Geeked on Golf

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

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The Next 99 – Scott Pavalko & Jim Urbina at Bob O’Link

This post was a long time in the making.  Like Bob O’Link’s architectural history – first with Ross, then with Alison, and now with Urbina – it involves intertwined threads.

Growing up on the North Shore and caddying at Old Elm Club, I was aware of Bob O’Link, but had never seen or played it.  Fast forward to 2015 and a Golf Club Atlas dinner at which Jim Urbina gave a talk, while in town for the renovation project, introducing me to his perspective on architecture.  In 2016, I played Milwaukee CC and Orchard Lake, which piqued my interest in the work of C.H. Alison.

That same year, I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Pavalko who is a fellow Evanston resident, generous supporter of our efforts at Canal Shores, and all-around good guy.  He had me out to play and we were joined by Green Chairman Joe Burden,  It was a solid geek session, and I loved the course.

After Andy Johnson’s podcast with Jim Urbina, in which Jim’s passion came through so clearly, I decided that the time had come to tie all the threads together.  Scott and Jim graciously agreed to discuss the project and their work.  Enjoy the interview, and Scott’s gorgeous photos.


How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

SP:  I can’t ever remember a time where I wasn’t around the game of golf.  My father was a Superintendent in Ohio.  Some of my earliest photos of me are of playing around in sand piles or running around in bunkers at the course where he worked.  I fondly remember going back to the course with my dad to check on things in the evening.  He would let me drive the Cushman.

I learned to play from my grandfather.  “Papa” had retired from the US Steel in Youngstown Ohio by the time I was born.  He spent his time playing in muni leagues around Youngstown.  My recollection is that he played at least 6 rounds a week.  His friends called him “Silky” because of his smooth swing, as he regularly shot near par well into his 70’s.  My Dad was also a good player – he was inducted into his High School Hall of Fame for golf and shot a 29 (par 35) just months before beginning his battle with cancer.  Unfortunately, it’s a battle he lost in 2006.

Being a very “blue collar” town, public golf courses outnumbered private courses probably 7 to 1 so; this is how I came to know golf.  There is a great little “Par 3” course in Youngstown that my father managed at one time in his career.  I learned to play there, longest hole 127 yds, shortest hole 61 yds, I think it used to cost $4.75 for residents.  My Dad and I would compete in their annual  2 man team best ball tourney, we won the last time we played.

JU:  I never played golf growing up and Pete Dye who I started my design career with didn’t really care that I played golf; he said it would ruin my creativity as a shaper.  Didn’t start playing golf seriously until I moved to Del-Mar California while building Rancho Santa Fe Farms.

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

JU:  I rarely kept score when I was just starting out.  I found the Match Play game more to my liking and it kept me interested in the round a lot longer.  We use to play almost every weekend at Torrey Pines; we couldn’t work on Saturdays in Rancho Santa Fe – too many people at home around the golf course construction site on the weekends.

SP:  It wasn’t until I was 20 that I started working on a course with my father at Reserve Run Golf Course in Boardman Ohio.  I was living at home and going to college studying electronics engineering.  I quickly fell in love with the profession.  It probably had something to do with being able to see my Dad as something different than just my old man.  I realized why he had such a passion for his career and saw that he genuinely loved what he did.  This rubbed off on me.  I loved everything about working on a golf course.  Especially being outside and the freedom it presented.  A 150 acre office was hard to beat.

How did you get into the business?

SP:  After finishing my associates degree in electronics, I moved to Columbus Ohio to study Turfgrass Science at Ohio State University.  It was, at that point, the I really knew for certain that I wanted to be a Superintendent.  I loved my classes, I loved learning the science of plants, I loved everything about my time studying turf.  Then, I got hired at Muirfield Village Golf Club.  This changed my whole perspective on what turf maintenance should or could be.  My father’s course was a small public course that was the dream of two retired school teachers.  We had 1 fairway mower, 2 greens mowers and 3 maintenance carts.  Muirfield Village had 30 walking mowers, 10 triplexes for fairways and at least 30 maintenance vehicles.  I had no clue what I was getting in to.  My first Memorial Tournament was a blur and at the end of my first season, Paul B. Latshaw who had just hosted the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, became the Director of Grounds.  From Paul, and Jake Gargasz (who came with Paul from Oak Hill and is now the Superintendent at Crooked Stick) I learned a tremendous amount about preparing for tournaments, construction principles, and general agronomics.  The Muirfield Village aesthetic does not fit everywhere, nor should it, but I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to work there and learn from one of the best Superintendents in the country.

JU:  I had just graduated from college with a teaching degree; since I graduated mid-term I had to wait for job openings for the following school season.  I was going to go back and fight forest fires and work for the state forest service (that was my summer job while going to school), but my soon to be father in-law thought I should work on a golf course while waiting for a teaching job.  He thought that was a much better job, and safer too.


What got you excited about the opportunity to take on this renovation?

JU:  The chance to restore a classic Alison course was the first and foremost.  After touring Bob O’Link, I realized the potential it would offer the members, and after I met Scott Pavalko I knew his passion to do the right thing was in the right place.  As I have said before, all the moons were in alignment – the golf course had a great chance to be successful.

SP:  The project was a function of need.  I was fortunate enough to be hired at Bob O’Link in February of 2014.  We were in the midst of a historically cold and snowy winter which featured some unbelievable temperature swings that caused turf damage to many golf courses in our region.  Bob O’Link was no exception.  The greens had not been re-grassed in 90 years and as a result, featured a very high percentage of Poa annua.  Poa annua is very susceptible to winter damage.  In spots we had 80% turf loss.

The planning of the project began with a study of the golf course infrastructure.  Bob O’Link is a challenging site due to the fact that a large portion of the golf course lies in a flood plain.  Drainage was one of the most important aspects of the project.  This included greens, tees, fairways, bunkers, rough.  A famous turf professor from Penn State, Dr. Musser used to say, “the three most important things on a golf course are drainage, drainage and more drainage.”  With our soil types, this is definitely true.

What were your goals going into the project?

Bob O’Link had existed for 99 years before our project.  The overarching goal was to improve infrastructure for the next 99 years while taking the opportunity to sympathetically restore Alison’s intended features and strategy.

The goals were as follows:

  • Improve course infrastructure in such a way that the members can experience the course in the best condition for the most days of the season.
  • Add drainage where appropriate
  • Rebuild bunkers so that they can be maintained properly according to the members’ expectations
  • Improve control of the irrigation system so that fairways and greens can be firm while keeping the rough alive during the summer
  • Address Poa annua issues on greens and fairways
  • Obtain a source of irrigation water that is consistent and predictable by drilling a well (previously we were irrigating with water from the Skokie River)

JU:  To recapture the essence of these wonderful green complexes with the extraordinary large bunkers that supported the landform.


Describe your process for a renovation of this nature.

SP:  The process really began by studying the current course conditions.  There were quite a few issues that needed to be addressed so that we could provide the level of conditioning that the members desired.  This helped us generate the goals above.

Luckily the Board of Directors had enough foresight to realize that while infrastructure was the driving force of the project, there was an opportunity to bring in a Course Architect to help bring everything together and improve the playability and strategy.

Did historical documentation play any role in your approach to the renovation?

SP:  Yes!  It played a huge role.  We have a 1939 aerial photograph that served as a roadmap for the project.  Jim can likely give more details on how he used that photo to help with bunker placements, grass lines, etc.  I began to use aerial photography right away, even before Jim was hired but not necessarily from the architectural feature standpoint.  I used it to help people understand how the trees had not always been there.

JU:  Yes, aerials played a big part, but really it was the skeleton remains of land forms that help guide our way into the restoration process.  The two greens that were altered by previous renovations were molded in the shape of the other 16 greens at Bob O’Link.


What were C.H. Alison’s strengths as an architect?

JU:  Massive green complexes, massive Bunkers to support the green elevations and the wonderful work of the drainage to make sure no bunker was dug too deep to surface drain even though the golf course was on almost dead flat topography.  Thoughtful viewscapes – a Bob O’Link original

SP:  For me, the scale of Alison’s green complexes is impressive.  By building huge, bold green complexes, he created the illusion of contour on a relatively flat property.

What elements of Alison’s design did you most want to highlight?

JU:  The ability to generate interesting and strategic design elements into these subtle putting green surfaces.  The impression that even though the holes felt like they played in a very narrow straight line corridor, the bunkers made the holes feel like they had movement depending on the line of play.  Holes 3-6 on the front side, and 10,11,13 on the back side are examples.


Did you run into challenges with the membership before, during, or after the project, and how did you overcome those challenges?

SP:  Given that this was the largest project at Bob O’Link since they hired Alison to redesign the original Ross course in 1924, there were certainly challenges.  I’ll just say that the Board of Directors of the club did a fantastic job of holding focus groups and getting feedback from the members.  Jim came several times to walk the course and answer questions.  Ultimately, we tried to complete a project that would allow the club to be successful for the next 100 years. We created a detailed book that was distributed to the members To explain the details of the project, but as you can imagine, this was a significant change that required a lot of faith in the Board of Directors, and they delivered.

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

SP:  For the members of Bob O’Link, they really want the best possible conditions on a daily basis.  So improving quality, not necessarily saving money, was the primary goal of our project.  That said, having new bentgrass turf, far fewer shade and tree root competition issues, USGA greens, well-constructed bunkers, and a drainage system that can handle large rainfalls, has certainly allowed us to cut back on chemical and fertilizer applications as well as redirect labor toward continuing course improvement vs maintaining the status quo.  Additionally we are in the process of converting some areas of mowed rough to un-mowed fine fescue which will eventually lead to lower water usage and labor mowing.  Our new irrigation system allows us to apply water where we need it and not where we don’t.  We really emphasize firmness over green, lush conditions, but we have the ability to keep the turf sufficiently healthy to withstand golfer traffic.

What makes you the proudest about the new Bob O’Link?

SP:  I am proud to have been a part of such an impactful project.  Working with Jim Urbina, Leibold Irrigation (our course builder), Joe Valenti (club president), Joe Burden (Chairman, Green Committee), Dan Watters (Head Golf Professional), and all others involved in the project has been the most rewarding event in my career.  I am proud and honored that the club leadership trusted me to help lead them through this project.


What do you respect most about your collaborator?

JU:  Scott is a professional if every sense of the word.  He respected my wishes and understood what Alison stood for in the world of golf course design.  Without a Course Superintendent who appreciates the Golden Age of design, the history that he been entrusted with, and most importantly the ability to adapt the science with strategy, we would have not been so successful.

SP:  Jim is a great listener.  He has taught me more about architecture than I ever knew existed.  But most of all, he is never afraid to give credit to others.  As a world-renowned golf course architect, it would be easy to develop some ego, Jim has none.  He would more quickly give credit to the laborers installing sod than take it himself.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

SP:  There are so many things I love about my job.  The different challenges that each day presents: working with Mother Nature (sometimes against her); balancing the art of presenting a golf course with the science of plants; teaching and coaching young people who desire to become superintendents; seeing the sunrise every morning and seeing the sun set some evenings; being able to come to work with my dog; the sense of accomplishment when you and your team successfully solve a problem; meeting so many different types of people that are passionate about golf for different reasons – it’s really an amazing career and a labor of love.

JU:  I get to work outside, I have studied books and seen almost every golf course of architectural significance, and I get to meet wonderful people who share the same love of the game.  Crafting works of art on 150-acre canvases that people get to experience walking and playing in 3-dimensional form.  For all of that I get to call what I do my JOB – hardly a job, more like hobby!


While addressing the infrastructural needs of the course, Jim, Scott and their crew transformed the way Bob O’Link looks and plays.  What was once a somewhat nondescript course in a crowded golf neighborhood, is now a standout – Golden Age strategy and feel, with artistic flourishes, all impeccably presented.

Scott generously provided the photos below, which present a photographic record of Bob O’Link’s rebirth.  For even more on the renovation, read Scott’s article in GCM Magazine here.

(click on mosaic images to enlarge)



Jim explains a bunker concept to the Shaper


Bunkers under construction


Jim explaining a green concept to the team


Greenside bunker shaping


Talking grass lines



Topdressing the new 1st green


Mowing run-ins on the 7th


Jim surveying the finished product on the 9th


Hand watering short of the 10th green



1939 aerial, open with bold features


2011 aerial, choked with trees


2018 aerial, with Alison’s intent restored

Hole #3 – Par 4 

Hole #4 – Par 3

Hole #8 – Par 3

BOB O’LINK TODAY (click on mosaic images to enlarge)


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Musings on Greenkeeping

Okay, that title is a bit click-baity.  These musings are not exactly about greenkeeping.  I know only enough to be dangerous.  What I do know with certainty is that a Golf Course Superintendent’s job is hard.

I have the good fortune of counting among my friends quite a few greenkeepers.  I watch them work and am perpetually impressed by how they pour their hearts into their work.  We players reap the rewards.  The following musings are tips intended to help players be significantly cooler than they often are to their Superintendents.  Necessarily, the tone of these musings is a bit preachy.  Forgive me – some folks need a tough love talking-to.

TIP #1 – Say “Thank You”

When you see your Super out on the course, if you really want to interrupt their work to have a chat, be cool.  Comments like, “Thanks for the hard work”, and “The course is playing great today”, and “How’s the family?” are appropriate.  Your critique of the course conditions that day are not.  Two reasons why.  The first is that feedback gathering is what your Green Chairman is for.  They take it all in, filter, prioritize and collaborate with your Superintendent to present the best conditions possible.  If your course is overseen by a benevolent dictator like my home course, then save your breath.  The second, and much more important reason, is that a Superintendent out on the course is a person in their happy place.  Just like you when you are playing.  They aren’t on the course to provide mobile suggestion box accessibility services for you.  It would be inappropriate and rude for a member of the maintenance crew to roll up and give you feedback on your swing sequence in the middle of the round.  See where I’m going with this?

In the unlikely event that your observations are so mission critical that the normal channels just won’t cut it, then make an appointment to talk to your Super.  Perhaps even buy them lunch.  Seem like too much trouble?  Then just stick to “Thank you”.

TIP #2 – You Don’t Know Greenkeeping

Perhaps you are a great businessperson, lawyer, doctor, or other professional.  I celebrate your success, truly and sincerely.  Your profession is not greenkeeping though, and whatever expertise you may have does not translate to agronomy and golf course maintenance.  Further, being good at hitting a golf ball does not mean that you know anything about doing the Superintendent’s job.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that players can’t tell the difference between good and poor conditions, and I am not saying that all Superintendents do a great job all the time.  What I am saying is that identifying problems is the easy part.  If you’ve noticed, they already have too.  What to do about those problems is an entirely different matter about which most players have no clue.  It’s therefore best to have some humility, let the experts do their job, and enjoy your round.

TIP #3 – Fast vs. True

Issues with pace of play and enjoyment of the game associated with stimpmeter obsession and the push for faster greens are well documented.  The truth is that most players are not skilled enough to handle greens much over 10 anyway, so stop asking your Super for those PGA Tour conditions.  Pushing the greens for speed increases cost, stresses turf, and makes your Superintendent’s job more difficult.  All for ego.  Golf is hard enough without those extra half-dozen three putts, as well as the lasting mental anguish for both you and your playing partners who had to watch.

What we should be asking for are putting surfaces that roll true.  There is a difference between fast and true, and the latter is ideal for almost all players.  Don’t you want to make more putts?  Of course you do.  Change your ask, and your Superintendent will happily oblige.  The turf will be happier too.

TIP #4 – Embrace the Seasons

Regardless of where you live, changing weather patterns affect your golf course.  Think of these patterns as seasons, and embrace seasonal changes.  The changes mean variety, and variety is the essence of golf’s goodness.

Your course is not supposed to look and play the same every day.  Expecting your Superintendent to deliver the same conditions rain or shine, monsoon or drought, spring, summer, and fall is an impossible standard.  You’ll stress out the staff, and waste money and resources in the process.  Instead, remember that part of the beauty of golf is that it takes us outside to get in touch with nature in all its varied glory.  Natural playing conditions, depending on the weather and season, are the standard that we should desire.

TIP #5 – The Course is for Playing

Golf courses are things of beauty.  They are a blend of art and science, and they are a joy to look at.  However, let’s not forget that a golf course is fundamentally a field of play.  It is for playing, first and foremost, and there are times when the best playing conditions might not be generally accepted as the prettiest.

Your Superintendent’s job is to provide the best possible playing surfaces.  If those surfaces can be pretty too, that’s great.  But if something has to give, give up the looks for the playability.  What is the point of a pretty green fairway if your drive plugs when it lands?  What is the point of having pretty trees and flowers if they detract from having the resources necessary to deliver putting surfaces that roll true?  Gardens are for pretty.  Courses are for play.

TIP #6 – Resources Must Match Expectations

In the unlikely event that you are reading this post while wearing your Augusta National member’s jacket, congrats.  Couldn’t be happier for you and the unlimited resources you are able to give to your Superintendent.  For everyone else, your course is not Augusta, and does not have those resources.

Do you know what your course’s maintenance budget is?  Do you know how that budget compares to other courses you play or see?  It’s helpful to know these numbers to give context to your expectations.  We all want our Superintendents to get the highest level of quality out of the resources they have.  Fair enough.  The best Supers are indeed miracle workers with stretching dollars and man hours.  The bottom line is that our expectations for playing conditions need to be reasonably aligned with available resources.

You on a beer budget?  Brother, you ain’t drinking champagne.

Go Out and Play

That wasn’t so bad, was it?  Just a few simple tips to give you the right mindset to actually be a friend to your Greenkeeper.  Practice it like your short game, and your time on the course will feel more like the privilege that it is.

During your time off the course, if you want to enhance your perspective by learning the basics of golf course architecture, I recommend Andy Johnson’s Architecture 101 series on The Fried Egg, and his podcast with Tom Doak.  To dive even deeper, grab yourself a book off the Geek’s Library shelves.




Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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The Man, The Myth – Kyle Hegland & Sand Hills

Sand Hills Golf Club was more a myth than a real place for me.  Located in Nebraska, Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece sparked a golf architecture renaissance that has fueled my passion for the subject, and the game itself.  I had heard stories that one could write a polite letter to Sand Hills’s owner, Mr. Youngscap, that might result in a once-per-life invite to visit.  Not sure whether or not that was true, I hadn’t mustered up the courage to give it a shot.


Photo by Jon Cavalier

While sharing holes from my Coore & Crenshaw’s Great 18 post on Twitter, people kept bringing up Sand Hills.  My repeated response was, “I can’t include that hole because I haven’t played it yet.”

And then I got the message.

Superintendent Kyle Hegland reached out and invited me to come to Mullen to make the myth a reality.  I remember sitting in front of my laptop for a minute, both dumbfounded and elated.  At the end of the following summer, my day came.  As much as I built the course up, it more than exceeded expectations.  My September to Remember post is a fuller expression of my thoughts with photos.  Here, I will simply say, Sand Hills is perfect.

Several things caused me to reach out to Kyle recently (on Twitter at @KyleHegland3) with a message of my own.  First, I listened to his terrific interview with Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg Podcast.  Second, a trickle of Sand Hills photos has been coming out from Jon Cavalier since his 2017 visit, and I was looking for an excuse to see a whole batch of them together.  And finally, Kyle is a stellar dude who does great work, and I was hoping that he would let me put him in the spotlight.  He graciously agreed to answer my questions, as well as provide hole-by-hole commentary.  As always, generous to a fault.

Enjoy Kyle’s thoughts and Jon’s photos.  If you have not already been, I hope that some day, the Sand Hills myth becomes reality for you too.



How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

I loved baseball when I was younger and I needed a job that would allow me to make it to my afternoon Babe Ruth baseball games.  Plus, I had a couple buddies who thought working on a golf course would be cool.  I took a job on the grounds crew at Edelweiss Country Club in New Glarus, Wisconsin.  I had never played golf until I started working there.   It did not take long before I was playing pretty regularly.

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

I knew the game had firm grasp on me when I started planning all my leisure time around seeing more golf courses.  Not always playing but if it was old and interesting then I wanted to see it.

How did you get into the business?

I started working on a golf course in high school.  I grew up in rural south western Wisconsin, and the only thing I really knew was that I did not want to be a dairy farmer.  My Granddad was a dairy farmer and he would have gotten a kick out of the fact that I am basically a glorified farmer.  After a couple summers at Edelweiss CC my boss asked me if I ever thought about being a Superintendent.  At the time I did not even know what a Superintendent was.  After some time, research, and soul searching I decided I was “all in”, headed to Michigan State to study Turfgrass Management, and here I am.

Who have been your biggest influences, in and out of golf?

Inside the game of golf, I have been really fortunate to have Dick Youngscap and Doug Petersan as my biggest influences.  These two men have shaped me so much both personally and professionally, and I am forever indebted to them both.  I believe I worked hard to get to where I am today.  With that said I have been incredibly lucky to have such great mentors who challenged me, pushed me, but ultimately wanted me to succeed.

My mother is an amazing lady, who always encouraged me to be myself.  Without her love, support and encouragement I never would have had the confidence and strength to move halfway across the country to pursue my dreams.


Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

For reasons I cannot fully explain I have always been really enamored with Seth Raynor, maybe because it is just too cliché to say Dr Mackenzie.  I love how Raynor’s style seems to still fit into the landscape in an entirely different way than Dr. Mackenzie’s.  I think you can love Chicago Golf Club and how that fits your eye, and turn the page and marvel at Cypress Point.  Truth is I need so see more of the Simpson’s, Langford’s, and Macan’s that the world has to offer.

Where were you before Sand Hills, and what were some of your key takeaways from those experiences?

I was lucky enough to go work for Doug Petersan at Austin Golf Club (AGC).  I started as a lowly intern and left as Doug’s Assistant.  Prior to my arrival at AGC I had never worked with warm season grasses.  Couple that with bentgrass greens in the deep south and it proved to be a wonderful learning experience.  Doug always pushed me to ask questions and solve problems, I was pretty lucky to have such a great learning environment.

What particular challenges does your course create from a maintenance perspective?

Let me state this very clearly, the climate at Sand Hills during the golf season is pretty ideal for a Superintendent, and believe me, that is not lost on me.  With that said the biggest challenge is the wind and large temperature swings.  The large fluctuations in temperature can be detrimental to turfgrass especially in the winter, as our biggest challenge each year is getting through the winter and into the growing season.  The wind is just relentless.  There are few places as consistently windy as we are, and it can be particularly damaging in the winter.  Our bunkers are natural blowouts for the most part and in the winter the wind can really do some damage.


Why do you think it’s important for a Superintendent to be a student of golf course architecture?

I think it is!  I am not saying you have to be a full-blown golf architecture dork but if you have a general understanding of golf architecture it will only help you be a better Superintendent.  I encourage anyone in the golf industry to pick up a few books on architecture – it’s simple, it’s inexpensive and I guarantee that it will help everyone understand the game a little better, which I think makes you a better Superintendent.  A Superintendent can also do themselves a favor and just play more golf.  It really helps with understanding golf and golf architecture.

What do you wish players understood more about the work you do?

I think for the most part Superintendents are a little too hard on golfers.  What I think is tough to understand is how much work goes into keeping the playing surfaces consistent.  The weather is constantly changing.  If it has been hot and dry, it is pretty easy to keep the surfaces firm and fast.  It is much more difficult to do that after a rain event.  Playability is the engine that drives our philosophy here at Sand Hills.  We work really hard to make sure Ben and Bill’s vision is on display as much as possible, but if mother nature wants to mess that up…. well… she is still undefeated last I checked.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Watching the sun come up, knowing you have the golf course dialed in – that is pretty special.  What I really love is how unpredictable each day can be, as a Superintendent you are forced to make all kinds of decisions and rarely have all the variables.  We think that we are pretty good problem solvers here and that gets challenged every day.  I love that challenge.

Which course(s) do you most want to see next?

There are few things I like more than seeing a golf course for the first time – it’s enchanting.  I have never been to the north east and Myopia and Old Sandwich are right at the top for golf courses I want to see.  At Austin Golf Club, there are three pictures of Australian sand belt courses in the maintenance facility.  I have dreamed about seeing those places too many times to count, so heading to Australia (and surrounding Islands) is probably at the very top of the list.

Other than Sand Hills, if you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

If we’re talking just about the golf course, then it is pretty easy for me to say National Golf Links.  That place just fits my personality, my game and I am pretty confident it would keep me interested for the rest of my life.


Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

We are just about done with our major bunker work that we started about six years ago.  We have done it all in house and are really proud of that.  Other then that we have some really exciting news on the horizon but I am not at liberty to share just yet, so you will have to stay tuned.

When you aren’t working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

I have a lovely wife (Ashely) and two kids (Riley who’s 9 and Carson who is 5) that keep me pretty busy as a husband and father.  We love being outdoors and playing pretty much any and all sports.  If the weather is good we get to the lake as much as possible.  Living in a small community we are also dedicated Mullen Bronco fans and enjoy watching our boys and girls compete during the school year.


There are many reasons why Sand Hills is a 108 in 48er for me.  Chief among them are the beginning to end strength of the holes, and walkability of the routing.  Sand Hills flows, from the first tee to the eighteenth green.


My doodle, illustrating the green-to-tee brilliance of the Sand Hills routing

Beyond Mr. Youngscap, Bill Coore, and Ben Crenshaw, nobody knows Sand Hills better than Kyle.  His hole-by-hole commentary follows.

HOLE #1 – Par 5 – 521 yards

A ridiculously underrated golf hole, you can get away with a couple loose or misplaced shots until you get ready for your third shot.  Mishit that shot and you will pay dearly for it.  A severely tilted back to front green – above the pin can be diabolical.











HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 368 yards

Swallow your pride and get a tee shot into the fairway so you can place your approach shot onto the proper tier of this two-tiered green.  The wildest of the green complexes on property, if you miss the proper tier, a two putt is a great escape.  Not golf related, take time to head to the northwest corner of the green surround.  This is one of my favorite places to collect my thoughts.  If you don’t think you can spare the minute for reflection, then you need more than a minute.





HOLE #3 – Par 3 – 216 yards

Always plays a little longer than the yardage and often is into a breeze.  When the wind is at your back play it safe and leave it on the left side, but don’t be long.





HOLE #4 – Par 4 – 409 yards

Smash your drive and then execute a precise approach.  A difficult green to hit, especially downwind.  Miss to the right and not the left on your approach as a massive blowout guards this green.







HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 387 yards

Do me a favor and play this from the “super” back tee at least once on a visit.  This might be the most strategic tee shot on the golf course.  You have places to miss but you are rewarded for a drive that hugs the right side, while avoiding the bunkers.  Your reward is a clear look at the green – a green that I marvel at daily.  Keep your shot on the same side of the spine as the flag and make a birdie.




HOLE #6 – Par 3 – 198 yards

A massive green dominates the view.  A ball on the proper quadrant is ideal, short and left is way better off than short-right.  If you are long, make sure the pin is in the back or you’re going to stare at a big number.





HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 283 yards

Left is dead, especially if the pin is in the front, so put your driver away and hit something in the fairway and let your wedge game get you a birdie.  The massive blowout bunker dominates your sight and psyche – stay away and you’ll be fine.  If you’re feeling like a stud hit driver, just don’t miss and do not go long.










HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 293 yards

From the member tee’s I think it is actually pretty easy.  Hit a driver and see what happens.  Guarded almost completely by bunkers, use the kick boards short to make the approach easier.  If you’re playing from the back tee, it’s pretty straightforward.  Get a tee shot in the fairway and depending on where the pin is, you now have literally a million options depending on where the pin is and how creative you can be.








HOLE #9 – Par 4 – 371 yards

A devil of a hole, and the only blind tee shot we have.  Take a little off your tee shot and get one in the fairway.  The 9th green is diabolical, no one has hit more putts on this green than me and it still confuses me frequently.  Side note is if there are people on the porch I can all but assure you they are betting on whether or not you’re going to make that putt.







HOLE #10 – Par 4 – 426 yards

The tenth is a brute….club up on your second shot and hit it up the left side and let the natural contours funnel the ball to the green.






HOLE #11 – Par 4 – 348 yards

A very strategic hole where hitting the fairway is essential to hitting the green with your approach.  This green is very exposed and when the wind is up can be a real challenge to putt while also playing the wind.  A green that is often missed, it’s better to be short and safe than long and dead.








HOLE #12 – Par 4 – 354 yards

A “hog’s back” fairway that is easily hit, a premium is placed on keeping your shot on the top of the hog’s back, being rewarded with a clear view of the green.  A large green guarded by a fierce blowout on the right side.








HOLE #13 – Par 3 – 185 yards

What I think is the most difficult hole on the golf course, a large green with not a lot of safe play options.  Getting the ball up the hill to have a clear view of the putting surface is ideal.










HOLE #14 – Par 5 – 475 yards

My favorite hole.  A short par 5 that really can be an easy 5 and an even easier 6 or 7.  A long tee shot is greatly rewarded, but do me a favor and just lay it safely short and left of the green side bunker, to ensure a great opportunity at birdie.  Be aggressive and miss and you will pay dearly for a poorly struck shot to a tiny green.










HOLE #15- Par 4 – 453 yards

The back tee offers another of my favorite views of the golf course.  Lots of room to hit your tee ball but a massive reward if you can hug the right side that is guarded by bunkers.  A large green that is easy to miss, if you’re just short of the green use a putter.







HOLE #16 – Par 5 – 563 yards

Another of my favorite spots to sit awaits on the back tee box.  A great tee shot must clear the blowout on the left side on this long down hill par 5 that plays long.  I love the tiny mound that guards the front of the unbunkered green – it’s maddeningly fun to try to navigate.  On your green approach use the slope and kickboard on the left to help you funnel your shot to the green.





HOLE #17 – Par 3 – 150 yards

A pretty little par 3!  Club up and make sure you get it to the green – any mishit will offer a great opportunity at bogey on this little devil.






HOLE #18 – Par 4 – 432 yards

A brute of a closer,  with the massive blowouts on the left which are as visually appealing as they are strategic.  If you leave a shot in either it’s worth a shot at best.  Play it up the right side and a little longer than you think and let the natural contours bring the ball down to the green.







The 7th and 8th


The 4th and 5th


The 6th, 7th and 8th


The view from behind the 2nd


The 14th and 15th


The closer and the opener


Sunset over the 9th and 18th greens

Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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Desert Forest Daydreaming

This post started as a cure for the winter blues.  My business travels usually take me to Scottsdale in December, affording an opportunity to see my favorite desert golf course – Desert Forest.  No such luck in 2017, and I found myself missing it greatly.


The understated clubhouse at Desert Forest – Photo by Dan Moore

My first visit to Desert Forest was with Dan Moore, after David Zinkand had already done the bulk of his renovation work.  I never played Red Lawrence’s original, but Dave Zinkand’s update immediately grabbed ahold of my heart.  Wonderfully routed, minimally bunkered, with interest-packed greens, the course demands strategic thought and creative execution to score.  It is a fantastic golf course, presented beautifully by Superintendent Todd Storm, at a club with just the kind of friendly, low-key vibe that resonates with me.

Dave and Dan both graciously offered their contributions to this post, which turned my simple daydreaming into a comprehensive tour, with a unique twist.  Dave provided his commentary on the changes he made during the renovation, and the reasoning behind those changes.  Dan added his beautiful feature photos (his are the rectangular ones and are copyright Dan Moore) and his player’s knowledge of the course.  Although nowhere near as good as Dan’s, I pitched in the best of my photos for some additional perspective (mine are in the circles and can be clicked to enlarge).

Think of what follows as a conversation among three geeks out at twilight, walking, playing, talking architecture and snapping photos.  Hopefully, all in, we have done justice to this special place.



DZ: Desert Forest Golf Club attained its status in the golf world thanks to Red Lawrence’s strategic minimalism.  Other venues in the Southwest United States predate Desert Forest, yet Lawrence’s routing was the first desert golf course truly integrated into this unique and inspiring ecosystem.  His patient study of the terrain yielded undulating fairways resting easily upon the rugged Sonoran desert.  He complemented these natural contours with perched greens shedding in multiple directions to provide a particularly challenging test of which one never grows tired.  The appreciation Members showed through the Club’s first fifty years maintained the integrity of this layout.  


The foremost goal of my 2013 Masterplan was to fulfill a directive set out by Staff and Members during the architect selection process – secure the long-term vitality of the Club.  Deteriorating turf conditions, advances in playing equipment and somewhat elemental aesthetics from an original construction budget of $250,000, combined to hamper the Club’s legitimate status as a pioneering gem of American golf.  Fifty years after the Club’s inception, the course had undergone relatively little in the way of alterations.  Club Leadership wished to address both how the course plays and how it will be perceived over the next fifty years.

After years of gradual agronomic decline, establishing strong turf, healthy soil profiles and maximum pin-able space were the utmost priorities with Desert Forest’s greens.  Doing so while maintaining the small, push-up green complexes for which the Club is known would maintain its challenge and design integrity, but increasing pin-able space within the footprint of the existing green complexes required compromises.  The Membership clearly wished to retain the rigorous demands of putting at Desert Forest.  The original strategic concepts related beautifully with the fairways, and so were maintained.  Though small, the greens exhibited many long slopes, often steep with five or six percent grades.  This meant that in providing putting surfaces which allow enough cupping area and still ensuring a challenge, the transitions between pin locations would necessarily be more abrupt.  Internal contours were given more individuality and complexity than the original, rather repetitive surfaces.  The results left a learning curve for Members who had never before experienced such change at the Club.  The new challenge was offset, however, by a thoughtfully considered long-term directive to provide moderate green speeds (around 10.5 on the Stimp Meter).  This enables the Club to produce high quality turf conditions while ensuring environmental sustainability, even in the desert surrounds.

Green perimeters had become disjointed from their surrounds after years of topdressing up to their edges.  This hindered the running game, as well as being unattractive; a seamless transition was returned with installation of the new profiles.  Sand recycled during demolition was incorporated during the reshaping of approaches to provide firm entries and enhance the ground game.  A topdressing program for surrounds has also been devised to ensure a fulfilling running game year-round.

Advancing the strategy and aesthetics of the course to fulfill modern expectations of such a minimalist gem rounded out the primary masterplan goals.  Plenty of Members were vocal about the need to increase course difficulty even though the challenge of Desert Forest had very much remained substantial for the vast majority of golfers.  My intention was therefore to maintain the degree of difficulty overall, while increasing the test for low-handicappers and providing high-handicappers a more reasonable path.  The finished results produced an increased Course Rating to challenge the best players combined with a reduced Slope rating to accommodate less-skilled play.

100 scale

Rendering by Patrick Burton

With so little change in the layout since the course was opened in 1962, tees were necessarily a priority.  Advances in length meant many of the Club’s toughest holes no longer required a driver for better players.  Holes intended to provide such a test were lengthened, as well as given new angles from the back tees where appropriate.  A new set of “Copper Tees” were installed as a shorter option.  The suitability of all tees in between were considered; as islands of turf amongst the desert, many were added, shifted or eliminated to best suit existing and future Members.

While we substantially enhanced the aesthetics of Desert Forest’s feature work, we did so mostly through subtle, often handcrafted, implementation of the objectives.  More than a dozen objectives were typically addressed on each hole through such refinements.  We expanded and refined many fairway edges for strategic, playability and aesthetic considerations.  On others we removed turf to ensure good custodianship of the Sonoran Desert.  This allowed for returning native vegetation to areas that had been lost over the years.  In conjunction with mending native areas, many non-native trees were removed.  This allowed improved strategy, turf conditions and vistas. The limited budget for Desert Forest’s original construction meant a great many areas along the edges of holes were cut to enable contouring nearby.  This left an artificial feel to the perimeters of holes. We utilized good spoils from other renovation tasks to recontour these areas, tying them naturally back into the surrounding desert, improving the look and feel of the holes.  A less desirable variety of Bermuda grass was simultaneously removed from the rough to improve playability, expand and refine fairway mow lines, as well as produce better grow-in during overseed.

The most visible change at Desert Forest is the greenside bunkering.  The course has never had fairway bunkers.  As Brad Klein says, “there’s just one big one” – the desert.  The greenside bunkers, though eventually deepened in the 1990’s, were originally very shallow dishes with simple oval forms.  Members used to have a photo contest in their weekly e-newsletter to determine on which hole the image was taken.  This proved highly challenging and competitive because of the repetitive contouring and bunkering around each green.  Fortunately, the contest lost its challenge due to the identity instilled within each green complex during the renovation, which includes a rugged, natural feel to the bunker forms and edging to complement the desert.

Altering an historic layout after so many years without change is a difficult path to navigate.  However, the rewards to Members are now evident, providing a bright forecast for the Club’s next fifty years.


DM: Lawrence routed the course through the desert taking care not to disrupt the natural flow of the desert floor while expertly utilizing the ebb and flow of the terrain.  He reportedly walked alongside the machines clearing the fairways to make sure they disrupted the native desert as little as possible, and he even left a few trees and saguaros in the fairways.

Lawrence was quoted at the time Desert Forest opened, “This is a desert course. We used as rough and hazard only desert material.  No two fairways offered the same two problems.  If anything, there was an overabundance of opportunity.  The trouble was in leaving a maximum of the raw desert growth.”  He called Desert Forest “the most challenging and satisfying piece of construction I have ever enjoyed.”


My doodle illustrates Lawrence’s intimate routing

HOLE 1 – Par 4 – 397 yards


JW: The 1st at DF is a hard dogleg right par-4.  The drive is semi-blind, which is a theme throughout Red Lawrence’s wonderful routing.  This is a course that takes multiple plays to learn.


DM: The drive on the first hole hammers home that hitting the fairway is paramount at Desert Forest, a course with no fairway bunkers.  To provide strategic interest off the tee Red Lawrence relied on the desert flanking each fairway and natural undulations of the desert floor.  An uphill 2nd shot takes you to one of the nicest green sites on the course.


DZ: Both the first tee complex and the practice range tee were lowered 3-4 feet to improve vistas, gain valuable ground and simplify the elegant grounds radiating out from the clubhouse.  This enabled a new rear tee to be built, the opportunity to re-establish the uphill feel of the fairway, and rethinking of nearby practice amenities. 

This hole’s dogleg provides a challenging opening drive for Members and new forward tees help to soften the degree of difficulty.  The challenge of skirting the dogleg off of the tee was complicated by a back-right green section that fell sharply towards the desert and cart path.  In recontouring the green complex, I supported this section of the green and expanded the surrounds slightly to ensure the fall-away pin position was retained, while providing reasonable playability.  Turf behind the left bunker was eliminated to better focus one’s eye in on the target and enhance the native surrounds.

HOLE 2 – Par 4 – 428 yards

DF Hole 2 JW-1.jpg

JW: The subtle angles on this hole are genius.  The fairway winds between two protrusions of the desert, making the tee shot disorienting.  The green, which is protected by a large bunker right, is best approached from the left half.

DF Hole 2 JW-2.jpg

DM: A great example of how Lawrence used natural terrain to define the tee shot without fairway bunkers.  Utilizing natural contours in place of staggered fairway bunkers, the tee shot is defined by a finger of desert that juts in on the left and a larger shoulder of desert 20 yards farther on the right.  The large green is receptive to long shots and features a significant left to right tilt which accentuates the difficulty of missing to the left.

DF Hole 2 JW-4.jpg

DZ: The second hole provides a rare opportunity for a truly aggressive drive at Desert Forest.  Though early fairway width provides a generous beginning to the landing area, native vegetation and natural contours defend the latter portion of the landing area, demanding players decide just how far they wish to play up the fairway.  Recontouring of hole perimeters allowed us to enhance the options and playability.

The front of this green was expanded and supported to regain provocative pin locations lost over the years to increasing green speeds. Interestingly, some Members were adamant that the steep nature be maintained so that guests might continue to experience the possibility of putting right back off the front of the green!  Reestablishing a ‘false front’ by extending green height down over the front slope, while also introducing more support within the green itself accomplished increased pins, playability and a treacherous front slope.

Many greens at Desert Forest are guarded with bunkers on either side.  The left bunker at this green was not original.  I opted to replace it with a closely mown slope guarding the entire left side.  This distinguishes the green from five and thirteen, which once appeared quite similar.  Happily, this spoils the fun of the Club’s former photo contest from when holes were nearly indistinguishable around their respective green complexes.

HOLE 3 – Par 3 – 160 yards

JW: DF’s first one-shotter plays to an elevated putting surface with bunkers on all sides.  The tee is slightly elevated, which makes hoisting a tee ball toward this green an exercise in choosing thrills over intimidation, especially with the pin in the front sliver among the bunkers.  Get too aggressive and miss the green here, and you could experience adventures in recovery.

DF Hole 3 JW-1.jpg

DM: Affectionately known as Desert Forest’s shortest par 4, the third presents a small, well-guarded green and deep drop off long left.  A high, quick stopping shot to the middle of the green is the best play regardless of pin location.  Lawrence beautifully framed the green between the prominent nob at the end of Black Mountain on the right and a large boulder on the left now obscured by a large tree.

DF Hole 3 JW-2.jpg

DZ: This is a classic, treacherous short par three.  As opposed to being surrounded by bunkers on all sides, trouble in the way of fall-away green slopes and surrounds awaits left and back right.  The key to improving this hole was supporting these fall-away slopes in a manner so a balance was struck between degree of difficulty and playability.

As with all of the holes, bunkering was modified to focus attention more on the greens and provide detailed interest.  An unattractive rear bunker was lowered entirely out of view from the tee, but widened for improved playability, helping to emphasize the diminutive target from the tee.

HOLE 4 – Par 4 – 441 yards

DF Hole 4 JW-1.jpg

JW: A simple, but elegant hole, with an ever so slightly angled drive to a straight fairway.  A lone bunker guards the contoured green left and a tricky little runoff, the right.  The word pure is thrown around perhaps too liberally.  It applies at Desert Forest.

DF Hole 4 JW-2.jpg

DM: A mid-length par 4 that beautifully pairs a sloping fairway with a dramatic false front on the right.  The left half of the fairway is relatively flat and is the best angle from which to approach pins on the right, especially those tucked near the false front.  Any drive to the right half will take the slope leaving the ball close to the right edge of the fairway with a tough shot over the false front to any pin on the right.

DF Hole 4 JW-3.jpg

DZ: Among the many new tee locations added, a forward tee was sympathetically carved into the native terrain along the right side of four to provide an improved angle of play for shorter players.  The fairway was expanded both left and right to improve playability and allow high left and low right options of play off the tee for attacking various pin positions.  Ground along the left edge of this fairway was raised to allow for expansion and contoured to fit seamlessly in with the surrounds.  While the bold slope off of the front right of this green was repaired and retained, the center ridge in this green running parallel to play was lowered and the right side supported to recapture challenging far right pin placements.  The backline of this green was raised for support and turf expanded beyond for playability.

HOLE 5 – Par 4 – 440 yards

DF Hole 5 JW -1.jpg

JW: The hard dogleg left on this stout four par invites the player to bite off as much as they dare.  Once that line is chosen, the swing better be confident.  A lone Dave Zinkand bunker guarding the green right.  Sometimes, one bunker is all you need to create strategic challenge.

DF Hole 5 JW -2.jpg

DM: A cape-hole dog-leg to the left, the 5th is another hole where the slopes and angles of the fairway work in concert with the green to define the strategy of the hole.  The tee shot is designed such that you must take on an isthmus of desert which rewards a right to left shot.   The green features a significant drop off on the left quarter and is best approached with a left to right shot from the left center of the fairway providing an angle away from the false side.  Lawrence clearly valued shot-making ability.

DF Hole 5 JW -3.jpg

DZ: Red Lawrence was an avid fan of shot-making.  During my early days studying the golf course, it became apparent he favored a draw off of the tee, while more often than not, bunkering the green more severely on the right to reward a fading approach.  Lawrence surely saw a running draw off of the tee as a tactic for golfers to tackle what was a rather long layout at the time the Club opened.  Conversely, a slight fade into the greens offers access and control on these small sloping targets.

This is clear on hole five, where a finger of native creeps into the landing area from the inside left, emphasizing the dogleg.  This finger was included in the native desert rehabilitation effort.  A sliver of turf along the outside of the dogleg was removed to complement the improvements to views down this hole.  More than any other hole, the tree removal along both sides of five enhances the desert feel, vistas and enjoyment of the bountiful saguaros uncovered, for which the Sonoran Desert is famous.

As with many approaches, the entry to five green was supported to enable running shots.  The right edge of this approach near the bunker was filled to better define a line upon which to enter the green.  The right greenside bunker was extended along the approach to highlight this edge.  A rise in the back middle of this green was highlighted to increase interest and the value of shot-making when attempting to reach back pins.

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 361 yards

DF Hole 6 JW -1.jpg

JW: The hole is dead straight, but that does not mean you should hit it down the middle.  A center fronting bunker built into a mound dictates play from the tee.  Whichever side of the green the pin is on is the half of the fairway the player’s drive needs to find. Approaches from the wrong side that hit the front mound run the risk of shooting all the way into the back bunker.  Not the place to be.

DF Hole 6 JW -2

DM: The 6th hole is defined by a gaping Lion’s Mouth bunker fronting the middle of the green the back of which forms a large mound that divides the green in half.  The large mound off the back of the front bunker is paired with a smaller mound in the back half of the green. Except when the pin is on the front half of the right side, it’s best to play to the left side of this fairway to avoid a valley on the right which often kick balls into the desert.

DF Hole 6 JW -3.jpg

DZ: The sixth was affected by gains in distance due to modern technology as much as any hole on the course.  For short and mid-length golfers, the right side of this landing area rolled off repeatedly into desert surrounds.  Whereas, the far end of this landing area offered the most forgiving ground on the hole, so that the longest players had a decided advantage with much less risk.  Mid-length contours down the right side were supported and vegetation along the landing area thinned to improve playability.  Several yards were added down the left of the landing area where existing mesquites were removed to provide width for the short to medium length player and create a more attractive hole corridor.  Further down, the left was pinched abruptly to heighten the challenge to longer tee shots.

Standing on the tee in my early visits, it was apparent something was amiss at the green.  As lofted as many greens are at Desert Forest, the visibility to this green was poor.  It turned out this was one of several greens altered in the 1970’s.  I raised the green one and a half feet to return what is believed to be original grade and improve visibility down the hole.  An existing bunker stretched across the middle and right side of the approach to this green.  This was replaced with a small central bunker in the approach and the right side supported to provide an alternate entryway for pins along the right side of the hole.  The left greenside bunker was expanded to tie in with the native desert.  Strategic pin positions along the edges of the green were recaptured and the roll up to the rear bunker removed to bring this hazard better into play.

The original green was particularly unsuited to modern green speeds and its contours were no longer part of Member’s collective memory, so I installed a milder slope with internal contours for challenge and interest.  A front hump was placed in the green to support the front bunker and extend this hazard into the putting surface as a consideration for those seeking to attack surrounding pins on this fairly short hole.  A central hump was also added to reward shot placement. 

HOLE 7 – Par 5 – 530 yards

DF Hole 7 JW -2.jpg

JW: The first five par is a strategic gem.  A safe left route can be taken to play the hole as a three-shotter.  Or, rifle a field goal between the cactii and over the desert, and you’re looking at a green light special from in front of the wash that cuts diagonally across the landing area for layups.  There are no throwaway shots on this hole.  The green sits atop a small hill and is well defended by bunkers left and right.  Brilliant.

DF Hole 7 JW -3.jpg

DM: Yes, brilliant!  If there is a better split-fairway par 5 I have yet to see it.  The right fairway is blind from the tee, but framed beautifully by Lawrence between the twin peaks of the mountains in the distance.  The second shot must contend with a wash that crosses the fairway 120 yards from the green.  With a new tee and the desert extended away from the tee by 20 yards in 2013, a carry of 265 yards is required from the back tee (240 from the Black tee) with the reward of being able to go for the green in two.  A drive to the left fairway leaves either a lay-up before the wash and a longer approach over the right bunker or a long shot that must carry the wash for a third shot straight into the green between the flanking bunkers.

DF Hole 7 JW -4.jpg

DZ: This is readily thought of as Desert Forest’s signature hole.  Red Lawrence made fun use of the massive wash running the length of this par five by locating a crossing where many Members might wish to place their second shot.  To better address the needs of shorter Members, a new white and copper tee were added down the left.  This shortened the white tee from 466 yards to 404 yards and allowed for a 370 yard copper tee.  For longer players, dramatic changes in equipment over the years have affected the way all of the Club’s par fives play, including seven.  In an effort to return the challenge of this hole for these players, a new back tee was added, lengthening the hole from 534 yards to 551 yards. A shift left with this new back tee also emphasized the wash along the right side of the optional far right landing area.  Vegetation was selectively thinned between the tees and each landing area.  A large mesquite at the start of the right fairway, along with other trees closer to the wash were removed to allow visibility towards the green.  Turf at the beginning of the right fairway was removed to increase the challenge of carrying to this more direct line.  Turf was also removed alongside the bank to require greater accuracy and highlight the natural wash. These former turf areas were revegetated with native plants.

The front of this green was expanded.  Pin-able space was recaptured along the right bunkers and an additional pin was captured back right.  Turf outside of the right bunkers was removed to enhance aesthetics, eliminate unnecessary irrigation and improve focus on the target.  The left bunker was expanded along the approach to enhance the right to left angle of the green.  The demanding back left pin was recaptured by softening this fall-away slope to accommodate anticipated green speeds.  Turf back left was expanded to improve playability and provide forgiveness to those attempting to reach these back pins.

HOLE 8 – Par 3 – 203 yards

JW: The par 3 8th plays slightly downhill to a green that appears crowned.  The little bunker front center has a big impact as it draws the eye and prompts shots that bail out left and right.  The green is big, but plays much smaller due to the spine running through the middle.  Miss on the wrong side and a three-putt is almost guaranteed.

DF Hole 8 JW -1.jpg

DM: Desert Forest’s longest par 3 plays significantly downhill to a large receptive green. Usually a club or two less than normal is all that is needed as long as you carry the middle front bunker.

DF Hole 8 JW -2.jpg

DZ: The Membership heartily identifies with the challenging nature of the course.  Along with the Club’s very golf-centric focus and a walkable, lay-of-the-land routing, this identity contributes greatly to the Club’s strong market niche.  In considering how modern play had diminished the original challenge of Desert Forest, the ease with which “flat-bellies” finished the front nine was as important a consideration as any.

Given the tee and green settings of each par three, the eighth hole presented the best option to provide a long one-shot hole.  This was particularly advantageous considering the contribution it could make to strengthening the test at the end of the front nine.  Unlike the existing long par three 17th, the eighth also naturally required players walk right by the ideal back tee location upon exiting seven green.

A rear tee was built, lengthening the hole from 206 yards to 231 yards.  Middle tee placements were shifted back as well, largely by utilizing existing tee space.  The existing forward tee was regraded to accommodate a new copper tee.  Approach area was added along the left and vegetation removed to improve visibility.  A rare front bunker was narrowed and shifted slightly right and the putting surface built up to accommodate the natural left to right green setting and longer shot.  The green surface was also expanded towards the tee between the existing front bunker and two left bunkers to allow better access and increased pin positions.  The right approach was tied gently into the enlarged green surface and supported along the right edge to allow a broad area of access for higher handicappers.  Support was added all along the rear of the green to better accept longer tee shots.

The left and central bunkering were resculpted for a more natural appearance, as well as to emphasize the strong left to right feel that has always defined this hole.  Turf was removed on the outside edges of both left bunkers and replaced with native vegetation to improve aesthetics and eliminate superfluous turf.  A right bunker was replaced with turf when a cart path tucked in a wash beyond was relocated left of the hole amid construction.

This right bunker was reinstalled in 2014 when green contours were softened due to concerns over the hole’s increased degree of difficulty.  It has become accepted that lengthening eight was a worthwhile venture.  Not only did this improve the finish to the front nine, it also provided balance with other holes on the back nine.

HOLE 9 – Par 5 – 533 yards

DF Hole 9 JW -1.jpg

JW: The ninth is bunkerless tee to green, playing straightaway up over a rise, and then down to the well defended green.  The shortish length makes it gettable, but the margin for error is small, and the green cant and contours make you earn your birdies.

DF Hole 9 JW -2.jpg

DM: The longest par 3 is followed by the shortest par 5.  With the nob on the end of Black Mountain as a target, Lawrence angled the fairway into a series of ridges running perpendicular to the fairway.  Find the speed slot right center and you might get a look at the green for your second shot.  Play up the left or far right and your second will be blind to a tightly guarded green with just a 10 yard wide opening.  A cactus behind the green provides the line.  A large green filled with subtle undulations.

DF Hole 9 JW -3.jpg

DZ: This reachable par five previously had a ridge running perpendicular across the first landing area. Balls landing on the downslope of the ridge were supplied additional distance without taking on any risk, while balls landing shy were stunted.  In an effort to increase the interest, challenge and playability, this ridge was recontoured. The left side was left intact, so long shots played accurately down this side could still take advantage of the added length and retain visibility to the green.  The right side was shaped to cause longer drives to veer toward the right edge of the landing area, where the view to this green is obscured by a second ridge further up.

A great deal of unnecessary turf was removed right of the first landing area to focus attention down the hole and improve sustainability, while a great many trees were removed to improve turf and open up surrounding views.  Numerous unnecessary catch basins were removed from fairways, particularly on this hole.  Back at the tees, a rear tee was added to lengthen this par five from 501 yards to 533, continuing the effort to bolster the front nine finish.  As part of the effort to improve tee placements overall, the forward tee just beyond the wash was shifted right to a central location, creating a much better angle of play for shorter ball-strikers.

As on the sixth, this green had been revised in previous years.  It did not provide a target suitable for a reachable par five, nor was it a particularly flattering finish to the front nine.  A new putting surface was sculpted, which incorporates a new back right pin location that was previously inaccessible due to severity of the slope.  The bail-out back right was recontoured to help contain balls, improve drainage and enhance playability.  The right bunker was brought around the front right of the green to protect the putting surface.  A far left aiming bunker, as seen from the tee, was incorporated into the left green side bunker, which was enlarged to accommodate this important role of informing play down the hole.  This newly shaped bunker was brought snugly against the green.

HOLE 10 – Par 4 – 382 yards

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JW: The par-4 10th features a tough tee shot uphill and around a corner to the right, followed by an approach into a green with a particularly cavernous bunker left.  The putting surface features wonderful internal rolls and contours.  Familiarity is a prerequisite for making putts.

DF Hole 10-2.jpg

DM: A drive left of center on this dog-leg to the right will provide a straight shot into the green guarded left and right.  The green features a plateau on the back right whose slopes define the rest of the green.  Cavernous bunkers gobble up any less than purely executed iron.

DF Hole 10-3.jpg

DZ: The nines at Desert Forest were reversed shortly after the Club opened.  Members felt what is now eighteen played less directly towards the setting sun.  So, the tenth tee is positioned right out the front door of the pro shop.  A great big non-native mesquite was removed down the inside of this dogleg right.  Contours on this inside of the dogleg, including an awkward swale, were improved for strategy, playability and drainage, while support was added to the outside to improve interest, playability and safety with the range nearby.

A false front on this green was recaptured to provide better visibility and support at the front of the putting surface.  The entire green was widened and pin-able space along the left bunker recaptured to reward those playing down the recontoured strategic inside of the dogleg.  A roll was emphasized in the back-middle of the putting surface.  This supports and defends a prominent, fun back pin location, while adding interest to surrounding sections of the green.

Alterations to the bunker forms continued on the tenth, with the left bunker greatly expanded to tie-in directly with native ground on the left for aesthetics and playing interest.  The outside edge of the right bunker was lowered to focus attention back on the green. Turf behind the green was expanded and the cart path shifted beyond surrounding trees to improve playability with valuable rear pin positions.

HOLE 11 – Par 5 – 573 yards

DF Hole 11-1.jpg

JW: The par-5 11th is the longest hole on the course and snakes over rolling fairway around to the left.  The green is fronted by a deep swale and center bunker.  To make birdie, a player must be precise with both the layup and approach – angles matter at the eleventh.

DF Hole 11-3.jpg

DM: The 11th features a fairway that flows beautifully through the desert in a right to left direction finishing at a green perched above a grassed over desert wash that cuts in front of the green at an angle.  Lawrence placed each of the four par 5 greens beyond desert washes providing strategy for the second shot.

DF Hole 11-5.jpg

DZ: Many non-native mesquites were removed along the lengthy turf edges of this par five to improve playability and turf health.  Grass was also removed along either side and replaced with native vegetation to enhance strategy and aesthetics.  

Whereas the par five seventh features the Club’s broadest wash in its native form, a smaller turfed wash guards the green and approach on this three-shot hole.  The swale was previously closer to the green with a channelized feel.  We shifted it away to expand and raise the approach and right edge.  This lends a more natural appearance with improved playability.  A large mesquite in front of the left side of the green was removed.  A bunker between the tree and green was reduced in size and shifted toward the center.  Along with removing a back left bunker, these efforts allow for more conservative play to the now forgiving left side.  The remaining rear bunker was recontoured for interest.  Turf behind the bunker was eliminated in favor of native vegetation and the leading edge tucked closer to the green with a lower lip to engage the putting surface.

HOLE 12 – Par 3 – 185 yards

DF Hole 12-1.jpg

JW: A longish one-shotter that plays slightly uphill to a well-defended green, the twelfth is one of DF’s holes that is just plain tough.  However, the glorious combination of Red Lawrence’s green setting, Dave Zinkand’s minimalist aesthetic and Superintendent Todd Storm’s ideal presentation is more than enough to offset any pain inflicted on a player’s scorecard.

DF Hole 12-2.jpg

DM: The mid-length par 3 12th is visually deceptive with the green defended by a series of deep bunkers that along with the uphill nature of the hole hide much of the quite generous green surface.  The front half of the green is fairly tight but opens up in the back.  The middle of the green is usually a good play regardless of pin location.

DF Hole 12-3.jpg

DZ: While not a long par three, the twelfth has always provided a difficult target with demanding cup locations.  Pin-able space was dramatically increased, including at the front along the bunkers and both strategic sections back left and right.  Lowering green surface along the front bunkers also enabled better receptiveness for tee shots.  Turf was expanded back right of the green and bail out areas behind either side of the green recontoured to provide more forgiveness to fall-away pin locations on either side of the green.  A great deal of unnecessary turf was eliminated at the start of this approach, while a new forward tee was provided along the left to provide more reasonable access to the narrow green entrance for forward tee players.

HOLE 13 – Par 4 – 449 yards

DF Hole 13-1.jpg

JW: Hug the inside of the corner on this slight dogleg left, and you have an open look on approach.  Take the safe route off the tee and you’re staring at a stacked pair of Zinkand specials in the face.

DF Hole 13-2.jpg

DM: Pucker up and let it rip, but avoid the steep drop off into the desert on the left.  Nothing too tricky here, just uphill all the way to a green located up a steep slope.  It will simply take two of your best to reach the raised green in regulation.  If that’s not enough, the green is difficult with a shelf on the back left.

DF Hole 13-3.jpg

DZ: Twenty yards were added to thirteen through a new rear tee to return the teeth of this long uphill climb to the Club’s highest green setting.  Thanks to several new forward tee placements, unnecessary turf at the beginning of this fairway was replaced with native vegetation for aesthetics and improved sustainability.  The right side of this landing area was recontoured to improve drainage and retain balls in the fairway on this right sloping portion of the dogleg left.  Turf at the end of the landing area was removed along with select trees to improve aesthetics, enhance the desert feel and stiffen the challenge for the longest of players.

This is the last of the three greens that had previously been altered, along with six and nine.  The green was expanded, particularly at the back left and front right.  A sharp, disjointed approach was softened and tied seamlessly together with the green.  Green surface was extended down the front slope to better accept running approaches and provide a greatly improved appearance.  Pins closer to the front of the green and near the right bunker were recaptured.

The right greenside bunker was expanded to two to guard the right side of this approach and provide a prominent focal point displaying visual feedback at the tee as to the angle of this hole.  This effort also improved maintenance considerations over the previous bunker configuration.  The greenside edge of this bunker remained high to provide a unique identity as compared with previously similar bunkers on holes such as two and five.  The leading edge was lowered for enhanced visibility on the tee.  The left two bunkers were joined as one to provide visual impact.  Their outer edges were tied into the native surrounds for aesthetics and to better focus the eye on the target.  The turf edge back right of this green was reestablished to improve playability and the surrounding swale recontoured to improve drainage.

HOLE 14 – Par 4 – 309 yards

DF Hole 14-1.jpg

JW: This short four is reachable in the right conditions with a high left slope that will feed balls onto the narrow perched green.  Efforts that lack the necessary gusto or courage?  Well, let’s just say that the options low and right range from “Ouch” to “Lord help me”.

DF Hole 14-2.jpg

DM: Essentially a new hole in 2013, Dave Zinkand moved the green forward 30-40 yards adjacent to a small nob left of the green and significantly reshaped the fairway with a high and low side.  The end result – a very clever, driveable par 4 to follow the longest, toughest par 4.  The ideal line is at the nob at the end of Black Mountain to the high side of the fairway that feeds the ball to the green.

DF Hole 14-3.jpg

DZ: As previously mentioned, for the majority of Members there was no need for increasing the overall difficulty of the layout.  The previous fourteenth green was the least playable on the course, requiring an aerial shot.  With the putting surface falling away, lower trajectory players had little chance of holding the green, while longer players could readily stop a wedge on this short par four.  Introducing a generous approach and shortening this hole to become a reachable par four provided a nice balance with the effort to bolster the test of the front nine finishing holes.

High ground at the beginning of this fairway was carved down four feet to improve visibility from the tee and gain fill material for other components of the renovation, including the new approach on this hole.  To differentiate fourteen from similar length holes, such as six and fifteen, and to encourage a reason to play boldly, the hole was shortened forty yards. 

A new larger green was created with what is generally a front left to back right orientation and slope.  Despite the elevated green, a gentle, open front left approach provides playability along with variety as compared to the course’s typically narrow entries.  This plays off the natural tilt of the surrounding land, while enabling a much shorter green to tee walk in line with others around Desert Forest.  This simpler connection to the following holes also improves safety issues related with the former green location.  A steep roll-off behind the green allows for playability, while protecting the integrity of the hole.  The former greensite was regraded and vegetated with native plants, including saguaros salvaged during the renovation.

HOLE 15 – Par 4 – 435 yards

DF Hole 15-1.jpg

JW: The rumpled fairway tumbles down to the green from a hillside on the left.  The green is canted in the opposite direction.  A brilliant design that requires real shotmaking to have a look at birdie.  Players must beware the beautiful and nasty Zinkand bunkering guarding the green right.

DF Hole 15-2.jpg

DM: Framed by Black Mountain, the 15th is a picturesque, downhill, postcard of a hole with a generous fairway.  Featuring a false front, it is best to get at least a third of the way into this green.  Bunkers right protect a terrific pin position on the back right hand portion of the green.

DF Hole 15-3.jpg

DZ: As seen on a 1962 aerial, the original middle and back tees wrapped progressively to the left.  This provided fifteen a much more provocative angle, in part, by engaging a ridge short of the fairway and highlighting Black Mountain in the background.  This angle was returned and a new rear tee created thirty yards behind the existing back tee.  Vegetation, particularly down the left edge of the hole, was thinned to allow the renewed tee angle and improve the general look and feel of the hole.  Turf edges along the landing area were expanded slightly to improve playability and invite more aggressive play from the tee.  This hole required particular attention in regrading the outskirts to tie together the turf areas with natural ridges in the surrounds.

The front of the green was widened along either side.  Pin-able space along the greenside bunkers was increased and the back left section of the green was supported to soften the slope falling away and return the ability to use these provocative pin locations.  Ground behind this green was a particular playability concern.  The area was recontoured and turf extended to increase the likelihood of balls staying on turf, as opposed to rolling into a desert wash beyond.  A right approach bunker was added to increase interest along the approach, as well as the view down the hole.  The right greenside bunker was reduced in size to allow more creative access to back right pins and increase playability by reducing the severity of attempting to reach these pins.

HOLE 16 – Par 5 – 523 yards

DF Hole 16-1.jpg

JW: With so many great golf holes in the world, it is hard for any one hole to be unique…unless a hole’s strategy is ingeniously dictated by a centerline tree in the rumpled fairway.  Initial reaction, “What the?” Upon further reflection, “So good”.

DF Hole 16-2.jpg

DM: Perhaps my favorite hole at DF, a true journey through the desert forest framed by the backdrop of Black Mountain.  Tree and brush removal up the left side last summer opened up a view of the green from the tee and, more importantly, restored the ability to play up the left side of this hole on the second shot.  A drive to the narrow plateau on the upper right side of the fairway opens up an opportunity to go for this green in two.  The large mesquite at 160 yards from the green must be navigated on the 2nd shot.  A grassed over wash crosses the fairway at 95 yards and it’s best to get beyond this with your second shot to avoid a downhill lie to an uphill green.

DF Hole 16-3.jpg

DZ: Sixteen is a thoughtful driving hole thanks to the varied elevations and turf edges in the first landing area.  A low left section of turf offers forgiveness for shorter drives, while yielding a less desirable angle from which to play one’s second shot.  A long tee ball to higher ground is met with significantly narrower turf on a right to left angle.  Trees at the end of the lower left section of fairway were removed to facilitate use of this side of the fairway for those less capable of surmounting the high side.  Fairway was expanded right along the second landing area and several trees removed to further the efforts towards improved playability.

This green was shifted back twelve yards onto naturally high ground, shortening the walk to the following par three and adding valuable length to this, the final par five.  Although the new green is larger and contains a prominent mound to work balls in off of in the back left, the concept of the original green complex was retained.  The right bunker was expanded and its lip lowered to provide contrast with those on the left, as well as those on the right of fifteen.  The outside edge of this bunker now ties into desert terrain.  The left greenside bunker was tucked against the expanded green to reflect modern club selections on this hole and protect nearby pin locations.

HOLE 17 – Par 3 – 169 yards

DF Hole 17-1.jpg

JW: This beautiful mid-length one shotter plays to a green surrounded on three sides by four bunkers.  A wonderful natural desert setting for the penultimate hole.  Recovery for tee shots that miss the putting surface is no small task.

DF Hole 17-2.jpg

DM: The 17th features a benign looking target that belies its internal treachery.  A narrow opening of rumpled ground makes front pins difficult to attack.  And the green itself is full of tricky double and triple breaking putts.

DF Hole 17-3.jpg

DZ: Seventeen had previously been the long one-shot hole thanks to an added back tee.  However, the tee was removed because it imposed a long walk back on what is an unusually walkable desert course, and the intensely sloped green was less ideal for a longer hole than natural landforms on eight.  The front left bunker had been pulled away from the green in recent years.  Green space was provided up against this bunker to expand pin-able space and increase playability.  Unnecessary turf was removed behind the two rear bunkers to focus the eye upon this challenging green surface and provide a rugged, intimidating appearance counter to the green’s actual receptiveness.

HOLE 18 – Par 4 – 415 yards

DF Hole 18-1.jpg

JW: The tough finisher is pinched right in the landing area, which not surprisingly is the best angle for approach.  A last bit of strategic brilliance from Red Lawrence.  The well defended green includes a stellar combination of cant and contour.  A par on the 18th is satisfying, as it must be earned from the tee to the bottom of the cup.

DF Hole 18-2.jpg

DM: A strong finisher requires a long, accurate tee shot.  If you can clear the crest of the hill on the right, a speed slot will add distance.  The approach is deceptive in that it often plays shorter than the actual yards and the green tends to run away from the fairway.  Be happy with a par and enjoy the cold beverage that awaits.

DF Hole 18-3.jpg

DZ: Much like the sixth hole before the renovation, eighteen provided a challenging drive for short to medium players, while offering long hitters a rather forgiving target.  The right side of eighteen is particularly deceptive, as balls that appear safe when first struck on the tee can easily careen right into a native swale, betraying the fairway’s gentle right to left angle.  A new rear tee was added to play on this provocative angle, while other tees were shortened and, in some cases, given a more forgiving angle.

The wide wash bottom at the end of the landing area, which provided such a forgiving space for long hitters was reconsidered.  Turf edges were pinched in along both sides and a desert ridge introduced along the right side of the wash to force longer players from all tees to consider the placement of their drives.

The approach was recontoured to reduce balls running through the green into desert beyond, which forms an attractive backdrop from the clubhouse.  The front of the green was also expanded significantly into the approach.  A small bunker was added at the front left corner of the green and the left bunker reduced in size. The high outer edge of the right bunker was lowered significantly to remove this visually awkward sand edge and improve definition of the green’s right edge.

A day at Desert Forest is a day that a player will remember.  Strategy, challenge and fun are all wrapped in an intimate and beautiful package.  I’m counting the moments until my next visit.


A Desert Forest member since 2011, Dan Moore is a member of the USGA Architecture Archive Committee.  He lives in Chicago and is an avid golfer who qualified for the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship.  Through his company Moore Golf, Dan works with architects and clubs to provide a variety of photography, golf history research and consulting services including:
  • Detailed Architectural Evolution Reports for restorations or renovations.
  • Golf Course Photography.
  • Historical research and consulting related to creation or execution of Master Plans.
  • Course histories and photography for club websites, newsletters, new member marketing, etc.
  • Course tours for club websites including course history, hole descriptions and photos.
  • Historical Maps comparing original course architecture to the course today.
His clients have included Old Elm Club, Riverside Golf Club, Flossmoor CC, Shoreacres, Chicago Golf Club, Briarwood Golf Club, Stevens Point CC, Golf Courses of Lawsonia and Oliphant Haltom Golf Management.
I highly recommend Dan’s recent article on Chicago Golf Club for the USGA.




Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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Journey Along the Shores – Part 20 (Spring Project)

Our Superintendent Tony Frandria and Assistant Superintendent John Lee have worked wonders to continue the improvement of our putting surfaces.  However, there is not much that they can do when those surfaces have shrunk to a size much smaller than originally intended.  Such is the case on our 17th and 18th greens.

It is also the case that the approach in front of the 17th green the area behind the 18th are consistent drainage problems.  Every rainfall above 1 inch results in standing water for extended periods of time.

We realize that the combination of these two issues is leaving a poor impression on visiting players.  The closing stretch is where a course should impress.  In the case of Canal Shores, it disappoints.  Therefore, we have decided to make our spring project for 2018 a Closing Stretch Makeover.

Project elements include:

  • Expansion of the 18th green putting surface out the edges of the green pad.
  • Restoration of the bunker front left of the 18th green.
  • Creation of an artful drainage ditch behind the 18th green, with adjacent native area plantings.
  • Restoration of a sandy waste on the right side of the 18th fairway.
  • Clearing of brush and invasives adjacent to the 18th teeing area.
  • Expansion of the 17th green putting surface out to the edges of the green pad.
  • Creation of a Lion’s Mouth bunker in the front center of the 17th green.
  • Creation of an artful drainage ditch left of the 17th green.
  • Clearing of brush and invasives adjacent to the 17th teeing area.
  • Removal of arborvitae shrubs behind the 17th teeing area.

This sketch illustrates the updated layout of the closing stretch, with added interest for players and beauty for all visitors.


And this close-up sketch of the 18th green complex provides more detail on the layout that will be enjoyed both by players and passersby on Lincoln.


Ditches and swales will be key components of our drainage strategy when we move from this pilot project phase to a renovation phase.  Inspirational examples from courses around the world abound, and we intend to draw on those examples in this makeover project.

For those unfamiliar with the Lion’s Mouth design, there is a reason why it has been so often employed by many of the greatest architects in history.  It is perfect for a short par 4 like our 17th.  The central bunker is visually imposing and a thrill to navigate.

Our volunteers began work in the fall with the clearing of invasives around the 17th and 18th tee areas.

Resources and volunteers are currently being organized, and we will begin work in early March when the ground thaws.  The intention is to complete the project by the second week of April so that the new turf can establish and be mown by Memorial Day weekend when the season gets into full swing.

Stay tuned for more updates to come…

More Journey Along the Shores posts:



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Somerset Hills CC Tour by Jon Cavalier


Bernardsville, NJ – A.W. Tillinghast

On a recent Tillinghast Tour, I was fortunate to be able to play Somerset Hills, Quaker Ridge and Fenway Golf Club.  Previously, I’d played the East Course at Baltimore Country Club / Five Farms, Ridgewood Country Club, Bethpage Black and Red, and the Wissahickon Course at Philadelphia Cricket Club, as well as some lesser lights.  I mention this because, while I very much enjoyed each of these courses (more than a few of which are undeniably great), I feel like this gives me a good base from which to opine that Somerset Hills is the best that I’ve seen of Tillinghast’s work.


Tilly’s Redan

I’ve always been aware of Somerset Hills and its status as a fine, if low-key, private facility, as it sits some 60 miles as the crow flies from Philadelphia.  Its reputation, at least down this way, is often overshadowed by Tillinghast’s tournament venues – Baltusrol, Winged Foot and Bethpage.  I’ve heard that that is the club’s intent.  But from the moment I hit the entrance to the property, Somerset Hills exceeded my expectations in every regard.  It is beautiful, strategic, interesting, unique and fun, and the condition of the course was fantastic and conducive to good golf.  I can’t speak highly enough about it.


Sunshower over Nairn

On the day we played, we had varied weather conditions – bright sun, full cloud cover, some light fog/mist, a little rain and even a sunshower.  Add in the bright fall colors that adorned the area, and you have a golf course that was practically crying out to be photographed.  So I obliged.


Autumn at Somerset Hills

I hope you enjoy the tour.

The Entrance

Somerset Hills is in Bernardsville, NJ.  The drive to the club winds through some gorgeous areas replete with horse farms and open spaces.


The Clubhouse

The understated clubhouse fits in well with the rest of the club.


The Scorecard

Each of the holes at Somerset Hills is given a name (a practice that I, for some reason, support and enjoy very much).  The course plays to 6,756 from the championship tees and 6,384 from the regular tees to a par of 71.



Hole 1 – “Orchard” – 448yds – Par 4

Somerset Hills opens with a long, tough par 4 – no gentlemen’s handshake here.  The first is a dogleg right with a slight rise obscuring the landing area from the tee.


An apple orchard sits inside the dogleg – both green and red apples are grown at Somerset.


The first hole gives the player an introduction to the beautiful terrain, which was put to good use by Tillinghast.  The green is tilted from left to right, while the “safe” miss to the right is guarded by several bunkers.


The view from behind the first green, illustrating the wonderful contours within the putting surface.


Hole 2 – “Redan” – 205yds – Par 3

Tilly’s Redan.  Somerset Hills starts off tough.  I’ve played three dozen versions of the redan, and this is easily one of the best.


From the back tee, the player is fully aware that a direct approach to the left pin is not advisable.


This view, from just short of the 8th green, shows the beautiful way in which Tillinghast draped this hole over the existing terrain.


Tilly’s Redan green has some of the most extreme internal movement of any green at Somerset, and of any Redan, for that matter.  Some say this hole is diminished because so few pin positions exist.  I would not complain if this green was pinned in exactly this spot every day.  This hole plays exactly as a Redan should play.


Hole 3 – “Bunker Hill – 376yds – Par 4

An apt name for a wonderful hole, the third plays to a wide fairway.  The angle left for the approach is critical here.  On this day, a passing storm provided an added challenge.


The ideal approach on 3.  Through the raindrops.


Full view of the 3rd green, as seen from the 6th tee.


The reward for our soldiering on through five minutes of light rain was this rainbow over the 3rd green.


Hole 4 – “Dolomites” – 457yds – Par 4

A wonderful par 4, the player’s eye is drawn to the striking “dolomites” mounding that Tillinghast put in to separate the parallel 4th and 6th holes.  Notice how the green is simply an extension of the fairway.  A bunker guards the ideal spot from which to approach this green.


The approach to 4.  While artificial, the dolomites add to, rather than detract from, this beautiful par 4.  The way Tillinghast used these mounds to frame the hole reminded me of the 2nd at Myopia.


Not position “A”.


The view back down the 4th fairway.  Elevation plays a role at Somerset, even on the much more subdued front nine.


Hole 5 – “Nairn” – 343yds – Par 4

The first short par 4 at Somerset Hills, this little beauty provides the player with his first good chance at birdie, as most players will carry the bunker guarding the inside of the slight dogleg…


…and have nothing more than a wedge into the green.  However…


…this is no ordinary green!


These mounds guard the right rear quadrant of the 5th green and will provide quite the interesting putt if enmeshed in them (sadly, the club does not pin this green in between the mounds).


Hole 6 – “Plateau” – 501yds – Par 5

The second “easy” hole in a row, the 6th is a dogleg right that can be cut off the tee by the longer player.


The 6th also brings the player back into the dolomites, and cuts across the old race track which Tillinghast incorporated into his design.


The view from behind the 6th green shows both the substantial back to front slope of the putting surface and the open and expansive feel of the front nine at Somerset Hills.


Hole 7 – “Racetrack” – 484yds – Par 4

Perhaps the best par 4 on the front nine, the 7th begins with a tee shot over a rise in the fairway, which obscures the green and the landing area.


The downhill approach from the left side of the fairway on 7.


Again, the fairway blends seamlessly into the green.  Running approach shots are permitted and encouraged here.


The view back up the gorgeous 7th.


Hole 8 – “Dip” – 230yds – Par 3

Suffice it to say that the two one-shotters on the front nine at Somerset Hills are not the easiest par that you’ll find.  Given its length, Tillinghast built this long par 3 with a large, deep green.


This wide view from behind the 8th green reveals the intricate and challenging character of the putting surface.


Hole 9 – “Westward Ho” – 529yds – Par 5

An uphill, dogleg left par 5, the 9th plays around the apple orchard and back up to the clubhouse.


The fairway, which divides like the tongue of a snake, dead-ends at a complex of mounding and bunkers.  The orchard is visible to the left of the fairway.


This view from the 9th green shows the substantial cant of the fairway and the benefits of a low draw into this green.


The substantial drop left of the 9th green, and the fantastic fall colors at Somerset Hills.


Hole 10 – “Sunningdale” – 496yds – Par 5

The second of back-to-back par 5s bookending the turn, the 10th plays downhill and around a dogleg right…


…then back up a slight rise to a well-defended green set back in a wooded knoll.  This is the only non-original Tillinghast green on the course, which was lost when this hole was lengthened many years ago – the site of the original green is still visible, marked by subtle lines in the right side of the fairway and right rough, in the photo below.


The view from behind the 10th flag.


Hole 11 – “Perfection” – 412yds – Par 4

Holes 11-18 at Somerset Hills have a distinctly difficult flavor than Holes 1-10.  The latter stretch plays across a mostly open plain with some modest elevation change, while the former plays through and around much more dramatic terrain.  The 11th plays downhill to a landing area that looks much smaller than it is, then doglegs 90 degrees right and back up to the green.  The par 3 12th green is visible in the background of the photo below.  This is a beautiful golf hole.


The challenging approach shot on 11, back up a slight rise to an undulating green.


This panoramic shot shows the setting of the 12th and 11th greens.


The excellent green complex at 11.


Hole 12 – “Despair” – 151yds – Par 3

Aptly named, as many players surely find it here.  The first short par 3 at Somerset Hills is by no means easy, as the green slopes so severely from back right to front left that the hole plays somewhat like a reverse redan.  A beautiful hole in a gorgeous setting.


The view from behind and above the 12th green, with the 11th hole in full view.


Hole 13 – “Corner” – 409yds – Par 4

Once again, the landing area is blind to the tee on this par 4.  Bunkers on the right guard the desired side of this fairway.


The approach from the left side into the 13th green, over the center bunkers, to a green…


…bisected by a Biarritz-like swale.  Great pin position, very fun hole.


Hole 14 – “Ridge” – 416yds – Par 4

A wide fairway with a slight incline makes for a slightly uncomfortable tee shot.  Once again, the angle left from the tee shot is of high importance on this hole.


The approach into 14, with a massive infinity green.


The 14th is one of the largest and most undulating greens on the course.  The variety of great pin positions available on this hole is astounding.


Hole 15 – “Happy Valley” – 407yds – Par 4

The club considers the 15th their “signature hole,” and I wouldn’t argue that designation.  The favored ball here is a cut over the bunker and down the hill.


The beautiful setting of the 15th green, guarded front and left by a meandering stream.




Hole 16 – “Deception” – 170yds – Par 3

The 16th is akin to a shorter reverse redan, as the green slopes significantly from right to left.  Putting down from the high left side to the pictured pin position often results in a chip for one’s third shot.


The 16th green from behind, with the 17th green in the background.  What a wonderful setting for golf!


Hole 17 – “Quarry” – 387yds – Par 4

The first of two shorter par 4s that complete the round at Somerset Hills, the 17th plays up over an abrupt rise, then…


..falls steeply downhill to the green.  This hole plays shorter than the yardage indicates, but hitting the green is critical, as it slopes steeply off on all sides.


This view from behind the 17th green shows the drastic elevation change.


As does this panoramic view of the 17th green and 18th tee.


Hole 18 – “Thirsty Summit” – 335yds – Par 4

The short 18th opens with a tee shot back up the rise toward the clubhouse.


As its name would indicate, the 18th finishes mere steps from the clubhouse, and its well appointed bar.


As the player climbs the 18th fairway, he is afforded this view of the 10th and 17th greens behind and below him.


The gorgeous view across the 18th green, with the 12th green visible in the valley beyond.


Somerset Hills is a must play for any fan of Tillinghast in particular or of golden age golf architecture in general.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  I hope you enjoyed the tour.




Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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Journey Along the Shores – Part 19 (All About the Trees)

Over the past several years, countless hours have been spent in the field and in meetings to assess the state of our tree population, and to chart a course forward toward making that population larger and significantly healthier.

Our findings will not be a surprise to anyone who has taken the time to look closely at the ecological picture at Canal Shores.  In many places, the property is a disaster area, and it has been for many years.  I am grateful to the members of the community who decided that the “gem in their backyards” was in distress and stepped in to save it.  For those who have not yet done so, now would be a good time.  We have a plan, and there are opportunities to target contributions of volunteer time and money to revitalize Canal Shores, including its trees.


We are not short of trees at Canal Shores, but as it turns out, we are short on good ones.  Planning Resources Inc. sent their Arborist out to do a tree survey.  They were looking for valuable trees to keep and incorporate into the ecological master plan for the property (full Plan coming soon…).  “Valuable” is defined as important native species, or large, healthy trees that are not invasive species.  The survey found that Canal Shores has 904 trees on our 82 acres.

At first glance, that number might seem big, but it really isn’t.  Given that the golf course occupies less than half that total acreage, a healthy tree population would number in the thousands.

PRI tagged every valuable tree they could find.  I encourage anyone walking or playing the course to look for tags to better understand which trees are desirable, and sadly how few of them we have.


Tagged trees are numbered and catalogued for reference, and have been geo-located onto the map that follows.  The map, along with the associated illustrations, is a great reference for learning more about where our desirable trees are, and what they are.  I have learned a great deal about trees from PRI’s work, and I have started to share that knowledge with my boys.

Valuable trees are circled, and “key” trees (meaning high value species and of size) are in orange.

















Invasive species are making Canal Shores unhealthy.  I am far from being an expert, but what I have learned is that a healthy ecosystem has layers, each layer ideally containing a variety of species:

  • An herbaceous (ground) layer of grasses, flowers and groundcover that are the home to pollinators and other important insects and animals.
  • An understory (shrub) layer of small trees and shrubs that provide food and habitat for birds.
  • A canopy of trees, of varying species and age.

The primary problem that Canal Shores has with its invasives is in the understory, specifically with buckthorn and honeysuckle.  That problem has manifested in three ways:

  • First, within the understory, buckhthorn and honeysuckle are extremely aggressive competitors and they have left us with almost no other shrubs, greatly decreasing biodiversity.
  • Second, they form dense thickets, starving the herbaceous layer of sunlight.  Where buckthorn grows densely, there is bare ground underneath which also creates erosion problems on the canal banks.
  • Finally, the buckthorn and honeysuckle leave no space for desirable trees to regenerate.

There are good reasons why it is illegal to sell or plant buckthorn or honeysuckle in the state of Illinois.  They are parasitic plants that take over and leave the areas they populate in much worse health.  To say that one likes buckthorn is the equivalent of liking a tapeworm.

IL Exotic Weed Act.png

In fighting buckthorn at Canal Shores, I have learned first hand the many ways that it fights back.  It has whacked me in the face, hit me in the head, poked me in the eye, cut up my arms and legs, and more.  Suffice it to say, I have never been a fan.  However, when I watched the video below, I was tipped over the edge.

Not only is buckthorn bad for the other plants around it, but the berries produced by the females have a laxative effect on birds, while providing no nutritional content.  Are you kidding me?  This demon weed must go.

Many thanks to Brandon from Ringers Landscaping for allowing us to share his webinar.  I highly recommend watching at least the first 18 minutes.


During the course of this lengthy process of assessment and learning through pilot projects, I have heard and read statements like “Save the buckthorn!” and “Can’t we just let nature take care of itself?”.  These statements are born of ignorance and are in direct conflict with the principle of land stewardship for which our community is responsible at Canal Shores.

Abdication of our stewardship responsibility has directly resulted in ecological degradation.  In the hundreds of hours that I have spent on the ground with fellow Buckthorn Warriors, I have seen what this degradation looks like.  We have saved desirable trees that were literally being choked to death by invasive vines.  We have watched in disappointment as a large, unhealthy tree falls over in a storm, taking with it several desirable trees that we hoped to save.  We have seen the bare ground under buckthorn thickets suffering from stormwater erosion.  And we have seen newly cleared areas spring back to life with grasses and flowers when sunlight is allowed to reach the ground.

The results of doing nothing are obvious and incontrovertible.  It doesn’t work.  Based on our learnings and the counsel of experts, we are now moving forward.  Special thanks to Grounds Committee member Matt Rooney who drafted our Tree Policy, and then painstakingly revised it to incorporate feedback from numerous parties.  Click here to read the Canal Shores Tree Policy, which has been approved by our Board of Directors.

What does this look like on the ground?  Before areas can be revitalized, clearing has to take place.  We are prioritizing spots that directly impact the golf course – tees, greens, fairway landing areas are all of highest priority as we want to enhance the turf quality, playability and visual beauty for our paying customers.  We have selected specific trees (e.g. black cherries) to add to the tagged group for preservation, and buckthorn has been painted for removal.


The work is well underway on holes 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12-18.  We have applied for a burn permit from the EPA to deal with the cut brush.  We are also recruiting a Landscape Architecture / Ecology intern whose focus will be on maintenance of cleared areas as well as site-specific habitat design and implementation.


Decades of neglect and mismanagement are not going to be undone overnight.  However, we have made a beginning and we will continue working toward our goal of making Canal Shores a healthy ecosystem that includes a variety of native and other desirable trees.

We hope that all members of the Evanston-Wilmette community join us.  Check the Greens & Grounds blog for dates of upcoming volunteer work sessions, or email me at to be added to the Buckthorn Warriors mailing list.  Inquiries about tree donations can be made with Dan Bulf (  This is a big job, but together, we can do it.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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Musings on Greatness

First things first – there is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to assessing the greatness of a golf course.  And objectivity in ranking one golf course’s greatness versus another?  Please.  

Fortunately though when it comes to having good geeky fun with your buddies talking golf courses, objectivity is irrelevant.  What is relevant when having the endless discussions and debates is the standards by which one assesses a course.  The standard matters because it gives context.  There are several standard that my fellow geeks and I like to use:

  • The Memorability Standard – Can you remember every hole on the course the next day?  
  • The 18th Green to 1st Tee Standard – When you walk off the final green, do you want to go right back out?
  • The One Course for the Rest of Your Life Standard – Could you be happy playing just that one course every day for the rest of your life?
  • The 10 Rounds Standard – When comparing courses, how would you split ten rounds among them?

These are all good standards, and provide interesting perspectives on the greatness of courses.  A new standard materialized for me in 2017, and I am now on the hunt for courses that qualify.  

The inspiration for this standard – which I call 108 in 48 – is Prairie Dunes.  I had the good fortune of spending another weekend in Hutchinson this year (thank you Charlie).  Both of my visits to PD have been golf binges.  Around and around we go.  Every time I come off the 18th hole of that course, I want to go right back out.  

My experiences at Prairie Dunes have set the standard in my mind.  The question is, which courses would I want to go around 6 times in 2 days?  What that means to me is, which courses are interesting, challenging and fun enough to stand up to that kind of immersion experience?  Can’t be too hard or I get worn out.  Can’t have weak stretches of holes or I lose attention.  Can’t be too easy or I get bored with the lack of challenge.  And of course, the greens have to be great.  

Prairie Dunes passes the 108 in 48 test with flying colors for me for three reasons:  First, the sequence of holes is packed with variety from a length, straight vs dogleg, and directional perspective.  Second, the greens are, well, you know.  Third, the course is drop dead gorgeous – color contrast, texture, land movement, tree management – it is just the right kind of candy for my eyes.

Of the courses I re-played in 2017, Essex County Club and Maidstone also pass this test, but for different reasons than PD.  Both Essex and Maidstone play through multiple “zones”.  Essex has its brook/wetland zone and its stone hill zone.  Maidstone with its wetland zone and linksland zone.  This gives them both a meandering adventure feel that I find compelling.  Both are outstanding at the level of fine details.

All three of these courses share a peaceful, refined beauty in common that creates a sense of transcendence during the course of a round.  The passage of time melts away.

There are a handful of other courses that meet this standard for me.  There are also quite a few courses that I love dearly and consider favorites that do not.  My list of current 108 in 48 qualifiers is below.

I ask you, which are your 108 in 48ers, and why?

108 in 48ers



If you have been to Sand Hills, you know.  Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece, lovingly cared for by Superintendent Kyle Hegland’s team, is incredibly strong from start to finish.  It is no surprise that it started the revolution that has grown into a second Golden Age.


ESSEX COUNTY CLUB – Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA


This Donald Ross course resonated with me from the first play, and repeat visits deepen my love of it.  It doesn’t hurt that, just when I think that Superintendent Eric Richardson’s team can’t make it any better, they prove me wrong, again.


PRAIRIE DUNES – Hutchinson, KS


In addition to my thoughts above, I would add that the combination of Perry and Press Maxwell holes adds even more variety to the course, and if there a better set of greens in America, I would love to hear the argument.  Superintendent Jim Campbell’s team presents the course beautifully, and the staff and membership could not be more welcoming.



Photo by Jon Cavalier

If C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s attempt to create the ideal golf course falls short of the standard for perfection, it’s not by much.  The routing and strategic design, the variety of hazards, the greens, and the numerous iconic views conspire to create magic.  Caring for such an intricately conceived course is no small feat, and Superintendent William Salinetti’s team does a masterful job.



Go ahead, call me a homer.  The rollicking ride that Mike DeVries has created has its share of thrills, but is also packed with strategic questions that take repeat plays to answer.  The staff creates the perfect vibe for a golf geek, and our Superintendent Dan Lucas?  Nobody is better.