Geeked on Golf

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


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Musings on Our National Championship

For the record, I loved the 2018 U.S. Open.  We got to see four days of great players taking on Shinnecock Hills – William Flynn’s brilliant design, Coore & Crenshaw’s thoughtful restoration, and Jon Jennings et al’s beautiful presentation.  No amount of setup snafu, quick rake nonsense, or bellyaching from various constituencies could dampen my enthusiasm.

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All photos by Jon Cavalier

The internet produced a variety of strong reactions to the Open at Shinnecock.  Some were well-reasoned and others were hyperbolic in the extreme.  Setting reactions aside, following are my musings on what we’ve learned, and where America’s governing body might go from here with our National Championship.

For some time now, the USGA has been doing a fair bit of tinkering and way too much micromanaging.  They are not the victims of happenstance or bad breaks.  They have placed themselves in an untenable situation by trying to:

  • appease players and manufacturers by not adequately regulating equipment technology,
  • appease traditional hard-liners who demand carnage,
  • appease casual fans who prefer birdies over bogeys, and
  • appease par devotees who want to see a certain number on the scoreboard.

Combine these factors with the unpredictability of Mother Nature and the game of golf itself, and you have a recipe for outcomes that are guaranteed to frustrate and disappoint.  Worse yet, the USGA’s insistence on pursuing this impossible balance to try and please everyone is distracting from what really matters – great players competing against each other on great playing fields.

As I watched Saturday’s action unfold, with the setup tipping over the edge, I ran a 24-hour Twitter poll to try and gauge how the carnage vs. playability balance was shaping up:

USOpen-Poll1.pngA day later, with the USGA arguably going too far in the direction of playability, I asked essentially the same question in a different way:

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Although the second poll was much quicker, I doubt that the results would have changed had I let it run for 24-hours instead of 2.  My conclusion?  We the audience don’t really even know what we want.  We are essentially impossible to please.  The USGA would be better served choosing a position, and sticking to their guns knowing that some players and fans will gripe no matter what.  With that approach, at least they will have maintained a discernible and authentic identity.


THE PATH AHEAD

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  It’s time to stop the insanity.

If I were King, I would create a U.S. Open rota, with architectural interest and history being the weightiest considerations.  I would not concern myself with charges of “elitism” in my rota selections.  This is one of the most elite competitions in the world.  Its venues can and should be elite as well.  Making the game more inclusive is an important mission of the USGA, but the U.S. Open is not the vehicle for that mission.

My proposed rota is:

  • Oakmont*
  • Shinnecock Hills*
  • Pebble Beach*
  • Pinehurst No. 2*
  • Winged Foot*
  • Merion
  • Olympic Club
  • The Country Club
  • Los Angeles CC
  • Cherry Hills
  • Inverness (based on Andrew Green’s recent tune-up)
  • Oakland Hills (contingent on Gil Hanse tune-up)
  • Olympia Fields (contingent on Keith Foster tune-up)

*host more frequently than others

This rota provides geographic and architectural diversity and allows fans to get to know great courses by watching different player cohorts play them over the decades.  Just because a course did not make my rota does not mean that I don’t want to see professional golf on that course.  I very much want to see future events held at Chambers Bay, Bethpage Black, Erin Hills, and others.  Let the PGA and PGA Tour cast a wider net with the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup that includes those great courses.

The rota being selected, my second act as King would be to simplify the rules for setup to a list of 3, and I would let the Golf Course Superintendent lead the preparation of the course for the tournament with consultation from the USGA that is not overbearing.

  1. Rough and/or native area that is nasty and penal, but only where the original architect intended for it to be.
  2. Very firm greens, but slow the putting surfaces down so that they stay alive and roll true.
  3. A mix of pin positions each day – some gettable, some next-to-impossible.

These setup rules would not be altered regardless of the weather.  If Mother Nature helps the players one year, so be it.  If Mother Nature crushes the players the next year, so be it.  As King, I would offer no apologies to anyone based on their perceptions of difficulty, or lack thereof.  You play in the National Championship, it is what it is.  Deal with it.  Because after all, that is the essence of the game itself, and as King, I would want my championship to pay homage to that essence.


THE ROTA IN PHOTOS

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Oakmont

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Shinnecock Hills

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Pebble Beach

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Pinehurst No. 2

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Winged Foot

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Merion

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Olympic Club

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The Country Club

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Los Angeles CC

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Cherry Hills

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Inverness

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Oakland Hills

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Olympia Fields

Now that I’ve shared my musings, I’m off to read what everyone else has concluded.  Feel free to share your thoughts here, email me, or comment on social media.  Already looking forward to Pebble…


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems Shinnecock Hills GC Photo Tour

JON CAVALIER’S LINKSGEMS 2018 U.S. OPEN PREVIEW

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

The rich tradition of championship golf at Shinnecock Hills continues this summer.  The collaboration between Superintendent Jon Jennings and Coore & Crenshaw has brought out every ounce of the brilliance of William Flynn’s Long Island masterpiece.  Shinny is ready to test the best.

Once again, Jon Cavalier has provided us with a hole-by-hole preview featuring his stellar photography and commentary.  My course doodle has been included for your reference, and additional resources are at the end for an even deeper dive.  Enjoy!

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SHINNECOCK HILLS GOLF CLUB

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(click on image mosaics to enlarge)

No. 1 – 399yds – Par-4

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A relatively easy dogleg right with an ample landing area to open, and certainly one of the better birdie opportunities on the course.  However, long is serious trouble – bogey or worse lurks behind this green.

No. 2 – 252yds – Par-3

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A new back tee installed for the 2018 Open stretches this monster uphill par-3 to over 250 yards to a green guarded by bunkers on both sides and a false front.  Make par here and you’ll gain on the field for sure.

No. 3 – 500yds – Par-4

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This par-4 has been lengthened via a new back tee and narrowed from the left side, bringing the bunkers on the right very much into play.  The open green slopes mostly back-to-front but abruptly falls away behind.

No. 4 – 475yds – Par-4

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“Pump House,” so named for the outbuildings the hole doglegs around, has seen its fairway tightened up.  Its real challenge is the undulating green, which features a false front and falls away on all sides.

No. 5 – 589yds – Par-5

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“Montauk” is the first three-shotter of the round, but rest assured, many will be going for this green in two despite the narrow fairway and the large bunker guarding the dogleg. Distance control is key, as once again, long is dead.

No. 6 – 491yds – Par-4

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“Pond” features the only water on the course, a retention pond unlikely to see a single ball this week, and a scruffy waste area right of the fairway that will.  The green is among the toughest at Shinny.

No. 7 – 189yds – Par-3

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This Redan, built in 1931 by William Flynn on the site of C.B. Macdonald’s original, is a hole as intimidating as it is beautiful.  Playing at a more oblique angle and with a smaller opening than most makes this tilted green incredibly difficult to hit, hold, chip to and putt.  Any misses to the right will be lucky to save bogey.  In 2004, Kevin Stadler putted from 2-feet into a bunker. Buckle up.

No. 8 – 439yds – Par-4

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“Lowlands” is likely the flattest hole at Shinny, and at “only” 439 yards, players will be looking for birdie here before the brutal 9-10-11 stretch.  Beware the green though, which is among the most undulating on the course.

No. 9 – 485yds – Par-4

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“Ben Nevis,” named for the highest mountain in the UK, is one of the world’s greatest uphill par-4s, and the start of the heart of this golf course.  A dogleg left at the clubhouse to a heaving fairway, and then up to a green seemingly perched on the edge of a cliff, mere paces from the steps leading in to Stanford White’s iconic shingle-style clubhouse.Par is a good score on this breathtaking hole.

No. 10 – 415yds – Par-4

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The aptly named “Westward Ho” plays to a fairway cut through a dune hiding a precipitous drop, a left turn and a green with 50 yards of false front.  Short is dead, long is deader; better be dialed in on distance.

No. 11 – 159yds – Par-3

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The 11th at Shinnecock has been called many things: Hill Head (its official name), the shortest par-5 in golf, and the best uphill par-3 in the world, among others.  What it has never been called, is easy.  The green sits atop a small dune ridge exposed to the wind and falls off to all sides.  Standing on the tee, the landing area looks impossibly small.  A hole that could determine the Open winner.

No. 12 – 469 – Par-4

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After surviving the crucible at 9-10-11, players will be looking for birdie at this downwind, downhill par-4.  Playing across Tuckahoe Road, the approach is slightly uphill to an open green.  Look for big drives here.

No. 13 – 374yds – Par-4

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“Road Side” once again changes direction and plays back over Tuckahoe Road toward the clubhouse.  The shortest non-par-3 on the course, the 13th is a prime candidate to be shortened to a drivable par-4.

No. 14 – 519yds – Par-4

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One of my favorite holes, “Thom’s Elbow” has been lengthened by a whopping 75 yards, turning this well-bunkered two-shotter into a monster that should require driver off the tee from the entire field.  The saddle-shaped green at the 14th is more receptive than most, and will direct balls from its flanks to the middle.  Shots hit too firmly will scoot through and will leave a difficult up-and-down.

No. 15 – 409yds – Par-4

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The 15th is one of the most beautiful holes in golf, its tee set high on the glacial moraine that serves as the backbone of this astonishing golf course.  Finding the fairway is critical, as the green is small, sloped and well-guarded by six terraced bunkers in front (one of the few greens fronted by bunkers at Shinnecock).  Simply put, this is just a breathtakingly beautiful golf hole.

No. 16 – 616yds – Par-5

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Shinnecock, the eponymous 16th, begins our home stretch.  The second of Shinny’s two par-5s, this hole has a new tee which adds 76 yards in length, but downwind, players can still have a go at this green.  As with so many holes at Shinnecock, the defenses of this hole are found around and on the green.  Five bunkers guard the layup zone and ten more guard the green.  Most players will happily take par here.

No. 17 – 180yds – Par-3

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A devilishly tricky one-shotter frequently buffeted by confounding crosswinds and featuring a pushed up green with no background to help with judging distance, the 17th may well determine this week’s winner.

No. 18 – 485yds – Par-4

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A new tee 35 yards back brings the bunker at the dogleg back into play, but Home is all about the approach and the wickedly sloped green, which will return anything indifferent 20 yards back into the fairway.

And there you have it – all 18 holes at one of America’s very best championship venues, an iconic piece of golden age architecture.  Hope you enjoyed the tour, and that you enjoy the 118th United States Open!

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Bonus Aerials

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MORE ON SHINNECOCK HILLS

 


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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2016 Geeked on Golf Tour

A pattern seems to be developing.  As I watch the snow fall out my window, I reflect back and think, “It can’t get any better than this year’s golf tour.”  And then the next year comes around, and it does.  That was the story of 2016.  Just when I thought golf adventuring couldn’t get any better, it did.

I got around quite a bit this year.  First the stats: Played 51 courses (30 for the first time), including 6 U.S. Open Venues, in 15 states.  Gloriously exhausting, and tremendously rewarding.

Before getting into detail on the courses played, a few takeaways from the year:

This was the year I realized that I don’t like playing alone all that much anymore.  I would rather be in the company of a fellow geek or two.  Being able to share these adventures with kindred spirits makes the experiences richer, including geeking out about golf on long car rides or over a well-earned meal and drink.  This year, I had the good fortune of deepening existing friendships, and creating new ones around the country.  Golf is magical that way.

Golf has always been a walking sport for me.  This year, I came to realize that riding in a cart takes too much away from the experience for me to do it.  Even if it means that my game suffers a bit from fatigue, I prefer to walk.  Hiking around Sand Hollow, 81 holes in a day and half at Prairie Dunes, 45 holes at Sand Hills – sure, these walks were taxing.  But I like the exercise and the experience of the courses is significantly more vivid.  There might come a day when I am no longer able to walk and play.  On that day, I will take a cart.  Until then, it’s walking for me.

Although I did play in quite a few fun matches with friends, I did not keep score once this year.  In 2016, it didn’t seem to matter, so I didn’t bother.  It was quite liberating.  I was still plenty happy to make pars and birdies, but there was no pressure to do so.  Instead, I was freed up to attempt creative shots that, when pulled off, are the golfing memories I cherish the most.

Finally, I fell in love with the replay this year, or as my buddy Peter says, “Going around and around.”  My weekend at Prairie Dunes, and replays of great courses like Shoreacres, Crystal Downs, Sand Hills, and Boston Golf Club brought this into focus for me.  Playing new courses is great, but I find myself yearning more and more for the depth of experience that comes from the replay.

Enough philosophizing, on to the course highlights of 2016.

One course cracked my Top 5 favorites this year – Sand Hills.  Those who have been know how magnificent it is.  It is perfect.  Beautiful land, with 18 wonderful holes laid upon it.  For a photo tour, check out my September to Remember post here.

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Two additional courses cracked my Top 10 – Myopia Hunt Club and Prairie Dunes.

Playing Myopia is like stepping back in time to an era that pre-dates formal architectural styles.  It is a special place.  For much more on Myopia, check out Jon Cavalier’s course tour and my June Buddies Trip Recap.

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My weekend at Prairie Dunes was an all-timer.  After 81 holes in a day and a half, I got to know the course well, and I am grateful for the chance.  Strategy and variety abound, and those greens…oh my.  For a complete tour of Prairie Dunes, check out my visit recap here.

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Four additional courses cracked my Top 20 – Philadelphia Cricket Club, Oakmont, Kittansett Club, and Ballyneal.

Keith Foster’s work restoring Tillinghast’s Philly Cricket is off the charts.  It is breathtaking and all the right kinds of challenging.

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Oakmont is of course, Oakmont.  It was a neat treat to get to play this incredible course in a U.S. Open year.  Many hours of sleep were sacrificed for the experience, and it was worth every minute.

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Kittansett Club, with the benefit of a Gil Hanse restoration, blew me away.  This William Flynn design might be the best flat-site golf course in America.

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Like so many do, I fell in love with the Ballyneal experience.  Great golf-geeky membership, and my favorite Tom Doak course to date (yes, I have played Pacific Dunes).

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My quest to play all of the U.S. Open venues continued this year, and I knocked six more off the list – Glen View Club, Myopia Hunt Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Oakmont, Erin Hills, and Inverness Club.  A wide variety, all wonderful courses.

(Click images to enlarge)

 

I had high expectations for most of the courses I played this year, but there were a handful that exceeded my expectations.  My biggest surprises of the year were Orchard Lake, Sand Hollow, Whitinsville, Highland Links, George Wright, and Sweetens Cove.

After coming across a photo tour of the newly renovated Orchard Lake Country Club on GolfClubAtlas, I was dying to see it.  What Keith Foster and Superintendent Aaron McMaster have done there is jaw-dropping.  For even more on Orchard Lake, check out my C.H. Alison appreciation post here.

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Sand Hollow is one of the most unique golf courses I have ever played.  The terrain is amazing, it has great holes – it is just plain cool.  I already have a return visit planned for February, 2017.  For more photos, check out my Las Vegas trip recap here.

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My golf buddies were a little skeptical when I added a 9-holer they had never heard of to our Boston itinerary.  After the first time around Whitinsville, they asked if we could stay the whole day.  They simply do not make courses like this anymore.

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The early morning trek out to the end of Cape Cod was worth the effort.  The Highland Links waits there, nearly untouched by time, and perhaps America’s only true links course outside of Bandon, OR.

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Boston has an embarrassment of riches in private golf, but it was a public track that pleasantly surprised me the most this season – George Wright.  The story of its creation as a WPA project, with Donald Ross as architect blasting holes out of the rock with dynamite is terrific.  In recent years, this gem has been getting the polish it deserves.

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Every golf geek I know who has made the pilgrimage to Sweetens Cove has come back a convert.  Count me among them – Sweetens Cove is everything that is great about golf, and golf course architecture, all packed into 9 holes.  For more about Sweetens Cove, check out my interview with Rob Collins, including his course tour.

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Toward the end of the season, it became evident that I have developed a fascination with 9-holers.  Winter Park CC, The Dunes Club, Whitinsville, Marion GC, Highland Links, Sweetens Cove, and Eagle Springs were all highlights for me in 2016.  I intend to include as many 9-holers as I can in my adventures going forward.

After another year of unbelievable golf experiences with great people, I am tremendously grateful.  Many thanks to those who have pitched in to make these adventures possible.  Time to start lining up 2017…

Happy New Year!


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Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A September to Remember – Oakmont, Ballyneal & Sand Hills

2016 has been yet another wonderful year of golf adventures.  The season culminated in late September with a stretch of dreams come true in this golf geek’s life with visits to Oakmont Country Club, Ballyneal Golf Club and Sand Hills Golf Club.

In a word, Oakmont is mystique.  From the turn into the parking lot, through the clubhouse, and on each of its 18 holes, a palpable aura surrounds and permeates the place.

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In a word, Ballyneal is joy.  Golfing the ball around this wonderful facility is guaranteed to reawaken a childlike love of the game.

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In a word, Sand Hills is majesty.  On land that is as big and beautiful as the sky above, it sits like modern minimalist royalty on a throne.

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Although these clubs and courses are quite distinct, they share common threads.  They are all breathtakingly beautiful.  Each features a wealth of interest from the grand scale all the way down to the smallest details.  They possess an enjoyable combination of challenge and fun.

And perhaps most important, their memberships love and respect golf, are welcoming, and have just the right kind of pride in their home clubs.  The spirit of the game is alive and well at Oakmont, Ballyneal and Sand Hills.


OAKMONT COUNTRY CLUB

For a golf history and architecture geek, there is simply too much to take in in one visit to Oakmont.  Especially with a knowledgeable and gracious host like mine, sharing stories as we walked the fairways, my head was spinning.  Having had the full experience, I hope to make a return trip some day to get to know the course better and just play.

In discussions of Oakmont, much attention is paid to the group of holes across the turnpike, which includes the par-4 3rd, with its iconic church pews.  And of course, the closing stretch from the par-4 15th through the par-4 18th is as strong and storied as they come.

I found myself particularly taken with the holes that occupy the center of the property between the clubhouse and the turnpike – the 9th through the 13th.  The ground has surprising elevation change and beautiful movement to it, and the holes are packed with interest and variety.

#9 – Par 5 – 462 yards

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This three-shotter plays much longer than the yardage on the card, uphill and often into the wind.  The drive is blind, the fairway guarded by bunkers and ditches, and the large green transitions seemlessly into the practice putting green.  Playing up this hole toward the iconic clubhouse is awe-inspiring.

#10 – Par 4 – 440 yards

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The tenth tumbles downhill through a minefield of bunkers over some of the most undulating ground on the property.  Approaches into the green, which runs away, are extremely difficult to judge.

#11 – Par 4 – 328 yards

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The eleventh heads back uphill and the player has to decide how aggressively to flirt with the ditch that cuts across the hole at an angle.  The elevated green needs to be approached deftly, especially when the wind is blowing.

#12 – Par 5 – 562 yards

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This beast can play in excess of 650 yards downhill to a fairway that slopes severely from left to right.  Simply put, hit three good shots here or you are looking at a big number, as the green is not one that allows for easy up-and-downs.

#13 – Par 3 – 153 yards

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Finding the green on this beautiful little three-par is just the beginning of the adventure.  The putting surface is both canted and contoured, which means a line/speed guessing game when attempting to hole an elusive birdie putt.

To conclude that Oakmont is just a hard golf course is to miss the subtle brilliance of Mr. Fownes’s design.  Oakmont is not a one-dimensional brute.  For those who can maintain focus, think strategically and execute boldly, Oakmont is a multi-dimensional puzzle beckoning to be solved.

For much more on the history of Oakmont Country Club, its course and championships, visit the video archive here for Kyle Truax’s compilation.


BALLYNEAL GOLF CLUB

From the moment we passed the front gate, my companions and I were grinning from ear to ear.

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I have never experienced a friendlier reception than the one we got at Ballyneal.  Every member we met seemed happy to see us, and genuinely excited for us to experience all aspects of their club.   It is the golf-geekiest place I have been to date, and I loved it!

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The course map hanging in the pro shop illustrates how Tom Doak routed a wonderful adventure through the Chop Hills. Of the eight TD courses I have played thus far, Ballyneal is my favorite.  It has the boldness of Pacific Dunes coupled with the adventurous feel of Apache Stronghold.  It has variety aplenty, some unique and creative holes, and just the right amount of Doak funk.

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(Click on images to enlarge)

#1 – Par 4 – 350 yards

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Walking to the first tee, we discovered one of the many aspects of Ballyneal that makes it a joy to play – no tee markers.  Holes have multiple teeing areas and players are given the freedom to choose their own adventure.

We played the opener from the left tee which requires a carry over a valley up to the angled fairway.  The green is guarded by bunkers left and tight runoffs right.

#2 – Par 4 – 483 yards

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The fairway on the second is wide, but angles do matter when approaching the green, which is surrounded by slopes and bunkers.

#3 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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The first of Ballyneal’s strong one-shotters is a shorty played over a sea of sandy gunch to an island of beautifully contoured green.

#4 – Par 5 – 562 yards

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The par-5 fourth features a thrilling downhill tee shot to a rollercoaster ride of a fairway.

#5 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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With the wind blowing, judging the distance on the tough fifth is a challenge.  I can imagine playing anything from a pitching wedge to a 3-iron on this hole depending on the conditions.

#6 – Par 4 – 420 yards

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The uphill sixth is straightforward off the tee, but challenging on the approach.  Running approaches are a fun option into the firm green complex.

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#7 – Par 4 – 341 yards

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The seventh is one of the coolest short-4s I have ever seen.  Wind and pin position combine to pose strategic questions from the tee.  The green is divided into three distinct sections and is nestled between a large mound left and bunkers right.  There are many ways to play this hole, but no “right” way.  Brilliant.

#8 – Par 5 – 470 yards

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The evening light reveals the sea of mounds and ripples that extend from the tee of the 8th all the way through the back of the green.  No level lies to be found here.

#9 – Par 4 – 351 yards

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The short ninth provides options off the tee.  A large mound cuts in front of the green, reminding the player that an architect doesn’t always need bunkers to mount a defense.

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#10 – Par 4 – 475 yards

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The tee shot on the tenth is tough.  Players that don’t summon the courage to take on the nasty looking bunkers that guard the right side of the fairway will find their ball coming to rest in a deep swale left.  The approach into the big green is blind from down below.

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#11 – Par 3 – 177 yards

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The par-3 eleventh was one of my favorite holes on the course playing uphill to a green that looks as if it is impossible to hit and hold.  I love the thrill of trying to overcome the story my eyes are telling me, letting the shot fly, and then walking up to discover the outcome.

#12 – Par 4 – 335 yards

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The 12th is another devilish short par-4 whose contours create a riddle of tee shot, approach and putt that must be solved over repeat plays.

#13 – Par 4 – 420 yards

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I am a sucker for centerline bunkers, which feature in the minefield that must be navigated from the tee on the thirteenth.  Pick a line, and let it fly!

#14 – Par 4 – 340 yards

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Plenty of room right is afforded to the player who desires safety on the short dogleg left fourteenth.  Opportunity for a pitch and putt birdie on the elevated green are available to the bolder of spirit.

#15 – Par 3 – 212 yards

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The wind and length conspire to crush weakly played tee shots on the 15th.  A large, undulating green leaves plenty of flatstick work to be done for those who find the putting surface.

#16 – Par 5 – 494 yards

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My favorite hole on the course, the sixteenth features a blind drive to a narrowing fairway.  The elevated green is reachable, but guarded by slopes and a funky little bunker that is immensely cool.

#17 – Par 4 – 464 yards

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Depending on the wind, the par-4 seventeenth can play longer that the par-5 sixteenth.  There is plenty of room to play, and it looks straightforward, but contour throughout provides ample challenge.

#18 – Par 4 – 425 yards

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One last heroic tee shot to an angled fairway awaits at the closer.  It plays down and then back up to a green set at the base of the hills.

At times throughout the round, I was not sure if holes were par-4s or par-5s.  I completely lost track of what hole we were on on both the front and back nines.  These are signs to me of the greatness of Ballyneal.  It is a place where one can get deeply into the joy of planning and playing each shot.  It is a course that brings you powerfully into the joy of each moment.  What a gift.

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The Mulligan course is taking shape and growing in.  It appears to be packed with fun and heroic challenge.  The main course and The Commons putting course were reason enough for a return visit, but the short course conveniently provides an imperative to plan another trip.


SAND HILLS GOLF CLUB

If there is perfection in American golf, Sand Hills is it.

What is more difficult for an architect – squeezing good holes out of a mediocre piece of land, or finding the best holes on a piece of land so great that good holes are everywhere?  That is a question for geeks to debate that cannot be definitively answered.  At Sand Hills, Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw took on the latter challenge and uncovered 18 great holes that work beautifully together and inspired an architectural renaissance for which geeks like me are eternally grateful.

There is not a remotely weak hole at Sand Hills, but the course is much more than the sum of its parts.  I was particularly struck by the rhythm of the routing and order of the holes, specifically with the 6 straight par-4s in the middle.  The course begins dramatically, settles down a bit in the middle, and then ends with a closing stretch that is my all time favorite.  Playing Sand Hills is like listening to a perfectly composed symphony.  It is transcendent.

Conditioning is not typically high on my list of determinants of greatness, but it is appropriate to give credit where it is due in this case – the work that Kyle Hegland and his team do at Sand Hills is outstanding.  The course plays firm and fast, the greens are as true as they come, and they fight the good fight against the wind to keep the bunkers looking beautiful.  They are an A-team of pros, and I know that the membership at Sand Hills is grateful to have them.

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On the day of our visit, we played from the morning until it was too dark to see.  If the day had been six hours longer, I would have happily kept playing.  The course is beautifully routed and a delight to walk.  Paths cut through the native areas, and the green-to-tee walks are surprisingly short for a course that feels so big.

Sand Hills is a place to get lost, blissfully going around and around and around…

(Click on images to enlarge)

#1 – Par 5 – 521 yards

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The opener is a stunning introduction to the scale and movement of the land, complemented by blowout bunkers.  The tee shot is played to an angled fairway and the approach well uphill to a green set in the saddle of two hills.  The first of many wows to come.

#2 – Par 4 – 368 yards

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The blind tee shot on the second plays up to a windswept fairway that sits atop one of the highest spots on the property.  The hole culminates with a two-tiered infinity green, the setting for which provides endless views of the surrounding hills.  This green is not only my favorite at Sand Hills, it is one of my favorites from C&C anywhere.

#3 – Par 3 – 216 yards

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This long one-shotter plays shorter than the yardage on the card as the left front slope can be used to run shots into the green.  The player has to catch a bit of luck to end up in the right section of the green, which features a large contour that makes long putting extremely difficult.

#4 – Par 4 – 409 yards

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A tee shot to another angled fairway followed by an approach into a green elevated and benched into the side of a hill with a huge blowout bunker.  As do several of the holes at Sand Hills, this par-4 brings to mind the work of the Maxwells at Prairie Dunes.

#5 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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The center bunker on this four par must be challenged and the wind judged expertly in order to get into position for the approach to the green.  A tee shot in good position leaves the player with options for a ground or aerial attack.

#6 – Par 3 – 198 yards

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Being such a fan of Coore & Crenshaw, it was fun to finally to see the “original” holes that have since inspired others.  The canted and contoured green on the sixth looks almost triangular from the tee, bringing to mind other favorites of mine from Old Sandwich, WeKoPa, and Sand Valley.

#7 – Par 4 – 283 yards

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The seventh is the first of two straight drivable par-4s.  The player can lay well back, or have a go at this well-defended green that has a large bunker left and deep runoff right.  Missing right leaves the player with another set of choices on how to try and navigate the slope to gain a birdie chance.  So much substance to such a little hole.

#8 – Par 4 – 293 yards

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The short eighth features a fantastic green surrounded by bunkers, and fronted by a lion’s mouth.  Again, line and distance options abound from the tee, with the pin position and wind factoring heavily.  Strategic golf at its best.

#9 – Par 4 – 371 yards

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The third of six straight par-4s, the ninth has a blind tee shot followed by an approach into a green set below Ben’s Porch.  The green and surrounds have subtly maddening contours that must be overcome.

#10 – Par 4 – 426 yards

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The two shot tenth flows gently downhill to a green that doesn’t look like much from the fairway.  Watching too-bold approaches and putts roll and roll and roll some more reveals just how difficult this green can be.

#11 – Par 4 – 348 yards

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A huge, gorgeous bunker guards the entire left side of the eleventh and dictates play from the tee.  To gain the advantage of a short approach into the elevated green, that bunker must be challenged as the fairway slopes hard from left to right.

#12 – Par 4 – 354 yards

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The twelfth is wide from the tee, but tee shots must be placed precisely in the right third in order to avoid having to deal directly with the large bunker that flanks the right side of the green.  Like many holes at Sand Hills, slopes short and in the green surrounds are there to be used for the creative shot-maker.

#13 – Par 3 – 185 yards

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The par-3 thirteenth sits majestically atop a hill, completely exposed to the wind.  The setting provides a thrilling tee shot, beautiful views of the surrounding hills, and an exciting start to the all-world final stretch of holes.

#14 – Par 5 – 475 yards

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The three-shot fourteenth winds over heavily undulating ground, through nasty bunkering, to a tiny green set partway up a hill.  Balls above the hole on this green are dead – plain and simple.

#15- Par 4 – 453 yards

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The fifteenth plays over a cross bunker and then uphill to a saddle green.  The right must be favored off the tee to earn the ideal approach angle.

#16 – Par 5 – 563 yards

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This might be my all-time favorite par-5.  The player has to decide on the tee how much of the enormous bunker left to take on.  A speed slot awaits beyond as a reward for the boldest of tee shots.  The firm slope short and left of the green, makes it reachable in two for the longer player.  Those laying back have to decide how to contend with a pronounced mound right in front

 #17 – Par 3 – 150 yards

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There is good reason why this is considered one of the best shorties in the world.  The elevated green is incredibly difficult to hit and hold in the wind.  Par is truly a good score here, and birdies are to be cherished.

#18 – Par 4 – 432 yards

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The finisher at Sand Hills provides one last WOW, as the player has to face the gigantic bunkers running down the entire left side of the fairway.  The eighteenth plays uphill to a green set in a punchbowl among the hills.  Plenty of challenge, visual stimulation and a lasting impression of the experience of this masterpiece.

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical that Sand Hills could wow me more than Friar’s Head, Essex County, and my other favorites.  My skepticism was greatly misplaced.  For me now, there is this course, a gap, and then the other greats that I have been so fortunate to experience.


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A brush with history, a club that felt like home, and my new all-time favorite golf course – with experiences like these, it is tough to imagine a month ever being better than September 2016.

Wherever my golf adventures take me going forward, the memories of this magical month will endure and continue to bring a smile to my face.


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Buddies Back in Boston – Annual Trip Recap

Last year’s eastern buddies trip was such a winner that we decided to return to Boston again this year to play Myopia Hunt Club, Essex County Club, Whitinsville, Kittansett Club and Wannamoisett.  The trip had a wonderful little wrinkle as we were hosted on our first day by a group of members from Myopia and Essex with whom we had casual and fun four-ball matches.  Great guys, great courses, great times.

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Before getting to the courses, a side note:  My golf adventuring continues to include a social aspect for which I am grateful.  These experiences are much more rewarding when shared with other golfers who “get it”.  In fact, one of our hosts commented that he found our group to be enjoyable because we weren’t just a bunch of belt-notchers, but rather guys who loved the game and appreciated its special playing fields.

Since our trip had a twist, I am adding a twist to the recap.  I picked my favorite 18 holes from the 5 courses we played, by number, and hit Jon Cavalier up for photos.  This New England Great 18 is followed with the course photos I took, and some additional commentary.  Disagree with my selections?  Leave a comment here, or hit me up on social media.


NEW ENGLAND GREAT 18

(click photos to enlarge)

#1 – Whitinsville GC – Par 5 – 526 yards

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Hello Mr. Ross!  That was the feeling I had stepping onto the tee of the 1st at Whitinsville.  It is a grand par-5 that rolls over hills up to a big green beautifully set on a hilltop.  It is the perfect opener – it doesn’t punish, but it does require good shots to score.

 

#2 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 5 – 463 yards

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The first at Myopia gives a preview of the quirk.  The second gives a preview of the grandeur and strategy of the rest of the course.  High on the hill of this reachable par 5, picking a route through the mounds, the player knows that thoughtful shot-making is the order of the day.

 

#3 – Wannamoisett CC – Par 3 – 131 yards

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This is the spot where the player realizes just how much Ross got out of the Wannamoisett property.  The short 3rd embodies the beauty and intimacy of the course, along with the truth that big challenge often comes in a small package.

 

#4 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 4 – 380 yards

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Slopes and angles are the name of the game at the dog-leg 4th.  The safer play right off the tee leaves a much more challenging approach from a fairway sloped high right to low left, into a green sloped even more severely in the same direction.  This hole requires shot-making – two thoughtless straight balls in the middle won’t get the job done.

 

#5 – Kittansett Club – Par 4 – 395 yards

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The fifth heads inland to the windless area that the caddies affectionately call “The Oven”.  This two-shotter features imposing center bunkers that must be challenged to get a full view of and the best angle into the green.

 

#6 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 4 – 244 yards

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I missed driving the green by less than ten feet on the short 6th, but found my ball on the closely mown upslope with the green running hard away front to back.  After carding a bogey 5, it occurred to me that I might not have mastered the strategy on this hole just yet.

 

#7 – Kittansett Club – Par 5 – 505 yards

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The first and only par-5 on the front nine at Kittansett is a rugged beauty with some of the coolest bunkering on the course.  Navigate that bunkering with an aggressive tee shot and second, and a birdie is there for the taking on the canted green.

 

#8 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 422 yards

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Full disclosure – I have played this hole twice and it kicked my butt both times, and yet I love it anyway.  It begins with a blind drive to a wild split-level fairway.  It ends with a green that is both canted and contoured.  A truly unique hole.

 

#9 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 3 – 130 yards

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A fair case can be made that this is best short par-3 on the planet.  It is at once mesmerizing in its artistic appearance, and terrifying in the narrowness of its green surface.

 

#10 – Wannamoisett CC – Par 4 – 403 yards

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This uphill par 4 features a mine field of artful Ross bunkering.  Approaches that crest the hill short tumble down to the beautifully set green.

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#11 – Kittansett Club – Par 3 – 220 yards

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MacDonald & Raynor, Langford & Moreau, and any other architects who have built crazy-bold greens would stand up and applaud the 11th at Kittansett.  Coupled with the length, this one-shotter chucks the concept of “fair” right out the window.

 

#12 – Wannamoisett CC – Par 3 – 195 yards

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The punchbowl green on this long, uphill one-shotter is fronted on the right by an enormous bunker.  It demands a confident swing with a longer club.  Those shots that are up to the challenge feed into birdie putt territory.

 

#13 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 375 yards

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The natural beauty of this hole is off the charts.  The narrow fairway, flanked by native flowers, grass, and trees opens to a green wonderfully benched into the base of the rocky hill.

 

#14 – Kittansett Club – Par 3 – 175 yards

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Sneaky tough bunkering defends the final one-shotter at Kittansett.  A player who judges the effect of the wind properly and finds the green is rewarded.  For those who do not, a recovery crap-shoot awaits.

 

#15 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 349 yards

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The 15th at Essex County is set out on the open field shared with the opening stretch of holes.  Wind is a big factor approaching the elevated green fronted by a large bunker.  The green is one of the boldest at Essex with a large swale creating multiple plateaus.

 

#16 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par 3 – 175 yards

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The green on the downhill 16th at Myopia looks almost unhittable from the tee.  To make matters worse, it is surrounded by nasty bunkers that do not yield sand saves easily.  If you manage par here, happily take it and run for the next tee.

 

#17 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 328 yards

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Higher and higher describes well the penultimate hole at Essex County.  The player is asked to play a tee shot straight up the hill that anchors the back nine, and then follow it with a blind second uphill to one of the smallest greens on the course.  One of the most thrilling climbs in the game.

 

#18 – Essex County Club – Par 4 – 414 yards

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The climb on the 17th at Essex County is followed by the winding descent of the home hole.  The routing of the fairway between fescue covered hills is visually confounding on the tee shot.  Finding the fairway affords the player a reasonable approach to a subtly contoured green that will yield birdies.

 


MYOPIA HUNT CLUB

No other course is quite like Myopia.  It has a look and feel of pre-dating the Golden Era architecture, much like The Country Club.  It has a rugged, lay-of-the-land natural beauty about it.  It has plenty of quirk, of all the right kinds – blind shots, mounds, hummocks, and a variety of bunkering.

None of the above is meant to imply that Myopia is not sophisticated.  In its own unique way, it is one of the most strategic, artistic, and challenging courses that I have ever played.  It takes deep thought, confident decision-making, and solid execution to score.  I suspect that a player could spend several lifetimes joyfully trying to unlock all of its secrets.

In a word, Myopia is evocative, and I loved every minute of walking its fairways and trying to meet its challenges.

 


ESSEX COUNTY CLUB

There have been times in the past year that I have wondered if I have oversold myself on the greatness of Essex County.  This return visit dispelled any doubts – Essex County is brilliant, and the back nine is a masterpiece.

With guidance from Bruce Hepner, Superintendent Eric Richardson continues his pursuit of perfection, including removal of thousands more trees on the rocky hill that is the centerpiece of the property.

It became clear on my second time around Essex that its variety is part of its charm for me.  The course wanders through distinct zones – holes 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-13, 14-16, 17-18 – each with their own feel and natural beauty.  Add to that variety the obvious love that Donald Ross poured into tinkering with the greens and surrounds, and you have one special golf course.

 


WHITINSVILLE GOLF CLUB

Whitinsville is thoroughly pleasurable to play.  It is the kind of course that doesn’t need to wow, because it produces a sustained sense of happiness, hole after hole.  If I lived within an hour drive of Whitinsville, I would have submitted a membership application immediately after walking off the 9th green.

Working off of a Master Plan created by Gil Hanse, with assistance from Forse Design, Superintendent Michael Hughes keeps the course in perfect condition.  Nothing is overdone, and yet everything is just so.  It is a combination that allows the subtle elegance of Ross’s work to shine through.

A specific note about the trees at Whitinsville – I can’t think of a course that is a better example of ideal tree management.  It is right up there with Crystal Downs in that regard for me.  There are gorgeous specimen trees throughout the property in stands and singles, every one of which is nicely highlighted.  The property feels both intimately wooded and wide open at the same time.  Whitinsville strikes the perfect balance and should be studied by course stewards everywhere.