Geeked on Golf


Leave a comment

EVENT-FULL SEASONS AT CANAL SHORES

Part 24 of the Journey Along the Shores series dives into our growing volume of activity and events

With each passing year, Canal Shores gets busier. The course is seeing more play and it would seem that the Evanston-Wilmette community has gotten markedly golfier. That is terrific progress from my geeky perspective. However, the activity at Canal Shores does not begin and end with golf, which is one of the many ways that our community course delivers value. The more people attending our growing roster of events or simply getting outdoors and using the space, the better.

Of course, the multi-use nature of the facility necessitates that different user groups have to figure out how to coexist. This process is not without moments of discord. Dog walkers, runners, picnickers and golfers use Canal Shores in different ways and have to learn how to respect the course, and each other. Casual golfers, players from the junior programs and the high school teams that call the course home sometimes step on each other’s toes. And we all have to make way for the steady stream of golf and non-golf events that are filling up the calendar. As an individual, it is easy to get caught up in the painful part of these growing pains. I choose to try and stay flexible so that I can enjoy the growth of the Canal Shores community.

In addition to our thriving junior camps and ladies league, 2018 saw many of our customary events return, which were also joined by newcomers. The year kicked off with the annual Garage Party fundraiser and was followed in the summer with the Murray Brothers Invitational benefiting first-responders. Fall brought Northwestern football tailgating and ETHS golf matches. Once again, we concluded the season with yet another rousing gathering of the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers. The chilly temps were happily faced and members of the company generously donated enough to fund a significant portion of the lease for our Superintendent Tony’s new utility vehicle. Many thanks to Seamus Golf, Imperial Headwear and Ballpark Blueprints for their support.

Other gatherings and meet-ups kept the season interesting, with the highlight being a visit from The Fried Egg’s Andy Johnson and Erik Anders Lang for a recording of his Random Golf Club series. The outdoor music scene at Canal Shores also went next level when the 1st and 2nd holes served as the venue for Out of Space, a festival headlined by Mavis Staples and The Indigo Girls. Last but not least and just under the weather wire, the Evanston Running Club held their Cross-Country Invitational. The diversity of these events is a testament to the movement within the community to take a fresh and open-minded look at this public asset we own and find new ways to make use of it—club in hand, or not.

On the heels of a successful 2018, this season is already off to a strong start (in spite of the Chicago weather) in this, our 100th anniversary year. The New Club golf society held their first spring tune-up and the Garage Party was once again a mob scene. The calendar is filling up quickly with events and outings, big and small. On June 4th, the ladies come out for Women’s Golf Day quickly followed on the 7th by the first annual Canal Shores Open, in which teams will battle for the inaugural title. On June 14th, we’re taking a page out of the Winter Park 9 playbook by starting up a weekly Friday Skins Game. Out of Space is coming back with four nights of shows featuring Cake, Mandolin Orange, I’m With Her, Jeff Tweedy and Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers. All exciting events that are sure to be good fun for all.

As we continue onward, it is my hope that more folks look at Canal Shores for what it is—a fun golf course in a beautiful green space that is welcoming and infinitely flexible for events and activities of all kinds. 18 hole golf outings are dandy, but they are just one of the many ways to enjoy Canal Shores. Our staff, including fabulous new Events Coordinator Melissa (melissa@canalshores.org) is willing to help with conceiving or executing any manner of gathering under the sun. Want to have a 5-hole one club tournament and then drink beer and eat pizza by the fire pit? No problem. Want to start a weekly disc golf league? She’s got you. Want to host a business networking meeting with cocktails and casual putting contests? Melissa and Tony will figure it out. Want to have a bring-your-dog-to-golf gathering? How has that not already happened? You get my point here.

The bottom line at Canal Shores is that it is our space. The more we use it and contribute to it, the more it will thrive. We certainly love seeing more people playing golf—it is the greatest game, after all—but there has always been more to Canal Shores than golf, and there always will be.

For the entire Journey Along the Shores, click here.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


1 Comment

WHERE ENTHUSIASM LIVES – CAL CLUB

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

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

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

Architectural (r)Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

Cal Club Today

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

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

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

The Course

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

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

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

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

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California, preaching on the burning shore

California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door

Like and angel, standing in a shaft of light

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


4 Comments

IN PRAISE OF RESTRAINT AT ROCK HOLLOW G.C.

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

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

Pete’s Protege

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


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

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

The Golfing Smiths

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

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

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

The Course

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

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

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

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

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

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


1 Comment

GEEKED ON GOLF GLOBAL GUIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Global Guide Legend

GoG: Geeked On Golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming soon…

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

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

Enjoy!

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


3 Comments

TIMELESS IDEALS AT NATIONAL GOLF LINKS

An in-depth profile of C.B. Macdonald’s National Golf Links of America and the design ideals it embodies.

The National. Two words that, especially for devotees of classic architecture, hold so much meaning. These words are not just shorthand for the club named National Golf Links of America, they carry the weight of one man’s incredibly lofty aspiration. An aspiration that history has proven to have been fulfilled.

Charles Blair Macdonald set out to create the ideal links on Long Island after having spent years studying the great golf holes of the British Isles to ascertain what specifically made them great. With assistance from H.J. Whigham, Devereux Emmet, and most notably Seth Raynor, he then poured all of that greatness into one eighteen hole loop that opened for play in 1909.

Not long after its opening, Bernard Darwin summed up the feeling the course has evoked from so many subsequent visitors:

“How good a course it is, I hardly dare trust myself to say on a short acquaintance; there is too much to learn about it and the temptation to frantic enthusiasm is so great, but this much I can say: Those who think that it is the greatest golf course in the world may be right or wrong, but are certainly not to be accused of any intemperateness of judgment.”

Perhaps Darwin was unwilling to pronounce the course the greatest back then, but at this point time, he would likely agree with the assertion that the greatness of the National is timeless. The combination of strategic design, beauty and fun transcend the fads of any particular era. I tapped Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) and Simon Haines (@Hainesy76) for this collaboration – the historical perspective of Macdonald and his contemporaries is complemented by Jon’s terrific photos, which make abundantly clear how beautifully the course is currently presented by Superintendent Bill Salinetti and his team.

After a tour through all eighteen holes, I am confident that this contrast of past and present will prove the case that Charles Blair Macdonald’s ingenious approach to designing and building The National ensured that it would stand the test of time.

The Course

“Any golfer conversant with the golf courses abroad and the best we have in America – which are generally conceded to be Garden City, Myopia and the Chicago Golf Club – knows that in America as yet we have no first-class golf course comparable with the classic golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland. There is no reason why this should be so, and it is the object of this association to build such a course, making it as near National as possible, and further, with the object of promoting the best interests of the game of golf in the United States. With this end in view, it is proposed to buy two hundred or more acres of ground on Long Island, where the soil is best suited for the purpose of laying out a golf course…As to the building of the golf course, it is well known that certain holes on certain links abroad are famous as being the best considering their various lengths. It is the object of this association to model each of the eighteen holes after the most famous holes abroad, so that each hole would be representative and classic in itself.” – C.B. Macdonald, from the Founders Agreement

Imagine a band holding a press conference at which they announce that they are headed into the studio to record their next album. They have studied the greatest songs in the history of music and have settled on the best tracks. They are not simply going to do an album of covers though. They have distilled the essence of greatness from each song and will create new songs that not only embody the essence of the originals, but also work together as a cohesive album. The cohesiveness is born of the adaptation of the songs to suit the current musical landscape while simultaneously harmonizing with each other. If the media and fans were even able to grasp such a plan, they would not likely believe that it would be possible to pull off. Essentially, that was exactly what C.B. Macdonald told prospective Founding Members of National Golf Links of America he would do, and then he delivered.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions


Drawing inspiration from his beloved links, Macdonald routed NGLA in a traditional out and back fashion. He found and used the best features of the land to deliver both beauty and variety. That variety is reflected in the sequence of holes – distance, direction, difficulty…consecutive holes are never repetitive. There is interest throughout the entire routing, but there is also a palpable slow build. It starts on the first tee with views of the 18th green, Peconic Bay, the clubhouse and the windmill. Players are then taken on a thrill ride over the Sahara and Alps hills with views of Bulls Head Bay, naturally drawing their attention to the all-world Redan 4th. The course then runs out on gentler land across the road, to the turn and back across the road. The first glimpse of the windmill on the hill comes on the 11th green, signaling the start of the adventure home. That iconic landmark grows bigger with every hole completed until players reach the cripplingly gorgeous home stretch, with the Eden and Cape hard against Bulls Head, the trek up and over the 16th fairway to the Punchbowl, and then the view from the 17th tee, which is as pretty as any in golf. Finally and sadly, the climb from the gates up the 18th fairway, with the Jarvis Hunt clubhouse on the left and the wide expanse of Peconic Bay to the right, the breeze coming in off the water and if timed just right, the sun going down behind the sand. It is no wonder that a routing so clearly designed to conjure magic bewitches those fortunate enough to make the journey.

Course map of NGLA – Credit: Keith Cutten

HOLE #1 “Valley” – 326 yards – par 4


From the first tee with the Jarvis Hunt clubhouse left of the fairway

This beautiful little opener gives the player an idea of what he will confront constantly during his round – choices. Playing left to right, the choice of tee shot could be anything from a mid-iron to driver. Overly timid or indifferent tee shots will catch a string of bunkers laid out short of the fairway. The carry to the left is significantly farther than it appears from the tee. While the aggressive line makes the green reachable for longer players, these bunkers will extract a severe price from an overly ambitious tee-shot hit by an overly confident player. The green is elevated, obscuring parts of the putting surface and surrounding area from view on the approach. A severe false front will repel shots that come up short. Balls missed left will find deep bunkers, while those right will encounter a series of random humps and mounds. The first green is rife with undulations and ridges, placing added importance on an accurate approach. Simply put, this is one of the best openers in golf.

HOLE #2 “Sahara” – 302 yards – par 4


From the tee on the 2nd, with the imposing sandy waste, and pre-windmill water tower

“The short player who cannot carry even 150 yards must avoid the bunker altogether by aiming to the right. He has a perfectly open fair green there, but he cannot reach the brow of the hill and he is left with a blind and extremely difficult second. The principle of the hole is to give the player on the tee a great number of alternatives according to his strength and courage. If he plays for the green and succeeds he has the advantage of at least one stroke over the opponent who takes the shorter carry to the right, and probably more than one stroke over the player who avoids the carry altogether. But if he fails, he may easily take a five or six and lose to the short player who goes around. The Sahara at the National is a better hole than the Sahara at Sandwich, first because the edge of the main bunker is more clearly defined, and secondly because the second shot for the player who makes for safety is far more difficult…At the National the second shot is always difficult unless the big carry is made; in fact, a fairly good tee-shot played only a little to the right is apt to run down to the bottom of the hollow, and result in too difficult a second…In the main the National Sahara is one of the most inspiring holes in golf; the carry is stupendous and awe-inspiring, and there is great reward for the perfect shot; but there are plenty of alternatives, and for those who cannot go for the flag there are infinite possibilities in the approach. Fifteen years ago a 270-yard hole was considered a very poot affair; with the rubber-cored ball and natural features like those of the Sahara properly taken advantage of it is perhaps the finest hole in golf.” – C.B. Macdonald and H.J. Whigham, Golf Illustrated, 1914

HOLE #3 “Alps” – 473 yards – par 4


The Alps green, with its tricky internal contours

“A long tee-shot played directly on the flag or anywhere to the left of the flag leaves the ball at the foot of the large hill called the Alps, and then the second shot is extremely difficult; for the ball must be raised abruptly and must still have a very long flight. The best line is to the right where the hill slopes down to the level and where the ball will get a longer roll and the second shot is much easier. But to get to the right the long carry must be taken off the tee, and when the tee is back the extreme carry is nearly 190 yards. Therefore, although the Prestwick tee-shot has to be placed rather more exactly, the National tee-shot is more spectacular. And at the National the second is more difficult on account of the extra length and the higher position of the green. In other words, the third hole at the National is an improved Alps, and as a test of golf it is beyond reproach. It is impossible to reach the green in two unless the tee-shot and the second are real big golfing strokes, hit in the middle of the club, and that can be said of very few holes with a maximum distance of only 413 yards.” – C.B. Macdonald and H.J. Whigham, Golf Illustrated, 1914

HOLE #4 “Redan” – 194 yards – par 3


A crowd watches a match on the Redan green

“Take a narrow tableland, tilt it a little from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally, and you have the Redan…The principle of the Redan can be used wherever a long narrow tableland can be found or made. Curiously enough the Redan existed at the National long before the links was thought of. It is a perfectly natural hole. The essential part, the tilted tableland was almost exactly like the North Berwick original. All that had to be done was to dig the bunker in the face, and place the tee properly. The National Redan is rather more difficult than the North Berwick hole, because the bunker at the back of the green is much deeper and more severe. Some people think the hole is too difficult altogether. But anyone who gets a legitimate three there, especially in a medal round, is sure to say that it is the finest short hole in the world. There is no compromise about it. Whichever of the various methods of attack is chosen, the stroke must be bold, cleanly hit and deadly accurate. At the ordinary hole of 180 yards it is a very bad shot that does not stay on the green. At the Redan it takes an exceedingly good shot to stay anywhere on the green; and to get a putt for a two is something to brag about for a week…In reality there are only about four or five kinds of good holes in golf. The local scenery supplies the variety. Here is one of the four or five perfect kinds. The principle of the Redan cannot be improved upon for a hole of 180 yards.” – C.B. Macdonald and H.J. Whigham, Golf Illustrated, 1914

HOLE #5 “Hog’s Back” – 474 yards – par 4

The third of three difficult holes, the 5th at National asks for a tee shot over a formidable cross bunker cut into the hill to a fairway humped down its spine so as to shed balls to either side. The fairway’s natural ripples provide added visual and playing interest. Longer drives will contend with a unique trench bunker that bisects the fairway. The wide, downsloping fairway leads straight into the green and will carry running approach shots a long way, allowing even shorter hitters to reach this long par-4 in two shots. Two bunkers left of the green strongly suggest that the player use the sloping right-to-left fairway to access the green.

HOLE #6 “Short” – 123 yards – par 3


The original Short 6th, with Royal West Norfolk inspired sleepers fronting the green

The diminutive sixth might be the shortest hole at National, but with one of the largest and wildest greens on the property, it is as fun as it is maddening. From the tee, the greens for Sebonac and Eden are visible to the right. To say this putting surface on this Short template is heavily contoured is to understate the matter substantially. The large mound in the center sheds balls in all directions, as does the larger green itself. Any ball that fails to find (or hold) the green is likely to end up in a bunker – some more penal than others.

HOLE #7 “St. Andrews” – 505 yards – par 5

The first three shot hole at National is Macdonald’s tribute to the Road Hole at St. Andrews. A blind tee shot over a waste area is the first order of business. The bunkering down the right, which is largely invisible from the tee, will catch any shots that stray that way. The National is replete with interesting and unique terrain features, like the slash of a bunker and fronting mound. Two small bunkers in the area short of the green are so flat that they are invisible from a distance, adding to the uncertainty and challenge of the approach. The road bunker looms to the left of the elevated and large green, adding exponentially to the difficulty of judging and hitting an approach shot. A brilliant feature. The most formidable Road Hole bunker that Macdonald ever created, this monster has allegedly been softened over time. The green, while largely flat, slopes away on all sides and is harder to hold than it appears. A large, deep bunker runs down the entire right side of the green, ready to catch those who decline to challenge the Road bunker. An exceptional three-shot hole in every respect.

HOLE #8 “Bottle” – 407 yards – par 4

“A few such bunkers are excellent, diagonal or en echelon. Variety is what one wants in a hole properly laid out. Long carries should not be compulsory, but if taken, the player should have a distinct advantage. Where there are bunkers at varying distances from the tee, the player has the option of going around or over according to his judgment. Bear in mind that a course must be absorbing and interesting, and not built for crack players only.” – C.B. Macdonald, Scotland’s Gift: Golf

Another template that has been largely lost with time, Macdonald’s “Bottle” hole presents the options while playing over Shrubland Road. Take the straightforward tee shot down the right side, or attack the left side of the fairway and challenge the bunkers in return for a better view and angle into the green. The Bottle bunkers that bisect the 8th are unique in design and formidable in their defense of the hole and they play bigger than they look. Between the Bottle bunkers and the green, Macdonald installed a Principal’s Nose bunker complex. The green is substantially elevated with steep drops on three sides, and missing right is particularly penal.

HOLE #9 “Long” – 534 yards – par 5

The aptly named ninth is the longest hole at the National, which is perhaps surprising to some, since it measures only 540 yards. But what this hole lacks in length, it more than makes up for in other ways. The ideal line off the tee is to remain as far right as possible while still carrying the short set of bunkers. Shots hit down the left will run through the fairway and feed into the “Hell’s Half Acre” complex. Once past Hell’s Half Acre, a large green defended by steep bunkers short left and long right awaits. Certain pins will force the player to challenge the right bunkers and the side slope of the green, which will shed balls up to 25 yards away.

HOLE #10 “Shinnecock” – 445 yards – par 4

The 10th at National, drawing its name from its neighbor, borders Shinnecock Hills and turns the player back northward toward the clubhouse. It is a hole that ranks as a favorite among many. Two low profile cross bunkers encroaching into the fairway from either side add challenge to the tee shot. What looks like a rather straightforward approach shot from the safer, right side of the fairway is soon revealed to be more challenging than it first appears. Again, Macdonald maps the terrain to allow approaches to the green along safer, if at times less rewarding routes.  Here, if the proper angles are played, no hazards need be crossed. Shinnecock is punctuated by a wonderful green complex, to be sure.

HOLE #11 “Plateau” – 430 yards – par 4

A blind tee shot awaits the golfer at the eleventh hole, and care should be taken to avoid the left side as gathering bunkers collect shots hit in this area. The approach on eleven crosses back over the road, obscured here by a berm. A second Principal’s Nose bunker complex sits short of the green. Macdonald’s exceptional Double Plateau green speaks for itself, with bold front left and back right sections set at an angle and divided by a deep trough. The small bunkers arrayed around this green have a much larger footprint than their actual size. It’s very possible to putt into some of them. The large bunker behind guards the lower portion of the green and will catch balls that skirt through the middle of the plateaus.

HOLE #12 “Sebonac” – 459 yards – par 4

This two-shotter calls for a tee shot to an ample but angled fairway guarded by deep bunkers down the left side. Approach shots confront a small, slightly elevated green fraught with hazards on all sides. The lack of any background makes gauging distance difficult to a green that runs hard away to the right and rear.

HOLE #13 “Eden” – 166 yards – par 3

The third of the National’s three one-shot holes, Macdonald’s homage to the original at The Old Course at St. Andrews is fronted by the famous pond, which prevents players from having a go at the green with a putter. The result is a gorgeous hole. The Hill, Strath and Shelley bunkers are all present and accounted for, as is the namesake Eden bunker wrapping behind the green, which is particularly menacing. Tucked into a corner of the property, the Eden green is one of the most peaceful and beautiful spots in golf.

HOLE #14 “Cape” – 391 yards – par 4


The nerve-racking tee shot on the Cape 14th

“The fourteenth hole at the National Golf Links is called the Cape Hole, because the green extends out into the sea with which it is surrounded upon three sides. It is today one of the most individual holes in existence and there is probably not another one like it anywhere. In a straight line to the green over the water the distance is 296 yards. The direction of play however is to the left, over a neck of the sea and then over a sharp face of rising ground. The shortest way over the water, a carry of 120 yards, is the longest way to the hole, whereas the shortest way to the hole is to the right, a carry of 150 yards. This carry, may not in yards appear very formidable, but the sea hugging closely to the right of the fairgreen, extends such a compelling invitation to a slice, that as a moral hazard it has proven very disastrous to the golfer. One who has been accustomed to the ordinary hazard placed to penalize a slice can have no conception of the effect which this limitless expanse of water has; and especially so because it stands mercilessly guarding the straightest line to the hole. The ordinary echelon bunker asks no more that to be carried, but here, not only a good carry is demanded, but the most precise direction. The temptation to risk it is very great, for the line to the middle of the fairgreen at a distance of 210 yards, is but a shade to the left of this longest carry, and as at this point the fairgreen is but forty-seven yards in width, with a series of four large sand traps to catch a pull, the risk is mandatory upon the long driver. If the shot is successful, the player is left with a niblick pitch over a pebbly beach onto a flat green which from his position is one hundred feet in width. An over approach is disastrous, consequently, a far four to this hole, which by land is but a little over 300 yards, is very satisfying.” – C.B. Macdonald and H.J. Whigham, Golf Illustrated, 1914

HOLE #15 “Narrows” – 419 yards – par 4

“Composite first shot of the 14th or Perfection at North Berwick, with green and bunker guards like the 15th at Muirfield.” – C.B. Macdonald in Outing, 1906

Perhaps the most beautiful hole at National, the fifteenth plays out to a fairway flanked with bunkers on all sides. Missing the fairway into the left bunkers cut into the hillside all but guarantees a missed green. Macdonald’s strategic bunkering including one in the middle of the fairway some 60 yards short of the green, which is offset slightly to the left and is well guarded. This is the most heavily bunkered hole at National. The green slopes substantially from back to front, aiding with approaches but making putting difficult. Long is a brutal miss here, as the player must not only confront the deep bunker, but the slope of the green running away. Once again, Macdonald gave the player no close background for reference, and the horizon look only adds to the challenge.

HOLE #16 “Punchbowl” – 476 yards – par 4


A gallery follows a match up the fairway on the 16th

An Alps/Punchbowl – this surely must be heaven. The 16th hole begins with a tee shot up a rising fairway, ideally reaching the level portion of the ground beyond the first crest. Straying too far to the right, however, will lead a ball to a deep hollow, similar to the feature on the second hole.  While all shots into the sixteenth green are blind and uphill, an approach from the bottom of the hollow is doubly so. It also shares a Sahara-like bunker feature with the second hole, visible from short of the green. The putting surface itself is tiny, although the surrounding punchbowl features contain shots that miss. Having cleared the fronting bunkers, the player must still contend with the ridge running from the back of the hazard to the front of the green, which will deflect balls in random directions. Two bunkers set high into the face of the left hill provide a formidable hazard for shots that are far enough offline to deserve such a fate. An incomparable hole.

HOLE #17 “Peconic” – 370 yards – par 4


From the tee, the rugged Leven 17th rolling downhill

“The view over Peconic Bay is one of the loveliest in the world.” – Bernard Darwin

Indeed. The penultimate hole at NGLA is a gorgeous in every respect, but it is also a world class short par-4 Leven template. From the tee, the player is forced to lay up short of the two fairway bunkers or drive over them to the left. This hole is reachable for longer hitters. On approach from the right, the player confronts an odd sandy berm that runs the length of the green and hides parts of the putting surface. The berm also hides the small pot bunkers, which stand ready to catch any shot left short. This defense is a unique feature, and one that can’t be found elsewhere.

HOLE #18 “Home” – 501 yards – par 5

“Finally there is, I think, the finest eighteenth hole in all the world.” – Bernard Darwin

Playing far longer than its listed yardage, the three shot eighteenth hole plays back up to the clubhouse with full views of Peconic Bay. While headed up the home fairway, one appreciates what Bernard Darwin meant when he wrote of the beauty of golf along Peconic Bay. In approaching the green, the left side affords the better view, the right the better angle of play. The green provides ample room for a ground approach but falls away rather steeply on all sides – long does not work well here. Cresting the hill and putting out, the first time player senses that the game will never be quite the same for them again.

“There are no more beautiful golfing vistas in all the world than those from the National Golf Club.” – C.B. Macdonald

Charles Blair Macdonald had panache, but he was also a man of purpose. These two sides of his personality are reflected in the design of National Golf Links. Looking at the aerial and ground photographs, one can’t help but notice that there is quite a bit going on. The experience of playing the course is similar. So much to see and take in. The wealth of artistic features should not be mistaken for mindless clutter though. Every mound and bunker has a purpose, every contour a use. Taken together, these features combine to form holes that have asked players complex questions for more than a century. The answers do not come easily. Repeat play and careful study are required of those whose aim is to discover all of NGLA’s secrets.

Macdonald was not an architect for hire at National Golf Links. This was his club. He was deeply invested in its success financially, intellectually and emotionally. He was not just building the next in a long line of golf courses. He was creating a masterwork. That devotion showed in the product of his work in Darwin’s day, and its timelessness endures.

For those wishing to dive even deeper into the history of the club, more knowledgeable men have already covered that ground. I cannot recommend highly enough George Bahto’s The Evangelist of Golf: The Story of Charles Blair Macdonald, Chris Millard’s NGLA club history book, and Macdonald’s own Scotland’s Gift: Golf.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


1 Comment

IT’S NOT WHAT YOU’RE LIKE

A Geek Dad’s Diary entry on a trip with one of my very best buddies.

A line is crossed when one drives a long way to play a golf course. Most of us have a course close by that is good enough to conveniently scratch the itch when it arises. Exerting the effort to road trip signals a focus shift from our own play to the experience of the playing field, which adds a dimension to the game. An even brighter line is crossed when one boards a plane, clubs in tow. My son Jack crossed that line for the first time this year on a trip to Aiken, SC, and I had the pleasure and privilege of being his partner in adventure.

Our journey to South Carolina was circuitous to say the least. The original plan was to head to Chattanooga to check out The Course at Sewanee and Sweetens Cove. I was very much looking forward to watching Rob Collins’s creation melt the lad’s mind. Alas, nature and the TVA intervened, flooding the course a week before our visit. We audibled to Pinehurst, intending to play Mid Pines and Pine Needles, two courses that are high on my hit list. An ominous weather forecast and exorbitant flight prices rendered that option untenable. After exploring destinations from Arizona to Alabama, we finally found a flight into Atlanta and arranged rounds at Palmetto G.C. and Aiken G.C. I’ll go to great lengths to play golf, and even greater lengths to make my kids happy. Put the two together, and there was no way that I was going to let Jack down. Off we went.

This diary entry is not about the courses, but a few brief impressions. A visit to Palmetto Golf Club is like stepping back in time. The course was originally laid out by Herbert Leeds, who is also responsible for Myopia Hunt Club. The man knew how to design interesting golf holes. Dr. MacKenzie later enhanced the bunkering and greens, taking the course to new heights. It is one of those golf courses that I could happily play every day for the rest of my life. My feelings about Palmetto are even warmer, after watching Jack work his way around the course, taking in the architecture as his appreciation grows.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Aiken Golf Club is an entirely different experience, but one that blew us away equally. Owned by the McNair family, the course has received an in-house renovation over a period of years. The result is a meandering golf experience over beautiful property packed with variety, with each hole punctuated by a fun green. We were joined for our 36-hole day by my buddies Kevin Moore and Dave Zinkand, and it is an understatement to call the proceedings a geek fest. We were like four kids out there soaking in this affordable, publicly accessible gem.

Our trip was about much more than golf though. I love Jack. He is a smart kid with a big heart who is growing into a really good young man. I know that he loves me too. We tell each other. I also know, however, that at 16 he is in a tough time in his life. Demands of school and activities are high, on top of the simple fact that coming of age ain’t easy. Jack is fortunate to have a posse of great friends, and it is no surprise that he would rather talk and spend time with them than his parents. My mom likes to remind me that I hardly spoke at home for two years during my early teens.

To paraphrase a wise man*, it’s not what you’re like, but rather what you like that matters. Common interests bring us together and act as a gateway to connecting at deeper levels. I have experienced this progression with kindred golf spirits and members of the Canal Shores volunteer community, who I now count among my closest friends. And I am experiencing it with Jack as his love of the game blossoms. He might not feel like talking, but he is always up to talk golf. He might not want to hang with the family, but he is typically up for grabbing his clubs for a game. Whether it was on the course or on the couch on Masters Sunday, I stayed connected to my dad through golf. The game is playing the same role for me with Jack.

While driving around Augusta looking for food and the entrance gate to ANGC, we explored another shared interest – hip hop. We took turns sharing old and new school favorites and both ended up a little more enlightened about music, and each other. For fun, and to memorialize our adventure, we collaborated on a Spotify playlist, which we now share with you.

With every passing year, my gratitude for the game of golf increases. Personally, it provides endless challenge and enjoyment. Interpersonally, it delivers consistently great people into my life while making my world bigger. Most importantly, it gives me a connection to my sons that will hopefully endure as they grow into their own lives.

Our first buddies trip is successfully in the books. Many more to come.

*John Cusack’s character Rob Gordon in High Fidelity

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


3 Comments

MORE MUSINGS ON GREATNESS

While listening to a podcast with Ron Whitten, long-time architecture editor with Golf Digest, I was struck by how similar his early experience of falling in love with the game’s playing fields was to my own. In his youth, Whitten visited both Canal Shores (then known by another name) and Chicago Golf Club. Each course delighted him in a different way, and caused in him a revelation that would launch his career – there exists a wondrous variety of golf courses to explore.

Ron Whitten’s experience resonates with me because it mirrors my own, and that of my two sons. I learned the game playing with my dad and grandfather at the course on the old Fort Sheridan Army base in Highland Park, IL. Soon after, I began a ten year stretch of caddying at the Old Elm Club, a Harry Colt design built by a young Donald Ross – a true architectural gem. I played many other courses during my younger days, but Fort Sheridan and Old Elm were my favorites. For me, although they resided at completely different ends of the spectrum in terms of pedigree and conditioning, they were both intensely interesting in their own way. With the minds and hands of both Harry Colt and Donald Ross involved, the greatness of Old Elm is inherently obvious. Fort Sheridan wound through a military base past tanks and cannons, on the parade grounds and over ravines – what could be cooler for a little boy? Fast forward and I now split time with my sons between Canal Shores and Kingsley Club, each interesting in its own unique way.

The subject of what defines greatness in golf course architecture is one that I covered previously in my 108 in 48 post. There is a broader category of “good” into which great courses like those fall, with a much simpler definition informed by my experience. A good course is one that is interesting enough to make me want to play it again. This definition is inclusive of both ends of the spectrum, and tends to be exclusive of courses in the middle. Life is too short to spend precious golf time (and dollars) on the bland, the boring, or the just plain bad. I would rather hold out for those courses that get my gears turning with quirk, interesting details, or unique surroundings.

Exploring the ends of the spectrum and sharing those stories will be the focus of Geeked On Golf going forward. Chime in and share your experiences. It is always a pleasure to connect with kindred spirits.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


4 Comments

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.

Shinnecock-ClubhouseSide

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:

USOpen-Poll2.png

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

Oakmont-RotaJC.jpeg

Oakmont

Shinnecock-Aerial7

Shinnecock Hills

Pebble-RotaJC.jpeg

Pebble Beach

Pinehurst-RotaJC.jpeg

Pinehurst No. 2

WingedFoot-RotaJC.jpeg

Winged Foot

Merion-RotaJC.jpeg

Merion

OlympicClub-RotaJC.jpeg

Olympic Club

CountryClub-RotaJC.jpeg

The Country Club

LACC-RotaJC.jpeg

Los Angeles CC

CherryHills-RotaJC.jpeg

Cherry Hills

Inverness-RotaJC.jpeg

Inverness

OaklandHills-RotaJC.jpeg

Oakland Hills

OlympiaFields-RotaJC.jpeg

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…


MORE GEEKED ON GOLF MUSINGS:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


3 Comments

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!

Shinnecock-Aerial-JWSketch.jpg


SHINNECOCK HILLS GOLF CLUB

Shinnecock-ClubhouseBack.jpg

(click on image mosaics to enlarge)

No. 1 – 399yds – Par-4

Shinnecock1-Tee.jpg

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

Shinnecock2-ShortLeft.jpg

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

Shinnecock3-Greenback.jpg

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

Shinnecock4-Tee.jpg

“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

Shinnecock5-ShortRight.jpg

“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

Shinnecock6-GreenBehind.jpg

“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

Shinnecock7-TeeZoom.jpg

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

Shinnecock8-GreenBehind.jpg

“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

Shinnecock9-Fairway.jpg

“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

Shinnecock10-ShortRight.jpg

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

Shinnecock11-GreenLeft.jpg

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

Shinnecock12-GreenBack.jpg

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

Shinnecock13-Approach.jpg

“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

Shinnecock14-Tee.jpg

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

Shinnecock15-ApproachRight.jpg

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

Shinnecock16-ApproachLeft.jpg

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

Shinnecock17-Short.jpg

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

Shinnecock18-TeeZoom.jpg

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!

Shinnecock-ClubhouseSunset.jpg

Bonus Aerials

Shinnecock-Aerial1.jpg

Shinnecock-Aerial2.jpg

Shinnecock-Aerial3.jpg

Shinnecock-Aerial4.jpg

Shinnecock-Aerial5.jpg

Shinnecock-Aerial6.jpg

Shinnecock-Aerial7.jpg

 


MORE ON SHINNECOCK HILLS

 


MORE LINKSGEMS TOURS

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


1 Comment

So Long Kohler

For several years now, a spring gathering of golf geeks has taken place in Kohler, WI.  We drive up, play 36 holes, and drive home.  It is a gloriously exhausting day with a great group of guys on courses I enjoy – and I don’t think I’m ever going back.

Here’s why.  This year, we played the Straits course in the morning and the River course in the afternoon.  Our round at Straits took 5.5 hours.  We had two groups.  I was in the second group and I stood with my buddies in the group ahead while they hit their tee shots on EVERY hole.  Our caddies told us that the average time around the Straits was just over five hours, which seems absurd, and we were below average pace.  On the River course, we had the final two tee times of the day, and we all walked and carried.  There were at least two holes open ahead of us when we started, and we caught the groups in front of us by the 7th hole.  On the 8th tee, we decided to join up and play as a sevensome, and we still waited on EVERY tee.  We ran out of daylight on 14.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the pace of play ruined my day.  It is a privilege to spend time in beautiful places like that with good friends.  I do, however, know now that the experience was an inflection point for me.  I found myself wondering what on earth players could be doing to move that slowly.  The answer occurred to me when I woke up the next morning – they are sight-seeing.  They are taking in the views, they are playing shots from the pro tees, they are getting worked over on an around the greens.  They are sight-seeing and getting their money’s worth.  That is what happens at places like Whistling Straits, Pebble Beach, Arcadia Bluffs, and others, and that is fine.  It is just not my thing.

That being settled, I do want to share what I like about Straits and River.  There are fourteen good holes on the Straits course.  It has a wonderful set of four-pars, and the greens are great fun.  The oft heard complaint about the design from architecture geeks is that it looks man-made.  The site is entirely man-made, and the man’s name is Pete Dye.  It seems a little silly to me that some people expected the result to be a natural aesthetic.  My gripe is the egregious lack of restraint with the bunkering.  There are superfluous bunkers everywhere that creates visual clutter that detracts from how good the holes actually are.

Prior to my visit this year, I did a doodling exercise, removing every bunker that was not strategically relevant.  It helped me appreciate the holes even more.

WhistlingStraitsAerial-Front9-JWSketch.jpg

WhistlingStraitsAerial-Back9-JWSketch.jpg

The stretch of #5 through #10 on the River course is one of my favorites in modern golf.  The land is beautiful and Mr. Dye laid his trademark strategy and devilish quirk on top of it in a far more restrained fashion.

To memorialize my visits and celebrate Kohler’s strengths, photos and commentary follow.  For those who have not yet seen the courses, don’t let my conclusions dissuade you from going.  I highly recommend playing them once.  Go with the right expectations and enjoy seeing the sights.


THE STRAITS COURSE

My visits every year have been in the spring, so I sprinkled in a few photos from Jon Cavalier to illustrate the visual range of color and texture of The Straits.  All yardages are from the green tees.

HOLE 1 – Par 4 – 370 yards

WhistlingStraits1-ShortLeft-JC.jpeg

Photo by Jon Cavalier

The opener is a gentle handshake by Straits standards.  It plays down toward the water to a fairway that is angled right to left off the tee.  Drives that hug the left side are rewarded with a shorter approach to a green that runs away.

HOLE 2 – Par 5 – 521 yards

WhistlingStraits2-Short.jpeg

Bunkers left of the fairway on the 2nd must be challenged off the tee to gain an angle for the second shot.  The fairway gently switches back and rolls up to a perched green.  Of the many bunkers on the course, a handful really must be avoided.  The nasty gash pictured above short center of the green is most definitely one.

HOLE 3 – Par 3 – 166 yards

WhistlingStraits3-Tee.jpeg

Straits’s first one-shotter plays on the lake shore, as do the other three.  The tee shot is downhill to an angled green with a false front.  Shots can be worked off the high right side to back left pins.

HOLE 4 – Par 4 – 414 yards

WhistlingStraits4-GreenBack.jpeg

The course stiffens with the 4th.  Players who clear the large fairway bunker left find a speed slot that shortens the hole significantly.  They also find that their shorter approach is blind uphill into the elevated green.

(I realize that I skipped the 5th.  If you’ve played it, you know why.)

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 360 yards

WhistlingStraits6-ApproachLeft.jpeg

The sixth is a brilliant little two-shotter that plays like two different holes depending on the wind and pin position.  With a favorable wind and a left pin, aggressive players can go for the green with the fairway feeding into that front section.  A deathly deep bunker and pronounced spine bisect the green making the back right pin an entirely different ballgame.

HOLE 7 – Par 3 – 185 yards

WhistlingStraits7-ApproachLeft.jpg

The seventh is longer than the third with the green angled in the opposite direction.  Some players lament the lack of variety of Mr. Dye’s lakeside one-shotters.  Those complaints miss the brilliance of the angles, especially when the wind is whipping off Lake Michigan.

HOLE 8 – Par 4 – 429 yards

WhistlingStraits8-GreenLeft.jpg

The 8th is a stellar par-4 playing north along the lake.  Hug the right side with the drive to get a good look at the green.  There is plenty of room to play safe left off the tee, but bunkers left of the green must be navigated on the downhill approach.

HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 384 yards

WhistlingStraits9-ApproachAbove

The final hole on the outward half plays down through a chute between hills.  Any club from an iron to driver can be hit off the tee, but the fairway narrows the father up one plays.  Missing the fairway means an awkward lie for the approach into a green set below the clubhouse with pot bunkers left and a creek right.

HOLE 10 – Par 4 – 334 yards

WhistlingStraits10-FairwayBunker.jpeg

One of my favorite holes on the course, the short, uphill 10th has a large center bunker that can be cleared from the tee, but a smaller pot bunker on the same line lurks behind.  This gap between bunkers provides the best angle into the green perched on a ridge.

HOLE 11 – Par 5 – 544 yards

WhistlingStraits11-ApproachLeft.jpg

One of the more Dye-ish style holes on the course, the 11th plays over a rolling fairway, up and then down.  The green is only reachable in two in the most favorable of winds.  The approach plays over a large, deep bunker set with sleepers.  The crowned green is surrounded in front and on the sides with short grass leaving ticklish chips for wayward approaches.

HOLE 12 – Par 3 – 118 yards

WhistlingStraits12-ShortLeft.jpeg

The short, downhill twelfth is straightforward to the front pin positions.  Even with the blowing wind, a knockdown will be rewarded with a makable birdie putt for the player who can properly read the fun internal green contours.  The back right pin position is a different story.  A nasty bunker back left and the ledge right create a true do or die scenario.

HOLE 13 – Par 4 – 364 yards

WhistlingStraits13-Approach.jpeg

The two-shot 13th is another roller coaster playing to a rise in the landing area, and then down to a bluff edge green.  The infinity effect of this green when coupled with the elevation change make judging distance a real challenge.

HOLE 14 – Par 4 – 346 yards

WhistlingStraits14-ShortRight-JC.jpeg

Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 14th plays shorter than the yardage on the card and is drivable for the bold player with length.  A bunkered sandy waste right of the green awaits failed attempts with a true crap shoot of potential lies.  Dreams of eagle can turn into painful doubles in a hurry here.

HOLE 15 – Par 4 – 429 yards 

WhistlingStraits15-Approach.JPG

The 15th is the only hole on the course with a cross-hazard, which is not visible from the tee.  The approach plays back toward the lake to one of the more understated greens on the course, which makes it one of my favorites.

HOLE 16 – Par 5 – 535 yards

WhistlingStraits16-Greenright.JPG

The final three-shotter on the Straits plays south along the lake bluff, winding through a minefield of bunkers large and small.  The green is set up on a precipice and is fronted by deep bunkers short and left.  This is a birdie opportunity for the smart player who plays for position and executes.

HOLE 17 – Par 3 – 197 yards

WhistlingStraits17-TeeZoom-JC.jpeg

Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 17th anchors the three-pars at the Straits and it does so strongly.  The green is large, but it doesn’t look that way, especially when the tees are back and the wind is howling.  One of all-time favorite modern par-3s.

HOLE 18 – Par 4 – 424 yards

WhistlingStraits18-GreenStairs.jpeg

The closing hole begins with an awkward tee shot – the player has the choice of going as long as they like left to a narrow sliver of fairway that tumbles down a hill, or laying up center or right.  The cloverleaf green is fronted by a creek and surrounded on three sides by bunkers.  Not my favorite hole tee to green, but it is hard not to love the amphitheater setting of the green below the clubhouse.

THE RIVER COURSE

HOLE 5 – Par 4 – 388 yards

BlackwolfRiver5-Tee.jpg

There is a reason why every geek takes a photo from this tee.  After a long trek through the woods, emerging onto the elevated tee of the 5th is one of the better reveals in modern golf.  The hole winds uphill between large bunkers to a green benched into the hillside.  This might be the most beautiful hole at the resort.

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 333 yards

BlackwolfRunRiver6-Approach.JPG

The sixth bends left to right with a drive to a rolling fairway followed by an approach into an angled green.  Well placed tee balls out to the left give the player the option of going high or low to access various pin positions on the undulating green.

HOLE 7 – Par 4 – 374 yards

BlackwolfRiver7-Shortright.jpeg

The drive on the dogleg left 7th is semi-blind with the inside corner guarded by a massive bunker.  The approach plays uphill to a green with reverse redan feels.

HOLE 8 – Par 5 – 492 yards

BlackwolfRiver8-Greenback.jpeg

The par-5 8th is a birdie hole, but it helps to have multiple plays.  The player can cut off a significant chunk of the corner on the downhill tee shot.  Successful drives are followed by a green light to take the high right road into the green.  The lower stress layup is to the the lower left fairway, which leaves an uphill pitch at a less-than-ideal angle.

HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 316 yards

BlackwolfRunRiver9-GreenBehind.JPG

A second straight split fairway awaits to player at the 9th, which curls around the river.  Those taking the direct route toward the green might be rewarded with a short pitch, or even an eagle putt.  However, the trees and river demand precision in order to avoid scorecard disaster.

HOLE 10 – Par 3 – 194 yards

BlackwolfRunRiver10-Approach.jpg

The 10th is a beautiful one-shotter played into the back corner of the property with the Kohler factory on the ridge above.  Bunkers guard the front right and left side of the gently sloping green.

BONUS HOLE – #13 – Par 3 – 192 yards

BlackwolfRunRiver13-TeeZoom.jpg

I throw the 13th in not because I think that it is a great hole, but rather because it is an insane hole.  Mr. Dye tells the player who wants to play from the back sets of tees, either hit a 200 yard draw, or you’re dead.  It is a nutso demand to make of the average resort golfer, and I love knowing that that is exactly why Ol’ Pete built it that way.  You want fair?  Play someone else’s course.


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf