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BOLD, BEAUTIFUL BAYONNE

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clubhouse and Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting There

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

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

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

Practice Facilities and Driving Range

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

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

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

The Golf Course

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

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

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

HOLE #1 – “Dell” – 343 yards – par 4

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

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

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

…and only then is the magnificent punchbowl green revealed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOLE #3 – “Redan” – 170 yards – par 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A beautiful spot for golf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water’s Edge indeed. Beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LANGUAGE MATTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 9th at Sweetens Cove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE MIDWEST MACKENZIE – CRYSTAL DOWNS

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

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

A Connection of Like Minds

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

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

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

Crystal Downs Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drilling into the dramatic theme, DeVries went on to describe the different acts, each of which brings the player to a climactic high point. Act 1 begins at the clubhouse with a walk down the stairs to the jaw-dropping reveal from the 1st tee. Act 2 takes place across the hillside and valley of the front nine, peaking at the 8th green. Act 3 takes the player away from the clubhouse along the dune ridge that separates Lake Michigan from Crystal Lake, ending with the long view north from the 14th green. Act 4 is the return journey home with one final thrill at the 17th green. The closing hole is an understated epilogue, giving the player an opportunity to reflect and absorb the entirety of the drama, as well as the holes and shots within it.

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

The Course Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE WRAP-AROUND AT CANAL SHORES

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

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

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

Brush Clearing

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

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Improvement Projects

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

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

Spring Tune-up

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

Takeaways from the Wrap-Around

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

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

For the entire Journey Along the Shores, click here.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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TILLY’S TALE AT SOMERSET HILLS

An in-depth look at the A.W. Tillinghast designed Somerset Hills Country Club

Somerset Hills embodies a rare opportunity for golf architecture aficionados and players alike. For the design enthusiast, it is a course to be studied closely as an integral step in the progression of one of America’s greatest architects, A.W. Tillinghast. This pivotal work remains frozen in time, largely free of alterations that befell his later courses, especially those that host championships. For the avid player, whether duffer or stick, Somerset Hills is a course to be enjoyed for its beauty and wildly varied set of challenges. A single play only begins to unlock the riddles that Tillinghast put in the ground in Bernardsville, N.J., employing equal parts respect for the land, creative flair, and knowledge of design history.

An Afternoon Walk

Step back in time and imagine that you have been invited to spend an afternoon touring the newly opened course at Somerset Hills in 1918. You get your first intriguing glimpse as you travel along Mine Mount Road, making the turn into the unassuming club entrance. Arriving at the clubhouse, you are surprised to find that your guide for the day will be none other than A.W. Tillinghast himself. A well-heeled and well-traveled Philadelphian, Tilly explored the British Isles, including spending time in St. Andrews with Old Tom Morris, undoubtedly absorbing the oral history of the game that was taking hold of his imagination and heart. Before designing courses, Tillinghast was an accomplished player and writer at a time when the golf craze in the U.S. was peaking. You quickly realize that your walkabout will be complemented by stories born of a particular breadth and depth of experience.

Somerset’s Redan 2nd – Credit: Simon Haines

A good storyteller does not immediately begin yelling at you, maintaining that intensity from start to finish. There are ebbs and flows that build toward a climax, all delivered with creative color. It is clear to you that A.W. Tillinghast is a master storyteller as he strolls along telling tales of his sources of inspiration, his design ideas and how they manifested on the site he was given at Somerset Hills. Of course, a great design begins with taking a player on an exploration of the land. You notice the way his holes meander, change direction, and bend, coherently combining to create moments of quiet intimacy contrasted with expansive views. He pauses on many greens to direct your focus backward as a reminder that what lies behind often foreshadows what is to come.

Like Macdonald before him, Tillinghast was entranced by North Berwick’s redan and created his version at the 2nd. Other “ideal hole” elements can be found throughout the course on the 13th, 14th and 16th. He points out the classic quirk of rugged mounds and bunkers cut into humps that were built by man, as well as the contours and creeks provided by nature for hazards. The greens are of such character and quality that you want to stop and spend extended time at each, but your guide will not allow for interruptions to the natural flow. As your tour and the story unfolds, the theme of variety becomes apparent throughout, maintaining the level of engagement even in moments of rest. With the afternoon light fading and Tilly’s cigarette smoke wafting by on the breeze, you find yourself mildly intoxicated by the combination of the journey completed and the stories told. Departing the property with a final glance back, it occurs to you that A.W. Tillinghast shared the story of golf architecture up to 1918, and his course at Somerset Hills embodies that history.

The 10th green, with 17th and 18th behind – Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

An Inflection Point

Somerset Hills was not Tillinghast’s first design, but it would come to be known as his first great one. He drew upon the standout courses and holes he had seen in the U.K., as well as home grown offerings like Myopia Hunt Club, Garden City, National Golf Links, Pine Valley and Merion. His experience afforded him a treasure trove of strategic and visual elements into which he dipped liberally, always adding his own creative flair. Somerset was not just important as an homage to the first twenty years of American design though. It was a jumping off point for an incredible run of courses—Quaker Ridge, San Francisco G.C., Philadelphia Cricket Club and Baltusrol, among others—each expressing Tilly’s grasp of the principles of strategic architecture and his commitment to variety, while always staying true to the unique sense of place of each site. His portfolio stands as a testament to his versatility, as well as an inspiration to the architects who followed in his footsteps.

Taking the time to look backward from each green at Somerset Hills provides insight into how the holes on all of his courses remain brilliantly relevant to this day. He had a gift for finding good green sites, and for building wonderful putting surfaces and surrounds on those sites. Working back, the ideal angles into the different sections of the green become apparent. Tilly positioned his tees and routed his fairways over the topography, accented by varied hazards, giving players a chance to work those angles to their advantage. Well conceived and executed shots are rewarded. From the tee forward, the ideal route is often not apparent. Somerset has its fair share of blind, semi-blind and visible-but-intimidating shots. Like many in the Tillinghast portfolio, it is a course that hides its secrets from first-timers, only revealing itself through repeat play.

The Course

A round at Somerset Hills is a tale of two nines. The outward half is routed intimately in a gentle valley below the clubhouse in a space previously occupied by a race track. Tillinghast incorporated remnants of that track into the design. The inward nine makes its way into the woods, past a lake, through wetlands and then takes a final hilly ride back up to the clubhouse. The only meaningful change Tilly’s original is a repositioning of the 10th green to stretch it from a par-4 to a par-5.

Although each nine has a distinct feel, the course retains its cohesion. Interestingly, the front nine is compact but feels more expansive than the back, which works back and forth over a ridge. Throughout the course, Tillinghast alternates between narrowing and widening the player’s focus, creating an enjoyable rhythm. Playing Somerset is truly like taking a journey.

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There is an optimal presentation standard that Superintendent Ryan Tuxhorn and his team nail on the head at Somerset—everything is done, but nothing is overdone. This is an old course and they allow it to exude that classic feel, without any hint of it being tired. Brian Slawnick from Renaissance Golf Design has consulted over the years on fairway lines, green expansions, bunker edges and tree management, but has thankfully not changed the character. Further, Tuxhorn takes what Mother Nature gives and provides the best playing conditions possible. The course is allowed to change with the weather and the seasons, very much in tune with the spirit of variety that Tillinghast intended. The course tour that follows, with photos from Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) is meant to convey Somerset’s gorgeous seasonal range.

The opener is a solid par-4 that bends right through the orchard and then runs downhill to a green that is open in the front. The 2nd is Tilly’s appropriately famous rendition of the redan with forebunkers center and a deep bunker left. The green is severely sloped from high front-right to low back-left and can be used to advantage, or spell disaster. Good shots are required right out of the gate.

The 3rd through 6th are intertwined on the interior of this portion of the property. Creativity abounds with the elevated 3rd green, the dolomites on the 4th and 6th, and the gloriously bold contours of the putting surface on the 5th. At no point does the player feel like they are on a bland march.

The final stretch of the front nine works around the perimeter and back up to the clubhouse. The 7th is a tough par-4 featuring a blind drive to a fairway that slopes all the way down into the front of the large green. The one-shot 8th plays perilously along a rock wall boundary to a green flanked by created bunkering. The 9th is a right-to-left par-5 where Tilly employed his trademark great hazard.

The back nine opens with the only hole that has been altered from Tillinghast’s design. The left-to-right dogleg now plays as a par-5 uphill to a green set on a hillside. The par-4 11th bends right past a lake and over a creek, and features one of the wildest greens on the course. The idyllic setting of the green at the par-3 12th distracts players from the punishment that awaits wayward tee balls.

The next two holes play on top of the ridge and have shades of Macdonald-Raynor influence. The par-4 13th features a left-center principal’s nose and a biarritz green. Quite the creative combination! The 14th turns around and heads back to a large, plateaued green that demands a much more precise approach than its footprint would indicate. A pair of outstanding two-shotters.

The par-4 15th is blind off the tee and requires a left-to-right shape to take advantage of the downhill fairway. The large green is fronted by a creek, creating a picture-perfect scene. The final one-shotter on the course, the 16th has hints of the Eden template, with Tilly’s creative twists of course.

Somerset Hills provides one last rollercoaster ride with its final pair of four pars. The 17th begins with a blind drive over a chasm to a fairway that rolls severely downhill. The 18th plays back uphill into the shadow of the clubhouse to one more boldly contoured green. Two par-4s that are ideal for match play as birdies and doubles are equally likely results.

By the time he arrived at the site that would become Somerset Hills, A.W. Tillinghast had a story to tell. It was a tale of where golf had come from, with hints of where it might be headed. He poured his heart and mind onto this land in the New Jersey countryside. Members and visitors ever since have been the beneficiaries, as they loop around and around, learning Tilly’s tricks and experiencing his tale for themselves.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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FAIR IS A FOUR LETTER WORD AT FRENCH LICK

The second edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q series takes a look at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort

The devilish designer himself greets visitors to The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort. A statue of the creator of nearly one hundred golf courses over a decades-long career stands by the bag drop. He is smiling, a friendly countenance on first impression. Alongside the sculpture is a stone adorned with a quote that ends ”…so why build a fair golf course”. After reading Pete Dye’s words, the smile doesn’t look quite so chummy. More a smirk, perhaps, or a grin that gives way to a chuckle at the travails that are about to ensue. Players have not even put on their shoes and Ol’ Pete is already trying to get in their heads.

Pete and Alice Dye have never been afraid to throw difficulty into their designs. After all, their first nine hole course included thirteen creek crossings. Tour pros have been complaining for years about being tortured by the duo on The Ocean Course to PGA West, and all points in between. However, to conclude that hard golf is what the Dyes design is to miss the point, and the complaints from fairness-loving pros speak to the reason why.

There is an adage from the Golden Age of golf architecture that the best holes appear either easier or harder than they actually are. Throughout their career, the Dyes have adhered to this principle of creating discomfort through deception. They are not simply testing a player’s ability to execute in the face of a straightforward challenge. Holes that only examine physical skills cannot test the best while remaining playable for the rest. Such design might be considered fair, but invariably, it is too easy or hard, depending on level of skill. It is also predictable and boring—two words that have never been used to describes the Dyes or their courses.

Influences of an Influencer

When Pete Dye hung up the insurance salesman suit in 1960 to don his brown work shoes and khakis, he was a far cry from having his own artistic voice. During his military service, he spent a great deal of time at Pinehurst, interacting with Donald Ross and falling in love with the No.2 course. His competitive playing career exposed him to the bold brilliance of Raynor’s Camargo and Langford & Moreau’s work throughout the Midwest. These Golden Age greats were influential, but were also being obscured at the time by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and other post-war practitioners of “heroic” design. Embarking on their architectural journey, the Dyes stood at the crossroads, not knowing exactly which way to go. The first half of the ’60s would be a formative jumping off point for the fifty years of exploration that would culminate on Mount Airie in French Lick.

In 1962, the Dyes were commissioned to build Radrick Farms in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a lengthy engagement with the course finally opening in 1965. During this period, two additional influences ensured that Radrick was the last Dye course to ever have an RTJ feel. The first was University of Michigan’s other course, designed by Alister MacKenzie. The second was Pete Dye’s 1963 trip to Scotland to study the great courses and history in golf’s birthplace. He came back enlightened to quirk, visual contrast and strategic design, and began working out the Dye style at Crooked Stick.

At Harbour Town in 1969, the pair took a contrarian approach with narrow playing corridors and small, angled greens. They exercised their earth moving and engineering muscle by conjuring TPC Sawgrass from the Florida swamp in 1982. By 1991, they were in full blown Dye-abolical mode at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. At this point in their career, a certain expectation had emerged among players and developers for what a “Pete Dye course” should be. Certain courses like Whistling Straits feel like they are in part the result of a compulsion to outdo the last hit offering, rather than further explore and evolve the artform. If a deleterious trend in the Dye’s work was developing at the turn of the century, they thankfully stamped it out by 2009.

Fairways and Greens

Pete Dye was tremendously excited to build this big budget course at the French Lick Resort, and he considered it to be among the best sites he had ever been given. Long-time Dye collaborator Tim Liddy confirmed, “Pete was enthusiastic about French Lick and heavily invested in its creation. It is the last big project to which he gave his maximum personal attention and on-site presence.” The numbers corroborate Liddy’s perspective—150 site visit made by Pete, 30 by Alice and almost 3 million cubic yards of earth moved to create 18 outstanding hilltop holes that can be stretched to 8,100 yards. The Dyes took a special opportunity, brought their expertise and willingness to push dirt, and delivered a magnum opus.

Although the scale and views are jaw-dropping, and the potential for punishment abounds, there is a subtle brilliance to the Pete Dye Course at French Lick that harkens back to Raynor, Langford, Ross and MacKenzie. Taking a look at the fairways and greens provides insight into the depth of the Dye’s design.

“Make their eyes lie to them” is a Dye family mantra, and French Lick is no exception. On many occasions, a player will stand on the tee with their eyes screaming, “There’s nowhere safe to hit it!” Holes feature a combination of fairway undulation and angled orientation that makes confidently choosing a line difficult, especially when one or both sides drop off the massive hillside. To top it off, degrees of blindness are sprinkled in, drawing upon the inspiring Scottish links of the designer’s early years. And yet students of Dye’s work know that they have provided safe landing areas for conservative and aggressive players. The eyes are lying, but those who can block that feedback out can find the fairway, and score.

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The Pinehurst No.2 influence is evident from the first few green complexes. They are small relative to the overall scale of the course, often elevated, angled to the approaches, and shaped to allow for tucking pins. For the player looking to attack, the greens are intimidating and set up to punish reckless aggressiveness. On closer examination though, a high degree of playability is built in as well. The green fronts are open and wider. The slopes and surrounds are varied, including plentiful shortgrass maintained fast and firm by Superintendent Russ Apple and his team. Crafty players can bump-and-run or even putt their way to recovery around most of the course.

A final dose of deception is delivered on the putting surfaces. Although there are some pronounced contours, most are relatively benign. Instead subtle shaping complements the bold tee-to-green features. In this case, subtle does not mean easy though. The Dyes use the visual trick of countering green slopes to the hillsides, making reading break challenging, even on short putts. The green at French Lick confound first-timers, but also leave a desire to come back and try again.

The Pete Dye Course at French Lick is not fair, and players are all the better for it. What it is is the expression of artists who had come full circle and integrated five decades of exploration. It is a destination for players, and it would seem for Pete and Alice as well. To fully understand just how great the Dyes were at their craft, devotees must make the pilgrimage to French Lick. Like the statue with the satisfied smile, it stands as a testament to a lifetime spent climbing the circuitous route to the top of the mountain.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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ROUTING PERFECTION AT SAND HILLS

A look at routing and the creation of Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece, Sand Hills Golf Club

Sand Hills Golf Club is generally considered to be a modern masterpiece. Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw’s design has been credited as the original spark that lit the fire of the minimalist movement in golf course architecture, and the club proved that players will travel to experience great golf in far flung locales. The combination of minimalism and destination golf has been nothing short of revolutionary for the game. There is a case to be made though that Sand Hills is more than just a great course—it is perfect. That perfection has at its core the routing that Coore & Crenshaw discovered through the Nebraska countryside, and the effect that it has on those fortunate enough to play it.

In a discussion with Dunlop White about what gives a golf course character, Bill Coore said, “The routing is how a golf course lays on the land; how it showcases the landscape and brings out interesting golf in terms of the individual holes and how they fit together as an entire course.” That description makes intuitive sense, but just how does one go from a raw piece of land to a brilliant course like Sand Hills? For the average geek, the process seems quite mysterious—equal parts method and magic, akin to alchemy. Although routing is complicated, to grasp what transpires conceptually does not require that one be an architect or an alchemist. Before returning to Mullen, let’s take a quick look.

Assembling the Pieces

The process of routing a golf course can be compared to putting together a puzzle. The first order of business is assembling the edges, which is the equivalent of determining design constraints. Typically, a good puzzle-building strategy is to next look for pieces that comprise standout elements of the picture. Landmarks, if you will. And finally comes the painstaking effort to fill in the remaining pieces around those landmarks to produce a cohesive whole.

The comparison to puzzle building is, of course, a dramatic oversimplification. The end puzzle picture is known at the outset, which is clearly not the case for the golf course architect. The analogy does hold true at a basic level—both activities are difficult, even painful at times, and ultimately reward the patient and persistent practitioner. It also hints at an issue inherent in the approach to routing by some architects, an issue that can be the difference between a good golf course and a great one. While incorporating special features or landmarks into a design is always a worthy aim, fixating on any single element of the site can have a deleterious cascade effect. The course may indeed have a “signature” hole, but incorporating that hole into the routing necessitates including weaker “connector” holes.

In some unfortunate instances, course designs relied so heavily on the signature hole or stretch of holes that the overall quality of the course was diminished. That would be like assembling the feature portions of the puzzle, and then dumping the rest of the pieces inside the border willy nilly and calling it finished. One does not get to a level of quality approaching that of Sand Hills by trading signature hole photo ops for the integrity of the whole. As Bill Coore implied, he is not willing to make that trade, “The routing…brings out interesting golf in terms of the individual holes AND how they fit together as an entire course.”

Tough Decisions

Bill Coore is regularly asked some form of the question, “Was it enjoyable to work with land as great as Dick Youngscap gave you for Sand Hills?” His answer is a consistent and unequivocal “No.” Outside of getting the chance to work on seaside linksland, Coore & Crenshaw could not have dreamt of a better site than the one they got in Mullen. The ideal nature of the ground for golf heaped pressure on the duo to produce a special golf course. They feared that if they did not capitalize on this opportunity, it might be a long time before another came along, if ever.

As illustrated in the example above, a site typically has distinct features off which the architect can play—a ridge, a creek, stands of specimen trees or a dune. Average land yields a finite number of high quality holes which can be incorporated into a cohesive routing. A site like Sand Hills has nearly infinite potential for such holes. What’s a designer to do when everywhere they look, there is another feature, contour, or vista that would make for great golf?

In their customary fashion, Coore & Crenshaw started with knowing the land intimately. While tales of Bill Coore camping out like a frontiersman might be exaggerated, they contain a kernel of truth. Using a helicopter, topo maps and their feet, the team explored the property and made note of more than 100 potential holes that could be incorporated into the design. Those explorations and notations have been memorialized in the constellation map.

The Constellation Map with Sand Hills overlay – Credit: Scott Griffith (@bottomgroove)

Having catalogued the possibilities, the time came for the final, difficult cut down to eighteen. At this point in the process the experience and instincts that Bill & Ben possess combined to yield an alchemical result—the foundation of a course that works perfectly and fits perfectly onto the land it occupies. Looking at the constellation map, is it possible that there exists a single hole that would have been better than any of the eighteen that were eventually incorporated into Sand Hills? It is indeed possible, but the question is moot. After walking off the 18th green, one realizes the wisdom in prioritizing the entirety over any single part. The course is perfectly satisfying, as is.

The Course

It is easy enough to assert that there are no weak holes at Sand Hills. To understand just how strong each and every hole is though, it is fun to play a little game with those who have seen the course. Ask them which hole is their favorite. Within a group, there is likely to be a very wide variety of answers. Poll enough people and every hole will ultimately get a vote. Next, inquire of those same players which hole is their least favorite. After qualifying their answer with a reminder that there are no weak holes, they will sheepishly offer up their pick. Once again, within a large group, answers vary greatly. When no consensus exists about favorites, the course must be exceptional.

We know from Mr. Coore’s routing thoughts above that a golf course is meant to be more than a batch of holes. Sand Hills exemplifies this ethos. The course works in two loops out from and back to Ben’s Porch. Each of those loops has holes that take players up, down and around the dunes, producing all manner of interesting and sometimes terrifying shots. It also touches the property edges at several points—a reminder of the vastness of the setting that produces a keen sense of awe.

The flow of the course is further enhanced for walkers by the proximity of greens to tees, and the paths connecting tees to fairways. The cohesiveness of components creates a connection to the land and nature as one walks along. This is a hike that would be nearly as enjoyable without clubs.

Superintendent Kyle Hegland and his team provide terrific playing conditions and Mother Nature adds the unpredictability. The wind blows, sometimes delivering dramatic squalls that give way to brilliant sunshine. As is the case with world’s great links courses, the elements are always a factor. Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) and I have collaborated to attempt to convey the Sand Hills experience—colors, textures and shapes that stir the soul.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

The opener at Sand Hills is a par-5 that epitomizes strategic golf. A conservative route to a straightforward par is provided. Play away from the fairway bunker left, lay up to the middle short of the base of the hill and approach safely into the middle of the green set up in a dune-top saddle. Easy enough. But for players who desire to get out of the gate with a birdie, risk must be taken on by working angles and challenging the edges, which opens up myriad ways to make a bogey or worse. This conservative vs. aggressive choice is a consistent theme throughout the course that makes it so intriguing to play repeatedly.

The 2nd is a unique par-4 that plays over a gully to a partially blind fairway and then up to an infinity green that features a fantastic ripple contour running diagonally across. Sand Hills’s first one-shotter next plays downhill to a green with a severe slope created by a high left shoulder. Lag putting on the 3rd is a real challenge.

The story goes that the 4th green was a point of contention between Bill Coore and Dick Youngscap. Perhaps inspired by the Maxwells’ work at Prairie Dunes, Coore proposed to bench it into the hillside. Mr. Youngscap preferred to place it down in a bowl. After a lengthy discussion, both men thought they had won the argument and went off to attend to their business. Coming back to find the green where Bill wanted it, Mr. Youngscap was dumbfounded and has remained a bit salty ever since. With all due respect to the owner, we side with Bill Coore on this one—the 4th is a standout par-4, exactly as is.

The 5th turns back and heads slightly uphill past a center-left bunker to a green flanked by more bunkers left and right. The putting surface on this par-4 lays gently on the land with subtle internal contours. The par-3 6th plays slightly downhill over a large forebunker to an angled green that is canted, with pronounced ripples and rolls. Short grass surrounds provide recovery options—the deep bunker right, not so much.

The 7th and 8th are short fours that begin a stretch of six consecutive two-shotters. This anomalous sequence illustrates Coore & Crenshaw’s willingness to take the great golf that the land gives. The devilish 7th is drivable, but failed attempts can leave tough recoveries from the front left bunker or slope right. The 8th plays over rumpled ground to a lion’s mouth green in an amphitheater setting. Both holes burst at the seams with strategic options.

Each of the next three par-4s has a distinct feel. The 9th swings right and heads back up into the shadow of Ben’s Porch. The at-grade green falls subtly away on three sides and is one of the trickiest to putt on the course. The 10th runs downhill, snaking between bunkers to a putting surface that flows off a high left slope. The tee shot on the 11th must take on a massive blowout bunker left to get into position to approach the elevated green. All three holes require thoughtful positioning and creative shotmaking.

The final two-shotter of this stretch plays to a wide fairway with a single blowout marking the ideal line for approach into the green which is guarded front and right by one large bunker. The 13th is a stout par-3 that sits at an angle to the tee, causing alignment challenges when attacking the well-defended putting surface. The wind plays a significant role on both of the inward half’s three pars.

The 14th is one of Coore & Crenshaw’s all-time greatest par-5s. The key for success is to get left, as the tiny, severely sloped green is nearly impossible to hold from the right. Not surprisingly, a deathly blowout sits in the perfect spot for a layup. Players stand in the fairway and must decide if their drive was good enough to get beyond that hazard, or if they need to lay back of it. Seems simple enough, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way over the shot.

The par-4 15th plays straight along a high ridge. Cheating to the right from the tee opens up the angle into a green fronted left by an imposing bunker. The final three-shotter is a roller coaster ride downhill through sandy blowouts of all sizes. The day’s pin position relative to a fronting mound dictates positioning of a player’s approach on the 16th.

In his essay for Geoff Shackelford’s Masters of the Links, Ben Crenshaw wrote of the short par-3, “In this era of obscene power…why not strive to induce a little fun into the mix and at the same time present a true test of delicacy and accuracy?” In the spirit of the shorties built by the Golden Age greats, the 17th is the answer to Ben’s question. A hole this short presents a birdie opportunity, but only for tee shots struck perfectly after accounting for the wind. Bunkers and slopes that make for difficult recoveries await the indelicate or inaccurate.

The home hole at Sand Hills plays long uphill with huge blowouts running along the entire left. The large green sits in a bowl atop a dune, making it difficult to get the line and distance just right for a good birdie look. Players need to focus long enough for one last lag putt on the final C&C putting surface.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw routed a course through the hills that takes players on an adventure with moments both thrilling and sublime. Combined with their minimalist approach to construction, the collection of holes is intellectually and emotionally evocative. At the end of a Sand Hills journey, visitors are left with lasting memories of their exposure to perfection.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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WHERE ENTHUSIASM LIVES – CAL CLUB

An in-depth look at the course and culture at California Golf Club of San Francisco

En·thu·si·asm – /in-TH(y)oozē-azəm/ – definition: intense and eager enjoyment – root: Greek en theos, roughly translated as possessed by spirit, or inspired. Lofty language, but fitting to describe the membership at California Golf Club of San Francisco, as well as the effect of spending time with them on their outstanding golf course. Cal Club is a place where enthusiasm for the game of golf, and for life itself, is alive and well.

To be clear, Cal is a golf club. The golf course is the focal point, and walking golf is the only activity of interest, at least during daylight. The beautiful land on which the course sits, and its eclectic architectural history, combine to produce an intensely enjoyable playing experience.

Architectural (r)Evolution

Many noteworthy hands have touched the course at Cal Club over the years and the it has evolved considerably. The changes serve as a reminder that no golf course ever remains static—ebbs and flows occur along the way.

In 1924, the club acquired the land in South San Francisco that would become its permanent home. Willie Locke was initially retained by CGCSF to design their new course. Locke came to America with many other turn-of-the-century immigrant professionals who were busily trying to keep up with the burgeoning demand for the game in the post-Ouimet U.S. Open era. He played a part in the development of several Bay Area courses, including nearby Lake Merced. Unfortunately for Locke, his tenure at Cal Club was short. He completed a routing, but was replaced after only two days by A.V. Macan. Macan was an Irishman who made a name for himself designing courses in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Although most of Locke’s routing was incorporated into the final design of the course that ultimately opened in 1926, changes were material enough that Macan was given sole credit. Not long thereafter, the club turned to the duo of Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Robert Hunter for an aesthetic upgrade. The pair was turning heads with their work from Meadow Club in Marin, down to the Monterey Peninsula. Bunkers were completely redesigned and rebuilt, as were the 10th and 18th greens.

The course remained largely unchanged until the 1960s, when the city claimed the northern portion of the club’s property to build a road. Robert Trent Jones was brought in to do a reconfiguration. Although CGCSF was still considered a fine test of golf, an ominous trend was set in motion that continued through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. The golfing culture of the club was weakened and its golf IQ diminished. In these conditions, well-meaning members tinkered in a similar fashion to that which befell many classic courses in America. The character of the Locke-Macan-MacKenzie-Hunter creation was nearly lost in the clutter of additions and alterations.

Enter a group of passionate and committed members led by past-Director Al Jamieson who decided the time had come to take Cal Club back to its roots. They were aided in the endeavor by accomplished historian David Normoyle. In his terrific interview with Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg podcast, Jamieson detailed the trials and tribulations of getting the project underway, as well as the results. Cal’s leadership settled on architect Kyle Phillips, a veteran with acclaimed original and renovation work around the world. According to club lore, he earned the job with his idea to utilize a dramatic ridge for a new 7th hole, but Jamieson explained that it was Phillips’s presence that convinced the committee. “In 2005, we interviewed ten architects…Kyle Phillips clearly won the day with his presentation, his demeanor, his maturity and his background. He made us think outside the box.”

What was originally conceived as a necessary replacement of the course’s greens morphed into a full scale “retrovation”, as Normoyle labels it. “Cal Club is absolutely one of the leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to not accepting what you were, and not accepting what you are, but trying to imagine the best you can possibly be, and having the willingness to take the risk to find out what that is,” he said. Upon reopening in 2008, and every day since, players have been nearly unanimous in their assessment that that risk paid off, huge.

Cal Club Today

With names on the lockers like Eddie Lowery, Ken Venturi and Arron Oberholser, and a robust local and national membership that is very well-traveled, it is an understatement to say that this group is woke. Their collective finger is directly on the pulse of what makes the game great at this level. A frequent refrain from the initiated is that the bar at Cal Club is the best hang in golf as well. It is a place where you can find yourself in a discussion about the nuances of golf course architecture, or just as easily witness a debate about which Dead show had the best rendition of Morning Dew. Fitting for the Bay Area, birthplace of the counter-culture movement as well as the home of a collection of golf courses that are among the finest on the planet.

The debate about Dead shows and songs will remain unsettled for now as we are seeking further insight into just what makes the culture at Cal Club so special. Certainly, the place is jammed with golf-crazed bon vivants, but there is more to it than this surface impression. The membership supports youth and competitive golf. It is not uncommon to see kids with their parents, high school golfers and players from Cal or Stanford walking the fairways. And if that accommodating attitude weren’t enough, the club has a special membership designation for the highest caliber aspiring players. Named after the Bay Area’s native son, the Venturi membership gives access to the facilities to top players who need a home base. Playing skills are not enough to become a Venturi though. Candidates undergo a rigorous interview process to ascertain the quality of their character. 2019 has been a particularly good year for alumni of the program with Martin Trainer earning his first PGA Tour win and Isaiah Salinda among the nation’s top collegiate players. Cal Club members don’t just talk the “grow the game” talk, they walk the walk.

Speaking of walking, the club has a strong walking culture. Players are welcome to tote their own sticks, use a trolley, or take one of the great caddies. The point is to experience the course on foot while enjoying the interaction among players that is lost when zooming around a course in carts. The strong culture was built one step at a time, and those steps continue today.

The Course

The primary ridge on the Cal Club property stretches across the south end, with the land gently cascading downward into a valley and then back up to the clubhouse. It is splendid topography for golf – varied but never severe. The contrast between the two nines adds yet another dimension to Cal’s variety. The outward half plays as a loop around the western side, and the inward half to the east has more of a back-and-forth feel. That description might lead one to believe that the front is more interesting, but the back has just as many advocates in the lively “which is better” debate. Strategic placement of hazards coupled with elevation changes tee to fairway to green gives the holes on the back nine an interesting character all their own. In the case of Cal Club’s routing, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

The course always had splendid greens, which Kyle Phillips complemented beautifully with well-positioned bunkering unified in the MacKenzie-Hunter style. Conditions are kept fast and firm by Superintendent Javier Campos and his crew. They go to great lengths to provide the turf that delights players, including hand picking invasive poa from the bentgrass putting surfaces.

There are no weak holes at Cal, and no repetition within the sets of one, two and three-shotters. The changing wind and microclimates are factors that the savvy observe with keen senses to make adjustments. Smart aggressiveness is rewarded with birdie looks. The unconfident or foolhardy are afforded eighteen chances to wreck their card or blow a match.

Phillips and Campos give players a steady diet of picturesque shots on the ground, enhanced above by nature with the towering cypress trees and views of the surrounding San Bruno Mountains, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais. Few inland courses offer more of a visual feast.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Cal’s opener is a gentle handshake par-5 playing up over a rise and then down to a green set at the north end of the property. The 1st is no pushover though, with hints of what’s to come—a deep bunker fronts the putting surface, which has ample slope. The par-4 2nd turns back and heads uphill to a fantastic green with bunkers right and a short grass run-off left. Coming through these two holes at level par is a solid start.

The third tee is the first real glimpse for players of the greatness of the land. This par-4 gently bends downhill and to the right around a set of difficult bunkers. The green backs up to the 8th, with a snaking bunker separating the two. The par-5 4th is understated from tee to green, but does demand consecutive solid shots to get in scoring position. Whatever thrills are lacking in the fairway are made up on the 4th green, featuring raised sides and a depproach into the next tee. The 5th is an outstanding strategic short four that plays uphill with staggered bunkers on both sides of the fairway. Pin position and comfortable approach distance are factors to be considered on the tee. This stretch of holes is getable, but it can just as easily get you.

Cal gets dramatic working across the ridge on the 6th and 7th. The green on the course’s first one-shotter is heavily pitched and elevated, with trouble on all sides and gorgeous Bay Area suburb views beyond. Deep bunkers guard the left, the property line and a fronting bunker are tight on the right, and long is a steep, tightly-mown runoff that is a potential funhouse of horrors. Players need to step up and hit a solid tee ball, or else. Phillips’s short par-4 7th is a fantastic hole that sweeps down and to the right in what some would consider a Cape style. After making a risk-reward decision off the tee, players can approach the receptive green through the air or on the ground.

The long par-3 8th plays downhill from the ridge to a green ringed by bunkers on three sides. Lower approaches have to contend with a fronting mound positioned in the spirit of rub-of-the-green to produce random bounces. The drive on the par-4 9th is blind back up the hill to a fairway that dances along a plateau around bunkers and a steep fall-off left. Players who miss the green can find all manner of challenge from sand to rough to contoured short grass.

The back nine begins with a stout two-shotter. The tee ball plays down into a valley and must be well struck to have a reasonable length approach into the well-protected green. The 11th turns back, plunging down and around a hillside left to a green set beautifully at the base of the hill on which the clubhouse sits. Shortgrass surrounds allow lovers of the ground game a chance to conjure a little magic. Players climb partway up the hill to cross the valley on the par-3 12th. The large green is fraught with peril, on and around the putting surface.

The next three holes play back and forth, but because of brilliant placement of hazards relative to tees and movement of the land, never feel monotonous. The interconnected fairways add a further touch of class. The par-4 13th is straightaway with bunkers flanking the landing zone. Approaches must be confident enough to crest the wicked false front. The par-4 14th snakes downhill to an angled green with bunkers cut into the hill below right. It is the tee shot on the three-shot 15th that plays with an angle to a fairway trudging uphill past a Principal’s Nose bunker. The partial amphitheater setting for the large, contoured green is breathtaking.

The closing stretch is ideal for match play, with each hole presenting the opportunity to make birdie while also holding open the real possibility of a double bogey. Cal’s final one-shotter is benched into a hillside in a manner reminiscent of the 12th at Augusta. The neighborhood beyond is visible—a reminder of the urban setting. The par-5 17th plays over a rise and then runs downhill to a reachable green. The home hole demands one more solid drive to an obscured landing area. The approach plays into a terrific tiered green with the clubhouse as a backdrop.

Over the years, many hands have touched the Cal Club. There is no doubt that today, both the club’s course and culture are in the very capable hands of people who get it, and who are willing to allow visitors to partake of the magic. Jamieson summed it up, “It is a place that people can come and have a great deal of fun and camaraderie…We try to treat a guest like a member.”

In the immediacy of the Cal Club experience, a feeling arises that was hinted at by Bob, Jerry, Phil and company:

California, preaching on the burning shore

California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door

Like and angel, standing in a shaft of light

Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine

And so too, that feeling of patiently waiting for one’s next taste:

My time coming, any day, don’t worry about me, no

It’s gonna be just like they say, them voices tell me so

Seems so long I’ve felt this way and time sure passin’ slow

My time coming, any day, don’t worry about me, no…

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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IN PRAISE OF RESTRAINT AT ROCK HOLLOW G.C.

The first edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q series takes a look at the Tim Liddy designed Rock Hollow Golf Club

“Who are you, and what do you do?” The direct inquiry by the local I encountered in the pro shop after completing an early-spring loop around the Tim Liddy designed Rock Hollow Golf Club caught me off guard. He must have noticed the befuddled look on my face, so he elaborated. “We saw you playing fast and carrying your bag. We know everyone who plays out here. What’s your story?” Gathering myself, I explained that I was on my way to French Lick and was taking the opportunity to see Rock Hollow, which had been on my hit list for years. After commiserating over our mutual affection for their home course, we settled in for the kind of enjoyable conversation that naturally flows among fellow geeks. Topics ranged from Chicago Golf Club to Langford & Moreau to the Pete Dye Course at French Lick, along with their beloved Rock Hollow. It was exactly the kind of community golf vibe that makes me feel right at home.

Pete’s Protege

Tim Liddy got his start at an engineering firm where he was working as a landscape architect and self-described “front end guy”. The engineers often assigned him to be the client liaison because of his skills with people and drawing. This dynamic led to an introduction to Pete Dye in 1990, resulting in his assignment to the Ocean Course project on Kiawah Island. “Pete didn’t draw plans. At that time, the permitting process required more detailed drawings,” Liddy shared. “Pete loved me because I had studied the world’s great golf holes and understood what he was talking about. It also helped that I drew well and quickly, and I didn’t mind that most of my drawings would end up in the garbage when he changed his mind. Pete started as my idol, served as my mentor, and ultimately became a father figure.” The pair’s collaboration carried on for 25 years with Pete concocting and Tim drawing.


Tim Liddy’s artistic talents on display in his digital watercolor of Rock Hollow’s 1st

Serendipity would continue to tap Tim Liddy in the early ‘90s. The Smith family, stalwarts of the game in Indiana, were looking to build a golf course and they approached Pete Dye through a mutual friend. While reviewing plans for another project at the dining room table in the Dye home, Pete made the simple suggestion, “Tim will do it.” The gears were set in motion for Liddy’s first solo design.

The Golfing Smiths

Why did the Smiths decide to build a golf course? “It’s 25 years later, and I am asking myself that same question,” joked Terry Smith, the patriarch of this golfing clan. Terry learned the game from his father, and passed it on to his three sons, Terry, Todd and Chris. All played high level competitive golf, with Chris ultimately becoming a PGA Tour winner.

The family owned a gravel and stone business that operated out of a 350+ acre quarry in Peru, IN. By 1972, the site had been mined out and sat fallow. “We left it alone to become wildlife habitat, but I felt that there could be a better use for the land,” Smith said. “Golf was such a big part of our lives, it made sense to transform the quarry into a golf course.” Clearing began in 1992, and based on Pete Dye’s recommendation, the Smith’s crew went to work under the direction of Liddy. “We had the equipment and people to handle the clearing and earthmoving, and Pete lent us a shaper to bring the finer details of Tim’s design to life.”

Creation stories tend to be romanticized, glossing over the gory details. Many golf geeks dream of building and owning their own course, and most have no comprehension of the blood, sweat and tears necessary to make that dream a reality. The story of Rock Hollow’s creation includes hints of just how tough it can be. “After unexpectedly having to top dress the entire course with soil from our farm, we found that the 7th hole was still too rocky to grow healthy turf,” recounted Smith. “Members of our family, staff and the community came out and crawled the entire length of the fairway on hands and knees picking out rocks prior to seeding.” With that level of commitment and engagement, it is no wonder that the Smiths and their neighbors remain attached to the course.

The Course

The site that would become Rock Hollow had two special characteristics on which Liddy capitalized. The mining operation created more than 50 feet of elevation change from the outer edges to the central lake—uncommon for this part of Indiana. Additionally, the site was much bigger than the golf course, allowing for the retention of that “nature preserve” feel. As Liddy described it, “Everything leads you into the natural landscape. It is like a watercolor with detail in the middle of the painting while the edges blur to support the whole.” Areas of wetland and woodland are interspersed, with the golf holes taking the player on an exploration of the land.

Rock Hollow’s nines are routed in two loops. Each begins by working around the property edge and then turning back inward to interact with the lake. The perimeter topography holds more interest, and Liddy took advantage of that variety to create a collection of holes packed with character. “One of the best things about Tim’s design is that there are no weak holes,” gushed Smith. Even after discounting his owner’s bias, I tend to agree that Rock Hollow is solid from start to finish. A unique and creative hole like the short par-4 16th, with its semi-blind approach to a green that seemingly floats on the horizon, stands out from the rest as a favorite.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

In typical Dye fashion, Liddy employed angles, elevation changes and landforms to make the player feel uncomfortable on the tee. Confident drives are rewarded, but the best line to take is frequently not evident to the newbie visitor. Unlike some of Pete Dye’s courses, Rock Hollow has a much more understated aesthetic to accompany the strategy. “The design was a reaction to Pete’s strong personality,” Liddy explained. “The feature shapes are simple and the edges are blurry on purpose, allowing the landscape to be the focus.” This conscious restraint does not result in a bland golf course, however. To complement the natural beauty of the setting, Liddy took a hands-on approach that is evident in varied green surrounds and large, contoured putting surfaces. Rock Hollow is a course that would remain interesting, challenging and fun even after numerous plays.

Returning to the locals in the pro shop, their pride in Rock Hollow is palpable and well founded. After a period during which the conditions deteriorated, new Superintendent Larry Wilk and his team have the course looking and playing great. The design might be restrained, but the hard work and love that have gone into making Rock Hollow a terrific community golf course have been anything but. “I love golf, and it feels good to have created a place for our family to work and play the game,” Smith mused. “We took an unproductive piece of land and gave it a new use that makes people happy.” Terry Smith doesn’t say so explicitly, but I get the sense that reflecting on the joy that his course has brought to players makes the investment of blood, sweat and tears worth it.

For those in search of fun, affordable and architecturally interesting golf, Rock Hollow should be on your list. The Smith family is ready to welcome you in Peru.


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GEEKED ON GOLF GLOBAL GUIDE

The ever-expanding resource for researching golf courses, including articles, photo tours, podcasts and video playlists.

“I’m heading to _________ and I want to play. Any suggestions?”

Forms of this inquiry arrive via phone, text and email on a regular basis. Given the seemingly endless sea of information about golf courses, some from sources more credible than others, it doesn’t surprise me that my buddies like to use me as a filter. After all, they know that course research is one of many things that I love about the game. So why waste their time doing legwork that I have probably already done?

Truth be told, even if I don’t have an immediate answer, I will often put forth the effort to find one. It would pain my geeky heart to learn that a friend had overpaid for lame golf while I remained silent. Such tragedies should be avoided at all costs.

In the digital age, commentary, photos and videos have proliferated to the point that I was in need of a new tool to keep the best of it organized. Thus, the GeekedOnGolf Global Guide was born.

This interactive map has more than 1,000 pinned courses around the world for which I have found digital content. Each pin contains links to that content. A tip on using the map: in order for the hyperlinks in the pin notes to remain active, the map must be viewed in a browser (as opposed to viewing in the Google Maps app on your phone or tablet). Browser viewing can be done through the embed on this page, or by clicking here.

This new tool allows me to continuously add and update new articles, photo tours, podcasts and videos. There are sources for course information that I consistently follow, and links are labeled with SOURCE-AUTHOR codes. A legend for those sources in below. Further, on my YouTube Channel, course video playlists are being added and updated regularly. Links to those playlists are provided in the map pins and labeled YT.

Much golfing ground has already been covered, and I will carry on with the evolution of this resource. I hope that it is useful to you. Feel free to shoot me links and leads to add to the Guide. Just like golf, learning more about courses is much more fun with buddies.


Global Guide Legend

GoG: Geeked On Golf

YT: YouTube playlists – Particularly keen on the video content coming out from Erik Anders Lang, No Laying Up, The Fried Egg and other new school media.

TFE: The Fried Egg – The written, audio and video content that Andy and his crew are putting out is educational and entertaining.

GCA: Golf Club Atlas – Ran is the architecture geeks’ OG, and his community continues to produce enlightening content.

GL: Graylyn Loomis – Graylyn lived in Scotland and is now back in the U.S. writing for Links.

GT: Golf Tripper – Of the list chasers, I find Steve’s content to be the most resonant.

LM: Links Magazine – The Links crew has consistently been putting out good course content for a long time.

PG: Planet Golf – Darius is an insanely well traveled guy, giving his perspective particular weight for me.

GCAM: Golf Course Architecture Magazine – Adam and his contributors keep up on industry news, while also putting out great course related articles.

GCG: Golf Course Gurus – Billy is also very well traveled, especially in the Western U.S. His profiles contain robust photo collections.

CM: Caddie Magazine – This crew from down under has great style.

GA: Golf Advisor – With Brad and Matt leading the way, there has been an uptick in the content quality coming out of GA.

FTB: Feed The Ball – Derek is experienced and thoughtful, and his podcast is great listening for architecture geeks.

GAM: Golf Australia Magazine – The Aussie’s love their golf, and their coverage of courses is excellent.

DR: Dimpled Rock Photography – Gary takes beautiful photos of beautiful courses, mostly in the U.S.

GLP: Gary Lisbon Photography – Ditto on the beauty, but with a focus on Australasia and the U.K.

Coming soon…

More articles from writers I enjoy, like Geoff Shackelford, Ron Whitten, Anthony Pioppi, Tony Dear and Thomas Dunne. More photo albums from Evan Schiller, Brian Oar and my other favorites. The incredibly robust Joe Bausch course tour collection. More videos and podcasts. On and on it goes…

Please support the content creators by following their work and respecting their intellectual property.

Enjoy!

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf