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Journey Along the Shores – Part 15b (Metra Corner Update)

After all of the improvements that we have made to the 15th hole, it is really shining right now.  I took a quick walk this morning to grab final photos of the bunkers in the bright summer sunshine to complete this update on our work on #15.

The larger Metra Corner Makeover project (as outlined in this previous JATS post) continues to move along, and has now expanded to include the 14th, 17th, and 18th holes – the entire Metra Loop – in no small part because of the growing wave of support we have received from our volunteers and neighbors.  More updates to come on other holes as the work progresses.

For now, I’ll focus on my new favorite hole on the course, the 15th.

THE BUNKERS

Rework of the bunkers began in the fall of 2016.  We had an old fairway bunker complex that had grown over that we decided could use a little more character.  A bunker short-left of the green was removed, and the bunker short right of the green repositioned and reshaped.

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Fairway grass bunkers before work began

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Short right bunker before work began

The inspiration for the look of the bunkering came from a photo of Hollywood Golf Club, a Walter Travis design in NJ that has been recently restored by the Renaissance Golf team, as well as a bunker I saw at The Rawls Course in TX, a Tom Doak design.

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Hollywood GC

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The Rawls Course

Our Super Tom Tully cut the sod (thanks to the generosity of Brian Bossert from Bryn Mawr CC), and made us a big ol’ dirt pile from the mounds surrounding one of the grass bunkers.

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I dug out and sodded the right nostril.

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My buddy Peter Korbakes dug out and sodded the left nostril.

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My buddy John Creighton shaped and sodded the nose.

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Approaches were seeded, to grow in in the spring.

Next up were the greenside bunkers.  Pat Goss, David & Lindsay Inglis and players from the NU golf team pitched in with our volunteers the fill in the left bunker and reposition/rework the right bunker.

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The right bunker came to be known as “the gash”, and by the time we finished shaping and sodding, we felt that it was a fitting homage to Mr. Doak’s original.

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We were joined in our gash work by Dave Lockhart, videographer and fellow golf geek. Dave did double duty, helping us to finish the digging, while also capturing footage for a nice piece he did on Canal Shores.

 

FAIRWAY EXPANSION

In the spring, we had several productive and fun volunteer sessions, working our way down the left side of the 15th.  We removed buckthorn and other invasives to help turf thrive and to create space to expand the fairway left.  The neighbor support we received at these sessions was astounding, allowing us to move quite quickly.

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An out-of-place bush and spruce tree were removed, and the fairway was widened right to highlight the interesting shape of a large grass bunker.  Players were also given room to steer clear of the principal’s nose, giving life to our vision for more interesting strategy on a hole that had previously been bland.

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Our new Superintendent Tony Frandria and his crew filled the new bunkers with sand, and began the slow process of tuning up the mowing patterns around the new bunkers, and on the green pad.  In spite of challenging weather, the 15th looks better every day, and is now a joy to play for golfers of all skill levels.

(click to enlarge images)

 

Work is already well underway on the 16th hole.  Stay tuned for more updates as the makeover of our beloved Metra Loop continues…


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

 

 

 


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America’s Great 18s

After seeing an article in a golf magazine about the perfect 18 holes, I got to thinking about what my favorite 18 holes would be.  After all, I love a good list.  With no offense to the publication in question, I find the typical lists to be a bit too easy to create.  It’s more interesting to me to put together these “greatest hits” courses by hole number.  That requires some digging into the database.  Further, I prefer to limit my lists to courses that I have played.

First I was thinking, and then I started texting – with Jon Cavalier (on Twitter and Instagram @linksgems) and Peter Korbakes (co-founder of Sugarloaf Social Club, on Twitter and Instagram @pgkorbs).  As is the case with everything in golf, creating lists is more fun with buddies.  In short order, we had more great holes on the table than one list could accommodate, so we decided to split up our Great 18 into two Great 18s – Modern and Classic.

UPDATE:  I started a thread on Golf Club Atlas that has yielded additional nominations, and quite a bit of interesting discussion (follow along here).  I have compiled the nominations for all Modern holes from GCA, Twitter, and Instagram and added them below.  Our original Runners Up are asterisked.

(click on images below to enlarge)


AMERICA’S GREAT 18 – MODERNS

#1 – Sand Hills – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

An opener should provide a gentle handshake, but not lay down.  It should give hints of what’s to come, without spoiling surprises.  The 1st at Sand Hills checks these boxes, which coupled with the magical land on which it sits, makes for a truly great starting hole.

The angled tee shot allows the player to bite off as much as they feel they can with that first swing.  Blowout bunkers flank the fairway and guard the approach to the green, providing the player with a good sense of the beauty and challenge to come.

The outstanding green sits in the saddle of the hills.  Approaches with elevation change, especially those that are uphill and semi-blind, abound at Sand Hills and deliver suspenseful thrills.

Honorable Mentions – Apache Stronghold*, Ballyneal, Bayside, Boston Golf Club*, Dunes Club, French Creek, Kingsley, Old Macdonald*, Old Sandwich, Streamsong Blue*, Spyglass, Sweetens Cove, Tobacco Road, Wolf Run

#2 – Sebonack – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

We are fascinated by the collaboration between Messrs. Nicklaus and Doak, which yielded some truly great holes.  Beginning with a tee shot between two old growth trees to a rumpled fairway split by massive blowout bunkers, the 2nd is also one of Sebonack’s toughest holes.

But what makes this hole great is its greensite, sliced diagonally into the dunes, protected by a dune that obscures its right side.  The green features strong internal contours and a wicked false front.

Honorable Mentions – Apache Stronghold*, Ballyhack, Ballyneal, Bandon Preserve, Boston GC, Desert Forest, Dismal Red, Erin Hills*, French Creek, Harbour Town, Hidden Creek, Honors Course, Kingsley Club*, Kinloch, Lost Dunes*, Old MacDonald*, Old Sandwich, Pacific Dunes, Radrick Farms, Rock Creek, Rustic Canyon, Sand Valley*, Snake River Sporting Club, Streamsong Blue*, Spyglass, Stone Eagle, Talking Stick North*, Wolf Point

#3 – Bandon Trails – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 3rd at Trails marks the transition from the dunes to an inland forested landscape.  This position in the routing gives it a unique feel, and underpins its greatness.  Stepping on to the tee of this hole proves that it doesn’t take an ocean to create a dramatic reveal.

The third is more than its setting though, featuring a wide fairway with the trademark centerline Coore & Crenshaw hazards that we love.  Two smallish bunkers in the right spots can dictate strategy for 500 yards.

The large green is open to approach through the air or on the ground, with beautifully done contours that blend seemlessly into the surrounds.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs*, Ballyneal*, Black Forest*, Boston Golf Club*, Colorado GC*, CommonGround*, Erin Hills*, Kiawah Ocean, Mauna Kea, Old Macdonald*, Pacific Dunes*, Sand Valley*, Spyglass Hill*, Wade Hampton*

#4 – Bandon Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The first seaside hole at the original Bandon course, the par-4 4th is a clear sign to the player that the golf here is something special.  The tee shot is played to a pinched fairway between a pot bunker and general nastiness.  Be aggressive and get a better view which brings the greenside bunkers into play, or lay back for an angle that opens the green but obscures the view?  Strategic options…check.

The approach reveals the ocean, and is tough to judge with the staggered bunkers in front and the end of the Earth behind.  To add to the confusion, the option of a running approach up the front right is on the table.  Eyes confused, mind scrambled,  good luck with that golf swing.

Arriving at the green and having the first real interaction with the Pacific is a stirring experience for any golf geek.

Honorable Mentions – Dismal River Red, Dismal River White, Dunes Club*, Old Sandwich*, Pacific Dunes*, Sand Hills*, Spyglass Hill*, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, Sweetens Cove, World Woods Pine Barrens

#5 – Boston Golf Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jason Way

This short par-4 is polarizing, and you can put us firmly in the LOVE camp.  In fact, a fair argument could be made that the 5th at Boston GC is the greatest modern short four on the planet.

It begins with a blind drive with two options.  Head out to the left leaving a short approach into the green, which is extremely shallow from that angle.  Going high, bump and running, and even putting are options from that position, but a deft touch for distance is required.  Challenging the nasty right side bunkers off the tee leaves a much better angle into the green and plenty of depth to work with, but the view might be partially obstructed by the rugged bunker mounds.

The 5th takes a strategic plan and execution to conquer.  For those who aren’t clear and confident…well, it’s named Shipwreck for a reason.  Gil Hanse’s work on this hole is unequivocally great.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs, Bandon Dunes*, Blackwolf Run River, Cuscowilla, Old Sandwich*, Streamsong Blue*, Sweetens Cove*

#6 – Marquette Golf Club – Greywalls – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

This is adventure golf at its finest – a clifftop to clifftop par-3 playing to a green set in a bowl of rock, with views for miles.

While this kind of golf risks being overdone, perhaps Mike DeVries greatest achievement at Greywalls was in making holes fitting of the rugged setting, while still being quite playable and fun.

Honorable Mentions – Apache Stronghold*, Bandon Dunes*, Crooked Stick, French Creek, Kinloch, Old Macdonald*, Old Sandwich*, Pacific Dunes*, Pikewood National*, Streamsong Blue*, The Golf Club, Wade Hampton*, Whistling Straits*

#7 – Old Macdonald – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

This hole, which might be our favorite at Bandon, begins with an awkward drive to a rumpled fairway at the foot of an ocean dune.  The thrilling approach is blind up to the top of the dune.  Climbing this hill is like coming downstairs as a child on Christmas morning.

Well played and fortunate approaches come to rest on the green.  For the poorly executed, or plain unlucky, all manner of dreadful outcomes are possible.

Critical choices made in the field can result in greatness.  The collaborative choice among Mike Keiser, Tom Doak, and Jim Urbina of where to locate the green on Old Mac’s 7th is the perfect example.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyneal*, Bandon Dunes*, Crooked Stick, Desert Forest*, Dunes Club*, Harbor Shores*, Old Sandwich*, Sand Hills, Sand Valley*,  Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*

#8 – Ballyneal – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

Like waves upon a great body of water, Ballyneal’s 8th ripples and rolls seemlessly from tee to fairway to green.  The fairway of this five-par snakes between fairway bunkers right and short-left of the green, and runs right into a green on the wild side of the Doak crew’s spectrum.

The hole is short enough to goad the player into heroism.  However, the bunkers, uneven lies, and the green itself amount to the rope with which one can hang oneself.  If the bold bunkers weren’t challenge enough, the variety of possible bounces throws the concept of fair right out the window, like many of the greatest holes do.

Honorable Mentions – Bandon Trails*, CommonGround*, Old Macdonald, Pronghorn Fazio, Sand Hills*, Sweetens Cove*, The Rawls Course*

#9 – Erin Hills – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

With its green floating in an ocean of fescue, the 9th at Erin Hills provides the great thrill of watching one’s tee shot float down while praying that it finds a safe landing amongst the sand and the waving grass.

The large green is defended by artful bunkering, offering some opportunity for bailout, but pick the wrong spot and the artful quickly morphs into the nightmarish.  Escape is not guaranteed.

Although the putting surface on the ninth is large, a trough divides it into two sections and makes it play much smaller.  Shots played safely to the middle leave the player with the potential for a real putting adventure.

Honorable Mentions – Bandon Trails, Blackstone, Boston GC, Chambers Bay, Crooked Stick*, Friars Head*, French Creek*, Honors Course*, Monterey Peninsula Dunes, Old Macdonald*, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, Stone Eagle

#10 – Chambers Bay – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Chambers Bay is a modern marvel that was made, but often appears found.  The tenth is one of those spots and is the total package of beauty, strategy, and attention to detail.  Starting with beauty, the hole rolls down between the dunes with the sound beyond.

Continuing with strategy, the player can choose a line and distance off the tee to try and gain an advantage, as well as the option of ground or aerial approach into the diagonal green.  The green provides a nice balance of opportunity for creative risk-taking, and peril.

Culminating with attention to detail on and around the green – the contours, the bunkering, the stairs, paths, fescue waving in the breeze.  Like all great holes, Chambers Bay #10 engages both sides of the brain, and stirs to soul.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyhack*, Boston Golf Club*, Colorado GC*, Harbor Shores*, Kiawah Ocean, Monterey Peninsula Shore, Pacific Dunes*, Rock Creek Cattle, WeKoPa Saguaro*, Wolf Run

#11 – Lost Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 11th at Lost Dunes provides challenge throughout, playing uphill between bunkers.  The large bunker right, between the 11th and 12th, is both terrific and not where you want to be.

The true greatness of this hole is at the green – a wonderful putting surface set in a magnificent spot in the saddle of a dune.  Large, and beautifully contoured, it is a joy to attack.

Looking back after holing out, the player gets a magnificent view of the property below.  This hole, in this special spot, begins one of the best stretches in all of golf.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyneal*, Bayonne*, Blackwolf River Run, Boston Golf Club*, Cuscowilla, Desert Forest*, Monterey Peninsula, Old Macdonald*, Sand Hollow*, Sebonack*, Whistling Straits, Woodlands CC

#12 – Kingsley Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Greatness can be found in simplicity.  At Kingsley’s 12th, Mike DeVries used restraint in laying this elegant and beautiful hole on the land.  The result is a great par-4 on one of our favorite courses.

This bunkerless beauty ripples and rolls downhill to a green set in a valley.  The fairway flows off the hill right, and the green rolls off a hill left.  The savvy player can use slopes to gain position and advantage.  Subtle contours and breaks on the green and surrounds confuse, confound, and give ample motivation to come back again.

No trip down the twelfth is complete without a pause to look back and appreciate the ground that nature prepared.  It is one of the most scenic spots on a course where breathtaking natural beauty is the norm.  Simply sublime.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs*, Ballyneal, Bandon Dunes*, Black Forest*, Chechessee Creek, Erin Hills*, French Lick Dye, Honors Course*, Old Memorial, Pacific Dunes*, Royal Isabella, Talking Stick North*, The Rawls Course*, Wolf Creek*

#13 – Pacific Dunes – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Bold and beautiful, the 13th at Pac Dunes shoves its greatness in your face.  It runs north along the ocean cliff, packing pulse-quickening strategic options and jaw-dropping natural beauty.  Our favorite hole on one of our favorite modern courses.

The fairway is quite generous, but seems anything but.  The best angle into the elevated green is gained by favoring the left-center of the fairway, which feels flirting dangerously with the cliff.  It’s a real “hike up your knickers” moment in a round at Pacific Dunes.

There is plenty of room to bail out right off the tee, but that position brings bunkers and the enormous dune right of the green into play.  The green itself is no pushover either, with a false front and ample internal contours.  Add to that mix the whipping wind that can affect even short putts, and the 13th is more than able to provide a flatstick adventure.

In terms of rugged, natural, and awe-inspiring beauty the Pacific Ocean and the massive dune conspire to put Pacific Dunes #13 in a category of greatness all its own.

Honorable Mentions – Arcadia Bluffs, Atlanta CC, Butler National, Honors Course, Kingsley Club*, Old Macdonald*, Old Sandwich*, Sand Hollow*, Streamsong Blue*, Wade Hampton*, WeKoPa Saguaro*, Whistling Straits*

#14 – Friars Head – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Friar’s Head is one of a small handful of modern courses that is so pure that any of its holes could have been included in the Great 18, but we settled on this par-5 as our favorite.  It snakes, switches back, and rolls uphill creating all manner of interesting lies and angles.

The triangle-shaped green allows for testy pin positions that must be considered from the tee all the way up the fairway to the approach.  The massive dune ridge creates a natural amphitheater for one of the most breathtaking inland green settings in golf.

To cap it off, the 14th has the coolest set of stairs in the game.  The triumphant player ascends proudly to the next tee.  The defeated player crawls on hands and knees.

Honorable Mentions – Black Diamond Ranch, Brickyard Crossing, Butler National, Chambers Bay, CommonGround*, Desert Forest*, Dormie Club*, Erin Hills, Kiawah Ocean*, Kingsley Club*, Lost Dunes*, Old Macdonald*, Radrick Farms, Sand Hills*, Secession, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, Talking Stick South*

#15 – Black Diamond Ranch – Quarry – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

As the player stands on the tee of this par-4 preparing to play down into the quarry, it is evident that Tom Fazio pursues his creative vision unapologetically, moving earth and blasting rock until he has what he wants.  The green sits in a sliver of safety with rock above and water below.  Imprecise approach shots are given little quarter down here.

Perhaps the pendulum has swung away from the “hand of man” style of architectire, but we are of the opinion that variety is great and no geek can live on minimalism alone.

Honorable Mentions – Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Chambers Bay*, Crooked Stick, Diamond Springs, Erin Hills*, Friars Head*, Harbor Town, Kingsley Club, Lost Dunes*, Old Macdonald*, Sand Hollow*, Shadow Creek, Shepherds Crook, Streamsong Blue*, Streamsong Red*, The Rawls Course*, TPC Scottsdale, WeKoPa Saguaro*, Wildhorse, World Woods Pine Barrens

#16 – Streamsong Red – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The basis for this bold version of the biarritz was found in the mining spoils and brought to vivid life by the Coore & Crenshaw crew.  With blowout bunkers in front and a steep runoff left, this hole is a next level re-imagination of the classic template.

Situated next to stellar 7th on Streamsong’s Blue course, the 16th is a unique and spectacular spot in golf.  The boldness and scale of this hole is the perfect beginning to the Red course’s special closing stretch.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyneal*, Bandon Dunes*, Bayonne*, Colorado Golf Club*, Desert Forest*, Erin Hills*, Hudson National*, Kingsley Club*, Old Macdonald*, Pacific Dunes*, Poipu Bay, Sand Hills*

#17 – Whistling Straits – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

For visual beauty and drama, it is tough to beat the set of par-3s at The Straits, and the 17th is our favorite.  It plays south along the Lake, exposing it to the oft-stiff wind.  At distances from 165 yards all the way up to 249 yards, this hole is appropriately named Pinched Nerve for the acute pain that it can deliver to players whose tee shots are uncommitted.

The putting surface is contoured just enough that the adventure doesn’t end when the green is reached.  After surviving the test that is The Straits to this point, mustering par feels like a big victory.

Our Modern Great 18 would not have felt complete without a hole from Pete Dye, and for us, the stout 17th at Whistling Straits was a worthy choice.

Honorable Mentions – Ballyhack*, Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Bayonne*, Boston Golf Club*, Dormie Club, Erin Hills*, Forest Dunes*, Friar’s Head*, Manele, Pacific Dunes, Sand Hills*, Sand Valley*, TPC Sawgrass*

#18 – Stonewall Country Club – Old – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Credit Tom Doak and crew for changing Tom Fazio’s original routing for this hole and creating one of the best finishers in golf – modern design with a classic vibe.

The pretty tee shot plays to a wide but well defended fairway, but this hole is all about the greensite, fronted by deep bunkers but open to a ground shot from the left, and sitting mere feet from the old farmhouse and barn.

Honorable Mentions – Bayonne*, Black Forest*, Harbour Town*, Kapalua Plantation, Old Macdonald*, Sand Hills*, Sand Valley*, Sebonack*, Shadow Creek*, WeKoPa Saguaro*


AMERICA’S GREAT 18 – CLASSICS

#1 – National Golf Links of America – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Step on to the first tee box at National and feast your eyes: to your left, the 18th green and Peconic Bay; straight ahead, the beautiful clubhouse and your target fairway; slightly to your right, the iconic windmill.  Macdonald’s Valley template isn’t often seen in true form any longer, but this gem of a hole, with its intricate bunkering and its wild, undulating green sets a perfect tone for a round on one of the best courses in all of golf.

Honorable Mentions – Crystal Downs, Whitinsville, Oakmont, Inverness, Mountain Lake, Skokie CC

#2 – Old Elm Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Quite simply, the 2nd at Old Elm is timeless architectural design. While short in length, the necessity of accuracy looms large.  As technology has rendered helpless many holes designed in the golden age, the 2nd cannot be overpowered merely by 300 yard pops.  The knoll green is small and plays smaller, exacting a price on even near misses – the pressure of the approach puts the golfer in a stressful position back in the fairway.

Honorable Mentions – Myopia, Garden City, Shoreacres, Somerset Hills, Pine Valley, Old Town Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club

#3 – Oakmont – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Given that we have started our course with three straight four pars under 400 yards, I guess that we have made a statement about our perspective on the link between length-based difficulty and greatness.  Not an intentional statement, but there it is.

With regard to Oakmont’s third, it is iconic because of the church pews, and they are really neat.  But they are not what I think makes this hole great.  The way that the hole lays upon the hillside is the first part of its greatness.  The slope of the hill from high right to low left is subtly disorienting.  It looks cool, but it does not look quite right, and that creates an awkwardness that must be overcome to hit a good drive.

The blind approach to the top of the hill makes the kind of demand that we love.  And the green itself, which has a false front AND runs away from back to front is no lay down to hit and hold.  Approaches that come up short leave a tricky recovery, but it is hard to muster up the guts to err on the side of going long when looking up the hill.

Once on the green, the third is gentle by comparison to others at Oakmont which means that the player who rises to the tee-to-green challenge is rewarded with a legit opportunity to hole a putt.

Honorable Mentions – Olympia Fields CC North, LACC North, Kittansett, Wannamoisett, Camargo, Chicago GC, NGLA, The Country Club, Pine Valley, Pasatiempo, Piping Rock

#4 – Fishers Island – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

If any one hole captures the greatness of Fishers Island, it’s this one.  Before teeing off, players note the day’s pin position on a pegboard.  Options abound off the tee, and players hit anything from driver to mid-iron, depending on their chosen line and the wind, aiming at the alps hill at the end of the fairway.  That hill makes the approach shot blind.  The hole culminates in the best punchbowl green in all of golf, one that must be seen to be believed.  The walk over the alps hill, when this green first comes into view, is one that no golfer will ever forget.

Honorable Mentions – Chicago GC, Bethpage Black, Inverness, Myopia, Seminole, Pinehurst #2

#5 – Merion – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

A simple yet extremely difficult hole, Merion’s fifth begins with a tee shot to a canted fairway sweeping left toward a small creek that runs the length.  Aggressive tee shots challenging the creek will have the better approach.  The green is a masterwork of simplicity and terror, with a steep slope toward the creek.  Any approach with right to left movement into this green risks winding up in the hazard, and putts from above a left pin often meet the same watery fate.

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Honorable Mentions – Crystal Downs, Chicago GC, Fishers Island, Pinehurst #2, Riviera, Old Town Club, Mountain Lake, Philadelphia Cricket Club

#6 – Eastward Ho! – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The 6th hole at Eastward Ho! is one of the most spectacular par 4s in American golf.  Plunging sharply downhill through a valley created by some of the most severely sloping fairways you’ll ever see, the 6th plays shorter than its yardage but is far from easy.  The elevated green sits hard on the water’s edge, providing panoramic views of the bay and the small islands in the distance.

Honorable Mentions – The Creek Club, Shoreacres, Olympia Fields CC South, Seminole, Riviera, Lawsonia, Roaring Gap Club, Pebble Beach

#7 – Lawsonia Links – Par-3

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Photo by Jason Way

Any hole that was built by burying a large piece of machinery is great in our book, but the 7th at Lawsonia is more than just an epic construction story.  It embodies the combination of enormous scale of greens and hazards with subtle genius green contours that Langford & Moreau designed into nearly every hole on the course.

There is plenty of green to work with from the tee, but it doesn’t look that way relative to the massive drop-off right.  That causes a tendency to bail out left.  Balls that find the bunker left are no picnic either, with overzealous explosions risk running across the green and right down to the spot the player was attempting to avoid in the first place.

This a great hole, and it isn’t even our favorite on the course.  Count us among Lawsonia’s devotees.

Honorable Mentions – Chicago GC, Ekwanok, Kittansett, Maidstone, Crystal Downs, Pebble Beach, Inverness

#8 – Pebble Beach – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Words on their own cannot properly describe the majesty of the 8th at Pebble.  Hitting blind, the hole kicks off with a flare for links golf.  Upon reaching the crest, the player is met with a jaw-dropping vista that few, if any, holes in the game can replicate. With winds whipping, and a thrilling approach looming, the iconic eighth defines timelessness for its players.

Honorable Mentions – Crystal Downs, Orchard Lake, Essex County Club, Blue Mound, Prairie Dunes, Maidstone, Wykagyl, Pine Valley, Riviera, Old Town Club, Yale

#9 – Myopia Hunt Club – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Much of the rest of Myopia has a very simple and elegant style to it.  This one-shotter, with its wild bunkering, is an explosion of artistic flair.

The green too is unique in my experience.  Oriented slightly on an angle to the tee and extremely narrow, it is one of those greens (like the 2nd at Kingsley and 17th at Sand Hills) that is easiest to hit the first time, when the player isn’t fully aware of just how small the target is.

Honorable Mentions – Oakmont, Milwaukee CC, Yale, Maidstone, Shinnecock, Pebble Beach, Onwentsia, Fishers Island, Pinehurst #2

#10 – Shoreacres – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

With the tree clearing and fairway widening undertaken by Brian Palmer and crew, an argument can be made (and we would probably make it) that this is the best Road Hole template in America.

The depression down the right, with its beautiful contours, plays the role of the hotel.  Misjudged tee shots that find this low area of rough can recover, but have almost no chance of holding the green, which is elevated and kept firm.

The right must be challenged though in order to get an angle into the green that provides any hope of holding.  A long bunker playing the role of the road awaits unsuccessful attempts at the frontal assault.

The road hole bunker fronting the green is not as difficult as other MacRaynor versions, but it still dictates strategy, and provides ample challenge for those unfortunate enough to find it.  Like the original, a long left bailout option exists at SA #10 in the form of a closely mown runoff, but taking this route leaves the player with a testy bump, chip, or putt up to a green that is typically lightning quick.

This hole at Shoreacres, perhaps more than any other, cannot be overpowered and rewards the player who combines strategic thinking with savvy execution.

Honorable Mentions – Shinnecock, Milwaukee CC, Prairie Dunes, Riviera, Winged Foot West, Chicago GC, Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Yale, Kirtland CC

#11 – The Country Club – Par-5

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Just like the TCC, our Great 18 does not reach its first three-shotter until the 11th, and this one is wonderful.

Snaking downhill between rock outcroppings, over a creek, and then back up to a green set above a series of staggered bunkers, the 11th encapsulates the timeless beauty and depth of character of The Country Club.  It also provides the player a chance to decide between conservative and aggressive plays on the tee, and on the second shot.  Thoughtful aggressiveness is rewarded with a legitimate chance at birdie.  Recklessness is punished – as it should be.

Honorable Mentions – Merion, Essex County Club, Kittansett, Camargo, Shinnecock, Plainfield CC, Fishers Island, Seminole, Mountain Lake, Olympia Fields CC South, Brookside Canton

#12 – Old Town Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Options abound at Old Town.  At the twelfth, the player must decide whether to play up the high left side of the fairway, leaving a sidehill approach that is shorter but blind to the green, or to play right to a lower, flatter part of the fairway further back from which the green is visible. The variety of the landforms and terrain at Old Town is staggering, and they are on full display on this great hole.

c12-oldtown1-jcHonorable Mentions – Oakmont, Essex County Club, Prairie Dunes, Wannamoisett, Shoreacres, Skokie CC

#13 – Pine Valley – Par-4

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Photo by Peter Korbakes

Likely the purest hole at the Valley.  It is said Crump did not move any land to find the 13th – he simply took out a few trees, spread some seed, and put a tee in the ground.  Demands are plentiful from the choice of a strategic line off the tee, to the heart pounding approach, to the extreme caution necessary while on the dance floor.  When it comes to natural holes, few exceed the 13th.

Honorable Mentions – Orchard Lake, Essex County Club, Onwentsia, Kirtland CC, Seminole

#14 – Crystal Downs – Par-3

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Photo by Jason Way

What makes this one-shotter great is the green.  It is packed with subtle contour and canted, a combination that can provide just as much misery as its more overtly severe back-nine sibling, the 11th.

What makes this hole one of our all-time favorite short threes is the much improved setting.  The green sits on a perch behind and among wonderful MacKenzie/Maxwell bunkers, and appears slightly crowned from the tee.  Tree clearing on the ridge behind the green has created an infinity effect, and a gorgeous view from this back corner of the property.  Put it all together, and it is as once breathtakingly beautiful, and terrifying.

Honorable Mentions – Maidstone, Seminole, Olympia Fields CC North, Brookside Canton, Skokie CC

#15 – Sleepy Hollow – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

An Alps/Punchbowl amalgamation, the combination of features found on this hole are unique.  The fairway is generous but canted rather substantially from high left to low right, and the long approach shot is entirely blind with the green sitting some 20-30 feet below.  As the player crests the fairway, he is rewarded with the breathtaking view of the punchbowl green, with the sixteenth green behind and the Hudson river valley far below.

Honorable Mentions – NGLA, Canterbury, Brookside Canton, Skokie CC, Roaring Gap Club

#16 – Cypress Point Club – Par-3

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

“It is the most spectacular hole in the world and the most thrilling … 200 yards of wild sea and rocky coast.” – Robert Hunter

The most famous Par-3 in the world, the 16th hole at Cypress Point Club is so captivating, that upon seeing it for the first time, a golfer reimagines what is possible, as fantasy becomes reality before his very eyes. In fact, this hole is so staggeringly gorgeous that its considerable strategic merits are often overlooked.

The hole offers not one, not two, but three valid lines of play from the tee – a 200+ yard carry straight at the green, a 100 yard carry on a line up the fairway between a grove of cypress trees and the green, and farther left still, to the left of those trees, an even shorter carry. In match play, the significance of these options cannot be overstated.  The green itself is huge and receptive to well-struck shots, and the fairway will direct good shots on a more conservative line closer to the green.

Alister Mackenzie rightfully gets credit for the gem that is Cypress Point, but the 16th also owes its brilliance to Seth Raynor, who originally routed the hole, and visionary Marion Hollins, who insisted over Mackenzie’s objections that the hole remain a par-3.

Honorable Mentions – Old Elm, Shinnecock, Myopia, NGLA, Sleepy Hollow, Merion, Canterbury, Kirtland CC, Skokie CC, Roaring Gap Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Pasatiempo

#17 – Prairie Dunes – Par-5

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Photo by Jason Way

This lay of the land five-par plays beautifully uphill over rumpled ground, bringing to mind thoughts of the 8th at Crystal Downs.

Maxwell’s genius is evident in both his restraint tee to green, and the green setting itself.  With a nasty bunker left and a steep drop-off right, the player finds himself between Scylla and Charybdis trying to judge the wind and distance properly to land safely on the green.

The adventure doesn’t end when the approach finds the green, which is brilliantly contoured and separated into distinct sections.  The wind quickly blows away any relief as the player attempts to navigate his ball safely into the hole.

Honorable Mentions – NGLA, Essex County Club, St. George, Seminole, Old Town Club, Yale, Olympia Fields CC North, Roaring Gap Club, Orchard Lake CC

#18 – Essex County Club – Par-4

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

We conclude this adventure with my favorite of all classic courses played to date.

Home holes that return to the clubhouse have a special place in our hearts, and none do so more dramatically than the great finisher at Essex County.  Recent tree removal and restoration work here by Superintendent Eric Richardson and his staff have revealed the beauty of the topography, as well as the view of the outstanding clubhouse.

The boldness of Donald Ross’s vision manifested in the twists and turns of the fairway, and the sublime creekside green setting are unparalleled.  The green provides one last taste of The Donald as well – canted, subtly crowned and contoured, it is the kind of putting surface that takes a lifetime to master.

Honorable Mentions – Pebble Beach, Yale, Oakmont, Milwaukee CC, Inverness, Garden City

BONUS HOLES

#2 – Somerset Hills – Par-3

During our discussions, Jon made his strongest case for a change to the selections with regard to the 2nd on our Classic course.  He is a big fan of Somerset Hills, and believes Tillie’s Redan to be among the finest holes Tillinghast ever built.  He lost out to Peter’s and my Old Elm homerism, but he is right – this is a beautiful golf hole.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

#16 – Pasatiempo – Par-4

We originally selected this hole as our 16th, and then Jon played Cypress Point.  We figured that Dr. Mackenzie wouldn’t mind if we bumped one of his for another.

Our original comments on Pasatiempo’s 16th.

It is said that Pasatiempo’s sixth is one of the good Doctor’s all-time favorite holes.  It’s hard to argue with the creator.  Cresting the hill to discover where one’s tee shot came to rest, the player is met with a view of this all-world tiered green that seems to be melting into the recently restored barranca.  It is obvious from the fairway that the approach must be placed both on the correct tier and below the hole – exhilarating and terrifying!

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Photo by Jon Cavalier


 

No list is worth its salt if it doesn’t create a debate.  What did we miss?  Leave your comments here or hit us up on Twitter and Instagram.


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2016 Geeked on Golf Tour

A pattern seems to be developing.  As I watch the snow fall out my window, I reflect back and think, “It can’t get any better than this year’s golf tour.”  And then the next year comes around, and it does.  That was the story of 2016.  Just when I thought golf adventuring couldn’t get any better, it did.

I got around quite a bit this year.  First the stats: Played 51 courses (30 for the first time), including 6 U.S. Open Venues, in 15 states.  Gloriously exhausting, and tremendously rewarding.

Before getting into detail on the courses played, a few takeaways from the year:

This was the year I realized that I don’t like playing alone all that much anymore.  I would rather be in the company of a fellow geek or two.  Being able to share these adventures with kindred spirits makes the experiences richer, including geeking out about golf on long car rides or over a well-earned meal and drink.  This year, I had the good fortune of deepening existing friendships, and creating new ones around the country.  Golf is magical that way.

Golf has always been a walking sport for me.  This year, I came to realize that riding in a cart takes too much away from the experience for me to do it.  Even if it means that my game suffers a bit from fatigue, I prefer to walk.  Hiking around Sand Hollow, 81 holes in a day and half at Prairie Dunes, 45 holes at Sand Hills – sure, these walks were taxing.  But I like the exercise and the experience of the courses is significantly more vivid.  There might come a day when I am no longer able to walk and play.  On that day, I will take a cart.  Until then, it’s walking for me.

Although I did play in quite a few fun matches with friends, I did not keep score once this year.  In 2016, it didn’t seem to matter, so I didn’t bother.  It was quite liberating.  I was still plenty happy to make pars and birdies, but there was no pressure to do so.  Instead, I was freed up to attempt creative shots that, when pulled off, are the golfing memories I cherish the most.

Finally, I fell in love with the replay this year, or as my buddy Peter says, “Going around and around.”  My weekend at Prairie Dunes, and replays of great courses like Shoreacres, Crystal Downs, Sand Hills, and Boston Golf Club brought this into focus for me.  Playing new courses is great, but I find myself yearning more and more for the depth of experience that comes from the replay.

Enough philosophizing, on to the course highlights of 2016.

One course cracked my Top 5 favorites this year – Sand Hills.  Those who have been know how magnificent it is.  It is perfect.  Beautiful land, with 18 wonderful holes laid upon it.  For a photo tour, check out my September to Remember post here.

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Two additional courses cracked my Top 10 – Myopia Hunt Club and Prairie Dunes.

Playing Myopia is like stepping back in time to an era that pre-dates formal architectural styles.  It is a special place.  For much more on Myopia, check out Jon Cavalier’s course tour and my June Buddies Trip Recap.

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My weekend at Prairie Dunes was an all-timer.  After 81 holes in a day and a half, I got to know the course well, and I am grateful for the chance.  Strategy and variety abound, and those greens…oh my.  For a complete tour of Prairie Dunes, check out my visit recap here.

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Four additional courses cracked my Top 20 – Philadelphia Cricket Club, Oakmont, Kittansett Club, and Ballyneal.

Keith Foster’s work restoring Tillinghast’s Philly Cricket is off the charts.  It is breathtaking and all the right kinds of challenging.

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Oakmont is of course, Oakmont.  It was a neat treat to get to play this incredible course in a U.S. Open year.  Many hours of sleep were sacrificed for the experience, and it was worth every minute.

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Kittansett Club, with the benefit of a Gil Hanse restoration, blew me away.  This William Flynn design might be the best flat-site golf course in America.

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Like so many do, I fell in love with the Ballyneal experience.  Great golf-geeky membership, and my favorite Tom Doak course to date (yes, I have played Pacific Dunes).

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My quest to play all of the U.S. Open venues continued this year, and I knocked six more off the list – Glen View Club, Myopia Hunt Club, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Oakmont, Erin Hills, and Inverness Club.  A wide variety, all wonderful courses.

(Click images to enlarge)

I had high expectations for most of the courses I played this year, but there were a handful that exceeded my expectations.  My biggest surprises of the year were Orchard Lake, Sand Hollow, Whitinsville, Highland Links, George Wright, and Sweetens Cove.

After coming across a photo tour of the newly renovated Orchard Lake Country Club on GolfClubAtlas, I was dying to see it.  What Keith Foster and Superintendent Aaron McMaster have done there is jaw-dropping.  For even more on Orchard Lake, check out my C.H. Alison appreciation post here.

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Sand Hollow is one of the most unique golf courses I have ever played.  The terrain is amazing, it has great holes – it is just plain cool.  I already have a return visit planned for February, 2017.  For more photos, check out my Las Vegas trip recap here.

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My golf buddies were a little skeptical when I added a 9-holer they had never heard of to our Boston itinerary.  After the first time around Whitinsville, they asked if we could stay the whole day.  They simply do not make courses like this anymore.

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The early morning trek out to the end of Cape Cod was worth the effort.  The Highland Links waits there, nearly untouched by time, and perhaps America’s only true links course outside of Bandon, OR.

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Boston has an embarrassment of riches in private golf, but it was a public track that pleasantly surprised me the most this season – George Wright.  The story of its creation as a WPA project, with Donald Ross as architect blasting holes out of the rock with dynamite is terrific.  In recent years, this gem has been getting the polish it deserves.

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Every golf geek I know who has made the pilgrimage to Sweetens Cove has come back a convert.  Count me among them – Sweetens Cove is everything that is great about golf, and golf course architecture, all packed into 9 holes.  For more about Sweetens Cove, check out my interview with Rob Collins, including his course tour.

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Toward the end of the season, it became evident that I have developed a fascination with 9-holers.  Winter Park CC, The Dunes Club, Whitinsville, Marion GC, Highland Links, Sweetens Cove, and Eagle Springs were all highlights for me in 2016.  I intend to include as many 9-holers as I can in my adventures going forward.

After another year of unbelievable golf experiences with great people, I am tremendously grateful.  Many thanks to those who have pitched in to make these adventures possible.  Time to start lining up 2017…

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Evolving Artist – An Interview with David McLay Kidd

Several years ago, I played Bandon Dunes and enjoyed it greatly.  Unfortunately, I have not made the trek back to the Oregon Coast, nor have I had the chance to play any of David McLay Kidd’s other courses (although I would very much like to).

Like many GCA geeks, I have followed the stories about the evolution of David’s career with interest, particularly those that have been written since the opening of Gamble Sands and his triumph in the Sand Valley bake-off.  Word out of Nekoosa, WI is that the DMK crew is creating something truly special and my recent visit to Sand Valley provided confirmation.

Wanting to learn more about the man and his work, I reached out to David when I returned from Sand Valley and he was gracious enough to make time in his busy schedule for an interview.

Preview play on DMK Design’s SVII begins next summer.  Until then, enjoy the interview.

 

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THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

Son of a Scottish Greenkeeper, raised almost literally on a golf course.  My father was in charge at Gleneagles for over 25 years and was instrumental in securing the Ryder Cup for Scotland in 2014 (the last time we won).

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

When I would look forward to going out in the wet and cold to work on the courses my father was in charge of.  I got and still do get such a kick out of the visual appeal of a golf course – playing is pretty cool too.

How did you get into the business?

Son of a Greenkeeper, it’s in the DNA!

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

What’s this Golden Age you speak of?  As a Brit our Golden Age was a little different.  It was the time of the Great Triumvirate following on from Old Tom.  If that’s the question then I will say Harry Shapland Colt.  He introduced strategy to golf design, he liked quirky.

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

My father.  He has lived and breathed golf his entire life.  He loves the game and the courses we play it on.  He has done a lot for his profession, mostly unheralded.  He promoted sustainability and organics when it was laughed at.  He promoted further education when many in the UK at least saw his profession as semi-skilled at best.

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

The question that is rarely asked is “what will these design ideas cost to maintain?”  That’s a question a club needs to understand before they build a course with 100 manicured edged bunkers and bent grass wall to wall.

What is your favorite part of a golf course to design?DavidMcLayKidd-MapWalk.png

In the dirt waving my arms dreaming up an idea and developing that idea in the field step by step, developing each detail as you go.  I have more fun doing that than any golf shot I have ever hit.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

I still giggle on the inside that I get paid to do something I would do for free.

How has your design philosophy changed over time?

I started out knowing that golf in the UK is played for fun, as a past-time by most.  Few play competitive golf and keep stroke play score, most don’t.  When I created Bandon Dunes I knew that, but as my career developed I was convinced that golf courses needed to be tough challenges and my job was to defend the honor of the course.  Golfers would have to show respect, or else be punished.

I have returned to what I know golf needs to be – fun, playable, entertaining, engaging, relaxing, enduring.  It should not be punishing.  Who wants to decide to do something that’s punishing?  I can make a course that’s challenging and alluring, while simultaneously making it playable.  It’s all down to width and making sure the rough offers the ability to find a ball.

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What do you want to accomplish in this next phase of your career?

I want to take the principles I have returned to and build the most celebrated and fun courses that have ever existed.  Gamble Sands and Sand Valley II will be my role models going forward.

Why are you excited to be involved in the Sand Valley project?

It allows me a grand stage to show how challenge and playability can co-exist.  We can create a visually stunning course that the most occasional of golfers can enjoy just like I did with Bandon Dunes the better part of 20 years ago.

What is it like to be designed a course alongside accomplished architects like Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw?

I am hoping that after 25 years of effort I might be able to suggest that I am ‘accomplished’ even if not so well known?  My profession is living through exciting times.  There are a number of very talented golf designers out there doing incredible work.  I would love history to include me in that group of relevant architects in the early part of this century.

What legacy do you hope to leave for the game, and golf course architecture?DavidMcLayKidd-WalkingGolf.png

The game needs to be fun.  I had my time on the dark side and I see the error of my ways.  I have spent many years considering how to make courses playable, challenging and fun as well as natural and sustainable.  These are all words I hear from my peers, but often do not see them played out in reality on the ground.

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

There are so many places I have yet to play.  There are a number of East Coast gems I haven’t played yet (many I have).  I still haven’t played Augusta – it’s on my bucket list.

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

I am an avid pilot. I fly my own Cirrus Sr22T all over the US.  Last year I did 80,000 miles in my own plane.  I coach soccer and have coached my daughter from Kindergarten to Middle School.  I live in Bend, Oregon – the outdoors capital of the world, or at least Oregon – so we do everything from rafting to skiing to hiking to boating to fishing.  We are never short of something to do.


GAMBLE SANDS

Gamble Sands opened to rave reviews and continues to get glowing praise from all who have been fortunate enough to make the pilgrimmage to northern Washington.  The course was also of particular selfish interest to me as it was the cause of David’s inclusion in the Sand Valley bake-off, which he won.  I might never make it to Gamble Sands, but soon I will be able to go around and around on a DMK design closer to home.

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To get a glimpse of the style of design – challenging, fun, and beautiful – that we will likely see in Wisconsin, we need look no further than Gamble Sands.

#1 – Par 4 – 392 yards

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#2 – Par 4 – 262 yards

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#4 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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#5 – Par 5 – 497 yards

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#6 – Par 3 – 231 yards

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#7 – Par 5 – 473 yards

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#9 – Par 4 – 382 yards

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#10 – Par 3 – 140 yards

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#11 – Par 4 – 412 yards

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#12 – Par 4 – 300 yards

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#14 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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#16 – Par 3 – 195 yards

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#17 – Par 4 – 418 yards

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MORE DMK COURSES

David was kind enough to compile quite a few photos from the courses that he has designed around the world.  I was taken by how far flung his work has been, and also by how varied the look and feel of his courses are.  A player could be more than satisfied jetting around the world playing David’s courses for the rest of their golfing life (especially since his work is far from finished…).

(click on images to enlarge)

BANDON DUNES

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Bandon Dunes Resort – Bandon, Oregon

 

THE CASTLE COURSE

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St. Andrews Links – St. Andrews, Scotland

 

MONTAGU COURSE AT FANCOURT

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Fancourt Resort – Blanco George, South Africa

 

HUNTSMAN SPRINGS

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Driggs, Idaho

 

LUACALA ISLAND GOLF COURSE

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Luacala Island Resort – Fiji

 

MACHRIHANISH DUNES

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Kintyre, Scotland

 

NANEA GOLF CLUB

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Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

 

QUEENWOOD GOLF CLUB

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Ottershaw, United Kingdom

 

TETHEROW GOLF CLUB

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Bend, Oregon

 

TPC STONEBRAE

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Hayward, California

 


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Sand Valley Story Continues…

After last year’s visit to Sand Valley to see and play the first course in the grow-in phase, I was bullish about its direction.  This year, my golf season in the Midwest was bookended by two more visits, and you can officially count me among those who are over the moon about the place.  Under Michael Keiser’s leadership, Sand Valley is already a must-visit (repeatedly).  If future plans comes to fruition, it is a legit contender for the title of best golf destination in North America.

Allow me to share evidence to support that assertion.


SPRING VISIT

My buddy Peter Korbakes (on Instagram @pgkorbs and @sugarloafsocialclub), his brother Telly, and I had plans to play Lawsonia Links.  At the last minute, we added Sand Valley to our itinerary.  (side note: If you ask them, they will happily tell you about how I overslept.)  At first, Peter was a bit bummed that we wouldn’t have time to play 36+ at Lawsonia.

Any potential disappointment evaporated the moment we pulled into the sandy main drive.  As we drove past the future site of the clubhouse, and the beginnings of David McLay Kidd’s course #2, I thought Peter might jump out of the window with joy.

We played the front nine twice, and then the staff was kind enough to let us sneak out to play holes 10, 16-18.  I already know that I will never get tired of playing this course.  There is so much to discover, and holes 7 and 17 are among my all-time Coore & Crenshaw favorites.

(click to enlarge photos)

#1 – Par 4 – 325 yards

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View from the tee

#2 – Par 4 – 416 yards

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View from the tee

#3 – Par 3 – 192 yards

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Short left of the green

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#4 – Par 5 – 557 yards

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View from behind the green back

#5 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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View from the right tee box

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#6 – Par 4 – 421 yards

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View from the fairway

#7 – Par 5 – 536 yards

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From back left of the green

#8 – Par 3 – 115 yards

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View from the forward tee

#9 – Par 4 – 273 yards

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View from the tee

#16 – Par 4 – 385 yards

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The approach from the fairway

#17 – Par 3 – 215 yards

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From behind the green back

#18 – Par 5 – 523 yards

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Short of the green

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As we were getting ready to head home, we were chatting with the Super Rob.  He shared that his favorite holes were the ones that we had not seen – #11-15.  Talk about a tease to prompt a return trip…


LATE FALL VISIT

My golf schedule was gloriously packed this season, which did not allow me a chance to get back to Sand Valley to play again.  However, I did go back in late November.

I was fortunate to be invited by Michael Keiser, along with my buddy Charlie James, to participate in a group walk led by Mike DeVries of a piece of the property at Sand Valley that has potential for development.  As a Kingsley guy, this opportunity was a real treat for me.  Mike was kind enough to do a GeekedOnGolf interview, but I had never met him.

Further, the routing of a golf course has always been the most mysterious and fascinating part of the process to me.  How can someone look at a piece of tree-covered land, and with a topographical map, determine where the best golf holes will be?  That aspect of creative vision is beyond me, and I couldn’t wait to see real pros in action.

We arrived after dark, and couldn’t see much of our surroundings.  I was immediately impressed, however, with how much progress had been made on the lodging around Lake Leopold.  The next morning, I got up early to catch the view off our back deck of sunrise over the lake.

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Not a bad way to start a day.  This particular day immediately got better after I captured this photo.

SandValley-BenCrenshaw1.jpegI turned around and saw a man standing at the coffee machine in the common area.  Who was that fellow early riser?  None other than Ben Crenshaw.  He could not have been more gracious in chatting with Charlie and me, as well as taking photos. Sharing a cup of coffee and talking GCA with Mr. Crenshaw was certainly a bucket list item for me. (Another side note: If you see me around, ask me to tell you the story about how Ben Crenshaw and Dan Lucas ate my party-sized Snickers).

If you make the trip to Sand Valley, will you get to hang with luminaries like Ben Crenshaw?  You never know.  That is part of what is so special about what is happening in Nekoosa.  It is abuzz with the creative energy that results from kindred golf spirits rubbing elbows, and there is no end in sight.

After geeking out with Gentle Ben for a bit, Charlie and I headed out to the Coore & Crenshaw course to see the holes that were not finished in the spring – #11-15.  Although the fairways were still growing in and the greens had a heavy topdressing of sand in prep for winter, it was still clear that these holes are going to be a challenging blast to play.

#11 – Par 4 – 405 yards

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The view from behind the green back

#12 – Par 5 – 487 yards

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Approaching the green from the left

#13 – Par 4 – 401 yards

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The waste area that cuts across the fairway

#14 – Par 3 – 175 yards

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The wrap-around bunker behind the green

#15 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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The fronting mounds short of the green

This stretch is stout.  It goes without saying that I can’t wait to come back in 2017 to play the entire course.

After this quick jaunt, we joined up with the group for the walk with Mike and Michael.  I did not take pictures, as they would not have made much sense.  However, I did snap two shots of particularly colorful lichens that stood out to me.

The photos I have posted, and others I have seen, do not do justice to just how rich and varied Sand Valley is in terms of color and texture.  As the remnants of the pine farm are cleared, and the restoration work of Jens Jensen and his team begins to take shape, a truly breathtaking ecology is emerging.  Players are in for a visual feast that will evolve through the seasons, and the years.  At some point soon, I will do a separate post specifically on the commitment to ecological restoration that the Keisers have made in Nekoosa – it is an incredible story in and of itself.

The walk with Mike DeVries was a GCA geek’s dream.  I played fly-on-the-wall as Mike, Michael, and their colleagues walked and talked.  Charlie asked Mike about designing holes and received a typically thoughtful DeVries answer in response.  Mike doesn’t think about holes, and he has a disdain for the idea of signature holes.  Instead, he thinks about and focuses on creating the course as a whole.  He would much rather make a great course with no standout holes, than a course with a few standouts that doesn’t function as a harmonious whole.

I am biased of course, but it is this kind of perspective that shines through in Mike’s work to date.  I know from previous conversations with Michael that the Keisers have great respect for Mike and his abilities, and it is great to see that he is now being considered among the craft’s elite practitioners.  Regardless of what ultimately happens with future courses at Sand Valley, I am grateful for the afternoon I got to spend walking and talking in the wind and rain.

After a quick lunch, Michael took Charlie and me over the check out the 20-hole short course that is being created near the main clubhouse.

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The heathland

The course is a hybrid of a pitch-and-putt and a par-3.  It winds through several zones (heathland, parkland, duneland) and features templates such as the biarritz and short.

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The duneland

Coming off the “big” courses, joyfully spending the remaining hours acting like a kid on this course and the putting course will be a perfect complement and conclusion to any day.

Michael had to run off for more walking with Mike et al, and so Charlie and I decided to take a quick spin around the 6 preview holes of the David McLay Kidd’s #2 course as the sun set.

Immediately, one is taken with the scale of what DMK’s crew is creating.  However, it is not only big and bold.  From what I saw, there has been an impressive attention to the details that give this course a character all its own.  As all great courses do, SVII infused me with a great desire to grab my clubs and play.

HOLE 1

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Zoomed from the tee

HOLE 2

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Centerline bunker in the fairway

HOLE 14 (Golf Digest Design Contest hole)

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The view from the green back

HOLE 15

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Approach from the fairway

HOLE 16 

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Zoomed view from the forward tee

HOLE 17 

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The approach from the fairway

HOLE 18

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Short left of the green

The word we heard was that the farther away one gets from the clubhouse, the bolder and cooler the holes get.  That is tough to imagine, but it sure is fun to try.

I’m greatly looking forward to preview play and more sneak-peek walks in 2017.


I have been effusive in my praise of what is being created at Sand Valley.  It is hard not to be enthusiastic when Michael, Craig, Glen, Rob and the team keep hitting every high note.  From the golf to the accommodations to the ecology to the ice cream sandwiches, they are doing it right.

An argument can be made that it is too early to make such an assessment.  Fair enough.  For the doubters, I say this – go and experience Sand Valley for yourself.  Regardless of its newness, if your golf geeky spirit is not stirred by the place, I’ll eat sand.

For even more on what is happening at Sand Valley, check out the recent interview with Michael Keiser by Mitch and Darin on Talking Golf Getaways.


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Awakening to Alison – Milwaukee CC & Orchard Lake CC

My golf adventures here in the midwest have recently exposed me to the work of another Golden Age architect – C.H. Alison.  Prior to the past month, I had only played one other course credited to the design partnership of Colt & Alison, and that course had been meaningfully altered.  In playing Milwaukee Country Club and Orchard Lake Country Club, my eyes were opened to just how skilled Mr. Alison was at creating golf courses that are at once demanding and beautiful.

Charles Hugh Alison was a protege and partner of the great Harry Colt.  He worked on projects with Colt in England, and then set off to head the firm’s U.S. office.  According to Adam Lawrence’s profile in Golf Architecture magazine, Alison spent nine years in America, and designed more than 20 courses.  He is known for his routings, and large, deep bunkers that he used to test players’ mettle.

That reputation held up in my experiences at MCC and OLCC.  However, I would also point out that Alison’s bold bunkering is nicely complemented by the subtlety of his greens.  A player who can successfully navigate the hazards to find the green is often rewarded with a straightforward, makable putt.  That kind of balanced restraint is sometimes missing in modern architecture where holes that are wild tee-to-green conclude with wildly undulating greens.  Alison seems to have known a round of golf is more enjoyable if the difficulty ebbs and flows.

Photos with light commentary are below.  My conclusion is this: Based on visits to these outstanding courses, Alison’s other greats such as Bob O’Link, Kirtland, and Country Club of Detroit have risen to the top of my wish list.

(click on images to enlarge)


MILWAUKEE COUNTRY CLUB

Milwaukee Country Club plays over a beautiful piece of ground adjacent to the Milwaukee River.  The holes meander up, down, and around a ridge, as well as skipping across the river.  The four one-shotters play in different directions to take advantage of the wind.  Simply put, Milwaukee CC is a routing masterpiece.

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The course’s signature bunkers have to be seen to be believed.  They are straight out of the Melbourne sandbelt with deep flat bottoms, and massively high faces.  MCC is also a standard bearer for artful grass lines – I have never seen better.  Collaborating with Renaissance Golf, Superintendent Patrick Sisk and his team continue to polish this gem through the detail work that separates the good from the world class.

#1 – Par 4 – 434 yards

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The opener sets the tone for the round at Milwaukee CC, playing dramatically downhill.  It is a slight dogleg right flanked by the signature Alison bunkers.

#2 – Par 4 – 425 yards

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The second is a sharper dogleg right played to an elevated green.  As a part of the renovation work, fairways have been extended and bunkers moved to place a premium on choosing lines of play.

#3 – Par 5 – 493 yards

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The five-pars at Milwaukee CC might not be longest, but they are demanding on the player’s strategic thinking, and ability to execute.  The third is a double dogleg that exemplifies Alison’s strategic design principles.

#4 – Par 3 – 181 yards

The uphill fourth is fronted by a large bunker left and has a green with significant slope.  Unfortunately, not only is the hole tough, but it foiled my attempts to take a decent picture.

#5 – Par 4 – 433 yards

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The fifth plays up over a hill to a blind landing area.  The approach plays downhill to an elevated green set an angle to the fairway.

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#6 – Par 4 – 409

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The uphill sixth requires the player to avoid the left bunker which juts well into the fairway.  The green sits atop the hill making depth perception tricky.

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#7 – Par 5 – 481 yards

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The beautiful downhill seventh leaves plenty of room to play from the tee, but tee shots must challenge the bunker right to have the best angle into a green surrounded by bunkers set at distances that create the potential for awkward recoveries.

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#8 – Par 3 – 174 yards

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My pictures do not do justice to the scale of the bunkering surrounding the green at the par-3 eighth.  Standing on the tee staring down those monsters is a knee-knocking affair.

#9 – Par 4 – 325 yards

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The short par-4 ninth plays back to the clubhouse over a valley to a wild fairway.  It tempts longer hitters to have a go at a heroic drive.

#10 – Par 5 – 484 yards

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Simply one of the most elegantly beautiful holes I have ever played, the tenth has benefited from tree removal that has returned scale, and opened up vistas in the river valley.  Both the tee shot and the approach on this reachable par-5 have to fight against the slope running away from right to left.

#11 – Par 4 – 375 yards

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The first of the river holes, the eleventh gives the player options to lay up short or take on the bunkers at the inside of the dogleg left.  The green features a false front the magnitude of which I have never seen before on a push-up.

#12 – Par 3 – 182 yards

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The twelfth plays over the river to a green beautifully set on the bank with bunkers guarding every side.  The green is canted and subtly contoured to foil birdie attempts.

#13 – Par 4 – 388 yards

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The thirteenth is a dogleg right playing around a large bunker complex to an elevated green surrounded by more gloriously bold bunkering.

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#14 – Par 4 – 411 yards

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The fourteenth is a slight dogleg right, with the tee shot played over the river.  The green has been relocated, and is guarded by a bunker front left.

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#15 – Par 5 – 585 yards

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A large left-center bunker complex guards the fairway on the tee shot of the par-5 fifteenth.  Bunkers short left and front right make the player think strategically about how to approach the elevated green.

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#16 – Par 4 – 452 yards

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The long and straight par-4 sixteenth plays up over a hill and then down to a green guarded front right by a deep bunker.  This hole requires two well struck shots to have any chance at a green in regulation.

#17 – Par 3 – 196 yards

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The seventeenth is an uphill reverse redan with plenty of room to run a left-to-right shot onto the large, front-to-back sloping green.

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#18 – Par 4 – 426 yards

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The home hole is a solid two-shotter with a blind, uphill drive.  Cresting the hill not only provides the player with the thrill of discovering the fate of their tee ball, but it also reveals the phenomenal setting of the final green, with the classic clubhouse behind.  One of my favorite finishes in all of golf.

For more on Milwaukee Country Club:


ORCHARD LAKE COUNTRY CLUB

Milwaukee Country Club blew my mind, but Orchard Lake captured my heart.  Some courses just look right in a way that stirs the spirit, and for me, OLCC is one of those courses.  The course is routed over wonderfully rolling land, and it works its way up and down hills in a manner that provides both moments of serene seclusion and thrilling vista reveals.

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I don’t have the reference point of seeing the course before the renovation work done by Keith Foster, but it is easy to see why the work has been so well received.  The bunker design and treatment is artfully rugged.  The tree management is among the best I have ever seen, and the fescue throughout is gorgeous.  With loving care from Superintendent Aaron McMaster and his team, the course is an immaculate joy to play and a visual treat of contour and color contrast.

#1 – Par 4 – 381 yards

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The opener is a slight dogleg left that plays uphill to a green perched on one of the high points of the north section of the property.  It gives an indication of the movement of the land to come.

#2 – Par 5 – 471 yards

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The second features a challenge that Alison likes to throw at players on the tee – angles that are just enough to make confident line selection and alignment maddeningly difficult.

#3 – Par 3 – 175 yards

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The third has redan qualities, playing over a valley to a large green that runs from high front-right to lower back-left, with large bunkers guarding the left.

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#4 – Par 4 – 352 yards

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The fourth is the first of three consecutive par-4s with more of a parkland feel.  It plays as a slight dogleg left to a canted green guarded on both sides by bunkers.

#5 – Par 4 – 395 yards

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The fifth plays straightaway down to a large green featuring subtle internal contouring that makes holing putts a real challenge for newbies.

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#6 – Par 4 – 380 yards

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The sixth turns back and again doglegs slightly left to an elevated green guarded by a deep bunker front-right. Placement of the tee ball is at a premium to gain the best possible angle into the green.

#7 – Par 3 – 207 yards

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The seventh is a wonderful long par-3 playing up to a green guarded by a very deep bunker left, with views of clubhouse beyond.

#8 – Par 4 – 380 yards

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My favorite hole on the front nine, the eighth is a roller coaster ride of a par-4 playing over heaving fairway to an infinity green benched into a hillside.

#9 – Par 4 – 442 yards

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The ninth is a tough par-4 dogleg right that finishes in a sea of bunkers in the shadow of the clubhouse.

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#10 – Par 4 – 371 yards

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As we finished the outstanding front nine and walked over the road to begin the back, our host commented that he thought the inward nine was better.  At that moment, I couldn’t imagine how that could be possible – 9 holes later, I knew what he meant.

The tenth plays up over a hill and slightly doglegs right.  It features a canted green that is one of the coolest on the entire course, in both its shape and contours.

#11 – Par 4 – 440 yards

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The eleventh is a stout par-4 calling for a drive to a landing area that can’t been seen from the tee.  It doglegs right down to an elevated green guarded by a lone, deep bunker right.

#12 – Par 5 – 520 yards

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The par-5 twelfth plays along the edge of the property and turns left, with a green set serenely in a wooded corner.

#13 – Par 3 – 170 yards

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The thirteenth plays over a deep valley to a green guarded by bunkers left and a steep drop-off right.  The tee shot has a pulse quickening do-or-die feel to it that makes it a thrill to play.

#14 – Par 5 – 498 yards

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The fourteenth demands that the tee shot navigate several large fairway bunkers and then plays straightaway down to a green surrounded by more bunkers, with a lovely fescue-covered hill behind.

#15 – Par 4 – 420 yards

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The final hole in the south section of the property, the fifteenth is a straight two-shotter playing over terrain where level lies are next to impossible to find.

#16 – Par 3 – 145 yards

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The short sixteenth is the final of Orchard Lake’s outstanding one-shotters.  The green is set beautifully in a valley with bunkers on all sides.

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#17 – Par 4 – 367 yards

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The seventeenth is a dramatic par-4 playing uphill between nasty but beautiful fairway bunkers.  The approach plays over a valley to a green set at the highest point on the property.

#18 – Par 4 – 361 yards

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The home hole plays down a severely sloped fairway and then back up to one last thrilling green setting, with the classy white clubhouse behind.  One final reminder of just how beautifully Alison’s routing makes use of the land.

For more on Orchard Lake Country Club:


Many thanks to my gracious hosts at Milwaukee CC and Orchard Lake CC.  They are proud of their special golf courses, and for good reason.  I am grateful to have had these incredible experiences, and to have discovered the work of C.H. Alison.  Yet another architect from the Golden Age whose work is a gift to golf geeks.


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One for the Ages – A Weekend at Prairie Dunes

Gunch: The epitome of everything dirty and nasty.

Gunch is the word that the staff and members use for the native areas that line the holes at Prairie Dunes.  The definition above is fitting.  The gunch is the sole aspect of Prairie Dunes that is not perfectly pleasurable.  The staff is welcoming, the land is beautiful, and the course is a work of Maxwell genius.

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My weekend visit to Prairie Dunes was not just a golf trip.  It was an immersion experience in everything that is great about the game.  A full photo tour is below with my commentary about the course and its architecture.  A few thoughts about the experience:

The first thing that made this trip great was the company.  I have mentioned this in previous posts about my trips to SE Michigan and Boston this year, but it’s worth saying again – golf adventures are infinitely better in the right company.  I was fortunate to spend my weekend at Prairie Dunes with my buddies Chuck, Derek, and Michael.  Not only are they genuinely good guys and fun to be around, but from my perspective, they get it.  They are well traveled, and they have had direct exposure to golf course architects and developers.  They have refined tastes and understand that there are reasons why a course like Prairie Dunes is great, beyond its inclusion on Top 100 lists.

The second thing that made this trip and all-timer was how we played.  From Saturday at 7:30am until Sunday at 2:30pm we played 90 holes (Michael tacked on an extra 18 after sunset on Saturday).  We had fun matches for small stakes, we played from almost every tee on the course, we took turns calling shots, we smiled, we laughed and we talked a lot of golf.  It doesn’t get geekier or more joyous.

And last but not least, the course made this trip one that I will never forget (and one that we are already planning to repeat).  Prairie Dunes is the total package of beauty, variety, strategy, art, and fun.  On to the tour…


PRAIRIE DUNES COURSE TOUR

(click on photos to enlarge)

PrairieDunes-Clock.jpegPrairie Dunes is the joint work of the father and son, Perry and Press Maxwell.  For more on the course history, I suggest the relevant chapter in Anthony Pioppi’s book To The Nines, and Ran Morrissett’s course profile on GolfClubAtlas.com.  Although they never worked on the course together, the holes they created work beautifully together.  There are noticeable style differences, but no weaknesses in either.  The consensus in our group, after much discussion, was that the course is stronger for the variety.

From the tee, the course is as strategic as any I have played.  Not so much because of the placement of hazards, although there are plenty of killer bunkers and gunch.  It is strategic because of the angular play.  On almost every hole, the player is confronted with a decision to make about how best to get in position to approach the green given the wind and pin position.

The greens at Prairie Dunes are in the conversation for the best set on the planet, and for good reason.  Michael referred to them as potato chips, which was perfect.  They are glorious, artful potato chips that provide endless fun in the approaches, the short game, and putting.

To bring it all together, the course is perfectly maintained to accentuate its attributes.  It is a role model for tree management.  Fairways are kept wide, firm and fast, and the first cut of rough is playable.  Green speeds are quick, but reasonable.  It is mint.

One can easily see how Prairie Dunes has influenced Bill Coore and other top modern architects, and players are lucky for that influence.

#1 – Par 4 – 435 yards – Perry Maxwell

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The opener is a solid dogleg left par-4 that gives a first taste of what’s to come throughout the course.  A variety of lines can be taken off the tee, and it is always best to know and account for the pin position when approaching the undulating green.

 

#2 – Par 3 – 161 yards – Perry Maxwell

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The second is the first of the world class set of one-shotters.  It plays uphill to a tiered green benched into a hill.

 

#3 – Par 4 – 315 yards – Press Maxwell

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The third is one of many great short 4-pars at Prairie Dunes.  It plays at an angle left off the tee, tempting the player to bite of more than they perhaps ought to – especially given the challenge in holding the green from awkward distances.

 

#4 – Par 4 – 168 yards – Press Maxwell

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The fourth is another wonderful short par-3.  It almost feels like the son’s homage to the father’s second hole.  Unlike the second though, the 4th will accept running shots on the left side that feed into the center of the green.  Judging distance in the wind is an especially fun test.

 

#5 – Par 4 – 418 yards – Press Maxwell

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The par-4 fifth plays uphill and into a prevailing wind to an elevated green.  It is much more stout than the yardage on the card.

 

#6 – Par 4 – 370 yards – Perry Maxwell

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The course returns to Perry’s holes with the sixth.  A devilish little downhill par-4 with a fantastic green.

 

#7 – Par 5 – 512 yards – Perry Maxwell

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The 7th features a semi-blind tee shot and plays back to a green set near the clubhouse.  The green is surrounded by some of the most beautiful bunkering on the entire course.

 

#8 – Par 4 – 440 yards – Perry Maxwell