Geeked on Golf

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


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Musings on Greatness

First things first – there is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to assessing the greatness of a golf course.  And objectivity in ranking one golf course’s greatness versus another?  Please.  

Fortunately though when it comes to having good geeky fun with your buddies talking golf courses, objectivity is irrelevant.  What is relevant when having the endless discussions and debates is the standards by which one assesses a course.  The standard matters because it gives context.  There are several standard that my fellow geeks and I like to use:

  • The Memorability Standard – Can you remember every hole on the course the next day?  
  • The 18th Green to 1st Tee Standard – When you walk off the final green, do you want to go right back out?
  • The One Course for the Rest of Your Life Standard – Could you be happy playing just that one course every day for the rest of your life?
  • The 10 Rounds Standard – When comparing courses, how would you split ten rounds among them?

These are all good standards, and provide interesting perspectives on the greatness of courses.  A new standard materialized for me in 2017, and I am now on the hunt for courses that qualify.  

The inspiration for this standard – which I call 108 in 48 – is Prairie Dunes.  I had the good fortune of spending another weekend in Hutchinson this year (thank you Charlie).  Both of my visits to PD have been golf binges.  Around and around we go.  Every time I come off the 18th hole of that course, I want to go right back out.  

My experiences at Prairie Dunes have set the standard in my mind.  The question is, which courses would I want to go around 6 times in 2 days?  What that means to me is, which courses are interesting, challenging and fun enough to stand up to that kind of immersion experience?  Can’t be too hard or I get worn out.  Can’t have weak stretches of holes or I lose attention.  Can’t be too easy or I get bored with the lack of challenge.  And of course, the greens have to be great.  

Prairie Dunes passes the 108 in 48 test with flying colors for me for three reasons:  First, the sequence of holes is packed with variety from a length, straight vs dogleg, and directional perspective.  Second, the greens are, well, you know.  Third, the course is drop dead gorgeous – color contrast, texture, land movement, tree management – it is just the right kind of candy for my eyes.

Of the courses I re-played in 2017, Essex County Club and Maidstone also pass this test, but for different reasons than PD.  Both Essex and Maidstone play through multiple “zones”.  Essex has its brook/wetland zone and its stone hill zone.  Maidstone with its wetland zone and linksland zone.  This gives them both a meandering adventure feel that I find compelling.  Both are outstanding at the level of fine details.

All three of these courses share a peaceful, refined beauty in common that creates a sense of transcendence during the course of a round.  The passage of time melts away.

There are a handful of other courses that meet this standard for me.  There are also quite a few courses that I love dearly and consider favorites that do not.  My list of current 108 in 48 qualifiers is below.

I ask you, which are your 108 in 48ers, and why?


108 in 48ers

SAND HILLS – Mullen, NE

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If you have been to Sand Hills, you know.  Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece, lovingly cared for by Superintendent Kyle Hegland’s team, is incredibly strong from start to finish.  It is no surprise that it started the revolution that has grown into a second Golden Age.

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ESSEX COUNTY CLUB – Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA

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This Donald Ross course resonated with me from the first play, and repeat visits deepen my love of it.  It doesn’t hurt that, just when I think that Superintendent Eric Richardson’s team can’t make it any better, they prove me wrong, again.

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PRAIRIE DUNES – Hutchinson, KS

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In addition to my thoughts above, I would add that the combination of Perry and Press Maxwell holes adds even more variety to the course, and if there a better set of greens in America, I would love to hear the argument.  Superintendent Jim Campbell’s team presents the course beautifully, and the staff and membership could not be more welcoming.

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA – Southampton, NY

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

If C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s attempt to create the ideal golf course falls short of the standard for perfection, it’s not by much.  The routing and strategic design, the variety of hazards, the greens, and the numerous iconic views conspire to create magic.  Caring for such an intricately conceived course is no small feat, and Superintendent William Salinetti’s team does a masterful job.

KINGSLEY CLUB – Kingsley, MI

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Go ahead, call me a homer.  The rollicking ride that Mike DeVries has created has its share of thrills, but is also packed with strategic questions that take repeat plays to answer.  The staff creates the perfect vibe for a golf geek, and our Superintendent Dan Lucas?  Nobody is better.

SHOREACRES – Lake Bluff, IL

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Seth Raynor took what might have been a challenging piece of property to some architects and devised one of the most brilliantly routed golf courses I have ever seen.  The central ravine feature is used brilliantly and provides a wonderful contrast to the bold template features greens.  Superintendent Brian Palmer’s team relentless refines the course and revels in creating firm and fast conditions that accentuate every nuance of Raynor’s creation.

LAWSONIA LINKS – Green Lake, WI

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I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it – Lawsonia is the most underrated golf course in America.  Attempt to describe the scale of the features created by William Langford & Theodore Moreau in this bucolic setting is pointless.  It must be experienced to be believed.  The quality of conditions that Superintendent Mike Lyons and his crew deliver with modest green fees makes Lawsonia an unbeatable value.

MAIDSTONE CLUB – East Hampton, NY

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In addition to my comments above, it is important to note the brilliance of Coore & Crenshaw’s restoration work on this Willie Park, Jr. gem.  Having visited pre- and post-renovation, there were moments that I could not believe I was playing the same course.  Superintendent John Genovesi’s team continues to push forward with fine tuning that perfectly walks the line between providing excellent playing conditions and allowing the course to have the natural feel intended by the designers.

KITTANSETT CLUB –  Marion, MA

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An argument could be made that this Frederic Hood and William Flynn design is the best flat site course in America, especially after a Gil Hanse restoration.  Strategic challenges abound, and the set of one-shotters are second to none.  Superintendent John Kelly’s team continues to bring out every bit of Kittansett’s unique character.

BALLYNEAL – Holyoke, CO

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Ballyneal is far and away my favorite Tom Doak design.  It is a glorious collection of holes that meander through the Chop Hills.  Birdies do not come easy, but the course doesn’t beat you up either – it strikes the perfect balance.  Jared Kalina’s team knows quite well how to provide fast and firm conditions, and the staff and membership conspire to make it the golfiest club I’ve ever visited.

OLD ELM CLUB – Highland Park, IL

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Another homer alert – I grew up going around Old Elm as a caddie and we were allowed to play every day, which I did.  I loved the course as a kid, but with the progressive restoration back to Harry Colt and Donald Ross’s vision that has been undertaken by GM Kevin Marion, Superintendent Curtis James, Drew Rogers and Dave Zinkand, OE has gone next level.  

SWEETENS COVE – South Pittsburg, TN

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The King-Collins creation is everything that golf should be.  Strategically challenging, visually interesting, and holes punctuated by stellar greens.  Combine the design with the ability to play cross-country golf and it is impossible to get bored going around and around Sweetens.  Need a playing partner?  No worries, Rob and Patrick are always willing to grab their sticks and geeks won’t find better company anywhere.

SAND HOLLOW – Hurricane, UT

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Subtle and strategic on the front nine, and breathtakingly bold and beautiful on the back, Sand Hollow has it all.  This is a bit of a cheat as the back nine would require a cart to get around multiple times in one day, but I am making an exception.  It’s that good, especially with the fast and firm conditions presented by Superintendent Wade Field’s team.

DUNES CLUB – New Buffalo, MI

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The Keiser family’s club is the perfect place to loop around endlessly.  A variety of holes, solid greens, and multiple teeing options make these 9 holes play like 36+.  Mr. Keiser has recently embraced tree removal across the property opening up views, and allowing Superintendent Scott Goniwiecha’s team to expand corridors of firm turf.  No need for a scorecard, just go play.

OLD MACDONALD – Bandon, OR

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Old Mac is not my favorite course at Bandon Dunes, but it is the only one that makes the 108 in 48 cut for me.  The width and scale create the possibility of holes playing dramatically differently from one round to the next.  The execution of the homage to CBM by Tom Doak, Jim Urbina, et al is spot on and glorious to explore for golf geeks.  Superintendent Fred Yates’s team provides ideal conditions for lovers of bounce and roll.


MORE GEEKED ON GOLF MUSINGS:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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What My Kids Taught Me About Architecture

My son Jack is 15 years old and my son Henry is 7 years old.  This season, I officially became one of those lucky golf geek dads whose kids are golf-crazed.  We play most of our golf together at Canal Shores, but we also had outings over the summer at Kingsley Club, Champion Hill, and Arcadia Bluffs.

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Jack and me, sweeping the dew on the opener at Kingsley

I took Jack out for his first “real” round of golf at Kingsley, and we were joined by my buddy Howard.  He had never been on a big course before, and I thought his eyes might pop out of his head when we stepped onto the first tee.  In Jack’s defense, many people who visit are intimidated by Kingsley’s opener, and the 2nd is no picnic either.  Jack struggled on the first two holes, and on the 3rd tee, I gave him a pep talk.  “Ignore what you see on the ground and hit it in the direction I point,” I advised.  He is a quick study and followed the instruction, striping his tee shot.

It was well hit, but on a more aggressive line than intended.  We held our breath wondering if it would clear the right fairway bunker.  It did, and the feeling of exhilaration was palpable, not just from Jack, but throughout our whole group.  In that moment, I realized that my boys were teaching me about golf course architecture.

LESSON #1 – It is fun to hit the ball over obstacles.

Sure, good design provides the opportunity for hazards to be avoided in exchange for strategic advantage, but the truth of our hearts is that we love to knock the ball over things.  The corner of a dogleg.  A creek or crevasse.  A bunker – the bigger and nastier the better.  The successful clear provides a thrilling satisfaction.  It’s in our DNA.

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Henry, after clearing a deep bunker on the 1st at Arcadia Bluffs

My wife and little guy Henry joined Jack and me for a walk and twilight golf at Arcadia Bluffs.  On each hole, I would create a “Henry Tee” in a special spot 100 or so yards from the green.  We found a perfect Henry Tee on the far right of the ridge above the bunkers that cut across the fairway on the 3rd.  He gave his hybrid a lash and we watched expectantly as his ball bounded along the fairway toward the green, peeling off at the last moment and coming to rest on the fringe.

LESSON #2 – It is fun to watch the ball roll over interesting ground toward the target.

There is a reason why “fair” is a four letter word, and in my opinion, it has no place on a golf course.  The game is gloriously unfair, especially on courses with contour, kept in firm and fast conditions.  Hit a good shot, catch a bad bounce.  Hit a bad shot, catch a good bounce.  There is no justice in the rub of the green, and that is the way I want it.  I want to watch my ball tumble along, not knowing exactly where it will end up.  Predictable is boring.

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Jack guessing on a line for the semi-blind tee shot on the 14th at Champion Hill

I do my best to walk the line between patience and teaching my guys a lesson about moving along on the course.  They get more of the former when nobody else is around.  After all, I’m loving every moment I get with them, and what’s the rush?  At times, when I get impatient, I have a habit of giving them long putts.  They don’t like that practice one bit.  They want to get the ball in the hole, and I am robbing them of that pleasure.

LESSON #3 – It is fun to get the ball in the hole.

I love wild green surrounds and undulating greens as much as anyone, and yet I wonder sometimes, has that trend gone a little bit too far?  If the surrounds are so complex that my chances of ever holing a chip or pitch are diminished to the point of dumb luck, is the architect’s creative expression worth it?  If the greens are so severe that every putt over 5 feet is a pure guessing game, is the player cheated of seeing a line clearly and dropping a bomb?  I’m no tour caliber putter, but I’m no slouch either.  I like to see a putt drop into the hole as much as my boys, and it seems that an architect has some responsibility to at least give players a reasonable chance of success.  Restraint is a virtue.

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Jack chasing the summer sun on the 5th at Arcadia Bluffs.

My kids have a way of stripping away complications to help me see what really matters.  Like most golf geeks do, I appreciate strategic options and being encouraged to think.  I also greatly appreciate the natural beauty of the contrast of colors and textures.  Rarely do I encounter quirk and creative flourishes that I don’t dig.  But at my core, I am just like my boys and they remind me of the essence of the game.  If the architect and greenkeeper give me the opportunity to golf my ball over obstacles, to see my ball run along the ground, and to get my ball in the hole with reasonable effort, I will have fun.

Could great architecture be that simple?

 

 

 

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.


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Jon Cavalier’s Top 10 New Courses in 2015

The end of the year is a time for reflection on days past, anticipation of days to come, and most of all, a time for … LISTS!  Top 10 lists seem to be everywhere this week, and far be it for me to resist this trend. So, in that vein, here are the Top 10 Courses that I played for the first time in 2015 (along with some honorable mentions).

2015 was a great year for me in golf.  I was most fortunate in that I was able to play a lot of rounds in quite a few different areas of the U.S.  I was able to play and photograph several courses that I had been eager to visit for quite some time.  I started Twitter (@linksgems) and Instagram (@linksgems) accounts as a means of sharing some of these photos, and the response has been wonderful.  Best of all, I was able to play golf or talk golf with many different people over this past year, who I know I will call dear friends for years to come (including the creator of this very blog – thanks Jason).

But since this is a golf architecture blog, and you’re undoubtedly here for some golfporn, without further ado I present the Top 10 courses I played for the first time in 2015.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

These are courses that deserve special mention, as they are all fantastic places to enjoy a round of golf, and in any normal year, would certainly have made my Top 10.  In no particular order:

Hollywood Golf Club (Deal, NJ)

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This Walter Travis-designed, Tom Doak-restored gem has a brilliant routing, gorgeous bunkering, wildly rolling greens and a top-notch staff that keeps the course in perfect condition.  What more can you ask for?

Ekwanok Country Club (Manchester, VT)

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Another Walter Travis masterpiece, Ekwanok is nestled in the Green Mountains and is one of the most scenic courses in New England, particularly in fall.  The par-5 7th hole is one of the best in the US.  Francis Ouimet won the US Amateur here in 1914.

Old Elm Club (Highland Park, IL)

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The under-the-radar, men only club (one of four in the Chicago area) is golf at its purest – having recently undergone a comprehensive restoration led by Drew Rogers, David Zinkand and Superintendent Curtis James, Old Elm is one of Chicago’s best.

Chambers Bay (University Place, WA)

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Embattled host of the 2015 U.S. Open, Chambers Bay was lambasted for its seemingly bumpy greens and other issues.  But for normal, everyday play, Chambers Bay provides a fabulous experience, including firm, links-like conditions and incredible views that go forever.

Newport Country Club (Newport, RI)

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One of the very few remaining true links experiences available in the U.S., the journey at Newport begins and ends with its magnificent clubhouse. The 18 holes one traverses in between aren’t too shabby either.

Old Sandwich Golf Club (Plymouth, MA)

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One of several things I share in common with Jason – I have never played a course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that I didn’t love.  Old Sandwich is no exception, and is one of Boston’s best offerings.

Old Macdonald (Bandon, OR)

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At most resorts, Old Mac would be the flagship course.  At Bandon, it’s one of four outstanding courses.  Ask 10 people to list their order of preference for the Bandon courses, and you’ll get 10 different lists.  You’ll also get 10 people who love Bandon Dunes.

Kingsley Club (Kingsley, MI)

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Kingsley Club, designed by Mike DeVries, gives life to its motto, “In the spirit of the game…”, by providing golfers with firm and fast playing conditions on true fescue fairways, greens that will boggle the mind of the best lag putter, and a gorgeous, secluded setting.


TOP 10 for 2015

Number 10 – Boston Golf Club (Hingham, MA)

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No course I played in 2015 exceeded my expectations by as much as Boston Golf Club did.  Going in, I expected to see a very good Gil Hanse-designed golf course.  What I found was an absolute masterpiece of modern golf design.

Playing through wooded terrain and rolling, often dramatic elevation changes, the course presents 18 different strategically challenging golf holes that present the golfer with options to be weighed and obstacles to be overcome or avoided.  Seemingly every shot requires the player to choose between a risky, high-reward play and a safer route that might take par out of play.  The par-4 5th hole is a clinic in how to build a challenging and fun short two-shot hole, and the par-3s are universally excellent.  A wonderful course.

Number 9 – Yeamans Hall Club (Hanahan, SC)

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Everything I love about golf, Yeamans Hall has in abundance. This Seth Raynor design is another extremely successful restoration projects by the Renaissance Golf team, and the care and talent that were brought to bear on Yeamans’s greens and bunkering is evident throughout the course.

Set on nearly a thousand acres of gorgeous lowcountry, the course has ample room to meander through hills and forests, down to the water’s edge and back.  Each hole culminates at a massive green complex, most of which contain deep bunkering and substantial undulations within the putting surface.  But best of all, the course is a true throwback, and all the cliches about “stepping back in time” upon passing through the magnificent gates are entirely true.

Number 8 – Shoreacres (Lake Bluff, IL)

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Another brilliant Raynor design, another excellent restoration led by Superintendent Brian Palmer with Tom Doak consulting, Shoreacres is arguably the best course in the Chicago area, and certainly one of Raynor’s finest.

One of Raynor’s earliest solo designs, Shoreacres contains some of his best MacRaynor templates, including the Road Hole 10th, which is one of the most difficult pars in the Midwest.  But the Raynor originals, like the 11th, which requires a carry over a deep ravine from the tee and another into the green, and the par-5 15th, which plays over some of the most interesting and unique terrain on the property.  Lovely in all respects.

Number 7 – Friars Head (Riverhead, NY)

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One of the best modern golf courses that I’ve ever played, Friar’s Head is unique in that the course begins in massive sand dunes (Hole 1), proceeds immediately to open farmland (Holes 2-8), returns to the dunes at the turn (Holes 9-10), takes one last turn through open terrain (Holes 11-14) and finishes with a dramatic run back through the dunes (Holes 15-18).

The ability of Coore & Crenshaw to route a golf course hasn’t been in doubt since they built Sand Hills, but Friar’s Head is perhaps the prototypical example of how to route a course over two starkly different kinds of ground. The transition holes (2, 8, 11 and 14) are some of the best on the course, and the finishing stretch from 14-18 is as good as any in the U.S.

Number 6 – Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR)

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Tom Doak’s American masterpiece, Pacific Dunes is an incredible experience from start to finish. From the very first hole, with its large sand blowout to the left of the fairway and the hint of an ocean in the background, the golfer knows something special awaits. Fortunately, the wait is not long, as the course gallops straight for the ocean cliffs, which come into view on the otherworldly par-5 3rd hole and become part of the course on the signature-worthy par-4 4th hole.

The number of top notch holes at Pacific Dunes is too great to recount them all here, but the back-to-back par-3s at 10 and 11 and the par-4 13th are truly spectacular.

Number 5 – The Country Club at Brookline (Brookline, MA)

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That The Country Club is the third course from the Boston area to appear on this list speaks to the quality of golf in Beantown.  Admittedly, I am a sucker for the Francis Ouimet story, and the experience of playing the course on which he beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to win the 1913 U.S. Open was enthralling. The par-4 3rd hole, a stiff two-shot hole playing down, around and between rocky outcroppings, and the par-5 11th hole (pictured), are among the best in the US.

Number 4 – Crystal Downs Country Club (Frankfort, MI)

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Somehow, I had never played a course designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie before playing Crystal Downs.  Quite the introduction!  The course begins from an elevated tee overlooking most of the open front nine, before proceeding to the more isolated out-and-back routing of the final nine.

Crystal Downs might have the most treacherous greens in the country, and “degreening” after one’s first putt is quite common.  In fact, the par-3 11th green is so steeply sloped from back to front that hitting an approach past the pin is essentially dead. On the 17th hole, it is possible to hit a reasonably good putt from the back of the green to a front pin and end up 50 yards or more back down the fairway.

While the greens are the focus at Crystal Downs, every hole on the golf course has considerable merit.  On the front nine, the three par-4s at the 5th (with landforms that must be seen to be believed), 6th (with “scabs” bunkering guarding the inside of the fairway) and 7th (with an amazing “boomerang” shaped green) are each world class.  Not to be outdone the par-5 8th hole, with a fairway like an angry sea, is easily one of the best in the US.

Number 3 – Chicago Golf Club (Wheaton, IL)

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Originally designed by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1894 and redesigned by Seth Raynor in 1923, Chicago Golf Club is one of the oldest and most historic courses in the US.  Raynor was unrestrained in his implementation of the Macdonald templates, and as a result, Chicago has some of the biggest, baddest and boldest templates that either man ever built.

Combined with the extraordinarily firm and fast conditions, the difficult greens and the deep and ubiquitous bunkering (including at the rear of most greens), Chicago provides a serious test, but the lack of water hazards, deep rough and dense trees makes the course reasonably playable for all golfers.  Chicago is truly a course that harkens back to the golden era of golf course design, and golf is richer for its existence and preservation.

Number 2 – Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (Southampton, NY)

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There’s not much I can say about Shinnecock that hasn’t already been said by those who can say it far better than I can.  Suffice it to say that it’s a near perfect, breathtakingly beautiful “championship” golf course that is kept in such immaculate condition by Jon Jennings and his staff allowing that it could host the U.S. Open for 200 days a year.

It’s among the best handful of golf courses in the world, and one I would happily play every day for the rest of my life.  In every other year, it would be number one on this list.  But not this year.

Number 1 – National Golf Links of America (Southampton, NY)

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Those of you who know me or follow me on Twitter/Instagram know that I am an avid fan and ardent disciple of the work of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor.  The pair have long been my favorite of the golden age designers, and I never pass up a chance to play a Macdonald or a Raynor course.  As a result, National Golf Links sat at the top of my wish list for some time.  When I finally got to play it this year, I went in with such anticipation that I was worried that the course would fail to live up to my impossibly high expectations.  It didn’t – it exceeded them, by a wide margin.

National Golf Links is everything I love about the game of golf and golf course architecture.  It’s an impeccably well-preserved example of one of the crowning achievements in golf course design and a virtually unaltered example of the principles and beliefs of one of the game’s most important historical figures.  It’s a course with ample fairways, almost no overly penal hazards and tame rough, allowing for a full panoply of shots that are rewarded when successful and which allow an opportunity for recovery when not.

The course has 18 holes that vary in quality between excellent and best-in-the-world, the latter category including what is perhaps the finest opening hole in golf, a short par-4 “Sahara,” a long par-4 “Alps” (my favorite par-4 in golf) and the finest Redan par-3 in the game.  And that’s just the first four holes.  Somehow, the remaining 14 holes manage to sustain this level of quality, which culminates with the uphill par-4 16th, its punchbowl green resting in the shadow of the Club’s iconic windmill, the downhill par-4 17th, dubbed Peconic for its picturesque views of Peconic Bay, and the par-5 18th, a roller coaster of a three-shot hole playing hard against bluffs bordering the bay and which some consider the best closing hole in the world.

From the moment one passes through the Macdonald gates, a day at National Golf Links is an experience any golfer would cherish for a lifetime.


And there you have it – the 10 best courses I played for the first time in 2015 (plus honorable mentions).  Note that if you disagree with anything above or think I’m nuts (National over Shinnecock?), let me know in the comments and we’ll have a discussion.  After all, what’s the point of these lists if not to stir debate.

Lastly, to those of you I had the great fortune of meeting or playing with over the past year, you have my deepest appreciation for sharing your time with me, and I am honored to count you among my friends (you know who you are).  Sincere thanks to Jason Way, not only for hosting this list on his blog, but for being so generous with his knowledge and for introducing me to some great golf courses in his neck of the woods.  Thanks to all of you for reading, and here’s to a 2016 filled with good golf on great courses with the best of friends, old and new.

Jon Cavalier
Philadelphia, PA


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Home Course Hero – An Interview with Architect Mike DeVries

Anyone who has played golf in Northern Michigan knows how truly special it is.  Not only is it home to one of the greatest golf courses in the world – Crystal Downs – it is also home to some of the best golf course architects working today.  Mike DeVries is one of those GCAs.

As evidenced by my previous post on the Kingsley Club, my love of Mike’s work is no secret.  After playing the first hole at Kingsley the first time, I knew I wanted to play the course over and over again.  My desire is just as great to play the rest of Mike’s courses, in Michigan and beyond.

That bucket list golf will remain on the list for now.  In the meantime though, enjoy the following interview with Mike, with gorgeous accompanying photos by Larry Lambrecht (note: click any photo to open slide show).


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

I grew up learning the game from my grandfather and then working in the pro shop at Crystal Downs when I was 14.  At 16, I worked in the pro shop on weekends and on the grounds crew during the week.  Tom Mead became the Superintendent when I was 17 and wanted me full time on the grounds crew, so I did that through college.  After my undergrad, I worked for Herman’s Sporting Goods and figured out their mission and mine were not the same.  I was getting married in Frankfort and went back to the grounds crew at the Downs prior to the wedding, and in that time figured out I always came back to golf.  Tom Doak was finishing up High Pointe (sorry to see that wonderful course gone) and I met him and talked about my goals and desire to work in golf design and construction.  After helping them to finish High Pointe, I worked with Tom for 2.5-3 years on the Legends – Heathland GC in Myrtle Beach and then the Black Forest in Gaylord, MI.

What do you admire the most about Crystal Downs?

Of course, the Downs is very personal for me, but the whole place is magical and has so many wonderful attributes about it.  The rhythm and flow of the routing across the landscape, melding all these different, yet similar, landforms and vistas into one cohesive masterpiece is probably what I reflect on the most after thousands of days on the property.

CRYSTAL DOWNS 

 

Who has influenced you the most in your work, both within and outside of golf?

Family, parents and grandparents, instilled in me a strong work ethic and desire to always do the best I can.  Certainly, my maternal grandfather taught me about golf and the respect for the game and the land.  In the business, Fred Muller taught me about the game and playing (still does) and Tom Mead was the first big influence on understanding agronomy and the care of a golf course – the two, combined with the Downs as a canvas, gave me a great understanding of what GREAT golf is about.  Tom Doak gave me the opportunity to learn in the dirt with him and we constantly talked about what this change or that change would do to the feature and golf course as a whole every day – that working style still impacts my methods today.  Tom Fazio and his associates gave me a thorough education in the design and construction of high end projects and showed me their desire to always give their clients the best of everything.  I have been fortunate to have had numerous, wonderful owners that have allowed me to try new things and push the envelope on projects.  Dan Lucas and Joe Hancock continue to teach me about agronomy.  Of the great architects, MacKenzie stands above all others due to my lifelong study of the Downs but Ross, Tillie, MacDonald, Raynor, Colt, Flynn, etc. all influence me to look at the ground we are working on.  I like to see all kinds of different golf courses by different designers.  Of the modern designers, I most like to see the works of Pete Dye, Doak, Coore & Crenshaw, and Gil Hanse, as they are always trying something and it is fun to try to figure out what they were trying to do here and there.

Describe your process for a design project.

First of all, you have to consider what the client is really asking you to do and make sure that is taken care of.  But, if you are talking about an open-ended look at the design process, then figuring out the routing of the course is the most critical and important aspect to me.  Without a good routing, even excellent holes and features can get lost in the process and then the course loses focus.  With a great routing, the course has a chance to be something really special every time you play it (assuming you get the details of the greens, bunkers, etc. correct!).

Is there a particular element of a golf hole that you like working on the most?

Each and every element of a course is inter-related to the other features of the course, and especially those that are adjacent to them.  I really like building the green complex, not just the putting surface, because it is the focus and culmination of a hole and what dictates the strategy a golfer takes as he stands on the tee.  With a great green complex, the hole has a chance to be something really intriguing every time a golfer steps on the tee.  But, importantly, the golf hole must be considered in relation to the other holes and features on the course and how this hole connects with the previous and following holes to create a flow that is invigorating and fun to play every day.

GREYWALLS (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

What should every Greens Committee member study/learn before undertaking course improvement initiatives?

There are certainly some good books on the subject [MacKenzie’s Golf Architecture, Thomas’ Golf Architecture in America, Macdonald’s Scotland’s Gift – Golf, and numerous modern texts that summarize the classics listed (Geoff Shackelford has done this many times)].  But, they must listen to their design consultant and Superintendent, understanding that they, as lay people, do not have the training or experience to really make decisions on golf design elements and features.  They need to listen, ask questions, and provide input to the process but not direct it.

What are the primary challenges you consistently face in trying to deliver results that are up to your standards?

You often have decision-makers who cannot look beyond their own game with regard to features and playability.  Everyone has biases and prejudices, even designers, myself included, but those have to be put aside to make the best decision for the most players on an everyday basis.  I have not had the opportunity to design a course primarily for a championship venue, and those are rare indeed, so course design must be much more inclusive in its strategy and execution, not just for the low-handicap golfer.

How do you know when you have hit the sweet spot in your work?

When people tell me they keep seeing new things on the course every time they play it.  Personally, it is often something you feel creep into the finished product, not something that is always there at the beginning or planned.

THE MINES (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

When you finish a big project like Cape Wickham, do you need a little down time, or do you like to jump right in to the next project?

A very hard part of the job is trying to line up projects with a nice, even spacing.  It just doesn’t usually work out that way.  So, as much as you try to have one follow directly behind the current one, you work at new projects in pieces while completing one but often, there is time necessary to line up parts of the next project.  Busy is a good problem to have, so if we are ready to go, then we get right to it – definitely better than the alternative!

What are some of your takeaways from your time in Tasmania?

First of all, it was an incredible experience for my entire family, since they were there with me for 6 months (well, only 2 for my daughter, as she had to go back to college).  The chance to go to another part of the world for an extended period of time is really an amazing and wonderful chance that few get to do in their lifetime and that is something that we frequently talk about as a family.  We made lots of friends and really loved our time there.

From a work standpoint, Cape Wickham is the most incredible site I have ever seen for a golf course and it is an honor to have been given the opportunity to work on it.  It was also very challenging working on an island, where supplies and equipment are not easy to acquire or fix, so you have to be very creative in how you approach things and use all the good ideas of locals who know the conditions.  It is a very resourceful place and the conditions were very challenging at times, so perseverance and a dedication by all those involved in the project was really what made it successful.

CAPE WICKHAM (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Being in the dirt and shaping features, feeling the ground beneath you, and then sitting back at the end of a long day looking at what everyone accomplished (hopefully with a cold beer in hand!).

How did you land the job designing the Kingsley Club?

Fred Muller introduced me to Ed Walker, a Traverse City businessman and the managing partner of the project.  Ed had found the property where the club is and he and Art Preston, his partner in the club, wanted to build a great course that could compare with the great courses in the country.  They had this land but weren’t sure if it would be good enough to satisfy their desire for a great course and that’s when they hired me.  I worked on the routing for several months and we discussed the merits of the project to make sure they were comfortable with the potential result – if it wasn’t going to meet their expectations, then we wouldn’t do it.  Ultimately, everyone was on board with the course, club concept, and we got started.

What one word would you use to describe the courses you design, and why?

Reactionary.  They are the result of my reacting to what is in the land and creating a unique and fun golf course out of that ground.

KINGSLEY CLUB (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

If you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

Crystal Downs is home and so personal to me, so that is the easy answer.  Picking one of my own designs is like picking your favorite child and not really fair, but I might have to go with Cape Wickham, since it is so far away and I haven’t had enough plays on it yet, plus it is such an amazingly beautiful location, with such diverse climatic variances, that it is endlessly exciting and would be a candidate.

What are the top 3 courses next on your list to play for the first time?

Royal County Down – it is disgraceful that I haven’t made it there yet . . . gotta find the time to do so, as I am certain this is one place that will not disappoint.

Cape Breton Highlands – I have been wanting to get there for some time. So, since I am in that vicinity, I will have to check out Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links, too!

Jasper and Banff – like Cape Breton, these are hard to get to, but they are excellent courses from all I have heard and prime examples of Stanley Thompson’s work, of which I am a big fan.

Why do you like to play with hickories?

Each club has a personality of its own and therefore you develop relationships with each club that highlights its strengths and weaknesses, forcing the golfer to find a way to make his shot.  When you execute what you are trying to do, with something not nearly as adequate as modern clubs, it is a great feeling of accomplishment.  You can play very good golf with them but it is like when you were learning the game as a kid and couldn’t count on every shot being well struck.  Also, hickory players have an appreciation for the history of the sport and its implements (they are gorgeous pieces of art to look at as well as play with) and show that enthusiasm through their spirit for the game.

When you are not playing golf or building golf courses, what are you doing?

Spending time with family and friends doing all the usual things, like card games, going to school functions, odd jobs around the house, skiing or sledding in the winter, etc.

What reaction have you experienced from your appearance on Architects Week?

All very positive about my comments and nice to see me on the show. Of course, the architecture fans want more time from the networks on golf architecture and I agree with them!

MikeDeVries-ArchitectsWeek

Click here to see Mike’s Architects Week segment in February, 2015

Any interesting or challenging projects in process or on the horizon for you?

Lots of consulting work with older clubs in the States, particularly in the NY Met area at this time – Siwanoy CC is complete and Sunningdale CC has one more big phase in the fall or 2016.  Some other things are in the works but not confirmed for construction just yet, so you will have to wait on those.

Thanks for having me on Geeked on Golf!


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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An Homage to the Short Par 3

“In this era of obscene power, the likes of which the game has never witnessed, why not strive to induce a little fun into the mix and at the same time present a true test of delicacy and accuracy?” – Ben Crenshaw

This quote from an essay in Geoff Shackelford’s book Masters of the Links resonates with me.  In the work I have been doing at Canal Shores (read more about it here), I am coming to appreciate short courses and short holes more and more – especially short par 3s.

Therefore, I would like to pay homage to short par 3s here by constructing an 18 hole course out of some of the best.  Mr. Crenshaw provided a list of 11 in his article:

  • Pine Valley #10
  • National Golf Links #6
  • Whitemarsh Valley #9
  • Merion #13
  • Royal Melbourne #7
  • Pebble Beach #7
  • Cypress Point #15
  • Royal Troon #8
  • Chicago Golf Club #10
  • Augusta National #12
  • Kingston Heath #15

I’ll round it out with 7 (plus a bonus) of my personal favorites to play:

  • Bandon Trails #5
  • Crystal Downs #14
  • Kingsley Club #2
  • Maidstone #8
  • Shoreacres #12
  • Streamsong Blue #5
  • Old Macdonald #5
  • Bonus Hole: Friar’s Head #17

Why do I love to play short par 3s?  Because they are great at causing internal conflict.  The shorter distance makes me think that I should be able to easily execute the shot.  That expectation of success can cut both ways: it comes with a boost of confidence, and extra pressure.  In much the same way that a 5-footer can break you down, so can a short par 3.  I have to try extra hard to focus on execution, and stay off the result.  Easier said than done when standing on the tee with a wedge or short iron.  Good golf shots are rarely produced with one’s head twisted into a pretzel.  I love taking on the mental challenge presented by short 3s.

I am working on concepts for several short par 3s for Canal Shores and they are great fun to contemplate and discuss.  Removal of distance as the primary challenge also removes creative constraints.  The player won’t be challenged by length, but there are so many other ways to interest and mentally torment – green size, contours, site lines, orientation, hazards, elevation change, etc.  Let it not be said that a shorty can’t test skill and fortitude.

It is my hope that architects continue to find ways to incorporate devilish little par 3s, and short holes of all kinds, into their designs.  In the age of the long ball (in every sense of the phrase), the shorties add so much to the game.

Do you have favorite short par 3s that I missed?  Post them here in the comments, or on Twitter – tag me at @JasonWay1493 or #short3s.


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Golf Heaven on Earth – The Kingsley Club

KingsleyLogoMy discovery of the Kingsley Club was just dumb luck.  On a buddies trip to Arcadia Bluffs and Crystal Downs, we needed a third course to play.  I stumbled across the Kingsley Club review on GolfClubAtlas.com – it looked interesting, so it was added to our itinerary.

Turning into the property off a dirt road, it was apparent that we had found a hidden gem.  Beyond the modest clubhouse lay rolling hills covered in wild flowers and fescue grass, with beautiful undulating fairways cutting through them.  For me, it was love at first sight – a feeling of exhilaration that I find anew every time I pull into the parking lot, and every time I step onto the first tee.

The original intent of this post was to give a course tour.  Among the GolfClubAtlas.com review, the Club’s website, and KingsleyGolfer.com, that tour is thoroughly covered.  No need to redo what has already been well done.

Instead, this post is about why Kingsley has touched me so deeply.  Why I believe that it embodies everything that is great about golf.  (Thanks to fellow Kingsley member Tim B. for use of his photos)

Kingsley is certainly challenging and fun to play, and the laid-back culture of the club enhances the experience for me.  But the profound sense of joy it evokes in me goes beyond fun.  What makes Kingsley so special?  Three words hint at the answer: Interest, Variety, and Beauty.


KINGSLEY IS INTERESTING

A good golf course catches the player’s interest on the first hole and keeps it throughout the round.  A truly great golf course like Kingsley keeps the player’s interest round after round, ad infinitum.  Kingsley displays its greatness to me in how it keeps my interest.  It is like a puzzle to attempt to solve.  It provides challenges of strategy and execution, along with a mixed bag of good and bad luck.

After I have played a really good round at a course, I often lose interest.  My experience at Kingsley has been just the opposite.  I have played some of my best golf there, and yet I still want more.  It is simply impossible to imagine getting bored walking those fairways.

These specifics top the list of what makes Kingsley interesting:

  • Blind shots – The property is hilly and Mike DeVries’s routing takes advantage of the elevation changes to create numerous blind shots.  Blind shots quicken the pulse and provide interest.  There are few things quite as exciting in golf as hitting one’s shot, watching it disappear, and then taking the anticipatory walk to find out how it ended up.
  • Bouncing balls – The fairways and green complexes are gloriously undulating.  Coupled with fescue fairways and bent grass greens that drain well, the undulations provide bounces from tee to green that make the course unpredictable.  Superintendent Dan Lucas keeps the course in immaculate firm-and-fast condition, but it is not “manicured”.  Kingsley will hand players good and bad breaks according to its whim.  In golf, “fair” is another word for “predictable”.  Predictable gets boring quickly, and does not hold a player’s interest.  Kingsley is anything but predictable.
  • Distance and depth-perception – Elements of the course, in concert with the often windy Northern Michigan weather, make judging true distance and selecting clubs very challenging.  Even when playing repeatedly from the same spot, the shots are not the same.  One is never quite sure if the club is right.  Executing a confident shot in the face of that fundamental ambiguity is an interesting mental challenge indeed!

INTEREST IN IMAGES – Holes 1 and 2


KINGSLEY OFFERS VARIETY

Variety is the spice of life.  It is also the hallmark of a great golf course.  From tee to green, from front nine to back, Kingsley has tremendous variety.

The course has a wide variety of hole lengths and is routed to maximize directional changes.  Factor in time of day and weather conditions, and Kingsley can play like an entirely different course from round to round.

Kingsley puts its variety on display:

  • On the tees – Each hole offers several teeing grounds that often differ not just in length, but in direction.  The player can choose to play each hole from wherever they wish.  The best example of tee variety is on the par 3 9th, which can play from 106 to 240+ yards from two groups of tee boxes that are set at 90 degree angles to one another.
  • On the greens – Kingsley has incredible variety in its green complexes.  Some are heavily bunkered, some have few or no bunkers.  Some greens accept ground approaches and recoveries, others are elevated to encourage aerial shots.  There is a wide range of green sizes and shapes, some with subtle interior contours, and others more dramatic.  The course has punchbowls, table-tops, crowns, horseshoes, double plateaus, and multi-tiers.
  • In the feel of the nines – The outward nine is routed through sand hills.  It is open and largely treeless.  The inward nine has a much different feel, wandering through trees.  Both nines feel expansive, but each has a distinct feel.  Playing at Kingsley is like playing at Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails in the same round.

VARIETY IN IMAGES – Holes 12 and 13


KINGSLEY IS BEAUTIFUL

Kingsley possesses a rugged, natural beauty that might not be appreciated by those accustomed only to manicured, parkland golf.  The minimalist first impression gives way as the course reveals contrasts of greens and browns, painted onto beautiful contours.

The grounds crew has painstakingly tended the native areas, planting fescue and wildflowers.  Players who visit frequently are treated throughout the year to an ever-changing show of colors that is at once visually arresting and appropriate to the overall look of the course.

From the minor details to the grand scheme, Kingsley’s wide open spaces further contrast sky and earth into one breathtaking view after another.  It is the perfect marriage of outstanding design, construction, and maintenance, with the natural beauty that makes people fall in love with Northern Michigan.

BEAUTY IN IMAGES – Holes 14, 15 and 16


Interest, variety, beauty, and much more – the founders, Mike DeVries and Dan Lucas have put together the total package in a way that resonates deep down in my soul.  It is my golf heaven on earth, and I look forward to walking those fairways hundreds of times, for the rest of my life.

It is my sincere hope that many others get to experience Kingsley’s greatness too.  In the meantime, enjoy this photo tour compiled from my Twitter (@jasonway1493) series 18 Days of @KingsleyClub.

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Architects Week II is in the books. Now for the show…

Once again, the folks at Golf Channel have put together a nice Architects week feature.  Matt Ginella continues to evolve as a voice for the good of the game, giving us a break from Tour & Tip coverage, to help us connect to the soul of the game – golf courses and the people who create them.

A WALK THROUGH THE WEEK

 

“The more I learn about architecture, the more I want to know.” – Matt Ginella

The week kicked off with a preview from Matt, Geoff Shackelford, and a panel.  Bill Coore was originally slated to start off the week, but dropped of the agenda at the last minute.  Such are the lives of successful men, perhaps.

“Think of golf holes as human. You are wrestling with another animate object.” – Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

After a visit with Tom Weiskopf and discussion of his recent updates to TPC Scottsdale, next up was Robert Trent Jones, Jr.  It was an interesting segment with the veteran architect that culminated with discussion of Chambers Bay, the 2015 U.S. Open venue which promises to be a strong follow-up to last year’s game-changing event at the renovated Pinehurst #2.  “It is both the aerial game and the ground game,” said Jones of Chambers.  Clearly, he is excited to the see the best golfers in the world take on his course.

“Let the land speak and lay golf holes out that were relatively straightforward.” – David McLay Kidd

The old guard gave way to members of the next generation of great architects – David McLay Kidd, Mike DeVries and Gil Hanse.  This trio has already produced a portfolio of amazing courses, including my home course the Kingsley Club.  They are also working on some of the most exciting projects in golf – Sand Valley #2, Cape Wickham, The Rio Olympic Course, and now Streamsong Black.

“He’s so creative. He’s a real sculptor with the Earth.” – Alice Dye on Pete

A full day was given to Pete & Alice Dye, perhaps the most influential duo in golf course architecture history, not to mention a heart-warming story of love and marriage partnership.  Geoff Shackelford said of Mr. Dye, “He was sort of a change agent; that will ultimately be his legacy.”  Hard to argue with that assessment.

“It’s something I’ve had on the back burner for 20 years.” – Tom Doak

The week wrapped up with Tom Doak sharing what might be the most exciting thing to happen to architecture since C.B. MacDonald realized his “ideal hole” architecture at National Golf Links of America.  The reversible course at Forest Dunes.

The architects segments were great, as was the commentary between Matt and Geoff, and I highly recommend combing through the clips as a means to find leads to take you on further explorations into the field of golf course architecture.

There are really only three things that disappointed me about this second Architects Week:

  1. The lack of new faces, other than Mike DeVries.  I understand the need for the big names to keep the ratings up and the momentum going for GCA coverage.  In spite of that reality, it would have been nice to have more international representation, and a no-less-talented, but lower-profile architect or two.
  2. The lack of “field time”.  The modern minimalists who are at the forefront of architecture today like Tom Doak, Mike DeVries and others consistently point to the field as the place where the rubber hits the road in GCA.  Driving a bulldozer, shaping the sandy earth, doing the finishing hand work – generally playing in the dirt – this is where architectural magic happens.  Although I love the interviews and the routing discussions, it would have been great to see Matt strolling and chatting with at least one architect on-site.
  3. The segments were just too darn short.  There was not a single segment on the show that didn’t leave me wanting more.  Much more.  At a certain level, good entertainment leaves you wanting more.  But golf architecture coverage goes beyond entertainment.  Given the time appropriate for a subject with the depth and breadth of GCA, it could be educational and inspirational.  It could truly expand the horizons of the audience, and connect them more deeply to the soul of the game.

 

I have made my argument for a regular GCA show on Golf Channel in this previous post.  Architects Week just reinforced my commitment to keep agitating until this gets done.

For now though, you can get your GCA fix on GolfClubAtlas.com, and here at the ever-expanding Geeked On Golf GCA Video Archive.


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2014 Geeked on Golf Tour

The leaves and the first snow have fallen in Chicago.  My golf calendar looks as desolate as the landscape for the remainder of this year.  It’s a good time to revisit the wonderful courses I was privileged to play in 2014.  Those memories will be enough to take me through the winter.

With an extra project on my work plate in the spring, I did not get out for as much golf adventuring as I would have liked.  However, there were several highlights:

  • I joined the Kingsley Club and got 15+ rounds in at my new home course.
  • I checked off two more Coore & Crenshaw gems – Streamsong Red and We Ko Pa Saguaro.
  • My buddies and I made our second trip to Long Island and hit Bethpage Black, The Bridge, NGLA, and Friar’s Head.
  • After many invites, I finally got out to Tom Doak’s Lost Dunes and also popped over to Mike Keiser’s Dunes Club – both special places.
  • In addition to Bethpage, I checked two more U.S. Open venues off my list – Skokie CC and Erin Hills.
  • I spent plenty of time at my other “home” courses – Bryn Mawr CC, Arcadia Bluffs, and Canal Shores.

Without further ado, here are the photos.

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In addition to this embarrassment of riches, I ended the year with numerous invites and plans left on the table – Seminole, Old Elm, Glen View, Crystal Downs, Olympia Fields, The Course at Yale, Sleepy Hollow, Riviera, Whisper Rock, Stonebridge, Strawberry Farm, Oakmont, Merion, Oakland Hills, to name a few.

Looks like 2015 is going to be a great year…


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Copyright 2014 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Take the Risk, Get the Reward

Whenever I can, I sneak away on my frequent business trips to Arizona to play one of my favorites – the Coore & Crenshaw gem, Talking Stick.  On my most recent outing to Talking Stick, one of my all-time favorite holes, the short par-4 12th (more on that hole later), got me to thinking about risk-reward holes par 4s, and why they are so great.

Golf is a game that makes many demands of the player.  Mental demands to process information and use it in decision making. Physical demands to execute against the decision made.  And the best holes, especially risk-reward par 4s, make strategic demands.  On these holes, the player must weigh 2 options:

  • The first option typically involves a safe tee shot that leads to a tougher approach, and the therefore a lower probability of being rewarded with a birdie, but also a lower probability of a bogey.
  • The second option involves a riskier drive, where failure to execute could result in bogey or worse, but where success means a much easier approach to claim the birdie reward.

A risk-reward par 4 does not need to be drivable to maximize challenge and enjoyment, although many are.  The beauty of these holes, and what makes them so demanding, is that there is no “right” choice.  The safe and risky strategies both work, and both have their challenges.  There is no easy way out, and so the player must make a decision, commit fully, and execute to make a birdie.

I fell in love with risk-reward holes as a caddie at Old Elm Club, which has recently undergone a restoration by J Drew Rogers.  The 9th hole is a short dog-leg left par 4.  The green complex is drivable, especially with a well-shaped draw, but errant tee shots are gobbled up by stands of large old trees.  Drives that find the trees rarely result in a green in regulation.  The player can choose to lay up short of the green in an area between 2 sets of bunkers, yielding an 80-100 yard pitch to a tiered green guarded by bunkers.  Birdie is still quite possible with the safe play off the tee, but not nearly as probable as if the player can drive up near the green for an easy up-and-down.

Taking into account wind and weather conditions, I played the hole both conservatively and aggressively over the years.  I made numerous birdies on the 9th, and had a few looks at eagle, but I also made my fair share of bogeys and others.  The 9th at Old Elm never got boring, which is the mark of a great hole. (Thanks to Dimpled Rock Photography for the beautiful Old Elm photos)

My home course, the Kingsley Club, which was designed by Mike DeVries, also has a risk-reward par 4 that is great fun.  The 13th at Kingsley is short enough to be drivable under almost all conditions.  It also has an ample landing area for lay-ups.  An undulating green, surrounded in front and right by bunkers, makes all approaches challenging and exciting.

Having played this hole both ways, I have concluded that the risky play at the green with a bail-out long left is the optimal choice.  Ideally the player can hit a fade that runs up on to the green left of the front bunker.  Neither the safe nor the risky play from the tee leaves an easy second shot though.  There is still work to be done, even from greenside, to collect that birdie reward.

Returning to Talking Stick’s 12th – this hole has an abundance of visual and strategic interest, in addition to making wonderful use of the natural features of the land.  Specifically, the natural wash/dry creek bed has been creatively incorporated to demarcate the safe and risky options.

Having played this hole more almost ten times, I have still not committed completely to one of the two options.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I have made more bogeys than birdies .  That is the mark of a great risk-reward hole.  It introduces options, which can confound the player and produce doubt.  Very few good shots are born of a doubtful mind.

The 9th at Old Elm, The 13th at Kingsley, the 12th at Talking Stick North, and every other great risk-reward par 4 – they tease and torment, and every so often, they pay off with a birdie.  From my perspective, they embody all that is best about golf – challenge, interest and enjoyment – and that is why they keep us coming back for more.