Geeked on Golf


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LANGUAGE MATTERS

Getting back on track with use of the term ‘minimalism’, among others in golf course architecture

It is a common tendency to label and categorize the things and experiences in our lives. That is part of the way that we understand and make sense of the world around us, and it is useful to a point. When applied to works of art, an argument can be made that our impulse to categorize can be a hindering distraction. If a song kicks ass, does it matter if it is labeled hard rock or heavy metal? Of course not. Art is one of those realms in which we are best served by turning off the labeling function so that we can fully experience the work, giving it every opportunity to move us deeply. In reality, that’s easier said than done.

The negative impact of our internal machination is exacerbated when the labels are ill-defined or misunderstood. That is the point at which we currently find ourselves with the label “minimalist” in golf course architecture. The term has been overused and misused to such a great degree that it has lost meaning. If the only value that labeling has is to aid our understanding, then a meaningless label is worse than no label at all.

Perhaps you say, “Lighten up geek, it’s just golf.” Fair point, but I also believe that the parsing of language as it relates to architecture is a worthwhile pursuit. Words are the basis of understanding, which leads to appreciation, and ultimately more enjoyment on the course.

The 11th at Shinnecock Hills – Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Before returning to the language, allow me to give you two good reasons to dig deeply into golf architecture: First, studying the craft of talented artists is inherently interesting. I recognize that some golfers might not find architecture resonant at that level. They just want to play. Increasingly though, I hear from players who, after an initial exposure to GCA, find themselves happily headed down the rabbit hole. The second reason that I choose to study the subject is that it’s my mission to spend my scarce play time on courses that are interesting and fun. Knowing a little bit about how architects approach creating the playing fields helps me be more discerning in the courses I choose to play, as well as adding value to my experience of each course.

In that spirit, I propose a repurposing of the minimalist label into a framework that will hopefully foster understanding, appreciation, and joy. Minimal is one end of the spectrum of intervention, with maximal at the opposite end. Intervention refers to the degree to which the architect alters the land to create the course. To some extent, the land dictates how much intervention is required to make a great course. That is why labelling an architect “minimalist” is off base, especially where the best architects are concerned. Those designers are dynamic, responding to the land. Their courses may be minimalist or maximalist, or somewhere in between. It all depends on the site.

This dynamism is the essence of the current era of design that has been mislabelled the “minimalist movement”. Leading architects have certainly shifted away from defaulting to ego-driven maximal intervention to a more thoughtful, response relationship with the land. That shift does not mean, however, that they do not do what is necessary to ensure that their courses function and play properly.

The 9th at Sweetens Cove

Another helpful spectrum to understand is that of style. It has natural at one end and artificial at the other. Again, there are degrees on this spectrum, but a guiding principle is contained in the question, “How does a course fit into its surrounding environment?” The more the architect takes cues from the local landscape, the more natural the course. To add a layer of depth and detail to the style consideration, one can observe both the overall look of a course, as well as its features. Bunkers and green complexes are of particular importance in determining style. Does the architect seek to integrate features into the landscape, or purposely design and build them to stand out through contrast?

Using the intervention and style spectra, we can begin to compare and contrast courses in a manner that increases understanding. Two examples:

Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America are neighbors on Long Island, and although they are both packed with strategic brilliance, that is where the similarities end. In building Shinnecock, William Flynn laid the course on the land, which stands in contrast to the work of Macdonald and Raynor who were known for their willingness to move earth. From tee to green, the building of NGLA’s holes and features involved a much higher degree of intervention than the course next door. It should also come as no surprise that an architect known as “the nature faker” built features that are much more reflective of the natural landscape than the artistically bold, artificial greens and hazards of The National.

The 6th at National Golf Links – Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Minimalist references are often made to Sweetens Cove, which has always been a head-scratcher to me. The design team of Rob Collins and Tad King took a poor draining course, blew it up and fixed the drainage issue by reshaping every inch of it to drain to a central lake, which they created. The course was sand-capped and shaped into a wondrous variety of wild contours and features that captivate players. That process of intervention is the definition of maximal. As a comparison, the work of Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns at Winter Park 9 had a much lighter touch. They did not have the major infrastructural issues to fix and instead focused on rebuilding and gently infusing interest into the new course. Both transformations were profound, but one was maximal and the other was minimal. On the style front, these nine holers are also divergent. WP9 takes understated cues from its surroundings while Sweetens Cove is packed with artistic flourishes that give it a unique visual identity. Creative bunkering with wood sleepers, expansive sandy wastes, large stones and the outstanding greens are all fantastic, but they are also artificial.

The 5th at Winter Park – Photo Credit: Keith Rhebb

It is a good fodder for geeky discussion to compare other pairs like Sand Hills and Ballyneal, or Lawsonia and Whistling Straits. How was each course made? How does each course look? Taking into consideration these comparisons of intervention and style together, it’s possible to dive even deeper. I rated the course pairs above on a 1-10 scale for both intervention (0 = absolute minimal, 10 = absolute maximal) and style (0 = completely natural, 10 = entirely artificial) to create a scatterplot. As a visually oriented person, it is interesting to me to see how the courses compare and group into “categories” when I force myself to rate them.

Two important notes about this categorization. First, it has nothing to do with identifying what’s best or “right”. Golf course architecture is art, and therefore deeply intertwined with personal preference. It is pointless to tell anyone what they should love. Second, these categories have nothing to do with the quality. Across all golf courses, wherever they may land on the chart, there exists a wide range of quality. The quality of engineering and construction can be objectively judged by how well the course functions over time. Does it drain? Does it stand up to traffic? The quality of the design becomes a bit more subjective, but one simple criteria is inclusiveness. Can players of different skill levels play and enjoy the course? Beyond that, the water gets much murkier with regard to design quality.

Circling back to the purpose of this exercise, the aim of studying any artform is to deepen understanding, building a foundation for appreciation. Golfers are afforded a unique opportunity to directly experience the art of golf course architecture. By taking a deeper understanding onto the course, players are assured of greater enjoyment. Further, refined personal preferences allow us to more effectively pick courses we will love. That is why it’s worthwhile to explore and share our findings. At the end of the day, more people having more fun playing the game is the goal.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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TIMELESS IDEALS AT NATIONAL GOLF LINKS

An in-depth profile of C.B. Macdonald’s National Golf Links of America and the design ideals it embodies.

The National. Two words that, especially for devotees of classic architecture, hold so much meaning. These words are not just shorthand for the club named National Golf Links of America, they carry the weight of one man’s incredibly lofty aspiration. An aspiration that history has proven to have been fulfilled.

Charles Blair Macdonald set out to create the ideal links on Long Island after having spent years studying the great golf holes of the British Isles to ascertain what specifically made them great. With assistance from H.J. Whigham, Devereux Emmet, and most notably Seth Raynor, he then poured all of that greatness into one eighteen hole loop that opened for play in 1909.

Not long after its opening, Bernard Darwin summed up the feeling the course has evoked from so many subsequent visitors:

“How good a course it is, I hardly dare trust myself to say on a short acquaintance; there is too much to learn about it and the temptation to frantic enthusiasm is so great, but this much I can say: Those who think that it is the greatest golf course in the world may be right or wrong, but are certainly not to be accused of any intemperateness of judgment.”

Perhaps Darwin was unwilling to pronounce the course the greatest back then, but at this point time, he would likely agree with the assertion that the greatness of the National is timeless. The combination of strategic design, beauty and fun transcend the fads of any particular era. I tapped Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) and Simon Haines (@Hainesy76) for this collaboration – the historical perspective of Macdonald and his contemporaries is complemented by Jon’s terrific photos, which make abundantly clear how beautifully the course is currently presented by Superintendent Bill Salinetti and his team.

After a tour through all eighteen holes, I am confident that this contrast of past and present will prove the case that Charles Blair Macdonald’s ingenious approach to designing and building The National ensured that it would stand the test of time.

The Course

“Any golfer conversant with the golf courses abroad and the best we have in America – which are generally conceded to be Garden City, Myopia and the Chicago Golf Club – knows that in America as yet we have no first-class golf course comparable with the classic golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland. There is no reason why this should be so, and it is the object of this association to build such a course, making it as near National as possible, and further, with the object of promoting the best interests of the game of golf in the United States. With this end in view, it is proposed to buy two hundred or more acres of ground on Long Island, where the soil is best suited for the purpose of laying out a golf course…As to the building of the golf course, it is well known that certain holes on certain links abroad are famous as being the best considering their various lengths. It is the object of this association to model each of the eighteen holes after the most famous holes abroad, so that each hole would be representative and classic in itself.” – C.B. Macdonald, from the Founders Agreement

Imagine a band holding a press conference at which they announce that they are headed into the studio to record their next album. They have studied the greatest songs in the history of music and have settled on the best tracks. They are not simply going to do an album of covers though. They have distilled the essence of greatness from each song and will create new songs that not only embody the essence of the originals, but also work together as a cohesive album. The cohesiveness is born of the adaptation of the songs to suit the current musical landscape while simultaneously harmonizing with each other. If the media and fans were even able to grasp such a plan, they would not likely believe that it would be possible to pull off. Essentially, that was exactly what C.B. Macdonald told prospective Founding Members of National Golf Links of America he would do, and then he delivered.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions


Drawing inspiration from his beloved links, Macdonald routed NGLA in a traditional out and back fashion. He found and used the best features of the land to deliver both beauty and variety. That variety is reflected in the sequence of holes – distance, direction, difficulty…consecutive holes are never repetitive. There is interest throughout the entire routing, but there is also a palpable slow build. It starts on the first tee with views of the 18th green, Peconic Bay, the clubhouse and the windmill. Players are then taken on a thrill ride over the Sahara and Alps hills with views of Bulls Head Bay, naturally drawing their attention to the all-world Redan 4th. The course then runs out on gentler land across the road, to the turn and back across the road. The first glimpse of the windmill on the hill comes on the 11th green, signaling the start of the adventure home. That iconic landmark grows bigger with every hole completed until players reach the cripplingly gorgeous home stretch, with the Eden and Cape hard against Bulls Head, the trek up and over the 16th fairway to the Punchbowl, and then the view from the 17th tee, which is as pretty as any in golf. Finally and sadly, the climb from the gates up the 18th fairway, with the Jarvis Hunt clubhouse on the left and the wide expanse of Peconic Bay to the right, the breeze coming in off the water and if timed just right, the sun going down behind the sand. It is no wonder that a routing so clearly designed to conjure magic bewitches those fortunate enough to make the journey.

Course map of NGLA – Credit: Keith Cutten

HOLE #1 “Valley” – 326 yards – par 4


From the first tee with the Jarvis Hunt clubhouse left of the fairway

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 a string of bunkers laid out short of the fairway. The carry to the left is significantly farther than it appears from the tee. While the aggressive line 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 deep bunkers, while those right will encounter a series of random humps and mounds. The first green is rife with undulations and ridges, placing added importance on an accurate approach. Simply put, this is one of the best openers in golf.

HOLE #2 “Sahara” – 302 yards – par 4


From the tee on the 2nd, with the imposing sandy waste, and pre-windmill water tower

“The short player who cannot carry even 150 yards must avoid the bunker altogether by aiming to the right. He has a perfectly open fair green there, but he cannot reach the brow of the hill and he is left with a blind and extremely difficult second. The principle of the hole is to give the player on the tee a great number of alternatives according to his strength and courage. If he plays for the green and succeeds he has the advantage of at least one stroke over the opponent who takes the shorter carry to the right, and probably more than one stroke over the player who avoids the carry altogether. But if he fails, he may easily take a five or six and lose to the short player who goes around. The Sahara at the National is a better hole than the Sahara at Sandwich, first because the edge of the main bunker is more clearly defined, and secondly because the second shot for the player who makes for safety is far more difficult…At the National the second shot is always difficult unless the big carry is made; in fact, a fairly good tee-shot played only a little to the right is apt to run down to the bottom of the hollow, and result in too difficult a second…In the main the National Sahara is one of the most inspiring holes in golf; the carry is stupendous and awe-inspiring, and there is great reward for the perfect shot; but there are plenty of alternatives, and for those who cannot go for the flag there are infinite possibilities in the approach. Fifteen years ago a 270-yard hole was considered a very poot affair; with the rubber-cored ball and natural features like those of the Sahara properly taken advantage of it is perhaps the finest hole in golf.” – C.B. Macdonald and H.J. Whigham, Golf Illustrated, 1914

HOLE #3 “Alps” – 473 yards – par 4


The Alps green, with its tricky internal contours

“A long tee-shot played directly on the flag or anywhere to the left of the flag leaves the ball at the foot of the large hill called the Alps, and then the second shot is extremely difficult; for the ball must be raised abruptly and must still have a very long flight. The best line is to the right where the hill slopes down to the level and where the ball will get a longer roll and the second shot is much easier. But to get to the right the long carry must be taken off the tee, and when the tee is back the extreme carry is nearly 190 yards. Therefore, although the Prestwick tee-shot has to be placed rather more exactly, the National tee-shot is more spectacular. And at the National the second is more difficult on account of the extra length and the higher position of the green. In other words, the third hole at the National is an improved Alps, and as a test of golf it is beyond reproach. It is impossible to reach the green in two unless the tee-shot and the second are real big golfing strokes, hit in the middle of the club, and that can be said of very few holes with a maximum distance of only 413 yards.” – C.B. Macdonald and H.J. Whigham, Golf Illustrated, 1914

HOLE #4 “Redan” – 194 yards – par 3


A crowd watches a match on the Redan green

“Take a narrow tableland, tilt it a little from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally, and you have the Redan…The principle of the Redan can be used wherever a long narrow tableland can be found or made. Curiously enough the Redan existed at the National long before the links was thought of. It is a perfectly natural hole. The essential part, the tilted tableland was almost exactly like the North Berwick original. All that had to be done was to dig the bunker in the face, and place the tee properly. The National Redan is rather more difficult than the North Berwick hole, because the bunker at the back of the green is much deeper and more severe. Some people think the hole is too difficult altogether. But anyone who gets a legitimate three there, especially in a medal round, is sure to say that it is the finest short hole in the world. There is no compromise about it. Whichever of the various methods of attack is chosen, the stroke must be bold, cleanly hit and deadly accurate. At the ordinary hole of 180 yards it is a very bad shot that does not stay on the green. At the Redan it takes an exceedingly good shot to stay anywhere on the green; and to get a putt for a two is something to brag about for a week…In reality there are only about four or five kinds of good holes in golf. The local scenery supplies the variety. Here is one of the four or five perfect kinds. The principle of the Redan cannot be improved upon for a hole of 180 yards.” – C.B. Macdonald and H.J. Whigham, Golf Illustrated, 1914

HOLE #5 “Hog’s Back” – 474 yards – par 4

The third of three difficult holes, the 5th 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 a unique trench bunker that bisects the fairway. 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. Two bunkers left of the green strongly suggest that the player use the sloping right-to-left fairway to access the green.

HOLE #6 “Short” – 123 yards – par 3


The original Short 6th, with Royal West Norfolk inspired sleepers fronting the green

The diminutive sixth might be the shortest hole at National, but with one of the largest and wildest greens on the property, it is as fun as it is maddening. From the tee, the greens for Sebonac and Eden are visible to the right. To say this putting surface on this Short template is heavily contoured is to understate the matter substantially. The large mound in the center sheds balls in all directions, as does the larger green itself. Any ball that fails to find (or hold) the green is likely to end up in a bunker – some more penal than others.

HOLE #7 “St. Andrews” – 505 yards – par 5

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, which is largely invisible from the tee, will catch any shots that stray that way. The National is replete with interesting and unique terrain features, like the slash of a bunker and fronting mound. 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 and large green, adding 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. 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 “Bottle” – 407 yards – par 4

“A few such bunkers are excellent, diagonal or en echelon. Variety is what one wants in a hole properly laid out. Long carries should not be compulsory, but if taken, the player should have a distinct advantage. Where there are bunkers at varying distances from the tee, the player has the option of going around or over according to his judgment. Bear in mind that a course must be absorbing and interesting, and not built for crack players only.” – C.B. Macdonald, Scotland’s Gift: Golf

Another template that has been largely lost with time, Macdonald’s “Bottle” hole presents the options while playing over Shrubland Road. 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 Bottle bunkers that bisect the 8th 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, and missing right is particularly penal.

HOLE #9 “Long” – 534 yards – par 5

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. Certain pins will force the player to challenge the right bunkers and the side slope of the green, which will shed balls up to 25 yards away.

HOLE #10 “Shinnecock” – 445 yards – par 4

The 10th at National, drawing its name from its neighbor, 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. Shinnecock is punctuated by a wonderful green complex, to be sure.

HOLE #11 “Plateau” – 430 yards – par 4

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, with bold front left and back right sections set at an angle and divided by a deep trough. 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. The large bunker behind guards the lower portion of the green and will catch balls that skirt through the middle of the plateaus.

HOLE #12 “Sebonac” – 459 yards – par 4

This two-shotter calls for a tee shot to an ample but angled fairway guarded by deep bunkers down the left side. Approach shots confront a small, slightly elevated green fraught with hazards on all sides. The lack of any background makes gauging distance difficult to a green that runs hard away to the right and rear.

HOLE #13 “Eden” – 166 yards – par 3

The third of the National’s three one-shot holes, Macdonald’s homage to the original at The Old Course at St. Andrews 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 namesake Eden bunker wrapping behind the green, which 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 “Cape” – 391 yards – par 4


The nerve-racking tee shot on the Cape 14th

“The fourteenth hole at the National Golf Links is called the Cape Hole, because the green extends out into the sea with which it is surrounded upon three sides. It is today one of the most individual holes in existence and there is probably not another one like it anywhere. In a straight line to the green over the water the distance is 296 yards. The direction of play however is to the left, over a neck of the sea and then over a sharp face of rising ground. The shortest way over the water, a carry of 120 yards, is the longest way to the hole, whereas the shortest way to the hole is to the right, a carry of 150 yards. This carry, may not in yards appear very formidable, but the sea hugging closely to the right of the fairgreen, extends such a compelling invitation to a slice, that as a moral hazard it has proven very disastrous to the golfer. One who has been accustomed to the ordinary hazard placed to penalize a slice can have no conception of the effect which this limitless expanse of water has; and especially so because it stands mercilessly guarding the straightest line to the hole. The ordinary echelon bunker asks no more that to be carried, but here, not only a good carry is demanded, but the most precise direction. The temptation to risk it is very great, for the line to the middle of the fairgreen at a distance of 210 yards, is but a shade to the left of this longest carry, and as at this point the fairgreen is but forty-seven yards in width, with a series of four large sand traps to catch a pull, the risk is mandatory upon the long driver. If the shot is successful, the player is left with a niblick pitch over a pebbly beach onto a flat green which from his position is one hundred feet in width. An over approach is disastrous, consequently, a far four to this hole, which by land is but a little over 300 yards, is very satisfying.” – C.B. Macdonald and H.J. Whigham, Golf Illustrated, 1914

HOLE #15 “Narrows” – 419 yards – par 4

“Composite first shot of the 14th or Perfection at North Berwick, with green and bunker guards like the 15th at Muirfield.” – C.B. Macdonald in Outing, 1906

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. Macdonald’s strategic bunkering including one in the middle of the fairway some 60 yards short of the green, which is offset slightly to the left and is well guarded. This is the most heavily bunkered hole at National. The green slopes substantially from back to front, aiding with approaches but making putting difficult. 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 look only adds to the challenge.

HOLE #16 “Punchbowl” – 476 yards – par 4


A gallery follows a match up the fairway on the 16th

An Alps/Punchbowl – this surely must be heaven. The 16th 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 a deep hollow, similar to the feature on the second hole.  While all shots into the sixteenth green are blind and uphill, an approach from the bottom of the hollow is doubly so. It also shares a Sahara-like bunker feature with the second hole, visible from short of the green. The putting surface 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 in random directions. 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 “Peconic” – 370 yards – par 4


From the tee, the rugged Leven 17th rolling downhill

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

Indeed. The penultimate hole at NGLA is a gorgeous in every respect, but it is also a world class short par-4 Leven template. 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 an 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 can’t be found elsewhere.

HOLE #18 “Home” – 501 yards – par 5

“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. While headed up the home fairway, 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. Cresting the hill and putting out, the first time player senses that the game will never be quite the same for them again.

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

Charles Blair Macdonald had panache, but he was also a man of purpose. These two sides of his personality are reflected in the design of National Golf Links. Looking at the aerial and ground photographs, one can’t help but notice that there is quite a bit going on. The experience of playing the course is similar. So much to see and take in. The wealth of artistic features should not be mistaken for mindless clutter though. Every mound and bunker has a purpose, every contour a use. Taken together, these features combine to form holes that have asked players complex questions for more than a century. The answers do not come easily. Repeat play and careful study are required of those whose aim is to discover all of NGLA’s secrets.

Macdonald was not an architect for hire at National Golf Links. This was his club. He was deeply invested in its success financially, intellectually and emotionally. He was not just building the next in a long line of golf courses. He was creating a masterwork. That devotion showed in the product of his work in Darwin’s day, and its timelessness endures.

For those wishing to dive even deeper into the history of the club, more knowledgeable men have already covered that ground. I cannot recommend highly enough George Bahto’s The Evangelist of Golf: The Story of Charles Blair Macdonald, Chris Millard’s NGLA club history book, and Macdonald’s own Scotland’s Gift: Golf.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LinksGems Birthday Tribute to C.B. Macdonald

A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO CHARLES BLAIR MACDONALD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From golfers everywhere, thanks.

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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National Golf Links of America Tour by Jon Cavalier

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Peconic

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.

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Sunrise over the Home hole

I hope you enjoy the tour.

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA

“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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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…and Bottle to the right.

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

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

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

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And ahead, the famous windmill first comes into view.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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The East Face

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National’s fountain

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Impeccable detail

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

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The Windmill

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Nature

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

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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).

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THE GOLF COURSE

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Missing left is no picnic …

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… 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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Putting from above the hole is a supreme challenge.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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Quite simply …

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… avoid at all costs.

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

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

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An exceptional three-shot hole in every respect.

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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.

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

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

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… and they play bigger than they look.

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

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

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The view from behind the classic Bottle hole.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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The view back toward the ninth tee.

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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.

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

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

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… more challenging than it first appears.

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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.

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The magnificently routed tenth at National.

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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 …

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… as gathering bunkers collect shots hit in this area.

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

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

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Macdonald’s exceptional Double Plateau green speaks for itself.

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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.

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

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

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

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… guarded by deep bunkers down the lefthand side.

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

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The lack of any background makes gauging distance difficult.

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The green runs hard away to the right and rear.

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

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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.

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

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… though the Strath bunker is particularly menacing.

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

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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.

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

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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 …

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

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The gorgeous Cape …

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… a hole as challenging as it is scenic.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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An incomparable hole.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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One of the many standout holes at the National.

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Hole 18 – 502/483yds – Par 5 – “Home”

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

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

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

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

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

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Long does not work well here.

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

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The view looking back down the 18th hole.

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CONCLUSION

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.

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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.

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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.

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Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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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 GolfClubAtlas.com 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).


JON’S NEWEST TOUR – BAYONNE GOLF CLUB

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.  See the tour here…


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BALLYHACK

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…

BANDON PRESERVE

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…

BANDON TRAILS

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…

BOSTON GOLF CLUB

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…

EASTWARD HO!

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…

FISHERS ISLAND CLUB

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…

GARDEN CITY GOLF CLUB

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 VIEW CLUB

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…

MAIDSTONE CLUB

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…

MYOPIA HUNT CLUB

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…

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA

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…

OLD MACDONALD

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…

OLD SANDWICH

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…

OLD TOWN CLUB

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

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…

SHINNECOCK HILLS 

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…

SHOREACRES

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 COUNTRY CLUB

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…

SOMERSET HILLS COUNTRY CLUB

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 CLUB

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…


MORE FROM JON CAVALIER

BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO C.B. 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.”  Read more…

WALKER CUP COURSE PREVIEW – LACC

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…

2016 YEAR IN REVIEW

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…

TOP 10 NEW COURSES OF 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).  Read more…