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TILLY’S TALE AT SOMERSET HILLS

An in-depth look at the A.W. Tillinghast designed Somerset Hills Country Club

Somerset Hills embodies a rare opportunity for golf architecture aficionados and players alike. For the design enthusiast, it is a course to be studied closely as an integral step in the progression of one of America’s greatest architects, A.W. Tillinghast. This pivotal work remains frozen in time, largely free of alterations that befell his later courses, especially those that host championships. For the avid player, whether duffer or stick, Somerset Hills is a course to be enjoyed for its beauty and wildly varied set of challenges. A single play only begins to unlock the riddles that Tillinghast put in the ground in Bernardsville, N.J., employing equal parts respect for the land, creative flair, and knowledge of design history.

An Afternoon Walk

Step back in time and imagine that you have been invited to spend an afternoon touring the newly opened course at Somerset Hills in 1918. You get your first intriguing glimpse as you travel along Mine Mount Road, making the turn into the unassuming club entrance. Arriving at the clubhouse, you are surprised to find that your guide for the day will be none other than A.W. Tillinghast himself. A well-heeled and well-traveled Philadelphian, Tilly explored the British Isles, including spending time in St. Andrews with Old Tom Morris, undoubtedly absorbing the oral history of the game that was taking hold of his imagination and heart. Before designing courses, Tillinghast was an accomplished player and writer at a time when the golf craze in the U.S. was peaking. You quickly realize that your walkabout will be complemented by stories born of a particular breadth and depth of experience.

Somerset’s Redan 2nd – Credit: Simon Haines

A good storyteller does not immediately begin yelling at you, maintaining that intensity from start to finish. There are ebbs and flows that build toward a climax, all delivered with creative color. It is clear to you that A.W. Tillinghast is a master storyteller as he strolls along telling tales of his sources of inspiration, his design ideas and how they manifested on the site he was given at Somerset Hills. Of course, a great design begins with taking a player on an exploration of the land. You notice the way his holes meander, change direction, and bend, coherently combining to create moments of quiet intimacy contrasted with expansive views. He pauses on many greens to direct your focus backward as a reminder that what lies behind often foreshadows what is to come.

Like Macdonald before him, Tillinghast was entranced by North Berwick’s redan and created his version at the 2nd. Other “ideal hole” elements can be found throughout the course on the 13th, 14th and 16th. He points out the classic quirk of rugged mounds and bunkers cut into humps that were built by man, as well as the contours and creeks provided by nature for hazards. The greens are of such character and quality that you want to stop and spend extended time at each, but your guide will not allow for interruptions to the natural flow. As your tour and the story unfolds, the theme of variety becomes apparent throughout, maintaining the level of engagement even in moments of rest. With the afternoon light fading and Tilly’s cigarette smoke wafting by on the breeze, you find yourself mildly intoxicated by the combination of the journey completed and the stories told. Departing the property with a final glance back, it occurs to you that A.W. Tillinghast shared the story of golf architecture up to 1918, and his course at Somerset Hills embodies that history.

The 10th green, with 17th and 18th behind – Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

An Inflection Point

Somerset Hills was not Tillinghast’s first design, but it would come to be known as his first great one. He drew upon the standout courses and holes he had seen in the U.K., as well as home grown offerings like Myopia Hunt Club, Garden City, National Golf Links, Pine Valley and Merion. His experience afforded him a treasure trove of strategic and visual elements into which he dipped liberally, always adding his own creative flair. Somerset was not just important as an homage to the first twenty years of American design though. It was a jumping off point for an incredible run of courses—Quaker Ridge, San Francisco G.C., Philadelphia Cricket Club and Baltusrol, among others—each expressing Tilly’s grasp of the principles of strategic architecture and his commitment to variety, while always staying true to the unique sense of place of each site. His portfolio stands as a testament to his versatility, as well as an inspiration to the architects who followed in his footsteps.

Taking the time to look backward from each green at Somerset Hills provides insight into how the holes on all of his courses remain brilliantly relevant to this day. He had a gift for finding good green sites, and for building wonderful putting surfaces and surrounds on those sites. Working back, the ideal angles into the different sections of the green become apparent. Tilly positioned his tees and routed his fairways over the topography, accented by varied hazards, giving players a chance to work those angles to their advantage. Well conceived and executed shots are rewarded. From the tee forward, the ideal route is often not apparent. Somerset has its fair share of blind, semi-blind and visible-but-intimidating shots. Like many in the Tillinghast portfolio, it is a course that hides its secrets from first-timers, only revealing itself through repeat play.

The Course

A round at Somerset Hills is a tale of two nines. The outward half is routed intimately in a gentle valley below the clubhouse in a space previously occupied by a race track. Tillinghast incorporated remnants of that track into the design. The inward nine makes its way into the woods, past a lake, through wetlands and then takes a final hilly ride back up to the clubhouse. The only meaningful change Tilly’s original is a repositioning of the 10th green to stretch it from a par-4 to a par-5.

Although each nine has a distinct feel, the course retains its cohesion. Interestingly, the front nine is compact but feels more expansive than the back, which works back and forth over a ridge. Throughout the course, Tillinghast alternates between narrowing and widening the player’s focus, creating an enjoyable rhythm. Playing Somerset is truly like taking a journey.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

There is an optimal presentation standard that Superintendent Ryan Tuxhorn and his team nail on the head at Somerset—everything is done, but nothing is overdone. This is an old course and they allow it to exude that classic feel, without any hint of it being tired. Brian Slawnick from Renaissance Golf Design has consulted over the years on fairway lines, green expansions, bunker edges and tree management, but has thankfully not changed the character. Further, Tuxhorn takes what Mother Nature gives and provides the best playing conditions possible. The course is allowed to change with the weather and the seasons, very much in tune with the spirit of variety that Tillinghast intended. The course tour that follows, with photos from Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) is meant to convey Somerset’s gorgeous seasonal range.

The opener is a solid par-4 that bends right through the orchard and then runs downhill to a green that is open in the front. The 2nd is Tilly’s appropriately famous rendition of the redan with forebunkers center and a deep bunker left. The green is severely sloped from high front-right to low back-left and can be used to advantage, or spell disaster. Good shots are required right out of the gate.

The 3rd through 6th are intertwined on the interior of this portion of the property. Creativity abounds with the elevated 3rd green, the dolomites on the 4th and 6th, and the gloriously bold contours of the putting surface on the 5th. At no point does the player feel like they are on a bland march.

The final stretch of the front nine works around the perimeter and back up to the clubhouse. The 7th is a tough par-4 featuring a blind drive to a fairway that slopes all the way down into the front of the large green. The one-shot 8th plays perilously along a rock wall boundary to a green flanked by created bunkering. The 9th is a right-to-left par-5 where Tilly employed his trademark great hazard.

The back nine opens with the only hole that has been altered from Tillinghast’s design. The left-to-right dogleg now plays as a par-5 uphill to a green set on a hillside. The par-4 11th bends right past a lake and over a creek, and features one of the wildest greens on the course. The idyllic setting of the green at the par-3 12th distracts players from the punishment that awaits wayward tee balls.

The next two holes play on top of the ridge and have shades of Macdonald-Raynor influence. The par-4 13th features a left-center principal’s nose and a biarritz green. Quite the creative combination! The 14th turns around and heads back to a large, plateaued green that demands a much more precise approach than its footprint would indicate. A pair of outstanding two-shotters.

The par-4 15th is blind off the tee and requires a left-to-right shape to take advantage of the downhill fairway. The large green is fronted by a creek, creating a picture-perfect scene. The final one-shotter on the course, the 16th has hints of the Eden template, with Tilly’s creative twists of course.

Somerset Hills provides one last rollercoaster ride with its final pair of four pars. The 17th begins with a blind drive over a chasm to a fairway that rolls severely downhill. The 18th plays back uphill into the shadow of the clubhouse to one more boldly contoured green. Two par-4s that are ideal for match play as birdies and doubles are equally likely results.

By the time he arrived at the site that would become Somerset Hills, A.W. Tillinghast had a story to tell. It was a tale of where golf had come from, with hints of where it might be headed. He poured his heart and mind onto this land in the New Jersey countryside. Members and visitors ever since have been the beneficiaries, as they loop around and around, learning Tilly’s tricks and experiencing his tale for themselves.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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FAIR IS A FOUR LETTER WORD AT FRENCH LICK

The second edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q series takes a look at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort

The devilish designer himself greets visitors to The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort. A statue of the creator of nearly one hundred golf courses over a decades-long career stands by the bag drop. He is smiling, a friendly countenance on first impression. Alongside the sculpture is a stone adorned with a quote that ends ”…so why build a fair golf course”. After reading Pete Dye’s words, the smile doesn’t look quite so chummy. More a smirk, perhaps, or a grin that gives way to a chuckle at the travails that are about to ensue. Players have not even put on their shoes and Ol’ Pete is already trying to get in their heads.

Pete and Alice Dye have never been afraid to throw difficulty into their designs. After all, their first nine hole course included thirteen creek crossings. Tour pros have been complaining for years about being tortured by the duo on The Ocean Course to PGA West, and all points in between. However, to conclude that hard golf is what the Dyes design is to miss the point, and the complaints from fairness-loving pros speak to the reason why.

There is an adage from the Golden Age of golf architecture that the best holes appear either easier or harder than they actually are. Throughout their career, the Dyes have adhered to this principle of creating discomfort through deception. They are not simply testing a player’s ability to execute in the face of a straightforward challenge. Holes that only examine physical skills cannot test the best while remaining playable for the rest. Such design might be considered fair, but invariably, it is too easy or hard, depending on level of skill. It is also predictable and boring—two words that have never been used to describes the Dyes or their courses.

Influences of an Influencer

When Pete Dye hung up the insurance salesman suit in 1960 to don his brown work shoes and khakis, he was a far cry from having his own artistic voice. During his military service, he spent a great deal of time at Pinehurst, interacting with Donald Ross and falling in love with the No.2 course. His competitive playing career exposed him to the bold brilliance of Raynor’s Camargo and Langford & Moreau’s work throughout the Midwest. These Golden Age greats were influential, but were also being obscured at the time by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and other post-war practitioners of “heroic” design. Embarking on their architectural journey, the Dyes stood at the crossroads, not knowing exactly which way to go. The first half of the ’60s would be a formative jumping off point for the fifty years of exploration that would culminate on Mount Airie in French Lick.

In 1962, the Dyes were commissioned to build Radrick Farms in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a lengthy engagement with the course finally opening in 1965. During this period, two additional influences ensured that Radrick was the last Dye course to ever have an RTJ feel. The first was University of Michigan’s other course, designed by Alister MacKenzie. The second was Pete Dye’s 1963 trip to Scotland to study the great courses and history in golf’s birthplace. He came back enlightened to quirk, visual contrast and strategic design, and began working out the Dye style at Crooked Stick.

At Harbour Town in 1969, the pair took a contrarian approach with narrow playing corridors and small, angled greens. They exercised their earth moving and engineering muscle by conjuring TPC Sawgrass from the Florida swamp in 1982. By 1991, they were in full blown Dye-abolical mode at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. At this point in their career, a certain expectation had emerged among players and developers for what a “Pete Dye course” should be. Certain courses like Whistling Straits feel like they are in part the result of a compulsion to outdo the last hit offering, rather than further explore and evolve the artform. If a deleterious trend in the Dye’s work was developing at the turn of the century, they thankfully stamped it out by 2009.

Fairways and Greens

Pete Dye was tremendously excited to build this big budget course at the French Lick Resort, and he considered it to be among the best sites he had ever been given. Long-time Dye collaborator Tim Liddy confirmed, “Pete was enthusiastic about French Lick and heavily invested in its creation. It is the last big project to which he gave his maximum personal attention and on-site presence.” The numbers corroborate Liddy’s perspective—150 site visit made by Pete, 30 by Alice and almost 3 million cubic yards of earth moved to create 18 outstanding hilltop holes that can be stretched to 8,100 yards. The Dyes took a special opportunity, brought their expertise and willingness to push dirt, and delivered a magnum opus.

Although the scale and views are jaw-dropping, and the potential for punishment abounds, there is a subtle brilliance to the Pete Dye Course at French Lick that harkens back to Raynor, Langford, Ross and MacKenzie. Taking a look at the fairways and greens provides insight into the depth of the Dye’s design.

“Make their eyes lie to them” is a Dye family mantra, and French Lick is no exception. On many occasions, a player will stand on the tee with their eyes screaming, “There’s nowhere safe to hit it!” Holes feature a combination of fairway undulation and angled orientation that makes confidently choosing a line difficult, especially when one or both sides drop off the massive hillside. To top it off, degrees of blindness are sprinkled in, drawing upon the inspiring Scottish links of the designer’s early years. And yet students of Dye’s work know that they have provided safe landing areas for conservative and aggressive players. The eyes are lying, but those who can block that feedback out can find the fairway, and score.

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The Pinehurst No.2 influence is evident from the first few green complexes. They are small relative to the overall scale of the course, often elevated, angled to the approaches, and shaped to allow for tucking pins. For the player looking to attack, the greens are intimidating and set up to punish reckless aggressiveness. On closer examination though, a high degree of playability is built in as well. The green fronts are open and wider. The slopes and surrounds are varied, including plentiful shortgrass maintained fast and firm by Superintendent Russ Apple and his team. Crafty players can bump-and-run or even putt their way to recovery around most of the course.

A final dose of deception is delivered on the putting surfaces. Although there are some pronounced contours, most are relatively benign. Instead subtle shaping complements the bold tee-to-green features. In this case, subtle does not mean easy though. The Dyes use the visual trick of countering green slopes to the hillsides, making reading break challenging, even on short putts. The green at French Lick confound first-timers, but also leave a desire to come back and try again.

The Pete Dye Course at French Lick is not fair, and players are all the better for it. What it is is the expression of artists who had come full circle and integrated five decades of exploration. It is a destination for players, and it would seem for Pete and Alice as well. To fully understand just how great the Dyes were at their craft, devotees must make the pilgrimage to French Lick. Like the statue with the satisfied smile, it stands as a testament to a lifetime spent climbing the circuitous route to the top of the mountain.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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ROUTING PERFECTION AT SAND HILLS

A look at routing and the creation of Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece, Sand Hills Golf Club

Sand Hills Golf Club is generally considered to be a modern masterpiece. Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw’s design has been credited as the original spark that lit the fire of the minimalist movement in golf course architecture, and the club proved that players will travel to experience great golf in far flung locales. The combination of minimalism and destination golf has been nothing short of revolutionary for the game. There is a case to be made though that Sand Hills is more than just a great course—it is perfect. That perfection has at its core the routing that Coore & Crenshaw discovered through the Nebraska countryside, and the effect that it has on those fortunate enough to play it.

In a discussion with Dunlop White about what gives a golf course character, Bill Coore said, “The routing is how a golf course lays on the land; how it showcases the landscape and brings out interesting golf in terms of the individual holes and how they fit together as an entire course.” That description makes intuitive sense, but just how does one go from a raw piece of land to a brilliant course like Sand Hills? For the average geek, the process seems quite mysterious—equal parts method and magic, akin to alchemy. Although routing is complicated, to grasp what transpires conceptually does not require that one be an architect or an alchemist. Before returning to Mullen, let’s take a quick look.

Assembling the Pieces

The process of routing a golf course can be compared to putting together a puzzle. The first order of business is assembling the edges, which is the equivalent of determining design constraints. Typically, a good puzzle-building strategy is to next look for pieces that comprise standout elements of the picture. Landmarks, if you will. And finally comes the painstaking effort to fill in the remaining pieces around those landmarks to produce a cohesive whole.

The comparison to puzzle building is, of course, a dramatic oversimplification. The end puzzle picture is known at the outset, which is clearly not the case for the golf course architect. The analogy does hold true at a basic level—both activities are difficult, even painful at times, and ultimately reward the patient and persistent practitioner. It also hints at an issue inherent in the approach to routing by some architects, an issue that can be the difference between a good golf course and a great one. While incorporating special features or landmarks into a design is always a worthy aim, fixating on any single element of the site can have a deleterious cascade effect. The course may indeed have a “signature” hole, but incorporating that hole into the routing necessitates including weaker “connector” holes.

In some unfortunate instances, course designs relied so heavily on the signature hole or stretch of holes that the overall quality of the course was diminished. That would be like assembling the feature portions of the puzzle, and then dumping the rest of the pieces inside the border willy nilly and calling it finished. One does not get to a level of quality approaching that of Sand Hills by trading signature hole photo ops for the integrity of the whole. As Bill Coore implied, he is not willing to make that trade, “The routing…brings out interesting golf in terms of the individual holes AND how they fit together as an entire course.”

Tough Decisions

Bill Coore is regularly asked some form of the question, “Was it enjoyable to work with land as great as Dick Youngscap gave you for Sand Hills?” His answer is a consistent and unequivocal “No.” Outside of getting the chance to work on seaside linksland, Coore & Crenshaw could not have dreamt of a better site than the one they got in Mullen. The ideal nature of the ground for golf heaped pressure on the duo to produce a special golf course. They feared that if they did not capitalize on this opportunity, it might be a long time before another came along, if ever.

As illustrated in the example above, a site typically has distinct features off which the architect can play—a ridge, a creek, stands of specimen trees or a dune. Average land yields a finite number of high quality holes which can be incorporated into a cohesive routing. A site like Sand Hills has nearly infinite potential for such holes. What’s a designer to do when everywhere they look, there is another feature, contour, or vista that would make for great golf?

In their customary fashion, Coore & Crenshaw started with knowing the land intimately. While tales of Bill Coore camping out like a frontiersman might be exaggerated, they contain a kernel of truth. Using a helicopter, topo maps and their feet, the team explored the property and made note of more than 100 potential holes that could be incorporated into the design. Those explorations and notations have been memorialized in the constellation map.

The Constellation Map with Sand Hills overlay – Credit: Scott Griffith (@bottomgroove)

Having catalogued the possibilities, the time came for the final, difficult cut down to eighteen. At this point in the process the experience and instincts that Bill & Ben possess combined to yield an alchemical result—the foundation of a course that works perfectly and fits perfectly onto the land it occupies. Looking at the constellation map, is it possible that there exists a single hole that would have been better than any of the eighteen that were eventually incorporated into Sand Hills? It is indeed possible, but the question is moot. After walking off the 18th green, one realizes the wisdom in prioritizing the entirety over any single part. The course is perfectly satisfying, as is.

The Course

It is easy enough to assert that there are no weak holes at Sand Hills. To understand just how strong each and every hole is though, it is fun to play a little game with those who have seen the course. Ask them which hole is their favorite. Within a group, there is likely to be a very wide variety of answers. Poll enough people and every hole will ultimately get a vote. Next, inquire of those same players which hole is their least favorite. After qualifying their answer with a reminder that there are no weak holes, they will sheepishly offer up their pick. Once again, within a large group, answers vary greatly. When no consensus exists about favorites, the course must be exceptional.

We know from Mr. Coore’s routing thoughts above that a golf course is meant to be more than a batch of holes. Sand Hills exemplifies this ethos. The course works in two loops out from and back to Ben’s Porch. Each of those loops has holes that take players up, down and around the dunes, producing all manner of interesting and sometimes terrifying shots. It also touches the property edges at several points—a reminder of the vastness of the setting that produces a keen sense of awe.

The flow of the course is further enhanced for walkers by the proximity of greens to tees, and the paths connecting tees to fairways. The cohesiveness of components creates a connection to the land and nature as one walks along. This is a hike that would be nearly as enjoyable without clubs.

Superintendent Kyle Hegland and his team provide terrific playing conditions and Mother Nature adds the unpredictability. The wind blows, sometimes delivering dramatic squalls that give way to brilliant sunshine. As is the case with world’s great links courses, the elements are always a factor. Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) and I have collaborated to attempt to convey the Sand Hills experience—colors, textures and shapes that stir the soul.

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The opener at Sand Hills is a par-5 that epitomizes strategic golf. A conservative route to a straightforward par is provided. Play away from the fairway bunker left, lay up to the middle short of the base of the hill and approach safely into the middle of the green set up in a dune-top saddle. Easy enough. But for players who desire to get out of the gate with a birdie, risk must be taken on by working angles and challenging the edges, which opens up myriad ways to make a bogey or worse. This conservative vs. aggressive choice is a consistent theme throughout the course that makes it so intriguing to play repeatedly.

The 2nd is a unique par-4 that plays over a gully to a partially blind fairway and then up to an infinity green that features a fantastic ripple contour running diagonally across. Sand Hills’s first one-shotter next plays downhill to a green with a severe slope created by a high left shoulder. Lag putting on the 3rd is a real challenge.

The story goes that the 4th green was a point of contention between Bill Coore and Dick Youngscap. Perhaps inspired by the Maxwells’ work at Prairie Dunes, Coore proposed to bench it into the hillside. Mr. Youngscap preferred to place it down in a bowl. After a lengthy discussion, both men thought they had won the argument and went off to attend to their business. Coming back to find the green where Bill wanted it, Mr. Youngscap was dumbfounded and has remained a bit salty ever since. With all due respect to the owner, we side with Bill Coore on this one—the 4th is a standout par-4, exactly as is.

The 5th turns back and heads slightly uphill past a center-left bunker to a green flanked by more bunkers left and right. The putting surface on this par-4 lays gently on the land with subtle internal contours. The par-3 6th plays slightly downhill over a large forebunker to an angled green that is canted, with pronounced ripples and rolls. Short grass surrounds provide recovery options—the deep bunker right, not so much.

The 7th and 8th are short fours that begin a stretch of six consecutive two-shotters. This anomalous sequence illustrates Coore & Crenshaw’s willingness to take the great golf that the land gives. The devilish 7th is drivable, but failed attempts can leave tough recoveries from the front left bunker or slope right. The 8th plays over rumpled ground to a lion’s mouth green in an amphitheater setting. Both holes burst at the seams with strategic options.

Each of the next three par-4s has a distinct feel. The 9th swings right and heads back up into the shadow of Ben’s Porch. The at-grade green falls subtly away on three sides and is one of the trickiest to putt on the course. The 10th runs downhill, snaking between bunkers to a putting surface that flows off a high left slope. The tee shot on the 11th must take on a massive blowout bunker left to get into position to approach the elevated green. All three holes require thoughtful positioning and creative shotmaking.

The final two-shotter of this stretch plays to a wide fairway with a single blowout marking the ideal line for approach into the green which is guarded front and right by one large bunker. The 13th is a stout par-3 that sits at an angle to the tee, causing alignment challenges when attacking the well-defended putting surface. The wind plays a significant role on both of the inward half’s three pars.

The 14th is one of Coore & Crenshaw’s all-time greatest par-5s. The key for success is to get left, as the tiny, severely sloped green is nearly impossible to hold from the right. Not surprisingly, a deathly blowout sits in the perfect spot for a layup. Players stand in the fairway and must decide if their drive was good enough to get beyond that hazard, or if they need to lay back of it. Seems simple enough, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way over the shot.

The par-4 15th plays straight along a high ridge. Cheating to the right from the tee opens up the angle into a green fronted left by an imposing bunker. The final three-shotter is a roller coaster ride downhill through sandy blowouts of all sizes. The day’s pin position relative to a fronting mound dictates positioning of a player’s approach on the 16th.

In his essay for Geoff Shackelford’s Masters of the Links, Ben Crenshaw wrote of the short par-3, “In this era of obscene power…why not strive to induce a little fun into the mix and at the same time present a true test of delicacy and accuracy?” In the spirit of the shorties built by the Golden Age greats, the 17th is the answer to Ben’s question. A hole this short presents a birdie opportunity, but only for tee shots struck perfectly after accounting for the wind. Bunkers and slopes that make for difficult recoveries await the indelicate or inaccurate.

The home hole at Sand Hills plays long uphill with huge blowouts running along the entire left. The large green sits in a bowl atop a dune, making it difficult to get the line and distance just right for a good birdie look. Players need to focus long enough for one last lag putt on the final C&C putting surface.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw routed a course through the hills that takes players on an adventure with moments both thrilling and sublime. Combined with their minimalist approach to construction, the collection of holes is intellectually and emotionally evocative. At the end of a Sand Hills journey, visitors are left with lasting memories of their exposure to perfection.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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WHERE ENTHUSIASM LIVES – CAL CLUB

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

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

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

Architectural (r)Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

Cal Club Today

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

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

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

The Course

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

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

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

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

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California, preaching on the burning shore

California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door

Like and angel, standing in a shaft of light

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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IN PRAISE OF RESTRAINT AT ROCK HOLLOW G.C.

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

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

Pete’s Protege

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


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

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

The Golfing Smiths

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

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

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

The Course

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

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

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

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

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

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


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GEEKED ON GOLF GLOBAL GUIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Global Guide Legend

GoG: Geeked On Golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming soon…

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

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

Enjoy!

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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TIMELESS IDEALS AT NATIONAL GOLF LINKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Course

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

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

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions


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

Course map of NGLA – Credit: Keith Cutten

HOLE #1 “Valley” – 326 yards – par 4


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

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

HOLE #2 “Sahara” – 302 yards – par 4


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

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

HOLE #3 “Alps” – 473 yards – par 4


The Alps green, with its tricky internal contours

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

HOLE #4 “Redan” – 194 yards – par 3


A crowd watches a match on the Redan green

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

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

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

HOLE #6 “Short” – 123 yards – par 3


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

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

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

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

HOLE #8 “Bottle” – 407 yards – par 4

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

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

HOLE #9 “Long” – 534 yards – par 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOLE #13 “Eden” – 166 yards – par 3

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

HOLE #14 “Cape” – 391 yards – par 4


The nerve-racking tee shot on the Cape 14th

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


From the tee, the rugged Leven 17th rolling downhill

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

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

HOLE #18 “Home” – 501 yards – par 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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HONORING ALISON AT DAVENPORT C.C.

An in-depth look at the history and evolution of the C.H. Alison designed Davenport Country Club.

Sam Snead arrived in the Quad Cities in 1951 in pursuit of a three-peat in the Western Open, staged that year at Davenport Country Club. The Western, which was first contested in 1899, was one of the early major tournaments, with a list of champions including a veritable who’s who of American golf. The only man previously to win the title three straight times was Ralph Guldahl, who coincidentally started his run in 1936 at Davenport. Anticipation was high as a strong field prepared to take on Charles H. Alison’s design on the bluff above the mighty Mississippi River.

The tournament got off to a cracking start on the first day with George Fazio taking an early lead. A local newspaper colorfully described Fazio’s Western Open record-breaking performance:

“A human hurricane lashed the middle of the Davenport Country Club fairways here Thursday and wrecked everything the Western Open had to offer in the way of one-day scoring records. It was George Fazio, a seasoned blue-eyed killer on the loose who swapped for a new putter Wednesday and made it play a big part in a fabulous 63 with which he opened his bid for the championship.”

Going into the final round, Fazio was joined by Sam Snead at the top of the leaderboard, which became even more crowded as the day progressed. By the time the leaders reached the closing stretch, it appeared to be a three-horse race among Snead, Cary Middlecoff and Marty Furgol. On the tee of the brilliant par-4 16th, Snead pulled a one iron in an attempt to play safe. It was a curious club selection given that Slammin’ Sammy had won the long drive contest on Tuesday, staged on the 16th hole, lacing three consecutive drives down the fairway including his winning 292-yard poke. His one iron did not find safety, instead landing in Spencer Creek. Snead’s double bogey opened the door for Furgol to claim the championship. An infamous name was bestowed upon the 16th, and a stone now commemorates the watery end to Snead’s three-peat quest.

An Underrated Architect

Sam Snead was not the first golfer to be taken on a ride on a course designed by Charles Hugh Alison. Hugh, as he was called in his youth, grew up outside of Manchester, England. He was known more for his sporting accomplishments than his academic record. In his profile for GCA Magazine, Adam Lawrence relates a particularly representative story from Hugh’s University days. While playing a match at Woking for the Oxford golf team, Alison hit a shot onto the clubhouse roof. He climbed up, played the ball and squeaked out a half in the match. An attention-getting performance, to say the least.

Alison gained the attention of famed architect Harry Colt, first becoming Colt’s protege and then his partner in 1919. Hugh traveled to America on behalf of their design firm after World War I, where he built notable courses including Milwaukee CC, Knollwood Club, Orchard Lake CC, Kirtland CC and Country Club of Detroit. He also contributed to the redesign and renovation of a number of other courses, primarily in the midwest and northeast.

Although Alison designed in the same strategic vein as his mentor Colt, his courses are best known for their bold bunkering. He was not afraid to intimidate players visually and punish errant shots. Alison’s bunker sketch and notes below hint at his style, as well as his inclination to build bunkers of meaningful depth.

The text reads, “This represents the face rise of a bunker. The continuous line at the top represents the top line of higher ground behind the bunker face. The (horizontal) lines represent the revetted vertical portion of the bunker face. The (diagonal) lines represent the sand splashed up onto the face of the bunker. Note that the top line is broken, and that the revetting is at uneven heights.”

Alison’s skill as a router of golf courses is also top notch. According to architect Ron Forse, all twenty of Alison’s U.S. designs display this strength. “He was given good properties, but he was talented enough not to turn out any clunkers. His routings are strong from start to finish in part because he did not try and squeeze a formula into the landscape.”

After nine years of work in America, Alison migrated to Japan where his designs at Hirono, Tokyo GC and others would set that standard for golf architecture in that country going forward. His association with Colt causes some to underestimate the contribution that C.H. Alison made to the craft, but those fortunate enough to visit courses like Davenport know just how good he was in his own right.

Present-day Davenport

Members and guests who take on Davenport now are playing a somewhat different golf course than the one the Western Open entrants faced in 1951. Trees were planted in the name of “beautification.” Both the opening and closing holes were rerouted in the 1980s, and opinions vary as to whether these changes made the course better or worse. Additional renovations were made at that time that were arguably out of character with the original style. Greens shrank and trees grew over the ensuing decades, resulting in the course losing the bold scale that was Alison’s hallmark.

In 2012, the club engaged Ron Forse and Jim Nagle, who have been as prolific in restoring and sympathetically renovating classic parkland golf courses as Sam Snead was at winning tournaments. The duo tag-teamed a master plan in 2013 and then partnered with Superintendent Dean Sparks on a highly efficient renovation in 2014.

As was Alison’s practice, Forse and Nagle started with the land. Davenport has wonderful topography with distinctive features. A ridge cuts through the middle of the property. On the near side of that ridge, exposed limestone cliffs rise above a valley criss-crossed by Spencer and Condit creeks. “Lakes are a dime a dozen, but creeks are special,” says Forse. On the far side, the land has gentle sections and pronounced rolls. “Alison used both scale and subtlety to contrast his features with the landforms of the knob-and-kettle topography,” points out Nagle.

Alison’s original routing plan for Davenport

Two holes had been changed, but Alison’s “tootsie pop routing”, as Forse calls it, was still intact. “There is a genius to the structure of it. Alison used routing tricks like consecutive par-5s, five par-3s and four straight short par-4s because that is what the land gave him.” The course has tremendous variety as it works around, over and across the ridge. Forse and Nagle did make one critical change to put an exclamation point on the end of every journey around Davenport.

Alison’s original routing ended at an uninspiring green site below the clubhouse, and when the home hole was moved during the previous renovation, the result wasn’t much better. The closer now winds through the valley, where the creek is very much in play, to a green set against a hillside in the shadow of the iconic bridge that connects 10 tee to its fairway.

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

The renovation also included rebuilding all of the bunkers and greens. Forse and Nagle’s experience with Alison allowed them to draw inspiration from both the existing course and several others. “The contours of the greens are an extension of the ground in front,” Nagle explains. “Alison used subtle slopes and contours that we worked hard to replicate.”

The size, shape and position of the bunkers was well set by the time ground was broken for the renovation. The team struggled to decide on a style from Alison’s prior work, however. As Nagle recounts, “We were looking at photos in the Quad Cities airport when I came across one of Hirono. I showed it to Ron and we immediately agreed that that was it.”

The 7th at Hirono provided design inspiration

With the features rebuilt in Alison’s bold style, and extensive tree removal, the scale of Davenport was returned to a level experienced by Western Open competitors of yesteryear.

Players visiting Davenport today will experience equal parts challenge and beauty, just the way Alison intended. The course works its way out to the ridge with holes 1 and 2, and then explores the knob-and-kettle terrain with standout holes like the par-4 7th. The outward half closes with a thrilling tee shot down to the fairway of the par-5 9th.

The back nine begins with a tee shot up to the ridge on the stout par-3 10th. A series of strategic holes over gentler land follow before the course heads toward the closing stretch.

The par-3 15th runs along the ridge to a tiered green set at an angle. The famous 16th heads down into the creek valley where players must contend with a pronounced rock outcropping on the right. The 17th is the final of Davenport’s strong one-shotters, playing uphill to a canted green. And not to be outdone, the redesigned 18th is a tough par-4 in a breathtaking setting.

Forse and Nagle continue to make visits to Davenport as Dean Sparks and his crew carry on the process of polishing Alison’s gem. Tree and brush clearing carries on, revealing more of the stone cliff and specimen trees. Iowa native prairie areas are also being restored, adding to the course’s variety and beauty.

C.H. Alison beat up Sam Snead one Sunday afternoon in 1951, and his course is still tough. But beat up is not primarily how the course makes players feel today. More likely, spending an afternoon at Davenport makes them feel grateful.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems Shinnecock Hills GC Photo Tour

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

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

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

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

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SHINNECOCK HILLS GOLF CLUB

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(click on image mosaics to enlarge)

No. 1 – 399yds – Par-4

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

No. 2 – 252yds – Par-3

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

No. 3 – 500yds – Par-4

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

No. 4 – 475yds – Par-4

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

No. 5 – 589yds – Par-5

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

No. 6 – 491yds – Par-4

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

No. 7 – 189yds – Par-3

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

No. 8 – 439yds – Par-4

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

No. 9 – 485yds – Par-4

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

No. 10 – 415yds – Par-4

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

No. 11 – 159yds – Par-3

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

No. 12 – 469 – Par-4

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

No. 13 – 374yds – Par-4

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

No. 14 – 519yds – Par-4

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

No. 15 – 409yds – Par-4

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

No. 16 – 616yds – Par-5

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

No. 17 – 180yds – Par-3

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

No. 18 – 485yds – Par-4

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

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

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Bonus Aerials

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MORE ON SHINNECOCK HILLS

 


MORE LINKSGEMS TOURS

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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So Long Kohler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE STRAITS COURSE

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

HOLE 1 – Par 4 – 370 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

HOLE 2 – Par 5 – 521 yards

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

HOLE 3 – Par 3 – 166 yards

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

HOLE 4 – Par 4 – 414 yards

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

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

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 360 yards

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

HOLE 7 – Par 3 – 185 yards

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

HOLE 8 – Par 4 – 429 yards

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

HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 384 yards

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

HOLE 10 – Par 4 – 334 yards

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

HOLE 11 – Par 5 – 544 yards

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

HOLE 12 – Par 3 – 118 yards

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

HOLE 13 – Par 4 – 364 yards

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

HOLE 14 – Par 4 – 346 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

HOLE 15 – Par 4 – 429 yards 

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

HOLE 16 – Par 5 – 535 yards

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

HOLE 17 – Par 3 – 197 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

HOLE 18 – Par 4 – 424 yards

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

THE RIVER COURSE

HOLE 5 – Par 4 – 388 yards

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

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 333 yards

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

HOLE 7 – Par 4 – 374 yards

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

HOLE 8 – Par 5 – 492 yards

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

HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 316 yards

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

HOLE 10 – Par 3 – 194 yards

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

BONUS HOLE – #13 – Par 3 – 192 yards

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


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf