Geeked on Golf

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


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LinksGems 2017 Year in Review

One of the many reasons that my 2017 was great was that I had the pleasure of teeing it up again again with Jon Cavalier.  Of the many reasons why Jon’s 2017 was so great are the courses below, and the photos he captured.  Jon recently referred to this season as “solid”.  I’ll add one more superlative to his that follow – Understatement of the Year.

Many thanks to Jon for continuing to put forth the effort to capture these photos, and freely share them on social media with us.  Twitter and Instagram are much more beautiful places as a result of his talents and generosity.


PLEASANT SURPRISES

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Sand Valley Golf Resort was one of my favorite stops in 2017, and its flagship course by Coore & Crenshaw is worthy of the praise and ranking. But Mammoth Dunes was one of my most pleasant surprises on the year, and it stands to make a big splash when it opens fully next summer.

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White Bear Yacht Club was perhaps my most pleasant surprise in 2017, and one of my most enjoyable “new” courses. The rolling fairways and greens here have to be seen to be believed, and watching your golf ball carom and roll from one to the other is a blast. Terrific.

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One of my favorite surprises of 2017, Watchung Valley is a classic gem designed and routed by Seth Raynor and built by Marty O’Loughlin. Thanks to David Cronheim and George Waters, WVGC is now a true charmer, and a must visit for Raynor fans.

 

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The Swinging Bridge and the par-3 10th at Bel-Air Country Club, another of my 2017 surprises. This brilliant George Thomas design, routed through canyons connected by a series of tunnels, an elevator and the aforementioned bridge, is being restored by Tom Doak.

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Another of my most pleasant surprises of 2017 was the Meadow Club, Alister MacKenzie’s first U.S. design and the beneficiary of a loving restoration by Mike DeVries. The history alone makes MC a compelling visit, but the golf course itself is exceptional.


TOP NEW PLAYS

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Here are my top 10 “new to me” courses that I played for the first time in 2017. At No. 10, narrowly edging out the Dunes course, is Monterey Peninsula CC’s Shore Course, designed by the late, great Mike Strantz.

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At No. 9 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Mid Ocean Club. MOC was the last of the great C.B. Macdonald courses on my list, and suffice it to say, it did not disappoint. Utterly gorgeous, and wildly fun to play. Holes 1, 17 & 18 are pictured.

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No. 8 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Gozzer Ranch Golf & Lake Club. One of the most photogenic courses I played last year, and my favorite of the 30 or so Tom Fazio designs I’ve seen, Gozzer exceeded all expectations.

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No. 7 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Milwaukee Country Club. A true throwback in every respect, MCC merges an absolutely perfect piece of land with the architectural brilliance of Charles Alison. The result is a true classic gem.

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No. 6 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Rock Creek Cattle Company. Tom Doak’s Big Sky masterpiece, RCCC is the rare mountain golf course that remains both walkable and highly playable. And it’s beautiful to boot. A modern gem.

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No. 5 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club. Though Ballyneal follows the Sand Hills model, Tom Doak takes the concept even further here, with a rugged minimalism combined with bolder features and wilder greens. Terrific.

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No. 4 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Camargo Club. As a huge Seth Raynor fan, I’d waited a long time to see this course, and was beyond pleased that it more than lived up to high expectations. One of Raynor’s very best designs.

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No. 3 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Sand Hills Golf Club. The most important golf course built in 80 years and already a classic, dozens of modern gems trace their roots to SHGC. Everyone should make the pilgrimage here at least once.

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No. 2 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Pine Valley Golf Club. What more can I say about the consensus best golf course on the planet that hasn’t already been said? The par-3 10th is just as pretty and scary-looking from above as from the tee.

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No. 1 on my list of courses I saw for the first time in 2017: Cypress Point Club. MacKenzie’s masterpiece, CPC is the most beautiful course I’ve ever seen and one of the best I’ve played. A day here is a magical experience and a seminal moment in a golfer’s life.


FAVORITE PHOTOS

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Catching a wave at the perfect moment makes this shot of the par-3 10th at Monterey Peninsula’s Dunes Course one my favorite shots of 2017, as it seems to capture well the atmosphere of this lovely place.

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A 2017 favorite: the par-3 16th at Sleepy Hollow Country Club, a “Short” template with its in-green thumbprint/horseshoe restored by Gil Hanse. Sleepy has always been a favorite course, but the improvements made here recently are astounding.

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Another favorite from 2017: this aerial of the famed 11th and 12th at Merion Golf Club shows a bit of the brilliance in the routing here, covering just 126 acres, and which led Jack Nicklaus to say that “acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world.”

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Another of my 2017 favorites: this shot of the iconic 10th and the Devil’s Asshole at Pine Valley Golf Club was taken on a truly perfect day. The big, fluffy white clouds and crystal blue sky are beautifully contrasted by the greens and browns of the golf course.

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On a less-than-ideal day for aerial photography, the fog broke for about 3 minutes, which was long enough to snag one of my favorite shots of 2017: Latimer, the par-4 7th at Fishers Island Club, as the fog rolls back in and down the fairway.

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This was one of my most popular shots of 2017: Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on an autumn dawn, as the cold morning fog gathers in the nooks and crannies of the course’s rolling terrain. The 2018 U.S. Open promises to be a great one.

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Another 2017 favorite: the Home hole and clubhouse at National Golf Links of America, on a picture-perfect summer evening. While it’s impossible to capture the essence of a place like National in a photograph, this photo may be as close as I’ve ever come.

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One of my favorite shots of 2017: the par-3 short-template 10th at Chicago Golf Club, with the par-4 9th left, the par-4 15th right and the iconic clubhouse beyond. A living piece of golf history, on display to the world as host of the inaugural Senior Women’s U.S. Open in 2018.


CYPRESS POINT – THE GOOD DOCTOR’S GIFT

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Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you, and thanks for making this a wonderful year. As my small gift to you, here are my top 7 favorite photos from my favorite “new to me” course in 2017: Cypress Point Club. No. 7: All-18 Aerial.

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No. 6 of my favorite shots from Cypress Point Club: the blowhole erupts on the par-3 15th hole. One of the many things that makes Cypress unique is how dynamic a place it is – quite a contrast to most courses.

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No. 5 of my favorite Cypress Point shots: the par-4 17th, viewed from over the ocean under a pink dawn sky after a storm. Grabbing this photo first thing in the morning really set a great tone for the round to come.

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No. 4 of my favorite shots of Cypress Point Club: the par-4 9th, playing into the dunes, while dressed in ethereal morning fog and light. One of the best holes at Cypress, and easily one of the world’s best short two-shotters.

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No. 3 of my favorite Cypress Point photos, and my favorite aerial, is this sunset shot of the beautiful closing stretch: the 15th, 16th, 17th & 18th holes. Though always gorgeous, these holes are otherworldly at the golden hour under the Pacific sun.

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No. 2 on my list of favorite Cypress Point shots (and the cover of the 2018 LinksGems calendar): the 16th, seen here under a perfect sky as a breaker rolls into the cove, is perhaps the most famous par-3 in golf, and undoubtedly the most beautiful.

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No. 1 – my favorite shot of Cypress Point, and perhaps my favorite amongst the many thousands of golf photos I’ve taken, is this look down on the 16th hole from a copse of Cypresses. Everything that makes CPC special to me is captured in this frame.


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In case you missed it, check out the year-end recap with Jon, Zac Blair, and host Andy Johnson on the Fried Egg Podcast. They geek out on golf courses, more golf courses, and even more golf courses. Listen here. (also available on iTunes)


MORE LINKSGEMS TOURS

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Now & Then – Great Holes Through the Years

To paraphrase something I heard Jim Urbina say, a golf course is a living thing, and will therefore evolve.  I find the evolution fascinating, particularly when illustrated in pictures.

Every geek loves Jon Cavalier’s photos (@linksgems), and recently, Simon Haines (@hainsey76) has been adding a twist by piggybacking historical photos of some of the holes, often from the same vantage point.  Genius.  A repository to compile these one-two punches of glorious geekery seemed like the thing to do.  Jon and Simon agreed, so here they are.

Check back periodically for updates, and enjoy!


GREAT HOLES – NOW & THEN

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #17 – Par 4 – 374 yard

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Astounding that a course should have such beautiful views, perfect terrain, amazing landscapes & abundant wildlife.

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“OVER THE GULF OR ROUND THE COAST? – A KNOTTY PROBLEM ON A NEW CALIFORNIAN COAST.  The 17th hole on the Cypress Point course, in California, is one of those places where discretion is at constant war with valour.  Whether to take the long way round the group of Cypress trees shown towards the left across the water, or attempt the drive straight across the gulf, with its attendant dangers – that is the question that faces all the visitors.  Cypress Point is a new course, designed by Dr. A. Mackenzie, and there is already agitation afoot for the American Amateur Championship to be played there, instead of at Pebble Beach, which is situated round the promontory in the background of the above picture.  Cypress Point is on the Del Monte peninsula, about 100 miles south of San Francisco, and was only laid out in November of last year.  It has soon settled down and already provides very fine golf.”

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #4 – Par 3 – 195 yards

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The 4th at National Golf Links – C.B. Macdonald’s homage to the 15th at North Berwick is the first, and still the best, Redan in America.

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PINE VALLEY #5 – Par 3 – 219 yards

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The par-3 5th, with newly cleared and bunkered areas around the green, is perhaps the greatest uphill par-3 in the world.

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‘THE FAMOUS FIFTH AT PINE VALLEY.  A 205 yard iron shot which is considered one of the finest golfing tests in America.  This is the first satisfactory picture showing the complete play from tee to green, as Pine Valley is very difficult to photograph.”

CHICAGO GC #7 – Par 3 – 207 yards

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“THE SEVENTH HOLE.  A full mid-iron shot and a very fine short hole.  The back edge of the green is twenty feet high.  On special occasions the pin is placed behind the left-hand sand pit which makes a most exacting shot to get close to the hole.”

PINE VALLEY #8 – Par 4 – 314 yards

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The 8th at Pine Valley, the first of back-to-back double-greened par-4s, and a high stress half-wedge to one of two extremely small greens.

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“OUR PHOTO SHOWS THE MESA-LIKE GREEN OF THE EIGHTH HOLE AT PINE VALLEY.  A good tee-shot carries one down into the hollow with a short niblick pitch to reach the green.  But how different from the usual niblick pitch!  Here one has not only to throw a ball over a hazard but on to a green that stands out in all its loneliness, beckoning a risk of fate.”

SLEEPY HOLLOW CC #16 – Par 3 – 155 yards

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A single sailboat enjoys an evening run on the Hudson River, between the Palisades on the west, and Sleepy Hollow Country Club on the east.

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NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #1 – Par 4 – 330 yards

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Peconic Bay, the Home hole, the famed clubhouse, and the iconic windmill – my favorite opener in golf.

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“THE CLUBHOUSE AT THE NATIONAL LINKS.  Taken from the first tee.  The first hole is over the bunker in the distance and the eighteenth is off to the left.  In the clubhouse the dining porch looks over the eighteenth fairway.  The lounge faces the first tee.  Both overlook Peconic Bay.”

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #9 – Par 4 – 283 yards

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Options abound from the tee and on approach to the 9th, one of the best and most visually stunning short par-4s in the world.

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Alister MacKenzie teeing off on 9 in 1928…

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #6 – Par 3 – 141 yards

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No conversation about great greens is complete without mention of the “Short” par-3 6th at National Golf Links of America.

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“The fearsome 6th hole at the National Golf Links of America, Southampton, Long Island.  More than 500 bushels of Carter’s tested Grass Seed were sown on this golf course.”

PASATIEMPO GC #16 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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The infamous 16th at Pasatiempo drops some five vertical feet from back-to-front across three tiers.  Some love it, all fear it.

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“SIXTEENTH GREEN AT PASATIEMPO.  One of California’s famous courses.  Dr. MacKenzie, who designed the course, cites it as a shining example of what can be done to reduce the cost of golf and so greatly increase the number of people who can continue to play golf, even in times of economic stress.”

PINE VALLEY GC #2 – Par 4 – 355 yards

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At Pine Valley’s 2nd, one of the greatest greens in golf awaits those who navigate a church-pew-lined fairway & a wall of sand.

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NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #16 – Par 4 – 415 yards

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Punchbowl – the 16th at National Golf Links of America, begins with an uphill tee shot to a fairway that falls off hard to both sides.  The approach is blind over a large knob to a bowled green under the iconic windmill.  As fun a hole as there is.

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“THE SIXTEENTH HOLE FROM THE TEE.  This is the Punch Bowl and is a splendid hole – the lake replacing the old marsh will be noticed in the foreground.  The second must carry to the green as there is a whole group of mounds and bunkers in front of it.”

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MERION GC #9 – Par 3 – 183 yards

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“ON THE THOROUGHLY TRAPPED NINTH GREEN AT MERION DURING THE EVANS-GARDNER MATCH.  New champion watching the ex-champion putt, and one of the biggest crowds that ever followed a golf game in America watching both.  And there were twice as many waiting at the next green, gone ahead to get the first place along the lines.”

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #3 – Par 3 – 151 yards

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The underrated par-3 3rd at Cypress Point Club.  As I’ve said many times before, the thing that stunned me most about CPC was the quality of the less-famous holes (1-14), which are all excellent.

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Awesome hole and looked even better with the blow-out dune exposed on the left…

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #11 – Par 3 – 427 yards

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The par-4 11th at Cypress Point Club plays down a fairway guarded by bunkers on both sides to a green backed by an enormous dune.  So many great holes like this at CPC, which don’t receive their full measure of credit due to the long, heavy shadow of the 15th, 16th & 17th holes.

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Alister Mackenzie attempting a large carry over sandy waste on the same hole shortly after opening.

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #13 – Par 3 – 344 yards

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“A THIRTEENTH HOLE THAT WILL PROVE MORE THAN A ‘HOODOO’ FOR DUFFERS.  This great golf hole is one of the seaside holes of the new Cypress Point course.  No trouble at all for a ball driven straight.”

CYPRESS POINT CLUB #16 – Par 3 – 218 yards

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A peek through the forest at the 16th at Cypress Point Club.  A breathtakingly beautiful place, CPC is as magical as it gets for a golfer; a true natural and architectural wonder.

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SOMERSET HILLS CC #2 – Par 3 – 205 yards

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Tilly’s Redan – the par-3 2nd at Somerset Hills – my personal favorite from among Tillinghast’s many designs.

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“The second hole at Somerset Hills, is a reproduction of the Redan at North Berwick.”

BALTUSROL GC (LOWER) #18 – Par 5 – 553 yards

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Built by Tillinghast and opened for play in 1922, the Lower is the club’s championship venue, and has hosted 7 majors and a host of other significant events.

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SAN FRANCISCO GC #18 – Par 5 – 512 yards

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Among the finest of Tillinghast’s designs, SFGC has a decidedly west coast flavor, with bunkering of a style that appears more MacKenzie than typical Tillinghast, who was expert in designing courses to suit the surrounding terrain.

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“SCENE AT THE CALIFORNIA LADIES’ CHAMPIONSHIP.  The clubhouse and eighteenth green at the San Francisco Golf and Country Club,  Here Mrs. Leona Pressler won her third consecutive state championship from a very strong field after a hard thirty-six hole match with Mrs. Roy Green in the finals.”

PINE VALLEY GC #3 – Par 3 – 181 yards

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SOMERSET HILLS CC #12 – Par 3 – 151 yards

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PINE VALLEY GC #10 – Par 3 – 142 yards

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This shot of the iconic 10th and the Devil’s Asshole at Pine Valley Golf Club was taken on a truly perfect day. The big, fluffy white clouds and crystal blue sky are beautifully contrasted by the greens and browns of the golf course.

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I’m not usually one for black & white photography, but the lack of color gives this hole a bit of a throwback vibe.

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SHINNECOCK HILLS GC – CLUBHOUSE

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True perfection: the clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills, designed & built by legendary architect Stanford White in 1892, is the oldest in the US.

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PASATIEMPO GC #18 – Par 3 – 169 yards

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There are few courses that finish with a par-3, and far fewer still that finish with a great one.

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PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS #7 – Par 3 – 98 yards

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An iconic short par-3 with a truly incomparable view.  Ernie Els bogeyed the 7th in the 2000 US Open, allowing Tiger Woods to nip him by 12 shots.

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OAKMONT CC #18 – Par 4 – 484 yards

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The well-defended par-4 18th at Oakmont Country Club, site of Dustin Johnson’s stone cold 6-iron to cap his 2016 U.S. Open Championship.

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YALE UNIVERSITY GC #9 – Par 3 – 213 yards

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The famous par-3 9th at Yale.  Many say that the Biarritz template no longer has a place in the modern game, but I always enjoy seeing one.

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“THE FAMOUS WATER HOLE.  This is considered one of the greatest water holes ever built.  The carry from the back tee is 168 yards to the double green, divided in the middle by a trench, which, in itself, is a part of the green.  This picture, from the front tee, shows a water carry of 155 yards.”

PINE VALLEY GC #9 – Par 4 – 422 yards

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The approach to the famous dual-greened 9th at Pine Valley Golf Club – the left, built by Perry Maxwell, is generally agreed to be the better of the two, and with the removal of the trees behind, the shot into this skyline green is one of the best on the course.

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PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS #8 – Par 4 – 400 yards

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The iconic par-4 8th at Pebble Beach – the difficulty of the approach overshadows that of the small, sloped green.

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CYPRESS POINT CLUB #15 – Par 3 – 120 yards

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MacKenzie’s masterpiece, Cypress Point is the most beautiful course I’ve ever seen and one of the best I’ve played. A day here is a magical experience and a seminal moment in a golfer’s life.

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BEL-AIR CC #10 – Par 3 – 200 yards

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This brilliant George Thomas design, routed through canyons connected by a series of tunnels, an elevator and the aforementioned bridge, is being restored by Tom Doak.

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“THE BEAUTIFUL BEL-AIR GOLF CLUB AT BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA.  This is probably the most pretentious of the new Spanish Club buildings that reflect the mode of the moment in club house designs.  The course at Bel-Air is spread over hills and picturesque canyons.  The approach to the club house is via a suspension bridge which spans a fairway.”

ENGINEERS CC #11 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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“Eleventh Green Engineers Country Club, Roslyn, L.I., where 1920 Amateur Championship will be played.  All materials supplied by Carters Tested Seeds, Inc.”

PINE VALLEY GC – Aerials

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NATIONAL GOLF LINKS #17 – Par 4 – 375 yards

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Peconic – the 17th at National Golf Links of America. Preeminent golf writer and hall-of-famer Bernard Darwin said that the view from the tee on this par-4 out “over Peconic Bay is one of the loveliest in the world.” Wise man, Sir Bernard.

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‘VIEW FROM THE SEVENTEENTH TEE.  This is a particularly fine hole of its length.  The sand bunkers and sea grass extend all the way down on the left so that the carry to get closest to the green may be chosen.  The Peconic Bay in the distance gives its name to the hole.”

MID OCEAN CLUB #13 – Par 3 – 238 yards

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“THE CASTLE HARBOUR GOLF CLUB.  A splendid new course, designed by the late Mr. Charles H. Banks, in connection with the magnificent Castle Harbour Hotel, situated right next to the Mid-Ocean Club at Tuckerstown, Bermuda.  Well away from the more populous areas, the surroundings are most delightful by land and water.”

WILSHIRE CC #10 – Par 3 – 156 yards

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RIVIERA CC #6 – Par 3 – 175 yards

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CYPRESS POINT CLUB #5 – Par 5 – 472 yards

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The wonderful par-5 5th provides an architectural clinic on using deception as a design feature.  As MacKenzie himself said, “It is an important thing in golf to make holes look much more difficult than they really are.”  Well said, and well done here.

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PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS #8 – Par 4 – 400 yards

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The par-4 8th at Pebble Beach Golf Links. From the top of the cliff, players face a 200 yard approach over Stillwater Cove to a tiny, sloping, well-guarded green – the heart of one of the best stretches in the game, and one of the best holes in golf.

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HOLLYWOOD GOLF CLUB #4 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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The par-3 4th at Hollywood Golf Club features huge mounding on both sides of the green with bunkers cut into their faces, a wicked false front, and the smallest green on the course. This Water Travis gem may be the most underrated course in New Jersey, and is terrific throughout.

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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Winter Daydreaming – An Homage to Crystal Downs

“Crystal Downs is a thinking person’s golf course, where long is good but not necessary…where the position you leave your ball is critical, and where the wind always blows.  Crystal Downs is the coming together of golf’s greatest architect, Dr. Alister MacKenzie, at the zenith of his career (after designing Cypress Point and just before Augusta National), with a marvelous piece of property.” – Fred Muller, Head Golf Professional

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Crystal Downs is more than just a great golf course.  It is a wonderful family club that has been delighting its membership for nearly a century as they make their summertime migrations north.  It is also the origin point of a design lineage that began with MacKenzie, continued with the Maxwells, and reached all the way forward to inspire Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, Mike DeVries, Tom Doak and the modern minimalist movement.

Having now played Prairie Dunes and Sand Hills, I have experienced first-hand the architectural brilliance that this secluded northwest Michigan course has spawned.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

Paying homage to Crystal Downs feels like a worthy endeavor as winter arrives in Chicago and Michigan golf is but a daydream.  I enlisted Jon Cavalier, also an admirer of The Downs, who graciously contributed a feature photo for each hole, and supplemented with my own (click on the square images to enlarge).  The club provides a terrific course guide – those hole descriptions are included (in italics), along with my commentary.

For those who have been fortunate enough to play the course, we hope to bring back good memories.  For those who have not, we hope to give a sense of what makes this place so special.  Enjoy!


CRYSTAL DOWNS

The club was founded in 1927 and the course, designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, opened for play in 1929.  His associate Perry Maxwell carried out the construction and deserves much of the credit for the final result.  The front nine, which is arguably the best outward half in America, plays across an open hillside below the clubhouse.  The back nine is an out-and-back playing along a narrow stretch of land bounded by Sutter Road and a quiet neighborhood overlooking Lake Michigan.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

The course is masterfully routed to maximize the movement of the land.  The bunkering naturally fits the landscape, and has plenty of artistic flair.  The greens elicit equal parts awe and terror, with their cant and subtle contour.  The turf is fast and firm, the fescue gorgeous, and tree management is darn near perfect.  The course doesn’t feel over-manicured but everything is just right.  Superintendent Michael Morris and his team present The Downs such that the greatness of the design and features shine through.

Few courses are capable of producing such high levels of pleasure, with the occasional, acute pain.

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The Outward Half

HOLE #1 – Par 4 – 449 yards

“Although downhill, this hole plays every bit as long as its 449 yards suggest.  It is usually into the wind, and like many holes at Crystal Downs the tee shot lands into a rising fairway.  Sneak up on a wildly undulating green with a shot that lands short and pitches on.  A miss to the left is a bogie, a miss to the right is a disaster.”

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Emerging from the clubhouse, seeing the front nine spread across the land and Crystal Lake on the horizon, is nothing short of a spiritual experience.  Like every good opener, the 1st foreshadows the adventure ahead.  Playing downhill over rumpled ground with the severely sloped green extending from the bunker-gouged hillside, the elegant beauty of this green site distracts from its challenge.  Hit the approach above the hole and leave your putter in the bag.  Instead, kneel down and breathe on the ball – that puts you in the right position to pray that it doesn’t roll off the green.

HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 420 yards

“Avoid the bunkers left and right of the fairway and you’ll face a medium iron or fairway wood to the green.  Although generally downwind, the green is 25 feet above the tee.  Take enough club.  Golfers have putted off every green at Crystal Downs, and the front pin here is one where it happens often.”

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A stout uphill two-shotter, especially into the wind, the second is punctuated by a sneaky tough green.  The first two at The Downs illustrate that the good Dr. felt that gentle handshakes are overrated.

HOLE #3 – Par 3 – 159 yards

“Downhill and into a swirling wind, this is a most difficult hole for club selection.  Remember how much the wind was helping on #2, and that’s how much the wind is hurting here.  The green sits on an angle to the tee, one more club to the left side than the right.”

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This one-shotter pays slightly downhill.  The elevation change and the swirling wind in this corner of the property make judging line and distance tricky.  The reward for guessing wrong on the tee shot is often having to grind out a two-putt on the canted, slick, difficult-to-read green.

HOLE #4 – Par 4 – 397 yards

“Fade the drive here or risk running through the fairway into the left hand rough.  The long second shot will run up into the green only from the right front, however, pitching from the left front of the green is no disaster.”

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This deceptively demanding hole is one of my favorites on the course.  It requires a confident tee ball, ideally shaped left to right to hold the tilted fairway that runs away.  The approach plays uphill to a green set against a hillside and surrounded by short grass runoffs that are chock full of awkward lies.  A brilliant beginning to a stretch of four straight amazing four pars.

HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 345 yards

“This is one of MacKenzie’s great holes and most complicated, and is rated by Golf Magazine as one of the best par fours in the world.  Hit the tee shot over the left edge of the giant oak, leaving a hanging lie 7 or 8 iron to a green that slopes dramatically from left to right.  Or ‘bite off’ some more of the ridge on your tee shot to leave a pitch.  Don’t bite off too much.  Always pitch to the left portion of the green or risk rolling into the right hand green side bunkers.”

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The tee shot is easier than it looks, but it is so visually confounding that it takes several plays to get confident.  Contrast this look with the seemingly straightforward approach, which is anything but.  The green requires a precise shot to the left third.  Miss on the high left side and you’re dead.  Miss center or right and watch your ball trickle into the right side bunker.  CD’s fifth can be gloriously exasperating.

HOLE #6 – Par 4 – 351 yards

“This hole and #5 are MacKenzie’s idea of a ‘forced carry’.  If you make the crest of the hill, the short iron to the largest green on the course is fairly easy.  If you fall short on the drive, a blind long iron or wood awaits.  The famous ‘Scabs’ are the bunkers to the right off the tee.  Don’t even think about that route.”

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On a front nine packed with all-world holes, this is my favorite.  Hit it at the house off the tee and hope to catch the speed slot just over the hill.  The green is divided into distinct sections – find the right spot with the approach and birdie is in play.  Miss your spot, and well, you know…

HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 330 yards

“A 210 yard tee shot leaves a short iron to a most unusual green – a kidney shaped ‘MacKenzie green’ in a punch bowl.  A 230 yard drive leaves a short pitch to the green, but it’s a blind shot.  It’s your choice, but be sure to get your second shot on the proper lobe of the kidney.”

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Those who have seen the iconic boomerang green can attest to how gloriously wild it is.  Great architecture like this serves as a reminder to us all – sometimes, it’s best to let the architect chuck words like “fair” and “playable” right out the window.

HOLE #8 – Par 5 – 542 yards

“Crystal Downs’ first three-shot hole is rated as one of the world’s best par fives.  Drive down the middle, fairway wood up the right side and a medium iron into the green.  No problem…except you will encounter all kinds of uneven lies.  You are the mercy of the fates.  The 150 yard mark is one of the longest in golf, and the green’s not very big either with lots of undulation.”

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Considered by many to be among the greatest five pars on the planet, the eighth’s greatness is found in the ripples and rolls of the land that lead all the way uphill to the minuscule green set against a hilltop.  If there is a level lie to be had here, I’ve yet to find it.

HOLE #9 – Par 3 – 159 yards

“The green is over 30 feet above the tee, which slopes from back up to the front (yes, it’s an uphill tee).  Do not attack this hole.  Hit a low shot and bounce the ball onto the front center of the green.  Be careful with your putter.  A careless shot could send you back for a wedge.”

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This little one-shotter plays up into the (literal) shadow of the clubhouse.  From the uphill tee box, to the contrasting lines of the green and the hillside, to its position on the spine of the ridge, the 9th is a bundle of disorientation.  A unique conclusion to what might be the best 9 holes in all of golf.

 

 

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The Inward Half

HOLE #10 – Par 4 – 390 yards

“The perfect tee ball here, from an elevated tee is something inside the 150 yard mark in the right fairway.  This leaves a middle iron shot over a pot bunker and straight up the slope of the green.  Hit an extra club to carry the bunker yet avoid going long and left.”

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Walk out the back door of the clubhouse, take a right, and you find yourself standing on one of my favorite tee boxes in all of golf.  The thrilling challenge of the stout tenth lies before you, with nature’s beauty and Crystal Lake beckoning beyond.  Magic.

HOLE #11 – Par 3 – 184 yards

“You’ve heard those wonderful words of wisdom ‘stay below the hole’.  Do that here.  The green is some 20 feet above the tee so it plays long.  With that in mind choose a club that will get you to the front level of this three level green.  Putt or chip uphill to the pin.  Now, change philosophy and get the ball to the hole or you’ll be stepping aside as the ball rolls back past you, and maybe off the green.”

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On this tiered green, there is only one place you cannot be – above the hole.  Simple enough, right?  If only…

HOLE #12 – Par 4 – 420 yards

“The magnificent beech tree straight ahead is on the left side of the fairway.  Your tee shot must be to the right of the tree.  The green slopes from front to back, and unless you hit a large drive leaving a short iron, you should hit a low running hook shot that will bounce up and onto the green.  A pitch back to the green from behind is no problem.”

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This dogleg right features a semi-blind, discomforting tee shot and an approach into a green that runs away front-to-back.  It is also an example of CD’s solid management of its specimen trees, including those that are incorporated into hazards.  The beginning of a wonderful stretch of holes.

HOLE #13 – Par 4 – 435 yards

“This is the most difficult par at Crystal Downs.  Hit a hard fade off the tee that will run with the contour of the fairway.  The shot into the green is determined by the pin placement.  The green is very small, with a tiny front portion, dropping off to a larger rear portion of the green.  Choose a club for your second shot that reaches just short of the green and then pitch it at the pin if it is in front.  Try to hit the ball deep into the green for the rear pin.  The greenside bunkers are easy to roll into and difficult to recover from.”

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The entire hole is pitched from high left to low right, requiring the player to either shape or position (or both) their shots, as if holding against a stiff crosswind.

HOLE #14 – Par 3 – 139 yards

“This beautiful little gem is a straightforward 139 yard shot.  The green slopes less from back to front than it looks.  Enjoy the view of Sleeping Bear from the back of the green and stay out of the sand.”

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Infinity is the theme of this little beauty.  The gorgeous infinity view that has been recently restored through tree removal on the ridge behind.  And infinity being the number of ways that a player can make a 5 or worse.

HOLE #15 – Par 4 – 322 yards

“We call this hole ‘Little Poison’.  The fairway is narrow, the green is tiny and elevated, and the wind is usually in your face.  The key to this short par 4 is a long drive.  It takes 225 yards to crest a hill that will leave a short pitch.  Not cresting the hill can leave an uphill blind shot.  This green repels shots, so hit for the center of the green.”

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Crystal Downs turns back toward home with the 15th.  This short four plays over rolling ground to a smallish elevated green.  The player must decide how to navigate the flanking fairway bunkers to get to their ideal distance for an attempt at holding this devilish little putting surface.

HOLE #16 – Par 5 – 577 yards 

“Hit your tee shot hard.  Hit it hard again.  And if the wind is blowing, hit it hard again.  This green slopes from back to front; don’t putt it too hard.”

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This subtle, elegant three shotter gently bends and rolls over the land, finally arriving at a green surrounded by bunkers.  Don’t let its simplicity lull you into complacency though.  Getting out of position for the approach can change a birdie chance into a bogey in a heartbeat.

HOLE #17 – Par 4 – 301 yards

“Three hundred and one of the most frightening yards in golf.  A 200 yard tee shot leaves a 9 iron or wedge.  A 180 yard tee shot leaves an unplayable lie.  A 215 yard tee shot leaves a blind, uphill, difficult pitch to the green.  Now, if the wind is helping, you could drive the green.  The greenside bunkers mean bogey or worse, and you don’t want to putt off the front of this green, because it won’t stop rolling for 50 yards.”

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The seventeenth is polarizing – some think that it is a brilliant risk-reward short four, and others think that it’s an awkward connector hole.  I’ll leave that debate to others.  My experience has been that it gets more interesting with each play, and it’s good geeky fun to try and master.

HOLE #18 – Par 4 – 382 yards

“Drive your tee ball straight.  Don’t cut the corners, it won’t work.  Your target is the 150 yard mark.  The beautifully bunkered green is well above the tee shot landing area.  On your second shot, hit enough club and keep the shot to the right.  Anything to the left will kick into the bunker.”

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A lovely dogleg right that finishes in a prototypical MacKenzie/Maxwell green setting at the base of intersecting hills.  The walk back up the hill to the clubhouse elicits the same mixed feelings one has after finishing all truly great courses – happy to have played it, sad to leave.

Crystal Downs is a course that cannot be muscled or overpowered.  It does not just encourage creative shot making.  The course demands it.  Players who like to have their minds engaged, and who are willing to experiment will not find a more stimulating golf course anywhere.  The Downs has its secrets, and those secrets must be teased out.  That is what places it in such high favor, and what makes it a joy to revisit repeatedly.


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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My Favorite Template with Brett Hochstein & Jon Cavalier

When it comes to golf course architecture, it doesn’t get much geekier than MacRaynor templates.  It should come s no surprise that I love the templates, and the one I love most of all is the Leven.  In an age when length is dominating the consciousness of the game, the Leven stands as a testament to strategic principles.  I have not yet met one that isn’t one of my favorite holes, and I wanted to learn more.

A good place to start is with George Bahto’s wonderful book about the life and work of C.B. Macdonald, The Evangelist of Golf.  In it, the Leven is described as follows:

“Leven is a short par 4, usually 330 to 360 yards.  Fairway bunker or waste area challenges golfer to make a heroic carry for an open approach to the green.  Less courageous line from the tee leaves golfer with a semi-blind approach over a high bunker or sand hill to the short side of the green.  Usually a moderately undulating surface with least accessible cup placement behind sand hill.”

An opportunity to dive even deeper arose when Architect Brett Hochstein (@hochsteindesign) recently visited Lundin Links, where Macdonald found his inspiration for the template.  Brett graciously contributed a terrific field report.  There is no bigger MacRaynor fan who I know than Jon Cavalier, and so of course, I hit him up to do a tour of Levens from his travels.  Many thanks to them both for helping expand our knowledge, and for indulging my geeky impulse.

Enjoy the Leven!


THE INSPIRATION

The Original ‘Leven’ by Brett Hochstein, Hochstein Design

Charles Blair MacDonald’s inspiration for his “Leven” template can be traced back to Scotland’s southern Fife coast, where a long stretch of linksland joins the two towns of Leven and Lundin Links.  Until 1909, the two towns and respective clubs shared 18 holes over the narrow strip of land known as the Innerleven Links.  It was at that point that increased play and congestion led to the decision to add holes inland and create two separate 18 hole courses, one for each of the towns.  What would later become known as the Leven template was actually on the Lundin Links side of the split and would permanently become the 16th hole (it was the 7th when starting from the Leven side of the links).

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The original Leven, known to the Lundin Golf Club as “Trows,” is somewhat hard to figure out upon first sight.  For one, the green is barely visible behind a hill offset to the left, and only just the top of the flag can be seen from the elevated medal (back) tees.  From the left forward tees, it would not be out of question to think upon first glance that the hole plays to the nearby 2nd green on the right.  It is this blindness though, along with a burn (stream) running diagonally across the landing area, that give the hole its unique strategy that would be replicated numerous times by Macdonald, Seth Raynor, and others.

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From the back tee

The hole is not very long, especially by today’s standards, but it is all about placement of the tee shot.  The hill that fronts the green causes two problems: discomfort with the lack of sight and a downslope covered in rough that will either snag short shots or kick them forward and through the green.  The hill is slightly offset from the fairway though, which leaves a little opening from the right side where a ball could either bounce on or settle safely short.  Generally, the further right and further down the hole you are, the more the green opens up and comes into sight, making the shot both easier and more comfortable.  So, play it long and down the right side.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Of course, it wouldn’t be quite as interesting of a hole if just for that.

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Photo from Lundin Golf Club website

The aforementioned burn runs across the hole on a diagonal going from closer left to further right before curling up the right side the rest of the way.  This puts it much more in play around the ideal landing area, either punishing or rewarding the more aggressive play further down the right.  A more conservative play short and left will result in a blind, often downwind shot over more of the grassy hill with no room to land the ball short.

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Short of the burn

For the shorter players laying up short of the burn, the approach or layup is a difficult one, as the fairway beyond the burn slopes left to right with the green sitting high and left.  A well-played shot drawing into the slope though will find a narrow upper plateau, and if long enough and properly shaped, may even find the green itself.

This narrow plateau is also the ideal landing area for the long hitter (excepting those 300 yard drivers who can just go after the green, which would be very tough to pull off but certainly fun to try).  Getting to this plateau needs either a laser straight carry of about 220 yards or a helping draw played into the slope.  Draw it too much though, and the left rough and hill is jail.  Drift a little too far right and catch the slope, and the ball will kick down into the right rough while also bringing the right greenside bunker more into play.

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From the lower fairway right

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Short of the green on the plateau left-center

The green isn’t overly large and is defended by four bunkers that are almost evenly spaced around the perimeter.  The right greenside bunker is the most important as it guards the right side entry and punishes players who go too long down the right side of the hole. The back and left bunkers prevent players from playing too safely over the hill.  They actually sit a little bit above the green, which makes for an awkward and difficult to control recovery shot.  The putting surface itself is not overly wild with contouring but has some nice internal variation to keep things interesting.  It has a slight overall right to left slope as well, which gives a little help for those trying to navigate around the front hill to find a left hole location.

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Behind the green looking back

I found the 16th at Lundin to be a very clever and simple hole utilizing two natural features to perfect harmony.  It is no wonder MacDonald used this hole to inspire one of the more strategically interesting holes at the highly strategic National Golf Links, the short 17th named “Peconic.”  If I had a criticism of this original “Leven,” though, it would be to open up more of the right side beyond the burn crossing.  The reward is greater the further right one hugs the creek, which is a good risk/reward dynamic.  

Making the hole too easy would not be much of an issue either as someone who carelessly bombs it too far down the right would be punished by having to negotiate the front right green side bunker and a green that falls away from that angle.  The problem with this is most likely safety related, as the 2nd green sits just across the burn and in the danger zone of long wayward tee shots.  The 17th tee, which is located to the right of the 16th green, also complicates issues by coming more into play the further right and down the hole you are.  Thus, you have the rough and a bunker that has been added sometime after the 2006 aerial that Google Earth provides.  In that aerial, it also looks possible that the rough was mowed down in that area and was possibly even fairway.  Even considering the issues, I would still love to see the extra width.  

As it is though, this is a great hole and one that would be fun to play on a daily basis, especially during a dry summer with a trailing wind, both of which would make the hill fronting the green exponentially more difficult to navigate.  Even when calm though, the hole’s short length is negated by the burn, sloping fairway, and bunkers, which all make the ideal second shot landing areas effectively small and difficult to find.  Play aggressively, and a punishment is likely.  It is vexing on its own, but coupling that with the variable and often strong Scottish wind leaves you with a hole where you are very happy to run away with a 4.  

 

Restraint and thought are two skills not often tested enough in golf, especially in modern design.  The 16th at Lundin Links tests both, and that is its greatest quality.  


THE TEMPLATES

These photos and descriptions originally appeared on Jon’s wonderful Twitter series #TemplateTuesday.  Follow Jon at @LinksGems.

(click on photo collages to enlarge)

The 5th at Chicago Golf Club

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The superb 5th at Chicago Golf, which proves that a great hole does not require unique, or even interesting, terrain – only the imagination of a great architect.

The 6th at The Course at Yale

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The 6th at Yale, a dogleg left, has been blunted somewhat over time – a restoration would do wonders for this hole.‬

The 11th at St. Louis Country Club

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St. Louis CC’s 11th plays from an elevated tee to an uphill fairway, illustrating the adaptability of this template.‬

The 16th at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club

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Blue Mound has several excellent templates, and its 16th, guarded by a large mound and bunker, is no exception.‬

The 13th at Old Macdonald

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The template remains relevant today, as seen in modern renditions of this like Old Mac’s 13th.‬

The 14th at Mid Ocean Club

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Mid Ocean’s 14th drifts right, forcing the player left toward fairway bunkers for an optimum angle of approach.‬

The 12th at Fox Chapel Golf Club

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Fox Chapel’s 12th is one of the most dramatic versions of this template, built across heaving land with a severe falloff right.‬

The 2nd at Yeamans Hall Club

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The 2nd at Yeamans Hall is a more subtle rendition of the template, reflecting its bucolic, lowcountry setting.‬

The 14th at Camargo Club

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The uphill 14th at Camargo lacks the typical fairway bunkering but maintains the same strategic principles.‬

The 3rd at Shoreacres

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Shoreacres’s 3rd is a terrific example of a Leven hole built across flat ground; this green is also exceptional.‬

The 5th at Boston Golf Club

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The best iteration of a modern Leven style hole is the 5th at Boston GC – strategic considerations abound on this par-4.‬

The 17th at National Golf Links of America

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Saving the best for last, the 17th at NGLA is the paradigmatic Leven, and one of the greatest hols in the world.

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems Birthday Tribute to C.B. Macdonald

A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO CHARLES BLAIR MACDONALD

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Happy 162nd birthday to the Godfather of American Golf, Charles Blair Macdonald.

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On November 14, 1855, Charles Blair Macdonald was born in Ontario.  After growing up in Chicago, he attended St. Andrews University, where he learned golf from Old Tom Morris.  In 1874, he returned to Chicago but rarely played golf until 1891, calling these years his “dark ages.”

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In 1892, Macdonald founded the Chicago Golf Club, and built nine rudimentary golf holes in Downers Grove, IL.  In 1893, he expanded the course, creating the first 18 hole course in the US.  Parts of this course still exist as Downers Grove Golf Club.

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In 1895, the Chicago Golf Club moved from its original location to a site in Wheaton, IL, where Macdonald once again built an 18-hole course for the club. Nearly 125 years later, CGC still occupies this land.

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In 1894, both St. Andrew’s Golf Club (pictured) and Newport Country Club held national tournaments.  After finishing second in both, an angry Macdonald criticized the events, and set about forming a uniform body to govern the game in the US.

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In 1895, representatives from Newport Country Club, Shinnecock Hills, The Country Club, St. Andrew’s and Chicago Golf Club (represented by Macdonald himself) formed the United States Golf Association.  Macdonald then won the inaugural U.S. Amateur at Newport, later that year.

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In 1900, Macdonald left Chicago for New York, and almost immediately began searching for a site upon which to build his vision of the perfect golf course.  In 1906, he settled on a parcel in Southampton, NY, and founded the National Golf Links of America.

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Macdonald’s vision was to build the greatest golf course in the country.  In doing so, he modeled many of his holes on strategic principles and concepts of the best holes in the British Isles.  These “templates” would become a hallmark of his designs.

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Macdonald hired Seth Raynor to survey and plot the land on which the National would be built.  Soon after, however, Macdonald put the talented Raynor in charge of all construction, forming a partnership that would change American golf.

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When it opened in 1909, National Golf Links of America was immediately and universally recognized as the greatest course in the country, and one of the best in the world.  It remains so to this day.

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Macdonald would continue to care for and tweak his beloved National, living nearby at his estate, Ballyshear, for the next 30 years.  The property, now owned by Michael Bloomberg, includes replicas of the Redan 4th and Short 6th holes.

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Macdonald and Raynor collaborated on many other projects over the years until Raynor’s premature death in 1926, including an earlier design of Shinnecock Hills.  Six Macdonald/Raynor holes survive today, including the famed Redan 7th.

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Shortly after National opened, Macdonald was persuaded by several wealthy friends to build a course for Piping Rock Club.  Here, he built the first rendition of his par-3 Biarritz template, one of four templates, along with Redan, Eden and Short, he used on nearly all his courses.

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Next, Macdonald built the original course for Sleepy Hollow Country Club.  Later, the club hired A.W. Tillinghast to expand and revise the course, and several Macdonald holes were lost.  The club, with Gil Hanse, is currently renovating the Tillinghast holes in a Macdonald style.

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In 1914, Macdonald returned to the Midwest and built the course at St. Louis Country Club.  Although Macdonald and Raynor remained largely true to form, dutifully building Short, Redan, Eden and Biarritz par-3s, they added a 5th unique par-3, which they called “Crater.”

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In 1914, Macdonald designed the Old White Course at Greenbrier Resort.  Seth Raynor would later design the Lakeside Course (1923) and the Greenbrier Course (1924) at the resort.  Old White remains one of the few ways the general public can play a Macdonald design.

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In 1918, Macdonald designed the Lido Club, which was situated at Lido Beach on the southern shore of Long Island.  By all accounts, the course was magnificent – Bernard Darwin called it the best in the world.  That it no longer exists is one of the great tragedies in golf history.

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In 1923, Macdonald designed The Creek on Long Island’s North Shore.  One of Macdonald’s more dramatic sites, the course begins with five holes atop a hill before plunging down to Long Island Sound for the remainder.  The club is nearing the end of a restoration by Gil Hanse.

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In 1924, Macdonald built his only course outside the US, in Tucker’s Town, Bermuda.  In addition to its incredible beauty, Mid Ocean Club offers up some of Macdonald’s best templates, led by the par-4 5th hole, the best Cape he ever built, and one of the finest holes in the world.

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In 1924, Macdonald and Raynor began work on the Course at Yale University.  The most dramatic of their remaining courses, Yale is golf at its most bold, challenging golfers in a direct and uncommon manner.  As a result, the course is controversial: loved by many, hated by some.

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On January 23, 1926, having spent half of his life designing and building golf courses, including over 100 of his own, Seth Raynor died at 51.  Although Macdonald continued to work on the National, he never built another course after the loss of his partner and dear friend.

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During his final decade, Macdonald continued to improve his beloved National Golf Links of America, moving greens, adding and removing bunkers, and shifting and lengthening holes to ensure that the course remained a challenge for the best players of the day.

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On April 23, 1939, Charles Blair Macdonald died in Southampton, NY, at the age of 83.  He was interred in Southampton, just a lag putt from his close friend and partner, Seth Raynor, ensuring that the two remain close even in death.

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Over the course of his life, Macdonald was an Amateur Champion, a successful businessman, a founding member of the USGA, architect of some of the world’s best courses, and author of Scotland’s gift.  Here’s to you, C.B., on your 162nd birthday.

From golfers everywhere, thanks.

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Old Macdonald Course Tour by Jon Cavalier

OLD MACDONALD – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon, OR – Tom Doak & Jim Urbina

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Old Macdonald is the most recently opened course at Bandon Dunes, but it is already considered by many to be the best.  The course is intended as an homage to the architectural principles of Charles Blair Macdonald.  As such, it is not a replica course, but rather uses the architectural templates of the Macdonald / Raynor / Banks school and adapts them as needed to fit the land, much in the same way that Macdonald himself (and later Raynor and Banks) did.

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As stated in the yardage guide, “The goal has been not to copy Macdonald’s great holes any more than Macdonald would have settled for carbon copies of the Alps and Redan – but to borrow upon his inspiration and method for our own fine piece of links ground.  Those familiar with Macdonald’s work will compare and contrast his holes and our own with their forefathers at St. Andrews, Leven, and Littlestone; others will have the chance to experience for the first time these classic concepts which are the very foundation of the game.”

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Drawing upon their extensive experience in restoring the classic work of Macdonald and Raynor, Doak and Urbina set about building a course that would allow players to experience this classic golden age style of design while independently providing a fun and engaging golf experience.  The result is an absolute triumph.

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As a devout Macdonald/Raynor fan, I loved Old Macdonald.  It was a thrill playing the modern adaptations of the Macdonald templates in such an incredible setting.  But I also played a round with three people who had never heard of C.B. Macdonald, and two proclaimed Old Macdonald their favorite course at Bandon.

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At over 250,000 square feet, the greens at Old Macdonald are by far the largest in the United States.  Coupled with the firm conditions and tight fairways, Old Macdonald allows for use of the ground game like few courses this side of the Atlantic.  The golf course is a blast to play, and is proof positive that the classic principles of design are more than adequate to provide an engaging experience when adapted to modern standards.

OLD MACDONALD

Old Macd occupies the northernmost part of the property at Bandon.  Its clubhouse is about 5 minutes by shuttle from the main resort.

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Hole 1 – 304 yards – Par 4 – “Double Plateau”

No hiding the ball at Old Macdonald – the player sees just what he’s in for right from the start: namely, super-wide fairways and expansive greens.  The course begins inland of a massive line of gorse-covered dunes, which obscure the majority of the course to the west.

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The course begins with a favorite template of many C.B. Macdonald fans — the double plateau.  Fortunately, the pin on this huge green is visible from the tee, allowing the player to pick the preferred angle of approach.  The middle fairway bunkers are in play for mid- to long-hitters.

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The elevation changes in the faithfully recreated double plateau green are dramatic.  A principal’s nose bunker guards the front left of the green.  Another bunker catches balls that run through the valley in the green.

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A fun opener, and a great hole to set the tone for the round.

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Hole 2 – 162 yards – Par 3 – “Eden”

The largest Eden green I’ve ever seen, and a beautiful par-3 in its own right, the third is guarded on the left by a rough bunker and in the middle-right by the deep, revetted Strath bunker that plays much larger than its actual footprint.

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This bunker collects balls from far and wide.  The contouring and elevation change in this massive green are tremendous.

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Eden indeed.

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Hole 3 – 345 yards – Par 4 – “Sahara”

One of your author’s favorite holes at Bandon, the third offers a unique and compelling take on the Sahara template.  It calls for a completely blind tee shot over the sand dune to a wide fairway shared with the fourteenth hole.  Anything from a ball to the left of the cedar to the right side of the exposed sand is playable.

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The old Port Orford Cedar stands sentry at the top of the bluff, and lords over most of the round at Old Mac.  The tree is visible from nearly the entire course.

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Once the player crests the dune, the huge expanse of Old Macdonald is revealed.  Parts of every hole on the golf course are visible from this spot.

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Good drives on the proper line will catch the slope of this heavily contoured fairway and may tumble down to within putting distance.

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It can be difficult to tell where the fairway ends and the huge green begins.

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A look back up the incomparable third fairway.

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Hole 4 – 472 yards – Par 5 – “Hog’s Back”

So nice to see a well-executed version of the Hog’s Back template.  Here, a drive that remains on top of the centerline ridge will kick forward for more distance, while tee shots to the side will tumble down into the valleys, leaving a blind shot from an often crooked lie.

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While the fairway is wide as a whole, the hog’s back itself is fairly narrow.  But hitting it provides a valuable benefit on this long par 4 hole.

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A nasty center bunker waits in the middle of the fairway some 50 yards short of the green . . .

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. . . while a catch basin waits to collect approaches left short of the putting surface.

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A superb half-par hole.

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Hole 5 – 134 yards – Par 3 – “Short”

The shortest hole at Old Macdonald, and one of the largest greens you’ll ever see.  Look at all those potential pin placements!

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This mammoth green has a bit of curl to it as well.

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This is probably the easiest pin on this green, and one of the only flattish spots on which to putt. A lovely rendition of the short template.

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Hole 6 – 520 yards – Par 5 – “Long”

The longest hole on the course follows the shortest.  Playing directly into the prevailing summer wind, the sixth forces the golfer to decide whether to take on Hell Bunker with their second shot.

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Hell Bunker dominates the second shot and obscures the view of the green from most parts of the fairway.

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The bunker is aptly named – your author speaks from experience.

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The sixth traverses some of the least interesting land on the property, and it is a credit to Doak and Urbina that the result is one of the most interesting holes on the course.  A large knob guarding the green front right makes the approach from the right side blind and redirects shots left short in all directions.

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This large bunker center rear catches any approach that runs through the front-to-rear sloping green.  It is not an ideal place to be — again, your author speaks from experience.  Twice.

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Like the fifth, the sixth green is a masterwork.

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Hole 7 – 345 yards – Par 4 – “Ocean”

The seventh is one of the few holes at Old Macdonald not based on a Macdonald template, and it is also one of the best holes on the property.  The drive out into a wide, rippling fairway is all about positioning, and avoiding the deep fairway bunker to the left of the large hill on which the green sits.

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The size and steepness of this dune is difficult to grasp from a photo, but the relative size of the flagstick gives an idea of its massive scale.  Any approach left short will tumble all the way back down until it hits a bunker or reaches the bottom of the hill.

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Tough pin today.  Though the green is large, it also contains a fair amount of slope.  Chipping to this pin from the back of the green is terrifying.  A tough par.

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Until the seventh, the course plays mostly inland away from the ocean.  This aptly named hole gives the golfer his first real taste of the sea.  For a golfer on a first time trip to Bandon and who happens to play Old Macdonald first (as did your author), the feeling of ascending to the seventh green rivals any in golf.

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Sidebar – Tom Doak’s Sheep’s Ranch

After playing the seventh, if the golfer looks upshore to the north, a beautiful view of Tom Doak’s mysterious Sheep’s Ranch is provided (along with a view of a hell of a lot of gorse).

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Hole 8 – 170 yards – Par 3 – “Biarritz”

There remain several great Biarritz holes in the country – the ninth at Piping Rock, the ninth at Yale and the fifth at Fishers Island are a few of the best.  In your author’s opinion, the eighth at Old Macdonald can stand with any of the holes in this group.  It is an exceptional example of the Biarritz template.

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The front portion of this large Biarritz green is sloped toward the swale, to encourage shots that run down and through the trough.

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The wide channel bisecting the eighth green.

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Shorter hitters can use the back of the knob front left of the green for extra forward kick.  A wonderfully fun hole to play.

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Hole 9 – 352 yards – Par 4 – “Cape”

The ninth turns back in a southerly direction and begins a sequence of holes that plays back and forth across the open area of the property.  The ninth curves gently right around some rugged bunkers and gorse bushes.

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These bunkers are nasty.  In fact, missing the fairway right at the ninth is one of the few places on Old Macdonald where a golfer can lose a ball.

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Playing out to the left leaves a longer approach but a better angle up the open mouth of this green.

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The contours within the ninth green provide a challenge as well as an aid in directing greenside shots and putts toward or away from the intended target.

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Hole 10 – 440 yards – Par 4 – “Bottle”

The tenth plays to one of the widest fairways on the golf course, but the large fairway is dotted with four penal bunkers that run from short left to long right.  Care must be taken to challenge the bunker suitable for the individual golfer’s abilities.

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The bunkers crossing the fairway are deep and high lipped – playing out backward is sometimes the only play.

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The difficult green is set atop a small dune, with the surface falling away to the right of the green.  The land allows a running approach up the left side, which will catch a slope and redirect to the center of the green.  But anything short right will bound down the hill and away from the putting surface.

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This view from the side of the green shows the substantial high right to low left tilt.  An overly conservative miss to the left side of this green leaves a treacherous putt.

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Hole 11 – 399 yards – Par 4 – “Road”

If ever there was a hole where the position of the tee shot mattered, this is it.  If the pin is right, play right.  If it’s left, play left.  Note that the fairway is wider than it appears, as the gorse bushes down the right side come to a halt short of where many players can carry their drives.

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This angle, from the right of the fairway, is the ideal position for today’s pin.  While the player must still contend with the substantial false front, he is also afforded the widest angle into the green and can play away from the deep revetted bunker.

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This position, on the other hand, is not ideal.  Note that it is not simply the deep bunker that provides the thrills here, but the brilliantly constructed green.

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A look back down the long eleventh green.

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Hole 12 – 205 yards – Par 3 – “Redan”

Playing with the prevailing summer wind, this classic redan green can be difficult to hold even with well struck approach shots.

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Running the ball on to this green is possible, and in some cases, preferred.  The redan kick slope impacts balls that land on the green or short of it.

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Everyone loves a well designed Redan, and the twelfth at Old Macdonald fits the bill.

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Hole 13 – 319 yards – Par 4 – “Leven”

This short par four plays to a green squeezed between two dunes.

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While the safer play is down the bunkerless left side of the fairway . . .

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. . . the right provides the better angle into this severely sloping and heavily contoured green.

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The large wraparound berm that runs down the left side and around the back of this green provides a backstop that allows the player to bring an approach shot back to the center of the green.

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Even approach shots that land halfway up the left dune will bound happily back on to the green.  A fun, exciting hole.

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Hole 14 – 297 yards – Par 4 – “Maiden”

A short par four with a gargantuan fairway, the fourteenth plays back up the massive dune that the player initially crossed while playing the third hole.  The player can play as aggressively left or as conservatively right as he chooses.

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The inclined fairway is rippled throughout, adding a degree of challenge to what is typically a wedge approach.

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The wide, shallow fourteenth green is benched into the side of the massive dune.

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The back to front slope and internal contours of the fourteen provide an added element of difficulty on an otherwise short hole.

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Hole 15 – 482 yards – Par 5 – “Westward Ho”

The aptly named fifteenth hole turns once more toward the sea.  From a tee high on the face of the dune, the fifteenth falls to the valley below and swings right around a deep sandy scar.

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This par 5 is reachable in two for longer hitters.

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But care must be taken to avoid the fairway bunker short and right of the green.

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Not where you want to be.

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The green is backstopped by the top of the dune which separates the seventh green complex from the fifteenth.

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Shots that roll through the green are gathered by this grassy trench, a nifty little feature which illustrates the care that went into designing the greens at Old Macdonald.

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A very beautiful and enjoyable hole.

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Hole 16 – Par 4 – 433 yards – “Alps”

The sixteenth tee is the northwesternmost point at the Bandon Dunes resort, and begins the sweeping trek homeward.

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The large encroaching dune provides the “Alps” feature here, and renders blind all but the longest tee shots that squeak past it on the right.

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The view of the ‘Alps” feature from the middle of the fairway.  The directional post on top gives the player a general idea of the line to the center of the green.

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The beautifully-sited sixteenth green, nestled between a surrounding ring of dunes, is revealed upon passing the dune.  The green is partially backstopped to contain long approaches.

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The view from behind this exceptional hole reveals the short grass behind the alps feature that can assist shorter hitters in reaching this green in two.  While this hole remains controversial to some who are not familiar with Macdonald’s Alps template, it is surely a favorite of those who are.

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Hole 17 – 515 yards – Par 5 – “Littlestone”

Playing with the prevailing summer wind, the seventeenth is reachable in two for players willing to challenge the hazard reaching into the right portion of the fairway.  While the fairway does provide ample room, this is one of the more intimidating tee shots on the course.

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If these bunkers can be avoided, a good score is likely on this hole.

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If not, unlikely.

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In your author’s opinion, Old Macdonald closes with two of the best greens on the property.  The seventeenth is fronted by a bunker and a slope that will either facilitate a ball to a back pin or kick it past a front pin.  Exposed knobs right, left and behind this green lend their substantial influence to the putting surface.

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The view from the back portion of the sizable seventeenth green illustrates the beauty of the setting.

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Hole 18 – 426 yards – Par 4 – “Punchbowl”

The final tee shot at Old Macdonald must avoid the fairway bunkers on both sides.  Any tee shot on grass will have a good look at this last green.

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And what a green it is.  Ringed with mounding, the eighteenth green slopes several feet from its elevated left side to its lower right.  Long approach shots can be hit into the mouth of this green on the left and run all the way down to today’s pin in the bottom right corner.

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The view from the right rear of the punchbowl reveals the tumbling slope of the putting surface.

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Having walked right past this green on the way to the first tee, the golfer has been anticipating playing it since the beginning of the round.  The experience more than lives up to billing.

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Old Mac is the rare course that would be both a thrill to play once and an enjoyable experience to play every day.  For lovers of classic, golden age architecture, it provides an opportunity to see those principles interpreted and adapted by the brightest minds in modern golf architecture.  For those that aren’t, the course is simply a fun, unique and beautiful place to play golf.  In either regard, Old Macdonald is a resounding success.

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I hope you enjoyed the tour!


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Boston Twofer – Boston Golf Club & Essex County Club

With this season’s Noreaster heading back to Long Island, I found myself longing for golf in Boston by mid-summer. Work afforded an opportunity to make it to Beantown, and I was able to line up visits to my two of my favorite courses – Boston Golf Club and Essex County Club – with buddies Peter Korbakes (@sugarloafsocialclub) and John Coffey (@jwjava). The perfect company for a quick-hit golf adventure.

My hole-by-hole photos and commentary are below, and I enlisted Jon Cavalier (@linksgems) for a feature photo for each hole. He captured a wonderful set of autumn shots that contrasts beautifully with my summer photos, illustrating just how much visual range these courses possess.


BOSTON GOLF CLUB

Boston GC is among my favorite modern golf courses. Why? Gil Hanse took a wild piece of land, and instead of attempting to tame it, he embraced the wildness. The course is a thrill ride, but it never goes over the top. There are birdies to be had when shots are played with creativity and confidence. Throw in holes like Shipwreck, which are among the most unique I have ever seen, and you have a truly special golf course.

(click on circle images to enlarge)

HOLE 1 – Par 5 – 485 yards – Three Creek

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A blind tee shot is followed by the temptation to have a go at the elevated green fronted by a wetland and bunkers. BGC’s opener tells the player everything they need to know about the strategic adventure ahead. The wild ride begins…

HOLE 2 – Par 4 – 407 yards – Mt. Rushmore

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Giving new meaning to the saying, between a rock and a hard place, the second plays between a rocky hill and nasty bunkers. There is room to play from the tee on every hole at BGC, but Gil Hanse did a masterful job throughout of making it appear as if there is no safe line to take. The pronounced undulation of the fairway runs seemlessly into the green.

HOLE 3 – Par 4 – 420 yards – Redan

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Most of the landing area on the 3rd is obscured from the tee. Cresting the hill, players find their drives along with a stunning scene. A valley short must be carried to reach the green that has a high slope front left, bunkers behind, and a sharp fall-off right. Bunkers lurk behind, and the green slope feeds toward them. One of BGC’s many wonderfully creative green sites.

HOLE 4 – Par 4 – 413 yards – Wizard’s Cap

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A walk through the woods brings the player to this two-shooter named after a distinctive tree behind the green. The drive is semi-blind over a centerline bunker. The approach is no picnic either, requiring the player to hit the right section to avoid a 3 (or even 4) putt. The slopes and shelves on the 4th green are death for wayward approaches, but oh what a beautiful way to die.

HOLE 5 – Par 4 – 313 yards – Shipwreck

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This shorty starts with a blind uphill drive that must flirt with disaster right to have any chance at an angle into one of the narrowest greens you’ll ever see. Being even slightly out of position puts the player on the defensive trying to manufacture par. Danger lurks behind the raised green. This hole is among the most original and creative I have ever seen. Kudos to Gil Hanse for his willingness to polarize. Count me among the lovers of this maddening little four par.

HOLE 6 – Par 3 – 157 yards – Wild Turkey

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A carry over a wild landscape created by repurposing a quarry confronts players as they walk dumfounded off the 5th green. The hole’s two sections, left and right, play quite differently in terms of angle and distance. When coupled with the oft-swirling wind, those sections provide wonderful day-to-day variety. For players who can do no better than an indifferent tee ball – all manner of nastiness imaginable awaits short of the green.

HOLE 7 – Par 4 – 423 yards – Penniman Hill

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A fun two-shotter, the seventh has bunkering galore up the right side that is anything but fun. Steer clear of those bunkers and all that’s left to tackle is the false-fronted, amply sloped green perched on the ridgeline. Easy peezey, right?

HOLE 8 – Par 3 – 210 yards – Bent Pine

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From the tee, it appears as though there is no safe place to hit the tee shot on this three par. The sandy waste that must be carried is visual subterfuge however, as it turns out that there is plenty of fairway short, and a receptive green. When the mind plays tricks on the 8th, focus the eyes on the ghost tree behind the green and swing away. A birdie putt awaits.

HOLE 9 – Par 4 – 440 yards – Geronimo

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The tee is perched high above the fairway that doglegs left around a wetland, and then drops a step down to a large, undulating green. A wonderfully unique and stout conclusion to the outward half.

HOLE 10 – Par 4 – 390 yards – Mae’s

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The inward nine begins with a semi-blind tee shot playing downhill to a fairway that is interrupted by steep drop-off. A safe play out to the left is an option, but brings both bunkers into play and leaves a poor angle into the green, which runs away. Center tee shots give a better look, but it is a look right into the mouth of the nasty little pot bunker front-center. The tenth might be short on yardage, but it is long on challenge. Mae Ovaska owned the house to the right of the tenth hole, and her land extended across what is now the tenth fairway. She was reluctant to sell her land, but John Mineck’s charm won her over. The hole is named in her honor.

HOLE 11 – Par 3 – 178 yards – Petrified

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This picturesque one-shotter plays over a wetland to a heavily contoured green set against a hillside. Getting a great photo is by far the easiest thing about the eleventh. The putting surface is both canted and contoured. A good spot for a playing partner who believes in a wide circle of friendship.

HOLE 12 – Par 4 – 424 yards – Gate

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The tee shot is played over a stone wall that pays tribute to the love poured into BGC by its founder, to a landing area that is wider than it looks. The fairway narrows further up with bunkers left and center. The real challenge of the 12th is at the green that sits atop a saddle with closely mown runoffs front and back. Many a hopeful round has gone down in flames at this very spot. Imagine standing greenside, as your playing partners’ chips run back and forth over, and then off, this green. Once you see it, it’s hard to wipe the memory from your mind. Good luck with that next approach of your own!

HOLE 13 – Par 4 – 459 yards – Knuckle Bucket

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This elegant four-par bends right over gently rolling terrain to a large green with plenty of slope and contour. The simple holes are often among my favorites, and the thirteenth is no exception. An impulse which I can certainly understand, Mr. Mineck wanted to build one bunker himself. Behind the 13th green, well behind it, is where Gil Hanse let him scratch his itch.

HOLE 14 – Par 4 – 418 yards – Big Sky

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The tee shot plays down into a wide valley, but the hole narrows with flanking bunkers as it heads down to the green. The ground level putting surface, set into a cozy nook, allows for all manner of aerial or ground approaches. With tumbling fairway and artful bunkering, I like this hole MUCH more than it likes me.

HOLE 15 – Par 5 – 545 yards – Coyote Trail

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The imposing tee shot plays uphill to a landing area that looks much smaller than it is. The second plays over a sandy wash up to the top of roller coaster hill, and then down to a contoured, tiered green set in a hollow. Too many decisions and options to count on this visually stunning and wildly creative hole. Too many putts to count as well, if your approach fails to find the right section of the green.

HOLE 16 – Par 4 – 340 yards – Principal’s Nose

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The namesake center fairway bunker gets the attention on this hole, and fairly so. It poses an interesting question of positioning for which there are multiple answers. However, it is really the small green and surrounding bunkers that require the player’s strategic attention. Bad approach distances and angles can result in severe punishment. The artistry of the shaping masks the sharp teeth waiting to bite players in the you-know-what whose approaches are found wanting.

HOLE 17 – Par 5 – 525 yards – American Chestnut

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The penultimate hole plays up to a fairway bisected by a pronounced mound. It then drops down and winds around a bunker complex right and past a centerline bunker to an open-fronted green. An overland adventure packed with peril for the final three-shotter. Photos don’t do justice to the magnitude of undulation in the approach and the green as it rises to its high back-right. The ground provides options, and the visual overwhelms the eyes. Far from easy to keep the mind focused on the task at hand with wedge in hand.