Geeked on Golf

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


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A 1,537 Mile Drive – The Fort, Hyde Park, Camargo, French Lick, Harrison Hills

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.


THE FORT

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

HydePark-Clubhouse

Hyde Park’s Clubhouse as seen beyond the ravine that dissects the 12th hole.

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

RossCourse-OpeningView

A first glimpse of the golf to come literally takes the breath away.

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


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My Buddies in Boston – Annual Trip Recap

As I mentioned in my previous post on golf on Long Island, my buddies and I take an annual golf trip to the Northeast.  This year, we headed to Boston, where there is no shortage of world class golf.

We had the privilege of playing 4 outstanding courses – The Country Club, Boston Golf Club, Old Sandwich, Essex County – and I took enough photos to negatively impact my golf, so it makes sense to share them and offset the damage.

The mix of courses provided a nice contrast for us, and grounds for debates on questions such as:

  • If you could only play the top classic courses OR the top modern courses for the rest of your life, which would you pick? (we came down 3 out of 4 classic)
  • Which course of those we’ve played on our annual trips is your favorite? (consensus is still Friar’s Head, although Essex is right there for me)
  • Which of the courses make your Top 5? (For me, Essex County bumped Old Elm off my list to join Kingsley, NGLA, Friar’s Head, and Lawsonia Links)

I provided a little commentary with the photos, although it is by no means comprehensive.  Allow me to admit my biases so that you can put my comments into context:

  • When playing courses of this caliber, it strikes me as silly to spend time looking for things I don’t like.  Instead, I tend to focus on what is great about the features, holes and course, and shrug off any shortcomings I notice.  There was an exception to that rule on this trip.  The Superintendent at The Country Club asked my buddy Brian Bossert to take notes on any blemishes we found.  We obliged.  I won’t mention those things here, but I was struck by how incredibly humble a request that was.
  • Although I enjoy tough tests of golf, I tend to favor courses that meet the everyday play standard more highly.  The game is tough enough and I want to enjoy it, therefore any course that provides a healthy dose of hard-for-hard’s-sake is not going to make my list of favorites.
  • I am a U.S. Open geek, and am working on studying and playing all of the U.S. Open venues (more about that here).  Therefore, being at TCC had special significance, which certainly influenced my love of the place.
  • Boston Golf Club, which was a huge positive surprise to me even though I have read the praise of its supporters on GolfClubAtlas.com, had a Kingsley feel for me.  Being the homer that I am (more about that here), any course that sniffs of Kingsley is going to be a winner in my book.
  • Coore & Crenshaw’s work always looks right to my eye.  Old Sandwich was the 7th one of their courses that I have played.  That being said, it was the second course we played on a long day, and we got beat up a little, so I didn’t like it as much as the others.  I suspect that I would have a higher opinion if I went back on a more relaxed day.
  • Having grown up playing on Donald Ross’s work, I was predisposed to love Essex County.  I played my worst round of golf in 3 years and still came away adoring it.  If I went back and played well, my head and heart would probably explode – it was that good.

Now that you know the score, enjoy the tour…


THE COUNTRY CLUB

The historic clubhouse at The Country Club is gorgeous. The spirit of Francis Ouimet permeates the place and you can picture the  1999 Ryder Cuppers celebrating on the balcony.

The historic clubhouse at The Country Club is gorgeous. The spirit of Francis Ouimet permeates the place and you can picture the 1999 Ryder Cuppers celebrating on the balcony.

Obviously, the place oozes golf history, which is a treat to soak in.  As for the course, the routing was interesting and pleasant.  The holes wind around the property gently, with changes of direction and elevation.  The features don’t necessarily wow, but everything feels like it is in its right place.  It also has just the right amount of classic quirk.

I was particularly taken with how consistently small the greens were, and with the rough treatment around them.  In this age of big greens with dramatic internal contours flanked by run-offs and chipping areas, The Country Club has almost none of that.  You hit the small green and you are typically rewarded with a makable putt.  You miss, and it’s trouble in the thick rough.

Learning to play this course day in and day and out would set you up to play well almost anywhere else, and it would be a joy to do.

More on The Country Club:


BOSTON GOLF CLUB

My buddies and I looked more fresh after 9 holes at Boston Golf Club than we did at the end of the 36 hole day.

My buddies and I looked more fresh after 9 holes at Boston Golf Club than we did at the end of the 36 hole day.

The course is jaw-dropping beautiful without sacrificing its natural feel.  The use of the land forms on the property was awesome.  If Gil hanse engaged in major earth moving in building the course, it didn’t look that way.  Every hole is memorable – not a dud in the bunch – although that hole-by-hole greatness does seem to have produced more lengthy green-to-tee walks than I would normally like.

The course has enough quirk and challenge to be really fun without feeling like it was a chore.  It had blind shots and shots that were right in front of you in just the right proportion.  There are holes that can be played through the air or on the ground, which I like because I enjoy mixing it up and trying things.  I haven’t been many places that have had as many cool and creative bunkers sprinkled throughout.

Given the at-home feel for me, I could easily see myself playing BGC every day and having a blast doing it.  For those who care about score, you could shoot low numbers there, or really high ones.  For those who like hitting a wide variety of shots, it would never get old.

More on Boston Golf Club:


OLD SANDWICH

Unfortunately, my phone died, so I did not get as many photos of Old Sandwich as I would have liked.  The course lays softly on the big, beautiful piece of land.  This might be the most masterfully routed course I have ever played.  It feels expansive, there are directional changes to the point of disorientation, and the course makes use of numerous outstanding land forms.  All that being said, I cannot remember a long walk from any green to tee.

The par 3s, short 4s, and par 5s are all stellar.  Great mix of holes with opportunities to make birdies and big numbers.  There are plenty of those fun centerline bunkers that make you think, including some cool little pot bunkers.  The greens are big and undulating, and all have false fronts and/or runoffs around the edges.  Fairways are wide, but there is a super-premium placed on accuracy of approaches, whether through the air or along the ground.  Hit it to the wrong part of the green, and you are almost guaranteed a 3-putt.

I would love to go back, but OS would not be a good every day course for me.  It felt as hard or harder than Streamsong Red, and that is too hard for everyday golf tastes.  That being said, if you can go, go have the experience once.

More on Old Sandwich:


ESSEX COUNTY CLUB

An great end to another magical trip with the best golf buddies  in all the land. Looking forward to next year.

An great end to another magical trip with the best golf buddies in all the land. Looking forward to next year.

From the drive into the club past the grass tennis courts, to the gravel parking lot, to the low-key, but warm welcome we received, I was deeply in love with Essex County by the time we stepped on to the first tee…and then it got better.

The course felt like it had been tinkered with by someone who loved it, which is no surprise given that Donald Ross’s house was behind the 15th tee.  For you tree-clearing fans (more on that here), the Superintendent, Eric Richardson who is a great guy, told us that they have removed 15,000 trees in the past 7 years.  I find it difficult to imagine how much the visual impact of the property would have been degraded with those trees still there, especially with the giant rock formation at the center of the back nine.

Essex County winds around and looks like a work of art painted on to the property.  It includes some of the boldest classic holes I have ever played – 8, 11, 17, and 18 are all holes that it takes true vision to see, and guts to build.  There is a wonderful variety of bunker shapes, sizes, placement and treatment.  The fine fescue areas are among the best kept I have seen anywhere.  The greens are fun and challenging without being tricked up.  You can see the lines, and confident strokes are rewarded with holed putts.

As I mentioned above, it made my Top 5 list, and it did because I could see myself playing there every day for the rest of my life with friends and having a ball doing it.  Good play is largely rewarded with good scores, but there is just enough devilish subtlety to keep it much more interesting than some boring standard like “fair”.  I will make a point of going back.

More on Essex County Club: