elevated just enough so that the golfer cannot see the entire putting surface, the third provides one of the most exciting tee shots on the front nine at Sleepy Hollow.

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The way in which the land was sculpted and the third green was benched into the hill will appeal to even the most jaded GCA enthusiasts.

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To access the green, the golfer crosses the Haunted Bridge for the first time.  Simply beautiful.

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Hole 4 – “Brom Bones” – 404yds – Par 4

Cresting the hill after putting out on the third green, the golfer is afforded a wide view from the fourth tee over a large, open section of the golf course.  The fourth hole plays out to an open fairway that dips down, then crests a small rise before arriving at the green.

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Longer shots may clear the rise, offering the golfer an unobstructed view of the putting surface.  For those that do not, an aiming marker is provided behind the green.

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A precision approach shot is required, as the fourth green is well guarded with deep bunkers, and is itself riddled with undulations, allowing for difficult pin positions.

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Hole 5 – “High Tor” – 403yds – Par 4

Playing back in the direction of the fourth tee, the fifth hole plays over the rise in the fairway (which is an easy carry for all players), then drops quickly before again rising to meet the green.  The view from the crest of the rise is spectacular.

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The encroaching bunkers, which begin well short of the fourth green, provide for an added challenge on the player’s approach.  Shots that come up short are in danger of rolling several yards back down the fairway.

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Approaches that come up short face this shot, with only the green (with its false front and varying internal mounds) and the pin in view.

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The fifth green.  No words necessary.

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Hole 6 – “Headless Horseman” – 458yds – Par 5

The first three shot hole at Sleepy Hollow is short on the card but plays longer, thanks to the hill that must be climbed before reaching the second fairway.  Aggressive, longer hitters can carry the steep, mounded wall but many players are better off simply laying up short of it.  Right is dead, and the massive grass bunker on the left side of the hill just wishes it was dead.

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Once reaching the upper tier of fairway, the golfer must contend with the principal’s nose bunkering, which sits smack in prime lay-up territory some sixty yards short of the green.

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The sixth green slopes substantially from back to front — approaches that end up beyond the hole will result in a very tricky putt back down to the hole.

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Hole 7 – “Tarry Brae” – 193yds – Par 3

In your author’s humble opinion, the best downhill reverse-redan hole in existence.

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The steepness of the green from high left to low right is so pronounced that balls routinely roll for 30 seconds or more as they funnel down toward the pin.  A wonderfully exciting hole to play.

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Hole 8 – “Sleepy Hollow” – 439yds – Par 4

The eighth hole begins the stretch of holes that were originally laid out by Tillinghast, and which are, for the most part, on a flatter, narrower portion of the property.  Nevertheless, the rolling terrain provides for many interesting shots, as first seen on the par-4 eighth hole.  Off the tee, the preferred result is the left side, but the partially hidden low left fairway bunker must be avoided.  A large mound in the right half of the fairway can scatter balls in any direction.

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The eighth green is set perfectly among the hills and rocky outcroppings.  A false front repels indifferent approaches.

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The eighth green, with the eleventh green complex visible behind.

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Hole 9 – “Katrina’s Glen” – 377yds – Par 4

The ninth provides a generous landing area for tee shots, but balls that end up short and right will face a blind approach to a small, well defended green.

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Tee shots that find the high left side of the fairway will have the preferred look down the center of the slightly elevated green.

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As shown in this photo, missing left is bad, but missing far left is awful.  Note the many appealing pin positions in the rippling green.

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Hole 10 – “The Lake” – 136yds – Par 3

As noted above, the 10th is probably the “worst” of Sleepy Hollow’s four one-shot holes, which should tell you everything you need to know about the high quality of the quartet that the course presents.

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The only hole at Sleepy Hollow with a true water hazard (the 12th has a small stream crossing it), what you see is what you get . . .

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. . . but it sure is pretty.

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Hole 11 – “Ichabod’s Elbow” – 371yds – Par 4

The offset teeing ground of the eleventh hole, benched into the side of the hill bordering the property, creates a soft dogleg right which favors a cut first shot.  While there are rugged, wooded areas on both sides of this hole, even bad shots are typically found and played.

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The eleventh’s key feature is its elevated green and surrounding green complex.  As you would expect, the elevation of the green makes the bunkers much deeper and much more penal as a hazard.

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The green is also one of the most undulating on the golf course . . .

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. . . and this raised section in the right rear of the putting surface makes for both some interesting putts and some impossible recoveries from misses left.

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The wonderfully constructed eleventh green complex, as viewed from the left side.

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Hole 12 – “Double Plateau” – 513yds – Par 5

The second and last par 5 at Sleepy Hollow, the twelfth winds left between the varied hills and mounds that mark this section of the golf course.  This hole was one of the most modified by Bahto and Hanse, and it is safe to assume that Macdonald would approve.

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The hole is reachable in two by longer players capable of positioning their tee shots in a spot that allows the dogleg to be negotiated.  Those laying up must contend with a small stream that winds across the fairway a few dozen yards short of the green and down the left side of the fairway.

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The three-tiered double plateau green is exceptionally built and, while severe in spots (as it should be) it is also large enough to accommodate accessible pin positions.  The steep fairway-cut slope fronting the green adds another layer of challenge, especially to front pins.

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A look back down the twelfth hole.

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Hole 13 – “Andre’s Lane” – 384yds – Par 4

The thirteenth marks the golfer’s return to the area of the course originally developed by Macdonald, and it’s an excellent hole.  A wide, gently inclined fairway slopes gently from high left to low right, and while a line up the left side is ideal, it also confronts two fairway bunkers and a cross-hazard. A line up the right is safer, but not only risks caroming into the rough, but also requires an approach from a less-than-ideal line over perhaps the deepest bunker on the course.  At Sleepy Hollow, such risk/reward decisions are confronted on a continual basis.

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The raised thirteenth green complex is one of your author’s favorites.  In addition to the extremely deep front right bunker, the complex features a pot bunker cut front left, along with a large expanse of fairway cut that extends well to the left of the green before culminating in a kick-slope that tumbles to the putting surface.  This unique setup allows for players to play safely away from the righthand bunker and either benefit from the built-in slope or to putt from above the left side of the green.  An old stone wall frames the rear of the green.  A wonderfully designed feature.

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The thirteenth green as viewed from the fourteenth tee, showing the large area of fairway cut grass.  Putting from up there is both challenging and fun.

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Hole 14 – “Homeward Bound” – 378yds – Par 4

Yet another aptly named hole, the fourteenth tee is set at the eastern corner of the property, the farthest point on the course from the clubhouse, and the next five holes stretch across the property and return the golfer home.  The tee shot on the fourteenth appears simple but is deceptively complex.  From the tee, the righthand bunker juts into the rising fairway. But this small hill not only obscures the green . . .

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. . . but hides a similar, though larger, lefthand cross bunker that sits just beyond the high point of the fairway.  The firm conditions and the now-downhill slope of the fairway will carry most balls that crest the hill left of center into this bunker.

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The fourteenth culminates in a narrow, deep green – one of the smallest on the course.  The green slopes relatively gently from front to back before abruptly ending and falling several feet to a right rear bunker or the rough below.

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From the right side, the golfer is treated to a long view of the green, the multi-tiered bunkers that separate the fourteenth and fourth greens, and the ever-present rocky surrounds of Sleepy Hollow.

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Hole 15 – “Punch Bowl” – 437yds – Par 4

The fifteenth is your author’s favorite hole at Sleepy Hollow, and it is fantastic.  An Alps/Punchbowl amalgamation, the combination of features found on this hole are unique in my experience, and together, they combine to form one of the most exciting, rewarding golf holes that I have ever played.  From the slightly elevated tee, only the first 400 yards of fairway are visible to the golfer, along with the right fairway bunker.

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The fairway is generous but canted rather substantially from high left to low right.  The left side of the fairway is ideal, and anything right of center runs a high risk of catching the right fairway bunker.

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The long approach shot is entirely blind, as the green sits some 20-30 feet below the fairway.  The perfect shot is played out over the right hand bunker, left of the aiming flag. As the golfer crests the fairway . . .

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. . . he is rewarded with the breathtaking view of the punchbowl green, with the sixteenth green behind and the Hudson River valley far below.

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Looking back, the proper route to the green is revealed.  One could never tire of playing this magnificent hole.

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Hole 16 – “Panorama” – 150yds – Par 3

One of the most beautiful one shot holes in the country, the Short at Sleepy Hollow plays back over the gorge that was first confronted on the third hole to a green ringed almost completely by a trench bunker.  The club has wisely removed all of the trees that once marred this spectacular view.

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Gorgeous from any angle, the sixteenth’s views hide a surprising amount of slope within its putting surface.

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The golfer again crosses the Haunted Bridge over the gorge on his way to the sixteenth green.  The way that the third and sixteenth holes were laid out over this terrain is a brilliant example of an architect making the most of a unique but difficult feature.

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Hole 17 – “Hendrik Hudson” – 433yds – Par 4

The seventeenth plays shorter than its yardage, as tee shots will roll forever.  Given the heavy cant of the fairway from left to right, however, care must be taken to properly place one’s tee shot or risk it rolling into the right rough for the cluster of fairway bunkers which are just out of view below the crest of the hill.

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The cluster of righthand fairway bunkers, as well as the extended fairway, are revealed as the golfer descends the seventeenth fairway.  The firm, fast conditions make these bunkers play far larger than their footprint.

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Level lies on approach are few and far between, making this narrow, bunkered green a difficult target.  The fairway runs seamlessly into the front of the green, however, leaving the option for a ground attack open.

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The greenside view of the long downhill penultimate hole.

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Hole 18 – “Mansion Rise” – 401yds – Par 4

While the seventeenth plays shorter than its yardage on the card, the eighteenth, leading back up to the iconic clubhouse, plays much longer than its listed 401.  While tee shots up the left side of this relatively narrow fairway will bounce down into ideal position, the lefthand fairway bunker must be avoided, as it makes reaching the green (or anywhere nearby) a virtual impossibility.

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The beautiful approach shot with the clubhouse directly behind the green (and, often, the lunch crowd observing play) provides one last pleasant memory of a golfer’s round.  While getting up and down from a left miss is tough, missing right can lead to a 30 yard uphill pitch.

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The green, following the slope of the land, is pitched substantially from back left to front right.  Putting back to a front pin is a challenge.

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Like the first tee, the final green at Sleepy Hollow sits mere steps from the clubhouse.

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Sleepy Hollow is a must not only for any fan of CB Macdonald, but for anyone with a love for golden age golf architecture or just a love of fun, exciting golf.  Head Professional David Young, Superintendent Tom Leahy and the club’s members are rightfully proud of their golf course and have acted as outstanding custodians of this treasure.  Soon, as more raters see Sleepy Hollow in its current form, it will assume its rightful place on every top 100 list there is.  But until then, it remains an underrated gem that everyone should try to see at least once.

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Pops lets fly on 16

I hope you enjoyed the tour.


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Fishers Island Course Tour by Jon Cavalier

FISHERS ISLAND – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Fishers Island, NY – Seth Raynor

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The Biarritz

Some golf courses are special.  We all know that feeling we get when we play one of these courses.  Our senses are heightened, our memories are sharpened, our spirits are lifted, and our love for the game of golf is strengthened and vindicated by the experience.

Fishers Island is a special golf course.

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The Short

Designed by CB Macdonald protege Seth Raynor and opened for play in 1926, Fishers Island Club sits at the eastern end of Fishers Island, which in turn sits in Long Island sound.  Fishers Island is in many ways a throwback club — it has resisted adding length, which has enabled it to preserve Raynor’s original intent as well as the enjoyable nature of a round there.  It is also one of very few remaining clubs to have avoided installing a fairway irrigation system, which provides for some of the firmest, fastest playing conditions that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing on the east coast.

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The Eden

I had the great pleasure of playing Fishers Island on a perfect September day.  Bright sun, 70 degrees, enough wind to keep things interesting.  The combination of the setting, the weather, the club and the golf course combined to make my day at Fishers Island one of the most memorable experiences of my golfing life.

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The Punchbowl

I had been somewhat reluctant to do a photo tour of Fishers Island as, quite frankly, I was concerned about the difficulty of doing the course justice.  To that end, you may notice that this tour has more photographs and less words than some of my past tours — Fishers is that kind of place.

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The Home

FISHERS ISLAND CLUB

As noted above, Fishers Island is a 1926 Seth Raynor design.  As such, it is chock full of excellent template holes — Redan, Biarritz, Eden, Short, Knoll, Cape, Road and Double Plateau are all present, and arguments can be made for several templates as the best in class.  Fishers Island remains largely unchanged from Raynor’s day — the course tips out at a par-72 6556 yards.  While it is not “suited for championship play,” Fishers Island is suited to provide golfers of all abilities with an extremely enjoyable, exciting and memorable round of golf.  More’s the pity that so many other clubs have abandoned that noble goal.

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Getting There – The Ferry

As my private aircraft was in for repairs, I was forced to take the more common route to Fishers Island — I drove up from Philadelphia and caught the 8am ferry.  That one must take a boat to get to Fishers Island only adds to the experience.  I have made many long drives to play golf and I always enjoy the time that such a drive provides to look forward to the coming round, anticipation building as the course draws closer.  The 45 minute ride on the Fishers Island Ferry across Block Island Sound only heightens that sense of anticipation and further differentiates the experience of a round at Fishers Island from other clubs.

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The Clubhouse

I like clubhouses that suit the environs.  The austere and imposing clubhouses of Winged Foot and Sleepy Hollow fit their surroundings as well as the casual and charming clubhouses of Eastward Ho and Myopia Hunt.  Fishers Island’s clubhouse reminds the player of a weekend escape or an isolated beach house.

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The Logo and Scorecard

The iconic Fishers Island logo is a simple green outline of Fishers Island on a white background, with the red pin placed carefully at the location of the Fishers Island clubhouse.  No words necessary.  I am a fan of this logo.

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As many Raynor courses do, Fishers Island provides the names of each individual hole on its scorecard.

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A routing of the golf course is also provided.

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The course plays to 6544 from the back tees and 6138 from the white tees, with each set playing to a Par 72.

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The course mascot.

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The Putting Green

The practice green sits mere steps from the clubhouse and right next to the first tee, and the view gives a hint of the many spectacular views to come.

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THE COURSE

Hole 1 – “Raynor’s Start” – 396 yards – Par 4

While the first at Fishers Island is one of the longest two shot holes on the course, the landing area is quite generous, with fescue separating the first fairway from the 18th and a small pond down the right that is in play for well struck shots.

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Note the browning of the fairway, due to the lack of fairway irrigation.  Fast, bouncy conditions tee to green!

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The first green is open in front across the full width of the fairway, allowing for balls to be run on.  This front pin is treacherous, as anything short will roll back, leaving a very delicate pitch or putt.

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This view from the left side of the first green illustrates Raynor’s penchant for pushing up his greensites, which deepen the greenside bunkers and add to the challenge of the approach.

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The view from behind the first green, with the gorgeous clubhouse above.

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Hole 2 – “Redan” – 172 yards – Par 3

The first of the usual Raynor quartet of one shot holes, the Fishers Island Redan is a softer (though quite beautiful) version of this traditional template.

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All of the required elements are present, but the effect of the right side kick slope and the tilt of the green is less pronounced than on other Redans.

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The view from the right side of the green.

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The view from the left side of the green.

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What this Redan lacks in severity, it makes up for in setting.  The view from the back of the second green.

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Hole 3 – “Plateau” – 335 yards – Par 4

Standing on the tee of the third hole at Fishers Island is where, for the first time player, the fact that he’s playing a truly special and unique golf course really starts to sink in.

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A short par 4, the third reminded me of the “Cliff Hangers” game from the Price Is Right — it climbs and climbs, until it stops and dives off a cliff.  The challenge off the tee is to carry as much of the ravine as desired so as to leave the correct distance for an approach.

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There are horizon greens, and then there’s the third at Fishers Island.

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Once summitted, the third green treats players to a 360 degree view which includes the clubhouse and the fourth hole (visible in the left hand side of the photo below).

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The third green is a hit it or else proposition, but long is extra-dead.

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The third green provides the first of many incredible views at Fishers Island.

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This look back at the third green complex gives the player a feel for the incredible job Raynor did in siting and building his greens.

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Hole 4 – “Punch Bowl” – 397 yards – Par 4

An Alps/Punchbowl combination, the fourth hole at Fishers Island is your author’s all-time favorite version of the punchbowl template.

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A visually arresting hole, the fourth plays out over a chasm to an elevated fairway bordered by woods on the left and a steep drop to the sound on the right.  The Alps feature provides visual interest off the tee and a point of aim.

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This view from the far right hand edge of the fairway reveals the green.  The pin is just barely visible on the left.

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The Alps feature makes nearly every approach shot into the fourth green blind.

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Upon ascending the Alps, the incomparable Punchbowl green is revealed.

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One of the deeper Punchbowls still in existence, the walls of the fourth green are five feet high in spots, nearly sheer, and cut to fairway height.

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The putting surface runs back to front and is bisected by an internal ridge that makes three-putting common.

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Just beautiful.

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Hole 5 – “Biarritz” – 207 yards – Par 3

Narrowly edging out the ninth at Yale and the ninth at Piping Rock for the title of your author’s favorite Biarritz, the fifth at Fishers Island plays uphill to a tiered Biarritz green surrounded by deep bunkers.  A wonderful setting for this template hole.

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There are worse places to miss than short on this hole.

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The fifth possesses an added degree of difficulty as a ridge runs through the rear of the putting surface perpendicular to the Biarritz swale.  Even a pin-high tee shot does not guarantee a par.

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In your author’s humble opinion, the most beautiful Biarritz in the world.

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Hole 6 – Olinda – 520 yards – Par 5

The first three shot hole at Fishers Island, the sixth begins with a tee shot over the crest of a ridgeline which obscures the landing area.

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Cresting the ridge reveals the spectacular natural terrain and the remainder of the hole.

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The firm, fast fairways coupled with the substantial undulations make for some highly entertaining shots here.

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A look back up the sixth fairway reveals some of the most rollicking terrain on the course.

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Hole 7 – “Latimer” – 363 yards – Par 4

Some consider the seventh hole the signature hole at Fishers Island.  I would’t argue.

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A mid-length par 4 made shorter by the fast, downhill fairway, the seventh culminates at a green that appears suspended over the sound.

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Even shorter hitters off the tee must be careful not to lose their ball to this hazard on the right.

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Anything missing left will run straight through into the greenside bunkers . . .

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. . . and anything long is wet.

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Hole 8 – “Road Hole” – 465 yards – Par 5

A short par 5, the eighth is perhaps the most difficult tee shot at Fishers Island.  The fairway is hemmed in tightly on both sides by long grasses and water, and the firm terrain will magnify any ball not squarely struck.  The ideal shot is off the redan-like mound running down the right side of the fairway.

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Nearly all safely hit tee shots will have a legitimate chance to go for this green in two.

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The Road-style eighth green as seen from the right side, with the road bunker rapping around the right rear.

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The eighth green and large fronting bunker, as viewed from the left side.

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Hole 9 – “Double Plateau” – 364 yards – Par 4

Another exciting, unique and extremely fun hole, the ninth plays over a large ridge which houses the course’s lone fairway bunker (easily carried by most players) and obscures the landing area and the remainder of the hole.

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From the top of the ridge, the remainder of the wonderful hole is revealed.

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In typical conditions, this hole is reachable by longer hitters willing to take the risk, as tee shots run forever down the back side of the ridge.

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The gorgeous double plateau green adds challenge and excitement to both the approach shot and the putts.

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This view shows the heavy contouring of the double plateau green . . .

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. . . as does this view from the left side of the green.

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Hole 10 – “Knoll” – 401 yards – Par 4

Perhaps the most difficult hole on the course, the tenth begins with a drive to a generous landing area.  Care should be taken to find the preferred side of the fairway, as a difficult approach awaits.

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A level lie is seldom found on the tenth, which only adds to the degree of difficulty faced on approach to the elevated green.

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The hill fronting the tenth green is steep.  Anything short will roll all the way back to the base of the hill some 40 yards short of the green, leaving a very difficult third shot.

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The horizon green makes judging the distance to the target very difficult.

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Par is a good score on this beautiful par 4.

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Hole 11 – “Eden” – 164 yards – Par 3

Some consider this hole Raynor/Macdonald’s finest Eden, and the finest in the US as well.  Your author agrees.

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Everything about this hole is perfect, from the construction and placement of the deep Hill and Strath bunkers . . .

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. . . to the horizon green . . .

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. . . to the spectacular setting of the hole itself.  A wonderful hole.

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The “Eden” peninsula, as viewed from the fifteenth fairway.

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Hole 12 – “Winthrop” – 389 yards – Par 4

The twelfth plays as a two-shot reverse Redan, with the tee shot hit over a cross ridge protruding from the left into the fairway.

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The green at the twelfth plays more like a traditional Redan than Fishers’s second.

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The fronting kick mound is larger and steeper, the front bunker is deeper and more hazardous . . .

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. . . and the green slopes more severely from front to back.

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A thrilling hole to play.

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Hole 13 – “Waterloo” – 400 yards – Par 4

A longer two shotter playing through a rolling fairway, the thirteenth is one of the few holes at Fishers Island on which the green is fronted by a hazard.

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Ponds front both the left and right sides of the approach short of the green, leaving only a narrow land bridge for the player to cross.

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The ideal approach at thirteen to a front pin is to land short of the green and allow the ball to bounce on.  As you can see, this leaves little room for error.

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The green itself is heavily undulated, and tilted significantly from back right to front left, making any conservative approach hit long a difficult two putt.

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The view from the right side of the thirteenth green.

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This section of the golf course (holes 11 through 15) is one of the rare portions of the course at Fishers Island where holes run parallel and are visible to the golfer.  This panoramic shot shows the thirteenth and eleventh greens.

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Hole 14 – “Cape” – 425 yards – Par 4

A sweeping dogleg left around a large pond, the 14th is yet another gorgeous hole.  I have been told that long hitters can attack this green directly – I was not confronted with that choice, and played down the prescribed righthand route.

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From the fairway, the player must carry the pond.  The closer the player dares to come to the pond off the tee, the shorter the approach will be.

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A large oak guards the rear of the fourteenth green.

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The green itself is set perfectly in a grove of trees at the base of a hill, and provides one of the day’s many incomparable views.

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Hole 15 – “Long” – 545 yards – Par 5

The longest of the three shot holes at Fishers Island is still not long by contemporary standards, and the generous fairway beyond the ridge allows players to have a go at the green in two.  There is more room left than it appears.

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The fast conditions that predominate at Fishers Island turn the par 5s into potential birdie holes, but also bring an added element of danger on every hole.

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As so many greens at Fishers Island are, the fifteenth green is open in front the full width of the fairway, which further incentivizes the player to attempt to get home in two.

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Deep bunkers await less than well struck efforts.

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Hole 16 – “Short” – 146 yards – Par 3

In your author’s opinion, the sixteenth is in competition, along with the sixteenth at Sleepy Hollow, for the most beautiful version of the “Short” template ever built.  Note that this green is no pushover.

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While this Short does not have the full wraparound bunkering like the Shorts at places like Sleepy Hollow, Whippoorwill and Fox Chapel, the more natural-looking surrounding bunkers here are perhaps more appropriate for the setting.

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The view of the sixteenth green from behind, with the tenth and twelfth greens in the distance.

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Hole 17 – “Coast Guard” – 415 yards – Par 4

A long, straight par 4, the penultimate hole at Fishers Island is also one of the more challenging.  Over a pond (carry is not an issue) to a relatively wide fairway bordered on both sides by long grasses and hazards, the seventeenth requires both accuracy and distance.

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Once more, the green is fully open to the fairway across the front.  One of my favorite features of this golf course.

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The seventeenth green is one of the most testing on the course — many internal ridges, mounds, and swales make lag putting from distance very challenging.  A tough par before the easier eighteenth.

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Hole 18 – “Home” – 452 yards – Par 5

A short par 5 finishing hole, the eighteenth at Fishers Island is a fantastic match play hole.

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At only a hair over 450 yards, many players will find it within their capabilities to reach this green in two.

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The green is slightly elevated, sloped steeply from back to front, and defended by a deep pot-like left bunker.  However, as with the other three shot holes at Fishers Island, the majority of the green is again open in front, allowing for long second shots to be run on to the putting surface.

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The green itself is multi-tiered, with high right and rear sections bordering a lower left section.  The slope is substantial enough that a player can attack pins on the lower left shelf by playing the ball off the high right section, similar to a Redan.

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This view from the left side of the final green reveals the many undulations of the putting surface.

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A beautiful conclusion to a special round of golf.

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After the Round – The Ferry Home

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Much like the pre-round ferry ride over to Fishers Island allows excitement and anticipation to build, the ferry back to the mainland gives the player a chance to think back on the special day he has just had, to reminisce about shots made and shots missed, to talk with his friends and playing companions about their shared experience, and to pause for a moment of reflection to consider how fortunate he is to call himself a golfer.

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Fishers Island is a special place.  While it is frequently a point of discussion as to whether it is over- or under-ranked on the various top-100 lists, no golfer would seriously debate that a day at Fishers Island is as good as it gets.  Were I left with just one round to play, I might choose to spend that round at Fishers Island — there is no higher compliment that I can give.

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I hope you enjoyed the tour.


3 Comments

Boston Golf Club Tour by Jon Cavalier

BOSTON GOLF CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Hingham, MA – Gil Hanse

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Boston has long been known as one of America’s best cities for golf.  With classic gems like Myopia Hunt Club, The Country Club at Brookline, Essex County Club, Salem Country Club, Kittansett and Eastward Ho!, as well as modern entries like Old Sandwich by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the best of Boston-area golf can rival anywhere.

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Enter Boston Golf Club.  I had the privilege of seeing this 2004 Gil Hanse design on a beautiful late-October afternoon, and while I had heard good things about the club previously, to say that Boston Golf Club exceeded my expectations would be a dramatic understatement.

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Every hole at BGC offers something worthwhile.  The golfer is put to strategic decisions constantly.  Despite its location, the playing corridors are wide, encouraging thoughtful placement of one’s ball.  And the setting is gorgeous.  Boston Golf Club is the best work I’ve seen by Gil Hanse, and I would recommend it without reservation to any golfer looking to play in the Boston area.

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I hope you enjoy the tour.

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The first thing a visitor notices upon arriving at Boston Golf Club is the wooded setting.  After turning into the entrance, marked only with a stone post engraved with the number “19”, the visitor winds his way up a curved drive to the gravel lot and walks up to the wooden-shingled clubhouse, built to look like a relic from the revolutionary war.

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The club has a well-appointed golf shop, locker rooms and a second-floor bar and grill with a view overlooking the 18th green.  Such tastefully done facilities that mesh well with their location are always a refreshing sight in today’s game.  Now member-owned, Boston Golf Club clearly puts the focus where it belongs – on the golf course.

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In sticking with the revolutionary war motif, the club’s logo is a simple red and white striped flag.  It’s one of my favorite modern golf logos.

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The golf course itself plays to a championship distance of 7062 yards, par 71, while the members generally play to a more reasonable 6740 yards (the distances used in this tour) or a composite yardage of just over 6300.  The course slopes out to a robust 139 (74.8 rating) at the tips and a 136 (73.4 rating) from the next set of tees.

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As seen in this overhead, the course is divided by a public road – the front nine plays out across the loop to the east of the road, while the back nine plays on the western side where the clubhouse is located.

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Though the road is not visible from any part of the course and is completely unobtrusive during play, the unique routing does present a rather long initial walk from the clubhouse to the first tee, and from the ninth to the tenth tee.  But the course itself is very walkable.

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Superintendent Rodney Hine and his staff expertly tend to BGC with firm, fast greens and fairway and short rough, with an assist from the goats kept on property.

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Need trees removed . . .

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Happy to help!  Any course with goats on the maintenance staff gets extra points in my book.

Now, on to the golf course…

BOSTON GOLF CLUB

Hole 1 – 485 yards – Par 5

The course begins with a short but challenging par-5 that plays up over a blind rise to a fairway hidden largely from view.

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From the very outset, the player gets a sense of what they will encounter at Boston Golf Club – wide, heaving fairways and an abundance of gorgeous scenery – both natural and, in the case of the stone wall seen here, man-made.

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Though this sub-500 yard par-5 is reachable in two for some longer hitters, the challenge in attempting the hero play is stiff.  The elevated green is ringed with bunkers and fronted by a ribbon of gunch that will likely result in a lost ball for those whose attempts at the green come up short.

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Laying up presents its own challenges, and the elevated green is partially hidden from view from the end of the fairway.

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The view from behind the putting surface reveals the substantial undulation in the first green and the ample width of the playing lane, which while often appearing tight, always provides the player with room to maneuver.

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Hole 2 – 407 yards – Par 4

A beautiful two shot hole, the fourth calls for an ideal drive either short of or over the rocky outcropping that cuts into the fairway from the right side.

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Indifferent tee shots will find trouble on both sides of the pinched fairway.

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Once beyond the choke point, the fairway tumbles hard down to the large green, which is open in the front to allow golfers to use the slope and attack the green on the ground.

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As this view from the right rear corner of the green shows, both the putting surface and the surrounding mowed areas are rife with movement.  The deep valley to the left of the green adds considerable challenge to approaches hit to left pins.

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Hole 3 – 420 yards – Par 4

The outstanding third hole begins with another blind tee shot to a fairway that swells up before dropping and bending slightly to the left.

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Care must be taken to choose a line and a shot shape that will both enable the player to hold the fairway and to position himself to approach the angled, sloping green.

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A ravine divides the fairway from the large third green, which is angled from short left to deep right, and which is also sloped hard from left to right, making the angle of approach critical.

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The view from behind the green shows the exceptionally undulated fairway, uncommon elsewhere but frequently seen here.

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After bagging his (hopeful) four, the golfer sets off on this footbridge through a wooded marsh to reach the fourth tee.

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Hole 4 – 413 yards – Par 4

The third of three consecutive two shot holes exceeding 400 yards in length, the fourth hole requires a drive over the large framing bunker to the left over another rise, which hides . . .

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. . . these traps guarding the left side of the fairway, and which should be avoided at all costs.  Beyond this hazard, the fairway drops into a valley before rising again to meet the green.

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A common theme at Boston Golf Club is that many of the areas surrounding the greens are mowed to fairway height, accentuating the use of the ground game, providing recovery options for near-misses and exacting a heavier price for poorly hit shots that will not have the benefit of tall grass to stop the ball near the green.

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Once again, the green is open across the front, allowing a variety of shots to be played.

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Hole 5 – 313 yards – Par 4

One of the best modern short par-4 holes that I’ve seen, the fifth plays out through a chute of trees to an upsloping fairway with troublesome bunkering and mounds encroaching from the right.

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While the tendency of most from the tee will be to play safely out to the left of the open fairway to avoid these bunkers, which will certainly add at least a stroke to most cards . . .

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. . . those who do are confronted with an approach from a difficult angle to an extremely narrow green backed by a deep, tight bunker.

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At the same time, the closer one plays to the trouble up the right side of the fairway, the better the angle into the difficult green. From the right edge of the fairway, the player has the benefit of playing down the long axis of the green.

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The narrowness of this green and the shape of the bunkering to the rear is reminiscent of the ninth green at Myopia Hunt.  Though most will have but a wedge in, this is one of the most difficult approaches on the golf course.

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A brilliantly designed short two-shotter in every respect.

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Hole 6 – 157 yards – Par 3

The first of an exceptional quartet of one-shot holes at Boston Golf Club, the sixth plays from an elevated tee to an elevated green across an ocean of sand and shrub.

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The wide, shallow green is shaped almost like a figure eight and plays more like two small greens than a single large one.

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The left pin placements play easier than those to the smaller but shorter right side.

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As is the case with all of the par-3s at Boston Golf Club, the sixth perfectly balances visual appeal with a demand for quality shotmaking.

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Hole 7 – 423 yards – Par 4

The tee shot at the seventh must carry an expanse of sandy waste area, and a hidden valley on the right side (a smaller version of a similar feature on the second hole at NGLA) should be avoided.

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The wide fairway gives way to a reverse redan-like green that is one of the most severely sloping on the course.

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Serious trouble awaits the weak cut that misses the green short.  Even shots that hit the front right portion of the green risk being repelled into the bunker below.

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One of the more difficult pars at Boston Golf Club – a four here is an excellent outcome.

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Hole 8 – 210 yards – Par 3

The longest one-shot hole at Boston Golf Club, the eighth green is partially hidden from view by chocolate drop-style mounding that fronts the putting surface and makes this tee shot appear much more difficult than it is.

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As seen here, there is ample room between the drops and the green, which allows for the ball to be landed short of the green and bounced on to the putting surface.

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Likewise, there is substantial room to miss the green short or left and still have a good chance at par.

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Missing this green long, however, is quite bad – this nasty little bunker is more than ten feet below the putting surface.

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The green itself is rippled and mounded.  A wonderful par-3 hole.

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Hole 9 – 440 yards – Par 4

From an elevated tee, the golfer gives back the nearly 100 feet of elevation gained over the first eight holes.

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Though the elevation change and the angle of the fairway make this shot look rather tight, the fairway is wider and more accommodating than it appears from the tee.

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From the fairway, the player must first avoid a small area of hazard intruding from the left side as he approaches one of the more scenic and interesting greens on the property.

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The large green is nestled into a cove bordered in the front by the raised fairway and in the rear by a stone wall.  Missing this green long is not an option.

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The green itself contains substantial movement, and hitting it in regulation is no guarantee of a par.

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A tough, fair and pretty hole – a fitting end to the front nine.

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Hole 10 – 390 yards – Par 4

From a tee bordered by the foundation of an old ruin, the tenth plays out to a fairway sloping downhill and to the right.  The raised mound on the right of the fairway complicates this drive.

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As seen here, the ideal tee shot favors the right side of the fairway, as anything left bears a risk of running off or through the fairway.

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From the left edge of the fairway, the green is revealed.  Long is not an option, and the bunkers short of the putting surface make for a challenging recovery.

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The result is one of the more difficult approach shots on the course.

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Despite these challenges and the visual difficulties presented by the setting of the green, as is often the case at Boston Golf Club, there is more room to maneuver than first appears.

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All in all, an outstanding par 4 and one of my favorites of the inward nine.

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Hole 11 – 178 yards – Par 3

The penultimate one-shotter and the last until the eighteenth hole, the eleventh is a gorgeous par-3 playing out over a large wasteland to a green benched into the side of a hill.

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The large putting surface is heavily sloped, and the high mound to the left of the green again provides for redan-like characteristics and the availability of an indirect route.

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Today’s pin, which sits at the base of the elevated left side of the green, is one of the most player-friendly, but . . .

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. . . pins on the back left side of the green are difficult in the extreme.

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This is neither the hardest green to hit nor the easiest green to putt, but one thing is certain . . .

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. . . this is a beautiful golf hole.

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Hole 12 – 424 yards – Par 4

The tee shot here is over a long stone wall to a fairway angled from left to right away from the tee.

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The fairway itself is one of the most undulating on the entire course, and level lies are seldom found here.

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Bunkers guard the left side of the fairway, and a principal’s nose feature sits some 50 yards short of the green in the middle of the fairway.

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Beyond these hazards, the fairway dips into a wide gully before rising steeply to meet the green.

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The resulting false front can repel even marginally indifferent shots well back into the fairway.

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After negotiating these many difficulties, the golfer is rewarded with one of the most difficult putting surfaces on the course.  Putting from the rear of this green to a front pin can easily result in one facing a 30 yard chip on the following shot.

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A very difficult hole, and the first in a string of three.

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Hole 13 – 415 yards – Par 4

Playing over a framing bunker to a wide fairway, the ideal tee shot here is to the left of the fairway so as to provide room to clear the dogleg.

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Cut shots will often have to contend with the trees down the right side, but the green is sloped from left to right to aid such shots.

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In a vision of dark comedy, Hanse turned this old ruin located on the inside corner of the dogleg into a bunker.  While few find this diabolical hazard, even fewer of those who do escape.

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A welcome sight – yet another green open across its full width to the fairway.

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As this view from the left side of the green shows, the thirteenth is no pushover when it comes to putting.  A hard left to right slant and internal undulations provide a stiff test.

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In return for providing a green open to the fairway, the thirteenth severely punishes the overly aggressive golfer who ends up long.  As is the case with so many holes at BGC, the thirteenth strikes an ideal balance in strategic concerns.

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Hole 14 – 418 yards – Par 4

The last in a difficult three hole stretch, the fourteenth plays gently downhill and slightly to the right along the eastern edge of the property.

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This alternate tee to the left of the primary teeing ground provides the members with a different look at this hole.

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Once more, the ideal line off this tee is to the left side of the fairway, avoiding the bunkering . . .

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. . . and providing a straight-on approach to this green, which slopes away from the player.

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Again, the green is hospitable to a ground attack which, given the slope of the green, is often preferable here.

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An excellent two-shot hole.

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Hole 15 – 545 yards – Par 5

The longest hole on the course and the first par-5 since the opening hole, the fifteenth is also one of the more dramatic holes at BGC.  From the tee, the it plays out to a largely blind fairway that bends slightly right.

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The second shot must carry Hanse’s rendition of a Hell’s Half Acre bunker complex, which divides the fairway.

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Once clear of the cross hazard, the player confronts a gorgeously sloped fairway that pares down to a mere ribbon of short grass that bends left and dives down to the green.

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The beauty of the landscaping done on this hole cannot be overstated.

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Arriving at the green, the golfer confronts a putting surface that slopes up from front to back and which is riddled with small mounds and internal slopes.  The intricate green is a fitting culmination to this wonderful three-shotter.

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One of my favorite par-5s in New England.

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Hole 16 – 340 yards – Par 4

The final par-4 at BGC, and one of the shortest, the sixteenth doglegs left through a fairway punched full of rough bunkers, including a proper principal’s nose.

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The elevated green is fronted by several bunkers, including one of the largest and deepest on the course.

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Hazards surround the putting surface, and a raised ridge running around the green from the front right to back left provides a half-punchbowl effect, and makes reading this green difficult.

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Though a short par-4, the sixteenth is by no means without its teeth.

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Hole 17 – 538 yards – Par 5

The final full tee shot at BGC plays out to a wide, mounded fairway with a large, rocky mound down the center line.

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Once this initial hill is crested, the remainder of this downhill par-5 is revealed.

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One of the more straightforward holes at BGC, the sixteenth is a rather simple proposition – keep the ball in the middle of the fairway and avoid the many hazards dotting its edges.

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Yet again, this green will accommodate a shot played along the ground.  The putting surface is cut by a valley that bisects nearly the entire green and provides for some interesting and challenging pin locations.

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As this view back up the seventeenth shows, the fairways at BGC are some of the wildest this side of Eastward Ho!

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The view from the seventeenth green across the 14th fairway is one of the best on the course.

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Hole 18 – 180 yards – Par 3

Often, courses that finish with a par-3 are referred to as “controversial.”  But if a one-shot hole best fits the land and the location, as it does here, an architect does the course a disservice if he forces a hole that doesn’t fit.  The final hole at BGC plays uphill to a green located in the shadow of the clubhouse.  It is a difficult par-3 and a fitting test to conclude a medal round or a match.

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The green is fronted by a stone wall and deep bunkers – short is not an optimal miss here.

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As evidenced by today’s pin location . . .

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. . . and the mounding within the green, the final hole is no pushover, and provides a fitting finish to this brilliant golf course.

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Few courses that I played exceeded my expectations more than Boston Golf Club, and I had high expectations going in.  What I found here was an expertly designed golf course that was extraordinarily interesting in its strategic demands and, most importantly, extremely enjoyable to play.  Every hole, and every shot, at BCG offered a strategic challenge that required an evaluation of the various options available and the risks and potential rewards of each possible play.  As soon as I finished my round, I wanted to head right back out for another loop – only darkness prevented me from doing so.

Boston Golf Club has my highest recommendation and is a must see for any devout golfer in the Boston area.  Simply put, it is one of the finest modern golf courses that I have yet to play.

I hope you enjoyed the tour.

– Jon Cavalier / @linksgems

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf