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Desert Forest Daydreaming

This post started as a cure for the winter blues.  My business travels usually take me to Scottsdale in December, affording an opportunity to see my favorite desert golf course – Desert Forest.  No such luck in 2017, and I found myself missing it greatly.

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The understated clubhouse at Desert Forest – Photo by Dan Moore

My first visit to Desert Forest was with Dan Moore, after David Zinkand had already done the bulk of his renovation work.  I never played Red Lawrence’s original, but Dave Zinkand’s update immediately grabbed ahold of my heart.  Wonderfully routed, minimally bunkered, with interest-packed greens, the course demands strategic thought and creative execution to score.  It is a fantastic golf course, presented beautifully by Superintendent Todd Storm, at a club with just the kind of friendly, low-key vibe that resonates with me.

Dave and Dan both graciously offered their contributions to this post, which turned my simple daydreaming into a comprehensive tour, with a unique twist.  Dave provided his commentary on the changes he made during the renovation, and the reasoning behind those changes.  Dan added his beautiful feature photos (his are the rectangular ones and are copyright Dan Moore) and his player’s knowledge of the course.  Although nowhere near as good as Dan’s, I pitched in the best of my photos for some additional perspective (mine are in the circles and can be clicked to enlarge).

Think of what follows as a conversation among three geeks out at twilight, walking, playing, talking architecture and snapping photos.  Hopefully, all in, we have done justice to this special place.

Enjoy!


THE RENOVATION

DZ: Desert Forest Golf Club attained its status in the golf world thanks to Red Lawrence’s strategic minimalism.  Other venues in the Southwest United States predate Desert Forest, yet Lawrence’s routing was the first desert golf course truly integrated into this unique and inspiring ecosystem.  His patient study of the terrain yielded undulating fairways resting easily upon the rugged Sonoran desert.  He complemented these natural contours with perched greens shedding in multiple directions to provide a particularly challenging test of which one never grows tired.  The appreciation Members showed through the Club’s first fifty years maintained the integrity of this layout.  

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The foremost goal of my 2013 Masterplan was to fulfill a directive set out by Staff and Members during the architect selection process – secure the long-term vitality of the Club.  Deteriorating turf conditions, advances in playing equipment and somewhat elemental aesthetics from an original construction budget of $250,000, combined to hamper the Club’s legitimate status as a pioneering gem of American golf.  Fifty years after the Club’s inception, the course had undergone relatively little in the way of alterations.  Club Leadership wished to address both how the course plays and how it will be perceived over the next fifty years.

After years of gradual agronomic decline, establishing strong turf, healthy soil profiles and maximum pin-able space were the utmost priorities with Desert Forest’s greens.  Doing so while maintaining the small, push-up green complexes for which the Club is known would maintain its challenge and design integrity, but increasing pin-able space within the footprint of the existing green complexes required compromises.  The Membership clearly wished to retain the rigorous demands of putting at Desert Forest.  The original strategic concepts related beautifully with the fairways, and so were maintained.  Though small, the greens exhibited many long slopes, often steep with five or six percent grades.  This meant that in providing putting surfaces which allow enough cupping area and still ensuring a challenge, the transitions between pin locations would necessarily be more abrupt.  Internal contours were given more individuality and complexity than the original, rather repetitive surfaces.  The results left a learning curve for Members who had never before experienced such change at the Club.  The new challenge was offset, however, by a thoughtfully considered long-term directive to provide moderate green speeds (around 10.5 on the Stimp Meter).  This enables the Club to produce high quality turf conditions while ensuring environmental sustainability, even in the desert surrounds.

Green perimeters had become disjointed from their surrounds after years of topdressing up to their edges.  This hindered the running game, as well as being unattractive; a seamless transition was returned with installation of the new profiles.  Sand recycled during demolition was incorporated during the reshaping of approaches to provide firm entries and enhance the ground game.  A topdressing program for surrounds has also been devised to ensure a fulfilling running game year-round.

Advancing the strategy and aesthetics of the course to fulfill modern expectations of such a minimalist gem rounded out the primary masterplan goals.  Plenty of Members were vocal about the need to increase course difficulty even though the challenge of Desert Forest had very much remained substantial for the vast majority of golfers.  My intention was therefore to maintain the degree of difficulty overall, while increasing the test for low-handicappers and providing high-handicappers a more reasonable path.  The finished results produced an increased Course Rating to challenge the best players combined with a reduced Slope rating to accommodate less-skilled play.

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Rendering by Patrick Burton

With so little change in the layout since the course was opened in 1962, tees were necessarily a priority.  Advances in length meant many of the Club’s toughest holes no longer required a driver for better players.  Holes intended to provide such a test were lengthened, as well as given new angles from the back tees where appropriate.  A new set of “Copper Tees” were installed as a shorter option.  The suitability of all tees in between were considered; as islands of turf amongst the desert, many were added, shifted or eliminated to best suit existing and future Members.

While we substantially enhanced the aesthetics of Desert Forest’s feature work, we did so mostly through subtle, often handcrafted, implementation of the objectives.  More than a dozen objectives were typically addressed on each hole through such refinements.  We expanded and refined many fairway edges for strategic, playability and aesthetic considerations.  On others we removed turf to ensure good custodianship of the Sonoran Desert.  This allowed for returning native vegetation to areas that had been lost over the years.  In conjunction with mending native areas, many non-native trees were removed.  This allowed improved strategy, turf conditions and vistas. The limited budget for Desert Forest’s original construction meant a great many areas along the edges of holes were cut to enable contouring nearby.  This left an artificial feel to the perimeters of holes. We utilized good spoils from other renovation tasks to recontour these areas, tying them naturally back into the surrounding desert, improving the look and feel of the holes.  A less desirable variety of Bermuda grass was simultaneously removed from the rough to improve playability, expand and refine fairway mow lines, as well as produce better grow-in during overseed.

The most visible change at Desert Forest is the greenside bunkering.  The course has never had fairway bunkers.  As Brad Klein says, “there’s just one big one” – the desert.  The greenside bunkers, though eventually deepened in the 1990’s, were originally very shallow dishes with simple oval forms.  Members used to have a photo contest in their weekly e-newsletter to determine on which hole the image was taken.  This proved highly challenging and competitive because of the repetitive contouring and bunkering around each green.  Fortunately, the contest lost its challenge due to the identity instilled within each green complex during the renovation, which includes a rugged, natural feel to the bunker forms and edging to complement the desert.

Altering an historic layout after so many years without change is a difficult path to navigate.  However, the rewards to Members are now evident, providing a bright forecast for the Club’s next fifty years.


DESERT FOREST

DM: Lawrence routed the course through the desert taking care not to disrupt the natural flow of the desert floor while expertly utilizing the ebb and flow of the terrain.  He reportedly walked alongside the machines clearing the fairways to make sure they disrupted the native desert as little as possible, and he even left a few trees and saguaros in the fairways.

Lawrence was quoted at the time Desert Forest opened, “This is a desert course. We used as rough and hazard only desert material.  No two fairways offered the same two problems.  If anything, there was an overabundance of opportunity.  The trouble was in leaving a maximum of the raw desert growth.”  He called Desert Forest “the most challenging and satisfying piece of construction I have ever enjoyed.”

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My doodle illustrates Lawrence’s intimate routing

HOLE 1 – Par 4 – 397 yards

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JW: The 1st at DF is a hard dogleg right par-4.  The drive is semi-blind, which is a theme throughout Red Lawrence’s wonderful routing.  This is a course that takes multiple plays to learn.

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DM: The drive on the first hole hammers home that hitting the fairway is paramount at Desert Forest, a course with no fairway bunkers.  To provide strategic interest off the tee Red Lawrence relied on the desert flanking each fairway and natural undulations of the desert floor.  An uphill 2nd shot takes you to one of the nicest green sites on the course.

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DZ: Both the first tee complex and the practice range tee were lowered 3-4 feet to improve vistas, gain valuable ground and simplify the elegant grounds radiating out from the clubhouse.  This enabled a new rear tee to be built, the opportunity to re-establish the uphill feel of the fairway, and rethinking of nearby practice amenities. 

This hole’s dogleg provides a challenging opening drive for Members and new forward tees help to soften the degree of difficulty.  The challenge of skirting the dogleg off of the tee was complicated by a back-right green section that fell sharply towards the desert and cart path.  In recontouring the green complex, I supported this section of the green and expanded the surrounds slightly to ensure the fall-away pin position was retained, while providing reasonable playability.  Turf behind the left bunker was eliminated to better focus one’s eye in on the target and enhance the native surrounds.

HOLE 2 – Par 4 – 428 yards

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JW: The subtle angles on this hole are genius.  The fairway winds between two protrusions of the desert, making the tee shot disorienting.  The green, which is protected by a large bunker right, is best approached from the left half.

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DM: A great example of how Lawrence used natural terrain to define the tee shot without fairway bunkers.  Utilizing natural contours in place of staggered fairway bunkers, the tee shot is defined by a finger of desert that juts in on the left and a larger shoulder of desert 20 yards farther on the right.  The large green is receptive to long shots and features a significant left to right tilt which accentuates the difficulty of missing to the left.

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DZ: The second hole provides a rare opportunity for a truly aggressive drive at Desert Forest.  Though early fairway width provides a generous beginning to the landing area, native vegetation and natural contours defend the latter portion of the landing area, demanding players decide just how far they wish to play up the fairway.  Recontouring of hole perimeters allowed us to enhance the options and playability.

The front of this green was expanded and supported to regain provocative pin locations lost over the years to increasing green speeds. Interestingly, some Members were adamant that the steep nature be maintained so that guests might continue to experience the possibility of putting right back off the front of the green!  Reestablishing a ‘false front’ by extending green height down over the front slope, while also introducing more support within the green itself accomplished increased pins, playability and a treacherous front slope.

Many greens at Desert Forest are guarded with bunkers on either side.  The left bunker at this green was not original.  I opted to replace it with a closely mown slope guarding the entire left side.  This distinguishes the green from five and thirteen, which once appeared quite similar.  Happily, this spoils the fun of the Club’s former photo contest from when holes were nearly indistinguishable around their respective green complexes.

HOLE 3 – Par 3 – 160 yards

JW: DF’s first one-shotter plays to an elevated putting surface with bunkers on all sides.  The tee is slightly elevated, which makes hoisting a tee ball toward this green an exercise in choosing thrills over intimidation, especially with the pin in the front sliver among the bunkers.  Get too aggressive and miss the green here, and you could experience adventures in recovery.

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DM: Affectionately known as Desert Forest’s shortest par 4, the third presents a small, well-guarded green and deep drop off long left.  A high, quick stopping shot to the middle of the green is the best play regardless of pin location.  Lawrence beautifully framed the green between the prominent nob at the end of Black Mountain on the right and a large boulder on the left now obscured by a large tree.

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DZ: This is a classic, treacherous short par three.  As opposed to being surrounded by bunkers on all sides, trouble in the way of fall-away green slopes and surrounds awaits left and back right.  The key to improving this hole was supporting these fall-away slopes in a manner so a balance was struck between degree of difficulty and playability.

As with all of the holes, bunkering was modified to focus attention more on the greens and provide detailed interest.  An unattractive rear bunker was lowered entirely out of view from the tee, but widened for improved playability, helping to emphasize the diminutive target from the tee.

HOLE 4 – Par 4 – 441 yards

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JW: A simple, but elegant hole, with an ever so slightly angled drive to a straight fairway.  A lone bunker guards the contoured green left and a tricky little runoff, the right.  The word pure is thrown around perhaps too liberally.  It applies at Desert Forest.

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DM: A mid-length par 4 that beautifully pairs a sloping fairway with a dramatic false front on the right.  The left half of the fairway is relatively flat and is the best angle from which to approach pins on the right, especially those tucked near the false front.  Any drive to the right half will take the slope leaving the ball close to the right edge of the fairway with a tough shot over the false front to any pin on the right.

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DZ: Among the many new tee locations added, a forward tee was sympathetically carved into the native terrain along the right side of four to provide an improved angle of play for shorter players.  The fairway was expanded both left and right to improve playability and allow high left and low right options of play off the tee for attacking various pin positions.  Ground along the left edge of this fairway was raised to allow for expansion and contoured to fit seamlessly in with the surrounds.  While the bold slope off of the front right of this green was repaired and retained, the center ridge in this green running parallel to play was lowered and the right side supported to recapture challenging far right pin placements.  The backline of this green was raised for support and turf expanded beyond for playability.

HOLE 5 – Par 4 – 440 yards

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JW: The hard dogleg left on this stout four par invites the player to bite off as much as they dare.  Once that line is chosen, the swing better be confident.  A lone Dave Zinkand bunker guarding the green right.  Sometimes, one bunker is all you need to create strategic challenge.

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DM: A cape-hole dog-leg to the left, the 5th is another hole where the slopes and angles of the fairway work in concert with the green to define the strategy of the hole.  The tee shot is designed such that you must take on an isthmus of desert which rewards a right to left shot.   The green features a significant drop off on the left quarter and is best approached with a left to right shot from the left center of the fairway providing an angle away from the false side.  Lawrence clearly valued shot-making ability.

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DZ: Red Lawrence was an avid fan of shot-making.  During my early days studying the golf course, it became apparent he favored a draw off of the tee, while more often than not, bunkering the green more severely on the right to reward a fading approach.  Lawrence surely saw a running draw off of the tee as a tactic for golfers to tackle what was a rather long layout at the time the Club opened.  Conversely, a slight fade into the greens offers access and control on these small sloping targets.

This is clear on hole five, where a finger of native creeps into the landing area from the inside left, emphasizing the dogleg.  This finger was included in the native desert rehabilitation effort.  A sliver of turf along the outside of the dogleg was removed to complement the improvements to views down this hole.  More than any other hole, the tree removal along both sides of five enhances the desert feel, vistas and enjoyment of the bountiful saguaros uncovered, for which the Sonoran Desert is famous.

As with many approaches, the entry to five green was supported to enable running shots.  The right edge of this approach near the bunker was filled to better define a line upon which to enter the green.  The right greenside bunker was extended along the approach to highlight this edge.  A rise in the back middle of this green was highlighted to increase interest and the value of shot-making when attempting to reach back pins.

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 361 yards

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JW: The hole is dead straight, but that does not mean you should hit it down the middle.  A center fronting bunker built into a mound dictates play from the tee.  Whichever side of the green the pin is on is the half of the fairway the player’s drive needs to find. Approaches from the wrong side that hit the front mound run the risk of shooting all the way into the back bunker.  Not the place to be.

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DM: The 6th hole is defined by a gaping Lion’s Mouth bunker fronting the middle of the green the back of which forms a large mound that divides the green in half.  The large mound off the back of the front bunker is paired with a smaller mound in the back half of the green. Except when the pin is on the front half of the right side, it’s best to play to the left side of this fairway to avoid a valley on the right which often kick balls into the desert.

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DZ: The sixth was affected by gains in distance due to modern technology as much as any hole on the course.  For short and mid-length golfers, the right side of this landing area rolled off repeatedly into desert surrounds.  Whereas, the far end of this landing area offered the most forgiving ground on the hole, so that the longest players had a decided advantage with much less risk.  Mid-length contours down the right side were supported and vegetation along the landing area thinned to improve playability.  Several yards were added down the left of the landing area where existing mesquites were removed to provide width for the short to medium length player and create a more attractive hole corridor.  Further down, the left was pinched abruptly to heighten the challenge to longer tee shots.

Standing on the tee in my early visits, it was apparent something was amiss at the green.  As lofted as many greens are at Desert Forest, the visibility to this green was poor.  It turned out this was one of several greens altered in the 1970’s.  I raised the green one and a half feet to return what is believed to be original grade and improve visibility down the hole.  An existing bunker stretched across the middle and right side of the approach to this green.  This was replaced with a small central bunker in the approach and the right side supported to provide an alternate entryway for pins along the right side of the hole.  The left greenside bunker was expanded to tie in with the native desert.  Strategic pin positions along the edges of the green were recaptured and the roll up to the rear bunker removed to bring this hazard better into play.

The original green was particularly unsuited to modern green speeds and its contours were no longer part of Member’s collective memory, so I installed a milder slope with internal contours for challenge and interest.  A front hump was placed in the green to support the front bunker and extend this hazard into the putting surface as a consideration for those seeking to attack surrounding pins on this fairly short hole.  A central hump was also added to reward shot placement. 

HOLE 7 – Par 5 – 530 yards

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JW: The first five par is a strategic gem.  A safe left route can be taken to play the hole as a three-shotter.  Or, rifle a field goal between the cactii and over the desert, and you’re looking at a green light special from in front of the wash that cuts diagonally across the landing area for layups.  There are no throwaway shots on this hole.  The green sits atop a small hill and is well defended by bunkers left and right.  Brilliant.

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DM: Yes, brilliant!  If there is a better split-fairway par 5 I have yet to see it.  The right fairway is blind from the tee, but framed beautifully by Lawrence between the twin peaks of the mountains in the distance.  The second shot must contend with a wash that crosses the fairway 120 yards from the green.  With a new tee and the desert extended away from the tee by 20 yards in 2013, a carry of 265 yards is required from the back tee (240 from the Black tee) with the reward of being able to go for the green in two.  A drive to the left fairway leaves either a lay-up before the wash and a longer approach over the right bunker or a long shot that must carry the wash for a third shot straight into the green between the flanking bunkers.

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DZ: This is readily thought of as Desert Forest’s signature hole.  Red Lawrence made fun use of the massive wash running the length of this par five by locating a crossing where many Members might wish to place their second shot.  To better address the needs of shorter Members, a new white and copper tee were added down the left.  This shortened the white tee from 466 yards to 404 yards and allowed for a 370 yard copper tee.  For longer players, dramatic changes in equipment over the years have affected the way all of the Club’s par fives play, including seven.  In an effort to return the challenge of this hole for these players, a new back tee was added, lengthening the hole from 534 yards to 551 yards. A shift left with this new back tee also emphasized the wash along the right side of the optional far right landing area.  Vegetation was selectively thinned between the tees and each landing area.  A large mesquite at the start of the right fairway, along with other trees closer to the wash were removed to allow visibility towards the green.  Turf at the beginning of the right fairway was removed to increase the challenge of carrying to this more direct line.  Turf was also removed alongside the bank to require greater accuracy and highlight the natural wash. These former turf areas were revegetated with native plants.

The front of this green was expanded.  Pin-able space was recaptured along the right bunkers and an additional pin was captured back right.  Turf outside of the right bunkers was removed to enhance aesthetics, eliminate unnecessary irrigation and improve focus on the target.  The left bunker was expanded along the approach to enhance the right to left angle of the green.  The demanding back left pin was recaptured by softening this fall-away slope to accommodate anticipated green speeds.  Turf back left was expanded to improve playability and provide forgiveness to those attempting to reach these back pins.

HOLE 8 – Par 3 – 203 yards

JW: The par 3 8th plays slightly downhill to a green that appears crowned.  The little bunker front center has a big impact as it draws the eye and prompts shots that bail out left and right.  The green is big, but plays much smaller due to the spine running through the middle.  Miss on the wrong side and a three-putt is almost guaranteed.

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DM: Desert Forest’s longest par 3 plays significantly downhill to a large receptive green. Usually a club or two less than normal is all that is needed as long as you carry the middle front bunker.

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DZ: The Membership heartily identifies with the challenging nature of the course.  Along with the Club’s very golf-centric focus and a walkable, lay-of-the-land routing, this identity contributes greatly to the Club’s strong market niche.  In considering how modern play had diminished the original challenge of Desert Forest, the ease with which “flat-bellies” finished the front nine was as important a consideration as any.

Given the tee and green settings of each par three, the eighth hole presented the best option to provide a long one-shot hole.  This was particularly advantageous considering the contribution it could make to strengthening the test at the end of the front nine.  Unlike the existing long par three 17th, the eighth also naturally required players walk right by the ideal back tee location upon exiting seven green.

A rear tee was built, lengthening the hole from 206 yards to 231 yards.  Middle tee placements were shifted back as well, largely by utilizing existing tee space.  The existing forward tee was regraded to accommodate a new copper tee.  Approach area was added along the left and vegetation removed to improve visibility.  A rare front bunker was narrowed and shifted slightly right and the putting surface built up to accommodate the natural left to right green setting and longer shot.  The green surface was also expanded towards the tee between the existing front bunker and two left bunkers to allow better access and increased pin positions.  The right approach was tied gently into the enlarged green surface and supported along the right edge to allow a broad area of access for higher handicappers.  Support was added all along the rear of the green to better accept longer tee shots.

The left and central bunkering were resculpted for a more natural appearance, as well as to emphasize the strong left to right feel that has always defined this hole.  Turf was removed on the outside edges of both left bunkers and replaced with native vegetation to improve aesthetics and eliminate superfluous turf.  A right bunker was replaced with turf when a cart path tucked in a wash beyond was relocated left of the hole amid construction.

This right bunker was reinstalled in 2014 when green contours were softened due to concerns over the hole’s increased degree of difficulty.  It has become accepted that lengthening eight was a worthwhile venture.  Not only did this improve the finish to the front nine, it also provided balance with other holes on the back nine.

HOLE 9 – Par 5 – 533 yards

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JW: The ninth is bunkerless tee to green, playing straightaway up over a rise, and then down to the well defended green.  The shortish length makes it gettable, but the margin for error is small, and the green cant and contours make you earn your birdies.

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DM: The longest par 3 is followed by the shortest par 5.  With the nob on the end of Black Mountain as a target, Lawrence angled the fairway into a series of ridges running perpendicular to the fairway.  Find the speed slot right center and you might get a look at the green for your second shot.  Play up the left or far right and your second will be blind to a tightly guarded green with just a 10 yard wide opening.  A cactus behind the green provides the line.  A large green filled with subtle undulations.

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DZ: This reachable par five previously had a ridge running perpendicular across the first landing area. Balls landing on the downslope of the ridge were supplied additional distance without taking on any risk, while balls landing shy were stunted.  In an effort to increase the interest, challenge and playability, this ridge was recontoured. The left side was left intact, so long shots played accurately down this side could still take advantage of the added length and retain visibility to the green.  The right side was shaped to cause longer drives to veer toward the right edge of the landing area, where the view to this green is obscured by a second ridge further up.

A great deal of unnecessary turf was removed right of the first landing area to focus attention down the hole and improve sustainability, while a great many trees were removed to improve turf and open up surrounding views.  Numerous unnecessary catch basins were removed from fairways, particularly on this hole.  Back at the tees, a rear tee was added to lengthen this par five from 501 yards to 533, continuing the effort to bolster the front nine finish.  As part of the effort to improve tee placements overall, the forward tee just beyond the wash was shifted right to a central location, creating a much better angle of play for shorter ball-strikers.

As on the sixth, this green had been revised in previous years.  It did not provide a target suitable for a reachable par five, nor was it a particularly flattering finish to the front nine.  A new putting surface was sculpted, which incorporates a new back right pin location that was previously inaccessible due to severity of the slope.  The bail-out back right was recontoured to help contain balls, improve drainage and enhance playability.  The right bunker was brought around the front right of the green to protect the putting surface.  A far left aiming bunker, as seen from the tee, was incorporated into the left green side bunker, which was enlarged to accommodate this important role of informing play down the hole.  This newly shaped bunker was brought snugly against the green.

HOLE 10 – Par 4 – 382 yards

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JW: The par-4 10th features a tough tee shot uphill and around a corner to the right, followed by an approach into a green with a particularly cavernous bunker left.  The putting surface features wonderful internal rolls and contours.  Familiarity is a prerequisite for making putts.

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DM: A drive left of center on this dog-leg to the right will provide a straight shot into the green guarded left and right.  The green features a plateau on the back right whose slopes define the rest of the green.  Cavernous bunkers gobble up any less than purely executed iron.

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DZ: The nines at Desert Forest were reversed shortly after the Club opened.  Members felt what is now eighteen played less directly towards the setting sun.  So, the tenth tee is positioned right out the front door of the pro shop.  A great big non-native mesquite was removed down the inside of this dogleg right.  Contours on this inside of the dogleg, including an awkward swale, were improved for strategy, playability and drainage, while support was added to the outside to improve interest, playability and safety with the range nearby.

A false front on this green was recaptured to provide better visibility and support at the front of the putting surface.  The entire green was widened and pin-able space along the left bunker recaptured to reward those playing down the recontoured strategic inside of the dogleg.  A roll was emphasized in the back-middle of the putting surface.  This supports and defends a prominent, fun back pin location, while adding interest to surrounding sections of the green.

Alterations to the bunker forms continued on the tenth, with the left bunker greatly expanded to tie-in directly with native ground on the left for aesthetics and playing interest.  The outside edge of the right bunker was lowered to focus attention back on the green. Turf behind the green was expanded and the cart path shifted beyond surrounding trees to improve playability with valuable rear pin positions.

HOLE 11 – Par 5 – 573 yards

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JW: The par-5 11th is the longest hole on the course and snakes over rolling fairway around to the left.  The green is fronted by a deep swale and center bunker.  To make birdie, a player must be precise with both the layup and approach – angles matter at the eleventh.

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DM: The 11th features a fairway that flows beautifully through the desert in a right to left direction finishing at a green perched above a grassed over desert wash that cuts in front of the green at an angle.  Lawrence placed each of the four par 5 greens beyond desert washes providing strategy for the second shot.

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DZ: Many non-native mesquites were removed along the lengthy turf edges of this par five to improve playability and turf health.  Grass was also removed along either side and replaced with native vegetation to enhance strategy and aesthetics.  

Whereas the par five seventh features the Club’s broadest wash in its native form, a smaller turfed wash guards the green and approach on this three-shot hole.  The swale was previously closer to the green with a channelized feel.  We shifted it away to expand and raise the approach and right edge.  This lends a more natural appearance with improved playability.  A large mesquite in front of the left side of the green was removed.  A bunker between the tree and green was reduced in size and shifted toward the center.  Along with removing a back left bunker, these efforts allow for more conservative play to the now forgiving left side.  The remaining rear bunker was recontoured for interest.  Turf behind the bunker was eliminated in favor of native vegetation and the leading edge tucked closer to the green with a lower lip to engage the putting surface.

HOLE 12 – Par 3 – 185 yards

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JW: A longish one-shotter that plays slightly uphill to a well-defended green, the twelfth is one of DF’s holes that is just plain tough.  However, the glorious combination of Red Lawrence’s green setting, Dave Zinkand’s minimalist aesthetic and Superintendent Todd Storm’s ideal presentation is more than enough to offset any pain inflicted on a player’s scorecard.

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DM: The mid-length par 3 12th is visually deceptive with the green defended by a series of deep bunkers that along with the uphill nature of the hole hide much of the quite generous green surface.  The front half of the green is fairly tight but opens up in the back.  The middle of the green is usually a good play regardless of pin location.

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DZ: While not a long par three, the twelfth has always provided a difficult target with demanding cup locations.  Pin-able space was dramatically increased, including at the front along the bunkers and both strategic sections back left and right.  Lowering green surface along the front bunkers also enabled better receptiveness for tee shots.  Turf was expanded back right of the green and bail out areas behind either side of the green recontoured to provide more forgiveness to fall-away pin locations on either side of the green.  A great deal of unnecessary turf was eliminated at the start of this approach, while a new forward tee was provided along the left to provide more reasonable access to the narrow green entrance for forward tee players.

HOLE 13 – Par 4 – 449 yards

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JW: Hug the inside of the corner on this slight dogleg left, and you have an open look on approach.  Take the safe route off the tee and you’re staring at a stacked pair of Zinkand specials in the face.

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DM: Pucker up and let it rip, but avoid the steep drop off into the desert on the left.  Nothing too tricky here, just uphill all the way to a green located up a steep slope.  It will simply take two of your best to reach the raised green in regulation.  If that’s not enough, the green is difficult with a shelf on the back left.

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DZ: Twenty yards were added to thirteen through a new rear tee to return the teeth of this long uphill climb to the Club’s highest green setting.  Thanks to several new forward tee placements, unnecessary turf at the beginning of this fairway was replaced with native vegetation for aesthetics and improved sustainability.  The right side of this landing area was recontoured to improve drainage and retain balls in the fairway on this right sloping portion of the dogleg left.  Turf at the end of the landing area was removed along with select trees to improve aesthetics, enhance the desert feel and stiffen the challenge for the longest of players.

This is the last of the three greens that had previously been altered, along with six and nine.  The green was expanded, particularly at the back left and front right.  A sharp, disjointed approach was softened and tied seamlessly together with the green.  Green surface was extended down the front slope to better accept running approaches and provide a greatly improved appearance.  Pins closer to the front of the green and near the right bunker were recaptured.

The right greenside bunker was expanded to two to guard the right side of this approach and provide a prominent focal point displaying visual feedback at the tee as to the angle of this hole.  This effort also improved maintenance considerations over the previous bunker configuration.  The greenside edge of this bunker remained high to provide a unique identity as compared with previously similar bunkers on holes such as two and five.  The leading edge was lowered for enhanced visibility on the tee.  The left two bunkers were joined as one to provide visual impact.  Their outer edges were tied into the native surrounds for aesthetics and to better focus the eye on the target.  The turf edge back right of this green was reestablished to improve playability and the surrounding swale recontoured to improve drainage.

HOLE 14 – Par 4 – 309 yards

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JW: This short four is reachable in the right conditions with a high left slope that will feed balls onto the narrow perched green.  Efforts that lack the necessary gusto or courage?  Well, let’s just say that the options low and right range from “Ouch” to “Lord help me”.

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DM: Essentially a new hole in 2013, Dave Zinkand moved the green forward 30-40 yards adjacent to a small nob left of the green and significantly reshaped the fairway with a high and low side.  The end result – a very clever, driveable par 4 to follow the longest, toughest par 4.  The ideal line is at the nob at the end of Black Mountain to the high side of the fairway that feeds the ball to the green.

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DZ: As previously mentioned, for the majority of Members there was no need for increasing the overall difficulty of the layout.  The previous fourteenth green was the least playable on the course, requiring an aerial shot.  With the putting surface falling away, lower trajectory players had little chance of holding the green, while longer players could readily stop a wedge on this short par four.  Introducing a generous approach and shortening this hole to become a reachable par four provided a nice balance with the effort to bolster the test of the front nine finishing holes.

High ground at the beginning of this fairway was carved down four feet to improve visibility from the tee and gain fill material for other components of the renovation, including the new approach on this hole.  To differentiate fourteen from similar length holes, such as six and fifteen, and to encourage a reason to play boldly, the hole was shortened forty yards. 

A new larger green was created with what is generally a front left to back right orientation and slope.  Despite the elevated green, a gentle, open front left approach provides playability along with variety as compared to the course’s typically narrow entries.  This plays off the natural tilt of the surrounding land, while enabling a much shorter green to tee walk in line with others around Desert Forest.  This simpler connection to the following holes also improves safety issues related with the former green location.  A steep roll-off behind the green allows for playability, while protecting the integrity of the hole.  The former greensite was regraded and vegetated with native plants, including saguaros salvaged during the renovation.

HOLE 15 – Par 4 – 435 yards

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JW: The rumpled fairway tumbles down to the green from a hillside on the left.  The green is canted in the opposite direction.  A brilliant design that requires real shotmaking to have a look at birdie.  Players must beware the beautiful and nasty Zinkand bunkering guarding the green right.

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DM: Framed by Black Mountain, the 15th is a picturesque, downhill, postcard of a hole with a generous fairway.  Featuring a false front, it is best to get at least a third of the way into this green.  Bunkers right protect a terrific pin position on the back right hand portion of the green.

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DZ: As seen on a 1962 aerial, the original middle and back tees wrapped progressively to the left.  This provided fifteen a much more provocative angle, in part, by engaging a ridge short of the fairway and highlighting Black Mountain in the background.  This angle was returned and a new rear tee created thirty yards behind the existing back tee.  Vegetation, particularly down the left edge of the hole, was thinned to allow the renewed tee angle and improve the general look and feel of the hole.  Turf edges along the landing area were expanded slightly to improve playability and invite more aggressive play from the tee.  This hole required particular attention in regrading the outskirts to tie together the turf areas with natural ridges in the surrounds.

The front of the green was widened along either side.  Pin-able space along the greenside bunkers was increased and the back left section of the green was supported to soften the slope falling away and return the ability to use these provocative pin locations.  Ground behind this green was a particular playability concern.  The area was recontoured and turf extended to increase the likelihood of balls staying on turf, as opposed to rolling into a desert wash beyond.  A right approach bunker was added to increase interest along the approach, as well as the view down the hole.  The right greenside bunker was reduced in size to allow more creative access to back right pins and increase playability by reducing the severity of attempting to reach these pins.

HOLE 16 – Par 5 – 523 yards

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JW: With so many great golf holes in the world, it is hard for any one hole to be unique…unless a hole’s strategy is ingeniously dictated by a centerline tree in the rumpled fairway.  Initial reaction, “What the?” Upon further reflection, “So good”.

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DM: Perhaps my favorite hole at DF, a true journey through the desert forest framed by the backdrop of Black Mountain.  Tree and brush removal up the left side last summer opened up a view of the green from the tee and, more importantly, restored the ability to play up the left side of this hole on the second shot.  A drive to the narrow plateau on the upper right side of the fairway opens up an opportunity to go for this green in two.  The large mesquite at 160 yards from the green must be navigated on the 2nd shot.  A grassed over wash crosses the fairway at 95 yards and it’s best to get beyond this with your second shot to avoid a downhill lie to an uphill green.

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DZ: Sixteen is a thoughtful driving hole thanks to the varied elevations and turf edges in the first landing area.  A low left section of turf offers forgiveness for shorter drives, while yielding a less desirable angle from which to play one’s second shot.  A long tee ball to higher ground is met with significantly narrower turf on a right to left angle.  Trees at the end of the lower left section of fairway were removed to facilitate use of this side of the fairway for those less capable of surmounting the high side.  Fairway was expanded right along the second landing area and several trees removed to further the efforts towards improved playability.

This green was shifted back twelve yards onto naturally high ground, shortening the walk to the following par three and adding valuable length to this, the final par five.  Although the new green is larger and contains a prominent mound to work balls in off of in the back left, the concept of the original green complex was retained.  The right bunker was expanded and its lip lowered to provide contrast with those on the left, as well as those on the right of fifteen.  The outside edge of this bunker now ties into desert terrain.  The left greenside bunker was tucked against the expanded green to reflect modern club selections on this hole and protect nearby pin locations.

HOLE 17 – Par 3 – 169 yards

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JW: This beautiful mid-length one shotter plays to a green surrounded on three sides by four bunkers.  A wonderful natural desert setting for the penultimate hole.  Recovery for tee shots that miss the putting surface is no small task.

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DM: The 17th features a benign looking target that belies its internal treachery.  A narrow opening of rumpled ground makes front pins difficult to attack.  And the green itself is full of tricky double and triple breaking putts.

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DZ: Seventeen had previously been the long one-shot hole thanks to an added back tee.  However, the tee was removed because it imposed a long walk back on what is an unusually walkable desert course, and the intensely sloped green was less ideal for a longer hole than natural landforms on eight.  The front left bunker had been pulled away from the green in recent years.  Green space was provided up against this bunker to expand pin-able space and increase playability.  Unnecessary turf was removed behind the two rear bunkers to focus the eye upon this challenging green surface and provide a rugged, intimidating appearance counter to the green’s actual receptiveness.

HOLE 18 – Par 4 – 415 yards

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JW: The tough finisher is pinched right in the landing area, which not surprisingly is the best angle for approach.  A last bit of strategic brilliance from Red Lawrence.  The well defended green includes a stellar combination of cant and contour.  A par on the 18th is satisfying, as it must be earned from the tee to the bottom of the cup.

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DM: A strong finisher requires a long, accurate tee shot.  If you can clear the crest of the hill on the right, a speed slot will add distance.  The approach is deceptive in that it often plays shorter than the actual yards and the green tends to run away from the fairway.  Be happy with a par and enjoy the cold beverage that awaits.

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DZ: Much like the sixth hole before the renovation, eighteen provided a challenging drive for short to medium players, while offering long hitters a rather forgiving target.  The right side of eighteen is particularly deceptive, as balls that appear safe when first struck on the tee can easily careen right into a native swale, betraying the fairway’s gentle right to left angle.  A new rear tee was added to play on this provocative angle, while other tees were shortened and, in some cases, given a more forgiving angle.

The wide wash bottom at the end of the landing area, which provided such a forgiving space for long hitters was reconsidered.  Turf edges were pinched in along both sides and a desert ridge introduced along the right side of the wash to force longer players from all tees to consider the placement of their drives.

The approach was recontoured to reduce balls running through the green into desert beyond, which forms an attractive backdrop from the clubhouse.  The front of the green was also expanded significantly into the approach.  A small bunker was added at the front left corner of the green and the left bunker reduced in size. The high outer edge of the right bunker was lowered significantly to remove this visually awkward sand edge and improve definition of the green’s right edge.

A day at Desert Forest is a day that a player will remember.  Strategy, challenge and fun are all wrapped in an intimate and beautiful package.  I’m counting the moments until my next visit.

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ABOUT DAN MOORE
A Desert Forest member since 2011, Dan Moore is a member of the USGA Architecture Archive Committee.  He lives in Chicago and is an avid golfer who qualified for the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship.  Through his company Moore Golf, Dan works with architects and clubs to provide a variety of photography, golf history research and consulting services including:
  • Detailed Architectural Evolution Reports for restorations or renovations.
  • Golf Course Photography.
  • Historical research and consulting related to creation or execution of Master Plans.
  • Course histories and photography for club websites, newsletters, new member marketing, etc.
  • Course tours for club websites including course history, hole descriptions and photos.
  • Historical Maps comparing original course architecture to the course today.
His clients have included Old Elm Club, Riverside Golf Club, Flossmoor CC, Shoreacres, Chicago Golf Club, Briarwood Golf Club, Stevens Point CC, Golf Courses of Lawsonia and Oliphant Haltom Golf Management.
I highly recommend Dan’s recent article on Chicago Golf Club for the USGA.

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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Musings on Greatness

First things first – there is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to assessing the greatness of a golf course.  And objectivity in ranking one golf course’s greatness versus another?  Please.  

Fortunately though when it comes to having good geeky fun with your buddies talking golf courses, objectivity is irrelevant.  What is relevant when having the endless discussions and debates is the standards by which one assesses a course.  The standard matters because it gives context.  There are several standard that my fellow geeks and I like to use:

  • The Memorability Standard – Can you remember every hole on the course the next day?  
  • The 18th Green to 1st Tee Standard – When you walk off the final green, do you want to go right back out?
  • The One Course for the Rest of Your Life Standard – Could you be happy playing just that one course every day for the rest of your life?
  • The 10 Rounds Standard – When comparing courses, how would you split ten rounds among them?

These are all good standards, and provide interesting perspectives on the greatness of courses.  A new standard materialized for me in 2017, and I am now on the hunt for courses that qualify.  

The inspiration for this standard – which I call 108 in 48 – is Prairie Dunes.  I had the good fortune of spending another weekend in Hutchinson this year (thank you Charlie).  Both of my visits to PD have been golf binges.  Around and around we go.  Every time I come off the 18th hole of that course, I want to go right back out.  

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

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

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

All three of these courses share a peaceful, refined beauty in common that creates a sense of transcendence during the course of a round.  The passage of time melts away.

There are a handful of other courses that meet this standard for me.  There are also quite a few courses that I love dearly and consider favorites that do not.  My list of current 108 in 48 qualifiers is below.

I ask you, which are your 108 in 48ers, and why?


108 in 48ers

SAND HILLS – Mullen, NE

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If you have been to Sand Hills, you know.  Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece, lovingly cared for by Superintendent Kyle Hegland’s team, is incredibly strong from start to finish.  It is no surprise that it started the revolution that has grown into a second Golden Age.

ESSEX COUNTY CLUB – Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA

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This Donald Ross course resonated with me from the first play, and repeat visits deepen my love of it.  It doesn’t hurt that, just when I think that Superintendent Eric Richardson’s team can’t make it any better, they prove me wrong, again.

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PRAIRIE DUNES – Hutchinson, KS

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In addition to my thoughts above, I would add that the combination of Perry and Press Maxwell holes adds even more variety to the course, and if there a better set of greens in America, I would love to hear the argument.  Superintendent Jim Campbell’s team presents the course beautifully, and the staff and membership could not be more welcoming.

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA – Southampton, NY

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

If C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s attempt to create the ideal golf course falls short of the standard for perfection, it’s not by much.  The routing and strategic design, the variety of hazards, the greens, and the numerous iconic views conspire to create magic.  Caring for such an intricately conceived course is no small feat, and Superintendent William Salinetti’s team does a masterful job.

KINGSLEY CLUB – Kingsley, MI

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Go ahead, call me a homer.  The rollicking ride that Mike DeVries has created has its share of thrills, but is also packed with strategic questions that take repeat plays to answer.  The staff creates the perfect vibe for a golf geek, and our Superintendent Dan Lucas?  Nobody is better.

SHOREACRES – Lake Bluff, IL

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Seth Raynor took what might have been a challenging piece of property to some architects and devised one of the most brilliantly routed golf courses I have ever seen.  The central ravine feature is used brilliantly and provides a wonderful contrast to the bold template features greens.  Superintendent Brian Palmer’s team relentless refines the course and revels in creating firm and fast conditions that accentuate every nuance of Raynor’s creation.

LAWSONIA LINKS – Green Lake, WI

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I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it – Lawsonia is the most underrated golf course in America.  Attempt to describe the scale of the features created by William Langford & Theodore Moreau in this bucolic setting is pointless.  It must be experienced to be believed.  The quality of conditions that Superintendent Mike Lyons and his crew deliver with modest green fees makes Lawsonia an unbeatable value.

MAIDSTONE CLUB – East Hampton, NY

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In addition to my comments above, it is important to note the brilliance of Coore & Crenshaw’s restoration work on this Willie Park, Jr. gem.  Having visited pre- and post-renovation, there were moments that I could not believe I was playing the same course.  Superintendent John Genovesi’s team continues to push forward with fine tuning that perfectly walks the line between providing excellent playing conditions and allowing the course to have the natural feel intended by the designers.

KITTANSETT CLUB –  Marion, MA

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An argument could be made that this Frederic Hood and William Flynn design is the best flat site course in America, especially after a Gil Hanse restoration.  Strategic challenges abound, and the set of one-shotters are second to none.  Superintendent John Kelly’s team continues to bring out every bit of Kittansett’s unique character.

BALLYNEAL – Holyoke, CO

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Ballyneal is far and away my favorite Tom Doak design.  It is a glorious collection of holes that meander through the Chop Hills.  Birdies do not come easy, but the course doesn’t beat you up either – it strikes the perfect balance.  Jared Kalina’s team knows quite well how to provide fast and firm conditions, and the staff and membership conspire to make it the golfiest club I’ve ever visited.

OLD ELM CLUB – Highland Park, IL

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Another homer alert – I grew up going around Old Elm as a caddie and we were allowed to play every day, which I did.  I loved the course as a kid, but with the progressive restoration back to Harry Colt and Donald Ross’s vision that has been undertaken by GM Kevin Marion, Superintendent Curtis James, Drew Rogers and Dave Zinkand, OE has gone next level.  

SWEETENS COVE – South Pittsburg, TN

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The King-Collins creation is everything that golf should be.  Strategically challenging, visually interesting, and holes punctuated by stellar greens.  Combine the design with the ability to play cross-country golf and it is impossible to get bored going around and around Sweetens.  Need a playing partner?  No worries, Rob and Patrick are always willing to grab their sticks and geeks won’t find better company anywhere.

SAND HOLLOW – Hurricane, UT

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Subtle and strategic on the front nine, and breathtakingly bold and beautiful on the back, Sand Hollow has it all.  This is a bit of a cheat as the back nine would require a cart to get around multiple times in one day, but I am making an exception.  It’s that good, especially with the fast and firm conditions presented by Superintendent Wade Field’s team.

DUNES CLUB – New Buffalo, MI

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The Keiser family’s club is the perfect place to loop around endlessly.  A variety of holes, solid greens, and multiple teeing options make these 9 holes play like 36+.  Mr. Keiser has recently embraced tree removal across the property opening up views, and allowing Superintendent Scott Goniwiecha’s team to expand corridors of firm turf.  No need for a scorecard, just go play.

OLD MACDONALD – Bandon, OR

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Old Mac is not my favorite course at Bandon Dunes, but it is the only one that makes the 108 in 48 cut for me.  The width and scale create the possibility of holes playing dramatically differently from one round to the next.  The execution of the homage to CBM by Tom Doak, Jim Urbina, et al is spot on and glorious to explore for golf geeks.  Superintendent Fred Yates’s team provides ideal conditions for lovers of bounce and roll.


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems 2017 Year in Review

One of the many reasons that my 2017 was great was that I had the pleasure of teeing it up again again with Jon Cavalier.  Of the many reasons why Jon’s 2017 was so great are the courses below, and the photos he captured.  Jon recently referred to this season as “solid”.  I’ll add one more superlative to his that follow – Understatement of the Year.

Many thanks to Jon for continuing to put forth the effort to capture these photos, and freely share them on social media with us.  Twitter and Instagram are much more beautiful places as a result of his talents and generosity.


PLEASANT SURPRISES

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Sand Valley Golf Resort was one of my favorite stops in 2017, and its flagship course by Coore & Crenshaw is worthy of the praise and ranking. But Mammoth Dunes was one of my most pleasant surprises on the year, and it stands to make a big splash when it opens fully next summer.

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White Bear Yacht Club was perhaps my most pleasant surprise in 2017, and one of my most enjoyable “new” courses. The rolling fairways and greens here have to be seen to be believed, and watching your golf ball carom and roll from one to the other is a blast. Terrific.

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One of my favorite surprises of 2017, Watchung Valley is a classic gem designed and routed by Seth Raynor and built by Marty O’Loughlin. Thanks to David Cronheim and George Waters, WVGC is now a true charmer, and a must visit for Raynor fans.

 

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The Swinging Bridge and the par-3 10th at Bel-Air Country Club, another of my 2017 surprises. This brilliant George Thomas design, routed through canyons connected by a series of tunnels, an elevator and the aforementioned bridge, is being restored by Tom Doak.

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Another of my most pleasant surprises of 2017 was the Meadow Club, Alister MacKenzie’s first U.S. design and the beneficiary of a loving restoration by Mike DeVries. The history alone makes MC a compelling visit, but the golf course itself is exceptional.


TOP NEW PLAYS

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Here are my top 10 “new to me” courses that I played for the first time in 2017. At No. 10, narrowly edging out the Dunes course, is Monterey Peninsula CC’s Shore Course, designed by the late, great Mike Strantz.

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At No. 9 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Mid Ocean Club. MOC was the last of the great C.B. Macdonald courses on my list, and suffice it to say, it did not disappoint. Utterly gorgeous, and wildly fun to play. Holes 1, 17 & 18 are pictured.

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No. 8 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Gozzer Ranch Golf & Lake Club. One of the most photogenic courses I played last year, and my favorite of the 30 or so Tom Fazio designs I’ve seen, Gozzer exceeded all expectations.

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No. 7 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Milwaukee Country Club. A true throwback in every respect, MCC merges an absolutely perfect piece of land with the architectural brilliance of Charles Alison. The result is a true classic gem.

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No. 6 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Rock Creek Cattle Company. Tom Doak’s Big Sky masterpiece, RCCC is the rare mountain golf course that remains both walkable and highly playable. And it’s beautiful to boot. A modern gem.

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No. 5 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club. Though Ballyneal follows the Sand Hills model, Tom Doak takes the concept even further here, with a rugged minimalism combined with bolder features and wilder greens. Terrific.

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No. 4 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Camargo Club. As a huge Seth Raynor fan, I’d waited a long time to see this course, and was beyond pleased that it more than lived up to high expectations. One of Raynor’s very best designs.

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No. 3 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Sand Hills Golf Club. The most important golf course built in 80 years and already a classic, dozens of modern gems trace their roots to SHGC. Everyone should make the pilgrimage here at least once.

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No. 2 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Pine Valley Golf Club. What more can I say about the consensus best golf course on the planet that hasn’t already been said? The par-3 10th is just as pretty and scary-looking from above as from the tee.

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No. 1 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Cypress Point Club. MacKenzie’s masterpiece, CPC is the most beautiful course I’ve ever seen and one of the best I’ve played. A day here is a magical experience and a seminal moment in a golfer’s life.


FAVORITE PHOTOS

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Catching a wave at the perfect moment makes this shot of the par-3 10th at Monterey Peninsula’s Dunes Course one my favorite shots of 2017, as it seems to capture well the atmosphere of this lovely place.

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A 2017 favorite: the par-3 16th at Sleepy Hollow Country Club, a “Short” template with its in-green thumbprint/horseshoe restored by Gil Hanse. Sleepy has always been a favorite course, but the improvements made here recently are astounding.

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Another favorite from 2017: this aerial of the famed 11th and 12th at Merion Golf Club shows a bit of the brilliance in the routing here, covering just 126 acres, and which led Jack Nicklaus to say that “acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world.”

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Another of my 2017 favorites: this shot of the iconic 10th and the Devil’s Asshole at Pine Valley Golf Club was taken on a truly perfect day. The big, fluffy white clouds and crystal blue sky are beautifully contrasted by the greens and browns of the golf course.

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On a less-than-ideal day for aerial photography, the fog broke for about 3 minutes, which was long enough to snag one of my favorite shots of 2017: Latimer, the par-4 7th at Fishers Island Club, as the fog rolls back in and down the fairway.

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This was one of my most popular shots of 2017: Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on an autumn dawn, as the cold morning fog gathers in the nooks and crannies of the course’s rolling terrain. The 2018 U.S. Open promises to be a great one.

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Another 2017 favorite: the Home hole and clubhouse at National Golf Links of America, on a picture-perfect summer evening. While it’s impossible to capture the essence of a place like National in a photograph, this photo may be as close as I’ve ever come.

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One of my favorite shots of 2017: the par-3 short-template 10th at Chicago Golf Club, with the par-4 9th left, the par-4 15th right and the iconic clubhouse beyond. A living piece of golf history, on display to the world as host of the inaugural Senior Women’s U.S. Open in 2018.


CYPRESS POINT – THE GOOD DOCTOR’S GIFT

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Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you, and thanks for making this a wonderful year. As my small gift to you, here are my top 7 favorite photos from my favorite “new to me” course in 2017: Cypress Point Club. No. 7: All-18 Aerial.

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No. 6 of my favorite shots from Cypress Point Club: the blowhole erupts on the par-3 15th hole. One of the many things that makes Cypress unique is how dynamic a place it is – quite a contrast to most courses.

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No. 5 of my favorite Cypress Point shots: the par-4 17th, viewed from over the ocean under a pink dawn sky after a storm. Grabbing this photo first thing in the morning really set a great tone for the round to come.

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No. 4 of my favorite shots of Cypress Point Club: the par-4 9th, playing into the dunes, while dressed in ethereal morning fog and light. One of the best holes at Cypress, and easily one of the world’s best short two-shotters.

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No. 3 of my favorite Cypress Point photos, and my favorite aerial, is this sunset shot of the beautiful closing stretch: the 15th, 16th, 17th & 18th holes. Though always gorgeous, these holes are otherworldly at the golden hour under the Pacific sun.

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No. 2 on my list of favorite Cypress Point shots (and the cover of the 2018 LinksGems calendar): the 16th, seen here under a perfect sky as a breaker rolls into the cove, is perhaps the most famous par-3 in golf, and undoubtedly the most beautiful.

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No. 1 – my favorite shot of Cypress Point, and perhaps my favorite amongst the many thousands of golf photos I’ve taken, is this look down on the 16th hole from a copse of Cypresses. Everything that makes CPC special to me is captured in this frame.


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In case you missed it, check out the year-end recap with Jon, Zac Blair, and host Andy Johnson on the Fried Egg Podcast. They geek out on golf courses, more golf courses, and even more golf courses. Listen here. (also available on iTunes)


MORE LINKSGEMS TOURS

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Down the Rabbit Hole of Golf Architecture

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How was this created?  The more great golf holes and courses I saw, the more frequently that question popped into my head.  So began my journey down the rabbit hole of golf course architecture.  Routing, contours, grass lines, hazards, greens.  The history, the architects, the clubs.  The deeper I go, the more fascinated I become.

My novice perspective includes a healthy respect and admiration for the talents and dedication necessary to design, build and maintain a golf course.  It is mind boggling in many regards.  That is why you won’t see much criticism in my writing.  The world already has enough armchair architecture critics.  I am here to learn and celebrate.

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This is an art and science – a craft – the study of which can never be exhausted.  Come on down the rabbit hole with me…


MOST RECENT ARCHITECTURE POST

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MY FAVORITE TEMPLATE

When it comes to golf course architecture, it doesn’t get much geekier than MacRaynor templates.  It should come s no surprise that I love the templates, and the one I love most of all is the Leven.  In an age when length is dominating the consciousness of the game, the Leven stands as a testament to strategic principles.  I have not yet met one that isn’t one of my favorite holes, and I wanted to learn more.  Read more…


MORE GOLF COURSE ARCHITECTURE

WHAT MY KIDS TAUGHT ME ABOUT ARCHITECTURE

My son Jack is 15 years old and my son Henry is 7 years old.  This season, I officially became one of those lucky golf geek dads whose kids are golf-crazed.  We play most of our golf together at Canal Shores, but we also had outings over the summer at Kingsley Club, Champion Hill, and Arcadia Bluffs.  Read more…

AMERICA’S GREAT 18s

After seeing an article in a golf magazine about the perfect 18 holes, I got to thinking about what my favorite 18 holes would be.  After all, I love a good list.  With no offense to the publication in question, I find the typical lists to be a bit too easy to create.  Read more…

RIGHT ON THE SWEET SPOT

This time around it was different.  They changed the name, and they changed their game.  The third installment of Architecture Week on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive took a different approach, and for me, it hit the sweet spot.  Read more…

A DOAKY SEASON

My season started with Streamsong Blue and will hopefully include a fall stop at Lost Dunes.  Those courses have received considerable attention, for good reason.  This season, through happenstance, I have been lucky enough to play 4 of Tom’s perhaps lesser-known courses – Black Forest, The Rawls Course, CommonGround, and Apache Stronghold.  I thought it might be interesting to highlight, compare and contrast those courses here.  Read more…

COORE & CRENSHAW’S GREAT 18

Playing C&C’s courses never fails to be a joy for me.  Their courses just look right to my eye, and they are a challenging blast to play.  The broad strokes of routing, green siting, and undulation are masterful, and the attention to the little details is always off the charts.  Read more…

AN HOMAGE TO THE SHORT PAR 3

“In this era of obscene power, the likes of which the game has never witnessed, why not strive to induce a little fun into the mix and at the same time present a true test of delicacy and accuracy?” – Ben Crenshaw.  This quote from an essay in Geoff Shackelford’s book Masters of the Links resonates with me.  Read more…

AN EVENING WITH JIM URBINA

As a member of GolfClubAtlas.com, I was fortunate to be able to attend a dinner with my fellow GCA geeks this week at which Jim Urbina gave an insightful talk that he themed, The Evolution of a Golf Course.  From his original collaborations with Tom Doak on courses such as Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald and Sebonack, to his restorations of classics such as Pasatiempo and Valley Club of Montecito, Jim continues to make his mark and connect us to the soul of the game.  Read more…

ARCHITECTS WEEK II IS IN THE BOOKS

Once again, the folks at Golf Channel have put together a nice Architects week feature.  Matt Ginella continues to evolve as a voice for the good of the game, giving us a break from Tour & Tip coverage, to help us connect to the soul of the game – golf courses and the people who create them.  Read more…

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DONALD ROSS

Today is the birthday of my favorite golf course architect – Donald Ross.  Having grown up caddying and playing on a Ross course, I admit to my bias.  Ross was a creative genius, and is arguably the most prolific architect in history with involvement in 400+ courses across the U.S. (not to mention that he was also a fine player and pro).  Read more…

THE ART OF COURSE

There is much hand-wringing and serious conversation these days about the state of the game.  Rounds are down, and so are the total number of players playing.  The talk revolves around how to get the game growing again through future-forward change and progress.  Read more…

TAKE THE RISK, GET THE REWARD

Whenever I can, I sneak away on my frequent business trips to Arizona to play one of my favorites – the Coore & Crenshaw gem, Talking Stick.  On my most recent outing to Talking Stick, one of my all-time favorite holes, the short par-4 12th (more on that hole later), got me to thinking about risk-reward holes par 4s, and why they are so great.  Read more…

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Now & Then – Great Holes Through the Years

To paraphrase something I heard Jim Urbina say, a golf course is a living thing, and will therefore evolve.  I find the evolution fascinating, particularly when illustrated in pictures.

Every geek loves Jon Cavalier’s photos (@linksgems), and recently, Simon Haines (@hainsey76) has been adding a twist by piggybacking historical photos of some of the holes, often from the same vantage point.  Genius.  A repository to compile these one-two punches of glorious geekery seemed like the thing to do.  Jon and Simon agreed, so here they are.

Check back periodically for updates, and enjoy!


GREAT HOLES – NOW & THEN

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #17 – Par 4 – 374 yard

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Astounding that a course should have such beautiful views, perfect terrain, amazing landscapes & abundant wildlife.

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“OVER THE GULF OR ROUND THE COAST? – A KNOTTY PROBLEM ON A NEW CALIFORNIAN COAST.  The 17th hole on the Cypress Point course, in California, is one of those places where discretion is at constant war with valour.  Whether to take the long way round the group of Cypress trees shown towards the left across the water, or attempt the drive straight across the gulf, with its attendant dangers – that is the question that faces all the visitors.  Cypress Point is a new course, designed by Dr. A. Mackenzie, and there is already agitation afoot for the American Amateur Championship to be played there, instead of at Pebble Beach, which is situated round the promontory in the background of the above picture.  Cypress Point is on the Del Monte peninsula, about 100 miles south of San Francisco, and was only laid out in November of last year.  It has soon settled down and already provides very fine golf.”

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #4 – Par 3 – 195 yards

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The 4th at National Golf Links – C.B. Macdonald’s homage to the 15th at North Berwick is the first, and still the best, Redan in America.

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PINE VALLEY #5 – Par 3 – 219 yards

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The par-3 5th, with newly cleared and bunkered areas around the green, is perhaps the greatest uphill par-3 in the world.

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‘THE FAMOUS FIFTH AT PINE VALLEY.  A 205 yard iron shot which is considered one of the finest golfing tests in America.  This is the first satisfactory picture showing the complete play from tee to green, as Pine Valley is very difficult to photograph.”

CHICAGO GC #7 – Par 3 – 207 yards

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“THE SEVENTH HOLE.  A full mid-iron shot and a very fine short hole.  The back edge of the green is twenty feet high.  On special occasions the pin is placed behind the left-hand sand pit which makes a most exacting shot to get close to the hole.”

PINE VALLEY #8 – Par 4 – 314 yards

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The 8th at Pine Valley, the first of back-to-back double-greened par-4s, and a high stress half-wedge to one of two extremely small greens.

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“OUR PHOTO SHOWS THE MESA-LIKE GREEN OF THE EIGHTH HOLE AT PINE VALLEY.  A good tee-shot carries one down into the hollow with a short niblick pitch to reach the green.  But how different from the usual niblick pitch!  Here one has not only to throw a ball over a hazard but on to a green that stands out in all its loneliness, beckoning a risk of fate.”

SLEEPY HOLLOW CC #16 – Par 3 – 155 yards

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A single sailboat enjoys an evening run on the Hudson River, between the Palisades on the west, and Sleepy Hollow Country Club on the east.

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NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #1 – Par 4 – 330 yards

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Peconic Bay, the Home hole, the famed clubhouse, and the iconic windmill – my favorite opener in golf.

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“THE CLUBHOUSE AT THE NATIONAL LINKS.  Taken from the first tee.  The first hole is over the bunker in the distance and the eighteenth is off to the left.  In the clubhouse the dining porch looks over the eighteenth fairway.  The lounge faces the first tee.  Both overlook Peconic Bay.”

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #9 – Par 4 – 283 yards

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Options abound from the tee and on approach to the 9th, one of the best and most visually stunning short par-4s in the world.

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Alister MacKenzie teeing off on 9 in 1928…

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #6 – Par 3 – 141 yards

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No conversation about great greens is complete without mention of the “Short” par-3 6th at National Golf Links of America.

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“The fearsome 6th hole at the National Golf Links of America, Southampton, Long Island.  More than 500 bushels of Carter’s tested Grass Seed were sown on this golf course.”

PASATIEMPO GC #16 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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The infamous 16th at Pasatiempo drops some five vertical feet from back-to-front across three tiers.  Some love it, all fear it.

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“SIXTEENTH GREEN AT PASATIEMPO.  One of California’s famous courses.  Dr. MacKenzie, who designed the course, cites it as a shining example of what can be done to reduce the cost of golf and so greatly increase the number of people who can continue to play golf, even in times of economic stress.”

PINE VALLEY GC #2 – Par 4 – 355 yards

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At Pine Valley’s 2nd, one of the greatest greens in golf awaits those who navigate a church-pew-lined fairway & a wall of sand.

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NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #16 – Par 4 – 415 yards

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Punchbowl – the 16th at National Golf Links of America, begins with an uphill tee shot to a fairway that falls off hard to both sides.  The approach is blind over a large knob to a bowled green under the iconic windmill.  As fun a hole as there is.

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“THE SIXTEENTH HOLE FROM THE TEE.  This is the Punch Bowl and is a splendid hole – the lake replacing the old marsh will be noticed in the foreground.  The second must carry to the green as there is a whole group of mounds and bunkers in front of it.”

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MERION GC #9 – Par 3 – 183 yards

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“ON THE THOROUGHLY TRAPPED NINTH GREEN AT MERION DURING THE EVANS-GARDNER MATCH.  New champion watching the ex-champion putt, and one of the biggest crowds that ever followed a golf game in America watching both.  And there were twice as many waiting at the next green, gone ahead to get the first place along the lines.”

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #3 – Par 3 – 151 yards

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The underrated par-3 3rd at Cypress Point Club.  As I’ve said many times before, the thing that stunned me most about CPC was the quality of the less-famous holes (1-14), which are all excellent.

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Awesome hole and looked even better with the blow-out dune exposed on the left…

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #11 – Par 3 – 427 yards

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The par-4 11th at Cypress Point Club plays down a fairway guarded by bunkers on both sides to a green backed by an enormous dune.  So many great holes like this at CPC, which don’t receive their full measure of credit due to the long, heavy shadow of the 15th, 16th & 17th holes.

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Alister Mackenzie attempting a large carry over sandy waste on the same hole shortly after opening.

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #13 – Par 3 – 344 yards

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“A THIRTEENTH HOLE THAT WILL PROVE MORE THAN A ‘HOODOO’ FOR DUFFERS.  This great golf hole is one of the seaside holes of the new Cypress Point course.  No trouble at all for a ball driven straight.”

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #16 – Par 3 – 218 yards

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A peek through the forest at the 16th at Cypress Point Club.  A breathtakingly beautiful place, CPC is as magical as it gets for a golfer; a true natural and architectural wonder.

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SOMERSET HILLS CC #2 – Par 3 – 205 yards

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Tilly’s Redan – the par-3 2nd at Somerset Hills – my personal favorite from among Tillinghast’s many designs.

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“The second hole at Somerset Hills, is a reproduction of the Redan at North Berwick.”

BALTUSROL GC (LOWER) #18 – Par 5 – 553 yards

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Built by Tillinghast and opened for play in 1922, the Lower is the club’s championship venue, and has hosted 7 majors and a host of other significant events.

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SAN FRANCISCO GC #18 – Par 5 – 512 yards

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Among the finest of Tillinghast’s designs, SFGC has a decidedly west coast flavor, with bunkering of a style that appears more MacKenzie than typical Tillinghast, who was expert in designing courses to suit the surrounding terrain.

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“SCENE AT THE CALIFORNIA LADIES’ CHAMPIONSHIP.  The clubhouse and eighteenth green at the San Francisco Golf and Country Club,  Here Mrs. Leona Pressler won her third consecutive state championship from a very strong field after a hard thirty-six hole match with Mrs. Roy Green in the finals.”

PINE VALLEY GC #3 – Par 3 – 181 yards

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SOMERSET HILLS CC #12 – Par 3 – 151 yards

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PINE VALLEY GC #10 – Par 3 – 142 yards

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This shot of the iconic 10th and the Devil’s Asshole at Pine Valley Golf Club was taken on a truly perfect day. The big, fluffy white clouds and crystal blue sky are beautifully contrasted by the greens and browns of the golf course.

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I’m not usually one for black & white photography, but the lack of color gives this hole a bit of a throwback vibe.

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SHINNECOCK HILLS GC – CLUBHOUSE

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True perfection: the clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills, designed & built by legendary architect Stanford White in 1892, is the oldest in the US.

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PASATIEMPO GC #18 – Par 3 – 169 yards

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There are few courses that finish with a par-3, and far fewer still that finish with a great one.

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PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS #7 – Par 3 – 98 yards

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An iconic short par-3 with a truly incomparable view.  Ernie Els bogeyed the 7th in the 2000 US Open, allowing Tiger Woods to nip him by 12 shots.

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OAKMONT CC #18 – Par 4 – 484 yards

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The well-defended par-4 18th at Oakmont Country Club, site of Dustin Johnson’s stone cold 6-iron to cap his 2016 U.S. Open Championship.

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YALE UNIVERSITY GC #9 – Par 3 – 213 yards

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The famous par-3 9th at Yale.  Many say that the Biarritz template no longer has a place in the modern game, but I always enjoy seeing one.

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“THE FAMOUS WATER HOLE.  This is considered one of the greatest water holes ever built.  The carry from the back tee is 168 yards to the double green, divided in the middle by a trench, which, in itself, is a part of the green.  This picture, from the front tee, shows a water carry of 155 yards.”

PINE VALLEY GC #9 – Par 4 – 422 yards

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The approach to the famous dual-greened 9th at Pine Valley Golf Club – the left, built by Perry Maxwell, is generally agreed to be the better of the two, and with the removal of the trees behind, the shot into this skyline green is one of the best on the course.

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PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS #8 – Par 4 – 400 yards

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The iconic par-4 8th at Pebble Beach – the difficulty of the approach overshadows that of the small, sloped green.

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CYPRESS POINT CLUB #15 – Par 3 – 120 yards

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MacKenzie’s masterpiece, Cypress Point is the most beautiful course I’ve ever seen and one of the best I’ve played. A day here is a magical experience and a seminal moment in a golfer’s life.

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BEL-AIR CC #10 – Par 3 – 200 yards

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This brilliant George Thomas design, routed through canyons connected by a series of tunnels, an elevator and the aforementioned bridge, is being restored by Tom Doak.

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“THE BEAUTIFUL BEL-AIR GOLF CLUB AT BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA.  This is probably the most pretentious of the new Spanish Club buildings that reflect the mode of the moment in club house designs.  The course at Bel-Air is spread over hills and picturesque canyons.  The approach to the club house is via a suspension bridge which spans a fairway.”

ENGINEERS CC #11 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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“Eleventh Green Engineers Country Club, Roslyn, L.I., where 1920 Amateur Championship will be played.  All materials supplied by Carters Tested Seeds, Inc.”

PINE VALLEY GC – Aerials

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NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #17 – Par 4 – 375 yards

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Peconic – the 17th at National Golf Links of America. Preeminent golf writer and hall-of-famer Bernard Darwin said that the view from the tee on this par-4 out “over Peconic Bay is one of the loveliest in the world.” Wise man, Sir Bernard.

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‘VIEW FROM THE SEVENTEENTH TEE.  This is a particularly fine hole of its length.  The sand bunkers and sea grass extend all the way down on the left so that the carry to get closest to the green may be chosen.  The Peconic Bay in the distance gives its name to the hole.”

MID OCEAN CLUB #13 – Par 3 – 238 yards

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“THE CASTLE HARBOUR GOLF CLUB.  A splendid new course, designed by the late Mr. Charles H. Banks, in connection with the magnificent Castle Harbour Hotel, situated right next to the Mid-Ocean Club at Tuckerstown, Bermuda.  Well away from the more populous areas, the surroundings are most delightful by land and water.”

WILSHIRE CC #10 – Par 3 – 156 yards

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RIVIERA CC #6 – Par 3 – 175 yards

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CYPRESS POINT CLUB #5 – Par 5 – 472 yards

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The wonderful par-5 5th provides an architectural clinic on using deception as a design feature.  As MacKenzie himself said, “It is an important thing in golf to make holes look much more difficult than they really are.”  Well said, and well done here.

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PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS #8 – Par 4 – 400 yards

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The par-4 8th at Pebble Beach Golf Links. From the top of the cliff, players face a 200 yard approach over Stillwater Cove to a tiny, sloping, well-guarded green – the heart of one of the best stretches in the game, and one of the best holes in golf.

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HOLLYWOOD GOLF CLUB #4 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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The par-3 4th at Hollywood Golf Club features huge mounding on both sides of the green with bunkers cut into their faces, a wicked false front, and the smallest green on the course. This Water Travis gem may be the most underrated course in New Jersey, and is terrific throughout.

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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Embarrassment of Riches – All GeekedOnGolf Adventures

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Following is an index of my posts which chronicle my geeky adventures.  I am no journalist, but I do my best to share the experience of spending time at these special places.  Part expression of gratitude for the generosity of my hosts, and part attempt to pay forward that generosity, I hope you enjoy.


MOST RECENT ADVENTURE

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DESERT FOREST DAYDREAMING WITH DAVE ZINKAND & DAN MOORE

My first visit to Desert Forest was with Dan Moore, after David Zinkand had already done the bulk of his renovation work.  I never played Red Lawrence’s original, but Dave Zinkand’s update immediately grabbed ahold of my heart.  Wonderfully routed, minimally bunkered, with interest-packed greens, the course demands strategic thought and creative execution to score.  Read more…


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

THE SANDBOX – CLOSING DAY AT SAND VALLEY

We made our second trek of 2017 to Nekoosa specifically to play The Sandbox (name not yet confirmed), the 17 hole par-3 course created by the Coore & Crenshaw crew.  Michael Keiser graciously took the time to play a loop with us, and then gave us the run of the place.  Read more…

WINTER DAYDREAMING – AN HOMAGE TO CRYSTAL DOWNS

Crystal Downs is more than just a great golf course.  It is a wonderful family club that has been delighting its membership for nearly a century as they make their summertime migrations north.  Read more…

BOSTON TWOFER – BOSTON GOLF CLUB & ESSEX COUNTY CLUB

With this season’s Noreaster heading back to Long Island, I found myself longing for golf in Boston by mid-summer. Work afforded an opportunity to make it to Beantown, and I was able to line up visits to my two of my favorite courses.  Read more…

5TH ANNUAL NOREASTER – BACK TO LONG ISLAND

After two years in Boston, our group was longing for a return trip to Long Island, and Friar’s Head.  Planning began over the winter, but took a detour.  Read more…

AIN’T IT GRAND – OPENING DAY AT SAND VALLEY

For what has become an annual spring pilgrimage for us, Peter K. and I set out early so that we could make a critical pit stop on the way to Sand Valley for opening day.  As I have said before, going into central Wisconsin without visiting Lawsonia Links is a mistake as big as Lawsonia’s massive features.  Read more…

EXPLORING AMERICA’S GREAT GOLF CLUBS – KINGSLEY CLUB, BOSTON GC, BALLYNEAL & CALUSA PINES

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

THE SAND VALLEY STORY CONTINUES…

Under Michael Keiser’s leadership, Sand Valley is already a must-visit (repeatedly).  If future plans comes to fruition, it is a legit contender for the title of best golf destination in North America.  Read more…

THE REVIVAL – COMMUNITY GOLF IN AMERICA

There is a movement afoot.  Across the country, from Goat Hill to the Schoolhouse Nine, from Sharp Park to Winter Park, there are a growing number of community golf projects getting attention and serious support.  Read more…

A SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER – OAKMONT, BALLYNEAL & SAND HILLS

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

AWAKENING TO ALISON – MILWAUKEE CC & ORCHARD LAKE CC

Prior to the past month, I had only played one other course credited to the design partnership of Colt & Alison, and that course had been meaningfully altered.  In playing Milwaukee Country Club and Orchard Lake Country Club, my eyes were opened to just how skilled Mr. Alison was at creating golf courses that are at once demanding and beautiful.  Read more…

ONE FOR THE AGES – A WEEKEND AT PRAIRIE DUNES

Gunch is the word that the staff and members use for the native areas that line the holes at Prairie Dunes.  The definition above is fitting.  The gunch is the sole aspect of Prairie Dunes that is not perfectly pleasurable.  Read more…

BUDDIES BACK IN BOSTON – ANNUAL TRIP RECAP

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

AS GOOD AS IT GETS – LOST DUNES & THE DUNES CLUB

Last season, I screwed up royally.  I have access to Lost Dunes, the Tom Doak gem in SW Michigan, and I did not go.  Pathetic, I know.  Read more…

DESERT DAYS – SAND HOLLOW, PAIUTE WOLF & WOLF CREEK

Las Vegas is a regular destination for me.  My work has taken me there at least fifteen times.  With the exception of one trip that I took to get a lesson from Butch Harmon, golf has not been a part of my Las Vegas experience.  Read more…

A MAGICAL DAY AT SAND VALLEY

My buddy Chuck was kind enough to include me in a visit to Sand Valley to tour the first course, which is under construction and set to open in 2017.  I expected to be in golf geek heaven, and yet what I experienced so vastly exceeded my expectations that I fear that trying to put it into words won’t do it justice.  Read more…

A 1,537 MILE DRIVE – THE FORT, HYDE PARK, CAMARGO, FRENCH LICK & HARRISON HILLS

My schedule worked out such that I had a few days to hit the open road for golf adventure.  With much appreciated help from Tim Liddy and Jason Thurman, a tour through Indiana and Ohio came together which allowed me to add to my experience of Ross, Raynor, Dye, and Langford (with a healthy dose of Liddy).  Read more…

MY BUDDIES IN BOSTON – ANNUAL TRIP RECAP

This year, we headed to Boston, where there is no shortage of world class golf.  We had the privilege of playing 4 outstanding courses – The Country Club, Boston Golf Club, Old Sandwich, Essex County – and I took enough photos to negatively impact my golf, so it makes sense to share them and offset the damage.  Read more…

GOLF HEAVEN ON EARTH – THE KINGSLEY CLUB

My discovery of the Kingsley Club was just dumb luck.  On a buddies trip to Arcadia Bluffs and Crystal Downs, we needed a third course to play.  I stumbled across the Kingsley Club review on GolfClubAtlas.com – it looked interesting, so it was added to our itinerary.  Read more…

DISCOVERING GOLF’S BIRTHPLACE IN AMERICA

In 2013, I took my first golf buddies trip.  Unlike conventional trips to resorts like Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, or Bandon Dunes, we headed out to Long Island, NY.  We are fortunate enough to be able to leg out access to private clubs through our personal and professional networks.  Read more…

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Sandbox – Closing Day at Sand Valley

My competitive playing career was not one of any real distinction.  My career as a geeky golf adventurer, however, now includes a distinction to which only one other man (my buddy Peter Korbakes) can lay claim.  We were at Sand Valley on Opening Day, and we were the only guests to also be there on the first season’s Closing Day.

We made our second trek of 2017 to Nekoosa specifically to play The Sandbox (name not yet confirmed), the 17 hole par-3 course created by the Coore & Crenshaw crew.  Michael Keiser graciously took the time to play a loop with us, and then gave us the run of the place.

The word that best describes The Sandbox is “joy”.  The first time around, we played a winner-calls-the-shot game.  On the second loop, we played with only a 7 iron.  The architecture is outstanding, with the course weaving in a figure eight through wooded, heathland, and duneland zones.  The teeing options are endless, and it begs for all manner of creative games to be played.  This is not a course for slavish adherence to the convention of stroke play.  This is a field custom made to unleash the pure joy of the game.

The weather was rugged, and the light no good, but I did get photos of all 17 holes (click on image mosaics to enlarge).  I have not bothered to include yardages, because the holes can be played from almost any distance the player chooses (especially when nobody else is on the course).


THE SANDBOX

HOLE #1 – The opener plays downhill over this center sand mound to a wavy green.  A gentle handshake with hints of what’s to come.

HOLE #2 – The 2nd plays slightly uphill to a narrow and deep green set below a dune and flanked by bunkers.  Gentle handshake time is over.  The green curves back and left close to the bunker.  Testy pin positions are available to the Super.

HOLE #3 – The 3rd is where two of the sweetest words in all of golf bring joy to the geeky heart – Double Plateau.  Macdonald and Raynor felt that the green should present its own strategic challenge within the broader challenge of the hole.  They would be proud of this beauty.

HOLE #4 – On the terrific 4th, the front right and back left sections of the green are divided by a ridge.  Shots can be played to both sections on the ground or through the air.  Upon reaching the back portion of the green, players get a first glance at the Road Hole beyond.

HOLE #5 – The green will accept running shots, but the contours gather balls to the bunker much more than it appears from the tee.  Get greedy going for the back pins and you risk a world of hurt.

HOLE #6 – There is more going on on the 6th green that it appears from the tee, and the bunkers that surround it demand a precise approach.  The devilish little bunker front center of the green is a reminder that nobody does little flourishes better than the C&C crew.

HOLE #7 – Tucked tightly against the pines, the narrow 7th green is flanked by bunkers and is meant to inspire thoughts of Pine Valley.

HOLE #8 – There are two things that I can never get enough of – biarritz and cowbell.

HOLE #9 – The 9th features one of the largest and wildest greens I have ever seen.  The central bowl was originally a bunker dividing a shared green for two holes in a prior version of the course.  One of the many benefits of short courses is that the architects can turn the creativity up to 11.  On the 9th, it might have hit 12.

HOLE #10 – The artful contours on the 10th make what is already a small green play even smaller.  Especially to the back left pin we encountered.

HOLE #11 – The tiny, elevated 11th green is fronted by one small bunker, and flanked short right and back left by two others.  A test of precision, with nowhere good to miss.

HOLE #12 – The 12th has a neat little green with front flairs left and right, which narrows toward the back, creating numerous pin positions that tempt and beguile.  Playing a one club challenge with Peter, I got up and down with a 7-iron from the greenside bunker. That is one of the many reasons why short courses are so special.  They are tailor made for memory making.

HOLE #13 – The Lion’s Mouth green on the 13th is set beautifully down among the sand barrens and pines.  So much going on here.  Bunkers front, left, right and behind, and a horseshoe green that packs plenty of challenging slope and contour.  This hole is simply outstanding.

HOLE #14 – On the Alps 14th, a large bunkered mound intimidates and obscures most of the green.  Nothing is quite so thrilling as the anticipatory walk to discover the fate of a blind tee ball.

HOLE #15 – The 15th plays downhill to an angled green fronted by a chain of bunkers.  A shallow trough through the middle of the putting surface makes the green play much smaller, especially to this back right pin position.

HOLE #16 – The Redan 16th has plenty of pitch from high front right to low back left which  makes aerial or ground approaches workable.  The green sits up on a plateau above the bunker, so whichever approach is taken must be confident.  If it ain’t up, it is in…trouble.

HOLE #17 – Playing to an elevated green, fronted by a devil’s asshole bunker, the short closer provides one last opportunity for birdie, or disaster.


We intended to grab lunch and head back out for two more loops.  Instead, we received an offer to play all 18 holes of Mammoth Dunes, and we simply couldn’t refuse.  Walking the routing in the spring, it was clear that Mammoth Dunes had scale, and an adventurous feel to it.  The open question was, would the details be as strong as the broad strokes.  I can now confidently say that the answer is, absolutely.  Cannot wait to get back and play both The Sandbox and Mammoth when they have matured.

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The boomerang green at the par-4 6th

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The cellar bunker on the par-5 7th

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From the tee on the par-3 8th

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The green on the short par-4 10th

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From the tee on the par-3 13th

For even more on Mammoth Dunes, check out Morgan Clausen’s detailed thread on GolfClubAtlas.


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Winter Daydreaming – An Homage to Crystal Downs

“Crystal Downs is a thinking person’s golf course, where long is good but not necessary…where the position you leave your ball is critical, and where the wind always blows.  Crystal Downs is the coming together of golf’s greatest architect, Dr. Alister MacKenzie, at the zenith of his career (after designing Cypress Point and just before Augusta National), with a marvelous piece of property.” – Fred Muller, Head Golf Professional

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Crystal Downs is more than just a great golf course.  It is a wonderful family club that has been delighting its membership for nearly a century as they make their summertime migrations north.  It is also the origin point of a design lineage that began with MacKenzie, continued with the Maxwells, and reached all the way forward to inspire Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, Mike DeVries, Tom Doak and the modern minimalist movement.

Having now played Prairie Dunes and Sand Hills, I have experienced first-hand the architectural brilliance that this secluded northwest Michigan course has spawned.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Paying homage to Crystal Downs feels like a worthy endeavor as winter arrives in Chicago and Michigan golf is but a daydream.  I enlisted Jon Cavalier, also an admirer of The Downs, who graciously contributed a feature photo for each hole, and supplemented with my own (click on the square images to enlarge).  The club provides a terrific course guide – those hole descriptions are included (in italics), along with my commentary.

For those who have been fortunate enough to play the course, we hope to bring back good memories.  For those who have not, we hope to give a sense of what makes this place so special.  Enjoy!


CRYSTAL DOWNS

The club was founded in 1927 and the course, designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, opened for play in 1929.  His associate Perry Maxwell carried out the construction and deserves much of the credit for the final result.  The front nine, which is arguably the best outward half in America, plays across an open hillside below the clubhouse.  The back nine is an out-and-back playing along a narrow stretch of land bounded by Sutter Road and a quiet neighborhood overlooking Lake Michigan.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The course is masterfully routed to maximize the movement of the land.  The bunkering naturally fits the landscape, and has plenty of artistic flair.  The greens elicit equal parts awe and terror, with their cant and subtle contour.  The turf is fast and firm, the fescue gorgeous, and tree management is darn near perfect.  The course doesn’t feel over-manicured but everything is just right.  Superintendent Michael Morris and his team present The Downs such that the greatness of the design and features shine through.

Few courses are capable of producing such high levels of pleasure, with the occasional, acute pain.

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The Outward Half

HOLE #1 – Par 4 – 449 yards

“Although downhill, this hole plays every bit as long as its 449 yards suggest.  It is usually into the wind, and like many holes at Crystal Downs the tee shot lands into a rising fairway.  Sneak up on a wildly undulating green with a shot that lands short and pitches on.  A miss to the left is a bogie, a miss to the right is a disaster.”

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Emerging from the clubhouse, seeing the front nine spread across the land and Crystal Lake on the horizon, is nothing short of a spiritual experience.  Like every good opener, the 1st foreshadows the adventure ahead.  Playing downhill over rumpled ground with the severely sloped green extending from the bunker-gouged hillside, the elegant beauty of this green site distracts from its challenge.  Hit the approach above the hole and leave your putter in the bag.  Instead, kneel down and breathe on the ball – that puts you in the right position to pray that it doesn’t roll off the green.

HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 420 yards

“Avoid the bunkers left and right of the fairway and you’ll face a medium iron or fairway wood to the green.  Although generally downwind, the green is 25 feet above the tee.  Take enough club.  Golfers have putted off every green at Crystal Downs, and the front pin here is one where it happens often.”

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A stout uphill two-shotter, especially into the wind, the second is punctuated by a sneaky tough green.  The first two at The Downs illustrate that the good Dr. felt that gentle handshakes are overrated.

HOLE #3 – Par 3 – 159 yards

“Downhill and into a swirling wind, this is a most difficult hole for club selection.  Remember how much the wind was helping on #2, and that’s how much the wind is hurting here.  The green sits on an angle to the tee, one more club to the left side than the right.”

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This one-shotter pays slightly downhill.  The elevation change and the swirling wind in this corner of the property make judging line and distance tricky.  The reward for guessing wrong on the tee shot is often having to grind out a two-putt on the canted, slick, difficult-to-read green.

HOLE #4 – Par 4 – 397 yards

“Fade the drive here or risk running through the fairway into the left hand rough.  The long second shot will run up into the green only from the right front, however, pitching from the left front of the green is no disaster.”

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This deceptively demanding hole is one of my favorites on the course.  It requires a confident tee ball, ideally shaped left to right to hold the tilted fairway that runs away.  The approach plays uphill to a green set against a hillside and surrounded by short grass runoffs that are chock full of awkward lies.  A brilliant beginning to a stretch of four straight amazing four pars.

HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 345 yards

“This is one of MacKenzie’s great holes and most complicated, and is rated by Golf Magazine as one of the best par fours in the world.  Hit the tee shot over the left edge of the giant oak, leaving a hanging lie 7 or 8 iron to a green that slopes dramatically from left to right.  Or ‘bite off’ some more of the ridge on your tee shot to leave a pitch.  Don’t bite off too much.  Always pitch to the left portion of the green or risk rolling into the right hand green side bunkers.”

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The tee shot is easier than it looks, but it is so visually confounding that it takes several plays to get confident.  Contrast this look with the seemingly straightforward approach, which is anything but.  The green requires a precise shot to the left third.  Miss on the high left side and you’re dead.  Miss center or right and watch your ball trickle into the right side bunker.  CD’s fifth can be gloriously exasperating.

HOLE #6 – Par 4 – 351 yards

“This hole and #5 are MacKenzie’s idea of a ‘forced carry’.  If you make the crest of the hill, the short iron to the largest green on the course is fairly easy.  If you fall short on the drive, a blind long iron or wood awaits.  The famous ‘Scabs’ are the bunkers to the right off the tee.  Don’t even think about that route.”

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On a front nine packed with all-world holes, this is my favorite.  Hit it at the house off the tee and hope to catch the speed slot just over the hill.  The green is divided into distinct sections – find the right spot with the approach and birdie is in play.  Miss your spot, and well, you know…

HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 330 yards

“A 210 yard tee shot leaves a short iron to a most unusual green – a kidney shaped ‘MacKenzie green’ in a punch bowl.  A 230 yard drive leaves a short pitch to the green, but it’s a blind shot.  It’s your choice, but be sure to get your second shot on the proper lobe of the kidney.”

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Those who have seen the iconic boomerang green can attest to how gloriously wild it is.  Great architecture like this serves as a reminder to us all – sometimes, it’s best to let the architect chuck words like “fair” and “playable” right out the window.

HOLE #8 – Par 5 – 542 yards

“Crystal Downs’ first three-shot hole is rated as one of the world’s best par fives.  Drive down the middle, fairway wood up the right side and a medium iron into the green.  No problem…except you will encounter all kinds of uneven lies.  You are the mercy of the fates.  The 150 yard mark is one of the longest in golf, and the green’s not very big either with lots of undulation.”

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Considered by many to be among the greatest five pars on the planet, the eighth’s greatness is found in the ripples and rolls of the land that lead all the way uphill to the minuscule green set against a hilltop.  If there is a level lie to be had here, I’ve yet to find it.

HOLE #9 – Par 3 – 159 yards

“The green is over 30 feet above the tee, which slopes from back up to the front (yes, it’s an uphill tee).  Do not attack this hole.  Hit a low shot and bounce the ball onto the front center of the green.  Be careful with your putter.  A careless shot could send you back for a wedge.”

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This little one-shotter plays up into the (literal) shadow of the clubhouse.  From the uphill tee box, to the contrasting lines of the green and the hillside, to its position on the spine of the ridge, the 9th is a bundle of disorientation.  A unique conclusion to what might be the best 9 holes in all of golf.

 

 

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The Inward Half

HOLE #10 – Par 4 – 390 yards

“The perfect tee ball here, from an elevated tee is something inside the 150 yard mark in the right fairway.  This leaves a middle iron shot over a pot bunker and straight up the slope of the green.  Hit an extra club to carry the bunker yet avoid going long and left.”

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Walk out the back door of the clubhouse, take a right, and you find yourself standing on one of my favorite tee boxes in all of golf.  The thrilling challenge of the stout tenth lies before you, with nature’s beauty and Crystal Lake beckoning beyond.  Magic.

HOLE #11 – Par 3 – 184 yards

“You’ve heard those wonderful words of wisdom ‘stay below the hole’.  Do that here.  The green is some 20 feet above the tee so it plays long.  With that in mind choose a club that will get you to the front level of this three level green.  Putt or chip uphill to the pin.  Now, change philosophy and get the ball to the hole or you’ll be stepping aside as the ball rolls back past you, and maybe off the green.”

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On this tiered green, there is only one place you cannot be – above the hole.  Simple enough, right?  If only…

HOLE #12 – Par 4 – 420 yards

“The magnificent beech tree straight ahead is on the left side of the fairway.  Your tee shot must be to the right of the tree.  The green slopes from front to back, and unless you hit a large drive leaving a short iron, you should hit a low running hook shot that will bounce up and onto the green.  A pitch back to the green from behind is no problem.”

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This dogleg right features a semi-blind, discomforting tee shot and an approach into a green that runs away front-to-back.  It is also an example of CD’s solid management of its specimen trees, including those that are incorporated into hazards.  The beginning of a wonderful stretch of holes.

HOLE #13 – Par 4 – 435 yards

“This is the most difficult par at Crystal Downs.  Hit a hard fade off the tee that will run with the contour of the fairway.  The shot into the green is determined by the pin placement.  The green is very small, with a tiny front portion, dropping off to a larger rear portion of the green.  Choose a club for your second shot that reaches just short of the green and then pitch it at the pin if it is in front.  Try to hit the ball deep into the green for the rear pin.  The greenside bunkers are easy to roll into and difficult to recover from.”

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The entire hole is pitched from high left to low right, requiring the player to either shape or position (or both) their shots, as if holding against a stiff crosswind.

HOLE #14 – Par 3 – 139 yards

“This beautiful little gem is a straightforward 139 yard shot.  The green slopes less from back to front than it looks.  Enjoy the view of Sleeping Bear from the back of the green and stay out of the sand.”

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Infinity is the theme of this little beauty.  The gorgeous infinity view that has been recently restored through tree removal on the ridge behind.  And infinity being the number of ways that a player can make a 5 or worse.

HOLE #15 – Par 4 – 322 yards

“We call this hole ‘Little Poison’.  The fairway is narrow, the green is tiny and elevated, and the wind is usually in your face.  The key to this short par 4 is a long drive.  It takes 225 yards to crest a hill that will leave a short pitch.  Not cresting the hill can leave an uphill blind shot.  This green repels shots, so hit for the center of the green.”

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Crystal Downs turns back toward home with the 15th.  This short four plays over rolling ground to a smallish elevated green.  The player must decide how to navigate the flanking fairway bunkers to get to their ideal distance for an attempt at holding this devilish little putting surface.

HOLE #16 – Par 5 – 577 yards 

“Hit your tee shot hard.  Hit it hard again.  And if the wind is blowing, hit it hard again.  This green slopes from back to front; don’t putt it too hard.”

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This subtle, elegant three shotter gently bends and rolls over the land, finally arriving at a green surrounded by bunkers.  Don’t let its simplicity lull you into complacency though.  Getting out of position for the approach can change a birdie chance into a bogey in a heartbeat.

HOLE #17 – Par 4 – 301 yards

“Three hundred and one of the most frightening yards in golf.  A 200 yard tee shot leaves a 9 iron or wedge.  A 180 yard tee shot leaves an unplayable lie.  A 215 yard tee shot leaves a blind, uphill, difficult pitch to the green.  Now, if the wind is helping, you could drive the green.  The greenside bunkers mean bogey or worse, and you don’t want to putt off the front of this green, because it won’t stop rolling for 50 yards.”

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The seventeenth is polarizing – some think that it is a brilliant risk-reward short four, and others think that it’s an awkward connector hole.  I’ll leave that debate to others.  My experience has been that it gets more interesting with each play, and it’s good geeky fun to try and master.

HOLE #18 – Par 4 – 382 yards

“Drive your tee ball straight.  Don’t cut the corners, it won’t work.  Your target is the 150 yard mark.  The beautifully bunkered green is well above the tee shot landing area.  On your second shot, hit enough club and keep the shot to the right.  Anything to the left will kick into the bunker.”