My schedule worked out such that I had a few days to hit the open road for golf adventure. With much appreciated help from Tim Liddy and Jason Thurman, a tour through Indiana and Ohio came together which allowed me to add to my experience of Ross, Raynor, Dye, and Langford (with a healthy dose of Liddy).
Each of these architects practiced the craft of design and construction differently to my eye. Raynor and Langford, through the lens of the engineer, produced features that are elegant in their simultaneous simplicity and boldness. Ross and Dye, with the flourish of the artist, blended their creative vision with the landscape. All used masterful routings across the rolling land to deliver beauty, interest, challenge and a sense of profound joy for me as a I walked the fairways.
Before diving into the photos and commentary, it is worth mentioning that the trip was bookended with golf at my dad’s community golf course in Galesburg, IL where I had the pleasure of whacking it around with Pops and my little guys. I would trade any of these top-tier golf experiences for a chance to walk with my dad and watch my boys discover the joy of this great game. For me, that golf is in a class high above the Top 100.
Tim has graciously offered to add his commentary. I will post it shortly.
Round 1 was supposed to be at Harrison Hills, but they had storm damage, so I hit The Fort instead. I found out after the round that Tim Liddy worked extensively with Pete Dye on the course.
Having only played the ASU course prior to this, I am inexperienced with Pete Dye’s work (other than what I see in pictures and on TV). I was surprised to find a course that had plenty of interest as it moved over the rolling terrain without feeling overly manufactured. The bunkering, greens, and green surrounds had splashes of creativity, but that creativity fit into the landscape nicely.
The course is in a State Park that was previously the Army’s Fort Benjamin Harrison. It feels remote (a la Bethpage), which I always enjoy, even though it is in the suburbs of Indianapolis. There was plenty of space to make big holes, and the course has a set of four par 5s that I absolutely loved, including back-to-back 5s on the front nine. Those holes were gettable, but not without solid strategy and execution.
Sadly, I don’t feel like I got to experience all of the fun of bounces and rolls that were possible because the course was so water-logged. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that The Fort was designed with fast-and-firm foremost in mind, but I would say that it would be a blast to play on a drier day.
HYDE PARK GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB
Prior to the trip, I had heard from several people that Hyde Park was underrated. I expected to like it because I am a Ross guy, but what I found was that underrated is an understatement. The work that Tim Liddy, Eric O’Bryan, and Pat O’Brien have done to restore the course is as good as any that I have seen.
The first hole is relatively straightforward and is a gentle setup for what is about to come. Heading to the 2nd tee, one gets a first glimpse of how the routing will use the hills and ravines and it is simply breathtaking. Hyde Park’s #2-7 is an all-world stretch of holes (and #10-15 is no slouch either). The course is routed using the hills to provide elevation changes and quite a few high-to-high shots, which I find thrilling.
The big picture is outstanding, but the course might be even better in the details. For example:
- Use of straight lines on tee boxes, fairway grass lines, and green fronts is a really cool contrast to the natural roll of the land.
- The variety of Ross bunkers are beautifully placed and shaped, with some dug down to create scale, and others built up.
- Greens are extended out the edges of the green pads, which I find to be a really neat, classic look.
- The green contours are mostly subtle, but tricky and fun nonetheless. I suspect that it takes a long time to really learn those greens.
- Tree management at the course is terrific. The course has beautiful, old specimen trees galore, but it does not feel over-treed.
- The fairways are Zoysia, which was so pleasant to play. Dear Lord, please let me play on fairways like that when I am an old man.
Even without the strongest finishers on each nine, I was still blown away. As an every day course, it doesn’t get much better than Hyde Park.
THE DONALD ROSS COURSE AT FRENCH LICK
I read reviews and looked at numerous photos of the Ross Course. I expected it to be gorgeous because every photo I have seen of the place is beautiful. Walking out to the first tee, and seeing the course laid out across the land, I realized that the pictures don’t do it justice.
Most of the greens are on high points on the property, which achieves two objectives: 1) the course plays mostly uphill, adding to its challenge, and 2) each hole culminates with another beautiful vista. It’s like getting a little reward for surviving the climb.
The challenge of the Ross Course just begins upon reaching the greens. The contours were the wildest I have ever seen on a Ross design, and they were a blast to putt. On quite a few holes, my playing partner and I lingered to try some of the putts that would result from approaches hit to the wrong section of the green. I could have spent hours…
The bunker variety and placement is just right, and the color-contrasts of fairways, bunkers, and tall grass are simply sublime. It is no wonder that a course that looks like a work of fine art in color and composition is so photogenic.
It’s a general theme here that I would like another chance to play these courses in drier conditions. There is little doubt in my mind that the weather had taken some of the teeth out of the Ross Course the day I played it. Playing dry and firm, look out.
HARRISON HILLS GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB
After playing two stellar Rosses and a legendary Raynor earlier in the week, I thought that I might be out of WOWs by the time I reached Harrison Hills early on my final day. William Langford and Tim Liddy proved me wrong with their 71-years-apart collaboration.
I had heard about the course from Dan Moore and others, and after playing Lawsonia Links in the Spring, I was excited for the round. Tim challenged me to determine which holes he did in his expansion of the course. I got 17.5 right…. I won’t share the answers here – go play the course and see for yourself.
The distinction between the Langford and Liddy holes is not so much one of design as it is a feel of age. Tim’s holes just feel newer. With proper tree and turf management over the next 20-30 years though, I suspect that it will be nearly impossible to distinguish who did what.
Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf