SHOREACRES – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION
Lake Bluff, IL – Seth Raynor, 1916
If you’ve read my previous tours or follow me on Twitter or Instagram (shameless plug: @linksgems), you know that I am a fan of the designs of Charles Blair Macdonald and his protégé, Seth Raynor. I’ve played several dozen “MacRaynor” designs, as they are affectionately known by golf nerds like myself, and I always enjoy seeing how these brilliant architects adapted and modified their template holes to the terrain at hand. Unfortunately, over time, some of these courses have lost a great deal of the architect’s original design intent. Often, this is due to an inability or an unwillingness of the club to maintain the firm and fast conditions necessary to reveal the brilliance of the course’s features, the shrinking of playing corridors and greens as trees grow over time, putting surfaces accrete with sand, or a failure by the membership to appreciate the treasure over which they have temporary custody.
And then there are places like Shoreacres. Set just off the western shore of Lake Michigan, Shoreacres not only occupies some of the most gorgeous golfing land in the United States, but it is also maintained in absolutely perfect condition. Note that this is not to say that the club is focused on providing a flawless, manicured playing surface (though they do), but rather that the club’s focus on giving players a firm, bouncy and fast surface tee to green allows the course to play exactly as Raynor intended, and brings out all of the best features that Macdonald and Raynor viewed as essential to the game. If there was a competition among golf course maintenance professionals, Superintendent Brian Palmer and his staff would be this year’s Seth Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
Upon entering the club’s property, golfers are treated to a long, winding entrance road similar to (though not nearly as long as) that of another Raynor gem – Yeamans Hall. While driving in, a good portion of the course is visible, including the 3rd, 2nd and 1st holes, heightening expectations for what is sure to be a special round of golf.
The facilities at Shoreacres can all be described as “tastefully understated.” The golf shop is an unobtrusive one-story building that sits mere feet from the 1st and 10th tees and the 9th and 18th greens.
The clubhouse proper sits east of the golf shop and along the high banks of Lake Michigan. Neither building looms so large as to distract from the natural beauty of the golf course.
After a round of golf, a drink or a meal on the patio at Shoreacres is as good as it gets.
The Golf Course
As a Seth Raynor design, the course is home to many of the famed Macdonald/Raynor templates, including a Redan, a Biarritz, an Eden, a Short, a Leven, a wonderful Road Hole, and many others. The manner in which Raynor adapted these template holes to the rolling ground at Shoreacres is nothing short of brilliant.
But perhaps Raynor’s most brilliant decision in building Shoreacres was in deciding what not to do. As seen in the above overhead map, he chose to build the course several hundred yards inland from the lakeshore, rather than attempting to cram the course on to inferior land closer to the water so that he might capitalize on the more desirable views. By doing so, Raynor built the course on the best possible land with the best possible features – how many of today’s architects would have the restraint to forego the temptation of sacrificing the quality of the golf for views of the water?
The course itself measures 6,521 yards from the back tees and plays to a par of 71. Though arguably short in comparison to the ridiculous yardages of today’s modern tournament courses, Shoreacres will give most players all the challenge they’ll ever hope for.
Hole 1 – 516 yards – Par 5
As Raynor often did, he opens with a gentleman’s handshake in the form of a wide, gentle par-5 reachable in two shots by longer hitters, allowing the first shot of the day to be hit without undue pressure.
On his way to the green, the golfer encounters his first Raynor-template feature of the day in the form of a Hell’s Half Acre-style fairway bunker complex stretching completely across the fairway and backed by grassy mounds. Though shallow, this bunker is to be avoided.
The green is open across the front, allowing players attempting to hit the green in two shots (or on their approach in three) to run the ball on to the putting surface. The green itself is sloped significantly from back to front and has substantial internal contour.
Par is a good score on this straightforward opening hole, one of the easiest on the course.
Hole 2 – 346 yards – Par 4
This “Cape” style par-4 is a testament to the longevity of the template concepts and to Raynor’s genius in finding non-traditional spots to site these holes. This particular Cape calls for a tee shot to a fairway running diagonally from left to right which must carry trouble in the form of a ravine and creek down the left.
The farther left the player aims, the shorter the hole, but the higher the danger – a classic Raynor risk/reward scenario.
The green is largely open in front, allowing for all manner of shots to the wide variety of pins possible on this large putting surface.
But the same creek that confronts golfers off the tee now wraps completely around this green, and there are no bunkers or high grass here to save a meekly struck ball from rolling off the surface.
The putting surface is also rife with undulation. A beautiful example of a hole that, well-played, presents an opportunity for birdie, but which can also wreck the card of an overly ambitious golfer early in his round.
Hole 3 – 309 yards – Par 4
A wonderful example of the seldom seen “Leven” template, the third plays to a wide fairway into which bunkers cut short right and longer left. This hole is reachable for longer players in a favorable wind.
The right side of this green is open, but the left is blocked and obscured by a large mound immediately short of the green, which also hides the exact pin location, the severe slope of the green, and the bunker left of greenside.
This green slopes substantially from back to front, and is defended by bunkering on three sides.
Putting from above the hole to a front pin or playing from the rear bunker can be quite terrifying.
A beautiful example of a template rarely seen in original form.
Hole 4 – 372 yards – Par 4
One of the most beautiful holes at Shoreacres, the fourth calls for another tee shot over a ravine to an amoeba-shaped fairway which falls off to the right. Note the deer providing an audience.
Once again, the green is largely open across the front, allowing players to utilize the perfect turf conditions to get their ball on the putting surface via their preferred means. For traditional approaches, the preferred angle in is from the right side of the fairway, nearest the creek.
This large green hides a surprising amount of tilt and turn within its confines.
Perhaps no hole at Shoreacres better displays the incredible terrain on which this course is built. A truly wonderful hole.
Hole 5 – 449 yards – Par 4
If the lack of length in the first four holes has lulled the player into a false sense of security, the fifth will surely slap them out of it. A brute of a two-shot hole, the fifth plays out to a fairway bordered by trees on both sides. Often, a military band can be heard practicing at Great Lakes Naval Station, up the road.
But the real difficulty lies in the approach, which calls for a 200 yard carry over a large depression filled with rough and a small creek. Any player failing to carry this large hazard will be lucky to salvage a bogey.
As befitting a hole of this length and difficulty, the green is large and open across nearly its entire front, allowing long approach shots to bound in. Those who look back at this monster having carded a par will know they’ve earned it.
Hole 6 – 192 yards – Par 3
The first one-shot hole at Shoreacres is a full-length green Biarritz par-3.
The green is huge – approximately 250 feet from front to back, with the traditional Biarritz swale bisecting the green from across its middle.
Although the swale on this Biarritz isn’t as deep or severe as those at other Raynor designs, such as Yale or Fox Chapel, this hole suits the more subtle terrain perfectly. Most importantly, it allows the hole to be played as originally intended, with a low shot that runs through the swale to the back portion of the green.
And unlike many full-green Biarritz, this hole plays well to both front and back pins.
Hole 7 – 444 yards – Par 4
The first noticeable feature at the 7th is the split tee box – the 7th plays to the left, while the 15th plays to the right. Simple, but charming.
After crossing the ravine off the tee, the 7th plays out to a wide, open fairway and ultimately to a large, open green, as befits a hole of this length.
The green is slightly raised in the middle and tends to shed balls into the bunkers to the left, right and rear.
A transition hole, but a good one.
Hole 8 – 165 yards – Par 3
The second of the four Raynor template par-3s at Shoreacres is a picturesque Eden playing over a pond. Deep bunkers guard the left, right and rear of the green.
The green itself is one of the most severe on the golf course, as it falls steeply from back to front and contains significant internal movement.
Putting from the back of this green toward the false front is an abjectly terrifying experience.
Hole 9 – 388 yards – Par 4
The final hole on the front nine shares a fairway with the 18th, resulting in an ultra-wide playing corridor sprinkled with bunkering in play on both holes.
The challenge increases as the green nears, with a series of deep bunkers dividing the 9th from the 18th.
Mounds and bunkers separate the two finishing greens.
Hole 10 – 452 yards – Par 4
The 10th at Shoreacres is one of the greatest Road Hole templates ever constructed by Macdonald or Raynor, and is an exceptional half-par hole in its own right. The 10th also begins the best stretch of holes at Shoreacres.
A slight dogleg right, the player’s first challenge is to find the fairway. Those who choose not to challenge the right side danger (OB lies right of the rough) run a real risk of watching their ball run through the fairway into the left rough.
The green itself is ever so slightly elevated, similar to that at the 7th at National Golf Links, adding to the difficulty of hitting this green.
The Road Hole bunker guards the left side. While not quite as deep or as scary as those at Piping Rock or National, the bunker at Shoreacres is larger in area and dominates a larger portion of the green.
The wide, shallow green is difficult to hold from distance, and the traditional bunker in the rear is a popular (if undesirable) spot for second (and often third) shots to rest.
Macdonald and Raynor viewed golf as a strategic endeavor – options should be offered to the player and chosen according to skill level and position. At the 10th, Raynor left players the option to play up the left side past the Road bunker, and then to tack in to this pin laterally with either a putter from the fairway or a wedge. Options like these are what make Raynor designs so fun to play!
Hole 11 – 378 yards – Par 4
The second of four outstanding holes running along the edge of the property, the 11th demands a tee shot over the deepest and most dramatic ravine on the property. Left is trouble and right is dead.
Upon reaching the fairway, the golfer is presented with what appears to be a simple, straightforward approach to an open green. However . . .
. . . a deep second ravine fronts this green and requires an all-carry approach.
Though a formidable hazard, the far slope and part of the bottom of the ravine is maintained as regular rough, so that balls that come up short are often playable rather than lost. Balls that stick on the slope provide an extra bit of challenge – the slope is so steep that some players may have trouble just getting to their balls.
A beautiful par-4, and one of the most memorable holes at Shoreacres.
Hole 12 – 127 yards – Par 3
The third par-3 at Shoreacres is the “Short” template, and it’s one of Raynor’s most beautiful.
Though it lacks the drama of the long water views at the 16th at Fishers Island, this par-3, tucked into a corner of the property and surrounded by ledges, trees, flowers, bunkers and streams, is quite picturesque.
As is the case with most Shorts, this par-3 is largely a hit-it-or-else proposition. This trench bunker on the left side of the green leaves a particularly nasty recovery, though preferable to a lost or wet ball.
An altogether gorgeous par-3.
Hole 13 – 332 yards – Par 4
The 13th demands a blind tee shot (the only one in the round) from a tee box benched into the side of a ravine.
The fairway on this short par-4 doglegs slightly left – due to the trouble left and the trees long, many players will choose iron off this tee.
As at the 11th, a large ravine guards the green on the approach.
While the trouble surrounding this green isn’t quite as severe as that at the 11th…
. . . the green itself is one of the most severe on the course, with steep overall back to front slope and large internal mounding and undulation.
A wonderful short two-shotter.
Hole 14 – 185 yards – Par 3
The final par-3 at Shoreacres is the iconic “Redan” template, and a good one at that. The tee shot must carry a ravine and avoid a left miss (always a danger when playing a Redan).
Unlike many of Raynor’s Redans, which are set into a natural terrain formation, the 14th at Shoreacres is entirely manufactured – the right side of the green was built up by Raynor to provide the typical Redan “kick” to the left.
While tee shots missing left are in danger of finding the hazard, those that miss right are no picnic either, as keeping the ball on the green becomes virtually impossible.
As is the case with most Redans, the only truly safe spot to be is on the green. The last of four excellent par-3 holes at Shoreacres.
Hole 15 – 521 yards – Par 5
Returning again to the split tee box, the 15th doglegs hard left and asks for a draw from the tee. This hole is reachable in two shots with an ideal first.
After rounding the corner, the player is greeted with perhaps the finest fairway at Shoreacres, a multi-tiered, multi-route maze cut by a deep ravine, a stream and bunkers.
Though it is possible to play out of most areas of the ravine, good, even lies are few and far between.
If the player can carry the ravine and the three cross bunkers short of the green and reach this final fairway, it is possible to run approaches on to this open green.
As seen at the 10th, the 15th allows the golfer to utilize strategic decision-making in choosing from multiple shot options – a hallmark of a great match play course.
An absolutely perfect par-5.
Hole 16 – 438 yards – Par 4
The 16th plays back over the winding creek first encountered at the 4th hole and to a wide fairway with ample room to position a ball for an ideal approach angle.
The rumpled fairway provides an additional degree of challenge.
But as with many of the holes at Shoreacres, the real fun begins once the green is in reach. The green falls away steeply on three sides into bunkers, and slopes substantially from front to back. Putting into these bunkers, depending on the pin locations, is an uncomfortably common experience.
The steepness of the back to front slope at this green makes this rear bunker perhaps the worst place to miss, especially to a back pin, as shots from here risk rolling back into the fairway.
A fun, challenging hole offering opportunities for birdie while threatening much higher scores.
Hole 17 – 355 yards – Par 4
The penultimate hole at Shoreacres is a gorgeous par-4 playing once more over a ravine to a fairway turning gently left.
The cape-style green is angled from left to right from the player’s perspective, and surrounded by deep bunkering.
The front left bunker is a particularly inhospitable place to find one’s ball.
Bunkers to the rear provide an additional measure of protection.
The pond guarding the left rear is also very much in play.
Hole 18 – 552 yards – Par 5
The final hole at Shoreacres is also the longest, but due to the firm turf, even this hole is reachable in two for longer hitters.
The wide fairway, shared with the 9th, provides options, but the row of bunkers down the middle must be avoided.
The green is defended by a variety of humps, swales and bunkering, making this one of the most difficult approaches to get close.
This mound at the front right of the green is such a simple feature, but it creates dilemmas and opportunities – use the slope of the mound to kick the ball back to this pin? Or attempt to avoid it entirely, and risk the consequences for a mis-struck shot?
The 18th may be the best green on the course, as it offers an infinite variety of challenging pin placements and tests those in matches that have reached the final hole.
Shoreacres is truly a throwback to a time when golf was a more strategic game, meant to be played on firm surfaces that influenced players’ shots, when choosing the best of the available options counted for something, and when competitions were played head-to-head against one opponent at a time. Those that love this classic brand of golf will surely love Shoreacres, as it provides the kind of field on which the game was truly meant to be played.
March 30, 2016
Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf