Geeked on Golf

A Celebration of the People & Places that Make Golf the Greatest Game


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5th Annual Noreaster – Back to Long Island

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

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

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FRIAR’S HEAD

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

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Behind the green at the short par-4 5th

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

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The fairway rolls down to the 9th green

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

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The view back from the 10th green

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

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The tee shot on the par-5 14th


MAIDSTONE CLUB

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

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

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

MAIDSTONE COURSE TOUR

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Hole #1 – Par 4 – 424 yards

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

Hole #2 – Par 5 – 537 yards

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

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Hole #3 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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

Hole #4 – Par 3 – 176 yards

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

Hole #5 – Par 4 – 325 yards

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

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Hole #6 – Par 4 – 403 yards

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

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Hole #7 – Par 4 – 341 yards

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

Hole #8 – Par 3 – 151 yards

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

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

Hole #9 – Par 4 – 415 yards

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

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

Hole #10 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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

Hole #11 – Par 4 – 464 yards

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

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Hole #12 – Par 3 – 181 yards

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

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Hole #13 – Par 5 – 500 yards

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

Hole #14 – Par 3 – 152 yards

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

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

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Hole #15 – Par 5 – 493 yards

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

Hole #16 – Par 5 – 485 yards

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

Hole #17 – Par 4 – 328 yards

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

Hole #18 – Par 4 – 390 yards

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

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


QUOGUE FIELD CLUB

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

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

I could go around and around this course endlessly…

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The green at the par-3 2nd

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

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The redan-biarritz 4th is one of a kind

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

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The 9th green, set close to the understated clubhouse


DEEPDALE GOLF CLUB

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

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

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

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The approach to Deepdale’s 1st

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

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From behind the 12th green

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

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From the 15th tee


CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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


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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.

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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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Old Sandwich Tour by Jon Cavalier

OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Plymouth, MA – Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw

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After a recent round at Old Sandwich at the peak of fall, I thought that the many fans of the work of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and fans of New England golf in general, might like a look at this terrific course.  All of the photos in this tour were taken by me on October 20, 2016, with the club’s permission to shoot and share.  I hope you enjoy the tour.

OLD SANDWICH GOLF CLUB

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Boston is rightly regarded as one of the five best metropolitan areas in the United States for quality golf.  Despite the relatively short season, the greater Boston area is blessed with more than a dozen bucket list golf courses, including classic gems like Myopia Hunt Club, The Country Club at Brookline, Essex County Club, Salem Country Club, Eastward Ho Country Club, Charles River Country Club, and Kittansett Club among others.

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Any modern architect working in the Boston area faces the challenge of designing a course that will inevitably be measured and compared to these venerable courses, which were built by Golden Age titans with names like Donald Ross, William Flynn, Herbert Fowler and Herbert Leeds.  Such is the tall task that faced Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in the early 2000s.  Suffice it to say, these two gentleman, as they have so often done, rose to the occasion with gusto.

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The result is a masterpiece incorporating the best traditions of the game — huge, undulating fairways; natural hazards affording all manner of heroic recoveries; greens and green complexes that hold interest in round after round; and firm, fast conditioning permitting players to play the type of shots they choose.  Soon after completing their work, Coore and Crenshaw said about the course, “Through time, we hope that Old Sandwich will be viewed as a compliment to its beautiful surroundings, to golf in general, and to the long and storied tradition of golf course architecture in Massachusetts.”  Twelve years later, it’s clear they succeeded.

THE GOLF COURSE

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A round at Old Sandwich begins with a walk out of the gorgeous clubhouse, nicely attired in stone and wood, and along a sandy path across a bridge spanning a serene pond.

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From the clubhouse, nearly the entire course is hidden from view, but as one makes his way across the pond, the first tee comes into view.

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Notably, there are no water hazards on the course at Old Sandwich.  How many architects working today would have routed a course on this site to finish with a “heroic” carry over this pond to a green in the shadow of the clubhouse, perhaps while sacrificing the flow and playability of the golf course?  Credit to Coore & Crenshaw for putting quality golf first.

Hole 1 – 531 yards – Par 5

The round begins with a true gentle handshake – on his first shot of the day, the player is greeted with a massive fairway and an uphill par-5 of reasonable length.

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Although the fairway is quite large, the player must nevertheless pay attention to positioning, as a tee shot which strays too far left may be bunkered (hidden by shadow in the photo below) or out of position for a layup.

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For the player’s second shot, the two fairway bunkers to the right draw the eye and focus, but the cant of the fairway will direct indifferent shots into the less-prominent but no less dangerous bunkers running the left of the fairway.

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The green at the first is a true work of art.  Open across the entire width of its mouth, running approaches are welcomed at this green, but care must be taken to account for the steep false front on the left…

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… as well as the bunkering bordering the left side and left rear.  Note the many appealing pin positions on this large green.

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This bunker on the right side of the green is hidden from view on most approaches, while the green itself blends wonderfully into its surroundings.

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Hole 2 – 403 yards – Par 4

At this par-4, the primary objective off the tee is avoiding the center-fairway bunker complex.  The more aggressive right hand side leaves a shorter approach, but forces the player to confront the right-hand fairway bunkers.  Left is easier, but leaves a longer approach.  Finally, the player may elect to lay up short of the bunkers, but faces a long and difficult approach.  Choices like this are ever present at Old Sandwich.

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Regardless of the route chosen, execution is key.  Anything in the center traps is essentially a one-stroke penalty.

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The elevated green, tightly mown surrounds, and firm conditions make this approach particularly interesting.  This bunker sits some 20 feet below and to the left of the putting surface, but an approach that comes up just inches short of the green is in real danger of rolling back into it, leaving an extremely tough third.

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This view of the second green from the third fairway affords perspective and shows the movement of the landscape.

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Putting from beyond the pin at the second is a frightening proposition; chipping from behind the green is even worse.  A stout hole.

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Hole 3 – 450 yards – Par 4

This long par-4 plays shorter than its yardage on the card due to the fact that it is typically downwind, but it is nevertheless a challenging hole.

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As the hole doglegs left, the best line is down the right side, but the right is guarded by several menacing bunkers.  Any ball finding these pits will also find it nearly impossible to reach the green.

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Once past the bunkers, the fairway opens considerably and falls off into a depression short and right of the green.  The green itself is one of the best at Old Sandwich — its many elements include a false front short right followed by a large, slightly-domed area, followed by a swale cutting across the surface horizontally, followed finally by a back right tier on which that day’s pin was placed.

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A bunker wraps around behind the green from the left.  Given the slope of the green, this bunker is a common destination for approaches when the pin is back.

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The hazards protecting the left side of the green make an approach favoring the safer right side attractive, but beware the pot-like bunker long right, as it is a truly brutal hazard.  An excellent golf hole where options abound.

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Hole 4 – 209 yards – Par 3

The first one-shot hole at Old Sandwich, and a beauty.  As is often the case at Old Sandwich, looks here can be deceiving, as the view from the tee leads the golfer to believe that he has less room and more carry than he actually does due to the slight rise in the landscape and the framing bunker left, which prevent a perfect view.

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However, as this elevated view shows, there is ample room on this hole to land short of the green and bounce a ball on to the putting surface, as well as room to play left away from the deep greenside bunkers.

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In following the natural contour of the landscape, the huge green feeds gently from front to back, while the high left shoulder allows players to use the ground to feed shots into pins on the right side.

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Hole 5 – 336 yards – Par 4

Generally considered the signature hole at Old Sandwich, the fifth is a stunner and a unique hole in American golf.

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A short, cape-style par-4, the hole presents the golfer with an incredibly rumpled, elevated fairway moving left to right.  The sight of this fairway is one that a golfer does not soon forget.

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The fairway on this hole will direct well-hit, aggressive tee shots toward the green, with the potential to reach the green in one.  However, as is always the case with a well-designed cape, the higher the reward sought, the greater the risk taken.  Any shot that fails to carry the chosen line is dead.

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As noted above, the fairway mounding can both redirect ideal shots to the green while also presenting a difficult, uneven lie on approach for more conservative tee shots.

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Looking back toward the fairway, the elegance of the transition to putting surface is revealed, as the fairway bleeds seamlessly into the green.

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The tee-to-green theme of contour is carried through to the green itself, creating putting adventures for those whose approaches are imprecise.

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As this elevated view from behind the green reveals, there are plenty of ways to get yourself in trouble on this hole, but also plenty of ways to play the hole which will result in a good score.

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The key to scoring well on the fifth is knowing one’s own abilities and limitations, choosing a line that fits within those criteria, and executing one’s chosen strategy.  And isn’t that what golf is supposed to be?

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A brilliant rendition of a modern risk-reward hole.

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Hole 6 – 562 yards – Par 5

The second three-shot hole at Old Sandwich is the longest on the course, and requires an uphill tee shot and carry over gunch to an elevated fairway turning right to left.  This corner of the course is one of the prettiest spots on the property.

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The fairway is guarded on both sides by deep bunkering.  The right bunkers (out of frame) catch tee shots on an overly conservative line, while a pot bunker in the middle of the fairway complicates the second shot.

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The green is tiered from front to back, and contains ridges running both vertically and horizontally, which effectively quarter the putting surface.

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When looking back at the fairway, the golfer is likely to be surprised at just how much elevation he has scaled while playing the hole.

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Hole 7 – 391 yards – Par 4

The seventh is yet another standout hole at Old Sandwich renowned for its uniqueness.  From the tee, most of this dogleg left par-4 is visible, including the green and the pin, although much of the interest surrounding the green remains hidden.

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From the fairway, the incredible greensite is revealed in full.

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Sitting elevated in a lake of sand, the green functions as an island, repelling poorly struck approaches into the surrounding sand.

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The green is deeper than it appears from the fairway, offering ample room for shots struck on the appropriate line.

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Easily one of the prettiest greensites in golf.

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And in full fall color…breathtaking.

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Hole 8 – 379 yards – Par 4

The eighth is a transition hole, transporting the golfer from the seventh green to the ninth tee, where a run of spectacular golf begins anew.  The canted fairway tilting opposite of the hole’s direction adds an element of difficulty here.

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Mounding to the left protects and obscures the left side of this green and makes judging distance difficult.

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The bunkerless green appears to have been mowed directly from the fairway, so perfectly does it blend with its surroundings.

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Hole 9 – 131 yards – Par 3

This gorgeous little one-shotter plays to a large but multi-tiered green isolated in a sandy basin.  Bunkers guard on all sides.

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While hitting this green is no easy feat, neither is doing so any guarantee of a two-putt par.

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The back portion of this green shunts balls into this nasty bunker, or to a tightly mown area adjacent to the green.  Neither is an ideal spot for recovery.

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A birdie is a possibility here, but any player should be pleased to escape this little beauty with a par.

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Hole 10 – 516 yards – Par 5

The back nine begins with with a Coore & Crenshaw homage to Hell’s Half Acre.

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The Hell’s Half Acre bunker divides the fairway in two and requires a second-shot carry.  In addition to being an intimidating hazard, the feature also obscures a large portion of the fairway landing area.

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Three center-cut bunkers dot the fairway in the landing zone for second shots which, along with the slope of the fairway, add interest to what is often one of the more boring shots in golf — the second on a par 5.

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Looking back from the elevated green reveals the gorgeous movement of the landscape.

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Hole 11 – 244 yards – Par 3

A monster from the back tees, this par-3 is the longest on the course, the most difficult and perhaps the prettiest.

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A sandy ridge cutting in from the left side of the hole adds visual interest and hides the fact that the landing area for shots unable to make the carry is larger than it appears from the tee.

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The green is open in front to accommodate the longer approaches, but danger lurks to all sides.  A hole as tough as it is beautiful.

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Hole 12 – 455 yards – Par 4

From the tee on this par-4 running left to right, the golfer is tempted to shun the safer right side and play down the left to shorten the hole.

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This cluster of bunkers, largely hidden from view from the tee, play much larger than their actual footprint, and will exact a stiff penalty on any stray shots attempting this more aggressive line.

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Yet again, the green sits naturally as an extension of the fairway, open across the full width of its mouth.

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As a result, the hole appears as natural as they come.

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Hole 13 – 560 yards – Par 5

The last of the four par-5s at Old Sandwich, and this author’s favorite of the bunch, the thirteenth asks for a carry over a sandy waste area to the crest of a fairway rolling downhill and from left to right.

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Upon reaching the fairway, the player is confronted with the gorgeous sight of a wide, downhill fairway dotted on both sides with bunkering.  The closer one gets to the green, the more the short grass seems to narrow.

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The green itself is benched into the side of a sandy ridgeline, creating an amphitheater effect.  Once more, the green is open to running shots.

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The putting surface is protected on three sides by trench-like bunkers and a sharp fallaway to the front left.

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The surrounding bunkers present a difficult recovery, as the green slopes toward the front left fallaway.

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An exceptional par-5.

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Hole 14 – 369 yards – Par 4

The fourteenth plays back up the hill toward the 6th tee and the highest point on the property.  Here, the left-sloping fairway aids the player in positioning his ball on the proper side.

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Players taking the more aggressive right-side line may find themselves blocked out (your author has experience with this scenario).

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Even from the fairway, the elevated green presents an elusive target, as balls left short (where deep bunkers await), right or long will be repelled.

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Accuracy is at a premium on this deceptively difficult par-4.

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Hole 15 – 168 yards – Par 3

The artfully sloped and bunkered fifteenth, tucked into a corner of the property, is a favorite par-3 of the group at Old Sandwich.

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The bunker to the right cuts deeply into the green, and a high right shelf beyond this bunker can be used to funnel balls down to most pin positions.

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The green itself is moderately narrow but very deep, providing a safe landing area for shots struck on the intended line.

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An aerial view of the uniquely heart-shaped fifteenth green.

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One of a superb quintet of one-shot holes.

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Hole 16 – 486 yards – Par 4

The finishing stretch at Old Sandwich is a challenging test and ideally suited for determining matches that reach this point.  The sixteenth begins with a tee shot over a crested fairway to a blind landing area and, although the fairway is wide, the shot is one of the toughest on the course.

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The fairway tumbles down on the approach to a green running front to back, affording the golfer the opportunity to hit a shot landing some 50 feet short and to watch the ball bound and run on to the putting surface.

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Given the slope, a player may choose to hit as many as three or even four clubs less than standard for a given yardage.  Care must be taken to avoid the collection area that will gobble shots offline right.

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The beautiful sixteenth is one of the most strategic and fun holes (of the many strategic and fun holes) at Old Sandwich.

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Hole 17 – 191 yards – Par 3

The final one-shot hole at Old Sandwich is all carry to a slightly elevated green ringed with bunkers.

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Golfers must remain focused to avoid being distracted by the stunning natural surrounds.

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Balls left short will be shunted back toward the tee, while shots tempting the edges of the putting surface will likely be redirected into bunkers.  There is no cheating this hole – a well-struck shot is required.

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A look back from behind the green.

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And one from above.

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Hole 18 – 498 yards – Par 4

The longest par-4 on the course, the eighteenth presents the player with a fairway that is quite wide and quite blind from the tee — he must pick his line and trust that he has chosen wisely.

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Cresting the rise in the fairway, the player is afforded a view of the remainder of the hole, which is divided by long grass and bunkers.

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The gentle downhill slope, open front of the green and generous short grass surrounding the green all mitigate the length of this hole and provide opportunities for the creative shorter player to match the advantage of his competitor’s distance.

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An excellent finishing hole, as befits an exceptional golf course.

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BONUS – Hole 19 – Par 3

For those matches (and wagers) left unsettled after 18 holes, Coore & Crenshaw thoughtfully provided an extra hole to ensure everything is settled up properly.

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This final green is a hit-it-or-else proposition and contains significant internal undulation, ensuring that matches needing extra holes will be won by the player able to hit this green and lag it close or make his putt.

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Like many of Coore & Crenshaw’s other courses, a round at Old Sandwich leaves a golfer with no doubt that they have just been afforded the chance to play a course built in the mold of the great classics.  As with other modern gems like Sand Hills, Ballyneal, Stonewall, Kingsley, Friar’s Head and Pacific Dunes, Old Sandwich was built and is maintained with one goal in mind — providing its members with the best and most enjoyable golf possible.  And when golf architects and clubs find themselves on the same page in that regard, modern masterpieces which can stand proudly next to their classic sisters can often result.  Old Sandwich does her neighbors proud.

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I hope you enjoyed the tour.

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Exploring America’s Great Golf Clubs

As the pre-season comes to an end, and the rainy days in Chicago delay the start of the peak season, I find myself reflecting on the year-to-date, which has already been filled with great golf adventures.  My favorite experience thus far was my visit to Calusa Pines.  The course at Calusa Pines, created by the design team of Hurdzan & Fry, is a marvel of architecture, engineering and natural beauty – my photos from the day are below.  The Calusa Pines Golf Club is much more than the course though, and that is what makes it so special.

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

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of visiting several modern golf clubs in addition to Calusa Pines that have stood out to me for their all-around greatness – The Kingsley Club, Boston Golf Club, and Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club.  They have common characteristics, which can be linked back to the progenitors of the modern golf club.

Exploring the lineage and elements of greatness begins in the early-1990s at two clubs with the dreams of two men – Dick Youngscap and Mike Keiser.  At Sand Hills Golf Club and The Dunes Club, respectively, each man realized his vision of being able to get away from the demands of the workaday world to play the kind of golf they wanted to play, among kindred spirits.

Architecturally, Sand Hills and The Dunes Club were rejections of the chest-thumping “championship” golf of the Fazio-Nicklaus-Jones era that was prevalent at that time.  The courses were built on sandy land and inspired by the best of the architecture of the British Isles, as well as the American golden age.  These courses were the spark that lit the fire of modern minimalism.

Culturally, the clubs are a reflection of their benevolent dictator founders.  They are exclusive, but not exclusionary.  Those members and guests who “get it” are welcomed and encouraged to get lost on fields of play that delight the senses, challenge the skills, and fill the heart with golf geeky joy.  Days of play are complemented with relaxed times of camaraderie around patio tables and fire pits.  Ego and pretense have no place, and those seeking opulence are happily pointed in other directions.

Sand Hills and The Dunes Club feel both polished and personal at the same time. The love that has been poured into them by their founders, architects, and staff is palpable.  It is that love of the game and fellow players that inspired the follow-on generation of club founders and members.

THE KINGSLEY CLUB

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On my first visit to Kingsley, a long-time member named John joined our group as a fifth for four holes.  He shared stories of the club’s founding by Ed Walker and Art Preston, and its connections to Crystal Downs.  John’s pride in the course and its history enriched my experience that day, and it wasn’t long before I joined.

On my first visit to Kingsley this season, I was reminded of this pride when Mr. Walker took close to an hour to walk me through his plans for our new clubhouse.  He is a busy man, and I am newish member.  He didn’t need to do that, but he did because he has poured his heart and resources into the club and he knows that I share his love for it.

BOSTON GOLF CLUB

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My first time at Boston GC, I was on a buddies trip to Boston, and I fell in love with the course.  On my second visit to BGC, I was hosted by a member, John C.  Walking the fairways with John was like being at Kingsley.  His depth of feeling for his club was infectious.  Knowing the story of founder John Mineck’s labor of love, and his tragic death on site, it is no surprise that members feel a special connection to this place.

As we sat and relaxed in the dining room after sunset, we shared the joy that permeates the memberships of these great clubs.  Part of fitting in to these cultures is realizing how lucky we are to get to spend our hours playing this game, among friends, on such wonderful courses.  That off-putting sense of entitlement is absent, and in its place, gratitude.

BALLYNEAL

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Ballyneal is the golfiest place I have ever been.  The members there love the game and they love their club, which now includes 18 holes by Tom Doak, the Mulligan short course, and The Commons putting course.  It is a golf geek’s fantasyland, a decade’s long dream in the making for founder Jim O’Neal, now come to fruition in the Chop Hills.

My buddies and I arrived the evening before we were scheduled to play with our host, Stephen.  We met another member while hanging out on the driving range and after chatting us up for a bit, he insisted that we go play.  His love of the game and welcoming spirit is the norm at Ballyneal, and I am counting the days until I can head back to enjoy it again.


CALUSA PINES GOLF CLUB

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A view from the highest point on the property

My day at Calusa Pines was generously set up by a member, Eric.  In our correspondence prior to that day, Eric expressed a sentiment that I have experienced at every one of these clubs.  The members love hosting for two reasons: they are proud of their clubs and like to share them with others who can appreciate them, and they prefer not to play anywhere else when they are in town.  Before Eric said it, I had never heard it put that way, but I know exactly how he feels.

I was joined by the General Manager Walt Kozlowsky, Head Professional Mike Balliet, and a member, Rob.  They are good players and people, and tremendously knowledgeable about the club.  As a bonus, I cannot recall ever laughing more during 18 holes of golf.  They embody the culture of Calusa Pines – a love of the game coupled with a commitment to keeping it fun.

THE COURSE

Dr. Michael Hurzdan & Dana Fry wrote a Vision piece that is on the club’s website.  This statement stood out for me in summing up the experience of playing the course:

“Calusa Pines will be a golfer’s golf course meaning that you will never tire of playing it, there are an endless variety of golf shots required each time you play it, and every hole will be distinct and memorable.”

Several months later and I am still amazed at the description of the construction process that Walt, who has been at Calusa since ground was broken, shared with me as we walked.  The land started as basically flat.  The top layer of sand was removed from the entire property and stored.  The bedrock beneath was then dynamited.  After blasting through the rock, the system of lakes was excavated and that material along with the rock was used to build hills, rough contours and some features.  Smaller rock was then used for additional form shaping.  The original top layer of sand was then brought back to sandcap the land and do finished shaping.  The result is a course that seems natural, even though it is entirely engineered.

Calusa Pines impresses with its broad strokes, but it is even more impressive at the detail level.  Obviously, great care was taken with the bunkering and greens.  They are both visually striking and a blast to play.  The naturalization of the site is also outstanding.  As we walked along Rob and Walt explained to me that the founder Gary Chensoff insisted that the system of lakes be designed such that a player can never see all shores at once – they disappear around corners and out of view, giving the player a feel of wandering around in a river valley.  Large trees were preserved or planted to create a sense of maturity, and a wide variety of vegetation creates interest in color and texture throughout.

Throw in one of the cooler clubhouses you’ll ever see – beautiful with just the right level of comfort and amenity – and Calusa Pines qualifies as the total package.  On to the course…

(click on circle images to enlarge) 

Hole 1 – Par 4 – 389 Yards

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The opening hole is a slight dogleg left that plays to an elevated green.  It introduces the player to Calusa’s stunning bunkering that makes the player feel as though they have been transported to the Melbourne Sandbelt.

Hole 2 – Par 5 – 551 yards

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The first of Calusa’s three-shotters gently bends right and demands precise positioning of the second.  Leave yourself short-sided, and you’re in trouble.

Hole 3 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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A great little three par with an all-or-nothing character to it.  Hit the green and birdie putts are makable.  There is no bailout on this hole though.  Miss the green, and kiss your par goodbye.

Hole 4 – Par 4 – 379 yards

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The fourth is the first hole to encounter the course’s system of lakes.  The cape design allows the player to be as aggressive as the wind and their nerves will allow.

Hole 5 – Par 4 – 378 yards

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The fifth doglegs right with a tee shot up over a rise.  The green is elevated and guarded by deep bunkers right and a steep runoff left.

Hole 6 – Par 5 – 513 yards

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The challenge of the sixth is a function of width.  There isn’t that much to begin with, and the hole feels even narrower as it winds along the lake.  Blocking out the borders and confidently focusing on the target for each shot is a requirement.

Hole 7 – Par 3 – 186 yards

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A terrific and tough par three, the seventh plays through the goal posts created by the trees to a green guarded left by a massive bunker.

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Hole 8 – Par 4 – 280 yards

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The eighth is a wonderfully creative short four with sand along the entire left side and a green benched into a hillside.  Longer hitters can drive the green, but failed attempts can find all manner of nasty fates.

Hole 9 – Par 4 – 421 yards

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The ninth plays from an elevated tee, with an approach over the lake to a green set just below the clubhouse.  A visually stunning hole that provides one last stiff test on the outward nine.

Hole 10 – Par 4 – 376 yards

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The par four tenth features artful bunkering up the right and a sculpted sandy hillside that creates one of the coolest looks on the whole property.

Hole 11 – Par 3 – 171 yards

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Another stellar three par, the eleventh green is set at a slight angle.  With the swirling wind, judging the line and distance is no simple matter.

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Hole 12 – Par 4 – 419 yards

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Climbing the hill to the twelfth tee provides one of Calusa’s best reveals.  This beauty is a beast though that demands two well struck shots to find a subtly contoured green surrounded by runoffs.

Hole 13 – Par 5 – 554 yards

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The thirteenth turns hard right and allows for a daring attempt to carry the large bunkers on the inside of the dogleg.  Success gives the player a chance at reaching the small elevated green in two.

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Hole 14 – Par 4 – 293 yards

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The fourteenth is the second of Calusa’s risk-reward par fours.  The deep fronting bunker and firm elevated green add plenty of challenge to this shortie.

Hole 15 – Par 4 – 374 yards

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Otherworldly bunkers line the right side of the fifteenth, all the way up to the bunkerless green.  A brilliantly imbalanced and contrasting design.

Hole 16 – Par 3 – 161 yards

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The final one-shotter is the most visually intimidating, playing downhill to a peninsula green.  A breathtaking spot on the beautiful property.

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Hole 17 – Par 4 – 390 yards

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The seventeenth works around the lake from left to right with the main challenge on the approach.  The large greens is one of the most creative on the course.

Hole 18 – Par 5 – 487 yards

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The closer turns hard left off the tee, giving the player a chance to cut the corner and get home in two.  The green sits up above one last large bunker, in the shadow of the clubhouse.  A thrilling finish that is perfect for dramatic conclusions to matches.


IN CONCLUSION

Whether it is in golf architecture, or the experience of a golf club, greatness will always be subjective to some degree.  From my personal perspective, there are two final elements of the greatness of Calusa Pines and the other great modern clubs.

First, a key difference between these places and others for me is that I walked off the 18th green wanting to go right back to the 1st tee.  There is a depth of strategy and thoughtfulness to the design that makes repeat play exciting and enjoyable.  Beyond wanting a replay, I also wanted to ask for an application.  The combination of course and culture is that appealing.

Second, these clubs are deeply about love of the shared experience of this wonderful game.  It is built into their DNA, but it is not necessarily a love that takes itself too seriously.  There is a heavy dose of fun, and that is why I love the game of golf.  For some it is the challenge or the competition.  For me, it is the fun of experiencing those aspects in the company of my fellow geeks.

What do you think makes a club great?  Feel free to brag on your club or share your personal experiences in the comments here.


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 15a (Metra Corner Makeover)

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Native plant area behind #6 green

Our generous volunteers and donors helped us complete pilot projects along Sheridan Road at our north end (6th hole) and on Central Ave in our middle (12th hole).  We are grateful for their support and dedication.

Our attention has now shifted to the south end of the property, or what we call the “Metra Corner”.  This is the area that includes the 15th and 16th holes, which interact with the canal and the commuter train tracks.  It is also a point of major foot traffic, with commuters and school kids passing through the course in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

Like most of Canal Shores, the Metra Corner suffers from several major issues:

  1. The golf on these holes is a combination of hard and boring due to a lack of interesting features and inherent strategy.
  2. Turf health and quality, and the general ecology of the area, has been degraded as invasive species like buckthorn have taken over.
  3. Safety issues exist because of the layout of the holes, and disorganization of space for golf vs. non-golf activities.

Our makeover of the Metra Corner has the overarching goal of the addressing the issues above, while improving the aesthetics of the property and fun of the golf holes.  A visualization of the makeover is below, with a descriptions of the steps.  As the makeover progresses, I will provide updates in additional posts.

 

 

THE STEPS OF THE METRA MAKEOVER

STEP 1 – The Principal’s Nose

The 15th hole is a short par-4 that is tight off the tee and plays straight, with little strategic interest.  Although the hole has great potential, it currently suffers from being boring and hard.

We are borrowing a simple strategy of positioning fairway and greenside bunkers to create options and angles for our golfers.  Aggressive players can challenge hazards to gain advantage on the hole and make an eagle or birdie.  Conservative players can navigate safely navigate around hazards while still having a chance at par.

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The staggered bunkering of Hollywood GC.

To add quirk and interest to the hole, we are creating a Principal’s Nose bunker complex, inspired by the original at St. Andrews and others around America.  There is an existing set of grass bunkers in the left center of the fairway that will be shifted and rebuilt.

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The Principal’s Nose at Boston Golf Club

 STEP 2 – Greenside Bunkers

The bunkers front left and right of the green are out of position and in a state of serious disrepair.  The left bunker will be removed and turned into fairway creating an alley for players to play running approaches.  The right bunker will be shifted and rebuilt closer to the green in a rugged, “gash” style.

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The gash bunker at The Rawls Course

The existing layout of the 15th hole provides only one good option for play – straight down the middle.  The new bunker configuration will introduce strategic options and risk-reward considerations for our players. Golf is more fun and interesting when it is a test of both the mind and execution.

(click on images to enlarge)

 

STEP 3 – Replacing the Spruce

There is a large spruce tree on the right side of the fairway on #15 that has was likely planted as a yardage reference marker.  It is a non-native tree in an inappropriate position.  We are exploring options for moving it, and will do so if it is cost-effective.  Otherwise, we have obtained permission from the City of Evanston Forestry Division to remove the tree and replace it with natives that are more appropriately positioned.  If funds allow, the new plantings will be incorporated into the establishment of a new native area.

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Red Oak

STEP 4 – Buckthorn Removal on #15

As is the case in many areas of Canal Shores, buckthorn and other invasive species have encroached on the canal side of the 15th hole, narrowing it considerably.  Previous efforts by our staff and volunteers on the 3rd and 12th holes have widened playing corridors, improved turf quality, highlighted specimen trees, and enhanced aesthetics.

We intend to remove the buckthorn and other invasives along the left side of the 15th fairway up to the canal ridgeline.  Going down to clear and restore the canal bank is a much larger project for which we are not yet prepared.  Our Ecology firm, Planning Resources Inc., has provided us with an advisory statement on the intended work on the 15th and 16th holes (click here to read the PRI letter).

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#12 after buckthorn removal

STEP 5 – Revealing the Stone Wall

With the help of our neighbors, we have discovered an old limestone wall along the right side of the 16th hole.  It is currently overgrown by buckthorn and other invasive shrubs.  This is exactly the kind of unique feature that makes Canal Shores so special, and we intend to uncover and restore it to the best of our ability.

Volunteer days for this work are currently being organized.  Email me, or sign up on the Canal Shores website if you would like to donate or volunteer.

STEP 6 – Round Rail Fence 

The wood round rail fence that we installed as a part of our 12th Green Project has been very well received by the community.  That fence style will be the standard for the boundaries of the property.  It defines a boundary but leaves an open feel, while drastically improving aesthetics.

The chain link fence behind the 16th green will be replaced, increasing visibility into the course for people driving and walking down Noyes Street.  A new section of fence right of the 15th green will be installed, which will help direct foot traffic away from the 15th green and the private neighbor property that borders that corner of the course.

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Round rail fence on the 12th hole

STEP 7 – Reconfigure #16 Tees

The current tee configuration on #16 is suboptimal.  The back tee position is dangerous – it is too close to the back of #15 green.  Shots that go long put players at risk.  The tee shot from the back tee is also too difficult for almost all of our players.  Further, there is no tee box on the near side of the canal.  The forced carry over the canal is mandatory, which is beyond the strength and ability of many of our players.

The back tee will be shut down, making room to reroute the walking path behind 15 green.  The right and left tees will be expanded, to create more day-to-day variety, and a new forward tee on the near side of the canal will be added.

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New teeing options on #16

STEP 8 – Reroute Walking Path

Although Canal Shores is welcoming to walkers of all kinds, we want to keep them safe and minimize potential damage to greens. The path that many school kids and commuters currently take through this section of the property has two main problems that we intend to address.

On the 15th, walkers tend to walk too close to the green, or on it.  The new fence and removal of the back tee on #16 allows us to route walkers away from the green and out of potential harm’s way from golfers.

The area between the 16th hole and 17th tee holds water, and so we will be creating a drainage feature and establishing a formal path for walkers to keep them out of conflict with golfers on #16 and the 17th tee.

STEP 9 – Expand #15 Fairway and Green

As a rule of thumb, more short grass equates to more fun for golfers.  Therefore, we will be working hard to improve turf health, and expanding the fairway and green on #15.  We will give our players a larger target, and more options for how to approach it through the air or along the ground.

CONCLUSION

Although this “bootstrap” work is nowhere near what could be accomplished with a larger scale renovation of Canal Shores, we do believe that we can significantly improve the experience that our visitors have in this section of the property and course.  While the Master Planning process unfolds, we look forward to pushing forward with improvements in every way that the commitment of our volunteers and donors allows.

For step-by-step updates on this project, and all other happenings at Canal Shores, follow us on Twitter (@CanalShores), Instagram (@CanalShores), and Facebook.

Bring on the spring!

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More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 


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A Modern Throwback – Andy Staples at Meadowbrook

The past decade has seen a number of wonderful renovations of classic golf courses – Philadelphia Cricket Club, Moraine CC, Cal Club, Orchard Lake CC and others are exciting for golf geeks at several levels.  One in particular has risen to the top of my radar as I have watched it unfold from a distance.

While doing a previous interview with Andy Staples, I learned that he would be renovating Meadowbrook County Club.  It was founded in 1916 and received attention from Willie Park Jr and Donald Ross.  Over the years, much of that Golden Age character had been lost, and Andy was charged with bringing back that spirit in a modern form.  The possibilities had me intrigued.

Andy Staples and Assistant Superintendent Andy O’Haver did a great job of sharing updates as the renovation unfolded, and with every photo and video, my excitement grew (I highly recommend following them both Andy Staples @buildsmartrgolf and Andy O’Haver @andyohaver).

Give his role as a project lead, I’m hoping to be able to add some of Andy O’Haver’s thoughts here at some point.  In the meantime, Andy did an interesting interview with Dave Wilber from TurfNet.

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Many thanks to the Andys for sharing their outstanding work with us.  Thanks to Brian Walters for permitting the use of his beautiful photos of Meadowbrook.  Enjoy!


ANDY STAPLES ON THE MEADOWBROOK RENOVATION

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

To be able to get back to the Midwest and work with such great people probably tops the list.  Working in the Metro area where there is such a strong portfolio of historic courses is a big one.  And no doubt, getting the chance to help direct a 100-year old club with such a cool design lineage in addition to its fabulous tournament history.  Ben Hogan holed out for 2 on #18 on back to back days during the ’58 Motor City Open for crying out loud!  This place is really cool, and I’m honored to have had the chance to work here.

Describe your process for a renovation project of this nature.

I guess I would narrow my process down to two words: communication and trust.  Much of what we did at Meadowbrook came down to giving the membership the feeling of being a part of the process and that they could trust me to guide them through the entire renovation.  All clients want to know that you’ve been here before and that the project is going to turn out great.  Earning everyone’s trust is a very concerted effort over the life of the project, and it’s my job to give them the confidence that we’ll give them something to be proud of.  I think this connection with the general membership and the staff is the reason we were able to achieve 74% approval to close their golf course in the first place.  This is huge for a club in Detroit.  Many people said we couldn’t do it, but in the end, we did; and we did it on time and under budget.

Did you have any design or construction documentation from Willie Park Jr.?  If so, to what degree did it influence the work?

Unfortunately no; the club did not have any documentation.  They did have very detailed notes in their Club minutes dating back to when the club hired Park, and they have a number of newspaper articles stating when they commissioned Park to design their course.  But no, they didn’t have any of Park’s original plans or notes.  They began construction in 1916, but for financial reasons, the Club was only able to complete the first 6 holes of Park’s 18 hole routing.  So really, MCC is only a 6 hole Park course.  Collis & Daray assisted the Club in 1921 and expanded it to 18 holes.  I can only imagine this connection happened in some way through Chicago and by way of Park’s eventual work at Olympia Fields.  Then in the 30’s Ross came through, and changed the 18th green (which we think was an original Park green), so we started with only had 5 original Park greens.  Ross also renovated the 12th green.  Interestingly, Tillinghast made a visit on behalf of the PGA in 1936, of which only minor modifications, if any, were made.  The rest of the course was a mix of Collis & Daray, Art Hills, and Jerry Mathews.

The Club felt that maintaining a connection to Park’s original design was important.  So, we visited and studied as many of his other courses as possible to get a sense of what Park was creating when he came back to America in 1916, and we attempted to integrate his known built work into our plan.  This was an interesting process.  Many of us on the design team made these visits, and we collectively shared each other’s thoughts on how Park’s design philosophy related to Meadowbrook.  We visited Battle Creek, perhaps the best reflection of Park’s work in the area.  We visited a handful of others in the area as well as on the east coast.  But the really exciting part of our research was seeing Park’s work at Sunningdale and Huntercombe in England.

When we arrived at Huntercombe, we knew this was a place that needed to be a major aspect of our work at Meadowbrook.  Since Park personally owned Huntercombe (which, in fact, played an interesting role in Park deciding to come to America and practice golf architecture full time), we felt it reflected much of what Park liked in golf architecture, or at least what we think he liked.  We understood that it was a bit of his proving grounds, but there was just too much good stuff to not bring back to our work in the States.  Drainage ditches, grass bunkers (“willie park pots” as they call them at Huntercombe), varied putting green design, etc., seemed to reflect exactly what we were looking to do.  And, it was a bit different than the courses we were seeing in the US.  One of the things I’ve noticed about Park, is that his courses revolve around his green design and dictate his routings, even if it means there is a bit of awkwardness in the flow.  And this seemed to be evident in Meadowbrook.

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Photo by Brian Walters

What were your goals going into the project?

The entire discussion of master planning and renovation began when the Club was affected by the DuPont situation that killed many of their trees.  At this point, the Club realized they needed some outside help.  Then, the winter of 2014 happened, and most every poa green in the Metro area was affected in some way by severe ice damage.  This then began an entirely new discussion of putting green construction, bentgrass versus poa annua turf and overall site drainage.  So, when it came time to come to the membership with a plan, we identified these three goals:

  1. Sustainability in turf types and maintenance
  2. Improve drainage and playability
  3. Maximize the overall property

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

I’d say both are imperative.  Playability is what everyone sees or experiences, and much of functionality is invisible, or underground.  The longevity of a course lies in making sure each are equally attributed.  It really is a balance since most of how golf architecture is perceived, comes from what one sees and experiences.  Players assume the functionality is there, but rarely do they understand what that means.

What were the biggest changes you made?

The largest change I would say is the maximization of the property.  A slight rerouting of holes 5, 6, and 7 and a slight adjustment to hole 11 and 12 tees really improved the flow of the course, as well as allowing a player to experience the course differently than if they were to just simply walk the property.  The look and feel of the course is very different in that most of the greens are square-ish in nature, and all the bunkers were rebuilt to more of a grass faced, flat sand bottom style. And, with the introduction of more short grass, there are many more ways to play each hole, with a great variety of short game alternatives and recovery shots.  The rest of the holes utilized the existing corridors, with minor modifications in the teeing grounds or green locations.

Another significant addition to the course is an increase in the fairway width, and the introduction of short grass chipping swales on nearly every green.  We tried to balance the ability to challenge different angles of approach to the greens by giving the players more chances to find the fairway, albeit, not always from the best angle of play.  We also balanced the short grass areas with traditional rough, not only around the greens but in strategic areas in the fairways. I think the increase in variety of shots is a major improvement from how the course played prior to the renovation.

The final change came in the form of different teeing lengths based on actual swing speeds; you’ll see yardages as low as 4,000 yards.  We also have sets of tees at 4,800 and 5,100 yards.  I think this positions the club well as it continues to market to families and beginners into the future.

Did you take any creative risks along the way?

I hope so.  Bringing the “Huntercombe” style to Detroit was a fairly sizable leap of faith by the Club and its committee.  There are a few greens now that really challenge a player’s thought process of not only how to play a particular shot, but also through visually giving them something they may not have seen before.  My hope is the course will continue to reveal itself over multiple rounds, and if my experience proves out, some of the greens will catch people by surprise.  The 3rd green will be one that most people will notice (inspired by the 4th green at Huntercombe).  The internal green contours are also something that we feel we pushed the limits on.

I have to give much credit to Scott Clem, our design shaper, in this area.  He really helped push the creative envelope on how these greens were going to play, and receive shots.  We also spent a lot of time walking around the edges to think about a player’s recovery if the green is missed.  To me, this is the area that really separates the best courses – how a player feels as they manage their way around the course, and how interesting the set of greens are.

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

Actually, the biggest challenge with the membership was to keep them off the course when they started to see green grass again!  This membership absolutely LOVES their golf, but gave me no challenges once we began construction.  If there was any “challenge” regarding the membership, it would be to get them to agree that it was best to close the course for a year to get the project done at once.  But this isn’t unique to Meadowbrook.  I feel the way we overcame this was by clearly communicating our vision of what this place would be.  And, by having a solid committee, a great General Manager in Joe Marini, and a great greens staff like Mike Edgerton and Brian Hilfinger, it made it all the more manageable.  It was a great team.

Logistically, a challenge during construction was to keep the contours of the Park and Ross greens intact, even though we were converting them to a USGA green section.  This was a cool process, and was handled very well by TDI, Inc., the golf course contractor.  First, we surveyed all the greens prior to construction.  As we progressed through the installation, we didn’t touch any of the greens surfaces we were trying to preserve, and surveyed them again by a ‘total station’ greens scan which produced millions of data points and a 1-inch contour map.  Then, once the top grade was established, the entire excavation was surveyed, measuring each elevation down to the subgrade, then up to the drainage, gravel, and greens mix.  Each green was quality checked to an 1/8-inch tolerance, and each was finished by hand with a rake and shovel.  Very little equipment was used in the final floating of the surfaces. This process started slow, but picked up speed to the point we feel was a fast as possible without adding any time to the schedule.

Another logistical challenge happened around the design of the tees.  It’s easy to say we want a variety of lengths for different types of golfers, but it’s really hard not to have 6, 8 or even 10 individual tees on every hole!  Having this many tees on each hole can have a serious negative affect on how the hole looks from the back sets of tees.  So, we looked for ways to integrate combo sets, and even make the teeing ground a little smaller in some places, knowing we were trying to spread out the play across multiple sets of tees.

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

You had to ask this question, didn’t you!  Maintenance costs are going to be in line with the other clubs in the area, which is slightly more than where they were when we began the project.  The main reason for this is the increase of bentgrass areas by around 10 acres.  Actual putting green area stayed the same size, but were converted to the bentgrass Pure Distinction.  The bunkers are likely to be a bit of a learning exercise, not only in terms of the maintenance practices, but also the expectations of the membership.  I’m planning to push the Club to keep them a little rough around the edges, which should, in theory, offset the increase of handwork.  We’ve also converted 25 acres of maintained turf to natural fescue area.

Overall, the Club was committed to taking the course to a new level in terms of look and playability, and have committed to do whatever was necessary to get the course in the shape we all envisioned from the beginning.  Oh, and did I mention their membership is full?  This is a great place for Meadowbrook to be at this point in time in the golf market.

What makes you the proudest about the new Meadowbrook?

I’m proudest of the fact that this membership entrusted me with directing their long range Master Plan, and that they voted overwhelmingly in support of closing the course for an entire year.  This is really cool, given that these types of projects don’t come around very often (anymore!).  I’m also proud to see how stoked the membership is toward the new course.  These guys are just chomping at the bit to play the place!  We’ve given tours all summer and into the fall, and everyone has been so complimentary.  This reaction is incredible by all accounts.

What do you respect about Andy O’Haver?

I love O’Haver’s appreciation for the architecture.  Not just the actual design features, but his appreciation for the way the architecture is supposed to play.  He likes to say: “It’s just grass, buuu-ddy (in his best Pauli Shore voice)!”  I think many more clubs would be better off if it was acceptable to lose a little grass now and then in an effort to make the course play right, and he gets this.  The idea of a superintendent being able to provide perfect conditions, with very little room for error, or god forbid with any experimentation, is just unbelievable; unfathomable, really.  Add to this a new course, with new turf, in a new environment, and it’s really unbelievable these guys can provide the conditions they do, day in and day out.  From my perspective, he has 2-3 seasons to get it where we want it.  I just hope the membership agrees with that!


MEADOWBROOK COUNTRY CLUB

Andy Staples provided me with some photos from throughout the renovation process, which are soul stirring.  For a much more in-depth hole-by-hole analysis of the project, follow Ben Cowan’s terrific thread on GolfClubAtlas.

(click on images below to enlarge)

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HOLE #1 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The opener is a par-4 with a slightly angled tee shot that plays uphill to its new green fronted by bunkers.

HOLE #2 – Par 5

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Photo by Brian Walters

The second is a three-shotter that plays over rolling land up to an elevated green with a classic false front.

HOLE #3 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The third is inspired by a Willie Park Jr. template, doglegging right into one of the coolest greens you’ll ever see.

HOLE #4 – Par 5

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Photo by Brian Walters

The fourth is a three-shotter that gently turns left, finishing with a cape-style approach.

HOLE #5 – Par 4

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The fifth plays up over a hill and back down into an artful punchbowl green.

HOLE #6 – Par 3

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The sixth is a new one-shotter with a green set against the side of a hill.

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HOLE #7 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The seventh plays over a pond and hill and then turns right to head down into a green that allows approach from the air or along the ground.

HOLE #8 – Par 3

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Photo by Brian Walters

The eighth plays over water to a classic green surrounded by bunkers.

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HOLE #9 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The ninth is a par-4 that plays over a ditch, doglegs right, and then heads back to the clubhouse.

HOLE #10 – Par 4

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The tenth plays out past Ross-style mounds and then down to a deep green guarded by a tree left and bunker right.

HOLE #11 – Par 3

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Photo by Brian Walters

The eleventh plays downhill to a green set amidst a minefield of chocolate drops and surrounded by glorious contours.

HOLE #12 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The twelfth is as a stout dogleg left that plays to an angled green that flows out the back to a rumpled chipping area.

HOLE #13 – Par 3

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The thirteenth is a one-shotter that plays down to a green fronted by imposing grass-faced bunkers.

HOLE #14 – Par 4

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The fourteenth is a short par-4 that asks the player to navigate centerline hazards.

HOLE #15 – Par 4

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The fifteenth play side by side with the 16th over gently undulating terrain, to a green set down in a hollow.

HOLE #16 – Par 4

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This sixteenth is a understated, straightaway par-4 that turns back and heads away from the clubhouse toward the 14th.

HOLE #17 – Par 5 

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Photo by Brian Walters

The penultimate hole is a three-shotter that plays to yet another wonderful squarish green surrounded by bunkers.

HOLE #18 – Par 4

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The closer is a par-4 that makes one final demand of the player to navigate bunkers on the way to a green set in the shadow of the clubhouse.

Congratulations to Andy Staples, Shaper Scott Clem, Superintendent Jared Milner, Assistants Andy O’Haver and Brian Hilfinger, and the rest of the crew that made this outstanding transformation happen.  And further, congratulations to the membership at Meadowbrook whose boldness and trust will be rewarded with a truly special golf course on which they can enjoy the spirit of the game for years to come.


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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


 

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