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FROM CHRISTMAS TREES TO GREEN FEES AT CHAMPION HILL

The story of the Stone family’s Northern Michigan journey into golf course construction and ownership at Pinecroft and Champion Hill

“Are you going to play Champion Hill this time?” My golf buddy Ben knew that I was making trips to Northern Michigan and he would text me this question every time I posted a photo of Kingsley Club, Arcadia Bluffs or Crystal Downs. “It’s on my list,” I would reply. Not a lie, but a truth lacking in any sense of urgency. I was busy getting intimate with three of the best courses in the state, the region, and perhaps even America (depending on who you ask). What need did I have of seeing a country course, even if it was a favorite of the locals? After years of this exchange, I finally made the short trip, and by the time I reached the fourth tee it was clear why Ben was so insistent. Champion Hill is a joy of a course with hand-crafted architectural feel on a piece of land that is as good as The Downs—all at a green fee that makes you feel like you’re taking advantage of the family who owns it.

Do You Think We Might Have Something?

The Stones have been a farming family for generations, growing cherries and other fruit, along with Christmas trees. City folk might not give much thought to where those firs, pines and spruce come from. Thank growers like the Stones. By the late ‘80s, tree farming had become a grind as big box stores squeezed producers and pushed out independent tree lots. The family was getting by but feeling the pressure, prompting Lee Stone to begin contemplating other uses for the land.

In college, Stone had taken a golf class and then played with his father at the courses around Benzie County throughout his twenties and thirties. To call him an avid golfer would be a stretch, and he certainly didn’t have any experience in designing or building courses. He was, however, on the lookout for opportunity, which materialized in the morning queue at the Signal Hill Golf Course in Panama City Beach, FL. Stone shared the story of inspiration hitting while on a family vacation with NewClub’s Matt Considine on the Bag Drop Podcast. “Standing there with a bunch of guys and it wasn’t even light yet,” he recounted. “I thought, maybe that’s what we do with the farm up north. That was the start of it.”

The Stones might not have had a golf pedigree, but they did have land in what has come to be seen as one of the ideal places in America to build a golf course. Northern Michigan’s trademark sandy soil and glacier-made topography characterized their property. Lee connected with Jim Cole, who left turf school at Ohio State to work on construction of the courses at Agaming and Crystal Mountain. Cole had a landscaping company at the time, but agreed to take a look at the land that would become the family’s first course, Pinecroft. “What do you say Jim, do you think we might have something here?” The answer came back strongly in the affirmative. Testing from Michigan State confirmed that the soil was perfect for golf, requiring only stripping, screening and seeding. Cole and the Stones set to work clearing, shaping, and installing irrigation, doing nearly everything in-house. Pinecroft opened for play in 1992 and the tee sheet filled up immediately.

The magnificent lake view from the 16th green at Pinecroft

Let’s Do Another

Pinecroft was a resounding success with locals and golf tourists alike. Lee Stone was pleased with the result, and upon reflection found the process of building the course to be highly enjoyable and satisfying. He proposed to Cole that they create a second course on another site owned by the family. The 350 acres that became Champion Hill sits on the highest point in Benzie County with views of Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan in the distance. A setting that rivals its much more famous neighbor in Frankfort.

By the time clearing began in 1995, Stone and Cole had augmented their hands-on experience with study of the subjects of architecture, construction and agronomy. The pair agreed to a simple set of timeless design principles for their second offering: an open, airy feeling with wide fairways; no trees or water hazards in play; natural, sand-pit style bunkering; big, contoured greens. In rural Michigan, they had organically settled on the formula that would also captivate golfers in the sand hills of Nebraska, along the coast of Oregon, and beyond.

Stone hopped on the family’s new bulldozer and did most of the shaping himself between 1996 and 1998. He likes to tell the story of meeting an up-and-coming architect named Mike DeVries, who stopped by to see the project and offer his services. Stone politely turned DeVries down because he was having too much fun doing it himself. What was born of necessity came to be permeated with a joy that players still feel twenty years later.

The Course

Champion Hill is a course that achieves the holy grail of playability. Interesting, challenging and fun for players of all ages and abilities. With holes working up, along and over a primary ridge, the hilly terrain makes for a tough but doable walk. Stone and Cole stayed largely true to their design principles. Trees are part of the scenery, but with the exception of a few nods to the orchard heritage of the land, they are not on the stage. There is enough strategy baked into the design to satisfy geeks and sticks alike, and enough quirk to charm even the well-traveled.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

The round begins with three consecutive par-4s that work up to the high ground. The 1st is straightaway, the 2nd banks left around a large set of bunkers, and the 3rd is an up-and-over to a green set at the base of a hill. This opening stretch introducers players to the naturalized aesthetic and the wonderful contours to come. It culminates with a green-back view of both lakes that is worthy of a brief pause to absorb.

The 4th is a bunkerless par-4 that runs along the base of the dune, providing plenty of challenge in spite of its lack of a hazard. The par-5 5th features a dramatic downhill tee shot to a sharp dogleg right. Deciding how aggressive to be with that corner gets tricky at elevation. The first one-shotter on the course, the 6th plays over a valley to a green benched into the hillside.

The short par-5 7th is a stunning example of lay-of-the-land architecture. The tee shot is downhill into a valley. Players are then faced with an uphill approach to a lay-up area and green that are defended by sneaky tough bunkers. The putting surface is large and can be held with longer clubs, but is contoured to make lag putting no bargain.

After the 7th, the course comes up over the ridge to begin the descent to the turn. The 8th is a picturesque par-3 with a shelf green and expansive views. The 9th once again asks players to choose a line down to a fairway set at an angle along the foot of the hill. Upon making the turn, the 10th is a simple but tough four-par with a very deep green.

The par-3 11th is one of the most heavily bunkered on the course and can be a card wrecker when the wind is howling. Not to be outdone, the green on the two-shot 12th has devilish contours that give players fits. The final par-3 on the course, the 13th requires a stout tee ball while dealing with the distraction of the breathtaking vista from the high point of the property.

The next two par-4s are among the most creative and strategic holes on the course. Anything from a mid-iron to a driver works off the tee on the 14th, with its drivable green perched near the top of the ridge. The 15th requires that players check the hole location as a small tree fronts an offset green that runs away. Angle of approach is critical to set up a birdie chance.

The closing stretch begins with the par-4 16th, which plays over a rise and then down to a deep, well-defended green. Back-to-back par-5s complete the round. The 17th swings right around an orchard and the 18th includes the only water on the course, short left of the home green.

Listening to Lee Stone discuss his creations with Matt Considine, the discomfort he feels being the focal point is evident. Pay close attention and you can also pick up flashes of confidence and pride. He knows that the collaboration with his old friend Jim yielded a gem at Champion Hill. Best of all is the satisfaction that he expresses knowing how much players have enjoyed his courses over the years. Go play Pinecroft or Champion Hill and you will feel like you’re a part of that great, big golfing family.

As is the case with family farms, many family owned golf courses are struggling to survive. If we want the best of these courses, like Champion Hill, to be around for the long haul, we have to seek them out and play them regularly. Don’t do it out of charity, though. Do it because it is a golf experience that is much richer than the shots hit on the course.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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WHAT’S IN A NAME – LONGUE VUE

A LinksGems course tour and appreciation of the Robert White designed Longue Vue Club by Jon Cavalier

Much attention is paid to National Golf Links, Oakmont, Cypress Point and their peers, and for good reason. But it also useful and enjoyable to shine a light on a lesser known, but very worthy golf course. Longue Vue Club, designed by Robert White, a St. Andrews native and former president of the PGA of America, as well as the architect of the first putting green ever installed on the White House lawn, is well deserving of our attention and praise. The course opened for play in 1922 and a decade and a half later, A.W. Tillinghast lent his eye and his mind for potential improvements. The club wisely acted on several of his ideas, including changes to the first, ninth, tenth and eleventh holes. 

 

The product was a first rate golf course on an astonishing piece of land high above the Allegheny River. The course incorporates several templates of the Macdonald/Raynor school, including a Redan, Eden and Punchbowl. Despite the hilly nature of the property, the course is a joy to walk and to play. The staff does a fabulous job of keeping the conditions ideal for enjoyable golf and the club maintains firm fairways, fast greens and penal but playable rough.

  

Longue Vue has a tendency to be overlooked due to its location in the long shadow of nearby Oakmont and Fox Chapel, but this gem is more than worthy of discussion. I hope you enjoy the tour.

The Clubhouse

I tend to rattle on a bit about clubhouses in my tours, as I have always believed that, when done right, a clubhouse can add to the experience of a golf course. Longue Vue’s clubhouse is, in a word, exceptional.

Designed by architect Benno Janssen, the clubhouse is entirely stone with a slate roof and includes several large archways.

As seen above, the clubhouse is designated a National Historic Landmark and appears on the National Register of Historic Places.

Upon arrival at the club, and depending on the entrance used, the player drives through the arched tunnel to reach the parking lot.

The landscaping surrounding the clubhouse is impeccable, and colorful flowers are planted in seemingly every available space.

The views from the club’s main patio are likewise impressive – hence the name.

This view from the west side of the clubhouse shows the 18th hole, which finishes steps from the building.

Even the walk to the first tee is impressive.

The Course

Longue Vue plays to a yardage of 6,606 from the back tees and to a par of 71. The course is routed loosely in a counterclockwise fashion, though it doubles back on itself frequently on the second nine.

HOLE #1 – 396 yards – par 4

A tough opener, the first doglegs to the left around a sharp falloff—anything to the left of the fairway is looking at a bogey or worse.

A tee shot hit too long or too timidly to the right will find rough and a challenging angle. An accurate drive is a must on this hole.

The right side of the first hole gives the player his first look at some of the scenery to come.

The first green is sloped substantially from back to front, providing a receptive target for longer approach shots while penalizing balls hit long.

A very solid opening hole.

HOLE #2 – 390 yards – par 4

The next of two stout par-4 openers, the second hole plays gently downhill to a fairway bending in the opposite direction from the first.

The fairway falls off to the left and feeds into these bunkers, which make for a challenging recovery to the elevated and well-protected green.

The proper play is down the left side of this fairway, which provides both the ideal angle and view into this green.

The slope of this fairway, the angle to which it feeds into the green, and the left to right tilt of the green itself combine to provide for some very interesting approach shots.

HOLE #3 – 202 yards – par 3

An excellent Redan, the third plays over a large ravine to a green at tee height.

There is little room for error here—misses short or left are dead, and those long or right make for extremely challenging recoveries.

The green is unique among Redans, in my experience, as it contains both a hollow and a second tier to the right rear.

The third is a standout hole at Longue Vue.

HOLE #4 – 553 yards – par 5

The first three shot hole of the round begins high above the Allegheny River and drops steeply downhill.

An accurate tee shot on the proper line will run forever, and will provide most players with a second shot into the green.

Those who choose to lay up are offered a generous fairway, which then tightens considerably near the green.

The large green is receptive to shots hit from distance, but care must be taken to avoid the miss long or right. An enjoyable hole.

HOLE #5 – 198 yards – par 3

An Eden template par-3, the fifth plays over a shallow ravine to an elevated green with replica Hill and Strath bunkering to either side.

The green slopes hard from back to front here, and the Eden bunker is ready to catch balls hit long. The hazard bounding the right side of the hole adds an element of difficulty due to the steep slope from the green to the trees. Though not as dramatic as some Macdonald Edens, the fifth at Longue Vue is a fine example of this template.

HOLE #6 – 390 yards – par 4

The sixth requires a tee shot to a banked fairway running left to right around a large ravine that encroaches from the right side.

The banked fairway rewards well-struck drives that fade right to left with some extra distance and a kick down into the flat bottom of the fairway.

The large green is accessible, but the penalty for missing it is high, as it is surrounded on all sides with trouble in one form or another.

HOLE #7 – 312 yards – par 4

The shortest two shot hole on the course, the seventh asks for a tee shot to a narrow fairway benched into the side of a hill. Longer hitters wishing to challenge this green off the tee must confront a set of bunkers set into the hill above the left side of the fairway. The contours of the fairway obscure parts of the landing area and the green.

This unique bunkering presents a visual and actual hazard on the seventh hole.

As seen from behind the green, the topography at Longue Vue makes for some challenging and interesting golf. A fun risk-reward par-4.

HOLE #8 – 548 yards – par 5

The start of what might be considered Longue Vue’s prettiest stretch of holes, the eighth begins on a rise and proceeds over the club’s entrance road to a fairway canted steeply uphill and hard from left to right.

This fairway is truly difficult to hold, and your author thinks this hole could improve from good to great if the fairway were widened by 20 or more yards. In any event, second shots are hit from a significantly uphill lie.

The fairway short of the green is beautifully contoured and open to encourage running second shots. While the ideal approach is down the left side, the cross bunker some 50 yards short of the green on the left must be avoided.

Once again, the rolling land provides character and interest to this two-and-a-half shot hole.

HOLE #9 – 452 yards – par 4

The bunkerless ninth hole at Longue Vue may be the most difficult on the course. The tee shot requires a carry over a ravine to a fairway not only sloping left to right, but substantially undulating as well.

Level lies are few and far between in this fairway, making the long second shot that much more difficult.

Missing the fairway off the tee means having to confront this deep depression some 80 yards short of the green.

The interest of the ninth is increased by the fact that the horizon green slopes from front to back, a feature made more challenging by the length of the hole.

A superb hole, and perhaps the best on the course.

HOLE #10 – 171/148 yards – par 3

A gorgeous par-3 set at the edge of a bluff, the tenth is all carry to a green that appears suspended in mid-air.

As this view from short and left of the green illustrates, there is almost no room for error here. Further, the green itself cants sharply from high left to low right, which is exacerbated by some pin positions.

The slope of this green provides it with near-redan like characteristics, as properly flighted balls can be aimed at the larger, safer side of the green and use the slope to funnel down toward the hole. The ninth is visible in the background. A beautiful setting for golf.

HOLE #11 – 417 yards – par 4

A rise in the fairway obscures the landing area on this tough, dogleg right par-4. The hole slings to the right, opposite the slope in the fairway, making a fade the much preferred shot shape off this tee.

Most second shots will be blind here as well, as the hole continues its gentle climb up and around the hillside to the large green. The flagpole marks the center of the green.

This view from the right reveals the depth of the green, appropriate for receiving the long, often blind approach shots required here.

Bunkers to the left of the green catch any shots not properly aimed, which is complicated for the player by the blindness of the approach.

HOLE #12 – 200 yards – par 3

A long one-shot hole to a very dramatic green, the twelfth is played over another large ravine with the slight elevation creating partial blindness from the tee.

The green is riddled with ridges and undulations, making a two putt far from certain, even for those shots that are fortunate enough to find the putting surface from the tee.

Pins on a high tier in the right rear of the green provide their own set of additional challenges. A first rate par 3 hole.

HOLE #13 – 334 yards – par 4

A Robert White Alps/Punchbowl! The short thirteenth is your author’s favorite hole at Longue Vue. The tee shot plays out over a pond to a bowled fairway that rises sharply uphill.

The approach shot is blinded by the Alps feature, here a fairway mound fronting the green.

The punchbowl green is open front right but extends deeply to a back left corner. The green itself slopes from back to front and contains all manner of pockets and hollows.

This view from behind the thirteenth reveals the back left pocket, which provides for the best pin positions on this outstanding green.

Who among us doesn’t love a well-done punchbowl? The thirteenth at Longue View certainly qualifies.

HOLE #14 – 445 yards – par 4

Having ascended the alps hill, the course plays out across the highest point of the property. The fourteenth begins with a slightly uphill drive to a wide fairway that bends gently left. Bunkers guard the inside of the dogleg, while the right is bounded by a steep, tree covered slope.

The wide fairway flows seamlessly into the green, allowing long approaches to be run on to the putting surface.

One last gentle hole before the drama of the closing stretch begins.

HOLE #15 – 540 yards – par 5

Wow. The fifteenth hole plays straightaway along the ridgeline, with the Allegheny Valley in full view far below. The view from this tee box is surpassed only by the one from the green.

While traps down the right will catch balls careening toward the cliff’s edge, hidden bunkers down the left see far more action, as players naturally bail out away from the certain death of a miss right.

The beautifully rolling fairway will reward accurate drives with added distance and the promise of an opportunity to go for this green in two. The cliff looms right for the entire length of the hole.

Again, the green is open in front to receive running approaches, but is surrounded by sand, including this bunker short left that will gather shots missed left.

Golf in the Pittsburgh area does not get more scenic than the fifteenth at Longue Vue.

HOLE #16 – 198 yards – par 3

The par 3 holes at Longue Vue are extremely challenging, and the sixteenth is no exception. In fact, it may be the most difficult of them all. An uphill tee shot into the prevailing wind is required, and accuracy is a must, as the green will shed balls missed right or long.

The area short of this tough green is mowed and maintained as fairway, and can be used by players to bounce balls on to the putting surface.

HOLE #17 – 470 yards – par 4

Longue Vue closes with two lengthy and difficult two shot holes that run downhill and back to the clubhouse. The first of the pair, the seventeenth, plays down to a fairway moving gently from right to left. The hill obscuring the beginning of the fairway makes distances difficult to judge.

The fairway banks slightly from right to left, making a level lie a difficult find. Once more, the green is open in front but well-protected to the sides.

The lack of trees immediately behind the green plays yet more tricks with judging distance, and the green itself slopes from right to left.

The seventeenth—a hole as pretty as it is difficult.

HOLE #18 – 471 yards – par 4

Strong courses have strong finishing holes, and Longue Vue is no exception. The second of two consecutive 470+ yard par-4s, the eighteenth plays out over a rise to a wide fairway. Like the eighteenth at Eastward Ho!, the finishing hole at Longue Vue hides its drama until the second shot is reached.

Playing directly at the gorgeous stone clubhouse, the final hole winds its way down the rippling terrain to a large green.

The green slopes slightly from front to back and hard from right to left, and out of bounds is tight to the rear of the green, incentivizing a ground approach.

A last look back up the eighteenth hole leaves one in awe of the effort that must have been needed to build a course on these grounds nearly 100 years ago.

Longue Vue is a course that is under the radar of most, but for those who enjoy their golf fun, fast and challenging, and with some gorgeous scenery sprinkled in, it is not to be missed. Next time you find yourself in the Pittsburgh area, you should give Longue Vue a look. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LIGHT BULB MOMENTS AT THE LOOP

A look at Tom Doak’s brilliant reversible design, The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club

“Golf is a science, the study of a lifetime, in which you can exhaust yourself but never your subject.” – David Forgan

A golf course that can be readily grasped after a single round is not likely to ever be considered one of the game’s greats. The best courses require repeat play, and perhaps even a bit of study, to master—much like golf itself. The Old Course at St. Andrews ideally embodies this truth. The answers to the questions posed by the links are not printed on the scorecard. They are revealed to patient and persistent players over time, many of whom did not find themselves enthralled after their first loop. Those who are fortunate enough to experience The Old Course more than once almost invariably fall in love, as their initial confusion gives way to a curious desire to explore ever deeper its mysteries.

No modern architect has made a more thorough study of the links of the British Isles than Tom Doak. He wrote in his book Anatomy of a Golf Course, “Yet to truly understand the enduring popularity of golf and the essentials of good golf courses, it is imperative to become familiar with the British links over which the game evolved five centuries ago. The importance of studying the links is summarized by two facts: These are the courses over which the game itself was invented, and they have endured despite tremendous changes in all other aspects of the game.”

By the time the opportunity arose to return to Northern Michigan to build again, Doak and his team at Renaissance Golf had been successfully applying the lessons from the links to produce renowned courses such as Pacific Dunes, Ballyneal, Streamsong Blue and many others. However, it would be at Forest Dunes Golf Club that he would finally be given the chance to draw fully upon the inspiration of The Old Course in bringing to life a reversible course with eighteen greens – The Loop.

The 12th green on The Loop’s Red Course – Photo Credit: Evan Schiller

In the 1921 British Open, Bobby Jones famously picked his ball up and quit after repeated unsuccessful attempts to extricate himself from a bunker on the 11th at St. Andrews. Suffice it to say that the Old Course’s charms were lost on him. It is equally well known that as time went on, his appreciation for the links grew to become an abiding love. Those who are not immediately enamored with The Loop from a single play can take heart to find themselves in a similar position to the younger Jones. They ought further be consoled to know that the architect himself, the resort owner, club staff and scores of players have been on a long-term journey with The Loop marked by moments when light bulbs flip on to shed progressively more light on the brilliance of this design.

Flipped Switches

The concept for a reversible course had been rattling around in Tom Doak’s brain for decades. He believed that if he could just find the right client with the right piece of land, the concept could become a reality. Enter Lew Thompson, owner of Forest Dunes Golf Club, who wanted to entice visitors to stay and play longer at the resort by offering a second course that would wow them. In Thompson, Doak saw his chance. He set about studying the land and collaborating with his associates on a reversible routing.

Twenty years of mulling it over, and it was still a tall task to figure out how to make the concept work. In an interview with Matt Ginella, Doak described the routing process. “Early on, I was thinking that the more we just make (the course) a big ‘C’ shape, the better off we’re going to be. But as I started to draw it…it’s more interesting to not just play into the same green from 180 degrees opposite. When you’re changing directions, you have a chance to play around with things…I think that’s the fascinating thing about the concept…Sometimes the orientation of the green is so much different that it doesn’t look familiar to you at all.”

Light bulb.

After many hours of headache-inducing deliberation, the Renaissance team had their design ready to present to Thompson. The story goes that Doak showed his client the routing for one direction and the reaction was, “Nice looking course, but I’m not wowed.” Out came the course map for the other direction and it took Thompson a few minutes to realize what he was looking at. Same corridors, same greens, playing in the reverse direction. The response, “Wow.” Doak was not just giving Lew Thompson a second course. He was throwing in a third.

Light bulb.

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Robert Falconer (@LoopSuper) is now the Superintendent at The Loop, but at the time construction was getting underway, he was working for a contractor. Falconer had a sneak peek at the plans and was not immediately impressed. “I thought that it looked goofy in some spots,” he recalled. “I commented that certain features seemed out of place. My boss asked, ‘Which way is the hole going?’” That question was one that he never had to stop and consider before and it took him aback. Like Thompson, the realization came that this was a different and special project.

Light bulb.

The opening of The Loop was highly anticipated among architecture geeks, Doak fans and the media. As the fanfare of those early rounds dissipated, the course proved successful in its purpose of giving players a reason to stay longer at the resort. However, some felt that it lacked the same level of pizzazz as Weiskopf’s Forest Dunes course or others at comparable facilities. That impression is not entirely unfair. It is indeed simple and subtle at first glance. But those reviews speak more to the surface-oriented perspective of modern golfers than to the quality of the design. The Loop is not merely a single golf course, or even two. It is more than that. It is a work of architectural art that offers a glimpse into a genius golf mind at depths that cannot possibly be fully comprehended with one play.

Elliott Oscar is the PGA Professional at Forest Dunes who, like Robert Falconer, enthusiastically evangelizes the course. “The first time I played it, I thought it had a nice set of greens,” Oscar shared. “After more plays, I realized how much the green surrounds influenced play. Fifty plus plays in each direction later and I understand that every contour and feature is purposefully done. I like to go out late in the evening, play a few holes and then turn around to play in the other direction.” The Loop is not just a golf course. It is an experience.

Light bulb.

My Journey with The Loop

When the announcement of the reversible course at Forest Dunes was made, I was tremendously excited. Like a good geek, I studied the course map and was convinced that I understood how incredible the courses could be. I was wrong. During construction, I had the privilege of going out with a small group led by Tom Doak to play dirt golf in both directions on several holes. Although disoriented at first, I got my bearings and concluded, “Now I get it.” Wrong again. As I played the finished course this season, pausing periodically to look back and find a different hole in the reverse direction, I sensed another light bulb flickering on for me. But this time, I was not fooled into thinking that I got it. Quite the opposite.

Light breaks through to illuminate the 12th green on the Black Course – Photo Credit: Evan Schiller

Talking to those who have been around the course numerous times, and who continue to make discoveries, I can see that I am at the beginning of my journey with The Loop. It promises to illuminate light bulbs for me with each round. That is the good news that Lew Thompson and Tom Doak want to share with every visitor to Forest Dunes, especially those who might have had a Jones-at-St-Andrews reaction. The greatest courses reveal themselves over time. They are a reminder that if we can open and properly orient our minds, we will find in brilliant designs like The Loop an inexhaustible supply of challenge and joy.

Special thanks to Evan Schiller for contributing his gorgeous photos. More from Evan on his website (https://www.evanschillerphotography.com/), on Twitter (@EvanSchiller) and on Instagram (@evan_schiller_photography).

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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COURSE WORK AT KAMPEN

The third edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q series takes a look into the multi-dimensional Kampen Course at Purdue University’s Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex

As an alum of the University of Illinois, it is not easy to give praise to Purdue. The simple truth, however, is that the golf geeks in West Lafayette have a facility at their disposal that is tough to beat. The Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex sits within earshot of the football stadium and is home to two Pete Dye golf courses. Each course occupies land with distinct character and each has its own style. Architect and long-time Dye collaborator Tim Liddy served as the project lead on the creation of the Kampen Course, which is not just a fun and challenging test of golf. It is also a classroom for the University’s turf students and a laboratory for some of its environmental sciences majors. Multiple dimensions of thoughtful value-added are the theme here.

Pete’s Par-4s

Although Kampen is strong from start to finish, the brains of the course are contained in its par-4s. They embody Pete Dye’s commitment to strategic golf, while delivering strong variety. Beginning with the two-dimensional view, the four pars vary in length, direction and shape.

On most, but not all, flanking hazards on one side of the fairway give an initial indication of the question posed to players. Is there a reward for flirting with the hazard? The answer is typically in the affirmative, as the greens are set at angles to the fairway. The degree of advantage gained is impacted by the size of the putting surface and composition of the surrounds, which differ from hole to hole. The seemingly straightforward scenario presented by each hole becomes more complex the closer one gets to the green. Dye and Liddy deceive and confuse players to knock them out of their comfort zones.

Baked into the layout of these two-shotters is a nod to old school golf—the switchback. On several holes, ball strikers who are able to work the ball in both directions may steer away from the hazards without sacrificing birdie looks. Rare today is the player who can hit a draw off the tee and then fade an approach into the green, or vice versa. The opportunities are there at Kampen, but only for those possessing the ability to see and hit the shots.

Moving beyond paper and out onto the course adds a third dimension that is visually appealing and, at times, intimidating. The land is adjacent to Celery Bog Nature Area, a large wetland that harbors hundreds of species of wildlife. Liddy and his team drew upon this prairie-to-wetland transition location to deliver an aesthetic that skews toward naturalized by Pete Dye standards. The shaping of bunkers and green surrounds has a sophistication that further enhances Kampen’s beauty, as evidenced in the gallery of four pars below.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

The site does have some movement, and it is used to great effect to lend additional complexity to the par-4s. Landing areas and putting surfaces are not always visible, demanding confident selection of lines based on cues from the horizon. On three holes (#1, 12, 15), Dye and Liddy force average length players to choose between the ideal approach angle and visibility by building Alps style mounding to obscure the view from half the fairway. This is a brainy golf course where the designers have presented a game of chess, not checkers. There is no “right” way to play Kampen’s two shotters. Trial and error over time will reveal the best plan of attack for each player.

The Outliers

Although there are consistent strategic themes throughout, two of the four pars stand apart from the bunch, and in doing so, point to yet another dimension of the design. The 7th is a short four featuring fairways that wrap around both sides of a central waste bunker. The horseshoe green has a pronounced central spine that makes being wrong-sided on the approach or recovery a real challenge.

The layout of the 7th serves another purpose beyond confounding players though. “That double fairway was created to allow testing for turf school,” explained Liddy. One interesting example of the many ways that the Purdue Turfgrass Science program uses the facility. Under the direction of Superintendent Jim Scott, students get hands-on experience by maintaining the Birck Boilermaker courses. The environment of learning and experimenting does nothing to diminish the conditions, however. Quite the opposite—these students provide players with stellar surfaces.

The 14th is the only par-4 that employs water as its primary hazard. A wetland runs along the left, allowing players to shorten the hole significantly by cutting across. Long on the approach is the only completely safe bailout but leaves a tricky recovery from a short grass runoff to a gently rippled green.

Here again, there is more than meets the eye with this water hole. The Kampen Course was envisioned and built with scientific study as one of its objectives. Specifically, Zachary Reicher and his team of researchers wanted to know if a golf course with managed wetlands could filter contaminants contained in stormwater runoff from neighboring developments before the water reached the ecologically sensitive Celery Bog. According to Reicher’s report, “Samplers were located to track the progress of water as it enters the east edge of the courses, through the wetland system, and exits the far northwest edge of the course.” Water samples were collected during and after storm events over a period of several years, and the team of scientists concluded, “…created wetlands are improving the quality of water as it moves through the system.” Quite the benefit beyond birdies and bogies.

Kampen proves what can be accomplished when smart people put their heads together with the goal of maximizing the value of land use. Pete Dye, Tim Liddy, and the staff and faculty at Purdue brought to life a course that simultaneously and seamlessly adds value to players, the university and the community at large. Dye’s designs have been renowned for making players’ heads hurt. Trying to comprehend the multi-dimensional complexity of what was achieved at Kampen goes well beyond a headache to a completely blown mind.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A WEE CHANGE AT CANAL SHORES

Part 26 of the Journey Along the Shores series takes a look at the creation of the Wee Burn

When Cypress Point opened, it received universal praise. One would assume that a categorically positive reaction would please the architect. Instead, Dr. Alister MacKenzie famously expressed concern—in his experience, any golf course that didn’t turn off at least a few players wasn’t well designed. As we continue to tinker with Canal Shores, we understand the Good Doctor’s conditioned expectations. Each change we make to improve the course yields mostly praise, but also the predictable batch of complaints. The creation of the Wee Burn short of the 17th green is no exception, providing an interesting look into player perceptions and reactions to change.

The Problem

We are often asked why we don’t address issues of standing water by installing drainage that flows into the canal. The short answer is that we are not permitted to do so by our landlord. That prohibition makes sense in the context of the purpose of the land. Canal Shores exists fundamentally to provide a green space buffer for stormwater management from the surrounding neighborhoods. The course is there to hold water, not pour it into the canal. Unfortunately, that function is not well balanced with playability for golfers, and it will take a well-conceived renovation to reconfigure the course to achieve both objectives. Until that time, we are forced to do triage.

Standing water across the front of the 17th green

The 17th hole is one of many problematic spots on the course with regard to water retention, particularly across the front of the green. Spring rains caused the entire approach to flood. It would stay wet and muddy long after the rest of the course had dried out, and any subsequent rainfall would put us right back to square one. Plugged or disappeared balls were common, and growing healthy turf was impossible. The area was essentially unplayable for most of the season.

The Wee Burn

After lengthy consideration, we decided to stop trying to fight Mother Nature, and instead provide a better place to store this water. A wee burn wanted to exist, if we would do the digging. The idea was to dig down front-right of the green where the water was collecting so that a greater volume could be held in a smaller footprint. The removed soil was used to raise and slope the front left to help it remain dry by surface draining into the burn.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Our friends Matt, Mark and Matt from NewClub put on their artisans hats and came out to do the digging and shaping. We didn’t want the feature to look like a boring ditch, but rather a burn that might be found on a course in the British Isles. Aesthetics were enhanced with wetland plants and stone chunks donated by a neighbor. We were excited about how the burn looked upon completion, but the real test would have to wait for the next rain. Sure enough, the rains came and the burn worked as intended, holding water while allowing the front-left approach to the green to dry out quickly. Players’ balls will no longer plug and their shoes will remain mud-free.

Player Perceptions

Although we were happy with how the burn looked and functioned, some players were not enthused. Change creates complaints, presumably because it makes us uncomfortable. Those complaints open a window into the quirky manner in which our minds work. When asked why a player doesn’t like a feature, they will produce an answer even if it is poorly founded. For example, in the case of the burn, we heard that it makes the hole harder. The burn is not marked as a hazard—it is essentially a depression in the fairway where casual water collects. If there is water in it, players are entitled to a free drop. Looking at the before and after photos above, it is readily apparent that we took a large problem and made it smaller, thereby rendering the hole more playable. That’s not harder, it’s easier (and more interesting).

If we are honest with ourselves, we can all admit to having reactionary moments like this when faced with change, which is why we don’t sweat the feedback. Dr. MacKenzie accepted that it was part of the deal, and he knew much more about golf architecture than we ever will. When the complaints come, we comfort ourselves by imagining that he would have approved of our Wee Burn, as well as our ongoing efforts to push Canal Shores forward.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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BOLD, BEAUTIFUL BAYONNE

A LinksGems course tour and appreciation of the Eric Bergstol designed Bayonne Golf Club by Jon Cavalier

Bayonne Golf Club is, to put it mildly, one of the more unique golf clubs in the United States. Built entirely from scratch by Eric Bergstol, the course represents the antithesis of the “minimalist” trend in golf course architecture, and yet, somehow, appears more “natural” than many other courses built in the last 20 years.  The result is, in a word, spectacular.

The course winds its way through man-made dunes, some nearly 100 feet high, constructed from muck and filler dredged from New York Harbor. Look to the north from the course’s high points and you’ll know you’re within the shadow of one of the world’s largest metropolises. But down in the dunes, you’d be forgiven for losing yourself for a moment and imagining you’re walking the fairways at Pacific Dunes or Ballybunion.

Meanwhile, above this dreamscape looms a gorgeous clubhouse reminiscent of a New England lighthouse and one of the largest American flags you’ll ever see. It is fair to assume that the melding of these three elements—the distant cityscape, the rolling dunes, the majestic clubhouse and flag—would be at best disjointed and at worst an overblown disaster. In the case of Bayonne, however, such an assumption would be completely wrong.

Bayonne is a club that, perhaps due to its youth or the fact that it has yet to host a significant event, flies under the radar of many people outside its immediate geographic area. In fact, when brought up as one of my favorite New York-area courses, no course generates more quizzical looks than Bayonne. One purpose of this tour is to shine much deserved light on this modern architectural gem.

With the possible exception of Shadow Creek, no course more clearly illustrates what a golf course can be with a blank canvas, ample funds, and a dedicated and motivated developer. From this standpoint, Bayonne warrants our study. I hope you enjoy the tour.

The Clubhouse and Flag

Together, Bayonne’s clubhouse and accompanying flag play a larger role in the club’s identity and have a greater impact on the feel of the golf course than at perhaps any other modern club. Situated on the highest point of the property, the flag and the clubhouse are the first things the player sees when approaching Bayonne by car, and they are the most identifiable aspects of the property when approaching by air or sea. 

The clubhouse itself is spectacular. Built to suit the club’s location on the water, the lighthouse-inspired building manages to impress without seeming ostentatious and feels welcoming rather than forbidding (no small feat with a building such as this). 

The lighthouse contains an incredible bar and grill room with spectacular 360 degree views. A terrace provides a wonderful place for a post-round lunch. The interior of the building is entirely hardwood and gives the appearance of a rustic retreat.

The top of the lighthouse affords the club’s members and guests some of the best views in New Jersey.

Bayonne’s flag is perhaps even more impressive than its clubhouse. Flying at the top of a 150 foot pole, the 40×70 foot flag is the second largest American flag flying on the East Coast.

The flag is so large that the flagpole is 22 inches thick at its base and is set 15-feet into a concrete block to anchor it against the tremendous forces on the pole that are generated by the wind catching the flag. In a nod to tradition, the flagpole is topped with a 24-inch, 70 pound gold plated copper ball.

The massive flag is easily visible from tall buildings in Manhattan, including the new World Trade Center, and is a memorable and distinguishing element of the club’s presence.

Getting There

The drive into Bayonne is…interesting. To say that the club’s immediate surroundings give no clue as to the beauty within is an understatement. From the south, the club is minutes off the Bayonne Bridge from Staten Island. From the north, it is accessed via the Newark Bay Bridge or the Manhattan tunnels. Regardless of the direction of travel, the golfer passes industrial sites, harbor terminals and empty lots before hitting the entrance.

Though an overused description, entering the gates at Bayonne is quite literally like entering a different world. Industry gives way to a driveway bordered by tall dunes, with Bayonne’s massive flag and clubhouse emerging on the horizon. The experience is truly one of crossing a threshold.

For those who prefer a different method of travel, Bayonne has its own ferry to shuttle members and their guests to and from Manhattan, as well as a helicopter landing pad. These fine amenities are located at the far end of the property, adjacent to the 16th green and 17th tee.

Practice Facilities and Driving Range

Bayonne provides players with a typical practice green, set mere paces from the clubhouse and the first tee. The practice green affords the player a view over much of the golf course and city skyline, heightening the pre-round sense of anticipation.

The range at Bayonne is yet another unique aspect of the club. Pressed for space, the club’s range is the harbor itself. Golfers tee off from a narrow strip of manmade land out into a section of water roped off with floating line.

The range balls used at Bayonne perform like regular golf balls, but they float. The prevailing currents and tides typically push the balls into a corner of the range, where they are scooped up with a net by a club staffer in a small boat. The views from this range are impressive, as the Verrazano Narrows Bridge looms large to the south.

The Golf Course

As noted above, the course at Bayonne sits on an entirely manufactured landscapes with dunes rising to nearly 100 feet. The result is a winding, thrilling ride up, down and across some of the largest dunes in the East. The course is maintained in impeccable condition and provides its members with true links style golf—firm fairways, fast greens and ever-present wind—and despite the size of the dunes, the course remains quite an enjoyable walk.

The course stretches to a Championship yardage of 7,120. Typically, members play from a respectable 6,712 yards (the yardage used for this tour) or 6,303 yards. Each of the holes at Bayonne is named—a practice I wholeheartedly endorse—and can, on several occasions, give the golfer an idea of how a hole is meant to be played.

The routing at Bayonne is superb, beginning in a northwesterly direction and meandering out to a corner of the property, turning back and forth on itself before returning to the clubhouse at the turn. The back nine begins by playing to the southern edge of the property before returning to the clubhouse after the 13th, 15th and 18th holes. No two consecutive holes play in the same direction.

HOLE #1 – “Dell” – 343 yards – par 4

The first tee at Bayonne is so close to the pro shop, the player almost feels as if he is teeing off from inside the building. A gorgeous tee shot it is.

From the elevated tee, the first plays down through a canyon of dunes to a generous fairway. The Bayonne Bridge is visible in the background.

This undulating fairway, standard at Bayonne, is sure to provide an array of interesting and challenging lies to the golfer. Notably, the green sits hidden to the left and is only visible from the far end of this fairway…

…and only then is the magnificent punchbowl green revealed.

The greens at Bayonne are quick, firm, undulating and extremely challenging. Their brilliant design allows for numerous interesting hole locations on each putting surface.

From the green, only the dunes, the clubhouse and the flag are visible. The first at Bayonne would be a signature hole on most golf courses. Here, it’s merely an appetizer. 

HOLE #2 – “Wee Burn” – 386 yards – par 4

Like its namesake in Connecticut, Bayonne’s “Wee Burn” does indeed have such a feature running through it. But first, golfers must find this rolling and partially hidden fairway with their tee shot, which given the stunning background, is easier said than done.

From the fairway, the approach to the second green is a short iron or wedge over the burn, here a wide tidal depression from which there is no recovery.

The green itself is small, and there is little room for error—there is simply no good miss on this tough but fair two-shotter.

HOLE #3 – “Redan” – 170 yards – par 3

An exceptional rendition of this classic template, the third at Bayonne plays like a traditional redan and has all the traditional elements, save for the drop-off and bunkering behind the green (though missing long here might be more of a penalty).

The beautifully sculpted green will direct balls to the left-hand pin locations, though here, care must be taken to ensure a kick to the proper tier.  The pin position on the high back shelf is the most difficult to access.

The back half of the redan green, as seen from the walk to the fourth tee. Gorgeous.

HOLE #4 – “Church Spire” – 534 yards – par 5

The first three-shot hole at Bayonne is named for the spire of the church visible from the tee. The hole demands a tee shot to a generous fairway that runs out into a large bunker.

The bunker, reminiscent of Hell’s Half Acre, will catch overly-aggressive drives and/or meek second shots, depending on the day’s wind.

The fourth green, like the second at Myopia Hunt Club, sits below fairway height and is thus invisible for all but the final few yards of the hole.

The green can be reached in two by longer hitters electing to use the right side of the fairway, which leads down into the approach, but the fronting hazard makes for a difficult recovery.

The putting surface on the fourth is one of your author’s favorites at Bayonne.

HOLE #5 – “Butterfly’s Feet” – 140 yards – par 4

Playing back in the direction of the clubhouse, the one-shot fifth is slightly uphill to a blind green fronted by a large, deep pot bunker.

As the name of the hole implies, a high, soft iron is the preferred shot to this well-protected green.

The green itself, while not small, is divided by a ridge crossing from 3 to 6, while another ridge protruded into the green from the 12 o’clock position. Precision is a must on this hole.

HOLE #6 – “Bay’s End” – 331 yards – par 4

An exceptional short par-4, the sixth runs out to the far northwestern end of the property. As all great short two-shot holes do, the sixth at Bayonne offers a choice: lay up to a preferred distance and approach the green over the waste area on the right…

…or go for the green via the fairway to the left, using the terrain to circumvent the hazard.

A brilliantly designed hole that one would never tire of playing.

HOLE #7 – “Beach Rose” – 415 yards – par 4

Changing directions once more, the seventh transports the golfer back to the higher ground amongst the dunes. Playing to an angled, rising fairway, the it demands a long, straight tee shot if the green is to be reached in two, especially when playing into the wind.

Once again, a rumpled, canted fairway provides an added degree of challenge and interest on this long two shot hole.

Entirely open in the front, this green is built to encourage and accept running shots which, due to the length of the hole and the wind, will be the preferred choice for many players. However… 

…accuracy is still in high demand, as the encroaching finger of rough must be carried or avoided.  A challenging hole.

HOLE #8 – “Salt Marsh” – 565 yards – par 5

The longest hole on the course, and the most difficult of the three par-5s, the eighth begins on an elevated tee and plays back toward Manhattan. Most of the hole, including the green, is not visible from this tee.

The eighth offers the brave player an opportunity to attack the green in two, but such a shot requires negotiation of a salt marsh and is all carry. The typical player will lay up down the right side of the marsh.

Even from the safer right side, the approach is no bargain—the marsh must still be carried from this angle, and the green is well protected on all sides.

The green is heavily contoured and, once past the halfway point, slopes substantially from front right to back left.

The slope of the green makes front right pin placements very challenging…

…and putting to a back left pin position can easily result in a chip for one’s next shot. This is an exceptional green.

HOLE #9 – “Plateau” – 390 yards – par 4

Bayonne’s ninth asks for a tee shot to an angled fairway and allows the golfer to pick his line. Generally, the preferred line is just left of the bunker shown below. Any ball left short will end up in deep grass on the side hill, making for a nearly impossible recovery. Bayonne’s clubhouse and flag loom large above this hole.

The approach to the ninth must carry a break in the fairway and negotiate a false front before reaching a green set in a bowl. The contours on the ninth green are some of the wildest on the property. Putting from back right to a front left pin on this green is an adventure, and then some.

HOLE #10 – “Highlands” – 440 yards – par 4

The back nine begins with a tough par four. The length of this difficult two-shot hole is mitigated by the fact that it plays substantially downhill, but the hard dogleg right nonetheless requires accurate placement of the tee shot.

The tenth fairway can assist shorter players who are able to use its contours to negotiate the dogleg.

Once again, the green is entirely open in front to encourage a ground attack, and the undulating putting surface provides one final challenge on perhaps the most difficult hole on the course.

HOLE #11 – “The Nook” – 210 yards – par 3

An outstanding one-shot hole, the eleventh requires a wood or a long iron to a green surrounded by large dunes. In the background, only the very top of One World Trade Center pokes into view.

Partially obscured from view by dunes, the eleventh green is roomier than it appears from the tee and provides an apron to allow balls to be run or bounced onto the green.

HOLE #12 – “7 Sisters, 6 Brothers” – 417 yards – par 4

This stunning par-4 runs downhill away from the clubhouse directly toward New York harbor. The tee shot must carry scrub and waste area before finding the wide fairway below. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge is visible behind.

Once in the fairway, the approach must carry the ridge of a crossing dune pocked with the bunkers that give this hole its name.

The horizon green makes judging distance difficult, and the surroundings make focusing on the task at hand a challenge.

A beautiful spot for golf.

HOLE #13 – “Old Glory” – 544 yards – par 5

Your author’s favorite three shot hole at Bayonne, the thirteenth, playing back up through the dunes toward the clubhouse, appears ripped from Turnberry or Lahinch.

The movement in this wide fairway and the bordering dunes make attacking this beautiful hole in two an enticing proposition, but it plays longer than it appears.

As is the case with nearly every long hole at Bayonne, the green is open across the front. But this double-plateau is no pushover—being on the wrong tier of the putting surface can easily lead to a three putt…or worse.

This view from behind the green illustrates the severity of the slope in the green and the fairway, and gives a sense of the elevation change in this excellent par-5.

HOLE #14 – “High Tide” – 202 yards – par 3

This long downhill par-3 backdropped by the harbor and the New York skyline plays to an elevated green that falls substantially on all sides.

Once again, simply hitting the green does not guarantee a par, as the many ripples and hollows can frustrate even the best lag putter.

HOLE #15 – “Sheep’s Bed” – 293 yards – par 4

The fifteenth begins the outstanding closing stretch at Bayonne. A wonderful short, uphill par-4, it plays over a large ridge in the fairway which hides most of the landing area from view, adding tension to this otherwise straightforward tee shot.

The fairway narrows considerably the more aggressive the tee shot, and a large waste area right provides a formidable hazard for wayward drives.

The putting surface is protected by a massive false front that will repel tee shots up to 50 yards back down the fairway.

The elevated green and the false front make judging even a wedge shot into this hole a challenge.

The fourteenth green, though relatively tame by Bayonne standards, can nevertheless create challenges—any putts from above the hole on this green are terrifying.

A flat out gorgeous hole, and a superb short par-4.

HOLE #16 – “Heaven’s Gate” – 453 yards – par 4

The back to back 15th and 16th holes are equally spectacular but diametrically opposite. The sixteenth plays downhill toward the harbor to a wide fairway. The view from the tee is one of the best on the course.

A dogleg left, the sixteenth plays to a green tucked into a far corner of the property and bordered on all sides by dunes and bunkers.

Like the 17th at National Golf Links, tee shots out to the right play shorter into this hole but are left blind by the dunes…

…while the farther left one plays, the better the view of the green.

Open in front to receive shots on the ground, the sixteenth green is slightly elevated and substantially contoured.

The view from the sixteenth green is almost as good as the view from the tee. A stunning hole.

HOLE #17 – “Water’s Edge” – 450 yards – par 4

The aptly named seventeeth is a long, cape style par-4 that hugs the shoreline of the harbor. The player has the option to play farther to the left to shorten the hole…

…but the penalty for misjudging one’s ability is high.

Playing safely out to the right side of the fairway allows for a full view of the open green.

Once again, the green abuts the water so tightly as to make judging distance difficult and to inject an element of perceived challenge into even the most standard approaches.

Use of the ground to approach the green is again an option.

Water’s Edge indeed. Beautiful.

HOLE #18 – “Lighthouse” – 429 yards – par 4

Perhaps the prettiest tee shot on the course, the final hole of the day requires a drive over a large dune obscuring the left half of the fairway. Befitting the name of this hole, the ideal line is directly at the lighthouse. Standing on this tee, it is hard to believe Manhattan is over your right shoulder.

The final approach at Bayonne is to a green ringed by a stone wall and set at the base of the gorgeous clubhouse.

From this fairway, nothing is visible beyond the green besides the clubhouse and the flag.

As nothing else would suffice, the eighteenth green confronts the golfer with one last putting challenge. Walking off, the view back down the final fairway instills players with a deep sense of accomplishment.

To be frank, I was quite surprised with the impact that Bayonne had on me after my first visit. Like most architecture geeks, I tend to prefer my golf courses old and traditional. But I found myself continually flashing back on my round at Bayonne. The course is truly unique in modern golf, and certainly on the East Coast, and is unquestionably an achievement in engineering and design for which Eric Bergstol is to be commended. But more than that, and unlike some of its neighbors, Bayonne is a course that focuses on providing its members with enjoyable golf. In that regard, Mr. Bergstol truly does deserve our acclaim, and our thanks. After all, isn’t that what golf is all about?

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LANGUAGE MATTERS

Getting back on track with use of the term ‘minimalism’, among others in golf course architecture

It is a common tendency to label and categorize the things and experiences in our lives. That is part of the way that we understand and make sense of the world around us, and it is useful to a point. When applied to works of art, an argument can be made that our impulse to categorize can be a hindering distraction. If a song kicks ass, does it matter if it is labeled hard rock or heavy metal? Of course not. Art is one of those realms in which we are best served by turning off the labeling function so that we can fully experience the work, giving it every opportunity to move us deeply. In reality, that’s easier said than done.

The negative impact of our internal machination is exacerbated when the labels are ill-defined or misunderstood. That is the point at which we currently find ourselves with the label “minimalist” in golf course architecture. The term has been overused and misused to such a great degree that it has lost meaning. If the only value that labeling has is to aid our understanding, then a meaningless label is worse than no label at all.

Perhaps you say, “Lighten up geek, it’s just golf.” Fair point, but I also believe that the parsing of language as it relates to architecture is a worthwhile pursuit. Words are the basis of understanding, which leads to appreciation, and ultimately more enjoyment on the course.

The 11th at Shinnecock Hills – Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Before returning to the language, allow me to give you two good reasons to dig deeply into golf architecture: First, studying the craft of talented artists is inherently interesting. I recognize that some golfers might not find architecture resonant at that level. They just want to play. Increasingly though, I hear from players who, after an initial exposure to GCA, find themselves happily headed down the rabbit hole. The second reason that I choose to study the subject is that it’s my mission to spend my scarce play time on courses that are interesting and fun. Knowing a little bit about how architects approach creating the playing fields helps me be more discerning in the courses I choose to play, as well as adding value to my experience of each course.

In that spirit, I propose a repurposing of the minimalist label into a framework that will hopefully foster understanding, appreciation, and joy. Minimal is one end of the spectrum of intervention, with maximal at the opposite end. Intervention refers to the degree to which the architect alters the land to create the course. To some extent, the land dictates how much intervention is required to make a great course. That is why labelling an architect “minimalist” is off base, especially where the best architects are concerned. Those designers are dynamic, responding to the land. Their courses may be minimalist or maximalist, or somewhere in between. It all depends on the site.

This dynamism is the essence of the current era of design that has been mislabelled the “minimalist movement”. Leading architects have certainly shifted away from defaulting to ego-driven maximal intervention to a more thoughtful, response relationship with the land. That shift does not mean, however, that they do not do what is necessary to ensure that their courses function and play properly.

The 9th at Sweetens Cove

Another helpful spectrum to understand is that of style. It has natural at one end and artificial at the other. Again, there are degrees on this spectrum, but a guiding principle is contained in the question, “How does a course fit into its surrounding environment?” The more the architect takes cues from the local landscape, the more natural the course. To add a layer of depth and detail to the style consideration, one can observe both the overall look of a course, as well as its features. Bunkers and green complexes are of particular importance in determining style. Does the architect seek to integrate features into the landscape, or purposely design and build them to stand out through contrast?

Using the intervention and style spectra, we can begin to compare and contrast courses in a manner that increases understanding. Two examples:

Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America are neighbors on Long Island, and although they are both packed with strategic brilliance, that is where the similarities end. In building Shinnecock, William Flynn laid the course on the land, which stands in contrast to the work of Macdonald and Raynor who were known for their willingness to move earth. From tee to green, the building of NGLA’s holes and features involved a much higher degree of intervention than the course next door. It should also come as no surprise that an architect known as “the nature faker” built features that are much more reflective of the natural landscape than the artistically bold, artificial greens and hazards of The National.

The 6th at National Golf Links – Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Minimalist references are often made to Sweetens Cove, which has always been a head-scratcher to me. The design team of Rob Collins and Tad King took a poor draining course, blew it up and fixed the drainage issue by reshaping every inch of it to drain to a central lake, which they created. The course was sand-capped and shaped into a wondrous variety of wild contours and features that captivate players. That process of intervention is the definition of maximal. As a comparison, the work of Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns at Winter Park 9 had a much lighter touch. They did not have the major infrastructural issues to fix and instead focused on rebuilding and gently infusing interest into the new course. Both transformations were profound, but one was maximal and the other was minimal. On the style front, these nine holers are also divergent. WP9 takes understated cues from its surroundings while Sweetens Cove is packed with artistic flourishes that give it a unique visual identity. Creative bunkering with wood sleepers, expansive sandy wastes, large stones and the outstanding greens are all fantastic, but they are also artificial.

The 5th at Winter Park – Photo Credit: Keith Rhebb

It is a good fodder for geeky discussion to compare other pairs like Sand Hills and Ballyneal, or Lawsonia and Whistling Straits. How was each course made? How does each course look? Taking into consideration these comparisons of intervention and style together, it’s possible to dive even deeper. I rated the course pairs above on a 1-10 scale for both intervention (0 = absolute minimal, 10 = absolute maximal) and style (0 = completely natural, 10 = entirely artificial) to create a scatterplot. As a visually oriented person, it is interesting to me to see how the courses compare and group into “categories” when I force myself to rate them.

Two important notes about this categorization. First, it has nothing to do with identifying what’s best or “right”. Golf course architecture is art, and therefore deeply intertwined with personal preference. It is pointless to tell anyone what they should love. Second, these categories have nothing to do with the quality. Across all golf courses, wherever they may land on the chart, there exists a wide range of quality. The quality of engineering and construction can be objectively judged by how well the course functions over time. Does it drain? Does it stand up to traffic? The quality of the design becomes a bit more subjective, but one simple criteria is inclusiveness. Can players of different skill levels play and enjoy the course? Beyond that, the water gets much murkier with regard to design quality.

Circling back to the purpose of this exercise, the aim of studying any artform is to deepen understanding, building a foundation for appreciation. Golfers are afforded a unique opportunity to directly experience the art of golf course architecture. By taking a deeper understanding onto the course, players are assured of greater enjoyment. Further, refined personal preferences allow us to more effectively pick courses we will love. That is why it’s worthwhile to explore and share our findings. At the end of the day, more people having more fun playing the game is the goal.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE PAST MEETS THE FUTURE AT MOSHOLU

How a new generation is contributing to the revival of public golf in its American birthplace

If Ed Brockner had been alive in 1888, he would have been in the Apple Tree Gang. In the spring of that year, Scotsman John Reid and two of his friends played the first recorded round of golf in a pasture near Reid’s house in Yonkers, NY. The group would take on the ATG moniker when they relocated to a larger playing field that included a tree where they hung their coats. Spend any time with Brockner, and you will feel the depth of his passion for the game and its original pure form. It is not hard to imagine him hanging his coat to complete Reid’s foursome.

Early golfers at play in Yonkers

Brockner attended Yale University where he played on the golf team and then served as a volunteer assistant after graduation. He knew that he wanted to work in the golf business but didn’t yet have a clear path to take. The Golf Course at Yale is a Seth Raynor design that is of historic and architectural significance, attracting a steady stream of designers and aficionados to play and study it. One of those visitors was Gil Hanse, who gave a talk attended by Brockner. Intrigued by architecture and construction, he landed a spot on Hanse’s crew working on projects including the creation of Boston Golf Club. Through that work, he would find his way to a site not far from where the Apple Tree Gang roamed the fields, and an opportunity to help reinvigorate public golf in the place where it was born.

A Game for the Masses

By 1892, John Reid and his pals had moved on from pasture golf to form the private Saint Andrew’s Golf Club, which would become one of the five founding members of the USGA. In Yonkers and the Bronx, they left behind a rapidly growing contingent of players who were organizing into their own groups and jockeying for the scarce open green space to play their infectious new sport. One such lot was the Mosholu Golf Club (aka the Riverdale Group) led by T. McClure Peters, who lobbied the NYC Parks Commission to use part of Van Cortlandt Park to lay out their own course. The Commission agreed that the land could be used for golf, but mandated that it be open to all, resulting in the creation of the first public golf course in America.

Clearing stones to create the golf course at Van Cortlandt Park

Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course began as a nine-holer and was originally laid out by the players. The first eight holes were each under 200 yards—the ninth measured 700+ yards. Van Cortlandt’s routing epitomized golf before enculturated standards. The popularity of the game and lack of structure at the course produced growing pains that the city turned to Tom Bendelow to solve. Known as the “Johnny Appleseed of American Golf” for his cross-country tour to lay out courses sponsored by the Spalding Sporting Goods Company, Bendelow also managed Van Cortlandt and oversaw its expansion to eighteen holes. The volume of public play continued to increase, ultimately necessitating the building of a second course on adjacent land, aptly named Mosholu Golf Course.

Mosholu Reborn

Over the ensuing decades, the city’s Bronx courses had their ups and downs, to say the least. The decision to renovate Mosholu in 2004 was a solid step toward building a brighter future for the game in New York. It seems fitting that a golf renaissance man like Ed Brockner would arrive at that moment in the birthplace of public golf to assist with its rebirth, both reimagining Mosholu and fostering the area’s nascent First Tee chapter.

During his time and travels at Yale and then with Hanse Design, Brockner had seen much of the greatest golf architecture in the country. He had also become convinced of two simple principles that he would apply to Mosholu’s renovation. First, high-quality, interesting design does not have to cost more than the bland, boring alternative. Second, the best way to get beginners excited about the game is to expose them to it on a playing field that is filled with a wide variety of great features and challenges to navigate. Players might not care about the origins or design intent of a redan or biarritz, but they appreciate cool and fun when they see it—especially kids.

Mosholu’s nine holes deliver, at an affordable price, on both of Brockner’s principles. The course is practical to maintain, but packed with interest on rolling land in the midst of a bustling urban setting. A full tee sheet and smiles on players’ faces are proof that refusing to settle for the mundane pays off. Municipalities around the country, take note.

The Bronx biarritz at Mosholu

Building More Than Courses

Since those early days, the First Tee of Metropolitan New York has expanded to five facilities, including the successfully renovated Weequahic in New Jersey. As the organization’s Executive Director, Brockner continues to search the metro area for more opportunities to expand the organization’s reach. “I am a builder,” he said, “and I love the development part of the job.” When it comes to golf courses and architecture, he can geek out with the best of them. It is quite evident, however, that involvement with the First Tee kids touches his heart as powerfully as design stimulates his mind.

For fifteen years, the program has been producing success stories. One of those stories belongs to Olivia Sexton, a bright young student who described her experience in a speech she delivered eloquently at an organization event:

“Whenever I tell anyone that I play golf, I get raised eyebrows. I don’t look like the typical golfer – I am from the Bronx, I’m a girl and I’m black. If it weren’t for the First Tee, I would have never discovered my love for a game that is elusive to people of my socio-economic background…The First Tee has also taught me life skills that will stick with me forever. The program has nine core values that are taught to us and I use these in every aspect of my life. They include honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, and confidence which help me as I grow, handle relationships, problem-solving and whatever else comes my way…More recently, the First Tee has been able to help me prepare for the future. As I am entering my junior year of high school, I have to start preparing for college, and they have been able to help a tremendous amount. Through both donations and offers, we have been able to visit some of the Ivy League Schools including Yale and Princeton…Because of the First Tee, I have a very planned out future. After high school, I plan on going to college (maybe play golf), majoring in Biology or Chemistry, then going to medical school, and eventually becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Once I have my career intact, I also plan on giving back to the First Tee by donating to help with more outreach opportunities, so kids with my socio-economic background can be exposed to such a wonderful sport.”

At his office at Mosholu Golf Course in the Bronx, Ed Brockner may be a world away from New Haven or the exclusive fairways of places like Boston Golf Club, but he has clearly found his place. He is building facilities that play an inspirational role in the current community golf revival that is unfolding across this country. But more importantly, he is using the game of golf as a foundation on which to build the lives of young people like Olivia Sexton. Growing the game is great. Changing lives through it—it doesn’t get any better.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE MIDWEST MACKENZIE – CRYSTAL DOWNS

An in-depth look at the collaboration of Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell at Crystal Downs C.C.

Crystal Downs is not Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s only Midwest design, but it is certainly his most highly regarded work in the region. The greatness of the course can be linked to the interest and variety inherent in the land, and MacKenzie’s visionary ability to embrace what a site offered. He was fortunate to have as his collaborator Perry Maxwell who expertly translated ideas into reality on the ground, adding his own touches and creative flourishes as he went. For nearly a century, Crystal Downs has been challenging, delighting and inspiring its members, including architects Tom Doak and Mike DeVries. More recently and in spite of its remote location, pilgrims have eagerly followed in the footsteps of a young Ben Crenshaw, making the journey to little Frankfort, Michigan to get a taste of MacKenzie and Maxwell’s genius.

A Connection of Like Minds

It was a pilgrimage of sorts that led to the initial connection between Perry Maxwell and Dr. Alister MacKenzie. In his biography The Midwest Associate, author Christopher Clouser chronicles the journey that Maxwell took to his ancestral home in Scotland to explore his family roots. Additionally, he aimed to study the finest links in the home of golf, much as C.B. Macdonald had done before him. Naturally, he made his way to St. Andrews and it was there that he first met MacKenzie, a man who struck Maxwell as a kindred spirit. They had each entered golf course design as a second career. They both drew inspiration from the great courses they saw, most notably The Old Course. They shared a common belief that the best courses were not forcibly made—they were found on suitable land by making use of and accentuating natural features to present players with a series of strategic questions to answer. Upon Maxwell’s departure for the States, they agreed that a design partnership would be desirable were MacKenzie to ever make his way to America.

Although the collaboration of MacKenzie and Maxwell was not as prolific as that which The Good Doctor had with Robert Hunter in California, or Russell and Morcom in Australia, the pair did work together on several courses during the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. The mutual affinity felt in St. Andrews grew during their time working together, as evidenced by the letter that MacKenzie penned after visiting their first course collaboration, Melrose Country Club outside of Philadelphia. It read in part:

“My Dear Maxwell, When I originally asked you to come into partnership with me, I did so because I thought your work more closely harmonized with nature than any other American Golf Course Architect. The design and construction of the Melrose Golf Course has confirmed my previous impression. I feel that I cannot leave America without expressing my admiration for the excellence of your work…Few if any golfers will realize that Melrose has been constructed by the hand of man and not nature. This is the greatest tribute that can be paid to the work of a golf course architect.”

Crystal Downs Collaboration

Through Robert Hunter, the founders of Crystal Downs were able to convince MacKenzie and Maxwell to take a detour north on their cross-country trip east. Being unfamiliar with the Northern Michigan duneland topography, the architects did not bring high expectations for the project. What they did bring was a proven approach to creating compelling greens and beautiful bunkering, and a desire to find interesting land on which to practice their craft. Upon arriving at Crystal Downs, the men were immediately impressed. The site seemed to manifestation of the sentiment from MacKenzie’s writing found in The Spirit of St. Andrews:

“…there are few things more monotonous than playing every shot from a dead flat fairway. The unobservant player never seems to fully realize that one of the chief charms of the best seaside links is the undulating fairways such as those near the clubhouse at Deal, Sandwich, and, most of all, at the The Old Course at St. Andrews, where the ground is a continual roll from the first tee to the last green and where one never has the same shot to play twice over. On these fairways one hardly ever has a level stance or lie. It is this that makes the variety of the seaside course, and variety in golf is everything.”

The duo set to work laying out the course, and designing the greens and features. MacKenzie spent ten intensive days finalizing his vision and Maxwell worked diligently over the following three years to bring it to life. Stories of the course’s creation have become mythologized: MacKenzie getting intoxicated and only routing eight holes on the front nine; Maxwell having a lady friend in town; which of the two came up with the idea for a particular green site or feature. The veracity of these tales might be questionable, but this much is certain—the final product is a masterpiece of wildly varied strategic design and the collaboration clearly had a synergistic effect.

Although he is firmly in the camp of those who consider Crystal Downs to be an Alister MacKenzie design, Mike DeVries does not minimize Maxwell’s contributions. In the foreward to The Midwest Associate, he wrote:

“Maxwell’s respect for a landscape’s inherent qualities and use of those features in it is one of the great aspects of the golf course at Crystal Downs…he made the course better due to his recognition of the intricacies of the land.”

DeVries has spent decades at The Downs. He grew up playing the course with his grandfather, worked on the grounds crew, and now as a member, continues to study it for inspiration in his own design work. When asked what makes Crystal Downs so special, his answer was a chuckle and a question. “How much time do you have?” He continued, “The rhythm and flow are as good as any course in existence. It has a cadence, like a piece of music or drama.”

Drilling into the dramatic theme, DeVries went on to describe the different acts, each of which brings the player to a climactic high point. The prologue begins at the clubhouse with a walk down the stairs to the jaw-dropping reveal from the 1st tee. Act 1 takes place across the hillside and valley of the front nine, peaking at the 8th green and the par-3 9th, which runs perilously across a high ridge. Act 2 begins with the 10th and takes the player away from the clubhouse along the dune ridge that separates Lake Michigan from Crystal Lake, ending with the long view north from the 14th green. Act 3 is the return journey home with one final thrill at the 17th green. The closing hole is an understated epilogue, giving the player an opportunity to reflect and absorb the entirety of the drama, as well as the holes and shots within it.

DeVries’s romantic language speaks to his love of Crystal Downs, but also to his recognition that it is a true work of art born out of the trust that the artists felt for one another. “Every day I am at The Downs,” concludes DeVries, “I learn something new about architecture.”

The Course Today

The spirit of collaboration continues in the preservation and presentation of Crystal Downs. Tom Doak plays the dual role of happy member and consulting architect, working with long-time Superintendent Michael Morris and his team to present the course such that the greatness of the design and features shine through. The turf is fast and firm, the fescue gorgeous and the tree management darn near perfect. If MacKenzie and Maxwell came back today, they would approve.

DeVries, Doak and Morris are proof of the gravitational pull of Crystal Downs, which has had the same effect on Head Professional Fred Muller for forty years. Muller wrote the course guide and sums up The Downs:

“Crystal Downs is a thinking person’s golf course, where long is good but not necessary…where the position you leave your ball is critical, and where the wind always blows. Crystal Downs is the coming together of golf’s greatest architect, Dr. Alister MacKenzie, at the zenith of his career (after designing Cypress Point and just before Augusta National), with a marvelous piece of property.”

The outward half is intimately routed over the rolling duneland below the clubhouse. An argument could be made that it is among the best nines in all of golf.

The inward half shifts gears, taking players on an out-and-back adventure through a wooded area along a dune ridge. The difference in the two nines further adds to the wondrous variety of The Downs.

That tour that follows features the photography of Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) as well as a few of my own, complemented by Mr. Muller’s hole descriptions (in quotes). One more time, collaboration revealing just how special Crystal Downs is.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

The opener is no gentle handshake, from the undulating fairway through the severely sloped green, it tells players everything about the holes to come. “Although downhill, this hole plays every bit as long as its 449 yards suggest. It is usually into the wind, and like many holes at Crystal Downs the tee shot lands into a rising fairway. Sneak up on a wildly undulating green with a shot that lands short and pitches on. A miss to the left is a bogie, a miss to the right is a disaster.”

The next three holes are subtly brilliant, working off the side of the hill and requiring both well conceived and executed shots. “Avoid the bunkers left and right of the fairway on the 2nd and you’ll face a medium iron or fairway wood to the green. Although generally downwind, the green is 25 feet above the tee. Take enough club.  Golfers have putted off every green at Crystal Downs, and the front pin here is one where it happens often. Downhill and into a swirling wind, the 3rd is a most difficult hole for club selection. Remember how much the wind was helping on #2, and that’s how much the wind is hurting here. The green sits on an angle to the tee, one more club to the left side than the right. Fade the drive on the 4th or risk running through the fairway into the left hand rough. The long second shot will run up into the green only from the right front, however, pitching from the left front of the green is no disaster.”

This set of three four-pars are incredibly creative and could be played on a continuous loop without ever getting remotely boring. Birdie is a real possibility on each, as is double. “The 5th is one of MacKenzie’s great holes and most complicated, and is rated by Golf Magazine as one of the best par fours in the world. Hit the tee shot over the left edge of the giant oak, leaving a hanging lie 7 or 8 iron to a green that slopes dramatically from left to right. Or ‘bite off’ some more of the ridge on your tee shot to leave a pitch. Don’t bite off too much. Always pitch to the left portion of the green or risk rolling into the right hand green side bunkers. The 6th hole is MacKenzie’s idea of a ‘forced carry’. If you make the crest of the hill, the short iron to the largest green on the course is fairly easy. If you fall short on the drive, a blind long iron or wood awaits. The famous ‘Scabs’ are the bunkers to the right off the tee. Don’t even think about that route. On the 7th, a 210 yard tee shot leaves a short iron to a most unusual green—a kidney shaped ‘MacKenzie green’ in a punch bowl. A 230 yard drive leaves a short pitch to the green, but it’s a blind shot. It’s your choice, but be sure to get your second shot on the proper lobe of the kidney.”

This outstanding par-5 is lay-of-the-land architecture and its finest. No need for fairway bunkers when nature has provided such heaving contours. “Crystal Downs’ first three-shot hole is rated as one of the world’s best par fives. Drive down the middle on the 8th, fairway wood up the right side and a medium iron into the green. No problem…except you will encounter all kinds of uneven lies. You are at the mercy of the fates. The 150 yard mark is one of the longest in golf, and the green’s not very big either with lots of undulation.”

The next three holes make the turn at the clubhouse hill, and then take the player out to the long dune ridge. Each requires precise judging of distance to avoid punishment. “The green on the 9th is over 30 feet above the tee, which slopes from back up to the front (yes, it’s an uphill tee). Do not attack this hole. Hit a low shot and bounce the ball onto the front center of the green. Be careful with your putter. A careless shot could send you back for a wedge. The perfect tee ball on the 10th from an elevated tee is something inside the 150 yard mark in the right fairway. This leaves a middle iron shot over a pot bunker and straight up the slope of the green. Hit an extra club to carry the bunker yet avoid going long and left. You’ve heard those wonderful words of wisdom ‘stay below the hole’. Do that on the 11th.  The green is some 20 feet above the tee so it plays long. With that in mind choose a club that will get you to the front level of this three level green. Putt or chip uphill to the pin. Now, change philosophy and get the ball to the hole or you’ll be stepping aside as the ball rolls back past you, and maybe off the green.”

This pair of par-4s illustrates how MacKenzie and Maxwell were comfortable demanding shot-making from players. Fades and draws are optimal to navigate the bends, side-slopes and greens. “The magnificent beech tree straight ahead is on the left side of the fairway on the 12th. Your tee shot must be to the right of the tree. The green slopes from front to back, and unless you hit a large drive leaving a short iron, you should hit a low running hook shot that will bounce up and onto the green. A pitch back to the green from behind is no problem. The 13th is the most difficult par at Crystal Downs. Hit a hard fade off the tee that will run with the contour of the fairway. The shot into the green is determined by the pin placement. The green is very small, with a tiny front portion, dropping off to a larger rear portion of the green. Choose a club for your second shot that reaches just short of the green and then pitch it at the pin if it is in front. Try to hit the ball deep into the green for the rear pin. The greenside bunkers are easy to roll into and difficult to recover from.”

The peace and beauty of being at this point on the property tend to distract from the task at hand—hitting a good shot with a short club to collect a safe par, rather than carding an other. In the vein of other great Golden Age short threes, the 14th adds an important component to the examination of a player’s game. “This beautiful little gem is a straightforward 139 yard shot. The green on the 14th slopes less from back to front than it looks. Enjoy the view of Sleeping Bear from the back of the green and stay out of the sand.”

The next two holes, a short four and long five, turn and head back toward the clubhouse. In keeping with the theme of variety, they present very different challenges. “We call the 15th ‘Little Poison’. The fairway is narrow, the green is tiny and elevated, and the wind is usually in your face. The key to this short par-4 is a long drive. It takes 225 yards to crest a hill that will leave a short pitch. Not cresting the hill can leave an uphill blind shot. This green repels shots, so hit for the center of the green. Hit your tee shot hard on the 16th. Hit it hard again. And if the wind is blowing, hit it hard again. This green slopes from back to front; don’t putt it too hard.”

The 17th is the wildest and most polarizing hole on the course and the 18th one of the most benign. The two combine to give players one last set of thrills before making the walk back up the hill to the clubhouse. “The 17th is three hundred and one of the most frightening yards in golf. A 200 yard tee shot leaves a 9 iron or wedge. A 180 yard tee shot leaves an unplayable lie. A 215 yard tee shot leaves a blind, uphill, difficult pitch to the green. Now, if the wind is helping, you could drive the green. The greenside bunkers mean bogey or worse, and you don’t want to putt off the front of this green, because it won’t stop rolling for 50 yards. Drive your tee ball straight on the 18th. Don’t cut the corner, it won’t work. Your target is the 150 yard mark. The beautifully bunkered green is well above the tee shot landing area. On your second shot, hit enough club and keep the shot to the right. Anything to the left will kick into the bunker.”

Crystal Downs cannot be muscled or overpowered. It not only encourages creative shot making, the course demands it. Players who like to have their minds engaged and who are willing to experiment will be hard pressed to find a more stimulating golf course in America. The Downs has its secrets, and those secrets must be teased out. That is what places it in such high favor, and what makes it a joy to revisit repeatedly. The like minds of MacKenzie and Maxwell, working with exceptional land, created a midwest masterpiece.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE WRAP-AROUND AT CANAL SHORES

Part 25 of the Journey Along the Shores series recaps our off-season projects

Much like the modern PGA Tour, the work season at Canal Shores never ends. Long after players have hung up their clubs in Chicagoland, our staff and volunteers keep plugging away on course improvements, deterred only by blizzards, bitter cold or torrential rains. Progress continues all the way through to spring cleanup. Over the past six months, much was accomplished and more projects were added to the never-ending list. Let’s take a spin around the course to see what the crew has been up to.

The theme of recent work has been eradicating neglect. What that means is we are finding places on the course—exposed mud, standing water, overgrowth, fallen trees—and doing whatever it takes to tune them up such that the course is more enjoyable for visitors and so that it visually reflects the level of care that we feel.

Brush Clearing

Clearing of invasives on the greenside bank of the 9th was a major focus. Overgrowth of buckthorn and honey locusts resulted in both playability and safety issues. Another large section of the bank was cleared so that the green and fairway are now visible from the tee. On the 8th, several dead ash trees that were overgrown with invasive vines fell, creating a terrible tangle. The right side was cleared of that mess and buckthorn, opening up a wider and more appealing corridor for play. Buckthorn had also heavily encroached along the left side of the 11th. It was peeled back to make the par-3 more forgiving, as well as to reveal views of the canal. The bank left of the 13th green was cleared, exposing its rugged shape, along with a backdrop view of the Lincoln Street bridge. And finally, two large dead ash trees fell in a heap short of the horseshoe bunker on the 17th. That area was cleared up to the back of the 18th tee and new rough grown in from seed.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Improvement Projects

Volunteer groups including the Northwestern Men’s Golf Team, the Northwestern Athletic Department, Friends of the Chicago River and Clean-up Evanston came out again this spring to tackle a series of projects. We built a mulch bridge between the 9th and 10th holes to help walkers and carts get through the wet area between wetlands. Fences were cleaned of debris on the 1st, 7th, 13th and 18th holes. Invasives were cleaned out of the tall grass area in front of the 3rd tee.

For the fourth straight year, students from North Shore Country Day School came out to do their senior service project. We shifted gears from golf this year and our volunteers Andrew and Will created a nature loop behind the 11th green. The long-term vision is to build an elevated platform at the far point of their path for bird watching over the canal.

Spring Tune-up

Beyond the clearing and project work, we have gotten into an annual routine to prep the course for peak season play. Paths are freshly mulched. Bunker edges on all eighteen of our bunkers are restored and new sand added. Rough grass on mounds and bunker faces is chopped and thinned, a task which can be a real challenge in wet springs when the grass gets lush. Fairway and puttable area lines on the greens are slowly but surely reestablished and repairs to putting surfaces addressed. The weather hasn’t been remotely cooperative this year, but the course will be in prime shape by the beginning of July thanks to the hustle of Tony and Matt’s team.

Takeaways from the Wrap-Around

Every year, as we progress through the wrap-around season in our efforts to revitalize Canal Shores, I learn lessons and appreciate the opportunity to be involved more. Layers of neglect that are stripped away continue to reveal interesting features and beautiful views. The property is teeming with wildlife that keep me company during moments of solitude. I am struck by how big a difference a group of workers of any size can make. It is nice to have an army of volunteers, but a small, motivated squad is equally impactful. Levels of support and appreciation for our work continue to increase, and every person who stops to say hello or thanks makes a difference—it’s humbling and motivating to be a part of this community.

We aren’t finished yet. Plenty more clearing to do, and projects have been added to the list. Stay tuned for updates on summer and fall improvements, and we hope to see you out along the shores real soon.

For the entire Journey Along the Shores, click here.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf