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A Modern Throwback – Andy Staples at Meadowbrook

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

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

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

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

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


ANDY STAPLES ON THE MEADOWBROOK RENOVATION

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

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

Describe your process for a renovation project of this nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Brian Walters

What were your goals going into the project?

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

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

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

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

What were the biggest changes you made?

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

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

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

Did you take any creative risks along the way?

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

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

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

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

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

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

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

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

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

What makes you the proudest about the new Meadowbrook?

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

What do you respect about Andy O’Haver?

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


MEADOWBROOK COUNTRY CLUB

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

(click on images below to enlarge)

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HOLE #1 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

HOLE #2 – Par 5

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

HOLE #3 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

HOLE #4 – Par 5

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

HOLE #5 – Par 4

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

HOLE #6 – Par 3

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

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HOLE #7 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

HOLE #8 – Par 3

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

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HOLE #9 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

HOLE #10 – Par 4

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

HOLE #11 – Par 3

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

HOLE #12 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

HOLE #13 – Par 3

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

HOLE #14 – Par 4

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

HOLE #15 – Par 4

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

HOLE #16 – Par 4

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

HOLE #17 – Par 5 

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

HOLE #18 – Par 4

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

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


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America’s Great 18s

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

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

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

(click on images below to enlarge)


AMERICA’S GREAT 18 – MODERNS

#1 – Sand Hills – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

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

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

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

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

#2 – Sebonack – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

#3 – Bandon Trails – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

#4 – Bandon Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

#5 – Boston Golf Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jason Way

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

#7 – Old Macdonald – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

#8 – Ballyneal – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

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

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

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

#9 – Erin Hills – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

#10 – Chambers Bay – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

#11 – Lost Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

#12 – Kingsley Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

#13 – Pacific Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

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

#14 – Friars Head – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

#16 – Streamsong Red – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

#17 – Whistling Straits – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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


AMERICA’S GREAT 18 – CLASSICS

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

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

Honorable Mentions – Crystal Downs, Whitinsville, Oakmont, Inverness, Mountain Lake, Skokie CC

#2 – Old Elm Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

Honorable Mentions – Myopia, Garden City, Shoreacres, Somerset Hills, Pine Valley, Old Town Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club

#3 – Oakmont – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Given that we have started our course with three straight four pars under 400 yards, I guess that we have made a statement about our perspective on the link between length-based difficulty and greatness.  Not an intentional statement, but there it is.

With regard to Oakmont’s third, it is iconic because of the church pews, and they are really neat.  But they are not what I think makes this hole great.  The way that the hole lays upon the hillside is the first part of its greatness.  The slope of the hill from high right to low left is subtly disorienting.  It looks cool, but it does not look quite right, and that creates an awkwardness that must be overcome to hit a good drive.

The blind approach to the top of the hill makes the kind of demand that we love.  And the green itself, which has a false front AND runs away from back to front is no lay down to hit and hold.  Approaches that come up short leave a tricky recovery, but it is hard to muster up the guts to err on the side of going long when looking up the hill.

Once on the green, the third is gentle by comparison to others at Oakmont which means that the player who rises to the tee-to-green challenge is rewarded with a legit opportunity to hole a putt.

Honorable Mentions – Olympia Fields CC North, LACC North, Kittansett, Wannamoisett, Camargo, Chicago GC, NGLA, The Country Club, Pine Valley, Pasatiempo, Piping Rock

#4 – Fishers Island – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

Honorable Mentions – Chicago GC, Bethpage Black, Inverness, Myopia, Seminole, Pinehurst #2

#5 – Merion – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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Honorable Mentions – Crystal Downs, Chicago GC, Fishers Island, Pinehurst #2, Riviera, Old Town Club, Mountain Lake, Philadelphia Cricket Club

#6 – Eastward Ho! – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

Honorable Mentions – The Creek Club, Shoreacres, Olympia Fields CC South, Seminole, Riviera, Lawsonia, Roaring Gap Club, Pebble Beach

#7 – Lawsonia Links – Par-3

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Photo by Jason Way

Any hole that was built by burying a large piece of machinery is great in our book, but the 7th at Lawsonia is more than just an epic construction story.  It embodies the combination of enormous scale of greens and hazards with subtle genius green contours that Langford & Moreau designed into nearly every hole on the course.

There is plenty of green to work with from the tee, but it doesn’t look that way relative to the massive drop-off right.  That causes a tendency to bail out left.  Balls that find the bunker left are no picnic either, with overzealous explosions risk running across the green and right down to the spot the player was attempting to avoid in the first place.

This a great hole, and it isn’t even our favorite on the course.  Count us among Lawsonia’s devotees.

Honorable Mentions – Chicago GC, Ekwanok, Kittansett, Maidstone, Crystal Downs, Pebble Beach, Inverness

#8 – Pebble Beach – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

Honorable Mentions – Crystal Downs, Orchard Lake, Essex County Club, Blue Mound, Prairie Dunes, Maidstone, Wykagyl, Pine Valley, Riviera, Old Town Club, Yale

#9 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Much of the rest of Myopia has a very simple and elegant style to it.  This one-shotter, with its wild bunkering, is an explosion of artistic flair.

The green too is unique in my experience.  Oriented slightly on an angle to the tee and extremely narrow, it is one of those greens (like the 2nd at Kingsley and 17th at Sand Hills) that is easiest to hit the first time, when the player isn’t fully aware of just how small the target is.

Honorable Mentions – Oakmont, Milwaukee CC, Yale, Maidstone, Shinnecock, Pebble Beach, Onwentsia, Fishers Island, Pinehurst #2

#10 – Shoreacres – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

With the tree clearing and fairway widening undertaken by Brian Palmer and crew, an argument can be made (and we would probably make it) that this is the best Road Hole template in America.

The depression down the right, with its beautiful contours, plays the role of the hotel.  Misjudged tee shots that find this low area of rough can recover, but have almost no chance of holding the green, which is elevated and kept firm.

The right must be challenged though in order to get an angle into the green that provides any hope of holding.  A long bunker playing the role of the road awaits unsuccessful attempts at the frontal assault.

The road hole bunker fronting the green is not as difficult as other MacRaynor versions, but it still dictates strategy, and provides ample challenge for those unfortunate enough to find it.  Like the original, a long left bailout option exists at SA #10 in the form of a closely mown runoff, but taking this route leaves the player with a testy bump, chip, or putt up to a green that is typically lightning quick.

This hole at Shoreacres, perhaps more than any other, cannot be overpowered and rewards the player who combines strategic thinking with savvy execution.

Honorable Mentions – Shinnecock, Milwaukee CC, Prairie Dunes, Riviera, Winged Foot West, Chicago GC, Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Yale, Kirtland CC

#11 – The Country Club – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Just like the TCC, our Great 18 does not reach its first three-shotter until the 11th, and this one is wonderful.

Snaking downhill between rock outcroppings, over a creek, and then back up to a green set above a series of staggered bunkers, the 11th encapsulates the timeless beauty and depth of character of The Country Club.  It also provides the player a chance to decide between conservative and aggressive plays on the tee, and on the second shot.  Thoughtful aggressiveness is rewarded with a legitimate chance at birdie.  Recklessness is punished – as it should be.

Honorable Mentions – Merion, Essex County Club, Kittansett, Camargo, Shinnecock, Plainfield CC, Fishers Island, Seminole, Mountain Lake, Olympia Fields CC South, Brookside Canton

#12 – Old Town Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

c12-oldtown1-jcHonorable Mentions – Oakmont, Essex County Club, Prairie Dunes, Wannamoisett, Shoreacres, Skokie CC

#13 – Pine Valley – Par-4

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Photo by Peter Korbakes

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

Honorable Mentions – Orchard Lake, Essex County Club, Onwentsia, Kirtland CC, Seminole

#14 – Crystal Downs – Par-3

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Photo by Jason Way

What makes this one-shotter great is the green.  It is packed with subtle contour and canted, a combination that can provide just as much misery as its more overtly severe back-nine sibling, the 11th.

What makes this hole one of our all-time favorite short threes is the much improved setting.  The green sits on a perch behind and among wonderful MacKenzie/Maxwell bunkers, and appears slightly crowned from the tee.  Tree clearing on the ridge behind the green has created an infinity effect, and a gorgeous view from this back corner of the property.  Put it all together, and it is as once breathtakingly beautiful, and terrifying.

Honorable Mentions – Maidstone, Seminole, Olympia Fields CC North, Brookside Canton, Skokie CC

#15 – Sleepy Hollow – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

Honorable Mentions – NGLA, Canterbury, Brookside Canton, Skokie CC, Roaring Gap Club

#16 – Cypress Point Club – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions – Old Elm, Shinnecock, Myopia, NGLA, Sleepy Hollow, Merion, Canterbury, Kirtland CC, Skokie CC, Roaring Gap Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Pasatiempo

#17 – Prairie Dunes – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

This lay of the land five-par plays beautifully uphill over rumpled ground, bringing to mind thoughts of the 8th at Crystal Downs.

Maxwell’s genius is evident in both his restraint tee to green, and the green setting itself.  With a nasty bunker left and a steep drop-off right, the player finds himself between Scylla and Charybdis trying to judge the wind and distance properly to land safely on the green.

The adventure doesn’t end when the approach finds the green, which is brilliantly contoured and separated into distinct sections.  The wind quickly blows away any relief as the player attempts to navigate his ball safely into the hole.

Honorable Mentions – NGLA, Essex County Club, St. George, Seminole, Old Town Club, Yale, Olympia Fields CC North, Roaring Gap Club, Orchard Lake CC

#18 – Essex County Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

We conclude this adventure with my favorite of all classic courses played to date.

Home holes that return to the clubhouse have a special place in our hearts, and none do so more dramatically than the great finisher at Essex County.  Recent tree removal and restoration work here by Superintendent Eric Richardson and his staff have revealed the beauty of the topography, as well as the view of the outstanding clubhouse.

The boldness of Donald Ross’s vision manifested in the twists and turns of the fairway, and the sublime creekside green setting are unparalleled.  The green provides one last taste of The Donald as well – canted, subtly crowned and contoured, it is the kind of putting surface that takes a lifetime to master.

Honorable Mentions – Pebble Beach, Yale, Oakmont, Milwaukee CC, Inverness, Garden City

BONUS HOLES

#2 – Somerset Hills – Par-3

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

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

#16 – Pasatiempo – Par-4

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

Our original comments on Pasatiempo’s 16th.

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

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Photo by Jon Cavalier


 

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