Geeked on Golf

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Somerset Hills CC Tour by Jon Cavalier

SOMERSET HILLS COUNTRY CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Bernardsville, NJ – A.W. Tillinghast

On a recent Tillinghast Tour, I was fortunate to be able to play Somerset Hills, Quaker Ridge and Fenway Golf Club.  Previously, I’d played the East Course at Baltimore Country Club / Five Farms, Ridgewood Country Club, Bethpage Black and Red, and the Wissahickon Course at Philadelphia Cricket Club, as well as some lesser lights.  I mention this because, while I very much enjoyed each of these courses (more than a few of which are undeniably great), I feel like this gives me a good base from which to opine that Somerset Hills is the best that I’ve seen of Tillinghast’s work.

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Tilly’s Redan

I’ve always been aware of Somerset Hills and its status as a fine, if low-key, private facility, as it sits some 60 miles as the crow flies from Philadelphia.  Its reputation, at least down this way, is often overshadowed by Tillinghast’s tournament venues – Baltusrol, Winged Foot and Bethpage.  I’ve heard that that is the club’s intent.  But from the moment I hit the entrance to the property, Somerset Hills exceeded my expectations in every regard.  It is beautiful, strategic, interesting, unique and fun, and the condition of the course was fantastic and conducive to good golf.  I can’t speak highly enough about it.

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Sunshower over Nairn

On the day we played, we had varied weather conditions – bright sun, full cloud cover, some light fog/mist, a little rain and even a sunshower.  Add in the bright fall colors that adorned the area, and you have a golf course that was practically crying out to be photographed.  So I obliged.

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Autumn at Somerset Hills

I hope you enjoy the tour.

The Entrance

Somerset Hills is in Bernardsville, NJ.  The drive to the club winds through some gorgeous areas replete with horse farms and open spaces.

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The Clubhouse

The understated clubhouse fits in well with the rest of the club.

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The Scorecard

Each of the holes at Somerset Hills is given a name (a practice that I, for some reason, support and enjoy very much).  The course plays to 6,756 from the championship tees and 6,384 from the regular tees to a par of 71.

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Hole 1 – “Orchard” – 448yds – Par 4

Somerset Hills opens with a long, tough par 4 – no gentlemen’s handshake here.  The first is a dogleg right with a slight rise obscuring the landing area from the tee.

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An apple orchard sits inside the dogleg – both green and red apples are grown at Somerset.

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The first hole gives the player an introduction to the beautiful terrain, which was put to good use by Tillinghast.  The green is tilted from left to right, while the “safe” miss to the right is guarded by several bunkers.

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The view from behind the first green, illustrating the wonderful contours within the putting surface.

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Hole 2 – “Redan” – 205yds – Par 3

Tilly’s Redan.  Somerset Hills starts off tough.  I’ve played three dozen versions of the redan, and this is easily one of the best.

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From the back tee, the player is fully aware that a direct approach to the left pin is not advisable.

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This view, from just short of the 8th green, shows the beautiful way in which Tillinghast draped this hole over the existing terrain.

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Tilly’s Redan green has some of the most extreme internal movement of any green at Somerset, and of any Redan, for that matter.  Some say this hole is diminished because so few pin positions exist.  I would not complain if this green was pinned in exactly this spot every day.  This hole plays exactly as a Redan should play.

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Hole 3 – “Bunker Hill – 376yds – Par 4

An apt name for a wonderful hole, the third plays to a wide fairway.  The angle left for the approach is critical here.  On this day, a passing storm provided an added challenge.

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The ideal approach on 3.  Through the raindrops.

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Full view of the 3rd green, as seen from the 6th tee.

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The reward for our soldiering on through five minutes of light rain was this rainbow over the 3rd green.

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Hole 4 – “Dolomites” – 457yds – Par 4

A wonderful par 4, the player’s eye is drawn to the striking “dolomites” mounding that Tillinghast put in to separate the parallel 4th and 6th holes.  Notice how the green is simply an extension of the fairway.  A bunker guards the ideal spot from which to approach this green.

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The approach to 4.  While artificial, the dolomites add to, rather than detract from, this beautiful par 4.  The way Tillinghast used these mounds to frame the hole reminded me of the 2nd at Myopia.

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Not position “A”.

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The view back down the 4th fairway.  Elevation plays a role at Somerset, even on the much more subdued front nine.

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Hole 5 – “Nairn” – 343yds – Par 4

The first short par 4 at Somerset Hills, this little beauty provides the player with his first good chance at birdie, as most players will carry the bunker guarding the inside of the slight dogleg…

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…and have nothing more than a wedge into the green.  However…

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…this is no ordinary green!

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These mounds guard the right rear quadrant of the 5th green and will provide quite the interesting putt if enmeshed in them (sadly, the club does not pin this green in between the mounds).

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Hole 6 – “Plateau” – 501yds – Par 5

The second “easy” hole in a row, the 6th is a dogleg right that can be cut off the tee by the longer player.

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The 6th also brings the player back into the dolomites, and cuts across the old race track which Tillinghast incorporated into his design.

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The view from behind the 6th green shows both the substantial back to front slope of the putting surface and the open and expansive feel of the front nine at Somerset Hills.

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Hole 7 – “Racetrack” – 484yds – Par 4

Perhaps the best par 4 on the front nine, the 7th begins with a tee shot over a rise in the fairway, which obscures the green and the landing area.

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The downhill approach from the left side of the fairway on 7.

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Again, the fairway blends seamlessly into the green.  Running approach shots are permitted and encouraged here.

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The view back up the gorgeous 7th.

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Hole 8 – “Dip” – 230yds – Par 3

Suffice it to say that the two one-shotters on the front nine at Somerset Hills are not the easiest par that you’ll find.  Given its length, Tillinghast built this long par 3 with a large, deep green.

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This wide view from behind the 8th green reveals the intricate and challenging character of the putting surface.

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Hole 9 – “Westward Ho” – 529yds – Par 5

An uphill, dogleg left par 5, the 9th plays around the apple orchard and back up to the clubhouse.

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The fairway, which divides like the tongue of a snake, dead-ends at a complex of mounding and bunkers.  The orchard is visible to the left of the fairway.

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This view from the 9th green shows the substantial cant of the fairway and the benefits of a low draw into this green.

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The substantial drop left of the 9th green, and the fantastic fall colors at Somerset Hills.

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Hole 10 – “Sunningdale” – 496yds – Par 5

The second of back-to-back par 5s bookending the turn, the 10th plays downhill and around a dogleg right…

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…then back up a slight rise to a well-defended green set back in a wooded knoll.  This is the only non-original Tillinghast green on the course, which was lost when this hole was lengthened many years ago – the site of the original green is still visible, marked by subtle lines in the right side of the fairway and right rough, in the photo below.

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The view from behind the 10th flag.

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Hole 11 – “Perfection” – 412yds – Par 4

Holes 11-18 at Somerset Hills have a distinctly difficult flavor than Holes 1-10.  The latter stretch plays across a mostly open plain with some modest elevation change, while the former plays through and around much more dramatic terrain.  The 11th plays downhill to a landing area that looks much smaller than it is, then doglegs 90 degrees right and back up to the green.  The par 3 12th green is visible in the background of the photo below.  This is a beautiful golf hole.

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The challenging approach shot on 11, back up a slight rise to an undulating green.

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This panoramic shot shows the setting of the 12th and 11th greens.

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The excellent green complex at 11.

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Hole 12 – “Despair” – 151yds – Par 3

Aptly named, as many players surely find it here.  The first short par 3 at Somerset Hills is by no means easy, as the green slopes so severely from back right to front left that the hole plays somewhat like a reverse redan.  A beautiful hole in a gorgeous setting.

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The view from behind and above the 12th green, with the 11th hole in full view.

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Hole 13 – “Corner” – 409yds – Par 4

Once again, the landing area is blind to the tee on this par 4.  Bunkers on the right guard the desired side of this fairway.

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The approach from the left side into the 13th green, over the center bunkers, to a green…

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…bisected by a Biarritz-like swale.  Great pin position, very fun hole.

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Hole 14 – “Ridge” – 416yds – Par 4

A wide fairway with a slight incline makes for a slightly uncomfortable tee shot.  Once again, the angle left from the tee shot is of high importance on this hole.

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The approach into 14, with a massive infinity green.

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The 14th is one of the largest and most undulating greens on the course.  The variety of great pin positions available on this hole is astounding.

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Hole 15 – “Happy Valley” – 407yds – Par 4

The club considers the 15th their “signature hole,” and I wouldn’t argue that designation.  The favored ball here is a cut over the bunker and down the hill.

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The beautiful setting of the 15th green, guarded front and left by a meandering stream.

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Gorgeous.

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Hole 16 – “Deception” – 170yds – Par 3

The 16th is akin to a shorter reverse redan, as the green slopes significantly from right to left.  Putting down from the high left side to the pictured pin position often results in a chip for one’s third shot.

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The 16th green from behind, with the 17th green in the background.  What a wonderful setting for golf!

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Hole 17 – “Quarry” – 387yds – Par 4

The first of two shorter par 4s that complete the round at Somerset Hills, the 17th plays up over an abrupt rise, then…

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..falls steeply downhill to the green.  This hole plays shorter than the yardage indicates, but hitting the green is critical, as it slopes steeply off on all sides.

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This view from behind the 17th green shows the drastic elevation change.

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As does this panoramic view of the 17th green and 18th tee.

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Hole 18 – “Thirsty Summit” – 335yds – Par 4

The short 18th opens with a tee shot back up the rise toward the clubhouse.

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As its name would indicate, the 18th finishes mere steps from the clubhouse, and its well appointed bar.

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As the player climbs the 18th fairway, he is afforded this view of the 10th and 17th greens behind and below him.

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The gorgeous view across the 18th green, with the 12th green visible in the valley beyond.

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Somerset Hills is a must play for any fan of Tillinghast in particular or of golden age golf architecture in general.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  I hope you enjoyed the tour.


MORE LINKSGEMS TOURS

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Year that the GoG Tour Ended

That title has a sad tone to it, but 2017 was anything but a sad year for my golf.  In fact, it was the most fulfilling year of my golfing life.

To be clear, I did not play less golf in 2017 than I did in previous years, although I did player fewer new courses.  That is what I mean by the tour ending.  I have played enough courses at this point to have a solid list of favorites, and I went back to several of them this year instead of running down new experiences.  Replays, as opposed to new plays, was how I decided to use my time.

That change in focus crystallized for me when I was sitting in the Wichita airport after spending another weekend at Prairie Dunes.  As outlined in my previous post, these visits to Prairie Dunes are a golf binge.  One course, around and around we go from sun up to sun down for two days.  Every time I come off the 18th hole of that course, I want to go right back out.  Among the golf cognoscenti, that “18th green to 1st tee” standard is used to evaluate courses, and it is a good standard.  What we are referring to with that standard though is a replay after the first play, I suspect.

My experiences at Prairie Dunes have set a new standard in my mind – 108 in 48.  The question is, which courses would I want to go around 6 times in 2 days?  What that means to me is, which courses are interesting, challenging and fun enough to stand up to that kind of immersion experience?  Can’t be too hard or I get worn out.  Can’t have weak stretches of holes or I lose attention.

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Prairie Dunes passes the 108 in 48 test with flying colors for me for three reasons:  First, the sequence of holes is packed with variety from a length, straight vs dogleg, and directional perspective.  Second, the greens might be the best set on the planet.  Third, the course is drop dead gorgeous – color contrast, texture, land movement, tree management – it is just the right kind of candy for my eyes.

Of the courses I re-played in 2017, Essex County Club and Maidstone are also 108 in 48 standouts, but for different reasons than PD.  Both Essex and Maidstone play through multiple “zones”.  Essex has its brook/wetland zone and its stone hill zone.  Maidstone has its wetland zone and linksland zone.  This gives them both a meandering adventure feel that I find compelling.  Both are also outstanding at the level of fine details.

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All three of these courses share a peaceful, refined beauty in common that creates a sense of transcendence during the course of a round.  The passage of time melts away.
There are a handful of other courses that meet this standard for me.  There are also quite a few courses that I love dearly and consider favorites that do not.

Obviously, there are courses like Cypress Point and Pine Valley that, when you get the call, you drop everything and go.  Beyond those select few though, I find myself leaning toward continuing to spend as much time as I can on courses that qualify for my 108 in 48 list.  With each joyful play, my love of them grows, and I cannot imagine a better use of the time.

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By any conventional standard, I am not cool.  I am a geek, and the older I get the more firm is my resolve to be as authentically geeky as I possibly can.  Reflecting on 2017, it occurs to me that I have found my tribe of fellow geeks, and I was tremendously fortunate to spend quality time wandering the fairways with so many of them.

When I started GeekedOnGolf, it was a bit of a solitary journey.  The vibe was focused on my game and my experiences.  It was a “me” thing.  Thankfully, in the intervening years, it has very much become a “we” thing.  The men and women who I have met, and who I consider as my golf buddies, are among the best people I know.  They are authentic, smart, funny, kind, and giving – they are geeks like me, and I love every minute spent with them.

As 2017 went along, I found that this enjoyment of camaraderie began to take on an equal or higher priority than my attention to the courses played.  As I look forward to 2018, my primary thoughts are about whom I want to play with, and the courses to be played are an afterthought.  That is a big shift, and it has a quality of meaningful wholeness to me.

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In the category of good company, 2017 was the year that I became a golf dad.  That was a dream that I had been holding in my mind and heart, and it came true as both of my sons turned into golf bums.  There is nothing that I love more during those long summer days than having them come to at the end of the work day and say the magic words – hey Dad, can we go over to the golf course?

It just doesn’t get any better than to wander the fairways of Canal Shores, Kingsley Club or any other course watching Jack and Henry golf their balls as their love of the game grows.

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Each year goes by, and I do my best to give back through this website, my work at Canal Shores, and generally trying to be a good golf buddy.  Each year, because of the generosity of my hosts, my fellow volunteers, and my fellow geeks who take the time to visit here, I feel like I am deeper in debt.

To bring these 2017 reflections full circle, there is no sadness in that ever-growing debt, and there is only a growing sense of joyful meaning and love of the game as these adventures continue.  I hope that you enjoyed following along this year, and wish you all the best in your geeky adventures in 2018.

Happy New Year!


MORE GEEKED ON GOLF MUSINGS:

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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GCA Video Archive – The Commentators

This section of the archive is dedicated to commentary on golf courses and golf course architecture.  It contains link compilations to Golf Channel’s special weeks, as well as videos from individual commentators that are typically not course specific.  This is also the section where I have placed miscellanea that did not fit in any other category.

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DECEMBER 2013 – GOLF CHANNEL ARCHITECTS WEEK

FEBRUARY 2015 – GOLF CHANNEL ARCHITECTS WEEK II

DECEMBER 2015 – GOLF CHANNEL ARCHITECTURE WEEK III

NOVEMBER 2015 –  GOLF CHANNEL WATER WEEK

DECEMBER 2017 – GOLF CHANNEL DESIGN WEEK


MATT GINELLA

Other Golf Channel appearances:

GEOFF SHACKELFORD

Other Golf Channel appearances:

RON WHITTEN

BRADLEY KLEIN

ROBERT S. MACDONALD

KYLE TRUAX – GOLF TRUAXIOMS

 

WORLD GOLF HALL OF FAME

PHILADELPHIA GOLFCLUBATLAS GATHERINGS

Videos courtesy of Joe Bausch and Matt Frey

COB CARLSON – DONALD ROSS, DISCOVERING THE LEGEND

MISCELLANEOUS 

SCOREGOLF

100 YEARS OF THE MET OPEN

IVIEW 2D GOLF COURSE TOURS


MORE GCA VIDEO ARCHIVES:

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 17 (14th Hole Bunker Rebuild)

While the planning process continues to unfold, we are on the lookout for little ways to make the course more interesting and fun.  The golf geeks were itching for a creative bunker project to finish off the year, and we found one on the 14th.

With help from our volunteers and support from local Superintendents, we knocked the project out in two days.  There was a trench style bunker left of the green and a cart path left of that.  Both had fallen into a state of disrepair.

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By the street on this same hole, we also wanted to get rid of an old post & cable fence, and so we thought it would be fun to fix the bunker and recycle the posts in the process.  The fence was ripped out and away we went.

We borrowed Westmoreland’s skid steer (thank you Superintendent Todd Fyffe) and scraped up the old path.

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We borrowed a sod cutter from Bryn Mawr CC (thank you Superintendent Brian Bossert) and prepped the area around the bunker.  I cut out the shapes for two bunkers – one at the start of the old trench, and one at the end.  The posts were laid out in between, with the intention of sinking them into the bank and letting them get partially grown over.  We want them to look like something we found and uncovered.

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On the final day, we had a great volunteer crew out.  Andy Johnson (@the_fried_egg) and Peter Korbakes (@sugarloafsocialclub) dug the bunkers out and Coore & Crenshaw Shaper Quinn Thompson sunk the sleepers.  Along with John and Nick from our grounds staff and several of our local volunteers, Tony Dear and Graylyn Loomis from Links Magazine pitched in with shaping the surrounds and sodding.

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Great group of guys and we had a blast talking golf, travel, life, etc, while getting the work done.  Very grateful for all of the support, and excited for our players to experience this creative improvement to the course.

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A few weeks later, with the sand in, the sod has received its first few mows after being lovingly tended by John Lee.  Our new green-left setup looks like it has always been there.

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Stay tuned for an update on the Metra Corner, and news of our upcoming fall projects.  Onward we go…


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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My Buddies in Boston – Annual Trip Recap

As I mentioned in my previous post on golf on Long Island, my buddies and I take an annual golf trip to the Northeast.  This year, we headed to Boston, where there is no shortage of world class golf.

We had the privilege of playing 4 outstanding courses – The Country Club, Boston Golf Club, Old Sandwich, Essex County – and I took enough photos to negatively impact my golf, so it makes sense to share them and offset the damage.

The mix of courses provided a nice contrast for us, and grounds for debates on questions such as:

  • If you could only play the top classic courses OR the top modern courses for the rest of your life, which would you pick? (we came down 3 out of 4 classic)
  • Which course of those we’ve played on our annual trips is your favorite? (consensus is still Friar’s Head, although Essex is right there for me)
  • Which of the courses make your Top 5? (For me, Essex County bumped Old Elm off my list to join Kingsley, NGLA, Friar’s Head, and Lawsonia Links)

I provided a little commentary with the photos, although it is by no means comprehensive.  Allow me to admit my biases so that you can put my comments into context:

  • When playing courses of this caliber, it strikes me as silly to spend time looking for things I don’t like.  Instead, I tend to focus on what is great about the features, holes and course, and shrug off any shortcomings I notice.  There was an exception to that rule on this trip.  The Superintendent at The Country Club asked my buddy Brian Bossert to take notes on any blemishes we found.  We obliged.  I won’t mention those things here, but I was struck by how incredibly humble a request that was.
  • Although I enjoy tough tests of golf, I tend to favor courses that meet the everyday play standard more highly.  The game is tough enough and I want to enjoy it, therefore any course that provides a healthy dose of hard-for-hard’s-sake is not going to make my list of favorites.
  • I am a U.S. Open geek, and am working on studying and playing all of the U.S. Open venues (more about that here).  Therefore, being at TCC had special significance, which certainly influenced my love of the place.
  • Boston Golf Club, which was a huge positive surprise to me even though I have read the praise of its supporters on GolfClubAtlas.com, had a Kingsley feel for me.  Being the homer that I am (more about that here), any course that sniffs of Kingsley is going to be a winner in my book.
  • Coore & Crenshaw’s work always looks right to my eye.  Old Sandwich was the 7th one of their courses that I have played.  That being said, it was the second course we played on a long day, and we got beat up a little, so I didn’t like it as much as the others.  I suspect that I would have a higher opinion if I went back on a more relaxed day.
  • Having grown up playing on Donald Ross’s work, I was predisposed to love Essex County.  I played my worst round of golf in 3 years and still came away adoring it.  If I went back and played well, my head and heart would probably explode – it was that good.

Now that you know the score, enjoy the tour…


THE COUNTRY CLUB

The historic clubhouse at The Country Club is gorgeous. The spirit of Francis Ouimet permeates the place and you can picture the  1999 Ryder Cuppers celebrating on the balcony.

The historic clubhouse at The Country Club is gorgeous. The spirit of Francis Ouimet permeates the place and you can picture the 1999 Ryder Cuppers celebrating on the balcony.

Obviously, the place oozes golf history, which is a treat to soak in.  As for the course, the routing was interesting and pleasant.  The holes wind around the property gently, with changes of direction and elevation.  The features don’t necessarily wow, but everything feels like it is in its right place.  It also has just the right amount of classic quirk.

I was particularly taken with how consistently small the greens were, and with the rough treatment around them.  In this age of big greens with dramatic internal contours flanked by run-offs and chipping areas, The Country Club has almost none of that.  You hit the small green and you are typically rewarded with a makable putt.  You miss, and it’s trouble in the thick rough.

Learning to play this course day in and day and out would set you up to play well almost anywhere else, and it would be a joy to do.

More on The Country Club:


BOSTON GOLF CLUB

My buddies and I looked more fresh after 9 holes at Boston Golf Club than we did at the end of the 36 hole day.

My buddies and I looked more fresh after 9 holes at Boston Golf Club than we did at the end of the 36 hole day.

The course is jaw-dropping beautiful without sacrificing its natural feel.  The use of the land forms on the property was awesome.  If Gil hanse engaged in major earth moving in building the course, it didn’t look that way.  Every hole is memorable – not a dud in the bunch – although that hole-by-hole greatness does seem to have produced more lengthy green-to-tee walks than I would normally like.

The course has enough quirk and challenge to be really fun without feeling like it was a chore.  It had blind shots and shots that were right in front of you in just the right proportion.  There are holes that can be played through the air or on the ground, which I like because I enjoy mixing it up and trying things.  I haven’t been many places that have had as many cool and creative bunkers sprinkled throughout.

Given the at-home feel for me, I could easily see myself playing BGC every day and having a blast doing it.  For those who care about score, you could shoot low numbers there, or really high ones.  For those who like hitting a wide variety of shots, it would never get old.

More on Boston Golf Club:


OLD SANDWICH

Unfortunately, my phone died, so I did not get as many photos of Old Sandwich as I would have liked.  The course lays softly on the big, beautiful piece of land.  This might be the most masterfully routed course I have ever played.  It feels expansive, there are directional changes to the point of disorientation, and the course makes use of numerous outstanding land forms.  All that being said, I cannot remember a long walk from any green to tee.

The par 3s, short 4s, and par 5s are all stellar.  Great mix of holes with opportunities to make birdies and big numbers.  There are plenty of those fun centerline bunkers that make you think, including some cool little pot bunkers.  The greens are big and undulating, and all have false fronts and/or runoffs around the edges.  Fairways are wide, but there is a super-premium placed on accuracy of approaches, whether through the air or along the ground.  Hit it to the wrong part of the green, and you are almost guaranteed a 3-putt.

I would love to go back, but OS would not be a good every day course for me.  It felt as hard or harder than Streamsong Red, and that is too hard for everyday golf tastes.  That being said, if you can go, go have the experience once.

More on Old Sandwich:


ESSEX COUNTY CLUB

An great end to another magical trip with the best golf buddies  in all the land. Looking forward to next year.

An great end to another magical trip with the best golf buddies in all the land. Looking forward to next year.

From the drive into the club past the grass tennis courts, to the gravel parking lot, to the low-key, but warm welcome we received, I was deeply in love with Essex County by the time we stepped on to the first tee…and then it got better.

The course felt like it had been tinkered with by someone who loved it, which is no surprise given that Donald Ross’s house was behind the 15th tee.  For you tree-clearing fans (more on that here), the Superintendent, Eric Richardson who is a great guy, told us that they have removed 15,000 trees in the past 7 years.  I find it difficult to imagine how much the visual impact of the property would have been degraded with those trees still there, especially with the giant rock formation at the center of the back nine.

Essex County winds around and looks like a work of art painted on to the property.  It includes some of the boldest classic holes I have ever played – 8, 11, 17, and 18 are all holes that it takes true vision to see, and guts to build.  There is a wonderful variety of bunker shapes, sizes, placement and treatment.  The fine fescue areas are among the best kept I have seen anywhere.  The greens are fun and challenging without being tricked up.  You can see the lines, and confident strokes are rewarded with holed putts.

As I mentioned above, it made my Top 5 list, and it did because I could see myself playing there every day for the rest of my life with friends and having a ball doing it.  Good play is largely rewarded with good scores, but there is just enough devilish subtlety to keep it much more interesting than some boring standard like “fair”.  I will make a point of going back.

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