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A Modern Throwback – Andy Staples at Meadowbrook

The past decade has seen a number of wonderful renovations of classic golf courses – Philadelphia Cricket Club, Moraine CC, Cal Club, Orchard Lake CC and others are exciting for golf geeks at several levels.  One in particular has risen to the top of my radar as I have watched it unfold from a distance.

While doing a previous interview with Andy Staples, I learned that he would be renovating Meadowbrook County Club.  It was founded in 1916 and received attention from Willie Park Jr and Donald Ross.  Over the years, much of that Golden Age character had been lost, and Andy was charged with bringing back that spirit in a modern form.  The possibilities had me intrigued.

Andy Staples and Assistant Superintendent Andy O’Haver did a great job of sharing updates as the renovation unfolded, and with every photo and video, my excitement grew (I highly recommend following them both Andy Staples @buildsmartrgolf and Andy O’Haver @andyohaver).

Give his role as a project lead, I’m hoping to be able to add some of Andy O’Haver’s thoughts here at some point.  In the meantime, Andy did an interesting interview with Dave Wilber from TurfNet.

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Many thanks to the Andys for sharing their outstanding work with us.  Thanks to Brian Walters for permitting the use of his beautiful photos of Meadowbrook.  Enjoy!


ANDY STAPLES ON THE MEADOWBROOK RENOVATION

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

To be able to get back to the Midwest and work with such great people probably tops the list.  Working in the Metro area where there is such a strong portfolio of historic courses is a big one.  And no doubt, getting the chance to help direct a 100-year old club with such a cool design lineage in addition to its fabulous tournament history.  Ben Hogan holed out for 2 on #18 on back to back days during the ’58 Motor City Open for crying out loud!  This place is really cool, and I’m honored to have had the chance to work here.

Describe your process for a renovation project of this nature.

I guess I would narrow my process down to two words: communication and trust.  Much of what we did at Meadowbrook came down to giving the membership the feeling of being a part of the process and that they could trust me to guide them through the entire renovation.  All clients want to know that you’ve been here before and that the project is going to turn out great.  Earning everyone’s trust is a very concerted effort over the life of the project, and it’s my job to give them the confidence that we’ll give them something to be proud of.  I think this connection with the general membership and the staff is the reason we were able to achieve 74% approval to close their golf course in the first place.  This is huge for a club in Detroit.  Many people said we couldn’t do it, but in the end, we did; and we did it on time and under budget.

Did you have any design or construction documentation from Willie Park Jr.?  If so, to what degree did it influence the work?

Unfortunately no; the club did not have any documentation.  They did have very detailed notes in their Club minutes dating back to when the club hired Park, and they have a number of newspaper articles stating when they commissioned Park to design their course.  But no, they didn’t have any of Park’s original plans or notes.  They began construction in 1916, but for financial reasons, the Club was only able to complete the first 6 holes of Park’s 18 hole routing.  So really, MCC is only a 6 hole Park course.  Collis & Daray assisted the Club in 1921 and expanded it to 18 holes.  I can only imagine this connection happened in some way through Chicago and by way of Park’s eventual work at Olympia Fields.  Then in the 30’s Ross came through, and changed the 18th green (which we think was an original Park green), so we started with only had 5 original Park greens.  Ross also renovated the 12th green.  Interestingly, Tillinghast made a visit on behalf of the PGA in 1936, of which only minor modifications, if any, were made.  The rest of the course was a mix of Collis & Daray, Art Hills, and Jerry Mathews.

The Club felt that maintaining a connection to Park’s original design was important.  So, we visited and studied as many of his other courses as possible to get a sense of what Park was creating when he came back to America in 1916, and we attempted to integrate his known built work into our plan.  This was an interesting process.  Many of us on the design team made these visits, and we collectively shared each other’s thoughts on how Park’s design philosophy related to Meadowbrook.  We visited Battle Creek, perhaps the best reflection of Park’s work in the area.  We visited a handful of others in the area as well as on the east coast.  But the really exciting part of our research was seeing Park’s work at Sunningdale and Huntercombe in England.

When we arrived at Huntercombe, we knew this was a place that needed to be a major aspect of our work at Meadowbrook.  Since Park personally owned Huntercombe (which, in fact, played an interesting role in Park deciding to come to America and practice golf architecture full time), we felt it reflected much of what Park liked in golf architecture, or at least what we think he liked.  We understood that it was a bit of his proving grounds, but there was just too much good stuff to not bring back to our work in the States.  Drainage ditches, grass bunkers (“willie park pots” as they call them at Huntercombe), varied putting green design, etc., seemed to reflect exactly what we were looking to do.  And, it was a bit different than the courses we were seeing in the US.  One of the things I’ve noticed about Park, is that his courses revolve around his green design and dictate his routings, even if it means there is a bit of awkwardness in the flow.  And this seemed to be evident in Meadowbrook.

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Photo by Brian Walters

What were your goals going into the project?

The entire discussion of master planning and renovation began when the Club was affected by the DuPont situation that killed many of their trees.  At this point, the Club realized they needed some outside help.  Then, the winter of 2014 happened, and most every poa green in the Metro area was affected in some way by severe ice damage.  This then began an entirely new discussion of putting green construction, bentgrass versus poa annua turf and overall site drainage.  So, when it came time to come to the membership with a plan, we identified these three goals:

  1. Sustainability in turf types and maintenance
  2. Improve drainage and playability
  3. Maximize the overall property

In a renovation like this, how much weight do playability and functionality carry respectively?

I’d say both are imperative.  Playability is what everyone sees or experiences, and much of functionality is invisible, or underground.  The longevity of a course lies in making sure each are equally attributed.  It really is a balance since most of how golf architecture is perceived, comes from what one sees and experiences.  Players assume the functionality is there, but rarely do they understand what that means.

What were the biggest changes you made?

The largest change I would say is the maximization of the property.  A slight rerouting of holes 5, 6, and 7 and a slight adjustment to hole 11 and 12 tees really improved the flow of the course, as well as allowing a player to experience the course differently than if they were to just simply walk the property.  The look and feel of the course is very different in that most of the greens are square-ish in nature, and all the bunkers were rebuilt to more of a grass faced, flat sand bottom style. And, with the introduction of more short grass, there are many more ways to play each hole, with a great variety of short game alternatives and recovery shots.  The rest of the holes utilized the existing corridors, with minor modifications in the teeing grounds or green locations.

Another significant addition to the course is an increase in the fairway width, and the introduction of short grass chipping swales on nearly every green.  We tried to balance the ability to challenge different angles of approach to the greens by giving the players more chances to find the fairway, albeit, not always from the best angle of play.  We also balanced the short grass areas with traditional rough, not only around the greens but in strategic areas in the fairways. I think the increase in variety of shots is a major improvement from how the course played prior to the renovation.

The final change came in the form of different teeing lengths based on actual swing speeds; you’ll see yardages as low as 4,000 yards.  We also have sets of tees at 4,800 and 5,100 yards.  I think this positions the club well as it continues to market to families and beginners into the future.

Did you take any creative risks along the way?

I hope so.  Bringing the “Huntercombe” style to Detroit was a fairly sizable leap of faith by the Club and its committee.  There are a few greens now that really challenge a player’s thought process of not only how to play a particular shot, but also through visually giving them something they may not have seen before.  My hope is the course will continue to reveal itself over multiple rounds, and if my experience proves out, some of the greens will catch people by surprise.  The 3rd green will be one that most people will notice (inspired by the 4th green at Huntercombe).  The internal green contours are also something that we feel we pushed the limits on.

I have to give much credit to Scott Clem, our design shaper, in this area.  He really helped push the creative envelope on how these greens were going to play, and receive shots.  We also spent a lot of time walking around the edges to think about a player’s recovery if the green is missed.  To me, this is the area that really separates the best courses – how a player feels as they manage their way around the course, and how interesting the set of greens are.

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

Actually, the biggest challenge with the membership was to keep them off the course when they started to see green grass again!  This membership absolutely LOVES their golf, but gave me no challenges once we began construction.  If there was any “challenge” regarding the membership, it would be to get them to agree that it was best to close the course for a year to get the project done at once.  But this isn’t unique to Meadowbrook.  I feel the way we overcame this was by clearly communicating our vision of what this place would be.  And, by having a solid committee, a great General Manager in Joe Marini, and a great greens staff like Mike Edgerton and Brian Hilfinger, it made it all the more manageable.  It was a great team.

Logistically, a challenge during construction was to keep the contours of the Park and Ross greens intact, even though we were converting them to a USGA green section.  This was a cool process, and was handled very well by TDI, Inc., the golf course contractor.  First, we surveyed all the greens prior to construction.  As we progressed through the installation, we didn’t touch any of the greens surfaces we were trying to preserve, and surveyed them again by a ‘total station’ greens scan which produced millions of data points and a 1-inch contour map.  Then, once the top grade was established, the entire excavation was surveyed, measuring each elevation down to the subgrade, then up to the drainage, gravel, and greens mix.  Each green was quality checked to an 1/8-inch tolerance, and each was finished by hand with a rake and shovel.  Very little equipment was used in the final floating of the surfaces. This process started slow, but picked up speed to the point we feel was a fast as possible without adding any time to the schedule.

Another logistical challenge happened around the design of the tees.  It’s easy to say we want a variety of lengths for different types of golfers, but it’s really hard not to have 6, 8 or even 10 individual tees on every hole!  Having this many tees on each hole can have a serious negative affect on how the hole looks from the back sets of tees.  So, we looked for ways to integrate combo sets, and even make the teeing ground a little smaller in some places, knowing we were trying to spread out the play across multiple sets of tees.

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

You had to ask this question, didn’t you!  Maintenance costs are going to be in line with the other clubs in the area, which is slightly more than where they were when we began the project.  The main reason for this is the increase of bentgrass areas by around 10 acres.  Actual putting green area stayed the same size, but were converted to the bentgrass Pure Distinction.  The bunkers are likely to be a bit of a learning exercise, not only in terms of the maintenance practices, but also the expectations of the membership.  I’m planning to push the Club to keep them a little rough around the edges, which should, in theory, offset the increase of handwork.  We’ve also converted 25 acres of maintained turf to natural fescue area.

Overall, the Club was committed to taking the course to a new level in terms of look and playability, and have committed to do whatever was necessary to get the course in the shape we all envisioned from the beginning.  Oh, and did I mention their membership is full?  This is a great place for Meadowbrook to be at this point in time in the golf market.

What makes you the proudest about the new Meadowbrook?

I’m proudest of the fact that this membership entrusted me with directing their long range Master Plan, and that they voted overwhelmingly in support of closing the course for an entire year.  This is really cool, given that these types of projects don’t come around very often (anymore!).  I’m also proud to see how stoked the membership is toward the new course.  These guys are just chomping at the bit to play the place!  We’ve given tours all summer and into the fall, and everyone has been so complimentary.  This reaction is incredible by all accounts.

What do you respect about Andy O’Haver?

I love O’Haver’s appreciation for the architecture.  Not just the actual design features, but his appreciation for the way the architecture is supposed to play.  He likes to say: “It’s just grass, buuu-ddy (in his best Pauli Shore voice)!”  I think many more clubs would be better off if it was acceptable to lose a little grass now and then in an effort to make the course play right, and he gets this.  The idea of a superintendent being able to provide perfect conditions, with very little room for error, or god forbid with any experimentation, is just unbelievable; unfathomable, really.  Add to this a new course, with new turf, in a new environment, and it’s really unbelievable these guys can provide the conditions they do, day in and day out.  From my perspective, he has 2-3 seasons to get it where we want it.  I just hope the membership agrees with that!


MEADOWBROOK COUNTRY CLUB

Andy Staples provided me with some photos from throughout the renovation process, which are soul stirring.  For a much more in-depth hole-by-hole analysis of the project, follow Ben Cowan’s terrific thread on GolfClubAtlas.

(click on images below to enlarge)

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HOLE #1 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The opener is a par-4 with a slightly angled tee shot that plays uphill to its new green fronted by bunkers.

HOLE #2 – Par 5

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Photo by Brian Walters

The second is a three-shotter that plays over rolling land up to an elevated green with a classic false front.

HOLE #3 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The third is inspired by a Willie Park Jr. template, doglegging right into one of the coolest greens you’ll ever see.

HOLE #4 – Par 5

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Photo by Brian Walters

The fourth is a three-shotter that gently turns left, finishing with a cape-style approach.

HOLE #5 – Par 4

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The fifth plays up over a hill and back down into an artful punchbowl green.

HOLE #6 – Par 3

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The sixth is a new one-shotter with a green set against the side of a hill.

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HOLE #7 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The seventh plays over a pond and hill and then turns right to head down into a green that allows approach from the air or along the ground.

HOLE #8 – Par 3

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Photo by Brian Walters

The eighth plays over water to a classic green surrounded by bunkers.

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HOLE #9 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The ninth is a par-4 that plays over a ditch, doglegs right, and then heads back to the clubhouse.

HOLE #10 – Par 4

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The tenth plays out past Ross-style mounds and then down to a deep green guarded by a tree left and bunker right.

HOLE #11 – Par 3

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Photo by Brian Walters

The eleventh plays downhill to a green set amidst a minefield of chocolate drops and surrounded by glorious contours.

HOLE #12 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The twelfth is as a stout dogleg left that plays to an angled green that flows out the back to a rumpled chipping area.

HOLE #13 – Par 3

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The thirteenth is a one-shotter that plays down to a green fronted by imposing grass-faced bunkers.

HOLE #14 – Par 4

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The fourteenth is a short par-4 that asks the player to navigate centerline hazards.

HOLE #15 – Par 4

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The fifteenth play side by side with the 16th over gently undulating terrain, to a green set down in a hollow.

HOLE #16 – Par 4

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This sixteenth is a understated, straightaway par-4 that turns back and heads away from the clubhouse toward the 14th.

HOLE #17 – Par 5 

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Photo by Brian Walters

The penultimate hole is a three-shotter that plays to yet another wonderful squarish green surrounded by bunkers.

HOLE #18 – Par 4

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The closer is a par-4 that makes one final demand of the player to navigate bunkers on the way to a green set in the shadow of the clubhouse.

Congratulations to Andy Staples, Shaper Scott Clem, Superintendent Jared Milner, Assistants Andy O’Haver and Brian Hilfinger, and the rest of the crew that made this outstanding transformation happen.  And further, congratulations to the membership at Meadowbrook whose boldness and trust will be rewarded with a truly special golf course on which they can enjoy the spirit of the game for years to come.


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America’s Great 18s

After seeing an article in a golf magazine about the perfect 18 holes, I got to thinking about what my favorite 18 holes would be.  After all, I love a good list.  With no offense to the publication in question, I find the typical lists to be a bit too easy to create.  It’s more interesting to me to put together these “greatest hits” courses by hole number.  That requires some digging into the database.  Further, I prefer to limit my lists to courses that I have played.

First I was thinking, and then I started texting – with Jon Cavalier (on Twitter and Instagram @linksgems) and Peter Korbakes (co-founder of Sugarloaf Social Club, on Twitter and Instagram @pgkorbs).  As is the case with everything in golf, creating lists is more fun with buddies.  In short order, we had more great holes on the table than one list could accommodate, so we decided to split up our Great 18 into two Great 18s – Modern and Classic.

UPDATE:  I started a thread on Golf Club Atlas that has yielded additional nominations, and quite a bit of interesting discussion (follow along here).  I have compiled the nominations for all Modern holes from GCA, Twitter, and Instagram and added them below.  Our original Runners Up are asterisked.

(click on images below to enlarge)


AMERICA’S GREAT 18 – MODERNS

#1 – Sand Hills – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

An opener should provide a gentle handshake, but not lay down.  It should give hints of what’s to come, without spoiling surprises.  The 1st at Sand Hills checks these boxes, which coupled with the magical land on which it sits, makes for a truly great starting hole.

The angled tee shot allows the player to bite off as much as they feel they can with that first swing.  Blowout bunkers flank the fairway and guard the approach to the green, providing the player with a good sense of the beauty and challenge to come.

The outstanding green sits in the saddle of the hills.  Approaches with elevation change, especially those that are uphill and semi-blind, abound at Sand Hills and deliver suspenseful thrills.

Honorable Mentions – Apache Stronghold*, Ballyneal, Bayside, Boston Golf Club*, Dunes Club, French Creek, Kingsley, Old Macdonald*, Old Sandwich, Streamsong Blue*, Spyglass, Sweetens Cove, Tobacco Road, Wolf Run

#2 – Sebonack – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

We are fascinated by the collaboration between Messrs. Nicklaus and Doak, which yielded some truly great holes.  Beginning with a tee shot between two old growth trees to a rumpled fairway split by massive blowout bunkers, the 2nd is also one of Sebonack’s toughest holes.

But what makes this hole great is its greensite, sliced diagonally into the dunes, protected by a dune that obscures its right side.  The green features strong internal contours and a wicked false front.

Honorable Mentions – Apache Stronghold*, Ballyhack, Ballyneal, Bandon Preserve, Boston GC, Desert Forest, Dismal Red, Erin Hills*, French Creek, Harbour Town, Hidden Creek, Honors Course, Kingsley Club*, Kinloch, Lost Dunes*, Old MacDonald*, Old Sandwich, Pacific Dunes, Radrick Farms, Rock Creek, Rustic Canyon, Sand Valley*, Snake River Sporting Club, Streamsong Blue*, Spyglass, Stone Eagle, Talking Stick North*, Wolf Point

#3 – Bandon Trails – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 3rd at Trails marks the transition from the dunes to an inland forested landscape.  This position in the routing gives it a unique feel, and underpins its greatness.  Stepping on to the tee of this hole proves that it doesn’t take an ocean to create a dramatic reveal.

The third is more than its setting though, featuring a wide fairway with the trademark centerline Coore & Crenshaw hazards that we love.  Two smallish bunkers in the right spots can dictate strategy for 500 yards.

The large green is open to approach through the air or on the ground, with beautifully done contours that blend seemlessly into the surrounds.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs*, Ballyneal*, Black Forest*, Boston Golf Club*, Colorado GC*, CommonGround*, Erin Hills*, Kiawah Ocean, Mauna Kea, Old Macdonald*, Pacific Dunes*, Sand Valley*, Spyglass Hill*, Wade Hampton*

#4 – Bandon Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The first seaside hole at the original Bandon course, the par-4 4th is a clear sign to the player that the golf here is something special.  The tee shot is played to a pinched fairway between a pot bunker and general nastiness.  Be aggressive and get a better view which brings the greenside bunkers into play, or lay back for an angle that opens the green but obscures the view?  Strategic options…check.

The approach reveals the ocean, and is tough to judge with the staggered bunkers in front and the end of the Earth behind.  To add to the confusion, the option of a running approach up the front right is on the table.  Eyes confused, mind scrambled,  good luck with that golf swing.

Arriving at the green and having the first real interaction with the Pacific is a stirring experience for any golf geek.

Honorable Mentions – Dismal River Red, Dismal River White, Dunes Club*, Old Sandwich*, Pacific Dunes*, Sand Hills*, Spyglass Hill*, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, Sweetens Cove, World Woods Pine Barrens

#5 – Boston Golf Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jason Way

This short par-4 is polarizing, and you can put us firmly in the LOVE camp.  In fact, a fair argument could be made that the 5th at Boston GC is the greatest modern short four on the planet.

It begins with a blind drive with two options.  Head out to the left leaving a short approach into the green, which is extremely shallow from that angle.  Going high, bump and running, and even putting are options from that position, but a deft touch for distance is required.  Challenging the nasty right side bunkers off the tee leaves a much better angle into the green and plenty of depth to work with, but the view might be partially obstructed by the rugged bunker mounds.

The 5th takes a strategic plan and execution to conquer.  For those who aren’t clear and confident…well, it’s named Shipwreck for a reason.  Gil Hanse’s work on this hole is unequivocally great.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs, Bandon Dunes*, Blackwolf Run River, Cuscowilla, Old Sandwich*, Streamsong Blue*, Sweetens Cove*

#6 – Marquette Golf Club – Greywalls – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

This is adventure golf at its finest – a clifftop to clifftop par-3 playing to a green set in a bowl of rock, with views for miles.

While this kind of golf risks being overdone, perhaps Mike DeVries greatest achievement at Greywalls was in making holes fitting of the rugged setting, while still being quite playable and fun.

Honorable Mentions – Apache Stronghold*, Bandon Dunes*, Crooked Stick, French Creek, Kinloch, Old Macdonald*, Old Sandwich*, Pacific Dunes*, Pikewood National*, Streamsong Blue*, The Golf Club, Wade Hampton*, Whistling Straits*

#7 – Old Macdonald – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

This hole, which might be our favorite at Bandon, begins with an awkward drive to a rumpled fairway at the foot of an ocean dune.  The thrilling approach is blind up to the top of the dune.  Climbing this hill is like coming downstairs as a child on Christmas morning.

Well played and fortunate approaches come to rest on the green.  For the poorly executed, or plain unlucky, all manner of dreadful outcomes are possible.

Critical choices made in the field can result in greatness.  The collaborative choice among Mike Keiser, Tom Doak, and Jim Urbina of where to locate the green on Old Mac’s 7th is the perfect example.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyneal*, Bandon Dunes*, Crooked Stick, Desert Forest*, Dunes Club*, Harbor Shores*, Old Sandwich*, Sand Hills, Sand Valley*,  Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*

#8 – Ballyneal – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

Like waves upon a great body of water, Ballyneal’s 8th ripples and rolls seemlessly from tee to fairway to green.  The fairway of this five-par snakes between fairway bunkers right and short-left of the green, and runs right into a green on the wild side of the Doak crew’s spectrum.

The hole is short enough to goad the player into heroism.  However, the bunkers, uneven lies, and the green itself amount to the rope with which one can hang oneself.  If the bold bunkers weren’t challenge enough, the variety of possible bounces throws the concept of fair right out the window, like many of the greatest holes do.

Honorable Mentions – Bandon Trails*, CommonGround*, Old Macdonald, Pronghorn Fazio, Sand Hills*, Sweetens Cove*, The Rawls Course*

#9 – Erin Hills – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

With its green floating in an ocean of fescue, the 9th at Erin Hills provides the great thrill of watching one’s tee shot float down while praying that it finds a safe landing amongst the sand and the waving grass.

The large green is defended by artful bunkering, offering some opportunity for bailout, but pick the wrong spot and the artful quickly morphs into the nightmarish.  Escape is not guaranteed.

Although the putting surface on the ninth is large, a trough divides it into two sections and makes it play much smaller.  Shots played safely to the middle leave the player with the potential for a real putting adventure.

Honorable Mentions – Bandon Trails, Blackstone, Boston GC, Chambers Bay, Crooked Stick*, Friars Head*, French Creek*, Honors Course*, Monterey Peninsula Dunes, Old Macdonald*, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, Stone Eagle

#10 – Chambers Bay – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Chambers Bay is a modern marvel that was made, but often appears found.  The tenth is one of those spots and is the total package of beauty, strategy, and attention to detail.  Starting with beauty, the hole rolls down between the dunes with the sound beyond.

Continuing with strategy, the player can choose a line and distance off the tee to try and gain an advantage, as well as the option of ground or aerial approach into the diagonal green.  The green provides a nice balance of opportunity for creative risk-taking, and peril.

Culminating with attention to detail on and around the green – the contours, the bunkering, the stairs, paths, fescue waving in the breeze.  Like all great holes, Chambers Bay #10 engages both sides of the brain, and stirs to soul.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyhack*, Boston Golf Club*, Colorado GC*, Harbor Shores*, Kiawah Ocean, Monterey Peninsula Shore, Pacific Dunes*, Rock Creek Cattle, WeKoPa Saguaro*, Wolf Run

#11 – Lost Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 11th at Lost Dunes provides challenge throughout, playing uphill between bunkers.  The large bunker right, between the 11th and 12th, is both terrific and not where you want to be.

The true greatness of this hole is at the green – a wonderful putting surface set in a magnificent spot in the saddle of a dune.  Large, and beautifully contoured, it is a joy to attack.

Looking back after holing out, the player gets a magnificent view of the property below.  This hole, in this special spot, begins one of the best stretches in all of golf.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyneal*, Bayonne*, Blackwolf River Run, Boston Golf Club*, Cuscowilla, Desert Forest*, Monterey Peninsula, Old Macdonald*, Sand Hollow*, Sebonack*, Whistling Straits, Woodlands CC

#12 – Kingsley Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Greatness can be found in simplicity.  At Kingsley’s 12th, Mike DeVries used restraint in laying this elegant and beautiful hole on the land.  The result is a great par-4 on one of our favorite courses.

This bunkerless beauty ripples and rolls downhill to a green set in a valley.  The fairway flows off the hill right, and the green rolls off a hill left.  The savvy player can use slopes to gain position and advantage.  Subtle contours and breaks on the green and surrounds confuse, confound, and give ample motivation to come back again.

No trip down the twelfth is complete without a pause to look back and appreciate the ground that nature prepared.  It is one of the most scenic spots on a course where breathtaking natural beauty is the norm.  Simply sublime.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs*, Ballyneal, Bandon Dunes*, Black Forest*, Chechessee Creek, Erin Hills*, French Lick Dye, Honors Course*, Old Memorial, Pacific Dunes*, Royal Isabella, Talking Stick North*, The Rawls Course*, Wolf Creek*

#13 – Pacific Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Bold and beautiful, the 13th at Pac Dunes shoves its greatness in your face.  It runs north along the ocean cliff, packing pulse-quickening strategic options and jaw-dropping natural beauty.  Our favorite hole on one of our favorite modern courses.

The fairway is quite generous, but seems anything but.  The best angle into the elevated green is gained by favoring the left-center of the fairway, which feels flirting dangerously with the cliff.  It’s a real “hike up your knickers” moment in a round at Pacific Dunes.

There is plenty of room to bail out right off the tee, but that position brings bunkers and the enormous dune right of the green into play.  The green itself is no pushover either, with a false front and ample internal contours.  Add to that mix the whipping wind that can affect even short putts, and the 13th is more than able to provide a flatstick adventure.

In terms of rugged, natural, and awe-inspiring beauty the Pacific Ocean and the massive dune conspire to put Pacific Dunes #13 in a category of greatness all its own.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs, Atlanta CC, Butler National, Honors Course, Kingsley Club*, Old Macdonald*, Old Sandwich*, Sand Hollow*, Streamsong Blue*, Wade Hampton*, WeKoPa Saguaro*, Whistling Straits*

#14 – Friars Head – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Friar’s Head is one of a small handful of modern courses that is so pure that any of its holes could have been included in the Great 18, but we settled on this par-5 as our favorite.  It snakes, switches back, and rolls uphill creating all manner of interesting lies and angles.

The triangle-shaped green allows for testy pin positions that must be considered from the tee all the way up the fairway to the approach.  The massive dune ridge creates a natural amphitheater for one of the most breathtaking inland green settings in golf.

To cap it off, the 14th has the coolest set of stairs in the game.  The triumphant player ascends proudly to the next tee.  The defeated player crawls on hands and knees.

Honorable Mentions – Black Diamond Ranch, Brickyard Crossing, Butler National, Chambers Bay, CommonGround*, Desert Forest*, Dormie Club*, Erin Hills, Kiawah Ocean*, Kingsley Club*, Lost Dunes*, Old Macdonald*, Radrick Farms, Sand Hills*, Secession, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, Talking Stick South*

#15 – Black Diamond Ranch – Quarry – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

As the player stands on the tee of this par-4 preparing to play down into the quarry, it is evident that Tom Fazio pursues his creative vision unapologetically, moving earth and blasting rock until he has what he wants.  The green sits in a sliver of safety with rock above and water below.  Imprecise approach shots are given little quarter down here.

Perhaps the pendulum has swung away from the “hand of man” style of architectire, but we are of the opinion that variety is great and no geek can live on minimalism alone.

Honorable Mentions – Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Chambers Bay*, Crooked Stick, Diamond Springs, Erin Hills*, Friars Head*, Harbor Town, Kingsley Club, Lost Dunes*, Old Macdonald*, Sand Hollow*, Shadow Creek, Shepherds Crook, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, The Rawls Course*, TPC Scottsdale, WeKoPa Saguaro*, Wildhorse, World Woods Pine Barrens

#16 – Streamsong Red – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The basis for this bold version of the biarritz was found in the mining spoils and brought to vivid life by the Coore & Crenshaw crew.  With blowout bunkers in front and a steep runoff left, this hole is a next level re-imagination of the classic template.

Situated next to stellar 7th on Streamsong’s Blue course, the 16th is a unique and spectacular spot in golf.  The boldness and scale of this hole is the perfect beginning to the Red course’s special closing stretch.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyneal*, Bandon Dunes*, Bayonne*, Colorado Golf Club*, Desert Forest*, Erin Hills*, Hudson National*, Kingsley Club*, Old Macdonald*, Pacific Dunes*, Poipu Bay, Sand Hills*

#17 – Whistling Straits – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

For visual beauty and drama, it is tough to beat the set of par-3s at The Straits, and the 17th is our favorite.  It plays south along the Lake, exposing it to the oft-stiff wind.  At distances from 165 yards all the way up to 249 yards, this hole is appropriately named Pinched Nerve for the acute pain that it can deliver to players whose tee shots are uncommitted.

The putting surface is contoured just enough that the adventure doesn’t end when the green is reached.  After surviving the test that is The Straits to this point, mustering par feels like a big victory.

Our Modern Great 18 would not have felt complete without a hole from Pete Dye, and for us, the stout 17th at Whistling Straits was a worthy choice.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyhack*, Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Bayonne*, Boston Golf Club*, Dormie Club, Erin Hills*, Forest Dunes*, Friar’s Head*, Manele, Pacific Dunes, Sand Hills*, Sand Valley*, TPC Sawgrass*

#18 – Stonewall Country Club – Old – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Credit Tom Doak and crew for changing Tom Fazio’s original routing for this hole and creating one of the best finishers in golf – modern design with a classic vibe.

The pretty tee shot plays to a wide but well defended fairway, but this hole is all about the greensite, fronted by deep bunkers but open to a ground shot from the left, and sitting mere feet from the old farmhouse and barn.

Honorable Mentions – Bayonne*, Black Forest*, Harbour Town*, Kapalua Plantation, Old Macdonald*, Sand Hills*, Sand Valley*, Sebonack*, Shadow Creek*, WeKoPa Saguaro*


AMERICA’S GREAT 18 – CLASSICS

#1 – National Golf Links of America – Par-4

Step on to the first tee box at National and feast your eyes: to your left, the 18th green and Peconic Bay; straight ahead, the beautiful clubhouse and your target fairway; slightly to your right, the iconic windmill.  Macdonald’s Valley template isn’t often seen in true form any longer, but this gem of a hole, with its intricate bunkering and its wild, undulating green sets a perfect tone for a round on one of the best courses in all of golf.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Crystal Downs, Whitinsville, Oakmont, Inverness, Mountain Lake, Skokie CC)

#2 – Old Elm Club – Par-4

Quite simply, the 2nd at Old Elm is timeless architectural design. While short in length, the necessity of accuracy looms large.  As technology has rendered helpless many holes designed in the golden age, the 2nd cannot be overpowered merely by 300 yard pops.  The knoll green is small and plays smaller, exacting a price on even near misses – the pressure of the approach puts the golfer in a stressful position back in the fairway.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Myopia, Garden City, Shoreacres, Somerset Hills, Pine Valley, Old Town Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club)

#3 – Oakmont – Par-4

The 3rd at Oakmont is much more than just the iconic church pews.  From the outstanding green, all the way back down the hill, it is packed with the strategic options of line and distance that characterize all great four pars, as well as the architecture throughout Mr. Fownes masterwork.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Olympia Fields CC North, LACC North, Kittansett, Wannamoisett, Camargo, Chicago GC, NGLA, The Country Club, Pine Valley, Pasatiempo, Piping Rock)

#4 – Fishers Island – Par-4

If any one hole captures the greatness of Fishers Island, it’s this one.  Before teeing off, players note the day’s pin position on a pegboard.  Options abound off the tee, and players hit anything from driver to mid-iron, depending on their chosen line and the wind, aiming at the alps hill at the end of the fairway.  That hill makes the approach shot blind.  The hole culminates in the best punchbowl green in all of golf, one that must be seen to be believed.  The walk over the alps hill, when this green first comes into view, is one that no golfer will ever forget.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Chicago GC, Bethpage Black, Inverness, Myopia, Seminole, Pinehurst #2)

#5 – Merion – Par-4

A simple yet extremely difficult hole, Merion’s fifth begins with a tee shot to a canted fairway sweeping left toward a small creek that runs the length.  Aggressive tee shots challenging the creek will have the better approach.  The green is a masterwork of simplicity and terror, with a steep slope toward the creek.  Any approach with right to left movement into this green risks winding up in the hazard, and putts from above a left pin often meet the same watery fate.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Crystal Downs, Chicago GC, Fishers Island, Pinehurst #2, Riviera, Old Town Club, Mountain Lake, Philadelphia Cricket Club)

#6 – Eastward Ho! – Par-4

The 6th hole at Eastward Ho! is one of the most spectacular par 4s in American golf.  Plunging sharply downhill through a valley created by some of the most severely sloping fairways you’ll ever see, the 6th plays shorter than its yardage but is far from easy.  The elevated green sits hard on the water’s edge, providing panoramic views of the bay and the small islands in the distance.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – The Creek Club, Shoreacres, Olympia Fields CC South, Seminole, Riviera, Lawsonia, Roaring Gap Club, Pebble Beach)

#7 – Lawsonia Links – Par-3

Any hole that was built by burying a large piece of machinery is great in our book, but the 7th at Lawsonia is more than just an epic construction story.  This one-shotter embodies the combination of enormous scale with genius green contours that Langford & Moreau designed into this underrated gem.

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Photo by Jason Way

(Runners-up – Chicago GC, Ekwanok, Kittansett, Maidstone, Crystal Downs, Pebble Beach, Inverness)

#8 – Pebble Beach – Par-4

Words on their own cannot properly describe the majesty of the 8th at Pebble.  Hitting blind, the hole kicks off with a flare for links golf.  Upon reaching the crest, the player is met with a jaw-dropping vista that few, if any, holes in the game can replicate. With winds whipping, and a thrilling approach looming, the iconic eighth defines timelessness for its players.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Crystal Downs, Orchard Lake, Essex County Club, Blue Mound, Prairie Dunes, Maidstone, Wykagyl, Pine Valley, Riviera, Old Town Club, Yale)

#9 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par-3

The bunkering of the 9th at Myopia is before-its-time artistic greatness – it distracts from just how minuscule the green surface is on this outstanding short three.  Walking up to the green and finding that one’s tee shot has safely come to rest on the putting surface is no less amazing than it would be to see a unicorn emerge from the trees behind.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Oakmont, Milwaukee CC, Yale, Maidstone, Shinnecock, Pebble Beach, Onwentsia, Fishers Island, Pinehurst #2)

#10 – Shoreacres – Par-4

Every Road Hole is great, but the tenth at Shoreacres is our favorite in America.  Raynor’s use of the natural contour of the land makes the drive gloriously awkward and the angled green makes every approach a harrowing crap-shoot.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Shinnecock, Milwaukee CC, Prairie Dunes, Riviera, Winged Foot West, Chicago GC, Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Yale, Kirtland CC)

#11 – The Country Club – Par-5

The twists and turns of The Country Club’s 11th as it winds its way down through outcroppings of exposed stone make it unique.  What makes it truly great is that it demands that the player think and plot their way from tee to green.  Thoughtful aggressiveness is rewarded, recklessness punished.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Merion, Essex County Club, Kittansett, Camargo, Shinnecock, Plainfield CC, Fishers Island, Seminole, Mountain Lake, Olympia Fields CC South, Brookside Canton)

#12 – Old Town Club – Par-4

Options abound at Old Town.  At the twelfth, the player must decide whether to play up the high left side of the fairway, leaving a sidehill approach that is shorter but blind to the green, or to play right to a lower, flatter part of the fairway further back from which the green is visible. The variety of the landforms and terrain at Old Town is staggering, and they are on full display on this great hole.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Oakmont, Essex County Club, Prairie Dunes, Wannamoisett, Shoreacres, Skokie CC)

#13 – Pine Valley – Par-4

Likely the purest hole at the Valley.  It is said Crump did not move any land to find the 13th – he simply took out a few trees, spread some seed, and put a tee in the ground.  Demands are plentiful from the choice of a strategic line off the tee, to the heart pounding approach, to the extreme caution necessary while on the dance floor.  When it comes to natural holes, few exceed the 13th.

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Photo by Peter Korbakes

(Runners-up – Orchard Lake, Essex County Club, Onwentsia, Kirtland CC, Seminole)

#14 – Crystal Downs – Par-3

Infinity greens are always great, and recent tree removal and restoration work has revealed the jaw-dropping beauty of Dr. MacKenzie’s 14th at Crystal Downs.  He also baked great challenge into this small package with a green that will test your putting, and your sanity.

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Photo by Jason Way

(Runners-up – Maidstone, Seminole, Olympia Fields CC North, Brookside Canton, Skokie CC)

#15 – Sleepy Hollow – Par-4

An Alps/Punchbowl amalgamation, the combination of features found on this hole are unique.  The fairway is generous but canted rather substantially from high left to low right, and the long approach shot is entirely blind with the green sitting some 20-30 feet below.  As the player crests the fairway, he is rewarded with the breathtaking view of the punchbowl green, with the sixteenth green behind and the Hudson river valley far below.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – NGLA, Canterbury, Brookside Canton, Skokie CC, Roaring Gap Club)

#16 – Cypress Point Club – Par-3

“It is the most spectacular hole in the world and the most thrilling … 200 yards of wild sea and rocky coast.” – Robert Hunter

The most famous Par-3 in the world, the 16th hole at Cypress Point Club is so captivating, that upon seeing it for the first time, a golfer reimagines what is possible, as fantasy becomes reality before his very eyes. In fact, this hole is so staggeringly gorgeous that its considerable strategic merits are often overlooked.

The hole offers not one, not two, but three valid lines of play from the tee – a 200+ yard carry straight at the green, a 100 yard carry on a line up the fairway between a grove of cypress trees and the green, and farther left still, to the left of those trees, an even shorter carry. In match play, the significance of these options cannot be overstated.  The green itself is huge and receptive to well-struck shots, and the fairway will direct good shots on a more conservative line closer to the green.

Alister Mackenzie rightfully gets credit for the gem that is Cypress Point, but the 16th also owes its brilliance to Seth Raynor, who originally routed the hole, and visionary Marion Hollins, who insisted over Mackenzie’s objections that the hole remain a par-3.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Old Elm, Shinnecock, Myopia, NGLA, Sleepy Hollow, Merion, Canterbury, Kirtland CC, Skokie CC, Roaring Gap Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Pasatiempo)

#17 – Prairie Dunes – Par-5

Lay of the land holes often make our list of favorites, but it is the setting of the green that makes this three-shotter at Prairie Dunes truly great.  Playing uphill to the green with a steep drop-off short right, one can almost hear Perry Maxwell say, “Nothing less than a confident swing will do here, son.”

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Photo by Jason Way

(Runners-up – NGLA, Essex County Club, St. George, Seminole, Old Town Club, Yale, Olympia Fields CC North, Roaring Gap Club)

#18 – Essex County Club – Par-4

Home holes that return to the clubhouse have a special place in our hearts, and none do so more dramatically than the great finisher at Essex County.  Recent tree removal and restoration work here by Superintendent Eric Richardson and his staff have revealed the beauty of the topography, as well as the view of the outstanding clubhouse.  The boldness of Donald Ross’s vision manifested in the twists and turns of the fairway, and the sublime creekside green setting are unparalleled.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

(Runners-up – Pebble Beach, Yale, Oakmont, Milwaukee CC, Inverness, Garden City)

BONUS HOLES

#2 – Somerset Hills – Par-3

During our discussions, Jon made his strongest case for a change to the selections with regard to the 2nd on our Classic course.  He is a big fan of Somerset Hills, and believes Tillie’s Redan to be among the finest holes Tillinghast ever built.  He lost out to Peter’s and my Old Elm homerism, but he is right – this is a beautiful golf hole.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

#16 – Pasatiempo – Par-4

We originally selected this hole as our 16th, and then Jon played Cypress Point.  We figured that Dr. Mackenzie wouldn’t mind if we bumped one of his for another.

Our original comments on Pasatiempo’s 16th.

It is said that Pasatiempo’s sixth is one of the good Doctor’s all-time favorite holes.  It’s hard to argue with the creator.  Cresting the hill to discover where one’s tee shot came to rest, the player is met with a view of this all-world tiered green that seems to be melting into the recently restored barranca.  It is obvious from the fairway that the approach must be placed both on the correct tier and below the hole – exhilarating and terrifying!

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Photo by Jon Cavalier


No list is worth its salt if it doesn’t create a debate.  What did we miss?  Leave your comments here or hit us up on Twitter and Instagram.


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2016 Geeked on Golf Tour

A pattern seems to be developing.  As I watch the snow fall out my window, I reflect back and think, “It can’t get any better than this year’s golf tour.”  And then the next year comes around, and it does.  That was the story of 2016.  Just when I thought golf adventuring couldn’t get any better, it did.

I got around quite a bit this year.  First the stats: Played 51 courses (30 for the first time), including 6 U.S. Open Venues, in 15 states.  Gloriously exhausting, and tremendously rewarding.

Before getting into detail on the courses played, a few takeaways from the year:

This was the year I realized that I don’t like playing alone all that much anymore.  I would rather be in the company of a fellow geek or two.  Being able to share these adventures with kindred spirits makes the experiences richer, including geeking out about golf on long car rides or over a well-earned meal and drink.  This year, I had the good fortune of deepening existing friendships, and creating new ones around the country.  Golf is magical that way.

Golf has always been a walking sport for me.  This year, I came to realize that riding in a cart takes too much away from the experience for me to do it.  Even if it means that my game suffers a bit from fatigue, I prefer to walk.  Hiking around Sand Hollow, 81 holes in a day and half at Prairie Dunes, 45 holes at Sand Hills – sure, these walks were taxing.  But I like the exercise and the experience of the courses is significantly more vivid.  There might come a day when I am no longer able to walk and play.  On that day, I will take a cart.  Until then, it’s walking for me.

Although I did play in quite a few fun matches with friends, I did not keep score once this year.  In 2016, it didn’t seem to matter, so I didn’t bother.  It was quite liberating.  I was still plenty happy to make pars and birdies, but there was no pressure to do so.  Instead, I was freed up to attempt creative shots that, when pulled off, are the golfing memories I cherish the most.

Finally, I fell in love with the replay this year, or as my buddy Peter says, “Going around and around.”  My weekend at Prairie Dunes, and replays of great courses like Shoreacres, Crystal Downs, Sand Hills, and Boston Golf Club brought this into focus for me.  Playing new courses is great, but I find myself yearning more and more for the depth of experience that comes from the replay.

Enough philosophizing, on to the course highlights of 2016.

One course cracked my Top 5 favorites this year – Sand Hills.  Those who have been know how magnificent it is.  It is perfect.  Beautiful land, with 18 wonderful holes laid upon it.  For a photo tour, check out my September to Remember post here.

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Two additional courses cracked my Top 10 – Myopia Hunt Club and Prairie Dunes.

Playing Myopia is like stepping back in time to an era that pre-dates formal architectural styles.  It is a special place.  For much more on Myopia, check out Jon Cavalier’s course tour and my June Buddies Trip Recap.

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My weekend at Prairie Dunes was an all-timer.  After 81 holes in a day and a half, I got to know the course well, and I am grateful for the chance.  Strategy and variety abound, and those greens…oh my.  For a complete tour of Prairie Dunes, check out my visit recap here.

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Four additional courses cracked my Top 20 – Philadelphia Cricket Club, Oakmont, Kittansett Club, and Ballyneal.

Keith Foster’s work restoring Tillinghast’s Philly Cricket is off the charts.  It is breathtaking and all the right kinds of challenging.

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Oakmont is of course, Oakmont.  It was a neat treat to get to play this incredible course in a U.S. Open year.  Many hours of sleep were sacrificed for the experience, and it was worth every minute.

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Kittansett Club, with the benefit of a Gil Hanse restoration, blew me away.  This William Flynn design might be the best flat-site golf course in America.

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Like so many do, I fell in love with the Ballyneal experience.  Great golf-geeky membership, and my favorite Tom Doak course to date (yes, I have played Pacific Dunes).

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My quest to play all of the U.S. Open venues continued this year, and I knocked six more off the list – Glen View Club, Myopia Hunt Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Oakmont, Erin Hills, and Inverness Club.  A wide variety, all wonderful courses.

(Click images to enlarge)

I had high expectations for most of the courses I played this year, but there were a handful that exceeded my expectations.  My biggest surprises of the year were Orchard Lake, Sand Hollow, Whitinsville, Highland Links, George Wright, and Sweetens Cove.

After coming across a photo tour of the newly renovated Orchard Lake Country Club on GolfClubAtlas, I was dying to see it.  What Keith Foster and Superintendent Aaron McMaster have done there is jaw-dropping.  For even more on Orchard Lake, check out my C.H. Alison appreciation post here.

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Sand Hollow is one of the most unique golf courses I have ever played.  The terrain is amazing, it has great holes – it is just plain cool.  I already have a return visit planned for February, 2017.  For more photos, check out my Las Vegas trip recap here.

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My golf buddies were a little skeptical when I added a 9-holer they had never heard of to our Boston itinerary.  After the first time around Whitinsville, they asked if we could stay the whole day.  They simply do not make courses like this anymore.

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The early morning trek out to the end of Cape Cod was worth the effort.  The Highland Links waits there, nearly untouched by time, and perhaps America’s only true links course outside of Bandon, OR.

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Boston has an embarrassment of riches in private golf, but it was a public track that pleasantly surprised me the most this season – George Wright.  The story of its creation as a WPA project, with Donald Ross as architect blasting holes out of the rock with dynamite is terrific.  In recent years, this gem has been getting the polish it deserves.

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Every golf geek I know who has made the pilgrimage to Sweetens Cove has come back a convert.  Count me among them – Sweetens Cove is everything that is great about golf, and golf course architecture, all packed into 9 holes.  For more about Sweetens Cove, check out my interview with Rob Collins, including his course tour.

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Toward the end of the season, it became evident that I have developed a fascination with 9-holers.  Winter Park CC, The Dunes Club, Whitinsville, Marion GC, Highland Links, Sweetens Cove, and Eagle Springs were all highlights for me in 2016.  I intend to include as many 9-holers as I can in my adventures going forward.

After another year of unbelievable golf experiences with great people, I am tremendously grateful.  Many thanks to those who have pitched in to make these adventures possible.  Time to start lining up 2017…

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems 2016 Year in Review

2016 was another busy year for our friend Jon Cavalier of LinksGems (@LinksGems on Twitter and Instagram).  He travelled coast-to-coast playing beautiful golf courses and sharing his terrific photos.  He also took his drone work to a whole new level, literally. And, finally, this year we learned more about the man behind the lens in 2 interviews:

  • Read the Buffalo Golfer interview with Jon here.
  • Listen to the Fried Egg interview with Jon here.

It is clear at this point that Jon is a very talented guy.  He is also extremely generous to put this amount of work into sharing his photos with us, with no concern for remuneration.  Those of us who have had the pleasure of teeing it with him will tell you this about Jon as well – he’s as a good a golf buddy as you’ll ever find.

Enjoy this recap of Jon’s stellar 2016.  Looking forward to watching him try to top it in 2017.


PLEASANT SURPRISES

These are the courses that I played this year that most exceeded my expectations.  Counting down my Top 10…

(click on photos to enlarge)

No. 10 – Highland Links

This full-fescue true links 9-holer on Cape Cod is as pure and scenic as it gets.

No. 9 – Keney Park Golf Course

This quirky Hartford muni has improved immensely.  Church pews, and excellent Redan, an Eden, a punchbowl – they’re all here.  A wildly fun and supremely enjoyable golf course.

No. 8 – Sands Point Golf Club

A.W. Tillinghast + Keith Foster + Beautiful Setting = Incredible Golf.  I knew this place would be good, I didn’t realize that it would be this great.

No. 7 – Country Club of Troy

CC of Troy sits on lovely terrain and features exceptional Walter Travis greens.

No. 6 – Shelter Harbor

Old stone walls are everywhere on this, my favorite of Hurzdan-Fry’s designs.  A beauty.

No. 5 – Pikewood National Golf Club

It’s not often that two guys I’ve never heard of build one of the best modern courses I’ve ever played.

No. 4 – Salem Country Club

I didn’t know how good Donald Ross could be until this year.

No. 3 – Black Sheep Golf Club

Played Black Sheep on the spur of the moment and it blew me away.  Stupendously fun David Esler design.

No. 2 – Orchard Lake Country Club

Went to Detroit to see Oakland Hills and fell in love with this beauty.  Keith Foster continues to add to his growing list of brilliant renovations.

No. 1 – Glens Falls Country Club

Glens Falls absolutely blew me away; gorgeous setting, amazing terrain and a wonderful set of holes.  One of the most pleasant golf surprises I’ve had in recent years.


FAVORITE DRONE SHOTS

2016 was the year when I fell in love with drone photography.  In the spirit of the 12 Days of Christmas, here are my favorite drone shots of the year.  Counting down from 12…

No. 12 – National Golf Links of America (with cameos by Shinnecock, Sebonack and Ballyshear)

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No. 11 – Ridgewood Country Club

Sunset, with the New York City skyline.

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No. 10 – Sleepy Hollow Country Club

New Knoll and Road Hole greens by Gil Hanse at the 8th and 9th holes.

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No. 9 – Old Sandwich Golf Club

The fall colors here must be seen to be believed.

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No. 8 – Pine Valley Golf Club

Full fall colors, with the Philadelphia skyline over the 18th green.

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No. 7 – Sleepy Hollow Country Club

Punchbowl, Panorama, High Tor, Haunted Bridge, Outlook, and Hendrick Hudson

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No. 6 – Shinnecock Hills 

Shinny always looks great, but it’s impossibly beautiful at dawn.

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No. 5 – Maidstone Club

Three of my favorite holes – Maidstone’s 8th, 9th and 10th.

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No. 4 – National Golf Links of America

Dusk over the greatest golf neighborhood in the world.

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No. 3 – Seminole Golf Club

A color dawn breaks on Donald Ross’s seaside masterpiece.

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No. 2 – Eastward Ho! 

Paradise in Chatham on Cape Cod by Herbert Fowler

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No. 1 – National Golf Links of America

Sunset over Peconic Bay, the iconic windmill and punchbowl.

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TOP NEW PLAYS

And finally, the main event – my favorite courses that I played for the first time in 2016.  15 Honourable Mentions, followed by a countdown of the Top 10…

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HM – Baltusrol Golf Club

Site of the 2016 PGA Championship and countless other major events.

HM – Calusa Pines

This terrific Hurdzan/Fry design is one of the best courses in Florida.

HM – Olympic Club (Lake)

The championship course at the oldest athletic club in the U.S.A.

HM – Salem Country Club

This Ross gem will shine in 2017 as the host of the U.S. Senior Open.

HM – Medinah No. 3

There’s golf history behind every tree and shrub at this venerable course.

HM – Oak Hill CC

The only club to host the PGA, Ryder Cup, US Open, US Am, Senior Open & PGA.

HM – Pikewood National

What John Raese & Bob Gwynne created here is nothing short of amazing.

HM – Sebonack Golf Club

An unlikely marriage, Tom Doak & Jack Nicklaus created a true gem.

HM – Oakland Hills CC

Quite beautiful, brutally difficult and a long championship pedigree.

HM – Olympia Fields

One of Chicagoland’s finest championship venues.

HM – Southern Hills

This Tulsa gem by Perry Maxwell is the crown jewel of Oklahoma.

HM – Cherry Hills

Arnold Palmer’s history here made playing CHCC in 2016 very special.

HM – St. Louis Country Club

This CB Mac gem is every bit as good as it’s NY brethren.

HM – Wade Hampton Club

Far and away the best Fazio-designed course I’ve ever played.

HM – Kittansett Club

Gil Hanse polished this seaside William Flynn gem to a sparkle.

No. 10 – Pasatiempo

Mackenzie’s favorite course; a charming and beautiful place for a round.

No. 9 – Riviera

A strategic and enjoyable masterpiece by George Thomas, with many iconic holes.

No. 8 – Essex County Club

There is something magical about this old Donald Ross design.

No. 7 – Valley Club of Montecito

One of the prettiest and most enjoyable golf courses in the world.

No. 6 – California Golf Club

A restoration by Kyle Phillips lifts Cal Club to must play status.

No. 5 – Prairie Dunes

Father and son duo Perry & Press Maxwell teamed up on this heartland gem.

No. 4 – San Francisco Golf Club

Few architects built masterpieces on both coasts; Tillinghast did.

No. 3 – Seminole

Donald Ross’s finest work, and a masterclass in routing a golf course; amazing.

No. 2 – Los Angeles Country Club

Perhaps the finest parkland golf course in the country; lovely.

No. 1 – Pebble Beach

This grande old dame, iconic and revered, somehow lives up to expectations.


Again, many thanks to Jon for sharing his adventures and photos with us.  If you are not already following him on Twitter and Instagram at @LinksGems, get on it.  You don’t want to miss a single shot in 2017.

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


13 Comments

The Evolving Artist – An Interview with David McLay Kidd

Several years ago, I played Bandon Dunes and enjoyed it greatly.  Unfortunately, I have not made the trek back to the Oregon Coast, nor have I had the chance to play any of David McLay Kidd’s other courses (although I would very much like to).

Like many GCA geeks, I have followed the stories about the evolution of David’s career with interest, particularly those that have been written since the opening of Gamble Sands and his triumph in the Sand Valley bake-off.  Word out of Nekoosa, WI is that the DMK crew is creating something truly special and my recent visit to Sand Valley provided confirmation.

Wanting to learn more about the man and his work, I reached out to David when I returned from Sand Valley and he was gracious enough to make time in his busy schedule for an interview.

Preview play on DMK Design’s SVII begins next summer.  Until then, enjoy the interview.

 

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THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

Son of a Scottish Greenkeeper, raised almost literally on a golf course.  My father was in charge at Gleneagles for over 25 years and was instrumental in securing the Ryder Cup for Scotland in 2014 (the last time we won).

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

When I would look forward to going out in the wet and cold to work on the courses my father was in charge of.  I got and still do get such a kick out of the visual appeal of a golf course – playing is pretty cool too.

How did you get into the business?

Son of a Greenkeeper, it’s in the DNA!

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

What’s this Golden Age you speak of?  As a Brit our Golden Age was a little different.  It was the time of the Great Triumvirate following on from Old Tom.  If that’s the question then I will say Harry Shapland Colt.  He introduced strategy to golf design, he liked quirky.

Who has had the most influence on you, both inside and outside of golf?

My father.  He has lived and breathed golf his entire life.  He loves the game and the courses we play it on.  He has done a lot for his profession, mostly unheralded.  He promoted sustainability and organics when it was laughed at.  He promoted further education when many in the UK at least saw his profession as semi-skilled at best.

What should every owner/Green Committee member learn before breaking ground on a golf construction project?

The question that is rarely asked is “what will these design ideas cost to maintain?”  That’s a question a club needs to understand before they build a course with 100 manicured edged bunkers and bent grass wall to wall.

What is your favorite part of a golf course to design?DavidMcLayKidd-MapWalk.png

In the dirt waving my arms dreaming up an idea and developing that idea in the field step by step, developing each detail as you go.  I have more fun doing that than any golf shot I have ever hit.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

I still giggle on the inside that I get paid to do something I would do for free.

How has your design philosophy changed over time?

I started out knowing that golf in the UK is played for fun, as a past-time by most.  Few play competitive golf and keep stroke play score, most don’t.  When I created Bandon Dunes I knew that, but as my career developed I was convinced that golf courses needed to be tough challenges and my job was to defend the honor of the course.  Golfers would have to show respect, or else be punished.

I have returned to what I know golf needs to be – fun, playable, entertaining, engaging, relaxing, enduring.  It should not be punishing.  Who wants to decide to do something that’s punishing?  I can make a course that’s challenging and alluring, while simultaneously making it playable.  It’s all down to width and making sure the rough offers the ability to find a ball.

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What do you want to accomplish in this next phase of your career?

I want to take the principles I have returned to and build the most celebrated and fun courses that have ever existed.  Gamble Sands and Sand Valley II will be my role models going forward.

Why are you excited to be involved in the Sand Valley project?

It allows me a grand stage to show how challenge and playability can co-exist.  We can create a visually stunning course that the most occasional of golfers can enjoy just like I did with Bandon Dunes the better part of 20 years ago.

What is it like to be designed a course alongside accomplished architects like Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw?

I am hoping that after 25 years of effort I might be able to suggest that I am ‘accomplished’ even if not so well known?  My profession is living through exciting times.  There are a number of very talented golf designers out there doing incredible work.  I would love history to include me in that group of relevant architects in the early part of this century.

What legacy do you hope to leave for the game, and golf course architecture?DavidMcLayKidd-WalkingGolf.png

The game needs to be fun.  I had my time on the dark side and I see the error of my ways.  I have spent many years considering how to make courses playable, challenging and fun as well as natural and sustainable.  These are all words I hear from my peers, but often do not see them played out in reality on the ground.

What courses are at the top of your hit list to see or play next?

There are so many places I have yet to play.  There are a number of East Coast gems I haven’t played yet (many I have).  I still haven’t played Augusta – it’s on my bucket list.

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

I am an avid pilot. I fly my own Cirrus Sr22T all over the US.  Last year I did 80,000 miles in my own plane.  I coach soccer and have coached my daughter from Kindergarten to Middle School.  I live in Bend, Oregon – the outdoors capital of the world, or at least Oregon – so we do everything from rafting to skiing to hiking to boating to fishing.  We are never short of something to do.


GAMBLE SANDS

Gamble Sands opened to rave reviews and continues to get glowing praise from all who have been fortunate enough to make the pilgrimmage to northern Washington.  The course was also of particular selfish interest to me as it was the cause of David’s inclusion in the Sand Valley bake-off, which he won.  I might never make it to Gamble Sands, but soon I will be able to go around and around on a DMK design closer to home.

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To get a glimpse of the style of design – challenging, fun, and beautiful – that we will likely see in Wisconsin, we need look no further than Gamble Sands.

#1 – Par 4 – 392 yards

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#2 – Par 4 – 262 yards

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#4 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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#5 – Par 5 – 497 yards

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#6 – Par 3 – 231 yards

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#7 – Par 5 – 473 yards

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#9 – Par 4 – 382 yards

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#10 – Par 3 – 140 yards

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#11 – Par 4 – 412 yards

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#12 – Par 4 – 300 yards

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#14 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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#16 – Par 3 – 195 yards

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#17 – Par 4 – 418 yards

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MORE DMK COURSES

David was kind enough to compile quite a few photos from the courses that he has designed around the world.  I was taken by how far flung his work has been, and also by how varied the look and feel of his courses are.  A player could be more than satisfied jetting around the world playing David’s courses for the rest of their golfing life (especially since his work is far from finished…).

(click on images to enlarge)

BANDON DUNES

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Bandon Dunes Resort – Bandon, Oregon

 

THE CASTLE COURSE

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St. Andrews Links – St. Andrews, Scotland

 

MONTAGU COURSE AT FANCOURT

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Fancourt Resort – Blanco George, South Africa

 

HUNTSMAN SPRINGS

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Driggs, Idaho

 

LUACALA ISLAND GOLF COURSE

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Luacala Island Resort – Fiji

 

MACHRIHANISH DUNES

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Kintyre, Scotland

 

NANEA GOLF CLUB

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Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

 

QUEENWOOD GOLF CLUB

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Ottershaw, United Kingdom

 

TETHEROW GOLF CLUB

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Bend, Oregon

 

TPC STONEBRAE

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Hayward, California

 


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf