Geeked on Golf


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THE WELCOME MAT IS OUT AT AIKEN

A look at what makes the McNair family’s Aiken Golf Club a place that any geek would love to call home

A knock against golf in America is that it is unwelcoming. The game itself is intimidating for beginners. Just getting the ball airborne and ultimately into the hole is hard enough, but there are also a gaggle of rules and customs which must be learned to fit in among those who are in the know. Add to those dynamics the socio-economic and gender exclusivity of certain clubs, and the game does not exude a vibe of open arms for the newcomer. Initiatives have popped up with the intent of changing perceptions and bringing more people in, and some are as effective as their flashy marketing would lead you to believe. There are certain clubs and courses, however, where a welcoming spirit comes naturally. Making players of all ages, genders and skill levels feel at home so that they can enjoy the game is their purpose. Aiken Golf Club is one of those places.

Adapt or Die

Use the term “sandhills” and the minds of most golf geeks will likely go to Nebraska. The O.G. of sandhills golf is in the Carolinas though. To be more specific for the cartographically inclined, drop a pin on Ohoopee Match Club in Georgia and then draw an arc northeast up through Augusta (GA), Aiken (SC), Pinehurst (NC), into southern Virginia and you have charted a path through an entire region ideal for building golf courses. Along the edge of a vast coastal plain, gently rolling hills of sand, clay and minerals were built up through thousands of years of rising and falling seas, as the geological processes of erosion and deposition played out.

Zooming in on the Augusta/Aiken area, it turns out that Bobby Jones and Dr. Alister MacKenzie weren’t the only designers to recognize the potential and plant their stakes in the ground. Donald Ross was also active in those parts and in 1912, he and his associate J.R. Ingles routed and built the course that would ultimately become Aiken Golf Club. A long and winding road began there and then, with ups and downs and necessary adaptations along the way.

The course was originally a companion to a popular hotel-resort, until the Depression hit. It then became a muni owned by the city of Aiken. In 1959, long-time golf professional James McNair fulfilled a dream by purchasing the course, changing it yet again to a private club. It thrived through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, but by 1995 Aiken Golf Club had again fallen on hard times. James’s son Jim was running the club and in an interview with Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg podcast, shared the story of reaching his breaking point. “Our course started to really show its age,” he recounted. “We had to do something drastic. I’ll never forget that day…I was exhausted. I worked 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week. I walked in and I cried…(My father) said, ‘Son, What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘We have two options. We can either sell it and walk away, or we have to completely redo the golf course.’”

Thankfully, the family opted to go the renovation route. Over the next four years, Jim McNair and three members of his grounds staff would rework every element of the course except the routing, using the guiding principle “What would J.R. Ingles do?” as they went along. The course reopened in 2000 in the form that players find today, although some tinkering continues. The club has changed to a semi-private model, welcoming guest play. “We want to be accessible,” explained McNair. “We want people to come and enjoy the golf course…We want to be inclusive, not exclusive.”

There is a clear tone of gratitude in Jim McNair’s voice as he talks about his family’s course. It’s the depth of earnestness shared by those who have been through a near-death experience, but now live on. “Why the Aiken Golf Club is still here after 106 years is the fact that we have been able to adapt, and we have our own niche,” he reflected. “It may be a small niche, but it’s the history, the routing, it’s walkable…It’s just a charming, quaint golf course with a lot of character.” As the family enters its seventh decade of ownership, the club and course are as healthy as they’ve been since Ross and Ingles walked the grounds.

The Course

A professor from the University of Georgia at Athens, an architect from Charlotte, a high school golfer from Evanston and his geek dad convened at Aiken for a memorable winter day. The first loop around was characterized by joyful surprise that this course—with its gorgeous topography, varied hazards and playful greens—even exists. The second loop was spent hitting fun shots while wondering how much better the game would be if every community had a course this good. In between the two rounds was an attempt to pay for the replay at which point we were informed that the $25 walking rate was good for the whole day.

Jim McNair summed our feelings perfectly. “I have a love affair with every hole, because of what went in to each hole,” he mused. “Each hole is so different, yet they all blend together, and they roll you through this crazy ride.” Indeed. Let’s take a quick look at that crazy ride.

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Aiken opens with a short par-4 over undulating ground that culminates with an elevated green which is connected to the 17th. If ever there was a tone-setter, this is it. The 2nd then plays gently downhill and to the right to a large green set in a hollow.

The next stretch of holes amps up the creativity of hazards and greens and embodies the integration of the course with its surroundings. Train tracks next to the 3rd green, a street crossing after the 5th, and the homes near the 6th and 7th are all facets of the unique Aiken experience.

After another road crossing and a quick stop for homemade bread at the snack shack, players then enter a more spacious section of the property to take on the 8th through the 14th. The course’s two par-5s work over these hills in dramatic fashion, and two tough Ross par-3s also lie in wait.

The closing stretch is no letdown. The green at the short par-4 15th is all-world. The par-3 16th is a downhill stunner. The par-4 17th plays back up to that wild double green, which makes just as big of an impression upon the second visit. And finally, the round is topped off with a one-shot home hole with the clubhouse as a backdrop. It is sublime.

No Tricks, Just Great Golf

As my son Jack and I wrapped up our inaugural visit to Aiken, we noticed a young guy practicing on the club’s putting course. This was no casual putt-putt session—he was clearly serious, and good. We were caught a bit off guard as that same guy walked up to us in the parking lot, hand extended. “I’m George. Heard you were coming and just wanted to say hello and thanks.” It took a moment to register with me that he was George Bryan of Bryan Brothers Golf fame. As we chatted, it became apparent that he shared our love of the course and he delivered us a final helping of Aiken hospitality. Jack and I headed off to the airport in Atlanta, and I couldn’t wait to tell my nine year old Henry that I had met one of the Bryan Bros. The more I thought about the encounter though, the more it made me wonder what he was doing there. A follow-up was in order.

The Bryans hail from Columbia and both played golf for the University of South Carolina. They caught lightning in a bottle with their trick shot videos, but their shared dream was always to make the PGA Tour. Wesley has fulfilled that dream, notching his first victory. George is still working his way up through the ranks of the feeder tours and currently calls Aiken home. “I was looking for a place to play and work on my game during the peak of the Bryan Brothers,” he shared. “Jim let me use his facilities when other clubs turned me away.”

George was grateful for the McNair welcome, and ecstatic about the quality of the course. “It helps you get good at approaches, short game, scoring and going low,” he gushed. “Aiken is refreshingly different than the courses we normally play on tour.” He is now an honorary member at neighboring Palmetto Golf Club, but still spends most of his time at Aiken. In an attempt to repay Jim McNair’s kindness, he has deputized himself to be the club’s ambassador, including telling the story on social media. A vibe this special needs to be shared.

There are those who lament the effect that modern media is having on the golf landscape. “Tis the death of the hidden gem!,” they cry. They go on to wring their hands about groupthink abstractions, and the impact it’s having on design. To the owner-operators of publicly accessible golf courses in America and beyond, this coffee house debate misses the point of what they work so hard every day to accomplish. Their blood, sweat and tears go into providing interesting and fun places for us the play the game we all love, while hopefully remaining a viable business for their families and communities. To find some nebulous overexposure downside in a visit from Matt Ginella or Erik Anders Lang would be an overthought distraction from their purpose of welcoming golfers and reconnecting them to the joy of the game.

For this geek, the media serves no greater purpose than to point people in the direction of good folks like the McNairs, who have great courses like Aiken Golf Club. Put simply by Jim McNair, “We feel fortunate to be able to offer this to golfers…We welcome you. We’d love to have you here.”

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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SUNSET SPECTACULAR AT ARCADIA BLUFFS

How to experience the magic of twilight golf on the water at the Warren Henderson designed Arcadia Bluffs

Who doesn’t love chasing the sun on a golf course? As the golden hour gives way to the gloaming, the game’s most magical moments have a way of materializing. Add to that time of day a large body of water, and goose bumps rise on a golfer’s arms. In the States, with a few exceptions, that special combination of course, sea and sunset can only be found at those “single name” courses—Pebble, Bandon, Cypress, Chambers, Torrey. Here in the Midwest, we have one such course of our own, and it belongs in the same conversation in its ability to stir sun-chasers’ souls—Arcadia.

Lest I be labeled a superficial hypocrite, a few points to reiterate and clarify. As a rule, resort golf is not my cup of tea, especially when played in carts. It takes too long for my taste due to players using the wrong tees relative to their skill level, and general sight-seeing. I’ve run the gamut from blasting this glacial pace to finally coming to terms with it while playing at another notable course on the other side of Lake Michigan. Personal preferences aside, I still recommend these places for those who have the money and patience. They are indeed neat experiences.

If I don my architecture hat, I can understand why the Bluffs Course at Arcadia receives criticism. The course was the first big opportunity for Warren Henderson to showcase his skills, and not surprisingly, it is overdone in certain regards. For example, the decision to build giant revetted bunkers was bold and the results are striking. The choice to distract from those distinctive (for America) hazards by also including blow-outs and large sandy wastes was unfortunate. From a strategic perspective, there are a handful of holes that have me scratching my head and one that causes me to pull my hair out, but the bulk are quite good with a few standouts like the 3rd, 8th, 12th and 15th mixed in.

My criticisms of the course likely preclude me from ever being a corporate spokesperson or comped guest, and my praise probably makes the purists cringe. No worries here as I’m happy to be a paying customer who enjoys the challenge of Henderson’s design and the playing conditions delivered by Director of Agronomy Jim Bluck and his crew. I’m grateful to owner Rich Postma for having the vision and determination to create a golf course in this spectacular setting.

The GeekedOnGolf Twilight Loop

The foregoing matters having been settled, let’s return to those sunsets and an insider’s tip. There is a way to experience the magic of Arcadia without breaking the bank or taking up half a day. It can be done at any time of the year, but works best at non-peak times. It is called the GoG Twilight Loop, and for those players who have an adventurous spirit, it is nearly guaranteed to deliver lasting memories. Two prerequisites must be put on the table before proceeding:

First, to do this Loop, you have to walk and the walk is not easy. There will be moments when you might feel like you’ve entered the Olympic biathlon. You will catch your breath, and I promise that the exertion is worth it.

Second, you have to be patient and courteous. In the late afternoon and early evening, Arcadia Bluffs gets a bit chaotic with groups doing replays and the twilight crowd coming out. Everyone understandably wants to get in as much golf as possible and you might bump into a group or two. Go with the flow.

If you’re still with me, let’s begin with the objective. You want to be on the 12th hole, which runs along the bluff above Lake Michigan, when the sun is setting. Arrive at the course approximately two hours before sunset and pay the 9-hole green fee. I have developed a routing that will get you where you need to be by just the right time.

Head to the first tee and follow the map. There is a bit of dune hiking involved, but you’ll find that the path ahead is typically intuitive. The tour below will whet your appetite with a taste of the holes in the Loop.

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The opening holes at Arcadia Bluffs lead east away from the clubhouse, brilliantly producing anticipation of the lake views to come. The par-5 1st swings right around a hillside and can be reached in two by longer hitters. Sod wall bunkers flank the fairway left and front the large green, offering players an initial impression of the bold style to come. The 2nd is a mid-length three par that plays over a large sandy waste to a tiered green in the shadow of the course’s lone specimen tree.

After heading up a hill to the highest point on the property, Arcadia’s first jaw-dropping reveal awaits on the 3rd tee. The course’s second par-5 is the most strategic, with three bunkers angling across the fairway inviting players to test their tolerance for risk on the approach. The table-top putting surface makes positioning crucial. The two-shot 4th continues the trip downhill to a large punchbowl green which injects a solid dose of fun.

Instead of continuing on to the 5th, our twilight routing doubles back with the uphill 7th. This four-par is straightforward tee to green, but features a large putting surface that is canted and subtly contoured. Cutting across the road, players then take on the fantastic lay-of-the-land 8th with its enormous centerline bunker. Left off the tee yields the better angle, but right shortens the approach into the elevated green. Solid strategic design.

After following the path to the tee on the 9th, the GoG Loop next goes into billy goat mode to cut over to the back tee on the par-5 11th. The drive is semi-blind to a wild fairway that tumbles down a valley to a green set on the bluff. Players next climb the steps to ascend a dune to another great reveal at the 12th tee. From this vantage point, the Lake Michigan coast stretches north for miles. It is stunning. The hole itself is also no slouch, requiring a tee shot over rugged terrain to an angled fairway. The 12th green is fronted by a large bunker with infinity beyond.

Stop here to feel the wind blow and take in the full beauty of the sunset. If you are lucky, Mr. Postma will cue the bagpiper to play you a tune that floats down the hill like an irish mist. The 18th hole is your route home, with a moon rise in the distance and happy golfers conversing over cocktails on the lawn above.

Northern Michigan is a long way to travel to only play nine holes, so to make a day of it, one final insider’s tip. Set aside a full day. Get one of the first tee times at the South Course at Arcadia Bluffs. The course is very walkable. Grab a quick lunch and then head over to Champion Hill for some home spun cart golf. If you book close to or between the Memorial Day or Labor Day holidays, you should have plenty of time left over to execute the plan above for the perfect end to an epic golf day. Post your sunset spectacular photos and tag me so that I know who deserves respect for completing the adventure. Enjoy!

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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STEAM SHOVEL SCULPTING AT MAXINKUCKEE

The fourth edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q Series speculates on the influence of Langford & Moreau’s work at Maxinkuckee Country Club on the Dyes

In order to truly understand and appreciate the work of an architect, it is necessary to look at their sources of inspiration. After all, there are very few (if any) completely original ideas in art or science. Contemporary practitioners are always building upon or reacting to their forebears, and their work is therefore linked to the past.

Pete Dye brought to his craft several different influences which were touched on in the second edition of this series which looked at French Lick. It is not hard to imagine how The Old Course, Pinehurst #2 or Camargo would make an impact on a budding designer—each course is brilliant in its own way with a story to tell about form and function. But there is a far less likely source of inspiration that Alice O’Neal Dye added into the mix that was just as important in terms of both aesthetics and methods. By bringing Pete to her family’s vacation town of Culver, IN and exposing him to the work of William Langford and Theodore Moreau at the Culver Academies course and Maxinkuckee Country Club, she cemented the bold approach that would epitomize the pair’s courses for years to come.

The Little Club on the Lake

A short drive south from South Bend, IN is a lake named Maxinkuckee and on that lake is a town called Culver. Not exactly remote, but certainly out of the way. Like many towns throughout the Midwest, Culver is known for its natural, bucolic beauty, attracting residents and vacationers to its quiet life of recreation since the mid-19th century. What makes this town quite a bit different than most is that it is also home to Culver Academies, a world-class boarding school, and its associated summer camp.

The Academies had a grand plan to build a resort with 36 holes of golf designed by Chicago architect William Langford and his partner Theodore Moreau. The first nine opened in 1920, showcasing the duo’s magnificent architecture on a piece of land that is half open, half wooded and rolling throughout. Sadly, the additional 27 holes would never be completed.

The home hole at Culver Academies

At the same time, just down the road, the membership at Maxinkuckee Country Club was catching the golf bug. They built a rudimentary little course on a hillside parcel of land with a creek meandering through it and began play in 1921. Culver being a small town, those early golfers were well aware of Langford’s work and when it came time to expand their course, they naturally turned to the Chicagoan. Five holes were added, the others refined, and by 1925 play was in full swing on the course that would remain largely unchanged until decades later when the Dyes enjoyed and were inspired by it.

The Course

The first three holes at Maxinkuckee are not anything special by country golf standards, save a few noticeable flourishes on and around the greens. Upon reaching the tee at the par-3 4th with its contoured green set in a stand of old-growth trees, Langford devotees begin to get a sense that their perseverance will be rewarded. Players walk up to the top of the ridge that separates the two sections of the site, and from the 5th through the 8th, Maxinkuckee delivers a shot of bold features to the vein on par with Harrison Hills, Spring Valley and Kankakee Elks. Any person with even a passing interest in architecture or engineering has to stand and marvel at these creations and wonder, how did they do this? Pete’s Dye’s interest was much greater than passing, and he must have been enthralled.

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Sculpting with a Steam Shovel

There is something that just looks right about the forms that William Langford and Theodore Moreau built, epitomized by courses like Lawsonia Links and West Bend. It’s a subtle elegance that complements the bold style, striking a perfect balance on a natural landscape. After my first visit to Maxinkuckee, with the “how” question still burning in my mind, intriguing hints were delivered from two trusted sources.

First, Ian Gilley of Sugarloaf Social Club posted this aerial photo of the outstanding 5th hole with its green seemingly extended out onto a peninsula.

It is as stunning from the ground as it is from the air.

Second, Derek Duncan discussed Langford and Moreau and their approach to steam shovel architecture with Kye Goalby on the Feed the Ball podcast. Goalby is the consulting architect at West Bend Country Club and he said, “The first time I tried to build the Langford bunkers, I failed miserably…I started looking up steam shovels online and you start seeing how a steam shovel works.” He went on to explain in detail the difference between the function of an excavator, with its bucket facing and digging down, and a steam shovel with its upward facing bucket and extending arm.

Returning to Ian’s photo and Google Earth a flash of insight hit illuminating how Langford and Moreau went about their work. Although they had the might of the steam shovel at their disposal, like any skilled builders, they would have sought to conserve effort while producing the best possible holes. Sculptors fundamentally have two distinct methods from which to choose—start with a block and chisel, or build the form up from scratch—and both were brilliantly used to create Maxinkuckee’s 5th and 6th holes.

The 6th tee, the approach and green on the 5th, and a portion of the 7th fairway run diagonally along high ground.

The steam shovel, which rotates in an arc from a stationary base, was positioned at various points to carve away from the higher ground, creating the peninsula on which the 5th green sits. This was equivalent to chiseling a statue out of a block of granite. Some of the shoveled material was likely used to build the green and its surrounds up even higher to increase the scale.

The bulk of the material was moved to build the pad and surrounds for the 6th green, pushing it up significantly from the existing topography, in much the same way that a sculptor would build up a statue using lumps of clay. Once built, refinements were made with hand labor.

The artist’s vision was combined with the engineer’s efficiency to produce two green sites of equal greatness.

Pete Dye did not have YouTube to search for steam shovel videos like Kye Goalby and I did, but he would have noticed the features and landforms, leading a mind like his to ponder the how and why of it. His curiosity and willingness to tinker in the field was critical as he and Alice were often tasked with creating courses on less than ideal sites. It is one thing to be able to envision or sketch a hole. Figuring out how to build that hole is entirely another matter. Over the decades, the Dyes proved their genius in both aspects of the craft. Their tools were the excavator and bulldozer instead of the steam shovel, but their charge was the same as the architects who inspired them at places like Maxinkuckee—sculpt the earth to create compelling golf that stands the test of time.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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FROM CHRISTMAS TREES TO GREEN FEES AT CHAMPION HILL

The story of the Stone family’s Northern Michigan journey into golf course construction and ownership at Pinecroft and Champion Hill

“Are you going to play Champion Hill this time?” My golf buddy Ben knew that I was making trips to Northern Michigan and he would text me this question every time I posted a photo of Kingsley Club, Arcadia Bluffs or Crystal Downs. “It’s on my list,” I would reply. Not a lie, but a truth lacking in any sense of urgency. I was busy getting intimate with three of the best courses in the state, the region, and perhaps even America (depending on who you ask). What need did I have of seeing a country course, even if it was a favorite of the locals? After years of this exchange, I finally made the short trip, and by the time I reached the fourth tee it was clear why Ben was so insistent. Champion Hill is a joy of a course with hand-crafted architectural feel on a piece of land that is as good as The Downs—all at a green fee that makes you feel like you’re taking advantage of the family who owns it.

Do You Think We Might Have Something?

The Stones have been a farming family for generations, growing cherries and other fruit, along with Christmas trees. City folk might not give much thought to where those firs, pines and spruce come from. Thank growers like the Stones. By the late ‘80s, tree farming had become a grind as big box stores squeezed producers and pushed out independent tree lots. The family was getting by but feeling the pressure, prompting Lee Stone to begin contemplating other uses for the land.

In college, Stone had taken a golf class and then played with his father at the courses around Benzie County throughout his twenties and thirties. To call him an avid golfer would be a stretch, and he certainly didn’t have any experience in designing or building courses. He was, however, on the lookout for opportunity, which materialized in the morning queue at the Signal Hill Golf Course in Panama City Beach, FL. Stone shared the story of inspiration hitting while on a family vacation with NewClub’s Matt Considine on the Bag Drop Podcast. “Standing there with a bunch of guys and it wasn’t even light yet,” he recounted. “I thought, maybe that’s what we do with the farm up north. That was the start of it.”

The Stones might not have had a golf pedigree, but they did have land in what has come to be seen as one of the ideal places in America to build a golf course. Northern Michigan’s trademark sandy soil and glacier-made topography characterized their property. Lee connected with Jim Cole, who left turf school at Ohio State to work on construction of the courses at Agaming and Crystal Mountain. Cole had a landscaping company at the time, but agreed to take a look at the land that would become the family’s first course, Pinecroft. “What do you say Jim, do you think we might have something here?” The answer came back strongly in the affirmative. Testing from Michigan State confirmed that the soil was perfect for golf, requiring only stripping, screening and seeding. Cole and the Stones set to work clearing, shaping, and installing irrigation, doing nearly everything in-house. Pinecroft opened for play in 1992 and the tee sheet filled up immediately.

The magnificent lake view from the 16th green at Pinecroft

Let’s Do Another

Pinecroft was a resounding success with locals and golf tourists alike. Lee Stone was pleased with the result, and upon reflection found the process of building the course to be highly enjoyable and satisfying. He proposed to Cole that they create a second course on another site owned by the family. The 350 acres that became Champion Hill sits on the highest point in Benzie County with views of Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan in the distance. A setting that rivals its much more famous neighbor in Frankfort.

By the time clearing began in 1995, Stone and Cole had augmented their hands-on experience with study of the subjects of architecture, construction and agronomy. The pair agreed to a simple set of timeless design principles for their second offering: an open, airy feeling with wide fairways; no trees or water hazards in play; natural, sand-pit style bunkering; big, contoured greens. In rural Michigan, they had organically settled on the formula that would also captivate golfers in the sand hills of Nebraska, along the coast of Oregon, and beyond.

Stone hopped on the family’s new bulldozer and did most of the shaping himself between 1996 and 1998. He likes to tell the story of meeting an up-and-coming architect named Mike DeVries, who stopped by to see the project and offer his services. Stone politely turned DeVries down because he was having too much fun doing it himself. What was born of necessity came to be permeated with a joy that players still feel twenty years later.

The Course

Champion Hill is a course that achieves the holy grail of playability. Interesting, challenging and fun for players of all ages and abilities. With holes working up, along and over a primary ridge, the hilly terrain makes for a tough but doable walk. Stone and Cole stayed largely true to their design principles. Trees are part of the scenery, but with the exception of a few nods to the orchard heritage of the land, they are not on the stage. There is enough strategy baked into the design to satisfy geeks and sticks alike, and enough quirk to charm even the well-traveled.

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The round begins with three consecutive par-4s that work up to the high ground. The 1st is straightaway, the 2nd banks left around a large set of bunkers, and the 3rd is an up-and-over to a green set at the base of a hill. This opening stretch introducers players to the naturalized aesthetic and the wonderful contours to come. It culminates with a green-back view of both lakes that is worthy of a brief pause to absorb.

The 4th is a bunkerless par-4 that runs along the base of the dune, providing plenty of challenge in spite of its lack of a hazard. The par-5 5th features a dramatic downhill tee shot to a sharp dogleg right. Deciding how aggressive to be with that corner gets tricky at elevation. The first one-shotter on the course, the 6th plays over a valley to a green benched into the hillside.

The short par-5 7th is a stunning example of lay-of-the-land architecture. The tee shot is downhill into a valley. Players are then faced with an uphill approach to a lay-up area and green that are defended by sneaky tough bunkers. The putting surface is large and can be held with longer clubs, but is contoured to make lag putting no bargain.

After the 7th, the course comes up over the ridge to begin the descent to the turn. The 8th is a picturesque par-3 with a shelf green and expansive views. The 9th once again asks players to choose a line down to a fairway set at an angle along the foot of the hill. Upon making the turn, the 10th is a simple but tough four-par with a very deep green.

The par-3 11th is one of the most heavily bunkered on the course and can be a card wrecker when the wind is howling. Not to be outdone, the green on the two-shot 12th has devilish contours that give players fits. The final par-3 on the course, the 13th requires a stout tee ball while dealing with the distraction of the breathtaking vista from the high point of the property.

The next two par-4s are among the most creative and strategic holes on the course. Anything from a mid-iron to a driver works off the tee on the 14th, with its drivable green perched near the top of the ridge. The 15th requires that players check the hole location as a small tree fronts an offset green that runs away. Angle of approach is critical to set up a birdie chance.

The closing stretch begins with the par-4 16th, which plays over a rise and then down to a deep, well-defended green. Back-to-back par-5s complete the round. The 17th swings right around an orchard and the 18th includes the only water on the course, short left of the home green.

Listening to Lee Stone discuss his creations with Matt Considine, the discomfort he feels being the focal point is evident. Pay close attention and you can also pick up flashes of confidence and pride. He knows that the collaboration with his old friend Jim yielded a gem at Champion Hill. Best of all is the satisfaction that he expresses knowing how much players have enjoyed his courses over the years. Go play Pinecroft or Champion Hill and you will feel like you’re a part of that great, big golfing family.

As is the case with family farms, many family owned golf courses are struggling to survive. If we want the best of these courses, like Champion Hill, to be around for the long haul, we have to seek them out and play them regularly. Don’t do it out of charity, though. Do it because it is a golf experience that is much richer than the shots hit on the course.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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WHAT’S IN A NAME – LONGUE VUE

A LinksGems course tour and appreciation of the Robert White designed Longue Vue Club by Jon Cavalier

Much attention is paid to National Golf Links, Oakmont, Cypress Point and their peers, and for good reason. But it also useful and enjoyable to shine a light on a lesser known, but very worthy golf course. Longue Vue Club, designed by Robert White, a St. Andrews native and former president of the PGA of America, as well as the architect of the first putting green ever installed on the White House lawn, is well deserving of our attention and praise. The course opened for play in 1922 and a decade and a half later, A.W. Tillinghast lent his eye and his mind for potential improvements. The club wisely acted on several of his ideas, including changes to the first, ninth, tenth and eleventh holes. 

 

The product was a first rate golf course on an astonishing piece of land high above the Allegheny River. The course incorporates several templates of the Macdonald/Raynor school, including a Redan, Eden and Punchbowl. Despite the hilly nature of the property, the course is a joy to walk and to play. The staff does a fabulous job of keeping the conditions ideal for enjoyable golf and the club maintains firm fairways, fast greens and penal but playable rough.

  

Longue Vue has a tendency to be overlooked due to its location in the long shadow of nearby Oakmont and Fox Chapel, but this gem is more than worthy of discussion. I hope you enjoy the tour.

The Clubhouse

I tend to rattle on a bit about clubhouses in my tours, as I have always believed that, when done right, a clubhouse can add to the experience of a golf course. Longue Vue’s clubhouse is, in a word, exceptional.

Designed by architect Benno Janssen, the clubhouse is entirely stone with a slate roof and includes several large archways.

As seen above, the clubhouse is designated a National Historic Landmark and appears on the National Register of Historic Places.

Upon arrival at the club, and depending on the entrance used, the player drives through the arched tunnel to reach the parking lot.

The landscaping surrounding the clubhouse is impeccable, and colorful flowers are planted in seemingly every available space.

The views from the club’s main patio are likewise impressive – hence the name.

This view from the west side of the clubhouse shows the 18th hole, which finishes steps from the building.

Even the walk to the first tee is impressive.

The Course

Longue Vue plays to a yardage of 6,606 from the back tees and to a par of 71. The course is routed loosely in a counterclockwise fashion, though it doubles back on itself frequently on the second nine.

HOLE #1 – 396 yards – par 4

A tough opener, the first doglegs to the left around a sharp falloff—anything to the left of the fairway is looking at a bogey or worse.

A tee shot hit too long or too timidly to the right will find rough and a challenging angle. An accurate drive is a must on this hole.

The right side of the first hole gives the player his first look at some of the scenery to come.

The first green is sloped substantially from back to front, providing a receptive target for longer approach shots while penalizing balls hit long.

A very solid opening hole.

HOLE #2 – 390 yards – par 4

The next of two stout par-4 openers, the second hole plays gently downhill to a fairway bending in the opposite direction from the first.

The fairway falls off to the left and feeds into these bunkers, which make for a challenging recovery to the elevated and well-protected green.

The proper play is down the left side of this fairway, which provides both the ideal angle and view into this green.

The slope of this fairway, the angle to which it feeds into the green, and the left to right tilt of the green itself combine to provide for some very interesting approach shots.

HOLE #3 – 202 yards – par 3

An excellent Redan, the third plays over a large ravine to a green at tee height.

There is little room for error here—misses short or left are dead, and those long or right make for extremely challenging recoveries.

The green is unique among Redans, in my experience, as it contains both a hollow and a second tier to the right rear.

The third is a standout hole at Longue Vue.

HOLE #4 – 553 yards – par 5

The first three shot hole of the round begins high above the Allegheny River and drops steeply downhill.

An accurate tee shot on the proper line will run forever, and will provide most players with a second shot into the green.

Those who choose to lay up are offered a generous fairway, which then tightens considerably near the green.

The large green is receptive to shots hit from distance, but care must be taken to avoid the miss long or right. An enjoyable hole.

HOLE #5 – 198 yards – par 3

An Eden template par-3, the fifth plays over a shallow ravine to an elevated green with replica Hill and Strath bunkering to either side.

The green slopes hard from back to front here, and the Eden bunker is ready to catch balls hit long. The hazard bounding the right side of the hole adds an element of difficulty due to the steep slope from the green to the trees. Though not as dramatic as some Macdonald Edens, the fifth at Longue Vue is a fine example of this template.

HOLE #6 – 390 yards – par 4

The sixth requires a tee shot to a banked fairway running left to right around a large ravine that encroaches from the right side.

The banked fairway rewards well-struck drives that fade right to left with some extra distance and a kick down into the flat bottom of the fairway.

The large green is accessible, but the penalty for missing it is high, as it is surrounded on all sides with trouble in one form or another.

HOLE #7 – 312 yards – par 4

The shortest two shot hole on the course, the seventh asks for a tee shot to a narrow fairway benched into the side of a hill. Longer hitters wishing to challenge this green off the tee must confront a set of bunkers set into the hill above the left side of the fairway. The contours of the fairway obscure parts of the landing area and the green.

This unique bunkering presents a visual and actual hazard on the seventh hole.

As seen from behind the green, the topography at Longue Vue makes for some challenging and interesting golf. A fun risk-reward par-4.

HOLE #8 – 548 yards – par 5

The start of what might be considered Longue Vue’s prettiest stretch of holes, the eighth begins on a rise and proceeds over the club’s entrance road to a fairway canted steeply uphill and hard from left to right.

This fairway is truly difficult to hold, and your author thinks this hole could improve from good to great if the fairway were widened by 20 or more yards. In any event, second shots are hit from a significantly uphill lie.

The fairway short of the green is beautifully contoured and open to encourage running second shots. While the ideal approach is down the left side, the cross bunker some 50 yards short of the green on the left must be avoided.

Once again, the rolling land provides character and interest to this two-and-a-half shot hole.

HOLE #9 – 452 yards – par 4

The bunkerless ninth hole at Longue Vue may be the most difficult on the course. The tee shot requires a carry over a ravine to a fairway not only sloping left to right, but substantially undulating as well.

Level lies are few and far between in this fairway, making the long second shot that much more difficult.

Missing the fairway off the tee means having to confront this deep depression some 80 yards short of the green.

The interest of the ninth is increased by the fact that the horizon green slopes from front to back, a feature made more challenging by the length of the hole.

A superb hole, and perhaps the best on the course.

HOLE #10 – 171/148 yards – par 3

A gorgeous par-3 set at the edge of a bluff, the tenth is all carry to a green that appears suspended in mid-air.

As this view from short and left of the green illustrates, there is almost no room for error here. Further, the green itself cants sharply from high left to low right, which is exacerbated by some pin positions.

The slope of this green provides it with near-redan like characteristics, as properly flighted balls can be aimed at the larger, safer side of the green and use the slope to funnel down toward the hole. The ninth is visible in the background. A beautiful setting for golf.

HOLE #11 – 417 yards – par 4

A rise in the fairway obscures the landing area on this tough, dogleg right par-4. The hole slings to the right, opposite the slope in the fairway, making a fade the much preferred shot shape off this tee.

Most second shots will be blind here as well, as the hole continues its gentle climb up and around the hillside to the large green. The flagpole marks the center of the green.

This view from the right reveals the depth of the green, appropriate for receiving the long, often blind approach shots required here.

Bunkers to the left of the green catch any shots not properly aimed, which is complicated for the player by the blindness of the approach.

HOLE #12 – 200 yards – par 3

A long one-shot hole to a very dramatic green, the twelfth is played over another large ravine with the slight elevation creating partial blindness from the tee.

The green is riddled with ridges and undulations, making a two putt far from certain, even for those shots that are fortunate enough to find the putting surface from the tee.

Pins on a high tier in the right rear of the green provide their own set of additional challenges. A first rate par 3 hole.

HOLE #13 – 334 yards – par 4

A Robert White Alps/Punchbowl! The short thirteenth is your author’s favorite hole at Longue Vue. The tee shot plays out over a pond to a bowled fairway that rises sharply uphill.

The approach shot is blinded by the Alps feature, here a fairway mound fronting the green.

The punchbowl green is open front right but extends deeply to a back left corner. The green itself slopes from back to front and contains all manner of pockets and hollows.

This view from behind the thirteenth reveals the back left pocket, which provides for the best pin positions on this outstanding green.

Who among us doesn’t love a well-done punchbowl? The thirteenth at Longue View certainly qualifies.

HOLE #14 – 445 yards – par 4

Having ascended the alps hill, the course plays out across the highest point of the property. The fourteenth begins with a slightly uphill drive to a wide fairway that bends gently left. Bunkers guard the inside of the dogleg, while the right is bounded by a steep, tree covered slope.

The wide fairway flows seamlessly into the green, allowing long approaches to be run on to the putting surface.

One last gentle hole before the drama of the closing stretch begins.

HOLE #15 – 540 yards – par 5

Wow. The fifteenth hole plays straightaway along the ridgeline, with the Allegheny Valley in full view far below. The view from this tee box is surpassed only by the one from the green.

While traps down the right will catch balls careening toward the cliff’s edge, hidden bunkers down the left see far more action, as players naturally bail out away from the certain death of a miss right.

The beautifully rolling fairway will reward accurate drives with added distance and the promise of an opportunity to go for this green in two. The cliff looms right for the entire length of the hole.

Again, the green is open in front to receive running approaches, but is surrounded by sand, including this bunker short left that will gather shots missed left.

Golf in the Pittsburgh area does not get more scenic than the fifteenth at Longue Vue.

HOLE #16 – 198 yards – par 3

The par 3 holes at Longue Vue are extremely challenging, and the sixteenth is no exception. In fact, it may be the most difficult of them all. An uphill tee shot into the prevailing wind is required, and accuracy is a must, as the green will shed balls missed right or long.

The area short of this tough green is mowed and maintained as fairway, and can be used by players to bounce balls on to the putting surface.

HOLE #17 – 470 yards – par 4

Longue Vue closes with two lengthy and difficult two shot holes that run downhill and back to the clubhouse. The first of the pair, the seventeenth, plays down to a fairway moving gently from right to left. The hill obscuring the beginning of the fairway makes distances difficult to judge.

The fairway banks slightly from right to left, making a level lie a difficult find. Once more, the green is open in front but well-protected to the sides.

The lack of trees immediately behind the green plays yet more tricks with judging distance, and the green itself slopes from right to left.

The seventeenth—a hole as pretty as it is difficult.

HOLE #18 – 471 yards – par 4

Strong courses have strong finishing holes, and Longue Vue is no exception. The second of two consecutive 470+ yard par-4s, the eighteenth plays out over a rise to a wide fairway. Like the eighteenth at Eastward Ho!, the finishing hole at Longue Vue hides its drama until the second shot is reached.

Playing directly at the gorgeous stone clubhouse, the final hole winds its way down the rippling terrain to a large green.

The green slopes slightly from front to back and hard from right to left, and out of bounds is tight to the rear of the green, incentivizing a ground approach.

A last look back up the eighteenth hole leaves one in awe of the effort that must have been needed to build a course on these grounds nearly 100 years ago.

Longue Vue is a course that is under the radar of most, but for those who enjoy their golf fun, fast and challenging, and with some gorgeous scenery sprinkled in, it is not to be missed. Next time you find yourself in the Pittsburgh area, you should give Longue Vue a look. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LIGHT BULB MOMENTS AT THE LOOP

A look at Tom Doak’s brilliant reversible design, The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club

“Golf is a science, the study of a lifetime, in which you can exhaust yourself but never your subject.” – David Forgan

A golf course that can be readily grasped after a single round is not likely to ever be considered one of the game’s greats. The best courses require repeat play, and perhaps even a bit of study, to master—much like golf itself. The Old Course at St. Andrews ideally embodies this truth. The answers to the questions posed by the links are not printed on the scorecard. They are revealed to patient and persistent players over time, many of whom did not find themselves enthralled after their first loop. Those who are fortunate enough to experience The Old Course more than once almost invariably fall in love, as their initial confusion gives way to a curious desire to explore ever deeper its mysteries.

No modern architect has made a more thorough study of the links of the British Isles than Tom Doak. He wrote in his book Anatomy of a Golf Course, “Yet to truly understand the enduring popularity of golf and the essentials of good golf courses, it is imperative to become familiar with the British links over which the game evolved five centuries ago. The importance of studying the links is summarized by two facts: These are the courses over which the game itself was invented, and they have endured despite tremendous changes in all other aspects of the game.”

By the time the opportunity arose to return to Northern Michigan to build again, Doak and his team at Renaissance Golf had been successfully applying the lessons from the links to produce renowned courses such as Pacific Dunes, Ballyneal, Streamsong Blue and many others. However, it would be at Forest Dunes Golf Club that he would finally be given the chance to draw fully upon the inspiration of The Old Course in bringing to life a reversible course with eighteen greens – The Loop.

The 12th green on The Loop’s Red Course – Photo Credit: Evan Schiller

In the 1921 British Open, Bobby Jones famously picked his ball up and quit after repeated unsuccessful attempts to extricate himself from a bunker on the 11th at St. Andrews. Suffice it to say that the Old Course’s charms were lost on him. It is equally well known that as time went on, his appreciation for the links grew to become an abiding love. Those who are not immediately enamored with The Loop from a single play can take heart to find themselves in a similar position to the younger Jones. They ought further be consoled to know that the architect himself, the resort owner, club staff and scores of players have been on a long-term journey with The Loop marked by moments when light bulbs flip on to shed progressively more light on the brilliance of this design.

Flipped Switches

The concept for a reversible course had been rattling around in Tom Doak’s brain for decades. He believed that if he could just find the right client with the right piece of land, the concept could become a reality. Enter Lew Thompson, owner of Forest Dunes Golf Club, who wanted to entice visitors to stay and play longer at the resort by offering a second course that would wow them. In Thompson, Doak saw his chance. He set about studying the land and collaborating with his associates on a reversible routing.

Twenty years of mulling it over, and it was still a tall task to figure out how to make the concept work. In an interview with Matt Ginella, Doak described the routing process. “Early on, I was thinking that the more we just make (the course) a big ‘C’ shape, the better off we’re going to be. But as I started to draw it…it’s more interesting to not just play into the same green from 180 degrees opposite. When you’re changing directions, you have a chance to play around with things…I think that’s the fascinating thing about the concept…Sometimes the orientation of the green is so much different that it doesn’t look familiar to you at all.”

Light bulb.

After many hours of headache-inducing deliberation, the Renaissance team had their design ready to present to Thompson. The story goes that Doak showed his client the routing for one direction and the reaction was, “Nice looking course, but I’m not wowed.” Out came the course map for the other direction and it took Thompson a few minutes to realize what he was looking at. Same corridors, same greens, playing in the reverse direction. The response, “Wow.” Doak was not just giving Lew Thompson a second course. He was throwing in a third.

Light bulb.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Robert Falconer (@LoopSuper) is now the Superintendent at The Loop, but at the time construction was getting underway, he was working for a contractor. Falconer had a sneak peek at the plans and was not immediately impressed. “I thought that it looked goofy in some spots,” he recalled. “I commented that certain features seemed out of place. My boss asked, ‘Which way is the hole going?’” That question was one that he never had to stop and consider before and it took him aback. Like Thompson, the realization came that this was a different and special project.

Light bulb.

The opening of The Loop was highly anticipated among architecture geeks, Doak fans and the media. As the fanfare of those early rounds dissipated, the course proved successful in its purpose of giving players a reason to stay longer at the resort. However, some felt that it lacked the same level of pizzazz as Weiskopf’s Forest Dunes course or others at comparable facilities. That impression is not entirely unfair. It is indeed simple and subtle at first glance. But those reviews speak more to the surface-oriented perspective of modern golfers than to the quality of the design. The Loop is not merely a single golf course, or even two. It is more than that. It is a work of architectural art that offers a glimpse into a genius golf mind at depths that cannot possibly be fully comprehended with one play.

Elliott Oscar is the PGA Professional at Forest Dunes who, like Robert Falconer, enthusiastically evangelizes the course. “The first time I played it, I thought it had a nice set of greens,” Oscar shared. “After more plays, I realized how much the green surrounds influenced play. Fifty plus plays in each direction later and I understand that every contour and feature is purposefully done. I like to go out late in the evening, play a few holes and then turn around to play in the other direction.” The Loop is not just a golf course. It is an experience.

Light bulb.

My Journey with The Loop

When the announcement of the reversible course at Forest Dunes was made, I was tremendously excited. Like a good geek, I studied the course map and was convinced that I understood how incredible the courses could be. I was wrong. During construction, I had the privilege of going out with a small group led by Tom Doak to play dirt golf in both directions on several holes. Although disoriented at first, I got my bearings and concluded, “Now I get it.” Wrong again. As I played the finished course this season, pausing periodically to look back and find a different hole in the reverse direction, I sensed another light bulb flickering on for me. But this time, I was not fooled into thinking that I got it. Quite the opposite.

Light breaks through to illuminate the 12th green on the Black Course – Photo Credit: Evan Schiller

Talking to those who have been around the course numerous times, and who continue to make discoveries, I can see that I am at the beginning of my journey with The Loop. It promises to illuminate light bulbs for me with each round. That is the good news that Lew Thompson and Tom Doak want to share with every visitor to Forest Dunes, especially those who might have had a Jones-at-St-Andrews reaction. The greatest courses reveal themselves over time. They are a reminder that if we can open and properly orient our minds, we will find in brilliant designs like The Loop an inexhaustible supply of challenge and joy.

Special thanks to Evan Schiller for contributing his gorgeous photos. More from Evan on his website (https://www.evanschillerphotography.com/), on Twitter (@EvanSchiller) and on Instagram (@evan_schiller_photography).

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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COURSE WORK AT KAMPEN

The third edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q series takes a look into the multi-dimensional Kampen Course at Purdue University’s Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex

As an alum of the University of Illinois, it is not easy to give praise to Purdue. The simple truth, however, is that the golf geeks in West Lafayette have a facility at their disposal that is tough to beat. The Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex sits within earshot of the football stadium and is home to two Pete Dye golf courses. Each course occupies land with distinct character and each has its own style. Architect and long-time Dye collaborator Tim Liddy served as the project lead on the creation of the Kampen Course, which is not just a fun and challenging test of golf. It is also a classroom for the University’s turf students and a laboratory for some of its environmental sciences majors. Multiple dimensions of thoughtful value-added are the theme here.

Pete’s Par-4s

Although Kampen is strong from start to finish, the brains of the course are contained in its par-4s. They embody Pete Dye’s commitment to strategic golf, while delivering strong variety. Beginning with the two-dimensional view, the four pars vary in length, direction and shape.

On most, but not all, flanking hazards on one side of the fairway give an initial indication of the question posed to players. Is there a reward for flirting with the hazard? The answer is typically in the affirmative, as the greens are set at angles to the fairway. The degree of advantage gained is impacted by the size of the putting surface and composition of the surrounds, which differ from hole to hole. The seemingly straightforward scenario presented by each hole becomes more complex the closer one gets to the green. Dye and Liddy deceive and confuse players to knock them out of their comfort zones.

Baked into the layout of these two-shotters is a nod to old school golf—the switchback. On several holes, ball strikers who are able to work the ball in both directions may steer away from the hazards without sacrificing birdie looks. Rare today is the player who can hit a draw off the tee and then fade an approach into the green, or vice versa. The opportunities are there at Kampen, but only for those possessing the ability to see and hit the shots.

Moving beyond paper and out onto the course adds a third dimension that is visually appealing and, at times, intimidating. The land is adjacent to Celery Bog Nature Area, a large wetland that harbors hundreds of species of wildlife. Liddy and his team drew upon this prairie-to-wetland transition location to deliver an aesthetic that skews toward naturalized by Pete Dye standards. The shaping of bunkers and green surrounds has a sophistication that further enhances Kampen’s beauty, as evidenced in the gallery of four pars below.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

The site does have some movement, and it is used to great effect to lend additional complexity to the par-4s. Landing areas and putting surfaces are not always visible, demanding confident selection of lines based on cues from the horizon. On three holes (#1, 12, 15), Dye and Liddy force average length players to choose between the ideal approach angle and visibility by building Alps style mounding to obscure the view from half the fairway. This is a brainy golf course where the designers have presented a game of chess, not checkers. There is no “right” way to play Kampen’s two shotters. Trial and error over time will reveal the best plan of attack for each player.

The Outliers

Although there are consistent strategic themes throughout, two of the four pars stand apart from the bunch, and in doing so, point to yet another dimension of the design. The 7th is a short four featuring fairways that wrap around both sides of a central waste bunker. The horseshoe green has a pronounced central spine that makes being wrong-sided on the approach or recovery a real challenge.

The layout of the 7th serves another purpose beyond confounding players though. “That double fairway was created to allow testing for turf school,” explained Liddy. One interesting example of the many ways that the Purdue Turfgrass Science program uses the facility. Under the direction of Superintendent Jim Scott, students get hands-on experience by maintaining the Birck Boilermaker courses. The environment of learning and experimenting does nothing to diminish the conditions, however. Quite the opposite—these students provide players with stellar surfaces.

The 14th is the only par-4 that employs water as its primary hazard. A wetland runs along the left, allowing players to shorten the hole significantly by cutting across. Long on the approach is the only completely safe bailout but leaves a tricky recovery from a short grass runoff to a gently rippled green.

Here again, there is more than meets the eye with this water hole. The Kampen Course was envisioned and built with scientific study as one of its objectives. Specifically, Zachary Reicher and his team of researchers wanted to know if a golf course with managed wetlands could filter contaminants contained in stormwater runoff from neighboring developments before the water reached the ecologically sensitive Celery Bog. According to Reicher’s report, “Samplers were located to track the progress of water as it enters the east edge of the courses, through the wetland system, and exits the far northwest edge of the course.” Water samples were collected during and after storm events over a period of several years, and the team of scientists concluded, “…created wetlands are improving the quality of water as it moves through the system.” Quite the benefit beyond birdies and bogies.

Kampen proves what can be accomplished when smart people put their heads together with the goal of maximizing the value of land use. Pete Dye, Tim Liddy, and the staff and faculty at Purdue brought to life a course that simultaneously and seamlessly adds value to players, the university and the community at large. Dye’s designs have been renowned for making players’ heads hurt. Trying to comprehend the multi-dimensional complexity of what was achieved at Kampen goes well beyond a headache to a completely blown mind.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A WEE CHANGE AT CANAL SHORES

Part 26 of the Journey Along the Shores series takes a look at the creation of the Wee Burn

When Cypress Point opened, it received universal praise. One would assume that a categorically positive reaction would please the architect. Instead, Dr. Alister MacKenzie famously expressed concern—in his experience, any golf course that didn’t turn off at least a few players wasn’t well designed. As we continue to tinker with Canal Shores, we understand the Good Doctor’s conditioned expectations. Each change we make to improve the course yields mostly praise, but also the predictable batch of complaints. The creation of the Wee Burn short of the 17th green is no exception, providing an interesting look into player perceptions and reactions to change.

The Problem

We are often asked why we don’t address issues of standing water by installing drainage that flows into the canal. The short answer is that we are not permitted to do so by our landlord. That prohibition makes sense in the context of the purpose of the land. Canal Shores exists fundamentally to provide a green space buffer for stormwater management from the surrounding neighborhoods. The course is there to hold water, not pour it into the canal. Unfortunately, that function is not well balanced with playability for golfers, and it will take a well-conceived renovation to reconfigure the course to achieve both objectives. Until that time, we are forced to do triage.

Standing water across the front of the 17th green

The 17th hole is one of many problematic spots on the course with regard to water retention, particularly across the front of the green. Spring rains caused the entire approach to flood. It would stay wet and muddy long after the rest of the course had dried out, and any subsequent rainfall would put us right back to square one. Plugged or disappeared balls were common, and growing healthy turf was impossible. The area was essentially unplayable for most of the season.

The Wee Burn

After lengthy consideration, we decided to stop trying to fight Mother Nature, and instead provide a better place to store this water. A wee burn wanted to exist, if we would do the digging. The idea was to dig down front-right of the green where the water was collecting so that a greater volume could be held in a smaller footprint. The removed soil was used to raise and slope the front left to help it remain dry by surface draining into the burn.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Our friends Matt, Mark and Matt from NewClub put on their artisans hats and came out to do the digging and shaping. We didn’t want the feature to look like a boring ditch, but rather a burn that might be found on a course in the British Isles. Aesthetics were enhanced with wetland plants and stone chunks donated by a neighbor. We were excited about how the burn looked upon completion, but the real test would have to wait for the next rain. Sure enough, the rains came and the burn worked as intended, holding water while allowing the front-left approach to the green to dry out quickly. Players’ balls will no longer plug and their shoes will remain mud-free.

Player Perceptions

Although we were happy with how the burn looked and functioned, some players were not enthused. Change creates complaints, presumably because it makes us uncomfortable. Those complaints open a window into the quirky manner in which our minds work. When asked why a player doesn’t like a feature, they will produce an answer even if it is poorly founded. For example, in the case of the burn, we heard that it makes the hole harder. The burn is not marked as a hazard—it is essentially a depression in the fairway where casual water collects. If there is water in it, players are entitled to a free drop. Looking at the before and after photos above, it is readily apparent that we took a large problem and made it smaller, thereby rendering the hole more playable. That’s not harder, it’s easier (and more interesting).

If we are honest with ourselves, we can all admit to having reactionary moments like this when faced with change, which is why we don’t sweat the feedback. Dr. MacKenzie accepted that it was part of the deal, and he knew much more about golf architecture than we ever will. When the complaints come, we comfort ourselves by imagining that he would have approved of our Wee Burn, as well as our ongoing efforts to push Canal Shores forward.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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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