Geeked on Golf

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


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Ain’t It Grand – Opening Day at Sand Valley

Since my last Sand Valley post, I have had the privilege of making two more visits.  The first, in November of last year was a special non-playing treat.  I was invited by Michael Keiser to walk a routing on a parcel of land that is being considered for a future course with the architect, his associate, several Superintendents, and my good buddy Charlie.

SandValley-BenCrenshaw1.jpegThe day started brilliantly, as I ran into one of my favorite players, who is also half of my favorite modern architecture team – Ben Crenshaw.  Everything you have heard about Mr. Crenshaw’s kindness and generosity is true.  Although he had work to do that day on the Sand Valley’s short course, he graciously talked golf courses, architecture and history with Charlie and me for much longer than he needed to.  Truly, a class act.

It got even better from there, as I got a chance to try and understand what strikes me as the most magical part of golf course architecture – routing.  Truth be told, I am still mystified by how an architect can look at land covered with trees and vegetation, and with only a topographical map to guide them, find golf holes.  These pros patiently explained the holes and answered our questions, and I loved every minute of it.

What struck me most on this visit to Sand Valley was the pace of progress that Michael, Craig, and the team are achieving.  It is staggering, with no evidence of a sacrifice in quality.  By the time Charlie and I hit the road back to Chicago, I was counting the moments until the Grand Opening in the spring.


OPENING DAY

For what has become an annual spring pilgrimage for us, Peter K. and I set out early so that we could make a critical pit stop on the way to Sand Valley for opening day.  As I have said before, going into central Wisconsin without visiting Lawsonia Links is a mistake as big as Lawsonia’s massive features.  The loss of sleep is a small price to pay for the opportunity to walk the fairways of the most underrated golf course in America.

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After a chilly but joyful morning on the Links, we made our way to Sand Valley and upon arrival, I was immediately struck again by the progress that has been achieved since autumn.  Infrastructure, lodging, Mammoth Dunes…everything continues to move forward at an astounding pace.

We made our way to the first tee and were given a warm welcome by Michael, Chris, Glen, and Michael.  As an aside, if there is a person working at that resort who is not friendly and happy, I have yet to meet them.  The cold and blustery weather did nothing to diminish the excitement as group after group went off the first tee with a warm thank you and handshake from the Keisers.

It was fun to see members of the media like Andy North, Ashley Mayo, and Adam Lawrence having their Sand Valley experiences.  It was even more fun to meet Bill Coore, Jim Craig, and Ryan Farrow and quickly chat about their progress on the 17-hole short course.  But the most fun of all was undoubtedly heading out to hike Mammoth Dunes, and then play around and around on Sand Valley with my geek buddies Peter, Charlie and Vaughn.

SAND VALLEY

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Although I have made several previous visits to Sand Valley, this was the first time that I played the entire course.  Superintendent Rob Duhm and his crew have done an outstanding job with the grow-in, getting the course ready to be on display for the event.  Some areas are farther along than others, which makes me even more excited to go back and play the course as it matures over the years to come.  Jens Jensen and his team are also doing exciting work on the ecological restoration.  Although Sand Valley is largely two-tone right now, it promises to have additional explosions of color throughout the seasons as the native plantings establish.

Having played quite a few Coore & Crenshaw courses to date, there are familiar stylistic and visual themes evident on the course.  These themes are tried and true, and they never get old for me.  Beyond the familiar though, Sand Valley also possesses holes like the 7th and 17th that are so unique, that even the most well-traveled of golf geeks will be surprised and astounded.

And finally, the variability of the wind direction and speed, coupled with multiple teeing options on every hole, mean that the thoughtful player can play one version of the course in the morning, and an entirely different version in the afternoon.  As my buddy Peter says, it is the perfect course to just go around and around and around.  Following are my first set of hole-by-hole photos of the entire course, with a little help from Peter and Jon Cavalier.  The current plan is to head back for an autumn visit to catch another look.  Enjoy, and stay tuned for more to come.

(click on images to enlarge)

Hole 1 – Par 4 – 325 yards

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The dramatic sand barren terrain with a ribbon of Coore & Crenshaw sculpted green invites the player to begin anew the adventure of this greatest of games.  The 1st is a gentle handshake from the tee – shortish, with ample area to land that first nervous drive of the day.  Gentility goes right out the window on the uphill approach to a small tiered green flanked by nasty bunkers.  Sand Valley’s opener gives the player a full preview of the look, feel, and strategic demands to come.

Hole 2 – Par 4 – 395 yards

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Word around the campfire is that this two-shotter is inspired by the opener at Pine Valley.  The player must choose off the tee – angle of approach or shorter approach distance.  Can’t have both.  Classic strategy.  The approach on the 2nd plays uphill over two large cross-bunkers to an outstanding green that slopes from high back right to low front left.  Awkward approach angles and whipping winds can lead to a missed green. Steep slopes left, right, and back require creativity and deft touch for any chance at an up-and-down.

Hole 3 – Par 3 – 192 yards

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Guarded front-right by a large mound and left by a bunker, the third requires a solidly struck tee ball to find the green.  A miss right on the 3rd bounds into a collection area.  The mound comes into play again as the player must decide how to use it or avoid it to cozy up a recovery.  The bunker left begins short of the green and runs the full length.  All manner of awkward bunker shots are possible for tee shots that stray left.  The 3rd is the first of an outstanding set of Coore-Crenshaw one-shotters.

Hole 4 – Par 5 – 557 yards

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The first of Sand Valley’s three-shotters plays uphill over rumpled ground to a green set just below one of the high points on the course.  A steady and visually arresting climb.  The subtly contoured green is surrounded by artful bunkers and playable slopes.  Approach through the air or along the ground are both options.  Just enough choice to add the mental confusion to the mix that C&C prize so highly.  Climbing the hill to the 5th tee, a glance back provides another reminder of the grand scale of this magnificent land that was underneath a glacial lake for thousands of years.

Hole 5 – Par 3 – 164 yards

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A dramatic reveal awaits the player upon reaching the hilltop.  The domed green lies below, with the 6th hole to the right, the alternate 6th to the left, and an expanse of sand barren beyond.  Breathtaking and pulse quickening, all at once.  There are no easy putts on the 5th green, and par is a good score.  One final look back at the tee above reinforces just how exciting the golf adventure at Sand Valley is.  No ocean necessary.

Hole 6 – Par 4 – 445 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The subtle brilliance of this hole begins in the rumpled fairway, and the angles created by its staggered bunkers.  Line and distance options abound, demanding thought and execution.  The 6th culminates with a large, outstanding green, fronted right by a bunker and surrounded by slopes and runoffs. Use the contours skillfully, and access to all pins is available.  Miss your mark, and a tough up-and-down awaits.

Hole 7 – Par 5 – 536 yards

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The player is confronted on the 7th tee with a massive sand dune running down the right and an angled uphill fairway that obscures the landing area for longer hitters.  The fairway is split by a long angular bunker.  Players not able to reach the green in two must decide which route to take.  That decision is based on pin position and considerations of sight line vs proximity.  The mind is fully engaged at this point.  The green is protected front right by a large mound and bunker that makes a back right pin difficult to access from the lower right fairway, even from shorter distances.  A brilliant hole, the 7th is visually arresting and rich in strategy.  It is playable at all skill levels, providing options for conservative or aggressive play.  Birdie and double bogey are equally possible.  One of my all-time favorite C&C five pars.

Hole 8 – Par 3 – 115 yards

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This shortie plays dramatically up to a skyline green, and brings to mind thoughts of Sand Hills.  The green is guarded short right by a bunker that could more accurately be described as a sandy chasm of doom.  The tee shot might be short, but the penalty for a weak flare is LONG.  The 8th green is deceptively deep and contoured into sections.  Well placed shots gather into birdie range.  End up in the wrong section, and a putting adventure awaits.  MacKenzie and Maxwell would approve of this hole, I am sure.

Hole 9 – Par 4 – 290 yards

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This short-four is driveable, but also offers two flat spots left and right amidst the heaving fairway that the thoughtful player can use to optimize approach position.  Hug the fairway bunker right to access left pin positions, or press a bit further up the left to get the perfect angle to the back right.  As with all great golf holes, strategy unfolds from the green backward, and the 9th fits that bill.  Bill Coore personally poured every ounce of his art and craftsmanship into this wonderful green, fine tuning for hours on end to give it the fullest flavor.  How fortunate we are for his dedication to the pursuit of perfection.

Hole 10 – Par 5 – 541 yards

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Playing downhill to a fairway divided by a large centerline bunker, C&C again confront the player with a choice on this five-par.  High right for better visibility, or low left for better angle.  The fairway right is bordered by a large bunker that connects to the sand barren.  An imposing look, and even more imposing recovery for shots that don’t make the carry.  The large green on the 10th sits in a bowl and has several distinct sections. Getting home in two is no guarantee of a birdie.  Flatstick game must be on point.

Hole 11 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

This cape style hole narrows as it approaches the green, tempting the player to bite off more than may be advisable.  The right side of the green runs off sharply.  An approach that misses by a foot can end up 20+ paces down the hill, leaving the player with endless options for getting back up to the green.  Simple brilliance.

Hole 12 – Par 5 – 452 yards

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This half-par hole was apparently the source of lively debate during construction.  Oh to be a fly on that wall.  Big hitters can take their drives over the center trees leaving the green very much in reach.  The bunker front center was a late addition to give players a moment of pause on the approach to this elevated green.  The high left slope can be used to feed balls into the center of the green.  But get too cute and overshoot your mark and you might find yourself in the deep runoff behind the green.  Played smartly, the 12th is an easy par with a solid chance for birdie.  If only this game were that simple.

Hole 13 – Par 4 – 383 yards

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This simple little hole bends gently left and heads uphill to a killer skyline green.  It is a moment of pause before the player takes on the thrill-ride closing stretch.

Hole 14 – Par 3 – 175 yards

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This one-shotter is one of my all-time Coore-Crenshaw favorites.  It plays downhill to a slightly angled and canted green that sits in an intimate spot among the sand barrens and trees.  The green is surrounded on three sides by sand, with those glorious C&C bunker edges that their expert shapers never fail to deliver.  Perhaps it’s just me, but the shaping artistry seems to come out ideally with fescue.  I heart fescue.  The elevated tee is exposed to the wind, but the green is set down where the wind swirls.  Judging the wind properly is as much luck as it is skill.  The cant and subtle internal contours of this green conspire to make holing putts a second guessing game.  Par here is a good score, and birdies a big bonus.

Hole 15 – Par 4 – 392 yards

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The 15th is a gentle dogleg left that plays along relatively flat ground to a wonderful green site.  The green is fronted by two humps.  In a double-play on this familiar theme, strategy on the hole is dictated all the way back to the tee based on where the pin is in relation to these features.  Complexity born of simplicity.  The green on the 15th features some of the most interesting contours on the course, especially taking into account the surrounds.  Feel like getting creative with the flat stick?  This is your spot.

Hole 16 – Par 4 – 429 yards

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The strategy on this terrific hole is defined by two centerline bunkers.  The first, in the drive zone, can be challenged or skirted, depending on the day’s wind.  The second stands guard in front of the skyline green.  Savvy players can access certain pins by playing long and using the back left slope.  A stellar hole that rewards confident and creative shot-making.

Hole 17 – Par 3 – 215 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The final of Sand Valley’s first rate one-shotters is its most impressive.  It can play anywhere from 150-250 yards, up a rise and then back down into a massive punchbowl.  The bowl will accept all shapes and types of shots.  Cresting the hill does not ensure a favorable outcome though.  The huge green is divided into plateaus and hollows, leaving open to the player the possibility of a lag putt more daunting than the tee shot.  Pictures don’t do justice to the awe that the 17th green inspires.  It is nothing short of jaw-dropping and I dare say that this hole is the coolest long par-3 in America that is not on the Monterey Peninsula.

Hole 18 – Par 5 – 507 yards

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A hair-raising ascent back to the high point of the property, the closer offers a final legitimate opportunity for birdie (and double).  The 18th fairway is littered with signature Coore-Crenshaw bunkers, each beautiful and terrible in their own right.  The massive final green is multi-tiered and wraps around the large bunker right.  The variety of pin locations makes the hole play drastically differently from one loop to the next.  A strong close to an outstanding golf course.

Circling back to my initial point about the maturation process – Sand Valley is already a great course.  From both a playability perspective and visually, it still has upside as vast as the land on which it sits.  I will be a regular visitor, no doubt.

MAMMOTH DUNES

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A 6-hole preview loop was open and ready for play on Opening Day.  Peter and I decided to leave the clubs in the car and instead got permission to walk the entire Mammoth Dunes routing.  The holes were in various stages of completion – some growing in, some in finished shaping and seeding, some getting irrigation, and some still only rough shaped.

Much of the preliminary talk from David McLay Kidd about Mammoth Dunes has been about the dramatic scale of the land and the course.  Stepping onto the first tee, that scale is evident, and it is indeed breathtaking.  What I was keen to find out by walking the rest of the routing though was, would the course have more than just drama?  Would it have the strategic intricacy and attention to detail that separates good courses from the truly great?  Going big is fine, and it makes an impression, but I find that the courses that leaving a lasting imprint on me also get the little things right.

Even in its current state of construction, I feel comfortable sharing my impression that the DMK is getting the details right, and that Mammoth Dunes promises to be a special golf course.  More importantly for the resort, the second course has a distinct style from the first, which is great news for lovers of variety.  I can already imagine the golf geeks debating which course is the best.

A few photos from our walk…

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There are huge greens on the course that will challenge creative shot-making and lag putting, but they are not all big.  David has thrown surprises into the mix.

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As it matures, the par-3 16th continues to blow me away.  We saw evidence of other one-shotters in the mix that will be equally fantastic.

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Case in point.

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Creative flourishes can be found throughout, including this bunker built from an old homestead cellar.

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The course has the feel of an adventure hike.  When David said that he felt that his job was to get the player to explore the property, on Mammoth Dunes he has done his job well with the routing.  It is going to be a wonderful place to get lost for a few hours.


CONCLUSION

Sand Valley, the course and the resort, are already receiving heaps of praise and accolades.  Some argue that it is premature to draw such conclusions.  I agree – not because of running the risk of overrating what Sand Valley is, but rather because of the risk of underrating what it will become.  Instead of rushing to conclusions, it seems best to me to continue watching the evolution of this special place, playing its wide and winding fairways, and perhaps taking a moment to sit back and feel grateful for what the Keiser family is attempting to accomplish.

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This much is now certain.  It is a wonderful time to be a Midwest golfer.  The public has access to championship venues like Whistling Straights and Erin Hills, as well as brilliant under-the-radar gems like Lawsonia Links, Belvedere and Ravisloe.  On both sides of lake, resort owners continue to push forward to offer architecturally exciting courses – Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes, The Loop, Arcadia Bluffs South, Stoatin Brae…the hits just keep on coming.

In order to have a golf geeky adventure of the first order, a player needs only hop in the car and hit the road.


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Old Sandwich Tour by Jon Cavalier

OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Plymouth, MA – Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw

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After a recent round at Old Sandwich at the peak of fall, I thought that the many fans of the work of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and fans of New England golf in general, might like a look at this terrific course.  All of the photos in this tour were taken by me on October 20, 2016, with the club’s permission to shoot and share.  I hope you enjoy the tour.

OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB

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Boston is rightly regarded as one of the five best metropolitan areas in the United States for quality golf.  Despite the relatively short season, the greater Boston area is blessed with more than a dozen bucket list golf courses, including classic gems like Myopia Hunt Club, The Country Club at Brookline, Essex County Club, Salem Country Club, Eastward Ho Country Club, Charles River Country Club, and Kittansett Club among others.

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Any modern architect working in the Boston area faces the challenge of designing a course that will inevitably be measured and compared to these venerable courses, which were built by Golden Age titans with names like Donald Ross, William Flynn, Herbert Fowler and Herbert Leeds.  Such is the tall task that faced Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in the early 2000s.  Suffice it to say, these two gentleman, as they have so often done, rose to the occasion with gusto.

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The result is a masterpiece incorporating the best traditions of the game — huge, undulating fairways; natural hazards affording all manner of heroic recoveries; greens and green complexes that hold interest in round after round; and firm, fast conditioning permitting players to play the type of shots they choose.  Soon after completing their work, Coore and Crenshaw said about the course, “Through time, we hope that Old Sandwich will be viewed as a compliment to its beautiful surroundings, to golf in general, and to the long and storied tradition of golf course architecture in Massachusetts.”  Twelve years later, it’s clear they succeeded.

THE GOLF COURSE

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A round at Old Sandwich begins with a walk out of the gorgeous clubhouse, nicely attired in stone and wood, and along a sandy path across a bridge spanning a serene pond.

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From the clubhouse, nearly the entire course is hidden from view, but as one makes his way across the pond, the first tee comes into view.

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Notably, there are no water hazards on the course at Old Sandwich.  How many architects working today would have routed a course on this site to finish with a “heroic” carry over this pond to a green in the shadow of the clubhouse, perhaps while sacrificing the flow and playability of the golf course?  Credit to Coore & Crenshaw for putting quality golf first.

Hole 1 – 531 yards – Par 5

The round begins with a true gentle handshake – on his first shot of the day, the player is greeted with a massive fairway and an uphill par-5 of reasonable length.

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Although the fairway is quite large, the player must nevertheless pay attention to positioning, as a tee shot which strays too far left may be bunkered (hidden by shadow in the photo below) or out of position for a layup.

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For the player’s second shot, the two fairway bunkers to the right draw the eye and focus, but the cant of the fairway will direct indifferent shots into the less-prominent but no less dangerous bunkers running the left of the fairway.

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The green at the first is a true work of art.  Open across the entire width of its mouth, running approaches are welcomed at this green, but care must be taken to account for the steep false front on the left…

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… as well as the bunkering bordering the left side and left rear.  Note the many appealing pin positions on this large green.

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This bunker on the right side of the green is hidden from view on most approaches, while the green itself blends wonderfully into its surroundings.

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Hole 2 – 403 yards – Par 4

At this par-4, the primary objective off the tee is avoiding the center-fairway bunker complex.  The more aggressive right hand side leaves a shorter approach, but forces the player to confront the right-hand fairway bunkers.  Left is easier, but leaves a longer approach.  Finally, the player may elect to lay up short of the bunkers, but faces a long and difficult approach.  Choices like this are ever present at Old Sandwich.

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Regardless of the route chosen, execution is key.  Anything in the center traps is essentially a one-stroke penalty.

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The elevated green, tightly mown surrounds, and firm conditions make this approach particularly interesting.  This bunker sits some 20 feet below and to the left of the putting surface, but an approach that comes up just inches short of the green is in real danger of rolling back into it, leaving an extremely tough third.

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This view of the second green from the third fairway affords perspective and shows the movement of the landscape.

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Putting from beyond the pin at the second is a frightening proposition; chipping from behind the green is even worse.  A stout hole.

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Hole 3 – 450 yards – Par 4

This long par-4 plays shorter than its yardage on the card due to the fact that it is typically downwind, but it is nevertheless a challenging hole.

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As the hole doglegs left, the best line is down the right side, but the right is guarded by several menacing bunkers.  Any ball finding these pits will also find it nearly impossible to reach the green.

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Once past the bunkers, the fairway opens considerably and falls off into a depression short and right of the green.  The green itself is one of the best at Old Sandwich — its many elements include a false front short right followed by a large, slightly-domed area, followed by a swale cutting across the surface horizontally, followed finally by a back right tier on which that day’s pin was placed.

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A bunker wraps around behind the green from the left.  Given the slope of the green, this bunker is a common destination for approaches when the pin is back.

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The hazards protecting the left side of the green make an approach favoring the safer right side attractive, but beware the pot-like bunker long right, as it is a truly brutal hazard.  An excellent golf hole where options abound.

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Hole 4 – 209 yards – Par 3

The first one-shot hole at Old Sandwich, and a beauty.  As is often the case at Old Sandwich, looks here can be deceiving, as the view from the tee leads the golfer to believe that he has less room and more carry than he actually does due to the slight rise in the landscape and the framing bunker left, which prevent a perfect view.

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However, as this elevated view shows, there is ample room on this hole to land short of the green and bounce a ball on to the putting surface, as well as room to play left away from the deep greenside bunkers.

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In following the natural contour of the landscape, the huge green feeds gently from front to back, while the high left shoulder allows players to use the ground to feed shots into pins on the right side.

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Hole 5 – 336 yards – Par 4

Generally considered the signature hole at Old Sandwich, the fifth is a stunner and a unique hole in American golf.

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A short, cape-style par-4, the hole presents the golfer with an incredibly rumpled, elevated fairway moving left to right.  The sight of this fairway is one that a golfer does not soon forget.

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The fairway on this hole will direct well-hit, aggressive tee shots toward the green, with the potential to reach the green in one.  However, as is always the case with a well-designed cape, the higher the reward sought, the greater the risk taken.  Any shot that fails to carry the chosen line is dead.

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As noted above, the fairway mounding can both redirect ideal shots to the green while also presenting a difficult, uneven lie on approach for more conservative tee shots.

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Looking back toward the fairway, the elegance of the transition to putting surface is revealed, as the fairway bleeds seamlessly into the green.

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The tee-to-green theme of contour is carried through to the green itself, creating putting adventures for those whose approaches are imprecise.

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As this elevated view from behind the green reveals, there are plenty of ways to get yourself in trouble on this hole, but also plenty of ways to play the hole which will result in a good score.

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The key to scoring well on the fifth is knowing one’s own abilities and limitations, choosing a line that fits within those criteria, and executing one’s chosen strategy.  And isn’t that what golf is supposed to be?

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A brilliant rendition of a modern risk-reward hole.

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Hole 6 – 562 yards – Par 5

The second three-shot hole at Old Sandwich is the longest on the course, and requires an uphill tee shot and carry over gunch to an elevated fairway turning right to left.  This corner of the course is one of the prettiest spots on the property.

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The fairway is guarded on both sides by deep bunkering.  The right bunkers (out of frame) catch tee shots on an overly conservative line, while a pot bunker in the middle of the fairway complicates the second shot.

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The green is tiered from front to back, and contains ridges running both vertically and horizontally, which effectively quarter the putting surface.

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When looking back at the fairway, the golfer is likely to be surprised at just how much elevation he has scaled while playing the hole.

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Hole 7 – 391 yards – Par 4

The seventh is yet another standout hole at Old Sandwich renowned for its uniqueness.  From the tee, most of this dogleg left par-4 is visible, including the green and the pin, although much of the interest surrounding the green remains hidden.

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From the fairway, the incredible greensite is revealed in full.

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Sitting elevated in a lake of sand, the green functions as an island, repelling poorly struck approaches into the surrounding sand.

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The green is deeper than it appears from the fairway, offering ample room for shots struck on the appropriate line.

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Easily one of the prettiest greensites in golf.

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And in full fall color…breathtaking.

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Hole 8 – 379 yards – Par 4

The eighth is a transition hole, transporting the golfer from the seventh green to the ninth tee, where a run of spectacular golf begins anew.  The canted fairway tilting opposite of the hole’s direction adds an element of difficulty here.

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Mounding to the left protects and obscures the left side of this green and makes judging distance difficult.

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The bunkerless green appears to have been mowed directly from the fairway, so perfectly does it blend with its surroundings.

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Hole 9 – 131 yards – Par 3

This gorgeous little one-shotter plays to a large but multi-tiered green isolated in a sandy basin.  Bunkers guard on all sides.

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While hitting this green is no easy feat, neither is doing so any guarantee of a two-putt par.

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The back portion of this green shunts balls into this nasty bunker, or to a tightly mown area adjacent to the green.  Neither is an ideal spot for recovery.

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A birdie is a possibility here, but any player should be pleased to escape this little beauty with a par.

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Hole 10 – 516 yards – Par 5

The back nine begins with with a Coore & Crenshaw homage to Hell’s Half Acre.

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The Hell’s Half Acre bunker divides the fairway in two and requires a second-shot carry.  In addition to being an intimidating hazard, the feature also obscures a large portion of the fairway landing area.

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Three center-cut bunkers dot the fairway in the landing zone for second shots which, along with the slope of the fairway, add interest to what is often one of the more boring shots in golf — the second on a par 5.

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Looking back from the elevated green reveals the gorgeous movement of the landscape.

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Hole 11 – 244 yards – Par 3

A monster from the back tees, this par-3 is the longest on the course, the most difficult and perhaps the prettiest.

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A sandy ridge cutting in from the left side of the hole adds visual interest and hides the fact that the landing area for shots unable to make the carry is larger than it appears from the tee.

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The green is open in front to accommodate the longer approaches, but danger lurks to all sides.  A hole as tough as it is beautiful.

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Hole 12 – 455 yards – Par 4

From the tee on this par-4 running left to right, the golfer is tempted to shun the safer right side and play down the left to shorten the hole.

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This cluster of bunkers, largely hidden from view from the tee, play much larger than their actual footprint, and will exact a stiff penalty on any stray shots attempting this more aggressive line.

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Yet again, the green sits naturally as an extension of the fairway, open across the full width of its mouth.

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As a result, the hole appears as natural as they come.

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Hole 13 – 560 yards – Par 5

The last of the four par-5s at Old Sandwich, and this author’s favorite of the bunch, the thirteenth asks for a carry over a sandy waste area to the crest of a fairway rolling downhill and from left to right.

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Upon reaching the fairway, the player is confronted with the gorgeous sight of a wide, downhill fairway dotted on both sides with bunkering.  The closer one gets to the green, the more the short grass seems to narrow.

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The green itself is benched into the side of a sandy ridgeline, creating an amphitheater effect.  Once more, the green is open to running shots.

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The putting surface is protected on three sides by trench-like bunkers and a sharp fallaway to the front left.

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The surrounding bunkers present a difficult recovery, as the green slopes toward the front left fallaway.

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An exceptional par-5.

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Hole 14 – 369 yards – Par 4

The fourteenth plays back up the hill toward the 6th tee and the highest point on the property.  Here, the left-sloping fairway aids the player in positioning his ball on the proper side.

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Players taking the more aggressive right-side line may find themselves blocked out (your author has experience with this scenario).

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Even from the fairway, the elevated green presents an elusive target, as balls left short (where deep bunkers await), right or long will be repelled.

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Accuracy is at a premium on this deceptively difficult par-4.

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Hole 15 – 168 yards – Par 3

The artfully sloped and bunkered fifteenth, tucked into a corner of the property, is a favorite par-3 of the group at Old Sandwich.

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The bunker to the right cuts deeply into the green, and a high right shelf beyond this bunker can be used to funnel balls down to most pin positions.

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The green itself is moderately narrow but very deep, providing a safe landing area for shots struck on the intended line.

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An aerial view of the uniquely heart-shaped fifteenth green.

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One of a superb quintet of one-shot holes.

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Hole 16 – 486 yards – Par 4

The finishing stretch at Old Sandwich is a challenging test and ideally suited for determining matches that reach this point.  The sixteenth begins with a tee shot over a crested fairway to a blind landing area and, although the fairway is wide, the shot is one of the toughest on the course.

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The fairway tumbles down on the approach to a green running front to back, affording the golfer the opportunity to hit a shot landing some 50 feet short and to watch the ball bound and run on to the putting surface.

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Given the slope, a player may choose to hit as many as three or even four clubs less than standard for a given yardage.  Care must be taken to avoid the collection area that will gobble shots offline right.

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The beautiful sixteenth is one of the most strategic and fun holes (of the many strategic and fun holes) at Old Sandwich.

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Hole 17 – 191 yards – Par 3

The final one-shot hole at Old Sandwich is all carry to a slightly elevated green ringed with bunkers.

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Golfers must remain focused to avoid being distracted by the stunning natural surrounds.

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Balls left short will be shunted back toward the tee, while shots tempting the edges of the putting surface will likely be redirected into bunkers.  There is no cheating this hole – a well-struck shot is required.

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A look back from behind the green.

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And one from above.

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Hole 18 – 498 yards – Par 4

The longest par-4 on the course, the eighteenth presents the player with a fairway that is quite wide and quite blind from the tee — he must pick his line and trust that he has chosen wisely.

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Cresting the rise in the fairway, the player is afforded a view of the remainder of the hole, which is divided by long grass and bunkers.

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The gentle downhill slope, open front of the green and generous short grass surrounding the green all mitigate the length of this hole and provide opportunities for the creative shorter player to match the advantage of his competitor’s distance.

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An excellent finishing hole, as befits an exceptional golf course.

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BONUS – Hole 19 – Par 3

For those matches (and wagers) left unsettled after 18 holes, Coore & Crenshaw thoughtfully provided an extra hole to ensure everything is settled up properly.

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This final green is a hit-it-or-else proposition and contains significant internal undulation, ensuring that matches needing extra holes will be won by the player able to hit this green and lag it close or make his putt.

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Like many of Coore & Crenshaw’s other courses, a round at Old Sandwich leaves a golfer with no doubt that they have just been afforded the chance to play a course built in the mold of the great classics.  As with other modern gems like Sand Hills, Ballyneal, Stonewall, Kingsley, Friar’s Head and Pacific Dunes, Old Sandwich was built and is maintained with one goal in mind — providing its members with the best and most enjoyable golf possible.  And when golf architects and clubs find themselves on the same page in that regard, modern masterpieces which can stand proudly next to their classic sisters can often result.  Old Sandwich does her neighbors proud.

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I hope you enjoyed the tour.

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Exploring America’s Great Golf Clubs

As the pre-season comes to an end, and the rainy days in Chicago delay the start of the peak season, I find myself reflecting on the year-to-date, which has already been filled with great golf adventures.  My favorite experience thus far was my visit to Calusa Pines.  The course at Calusa Pines, created by the design team of Hurdzan & Fry, is a marvel of architecture, engineering and natural beauty – my photos from the day are below.  The Calusa Pines Golf Club is much more than the course though, and that is what makes it so special.

What makes a golf club great?  Certainly, in order to be great, a club must have an outstanding golf course.  A top-notch course is not enough to make a club truly great though, especially for the discerning golf geek.  Great clubs resonate at a deeper level – they evoke the spirit of the game.

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of visiting several modern golf clubs in addition to Calusa Pines that have stood out to me for their all-around greatness – The Kingsley Club, Boston Golf Club, and Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club.  They have common characteristics, which can be linked back to the progenitors of the modern golf club.

Exploring the lineage and elements of greatness begins in the early-1990s at two clubs with the dreams of two men – Dick Youngscap and Mike Keiser.  At Sand Hills Golf Club and The Dunes Club, respectively, each man realized his vision of being able to get away from the demands of the workaday world to play the kind of golf they wanted to play, among kindred spirits.

Architecturally, Sand Hills and The Dunes Club were rejections of the chest-thumping “championship” golf of the Fazio-Nicklaus-Jones era that was prevalent at that time.  The courses were built on sandy land and inspired by the best of the architecture of the British Isles, as well as the American golden age.  These courses were the spark that lit the fire of modern minimalism.

Culturally, the clubs are a reflection of their benevolent dictator founders.  They are exclusive, but not exclusionary.  Those members and guests who “get it” are welcomed and encouraged to get lost on fields of play that delight the senses, challenge the skills, and fill the heart with golf geeky joy.  Days of play are complemented with relaxed times of camaraderie around patio tables and fire pits.  Ego and pretense have no place, and those seeking opulence are happily pointed in other directions.

Sand Hills and The Dunes Club feel both polished and personal at the same time. The love that has been poured into them by their founders, architects, and staff is palpable.  It is that love of the game and fellow players that inspired the follow-on generation of club founders and members.

THE KINGSLEY CLUB

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On my first visit to Kingsley, a long-time member named John joined our group as a fifth for four holes.  He shared stories of the club’s founding by Ed Walker and Art Preston, and its connections to Crystal Downs.  John’s pride in the course and its history enriched my experience that day, and it wasn’t long before I joined.

On my first visit to Kingsley this season, I was reminded of this pride when Mr. Walker took close to an hour to walk me through his plans for our new clubhouse.  He is a busy man, and I am newish member.  He didn’t need to do that, but he did because he has poured his heart and resources into the club and he knows that I share his love for it.

BOSTON GOLF CLUB

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My first time at Boston GC, I was on a buddies trip to Boston, and I fell in love with the course.  On my second visit to BGC, I was hosted by a member, John C.  Walking the fairways with John was like being at Kingsley.  His depth of feeling for his club was infectious.  Knowing the story of founder John Mineck’s labor of love, and his tragic death on site, it is no surprise that members feel a special connection to this place.

As we sat and relaxed in the dining room after sunset, we shared the joy that permeates the memberships of these great clubs.  Part of fitting in to these cultures is realizing how lucky we are to get to spend our hours playing this game, among friends, on such wonderful courses.  That off-putting sense of entitlement is absent, and in its place, gratitude.

BALLYNEAL

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Ballyneal is the golfiest place I have ever been.  The members there love the game and they love their club, which now includes 18 holes by Tom Doak, the Mulligan short course, and The Commons putting course.  It is a golf geek’s fantasyland, a decade’s long dream in the making for founder Jim O’Neal, now come to fruition in the Chop Hills.

My buddies and I arrived the evening before we were scheduled to play with our host, Stephen.  We met another member while hanging out on the driving range and after chatting us up for a bit, he insisted that we go play.  His love of the game and welcoming spirit is the norm at Ballyneal, and I am counting the days until I can head back to enjoy it again.


CALUSA PINES GOLF CLUB

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A view from the highest point on the property

My day at Calusa Pines was generously set up by a member, Eric.  In our correspondence prior to that day, Eric expressed a sentiment that I have experienced at every one of these clubs.  The members love hosting for two reasons: they are proud of their clubs and like to share them with others who can appreciate them, and they prefer not to play anywhere else when they are in town.  Before Eric said it, I had never heard it put that way, but I know exactly how he feels.

I was joined by the General Manager Walt Kozlowsky, Head Professional Mike Balliet, and a member, Rob.  They are good players and people, and tremendously knowledgeable about the club.  As a bonus, I cannot recall ever laughing more during 18 holes of golf.  They embody the culture of Calusa Pines – a love of the game coupled with a commitment to keeping it fun.

THE COURSE

Dr. Michael Hurzdan & Dana Fry wrote a Vision piece that is on the club’s website.  This statement stood out for me in summing up the experience of playing the course:

“Calusa Pines will be a golfer’s golf course meaning that you will never tire of playing it, there are an endless variety of golf shots required each time you play it, and every hole will be distinct and memorable.”

Several months later and I am still amazed at the description of the construction process that Walt, who has been at Calusa since ground was broken, shared with me as we walked.  The land started as basically flat.  The top layer of sand was removed from the entire property and stored.  The bedrock beneath was then dynamited.  After blasting through the rock, the system of lakes was excavated and that material along with the rock was used to build hills, rough contours and some features.  Smaller rock was then used for additional form shaping.  The original top layer of sand was then brought back to sandcap the land and do finished shaping.  The result is a course that seems natural, even though it is entirely engineered.

Calusa Pines impresses with its broad strokes, but it is even more impressive at the detail level.  Obviously, great care was taken with the bunkering and greens.  They are both visually striking and a blast to play.  The naturalization of the site is also outstanding.  As we walked along Rob and Walt explained to me that the founder Gary Chensoff insisted that the system of lakes be designed such that a player can never see all shores at once – they disappear around corners and out of view, giving the player a feel of wandering around in a river valley.  Large trees were preserved or planted to create a sense of maturity, and a wide variety of vegetation creates interest in color and texture throughout.

Throw in one of the cooler clubhouses you’ll ever see – beautiful with just the right level of comfort and amenity – and Calusa Pines qualifies as the total package.  On to the course…

(click on circle images to enlarge) 

Hole 1 – Par 4 – 389 Yards

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The opening hole is a slight dogleg left that plays to an elevated green.  It introduces the player to Calusa’s stunning bunkering that makes the player feel as though they have been transported to the Melbourne Sandbelt.

Hole 2 – Par 5 – 551 yards

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The first of Calusa’s three-shotters gently bends right and demands precise positioning of the second.  Leave yourself short-sided, and you’re in trouble.

Hole 3 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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A great little three par with an all-or-nothing character to it.  Hit the green and birdie putts are makable.  There is no bailout on this hole though.  Miss the green, and kiss your par goodbye.

Hole 4 – Par 4 – 379 yards

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The fourth is the first hole to encounter the course’s system of lakes.  The cape design allows the player to be as aggressive as the wind and their nerves will allow.

Hole 5 – Par 4 – 378 yards

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The fifth doglegs right with a tee shot up over a rise.  The green is elevated and guarded by deep bunkers right and a steep runoff left.

Hole 6 – Par 5 – 513 yards

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The challenge of the sixth is a function of width.  There isn’t that much to begin with, and the hole feels even narrower as it winds along the lake.  Blocking out the borders and confidently focusing on the target for each shot is a requirement.

Hole 7 – Par 3 – 186 yards

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A terrific and tough par three, the seventh plays through the goal posts created by the trees to a green guarded left by a massive bunker.

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Hole 8 – Par 4 – 280 yards

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The eighth is a wonderfully creative short four with sand along the entire left side and a green benched into a hillside.  Longer hitters can drive the green, but failed attempts can find all manner of nasty fates.

Hole 9 – Par 4 – 421 yards

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The ninth plays from an elevated tee, with an approach over the lake to a green set just below the clubhouse.  A visually stunning hole that provides one last stiff test on the outward nine.

Hole 10 – Par 4 – 376 yards

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The par four tenth features artful bunkering up the right and a sculpted sandy hillside that creates one of the coolest looks on the whole property.

Hole 11 – Par 3 – 171 yards

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Another stellar three par, the eleventh green is set at a slight angle.  With the swirling wind, judging the line and distance is no simple matter.

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Hole 12 – Par 4 – 419 yards

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Climbing the hill to the twelfth tee provides one of Calusa’s best reveals.  This beauty is a beast though that demands two well struck shots to find a subtly contoured green surrounded by runoffs.

Hole 13 – Par 5 – 554 yards

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The thirteenth turns hard right and allows for a daring attempt to carry the large bunkers on the inside of the dogleg.  Success gives the player a chance at reaching the small elevated green in two.

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Hole 14 – Par 4 – 293 yards

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The fourteenth is the second of Calusa’s risk-reward par fours.  The deep fronting bunker and firm elevated green add plenty of challenge to this shortie.

Hole 15 – Par 4 – 374 yards

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Otherworldly bunkers line the right side of the fifteenth, all the way up to the bunkerless green.  A brilliantly imbalanced and contrasting design.

Hole 16 – Par 3 – 161 yards

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The final one-shotter is the most visually intimidating, playing downhill to a peninsula green.  A breathtaking spot on the beautiful property.

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Hole 17 – Par 4 – 390 yards

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The seventeenth works around the lake from left to right with the main challenge on the approach.  The large greens is one of the most creative on the course.

Hole 18 – Par 5 – 487 yards

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The closer turns hard left off the tee, giving the player a chance to cut the corner and get home in two.  The green sits up above one last large bunker, in the shadow of the clubhouse.  A thrilling finish that is perfect for dramatic conclusions to matches.


IN CONCLUSION

Whether it is in golf architecture, or the experience of a golf club, greatness will always be subjective to some degree.  From my personal perspective, there are two final elements of the greatness of Calusa Pines and the other great modern clubs.

First, a key difference between these places and others for me is that I walked off the 18th green wanting to go right back to the 1st tee.  There is a depth of strategy and thoughtfulness to the design that makes repeat play exciting and enjoyable.  Beyond wanting a replay, I also wanted to ask for an application.  The combination of course and culture is that appealing.

Second, these clubs are deeply about love of the shared experience of this wonderful game.  It is built into their DNA, but it is not necessarily a love that takes itself too seriously.  There is a heavy dose of fun, and that is why I love the game of golf.  For some it is the challenge or the competition.  For me, it is the fun of experiencing those aspects in the company of my fellow geeks.

What do you think makes a club great?  Feel free to brag on your club or share your personal experiences in the comments here.


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Old Town Club Tour by Jon Cavalier

OLD TOWN CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Winston-Salem, NC – Perry Maxwell

Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, NC is a 1939 Perry Maxwell original bordering the campus of Wake Forest University.  I had the great pleasure of playing several rounds at OTC on a perfect early-November day.  And while I am a few months late in getting this tour together, OTC’s recent near-miss on garnering the threshold number of Golf Digest rater plays necessary for inclusion in the Top-100 make this a particularly appropriate time to shine a bit of a spotlight on this architectural gem.

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Old Town Club

When it became apparent that time had taken its toll on this old beauty, the members and their Golf Chairman, Dunlop White, chose Coore & Crenshaw to perform an extensive restoration of the property.  For a more detailed discussion of this process and the work performed by Coore & Crenshaw, be sure to check out the excellent profile at http://golfclubatlas.com/courses-by-country/usa/old-town-club/ .  Suffice it to say, the duo did a magnificent job.

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Late Afternoon at Old Town

Before we begin, a few notes about OTC and these photos.  I was told, on good authority, by members of OTC and by Dunlop White, that the absolute peak time of year to play the course is November/December.  I certainly cannot disagree.  OTC played firm and fast throughout, and given the exceptional green- and green-side features, this made for some very exciting golf.  OTC is not built for lush, soft, ultra-green conditions.  My first round of the day was played during a persistent light rain under continual cloud cover, and the course stayed firm as ever.  After a quick lunch, the sun came out, dried the course immediately and put an entirely new look on it.  So, while these photos were all taken on the same day, you may notice differences based on the time of day that a particular photo was taken.

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The Spectacular 8th/17th Double Green

I hope you enjoy the tour.

OLD TOWN CLUB

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At a macro level, Old Town Club has a few standout architectural features that demand mention at the outset.  The first thing that GCA aficionados seem to talk about when they talk about Old Town is Maxwell’s brilliant routing of the golf course.  To me, the routing of a golf course has always seemed equal parts engineering discipline, artistic ability and black magic — I’ve never quite been able to grasp how it’s done, much less done well.  But when it’s done well, I know it when I see it.  And OTC is it.  Maxwell’s routing begins a three hole loop to the south of the club house in a Par 4, Par 3, Par 4 arrangement.  The members must love this feature.  Beginning with the 4th hole, the course meanders up, over and around various landforms and features such that no two holes play similarly, no part of the walk is too steep, and never is there a hint of boredom.

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The 17th, 8th and 9th Holes

The second feature is the openness of the property and the manner in which the golf course uses that openness to bolster the way the course plays.  Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw and Dunlop White deserve great credit for this feature.  From the first tee, the player can view most of the three hole starting loop.  From the crest of the fourth fairway, more than half the course (and its wonderful landforms) are in full view.  And from the double green at 8/17, the player can look back and see four connected fairways — the 17th, the 8th, the 9th and the 18th — quite an amazing sight.  Coupled with the minimal use of encroaching rough, the openness of the course provides for a wide array of options on every hole (in fact, the rough is so minimal, it is possible to walk up 4, across 7, up 17, across 8, across 9 and up 10 back to the clubhouse without every stepping on a line of long grass).

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From the 4th Fairway

The Clubhouse

Old Town’s gorgeous brick clubhouse fits in perfectly with the rest of its surrounds. The fried chicken special on the lunch menu is spectacular.

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THE COURSE

Hole 1 – Par 4 – 407yds

A round at Old Town begins on the first tee in the shadow of the clubhouse, looking out at the generous first fairway, which disappears from view down into a valley before rising to meet the green.

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Often, players will face an uphill shot from a downhill lie into the first green.

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Though the first green looks inviting, it has serious teeth.  The false front is visible in this photo, as is the abrupt falloff to the left of the green.  Indifferent approaches can land on this green and still end up 15 yards from the putting surface.

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The view back down the 1st hole, illustrating the rolling terrain and the spaciousness of the first fairway.

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Hole 2 – Par 3 – 145yds

A short par 3 that has been beautifully reworked by Coore & Crenshaw, the second plays slightly downhill over the same small creek that bisects the first fairway.

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The second green is wide, shallow and full of undulation.

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This view from behind the second green reveals some of the terrific available pin positions on this hole.

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Hole 3 – Par 4 – 361yds

The third hole plays back toward the clubhouse and ends the opening three-hole loop.  From the tee, the player sees only the flagstick and the looming bunker planted high on the right shoulder of the fairway.

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Cresting the hill reveals the low-left bunker, which, due to the firm and fast conditions and the slope of the fairway, plays much larger than its actual footprint.

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This view from behind the third reveals the internal mounding and the importance of being on the proper tier of the green.

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Hole 4 – Par 5 – 520yards

A quick walk past the clubhouse and down a small pathway brings the golfer to the fourth tee.  The remaining 15 holes at Old Town are laid out on the northern side of the clubhouse.  The first par 5 on the course, the fourth hole becomes reachable with a well struck tee shot, as any ball that clears the crest of the hill will bound past the trees at the corner of the dogleg.  For longer hitters, however, this is one of the tighter tee shots on the golf course.

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After reaching the crest of the hill, the course opens up to the golfer.  The hole itself doglegs right and follows the tree line down the hill.

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Those who don’t (or, like me, can’t) reach the green in two face either a short, sharply downhill approach or a half-wedge from the bottom of the hill into the third green.

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This view from the right side of the fourth green reveals the wonderfully nuanced putting surface.

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This view from the right rear portion of the fourth green shows both the fairway’s long descent and the expansive nature of the property.

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Hole 5 – Par 4 – 354yds 

The fourth tee is carved into a sheltered nook on the side of a hill.  The sixth green is visible to the left.  A perfect draw will shorten this hole considerably, as it is possible to carry the bunkers set in the inside corner of the dogleg.  Another tee shot with a variety of options for the player.

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The fifth green is benched into a small hill at a far corner of the property.  This green slopes substantially from high left rear to low right front, making accuracy critical on this short approach.

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This view from behind the fifth green shows the contour of the fairway and the steepness of this green.  The sun is providing a helpful spotlight on the area from which you do not want to be putting at today’s hole.

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Hole 6 – Par 3 – 173 yards

The beautiful sixth hole plays back toward the fifth tee.  This hole offers a clinic in visual deception.  From the tee, the large bunker on the right looks to be greenside, but in fact there are forty-plus yards between its back edge and the putting surface.  Add to that a horizon green with no landmarks between it and the far hillside and a green that falls away dramatically on all sides and the player is confronted with a fun puzzle. Long or left is no picnic.

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The view from the sixth green is one of the prettiest on the golf course.  No fewer than half the holes on the golf course are at least partially in view from here.

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Hole 7 – Par 4 – 340yds

Once more, the player is confronted with options off the tee.  Challenge the bunkers on the left and have a better angle and a flatter lie into the tiny seventh green, or bail out to the ample fairway to the right and face a more uphill second from a less favorable angle?  A gorgeous, fun hole.

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The approach to the seventh green, seen here through the morning raindrops, presents one of the more difficult short shots on the golf course.  In addition to the small green, the player must contend with a long bunker running along the high side of the green (no easy task getting up and down from there) and more bunkers and a falloff to the right.

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The view back down the seventh hole.

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Hole 8 – Par 4 – 358yds

The tee shot on the eighth hole is blind to the player, as the fairway drops out of view past the first bunker.  Like Lanny Wadkins was fond of saying, the dome and steeple of the Wake Forest library provides an aiming point (barely visible in this photo at the tree line above the bunker).

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Reaching the crest of the eighth fairway provides one of the most thrilling views at Old Town – the downhill approach to the immense green shared by the eighth and seventeenth holes.  The eighth plays to the red flag on the left.  An absolutely exceptional use of a double green, and a truly special feature of this golf course.

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This view from the left side of the double green shows just how much contour this massive green contains. The two pins are about 200 feet apart.  The high point of the green is in the middle, and each side has plenty of interest of its own.  During our round, Will was faced with a nearly 100 foot putt from the high rear portion of this green — his picture perfect putt hit the hole and somehow lipped out.

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From behind the double green, the player is presented with a panoramic view of the seventeenth, eighth, ninth and eighteenth (out of frame to the right) fairways, each of which join together to create a swath of fairway several hundred yards wide.  Quite a sight.

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Hole 9 – Par 4 – 360yds

In sticking with the shared theme, the ninth and eighteenth holes share a tee box, with a directional stone pointing the golfer in the right direction.  Both holes play back toward the clubhouse.

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The refreshing openness of Old Town is felt during the walk up the shared eighth and ninth fairways.

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The ninth doglegs right around the trees, with the sharply banked fairway and firm conditions helping to scoot the well struck tee shot around the corner and into a position from where the green can be reached.  On the flip side, not many level lies are to be found on the ninth, making the approach to an elevated green more difficult.

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The view back down the beautifully natural ninth hole (one of my favorites at Old Town).

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Hole 10 – Par 4 – 389yds

Holes 10 through 13 play along the edge of the property at Old Town.  The tenth begins with a tee shot over a rise in the fairway that obscures the landing area from the player’s view.

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The approach to the tenth is one of the most enjoyable on the golf course.  While all golfers profess to love firm and fast conditions, it is only when a golf course takes advantage of such conditions to enhance the playing experience that a player really sees their true value.  Old Town’s tenth is such a hole.  The approach plays slightly downhill to a small green that slopes left to right.  Target golf is available here, but a miss right is deep trouble.  The golfer also has the option of playing a low running shot over the left bunker, which is far short of the green, and watching his ball take the natural contours of the land to bound down and to the right on to the putting surface.

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As this view from behind shows, the terrain and the seamless transition from fairway to green practically begs the player to show off his ground game.

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Hole 11 – Par 3 – 170yds

One of the prettiest holes at Old Town, the eleventh hole plays downhill to a green guarded up the right side by a small creek.

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Again, the player has the option of running the ball on to this rather well defended green.  This view from the left side of the eleventh also shows the shared fairway of the eighth and seventeenth holes.

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A gorgeous setting for golf.

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Hole 12 – Par 4 – 409yds

Options – there are many at Old Town.  At the twelfth, the player must navigate an alley of trees before reaching the wide, open fairway.  But before hitting the shot, the player must decide whether to play up the high left side of the fairway, leaving an approach that is slightly shorter but blind to the green and likely from a sidehill lie, or to play right to a lower, flatter part of the fairway from which the green is visible, but from which a longer approach is required.

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The twelfth green is benched nicely into a small hillside, and again, this green is receptive to a low, running shot.  The massive back left bunker provides visual interest and makes the green appear far smaller than it is.  The bunker is visible from many different parts of the golf course.

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The variety of the landforms and terrain at Old Town is staggering, as this view back up the twelfth hole shows.

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Hole 13 – Par 4 – 419yds

The thirteenth hole plays slightly uphill initially and over a small rise.  The ample fairway can be deceiving, as the approach from the left side is far preferable to the right.

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Some golfers will find the approach on 13 the longest of the day.  This green occupies the westernmost extreme of the property at Old Town, and once again, a low running shot is welcomed here . . .

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. . . as the fairway runs downhill and seamlessly into the green.

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Hole 14 – Par 4 – 354yds

The fourteenth hole at Old Town is, quite simply, one of the best short par four holes I’ve played.  The fairway slopes high right to low left, with the ideal position off the tee largely dependent on which way the player likes to work the ball on the approach.  A tee shot to the high right side leaves a perfect look at the green but presents a hook lie, while playing to the low right side off the tee leaves a flat lie but requires an uphill approach to a green largely out of sight.

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The right side of the fairway allows a full view of the green but increases the likelihood of the deadly left miss.

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The steep fall off short and left of the fourteenth green is severe.  The approach is complicated by the subtle false front – anything coming up short will roll all the way back down the slope, leaving a very difficult pitch back up to the green.

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Shots that miss long left run the risk of reaching the hazard.  It’s a short approach, but one rife with challenges.

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A spectacular hole.

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Hole 15 – Par 3 – 180yds

The last, and the longest, par three at Old Town, the fifteenth plays back along the creek bordering the previous hole.

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Though the fifteenth green is generous in size, the internal contours allow for pin placements that can change the dynamic of the hole considerably, as this picture from the fourteenth fairway shows.  Pins on the right side are particularly challenging.

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Hole 16 – Par 4 – 354yds

A short hole that plays longer due to the change in elevation, the sixteenth sits on some of the most “extreme” terrain at Old Town.  The tee shot plays uphill to a landing area canted from high left to low right, making the ideal aiming point farther left than it appears from the tee.  The righthand bunker is not in play but frames the tee shot nicely.

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The sixteenth fairway crests and then plunges downhill, where it flattens briefly before abruptly rising again to the green.  Longer hitters can reach the downslope, but must decide whether they prefer a shorter shot to a green far above them, or a longer shot to a green at the same elevation.  The sixteenth was one of my favorite holes at Old Town.

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This view from behind the sixteenth green shows both the varied slopes within the putting surface and the rolling terrain that must be negotiated to reach it.

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Hole 17 – Par 5 – 555yds

The seventeenth is a gorgeous par 5 that proudly displays the best of what Old Town has to offer.  From the elevated tee just steps from the sixteenth green, the player is afforded one of the best views on the golf course.  The small creek forces the player to a decision – to the left is an easier carry but will require the high route into the green, while to the right provides a better the approach shot along the low route.

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The large ridge that must be negotiated on the second shot.  The bunker in the center of the fairway breaks up the visual while providing a small but menacing hazard.

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After cresting the ridge, the player once more gets to play to the wonderful double green, this time from an oblique angle and to the right hand side.  The high left side allows a full view of the green . . .

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. . . while the low side allows a shorter third from a level position.

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This view from just behind the green illustrates how the seventeenth provides plenty of room but requires careful thought and solid decision-making for each shot.  A standout par 5.

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Hole 18 – Par 4 – 417yds

The finishing hole at Old Town plays parallel and to the right of the ninth hole.  The bunkers on the left side of the fairway gather everything in the vicinity, as the fairway slopes and feeds directly to them.

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The approach to the well-bunkered eighteenth green provides one final test for the golfer.

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The view from behind the day’s final pin shows the long, gentle climb up from the seventeenth to the eighteenth green.

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Old Town is a true gem with a wonderful vibe and is, most importantly, an extremely fun place to play golf.  The members here are a happy, welcoming, friendly bunch and with a golf course like this, it is easy to see why, as they must always be in a good mood.  Many thanks to Will Spivey, my excellent host and playing companion, who was kind enough not only to invite me for a round but generous enough to share his substantial knowledge about his course.  Many thanks also to Dunlop White, a great ambassador for Old Town and a true asset to the club, who was nice enough to chat with me at several points throughout the day about the course and the improvements made.

The beautiful home green and clubhouse as dusk approaches.

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Thanks for reading.  I hope you enjoyed the tour.


1 Comment

Sleepy Hollow Course Tour by Jon Cavalier

SLEEPY HOLLOW COUNTRY CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Scarborough-on-Hudson, NY – C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, A.W. Tillinghast

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Full disclosure: I love this place.  Sleepy Hollow is, quite simply, one of my favorite places in the country to play golf.  Exceptional golden age architecture, spectacular views, exciting shots, fabulous conditions — Sleepy Hollow has everything a golfer could want.  And to top it off, Sleepy Hollow is the course that sparked my interest in the work Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor, and subsequently my love for golf architecture generally.  So I’m biased.

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15th and 16th Greens

And of course, I’ve been wanting to do a photo tour of Sleepy Hollow for quite some time.  As with my tour of Old Town Club, Sleepy Hollow’s recent near miss on Golf Digest’s Top-100 list provided a perfect impetus and incentive to pull this tour together and shine a bit of a light on a place that, for me, is ranked about 100 spots too low.

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The “lesser” of the par-3s at Sleepy Hollow

The photographs you see below were taken over the course of two visits to Sleepy Hollow (which is the reason for the differences in light, course conditions and pin positions).

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Waking up at Sleepy

I hope you enjoy the tour.

SLEEPY HOLLOW COUNTRY CLUB

Sleepy Hollow was built on the 338-acre Woodlea estate, which the club acquired in 1911.  C.B. Macdonald designed the golf course, with Seth Raynor on the ground as engineer, and the original 18 holes were completed that same year.  In the late 1920s, AW Tillinghast expanded the course to 27 holes, creating several new holes for the 18-hole “Upper” and 9-hole “Lower” courses.  Via the passage of time and the intrusion of several interim architects of more modern vintage, the course lost touch with its golden age roots for a period.  George Bahto and Gil Hanse were brought in to restore the course’s rightful Macdonald heritage.

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The result speaks for itself.  In its present form, the main course at Sleepy Hollow is rife with beautiful interpretations of many of the Macdonald templates, including Redan, Punchbowl, Double Plateau, and one of the most gorgeous Shorts this side of Fishers Island.  While the property has been owned by Colonel Eliot Shepard and William Rockefeller, and the course has been worked on by some of the great architects in golf, including Tillinghast and Hanse, Sleepy Hollow today stands clearly as a shining example of CB Macdonald’s design tenets and as a fitting monument to George Bahto.  Quite a lineage.

The Clubhouse

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No tour of Sleepy Hollow is complete without at least a brief discussion of its magnificent clubhouse.  Some of the best courses in the country are identifiable by their clubhouses alone, and in a few instances — Winged Foot, Oakmont, Myopia Hunt, Ridgewood, and Shinnecock, to name but a few — they become iconic in their own right.  Sleepy Hollow’s is one such clubhouse.

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Looming high above, the clubhouse, designed by Stanford White in 1893 as the manor house, is the first thing the golfer notices about Sleepy Hollow upon entering the gates, and it provides quite the first impression.  As the long entrance road makes way up toward the building, the loping route provides views of several holes on the lower course, the driving range, the stables, and the many rock formations that remind the golfer that he’s in Westchester.  But all the while, the presence of the massive clubhouse dominates.

The entrance road culminates at the south face of the clubhouse, seen in the photo below.  The parking lot is in the rear, to the right.

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The clubhouse has been the scene of several television shows and movies, and has hosted countless events.  And with views like this from its spacious lawn, it’s easy to see why.

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It is a beautiful building and a fitting way to begin a day at Sleepy Hollow.

The Scorecard, Logo and Haunted Bridges

A golfer senses a theme at Sleepy Hollow.  The club has named each of its holes in reference to Washington Irving’s story, which was set in the surrounding hills.  The course itself stretches to 6880 yards and plays quite pleasantly at 6377 yards from the white tees (which I use for this tour) to a par of 70.

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The club’s logo of the Headless Horseman, likewise taken from the Irving story, is one of the best in golf.

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Finally, the Haunted Bridges, encountered on the 3rd, 10th and 16th holes, appear to have been built by Irving’s contemporaries and provide a unique and fitting touch.

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THE GOLF COURSE AT SLEEPY HOLLOW

Hole 1 – “Sunnyside” – 406yds – Par 4

There is no more enjoyable way to start a round of golf that from a first tee that sits in the shadow of the clubhouse, as is the case at Sleepy Hollow.  The Hudson river just peeks out above the treeline, giving the golfer a small taste of what’s to come.

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The first hole is a downhill dogleg right which, while tree lined, has a more generous landing area and more room to work the ball than it first appears.  The ideal position is the left half of the fairway.

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The first green is of a good size, but the bunkering on both sides and the visually deceptive framing bunker short left make for a challenging first iron.

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The fairway runs seamlessly into the green, allowing for the ball to be run on to the putting surface, but the green slopes up from front to back.  The deep Macdonald bunkering is felt immediately.

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The view back up the first hole — steeper than it appears, and a solid start to what will become a memorable round.

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Hole 2 – “Outlook” – 321yds – Par 4

Reminiscent of the first hole at Myopia, the second hole is a short, uphill par-4 defended by a relatively severe, well-protected green.  The “eyeglasses” bunkers short of the fairway are not in play, but make for an appealing visual effect.

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The approach to the second green will almost always be from an uphill lie, making for frequent short-right misses.  This deep-and-steep wraparound front-right bunker is waiting to catch those misses.

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The climb to the second green at Sleepy Hollow is the first point on the course where the golfer is treated to both the stunning views of the Hudson River . . .

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. . . and to the sight of Sleepy Hollow’s one-of-a-kind walking bridges.  This is the point in the round where the golfer knows, beyond a doubt, that a special day awaits.

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Hole 3 – “Haunted Bridge” – 153yds – Par 3

Aptly named, the third hole may be the best par 3 among the standout collection of one-shotters at Sleepy Hollow.  Played over a deep ravine to a green elevated just enough so that the golfer cannot see the entire putting surface, the third provides one of the most exciting tee shots on the front nine at Sleepy Hollow.

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The way in which the land was sculpted and the third green was benched into the hill will appeal to even the most jaded GCA enthusiasts.

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To access the green, the golfer crosses the Haunted Bridge for the first time.  Simply beautiful.

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Hole 4 – “Brom Bones” – 404yds – Par 4

Cresting the hill after putting out on the third green, the golfer is afforded a wide view from the fourth tee over a large, open section of the golf course.  The fourth hole plays out to an open fairway that dips down, then crests a small rise before arriving at the green.

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Longer shots may clear the rise, offering the golfer an unobstructed view of the putting surface.  For those that do not, an aiming marker is provided behind the green.

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A precision approach shot is required, as the fourth green is well guarded with deep bunkers, and is itself riddled with undulations, allowing for difficult pin positions.

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Hole 5 – “High Tor” – 403yds – Par 4

Playing back in the direction of the fourth tee, the fifth hole plays over the rise in the fairway (which is an easy carry for all players), then drops quickly before again rising to meet the green.  The view from the crest of the rise is spectacular.

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The encroaching bunkers, which begin well short of the fourth green, provide for an added challenge on the player’s approach.  Shots that come up short are in danger of rolling several yards back down the fairway.

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Approaches that come up short face this shot, with only the green (with its false front and varying internal mounds) and the pin in view.

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The fifth green.  No words necessary.

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Hole 6 – “Headless Horseman” – 458yds – Par 5

The first three shot hole at Sleepy Hollow is short on the card but plays longer, thanks to the hill that must be climbed before reaching the second fairway.  Aggressive, longer hitters can carry the steep, mounded wall but many players are better off simply laying up short of it.  Right is dead, and the massive grass bunker on the left side of the hill just wishes it was dead.

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Once reaching the upper tier of fairway, the golfer must contend with the principal’s nose bunkering, which sits smack in prime lay-up territory some sixty yards short of the green.

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The sixth green slopes substantially from back to front — approaches that end up beyond the hole will result in a very tricky putt back down to the hole.

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Hole 7 – “Tarry Brae” – 193yds – Par 3

In your author’s humble opinion, the best downhill reverse-redan hole in existence.

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The steepness of the green from high left to low right is so pronounced that balls routinely roll for 30 seconds or more as they funnel down toward the pin.  A wonderfully exciting hole to play.

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Hole 8 – “Sleepy Hollow” – 439yds – Par 4

The eighth hole begins the stretch of holes that were originally laid out by Tillinghast, and which are, for the most part, on a flatter, narrower portion of the property.  Nevertheless, the rolling terrain provides for many interesting shots, as first seen on the par-4 eighth hole.  Off the tee, the preferred result is the left side, but the partially hidden low left fairway bunker must be avoided.  A large mound in the right half of the fairway can scatter balls in any direction.

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The eighth green is set perfectly among the hills and rocky outcroppings.  A false front repels indifferent approaches.

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The eighth green, with the eleventh green complex visible behind.

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Hole 9 – “Katrina’s Glen” – 377yds – Par 4

The ninth provides a generous landing area for tee shots, but balls that end up short and right will face a blind approach to a small, well defended green.

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Tee shots that find the high left side of the fairway will have the preferred look down the center of the slightly elevated green.

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As shown in this photo, missing left is bad, but missing far left is awful.  Note the many appealing pin positions in the rippling green.

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Hole 10 – “The Lake” – 136yds – Par 3

As noted above, the 10th is probably the “worst” of Sleepy Hollow’s four one-shot holes, which should tell you everything you need to know about the high quality of the quartet that the course presents.

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The only hole at Sleepy Hollow with a true water hazard (the 12th has a small stream crossing it), what you see is what you get . . .

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. . . but it sure is pretty.

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Hole 11 – “Ichabod’s Elbow” – 371yds – Par 4

The offset teeing ground of the eleventh hole, benched into the side of the hill bordering the property, creates a soft dogleg right which favors a cut first shot.  While there are rugged, wooded areas on both sides of this hole, even bad shots are typically found and played.

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The eleventh’s key feature is its elevated green and surrounding green complex.  As you would expect, the elevation of the green makes the bunkers much deeper and much more penal as a hazard.

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The green is also one of the most undulating on the golf course . . .

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. . . and this raised section in the right rear of the putting surface makes for both some interesting putts and some impossible recoveries from misses left.

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The wonderfully constructed eleventh green complex, as viewed from the left side.

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Hole 12 – “Double Plateau” – 513yds – Par 5

The second and last par 5 at Sleepy Hollow, the twelfth winds left between the varied hills and mounds that mark this section of the golf course.  This hole was one of the most modified by Bahto and Hanse, and it is safe to assume that Macdonald would approve.

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The hole is reachable in two by longer players capable of positioning their tee shots in a spot that allows the dogleg to be negotiated.  Those laying up must contend with a small stream that winds across the fairway a few dozen yards short of the green and down the left side of the fairway.

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The three-tiered double plateau green is exceptionally built and, while severe in spots (as it should be) it is also large enough to accommodate accessible pin positions.  The steep fairway-cut slope fronting the green adds another layer of challenge, especially to front pins.

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A look back down the twelfth hole.

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Hole 13 – “Andre’s Lane” – 384yds – Par 4

The thirteenth marks the golfer’s return to the area of the course originally developed by Macdonald, and it’s an excellent hole.  A wide, gently inclined fairway slopes gently from high left to low right, and while a line up the left side is ideal, it also confronts two fairway bunkers and a cross-hazard. A line up the right is safer, but not only risks caroming into the rough, but also requires an approach from a less-than-ideal line over perhaps the deepest bunker on the course.  At Sleepy Hollow, such risk/reward decisions are confronted on a continual basis.

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The raised thirteenth green complex is one of your author’s favorites.  In addition to the extremely deep front right bunker, the complex features a pot bunker cut front left, along with a large expanse of fairway cut that extends well to the left of the green before culminating in a kick-slope that tumbles to the putting surface.  This unique setup allows for players to play safely away from the righthand bunker and either benefit from the built-in slope or to putt from above the left side of the green.  An old stone wall frames the rear of the green.  A wonderfully designed feature.

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The thirteenth green as viewed from the fourteenth tee, showing the large area of fairway cut grass.  Putting from up there is both challenging and fun.

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Hole 14 – “Homeward Bound” – 378yds – Par 4

Yet another aptly named hole, the fourteenth tee is set at the eastern corner of the property, the farthest point on the course from the clubhouse, and the next five holes stretch across the property and return the golfer home.  The tee shot on the fourteenth appears simple but is deceptively complex.  From the tee, the righthand bunker juts into the rising fairway. But this small hill not only obscures the green . . .

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. . . but hides a similar, though larger, lefthand cross bunker that sits just beyond the high point of the fairway.  The firm conditions and the now-downhill slope of the fairway will carry most balls that crest the hill left of center into this bunker.

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The fourteenth culminates in a narrow, deep green – one of the smallest on the course.  The green slopes relatively gently from front to back before abruptly ending and falling several feet to a right rear bunker or the rough below.

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From the right side, the golfer is treated to a long view of the green, the multi-tiered bunkers that separate the fourteenth and fourth greens, and the ever-present rocky surrounds of Sleepy Hollow.

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Hole 15 – “Punch Bowl” – 437yds – Par 4

The fifteenth is your author’s favorite hole at Sleepy Hollow, and it is fantastic.  An Alps/Punchbowl amalgamation, the combination of features found on this hole are unique in my experience, and together, they combine to form one of the most exciting, rewarding golf holes that I have ever played.  From the slightly elevated tee, only the first 400 yards of fairway are visible to the golfer, along with the right fairway bunker.

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The fairway is generous but canted rather substantially from high left to low right.  The left side of the fairway is ideal, and anything right of center runs a high risk of catching the right fairway bunker.

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The long approach shot is entirely blind, as the green sits some 20-30 feet below the fairway.  The perfect shot is played out over the right hand bunker, left of the aiming flag. As the golfer crests the fairway . . .

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. . . he is rewarded with the breathtaking view of the punchbowl green, with the sixteenth green behind and the Hudson River valley far below.

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Looking back, the proper route to the green is revealed.  One could never tire of playing this magnificent hole.

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Hole 16 – “Panorama” – 150yds – Par 3

One of the most beautiful one shot holes in the country, the Short at Sleepy Hollow plays back over the gorge that was first confronted on the third hole to a green ringed almost completely by a trench bunker.  The club has wisely removed all of the trees that once marred this spectacular view.

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Gorgeous from any angle, the sixteenth’s views hide a surprising amount of slope within its putting surface.

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The golfer again crosses the Haunted Bridge over the gorge on his way to the sixteenth green.  The way that the third and sixteenth holes were laid out over this terrain is a brilliant example of an architect making the most of a unique but difficult feature.

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Hole 17 – “Hendrik Hudson” – 433yds – Par 4

The seventeenth plays shorter than its yardage, as tee shots will roll forever.  Given the heavy cant of the fairway from left to right, however, care must be taken to properly place one’s tee shot or risk it rolling into the right rough for the cluster of fairway bunkers which are just out of view below the crest of the hill.

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The cluster of righthand fairway bunkers, as well as the extended fairway, are revealed as the golfer descends the seventeenth fairway.  The firm, fast conditions make these bunkers play far larger than their footprint.

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Level lies on approach are few and far between, making this narrow, bunkered green a difficult target.  The fairway runs seamlessly into the front of the green, however, leaving the option for a ground attack open.

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The greenside view of the long downhill penultimate hole.

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Hole 18 – “Mansion Rise” – 401yds – Par 4

While the seventeenth plays shorter than its yardage on the card, the eighteenth, leading back up to the iconic clubhouse, plays much longer than its listed 401.  While tee shots up the left side of this relatively narrow fairway will bounce down into ideal position, the lefthand fairway bunker must be avoided, as it makes reaching the green (or anywhere nearby) a virtual impossibility.

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The beautiful approach shot with the clubhouse directly behind the green (and, often, the lunch crowd observing play) provides one last pleasant memory of a golfer’s round.  While getting up and down from a left miss is tough, missing right can lead to a 30 yard uphill pitch.

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The green, following the slope of the land, is pitched substantially from back left to front right.  Putting back to a front pin is a challenge.

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Like the first tee, the final green at Sleepy Hollow sits mere steps from the clubhouse.

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Sleepy Hollow is a must not only for any fan of CB Macdonald, but for anyone with a love for golden age golf architecture or just a love of fun, exciting golf.  Head Professional David Young, Superintendent Tom Leahy and the club’s members are rightfully proud of their golf course and have acted as outstanding custodians of this treasure.  Soon, as more raters see Sleepy Hollow in its current form, it will assume its rightful place on every top 100 list there is.  But until then, it remains an underrated gem that everyone should try to see at least once.

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Pops lets fly on 16

I hope you enjoyed the tour.


5 Comments

Fishers Island Course Tour by Jon Cavalier

FISHERS ISLAND – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Fishers Island, NY – Seth Raynor

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The Biarritz

Some golf courses are special.  We all know that feeling we get when we play one of these courses.  Our senses are heightened, our memories are sharpened, our spirits are lifted, and our love for the game of golf is strengthened and vindicated by the experience.

Fishers Island is a special golf course.

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The Short

Designed by CB Macdonald protege Seth Raynor and opened for play in 1926, Fishers Island Club sits at the eastern end of Fishers Island, which in turn sits in Long Island sound.  Fishers Island is in many ways a throwback club — it has resisted adding length, which has enabled it to preserve Raynor’s original intent as well as the enjoyable nature of a round there.  It is also one of very few remaining clubs to have avoided installing a fairway irrigation system, which provides for some of the firmest, fastest playing conditions that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing on the east coast.

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The Eden

I had the great pleasure of playing Fishers Island on a perfect September day.  Bright sun, 70 degrees, enough wind to keep things interesting.  The combination of the setting, the weather, the club and the golf course combined to make my day at Fishers Island one of the most memorable experiences of my golfing life.

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The Punchbowl

I had been somewhat reluctant to do a photo tour of Fishers Island as, quite frankly, I was concerned about the difficulty of doing the course justice.  To that end, you may notice that this tour has more photographs and less words than some of my past tours — Fishers is that kind of place.

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The Home

FISHERS ISLAND CLUB

As noted above, Fishers Island is a 1926 Seth Raynor design.  As such, it is chock full of excellent template holes — Redan, Biarritz, Eden, Short, Knoll, Cape, Road and Double Plateau are all present, and arguments can be made for several templates as the best in class.  Fishers Island remains largely unchanged from Raynor’s day — the course tips out at a par-72 6556 yards.  While it is not “suited for championship play,” Fishers Island is suited to provide golfers of all abilities with an extremely enjoyable, exciting and memorable round of golf.  More’s the pity that so many other clubs have abandoned that noble goal.

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Getting There – The Ferry

As my private aircraft was in for repairs, I was forced to take the more common route to Fishers Island — I drove up from Philadelphia and caught the 8am ferry.  That one must take a boat to get to Fishers Island only adds to the experience.  I have made many long drives to play golf and I always enjoy the time that such a drive provides to look forward to the coming round, anticipation building as the course draws closer.  The 45 minute ride on the Fishers Island Ferry across Block Island Sound only heightens that sense of anticipation and further differentiates the experience of a round at Fishers Island from other clubs.

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The Clubhouse

I like clubhouses that suit the environs.  The austere and imposing clubhouses of Winged Foot and Sleepy Hollow fit their surroundings as well as the casual and charming clubhouses of Eastward Ho and Myopia Hunt.  Fishers Island’s clubhouse reminds the player of a weekend escape or an isolated beach house.

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The Logo and Scorecard

The iconic Fishers Island logo is a simple green outline of Fishers Island on a white background, with the red pin placed carefully at the location of the Fishers Island clubhouse.  No words necessary.  I am a fan of this logo.

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As many Raynor courses do, Fishers Island provides the names of each individual hole on its scorecard.

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A routing of the golf course is also provided.

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The course plays to 6544 from the back tees and 6138 from the white tees, with each set playing to a Par 72.

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The course mascot.

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The Putting Green

The practice green sits mere steps from the clubhouse and right next to the first tee, and the view gives a hint of the many spectacular views to come.

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THE COURSE

Hole 1 – “Raynor’s Start” – 396 yards – Par 4

While the first at Fishers Island is one of the longest two shot holes on the course, the landing area is quite generous, with fescue separating the first fairway from the 18th and a small pond down the right that is in play for well struck shots.

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Note the browning of the fairway, due to the lack of fairway irrigation.  Fast, bouncy conditions tee to green!

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The first green is open in front across the full width of the fairway, allowing for balls to be run on.  This front pin is treacherous, as anything short will roll back, leaving a very delicate pitch or putt.

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This view from the left side of the first green illustrates Raynor’s penchant for pushing up his greensites, which deepen the greenside bunkers and add to the challenge of the approach.

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The view from behind the first green, with the gorgeous clubhouse above.

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Hole 2 – “Redan” – 172 yards – Par 3

The first of the usual Raynor quartet of one shot holes, the Fishers Island Redan is a softer (though quite beautiful) version of this traditional template.

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All of the required elements are present, but the effect of the right side kick slope and the tilt of the green is less pronounced than on other Redans.

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The view from the right side of the green.

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The view from the left side of the green.

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What this Redan lacks in severity, it makes up for in setting.  The view from the back of the second green.

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Hole 3 – “Plateau” – 335 yards – Par 4

Standing on the tee of the third hole at Fishers Island is where, for the first time player, the fact that he’s playing a truly special and unique golf course really starts to sink in.

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A short par 4, the third reminded me of the “Cliff Hangers” game from the Price Is Right — it climbs and climbs, until it stops and dives off a cliff.  The challenge off the tee is to carry as much of the ravine as desired so as to leave the correct distance for an approach.

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There are horizon greens, and then there’s the third at Fishers Island.

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Once summitted, the third green treats players to a 360 degree view which includes the clubhouse and the fourth hole (visible in the left hand side of the photo below).

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The third green is a hit it or else proposition, but long is extra-dead.

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The third green provides the first of many incredible views at Fishers Island.

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This look back at the third green complex gives the player a feel for the incredible job Raynor did in siting and building his greens.

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Hole 4 – “Punch Bowl” – 397 yards – Par 4

An Alps/Punchbowl combination, the fourth hole at Fishers Island is your author’s all-time favorite version of the punchbowl template.

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A visually arresting hole, the fourth plays out over a chasm to an elevated fairway bordered by woods on the left and a steep drop to the sound on the right.  The Alps feature provides visual interest off the tee and a point of aim.

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This view from the far right hand edge of the fairway reveals the green.  The pin is just barely visible on the left.

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The Alps feature makes nearly every approach shot into the fourth green blind.

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Upon ascending the Alps, the incomparable Punchbowl green is revealed.

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One of the deeper Punchbowls still in existence, the walls of the fourth green are five feet high in spots, nearly sheer, and cut to fairway height.

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The putting surface runs back to front and is bisected by an internal ridge that makes three-putting common.

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Just beautiful.

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Hole 5 – “Biarritz” – 207 yards – Par 3

Narrowly edging out the ninth at Yale and the ninth at Piping Rock for the title of your author’s favorite Biarritz, the fifth at Fishers Island plays uphill to a tiered Biarritz green surrounded by deep bunkers.  A wonderful setting for this template hole.

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There are worse places to miss than short on this hole.

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The fifth possesses an added degree of difficulty as a ridge runs through the rear of the putting surface perpendicular to the Biarritz swale.  Even a pin-high tee shot does not guarantee a par.

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In your author’s humble opinion, the most beautiful Biarritz in the world.

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Hole 6 – Olinda – 520 yards – Par 5

The first three shot hole at Fishers Island, the sixth begins with a tee shot over the crest of a ridgeline which obscures the landing area.

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Cresting the ridge reveals the spectacular natural terrain and the remainder of the hole.

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The firm, fast fairways coupled with the substantial undulations make for some highly entertaining shots here.

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A look back up the sixth fairway reveals some of the most rollicking terrain on the course.

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Hole 7 – “Latimer” – 363 yards – Par 4

Some consider the seventh hole the signature hole at Fishers Island.  I would’t argue.

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A mid-length par 4 made shorter by the fast, downhill fairway, the seventh culminates at a green that appears suspended over the sound.

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Even shorter hitters off the tee must be careful not to lose their ball to this hazard on the right.

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Anything missing left will run straight through into the greenside bunkers . . .

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. . . and anything long is wet.

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Hole 8 – “Road Hole” – 465 yards – Par 5

A short par 5, the eighth is perhaps the most difficult tee shot at Fishers Island.  The fairway is hemmed in tightly on both sides by long grasses and water, and the firm terrain will magnify any ball not squarely struck.  The ideal shot is off the redan-like mound running down the right side of the fairway.

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Nearly all safely hit tee shots will have a legitimate chance to go for this green in two.

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The Road-style eighth green as seen from the right side, with the road bunker rapping around the right rear.

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The eighth green and large fronting bunker, as viewed from the left side.

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Hole 9 – “Double Plateau” – 364 yards – Par 4

Another exciting, unique and extremely fun hole, the ninth plays over a large ridge which houses the course’s lone fairway bunker (easily carried by most players) and obscures the landing area and the remainder of the hole.

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From the top of the ridge, the remainder of the wonderful hole is revealed.

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In typical conditions, this hole is reachable by longer hitters willing to take the risk, as tee shots run forever down the back side of the ridge.

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The gorgeous double plateau green adds challenge and excitement to both the approach shot and the putts.

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This view shows the heavy contouring of the double plateau green . . .

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. . . as does this view from the left side of the green.

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Hole 10 – “Knoll” – 401 yards – Par 4

Perhaps the most difficult hole on the course, the tenth begins with a drive to a generous landing area.  Care should be taken to find the preferred side of the fairway, as a difficult approach awaits.

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A level lie is seldom found on the tenth, which only adds to the degree of difficulty faced on approach to the elevated green.

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The hill fronting the tenth green is steep.  Anything short will roll all the way back to the base of the hill some 40 yards short of the green, leaving a very difficult third shot.

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The horizon green makes judging the distance to the target very difficult.

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Par is a good score on this beautiful par 4.

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Hole 11 – “Eden” – 164 yards – Par 3

Some consider this hole Raynor/Macdonald’s finest Eden, and the finest in the US as well.  Your author agrees.

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Everything about this hole is perfect, from the construction and placement of the deep Hill and Strath bunkers . . .

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. . . to the horizon green . . .

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. . . to the spectacular setting of the hole itself.  A wonderful hole.

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The “Eden” peninsula, as viewed from the fifteenth fairway.

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Hole 12 – “Winthrop” – 389 yards – Par 4

The twelfth plays as a two-shot reverse Redan, with the tee shot hit over a cross ridge protruding from the left into the fairway.

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The green at the twelfth plays more like a traditional Redan than Fishers’s second.

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The fronting kick mound is larger and steeper, the front bunker is deeper and more hazardous . . .

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. . . and the green slopes more severely from front to back.

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A thrilling hole to play.

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Hole 13 – “Waterloo” – 400 yards – Par 4

A longer two shotter playing through a rolling fairway, the thirteenth is one of the few holes at Fishers Island on which the green is fronted by a hazard.

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Ponds front both the left and right sides of the approach short of the green, leaving only a narrow land bridge for the player to cross.

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The ideal approach at thirteen to a front pin is to land short of the green and allow the ball to bounce on.  As you can see, this leaves little room for error.

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The green itself is heavily undulated, and tilted significantly from back right to front left, making any conservative approach hit long a difficult two putt.

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The view from the right side of the thirteenth green.

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This section of the golf course (holes 11 through 15) is one of the rare portions of the course at Fishers Island where holes run parallel and are visible to the golfer.  This panoramic shot shows the thirteenth and eleventh greens.

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Hole 14 – “Cape” – 425 yards – Par 4

A sweeping dogleg left around a large pond, the 14th is yet another gorgeous hole.  I have been told that long hitters can attack this green directly – I was not confronted with that choice, and played down the prescribed righthand route.

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From the fairway, the player must carry the pond.  The closer the player dares to come to the pond off the tee, the shorter the approach will be.

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A large oak guards the rear of the fourteenth green.

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The green itself is set perfectly in a grove of trees at the base of a hill, and provides one of the day’s many incomparable views.

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Hole 15 – “Long” – 545 yards – Par 5

The longest of the three shot holes at Fishers Island is still not long by contemporary standards, and the generous fairway beyond the ridge allows players to have a go at the green in two.  There is more room left than it appears.

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The fast conditions that predominate at Fishers Island turn the par 5s into potential birdie holes, but also bring an added element of danger on every hole.

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As so many greens at Fishers Island are, the fifteenth green is open in front the full width of the fairway, which further incentivizes the player to attempt to get home in two.

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Deep bunkers await less than well struck efforts.

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Hole 16 – “Short” – 146 yards – Par 3

In your author’s opinion, the sixteenth is in competition, along with the sixteenth at Sleepy Hollow, for the most beautiful version of the “Short” template ever built.  Note that this green is no pushover.

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While this Short does not have the full wraparound bunkering like the Shorts at places like Sleepy Hollow, Whippoorwill and Fox Chapel, the more natural-looking surrounding bunkers here are perhaps more appropriate for the setting.

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The view of the sixteenth green from behind, with the tenth and twelfth greens in the distance.

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Hole 17 – “Coast Guard” – 415 yards – Par 4

A long, straight par 4, the penultimate hole at Fishers Island is also one of the more challenging.  Over a pond (carry is not an issue) to a relatively wide fairway bordered on both sides by long grasses and hazards, the seventeenth requires both accuracy and distance.

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Once more, the green is fully open to the fairway across the front.  One of my favorite features of this golf course.

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The seventeenth green is one of the most testing on the course — many internal ridges, mounds, and swales make lag putting from distance very challenging.  A tough par before the easier eighteenth.

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Hole 18 – “Home” – 452 yards – Par 5

A short par 5 finishing hole, the eighteenth at Fishers Island is a fantastic match play hole.

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At only a hair over 450 yards, many players will find it within their capabilities to reach this green in two.

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The green is slightly elevated, sloped steeply from back to front, and defended by a deep pot-like left bunker.  However, as with the other three shot holes at Fishers Island, the majority of the green is again open in front, allowing for long second shots to be run on to the putting surface.

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The green itself is multi-tiered, with high right and rear sections bordering a lower left section.  The slope is substantial enough that a player can attack pins on the lower left shelf by playing the ball off the high right section, similar to a Redan.

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This view from the left side of the final green reveals the many undulations of the putting surface.

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A beautiful conclusion to a special round of golf.

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After the Round – The Ferry Home

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Much like the pre-round ferry ride over to Fishers Island allows excitement and anticipation to build, the ferry back to the mainland gives the player a chance to think back on the special day he has just had, to reminisce about shots made and shots missed, to talk with his friends and playing companions about their shared experience, and to pause for a moment of reflection to consider how fortunate he is to call himself a golfer.

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Fishers Island is a special place.  While it is frequently a point of discussion as to whether it is over- or under-ranked on the various top-100 lists, no golfer would seriously debate that a day at Fishers Island is as good as it gets.  Were I left with just one round to play, I might choose to spend that round at Fishers Island — there is no higher compliment that I can give.

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I hope you enjoyed the tour.


3 Comments

Boston Golf Club Tour by Jon Cavalier

BOSTON GOLF CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Hingham, MA – Gil Hanse

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Boston has long been known as one of America’s best cities for golf.  With classic gems like Myopia Hunt Club, The Country Club at Brookline, Essex County Club, Salem Country Club, Kittansett and Eastward Ho!, as well as modern entries like Old Sandwich by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the best of Boston-area golf can rival anywhere.

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Enter Boston Golf Club.  I had the privilege of seeing this 2004 Gil Hanse design on a beautiful late-October afternoon, and while I had heard good things about the club previously, to say that Boston Golf Club exceeded my expectations would be a dramatic understatement.

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Every hole at BGC offers something worthwhile.  The golfer is put to strategic decisions constantly.  Despite its location, the playing corridors are wide, encouraging thoughtful placement of one’s ball.  And the setting is gorgeous.  Boston Golf Club is the best work I’ve seen by Gil Hanse, and I would recommend it without reservation to any golfer looking to play in the Boston area.

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I hope you enjoy the tour.

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The first thing a visitor notices upon arriving at Boston Golf Club is the wooded setting.  After turning into the entrance, marked only with a stone post engraved with the number “19”, the visitor winds his way up a curved drive to the gravel lot and walks up to the wooden-shingled clubhouse, built to look like a relic from the revolutionary war.

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The club has a well-appointed golf shop, locker rooms and a second-floor bar and grill with a view overlooking the 18th green.  Such tastefully done facilities that mesh well with their location are always a refreshing sight in today’s game.  Now member-owned, Boston Golf Club clearly puts the focus where it belongs – on the golf course.

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In sticking with the revolutionary war motif, the club’s logo is a simple red and white striped flag.  It’s one of my favorite modern golf logos.

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The golf course itself plays to a championship distance of 7062 yards, par 71, while the members generally play to a more reasonable 6740 yards (the distances used in this tour) or a composite yardage of just over 6300.  The course slopes out to a robust 139 (74.8 rating) at the tips and a 136 (73.4 rating) from the next set of tees.

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As seen in this overhead, the course is divided by a public road – the front nine plays out across the loop to the east of the road, while the back nine plays on the western side where the clubhouse is located.

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Though the road is not visible from any part of the course and is completely unobtrusive during play, the unique routing does present a rather long initial walk from the clubhouse to the first tee, and from the ninth to the tenth tee.  But the course itself is very walkable.

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Superintendent Rodney Hine and his staff expertly tend to BGC with firm, fast greens and fairway and short rough, with an assist from the goats kept on property.

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Need trees removed . . .

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Happy to help!  Any course with goats on the maintenance staff gets extra points in my book.

Now, on to the golf course…

BOSTON GOLF CLUB

Hole 1 – 485 yards – Par 5

The course begins with a short but challenging par-5 that plays up over a blind rise to a fairway hidden largely from view.

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From the very outset, the player gets a sense of what they will encounter at Boston Golf Club – wide, heaving fairways and an abundance of gorgeous scenery – both natural and, in the case of the stone wall seen here, man-made.

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Though this sub-500 yard par-5 is reachable in two for some longer hitters, the challenge in attempting the hero play is stiff.  The elevated green is ringed with bunkers and fronted by a ribbon of gunch that will likely result in a lost ball for those whose attempts at the green come up short.

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Laying up presents its own challenges, and the elevated green is partially hidden from view from the end of the fairway.

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The view from behind the putting surface reveals the substantial undulation in the first green and the ample width of the playing lane, which while often appearing tight, always provides the player with room to maneuver.

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Hole 2 – 407 yards – Par 4

A beautiful two shot hole, the fourth calls for an ideal drive either short of or over the rocky outcropping that cuts into the fairway from the right side.

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Indifferent tee shots will find trouble on both sides of the pinched fairway.

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Once beyond the choke point, the fairway tumbles hard down to the large green, which is open in the front to allow golfers to use the slope and attack the green on the ground.

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As this view from the right rear corner of the green shows, both the putting surface and the surrounding mowed areas are rife with movement.  The deep valley to the left of the green adds considerable challenge to approaches hit to left pins.

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Hole 3 – 420 yards – Par 4

The outstanding third hole begins with another blind tee shot to a fairway that swells up before dropping and bending slightly to the left.

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Care must be taken to choose a line and a shot shape that will both enable the player to hold the fairway and to position himself to approach the angled, sloping green.

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A ravine divides the fairway from the large third green, which is angled from short left to deep right, and which is also sloped hard from left to right, making the angle of approach critical.

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The view from behind the green shows the exceptionally undulated fairway, uncommon elsewhere but frequently seen here.

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After bagging his (hopeful) four, the golfer sets off on this footbridge through a wooded marsh to reach the fourth tee.