Geeked on Golf

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


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Musings on Greatness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


108 in 48ers

SAND HILLS – Mullen, NE

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

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

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

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PRAIRIE DUNES – Hutchinson, KS

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

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA – Southampton, NY

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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

KINGSLEY CLUB – Kingsley, MI

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

SHOREACRES – Lake Bluff, IL

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

LAWSONIA LINKS – Green Lake, WI

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

MAIDSTONE CLUB – East Hampton, NY

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

KITTANSETT CLUB –  Marion, MA

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

BALLYNEAL – Holyoke, CO

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

OLD ELM CLUB – Highland Park, IL

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

SWEETENS COVE – South Pittsburg, TN

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

SAND HOLLOW – Hurricane, UT

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

DUNES CLUB – New Buffalo, MI

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

OLD MACDONALD – Bandon, OR

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Photo by Jon Cavalier

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


MORE GEEKED ON GOLF MUSINGS:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Shoreacres Tour by Jon Cavalier

SHOREACRES – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Lake Bluff, IL – Seth Raynor, 1916

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The First at Shoreacres

If you’ve read my previous tours or follow me on Twitter or Instagram (shameless plug: @linksgems), you know that I am a fan of the designs of Charles Blair Macdonald and his protégé, Seth Raynor.  I’ve played several dozen “MacRaynor” designs, as they are affectionately known by golf nerds like myself, and I always enjoy seeing how these brilliant architects adapted and modified their template holes to the terrain at hand.  Unfortunately, over time, some of these courses have lost a great deal of the architect’s original design intent.  Often, this is due to an inability or an unwillingness of the club to maintain the firm and fast conditions necessary to reveal the brilliance of the course’s features, the shrinking of playing corridors and greens as trees grow over time, putting surfaces accrete with sand, or a failure by the membership to appreciate the treasure over which they have temporary custody.

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The ground movement at Shoreacres

And then there are places like Shoreacres.  Set just off the western shore of Lake Michigan, 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 play exactly as Raynor intended, and brings out all of the best features that Macdonald and Raynor viewed as essential to the game.  If there was a competition among golf course maintenance professionals, Superintendent Brian Palmer and his staff would be this year’s Seth Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

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The Road Hole 10th

SHOREACRES

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Upon entering the club’s property, golfers are treated to a long, winding entrance road similar to (though not nearly as long as) that of another Raynor gem – Yeamans Hall.  While driving in, a good portion of the course is visible, including the 3rd, 2nd and 1st holes, heightening expectations for what is sure to be a special round of golf.

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The Golf Shop

The facilities at Shoreacres can all be described as “tastefully understated.”  The golf shop is an unobtrusive one-story building that sits mere feet from the 1st and 10th tees and the 9th and 18th greens.

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The Clubhouse

The clubhouse proper sits east of the golf shop and along the high banks of Lake Michigan.  Neither building looms so large as to distract from the natural beauty of the golf course.

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The Clubhouse patio

After a round of golf, a drink or a meal on the patio at Shoreacres is as good as it gets.

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A beautiful setting

The Golf Course

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As a Seth Raynor design, the course is home to many of the famed Macdonald/Raynor templates, including a Redan, a Biarritz, an Eden, a Short, a Leven, a wonderful Road Hole, and many others.  The manner in which Raynor adapted these template holes to the rolling ground at Shoreacres is nothing short of brilliant.

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But perhaps Raynor’s most brilliant decision in building Shoreacres was in deciding what not to do.  As seen in the above overhead map, he chose to build the course several hundred yards inland from the lakeshore, rather than attempting to cram the course on to inferior land closer to the water so that he might capitalize on the more desirable views.  By doing so, Raynor built the course on the best possible land with the best possible features – how many of today’s architects would have the restraint to forego the temptation of sacrificing the quality of the golf for views of the water?

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The course itself measures 6,521 yards from the back tees and plays to a par of 71.  Though arguably short in comparison to the ridiculous yardages of today’s modern tournament courses, Shoreacres will give most players all the challenge they’ll ever hope for.

 

Hole 1 – 516 yards – Par 5

As Raynor often did, he opens with a gentleman’s handshake in the form of a wide, gentle par-5 reachable in two shots by longer hitters, allowing the first shot of the day to be hit without undue pressure.

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On his way to the green, the golfer encounters his first Raynor-template feature of the day in the form of a Hell’s Half Acre-style fairway bunker complex stretching completely across the fairway and backed by grassy mounds.  Though shallow, this bunker is to be avoided.

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The green is open across the front, allowing players attempting to hit the green in two shots (or on their approach in three) to run the ball on to the putting surface. The green itself is sloped significantly from back to front and has substantial internal contour.

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Par is a good score on this straightforward opening hole, one of the easiest on the course.

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Hole 2 – 346 yards – Par 4

This “Cape” style par-4 is a testament to the longevity of the template concepts and to Raynor’s genius in finding non-traditional spots to site these holes.  This particular Cape calls for a tee shot to a fairway running diagonally from left to right which must carry trouble in the form of a ravine and creek down the left.

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The farther left the player aims, the shorter the hole, but the higher the danger – a classic Raynor risk/reward scenario.

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The green is largely open in front, allowing for all manner of shots to the wide variety of pins possible on this large putting surface.

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But the same creek that confronts golfers off the tee now wraps completely around this green, and there are no bunkers or high grass here to save a meekly struck ball from rolling off the surface.

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The putting surface is also rife with undulation.  A beautiful example of a hole that, well-played, presents an opportunity for birdie, but which can also wreck the card of an overly ambitious golfer early in his round.

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Hole 3 – 309 yards – Par 4

A wonderful example of the seldom seen “Leven” template, the third plays to a wide fairway into which bunkers cut short right and longer left.  This hole is reachable for longer players in a favorable wind.

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The right side of this green is open, but the left is blocked and obscured by a large mound immediately short of the green, which also hides the exact pin location, the severe slope of the green, and the bunker left of greenside.

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This green slopes substantially from back to front, and is defended by bunkering on three sides.

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Putting from above the hole to a front pin or playing from the rear bunker can be quite terrifying.

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A beautiful example of a template rarely seen in original form.

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Hole 4 – 372 yards – Par 4

One of the most beautiful holes at Shoreacres, the fourth calls for another tee shot over a ravine to an amoeba-shaped fairway which falls off to the right.  Note the deer providing an audience.

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Once again, the green is largely open across the front, allowing players to utilize the perfect turf conditions to get their ball on the putting surface via their preferred means.  For traditional approaches, the preferred angle in is from the right side of the fairway, nearest the creek.

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This large green hides a surprising amount of tilt and turn within its confines.

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Perhaps no hole at Shoreacres better displays the incredible terrain on which this course is built.  A truly wonderful hole.

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Hole 5 – 449 yards – Par 4

If the lack of length in the first four holes has lulled the player into a false sense of security, the fifth will surely slap them out of it.  A brute of a two-shot hole, the fifth plays out to a fairway bordered by trees on both sides.  Often, a military band can be heard practicing at Great Lakes Naval Station, up the road.

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But the real difficulty lies in the approach, which calls for a 200 yard carry over a large depression filled with rough and a small creek.  Any player failing to carry this large hazard will be lucky to salvage a bogey.

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As befitting a hole of this length and difficulty, the green is large and open across nearly its entire front, allowing long approach shots to bound in.  Those who look back at this monster having carded a par will know they’ve earned it.

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Hole 6 – 192 yards – Par 3

The first one-shot hole at Shoreacres is a full-length green Biarritz par-3.

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The green is huge – approximately 250 feet from front to back, with the traditional Biarritz swale bisecting the green from across its middle.

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Although the swale on this Biarritz isn’t as deep or severe as those at other Raynor designs, such as Yale or Fox Chapel, this hole suits the more subtle terrain perfectly.  Most importantly, it allows the hole to be played as originally intended, with a low shot that runs through the swale to the back portion of the green.

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And unlike many full-green Biarritz, this hole plays well to both front and back pins.

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Hole 7 – 444 yards – Par 4

The first noticeable feature at the 7th is the split tee box – the 7th plays to the left, while the 15th plays to the right.  Simple, but charming.

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After crossing the ravine off the tee, the 7th plays out to a wide, open fairway and ultimately to a large, open green, as befits a hole of this length.

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The green is slightly raised in the middle and tends to shed balls into the bunkers to the left, right and rear.

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A transition hole, but a good one.

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Hole 8 – 165 yards – Par 3

The second of the four Raynor template par-3s at Shoreacres is a picturesque Eden playing over a pond.  Deep bunkers guard the left, right and rear of the green.

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The green itself is one of the most severe on the golf course, as it falls steeply from back to front and contains significant internal movement.

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Putting from the back of this green toward the false front is an abjectly terrifying experience.

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Hole 9 – 388 yards – Par 4

The final hole on the front nine shares a fairway with the 18th, resulting in an ultra-wide playing corridor sprinkled with bunkering in play on both holes.

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The challenge increases as the green nears, with a series of deep bunkers dividing the 9th from the 18th.

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Mounds and bunkers separate the two finishing greens.

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Hole 10 – 452 yards – Par 4

The 10th at Shoreacres is one of the greatest Road Hole templates ever constructed by Macdonald or Raynor, and is an exceptional half-par hole in its own right. The 10th also begins the best stretch of holes at Shoreacres.

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A slight dogleg right, the player’s first challenge is to find the fairway.  Those who choose not to challenge the right side danger (OB lies right of the rough) run a real risk of watching their ball run through the fairway into the left rough.

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The green itself is ever so slightly elevated, similar to that at the 7th at National Golf Links, adding to the difficulty of hitting this green.

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The Road Hole bunker guards the left side.  While not quite as deep or as scary as those at Piping Rock or National, the bunker at Shoreacres is larger in area and dominates a larger portion of the green.

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The wide, shallow green is difficult to hold from distance, and the traditional bunker in the rear is a popular (if undesirable) spot for second (and often third) shots to rest.

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Macdonald and Raynor viewed golf as a strategic endeavor – options should be offered to the player and chosen according to skill level and position.  At the 10th, Raynor left players the option to play up the left side past the Road bunker, and then to tack in to this pin laterally with either a putter from the fairway or a wedge.  Options like these are what make Raynor designs so fun to play!

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Hole 11 – 378 yards – Par 4

The second of four outstanding holes running along the edge of the property, the 11th demands a tee shot over the deepest and most dramatic ravine on the property.  Left is trouble and right is dead.

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Upon reaching the fairway, the golfer is presented with what appears to be a simple, straightforward approach to an open green.  However . . .

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. . . a deep second ravine fronts this green and requires an all-carry approach.

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Though a formidable hazard, the far slope and part of the bottom of the ravine is maintained as regular rough, so that balls that come up short are often playable rather than lost.  Balls that stick on the slope provide an extra bit of challenge – the slope is so steep that some players may have trouble just getting to their balls.

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A beautiful par-4, and one of the most memorable holes at Shoreacres.

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Hole 12 – 127 yards – Par 3

The third par-3 at Shoreacres is the “Short” template, and it’s one of Raynor’s most beautiful.

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Though it lacks the drama of the long water views at the 16th at Fishers Island, this par-3, tucked into a corner of the property and surrounded by ledges, trees, flowers, bunkers and streams, is quite picturesque.

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As is the case with most Shorts, this par-3 is largely a hit-it-or-else proposition. This trench bunker on the left side of the green leaves a particularly nasty recovery, though preferable to a lost or wet ball.

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An altogether gorgeous par-3.

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Hole 13 – 332 yards – Par 4

The 13th demands a blind tee shot (the only one in the round) from a tee box benched into the side of a ravine.

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The fairway on this short par-4 doglegs slightly left – due to the trouble left and the trees long, many players will choose iron off this tee.

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As at the 11th, a large ravine guards the green on the approach.

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While the trouble surrounding this green isn’t quite as severe as that at the 11th

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. . . the green itself is one of the most severe on the course, with steep overall back to front slope and large internal mounding and undulation.

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A wonderful short two-shotter.

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Hole 14 – 185 yards – Par 3

The final par-3 at Shoreacres is the iconic “Redan” template, and a good one at that.  The tee shot must carry a ravine and avoid a left miss (always a danger when playing a Redan).

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Unlike many of Raynor’s Redans, which are set into a natural terrain formation, the 14th at Shoreacres is entirely manufactured – the right side of the green was built up by Raynor to provide the typical Redan “kick” to the left.

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While tee shots missing left are in danger of finding the hazard, those that miss right are no picnic either, as keeping the ball on the green becomes virtually impossible.

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As is the case with most Redans, the only truly safe spot to be is on the green. The last of four excellent par-3 holes at Shoreacres.

Hole 15 – 521 yards – Par 5

Returning again to the split tee box, the 15th doglegs hard left and asks for a draw from the tee.  This hole is reachable in two shots with an ideal first.

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After rounding the corner, the player is greeted with perhaps the finest fairway at Shoreacres, a multi-tiered, multi-route maze cut by a deep ravine, a stream and bunkers.

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Though it is possible to play out of most areas of the ravine, good, even lies are few and far between.

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If the player can carry the ravine and the three cross bunkers short of the green and reach this final fairway, it is possible to run approaches on to this open green.

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As seen at the 10th, the 15th allows the golfer to utilize strategic decision-making in choosing from multiple shot options – a hallmark of a great match play course.

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An absolutely perfect par-5.

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Hole 16 – 438 yards – Par 4

The 16th plays back over the winding creek first encountered at the 4th hole and to a wide fairway with ample room to position a ball for an ideal approach angle.

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The rumpled fairway provides an additional degree of challenge.

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But as with many of the holes at Shoreacres, the real fun begins once the green is in reach.  The green falls away steeply on three sides into bunkers, and slopes substantially from front to back.  Putting into these bunkers, depending on the pin locations, is an uncomfortably common experience.

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The steepness of the back to front slope at this green makes this rear bunker perhaps the worst place to miss, especially to a back pin, as shots from here risk rolling back into the fairway.

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A fun, challenging hole offering opportunities for birdie while threatening much higher scores.

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Hole 17 – 355 yards – Par 4

The penultimate hole at Shoreacres is a gorgeous par-4 playing once more over a ravine to a fairway turning gently left.

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The cape-style green is angled from left to right from the player’s perspective, and surrounded by deep bunkering.

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The front left bunker is a particularly inhospitable place to find one’s ball.

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Bunkers to the rear provide an additional measure of protection.

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The pond guarding the left rear is also very much in play.

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Hole 18 – 552 yards – Par 5

The final hole at Shoreacres is also the longest, but due to the firm turf, even this hole is reachable in two for longer hitters.

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The wide fairway, shared with the 9th, provides options, but the row of bunkers down the middle must be avoided.

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The green is defended by a variety of humps, swales and bunkering, making this one of the most difficult approaches to get close.

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This mound at the front right of the green is such a simple feature, but it creates dilemmas and opportunities – use the slope of the mound to kick the ball back to this pin?  Or attempt to avoid it entirely, and risk the consequences for a mis-struck shot?

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The 18th may be the best green on the course, as it offers an infinite variety of challenging pin placements and tests those in matches that have reached the final hole.

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Shoreacres is truly a throwback to a time when golf was a more strategic game, meant to be played on firm surfaces that influenced players’ shots, when choosing the best of the available options counted for something, and when competitions were played head-to-head against one opponent at a time. Those that love this classic brand of golf will surely love Shoreacres, as it provides the kind of field on which the game was truly meant to be played.

Jon Cavalier
March 30, 2016
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


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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.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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


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2015 Geeked on Golf Tour

What a year.

I took the madness to another level this year, playing 49 different golf courses in 11 different states.  34 of those golf courses were first time plays.  As an indication of the quality of the 2015 golf adventure, I would make a point and an effort to go back to 33 of the courses.

Effort was a key word in this year’s golf tour, and by the end of the season, I was feeling the effect of the miles, the hours, and the lost sleep.  Reflecting on the experience prompted starting a thread on GolfClubAtlas.com re: running around vs. staying home.  I must admit, with a little more time off the road, I can feel the itch already.  Dreams and plans are percolating for 2016, but first a few highlights from this season.


Four courses entered my list of Top 10 favorites, which is getting increasingly tough to crack.

Essex County Club

Courses that meet the “one course for the rest of my life” criteria are always my favorites, and Essex now leads that pack for me.  The property on which the course sits is singular, and Donald Ross’s routing around it is magnificent.  Ross lived on the course for years, and it clearly received his loving attention.  Cool features and details abound – it is brilliant in its subtlety.  Consulting work by Tom Doak and the care of Superintendent Eric Richardson have uncovered the beauty and challenge of Essex County.  It is as close to perfect as any course I have ever played.

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The Links at Lawsonia

The drive on the first hole at Lawsonia is blind.  As I crested the first hill to see the massive fairway bunkers, and even bigger green built into the hillside, my mind exploded.  That explosion continued hole after hole all morning.  The boldness and scale of the architecture that Langford & Moreau achieved in central Wisconsin is like nothing I have ever seen.  They just don’t build ’em like that anymore.

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Photo by Dan Moore (DanMooreGolf.com)

Boston Golf Club

On a buddies trip that included The Country Club, Essex County, and Old Sandwich, my expectations for Boston Golf Club were not that high – relatively speaking.  BGC simply blew me away.  It was like a work of art that Gil Hanse painted onto the rolling terrain with one stunning view after another.  The course was also packed full with variety and shots that were alternately fun and tough to play.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier (on Instagram at @linksgems)

Shoreacres

Toward the end of the season, I knocked out quite a few rounds in Chicagoland on our wonderful courses.  The season culminated with a post-renovation return trip to Shoreacres.  Seth Raynor’s special golf course has been upgraded to world-class status through the efforts of Superintendent Brian Palmer, with consultation by Tom Doak and Renaissance Golf.  For me now, there is a three-horse race for best course in Chicago among Old Elm, Chicago GC, and Shoreacres.  They are all that good.

 

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Photo by Jon Cavalier (on Twitter @linksgems)


In addition to these new Faves, I also knocked 3 more U.S. Open venues off of my bucket list – The Country Club at Brookline, Chicago Golf Club and North Shore Country Club.


For the first time in my life, I played dirt golf on an unfinished golf course.  Not only did I get to play dirt golf, but I did it twice under special circumstances on courses that are sure to be beyond special.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to have a tour of The Loop at Forest Dunes with Tom Doak, during which we played several holes in both directions.  I thought that the reversible course was a cool concept, but until I saw it and heard Tom’s commentary, I didn’t understand just how amazing it is going to be.  Cannot wait for the opening.

In the fall, my buddy Chuck let me tag along on his visit to Sand Valley where we spent the day touring the course with Michael and Chris Keiser, and playing some of the holes that were in the grow-in stage.  This was the first Coore & Crenshaw course which I thought might challenge Friar’s Head for top Fave spot for me.  Here is a link to my recap of the visit with photos of the course.


Through all of these amazing experiences on fantastic courses, this year I got a much deeper understanding of what makes this game so great.  Time spent with good people, outside, taking on the challenge of a collaboration between an architect and Mother Nature.

I made new friends at my club, in my community, and across the country.  In my experience, golf geekery brings together the best people, and brings out the best in them.

Without further ado, the rest of the 2015 tour.  Here’s to a great 2016!

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Growing Grass – An Interview with Superintendent Brian Palmer

“I’ve had enough of winter already. Looking forward to growing grass again.”

This text message, sent to me by Shoreacres Superintendent Brian Palmer, sums up what I love and respect about Supers.  It is rare indeed to find a profession that consistently produces such passionate and dedicated individuals.  Brian epitomizes that professional commitment.

The season just ended, and Brian is already itching to get back to it, because he thinks his golf course can get better.  After recently having the privilege of playing Shoreacres, I find it hard to imagine what is left to improve.  The transformation during Brian’s tenure of Seth Raynor’s gem on the North Shore is astounding.  He has taken a charming old course and put it into the conversation for the best in Chicago, and the country.

I have been the beneficiary of Brian’s generosity in two ways:  First, he has been helping me with fall projects at Canal Shores.  And second, he agreed to let me pick his brain in an interview.  Enjoy the following insights into the man and his work, as well as a few photos of the beautiful green that he keeps.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

I was introduced to the game at a very young age, but didn’t start playing until I was 10 or 11.  My dad was a Superintendent and I used to love going to work with him.  The course always seems so big when you are 6 or 7.  My Grandfather shot his age until he was in early 80’s and he taught me how to play.

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

I’m not quite sure when, maybe towards the end of high school?  I do remember drawing more golf holes than note taking in my notebooks in high school.  Around that time I think I started asking my father about doing this for a career and what might be the necessary steps to start a successful career.

How did you get into the business?

Working for my father, then he sent me to work for a younger Superintendent in Central New York, where I’m from.

Where were you before Shoreacres, and what were some of your key takeaways from those experiences?

I bounced around New York and Connecticut for internships and my first job out of college.  Then I went to work at Merion and was there for about seven years.

It’s a difficult business.  A golf course has many working parts and most of them are out of our control.  Over time I learned to: be a problem solver, do a lot with nothing, do whatever is necessary to get it done, to be able to go with the flow and be flexible, accept the fact that the course is rarely “perfect” in your eyes, and the importance of teamwork.  It’s also important to remember that it’s not your course.  You might spend the majority of your time looking after the course and treat it like it’s yours; but it’s the members’ course and not yours.

I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with some of the best Superintendents from around the world, and when I was younger I thought that these guys must know everything.  Was I wrong.  It blew me away that they are constantly seeking new advice and input from everyone around them.  It’s important to continue your education day in and day out.

What are the keys to managing change for a Superintendent during a big project?

Managing large projects is fun – it’s important to be out there as much as possible and keep your head on a swivel.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

That every day is totally different.  It’s everything that you encounter that day; the sunrise, the sunset, the camaraderie with the staff, the quirks and intricacies of the property, the weather, the adversity and the beauty.

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

That’s a tough one.  I like heathland courses: Morfontaine, Walton Heath, Swinley Forest, and I need to play National.  I would like to see more Raynors too.

When you are not working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

My fiancé and I like to travel both domestically and internationally, find a good hike, a good beer and a good meal.  I spend a lot of time at the course and my world revolves around the course and the game.  So when I am not at the course I try to separate myself from it all.


MORE ON SHOREACRES

What do you know about the architectural history of Shoreacres?

The very beginning of the club’s history is a little blurry because the original clubhouse burned down in 1982 and we lost some of the historical documentation.  At some point Seth Raynor was commissioned to design and build the course.  The club was founded in 1916, construction started in ’18 or ’19, the course opened in ’21 and all 18 holes opened in ’22.  Very little was done to the course over time, meaning there was no rerouting or any drastic changes.

On most Golden Age courses surfaces shrink, trees grow, shots are lost, vistas are lost and aesthetics diminish.  At a certain point, it becomes necessary to bring it back to the way it used to be or go in a different direction.  It all depends on what the club is seeking.

(click on images to enlarge)

 

What were the key objectives of the project?

To restore the putting surfaces to their original sizes and restore the “infinity” edge that many Raynor and Macdonald greens possess.  We also wanted to get balls running into bunkers both off of the fairway and green.

Were there any surprises along the way?

No, not really.  Like most courses of this age, there was usually a lot of sand in the bunkers.  So we had to tweak the bottoms of the bunkers a little to get the water to drain because we have about 4-5 inches of sand in the bottom of the bunkers now.  My predecessor did a good job maintaining the integrity of the courses design.

How has the response been to the work thus far?

Everyone seems to be very pleased with the results, and there is definitely a significant increase in bunker shots per round.

 

What comes next?

There is always tweaking and we have a little tee work to be done.  There is never a shortage of work on a golf course.  There is a bunch of work to do in and around our ravines as we continue to introduce native plants, eradicate invasives and attempt to stabilize ravine areas.


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

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

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

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

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

THE ROLLING GREEN

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

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

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

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

THE KIDS LINKS

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

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

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

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

THE BACK LOT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE JANS COURSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you inspired?  Stay tuned for news to come…


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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An Homage to the Short Par 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Soul Man – An Interview with Architect Drew Rogers

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

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

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


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

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

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

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

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

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

Describe your process for a design project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf