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TIMELESS IDEALS AT NATIONAL GOLF LINKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The course

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

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

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions


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

Course map of NGLA – Credit: Keith Cutten

HOLE #1 “Valley” – 326 yards – par 4


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

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

HOLE #2 “Sahara” – 302 yards – par 4


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

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

HOLE #3 “Alps” – 473 yards – par 4


The Alps green, with its tricky internal contours

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

HOLE #4 “Redan” – 194 yards – par 3


A crowd watches a match on the Redan green

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

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

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

HOLE #6 “Short” – 123 yards – par 3


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

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

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

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

HOLE #8 “Bottle” – 407 yards – par 4

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

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

HOLE #9 “Long” – 534 yards – par 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOLE #13 “Eden” – 166 yards – par 3

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

HOLE #14 “Cape” – 391 yards – par 4


The nerve-racking tee shot on the Cape 14th

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


From the tee, the rugged Leven 17th rolling downhill

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

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

HOLE #18 “Home” – 501 yards – par 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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HONORING ALISON AT DAVENPORT C.C.

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

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

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

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

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

An underrated architect

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

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

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

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

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

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

Present-day Davenport

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

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

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

Alison’s original routing plan for Davenport

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

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

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

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

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

The 7th at Hirono provided design inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Musings on Our National Championship

For the record, I loved the 2018 U.S. Open.  We got to see four days of great players taking on Shinnecock Hills – William Flynn’s brilliant design, Coore & Crenshaw’s thoughtful restoration, and Jon Jennings et al’s beautiful presentation.  No amount of setup snafu, quick rake nonsense, or bellyaching from various constituencies could dampen my enthusiasm.

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All photos by Jon Cavalier

The internet produced a variety of strong reactions to the Open at Shinnecock.  Some were well-reasoned and others were hyperbolic in the extreme.  Setting reactions aside, following are my musings on what we’ve learned, and where America’s governing body might go from here with our National Championship.

For some time now, the USGA has been doing a fair bit of tinkering and way too much micromanaging.  They are not the victims of happenstance or bad breaks.  They have placed themselves in an untenable situation by trying to:

  • appease players and manufacturers by not adequately regulating equipment technology,
  • appease traditional hard-liners who demand carnage,
  • appease casual fans who prefer birdies over bogeys, and
  • appease par devotees who want to see a certain number on the scoreboard.

Combine these factors with the unpredictability of Mother Nature and the game of golf itself, and you have a recipe for outcomes that are guaranteed to frustrate and disappoint.  Worse yet, the USGA’s insistence on pursuing this impossible balance to try and please everyone is distracting from what really matters – great players competing against each other on great playing fields.

As I watched Saturday’s action unfold, with the setup tipping over the edge, I ran a 24-hour Twitter poll to try and gauge how the carnage vs. playability balance was shaping up:

USOpen-Poll1.pngA day later, with the USGA arguably going too far in the direction of playability, I asked essentially the same question in a different way:

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Although the second poll was much quicker, I doubt that the results would have changed had I let it run for 24-hours instead of 2.  My conclusion?  We the audience don’t really even know what we want.  We are essentially impossible to please.  The USGA would be better served choosing a position, and sticking to their guns knowing that some players and fans will gripe no matter what.  With that approach, at least they will have maintained a discernible and authentic identity.


THE PATH AHEAD

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  It’s time to stop the insanity.

If I were King, I would create a U.S. Open rota, with architectural interest and history being the weightiest considerations.  I would not concern myself with charges of “elitism” in my rota selections.  This is one of the most elite competitions in the world.  Its venues can and should be elite as well.  Making the game more inclusive is an important mission of the USGA, but the U.S. Open is not the vehicle for that mission.

My proposed rota is:

  • Oakmont*
  • Shinnecock Hills*
  • Pebble Beach*
  • Pinehurst No. 2*
  • Winged Foot*
  • Merion
  • Olympic Club
  • The Country Club
  • Los Angeles CC
  • Cherry Hills
  • Inverness (based on Andrew Green’s recent tune-up)
  • Oakland Hills (contingent on Gil Hanse tune-up)
  • Olympia Fields (contingent on Keith Foster tune-up)

*host more frequently than others

This rota provides geographic and architectural diversity and allows fans to get to know great courses by watching different player cohorts play them over the decades.  Just because a course did not make my rota does not mean that I don’t want to see professional golf on that course.  I very much want to see future events held at Chambers Bay, Bethpage Black, Erin Hills, and others.  Let the PGA and PGA Tour cast a wider net with the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup that includes those great courses.

The rota being selected, my second act as King would be to simplify the rules for setup to a list of 3, and I would let the Golf Course Superintendent lead the preparation of the course for the tournament with consultation from the USGA that is not overbearing.

  1. Rough and/or native area that is nasty and penal, but only where the original architect intended for it to be.
  2. Very firm greens, but slow the putting surfaces down so that they stay alive and roll true.
  3. A mix of pin positions each day – some gettable, some next-to-impossible.

These setup rules would not be altered regardless of the weather.  If Mother Nature helps the players one year, so be it.  If Mother Nature crushes the players the next year, so be it.  As King, I would offer no apologies to anyone based on their perceptions of difficulty, or lack thereof.  You play in the National Championship, it is what it is.  Deal with it.  Because after all, that is the essence of the game itself, and as King, I would want my championship to pay homage to that essence.


THE ROTA IN PHOTOS

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Oakmont

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Shinnecock Hills

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Pebble Beach

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Pinehurst No. 2

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Winged Foot

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Merion

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Olympic Club

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The Country Club

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Los Angeles CC

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Cherry Hills

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Inverness

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Oakland Hills

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Olympia Fields

Now that I’ve shared my musings, I’m off to read what everyone else has concluded.  Feel free to share your thoughts here, email me, or comment on social media.  Already looking forward to Pebble…


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems Shinnecock Hills GC Photo Tour

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

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

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

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

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SHINNECOCK HILLS GOLF CLUB

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(click on image mosaics to enlarge)

No. 1 – 399yds – Par-4

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

No. 2 – 252yds – Par-3

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

No. 3 – 500yds – Par-4

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

No. 4 – 475yds – Par-4

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

No. 5 – 589yds – Par-5

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

No. 6 – 491yds – Par-4

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

No. 7 – 189yds – Par-3

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

No. 8 – 439yds – Par-4

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

No. 9 – 485yds – Par-4

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

No. 10 – 415yds – Par-4

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

No. 11 – 159yds – Par-3

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

No. 12 – 469 – Par-4

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

No. 13 – 374yds – Par-4

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

No. 14 – 519yds – Par-4

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

No. 15 – 409yds – Par-4

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

No. 16 – 616yds – Par-5

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

No. 17 – 180yds – Par-3

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

No. 18 – 485yds – Par-4

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

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

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Bonus Aerials

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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 22 (Reverse Jans Recap)

Canal Shores is about coming together, having fun through laid back competition, and caring for a special community asset.  That is the spirit in which the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers convened for its third annual gathering and golf outing in December of last year.

CanalShores14-AndyDrone.JPGThe day began with solid geekery as HCRJG Member Andy Johnson (@the_fried_egg) brought out his drone to capture photos and video of work that we completed as part of our Metra Corner Makeover.

Andy was kind enough to put together a video montage that illustrates well how integrated with the surrounding community Canal Shores is.  Our clearing efforts along the canal and our work on making bunkers and grass lines more interesting is also evident.

 

 

It was then on to the golf.  We had six teams totaling 24 members of The Company playing our 14 hole reverse routing.  The competition was friendly and intense, and thankfully we managed not to damage any property.  We also got the now customary wide range of curious and bemused reactions from folks out walking wondering a) why is this big group playing golf in December, and b) do you realize that you are going in the wrong direction?

After the round, we convened at the Legion for food, storytelling, and awards.  Many thanks to Company Member John Enright from Bluestone in Evanston for providing the food.  Thanks also to Imperial Headware and Seamus Golf for once again providing us with stellar swag for our contestants.

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As always, Team Dingles (Captained by David Inglis) won one of the sets of treasured glassware.  I can honestly not remember which team won the other set, and it doesn’t matter because having fun and giving back is what is more important to us.

We managed to raise several thousand dollars and were ecstatic when the opportunity arose to use our donation to help our Superintendent Tony Frandria (@TonyTurf) repaint his maintenance shop.  HCRJG Member Lisa Quinn connected Tony to a vendor and this spring the shop was transformed.

The fine folks at Dynamic Colors absolutely crushed the job and gave us a cool recap video as a bonus.

 

I can’t thank the members of the HCRJG enough for their ongoing support of our dream chasing at Canal Shores.  That support extends well beyond the afternoon each December when we hold our gathering.  They are there year-round, putting the community in community golf.


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Whippoorwill Club Tour by Jon Cavalier

WHIPPOORWILL CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Armonk, NY – Charles Banks

Whippoorwill, in my view, is one of the most underrated clubs in the United States.  I played Whippoorwill in the fall, and I found the course to have a distinct flavor, and one worth the time to display.

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The 6th at Whippoorwill – surely one of the great par 5s on the East Coast

As you’ll see in these photos, I played Whippoorwill on a cloudy October day on which the remnants of a Carribean hurricane were scheduled to blow through the area, hence the cloud cover.  Nevertheless, there were Whippoorwill members out trying to sneak their rounds in, and I found them all to be very welcoming.  Though I played solo, I played several holes with three different members each, and all were very hospitable and justifiably proud of their golf course.

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Fall at Whippoorwill

Whippoorwill is a Charles Banks design and is generally considered to be his masterpiece.  I’ve had the great pleasure of playing several Banks courses, including Forsgate, The Knoll, Rock Spring, Essex County, Cavalier, the fourth nine at Montclair and the excellent Tamarack (which is minutes from Whippoorwill and possesses some of the boldest templates I’ve seen), and Whippoorwill is in a class by itself.  While this course is smack in the middle of one of the most golf rich areas in the world, the degree to which it is overshadowed by its neighbors borders on criminal.  This is simply a fantastic golf course, and it contains one of the most dramatic and memorable stretches of holes that I’ve seen.  I have yet to meet anyone who has played Whippoorwill and who does not rate it among their favorite places to play golf.

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Whippoorwill’s Biarritz

I hope you enjoy the tour.

Whippoorwill Club

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Although the original course at Whippoorwill was designed by Donald Ross, the present iteration was built in 1928 by Charles Banks, using the principles and templates he learned from Seth Raynor, passed down by C.B. Macdonald.  The four template par-3s (redan, short, eden and biarritz) are present.  Banks moved a great deal of earth to get this course built, but the result feels natural, and the course suits its surrounds.  You can read more about Whippoorwill’s history here.

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Though I actually teed off on 10 and played the back nine first (which some might argue is a more interesting way to play the course), I’ll run the tour through the layout from 1 to 18.

Hole 1 – 377yds – Par 4

Whippoorwill opens rather gently, given the contrast of what is to come.  Much like The Creek’s first few holes hide the drama that begins with the 6th, Whippoorwill’s first three holes play over more gently rolling parkland.  The dogleg left first hole provides a generous fairway for the player’s opening ball, with only a miss right exacting a high price.

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The horizon green at the first is typical Banks, with a deep bunker front and left, and a steep falloff behind.

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The further left the tee shot, the more open the approach to the green becomes.

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This view from behind the left side of the green shows that even the more subtle holes at Whippoorwill have elevation change.

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Hole 2 – 346yds – Par 4

Most consider the second, a short, downhill par 4, to be the easiest hole on the course.  An aggressive tee shot will attempt to carry the right fairway bunkers, while the conservative play will be short of the left hand bunker.

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A short approach to a pushed up and attractively bunkered green is all that remains after a solid tee shot.  This is the smallest green on the course.

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The view from behind the second green.

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Hole 3 – 485yds – Par 5

This short, uphill dogleg left par 5 is the last of the “easy” opening holes at Whippoorwill.  The courses does a fine job of allowing the player to find his swing over these holes before entering the gauntlet.

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The uphill approach to this half-par hole.

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The third fairway bleeds seamlessly into the green, encouraging long second shots and running third shots.

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Hole 4 – 159yds – Par 3

And so it begins.  This “short” template par three begins one of the most exciting stretches of golf I’ve played.  It’s downhill, and the continuous bunkering is reminiscent of other “short” templates, including the 16th at Sleepy Hollow.

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Misses left at 4 can end up anywhere.

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Hole 5 – 453yds – Par 4

This is a truly gorgeous hole, and a standout par 4 at Whippoorwill.  The ideal line is left of center, where a well struck ball will take the slope and bound down the fairway and around the dogleg.  Anything to the right of center typically ends up in the right rough, or worse, as the drop-off to the right of the playing corridor is extreme.

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The approach on 5 is typically a mid iron back up to a raised green, or a long-iron or hybrid from a downhill lie.  The front left bunker is HUGE.

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Looking back up the fairway on 5 illustrates the magnificent terrain that Banks had to work with, and tame, to construct this course.

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Hole 6 – 556yds – Par 5

One of my favorite par 5s in golf, and one of the most spectacular holes in this region.  The 6th starts off rather innocuously, with a tee shot over a steep rise in the fairway.  After climbing this hill, the golfer is treated to . . .

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. . . an amazing sight.  The size of the rolls and banks in this fairway and the steepness of the decline down to the green are, quite frankly, shocking.  This hole is simply a blast to play.

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A long view to the green from left of the fairway.

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They called him Steamshovel for a reason.  This green appears carved from stone.  That Banks built this hole nearly 90 years ago is amazing.  Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this hole is that despite its extreme nature, it remains very playable for all skill levels.

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The 6th green is sloped back to front and is bisected by a ridge running laterally across the green.  This pin placement comes with a backstop, but the hole becomes more difficult if the pin is back.

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Hole 7 – 427yds – Par 4

This is Banks’ version of the punchbowl template, but with his own twists, the first of which comes in the form of a downhill tee shot over a pond to a fairway that bends nearly 90 degrees left.  The 7th tee at Whippoorwill, with the 6th green and fairway behind and above you, and the 7th fairway below, is one of the more picturesque spots in golf.

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The approach on 7 is uphill and narrows considerably as the fairway climbs to the punchbowl green.  The granite walls press inward and make for an intimidating, but exciting, shot.

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The mouth to Banks’ punchbowl green is open in the front but guarded closely by two large mounds that will deflect low or running shots.

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Having scaled the 7th hole, a look back down the fairway brings a sense of accomplishment.

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Hole 8 – 226yds – Par 3

I’ve long thought that Banks’ bold style was most suited to the adaptation of the biarritz, and the 8th at Whippoorwill is a fine example of that.  This hole calls for a long tee shot over a road to one of the most beautiful green sites on the golf course.  In terms of sheer beauty, this biarritz ranks behind only the 5th at Fishers Island among those I’ve played.

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The long biarritz green, with waterfall behind for effect.

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Hole 9 – 373yds – Par 4

The 9th hole closes the dramatic stretch that began with the 4th, and this steeply uphill two-shotter is no slouch.

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This wide shot from below the 9th tee illustrates the steepness of the terrain.

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Even the green is elevated, requiring one last climb.

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The 9th green, with the tee box far below.

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Lucky’s Run

After crossing the road to the 10th tee, we see this marker, dedicated to Lucky the bird dog, who “kept the geese from Whippoorwill.”  Lucky must have been quite a beloved pooch, and the membership is to be commended for honoring their friend in this way (disclosure – I am a sucker for dogs).

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Hole 10 – 405yds – Par 4

Another gorgeous view from the elevated 10th tee.  What you see is what you get.

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The hill to the left was recently cleared and exposed.  Even from this spot in the fairway, the 10th green’s many undulations are apparent.  Don’t miss long – the area behind the green drops 15 feet straight down.

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This view back up 10 shows the elevated tee box and the rolling nature of the ground.

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Hole 11 – 196yds – Par 3

A rare redan playing over a pond (like the second at Fishers, though Whippoorwill’s 11th plays downhill), the typical redan characteristics of this hole are more subtle than normal, but this is still quite an enjoyable hole to play, and a pretty setting for a par 3 of any type.

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The mound to the right of the green provides a welcoming target to this pin, but the right bunkers are not the ideal miss.

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The view from behind, showing the right to left tilt of the green.

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Hole 12 – 422yds – Par 4

The first straightaway par 4 at Whippoorwill comes at 12.  The ideal tee shot will depend heavily on the day’s pin position, as this green is extremely wide and split front-to-back by a mound.

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This view from the fairway shows the green’s defenses, which include the fronting mound and the internal contours of the green itself.

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The view back up the fairway.

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Hole 13 – 336yds – Par 4

One of my favorite holes on the back 9, this short par 4 comes with plenty of options off the tee.  Bite off what you dare.

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The short, uphill approach to the 13th green.

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The view from behind 13.  The dual tee boxes are visible in the upper right of the frame.

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Hole 14 – 466yds – Par 4

Multiple options are available off the tee on this fantastic half-par hole.  Make the safe play to the left and the hole essentially becomes a par 5.  Pull off the aggressive play down the right, and the green is both reachable and accessible.

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Whippoorwill’s incredible rolling terrain makes this an exciting hole.

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The large, undulating 14th green.

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The one-of-a-kind 14th hole at Whippoorwill.

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Hole 15 – 372yds – Par 4

A throwback hole, the 15th plays blind over a crest of a hill.  A directional flag behind the green gives a general idea of where to aim.

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The approach to the incredibly deep 15th green.  I imagine that this green sees more three putts than any other on the back 9.

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Not an ideal miss.

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Hole 16 – 546yds – Par 5

On this three-shotter, Banks’ skill for placing fairway bunkers is on display.  This is tame ground for Whippoorwill, and the fairway bunkers lend interest to the longest hole on the back side.

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The approach to 16.

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This view from the right side of the 16th green shows the climb, which starts gradually and becomes steeper.

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The view back down the sprawling 16th.

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Hole 17 – 158yds – Par 3

Banks’ eden template, and a good one, if a bit short.

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The view from the right, showing the gentle cant of the green toward the front right runoff.

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The deep bunker to the rear makes for a difficult recovery with the green running away.

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Hole 18 – 435yds – Par 4

An outstanding and beautiful closing hole, and typical for Whippoorwill in that it presents options off the tee.  The ideal position in the fairway varies substantially based on the day’s hole location (which, on this hole, with its massive green, are plentiful) and the wide fairway can accommodate many types of tee shots.

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The uphill approach to 18.  Nothing behind the green or pin to provide a sense of distance or scale.

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The beautiful setting of the 18th green.

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The view back down the excellent 18th hole.

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I’ve been raving about Whippoorwill since I played there, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the architecture of Charles Banks (or Macdonald/Raynor).  Banks fans could do worse than a 36-hole day at Whippoorwill and Tamarack.

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I hope you enjoyed the tour.


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Next 99 – Scott Pavalko & Jim Urbina at Bob O’Link

This post was a long time in the making.  Like Bob O’Link’s architectural history – first with Ross, then with Alison, and now with Urbina – it involves intertwined threads.

Growing up on the North Shore and caddying at Old Elm Club, I was aware of Bob O’Link, but had never seen or played it.  Fast forward to 2015 and a Golf Club Atlas dinner at which Jim Urbina gave a talk, while in town for the renovation project, introducing me to his perspective on architecture.  In 2016, I played Milwaukee CC and Orchard Lake, which piqued my interest in the work of C.H. Alison.

That same year, I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Pavalko who is a fellow Evanston resident, generous supporter of our efforts at Canal Shores, and all-around good guy.  He had me out to play and we were joined by Green Chairman Joe Burden,  It was a solid geek session, and I loved the course.

After Andy Johnson’s podcast with Jim Urbina, in which Jim’s passion came through so clearly, I decided that the time had come to tie all the threads together.  Scott and Jim graciously agreed to discuss the project and their work.  Enjoy the interview, and Scott’s gorgeous photos.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

SP:  I can’t ever remember a time where I wasn’t around the game of golf.  My father was a Superintendent in Ohio.  Some of my earliest photos of me are of playing around in sand piles or running around in bunkers at the course where he worked.  I fondly remember going back to the course with my dad to check on things in the evening.  He would let me drive the Cushman.

I learned to play from my grandfather.  “Papa” had retired from the US Steel in Youngstown Ohio by the time I was born.  He spent his time playing in muni leagues around Youngstown.  My recollection is that he played at least 6 rounds a week.  His friends called him “Silky” because of his smooth swing, as he regularly shot near par well into his 70’s.  My Dad was also a good player – he was inducted into his High School Hall of Fame for golf and shot a 29 (par 35) just months before beginning his battle with cancer.  Unfortunately, it’s a battle he lost in 2006.

Being a very “blue collar” town, public golf courses outnumbered private courses probably 7 to 1 so; this is how I came to know golf.  There is a great little “Par 3” course in Youngstown that my father managed at one time in his career.  I learned to play there, longest hole 127 yds, shortest hole 61 yds, I think it used to cost $4.75 for residents.  My Dad and I would compete in their annual  2 man team best ball tourney, we won the last time we played.

JU:  I never played golf growing up and Pete Dye who I started my design career with didn’t really care that I played golf; he said it would ruin my creativity as a shaper.  Didn’t start playing golf seriously until I moved to Del-Mar California while building Rancho Santa Fe Farms.

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

JU:  I rarely kept score when I was just starting out.  I found the Match Play game more to my liking and it kept me interested in the round a lot longer.  We use to play almost every weekend at Torrey Pines; we couldn’t work on Saturdays in Rancho Santa Fe – too many people at home around the golf course construction site on the weekends.

SP:  It wasn’t until I was 20 that I started working on a course with my father at Reserve Run Golf Course in Boardman Ohio.  I was living at home and going to college studying electronics engineering.  I quickly fell in love with the profession.  It probably had something to do with being able to see my Dad as something different than just my old man.  I realized why he had such a passion for his career and saw that he genuinely loved what he did.  This rubbed off on me.  I loved everything about working on a golf course.  Especially being outside and the freedom it presented.  A 150 acre office was hard to beat.

How did you get into the business?

SP:  After finishing my associates degree in electronics, I moved to Columbus Ohio to study Turfgrass Science at Ohio State University.  It was, at that point, the I really knew for certain that I wanted to be a Superintendent.  I loved my classes, I loved learning the science of plants, I loved everything about my time studying turf.  Then, I got hired at Muirfield Village Golf Club.  This changed my whole perspective on what turf maintenance should or could be.  My father’s course was a small public course that was the dream of two retired school teachers.  We had 1 fairway mower, 2 greens mowers and 3 maintenance carts.  Muirfield Village had 30 walking mowers, 10 triplexes for fairways and at least 30 maintenance vehicles.  I had no clue what I was getting in to.  My first Memorial Tournament was a blur and at the end of my first season, Paul B. Latshaw who had just hosted the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, became the Director of Grounds.  From Paul, and Jake Gargasz (who came with Paul from Oak Hill and is now the Superintendent at Crooked Stick) I learned a tremendous amount about preparing for tournaments, construction principles, and general agronomics.  The Muirfield Village aesthetic does not fit everywhere, nor should it, but I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to work there and learn from one of the best Superintendents in the country.

JU:  I had just graduated from college with a teaching degree; since I graduated mid-term I had to wait for job openings for the following school season.  I was going to go back and fight forest fires and work for the state forest service (that was my summer job while going to school), but my soon to be father in-law thought I should work on a golf course while waiting for a teaching job.  He thought that was a much better job, and safer too.

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

JU:  The chance to restore a classic Alison course was the first and foremost.  After touring Bob O’Link, I realized the potential it would offer the members, and after I met Scott Pavalko I knew his passion to do the right thing was in the right place.  As I have said before, all the moons were in alignment – the golf course had a great chance to be successful.

SP:  The project was a function of need.  I was fortunate enough to be hired at Bob O’Link in February of 2014.  We were in the midst of a historically cold and snowy winter which featured some unbelievable temperature swings that caused turf damage to many golf courses in our region.  Bob O’Link was no exception.  The greens had not been re-grassed in 90 years and as a result, featured a very high percentage of Poa annua.  Poa annua is very susceptible to winter damage.  In spots we had 80% turf loss.

The planning of the project began with a study of the golf course infrastructure.  Bob O’Link is a challenging site due to the fact that a large portion of the golf course lies in a flood plain.  Drainage was one of the most important aspects of the project.  This included greens, tees, fairways, bunkers, rough.  A famous turf professor from Penn State, Dr. Musser used to say, “the three most important things on a golf course are drainage, drainage and more drainage.”  With our soil types, this is definitely true.

What were your goals going into the project?

Bob O’Link had existed for 99 years before our project.  The overarching goal was to improve infrastructure for the next 99 years while taking the opportunity to sympathetically restore Alison’s intended features and strategy.

The goals were as follows:

  • Improve course infrastructure in such a way that the members can experience the course in the best condition for the most days of the season.
  • Add drainage where appropriate
  • Rebuild bunkers so that they can be maintained properly according to the members’ expectations
  • Improve control of the irrigation system so that fairways and greens can be firm while keeping the rough alive during the summer
  • Address Poa annua issues on greens and fairways
  • Obtain a source of irrigation water that is consistent and predictable by drilling a well (previously we were irrigating with water from the Skokie River)

JU:  To recapture the essence of these wonderful green complexes with the extraordinary large bunkers that supported the landform.

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Describe your process for a renovation of this nature.

SP:  The process really began by studying the current course conditions.  There were quite a few issues that needed to be addressed so that we could provide the level of conditioning that the members desired.  This helped us generate the goals above.

Luckily the Board of Directors had enough foresight to realize that while infrastructure was the driving force of the project, there was an opportunity to bring in a Course Architect to help bring everything together and improve the playability and strategy.

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

SP:  Yes!  It played a huge role.  We have a 1939 aerial photograph that served as a roadmap for the project.  Jim can likely give more details on how he used that photo to help with bunker placements, grass lines, etc.  I began to use aerial photography right away, even before Jim was hired but not necessarily from the architectural feature standpoint.  I used it to help people understand how the trees had not always been there.

JU:  Yes, aerials played a big part, but really it was the skeleton remains of land forms that help guide our way into the restoration process.  The two greens that were altered by previous renovations were molded in the shape of the other 16 greens at Bob O’Link.

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What were C.H. Alison’s strengths as an architect?

JU:  Massive green complexes, massive Bunkers to support the green elevations and the wonderful work of the drainage to make sure no bunker was dug too deep to surface drain even though the golf course was on almost dead flat topography.  Thoughtful viewscapes – a Bob O’Link original

SP:  For me, the scale of Alison’s green complexes is impressive.  By building huge, bold green complexes, he created the illusion of contour on a relatively flat property.

What elements of Alison’s design did you most want to highlight?

JU:  The ability to generate interesting and strategic design elements into these subtle putting green surfaces.  The impression that even though the holes felt like they played in a very narrow straight line corridor, the bunkers made the holes feel like they had movement depending on the line of play.  Holes 3-6 on the front side, and 10,11,13 on the back side are examples.

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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?

SP:  Given that this was the largest project at Bob O’Link since they hired Alison to redesign the original Ross course in 1924, there were certainly challenges.  I’ll just say that the Board of Directors of the club did a fantastic job of holding focus groups and getting feedback from the members.  Jim came several times to walk the course and answer questions.  Ultimately, we tried to complete a project that would allow the club to be successful for the next 100 years. We created a detailed book that was distributed to the members To explain the details of the project, but as you can imagine, this was a significant change that required a lot of faith in the Board of Directors, and they delivered.

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

SP:  For the members of Bob O’Link, they really want the best possible conditions on a daily basis.  So improving quality, not necessarily saving money, was the primary goal of our project.  That said, having new bentgrass turf, far fewer shade and tree root competition issues, USGA greens, well-constructed bunkers, and a drainage system that can handle large rainfalls, has certainly allowed us to cut back on chemical and fertilizer applications as well as redirect labor toward continuing course improvement vs maintaining the status quo.  Additionally we are in the process of converting some areas of mowed rough to un-mowed fine fescue which will eventually lead to lower water usage and labor mowing.  Our new irrigation system allows us to apply water where we need it and not where we don’t.  We really emphasize firmness over green, lush conditions, but we have the ability to keep the turf sufficiently healthy to withstand golfer traffic.

What makes you the proudest about the new Bob O’Link?

SP:  I am proud to have been a part of such an impactful project.  Working with Jim Urbina, Leibold Irrigation (our course builder), Joe Valenti (club president), Joe Burden (Chairman, Green Committee), Dan Watters (Head Golf Professional), and all others involved in the project has been the most rewarding event in my career.  I am proud and honored that the club leadership trusted me to help lead them through this project.

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What do you respect most about your collaborator?

JU:  Scott is a professional if every sense of the word.  He respected my wishes and understood what Alison stood for in the world of golf course design.  Without a Course Superintendent who appreciates the Golden Age of design, the history that he been entrusted with, and most importantly the ability to adapt the science with strategy, we would have not been so successful.

SP:  Jim is a great listener.  He has taught me more about architecture than I ever knew existed.  But most of all, he is never afraid to give credit to others.  As a world-renowned golf course architect, it would be easy to develop some ego, Jim has none.  He would more quickly give credit to the laborers installing sod than take it himself.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

SP:  There are so many things I love about my job.  The different challenges that each day presents: working with Mother Nature (sometimes against her); balancing the art of presenting a golf course with the science of plants; teaching and coaching young people who desire to become superintendents; seeing the sunrise every morning and seeing the sun set some evenings; being able to come to work with my dog; the sense of accomplishment when you and your team successfully solve a problem; meeting so many different types of people that are passionate about golf for different reasons – it’s really an amazing career and a labor of love.

JU:  I get to work outside, I have studied books and seen almost every golf course of architectural significance, and I get to meet wonderful people who share the same love of the game.  Crafting works of art on 150-acre canvases that people get to experience walking and playing in 3-dimensional form.  For all of that I get to call what I do my JOB – hardly a job, more like hobby!


THE PROJECT IN PICTURES

While addressing the infrastructural needs of the course, Jim, Scott and their crew transformed the way Bob O’Link looks and plays.  What was once a somewhat nondescript course in a crowded golf neighborhood, is now a standout – Golden Age strategy and feel, with artistic flourishes, all impeccably presented.

Scott generously provided the photos below, which present a photographic record of Bob O’Link’s rebirth.  For even more on the renovation, read Scott’s article in GCM Magazine here.

(click on mosaic images to enlarge)

THE BUILD

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Jim explains a bunker concept to the Shaper

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Bunkers under construction

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Jim explaining a green concept to the team

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Greenside bunker shaping

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Talking grass lines

THE TUNE-UP

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Topdressing the new 1st green

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Mowing run-ins on the 7th

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Jim surveying the finished product on the 9th

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Hand watering short of the 10th green

BEFORE & AFTER

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1939 aerial, open with bold features

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2011 aerial, choked with trees

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2018 aerial, with Alison’s intent restored

Hole #3 – Par 4 

Hole #4 – Par 3

Hole #8 – Par 3

BOB O’LINK TODAY (click on mosaic images to enlarge)

 


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Musings on Greenkeeping

Okay, that title is a bit click-baity.  These musings are not exactly about greenkeeping.  I know only enough to be dangerous.  What I do know with certainty is that a Golf Course Superintendent’s job is hard.

I have the good fortune of counting among my friends quite a few greenkeepers.  I watch them work and am perpetually impressed by how they pour their hearts into their work.  We players reap the rewards.  The following musings are tips intended to help players be significantly cooler than they often are to their Superintendents.  Necessarily, the tone of these musings is a bit preachy.  Forgive me – some folks need a tough love talking-to.

TIP #1 – Say “Thank You”

When you see your Super out on the course, if you really want to interrupt their work to have a chat, be cool.  Comments like, “Thanks for the hard work”, and “The course is playing great today”, and “How’s the family?” are appropriate.  Your critique of the course conditions that day are not.  Two reasons why.  The first is that feedback gathering is what your Green Chairman is for.  They take it all in, filter, prioritize and collaborate with your Superintendent to present the best conditions possible.  If your course is overseen by a benevolent dictator like my home course, then save your breath.  The second, and much more important reason, is that a Superintendent out on the course is a person in their happy place.  Just like you when you are playing.  They aren’t on the course to provide mobile suggestion box accessibility services for you.  It would be inappropriate and rude for a member of the maintenance crew to roll up and give you feedback on your swing sequence in the middle of the round.  See where I’m going with this?

In the unlikely event that your observations are so mission critical that the normal channels just won’t cut it, then make an appointment to talk to your Super.  Perhaps even buy them lunch.  Seem like too much trouble?  Then just stick to “Thank you”.

TIP #2 – You Don’t Know Greenkeeping

Perhaps you are a great businessperson, lawyer, doctor, or other professional.  I celebrate your success, truly and sincerely.  Your profession is not greenkeeping though, and whatever expertise you may have does not translate to agronomy and golf course maintenance.  Further, being good at hitting a golf ball does not mean that you know anything about doing the Superintendent’s job.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that players can’t tell the difference between good and poor conditions, and I am not saying that all Superintendents do a great job all the time.  What I am saying is that identifying problems is the easy part.  If you’ve noticed, they already have too.  What to do about those problems is an entirely different matter about which most players have no clue.  It’s therefore best to have some humility, let the experts do their job, and enjoy your round.

TIP #3 – Fast vs. True

Issues with pace of play and enjoyment of the game associated with stimpmeter obsession and the push for faster greens are well documented.  The truth is that most players are not skilled enough to handle greens much over 10 anyway, so stop asking your Super for those PGA Tour conditions.  Pushing the greens for speed increases cost, stresses turf, and makes your Superintendent’s job more difficult.  All for ego.  Golf is hard enough without those extra half-dozen three putts, as well as the lasting mental anguish for both you and your playing partners who had to watch.

What we should be asking for are putting surfaces that roll true.  There is a difference between fast and true, and the latter is ideal for almost all players.  Don’t you want to make more putts?  Of course you do.  Change your ask, and your Superintendent will happily oblige.  The turf will be happier too.

TIP #4 – Embrace the Seasons

Regardless of where you live, changing weather patterns affect your golf course.  Think of these patterns as seasons, and embrace seasonal changes.  The changes mean variety, and variety is the essence of golf’s goodness.

Your course is not supposed to look and play the same every day.  Expecting your Superintendent to deliver the same conditions rain or shine, monsoon or drought, spring, summer, and fall is an impossible standard.  You’ll stress out the staff, and waste money and resources in the process.  Instead, remember that part of the beauty of golf is that it takes us outside to get in touch with nature in all its varied glory.  Natural playing conditions, depending on the weather and season, are the standard that we should desire.

TIP #5 – The Course is for Playing

Golf courses are things of beauty.  They are a blend of art and science, and they are a joy to look at.  However, let’s not forget that a golf course is fundamentally a field of play.  It is for playing, first and foremost, and there are times when the best playing conditions might not be generally accepted as the prettiest.

Your Superintendent’s job is to provide the best possible playing surfaces.  If those surfaces can be pretty too, that’s great.  But if something has to give, give up the looks for the playability.  What is the point of a pretty green fairway if your drive plugs when it lands?  What is the point of having pretty trees and flowers if they detract from having the resources necessary to deliver putting surfaces that roll true?  Gardens are for pretty.  Courses are for play.

TIP #6 – Resources Must Match Expectations

In the unlikely event that you are reading this post while wearing your Augusta National member’s jacket, congrats.  Couldn’t be happier for you and the unlimited resources you are able to give to your Superintendent.  For everyone else, your course is not Augusta, and does not have those resources.

Do you know what your course’s maintenance budget is?  Do you know how that budget compares to other courses you play or see?  It’s helpful to know these numbers to give context to your expectations.  We all want our Superintendents to get the highest level of quality out of the resources they have.  Fair enough.  The best Supers are indeed miracle workers with stretching dollars and man hours.  The bottom line is that our expectations for playing conditions need to be reasonably aligned with available resources.

You on a beer budget?  Brother, you ain’t drinking champagne.

Go Out and Play

That wasn’t so bad, was it?  Just a few simple tips to give you the right mindset to actually be a friend to your Greenkeeper.  Practice it like your short game, and your time on the course will feel more like the privilege that it is.

During your time off the course, if you want to enhance your perspective by learning the basics of golf course architecture, I recommend Andy Johnson’s Architecture 101 series on The Fried Egg, and his podcast with Tom Doak.  To dive even deeper, grab yourself a book off the Geek’s Library shelves.


MORE GEEKED ON GOLF MUSINGS:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Man, The Myth – Kyle Hegland & Sand Hills

Sand Hills Golf Club was more a myth than a real place for me.  Located in Nebraska, Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece sparked a golf architecture renaissance that has fueled my passion for the subject, and the game itself.  I had heard stories that one could write a polite letter to Sand Hills’s owner, Mr. Youngscap, that might result in a once-per-life invite to visit.  Not sure whether or not that was true, I hadn’t mustered up the courage to give it a shot.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

While sharing holes from my Coore & Crenshaw’s Great 18 post on Twitter, people kept bringing up Sand Hills.  My repeated response was, “I can’t include that hole because I haven’t played it yet.”

And then I got the message.

Superintendent Kyle Hegland reached out and invited me to come to Mullen to make the myth a reality.  I remember sitting in front of my laptop for a minute, both dumbfounded and elated.  At the end of the following summer, my day came.  As much as I built the course up, it more than exceeded expectations.  My September to Remember post is a fuller expression of my thoughts with photos.  Here, I will simply say, Sand Hills is perfect.

Several things caused me to reach out to Kyle recently (on Twitter at @KyleHegland3) with a message of my own.  First, I listened to his terrific interview with Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg Podcast.  Second, a trickle of Sand Hills photos has been coming out from Jon Cavalier since his 2017 visit, and I was looking for an excuse to see a whole batch of them together.  And finally, Kyle is a stellar dude who does great work, and I was hoping that he would let me put him in the spotlight.  He graciously agreed to answer my questions, as well as provide hole-by-hole commentary.  As always, generous to a fault.

Enjoy Kyle’s thoughts and Jon’s photos.  If you have not already been, I hope that some day, the Sand Hills myth becomes reality for you too.

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THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

I loved baseball when I was younger and I needed a job that would allow me to make it to my afternoon Babe Ruth baseball games.  Plus, I had a couple buddies who thought working on a golf course would be cool.  I took a job on the grounds crew at Edelweiss Country Club in New Glarus, Wisconsin.  I had never played golf until I started working there.   It did not take long before I was playing pretty regularly.

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

I knew the game had firm grasp on me when I started planning all my leisure time around seeing more golf courses.  Not always playing but if it was old and interesting then I wanted to see it.

How did you get into the business?

I started working on a golf course in high school.  I grew up in rural south western Wisconsin, and the only thing I really knew was that I did not want to be a dairy farmer.  My Granddad was a dairy farmer and he would have gotten a kick out of the fact that I am basically a glorified farmer.  After a couple summers at Edelweiss CC my boss asked me if I ever thought about being a Superintendent.  At the time I did not even know what a Superintendent was.  After some time, research, and soul searching I decided I was “all in”, headed to Michigan State to study Turfgrass Management, and here I am.

Who have been your biggest influences, in and out of golf?

Inside the game of golf, I have been really fortunate to have Dick Youngscap and Doug Petersan as my biggest influences.  These two men have shaped me so much both personally and professionally, and I am forever indebted to them both.  I believe I worked hard to get to where I am today.  With that said I have been incredibly lucky to have such great mentors who challenged me, pushed me, but ultimately wanted me to succeed.

My mother is an amazing lady, who always encouraged me to be myself.  Without her love, support and encouragement I never would have had the confidence and strength to move halfway across the country to pursue my dreams.

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Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

For reasons I cannot fully explain I have always been really enamored with Seth Raynor, maybe because it is just too cliché to say Dr Mackenzie.  I love how Raynor’s style seems to still fit into the landscape in an entirely different way than Dr. Mackenzie’s.  I think you can love Chicago Golf Club and how that fits your eye, and turn the page and marvel at Cypress Point.  Truth is I need so see more of the Simpson’s, Langford’s, and Macan’s that the world has to offer.

Where were you before Sand Hills, and what were some of your key takeaways from those experiences?

I was lucky enough to go work for Doug Petersan at Austin Golf Club (AGC).  I started as a lowly intern and left as Doug’s Assistant.  Prior to my arrival at AGC I had never worked with warm season grasses.  Couple that with bentgrass greens in the deep south and it proved to be a wonderful learning experience.  Doug always pushed me to ask questions and solve problems, I was pretty lucky to have such a great learning environment.

What particular challenges does your course create from a maintenance perspective?

Let me state this very clearly, the climate at Sand Hills during the golf season is pretty ideal for a Superintendent, and believe me, that is not lost on me.  With that said the biggest challenge is the wind and large temperature swings.  The large fluctuations in temperature can be detrimental to turfgrass especially in the winter, as our biggest challenge each year is getting through the winter and into the growing season.  The wind is just relentless.  There are few places as consistently windy as we are, and it can be particularly damaging in the winter.  Our bunkers are natural blowouts for the most part and in the winter the wind can really do some damage.

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Why do you think it’s important for a Superintendent to be a student of golf course architecture?

I think it is!  I am not saying you have to be a full-blown golf architecture dork but if you have a general understanding of golf architecture it will only help you be a better Superintendent.  I encourage anyone in the golf industry to pick up a few books on architecture – it’s simple, it’s inexpensive and I guarantee that it will help everyone understand the game a little better, which I think makes you a better Superintendent.  A Superintendent can also do themselves a favor and just play more golf.  It really helps with understanding golf and golf architecture.

What do you wish players understood more about the work you do?

I think for the most part Superintendents are a little too hard on golfers.  What I think is tough to understand is how much work goes into keeping the playing surfaces consistent.  The weather is constantly changing.  If it has been hot and dry, it is pretty easy to keep the surfaces firm and fast.  It is much more difficult to do that after a rain event.  Playability is the engine that drives our philosophy here at Sand Hills.  We work really hard to make sure Ben and Bill’s vision is on display as much as possible, but if mother nature wants to mess that up…. well… she is still undefeated last I checked.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Watching the sun come up, knowing you have the golf course dialed in – that is pretty special.  What I really love is how unpredictable each day can be, as a Superintendent you are forced to make all kinds of decisions and rarely have all the variables.  We think that we are pretty good problem solvers here and that gets challenged every day.  I love that challenge.

Which course(s) do you most want to see next?

There are few things I like more than seeing a golf course for the first time – it’s enchanting.  I have never been to the north east and Myopia and Old Sandwich are right at the top for golf courses I want to see.  At Austin Golf Club, there are three pictures of Australian sand belt courses in the maintenance facility.  I have dreamed about seeing those places too many times to count, so heading to Australia (and surrounding Islands) is probably at the very top of the list.

Other than Sand Hills, if you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

If we’re talking just about the golf course, then it is pretty easy for me to say National Golf Links.  That place just fits my personality, my game and I am pretty confident it would keep me interested for the rest of my life.

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Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

We are just about done with our major bunker work that we started about six years ago.  We have done it all in house and are really proud of that.  Other then that we have some really exciting news on the horizon but I am not at liberty to share just yet, so you will have to stay tuned.

When you aren’t working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

I have a lovely wife (Ashely) and two kids (Riley who’s 9 and Carson who is 5) that keep me pretty busy as a husband and father.  We love being outdoors and playing pretty much any and all sports.  If the weather is good we get to the lake as much as possible.  Living in a small community we are also dedicated Mullen Bronco fans and enjoy watching our boys and girls compete during the school year.


SAND HILLS GOLF CLUB

There are many reasons why Sand Hills is a 108 in 48er for me.  Chief among them are the beginning to end strength of the holes, and walkability of the routing.  Sand Hills flows, from the first tee to the eighteenth green.

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My doodle, illustrating the green-to-tee brilliance of the Sand Hills routing

Beyond Mr. Youngscap, Bill Coore, and Ben Crenshaw, nobody knows Sand Hills better than Kyle.  His hole-by-hole commentary follows.

HOLE #1 – Par 5 – 521 yards

A ridiculously underrated golf hole, you can get away with a couple loose or misplaced shots until you get ready for your third shot.  Mishit that shot and you will pay dearly for it.  A severely tilted back to front green – above the pin can be diabolical.

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HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 368 yards

Swallow your pride and get a tee shot into the fairway so you can place your approach shot onto the proper tier of this two-tiered green.  The wildest of the green complexes on property, if you miss the proper tier, a two putt is a great escape.  Not golf related, take time to head to the northwest corner of the green surround.  This is one of my favorite places to collect my thoughts.  If you don’t think you can spare the minute for reflection, then you need more than a minute.

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HOLE #3 – Par 3 – 216 yards

Always plays a little longer than the yardage and often is into a breeze.  When the wind is at your back play it safe and leave it on the left side, but don’t be long.

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HOLE #4 – Par 4 – 409 yards

Smash your drive and then execute a precise approach.  A difficult green to hit, especially downwind.  Miss to the right and not the left on your approach as a massive blowout guards this green.

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HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 387 yards

Do me a favor and play this from the “super” back tee at least once on a visit.  This might be the most strategic tee shot on the golf course.  You have places to miss but you are rewarded for a drive that hugs the right side, while avoiding the bunkers.  Your reward is a clear look at the green – a green that I marvel at daily.  Keep your shot on the same side of the spine as the flag and make a birdie.

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HOLE #6 – Par 3 – 198 yards

A massive green dominates the view.  A ball on the proper quadrant is ideal, short and left is way better off than short-right.  If you are long, make sure the pin is in the back or you’re going to stare at a big number.

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HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 283 yards

Left is dead, especially if the pin is in the front, so put your driver away and hit something in the fairway and let your wedge game get you a birdie.  The massive blowout bunker dominates your sight and psyche – stay away and you’ll be fine.  If you’re feeling like a stud hit driver, just don’t miss and do not go long.

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HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 293 yards

From the member tee’s I think it is actually pretty easy.  Hit a driver and see what happens.  Guarded almost completely by bunkers, use the kick boards short to make the approach easier.  If you’re playing from the back tee, it’s pretty straightforward.  Get a tee shot in the fairway and depending on where the pin is, you now have literally a million options depending on where the pin is and how creative you can be.

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HOLE #9 – Par 4 – 371 yards

A devil of a hole, and the only blind tee shot we have.  Take a little off your tee shot and get one in the fairway.  The 9th green is diabolical, no one has hit more putts on this green than me and it still confuses me frequently.  Side note is if there are people on the porch I can all but assure you they are betting on whether or not you’re going to make that putt.

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HOLE #10 – Par 4 – 426 yards

The tenth is a brute….club up on your second shot and hit it up the left side and let the natural contours funnel the ball to the green.

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HOLE #11 – Par 4 – 348 yards

A very strategic hole where hitting the fairway is essential to hitting the green with your approach.  This green is very exposed and when the wind is up can be a real challenge to putt while also playing the wind.  A green that is often missed, it’s better to be short and safe than long and dead.

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HOLE #12 – Par 4 – 354 yards

A “hog’s back” fairway that is easily hit, a premium is placed on keeping your shot on the top of the hog’s back, being rewarded with a clear view of the green.  A large green guarded by a fierce blowout on the right side.

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HOLE #13 – Par 3 – 185 yards

What I think is the most difficult hole on the golf course, a large green with not a lot of safe play options.  Getting the ball up the hill to have a clear view of the putting surface is ideal.

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