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So Long Kohler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE STRAITS COURSE

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

HOLE 1 – Par 4 – 370 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

HOLE 2 – Par 5 – 521 yards

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

HOLE 3 – Par 3 – 166 yards

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

HOLE 4 – Par 4 – 414 yards

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

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

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 360 yards

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

HOLE 7 – Par 3 – 185 yards

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

HOLE 8 – Par 4 – 429 yards

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

HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 384 yards

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

HOLE 10 – Par 4 – 334 yards

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

HOLE 11 – Par 5 – 544 yards

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

HOLE 12 – Par 3 – 118 yards

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

HOLE 13 – Par 4 – 364 yards

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

HOLE 14 – Par 4 – 346 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

HOLE 15 – Par 4 – 429 yards 

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

HOLE 16 – Par 5 – 535 yards

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

HOLE 17 – Par 3 – 197 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

HOLE 18 – Par 4 – 424 yards

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

THE RIVER COURSE

HOLE 5 – Par 4 – 388 yards

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

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 333 yards

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

HOLE 7 – Par 4 – 374 yards

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

HOLE 8 – Par 5 – 492 yards

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

HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 316 yards

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

HOLE 10 – Par 3 – 194 yards

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

BONUS HOLE – #13 – Par 3 – 192 yards

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


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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

WESTMORELAND COUNTRY CLUB

An Interview & Course Tour

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


INTERVIEW WITH ARCHITECT SHAWN SMITH & SUPERINTENDENT TODD FYFFE

How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

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

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

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

How did you get into the business?  

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

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

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

Describe your process for a renovation of this nature.

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

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

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

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What were your goals going into the project?  

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

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

How did you decide on the bold bunker style?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Describe your approach to tree management going forward.  

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

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

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?  

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

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What makes you the proudest about the new Westmoreland?

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

What do you respect most about your collaborator?

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

What do you love about practicing your craft?

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

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WESTMORELAND CC COURSE TOUR

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

Hole #1 – Par 4 – 331 yards

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

Hole #2 – Par 4 – 388 yards

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

Hole #3 – Par 4 – 439 yards

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

Hole #4 – Par 4 – 351 yards

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

Hole #5 – Par 3 – 170 yards

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

Hole #6 – Par 4 – 300 yards

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

Hole #7 – Par 4 – 340 yards

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

Hole #8 – Par 5 – 469 yards

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

Hole #9 – Par 4 – 391 yards

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

Hole #10 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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

Hole #11 – Par 5 – 505 yards

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

Hole #12 – Par 4 – 375 yards

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

Hole #13 – Par 3 – 193 yards

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

Hole #14 – Par 4 – 360 yards

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

Hole #15 – Par 5 – 530 yards

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

Hole #16 – Par 4 – 397 yards

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

Hole #17 – Par 3 – 141 yards

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

Hole #18 – Par 4 – 383 yards

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

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


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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5th Annual Noreaster – Back to Long Island

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

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

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FRIAR’S HEAD

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

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Behind the green at the short par-4 5th

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

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The fairway rolls down to the 9th green

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

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The view back from the 10th green

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

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The tee shot on the par-5 14th


MAIDSTONE CLUB

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

MAIDSTONE COURSE TOUR

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Hole #1 – Par 4 – 424 yards

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

Hole #2 – Par 5 – 537 yards

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

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Hole #3 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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

Hole #4 – Par 3 – 176 yards

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

Hole #5 – Par 4 – 325 yards

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

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Hole #6 – Par 4 – 403 yards

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

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Hole #7 – Par 4 – 341 yards

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

Hole #8 – Par 3 – 151 yards

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

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

Hole #9 – Par 4 – 415 yards

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

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

Hole #10 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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

Hole #11 – Par 4 – 464 yards

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

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Hole #12 – Par 3 – 181 yards

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

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Hole #13 – Par 5 – 500 yards

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

Hole #14 – Par 3 – 152 yards

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

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

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Hole #15 – Par 5 – 493 yards

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

Hole #16 – Par 5 – 485 yards

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

Hole #17 – Par 4 – 328 yards

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

Hole #18 – Par 4 – 390 yards

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

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


QUOGUE FIELD CLUB

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

I could go around and around this course endlessly…

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The green at the par-3 2nd

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

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The redan-biarritz 4th is one of a kind

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

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The 9th green, set close to the understated clubhouse


DEEPDALE GOLF CLUB

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

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

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

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The approach to Deepdale’s 1st

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

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From behind the 12th green

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

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From the 15th tee


CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Eastward Ho! Tour by Jon Cavalier

EASTWARD HO! – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Chatham, MA – Herbert Fowler

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Homeward bound at Eastward Ho!

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

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Lone tree at fifteen

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

I hope you enjoy this tour.

EASTWARD HO!

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The incomparable setting of Eastward Ho!

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

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

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The Scorecard

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

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Hole 1 – 380 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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Hole 2 – 350 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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Hole 3 – 326 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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Hole 4 – 182 yards – Par 3

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

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The beautiful setting for the 4th green.

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Hole 5 – 525 yards – Par 5

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

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The heaving 5th fairway.

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

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

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Hole 6 – 421 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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Hole 7 – 181 yards – Par 3

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

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

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

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Hole 8 – 348 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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Hole 9 – 396 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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Hole 10 – 208 yards – Par 3

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

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Wide view of the 10th green and the clubhouse.

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Hole 11 – 485 yards – Par 5

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

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

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The incredible 11th fairway.

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Hole 12 – 333 yards – Par 4

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

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The short approach to the raised green at 12.

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A more gently rolling fairway.

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Hole 13 – 336 yards – Par 4

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

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

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Hole 14 – 371 yards – Par 4

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

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

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As is the 14th green near sunset.

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Hole 15 – 153 yards – Par 3

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

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

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

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A beautiful setting for golf.

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

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Hole 16 – 380 yards – Par 4

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

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

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Hole 17 – 537 yards – Par 5

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

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

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

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

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Hole 18 – 460 yards – Par 4

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunset at Eastward Ho!

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


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

 


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Rob Collins & The Sweetens Cove Story

Sweetens Cove – the course and the story behind its creation – has fascinated me for some time.  Golf geeks who make the trip to play this modern 9-holer return with the same two points of feedback.  That course bold, beautiful, and great fun.  And its creator and owner, Rob Collins, is a good dude.

My travel stars finally aligned to allow me to make the trip to Sweetens Cove.  Coincidentally, my plans for a visit fell into place at the same time that Rob was finishing up an interview and course history that he agreed to do before we met.  Neither the course nor Rob disappointed – they are both wonderful.  My recommendation:  Enjoy Rob’s thoughts and photos below, and then go see for yourself just how special his creation is.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

I played golf for the first time as an 11 year old with my Dad.  At that time in my life, we only played a few times a year. It was nothing more than a minor hobby in my early years.

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

I decided to try out for my high school team my senior year.  At the time, I was an absolutely horrible player, but I enjoyed the sport and I thought I might have a shot at making the team.  As it turned out, our team was so bad that I was able to squeeze in at the six spot.  Playing on a more regular schedule helped build my interest in the game.  As I started to see some marginal improvement, I began to like it more and more.

After my freshman year in college, I was invited to go on a trip to St. Andrews.  By that time, I was really enjoying the game, and was primed to fall in love with it.  Our loops on the Old & New Courses, along with watching the first three rounds of the Open Championship at Turnberry, solidified my addiction to the game.

How did you get into the business?

I started in the graduate landscape architecture program at Mississippi State in 2002 with the intention of using that degree to help me get into the field of course architecture.  In 2004, I was hired by Rick Robbins as an intern, an opportunity for which I will be forever grateful.  I learned a great deal from Rick and his team, and I was fortunate to transition that into a design coordinator role with Gary Player Design.

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Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

That is a very difficult question, but I think I would have to go with MacKenzie.  His writings have had a huge influence on me.  Not only do I love his artistic flair and adherence to strategic principles in the design and construction process, but his willingness to cut against the grain of conventional wisdom appeals strongly to me on a personal level.  His twelfth green at Sitwell Park exemplifies his brilliance, self-confidence, and one-of-a-kind flair for the dramatic, and his words in defense of his work amount to my all-time favorite golf architecture quote:

“I have got accustomed to measuring the ultimate popularity of a hole or course by the amount of criticism it gives rise to in the first instance…It is only natural that players who have been spoon fed on insipid, flat uninteresting golf should view with a considerable amount of suspicion anything which is undoubtedly out of the ordinary”

Who has had the most influence on you, both inside and outside of golf?

I think I have to start with the people who first believed in me.  Rick Robbins gave me my first job in course architecture.  Also, Frank Henegan from Gary Player Design brought me into their organization.  I learned a tremendous amount about the design and construction process from both him and his colleague, Jeff Lawrence, a Senior Designer with GPD.  Also, I would be remiss not to mention my partner, Tad King.  Not only is Tad one of the most talented shaper/finishers anywhere, but he is also a master of managing the construction and grow in of golf courses.  His common sense and streamlined construction methodology has had a massive influence on me, and his approach provides the basis for much of the philosophical component upon which King-Collins was founded.

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What should every owner/Green Committee member learn before breaking ground on a golf construction project?

There is another way!  You don’t need to hire a contractor to build the course, and for God’s sake, keep the consultants and so-called experts as far away from the project as possible.  It is all too common in the golf world for unnecessary expenditures to be passed off to the client by self-interested parties under the guise of obtaining a quality result.  Tad and I have both seen it firsthand, and we believe firmly that one of the biggest problems facing the game and golf construction, more specifically, is overinflated construction costs.  When courses cost too much to build, people who would otherwise build golf will look in other directions for how to spend their money when developing land.  At a certain point, it becomes impossible to recoup the initial investment if the golf course construction budget spirals out of hand.  Furthermore, inflated green’s fees result from uncontrolled expenditures, which obviously make the game less accessible to the general public.  In sum, less golf gets built AND the game costs more to play when costs aren’t controlled.

We believe, and I think that Sweetens Cove is living proof, that our method not only works, but that it is the best method for designing and building golf courses.  Simply put, we are able to maintain quality and artistic control over all aspects of the course while keeping costs to a minimum.  Here are a few prime examples:

During the Sweetens Cove construction, Tad and I visited another course that was also undergoing a renovation.  Both Sweetens Cove and this other course were using the same sand to cap the fairways.  We were told during one visit by the contractor’s project superintendent that they would no longer be using the sand because it had failed in testing and grass wouldn’t grow on it.  419 Bermuda, which will grow across a cart path, wouldn’t grow in this sand according that job’s contractor!  Think about how idiotic that is and what the consequences were for the client:

  1. They had a mountain of sand, which they were told they could no longer use. This amounted to a huge waste of resources, time, and money.
  2. They actually paid money to a lab and a consultant to acquire those results.

The end result is that they spent more money to go slower with zero improvement in quality.  Those kinds of situations occur all of the time and the cost of decisions like that can be astronomical.  As an aside, the fairways at Sweetens Cove, which were planted in the nonconforming sand, are perfect.

The second example that comes to mind is related to a project that we were hired for in the Canadian Rockies.  Unfortunately, the Montane Club was never built, but we put together a $4.9M budget on a piece of land that had previously been budgeted by a former touring pro, signature architect at $1M/hole.  With the signature architect’s army of consultants and a golf contractor on site, the project easily would have spiraled upwards of $25M.  Had it been built, how would the client have recouped these costs?  Unfortunately, stories like these repeat themselves over and over, every day all around the world of golf construction.

So, to answer your question directly, I would encourage all green committee members, owners, clients, etc. to educate themselves about construction costs and work hard to discern what costs are necessary and which ones are not.  After that, they should call us (half kidding, sort of…ok, not really kidding at all).

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How has your commitment to creative collaboration in the field impacted your work?

First, the design / build method, which we employ, is the best way to build golf.  Golf courses are built in the field, not on a desk 1,000 miles from the site.  The best decision I ever made in my career occurred right out of graduate school.  I had two opportunities.  One was with the Player Group as an on-site design coordinator, which would immerse me in the daily routine of a construction process or as a CAD/office designer for a competing firm.  While I was hugely grateful for both offers, I chose to go with the offer from Player, and I am thankful every day that I made that decision.  Not only did I fall in love with the construction process, but I learned the fundamentals of how to build a golf course and the degree to which construction and design are intertwined.  So, the process of collaboration in the field forms the basis for my work.  Every great golf course in recent memory has been built using the design/build method, and Tad and I formed our company on the belief that we could deliver elite quality with a reduced price using that approach.

How did you get involved with the Sweetens Cove project?

I was referred to the project by King Oehmig.  I was desperate to remain involved with architecture after the economic collapse in ‘08, and King was spearheading the Gil Hanse project at Sewanee.  I approached him to see if I could get involved up there, and he said he would be happy to help. He took it a step further and referred me to my client who was looking to do something with their nine-hole course, Sequatchie Valley G&CC, which would ultimately be rebranded as Sweetens Cove Golf Club after the renovation.

What place do you see courses like Sweetens Cove having in the future of the game?

I think they will be extremely important.  The days of spending an entire weekend at the local club only to show up at home on Sunday night are long gone.  A lot of people don’t have time for an eighteen hole round, and quality courses of alternative lengths will be increasingly important for the game as it works to stay relevant and expand.  Furthermore, Sweetens Cove operates on a budget that is a fraction of your typical maintenance budget, but it delivers high quality conditions thanks to the tireless efforts of the staff and the design of the course.  Finally, I think Sweetens Cove is a prime example of how you can have fascinating and engaging playing scenarios on a site that, at first glance, didn’t seem like it could possibly yield good golf.  I believe that the notion that great golf cannot be derived from an inferior site is a flawed one.  If anything, Sweetens Cove proves that you don’t need eighteen holes or a good site to create a great golf course.  On top of that, an outsized maintenance budget isn’t needed either.  If there were more courses like Sweetens Cove and fewer courses like (fill in the blank), the world would be a better place.

What is your favorite part of a golf course to design?  To build?

I love bunker construction, but the most fascinating part of construction comes at the greens.  Our goal is always to match the green contours to the strategy of the hole.  Ideally, I want players to be considering the slope and contour of the green surfaces and their surrounds while they are on the tee.  If you can get people to do that, then I think your work has been very effective.  Essentially, we want to provide ground for endless shotmaking and strategic scenarios to unfold.  Working to create that in the field is a thrill.

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What do you love about practicing your craft?

I love the reward that comes with seeing things unfold.  It starts with an idea and then it evolves a little more each day.  That evolutionary process is what gets me excited.  At Sweetens Cove, we kept turning it up and turning it up.  It was so much fun to obsess over and refine the minutest of details on the course.  Ultimately, a golf course is a sum of its parts, and it was our goal to pack Sweetens Cove with micro details across the entirety of the property.  We never placed one detail in importance over another.  For example, the edgework on the back side of an island in a part of a massive bunker that nobody was ever going to see was equally as important as the edgework on the flashiest, most highly visible bunker.

With that approach, you are guaranteed to have a course full of highly personalized details when it is complete.  That is how you get that attitude and character in a course that you can feel but you can’t quite put your finger on.  The best courses do that, and I am most proud of that aspect of Sweetens Cove.  Nothing was overlooked and nothing was taken for granted.  That is why a nine-hole course in a flood plain in rural Tennessee has received massive amounts of publicity and attention.  None of that happened by accident.  Instead it was a result of untold countless, thankless hours of labor when no one was watching.  Looking back on that effort and seeing what we have today fills me with desire to go out and do it again.  We love the creative process, and we are ready for #2.

What courses are at the top of your hit list to see or play next?

There are so many that it is impossible to come up with an adequate list, but here are a few off of the top of my head:

Crystal Downs, Old Town, Prairie Dunes, Maidstone, Shoreacres, Chicago, Seminole….and, I would like to wave a magic wand and take a three month trip to GBI to travel and explore the endless options there.  Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening, but it would be great if it did.

When you are not working or playing golf, what are you doing?

I have six and eleven year old daughters so my wife and I spend most of our time outside of work juggling parenting responsibilities.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I am excited to say that the phone is ringing.  We have ten solid leads at the moment.  Some are renovation / restorations, but six are new construction in both domestic and international markets.  Four of the projects are what I would consider “the big one” where we could really prove exactly what we are capable of on a great site.  We are ready for that opportunity, and can’t wait to get started on a new project, hopefully sooner than later!


THE SWEETENS COVE STORY

In the summer of 2010, I was desperately searching for a way back into golf architecture.  I had heard that Gil Hanse had been hired to renovate the golf course at Sewanee, which happened to by my alma mater.  I asked around and found out that a graduate of the Seminary School at Sewanee and a local golfing legend, King Oehmig, was heading up the project.  Via Mark Stovall, the former superintendent of Lookout Mountain, I was placed in touch with King.  In May 2010, he wrote me this note as part of an email chain about the Sewanee project:

PS: I do know that Mr. Bob Thomas, the proprietor of Sequatchie Concrete Company, who is a Sewanee Alum, has just bought a little course right outside of Kimball, TN, the Sequatchie Country Club.  Right now, it needs a lot of work; I would suggest that you contact Bob, and you can tell him that I suggested that you call him about possibly helping him with fixing it up.  Thanks. – KO

Reading back through that old email brings back a flood of memories: my internal feeling of desperation about returning to golf architecture, my hope for getting involved with the Sewanee project, the VERY early days of King-Collins, and my gratitude toward King for suggesting me to Mr. Thomas.  Reading it now makes it hard to believe that over six years of my life have gone into this project.

Soon after King’s recommendation, we began a discussion with the Thomas family about possibly renovating the Sequatchie Valley G&CC. We were eventually hired in March of 2011 for the job, and Tad and I were extremely excited to have the opportunity to put our ideas into the ground.  We brought in Gus Grantham to be lead shaper on the project, construction commenced on June 2, 2011 and the course was grassed out a year later in June of 2012.

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The golf course, which only had one foot of fall across the entire property sits in a flood plain near Battle Creek.  In addition to having extremely minimal drainage, the site sits on heavy clay soils.  We, therefore, had a massive task ahead of us if the resulting work was to have even a modest level of playing interest.  First and foremost, we had to devise a way to drain every drop of water off of the property while creating highly interesting golfing features.  In the end, we moved about 300,000 cubic yards of dirt & installed fifteen (15) miles of drain pipe. I am very proud of the fact that we did all of this “in house” while building the course for a fraction of the cost of a typical project.  In addition to the earthworks, the site was capped with approximately 4” of sand, which has been wonderful for helping us maintain firm and fast conditions across the property.

My overall vision for the project going in was to create an inland links that borrowed lessons from some of my favorite places in golf: Pinehurst #2, TOC, Tobacco Road, North Berwick, the 1932 version of Augusta National, and others.  However, I had no interest in playing copycat.  It was very important to me that the course have its own unique flair while still grasping the core lessons at the heart of the aforementioned greats.  Essentially, I wanted to take the things that I liked in architecture, put them in a blender and come up with a concoction that would hopefully remind others of places they had seen or been but with a degree of uniqueness that would ideally leave one feeling as though they had found a true original.  Those qualities are not something that you can plan for in the office.  To the contrary, the highly personalized details only rise out of the ground through intensive site work.  The long, thankless hours that we spent fashioning the course are something of which I am very proud.  There were countless opportunities to mail it in or walk away from the project entirely, but we never did.  I think that our unwavering commitment to it shines through in one’s playing experience, an aspect of Sweetens Cove that elevates it over most.

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After grassing was complete, the course remained under the umbrella of our client’s various business interests until August 2013.  They made an internal decision to return the focus of their business solely toward concrete manufacturing, and I was approached about the possibility of leasing the property from Sequatchie Concrete.  Given the level of commitment that I had exhibited to the course, I was a natural fit, and as a result, I enthusiastically began the search for a like-minded partner.  Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2013 when I received a call out of the blue from Mark Stovall that Ari Techner & Patrick Boyd, partners in Scratch Golf, were interested in touring the course.  As always, I was pleased to show it to any interested parties, and soon after that visit, Ari & I embarked on a quest to launch Sweetens Cove.  We were able to get a signed lease in the spring of 2014, and the course officially opened in October 2014.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be an owner/operator of a golf course, but my intoxicating relationship with Sweetens Cove would not allow me to see it return to nature.  It’s an interesting wrinkle in the saga that Mark Stovall was the linchpin for the entire project in that he originally connected me to the project via King Oehmig and also introduced me to my future partner who would help me save it.

As of this writing, we have nearly two (2) years of operations under our belt, and the course continues to get better.  I feel like the conditions that our excellent superintendent, Brent Roberson, has been able to deliver have the architecture more on display than at any other point in the history of the course.  There are simply more options and more shots at the player’s disposal than ever, and it is a thrill to watch people enjoy and soak in the highly unique qualities that make the course so special.

Following are some of my thoughts behind the architecture of the course and the backstory of the construction of each hole (click on images to enlarge):

HOLE #1 – Par 5 – 563 yards

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I think I struggled with the design of this hole more than any other.  I had a number of different ideas about the design for the green complex, before settling on the current version, which has a reverse redan tilt set inside a punchbowl.  The green itself is protected front and center by a deep and foreboding hazard, which was nicknamed the “Mitre Bunker” by Sweetens Cove GM, Patrick Boyd.  Like the rest of the course, the original hole was dead flat with a pond, which we were not allowed to touch, near the landing area on the right side.  To complicate matters, water from the mountain on the left side of the hole would pour onto the first fairway during rain events via culverts buried under Sweetens Cove Road.  After the left side was cleared of its excessive trees and underbrush, Gus, Tad, and I embarked on a plan to create a thrilling opening hole that would remain dry.  Given the existing site conditions, this was an extraordinarily difficult task.

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The 1st pre-construction

Nowhere was the moniker for the original course “Squishy Valley” more apt than on the first hole.  During the original rough shaping of the hole, long buried golf balls were bouncing off of the blade of the dozer.  In order to prevent water from draining onto the hole, the entire left side of the hole was built up, and water from the mountain and road are now captured prior to reaching the course. Additional drainage was installed throughout the fairway, and like all of the other holes, the fairway was capped with roughly 4-6” of sand.

Regarding the strategy, and overall look, I think that the first does a good job of introducing players to many of the themes that they will see during the round at Sweetens Cove.  The tee and approach shots both allow for multiple routes of play, and the heavily contoured green welcomes well played running and aerial shots.  Most importantly, Sweetens Cove never dictates to players exactly how to navigate the terrain.  Instead, golfers are left to choose their own path, with each respective route providing its own unique challenge and set of options.

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From the right fairway bunker

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Approaching the green from the left

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Short left of the green

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The mitre bunker with the green behind

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Left of the green

HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 375 yards

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In a pure construction sense, the second at Sweetens Cove is one of the most important holes on the course.  While the second hole at the original Sequatchie Valley was also a drainage nightmare, it offered an opportunity to simultaneously handle the water on a large swath of the property while creating much needed fill material for construction.  The original hole was a long, straightaway par four of approximately 440 yards.  When the first green was moved back toward the property line, the second tees shifted forward.  Even with this change, we were still left with a massive dead space in front of the tees.  In order to handle the drainage on the second hole and the second half of the first hole, we dug a large lake near the tee complex.  I was adamant that most players not be forced to carry the water on the tee shot.  As a result, I angled the lake away from the line of play from the blue tees forward and into the massive dead area behind the seventh green.  Fill from this lake was used for shaping and to gain much needed elevation on the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth holes.

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The 2nd pre-construction

On the tee, the primary goal is to miss the deep, centrally located pot bunker, which has been nicknamed “Tupac” by a Sweetens Cove regular.  If you’re in it, you’re dead.  The ideal line of play on most shots is from the small patch of ground adjacent to his bunker and the right-hand bunker, which is approximately thirty yards closer to the green.  From this angle, players will not be forced to deal directly with the very strong contour along the left side of the green.  As with all greens at Sweetens, there are many different potential pin locations.  Perhaps the easiest and most fun pin is in the bowl in the front of the green, a lobe of the green which came close to never existing.  When the green was originally shaped, it was about 25% smaller.  I couldn’t get comfortable with that iteration, and we kept pulling out the front portion of the green until that pin location was created.  I think that change took the green from good to great, and is an example of why it is so important to maintain artistic control on a project.  Had we settled on the earlier version, it would’ve been fine but nowhere near as good as what is there today.  The most difficult pin, by contrast, is the far left location.

As all of the greens at Sweetens are surrounded by tightly mown shortgrass, the bold contours along the front left and left side of the green can repel indifferent efforts on the approach.  This green complex is as good an example as any of how short grass can at once open up a Pandora’s Box of terrible outcomes while at the same time provide unlimited shotmaking options.  Short grass simply has a way of delivering a level of awe and fear that many ‘typical’ hazards can’t approach.  The multifaceted nature of tightly mown turf has always fascinated me, and the second green complex, which is defended only by contour and the speed of the surrounds, fully immerses players in the shotmaking possibilities at Sweetens Cove.

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From the regular tee

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Approach from the center of the fairway

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Short right of the green

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The view back from behind the green

HOLE #3 – Par 5 – 582 yards

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The third hole is the second par five on the layout and the first real taste of how we utilized dead space on the Sequatchie Valley layout by tying the golf holes together.  One of my favorite things about Sweetens Cove is how the holes relate to and complement one another.  Prior to construction, the majority of the 72 acre site was covered with a monochromatic carpet of bermudagrass.  Now, waste areas and large swaths of native plants add texture and complexity to the layout.  The waste area which borders the right side of the fairway serves as way to add strategic and visual interest, and negates the dead space that previously existed between the third and fifth holes.

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The 3rd pre-construction

During construction, the first half of the hole was raised slightly in order to ease drainage.  All water from the tee to the central bunker drains to the pond by the fifth and sixth holes, and the second half of the hole drains to the pond behind the green.  At the green, I really wanted to do something different with the strategy, and I chose to leave a lone Oak tree in the center of the approach.  This tree and the location of the pin on the massive green impact decision making on the tee.  If the pin is left, you have to come in from the left side of the fairway, and conversely, if it is on the right, it is wise to favor that side of the fairway on approach.  If the pin is behind the tree, it is generally easier to approach from the right side, but the tree and the shaping of the green complex present the golfer with a host of options: intentionally play to the left or right of the tree with the intent of using the contours to funnel the ball toward the hole or play over the tree.

The green itself is divided into sections by large rolls.  From the right side, the 10,000 square foot surface of the green has the appearance of a waterfall tumbling down a slope, and all pinable areas can be reached by playing away from the hole with the intent of laying the ball dead at the hole after it rolls out along the bold contours.  The third is the first truly wild green at Sweetens, and it serves in many ways as a primer for what lays ahead during one’s round.  Thematically, the third fits with the rest of the golf course in that it is a terrific match play hole where eagle and birdie are achievable, but the short grass, contours, and hazards can conspire to deliver a firm punishment for anyone out of position.

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From the tee

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The waste bunker that runs the length of the right side

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The greenside bunker left

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Short left of the green with the center tree

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The view back from the green

HOLE #4 (King) – Par 3 – 169 yards

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There is only one hole at Sweetens Cove that has a name on the scorecard.  The fourth was aptly dubbed “King” after King Oehmig, the man who referred me to the project, in addition to providing the design inspiration for the hole.

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The 4th pre-construction

When I first toured the site with King in July 2010, he remarked, “Rob, it would be so cool if you could find a place out here to build a Himalayas hole.”  As a fellow lover of classic, quirky architecture, I wholeheartedly agreed with his proclamation, and I set out to find the spot to make his vision a reality.  During one of my subsequent visits, I came upon the spot where the current fourth resides.  The fourth green was tucked into a small corner at the edge of the current fourth hole.  Adjacent to the miniature green was a large open area that could easily accommodate a first rate Himalayas hole.  During construction, we used dirt from the lake excavation to create the ridge that runs between the tee complex and the massive 20,000 square foot green.

The green itself is 87 yards deep, and the hole can play totally blind, partially blind, or 100% visible depending upon the tee and pin location.  It’s not uncommon to play the hole at 110 yards completely blind on one day and visible and 210 the next.  I think the unlimited combination of pin and tee locations, along with the heavily contoured, serpentine green, makes the hole a fascinating challenge from day to day.  In the sense of pure variety, fun, shotmaking options, and ability to change complexion from one round to the next, the fourth probably embodies the true spirit of Sweetens Cove more than any other on the course.  Along with being great fun to detail, the massive waste hazard, which was built into the ridge, provides a sense of visual and strategic continuity with much of the rest of the course.

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From the tee

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Short left of the green

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Off the right side of the green

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Left section of the massive green

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Back left of the green

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The view back to the green from 5 tee

HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 293 yards

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Drivable par fours are my favorite type of hole, and I knew that we had a great opportunity to do something special when we first laid out the concept for the fifth.  There was no interesting terrain to work off of, but we had all the width that we needed to create a highly unique, option-filled short par four.  I felt early on that the third, fourth, and fifth holes were the heart of Sweetens Cove.  I’ve always liked that they represent three different pars, and the natural ebb and flow of the routing adds emotional depth to the layout.  As you come off of the challenging fourth, which can play up to 210 yards, you are greeted with a drivable hole of only 283 yards.  Along with multiple eagles, I have scored everything up to a ten on the hole.  At its widest point, the fairway is 100 yards wide, and the boomerang green gives the hole loads of variety in possible pin placements.

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The 5th pre-construction

On the tee, the key feature to avoid is the ten foot deep greenside bunker that is partially bordered with railway sleepers.  I absolutely love what this hazard does to the player psychologically.  While not large in physical size, it is guaranteed to weigh heavily on the minds of all players on the tee.  The extremely penal nature of the hazard means that multiple shots to clear its depths are not uncommon.  Additionally, the bunker plays larger than it looks as some of the greenside and surrounding contours will help funnel balls toward the sand.  Finally, we paid extra attention in the finish to the contours around the bunker, which will allow the clever player who is stymied by the bunker to play away from the flag along the ground in an effort to lay the ball dead at the hole.  One of my favorite memories of my time at Sweetens Cove involved this exact scenario.  I watched a player that could not have had a handicap lower than 36 approach the green from about fifty yards away toward the pin tucked directly behind the bunker.  With his hybrid in hand, he topped a ball that looked as if it would be gobbled up by the bunker.  Instead, he caught the perfect contour and his ball rolled around the perimeter of the hazard and rolled to within a foot of the flag.  It was an extraordinary thrill to see the contours that we had labored over help produce such a miraculous shot!

One of our members at Sweetens Cove had a similarly heroic shot this summer when he aced the hole with a three wood.  Similar to the previous example, the pin was behind the pot bunker, and his shot, which carried long and right of the hazard, ran up on the strong back right ‘catcher’s mitt’ contour, took a hard left turn, and rolled fifty feet into the bottom of the cup.  These types of playing scenarios are what make the course so special, and it never ceases to give me great pleasure when I hear a new story about someone’s shotmaking.  Ultimately, the fact that success and failure reside in such close quarters is what makes the fifth a timelessly entertaining hole.

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From the tee over the waste area

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The waste area that separates #3 from #5

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The approach from the center of the fairway

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The Devil’s Asshole bunker

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Front left of the green

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The view back down the hole from the back of the green

HOLE #6 – Par 4 – 456 yards

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The natural ebb and flow of a good routing demands that there be a handful of highly challenging holes, and the sixth at Sweetens Cove fits that mold.  A long cape hole, which plays over 450 yards from the tips, this two shotter can wreck a good scorecard with one slight misstep.  I also love that the sixth is sandwiched on either side by short par fours.  The psychological pull of feeling as though one needs to hang on and get through the hole without falling prone to disaster can weigh on the player.  Those who are unsuccessful will find a sliver of hope with the knowledge that the possibility of redemption awaits later in the round.

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The 6th pre-construction

Overall, the design of the sixth is fairly simple in that it uses the strategy of the cape hole design template.  However, I wanted to do something different at the green.  Whereas many cape holes have a kidney shaped green that hugs the water, I wanted to have a large part of the green run away from the water.  In order to get the unique angle, shape, and contour right, we ended up wearing the dirt out here a little bit.  In the end, though, I am really pleased with the way the hole turned out.  The green has the far left, nearly impossible “Sunday” pin along with easier pins on the right and middle of the green.

The transitions and rolls throughout the green can at times complicate matters on the approach or provide the option to play away from certain locations while keeping the ball on the ground with the intent to use contour to get the ball near the hole.  This is particularly true on the lower shelf, which is bisected by a strong roll.  The clever player can use this feature to aim the ball away from the water while trying to get the ball close to the far left pins.  The roll also adds complexity to shots that approach middle pins.  Slightly pulled or short shots to the middle pins can be shed away by the same contour that may have helped you on previous rounds.  Again, we see an instance of elasticity in the greens, a core component of how a golf course can provide sustained interest round after round.  One of the more difficult pins on the green is, ironically, the one furthest from the water.  There is a small, upper shelf, which is most easily accessed through the air, one of the few shots at Sweetens that has that characteristic.  Overall, the hole requires precision and excellent ball striking to avoid bogey or worse.

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The intimidating tee shot

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The green contours as seen from the left side

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The rugged bunker behind the green

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The view back down the cape style fairway from behind the green

HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 328 yards

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Prior to construction, the seventh and eighth holes were by far the worst back to back par fours that I had ever seen.  The two holes were bisected by an open concrete ditch, and the playing corridor of the seventh was choked down in size by trees along the right side of the fairway.  On a golf course riddled with poor turf quality, the ground on the seventh, especially near the open ditch, was barren.  While each hole had its challenges, I am most proud of what our team accomplished on seven and eight.

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The 7th pre-construction

The two holes combined cover an area approximately 350 yards long by 150 yards wide.  Our primary challenge lay in how to drain every square inch of this acreage without importing any fill material.  This was accomplished by cutting into the ground and using the generated material for shaping.  All low areas were drained to the ditch, which was covered with concrete slabs to support the earth that was pushed over its top.  By taking this approach, we were able to rid the holes of the overly penal and immensely unattractive ditch while, at the same time, providing the necessary width to create the ground where endlessly varied playing scenarios could unfold.

While it is certainly not apparent upon first glance, the strategy of the hole is similar to that of the fourth at Pebble Beach, one of my favorite holes at the famous Links.  On both holes, wide fairways greet the player, but the ideal angle of attack is from the far right side.  At Sweetens Cove, this strategic dilemma is set up by the placement of the bunkers in relation to the angle of the tee shot and the direction of the central axis of the green.  At Pebble Beach, players need to challenge the cliff along the right side of the hole to gain the best angle to the tiny green.  Frightening bunkers flank both sides of the narrow putting surface, making any approach from the far left side of the fairway extremely difficult.  I have been fortunate to play the hole several times, and my only scoring catastrophe there occurred after a tee shot that ended up on the far left side of the fairway, which forced me to approach the green over the left greenside bunker and from an angle that is perpendicular to the central axis of the green.  From that position, the margin of error is finite, and absolute precision is required in order to achieve par, a dynamic that I absolutely love on a short par four.

Unlike the fourth at Pebble, the seventh green at Sweetens is bunkerless, and the extremely strong fall-off contours on the right and left side make approach from anywhere but the ideal sliver of fairway extremely difficult.  With the tightly mown shortgrass of the surrounds, it is not uncommon for scores to balloon around this green, which may be the most devilish on the course.  In fact, we have an inside joke at Sweetens that the seventh is the hardest 310 yard par five in America.  In spite of its difficulty, the shortgrass around the domed green is a far more interesting hazard than bunkering, in my opinion, because it provides the opportunity for a greater number of players to attempt and find success with difficult recovery shots.  It is essentially impossible for a 20+ handicap to have a chance to get up and down out of a difficult bunker, whereas even the worst players can keep the ball on the ground leaving open the possibility that their ball will wind up near the hole.

I should also mention that one of my favorite hazards on the course is the large bunker on the seventh, also known as “Dan’s Bunker,” which was named after the Coore & Crenshaw associate, Dan Proctor, who provided early assistance with bunker construction on the seventh, eighth, and ninth holes.  The intricately detailed hazard is a terrific example of the bunkers at Sweetens, which were intensely labored over during every stage of construction.

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View from the tee

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Short of the right fairway bunker

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Dan’s Bunker

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The approach from the left

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Left of the green

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The view back across the property from back left of the green

HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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Given that the seventh and eighth are parallel par fours of a similar length which occupy the same fairway, there was a danger that we could get repetitive in this part of the course.  This potentially negative outcome was on my mind as I thought through design for the eighth hole.  In contrast with the previous hole, the double plateau green at the eighth is massive, coming in at approximately 12,500 square feet.  With wildly different outcomes and shotmaking scenarios possible with each hole location, it is imperative that the player identify the proper angle of approach.  For nearly all hole locations, the far left or far right side of the fairway is best.

Central bunkering and a few scattered trees add drama on the tee shot. Even though the fairway is 150 yards wide, I find that this tee shot is one of the most unsettling on the course.  From the tee, the area to the right of the centerline bunker appears to be much narrower than it is in reality.  This visual deception creates indecision in my mind and a sense of unease on the tee.  Conversely, the far left side of the fairway can be tricky to reach because of the large oak that we left during construction.  Also, any balls that take the left-hand route off the tee risk winding up in one of the central bunkers if the tee shot is pushed.

Prior to construction, the fairway narrowed to approximately twenty yards wide between the ditch on the left and a large grove of pines on the right, a scenario that is hard to picture given the current realities on the ground.  Without the tree removal and the ability to cover the ditch, the hole would’ve been unrecoverable.  As it is now, it presents a wild variety of shotmaking options on approach and recovery, and the extreme width of the hole allows golfers of all skill levels to choose their own route to the pin.

The green, which is one of the largest on the course, is also one of the most severely contoured.  It is often, fairly, called a sideways Biarritz green.  While it was not my intention going into construction to design and build a green of this style, the end product is a result of our approach to the process.  I explained to Gus, our shaper, that I wanted a double plateau with a large, central roll fronting the green.  I trusted Gus’s immense talent and let him take a stab at putting something cool in the ground.  Given that it was only our second green to build, we were very early on in construction process.  What Gus shaped blew me away and solidified my belief that we were well on our way to delivering something exceptional at Sweetens Cove.  I think the evolution of this green perfectly encapsulates our approach to field work.  Had I shackled Gus and not believed in his innate abilities, the green wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is.  I think that designers need to grip the job firmly enough to have control but loosely enough to let uniquely artistic features unfold.  In the end, if the green hadn’t fit my eye, it would’ve been changed, but the point is that you have to have a certain level of trust to let things unfold naturally.  The key is in laying out a vision and trusting the people with whom you are working to help you deliver.  At Sweetens Cove, we didn’t have a lot of personnel, but the ones that we did have were immensely talented and capable of creating unique and memorable golf holes.

As a penultimate hole on a course designed for match play, I am very fond of the ability of the eighth to unveil both heroic and disastrous play.  With a very wide range of potential scores in play, golfers embroiled in a tight match will feel nervous with the lead and optimistic playing from behind, a psychological dynamic key to all great match play venues.

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The center approach to the wild double plateau green

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The approach from the right side

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The green as seen from the left plateau

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The view back from behind and above the green

HOLE #9 – Par 3 – 148 yards

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Like everywhere else on the course, there was nothing remarkable about the ground at the ninth hole prior to construction.  In fact, the old ninth green was bizarrely located underneath the tree that borders the left side of the current first.  The one natural feature that we did have to work with on the entire course was the hill leading from the clubhouse site to the valley floor.  By locating the tee behind the eighth and benching the green into the hillside beneath the clubhouse site, we had the bones of a thrilling finishing hole. All that was left to do was to shape a 10,000 square foot redan / short hybrid green and construct and detail a two acre waste hazard that would provide the necessary angle and visual drama for a highly unique par three finish.

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The 9th pre-construction

One of my favorite aspects of the course is that it ends on a one-shotter.  All of the match play drama that can build over the preceding holes can come down to a 130 yard short iron shot.  As I mentioned before, each hole at Sweetens Cove has a wide gap in potential outcomes and scores, and it could be argued that the ninth has the widest gap of all.  To date, the hole has seen an extraordinarily disproportionate number of holes in one, and the dreaded “other” is never too far away.  Fifteen aces have been registered since we opened two years ago, and none were more exciting than the ones that occurred during the Mack Cunningham Baylor Preview Golf Tournament in August.  We hosted thirty of the best female high school players from around the state, and the fireworks at the ninth on the final day of the tournament put the design of the home hole on full display.  Early on the second day of the tournament, two sophomores playing in the same group beat seventeen million to one odds to record back to back aces.  Not to be outdone, Ashley Gilliam carded a hole in one on her final swing of the day to give her team a one stroke victory in the tournament – a walk off ace!

During the planning stages and construction, we imagined that it would be possible for that type of drama to occur on our home hole, but what I witnessed that day was beyond my wildest imagination.  Unlike many one shot holes, this hole presents a variety of options on the tee shot.  You can play away from the far left flags by using the giant redan kick plate to bring the ball around to the hole, or the bold golfer can choose to fly directly at the flag.  When the pin is on the middle tier of the green, the hole plays much more like a traditional short. By marrying two of the most iconic par three designs into one on hole, I think we created one of the most unique, entertaining, and vexing one-shotters anywhere.

Another great aspect of the ninth is the elevated nature of the green, which allows golfers to see the entire complex with its highly visual bunkering from every hole on the property.  During construction, I realized that this visual reality is similar to the auditory trigger that one has when they are approaching a big rapid on a rafting trip.  Analogous to the sound of a roaring river, the dominating visual presence of the ninth is a constant companion for the golfer.  You know that drama and exacting shotmaking await you in the future and are fully aware that in order to complete your round successfully, you will eventually have to face that harrowing final shot.  The sense of anticipation for that moment adds to the drama of the final shot.

I think the hole is a perfect ending to one’s round at Sweetens. It presents a variety of options, and thematically, the ninth is another unique take on classically inspired golf architecture motifs.

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The view over the waste bunker from the tee

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From the runoff left of the green

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From behind and above the green back to the tee


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