Geeked on Golf


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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).  My annual 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.

Two of my other all-time favorites, 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 presented below, in no particular order. Note that I have disqualified courses that I have only played once, as profound as their first impression may have been (e.g. National Golf Links of America, Sleepy Hollow, Ballyneal, Kittansett). Another group of courses that I love dearly have been disqualified because they are too hard or too strenuous for me to pretend that I could actually walk and play them six times in two days (e.g. Boston Golf Club, Desert Forest, Chicago Golf, Sand Hollow).


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

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.

KINGSLEY CLUB – Kingsley, MI

Go ahead, call me a homer.  The rollicking ride that Mike DeVries has created at Kingsley Club 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

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 Chasenky is following in the footsteps of Brian Palmer by relentlessly refining the course while providing firm and fast conditions that accentuate every nuance of Raynor’s creation.

 

LAWSONIA LINKS – Green Lake, WI

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.

OLD ELM CLUB – Highland Park, IL

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 his staff are always willing to grab their sticks and geeks won’t find better company anywhere.

CRYSTAL DOWNS – Frankfort, MI

It’s difficult to believe that Crystal Downs was once under the radar, but perhaps that’s how the membership of this Northern Michigan family club likes it. Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell collaborated to create an outward nine that might be the best in America, and an inward that’s no slouch either. Superintendent Michael Morris and his team present the course in the perfect manner for players to enjoy unlocking its secrets over time.

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.

FRIAR’S HEAD – Baiting Hollow, NY

The back nine at what some consider to be Coore & Crenshaw’s best design gets all of the pub, and for good reason. But each time I go back, the front nine gets stronger in my mind. Recent tree clearing and flawless presentation by Superintendent Bill Jones and his team make every loop around this Long Island gem a special experience.

SKOKIE COUNTRY CLUB – Glencoe, IL

Take a little Bendelow, some Langford & Moreau, and a healthy dose of Ross, mix ’em up, and you have one of the mot underrated privates in the land. Ron Prichard’s retrovation unified the feel of Skokie, highlighting the outstanding greens, and hall-of-fame Superintendent Don Cross and his crew continue to fine-tune for a membership with a very high golf IQ. 

AIKEN GOLF CLUB – Aiken, SC

The course that Jim McNair and his family have created represents community golf at its finest. Aiken Golf Club is beautiful, embedded in its neighborhood, and packed with enough challenge and architectural intrigue to keep even good players interested for endless loops. All at a price that make you feel like you’re stealing. 

CALIFORNIA GOLF CLUB OF SAN FRANCISCO – South San Francisco, CA

The experience of Cal Club’s Macan-MacKenzie-Hunter-Phillips course is made all the greater by its sense of place and all-world camaraderie. There are no weak holes, and plenty of highlights from tee-to-green and on the putting surfaces, which are painstakingly presented by Superintendent Javier Campos and his team. I have yet to find a better spot to be for an emergency nine at the golden hour. 

OLD TOWN CLUB – Winston-Salem, NC

One thing is clear, Perry Maxwell was good at his job. At Old Town Club, he routed a wonderfully varied course over rolling terrain. The retrovation, led by Dunlop White and executed by Coore & Crenshaw, puts Old Town back where it belongs – among the nation’s best. If you’re not hooked by the opening stretch of the three holes, the jaw-dropping reveal from the 4th fairway will certainly do the trick.

CEDAR RAPIDS CC – Cedar Rapids, IA

Iowa is flat, right? In the case of the land on which Donald Ross built Cedar Rapids CC, the answer is a resounding WRONG! On this palette, The Donald employed some of his most colorful design. The course, having been retrovated by Ron Prichard, Tyler Rae, Superintendent Tom Feller and a determined core group of members, is now a must-see stop in the Midwest golf rota.

 

 

 

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 9 (Inspiration for the New Canal Shores)

In recent Journey Along the Shores posts, I have been focused on what we are doing to improve the course now.  With Autumn quickly approaching, stay tuned for news on the next batch of improvement projects.

Let’s take a break from the present, and revisit the subject of the future of Canal Shores.  There are exciting discussions taking place on how to increase the beauty of the property, the playability of the course, and the sustainability of the facility.  The Board and community have yet to make concrete decisions about a Master Plan.  However, since I posted about a 4 Course Concept, there has been quite a bit of enthusiastic feedback, including from people who know much more about golf than I do.  To the best of my ability, I have integrated the ideas that these experts have generously shared.

I have also repeatedly been asked a question – What will this look like and how will it work?

Before answering, first, a disclosure.  There are no original ideas in my Concept.  Rather, what I have tried to do is envision a new Canal Shores that leverages best practices from the past and present to provide a golf experience that is more flexible and fun for all of our players, especially kids.

THE ROLLING GREEN

There is one aspect of golf that every man, woman, and child can enjoy, regardless of skill level – putting.  Who doesn’t love the sight and sound of a ball tumbling into the hole?  That is why I have proposed the creation of a putting course for Canal Shores.  It is a place that can be enjoyed by all, and where kids can begin to learn the game properly – from the hole outward.

Inspiration for The Rolling Green comes from the world’s most famous putting course – The Himalayas at St. Andrews.  Pictured below, it is the home to the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club, and is also open to the public for a very modest fee.

Closer to home, course developers and operators have started adding putting and short courses to their offerings.  Mike Keiser has proven to be a visionary with the opening of the Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes Resort putting course, designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina on 100,000 square feet of wildly contoured duneland.  The course is no charge for resort guests and area residents.  Having played it myself, I can attest to how incredibly fun (and addicting) it is.

Even the USGA has gotten into the act.  On a visit to Canal Shores, USGA senior executive Rand Jerris shared that Gil Hanse designed a putting course at the USGA headquarters.  “Everyone used to eat lunch at their desks, but not anymore,” Rand explained.  “It has fostered a sense of community among our staff.”

THE KIDS LINKS

In Scotland, where the game was born, access to the links was not a right.  It was a privilege that young players had to earn through developing skills and etiquette.  Where were kids to learn the game?  Often, they had their own “courses” set aside – open spaces with greens, minimal hazards, and undulating ground.

Inspiration for our Kids Links was provided to me by Northwestern Coach Pat Goss on a recent trip to Scotland with Luke Donald.  Pat played North Berwick, and saw the Children’s Course, one of the oldest in existence.  This is a space for kids only.  No adults allowed unless accompanied by a child.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of seeing a short course designed to engage kids and beginners, at CommonGround outside of Denver.  Designed by Tom Doak, the course is packed with interesting ground features and cool greens.  The evening I was there, it was also packed with parents and children.

And a final piece of inspiration was provided to us by Lisa Quinn, Executive Director of the The First Tee of Chicago, when she stopped by Canal Shores.  She tipped us off to the Youth Links at Cantigny in Wheaton.  I plan to load my boys up to go play this gem – they play, I caddie.

THE BACK LOT

Watching players progress in the game to the highest level of competitive performance is very rewarding.  Who doesn’t like seeing an advanced player produce mind-blowing shots?

Giving the area’s competitive players – Northwestern’s men’s and women’s golf teams, ETHS’s teams, AJGA amateurs – a world class practice course on which to develop their games exposes the community to part of what makes golf great.  It can never be mastered, and so the reward is in the progress.  Watching better players has always inspired me to keep developing my game, and I subsequently get to experience the joy of hitting shots that seemingly transcend my ability.

And to up the ante, what if the Back Lot was open to parents and kids as a “family course” so that we could walk and play in the footsteps of more advanced players?  I know my boys would love that experience.

Inspiration for the Back Lot comes from existing practice facilities, and short courses.  I am particularly intrigued by the outstanding work done by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw at Bandon Preserve.  Although a par 3 course, it has the fundamentals of a great practice course – variety of approach shot distances and angles, challenging hazards, and big, interesting greens.

Ask any visitor to Bandon, and they will tell you that the Preserve provided challenge, and maximum fun.  Architect Dave Zinkand includes his work on that project at the top of his list of favorites.  (Read the GeekedOnGolf interview with Dave here)

Other college golf programs have provided their players with first-rate, imaginative facilities on which to practice their craft.  University of Illinois’s Lautritzen/Wohlers Outdoor Golf Practice Facility, The Playground at University of Washington, and Stanford’s Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex are all examples of how a practice area can be both beautiful and beneficial to players.

As a resident, it would be very exciting to me to have top players out showcasing their skills for me and my kids to see.  And you never know – with a space like this, we might even be able to convince former Northwestern players such as Luke Donald and Matt Fitzpatrick to stop by and visit when they are in town…

THE JANS COURSE

What about players who have the skills, and want to play golf on a “standard” course?  Canal Shores does not have the space that allows for a typical 18 hole golf course.  However, that does not mean that players have to settle for “less than”.  Rather, what can be offered in a renovated short course – The Jans Course – is the kind of fast, fun and flexible golf that fits with today’s busy lifestyles.

Facilities around the country, including nearby Arlington Lakes GC (stay tuned for the GeekedOnGolf interview with architect Mike Benkusky on this project) are reimagining what a “round” of golf could mean.  The creativity of these initiatives is inspiring to me.    

The Jans Course could be routed in numerous combinations of par 3s and 4s into 9 to 14 holes.  If/when the time comes, we’ll leave that to the GCA professionals.  Regardless of the routing, we can draw on the rich history of early-20th century architecture for style inspiration.  Donald Ross, William Langford, Seth Raynor and others have left us with numerous examples of how to create interest with bold features that also fit the natural surroundings.  We need only look around in our Chicagoland “backyard” to courses like Old Elm, Shoreacres, and Skokie CC to see how beautiful and fun these golf holes can be.

Tee-to Green Hazards would likely include minimal bunkers to keep maintenance costs down, but those we have could have the classic look of Golden Era courses.

Without bunkering, The Jans Course could rely on Ground Features – humps, bumps, hollows, and hummocks – to challenge players in a creative and beautiful manner.  In a visit to Canal Shores, architect Drew Rogers stressed the value of these features in giving players variety without sacrificing playability (read the GeekedOnGolf with Drew here)

Our Greens will likely need to be on the smaller end of the scale, but that does not mean that they won’t be interesting.  We are not looking for severity, but rather the subtle contouring that confounds players and makes them want to come back for more.  On his tour of Canal Shores, Rand Jerris encouraged us to preserve and/or recreate some of the neater greens on the course, thereby maintaining a link to the origins of the course.

Is all this possible at little ol’ Canal Shores?  Not without commitment, resources and significant effort.  But otherwise, why not?  We do not need to reinvent the wheel.  Rather, we need only look around for sources of inspiration that abound when the spirit of the game is upheld.  With that spirit, we can transform a unique space into one of the truly great golf facilities on the planet.

Are you inspired?  Stay tuned for news to come…


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf