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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


Pacific Dunes Course Tour by Jon Cavalier


Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon, OR – Tom Doak


Pacific Dunes opened in 2001 and immediately skyrocketed up the rankings lists.  It currently holds the title of best overall public course per Golf Magazine, second only to Pebble Beach per Golf Digest, and is considered by Golfweek Magazine to be the best public course built since 1960 (trailing only Sand Hills overall).


Pacific Dunes occupies the northernmost section of the coastal property at Bandon.  Several of its holes sit hard against the cliffs overlooking the beach.  Most of the holes that sit further inland still provide ocean views.  And as with all the courses at Bandon, the isolation of the property is striking – there are no houses in view, no roads to be seen, and other than the clubhouse and the course itself, not an inkling of anything man-made to distract from the golf.


In short, 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.  As with most Doak courses, Pacific Dunes feels very natural – the course meanders its way through dunes and gorse, making its way out to the ocean and the bluffs and back inland.  The course looks and feels like it was simply laid down over the wonderful existing terrain.


Hole 1 – 304 yards (all yardages taken from the green tees) – Par 4

Pacific Dunes opens with a short two-shotter to an inviting cupped fairway.  A large sandy mound sits waiting to the right to intimidate slicers of the golf ball, but any reasonably struck tee shot should leave only a wedge into the first green.


The first green sits slightly below grade and is protected by mounds in front and sandy areas and bunkering to the sides and rear.  While most players will have a short shot into this green, the putting surface is small and significantly sloped, and approaches will often be played from an unlevel lie.


As is frequently the case at Bandon, approach shots can be played via the ground — here at the first, the fairway slopes down and bleeds seamlessly into the green.


Hole 2 – 335 yards – Par 4

The ocean first comes into view on the par-4 second at Pacific Dunes.  This is a great strategic driving hole – the wider, safer tee shot is up the right side, but this leaves a more difficult angle into the green over a dune and some bunkering.  Tee shots that successfully take on the left and middle bunkers will have an open approach to the green.


This view from the right of the fairway shows the dune and bunker that must be carried on an approach from this side.


The second green, with the elevated 6th green behind.


This reverse view shows the undulation of the second, as well as the expansive apron surrounding the green.  As with many Doak courses, interesting pin positions are prevalent.


Hole 3 – 476 yards – Par 5

Standing on the third tee at Pacific Dunes is where the beauty of the course really starts to hit the player, and threatens to overwhelm.  The ocean comes into full view to the player’s left, with the dunescape ahead and parts of Old Macdonald to the right.  A spectacular hole, made more so by the flowering gorse.


A wide par-5 with many possible routes off the tee, the third is pocked with pot bunkers throughout its length.  As this is not a par 5 of extreme length, the smart play is to focus on missing the bunkers off the tee and, if laying up, on the second.


This view from a centerline bunker shows the elevated green, perched perfectly between two large dunes.


The approach is open to the left of the green, but very closed from the right.


Anything long of this green is in trouble, as it will end up deep in a back bunker, buried in long rough on a mound or, if unlucky, rolling a dozen yards or so down the slope behind the green.  A rather intimidating hole for a short par-5 . . .


. . . and yet, so pretty.  What a green site!


Hole 4 – 449 yards – Par 4

A long par-4 which often plays downwind, the fourth is one of several holes which could vie for the title of “signature” at Pacific Dunes.  The safe play is up the left, but the fairway bunkering must be avoided.  The cliffs eat into the fairway not once . . .


. . . but twice on this gorgeous par-4.  The closer one plays to the cliffs, the better the angle into the green.


The cant of the green from left to right allows for approaches to use the terrain, but balls moving left to right and riding the prevailing wind carry a real risk of running through the green and into oblivion.


The internal contours within the fourth green make two putting after an indifferent approach quite challenging.


A gorgeous hole.


Hole 5 – 181 yards – Par 3

The first of five one-shotter holes at Pacific Dunes, but the only par-3 on the front nine, the fifth hole has elements of a reverse redan, as shots up the left side will kick onto the putting surface.  But the green is multi-tiered and only front pins can be accessed in that manner.


Though the fifth is the second longest par-3 on the course, the prevailing wind is generally helping on this hole, which shortens it considerably.


The green is deep but relatively narrow.  Again, a beautiful site for a green complex.  The sixth hole at Bandon Dunes is in the background.


Hole 6 – 288 yards – Par 4

A brilliant short par-4, this sub-300 yarder has teeth for the unthinking golfer.  The fairway is massive – nearly 90 yards wide at its maximum.  Anything from 40 yards left of the pin to 20 yards right and long of the right fairway bunker is in play.


Anything left will have a blind shot over the massive front left bunker to the shallowest part of the green.


The best play off the tee is to challenge the right side bunker and leave an approach from as far to the right as reasonably possible.  From this angle, the player’s approach is down the heart of the shallow green.


Any approach shot or chip that reaches the darker grass at the bottom of this photo will continue to roll some 20 yards down and away from the green, leaving an extremely difficult chip back up the hill to the narrow green.


Anything from a birdie to a triple bogey is reasonably in play.


Hole 7 – 436 yards – Par 4

A long but typically downwind par-4, the seventh hole plays to a generous fairway.


The challenge at 7 comes from the long shot into the green.  Ringed by areas of rough, natural grass, mounds and bunkers, this approach demands precision.


Playing down the left side into the green shortens the carry over the natural areas and bunkering, but the mounding can send even well aimed approaches offline.


The seventh is the opposite of the sixth in many ways, including the green, which is one of the largest and most contoured on the course.


Hole 8 – 369 yards – Par 4

The eighth runs in the opposite direction of the seventh and is typically upwind.  Once again, the golfer has the luxury of hitting to a wide fairway, but once again, finding the proper angle of approach is critical to scoring well on this hole.


A small, deep bunker guards the front of this green, and depending on the day’s pin, the approach may be more favorable from the left or the right.  Today’s pin is virtually impossible to attack from the right side of the fairway.


The shallow green slopes significantly from high right to low left.


One of the more difficult greens at Pacific Dunes to chip to or putt from distance on.


Hole 9 – 379 yards – Par 4

The ninth plays to one of two different greens – the upper (right) or lower (left).  Though the fairway is extremely wide, the player’s aim might differ by as much as 50 yards depending on the green to which he is playing.  Longer hitters playing to the lower left green can challenge the bunkering.


Though the ninth plays to identical yardages regardless of which green is in play, the lower left green plays much shorter.


The approach to the beautiful lower green, with Bandon Dunes in the background.


The undulating ninth fairway bleeds directly into the contoured lower ninth green, allowing for low, running shots to be played.


The approach to the skylined upper green.


Interestingly, the green to which the golfer plays on the ninth also dictates the tee from which the golfer plays the tenth.  Golfers will likely debate which is the “better” of the two greens and corresponding tees (I preferred the lower ninth green / upper tenth tee), but each route is exceptionally fun.


Hole 10 – 163 yards – Par 3

Spectacular.  As this view from the upper tee illustrates, the tenth at Pacific Dunes is unquestionably one of the most beautiful one shot holes in the country . . .


. . though the view from the lower tee is none too shabby.


In addition to the setting and the large dune to the right of the green, two standout unique features at the tenth green bear mentioning.  The first is the large internal knob in the front left quadrant of the green, which provides for several outstanding pin positions and adds a required degree of precision to the approach.  The second is the beautiful left side bunker – part of which is an “inverted” mound of sand — which resembles a crashing wave.


This view from behind the tenth green shows the placement of the prominent knob within the green.


Hole 11 – 131 yards – Par 3

The second of two consecutive par three holes to open the back nine, the short eleventh plays hard up against the cliffs to a small, well-bunkered green.


A large mound in the right rear of the green provides a backstop that will return balls to the middle of the green.




Hole 12 – 507 yards – Par 5

The twelfth plays northward between the third and fourth holes, and back toward the large dunes that housed the third green.  Like the third hole, this three shotter places a premium on the angle of approach – right is favored.


The wide fairway rolls beautifully into the twelfth green, which sits flush against a large dune.


Any approach coming in from the left side of the fairway must deal with the large slope fronting the left side of the green, which can easily kick balls to the back of and through the green.


The view back up the twelfth hole.


Hole 13 – 390 yards – Par 4

One of the most beautiful holes on the property, and one of the best, the thirteenth hole plays northward along the cliffs to a slightly elevated green set at the base of a massive dune.


As seen here, the closer the player’s tee shot hugs the cliffs, the better the angle of approach to the elevated green.  Note that shots falling short will roll back down the false front some 20-30 feet.


This view up the right shows the more difficult angle of approach.


The green itself, while large, provides little respite, as its internal contours make two putting a challenge.


An incomparable setting for golf.


Hole 14 – 128 yards – Par 3

The shortest hole on the course, the fourteenth is entirely exposed to the full brunt of the wind.


Sitting on top of the dunes, the fourteenth green falls away on all sides, making a small green play even smaller and requiring a difficult chip shot after an errant approach.


The reverse view of the fourteenth, with the tee and the thirteenth green behind.


Hole 15 – 504 yards – Par 5

With the prevailing wind behind, this green can be reached in two with two solid shots by most golfers.


Care should be taken to avoid the fairway bunkers, which are penal.


As does the tenth hole, the fifteenth incorporates a large knob into the green, this time front right.  A unique and fun feature found twice at Pacific Dunes.


Hole 16 – 338 yards – Par 4

One of your author’s favorite inland holes at Bandon Dunes Resort, the sixteenth is a short two-shot hole which doglegs gently right.


An overly aggressive tee shot that attempts to challenge too much of the dogleg will find itself far below the green to the right.  Likewise, any shot missing the green short or right will run down to the bottom of the steep greenside slope.


The one-of-a-kind sixteenth fairway.  Incredible.  Good luck finding a level lie in there.


A beautiful short par 4 by the modern master.


Hole 17 – 189 yards – Par 3

The longest one-shot hole at Pacific Dunes, the seventeenth has many elements of a traditional redan (though it lacks the rear bunkering).  The hole plays out over a large chasm and to a green benched into a gorse-covered hill.  With the gorse in full bloom, the beauty of the seventeenth rivals even the seaside par-3s at Pacific Dunes.


The proper play is to aim short right of the green and use the kick slope to bounce the ball on to the large putting surface.  Note that shots taking the direct line at the pin must contend not only with the extremely deep front bunkering, but also risk rolling through the green and into the gorse.


Hole 18 – 575 yards – Par 5

Following the longest par 3 on the course comes the longest hole on the course.  The tee shot plays through a valley up to a rise next to a deep left fairway bunker.


The long final hole provides plenty of opportunity to get into trouble, but also ample room to maneuver the ball with well-struck shots.  The fairway is wide, but the bunkers are brutal if found.


The beautiful and challenging final green at Pacific Dunes.


A look back at the player’s final triumph.


Pacific Dunes is a striking example of what modern golf can be.  Granted, it has its advantages, which include an incomparable setting and a top-shelf architect.  But the principles to be gleaned from Pacific Dunes can be used at other courses.  Wide fairways.  No trees.  No internal water hazards.  Short rough.  An emphasis on angles of play.  Fun greens running at reasonable speed.  Firm and fast conditions.  Together, these things make a round of golf fun.

The Patio at Pacific Dunes, overlooking the Punchbowl – a perfect place to reflect on a round.





Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


An Evening with Jim Urbina

JimandMeAs a member of, I was fortunate to be able to attend a dinner with my fellow GCA geeks this week at which Jim Urbina gave an insightful talk that he themed, The Evolution of a Golf Course.  From his original collaborations with Tom Doak on courses such as Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald and Sebonack, to his restorations of classics such as Pasatiempo and Valley Club of Montecito, Jim continues to make his mark and connect us to the soul of the game.

There were a few nuggets that Jim shared that I found particularly interesting – I happily pass them along to you.

“Pete Dye never looked at plans.”

Jim’s first job in the business was working for Pete Dye.  His first day was spent digging a drainage ditch.  He quit after that first day.  An offer from Mr. Dye to operate a bulldozer if he came back for a second day worked, and the rest is history.  Jim was brought up in the school of GCA that considers designing a course and building it to be inseparable aspects of one, unified job.  He learned his craft by studying great courses, and then coming back to his projects to apply those learnings while walking the land and digging in the dirt.  The pride and joy of creation is evident in the way that Jim talks about projects like Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald.


“Evolution of the course starts from the day you plant the seed.”

Having worked on many restorations of Golden Age golf courses, Jim has seen how far some of those courses have strayed from the original designers’ intent.  Beyond the painstaking work of returning these courses to their original greatness, Jim shared an interesting insight about how courses evolve over time.  That evolution doesn’t happen only because of misguided redesigns or decisions by Greens Committees.  Evolution is happening every day on a golf course because it is a living, breathing thing.  He reminded us, “You become a part of the golf course.”  Blast sand out of a bunker, you are subtly changing the contours of the green.  Take a divot and repair it in the fairway, you are changing that fairway forever.  Walk a well worn path, from a green to the next tee, you are participating in the evolution of the course.

Even with a restoration, the course will never be quite the same as it was on the first day it opened.  Our job as stewards of our courses is to guard the spirit of the design while allowing the evolution to happen as it will.  Courses evolve, whether we like it or not.


“There are seasons of golf. You shouldn’t try and make every season the same season.”

Jim fielded a question about expectations for course conditioning, specifically in the spring.  His answer went in a different direction than the questioner had anticipated.  He pointed out that the turf, soil, and sand of a golf course go naturally through the changes of the seasons.  The course looks different, and it plays differently during those seasons if we leave it alone.  We as golfers often ask our Superintendents to make the golf course look and play the same throughout the year, and this is something that Jim has never understood.  From his perspective, why not enjoy the changing of the seasons and the variety that those seasons add to your golf course, especially in temperate climates?  Well, when you put it that way…

His answer to this question got to the larger issue of player expectations, and how many of those expectations are out of whack.  Firmess, green speeds, rough height…these are debates that are ongoing and are worthy of their own pages.  I believe Jim would say, as a rule, the more natural a course can be maintained, the better.  When in doubt, go with what Nature would do.


Beyond being incredibly gracious, Jim’s experience around the globe and over the decades has clearly resulted in wisdom about this game we love.  The years and the miles have not dampened his enthusiasm, however.  As he told us, “Everything I do is about passion.”  Passion for the work of creation, passion to learn, and passion to continue spreading his gospel of what the game is all about.  This quote from his website sums it up: “Golf is supposed to be fun, spread the word.”

For more from Jim Urbina:



Early impressions from a new member at Northern Michigan’s modern gem, The Kingsley Club

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

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

The original intent of this post was to give a course tour.  Between the review and the Club’s website, that tour is thoroughly covered.  No need to redo what has already been well done. Instead, this post is about why Kingsley has touched me so deeply.  Why I believe that it embodies everything that is great about golf.

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


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

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

These specifics top the list of what makes Kingsley interesting:

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


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

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

Kingsley puts its variety on display:

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


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

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

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

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

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf