Geeked on Golf


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So Long Kohler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE STRAITS COURSE

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

HOLE 1 – Par 4 – 370 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

HOLE 2 – Par 5 – 521 yards

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

HOLE 3 – Par 3 – 166 yards

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

HOLE 4 – Par 4 – 414 yards

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

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

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 360 yards

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

HOLE 7 – Par 3 – 185 yards

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

HOLE 8 – Par 4 – 429 yards

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

HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 384 yards

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

HOLE 10 – Par 4 – 334 yards

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

HOLE 11 – Par 5 – 544 yards

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

HOLE 12 – Par 3 – 118 yards

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

HOLE 13 – Par 4 – 364 yards

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

HOLE 14 – Par 4 – 346 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

HOLE 15 – Par 4 – 429 yards 

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

HOLE 16 – Par 5 – 535 yards

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

HOLE 17 – Par 3 – 197 yards

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

HOLE 18 – Par 4 – 424 yards

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

THE RIVER COURSE

HOLE 5 – Par 4 – 388 yards

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

HOLE 6 – Par 4 – 333 yards

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

HOLE 7 – Par 4 – 374 yards

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

HOLE 8 – Par 5 – 492 yards

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

HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 316 yards

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

HOLE 10 – Par 3 – 194 yards

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

BONUS HOLE – #13 – Par 3 – 192 yards

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


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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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