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Golden Age Redux – Shawn Smith & Todd Fyffe at Westmoreland CC

WESTMORELAND COUNTRY CLUB

An Interview & Course Tour

On the way from my house to the highway sits Westmoreland Country Club.  For years, I drove by and peeked through the fence at the course, with its gorgeous clubhouse overlooking the perfect green fairways.  When I finally had the good fortune to play Westmoreland, it was a treat to spend an afternoon experiencing first-hand what I had so long seen only from the road.  The course was nice, with a few neat holes and greens, and the conditioning produced by Superintendent Todd Fyffe and his team was second to none.  Was there anything that set it apart from the numerous other terrific country clubs around Chicago?  Truth be told, not really.

This is the challenge for clubs in a town so deep in good golf courses.  How to be truly great, while continuing to serve the needs of the existing membership.  The leadership of Westmoreland must have been wrestling with that same question, because last year a renovation of the course began under the direction of golf course architect Shawn Smith.  The bunkering was being completely overhauled, and the pictures that began to pop up on Twitter were attention grabbing to say the least.

Shawn and Todd were kind enough to invite me out for a walk around the course this spring as construction was nearing completion.  Shawn shared his thoughts on the bunker style change – bold and strategic, but with a classic vibe.  He also shared about the architectural history of the course, which is somewhat murky, but includes work by A.W. Tillinghast.  Shawn, Todd and the club’s leadership are clearly intent on recapturing that Golden Age feel, and thus far they are succeeding.

The bunker work has been complemented with fairway expansion and the tweaking of grass lines.  Trees are slowly coming down, opening up vistas and improving turf health, and new fescue areas are being established that will create a beautiful color contrast.

 

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How can a club set its course apart in a crowded field of solid quality courses?  A return visit to play Westmoreland a few weeks back would suggest that they have found their answer.  As the refinement continues and the new work matures, it will only get better.  And who knows, Shawn might just have a trick or two left in his Golden Age bag.

I am very much looking forward to repeat plays in the coming years.  In the meantime, Shawn and Todd have been gracious enough to share more of their perspective (Todd’s answers are coming soon), and I created a hole-by-hole tour for those who have not yet seen the new Westmoreland.  Enjoy!


INTERVIEW WITH ARCHITECT SHAWN SMITH & SUPERINTENDENT TODD FYFFE

How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

SHAWN SMITH: I grew up in Laurel, Montana, a small town of about 7,000 people and we lived a couple farm fields away from the golf course.  My parents first introduced me to the game when I was six but it was pretty casual, consisting of me banging a 7-iron down the fairway 90 yards at a time.  I started to take it more seriously when I turned eleven and began playing in local junior golf tournaments.    

When did you know that the game had a hold on you?  

SS: The summer that I turned eleven, my dad signed me up for my first junior golf tournament and I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed the game.  From that point forward, most of my free time was spent on the golf course.  During the summer, I would spend most days from sun up to sun on the golf course.  

How did you get into the business?  

SS: Growing up, I always enjoyed drawing and being creative.  In the mid-1980s when I was in my early teens, I became aware of the profession of golf course architecture and it seemed like the perfect blend of my creative side with my love of the game.  From that point on I began chasing the dream – I read everything I could get my hands on about golf course architecture, worked in the pro shop and on the grounds crew of my local course to better understand that side of the business, interned for a local landscape architect who also dabbled in golf course design, attended Washington State University where I received a degree in Landscape Architecture and spent a year working golf course construction in Mississippi and Louisiana.  In 1998, I was brought on as a design associate for Arthur Hills and Associates (currently Hills & Forrest) and became a principal in 2010.

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What got you excited about the opportunity to take on this renovation?

SS: Westmoreland Country Club has a rich history that dates back to 1911 and includes architectural contributions by Willie Watson, William Langford and A.W. Tillinghast.  When you visit the Club, it has a vibe that is consistent with many of the great old golf courses built during that era.  From the iconic Colonial Williamsburg clubhouse to the beautifully contoured greens, it just looks and feels like a course that has been around for over a century.  The exception to this was the bunkering which, prior to the most recent work, had been rebuilt a number of times over the years and had taken on a character that wasn’t consistent with the rest of the golf course.  What I was most excited about with this renovation was the opportunity to recapture a bunker character with straighter, simpler lines that was more consistent with the other classic architectural features that already existed.      

Describe your process for a renovation of this nature.

SS: The first thing we do with any renovation is to meet with the Club to determine their goals and objectives.  From there, we go to work studying the golf course.  We spend a couple days walking the course, establishing an inventory that identifies its strengths and weaknesses.  We meet with the superintendent and other key individuals at the club to get there perspective.  If its an older course, like Westmoreland, we spend time researching the history of the course to better understand the original architecture and how it may have evolved over the years.  From there, we take all the compiled information and develop a plan for improvements which we present to the green committee.  Based on their feedback, we make any necessary revisions to the plan so that we have a consensus going forward.  When the Club chooses to implement the plan, we prepare construction drawings, facilitate the bid process and help the Club select a contractor to complete the work.  In the case of Westmoreland, they have worked with Leibold on most of their projects over the years so there really wasn’t a formal bid process.  Once construction begins, we make site visits to review the construction and recommend any field modifications to ensure that the design intent is met.  The frequency of the visits varies depending on the stage of construction and how quickly it is progressing.  At Westmoreland, I was making 1-2 day site visits weekly for the better part of four months (Oct., Nov., April & May).      

Did historical documentation play any role in your approach to the renovation?  

SS: We had an aerial photograph from 1938 along with a handful of other ground and oblique photos from that timeframe.  The original bunkering in the 1938 aerial consisted of massive bunkers that were mostly out-of-play.  It simply wasn’t practical to restore the bunkers to their original design.  We did however use the photographs to educate the membership about how many trees had been planted over the years.  The old photos, which showed far fewer trees, supported our recommendation to implement a tree management plan.  The plan focuses on returning to a native plant palette of deciduous hardwoods and creating more of an open character which highlights specimen trees and accentuates shared views and vistas across the golf course.

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What were your goals going into the project?  

SS: The project originally just began as a bunker renovation and evolved into rebuilding, squaring up tees, widening/straightening fairways and a tree management plan.  These were the original goals of the bunker project:

  1. Improve the aesthetics of the bunkers by creating a style and character that is consistent with early 20th century architecture and the other classic features found on the course.  
  2. Improve the strategy of the bunkers by creating risk/reward relationships that encourage thoughtful play and make the holes more interesting.
  3. Improve the playability of the course by positioning bunkers where they challenge better players without undulling penalizing the weaker players.
  4. Improve the infrastructure of the bunkers so that they drain properly, are easier to maintain and provide consistent playing conditions for the membership.   

How did you decide on the bold bunker style?

SS: We knew early on that restoring the original bunkering wasn’t practical so we chose to create a bunker style that was consistent with the era Westmoreland was originally built.  Ultimately, we decided to draw inspiration from the trench-style bunkering of C.B. McDonald and Seth Raynor which has strong roots in the Chicago area.

In a renovation like this, how much weight do playability and functionality carry respectively?

SS: A large part of our effort in rebuilding the bunkers was to reposition them (especially the fairway bunkering) so that they challenged the better players without unnecessarily penalizing the weaker players. In many instances, we shifted existing fairway bunkers farther down the hole or added bunkers at the far end of the landing area that could only be reached by the better players.  We widened most of the fairways to 40 yards+/-, especially in the areas leading up to the fairway bunkers where shorter hitters would tend to hit their tee shots.  At the greens, we reposition a number of bunkers and realigned fairways to create wider approaches that would allow for a shot to be run onto the green.  By repositioning the bunkers and widening the fairways and approaches, we were able to make the holes more strategic and thought provoking for the better players and at the same time more playable for the lesser skilled golfer.  

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Did you run into challenges with the membership before, during, or after the project, and how did you overcome those challenges?

SS: A year prior to the project, the Club rebuilt two of the bunkers on the short game area to help educate the membership on what the new bunkers would look like and how they would play.  This turned out to a great decision as it was instrumental in helping to gain the membership’s support for the project.  

For the most part, I dealt directly with Todd and the Long Range Planning Committee.  Throughout the project, they were great to work with and were very enthusiastic about the initial plan we presented.  There were a couple holes were we were asked to adjust the bunker placement but they were minor.  As with any project, once we got into construction, there were some minor tweaks that needed to be made and we worked closely with Todd and the committee’s leadership to make those changes.  

Perhaps the biggest hurdle we had during the project came toward the end when we recommended removing a few trees as part of an overall tree management plan.  Through a series of presentations to the Long Range Committee, the Board and then finally the membership, we carefully explained the rationale for our recommendation.  It began with a detailed analysis of the early photographs of the golf course showing the numerous trees that had been planted over the years.  We explained the challenges that trees create from an agronomic, aesthetic and playability standpoint.  And, we included a comprehensive look at the trend in the industry, especially with classic golf courses built during the early 20th century, to remove trees and restore more of an open character with only a few specimen trees.  

Describe your approach to tree management going forward.  

SS: The long term objective of the tree management plan is to eliminate non-native and ornamental trees so that we can highlight specimen hardwood deciduous trees and return the golf course to more of an open feel.  At the same time, we plan to create a dense plant buffer on the perimeter so that we can screen unwanted offsite views.  

In addition to the tree management plan, we have identified 15 acres that we plan to convert to native fescue areas.  We believe the combination of the bunker improvements along with the approach proposed for the trees and native areas will provide a look and feel that is very much consistent with a golf course that was built during the golden age of design.  

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?  

SS: Todd may be the better person to ask this question but one of the neat byproducts of the trench bunker style was the fact that we were able to significantly decrease the total bunker square footage on the golf course which should reduce the time spent maintaining the bunkers.  Prior to the renovation, the course had 57 bunkers totaling 83,275 square feet.  With the new bunkers, we increased the number to 66 but the total square footage was cut by a 1/3 to 56,620 square feet.  Additionally, the flat floors and the Better Billy Bunker construction method should all but eliminate washouts following a rain event.

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What makes you the proudest about the new Westmoreland?

SS: I am most proud of the transformation we were able to make to the character of the golf course.  We took bunkering and fairway lines that were out of place on a golf course of this age and made them match the other classic elements of the golf course.  It instantly made the golf course look and feel 100 years older!

What do you respect most about your collaborator?

SS: This project afforded me the opportunity to spend a lot of time on site and see firsthand all the hard work that Todd and his staff put into providing impeccable conditions for the membership.  At the same time, they were also instrumental during the renovation, taking on significant portions of the work in-house. Todd is extremely knowledgeable when it comes getting the most out of the golf course but what I respect the most about him is his drive to improve.  He is continually talking to his peers, trying to learn and get better at his craft and is not afraid to try new things or implement new ideas in the quest to get better.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the improvements we made mature under his stewardship.   

What do you love about practicing your craft?

SS: The aspect about design that I love the most is the creative process; taking an idea, refining it, building it and ultimately seeing people enjoy it.

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WESTMORELAND CC COURSE TOUR

The classic experience begins at Westmoreland at the clubhouse, which might be the most underrated in Chicagoland.  The opening holes on both nines play down away from the clubhouse, and their tees are tied beautifully together by the putting green and closely mown bentgrass surrounds.

Hole #1 – Par 4 – 331 yards

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The opener is a short, slight dogleg right that plays downhill.  The player is confronted with the first of many strategic decisions as the bunkers on the left are reachable.  Positioning is the key to scoring on the 1st, and throughout WCC.

Hole #2 – Par 4 – 388 yards

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The 2nd is a straight par-4 with a long trench bunker guarding the left side of the fairway, and a nasty pot bunker guarding the green front left.  It hits home at this point that most of these bunkers are in fact hazards.

Hole #3 – Par 4 – 439 yards

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The 3rd is a brute of a par-4 playing uphill off the tee to a wide, often windswept fairway.  The approach is blind down to an angled green that will accept running and aerial shots.

Hole #4 – Par 4 – 351 yards

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Options abound off the tee on the short 4th.  Smart players sneak a peek at the pin position coming up the third, as the green runs away from front to back and the approach must be made from the proper angle.

Hole #5 – Par 3 – 170 yards

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The elevated green at the 5th is one of those “must hits”.  A deep bunker guards the front left and steep, closely mown runoffs surround the rest of the green.  A short game fiasco is a really possibility when tee shots are errant.

Hole #6 – Par 4 – 300 yards

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The 6th green is reachable for bombers, but the green surrounds are no bargain if the heroic attempts fail.  The small green is sloped and contoured and players who leave themselves short-sided are unlikely to get up and down.

Hole #7 – Par 4 – 340 yards

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The 7th begins with a blind drive over a hill that runs down to a tiered green.  It is reachable, but the punishment for being on the wrong tier is a near certain three putt.

Hole #8 – Par 5 – 469 yards

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The lone five par on the front is a terrific risk-reward proposition.  Challenge the right bunkers off the tee and the distance is shortened enough to make carrying the fronting lake doable.  The heavily sloped green is unforgiving of imprecise approaches though.

Hole #9 – Par 4 – 391 yards

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The view from the 9th tee is one of the best in town.  Staggered bunkers cutting into the fairway on both sides disorient and confuse, making the hole look narrower than it actually is.  The uphill approach to an elevated green demands a confidently struck shot.

Hole #10 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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Like the first, the 10th plays downhill and doglegs right.  However, it is both narrower and longer and the green has distinct sections with testy pin positions.  This is no gentle handshake.

Hole #11 – Par 5 – 505 yards

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A deep bunker right and two simple bunkers left flank the landing zone on the 11th.  A glorious old tree must be navigated with the lay-up and approach to this contoured green that sits beautifully on the land.

Hole #12 – Par 4 – 375 yards

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The 12th is a two-shotter that plays much longer than its yardage straightaway uphill.  Deep bunkers left and right of the green lie in wait to dish out punishment.

Hole #13 – Par 3 – 193 yards

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The par-3 13th plays over water downhill to a green in an idyllic setting.  Rough-covered mounding surrounds the green creating tricky lies and stances.

Hole #14 – Par 4 – 360 yards

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The 14th plays over a hill and left to blind landing area.  Well struck tee shots with a draw can feed all the way down near the green which sits in a natural amphitheater.  The “dreaded straight ball” however, if overzealously played runs the risk of going through the fairway into a pond right that is hidden from view on the tee.

Hole #15 – Par 5 – 530 yards

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Westmoreland’s third and final par-5 15th might be the most improved hole on the course.  Tree removal on the inside of this dogleg left has opened views and lines, and fairway expansion has created room to play.  That room is critical because the approach to the green is now littered with bunkers that must be avoided to give the player a legitimate chance at birdie.

Hole #16 – Par 4 – 397 yards

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The par-4 16th is a straight par-4 that plays much more narrow than it is.  The left side of the green is well defended by bunkers into which the fairway feeds.

Hole #17 – Par 3 – 141 yards

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The par-3 17th plays over water to an elevated green fronted on the the right by bunkers.  With the wind whipping across the pond, judging line and distance can be a real challenge.

Hole #18 – Par 4 – 383 yards

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One final gorgeous view awaits the player upon reaching the home home, a par-4 which plays back up the hill to the clubhouse.  The heavily sloped green has a mammoth bunker left demanding one last accurate approach.

On the day of my round at Westmoreland, the weather soured as we played the finishing stretch, but it did nothing to dampen my spirits.  Spending time on this now special golf course, discussing the game, architecture and history with Shawn and Todd is as good as it gets for this geek.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems Walker Cup Course Preview

JON CAVALIER’S LINKSGEMS WALKER CUP PREVIEW

Los Angeles Country Club (North Course)

The 2017 Walker Cup is being contested at the historic Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course.  Originally opened in 1911 and redesigned by George C. Thomas Jr in 1921, the North Course was recently restored by Gil Hanse’s team, with an assist from Geoff Shackelford.

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LACC is a wonderful setting for match play, with a variety of holes and plenty of risk-reward decisions for the players.  Let’s take a quick walk through each of the 18 holes before play begins on September 9th.

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Hole #1 – Par 5 – 544 yards

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LACC’s 1st is a wide, short par-5 (perhaps a par-4 for these players) that begins near the site of the now-removed fountain, and ends at a treacherous green framed by the Beverly Hilton.

Hole #2 – Par 4 – 484 yards

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Like many holes at LACC, the flat par-4 2nd seems simple at first, but positioning into its sloped, barranca-protected green is key.

Hole #3 – Par 4 – 400 yards

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The 3rd at LACC is one of the best par-4s in the world – if the USGA pins this green on one of its two front prongs, watch out!

Hole #4 – Par 3 – 210 yards

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The 4th is a long, downhill par-3 over a barranca – Lionel Richie’s house is short right; the Playboy Mansion is long left.

Hole #5 – Par 4 – 483 yards

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The 5th at LACC is a long, tough par-4 – a blind tee shot leaves an approach to a green open on one side and defended on the other.

Hole #6 – Par 4 – 335 yards

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The 6th is a drivable short par-4 down a chute bending right to a wide, shallow green benched between a barranca and hill.

Hole #7 – Par 3 – 282 yards

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The 7th is a stout par-3 from an elevated tee to a small, canted green.

Hole #8 – Par 5 – 537 yards

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For Walker Cup competitors, the all-world par-5 8th, halved by a barranca, is a very tempting risk/reward par-4-and-a-half.

Hole #9 – Par 3 – 181 yards

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The par-3 9th at LACC plays over a ravine to a sharply sloping green; snow-capped Mt. San Antonio is visible some 40 miles away.

Hole #10 – Par 4 – 383 yards

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The epic back nine at LACC begins with the lovely par-4 10th – this wide, canted fairway is pocked with perfectly placed bunkering.

Hole #11 – Par 3 – 249 yards

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The terrific 11th at is a reverse-redan style par-3 with incredible views of the LA skyline from the tee.  A personal favorite.

Hole #12 – Par 4 – 388 yards

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The tee shot at the par-4 12th is blinded by a large hill – easy to get out of position on approach to this well-guarded green.

Hole #13 – Par 4 – 468 yards

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The par-4 13th at LACC, as pretty as it is tough – occasionally, odd noises from behind the greenside hedge can be a distraction.

Hole #14 – Par 5 – 598 yards

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LACC’s closing stretch begins with the 14th, a lovely par-5 featuring one of the best greens in golf.

Hole #15 – Par 3 – 133 yards

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The short par-3 15th features an array of gorgeous bunkers and a huge crescent green reminiscent of the 7th at Crystal Downs.

Hole #16 – Par 4 – 465 yards

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One of the most beautiful holes at LACC, the stout par-4 16th tips out over 500 yards, this hole will decide matches come Saturday.

Hole #17 – Par 4 – 455 yards

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The closer the tee shot to the barranca on the right of LACC’s par-4 17th, the better the approach to its narrow, rolling green.

Hole #18 – Par 4 – 451 yards

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The 500-yard par-4 18th – as with so many great classic courses, LACC’s home green sits just steps from the beautiful clubhouse.

Little 17th – Par 3 – 110 yards

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This alternate par-3 was built by Herbert Fowler, adopted but ultimately abandoned by George Thomas, and lovingly restored by Gil Hanse.

Regardless of who wins the Cup, players, spectators, and TV viewers are all in for a treat.  It doesn’t get any better than Los Angeles Country Club.  Enjoy the match!

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2017 Copyright – GeekedOnGolf, Jason Way

 


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5th Annual Noreaster – Back to Long Island

After two years in Boston, our group was longing for a return trip to Long Island, and Friar’s Head.  Planning began over the winter, but took a detour.  Two of the original four members of the Noreaster crew, Brian and Shawn, weren’t able to make the trip this year.  They are good dads, and had travel plans with their kids that trumped golf buddy travel.  I understand and respect those priorities.  Fortunately, my network of golf geeks who get it continues to expand, and the slots were filled by Jon Cavalier and Gary M.

We pulled together a lineup of Friar’s Head, Maidstone, Quogue Field Club, and Deepdale GC.

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FRIAR’S HEAD

Since my last visit to Friar’s Head, I have had the good fortune of playing several more of Coore & Crenshaw’s best courses – Old Sandwich, Sand Hills, Sand Valley and Dormie Club.  My love of their work continues to grow, but I admit to wondering if the additional exposure would in any way diminish Friar’s Head.  It most definitely did not.  Friar’s Head delivers, every time.

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Behind the green at the short par-4 5th

The back nine gets most of the press, but on this visit I was much more taken with the front.  Those holes are brilliantly routed out to and back from the inland farm, and are packed with strategy and character.  I made the turn feeling that the front might be the stronger nine, especially with the recent tree removal.

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The fairway rolls down to the 9th green

Whereas the outward nine meanders around in a wide open area, much of the back nine winds through dunes closer to the clubhouse and water.  Beginning with the par-3 10th, the inward nine has more of an adventure feel.

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The view back from the 10th green

My feelings about the front side notwithstanding, there is a reason why the closing stretch from the 14th through 18th gets so much love.  It is all-world.

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The tee shot on the par-5 14th


MAIDSTONE CLUB

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Maidstone was one of the courses we visited on our first annual Noreaster, which also included Piping Rock, Shinnecock and Friar’s Head.  Truth be told, it was not our crew’s favorite from that lineup, but it didn’t get a fair assessment either.  We played Shinnecock that morning in a howling wind and spitting rain, and it beat us up.  By the time we made it to Maidstone, the rain has stopped, but the wind increased to silly levels and it was difficult to see Maidstone for how special it was.

That first visit to Maidstone was also prior to the renovation by Coore & Crenshaw.  I filed it away in the “nice course” category until Jon Cavalier did his LinksGems course tour.  Reviewing Jon’s tour, I could hardly believe that it was the same Maidstone I had played.  From that day forward, a return to East Hampton has been on my mind.

Expectations were high as we made the drive east on Long Island on a perfect June morning.  18 holes later, my high expectations were thoroughly exceeded with Maidstone entering my Top 10 all-time favorites.  Willie Park’s routing – beginning and ending with a wide open field in front of the clubhouse, transitioning to the wetlands around Hook Pond, and featuring the seaside dunesland at its heart – is masterful and varied.  C&C’s work on the greens and bunkers is mind-blowingly cool.  And the stewardship of GM Ken Koch and Superintendent John Genovesi is spot on.

Still absorbing the morning months later, I am left believing that a fair argument could be made that Maidstone belongs in the same conversation with Shinnecock and National Golf Links as top dog on Long Island.  As was the case when I first saw Jon’s photos, I am once again counting the days until a return visit.

MAIDSTONE COURSE TOUR

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Hole #1 – Par 4 – 424 yards

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The opener plays downhill away from the clubhouse to a green that is both elevated and canted.  Long approaches are in danger of finding the road, which backs the green.  The Coore & Crenshaw team’s bunker rework is on display and gives a hint at the polish that has been applied to this Willie Park Jr. gem.

Hole #2 – Par 5 – 537 yards

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The first of the “wetland” holes plays straight through flanking bunkers to a stellar green featuring a low front tier and a long, angled back tier.  Approaches must be precisely played to find the correct section, while avoiding the large bunker that runs the length of the back right.  The renovation took this hole from ho-hum to holy moly!

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Hole #3 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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A straightaway two-shotter, the third demands proper positioning off the tee to access various pin positions on the green which features a false front and two tiers.  Great greens make great golf holes, and this hole is proof positive.

Hole #4 – Par 3 – 176 yards

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The first one-shotter marks another transition, with three of the next four holes playing over or around Hook Pond.  Bunkering rework around the green has added even more character to this thrilling hole, where two realizations hit the player on the tee: 1) The wind is really blowing, and 2) If I don’t make committed approaches, I will be watching balls roll back down false fronts ALL day.

Hole #5 – Par 4 – 325 yards

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Multiple options are available to the player on this short four, including going for the green when the wind is right.  Bunkers guard the landing zones and the green, which backs up to Hook Pond.  Reward awaits the bold, but not without risk.

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Hole #6 – Par 4 – 403 yards

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The green on this hole, featuring bold contours, and surrounded by jaw-dropping bunkering is a harbinger of the architecture to come.  Hit the approach on the wrong tier, and you may as well try and negotiate a three-putt with your playing partners as you walk up the fairway.

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Hole #7 – Par 4 – 341 yards

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The best cape hole in America?  An argument could be made.  Step on the tee, gauge the wind, check your pucker factor, and let er rip.  A thrilling tee shot, followed by an approach into a green with killer contours and creative flourishes in the surrounds.  Sublime.

Hole #8 – Par 3 – 151 yards

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The tee shot plays blind over the large dune to an elevated green.  A wise man once said, a shot is only blind once.  That wise man may have been right, but he would be intimidated on the 8th tee too.

Finding the 8th green – wonderfully contoured, floating on a sea of sand – with one’s tee ball is an exhilarating relief.

Hole #9 – Par 4 – 415 yards

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Ahhhh, the iconic 9th.  With the ocean on the right and the whipping wind, the player must focus to find a safe landing in the fairway winding through the dunes.

A service road left of the green has been replaced by a wild runoff shaped by Dave Zinkand.  Continuous improvement and relentless attention to detail.  What separates the good from the world class.

Hole #10 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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This unique hole is one of Maidstone’s most natural and rugged looking, with sandy wastes, long grasses and colorful dune vegetation.  Standing in the fairway looking at the green set atop a dune, the player can be forgiven for concluding that there is no safe place to land an approach.

Hole #11 – Par 4 – 464 yards

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This slight dogleg left is an elegant hole with bunkers guarding the drive zone and green.  It highlighted for me just how perfectly balanced Maidstone is.  From turf maintenance, to bunker treatments, to tree management, nothing has been left undone, and yet nothing is overdone.

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Hole #12 – Par 3 – 181 yards

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This used to be a nondescript connector hole.  Thanks to C&C, that is most definitely no longer the case.  The forebunker confounds depth perception, the flanking bunkers intimidate, and a back left bunker lies out of sight, waiting to punish misjudged shots.  All this sand, defending a green that is tough enough to not need defending.  The 12th is now up to the standards of Maidstone’s other wonderful one-shotters.

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Hole #13 – Par 5 – 500 yards

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The 13th plays back toward the ocean and the fairway narrows as it nears the green.  A green that, now running at an angle between two bunkers and featuring a large false front, might be the most improved on the course.  This hole used to be “the one before the iconic 14th”.  Post-renovation, it is THE 13th.

Hole #14 – Par 3 – 152 yards

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This all world one-shotter can play dramatically differently from day to day based on the wind.  Whether holding a wedge or a long iron, the player is guaranteed a dose of beauty to soothe their frazzled nerves.

The view of the 14th from behind shows a) how close to the ocean the green sits, and b) how little margin for error there is for tee balls. Find the green, enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean, and consider yourself among the fortunate few.

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Hole #15 – Par 5 – 493 yards

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Playing straightaway from the ocean, the green is reachable in two with the right wind.  Multiple subtle plateaus mean that an eagle or birdie are far from guaranteed even if a bold approach safely finds the green.  This hole marks the end of the seaside adventure as the course heads back to the clubhouse.

Hole #16 – Par 5 – 485 yards

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The par-5 16th ends the fun 3,5,3,5,5 stretch. The cape-style tee shot plays back over Hook Pond to a fairway that makes a right turn toward the low-set green.  Judging the wind and playing the angles well can result in birdies.  Picking the wrong lines…different result.

Hole #17 – Par 4 – 328 yards

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This short four starts with a second straight cape tee shot, playing in the opposite direction.  Yet another fun little routing quirk.  The player can take multiple lines off tee to gain the most advantageous position to approach a green set intimately at the intersection of two roads.

Hole #18 – Par 4 – 390 yards

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The home hole plays uphill toward the clubhouse and ocean.  The shared fairway makes for an expansive view and provides plenty of room to get way out of position for the approach.

Maidstone’s final green setting is so breathtakingly beautiful that it almost masks the sadness the player feels to be walking off this all-world course.  The adventure ends, but the memories last forever.


QUOGUE FIELD CLUB

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Fortunately for me, my golf buddies are willing to indulge my recent obsession with 9-holers.  I could not have been more excited to experience Quogue Field Club, thanks to our host Peter Imber.  It did not disappoint.

Peter has been at the forefront of the restoration of Quogue, and he has graciously agreed to participate in an interview and course tour on which Jon Cavalier and I intend to collaborate.  With that closer look on the docket, I won’t dive too deeply into the course here.  I will say, however, that Quogue Field Club embodies everything that I love about the game.  It is both simple and intensely interesting at the same time.  It provides plenty of challenge, especially when the wind blows, without sucking out the fun.  It is a joy.

I could go around and around this course endlessly…

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The green at the par-3 2nd

Quogue’s nine holes have nine terrific greens, as well as plenty of old-timey quirk – grassy mounds, church pew bunkers, shots over roads, a punch bowl surrounded by sand.  The list goes on and on.

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The redan-biarritz 4th is one of a kind

The course is open to and intimately embedded in its community.  It is a source of inspiration for what community golf can be, whether public or private.

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The 9th green, set close to the understated clubhouse


DEEPDALE GOLF CLUB

On a trip that was packed with high notes, the highest relative to my expectations might have been our visit to Deepdale.  I must admit that I did not know much about the club, other than that the course was designed by Dick Wilson, an architect whose courses I had never played.  Sometimes, going into a golf adventure “blind” makes it all the more enjoyable and that was certainly the case here.

The course was wonderful, from the routing, to the imposing bunkering, to the sloped and contoured greens.  Wilson created a course that challenges the low handicapper, without punishing those who are less skilled.

The club is outstanding.  A great mix of old school charm with new school amenity.  The showers are almost as good as Friar’s Head (and that is saying something), and the seafood cobb salad might be the best post-round meal I have ever had.  Deepdale is the kind of club that would be a pure pleasure to frequent – a golf getaway from city life that isn’t even all that far away.  It was the perfect end to our trip.

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The approach to Deepdale’s 1st

From the first hole, several things are evident about Deepdale.  It is immaculate, the doglegged fairways sweep beautifully over the land, and the greens are anything but boring.

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From behind the 12th green

I had no idea that the land so close to the highway and airport could be so stunning, with rolling hills and plenty of elevation change.

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From the 15th tee


CONCLUSION

The more golf adventures I have, the more I come to realize that the enjoyment of the experience is as much dictated by the quality of the company as it is by the quality of the courses.  I am fortunate to be able to play the courses I do, but my fortune is exponentially better because of the company I keep.  These are simply stellar dudes.

Reflecting on the trip, there was one missing element – immersion.  Because of some last minute shuffling, we were not all staying in the same place.  A big part of what I truly enjoy about buddies trips is the camaraderie, on the course and off.  Car time and meal time, talking golf, architecture and life, add richness and depth to these trips.  The logistics robbed us of a bit of that this time around.

The 2017 Noreaster consisted of our most eclectic group of courses and clubs to date, in terms of both vibe and architecture.  We had modern and classic, understated and luxurious, big and small, modern and classic.  One common thread that runs among them all – greatness.

Familiarity born of return visits to the area, and Friar’s Head and Maidstone, increased my appreciation.  These trips are often a blur and repeat visits help to crystallize memories and perspectives.  I often wonder, which Noreaster area has the strongest collection of courses?  Boston, Long Island, or Philly?  The answer came to me this year.  Whichever area I just visited.


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Eastward Ho! Tour by Jon Cavalier

EASTWARD HO! – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Chatham, MA – Herbert Fowler

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Homeward bound at Eastward Ho!

I was in the general area on for a round at Wannamoisett.  On my way up to the course that morning, I noticed that Eastward Ho! was a mere 90 minutes further along, and having missed an opportunity to play there a few months back, I decided to try to head over later that day.  After a very enjoyable round at Wannamoisett, and having been well and duly throttled by both my host and the course, I headed over.

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Lone tree at fifteen

The place is, in a word, wonderful.  I arrived at 2pm on Sunday, and with sunset for Cape Cod creeping up to before 4:30pm, I knew that I had limited time to get a round in.  I also knew I would need to take a cart.  But no matter.  The weather was perfect, and I enjoyed every minute of my time on the property.  I have had the great pleasure and fortune of playing some of the most “charming” golf courses in the east — Myopia Hunt, Garden City, Maidstone, Fishers Island, etc. — and Eastward Ho!, in my opinion, belongs on any list of such courses.  It’s an exciting, fun, playable and unique golf course that deserves more than the share of accolades that it currently receives.  I can’t remember having such an enjoyable time on a golf course.

I hope you enjoy this tour.

EASTWARD HO!

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The incomparable setting of Eastward Ho!

Set in Chatham, Massachusetts, the drive to Eastward Ho! takes you through some beautiful countryside.  The anticipation builds as you get closer to the course, and you begin to get glimpses of coves and small bays.  It’s a quiet, peaceful area – ideal for golf.

The course was designed by Herbert Fowler and opened for play in 1922.  The course is laid out in a figure 8 routing, with the front 9 on the northeastern side of the clubhouse, and the back 9 to the southwest.  It sits on a glacial moraine, which resulted in some one-off landforms rarely found in the United States.

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The Scorecard

The course plays to a par 71 over 6,372 yards – short by today’s standards, but as the 71.7/135 rating and slope indicate, it is no pushover.  I thought the mix of holes and the terrain compensated well for the lack of overall length — the course played longer for me than the yardage on the card.

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Hole 1 – 380 yards – Par 4

Some courses, Maidstone and Fishers Island for example, hide their charms until several holes into the round.  No such wait is required at Eastward Ho!  As soon as you pull into the small parking lot, the first hole and ninth fairway are visible to the right of the gorgeous clubhouse, and you know immediately that you are in for a special round.

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Doglegging slightly left, the first plunges down into a valley and then back up to the green at the top of a long hill.

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Looking back toward the clubhouse from the first green reveals the tumbling nature of the land.

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Hole 2 – 350 yards – Par 4

After crossing a small road to the second tee, the player is confronted with a tee shot over Crows Pond to an elevated fairway and a partially blind landing area.

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Upon cresting the hill, most players will have only a delicate wedge into a green defended by a banked fairway and collection area to the right, and a small but deep bunker short left.

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As is so often the case at Eastward Ho!, a look back down the fairway from the green shows the astonishing ground features that are present on almost every hole.

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Hole 3 – 326 yards – Par 4

Walking across the small road from the 2nd green to the 3rd tee reveals one of the most incredible views that I have ever seen on a golf course.  To the player’s left, the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th holes are visible, as is the expansive bay to the right of the 7th green.  The excitement for the player is palpable as he knows that these four holes remain ahead.

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The tee shot on the 3rd is over a valley, and again the landing area is obscured.  This hole is reachable for longer players, and that fact coupled with a blind landing zone make for an exciting combination.

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Those that don’t go at the green will likely have a half-wedge to a small putting surface that is well-guarded by both bunkers and slopes to all sides but the front.

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Looking back up the 3rd fairway from the green – note the tiered descent from the crest of the fairway.

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Hole 4 – 182 yards – Par 3

The first par 3 on the course, and perhaps the prettiest, the 4th green hugs the cliff long and right.

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The beautiful setting for the 4th green.

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Hole 5 – 525 yards – Par 5

The 5th hole at Eastward Ho! begins one of the most remarkable series of holes that I’ve had the privilege of playing.  The terrain over which these holes play is unlike anything I have ever seen before, and the expanse of this section of the golf course is literally breathtaking.

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The heaving 5th fairway.

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The approach to the 5th green, which sits so close to the 8th green that on first glance, it appears to be a shared green.

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The 5th and 8th greens.  The surrounding banks create an amphitheater effect.

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Hole 6 – 421 yards – Par 4

The 6th hole at Eastward Ho! is one of the most spectacular par 4s in American golf.  Plunging sharply downhill through a valley created by some of the most severely sloping fairways you’ll ever see, the 6th plays shorter than its yardage but is far from easy.

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The stunning approach to the 6th green requires a shot to a raised green.  Absolutely beautiful.

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The view back up the incredible 6th fairway.  Hard to believe that a golf course was built over this land more than 90 years ago.

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The elevated 6th green sits hard on the water’s edge, providing panoramic views of the bay and the small islands in the distance.

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Hole 7 – 181 yards – Par 3

The second par 3 at Eastward Ho! calls for an uphill shot to a green sloped back to front.  The putting surface is not visible from the tee.

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While short is the preferred miss, due to the slope of the green, deep pot bunkers guard the short sides of the green.

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Looking back from the elevated 7th green provides one of the best views on the course, with the 6th green, the bay, and Strong Island in the background.

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Hole 8 – 348 yards – Par 4

A stiff par 4 running uphill along the bay to the right, three bunkers set into the hillside provide both a target and a hazard off the tee.

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The many hazards surrounding the raised 8th green are not visible from short of the fairway bunkers.

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The vantage point at the top of the ridgeline above the 8th green affords absolutely stunning views of 6 of the 9 holes on the outward nine.

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Hole 9 – 396 yards – Par 4

The 9th meanders downhill back to the clubhouse and toward a green set on a small ridge fronting the clubhouse.

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Framed by the gorgeous clubhouse, the 9th is an excellent green, though the only unoriginal putting surface at Eastward Ho.

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The view from behind the 9th green reveals how the fairway rolls seamlessly into the green.

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Hole 10 – 208 yards – Par 3

The 10th takes the player around the clubhouse to the southwest side.  The green is benched into the side of a large hill.  Another fine par 3.

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Wide view of the 10th green and the clubhouse.

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Hole 11 – 485 yards – Par 5

A very short par 5, the 11th appears rather benign off the tee.

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But upon reaching the crest of the hill, the player is confronted with an abrupt plunge down the roller coaster fairway.  While many players can reach this green in two shots, there is little margin for error as the fairway is bordered closely by trees and vegetation on both sides.

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The incredible 11th fairway.

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Hole 12 – 333 yards – Par 4

If Eastward Ho! has a weak spot, it is to be found at hole 12 and 13.  These two short par 4s are inland and deliver the player to the furthest part of the back nine to begin the home stretch.  They are fine holes, but they are subtle as compared to the rest of the course.

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The short approach to the raised green at 12.

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A more gently rolling fairway.

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Hole 13 – 336 yards – Par 4

The landing area is blind to the tee at 13.  The green is marked by the aiming post to the left center of the frame below.

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The 13th green at the far end of the property, before turning for home.

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Hole 14 – 371 yards – Par 4

After finishing 13, the player turns back toward the clubhouse for one of the most spectacular finishing stretches on the east coast.  The 14th plays downhill the entire way to a fairway sloping hard right to left.  A draw off this tee will run forever.

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I, unfortunately, did not hit a draw, and so had a short iron into this gorgeous green.  The middle of the 14th fairway is yet another remarkably beautiful spot at Eastward Ho!.

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As is the 14th green near sunset.

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Hole 15 – 153 yards – Par 3

A stunner of a short par 3, the 15th is tucked into a nook along the edge of the bay.

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Fowler placed the green to blend elegantly into the hillside on which it sits.

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A ridge cuts the 15th green from left to right.

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A beautiful setting for golf.

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The view from above reveals the contour of the green, perhaps inspired by the movement of the water beyond.

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Hole 16 – 380 yards – Par 4

The 16th turns back to the southwest and runs slightly uphill and parallel to the 14th.

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The view from the 16th green back down toward the tee, the 14th and 15th greens, and the bay.

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Hole 17 – 537 yards – Par 5

In my opinion, the 17th is the best of the three par 5s at Eastward Ho!.  It begins with a tee shot over a small rise which obscures most of the fairway.

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The second shot is over a sharp dip and rise – the green is reachable for longer players if the ball can be carried over the depression in the fairway.  The clubhouse barely peeks over the right shoulder of the green.

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The green is built to catch and direct long running approaches that can scale the far wall of the fairway depression . . .

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. . . as seen in this shot from behind the 17th green.

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Hole 18 – 460 yards – Par 4

The longest par 4 on the course starts simply, with a tee shot through a wide chute to a fairway that appears to bank left toward the clubhouse.  What comes next is . . .

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. . . simply amazing.  Most tee shots will carry this rise and tumble down to the flat area at the bottom of the fairway, shortening the hole.  Before arriving at the drive, however, the player cresting the 18th fairway is presented with one of the finest views in golf.

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The approach on 18 is demanding, as the hill on which the green sits is quite steep, and very close to the gorgeous clubhouse.

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Looking back from the 18th green at the fairway and the bay at sunset, made me happy to be a golfer.

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In the end, Eastward Ho! was one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I’ve ever played.  Being out on this course alone, as sunset approached on a perfect November afternoon was an amazing experience.  The club staff was very nice and extremely welcoming, the few members that I ran into were most hospitable, and the course was in beautiful condition.  As I made the long slog back to Philadelphia that evening, I continually replayed scenes from the course in my mind.  Although I only spent a few hours there, it is a round I will always remember quite fondly.

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Sunset at Eastward Ho!

Eastward Ho! is a unique experience, and I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying this golf course.


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Ain’t It Grand – Opening Day at Sand Valley

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

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

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

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


OPENING DAY

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

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

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

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

SAND VALLEY

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

(click on images to enlarge)

Hole 1 – Par 4 – 325 yards

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

Hole 2 – Par 4 – 395 yards

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

Hole 3 – Par 3 – 192 yards

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

Hole 4 – Par 5 – 557 yards

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

Hole 5 – Par 3 – 164 yards

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

Hole 6 – Par 4 – 445 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

Hole 7 – Par 5 – 536 yards

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

Hole 8 – Par 3 – 115 yards

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

Hole 9 – Par 4 – 290 yards

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

Hole 10 – Par 5 – 541 yards

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

Hole 11 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

Hole 12 – Par 5 – 452 yards

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

Hole 13 – Par 4 – 383 yards

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

Hole 14 – Par 3 – 175 yards

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

Hole 15 – Par 4 – 392 yards

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

Hole 16 – Par 4 – 429 yards

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

Hole 17 – Par 3 – 215 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

Hole 18 – Par 5 – 507 yards

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

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

MAMMOTH DUNES

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

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

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

A few photos from our walk…

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

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

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Case in point.

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

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


CONCLUSION

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

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

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


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Old Sandwich Tour by Jon Cavalier

OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Plymouth, MA – Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw

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

OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB

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

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

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

THE GOLF COURSE

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

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

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

Hole 1 – 531 yards – Par 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hole 2 – 403 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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

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Hole 3 – 450 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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

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Hole 4 – 209 yards – Par 3

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

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

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

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Hole 5 – 336 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A brilliant rendition of a modern risk-reward hole.

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Hole 6 – 562 yards – Par 5

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

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

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

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

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Hole 7 – 391 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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Easily one of the prettiest greensites in golf.

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And in full fall color…breathtaking.

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Hole 8 – 379 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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Hole 9 – 131 yards – Par 3

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

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

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

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

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Hole 10 – 516 yards – Par 5

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

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

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

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

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Hole 11 – 244 yards – Par 3

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

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

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

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Hole 12 – 455 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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Hole 13 – 560 yards – Par 5

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

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

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

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

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

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An exceptional par-5.

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Hole 14 – 369 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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Hole 15 – 168 yards – Par 3

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

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

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

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

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One of a superb quintet of one-shot holes.

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Hole 16 – 486 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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Hole 17 – 191 yards – Par 3

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

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

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

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A look back from behind the green.

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And one from above.

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Hole 18 – 498 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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BONUS – Hole 19 – Par 3

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

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

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

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I hope you enjoyed the tour.

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Exploring America’s Great Golf Clubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE KINGSLEY CLUB

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

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

BOSTON GOLF CLUB

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

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

BALLYNEAL

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

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


CALUSA PINES GOLF CLUB

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A view from the highest point on the property

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

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

THE COURSE

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

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

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

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

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

(click on circle images to enlarge) 

Hole 1 – Par 4 – 389 Yards

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

Hole 2 – Par 5 – 551 yards

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

Hole 3 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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

Hole 4 – Par 4 – 379 yards

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

Hole 5 – Par 4 – 378 yards

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

Hole 6 – Par 5 – 513 yards

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

Hole 7 – Par 3 – 186 yards

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

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Hole 8 – Par 4 – 280 yards

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

Hole 9 – Par 4 – 421 yards

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

Hole 10 – Par 4 – 376 yards

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

Hole 11 – Par 3 – 171 yards

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

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Hole 12 – Par 4 – 419 yards

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

Hole 13 – Par 5 – 554 yards

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

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Hole 14 – Par 4 – 293 yards

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

Hole 15 – Par 4 – 374 yards

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

Hole 16 – Par 3 – 161 yards

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

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Hole 17 – Par 4 – 390 yards

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

Hole 18 – Par 5 – 487 yards

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


IN CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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