Geeked on Golf


Musings on Greatness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

108 in 48ers



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


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


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


PRAIRIE DUNES – Hutchinson, KS


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



Photo by Jon Cavalier

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



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



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



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



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



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



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

OLD ELM CLUB – Highland Park, IL


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

SWEETENS COVE – South Pittsburg, TN


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

SAND HOLLOW – Hurricane, UT


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

DUNES CLUB – New Buffalo, MI


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



Photo by Jon Cavalier

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




Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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!



HOLE #3 – Par 3 – 151 yards


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.


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

HOLE #5 – Par 5 – 472 yards


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.”  The Doctor was a veteran of both the Boer War and World War I.  During his service, he adopted and mastered techniques in camouflage, and used these skills in his golf course designs. At the 5th, he hid the ample layup landing area amid a field of bunkers.


Mackenzie playing it in 1928.

HOLE #9 – Par 4 – 283 yards


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.


Alister MacKenzie teeing off on 9 in 1928…


The 9th at Cypress Point Club, with the par-3 7th peeking over its left shoulder.  This vantage shows why this short par-4 is so maddeningly difficult: MacKenzie benched this small, sloping green into a dune and canted it almost perpendicular to the line of play.  Hit it or else.


HOLE #11 – Par 3 – 427 yards


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.


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

HOLE #13 – Par 3 – 344 yards



“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.”

HOLE #15 – Par 3 – 120 yards


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.



The par-3 15th, with both the original upper tee (left) and modern cliffside tee (right) in view.  Often overlooked due to the incredible surrounding beauty is the wonderful shape of this green.  Today’s hole, cut on the front left finger, is particularly fun.


HOLE #16 – Par 3 – 218 yards


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.


HOLE #17 – Par 4 – 374 yard


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


“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.”


HOLE #1 – Par 4 – 330 yards


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


“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.”

HOLE #4 – Par 3 – 195 yards


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.


HOLE #6 – Par 3 – 141 yards


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


“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.”

HOLE #16 – Par 4 – 415 yards


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.


“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.”


HOLE #17 – Par 4 – 375 yards


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.


‘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.”



The gorgeous clubhouse at National Golf Links of America, designed by Jarvis Hunt on land overlooking Peconic Bay.  The current clubhouse was built in 1911 after the original Shinnecock Inn burned down.



HOLE #7 – Par 3 – 98 yards


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.


HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 400 yards


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



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.



HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 355 yards


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.


HOLE #3 – Par 3 – 181 yards



Prior to leaving for California, George Thomas was one of several architects to accept the invitation of one George Arthur Crump to lend expertise and assistance to the creation of Crump’s dream among the pines of southern New Jersey.



HOLE #5 – Par 3 – 219 yards


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


‘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.”

HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 314 yards


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.


“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.”

HOLE #9 – Par 4 – 422 yards


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.



HOLE #10 – Par 3 – 142 yards


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.


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




The opening quintet at Pine Valley Golf Club begins with the par-4 dogleg right 1st followed by the heavily bunkered par-4 2nd & the terrific par-3 3rd playing bottom-to-top of frame.  Portions of the par-4 4th & par-3 5th, as well as the clubhouse, are visible through the trees.



A look down on arguably the best 6-hole closing stretch in golf: the 13th through 18th at Pine Valley Golf Club.  The all-world par-4 13th is left; the par-3 14th is at bottom; the par-5 15th plays top-to-bottom center; the par-4 16th is to the right; 17 and 18 are top right.






OTHER COURSES (in alphabetical order)

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


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.



BEL-AIR CC #10 – Par 3 – 200 yards


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.


“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.”

CHICAGO GOLF CLUB #7 – Par 3 – 207 yards



“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.”

ENGINEERS CC #11 – Par 3 – 160 yards



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

HOLLYWOOD GOLF CLUB #4 – Par 3 – 135 yards


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.




The mini-quarry par-3 8th at Manufacturers Golf & Country Club.  This 1925 William Flynn design has long been one of Philly’s hidden gems, but since being polished up by Ron Forse, Mannies truly shines.  A must play for those visiting the area.


MERION GOLF CLUB #9 – Par 3 – 183 yards




“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.”



Holes 2 through 9 at Merion Golf Club’s East Course, a stretch which includes some of golf’s best holes, including the roadside par-5 2nd, the par-5 4th with huge fairway bunker, the brilliant and treacherous par-4 5th, the short par-4 8th and the beautiful par-3 9th.


MID OCEAN CLUB #13 – Par 3 – 238 yards



“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.”



Very few clubhouses make an impression or dominate their surroundings like the Whitney Warren-designed, Beaux Arts-style clubhouse at Newport Country Club.  Dubbed High Tide and resembling an oversized jewel box, the clubhouse is visible from all points of the golf course.


OAKMONT CC #18 – Par 4 – 484 yards


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.


OAKMONT CC – Clubhouse


The shared 9th green/practice green and clubhouse at Oakmont Country Club.  Built in 1904 by Pittsburgh-based architect Edward Stotz, the Tudor-style clubhouse is a veritable museum of golf history, containing artifacts from nine U.S Opens and numerous other major tournaments.


PASATIEMPO GOLF CLUB #16 – Par 4 – 387 yards


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


“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.”

PASATIEMPO GC #18 – Par 3 – 169 yards


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


RIVIERA CC #6 – Par 3 – 175 yards



SAN FRANCISCO GC #18 – Par 5 – 512 yards


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.


“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.”



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


SLEEPY HOLLOW CC #16 – Par 3 – 155 yards



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.




One of the biggest and boldest in golf, the clubhouse at Sleepy Hollow was built by Sandford White as Woodlea, a 140-room Italian Renaissance revival-style Vanderbilt Mansion with sweeping views of the Hudson River.  A perfect match for the boldness and beauty of its golf course.


SOMERSET HILLS CC #2 – Par 3 – 205 yards


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


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

 SOMERSET HILLS CC #12 – Par 3 – 151 yards



WILSHIRE CC #10 – Par 3 – 156 yards



YALE UNIVERSITY GC #9 – Par 3 – 213 yards


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.


“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.”



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


LinksGems Birthday Tribute to C.B. Macdonald



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


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


National Golf Links of America Tour by Jon Cavalier


Southampton, NY – Charles Blair Macdonald

“There are no more beautiful golfing vistas in all the world than those from the National Golf Club . . .” – C.B. Macdonald


For me, this is sacred ground.

As a devout member of the church of MacRaynor, and indeed, as one who owes his very interest in golf course architecture and history to the golf courses these men left behind, playing a round of golf at the National was my pilgrimage, my Mecca.  Charles Blair Macdonald’s masterpiece did not disappoint.


Windmill at dawn

I will not belabor the history of this place, as most are surely and intimately familiar with it, and far better writers than me have chronicled it (See Scotland’s Gift, by C.B. Macdonald and The Evangelist of Golf, by George Bahto for examples).  Suffice it to say, for these purposes, that National Golf Links was the brainchild and baby of Charles Blair MacDonald, who endeavored to build the premier American golf course by utilizing architectural templates adopted from the great golf holes of the British Isles.  Having found a suitable location on Long Island, Macdonald set about implementing and integrating these templates into the natural features of the property.  What remains today is the result of his lifelong association with the Club and the Course.


Valley green

My day at National came early in the season, and with the long grasses not yet in bloom, the architectural features of the golf course were on full display.  Otherwise, with a temperature in the low 70s and a stiff breeze blowing, it was a picture perfect day.



Despite being over 100 years old, the National is still intensely studied and of great architectural interest today. With this in mind, it is my hope that these photos will provide a reference to those who have not seen the golf course, a refresher (or simply pleasant memories) to those who have, and an enjoyable way to pass the time for all.


Sunrise over the Home hole

I hope you enjoy the tour.


“This property was little known and had never been surveyed.  Every one thought it more or less worthless.  It abounded in bogs and swamps and was covered with an entanglement of bayberry, huckleberry, blackberry, and other bushes and was infested by insects.” – C.B. Macdonald


Few would quarrel with the statement that C.B. Macdonald, and his faithful engineering sidekick Seth Raynor, turned an unpassable wasteland into the greatest golf course yet built in America.  Playing today to a very reasonable Championship yardage of 6,935 and a Regular yardage of 6,505, the course stands as an enduring testament to Macdonald’s belief that “as bad as too short a course may be, too long a course is infinitely worse.”  Macdonald would be pleased that the club has resisted adding length for length’s sake and has instead focused on keeping the course playing the way Macdonald intended — firm, fast and fun.


The golf course is a strategic masterpiece that provides players of all levels with an enjoyable and exciting experience.  More’s the pity that this seemingly obvious concept has become novel over the past 100 years.  Every hole on the golf course provides options for the skilled player and the hack, and every hole provides challenges that expertly balance risk and reward.


Getting There

National Golf Links sits on rolling land northwest of the town of Southhampton, bordered in part to the north and east by Peconic Bay and Bullhead Bay, respectively.  It’s a heady neighborhood for a golfer, as the course is bordered to the South by Shinnecock Hills and, more recently, to the west by Sebonack Golf Club.


As with several other great classic golf courses, getting to National is an experience in itself.  The long drive eastward on Long Island highways ends abruptly, and once the left onto Shrubland Road is made, the rest of the world just sort of fades to background noise.  After passing Cold Spring Pond and the ornate gates to Sebonack Golf Club, the player gets his first glimpse of the National as the road bisects the course at the eighth and eleventh holes.  The Road hole green is visible to the left …


…and Bottle to the right.


A bit farther up the road, Shinnecock Hills and its famous clubhouse come into view …


Past Shinnecock, after a left is made onto Sebonac Inlet Road, the National reemerges, with the Eden hole visible to the left…


… and if lucky, a beautiful sunrise over Bullhead Bay to the right.


And ahead, the famous windmill first comes into view.


At last, the player reaches the famous gates, and is already filled with anticipation resulting from the early glimpses of the course.


And once through the gates, with the gorgeous Peconic hole immediately to the left, the player knows beyond doubt that this day will be a special one.


The Clubhouse

When the Shinnecock Inn, which served as the National’s original clubhouse, burned to the ground in 1909, C.B. Macdonald called it “most fortunate, for to-day we have an unexcelled site.”  And he was right.


I talk a lot about clubhouses in my tours, largely because I believe that the clubhouse is an extension of the golfing experience.  When done right, the clubhouse amplifies the ambiance and the setting of the golf course.


Some of the best golf courses in this country are identifiable by their clubhouses alone, and often these clubhouses become iconic in their own right.  No two are the same — the imposing fortress of Sleepy Hollow is as different from the yellow-sided farmhouse of Myopia as the stone mansion at Winged Foot is from the manorhome at Merion.  But all share one key trait — they suit their environs perfectly.  The National is no exception.


The North Face of the Clubhouse, as seen from the eighteenth fairway


The East Face


National’s fountain


Impeccable detail

Inside, the clubhouse features a large statute and portrait of C.B. Macdonald.



The Windmill

No tour of National Golf Links would be complete without at least a brief mention of its famous windmill.


As chronicled in George Bahto’s excellent book, the Evangelist of Golf, the story goes that a member, Dan Pomeroy, suggested to C.B. Macdonald that the club’s water tower was unsightly, and suggested that a windmill be built around it.  Macdonald obliged, and then stuck the member with the bill.  At least he got his name on the plaque.


The National’s windmill is a central feature of the golf course visible from more than half the holes, and provides a unique and memorable emblem for the club.


Practice Areas

The range at the National is one of the more picturesque in existence, as it sits between the Home hole and Peconic Bay.  The range is on the former site of the three hole “practice course” that Macdonald built and which contained replicas of the three par-3 greens present at the National – Redan, Short and Eden.  The practice course is visible on the course map below.


The National also provides a practice green, which sits between the clubhouse and the first tee, and a beautiful short-game area tucked into the far northwestern corner of the property, which affords gorgeous views of the Bay.



“When playing golf you want to be alone with nature.” – C.B. Macdonald


It bears mentioning here that during my visit, I was quite pleased to find the National teeming with wildlife.  As a city boy, I wholeheartedly agree with Macdonald’s sentiment. In addition to the ospreys inhabiting the nest near the beach (kindly provided by the Club), National is home to deer and many other species of birds (including turkeys, but alas, our scorned national bird refused to be photographed).



As mentioned above, National Golf Links plays to a “Championship” yardage of 6,935 and a “Regular” yardage of 6,505 and a modern-day par 72.


As was Macdonald’s practice, each of the holes at National is named (a practice I very much endorse) and those names are listed on the exceptionally simple scorecard the club provides.


The course is laid out in a true links style out-and-back routing running generally from north to south on the front, and south to north on the back.  As a result, the player confronts opposing winds on each nine.  Green-to-tee walks are pleasantly short (strikingly so by modern standards) and there is little on the course to distract or detract from the golf experience.


Hole 1 – 330/315yds – Par 4 – “Valley”

This beautiful little opener gives the player an idea of what he will confront constantly during his round — choices.  Playing left to right, the choice of tee shot could be anything from a mid-iron to driver.


Overly timid or indifferent tee shots will catch this string of bunkers laid out short of the fairway.  Note that the carry to the left is significantly farther than it appears from the tee.


While the aggressive line over these bunkers makes the green reachable for longer players, these bunkers will extract a severe price from an overly ambitious tee-shot hit by an overly confident player.


The green is elevated, obscuring parts of the putting surface and surrounding area from view on the approach.  A severe false front will repel shots that come up short.


Balls missed left will find the bunkers in the foreground, while those right will encounter the series of random humps and mounds visible in the background.


The first green is rife with undulations and ridges, placing added importance on an accurate approach.


Missing left is no picnic …


… nor is missing right.  This view from right-rear shows the large ridge bisecting the green.  Being on the wrong side of this ridge is a recipe for a three-putt.


As seen from above: the bold internal contours of the first green at National.


Simply put, this is one of the best openers in golf.


Hole 2 – 330/290yds – Par 4 – “Sahara”

Another gem of a short two-shot hole, the second again confronts the golfer with a decision from the tee — be aggressive, hug the left side, carry the Sahara bunker and try to drive the green, or be safe, play out right and attempt what should be an easy par.


Though most of it is hidden from view from the tee, the Sahara bunker presents a formidable hazard.


An aggressive ball that carries the Sahara bunker is rewarded with a fairway that slopes directly into the putting surface.


While bailing out to the right to shorten the carry over the Sahara bunker might be considered the safe play, it is not entirely free of danger, as a ball too firmly struck on this line will carry down into a deep hollow, resulting in a difficult and blind approach.


The green is open across its full length, permitting balls to be run on to the surface, whether struck from the tee or the fairway.  The Narrows, Redan and Alps are visible behind.


As this view back up the fairway shows, Macdonald provided an ample reward for players that successfully negotiated the risk of an ambitious line.  Note that long is perhaps the worst miss of all, as the green drops immediately straight down some dozen feet, and can shed balls for some distance.


Sahara as seen from Alps — note the fall off from the rear of the green and the deep hollow to the left of the frame.  Along with the Alps, one of my favorite holes on the course, and as can also be said for the Alps, it will forever remain a mystery as to why such holes are no longer made.


Hole 3 – 426/407yds – Par 4 – “Alps”

One of my favorite holes in all of golf, Macdonald’s rendition of the Alps is a magnificent and challenging two-shot hole.  In opposition to the first two holes, which are shorter with fairways tending right to left, the Alps is a long, uphill hole with a fairway moving from left to right.


The first choice the player must make is to pick an appropriate line off the tee.  The farther right the line, the longer the carry over the bunker, but the shorter and better the angle for the approach.


Once safely in the fairway, the player confronts another choice — challenge the Alps hill and aim for the green (marked by a bell tower), or bail out up the right side and play for the green in three.  Each route to the hole presents its own set of challenges.  For what its worth, I believe that the second shot is the finest blind shot in golf.


One of the primary difficulties of the second shot here is that, although Macdonald built the second green very large, he also ringed it with trouble, including the crossbunker fronting the green.  A player can’t “get away with one” on this hole — it is a true test that must be met with a true golf shot.


Few thrills in golf can match hitting the third green at the National in two well-struck shots, and walking away with par or better here reminds the player of why he took up golf in the first place.  Certainly, Alps is one of the finest par-4s in the world.


Hole 4 – 195/181yds – Par 3 – “Redan”

If the third hole at National is to be counted among the best two-shot holes in the game, certainly the fourth is among the best of the one-shot holes.  The iconic American Redan, this hole is as beautiful as Redans get, and plays as all Redans should, which is to say, difficult.


The front right framing bunker is out of play for all but the most indifferent of shots, but the lefthand bunker presents a true hazard and makes direct approach to this green foolhardy.


The severity of the slopes built into this Redan are unique among Macdonald’s versions of this hole.  Piping Rock’s third, with its elevated green and deep front bunker, is likely the closest comparison.


The kickslope here is substantial enough to propel the ball to all potential hole locations on this large green, which, along with its right to left / front to back slope, contains its own set of undulations.


Shots missing long will find the back bunker, which is an extremely difficult recovery (as your author learned from experience).


Putting from above the hole is a supreme challenge.


The finest Redan in American golf, and one of the best par-3 holes in the world.


Hole 5 – 478/451yds – Par 4 – “Hog’s Back”

The third of three difficult holes, the fifth at National asks for a tee shot over a formidable cross bunker cut into the hill to a fairway humped down its spine so as to shed balls to either side.


The fairway’s natural ripples provide added visual and playing interest.


Longer drives will contend with this unique trench bunker that bisects the fairway.  The green sits in the middle of this frame.


The wide, downsloping fairway leads straight into the green and will carry running approach shots a long way, allowing even shorter hitters to reach this long par-4 in two shots.


The approach at the fifth practically begs for a running shot.


These two bunkers left of the green strongly suggest that the player use the sloping right-to-left fairway to access the green.


Hole 6 – 141/123yds – Par 3 – “Short”

A Macdonald original as fun as it is maddening, the sixth is the shortest hole at National and has one of the largest and wildest greens on the property.  From the tee, the greens for Sebonack and Eden are visible to the right.


To say this green is heavily contoured is to understate the matter substantially.  The large mound in the center of the green (on which this day’s pin sits) sheds balls in all directions, as does the larger green itself.


Any ball that fails to find (or hold) the putting surface is likely to end up in a bunker — some more penal than others, like this little beauty here.


The degree of elevation change in this green, as seen from the right side, is quite striking and adds a wonderful element of challenge to an otherwise short hole.


Hole 7 – 478/467yds – Par 5 – “St. Andrews”

The first three shot hole at National is Macdonald’s tribute to the Road Hole at St. Andrews.  A blind tee shot over a waste area is the first order of business.


The bunkering down the right will catch any tee shots that stray that way.  These bunkers are largely invisible from the tee.


The National is replete with interesting and unique terrain features, like this slash of a bunker and fronting mound.


These two small bunkers in the area short of the green are so flat that they are invisible from a distance, adding to the uncertainty and challenge of the approach.  The road bunker looms to the left of the elevated green.


The large green is elevated by a mere two feet or so, but this small feature adds exponentially to the difficulty of judging and hitting an approach shot.  A brilliant feature.


The most formidable Road Hole bunker that Macdonald ever created, this monster has allegedly been softened over time.


Quite simply …

… avoid at all costs.


The green, while largely flat, slopes away on all sides and is harder to hold than it appears.


A large, deep bunker runs down the entire right side of the green, ready to catch those who decline to challenge the Road bunker.


An exceptional three-shot hole in every respect.


Hole 8 – 400/385yds – Par 4 – “Bottle”

Another template that has been largely lost with time, Macdonald’s “Bottle” hole presents the option to take the straightforward tee shot down the right side, or attack the left side of the fairway and challenge the bunkers in return for a better view and angle into the green.


The tee shot on the eighth crosses Shrubland Road for the first time.


The Bottle bunkers that bisect the eighth hole are unique in design and formidable in their defense of the hole …


… and they play bigger than they look.


Between the Bottle bunkers and the green, Macdonald installed a Principal’s Nose bunker complex.


The green is substantially elevated with steep drops on three sides.  Missing right is particularly penal.


The view from behind the classic Bottle hole.


Hole 9 – 540/534yds – Par 5 – “Long”

The aptly named ninth is the longest hole at the National, which is perhaps surprising to some, since it measures only 540 yards.  But what this hole lacks in length, it more than makes up for in other ways.


The ideal line off the tee is to remain as far right as possible while still carrying the short set of bunkers.  Shots hit down the left will run through the fairway and feed into the “Hell’s Half Acre” complex.


Once past Hell’s Half Acre, a large green defended by steep bunkers short left and long right awaits.


This day’s pin forces the player to challenge the right bunkers and the side slope of the green, which will shed balls up to 25 yards away.


The view back toward the ninth tee.


Hole 10 – 450/420yds – Par 4 – “Shinnecock”

Aptly named, the tenth at National borders Shinnecock Hills and turns the player back northward toward the clubhouse.  It is a hole that ranks as a favorite among many.


Two low profile cross bunkers encroaching into the fairway from either side add challenge to the tee shot.


What looks like a rather straightforward approach shot from the safer, right side of the fairway is soon revealed to be …


… more challenging than it first appears.


Again, Macdonald maps the terrain to allow approaches to the green along safer, if at times less rewarding routes.  Here, if the proper angles are played, no hazards need be crossed.  A wonderful green complex, to be sure.


The magnificently routed tenth at National.


Hole 11 – 432/418yds – Par 4 – “Plateau”

A blind tee shot awaits the golfer at the eleventh hole, and care should be taken to avoid the left side …


… as gathering bunkers collect shots hit in this area.


The approach on eleven crosses back over the road, obscured here by a berm.


A second Principal’s Nose bunker complex sits short of the green.


Macdonald’s exceptional Double Plateau green speaks for itself.


As seen here from the right side of the green, the small bunkers arrayed around this green have a much larger footprint than their actual size.  It’s very possible to putt into some of them.


This large bunker behind guards the lower portion of the green and will catch balls that skirt through the middle of the plateaus.


Hole 12 – 459/427yds – Par 4 – “Sebonac”

This two-shotter calls for a tee shot to an ample but angled fairway…

… guarded by deep bunkers down the lefthand side.


Approach shots confront a small, slightly elevated green fraught with hazards on all sides.


The lack of any background makes gauging distance difficult.


The green runs hard away to the right and rear.


The twelfth as seen from behind.  A truly original and enjoyable hole.


Hole 13 – 174/159yds – Par 3 – “Eden”

The third of the National’s three one-shot holes, Macdonald’s tribute to Eden is fronted by the famous pond, which prevents players from having a go at the green with a putter.  The result is a gorgeous hole.


The Hill, Strath and Shelley bunkers are all present and accounted for, as is the Eden bunker wrapping behind the green …


… though the Strath bunker is particularly menacing.


Tucked into a corner of the property, the Eden green is one of the most peaceful, and beautiful, spots in golf.


Hole 14 – 393/341yds – Par 4 – “Cape”

Perhaps Macdonald’s most famous original design, the fourteenth plays out over a pond to a fairway running right to left along its far banks.


The undulating fairway is guarded by a deep pot bunker left and the pond along its right flank.


This green offers no easy access from any angle.  Players attacking the left side must contend with a series of small bunkers short left and deeper bunkers left and rear of the green …



… while those approaching from the right must tackle the hazard.


The gorgeous Cape …


… a hole as challenging as it is scenic.


Hole 15 – 417/368yds – Par 4 – “Narrows”

Perhaps the most beautiful hole at National, the fifteenth plays out to a fairway flanked with bunkers on all sides.


Missing the fairway into the left bunkers cut into the hillside all but guarantees a missed green.


The fifteenth fairway winds its way between Macdonald’s strategic bunkering, including this bunker in the middle of the fairway some 60 yards short of the green.


The green is offset slightly to the left and is surrounded by bunkering.  This is the most heavily bunkered hole at National.


The green slopes substantially from back to front, aiding with approaches but making putting difficult.


This view from the right greenside bunker reveals the steepness of the slope in this challenging green.


Long is a brutal miss here, as the player must not only confront the deep bunker, but the slope of the green running away.


Once again, Macdonald gave the player no close background for reference, and the horizon green only adds to the challenge.


Exceptional.  Note the Redan in the right of the frame.


Hole 16 – 415/394yds – Par 4 – “Punchbowl”

An Alps and an Alps/Punchbowl — this surely must be heaven.  The sixteenth hole begins with a tee shot up a rising fairway, ideally reaching the level portion of the ground beyond the first crest.


Straying too far to the right, however, will lead a ball to this deep hollow, similar to the feature on the second hole.  While all shots to the sixteenth green are blind and uphill, an approach from the bottom of the hollow is doubly so.


The sixteenth also shares a Sahara-like bunker feature with the second hole, as seen here short of the green.


The green itself is tiny, although the surrounding punchbowl features contain shots that miss.


Having cleared the fronting bunkers, the player must still contend with the ridge running from the back of the hazard to the front of the green, which will deflect balls on to, or away from, the putting surface.


These two bunkers set high into the face of the left hill provide a formidable hazard for shots that are far enough offline to deserve such a fate.


An incomparable hole.


Hole 17 – 375/342yds – Par 4 – “Peconic”

“The view over Peconic Bay is one of the loveliest in the world.” – Bernard Darwin


Indeed.  The penultimate hole at the National is gorgeous in every respect, but it is also a world class short par-4 hole.  From the tee, the player is forced to lay up short of the two fairway bunkers or drive over them to the left.  This hole is reachable for longer hitters.


On approach from the right, the player confronts this odd sandy berm that runs the length of the green and hides parts of the putting surface.


The berm also hides the small pot bunkers, which stand ready to catch any shot left short.


This defense is a unique feature, and one that I do not recall seeing elsewhere.


One of the many standout holes at the National.


Hole 18 – 502/483yds – Par 5 – “Home”

“Finally there is, I think, the finest eighteenth hole in all the world.” – Bernard Darwin


Playing far longer than its listed yardage, the three shot eighteenth hole plays back up to the clubhouse with full views of Peconic Bay.


From the shadow of the clubhouse, one appreciates what Bernard Darwin meant when he wrote of the beauty of golf along Peconic Bay.


In approaching the green, the left side affords the better view, the right the better angle of play.


The green provides ample room for a ground approach but falls away rather steeply on all sides.


Long does not work well here.


The view of the Home green, with Peconic Bay behind.


The view looking back down the 18th hole.



As you can no doubt tell, I adored this golf course.  It is no less than the finest golf course that I have ever played, as well as one of the most enjoyable.  For a MacRaynor fan, a round at National Golf Links is like a tour through a living museum, and my round there will surely remain a highlight of my golfing life.


I must mention here that I owe a debt of gratitude to GCA’er Chuck Glowacki, who caddied for us on our trip around these legendary links.  Chuck is a wonderful looper, extraordinarily knowledgeable about the National, and outstanding company to boot.  His presence added immeasurably to my enjoyment of the round.  And I likewise owe thanks to GCAer Nigel Islam, who was with me at National during this round and whose fine play and enjoyable camaraderie made the round that much more special.


National Golf Links is a truly special place, and a golf course that should be treasured and preserved for all time.  A day at National is a throwback in time that will refresh your spirits, restore your hopes, and remind us all why we took up this game in the first place.





Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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Jon Cavalier’s Top 10 New Courses in 2015

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

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

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


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

Hollywood Golf Club (Deal, NJ)


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

Ekwanok Country Club (Manchester, VT)


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

Old Elm Club (Highland Park, IL)

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

Chambers Bay (University Place, WA)

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

Newport Country Club (Newport, RI)

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

Old Sandwich Golf Club (Plymouth, MA)

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

Old Macdonald (Bandon, OR)

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

Kingsley Club (Kingsley, MI)

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

TOP 10 for 2015

Number 10 – Boston Golf Club (Hingham, MA)

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

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

Number 9 – Yeamans Hall Club (Hanahan, SC)

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

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

Number 8 – Shoreacres (Lake Bluff, IL)

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

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

Number 7 – Friars Head (Riverhead, NY)

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

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

Number 6 – Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 3 – Chicago Golf Club (Wheaton, IL)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Cavalier
Philadelphia, PA




Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


An Appreciation of Great Courses by Jon Cavalier

Over the years, I have learned a great deal about courses and architecture from the creators of and its community.  Perhaps no other contributor has shared his knowledge and experience in a more impactful way than Jon Cavalier though.

His course tours are at once visually stunning and packed with information.  His perspective, and the unsurpassed manner in which he expresses it, stirs up my passion for the game.

Below are links to Jon’s tours.  And for a daily dose of Jon’s photography, follow him on Twitter (@LinksGems) and Instagram (@LinksGems).



The rich tradition of championship golf at Shinnecock Hills continues this summer.  The collaboration between Superintendent Jon Jennings and Coore & Crenshaw has brought out every ounce of the brilliance of William Flynn’s Long Island masterpiece.  Shinny is ready to test the best.  See the tour here…



I had the first tee time of the day as a solo at Ballyhack on a perfect fall morning, and I had the entire golf course to myself.  The day was gorgeous — temperature around 60, bright sun, some sporadic cloud cover over the mountains, and the leaves were at peak color.  The golf course was in perfect shape.  This was one of the more enjoyable rounds I’ve played this year.  Read more…


The Preserve is one of those elements that makes a trip to Bandon so special.  The uniqueness of a short course in such a beautiful setting; the opportunity to add to long travel day with a quick loop; the fun of plunking down a few wagers with your foursome; or perhaps best of all, a solo walk around these thirteen holes at dusk, with only your wedge, your putter and your thoughts of rounds played and rounds to come.  See the tour here…


The uniqueness of Bandon Trails among the courses at Bandon Dunes Resort, coupled with the beautiful terrain and the outstanding Coore/Crenshaw design, make this golf course a favorite among many Bandon visitors.  See the tour here…


Bayonne Golf Club is, to put it mildly, one of the more unique golf clubs in the United States.  Built entirely from scratch by Eric Bergstol, the course represents the antithesis of the “minimalist” trend in golf course architecture, and yet, somehow, appears more “natural” than many other courses built in the last 20 years.  The result is, in a word, spectacular.  Read more…


I had the privilege of seeing this 2004 Gil Hanse design on a beautiful late-October afternoon, and while I had heard good things about the club previously, to say that Boston Golf Club exceeded my expectations would be a dramatic understatement.  See the tour here…


I have had the great pleasure and fortune of playing some of the most “charming” golf courses in the east this year and Eastward Ho, in my opinion, belongs on any list of such courses.  It’s an exciting, fun, playable and unique golf course that deserves more than the share of accolates that it currently receives.  I can’t remember having such an enjoyable time on a golf course.  See the tour here…


Some golf courses are special.  We all know that feeling we get when we play one of these courses.  Our senses are heightened, our memories are sharpened, our spirits are lifted, and our love for the game of golf is strengthened and vindicated by the experience.  Fishers Island is a special golf course.  See the tour here…


I can’t really express how much I enjoyed this golf course, so for the most part, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.  See the tour here…


Longue Vue is a course that is under the radar of most, but for those who enjoy their golf fun, fast and challenging, and with some gorgeous scenery sprinkled in, Longue Vue is not to be missed.  Read more…


On the other hand are golfers looking for something other than sheer difficulty in a golf course.  These players are looking for a course that provides something different, something out of the ordinary, something they’ve never seen before.  These players are searching for a place that provides an element of the game so often forgotten in modern golf: fun.  Maidstone is that place.  See the tour here…


Suffice it to say that I loved Myopia.  There is a vibe emanating from certain of these old clubs that I find quite appealing, and Myopia has it in spades.  The building that houses the bar and dining areas was built in 1772.  The course is virtually unchanged from 19th century origins, save for a bit of added length.  It’s an incredible place.  See the tour here…


For me, this is sacred ground.  As a devout member of the church of MacRaynor, and indeed, as one who owes his very interest in golf course architecture and history to the golf courses these men left behind, playing a round of golf at the National was my pilgrimage, my Mecca.  Charles Blair Macdonald’s masterpiece did not disappoint.  See the tour here…


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.  See the tour here…


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


When it became apparent that time had taken its toll on this old beauty, the members chose Coore & Crenshaw to perform an extensive restoration of the property. Suffice it to say, the duo did a magnificent job.  See the tour here…


Pacific Dunes is simply stunning — it is one of the most beautiful places to play golf that I have ever seen.  But beyond its sheer beauty, it is also an extremely well designed and very enjoyable golf course.  See the tour here…


Shoreacres not only occupies some of the most gorgeous golfing land in the United States, but it is also maintained in absolutely perfect condition.  Note that this is not to say that the club is focused on providing a flawless, manicured playing surface (though they do), but rather that the club’s focus on giving players a firm, bouncy and fast surface tee to green allows the course to playexactly as Raynor intended, and brings out all of the best features that Macdonald and Raynor viewed as essential to the game.  See the tour here…


Sleepy Hollow is, quite simply, one of my favorite places in the country to play golf.  Exceptional golden age architecture, spectacular views, exciting shots, fabulous conditions — Sleepy Hollow has everything a golfer could want.  See the tour here…


From the moment I hit the entrance to the property, Somerset Hills exceeded my expectations in every regard.  It’s beautiful, strategic, interesting, unique and fun, and the condition of the course was fantastic and conducive to good golf.  See the tour here…


Whippoorwill is a Charles Banks design and is generally considered to be his masterpiece.  I’ve had the great pleasure of playing several Banks courses, and Whippoorwill is in a class by itself.  While this course is smack in the middle of one of the most golf rich areas in the world, the degree to which it is overshadowed by its neighbors borders on criminal.  This is simply a fantastic golf course, and it contains one of the most dramatic and memorable stretches of holes that I’ve seen.  See the tour here…



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.”  Read more…


The 2017 Walker Cup is being contested at the historic Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course.  Originally opened in 1911 and redesigned by George C. Thomas Jr in 1921, the North Course was recently restored by Gil Hanse’s team, with an assist from Geoff Shackelford.  Read more…


It is clear at this point that Jon is a very talented guy.  He is also extremely generous to put this amount of work into sharing his photos with us, with no concern for remuneration.  Those of us who have had the pleasure of teeing it with him will tell you this about Jon as well – he’s as a good a golf buddy as you’ll ever find.  Read more…


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


An Homage to the Short Par 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The Past Brought Forward – An Interview with Architect Ian Andrew

From his design blog, to his articles on, to his Twitter posts, it is easy for a golf geek to lose oneself in the writings of Ian Andrew.  With his depth of knowledge, respect for tradition and pure love of the game of golf, wandering through Ian’s thoughts is like a trip around the greatest golf course you can imagine – interesting, challenging and fun.

As much as he writes, Ian has his boots on the ground and his hands in the dirt even more.  His original and restoration work can be found throughout North America, and represents the classic spirit of the game.  I was lucky enough to catch Ian while the winter snow has him on a momentary pause, and he kindly took the time to share his thoughts with us.



How did you get introduced to the game of golf?  

I used to watch tournament golf with my father.  It was while watching the Pebble Beach Pro Am that I fell in love with the golf courses.  The event and celebrities were not near as interesting as seeing these epic holes along the ocean.  I began to draw detailed plans of the course while watching TV.  By the end of the event I asked my father if you can actually work as a course designer.  Once he said yes, I set my sights and he responded by buying me books about golf architecture.  I was 13 at the time.

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

Ian teeing off at Highlands Links in 1981.

Ian teeing off at Highland Links in 1981.

My father signed me up at the local municipal course that same summer. He gave me the proper grip, some swing instruction and made me pass an etiquette test before I could play on my own. It only took a couple of games for me to become obsessed with the game.

What was the first great course you played?

My father took me to play Highlands Links when I was 16.  I was awestruck by this oceans and mountains golf course.  It was far better than anything else I had ever seen or played.  It began our habit of making yearly golf trips that frustrated my mother to no end.  We ended up playing at Pinehurst, New York, Monterrey and Scotland over the next six years.  I later took him to Ireland to say thank you.

How did you get into the business?

I actually did my first Master Plan and built my first green as a teenager, but I don’t consider that as “in the business”.  I contacted all the top Canadian architects and arranged to meet or interview with them whether they had a position available or not.  I had an offer and worked part time for Doug Carrick, but stayed to finish school.  I ended up waiting a few years, but he called once he had an opening and I started with him.  That put me in the business.

Ian with his father at Royal County Down.

Ian with his father at Royal County Down.

Who has influenced you the most?

My father, he was an excellent businessman whose specialty was turning around failing companies.  His approach was to understand the entire operation before making any decisions.  He believed success in business was simple: great service, an excellent product sold at a fair price.  That brought you loyalty from your customers when you needed them.  I believe the same today and I think that is why things have worked out fine for me.

What about someone in golf?

Within golf, there is no single person. I began to learn about architecture from the books written during the Golden Age and I have sought out the work of just about every significant designer.  My key influence has shifted multiple times as I’ve become exposed to more architects work and different thoughts of my own on design.

I have also spent time with all the top architects in this current era, looking at their key projects, and even working with some.  I’m a sponge, so will ask and learn from anyone I meet.  I consider everything I read or hear and then decide on what fits with my own personal philosophy of golf architecture.

I do have a couple of golf course architects with whom I talk regularly.  We have learned from each other, discussed and debated the more complex issues we face in our work and even tackled deeper philosophical questions about architecture.  They are an excellent resource.

You take the time to share photos and histories of classic courses with your audience. Why do you think that is important?

I want people to be aware of what is still out there and to become very protective over what is architecturally important.  I think too much of the great Golden Age architecture is being altered now and too much is at risk.  I am the culmination of all the great work that I have gone to see and study.  If we lose the great work of important architects, then we lose their lessons and contributions.

Pick an iconic golf hole and tell us about the features that make that hole great that we might not have noticed.

The 6th hole at The Creek Club

The set-up is important.  Raynor takes you across the flattest section of the property and through the trees for the opening five holes.  When you come out of the trees and onto the 6th tee a spectacular panorama is opened for you down over to the holes below and out to the ocean beyond.  This technique is called compression and release, and it increases your reaction through spatial change.

The tee shot appears fairly simple because there is plenty of room out on the right and the bunker barely comes into play.  The problem with playing to the right is from that angle you’re pretty much dead.  The forest along the left defends the ideal line off the tee.  Therefore you must hit a light draw around that tree line to gain the ideal position and find a small plateau ideal for playing your approach.

It’s on the approach where the architecture begins to take center stage.  The green is a reverse redan (falling hard from front left to back right) and Raynor has incredulously raised the surroundings in front to create a punchbowl setting for the green.  The audaciousness to add that front ridge to a very natural reverse redan setting is mind-boggling.  The shot is a delicately placed fade into the throat to access the front pins or a play to the front left to access the back pin positions.  A ball hit at any pin is a fool’s play.

It is my favourite hole in golf.

Describe your process for a design project.

I begin with a philosophical question: What experience do I want them to have?  There are so many options on style, set-up, approach, etc.  You also have to address what everyone’s expectations are and how you can reconcile their needs with your own philosophy in a way that works for both of you.  For example, when we built Laval, we had to plan for a Canadian Open and membership play.  We solved that riddle with our design approach, based very much on the Sandbelt Courses of Melbourne and how fun they were for day-to-day play, and how tough they could be made with a firm, tight turf and edge pin locations.

When it comes to routing, my personal methodology is to walk the property looking for vistas to borrow (or avoid), features that will make great ground for golf and natural places to end a hole.  I collect as many as I can without worrying about the routing.  I also like to accumulate options to naturally move uphill, since these are often the keys to an imaginative and walkable routing where no transitional holes are required.  Finally, I believe a great set of threes is a paramount, so I identify the most dramatic locations possible and try to incorporate them into the eventual routing.

The next step requires persistence and patience.  You find a few alternatives to walk through and you go test each one.  You’re looking for a continuous journey through the landscape without interruptions.  It should be a terrific walk long before it becomes holes.  So you discard sections that lack, add other locations that peak your interest and walk and walk.  You go through this process until you finally can walk eighteen holes and have it unfold like a story.

One of the great secrets to a routing and developing rhythm is the understanding that a break between dramatic locations will make the setting that follows far more impressive by comparison.  It’s like a rollercoaster where you don’t want a continuous run of thrills.  You need the spaces in between to lower the heart rate and let you prepare for the next thrill.  It’s not just about finding and designing holes, it’s all about how you want them to feel and part of that is how you develop the rhythm of the course.

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

IanAndrew-GilHanseThe grassing lines, they are the most underrated and important element on a course.

In the simplest terms, short grass emphasizes the importance of the undulations on the ground and long grass eliminates them.  The more the ball has the opportunity to react and move on the ground, the more interesting the architecture is.  The more short grass in play, the more options the player has to try a myriad of shots.  Where you place your grassing lines will either identify all the available architecture or mask it.

Greatness in architecture is most often found when the distance between success and failure is razor thin.  This is why Raynor’s work resonates so much.  Many people get stuck on the engineered nature of shapes, when the beauty is how it plays.  By having the green and collars come right out to the very edge of his plateaus, there is nothing to save a ball once it reaches an edge.  You’re either on or looking at a recovery shot, unless you have used a feeder slope and come up short.  One of the keys to this approach is having all the transition points slightly over the bank to make sure nothing is able to stop at the edge, and the fact that the greens and their contours are emphasized more through the infinity backdrop this creates.

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

I’m from the Northeast where Parkland courses rule the landscape, so my comment is based around those who I happen to serve.  So my advice would be to “truly understand photosynthesis”.  Greens need five hours of morning sun and nine hours of daily sun at a minimum to produce healthy, sustainable turfgrass.  Everything else is a long drawn out death spiral held off by science, money and extensive turf experience…but the end is always the same eventually.

If you could do a project with one Golden Era architect, who would it be and why?

Many of the greats would not be that much fun to work with.  And with a few I would never get paid.  So the easy answer is Harry Colt.  He is the foundation of golf course architecture as we know it today.  He played a critical role in the development of two of the greatest architects in history.  He corresponded and met with many others, influencing their careers.  He shared his thoughts willingly for others to learn, had great projects and remained a gentleman throughout.

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

As strange as it sounds, it’s when you leave your comfort zone and build something that tests the boundaries of what’s acceptable to the average player.  You immediately find yourself questioning whether people will accept that feature or that concept.  And you know there’s no guarantee that everything done in that context will work, but greatness lies in that uncomfortable place.  Playing it safe has never furthered any art form.

In Laval we built five greens that fell away from the line of play.  For many designers this is considered an antiquated idea or even unfair, and that should be avoided at all costs.  But it’s also a common feature found on almost every course that has influenced my design philosophy.  Admittedly, it was the idea that I worried the most about when we set out to build Laval, but it’s never been mentioned once by those who play the course because they all think the holes follow the natural flow of the land and there are alternative ways to approach those holes.  I guess the sweet spot is when you trust the knowledge that you have accumulated and build what you believe in.

What course would you love to restore?


I don’t think this is too complicated.  There are enough images, aerials and written information available to restore the course.  In the process I would properly detail the bunker work to deal with the serious playability issues, restore a few altered bunkers, fix some of the tie-ins from when they rebuilt the greens (by adding mix on top of the original greens).  I would also rebuild the Robinson green (current 18th) and restore it back to the original surface.

Let’s call it a labour of love.

What course would you love to get your hands on for a renovation project?

There was a recent proposal put forward to the PEI government to buy and re-develop Crowbush Cove.  It involved not only a redesign, but the addition of more dunes land to replace some of the interior holes.  That’s a site and project that would be very high on my list.  There are not very many sand and dunes land opportunities in Canada.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Considering all the potential options, it’s the time when you are an artist.  It’s that feeling of self-expression that more than makes up for the more challenging, time consuming, process orientated aspects of this business.

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


I believe a player should have the opportunity to set their own adventure.  They should be given plenty of space and opportunity to remove the hazards that they fear the most, but with this bargain they understand it will be difficult to shoot a low score.  As they improve, or as they want to score, I want them to understand that they will need to take on more risk.

I think the best players should find themselves facing multiple hazards that complicate their ideal line of play.  Those hazards must be severe enough to make them take pause and worry about finding their ball in one.  But they must have the clear knowledge that a risk successfully taken is a clear advantage gained.  Therefore each shot becomes about choice, or how much risk am I willing to take.

I want them to be able to play safe or aggressive anytime they want with the clear understanding that each shot will have implications on position or score.  It’s all up to them and that is what I want anyone playing my work to feel.

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

The National Golf Links of America.

I’m quite convinced that it would take at least a decade to see every pin location played in every wind.  The course has the right combination of quality architecture, playability and flexibility in set-up to make every day an exciting one.

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

I’m off to play Burnham and Barrow, Royal North Devon and St Enodoc this spring…but if you mean what is the next three on my “Drop Everything List”…it’s Myopia Hunt, Golf de Morfontaine and Hirono.

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

I have approximately three to four months off every year because of winter.  I play hockey three times a week and ski about eight times a year.  I use the winter to research and write.  I’ve yet to find the right mindset to write an entire book, but that will come.

I don’t play much during the golf season, outside of traveling to play something special for a week in early spring and then a second week in late fall.  My shortened year is often excessively busy with lots of work to do, so time off is always “family time”.  If there’s a gap, we will go up north and relax by the lake when the time allows.  If there’s none, they go up without me.

What’s on the horizon for you?

More of the same I expect.  I work with fifty courses in Canada and the US now.  The largest part of my work is historical restoration and I don’t expect that to change.  It seems almost all my new clients are American.  Never set out to work in the States, but that’s how it worked out.  Every once in a while I end up with a Laval or Maple Downs looking to make a larger fundamental change, and that’s pretty exciting, but mostly it’s a continuous flow of smaller projects working slowly towards a long term plan.

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Soul Man – An Interview with Architect Drew Rogers

The call was supposed to just be a quick “hello” and “thank you” for some photos.  An hour later, I realized that I had found a kindred spirit in realm of golf geekdom.

Beyond sharing similar perspectives on the game, Drew and I are also fortunate to have spent significant time at the Old Elm Club – me as a caddie, and Drew as the architect who has recently worked to restore the course to the original design intent of Harry Colt.  In doing that restoration, along with David Zinkand and their crew, Drew has followed in the footsteps of Donald Ross, who built Old Elm.  The course was ideal to me as a kid, but somehow Drew has made it even better.

Whether it is his work on new courses like Oitavos Dunes in Portugal, or his loving restorations of the work of Colt, Ross, or Willie Park, Jr., Drew Rogers is a talented architect and a steward of the history and soul of the game.  Many thanks to him for taking the time to share his perspectives in this interview.


How did you get into the business?

Perseverance…. and a little luck!  As careers go, there was never any doubt in my mind, EVER, what I wanted to do.  So my path was pretty deliberate beginning as a teenager.  I’m from a small town in Southern Illinois, where we are fortunate to have a true country club and a damn good little golf course.  I worked there in many roles while growing up and played tons of competitive golf as well.  I studied Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky to build upon my appreciation of the natural beauty of a landscape and then combined that with my passion for the game.  Then I got a huge break through a friend and fellow UK grad to work with Arthur Hills.  The rest is history.

Who is your favorite Golden Age Era architect, and why?DrewRogers

Tough call there.  I have really enjoyed and been inspired by so much work from that era… to single out one seems impossible.  I’m a big fan of Harry Colt and am studying more of his work this year in England.  I have long appreciated work by Donald Ross and consulted on a fair number of his designs, but I also love the works of MacDonald and Raynor, Herbert Fowler, Willie Park, Jr.…. even Old Tom Morris and others.

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

I’ve always been one to seek out information, visit courses and meet people.  As a result I think I’m influenced by all of what I see and experience and also by the many fine folks I’ve encountered.  Not one, but many… colleagues, superintendents, clients and golfers and friends.  I guess I tend to have an “eyes wide open” approach to my work, with every project being definitively unique and with its own set of opportunities and goals.  My philosophies are founded on what I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had and continue to have.

Describe your process for a design project.

Since most of the work these days is with existing facilities, my first move is to learn as much about that property as I can… its history and evolution, how it works, its deficiencies, along with where things are at present and where they plan to go in the future.  Many of my clients already have some level of vintage architecture that seems worthy to retain or build from… but I also focus on how the course has evolved over time and what accommodations must be made moving forward for it to survive another 50 years. Today, we have golfers of all skills playing… on courses that were originally designed for a relative few – only the most avid players of the age.  Therefore, I work very closely with my clients; we make decisions together, assemble a team and then I’m very hands-on once the work is underway.

What is it like to renovate courses by Golden Age architects?

First of all, to work on these courses is a privilege, and it comes with great responsibility.  The responsibility is not just to honor the original architectural intent, but also to acknowledge 100 years or so of influence and evolution.  Golf courses must evolve and those Golden Age architects were all well aware that their courses would require some adaptation over time… what with the impacts of technology, irrigation, golf carts, turfgrasses, Mother Nature, golfers and certainly ever-changing player expectations.  Architecture from that era involves a lot more use of subtlety and was at the same time quite strategic – so being keenly aware of how and why they built what they did is very important.  My aim is to reinstate a course that will honor its past while also moving it into the future in a very practical sense.

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

Learn to trust the assembled expertise… whether it be the superintendent, the architect, irrigation consultant, agronomist, etc. – these people are the most knowledgeable about golf courses; it is their craft.  So trust them, learn from them and allow them to lead you.  Also learn and accept that you cannot satisfy or placate all of your fellow members.  You need tough skin to deal with member politics.  Just try to focus on the greater good and the continued health of the facility.

As for gaining some basic knowledge, one can attain the necessary elementary understanding of golf course essentials from classic books such as The Links by Robert Hunter, Golf Greens and Greenkeeping by Horace Hutchinson or Golf Architecture by Dr. Alistair Mackenzie, among a few others.  The roots of good design and greenkeeping, in a most basic format, can be found in these and other historical volumes.

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

The first thing you learn in working with existing private clubs is that you’re working for 300 self-proclaimed experts on everything!  The names change from project to project, but the personalities are always there and those egos and personal agendas can be challenging.  I don’t expect to win every battle – there must be some compromise, but I’m always trying to keep them on point with respect to their original goals and keep them from cutting corners.  As long as we agree on “what it should be” we’ll tend to find solutions that accomplish our objectives.

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

A lot of that has to do with client satisfaction.  I could be selfish and say I wanted this or that… but at the end of the day, the course is not mine, it’s theirs.  I want members to be proud of their course and understand the value of what we did.  You can’t make everyone completely happy – that is nearly impossible. But when the project is complete and you hear players debating over which hole is their favorite, the most improved, or that they were pleasantly surprised at what they see now versus what was there before… that is a pretty good indicator that we were successful.  Some measure success through ratings and rankings – or even tournaments… Over time, this all seems increasingly less relevant to me and with those whom I work. 

What course would you love to get your hands on for a renovation project?

Surprisingly, I would most like to go back to some of my earlier efforts and make some adjustments.  When you build a new course, you don’t get EVERYTHING right the first time and there are a number of courses where I would really like to make some refinements, adjust some green surfaces, some bunkering, etc.…. Newport National in Rhode Island is one… another is Olde Stone in Kentucky.  The one I most wish I could retouch is Oitavos Dunes in Portugal.  It’s somehow ranked #68 in the world by Golf Magazine, but I think its potential is much greater (given it’s seaside, links-like characteristics) – or at least requires more work to be so deserving.  Donald Ross had the opportunity to tinker with Pinehurst #2 in this manner… and I just think it would be great to go back and build on something that is already really good and make it even better.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Certainly, I have been fortunate to travel the world, visit amazing places and meet so many dynamic people.  But more than anything, I gain the greatest satisfaction from the enjoyment of those who see and play my work.  I like to see them have fun and be challenged and I want them to appreciate beauty and subtlety.  And… it is always satisfying to truly improve something that was struggling or was in need of attention – then make it into something very special.  I guess, ultimately, it’s about people and their enjoyment of this fine game.  If I can have a hand in that, what could be better?OldElm9

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

Just one?!!  You know, this might be surprising to some… but I could play Bandon Preserve every day for the rest or my life and be totally contented.  It’s a 13-hole par-three course at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon… and probably the most beautiful and dynamic group of short holes I’ve ever seen (built by one of my good friends, Dave Zinkand).  Pure fun… maybe the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf.

If it has to be an 18-hole course… I guess I could narrow it to two: National Golf Links of America on Long Island and North Berwick in Scotland.  I love fast and firm links conditions, great natural beauty, tradition and… and the quirky design elements.  Those are two of the best I’ve seen and richly enjoyed playing.  The Old Course at St. Andrews lurks closely to those, as does Old Elm and Shoreacres in Chicago.  Then again, I wouldn’t be too disappointed to play every day again at my home course in Robinson, Illinois… Quail Creek. 

What are the top 3 new courses on your list to play next?

As far as NEW courses, I really want to get down to see the two courses at Streamsong in Florida.  While not really a new course anymore, I still need to go and see Sandhills in Nebraska.  I’m heading to England later this year and am looking forward to Sunningdale, Swinley Forest and a few others around Surrey and the southern coast.  Mountain Lake, Raynor’s course in Florida, and Sleepy Hollow are also among those I yearn to see.  My bucket list is pretty deep, frankly!

What is your take on the pro game, and what impact is it having on golf architecture?

I’m completely bored with professional golf.  I honestly don’t enjoy watching it.  I’m rarely impressed by the personalities and all the hoopla that surrounds them.  And really, it’s frustrating to see them play most of the golf courses they’re set up to play – they seem quite sterile.  The courses don’t tend to require much shot making – and they don’t challenge a player’s intellect as well as they should.  The PGA and USGA control much of that.  There are occasional exceptions, but tournaments these days are more like four-day putting contests.  I’ve often wondered what would be the result if they didn’t play so many long, narrow layouts and instead played much shorter, risk-reward courses where, through design, power is actually less of an advantage… instead, lots of options to consider.  Just look at the effect the 10th hole at Riviera has on those guys!

I’m also frustrated with the influence that the pro game (and television/commentary) has on the weekend or member player. I’m talking about course conditions, speed of play issues, green speeds and perfect lies in bunkers.  There is a perception perhaps exhibited by the pro golfer first (whether true or not), that everything in golf must be fair and perfect.  That makes for rather dull golf, in my opinion.  We experience the effects when those “viewers” come to the golf course.  It’s pretty eye opening to witness.

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

Actually doing or would like to be doing?!!  It seems I play less and less golf these days… and there’s less time for hobbies as well – I love to fish, but rare is that occasion too.  I guess that’s just where I am in life… my age, responsibilities, etc.  However, I am blessed with an incredibly supportive wife and three wonderful children.  So when I’m not on the road or working, I’m with them.  My son is into playing hockey and golf and is an active Boy Scout.  My girls love ice-skating and baton twirling.  The youngest might be getting an itch to play golf…we’ll see.  I’m trying not to push too hard!

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

I’m really very fortunate to be busy these days and am involved with a number of really great projects.  Just a few of them: now finishing a major restoration of Old Elm Club in Chicago… just an amazing place – designed by Harry Colt and built by Donald Ross – one of a kind.  Also working on some Golden Age Era renovations, including A Donald Ross design in Kenosha, WI, two Willie Park, Jr. courses, in Sylvania, OH and West Bloomfield, MI.  Also busy in Florida, working at Royal Poinciana Golf Club and Quail West in Naples, among others.

I’m also ever hopeful to do more 18-hole new courses.  The climate of golf development has changed so much over the last ten years and opportunities are really scarce – not what they used to be.  I just hope to keep doing good work and will earn the chance to partner with someone who appreciates my talents enough to bring me into a new-build situation.  I would really enjoy employing that level of creativity on a project again.  The way I figure, they can’t keep giving those jobs to the same group of architects forever!

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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2014 Geeked on Golf Tour

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

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

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

Without further ado, here are the photos.

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

Looks like 2015 is going to be a great year…




Copyright 2014 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf